The Helping Spirit

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness…” Romans 8:26

Several weekends ago, at a family gathering in Colorado, we decided to take a group rafting trip down one of the Colorado rivers. We scouted out the best place that was close to where we were staying and eighteen of us drove to one of the many rafting companies located on Clear Creek. We plopped down our money, received our gear and loaded up for the ride of our lives. Our guides were your typical river guys who, under normal circumstances, you probably wouldn’t trust with your lives, but with the anticipation of a future adrenaline rush, we signed our waivers and loaded up for our safety drills. We didn’t think twice about signing the waivers. (Though we found out afterwards that this year there have been several drownings on that same river with commercial raft companies…)

We spent about 25 minutes going through different safety drills and learning how to row in unison. We were taught how to respond when the “All-in!” signal was called, which is rather like playing musical chairs on a small raft. In one of the drills, our guide taught us how to help somebody up if they should they fall off the boat, which is basically by grabbing the straps on their life jackets and fall back into the raft bringing them with you. The “swimmer” has a part to play in that they have to trust the rescuer and let them pull them to safety.

I was pretty happy when I heard that the course we signed up for meant that we’d be going down twelve class IV rapids. What I wasn’t too happy about was that I was planning on being on the same boat as my daughter. She had some fears about the rafting trip, because when she was in elementary school, at one of our camping trips in the Smokies, she fell off an inner tube and was pinned below the water and the rocks. Our son, David, jump off his tube and rescued her from the rushing water. It was a pretty horrifying experience for all of us.

So, our plan was that I would be in the same boat so I could protect her, but she ended up joining the “Girl Cousins” raft.

The rafts were launched and our raft was the last one of six rafts. Our raft held the tour captain, meaning that our guide was responsible for the safety of all the other rafts. Everything was going great until we heard a cry for help, and as we turned the bend of the river, we saw a body rushing away from the raft. Our guide yelled out, “Get rowing, we’ve got to get them out of the water!” Every fear rushed into my head as I imagined that was Jaclyn floating powerless down the river. I yelled out to my other team, “Is that Jaclyn? Let’s hurry!” We couldn’t catch up so we really didn’t know what was happening. I watched this whole scary scene in living color and felt totally helpless. The end of the story is a good one: that wasn’t Jaclyn floating in the river, and the person who did fall out didn’t sustain any injuries. I was so relieved!

The Bible says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Thank God he doesn’t leave us alone; he comes to us. One of the interesting things about this word “help” in the original Greek language of the Bible is that it is a combination of three words which mean, “along with.” It also adds the meaning of “on the opposite side” and “to take hold of.” You put these together and it means “to take hold of, together with us, over to the other side.” The words of Jesus when he said, “I will send you a helper who comes alongside when you call and pull you into safety.” The Holy Spirit takes ahold of our spirit and leans back and lifts us up.

The Holy Spirit is there for you!

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Leadership Lessons from Peter Drucker

Leadership ConceptFrom My Leadership Archives

Peter Drucker and management are synonymous. He was an author of a required reading in one of my business classes at Oral Roberts University. Peter Drucker has been recognized as the “father of modern management,” and a Forbes cover story called him “the most perceptive observer of the American scene since Alexis de Tocqueville.”

I’ve found this article in my leadership archives that thought would be good for us as leaders and pastors to review as we lead our churches. In this article, Bob Buford from Leadership Network recapped some of the most significant leadership insights Drucker offered to the team while he served on the Board of Directors.

Here is the list of the Top Ten most Important Things an Organization must do: 

  1. The mission comes first; the mission of non-profits and churches is changed lives!
  2. The function of management is to make the church more church-like, not make the church more business-like.
  3. An organization begins to die the day it begins to be run for the benefit of the insiders and not for the benefit of the outsiders.
  4. Know the value of planned abandonment. You must decide what not to do.
  5. Know the value of foresight. You cannot predict the future, but you must access the futurity of present events.
  6. Focus on opportunities, not on problems. Most organizations assign their best resources to their problems, not their opportunities.
  7. Management is a social function and has mostly to do with people, not techniques and procedures.
  8. People decisions are the ultimate control mechanism of an organization. That’s where people look to find out what values an organization really holds.
  9. All work is work for a team. No individual has the temperament and skills to do every job. The purpose of a team is to make strengths productive and weaknesses irrelevant.
  10. The three most important questions are “What’s our business? Who’s the customer? And what does the customer consider value?”

