Tag Archives: relationships

How to welcome those who are difficult for you – Philemon 8-25, Part 5

30 Aug
Photo by Taylor Simpson on Unsplash

Who is difficult for you? Think about it. Who are the people you really struggle with? Does it seem like it would be awful to welcome them into your life? How should you treat them?

If Paul’s message to Philemon is our guide, then what we do will be self-sacrificial, it will be radical, it will cross the societal lines, and it will overturn conventional ideas.  It will be white people, giving up their power, privilege and position for people of color who have been marginalized.  It will be a purposeful embrace of the other who is no longer an outsider, but now in Christ a brother or a sister. 

As we conclude our series on Philemon, consider, then, what Jesus did.  Paul clearly describes how Jesus is an example for us of the very thing Paul is asking Philemon to do:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:3-8

Other translations say that Jesus “emptied himself”.  He gave up his rights, privilege, position and power so that he could reach us.  That meant he had to become one of us.  Think about that.  The one in the position of power and privilege “emptied himself,” as the hymn says, “of all but love, and bled for us.”  To save us, he became one us and died for us. 

In another place, Paul said that this concept was his modus operandi as well:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.” And just a few verses later he says, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

1 Corinthians 9:19-20, 22

Jesus, therefore, is asking you and me the exact same thing that Paul was asking Philemon. 

What will you and I do about this?  We are the Philemons of our day.  The time has come for us to welcome the Onesimuses around us as dear brothers.  It might not mean they come to our church. Maybe it will.  But what will it mean?  Ask God to show you.  Ask God to give you his eyes, to see people and situations as he sees them, to act in love to all, because in his eyes all are equal. 

So we would do well to ask ourselves, who do we struggle with?  Who do we look down on?  Who do we think we are better than?  There are so many ways Paul’s letter to Philemon can apply. 

It could be people of a different ethnicity.  And it could be people of a different gender.  Perhaps you struggle with people who are of a different generation.  How about those of a different socioeconomic status?  Maybe people who speak a different language.  What about the immigrants, the asylum seekers, the refugees?  It could be those struggling with homelessness, divorce, bad choices, or a financial struggle.

Who will you stand beside and welcome?  Who will you embrace as a dear brother or sister?

Let’s conclude hearing Paul’s words again, starting:

“[Treat Onesimus] no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.”

Philemon 16-20

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.

Why I am not a fan of eulogies (but why they are surprising important for church families)

30 Jul

Photo by Rhodi Alers de Lopez on Unsplash

I am not a fan of eulogies.  I’ve told you before that one of the aspects of being a pastor that I was definitely not prepared for was death.  It affects me.  Some pastors tell me they love funerals, and can’t stand weddings.  I’m the exact opposite. I love weddings.  Funerals, though?  No.  I’m just not a fan.  Of course I officiate funerals, and I hope I do well.  I believe they are a very important event for the family and friends of the deceased.  Grieving is important.  Thinking about matters of life after death is important. And almost always a funeral includes a eulogy.  You know that speech that tells the history of the person who died, praising that person?

I have given numerous eulogies over the years, and many times I don’t like them.  It’s not just the fact that we are talking about dead person, which can be depressing.  It is that so often in eulogies we straight up tell lies.  Most often the family wants you to tell a totally positive story about the deceased, even if everyone knows the deceased had numerous, even glaring faults.

This week as we continue our study through1st Peter, I was shocked to learn something brand new about eulogies.  We’ll be looking at 1 Peter 3:8-12 all week.  Read it for yourself.

One phrase I want you to listen for is: if people insult you, eulogize them!  What could Peter mean by that?  Oh, you don’t see that phrase in there?  I promise, it’s there!  I’ll show you this week!  What’s even more important than finding that phrase is what it means and how we can apply it to our relationships in the church family.

