This was supposed to be posted a week ago but I was way behind schedule. So here is a joint blog by my dear friends Ryan Laden (pastor in Australia) and Scott Donaho (Children’s pastor in San Antonio).
This was Scott’s selection so we will let him lead us off:
I love the unlikely-ness of this story. Only God can weave together a plot so interesting.
At some point in the past, Philemon had put His trust in Christ through Paul’s teaching. Paul has now met a man called Onesimus who is none other than a runaway slave belonging to Philemon. Paul has strengthened and nurtured Onesimus in his faith and is now writing Philemon to graciously receive him back into his service.
Onesimus. The unlikely convert, the runaway slave, the embittered soul. He hears the gospel of Jesus from a fellow prisoner, a passionate spokesmen who himself encountered Jesus in a remarkable way. Onesimus believes. We don’t know if Philemon’s faith was known to Onesimus before this point, but now Paul is sending him back to the person who has every reason to reject and punish him. Perhaps even Onesimus himself is the carrier of this letter.
Paul. The preacher, the prisoner, the advocate. Once a murderer and persecutor of the church, now an unstoppable voice of God’s truth to the nations. He is known throughout the churches. His preaching has caused riots, converted thousands, and launched churches in city after city. And now in prison he lovingly gives himself to the spiritual good of a runaway slave. We don’t know if Paul knew who Onesimus’ owner was before he reached out to him with the love of Jesus, but Paul deeply loves this new brother in Christ.
Philemon. The business man, the follower of Jesus, the defrauded slave owner. Paul’s letter brings him an unexpected opportunity, to say the least. Philemon has the chance to embody the same kind of unmerited favor that God gives. We don’t know how Philemon responded to Paul’s letter, but Paul is confident that Philemon will show exactly the kindness he is asking for.
This kind of restoration can be a difficult process, but the path of restoration always leads to more of God and more joyful relationships with our brothers and sisters in Him. “It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while, so you could have him back forever” (verse 15).
If you need restoration, whether you have wronged someone or been wronged yourself, put your hope in Jesus. Remember all he has done for you and how he has forgiven your sin. Trust that God will strengthen you to give His mercy and acceptance to others. See them as a beloved sibling in Christ, see their potential usefulness in God’s kingdom, and receive them as though you were receiving the Apostle Paul himself. Forgive them of every wrong and rejoice in their reconciliation with Jesus.
And at all times, work for this kind of restoration in the lives of others. Invest, teach, train, pray, mediate, recommend, encourage. Be a proactive peacemaker. Be an agent of God’s reconciliation in the lives of others. Let your life be a model of Christian character, use every moment to give God’s grace and truth to those around you right where you are.
Now we will hear from Ryan Laden:
The essence of this letter is best summed up by using a line from another of Paul’s letters:
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
The modern reader easily nods their head in agreement with this maxim but when we encounter the message of Philemon, we come face to face with an awareness of just how radical this way of thinking was and still is in many places even still today.
Paul’s letter to his friend in Christ, Philemon, is a working out of this central tenet of the Christian faith in a setting that carries a lot of cost and emotional baggage. To treat all people as one in Christ, not defined by ancestry, socio-economic status, or gender differences, carries with it real costs and real hardship from time to time.
In this letter, the Apostle Paul shines a light on one circumstance where such Christ centered equality required some radical thinking and tough choices.
Paul’s letter is simply a request that his friend Onesimus (a run away slave) be welcomed back into the household of his legal master, another friend named Philemon.
Paul uses a mixture of brilliant and personal rhetorical techniques to persuade Philemon to reject convention (inflicting a serious and public penalty onto Onesimus for violating the laws of Roman slavery) and to introduce Christian love and grace into his treatment of this complicated and costly situation.
In verse 8, Paul makes a veiled reference to his Apostolic authority which would have allowed him to demand that Philemon’s church community enforce his proclamation concerning the treatment of the runaway.