That’s Drucker’s list. What would you add? What one or two of this list did God highlight to you to focus your next few months of leading?

The Messy Relating Community

Relational Challenges

Not seeing it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Last week, I had to deal with a situation that was starting to affect my personal emotional well-being. It had to do with this new phrase I learned called “ghosting.” Ghosting is the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. There was a breakdown of the relationship and now there’s no communication going on and it was beginning to spill over into our church community. I had to do something.

It was something very hard to do, and everything in me wanted to avoid doing it. But, the reason why I finally broke through the avoidance is because I found myself living in what Scott Peck calls “pseudo-community.” He writes, “Pseudo-community has as its hallmark the avoidance of conflict. In pseudo-community we keep things safe; we speak in generalities; we say things that those around us all agree with; tell little white lies to make sure no one’s feelings get hurt; no one gets tense and keeps relationships pleasant and well-oiled. In this type of community, our conversations are carefully filtered to make sure no one gets offended; if we feel hurt or irritated, you’re careful to hide it. Pseudo-community is agreeable and polite and gentle and stagnant and ultimately fatal.”

To pretend to “live in community and be in community” was ultimately making me feel like an imposter. I was putting up a front in my mind to protect the situation but really, I was trying to protect my reputation. I was caught in the relational vortex, and I couldn’t get out. Deep inside I was fuming, and it was harming my soul. It wasn’t a matter of forgiving as that would have been an easy thing to offer, but it was the avoidance and “ghosting” in a relationship that couldn’t be avoided. There was a sin against me and attempts to communicate were not responded to. There was a hurt, and I had to make a choice to uncover it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, says this, “Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than a severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”

The apostle Paul called it “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). It is what Peck says we should be willing to enter the chaos of truth-speaking. Chaos is unpleasant. It makes us feel out of control, and the addict inside us wants to be in control. So, in the chaos of letting the truth out, there are no guarantees. There’s going to be negative emotions that must be acknowledged and discussed.

Think about it. Jesus was always upsetting the applecart, he never chose the convenience of avoiding someone’s attitudes or behavior. Jesus caused a lot of chaos in his day. Whether it be the disciples arguing about “who was the greatest?” or calling Peter out in his wrong assessment of the Messiah’s plans to confronting the religious leaders about their dead religion. Jesus never walked away from a moment that would bring great healing and growth in the person because he was willing to cause a little chaos.

We often tell people what they want to hear, and we’re all guilty of padding a compliment to make someone feel good about themselves. “Self-deception,” writes Neil Plantinga, “is a mysterious process of pulling the wool over our eyes.” We all have this amazing capability to live in denial and not deal with implications of our actions or inactions.

I made my plan, waited on it for several days, I asked my wife to speak into my plan, let a few trusted friends review it as well and then I acted on it. I didn’t take the step because I was trying to pick a fight; I was trying to end one. I didn’t send it to cause embarrassment but to bring encouragement. God formed a community of the Triune God, and He invites us into this perfect community. It was through the original sin that this perfect community of God and humanity was made imperfect. The loss of community is not God’s intent.

Jesus Christ made the Trinity’s wish clear when He told us to “pray that we would be one” (cf. John 17:21). Our belonging to something greater than ourselves is what compels us to give up our individuality and belong to something far greater than whatever the individual might get out of it. God is building a community of people, but sometimes He uses the chaos to make it happen.

I initiated the contact, created the chaos, and I’m released of the inner-turmoil of hiding the pain. There’s a calm to my chaos.

Is it finished? Is the relationship healed?

No, but I’m free.

Community arises where the sharing of pain takes place, not as a stifling form of self-complaint, but as a recognition of God’s saving promises. A Christian community is, therefore, a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision” Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

 

Grateful for John Ortberg’s writings on God’s community in Everyone’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them.

The Lord Always Remember His Kids

untitled-designForgotten. Most likely you’ve experienced it. A forgotten birthday. A forgotten lunch plan. A forgotten fishing trip. There’s an entire Christmas movie series about a little boy who was forgotten and left behind at home. When the parents realized, he was nowhere to be found they quickly turned around to find him. These parents actually made a habit of leaving Kevin quite a bit. Must have been the financial benefits of sequels!

It’s a painful experience to be forgotten. A more poignant word is “abandoned,” and that’s what forgotten feels like. It cuts us to the heart. When the waves of life are crashing against us and eroding our foundation of faith, or when setbacks delay us, they can easily become a clog in the pipe and block the flow of God’s Spirit. We can feel forgotten and abandoned. It’s easy to have a bitterness of life that begins to fill every bit of our waking hours; it flows out of our mouth when we speak and it lowers our head in defeat.