Peter says in Verse 8 “Finally” and by that he means “here is the end of the matter”, or “let me sum up what I am talking about.”  For a few weeks now Peter has been talking about many different relationships that Christians experienced in his day.  If you want, you can review the posts and you’ll see that Peter talked about the following:

  • How Christians should relate to governing authorities.
  • How Christian slaves should relate to their masters…even mean ones.
  • How husbands and wives should relate to one another.

Peter taught a common principle that Christians should apply to all these relationships: submission.  That’s not a very popular idea in our era, but as we saw, Peter was teaching Christians to submit first and foremost to God and the mission of his Kingdom.  If you want to learn the specifics of what Peter said about each of those other relationships, feel free to scan back through previous posts.

What we see today in verse 8 is that he is now bringing his thoughts to a close.  This week Peter is going to talk about how people in a church family should treat one another.  As I said above, he is going to say, “If someone insults you, eulogize ’em.”  Next week, Peter changes the focus to how Christians should relate to people outside their church family.

So his “finally”, his concluding remarks will cover the next few weeks.  As he goes on in verse 8, notice that he says, “all of you” and begins listing adjectives.  He is saying “Church…Christians…every single one of you, let me describe what you should be.  Then he lists five adjectives that should define Christian relationships in a church family.  What adjectives do you think should define a church family?  Tomorrow we’ll look at the first one.  And I promise…the surprising thing I learned about eulogy is coming later this week!

 

Who is responsible for restoration and revival? God? Us? Both?

13 Dec

Image result for restoration in progressRestoration and revival might take a lot of work.  I just did a Google image search on the phrase “the hard work of restoration”, and almost all of the pictures are about car restorations.  Some furniture.  Some homes.  There is restoration from natural disaster that can take years.  I suspect only a few of us will get involved in that kind of restoration.  Maybe most of us work on our homes, but rarely do we do full restorations.

But just about all of us work on a different kind of restoration.  Relationship restoration.

My guess is that nearly everyone, at some point in their lives, must work towards restoring a relationship that has become broken.  In this week’s posts we’ve talked about the experience of seeing a new spark of life in a relationship that seemed to have been dead. That new hope is a wonderful thing.  But it carries with it the reality of the mountain of work yet to occur.

As we continue our study of Psalms of Lament this Advent, we have started looking into the four sections of Psalm 85.  You can review the previous sections here (one), God’s blessing in the past, and here (two), a lament for restoration to continue.

In this post, we look at section three, verses 8-9, and what do we see? The promise of present blessing for God’s people is connected to their obedience.  Three times in these two verses the psalmist mentions obedience.  Isn’t that interesting? He is lamenting to God, asking for God to keep the restoration going, to bring revival, but he also knows that he and the people have a part to play.

Do you see the three times he mentions obedience?

In verse 8, he says I will listen to God.  God will be his source of wisdom and truth and knowledge.  He will learn from God how to live.  No more living based on what he thinks is right and good.  Look where that got him and the nation.  Now he places his focus on listening to God.

Second, still in verse 8, he says that God promises peace to his people, but let them not turn to folly.  They wanted the peace.  They wanted peace badly.  After living in captivity for 70 years, and finally being allowed to return to their own land, they want peace.  They don’t want enemies and fighting.  We all want peace.  Enemies and fighting wear us down, gives us stress and generally ruin life. We want peace.  God promises peace, but they must obey.  They must not turn to folly.  Folly is foolish choices.  Behaving badly.  They must follow God.

Third, in verse 9 he says salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in the land.  That’s what they want.  They want God to be with them in the Promised Land, because he is stronger than their enemies.  He can protect and save them.  But again, there is a condition.  They must fear him.  Go back a few weeks and review the sermon Emerald gave on the fear of God from Deuteronomy 6.  Fearing God was vital to the people of Israel being restored and revived.

Put these three statements about obedience together, and what conclusion do we have?  Restoration has begun, and restoration and revival will continue, as long as the people are faithful to God.  There is much work to be done. 