But as soon as he makes this reference he backs off and approaches Philemon from a position as being an old man who is in chains for the sake of the very gospel that Philemon has been faithfully sharing with all around him.
This persuasive act keeps Paul in a position of authority (in verses 17 and 19 Paul references their partnership in the gospel and Paul’s parent status in Philemon’s spiritual life) while placing the onus of action back onto Philemon as the master of his house.
The decision to accept Onesimus back into the house without penalty violated all known social and legal expectations in the Roman world. Simply treating him well upon his return would have been revolutionary. But Paul goes further and asks Philemon to provide for the needs Paul experiences as a prisoner by not only accepting Onesimus but by returning him to Paul with a gift.
This request is made using masterful rhetorical tools. Paul appealed to Philemon in every way imaginable. We do not know how this request went over but Philemon would have been a hard hearted man to not have accepted Onesimus with some measure of Paul’s request for clemency and grace.
The takeaway point for the modern reader of this personal appeal from Paul must come back to Philemon 6:
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Paul’s prayer here is often understood in terms of asking God to help Philemon understand the fullness of Christ through the act of proclaiming the gospel (sharing your faith). The idea is that as we teach and preach we gain more insight and we learn more than those we are instructing. Fair statement.
But this is not what Paul wrote.
The term is notoriously difficult to translate but the key verb (sharing your faith) is not that hard to understand and its application cannot be limited to the act of proclaiming the gospel message.
Paul is praying that Philemon will experience the “koinonia” of his own faith and that this will bear in him every good thing in Christ. The term koinonia can mean sharing but not in the teaching and preaching sense of the term. It is sharing like we might in true Christian community.
Paul is praying that Philemon will share in the fellowship of faith and that as he does he will see that he has been given much in Christ. So much in fact that he can afford to share these gifts with others.
If Philemon will apply the grace of Christ to Onesimus he will act in a way that promotes the equality of Christian koinonia or fellowship.
Lord help me to live generously. Help me to share the love, forgiveness, and grace you have shown to me through the cross of Christ.
Now for my short thoughts:
Philemon is an interesting “book”. It is funny that we should have this letter along with Paul’s other longer letters. The other letters deal with weighty issues of salvation, law, faith, grace, spiritual gifts, holiness and the like. This letter is a very simple sort of personal note to Philemon. But though it is a personal note Paul fully expects it to mentioned to the church as well (v3).
It is clear that Philemon is a godly man, full of faith and love. He has obviously supported and encouraged Paul in the ministry. Now Paul is sending this note, presumably by the hand of Onesimus, to encourage Philemon to receive Onesimus back to himself gracefully.
Why Philemon has been estranged from Onesimus his servant is unclear. Paul only mentions that Onesimus has been separated from his master “for a little while”. He goes further to say, “if he has done you wrong” and “if he owes you anything”. Paul isn’t a guy to pull punches so if he knew of any disagreement between the two men he certainly would have mentioned it here.
Whatever the issue, Paul wants to be clear that Philemon is to welcome Onesimus back as a brother and not as a slave. Onesimus has come to salvation in his time with Paul and Philemon should rejoice in this fact.
The simple lesson here is easy to pull out because it resonates with so much of Paul’s other writings.
Be unified! Be one!
Whatever station we hold in life, Master or Slave…
Whatever gift we possess in the church, tongues or preaching or edification…
Whatever we may as our ancestry, Jew or Greek…
Whatever unnecessary theology may separate us, those who eat and those who abstain from eating…
We must rally together around the banner of Christ!
We must find our bond to be the cross and the blood!
We must rejoice in the sameness of Spirit!
We must acknowledge our single paternity in God!
We are one! Forgiving as we are forgiven. Loving as we are loved!
Would not Christ appeal to us as Paul does to Philemon? “If anyone has done you wrong or owes you anything charge that to me. After all, you owe me your very life”
(See Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1 Corinthians 7:22, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6,11,18; Ephesians 4:2-6; Ephesians 4:11-13; Romans 14; Ephesians 2:11-22)
These are the rules for the Big May Giveaway!
