Tag Archives: brokenness

How to transform your life from useless to useful – Philemon 8-25, Part 2

27 Aug
Photo by Linh Nguyen on Unsplash

Have you ever felt useless in life? Maybe you watch others around you, friends and family, and it seems they are successful, advancing, making a difference in the world, enjoying life. Then you think about your life, and maybe you see a past littered with failure, broken relationships, and poor choices. Even if that describes you a little bit, know that you are not alone. Today we meet a man with a broken past. In fact, he was described as useless. At the outset, though, let me give you a hint: there is hope!

So far in our study of Paul’s letter to Philemon, in verses 1-7 we’ve seen Paul profusely encourage Philemon to see himself as a lover of Jesus who also loves all of Jesus’ followers. Then in verses 8-9, Paul begins to make an appeal to Philemon, because there is a specific situation in which Paul wants Philemon to practice that love for Jesus and all his followers. Paul knows that Philemon has a broken relationship in his life, and in verses 10-21, Paul makes his appeal to Philemon to fix that relationship.

What relationship? Paul is writing Philemon on behalf of Onesimus who used to be Philemon’s slave.  But something happened.  We don’t know all the details, but in verse 18 Paul gives some clues.  It seems that Onesimus not only ran away from Philemon, but may have even stolen from him.  Onesimus then made his way to Rome where he met up with Paul.  My guess is that one of three things led Onesimus to Paul. 

First option: Paul had previously become friends with Philemon.  It is possible that Paul would have also met his slave at the same time.  As time goes by, Paul ends up in Rome on house arrest, and Onesimus runs away from Philemon, hoping upon hope that Paul will help him.  If you’ve just committed a crime, and you don’t know where to go, you often seek a person you think will be understanding.  In Onesimus’ mind, Paul fits the bill.

Second option: It could be that Onesimus and Paul hadn’t previously met, but Onesimus still seeks out Paul for help, simply because of Paul’s reputation.

Third option: Onesimus just so happens to end up in Rome and comes across Paul.  Seems unlikely, but as we all know, unlikely things happen all time. 

The rest of the story, Paul tells us.  There in Rome, as he says in verse 10, Onesimus becomes his son.  That is strong family language, right?  Paul writes like this often, calling people his “son” in the faith.  What he means is that he shared Christ with Onesimus, and Onesimus chose to place his faith in Christ, giving Jesus both his assent and allegiance.  In other words, through Paul’s ministry on house arrest, Onesimus becomes a Christian. 

In verse 11 you see Paul’s literary flourish as he uses a wordplay, and most of your Bibles will point to this in a text note.  Almost certainly Onesimus was a difficult case for Philemon, and Paul knew this. If he hadn’t previously heard the story of Onesimus’ running away, he now heard it from Onesimus. Maybe Onesimus was a bad worker, maybe he was insubordinate, a back-talker, a slacker, we don’t know. As a result, maybe Philemon was hard on Onesimus, and that led to his running away. Or maybe Onesimus just wanted to be free. When Paul describes Onesimus as “formerly useless,” it could be all of the above. But here’s wordplay: Onesimus’ name means “useful,” and what does Paul say in verse 11?  Onesimus has gone through a transformation from uselessness to usefulness.  Through the work of Jesus in Onesimus’ life, a great change has happened. Onesimus is now as his name suggests, useful!  And not just to Philemon, Onesimus, Paul says, is useful to Paul too.  Apparently Onesimus was on fire for Jesus, serving, helping Paul. 

So Paul has a tough decision to make.  Do you send a runaway slave back to their master, knowing that it might not go well for that slave?  Or do you keep him with you, especially considering the amazing change that has taken place in his life?  There’s a lot riding on this.  If Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon, how will Philemon handle it?  Philemon really seems to be a good man, but Onesimus had betrayed Philemon, and Philemon could have a bad reaction. Also consider this from Onesimus’ point of view.  How much convincing did Paul have to do to get Onesimus to agree to this, after having wronged Philemon and run away?  How scared was he to go back there?  We can imagine Paul having a talk with Onesimus: “Now that you are follower of Jesus, there’s something we need to discuss. Philemon. Your master. How you treated him. Your broken relationship. Jesus is in the business of making things right. We’re going to need to deal with this.”

Now are you seeing why Paul gushes so much over Philemon in verses 1-7?  All that talk about loving all Christians?  Yeah.  It’s because Paul is dropping a bomb right in Philemon’s lap.  And that bomb is Onesimus.  Paul chooses to send Onesimus back, as we read in verse 12, which is the right thing to do. In fact, under Roman law, it was the legal thing to do. Philemon owns Onesimus, and Paul chooses to submit Onesimus to that relationship, as he says in verse 14.

