Tag Archives: power

How to help people see things from a different perspective – Philemon 8-25, Part 1

26 Aug
Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

There have been some illusions in recent years that have become internet sensations.  Like the dress that was either white/gold or blue/black, or the computer voice that says “laurel” or “yanny.”  Now there is the bird or the bunny.  Which do you see?

It’s wild how the mind works!  It is actually a bird, but you can sure see how it looks like a bunny. Here’s another one.  What color are the strawberries? 

Red, of course.  Right?  Well, maybe they seem like the color is slightly washed out, but you can still see the redness.  Or can you?  The creator of this photo says it is entirely in grayscale.  No color whatsoever.  Our minds supply the red color because that is what we are used to! 

These illusions relate to our divided world, as people see things so differently.  Have you ever had the experience where you are talking with someone, and they are describing their viewpoint, and inwardly you are thinking to yourself, “How can they possibly believe that?” 

It can be very hard to see things from another perspective.  Usually we just hold more tightly on to our own and characterize the other side as a bunch of whackos.

Last week we started reading Paul’s letter to his friend Philemon.  As we continue this week, we’re going to discover that Paul sees an issue from a very specific perspective, and he wants Philemon to agree with him.  How will Paul help Philemon see another viewpoint?

In verses 1-7 (you can review the five-part series on those verses starting here), we learned that Paul has a lot of really nice things to say to Philemon. While Paul certainly was telling the truth about Philemon, and while he wanted to encourage Philemon, Paul does have another motive going on.  He really wants Philemon to identify himself in the ways that Paul has described him.  How has Paul identified Philemon?  As a person who is deeply committed to Jesus, who loves and encourages “all the saints.”  That word “all” in verse 5 is key.  Paul wants Philemon to be thinking, “Yeah, that is me.  That’s how I am. I love Jesus and I love all his followers, and I encourage all of them.”  Why does Paul want Philemon to think that way? Because there was one follower in particular that Philemon had a problem with.

Now read verse 8 to find out where Paul is going with this.

Did you notice how the tone of this passage shifts in verse 8?  Paul says, “Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do…”  Wait.  Bold?  Order him?  What just happened?  Paul has spent the better part of the previous 7 verses pouring praise on Philemon.  Now here in verse 8 he sounds pretty confrontational doesn’t he?  There’s something going on, and Paul is about to spill the details.

Verse 8 stops mid-sentence, so read through the end of Paul’s sentence which continues until about halfway through verse 9.

Paul says that though he could be bold and order Philemon, he’s not going to.  Instead he is going to appeal to him on the basis of love.  That’s quite an interesting phrase.  Paul knows he has authority, because he is an apostle of Jesus, and he could pull rank on Philemon.  Whatever is going on, Paul knows he could take the power route.  But he doesn’t.  He takes the love route. 

He still reminds Philemon that he, Paul, could take the power route, and the fact that he reminds Philemon of this stands out to me.  Could it be said that Paul is being manipulative here?  Someone could say that he spent the first seven verses buttering Philemon up, because he knows that he is about to drop a bomb on him.  Or it could be that Paul is just showing tact and wisdom.  The same goes for his reference to his position of authority and power that he could wield on Philemon.  In all this, I think Paul is being truthful and wise.

Now continue reading from the middle of verse 9.

How about that?  Paul calls himself an old man, and he repeats the line he started the letter with, that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus.  Is Paul trying to establish more authority, using his status as an elder?  As a prisoner?  Is he staying he has street cred?  Is he referring to his seniority?  Probably all that and more.  It is clear that Paul really wants Philemon to do something, to answer his appeal from love.

In Part 2 of this series through Philemon 8-25, Paul will reveal the details of the specific situation he is concerned about. For now, focus your thinking on how Paul has begun his appeal. He wants it to be clear that he is not using a power move, but he is appealing to Philemon based on love. I find that quite instructive and applicable to many situations. Parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, pastors. Anyone who has a measure of authority. How are you motivating the people you lead? With power or with love? Going back to where we started this post, consider the conversations you have with friends and acquaintances in which you are sharing different points of view. How are you communicating? With power or love? There certainly may be times when power is needed, but for Christians, may your use of power always be guided by love. We would do well to make it a practice of asking ourselves, “Am I being loving in this?” Or “Does the person I’m interacting with feel loved?” Even if we have to confront them, we can do so in love. Paul is about to confront Philemon, but take note of how he has communicated love to Philemon first. Paul has laid an extensive groundwork of love in verses 1-7, so that when he gets to the difficult part of the conversation, Philemon will know it comes from Paul’s heart of love. What a great example!

How to access God’s power for your life

18 Apr

Image result for the power of godDon’t you hate it when the batteries are dead?  I pull out my cordless drill to work on something, and there is no power.  Thankfully, my drill came with a second battery, so I swap them out, and I find that they second one is dead too.

Ever dealt with that? So frustrating, right?  Powerlessness.