I get that.  I was once one who needed restoration.  When I was 17, I was a very reckless irresponsible driver, and as a result I got into a bad accident.  I unintentionally hit an Amish buggy, and a lady inside died.  If you want to read the whole story, you can do so here.  A couple Sundays ago, my parents and I, and my two youngest kids, visited the Amish family.  It was our annual visit.  For 26 years, every year around the time of the accident, we go visit them for the afternoon.

They had already forgiven me long ago.  In fact, they forgave me the day after the accident.  My fortunes were restored, but there was much work to do for the restoration to continue.  And so every year we go over to their house.  I’ll reveal to you a bit of my feelings about this.  Every year I have anxiety about going.  There is part of me that doesn’t want to go, and I contemplate saying, “My family can’t make it.”  And every year when we pull up to their house, I feel a heaviness, a bit of shame returns, and I have to steel myself, take a deep breath, and say “Let’s do this.”  It’s not overwhelming.  It’s just awkward.

The Amish family do not make it awkward.  It’s all within me.

The Amish family are wonderful actually, and they always have been.  And usually all it takes is a few minutes, after greeting and hugging and shaking hands, and the conversation starts to fly.  This time one of their sons was there too.  He has a tree-trimming business, and was doing a job over at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station. He remarked to us about how huge and impressive the cooling towers are.  Then he looked at my dad and asked, “What is nuclear power anyway?  Is it like a gas?”  And so for the next five minutes we sat there as my dad tried to explain nuclear power to an Amish man!

We were there two hours, and as we left, I thought how important is the ongoing work of restoration.  So important that it is well worth a visit once every year, even if it is for the rest of my life.

Restoration and revival are God’s work, no doubt.  But God invites us to work them out with him.  And lament calls out to God to do just that.

When we participate with God in the work in restoration and revival, a beautiful thing happens, and that is what the psalmist so gorgeously depicts in the final section of his poem, which we look closely at in our next post!

How to rehab a relationship

1 Aug

Do you have relationships that need rehab?  There is help!  Fellowship!

In the very first account of how the earliest Christians interacted with one another, Acts 2:42-47, we read that they devoted themselves to the fellowship?  What is fellowship?

That word “fellowship” in verse 42 is defined by Louw & Nida as “an association involving close mutual relations and involvement.”

This passage describes how these first Christians practiced fellowship.  They clearly had close mutual relations and involvement.  Their relationships went far beyond just seeing people for an hour or so on a Sunday morning at church.  They didn’t have Sunday morning church.  They had no church building. Instead we read that they were together often, meeting in the temple in Jerusalem (presumably for larger group gatherings), and then sharing meals in homes.  Everyday.

When you read the whole description, they were sharing not just meals, but their whole lives.

Jump ahead a few chapters to Acts 4:32-37, and here we see more information about how the first Christians shared life together.  People would sell off property in order to raise cash to help those in need!  They saw none of their possessions as exclusively theirs, but as capital they liquidate if needed to help the suffering.

From Acts 2 to Acts 4 our best estimates are that only a few months have gone by from the very first day of the church.  That means Jesus was still very, very close in their hearts and minds.  And what are these first Christians doing? They are following his teaching.  We’ve seen how they are interacting with one another.  Why did they do this?  Jesus taught them to! What did he teach them?

In the final hours before he was arrested, put on trial and killed, John 13:34-35 tells us about the last teaching that Jesus gave his disciples: “A new command I give you: love one another as I have loved you.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

Relationships in the church, Jesus taught, should be clearly known by love.  Can it be said of you that you are loving the people in your church?  How do we practice this love?

In Romans 12:9-21 Paul says “weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn.”  We need to walk with people through the difficult aspects life.  We need to be there for them to talk, we need to listen, we need to allow them to face sorrow knowing that people who love them are right by their side.

In that same passage Paul also says “rejoice with those who rejoice.”  Loving relationships include celebration. Lots of celebrations happen for married people (bridal and baby showers, etc). But what about celebrating people and events that would be considered unconventional in our culture?  The church needs to celebrate singles as well, when you get jobs, new houses, or achieve accomplishments.  We also need to spectate at your hobbies, your sports, your extracirriculars.  We churches should throw more parties!