We have a choice to make: we can let those times “win” or we can “rest.” Everything in our body will push against the resting. We push against it and try to make something happen, create a new thing, or do something to make our lives feel a bit better. However, there is another way: it’s actively resting in the promise of Jesus who says in John 14:8, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

God has a tattoo, and it’s your name on His hand. That’s how much He remembers you!

See what Isaiah 49:14 has to say: Zion says, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Our God responds, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

It’s active resting because God intervenes when He remembers us.
It’s active resting because God doesn’t leave us as abandoned children.
He always remembers and acts to redeem His children.

Our Prayers Stir the Lord to Action

I Samuel 1:19-20 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So, in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

What’s that long-lasting prayer that hasn’t been answered? Keep on praying, asking and seeking God for an answer. The acronym PUSH is a good reminder for us as we orient ourselves towards active resting, Pray Until Something Happens.

Our Worship Stirs the Lord to Action

Numbers 10:9 When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the Lord.

When we worship, God is at work. Worship lifts our eyes; it releases a fresh perspective and connects us to a greater power than our own. Take time to soak in God’s presence in heartfelt worship.

Our Purpose Stirs the Lord to Action

We’ve been redeemed for a purpose. God didn’t just create us and change our lives so we could occupy space. We have a purpose: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We have delays in our planning, but that doesn’t mean God has forgotten you. He remembers the purpose He has planned for you.

Genesis 6:1 But, God remembered Noah and all the wild animals.

Genesis 19:29 When God destroyed the cities of the plain, He remembered Abraham.

Jeremiah 15:15 Lord, you understand; remember me and care for me.

Psalm 96:3 He remembers His love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel…

You have a purpose. Your life does matter. Your life is uniquely designed to be a part of the great redemptive story of God. He uses your personality, your passions, and your peculiar ways of doing things to show the great love of God to this “world gone crazy” planet.

What is your purpose in life? Discover it. It might come from what stirs your heart. What makes you happy? What makes you angry? Or makes you cry? What breaks your heart? These are some very good indications that God is stirring your heart to make a difference.

Right now, you might be feeling forgotten and alone, but the Lord looks down at His hand, sees your name tatted across His palm and begins to make His way back to find you.

Give Yourself A Gift This Christmas

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Psalm 16:8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 

As humans, we want God to see us and to know that he cares. When I was a young father, I would hear a cry or scream from one of the bedrooms where our children were sleeping. I would pretend not to hear and hope that my wife’s superpower hearing would kick in, and she would leap tall buildings, speed like a shooting bullet and dash into their bedroom to save the little ones from their nightmare. The reality was, though, that she would typically nudge me to go check on the children. As I walked into the room, the sobs coming from the bed drew me closer, and then I would kneel by the bed to put my face next to his and say, “It’s okay. Daddy is here, right by your face.”

One of our greatest needs is to know we are personally in the sight of God’s care.

Psychologists and counselors are trained in classes to increase their empathy and to improve their social connection skills with their clients by understanding what is needed or wanted by the person right now. Those in the helping profession use the acronym ATTUNE to help them reorient themselves to build trust with their clients; it’s a very good tool to build and increase trust with your spouse, children and business partnerships when facing difficult times.

  • Awareness of the emotion;
  • Turning toward the emotion;
  • Tolerance of two different viewpoints;
  • trying to Understand
  • Non-defensive responses
  • and responding with Empathy

We can take that word, attunement, and apply it to our relationship with Father God. It helps us understand what the Father is doing when He comes close to us in our time of need: He is turning towards us.

These words encapsulate the psalmist’s faith. Many times we readily acknowledge that He is the Creator of the world, but we also need to know that He cares about our world. We are more to Him than a little cog in the workings of this world. We are more than just one Christmas light bulb in the million-light display of the Griswold Christmas light show. God can look at all of humanity, yet see that one little bulb that is burned out and needs care. This is the message of Christmas: God sees and enters our need.

Yet, we have a role as well. If the burned-out Christmas light bulb could talk, it would need to say, “Hey, I’m here. I need some help over here.” God sees the issue, but God also wants us to call out for Him.

The psalmist writes, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord.” Another translation says, “I have set the Lord before me.” It’s a strong action where we are reorienting ourselves. In setting the Lord before me, I am giving myself a gift, and it is hope. It is peace. It is joy. It is love. It’s a gift we can open every day of our lives, and we can live the abundant life from that gift.