At this juncture we need to pause and talk about slavery in the Roman Empire.  Even just saying “Philemon owns Onesimus” feels wrong.  But that is what was going on.  He was legally seen as property. 

Doesn’t it seem really odd that Philemon, a Christian, owns slaves, and that Paul would send a runaway slave back to his master!  Shouldn’t Philemon set his slaves free?  And shouldn’t Paul say, “Onesimus, you are not going back there into slavery”?  Yes, it seems like that should be happening, but none of it did.  As we’ll see, Paul has a whole lot more to say, but for now I want to point out that slavery in the Roman Empire, while it was awful, as slavery always is, was not like slavery in our American past.  Frankly, American slavery was worse.  A horrible, racial, terrible evil.  It was evil in the Roman Empire too, but it was not racial, and slaves actually had some measure of opportunity for freedom and advancement.  What I do not want you to hear me saying, though, is that slavery was okay in the Roman Empire.  It was different than American slavery, but it still was not okay.  It was evil and wrong back then and went against God’s desires.  I, too, wish Paul would have said more to denounce it.

So what did he say?  Next if Part 3 we continue observing his flow of thought, which will have significant implications for not only Philemon and Onesimus, but so much more, including the practice of slavery.

Do you have relationships that need rehab?

28 Jul

Do you have any people in your life that you feel are just hard to get along with?  Think about the people in your family.  Any family members rub you the wrong way?  What about school?  Is there a person that you really struggle with?  Maybe that classmate, when you see that they are in your class, you immediately know that class is going to be a drag?  Maybe they are the know-it-all who raises their hand constantly to answer questions.  Or maybe they raise their hand to ask a million questions, and you think to yourself “just let the teacher teach!”  Or maybe it is the teacher that you don’t like.  Their style, their voice, their mannerisms.  Is it your co-worker or your boss?  Many of those same tendencies that bugged us about students and teachers are the same tendencies that irritate us about our co-workers or our boss.  The group projects where one person is lazy.  The boss or teacher that is demanding.  The classmate or coworker that is loud and boisterous and arrogant.

But thank God we never have these issues in the church.

Ha!

You’re laughing…or you should be…why?  Because we DO have the same problems.  As many pastors joke, the church would be great except for the people.  That’s funny because the church is the people, and the pastor is one of the people too.  I am the pastor, and I might be the one you think is difficult!  I hope not, but I know it can be true because of interactions I’ve had with people in the past.  I’ve been at Faith Church nearly 14 years.  In that time I’ve seen many times that it is impossible to please all the people all the time.

But I want you to be clear that I believe about myself something the great English writer G.K. Chesterton is said to have written in a letter to the editor.  A British newspaper asked for people to write letters answering the question “What’s wrong with the world today?”  Lots of people responded with many ideas, but it was Chesterton’s reply that was the most memorable…and the shortest.  What’s wrong with the world today?  Chesterton answered “Dear Sir, I am.  Yours, G. K. Chesterton.”

So we do have issues in our relationships in the church, all churches do, and I would be remiss if I didn’t see myself as part of it.  I also want to be part of the solution.

You may have heard the comment that if you found the perfect church, don’t join it.  The moment you would join it, it would cease to be perfect.  There is no perfect church.  Because you and I are a part of it.

What is all this suggesting?  That relationships in the church can be hard.  We people can rub each other the wrong way, offend one another, hurt each other.  But relationships in the church can also be wonderful.  This coming Sunday we continue our series called Our Growth Process.  We’re at Step 2 – Fellowship, which is all about relationships in the church.

As you get ready for gathering for worship on Sunday, I want to ask you, who are the people in your church family that you have the hardest time with?  Just visualize them.  And pray that God will speak to you about your relationship with them.

Join us on Sunday at Faith Church to learn more!

Finding healing for a broken relationship – 1st Corinthians 7:10-16

14 May

broken heart

How many of you have been impacted by divorce?  Separation?  During the sermon on Sunday I interviewed two couples from Faith Church, each of which had one spouse that was previously divorced.  I was so thankful for their courage and vulnerability to stand in front of a roomful of people and talk about the painful past.  There were tears.  And yet, as they shared about the work of God in their lives, there was also joy.  I urge you to listen to the sermon and be encouraged by their stories.  While this was certainly a sermon about the struggles and brokenness that can occur in marriage, it was also a sermon about how God can work his restoration and healing in all of us. It was a sermon that says there is hope, when we put God at the center of our marriages.