Power tools or other gadgets are one thing.  You can buy new batteries, or charge the ones you’ve got.  It just requires a little wait or money.

But when you are dealing with power for life, that’s another story.

What do you do if you are trying to kick a bad habit, and you feel like you have no power?  What about fixing a broken relationship?

What about dealing with a difficult health problem or job loss or lots of bills?

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt powerless?

Sometimes in life we feel totally powerless about the situations we get into.  And that is not a fun feeling.  We hate it!  I hate it.

In Ephesians 1:15-20, Paul talks about power that is available in those difficult situations.  Paul prays that they may know, in verse 19, “[God’s] incomparably great power, for us who believe; that power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”

This reality is ours.  You can know God’s resurrection power at work in your life now!  What an amazing promise.

And yet some of you hear that, and it sounds so far-fetched, so unbelievable. How do you feel about that?

On Easter Sunday I have found that while we often look backward in thanks and joy remembering Jesus’ victory over death, and while we look forward to the day when we will experience that resurrection ourselves and be with him, we often neglect to think about the implications of the resurrection right now. Does the resurrection matter today?

Paul is saying that we can experience that resurrection power in our lives right now.  He is not talking about some distant future.  As followers of Jesus, we should expect that working of his mighty power in our lives right now.

Evaluate your own life.  Have you become defeated?  Have you forgotten that his power is available to you now?

That power that God wielded to raise Jesus from the dead is available to us!  Or as another translation puts it “how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.”  New life is available to us now.  Power for victory over our on sin.  Power to be changed.

But you might be thinking “wait a minute…I have been asking for that power to be at work in my life for 20 years, and I feel like I haven’t seen it.”  Or “I have been praying for a loved one to experience that power, or for that power to heal a broken relationship…and I have been praying for a long time, and I haven’t seen it!  What gives?”  Know that many people feel this way.

Some things to remember:

  1. We are in a battle with an enemy who has not given up.
  2. We have free will, and God rarely, extremely rarely overrules us.
  3. We might have a misconception about our part in the process. Paul is not saying here that we need to just do nothing and wait for God to rain down his power in us.   We have a responsibility.

Know that God is alive and well, and his resurrection power is at work changing lives.

A couple weeks ago at Family Night, a former Faith Church member shared the heart-wrenching story of her husband’s arrest, conviction and incarceration for child pornography.  She also shared how the power of God has been very evident in their family’s life, and especially in her husband’s life, as during his 20 month-long house arrest he started following Christ.  He lost his job, they had to declare bankruptcy, and their neighborhood rejected them because of his sinful choices.  Through this, God’s transforming power was at work, and her husband, though he is in prison, is a changed man, and is even ministering to other inmates in prison.

Those of us here for the CV Community Good Friday worship service heard the amazing story of how one of the top gang leaders in Lancaster City came to Christ.  He went to a presentation at Clipper Stadium where Nicky Cruz spoke.  Cruz was a big time gang leader in New York City whose life was transformed by Jesus, and has been sharing the story of the power of God for decades.  So this Lancaster City gang leader was listening to Cruz.  He didn’t respond to Cruz’s sermon, to the invitation or to the prayer.  But as he walked out of the stadium into the parking lot, he broke down and gave his life to Christ.  Since that time, he has now led 13 of his gang members to Christ!

On Thursday night at our Maundy Thursday Passover Seder, a Jewish Christian shared his story.  He grew up in a Jewish household, and though he heard about Jesus, he never read the New Testament.  He was always taught that Christians were violent cult members.  Later in life he started reading the New Testament, and he was absolutely astounded at what he read.  He learned about a thoroughly Jewish man that was truly the Messiah, the Savior, the Promised One, and this Jewish man gave his life to Christ.

God’s power is at work in so many ways!

And that power is available to us.  If you have a problem with complaining, God’s power is available to you.  If you have lustful thoughts, God’s power is available to you.  If you have anger issues, God’s power is available to you.  That same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you to transform your life now.

But what about the people who are Christians who feel distant from God?  What if they are thinking “I wish I could experience some of God’s power in my life! But I don’t feel like I do.”

We need to first of all realize that his amazing power is available to us!  That alone might be a new concept for you.  God is not distant. His power is available to us.

Second, we should ask him for his power.  That’s what Paul is doing in this prayer in Ephesians 1.  Paul is praying that those Christians in the Roman city of Ephesus would know God’s power like never before. Start asking God to give you his power to transform you life.

The hard part of this is that some of us are not experiencing this amazing manifestation of power, and we wonder if something is wrong with us.

“Where is this power you are promising, God?”

God can and does manifest himself in radical ways.  But his incredible power is also available and flowing to us in many ways, sometimes quiet ways, sometimes in ways that don’t seem like power.

It should be seen as a partnership.

I have heard people say “God took away my desire for cigarettes” and it was miraculous.  But more often than not, it will be hard work.  God empowering us to work hard, to be creative, diligent, determined.

