Friday, September 27, 2013

I'm not going to waste your time...

In these days of texting and twitter, brief is best.  So 1 Timothy 6:6-19 put simply:

Christ's way or the way of self-indulgence.

Your choice.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Don't just do something...sit there!!!

 Too often in the church we are action-orientated.  Is there a problem, then let's do something to fix it.  Is there a need, then let's do something to meet it.  Does the good news of Jesus need to be proclaimed, then let's set up a training program and get out there. 

In contrast, I am the sort of person who, when confronted with a situation similar to those above, or any situation in life for that matter, likes to stop, think, reflect and then act.  Consequently, that's why I love Paul's thoughts in 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

He simply says "First of all..." but doesn't follow it with a list of seconds, thirds and fourths. Rather he is saying 'Above all else' or 'The most important thing...'. And what is above all else and the most important thing???

Prayer.  Paul encourages us to pray, but not just for ourselves. He urges us to pray for all people. How do we do this.  Pastor John Kleinig once wrote that when we pray for others we do four things.

We pray as if their need is ours.

We act as if their lives are ours.

We act as if their sin is ours.

We act as if their blessing is ours.

In effect, we put ourselves into their shoes and see things from their perspective.  May be that is why Paul sees prayer as above all else. It is only when we see things from another person's point of view that we begin to develop a bigger and broader picture. It is only when I stand with someone that I can begin to serve them. It is only when I listen to and hear their stories that I am able to begin to share mine...and just maybe in my story the gospel of Jesus can speak into their hearts and lives.

Friday, September 13, 2013

I once was blind....but now I squint!

1 Timothy 1:12-17 reminds us that there is no accounting for God's taste in people.  He takes someone who is persecuting the followers of Christ and converts him into a leader and teacher of those same people. He takes ordinary people like Moses, Noah, David, Mary, Peter and others like them and uses them to proclaim his grace and point others to the kingdom of God. He uses ordinary people like you and me to do the same today.  Not people who somehow have their head together and their life all worked out, but real people, messy people. 

The wisdom in this is that ultimately it points to God's power, and the charisma or the persuasive power of the individual.  Besides what people are looking for today  are real people. They want to hear real stories from a real person. Not a collection of theological jargon. Not religious platitudes. Not some phony pasted smile.  They want to know and hear from someone like you...someone like me. Your witness. Your life. Your words. Your faith.  Because that is where Christ is fully revealed. In you. In me. In Paul. In the worst of sinners.

That's why I loved the line which is the title for this week's blog. Too often I struggle to 'see' what God is doing. I struggle to 'see' his way clearly. I struggle to 'see' his grace. Yet I know it is there. So unlike the hymn writer who once was blind, but now 'sees', I am still squinting. I will see clearly when the time comes.

Friday, September 06, 2013

It will be good for you!

Some thoughts on Paul's letter to Philemon....

Of the many words I can recall my parents saying to me, the ones that still cause me to cringe the most are:

"It will be good for you!"

These words usually followed something like, "Eat this..." when it was something I really didn't want to eat. Or "Do this..." when it was something I really didn't want to do.

"It will be good for you!" is what Paul is saying to Philemon, but, unlike my parents, who usually said these words to me in private, Paul puts Philemon in the gaze of the whole church. Let me explain...

Paul meets Onesimus, while Paul and, probably, Onesimus, are in prison together. Onesimus is a runaway slave owned by Philemon, a person of influence and church leader that Paul obviously had a deeply personal relationship with.  While in prison together, Onesimus comes to faith in Jesus. The relationship between Paul and Onesimus deepens so that Paul refers to Onesimus as "my own son in Christ". Because of this, Paul makes some big requests of Philemon.  He wants Philemon to treat Onesimus as a 'brother in the Lord' and not to punish him according to the law of the day, but to release him so that he might serve alongside Paul.

Now this seems all well and good to us who live in a culture and time when slavery is deemed unacceptable, but at the time of this letter slaves were quite common.  They were the labour-saving devices of the time. They cooked, cleaned, feed the stock, laboured in the fields, handled the accounts, bought and sold goods on behalf of their owner in the market, looked after the children, and many more everyday tasks.  When one broke down through illness or age, or when a particular slave became troublesome and ran away or stole from his or her owner, that slave was punished and then sold off in the local market. (What we do with old kitchenware and appliances and motor cars) At the same time, some slaves became so much a part of the family they served that when they grew old and unable to serve they were 'put out to pasture' so to speak, and became a part of the household to be cared for and treasured for their years of service.

Now by rights and under the law of the day, Philemon would receive Onesimus back, punish him, probably a beating of some sort, and then sell him in the local market where he would be a marked slave usually purchased for a life of hard labour, and Philemon would be quit of him. The slave was put in his place through this punishment and the owner, in this case Philemon, would have his honour restored and save face in the eyes of the community. But Paul puts Philemon in a bind.

He wants Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a slave, but more importantly, as 'a brother in the Lord'. As I mentioned earlier, Paul makes this request publicly in a letter that would have been read to the church that met in Philemon's home. Paul is asking Philemon to lose deny himself forgive that which in the eyes of the culture of his day was unforgivable...and to meet Onesimus as an equal.

Can you imagine the discomfort Philemon must have experienced with this request from Paul and having to deal with it in a such a public forum as the church which met in his own home?  Can you picture the conversations in that church about Philemon and Onesimus?  How difficult this was going to be for him?  How uncomfortable?  How messy?  But through it all Paul was saying the same thing my parents said to me all those years:

"It will be good for you!"

The story of Paul, Onesimus and Philemon serves to highlight how being a follower of Jesus doesn't necessarily make our life more ordered and easy.  In fact, quite often, the opposite is true. Following Christ makes life messy. It puts us repeatedly on the spot in hundreds of ways everyday.  But through it all, Jesus says in so many words:

"It will be good for you!"

While that may be true, it's still messy and you may not enjoy it. I know I rarely do.