Here are a few ways of reminding yourself God’s face is near to your own.

Set some time apart to “set the Lord before you.” This setting time can be a long period or a short one. Don’t worry about being a spiritual giant and say in a very deep pious voice, “I spent two hours reading God’s word.” God can give you a download of His presence in just a few minutes. If you have five or ten minutes while you’re waiting in line at Starbucks, use the props around you to set the Lord before you. Take those red Starbucks cups with stars on them, and turn it into a game of setting the Lord before you. You can pray this, “Father, just as you led the wise men by the signs in the sky, I thank you that you’re leading me today. I’m setting you as the leader of my life.”

Use trigger moments to reset your perspective. I was sitting in Starbucks this morning, reading and trying not to hear this obnoxious conversation going on between two people about money. Then in the background, “Joy to the World” came on. I closed my eyes and focused on the nearness of God: “The Lord has come!” Worship can happen anywhere, not just in the four walls of a sanctuary.

When life shakes you, let it awake you. That’s the story of Christmas. You see the glory of Christmas but also the suffering of Christmas. It’s good news, for sure, but there are tension points in the story: a young virgin girl carrying the Son of God, a righteous man dealing with interesting news, and the pursuit of a wicked king against the promised Messiah leading to innocent bloodshed. Let’s not overlook the suffering in the Christmas story. When situations don’t end up well, let them move you towards God and not away from His presence. In fact, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, look at that difficulty as an invitation to experience more of God’s presence.

Awareness of His nearness is a crucial step of setting the Lord before me.

Here’s the gift of His presence. The psalmist wrote earlier, Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Joy to the World

The Heart Has A Home

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I cannot believe that we’re already moving into the Christmas season. Maybe it’s because of the unusually warm weather that we had pretty much all through fall, but I’m not really ready for the move into Christmas. For crying out loud, I’m still digesting the turkey I ate yesterday! But here we are. We are moving into what Christians call “Advent.” Advent is the official beginning of our worship year, so maybe I should also add, “Happy New Year!” Though I don’t want to rush through another holiday…

In the early church, Christians mainly centered their lives upon two main events: Christmas and Easter. These two events, of the incarnation and of the resurrection, became markers that people could orient themselves towards. By remembering and repeating these cycles in the year, Christians could begin to tell the story of God. Last week, we talked about the importance of our stories, and we know that our stories are just blips in the greater story of God. The incarnation represents many things to many folks.

Advent is a season of hope, of expectation, and of waiting. During this time, we remember the longing for deliverance from evil and oppression experienced by the ancient Jews and the anticipation (and expectation) of the Kingdom of God breaking in on their (and our) behalf.

Like a child who loves to have a story read over and over again, we reclaim the powerful saving events of Christmas by telling them once again; it’s the story of God’s love breaking into our reality in the person of Jesus.

I’m so excited to begin the Advent season with you all. We will be following along in the Vineyard USA pamphlet that Dan Wilt helped to put together for all the Vineyards across the country. Much of what I included in this post was courtesy of the booklet that you all can pick up at church. This Sunday, he will introduce our series as we work through the Gospel of John!

This Advent, we are going to talk about our hearts. Something that we talk a lot about at our church is the idea of disenchantment. We get burned out by church, hurt by life, and calloused. But the good news of God is that he desires all of us. It’s with his love that our hearts are changed. As Augustine writes, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” Our hearts are searching for something; they’re looking for a place to call home.

Our hearts have a home in our Father’s house. And this house is a place where people who are different can live in harmony, and where those who have orphaned themselves through sin and fear can find welcome and restoration. This is the hope that we have in Christ.

 

Betrayal, Bitterness, and The Gospel

Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. This little jingle that we learned in Sunday School as children is just as true then as it is now. God loves us, and this love that he gives to us freely transforms us and molds us into his image of love. And the cool thing about this love is that it simply isn’t a love upward towards God, but this love that God plants inside of our hearts is a love for God and for neighbor.

In the gospels, Jesus says to his followers that the new commandment is to love one another as he has loved them.  Loving one another would have been an easy thing to consent but Jesus doesn’t let us define the way we are to love, he adds this qualifier to the command, “as I loved you.”

Love one another.

Paul speaks of this love in action in the famous love chapter in 1st Corinthians 13. He says that all the gifts that they have are so good, and they should absolutely thank God for them. But if they don’t have love, all that they have is meaningless.