Should we think “God will supply food for my family while I do nothing.”?  No, most often God’s power will enable you to get out there and work.

I am an adjunct professor for Lancaster Bible College.  I teach online course.  Back in the fall, I was looking ahead to the winter/spring, and I hadn’t heard anything from the college about teaching.  So I contacted them, and asked if they needed me to teach. The one course I teach is for adult learners who are going back to school later in life to finish off an uncompleted bachelor’s degree.  That course has been on a standard schedule, and they responded that would continue as normal.  But I also teach regular semester courses in the traditional undergrad program.  I asked about that, and they told there were none.

Two weeks later, surprise, my name was on the list for one of those regular semester courses.  I thought Okay, great!  That extra income would be a wonderful help.  Then two weeks after that, I got an email from the guy who originally told me there were none available, and this time he offered me to teach another course!

I had to ask, I had to work, but clearly it was God who provided.  And what amazing is that this winter/spring we needed extra income to be able to go visit our son who graduated from Army boot camp in Oklahoma.

God’s power is available for the powerless. Remind yourself that God’s resurrection power is available to you.  Believe it. Ask for it.  And then strive for it.

Should leaders run from power or wield it?

28 Feb

“How to be a good leader”

When you see a phrase like that, do you check out, move on, and think that’s not for me because I’m not a leader?  Leadership speaks of power, and especially abuse of power, and many of us have been negatively affected by leaders run amok.  But maybe, even if you think you’re not a leader, you should read on.  You probably work with leaders.  And you might be like me, somewhat afraid of leadership, especially the power part.

I sat in a meeting a few years ago where I was confronted about my fear of the use of power.  It affected me deeply.  A group from Faith Church was visiting our sister church, Kimball Avenue Church, in Chicago.  We were there for a week to learn from them what life and ministry is like in their city.  Our brothers and sisters at Kimball Avenue have a heart for God’s justice, and for the previous year or so, we were feeling like God was teaching us about this aspect of his heart as well.  We were having a bit of difficulty understanding it, though.  In suburban, rural, basically well off Lancaster County, it is hard to see injustice.  When you do see injustice, it is hard to know what to do.

We had joined with Kimball Avenue in a Lenten Compact, fasting for justice, but we sensed that we needed to learn a lot more.  So at their pastor, Bruce Ray’s, invitation, a group of 10 of us drove to Chicago to learn from and serve with them.  It was an eye-opening week.

I’ll never forget sitting in a meeting room of a local bank early in the week.  A bank?  Yes, a bank.  Bruce took us there because he wanted us to see how the finance industry impacts the housing industry.  If banks are super strict about lending money, it can be very hard for low-income families to own homes.  This particular bank had a great reputation for being willing to help people, despite the severe economic downturn that took place in 2008.

There we sat, listening to a lady who worked for a local community justice organization talk about power.  She was advocating for the appropriate use of power to enact change for justice.  In particular, she was talking about trying to sway politicians.  I became very uneasy when she talked about how we can exert power.  When I hear the word “politics” I want to run the other way fast.  Politics doesn’t change the heart of humans, only God can.  And so I expressed my hesitation, talking about how, at best, politics is ineffective, and at worst, abusive. Frankly it seems the abusive part is much more the norm, and I want to run away from that kind of power.

She looked at me and without hesitation said, “So you mean that you run away from the use of power as a pastor in your church?”

It set me back.  I thought I was right in wanting to run away from the use of power.  I didn’t see myself as a power-hungry pastor.

She made a very persuasive case for the righteous use of power, specifically in a community where injustice is being done.  And sometimes that means wielding political power.

Over the last few five years since I became pastor of the church, I have learned she was right; I’ve seen how I do have power.  I don’t say that arrogantly or lightly.  The power leaders of the church wield is very precious, very scary, and while it can do severe damage, it can also do amazing good.  If fact, it is such a mighty force, that it can be hard to contain, hard to control and use in a wise way. Pastors and leaders in the church have sometimes left behind a trail of brokenness.  But that shouldn’t cause people to run away from power. Instead we need to learn how to be better leaders, we need to learn how to use power for good.

So how should we use power?

Especially in the church, we need to think about this question.  In our society there are many ideas out there about the appropriate use of power; some good ideas and some really bad.  Steve Jobs famously used a “reality distortion field” (basically he was quite willing to bend the truth to get what he wanted) and is remembered as a somewhat brutal taskmaster.  But he achieved great results, so it is okay, right?  Should we bulldoze through a situation until we get our way?  We’re the boss, right?  If the church grows, does it matter how we get there?  If people become disciples of Christ, is it really so wrong to lie a bit, to manipulate, or exaggerate to get them to step out in faith?

In the middle of a long discussion about how the Corinthian disciples had fractured their church through celebrity preacher worship, Paul takes a moment to talk about those celebrity leaders, and any leaders for that matter, and how they should lead.  Join us on Sunday to hear what he has to say.  We’re going to be studying 1st Corinthians 3:5-17.  Check it out ahead of time!