Onesimus

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 8-16, ESV).

Maybe like no other epistle that he wrote, this letter to a friend named Philemon shows that the Apostle truly did embody the gospel of Christ. The New Living Translation’s take on verse 11 reads, ” Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us.” That is the power of Christ. Someone who was perceived of little to no value is now seen as priceless. In fact, this letter challenges the church to truly be the church. A community centered upon the transformational work of Jesus. Philemon was called to embrace a runaway slave as nothing less than a brother. He had every legal right to imprison him (maybe even to take his life) . . . and yet he was to extend forgiveness and impart new status upon him. Is that what your church is famous for? Inviting the untouchables, unlovables, and unlikelies? Those who have no value to the world around them?

I hope you relate a bit to each party in this situation. I am sure, if you are anything like me, you have felt like Onesimus. A slave. A runaway. Somewhere along the way you stumbled upon the cross and now are a part of the family of God. By no work of your own. Just Grace. And other times you are being challenged to play the part of Philemon. To give that which you did not deserve to someone who does not deserve it either. You want retribution. To be paid back what is fairly yours. You just can’t believe that this person before you could be forgiven either. In fact, you are troubled by it. Because every time you look them in the eyes you are reminded that you were at one time no different than they are. Will you call them friend? Maybe it is time you live like Paul. That not only you embrace the outsider – but you speak on their behalf. Become the voice for those who do not have one of their own.

Onesimus

Assurance

The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us tot a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:8-14, ESV).

I have always been intrigued by the relationship that Paul had with Timothy. A mentor and his disciple. The old guard and the new. Especially since the reader is given a small glimpse into an Apostle’s last days and what he deemed the most crucial instructions to pass along in the process. He calls Timothy to continue the fight. No matter what. With or without him – most certainly the latter considering the darkness that has set in under Nero’s reign.

This conversation reminds me a bit of John the Baptist as his life was drawing to a close. His head would soon be on a platter. Think about it . . . think of all he had heard and seen. His mother told him of the angels and the prophecies. He, himself, had leaped in his mother’s womb upon hearing his aunt’s announcement of being pregnant. He had all but fully embraced his call to be the Forerunner to the Messiah. Calling people to repent in the wilderness. Baptizing those who wished to be cleansed. Believing so much in the ministry of his cousin that he even sent some of his closest apprentices to work for him. John refused to allow anyone to call him the Christ. He saw himself unworthy to even be the servant of such a King. That is just one more reason he at first could not believe Jesus would want to be baptized. But even then he could not shake the sound of that Heavenly Voice and the sight of the Dove. He could not and would not be shaken. Even by Herod. And so this is where he found himself . . . chained and awaiting his death sentence.

All of that faith. And what does the mighty John the Baptist do? Sends messengers to Jesus. I just want to know FOR SURE. I was right, wasn’t I? He is who I said he was, correct? I did not do this all in vain, did I? Can I just be CERTAIN?

Then there is Paul. Keep on keeping on. Do exactly what I did . . . and I will do the same (even if it costs me my life). Convinced.

Assurance

Contrast

The Apostle Paul writes, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:11-16, ESV).

Timothy was far different than the false teachers of Ephesus. His credibility did not rest on his age (he was probably just in his mid-thirties) or in his heritage (his father being a Gentile). So on what did his authority rest on? This is nothing new. Christ himself was challenged by the religious elite for his birthplace and teaching tactics. He continued to reach out to the unlovely and challenge the status quot. Timothy, similarly, was assured in his calling based upon motivation being in eternal life (in contrast to the false teachers who desired temporal pleasures) and his submission to God’s Kingdom. He knew that he would one day answer for how he lead his church. Again, it was the false teachers who thought they were the end-all in the hierarchal scheme.

Timothy was known for not just what he stood against but for what he stood for. His beliefs were unchanging and his behaviors unwavering. In the end, this was his greatest defense. It was not as if Paul had to question his integrity . . . but remind him that his integrity could be brought into question.

Are we leading like Timothy? Are we so busy defending the gospel that we have failed to embody it? Will we live in such a way that Truth stands out in an age of Deception?

Contrast

Backbone

Today was the third and final day of the Northwest Ministry Network’s Annual Conference. The keynote communicator was James Bradford. His selected text reads, “When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them . . . .” (Acts 4:23-24, ESV).

He painted a picture of a church that, frankly, did not know what they were doing. We hear a voice of a church that was being threatened like never before. How would you have prayed in this situation? How would I have prayed? That God deliver me? That he protect me? They prayed for courage. That they would persevere no mater what. No matter what.

I thought I saw someone post on Twitter today something that went like this . . . “If money was not an issue. If failure was not an option. If fear had no place. What would you do? That is your passion.” Makes me wonder . . . . So what happened to the early church? The place was shaken. The church was empowered. Christ was glorified.