Love isn’t a feeling. It’s an act of the will. Love is patient and is kind. Love does not envy, does not boast, and is not proud. Love has good manners. It doesn’t take advantage of people. It’s not irritable.

And love does not keep record of wrongdoing.

That brings us to the Book of Philemon, the book that we’ve been reading through for the past month. I honestly could camp longer than we have in this book. For how short it is, there is just so much good information! Because this book isn’t just love in theory; it’s love in practice. Paul writes to Philemon to love Onesimus despite this huge act of betrayal. The story of Philemon and Onesimus is a powerful story of redemption and recovery. Because when the gospel comes into real life situations, it changes the dynamics. God gives new life. This is the promise of the gospel. And sometimes we think of this new life as a life beyond the one that we are in, but the reality of it is that the gospel of redemption and recovery comes into this here and now. The gospel changed the situation for Philemon and Onesimus.

Onesimus ran off, maybe stealing money from Philemon, and this relationship is completely shattered by human circumstances. But God in a miraculous way brings Paul into the situation to demonstrate the power of love.

In your lifetime, you’ll have lots of opportunities to suffer. We live in a fallen world in the midst of a depraved society. All around us we have these non-perfect humans (NPH’s) running around, and a couple of them are running for president. These NPH’s are hurting one another. We, NPH’s, are hurting one another.

That’s not love in action.

These are real wounds that we are inflicting on each other and on ourselves. The great mystery of Christianity, for me, is that for a religion based upon a mixture of mutual love, honor, and respect, we continue to hurt each other.

So I’ve come up with some simple steps to move towards forgiveness and love for one another.

For the one who broke trust 

  1. There must be genuine sorrow on the part of the betrayer. This is key to rebuilding trust. Without it, it’s like building a brick wall without cement. (cf. Ps 51:4; 2nd Cor 7:10)
  2. Move towards disclosure. Tell the other person what you’ve done and confess.
  3. And do this with a spirit of openness. Keep nothing hidden from the offended person because God sees our hearts.
  4. After confession, allow time for healing. Give yourself to the process of healing. It will take a long time depending upon the hurt.
  5. And through the whole process, remind yourself of the faithfulness of God in this broken relationship. (cf. Ps 18; 32:7; Jer 8:18)

Owning up to your moment of betrayal will be one of the hardest thing you will do, but it is the most freeing thing you will experience!

For the Betrayed

  1. Release the hurts. Don’t retell the story over and over. Retelling the story develops a well-worn path that becomes a rut of thinking that becomes a pattern of pain.
  2. Determine that you’ll practice restoration by letting God handle the rest of the story. (cf. Rom 12:17-21)
  3. Invite God into the betrayal.

And that’s the biggest point. Inviting God into that hurt is the ultimate form of healing. Jesus knew the sting of Judas’ kiss,  and he knew the pain of Peter saying, “I don’t know this man.”

In forgiveness, we don’t ignore the behavior. Forgiveness, as Miroslav Volf says, is a generous release of a genuine debt. But in forgiveness, we are showing love in action. Jesus used a parable to explain love in action when he spoke of the sinful woman saying, “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

Paul, like Christ, knew that forgiveness is what it’s all about. Paul said in Philemon, “Charge it to my account!” God forgets what we remember, and he remembers what we forget.

Here are some questions for you to ponder throughout this week

  1. What are the areas of broken trust that you find yourself continually rehashing? Have you invited Christ the healer into these moments?
  2. Reflect on the emotions of Jesus when Judas betrayed him. Reflect on Peter’s denial of Christ. What ways do we deny the presence of Christ in our betrayal?
  3. How can you move in restoration towards the one who has broken trust with you?

Grace and peace to you as you travel along this healing journey.

Jon

Charge It To My Account!

Philemon 1:18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

Wow, I’m still soaking in the goodness of God this past Sunday. We had the extreme pleasure of combining services with our La Viña congregation for a joint baptism service. It was a blast! We had sixteen planned baptisms and then a spontaneous one. It was crazy. We finished with our planned baptisms, and then we invited anyone else who would like to be baptized to come to the front. One man got out of his seat and started sprinting towards the baptismal, unbuttoning his shirt in the anticipation of getting dunked in the water.

It was a huge celebration that we ended with a day at the park eating great BBQ and playing corn-hole!

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Baptisms to me are extremely special. And I don’t want that to sound flippant at all. I love baptisms. I love the joy on the faces on the people that come out of the water. Whether that’s due to the temperature of the water is another story. It’s a perfect representation of the gospel of Christ: a personal decision  to follow the ways of the Lord while being done in the context of the community of believers.