First of all, what is the BMG? It is a contest during the month of March and the prize will be decided on April 2nd. Why am I calling it the Big May Giveaway? (If you have to ask that then you don’t know me very well)
Prize money of $500 will be given away and split between two people. (probably you and your friend)
Here is how it works.
You recommend one of my books to someone. It can be The Shadow, Love Notes or Not Mere Words. They then go to my website and order one of the books (or all of them or 50 copies of them). In the special instructions section of placing the order (nearly the last thing they will do) they put “recommended by…. your name“.
I’ll get the order via my website and ship out the book(s). Then the purchaser and the individual who recommended the book (that’s you) will both be entered into a drawing which will take place April 2. If selected you will each receive a $250 Visa Gift Card to use as you wish.
Yes, if you get your church to order fifty copies then you get entered in 50 times (as will the person who ordered). Yes if you get fifty different people to order a book, each you get entered in fifty times. Yes if your friend orders three copies you each get entered in three times. Yes you can buy books for yourself and then put “recommended by self” in the special instructions and try to win the entire $500 for yourself.
But if someone forgets to put your name in the special instructions you will not be included in the drawing. So make sure they don’t forget that part.
You have four weeks to get your name in as many times as you want or as is possible.
Currently all of my books have had their prices reduced on my website to only $7.50 each. With shipping any single book is only $9.
So all that has to be done now is that you start telling people about the books. What could it hurt? If you haven’t gotten yourself a copy, now would be the time to do so.
Never has there been a Big May Giveaway contest in March with the prize given out in April… don’t miss out on your chance to be part of such a wacky event.
So I won’t make this long. In college (1995) I had the opportunity of making two very great friends. Ryan L. and Scott D. There are too many great memories to share so i’ll leave that for another time. Currently we are all three in ministry. Ryan L. is pastoring in Australia, Scott D. is a children’s pastor at the largest church in San Antonio… and well, you know me… i pastor 35 great people in San Angelo, teach five wonderful students the Bible and travel around Texas preaching as God allows…
Ryan L. had the wonderful idea to do a blog topic together once a month. He picked the first topic of the wedding in Cana in John 2. Here are our thoughts. (we were supposed to keep it 500 words or less… enjoy.
Thoughts on John 2 by Ryan L.
The life of Jesus is a display of the glory of God. If you have begun in chapter one of John’s gospel, this point is unmistakable by the time you finish reading this account of the wedding miracle.
In Jesus, we see the glory of the God (1:14). He has narrated for us the grace and truth of the invisible God (1:18). Then as John concludes the wedding miracle, he says, “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed His glory” (2:11).
In this miracle, Jesus first displayed his unique and unmatched place as God the Son. At least, this was the first work He allows us to really touch and see, and even taste.
At the beginning of John’s gospel, we see Jesus active in the creation of the universe. But we weren’t there. You and I weren’t at the wedding either, but four disciples were there. They saw it. They touched it. They tasted it. Through their witness to us in the Scripture, we share their experience, and we see with them the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6).
This miracle raises many questions. Why is this Jesus’ first miracle? Why a wedding? Why in Galilee? Why wine? Why stone jars? These questions are all worthwhile, but the aspect I have found most interesting recently is contained in verse 9:
“When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over,”
We see next what he said to the bridegroom: this wine is the best we’ve had yet! What caught my attention here is this, though everyone at the wedding enjoyed the miraculous power of Jesus, not everyone caught a glimpse of His glory in this miracle. He revealed His glory, but not everyone saw it.
So who saw it? Not the Master of Ceremonies. John is clear, he didn’t know where the wine came from. So who knew…
The servants knew.
The ones who obediently carried the gift of God and humbly gave it as Jesus commanded – these people knew the glory and the power of God the Son. And the disciples got a front row seat.
I love the image this gives us. Sometimes God designs that it is in the humble obedience of serving others that we receive a glimpse of God’s glory.