It is relationship month at Faith Church, and we’ve been walking through 1st Corinthians 7, learning how Paul answered some questions about relationships, questions that the Christians in the city of Corinth had written him about.

So how would you answer these questions:

  1. Should Christians ever separate from their spouse?  If so, when?
  2. Should Christians ever get a divorce?  Again, if so, when?
  3. If divorced, is it okay to remarry?
  4. Is it okay if Christians marry those who are not Christians?
  5. What does it mean that people are sanctified through their spouses?
  6. How does a Christian parent make their children holy

I introduced those questions last week, and on Sunday we looked at 1st Corinthians 7:10-16 where Paul answers them…kinda.  Those last two are thorny ones, and Paul mentions them, but I feel he could have said a whole lot more to help us understand them!

So our sermon this past Sunday was all about seeing what Paul had to say about these vital questions that have impacted many lives. Feel free to discuss it further in the comment section below!

Guest Post: Why We Tell Our Stories

22 Oct

Today’s guest post is once again written by Lisa Bartelt as a follow-up to last week’s post.  We thank Lisa and her husband Phil for sharing their lives with us!  

The past two Sundays at Faith Church, we’ve shared stories of restoration. Personal stories from the teaching team of how God has taken broken, hurtful experiences (ones we’ve caused and ones done to us) and restored lives.

So, why tell those stories? We certainly didn’t have to tell them. We could have lived among you for years and not shared our painful pasts. And the telling isn’t necessarily easy.

But it is important. Here are three reasons why we told (and continue to tell) our stories.

First, it follows what we read in the Bible. Toward the end of John’s Gospel, he writes, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Later, in his first letter, John writes again, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.” (1 John 1:3) The Old Testament, too, is full of commands to tell redemption stories. Tell them to the next generation. Remember what He’s done. Tell about His power so that the nations will know there is a God.

We tell our redemption stories so others believe there is a God who does the impossible. He restores.

Second, and sort of related, we tell our stories to heal. Ourselves, and others.

I’m reading a book right now by Neil Gaiman called The Ocean at The End of the Lane. There’s a scene where the main character is remembering a time when he and a neighbor girl encountered a creature in the woods. The neighbor girl spoke a foreign and magical language to the creature, a song of some kind. He says he has dreamed of the song, and in the dream he knows the words. Then he says this: “In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. … In my dreams, I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, ‘Be whole,’ and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.”

By telling our stories, we are saying to each other: Be whole. We are speaking a language of shaping, of turning brokenness into beauty, of seeing God use our hurts to mold us into someone we couldn’t imagine being.

Third, by telling our stories, we give other people permission to tell theirs. None of us are perfect, but it’s so easy to look around and think everyone else has it all together and we’re the oddball that doesn’t.

If you heard our stories these last weeks, you’d know that’s far from the truth.

This quote I saw on Pinterest recently puts it another way: vulnerable-gift

Our prayer and hope is that this series of restoration stories would not end here, but that we all would continue to tell our stories. To each other. And, if the Lord leads, to the church as a whole.

Ever feel like you need restoration?

10 Oct

Ever have that feeling that things are not right?

That life is harder than it should be?

Ever think about how Jesus said that he came that we might have abundant life?  Life to the full?  And then have you felt like your life is not exactly feeling abundant?

Maybe it’s the stress of our culture.  No doubt it is hard to follow Jesus sacrificially as his disciple in a culture of consumer indulgence.

Maybe it is the difficulty of family life.  Maybe it’s your job.

Maybe you have a broken relationship, or at least one that has been very disappointing.  Maybe you’re frustrated with yourself.

This Sunday we begin teaching a new mini-series called Stories of Restoration.  All of us need restoration.  We are all sinners in need of a savior.  Even after starting the journey of following Jesus as his disciples, we still go through pain.  But these situations are often so personal, so hard that we rarely talk about them.  Like the soldier who experiences the terror of war, we can find it nearly impossible to put words to our pain.  But we need to share our stories.

We felt it important that the teaching team lead by example.  I’ll share the story of the Kime family and some situations in which Michelle and I were individually and together in need of restoration.  Then the following week Phil & Lisa Bartelt will share their story.

We praise God that he desires to make all things new, as that is what restoration is all about.  Redeeming our pain, conforming us to the image of Christ.  May he be glorified as we share our stories of restoration.