We can also look to deepen relationships.  Like the early church, one excellent way to deepen relationships is to have people over to your homes.  Get to know them.   Start with the people in your Sunday School class.  Invite them to your home!  Maybe then move on to the people in your small group.  Who are you doing life with?  Who are you caring for in ways that push your comfort zone a little bit?  Call them, text them, email them, go out for coffee.  Take the initiative to care for them.  Fellowship has to go beyond the structured programs.

Certainly not all people and all personalities aren’t going to be best of friends.  Some personalities connect more easily with others.  For example, Jesus, though he had hundreds of followers, focused on twelve.  Within that 12, he focused on his inner circle of three: Peter, James and John.  And even within that three, there was one who was called his Beloved, his best friend, John.  But Jesus was certainly focusing on others, doing life with them, sharing meals, talking through real life issues, and he did that for more than 1 or 2 hours a week.

Are you doing life together with people like the early church did, like Jesus did?

In this Growth Process sermon series, I said in the last sermon that Jesus doesn’t just want Sunday morning worshipers, he wants people to worship with their entire lives.  That means moving on to Fellowship.

But Fellowship isn’t just hanging out with people on a Sunday morning for 15 minutes, or even going to the church picnic or Family Night.  The kind of Fellowship that Jesus desires for his followers must be marked by “love one another”.

I’m not saying that you have to be best friends with everyone in your church family.  That’s not possible, even for a congregation that is less than 50 people.  But it is possible to get really close to a smaller group.

So have you moved beyond being a Sunday morning worshiper to becoming a fellowshipper?

How does a disciple of Jesus move beyond just Sunday morning fellowship into “love one another” and “life together”?

Examine your life and your relationships.  Pour your life into one other.  Love and reach out to those who are more difficult for your personality to love.  And to those who you are already in relationship with, seek to go deeper, interact more. Pray for and encourage one another on a new level.

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!

One for all the single people

23 May

singleAre you single and loving it?

I’ve heard that some of the young people at Faith Church have been wondering when Relationship Month will be over!  It’s been a lot of talk about marriage, separation, divorce, remarriage, which are topics they are apparently not too concerned about.  I was hoping that at least some of what we talked about would be helpful to them!  Maybe it will as the years go by.

BUT, this coming Sunday will be different.  This will be a sermon specifically for the single people.  Does that mean the married people need not attend?  NO!  Here’s why: if you are married, have you ever given thought to how you treat singles?  Do you disrespect them?  Do you marginalize them and treat them as some kind of special interest group with a problem that needs to be fixed?

Surely not, you say?

But maybe you do that more than you realize.  If you’re married, this is not a sermon for you to check your brains at the door.  Being a married person myself I recognize my inadequacy of speaking to singles.  So I did some digging on singles, and I found out about John Stott, a well-known pastor and theologian who never married and lived into his 90s.  Stott is a man who has clearly thought deeply on the subject. I also found that a number of books about singleness from a Christian perspective have been written.  I contacted one our EC pastors/missionaries, Ken Sears, who is single.  His response was so thoughtful and helpful, filled with angles of thought that I never considered, that I suggested he publish it.  I’ll be sharing some thoughts from these two men.

And most of all we’ll take a look at what Paul says in our ongoing study of 1st Corinthians 7.  A few weeks ago I said that marriage is GOOD.  But what about singleness?  Is it okay if a single person wants to get married?  Is it okay if a single person is not happy being single?  Is it possible that a person can be single and happy?  That they can be single and have a very content relationship with God and others?

Are you single?  Maybe you’ve been wondering about some of these things.  Maybe you’ve been yearning to be married?  Maybe you’ve wondered if you’ll never get married, and if something is wrong with you.  Maybe you’re wondering what God wants for you.

I think you’ll find Paul and the other single people I’ve talked with have a lot to say that could be helpful.  How about joining us Sunday at 9:30am?