For many, this is the obstacle that is blocking the full experience of seeing God’s glory. We spend creative energy on positioning ourselves to receive the grace of God, when God is directing us to put forth effort and creativity to give His grace to others. This kind of giving is Christ-centered, God-dependent and Spirit-empowered, of course. Through the giving, God delights to open our eyes to see and know and taste His glory in new and life-giving ways like never before.
In fact, I think Jesus might have said something like this before [Acts 20:35].
Thoughts on John 2 by Ryan D. (that’s me)
In evaluating the “Wedding at Cana” (John 2) there are dozens of speculations I could (and want) to dive into and explore. But as this is a limited view of the text I’ll focus on the thing that strikes me the most.
Jesus at this point isn’t the hated public figure that he will be by the end of the book of John. No one is seeking to put him to death just yet. He and his disciples were invited to the wedding. “Bill, we should invite that neat carpenter turned rabbi and his students to the wedding… you know the one, Mary’s boy.” (it probably didn’t happen like that)
But you know the story, the wine runs out and Jesus does his first sign (his first of many. See John 21:25). He takes six large stone water pots and turns the water into exquisite wine. But still that isn’t what strikes me.
His mother asked him to do something about the lack of wine so she already knew something of his person and power. (Luke 1:31, 2:51) Still it is his response to her that strikes me the most. “Woman, my hour has not yet come.” (2:4) This is huge because he is telling us here that he came for a specific purpose, a pin point of history. He came for a certain hour, and of course we know it is the hour of the Cross! John takes hold of this statement more than any of the other gospel writers as it relates to Christ and the cross.
In John 7 they wanted to arrest Jesus but were unable to because his “hour had not yet come”. (7:30) In John 8 he calls himself the Son of God but the people don’t arrest him because his “hour had not yet come.” (8:20) In John 12 (the start of the last 24 hours Jesus will have before the cross) he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And later he hints at the trouble of his soul as he approaches the cross and acknowledges that it was for “this purpose I have come to this hour.” (12:23, 27-29) He then washes the disciple’s feet since he knew “that his hour had come to depart… to the Father.” (13:1) Finally a few hours later as he prays in the garden he speaks to God the Father and says, “The hour has come; glorify your son that the son may glorify you.” (17:1)
The hour! For all that Jesus did on the earth, for all the temporal good he did, feeding people, healing people and simply being kind to them his eyes were always fixed on “the hour”. It was for the cross that he came. He didn’t come to simply appease the masses (they’d leave him anyway as they did in John 6:66). He came to institute a new covenant through his blood.
Even at the wedding his mind was on “the hour”!
You are welcome to read this but it is primarily intended to be a review for the students of my 7-Ten Discipleship Program. They have a test coming up and they will need the help.
You guys need to be ready. This is going to be a tough test. If you will review the things in this blog you will be well prepared. You guys have been doing great. Just keep it up.
This test will cover Judges through the rest of the Old Testament.
You will want to know when they crossed into the Promised Land. You will want to know why that date is significant. (two reasons) You will want to be able to make a case for the time period of the conquest using the life of Caleb. Be sure you use your proof texts. You will want to know how long it has been since they left Egypt. (to the day of the crossing of the Jordan)
You need to be able to make a case that the book of Judges covers 350 years or less.
Name the first three Kings of the Unified kingdom and the the length of their reigns. You will want to know the first king of the Northern/Southern Kingdom after the split and the capital city of each. You will want to know who the last king of Israel was and who the king of Judah was when Israel fell. You need to know the last three kings of Judah and the length of their reigns. You will want to know the four significant events that coincide with the 3rd year of Jehoiakim. You will want to outline the three separate exiles. You will want to know the year that Jerusalem fell. Be sure you know when the book of Ezekiel begins and what chapter of Ezekiel precedes the fall of Jerusalem. (Chapter 31 if i didn’t tell you) Be sure that you can explain the relationship between Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Be sure you know when the King of Persia conquered Babylon and who was the king of each nation. What are the proof texts for the decree issuing the return to Jerusalem? (book and chapter is fine)
When Jerusalem falls ABOUT how many years of kings had there been and how long had the temple been in existence. (500/420) actual numbers (506/422)
Be sure you know what year Jehoiachin was released from prison. (and what his other name was)
Be sure you know which kings Ezra 4 spans and the number of years covered in Ezra 4. (about 72)
Justify the seemingly out of place Ezra 4:24.