This is why we used Philemon’s story to end with baptism; in this situation, Paul is standing between the two hurt people as a means of reconciliation. Paul in this way is functioning like Christ. Paul is placing all the hurts and frustrations of a broken relationship upon himself to create a new one reshaped by the reconciling love of Christ.

Because that’s what it’s all about folks.

Baptisms are outward expressions of an inward feeling. It’s a mystery trying to explain it all, but it’s something the church has been doing for thousands of years. Christians trace their baptismal rites back to John the Baptist, but really it’s been a part of religious expression long before then. The Old Testament contains references to ceremonial cleansing (see Exod 29:4; 30:17–21; Lev 8:6; 14:18; 16:24; Num 19:19–21). But what’s amazing about our belief in baptism is that it not only functions as a physical cleansing, it is also a spiritual one as well. Paul speaks of our baptism as mimicking the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6:3-7). Baptisms display to the world a dying to the old ways of living and a proclamation of new life in Christ.

And that’s why we celebrate baptisms. All the wrongs in our life, all the wrongs that we have done and the wrongs done to us, are charged to Christ’s account. We have no reason to sulk in our depravity, but instead, we have every reason to celebrate! Baptisms are a good thing! Let’s do it again, folks, because God is wanting to increase his family. And let’s do it soon.

God bless you as you finish up this week, and I’ll see you Sunday.

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Authority + Grace

Philemon 8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love…

We’ve begun a series at church on grace filled living. We’re focusing in on Philemon. It’s the shortest of the Pauline letters, and for that reason, many have glossed over its contents. It’s placed at the very end of the Pauline Corpus, and if it weren’t right before Hebrews, one of my favorite books, I probably would ignore it.

But don’t let the brevity of the book deter you from its true brilliance.

Paul, as he was in all of his letters, is acting very pastorally.

The letter is written by Paul sometime during his imprisonment. We’re not entirely sure where Paul is, but we know that he has come into contact with a certain Onesimus, the runaway slave. Paul writes this letter directly to Philemon, but there appears to be an entire congregation involved with Onesimus’ running away. He begins by addressing Philemon, individually, but then includes Apphia, our sister, Achippus, and the entire church that meets in his house. This letter was never meant to be a private one. That much is sure. The concerns expressed in this letter are placed within a context of social relationships within the Christian community: the way Philemon responds to what Paul writes will have serious implications for his church.

He could use his authority to diffuse the situation, but instead, Paul encourages Philemon to act in a Christian manner. Paul has all the authority that he needs in this situation to tell Philemon to act the way that Paul wants him to act, but Paul appeals to him on the basis of love.

Paul, in essence, is allowing Philemon to live out this Christian faith on his own. Paul’s acting very fatherly in this scenario. I remember numerous occasions in which my parents would kind of dictate how I should act. As I grew older, they lessened their control and allowed me to really live on my own. It was in these situations that I truly felt like was the one responsible for the good deed, and that sense of ownership motivated me to continue living a good life. Though I was for sure coached by my parents to live an upright life, it was in the situations where I was “on my own” that it became a bigger deal.

470865786_xsIt’s like learning how to ride a bike. The training wheels are there for protection, but eventually, you have to learn how to ride without them. Bikes with training wheels are fun, for sure, but they aren’t the whole experience of riding.

Paul is using his authority over Philemon as the one who taught him in the ways of Christ to show grace to Onesimus. Paul is giving Philemon the opportunity to do it on his own.

We’re put in these situations all the time because we all are in places of authority. Whether that is in our friend group, small group, job, school, etc. We all have authority in some way. But this authority that we have is God-given. Paul understood this. Everything that he had in his life was because of God. That is why he is able to give Philemon the opportunity to succeed on his own.

We are given authority in places not to lord it over people. We are given authority in places in order to show Christ the Lord. In all things, we proclaim Christ.

Paul wants Philemon to not see Onesimus as “the other” but as his “brother.” This is only possible by the wonder-working grace of Christ. It’s another instance of the upside down values of the Kingdom of God. Paul’s authority in the situation as the leader is not to dictate from above, but instead, Paul stands between Onesimus and Philemon as a model of reconciliation. He gets into their mess as their spiritual leader, and he helps them along in it. He doesn’t just use his authority to tell them what to do.

He uses his authority to show grace.


This post was written by Michael Sterns.