Backbone

Critics

I continue to think on what I am learning from this year’s Northwest Ministry Network’s Annual Conference. One of our keynote speakers, Carol Kent, touched on the Scripture that reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV). She suggested that we as leaders not invest too much time worrying about what others think of us because “they will find someone else to talk about next week.”

While there is some truth in every criticism, it is rarely ever worth the amount of energy we spend wrestling over the attack. There are those who sharpen us and there are those who just wish to pierce us. Do we want to get better or do we just feel worse. There is a great difference between the two.

I can say this much, I don’t want to be one of those who is known for what he is against. I want to be the type of leader . . . the type of friend . . . that people go to during hard times (rather than the guy who causes the hard times for someone else).

Critics

Josiah

I have been reflecting quite a bit on day one of this year’s Annual Conference of the Northwest Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God. The theme is “Finding Your Voice.” I appreciated the word presented by Les Welk (our Team Leader) with the assistance of Jeffery Portmann (our Youth Director). They focused on the the passage that read, “Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them. And he broke in pieces the Asherim and the carved and the metal images, and he made dust of them and scattered it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins all around, he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 34:1-7, ESV).

They talked of the importance of the next generation finding their voice because of them rather than despite of them. I want to be a help rather than a hindrance to those who follow my leadership. In fact, my hope is that those who follow are able to take what little legacy I am able to impart and are ready to run with it. My hope is that I am able to multiply myself rather than to merely reproduce myself. My successors will have different ways of sharing the same gospel – and I hope they have even better ways for that matter.

That being said, even as I often look at those under my leadership . . . our children, our students, our leaders, our interns, even those youth pastors who are coming down the pipeline . . . I must also realize I myself am still in process of discovering my own voice. And as I do so, I must first be certain that I have something of value to say. That is why I am so grateful for those who have gone before me. Even this week I am reminded of the value of our Network. I know my affiliation is not perfect – but I am proud of those who have gone before me and am determined to bring what little truth and transformation to the present and the future as I am able to. This week I have plans to have dinner with my lead pastor (who has taught me patience and persistence), breakfast with my former lead pastor (who loves the unlovely), coffee with my father in law (who exemplifies integrity), and my pastor while growing up (who shows the care of Christ). That is not even half of the voices that have shaped and sharpened me over the years.

So when I speak . . . as I speak . . . may it be with creativity that is new but with the wisdom of the old. May I be a product of the past but of profit to the future.

Josiah

Table

We have a fairly new tradition in the Farley household. Our family aims to read the Scriptures together (the ESV Seek and Find Bible is currently our devotional of choice – I plan to blog on this resource sometime in the near future) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and then a specified book on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (Sundays are focused on church gatherings). We are currently working through C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

It just so happens that we were concluding the second book in the series, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (to the faithful Narnia readers – I am aware that this was the first book actually written of the series – but many box-sets now order them chronologically and thus “The Wardrobe” is now #2), in the days running up to Easter. Describing the Resurrection of Aslan, Lewis writes, “I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night [speaking of the Lion’s execution on the Stone Table]; but if you have been – if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again. At any rate that was how it felt to these two. Hours and hours seemed to go by in this dead calm, and they hardly noticed that they were getting colder and colder” (174).

Then my lead pastor launches our newest series this morning, “Just Do Something: Make Your Life Count,” by reading, “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’ So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me'” (Matthew 28:1-11, ESV).

There is so much going on in this short narrative. The earthquake that rolls away the stone. Pastor David pointed out the idea that the stone was not rolled away so that Jesus could escape the tomb but so that the first eyewitnesses could look in. Then there are the terrified guards. Keep in mind that these Roman soliders were anything but push-overs. They had probably seen their share of voilence . . . and yet they are “scared to death” by the presence of heavenly messengers. Angels had a way of dropping people to their knees. A much different picture than what modern mythology has us believe about them. And who is it that is faithful enough to come to the tomb first? Who wishes to pay honor and respect to their Rabbi – even after he had appeared to fail in his mission? Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Women showing the highest form of loyalty? In that culture? This could not be good for the credibility of such a Movement. Or maybe it is exactly the sort of credibility that Jesus intended all along? Aren’t these the same ladies who were present all the way through the Crucifixion? While Peter, the most trusted disciples, was fleeing the scene?

Jesus would appear to them first. Just as Lewis would have Aslan meet the two girls. There comes a point in our lives where, hopefully, we come face-to-face with the depravity of our sin. We see what we have done. We realize who Jesus is and what he has done for us. And just when we come to believe that all is lost . . . when there is nothing else to be said. A stone table that holds a shaved and muzzled cat . . . a cross holding a corpse. Then comes the next chapter. A table that is split in two. A stone that is rolled away. Guards run. Disciples fall on their faces. He lives.

Table