What king does Esther coincide with?
What were the purposes of Haggai and Zechariah and where do they fit in to Ezra?
When did Ezra go to Jerusalem? (tell me the year of the king and the chapter of Ezra)
What year of Darius was the Temple completed?
Explain who the Darius is in Daniel 5/6.
Where does Daniel 11-12 fall in Ezra? Daniel 10?
Name the two principal characters in charge of building the temple.
How much time passes between Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem and Nehemiah’s? How long is Nehemiah in Jerusalem? What year/king did Nehemiah go to Jerusalem?
There may be some Bonus questions.
If you know the above you should be in really great shape for the test. (you wanted me to give you all the answers, didn’t you?)
See you Tuesday in class-
John, you don’t get to be sick…
If you met me in the last thirteen years (2000 to present) It is likely that you don’t really know me.
In part i’m glad for that. But i think it may have given you the wrong idea about me. (people tell me all the time that the only reason i trust God is because i’ve never gone through anything) (you can think so if you’d like) The truth is I’m genuinely happy now. I love life. I am light and silly (sometimes verging on outright stupid). My wife and i laugh all the time. My kids and i run and play and giggle. But it wasn’t always so.
The Nutshell… (the very tiny nutshell as i don’t wish to glorify the dark)
I was born May 1, 1975. Became a Christian February 1, 1979. Knew i wanted to preach by 1980.
But I grew up a bit alone. Family went to church. Three younger sisters. But I never felt connected to people. Mocked a lot. Awkward. Often friendless.
By the age of 16 I had planned my own death. By 18 i was suffocating. I hated myself. I was functionally depressed. I spent 16 hours a day in bed. I was afraid of the dark and nightmares plagued every sleeping moment.
But i was a Christian… believed/thought/hoped God really loved me. So i pressed on.
I used to pummel myself with my fists. (good thing i wasn’t strong) I used to scream at the reflection in the mirror, “Die… please just die!”
It was dark.
I wasn’t happy. I was no longer even good at pretending to be happy.
I hated myself. Believed i was hated. Felt worthless and stupid.
But then i picked up my Bible.
I read it once in a year. The air felt a little fresher. God did have a purpose for me. He did have a plan for my life. (i was still far from whole)
I read it again. Now it wasn’t so much what i believed about myself that mattered but more who i was in Christ that mattered.
I read it again. And again.
The veil was lifted. Life wasn’t about me. It wasn’t even about what i believed. It was about Christ. It was always about Christ.
I read the Bible over and over again. Joy began to spring up in my heart.
The way i used to describe my life was like a landscape. A large desert wasteland with a grand canyon size pit of pain and misery made up my life. Down in the depths of the canyon flowed a river (my faith in Christ). As i studied the Scripture the river began to swell until finally it crested the canyon. Now the landscape of my life is a flood. A glorious wonderful flood! Jesus, God, Spirit, grace, Love, hope, peace, life! Real life!
I’m a real boy now. It isn’t that i never hurt, but now my river has become a flood and the flood controls the attitude of my heart.
I am finally whole in Christ.
If you met me in the last 13 years you should know that i’ve only recently become a real boy. I used to be tied up and bound. If you find yourself trudging through darkness let me say a few things. There is grace in God. There is strength in him. There is healing in him. Find the truth of who Christ is and who we are in him through disciplined diligent study of the Scripture. It does get better. I promise.
To those of you who knew me before and are still my friends, thanks.