In Due Season

Believe it or not, November is just around the corner. And that means cooler temperatures, football, and Thanksgiving! We decided to feature food articles once again in In Touch magazine, and opted to include several different articles about the way it feeds our souls as well as our bodies. My contribution for this special section features my grandfather and the way he and I spent time working a BBQ smoker/grill.

This is a collection of articles I highly suggest you enjoy in print, so please visit this site and get yourself a free subscription. The layout is just gorgeous and is filled will illustrations created by the uber talented Jeff Gregory.

You can also view my article and the other wonderful pieces from authors like Rachel Marie Stone, Leslie Leyland Fields, Matt Woodley, Chad Thomas Johnston, Aline Mello, and Leigh McLeroy by clicking here.

 

The Logistics of Grace

Here is my first article for 2013 in In Touch Magazine. This was one of those fun pieces to write. It allowed me the time and space to dig into Scripture and to tie what I found to a relevant historical detail. Seriously, if you’ve never heard of the Red Ball Express, do yourself a huge favor and go learn about them. Don’t watch the 1952 movie; it’s not accurate and doesn’t do justice to the brave men who drove the routes. Instead, I recommend reading The Road to Victory: The Untold Story of World War II’s Red Ball Express by David P. Colley.

This article is also available on the new and improved In Touch Ministries website, and you can a free subscription of the print magazine by visiting here.

If He Wills, I Will…

Annie J. Flint’s “He Giveth More Grace” contains one of my all time favorite choruses:

His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men,
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.

My article in the October issue of In Touch magazine is proof of that truth, and I am humbled and privileged to share it with readers. Remember, you can always get a free subscription to our magazine by going here.

 

 

 

If you are dealing with an illness or something that is causing you sleepless nights, please leave me a message below, leaving whatever information you feel like sharing. It would be my honor to pray for you!

You Can’t See Me? Oh, Good!

Image from mojo40.com

When we were kids, for some reason, most of us liked to play the “Invisible Game.” The goal was to get as many adults in your general vicinity as possible to walk around looking right through you as you stood in plain sight, all the while asking inane questions like, “Now, where is Little So-And-So? She was just right here a second ago!”

There was something fun about being invisible back then, some power to be gained from it, even if it was only in our own heads. However, that passes as we get older. As we age, most of us want to be noticed for the things we do—as early and as often as possible. If you do a spectacular job on a particularly difficult task at work, you’d like a little recognition, right? Even if it is just a pat on the back or the occasional “Atta girl.” Granted, a raise would be even better, but in this economy, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that score.

How about all the work you do at home? Wouldn’t it be nice if, once in awhile, folks noticed what you’d cooked, how tidy you kept the place, or what you’d sacrificed so someone else in the house could have what he or she needed? Yeah, it’s pretty fair to say we all like being praised for the many things we do well over the course of a day.

Image from images.nonexiste.net

However, is wanting a little credit wrong for believers, especially when it comes to kingdom work? After all, our goal is to “die daily” to ourselves. That’s why the apostle Paul said, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23-24).

We each have a spiritual gift or three, and we are meant to put them to good use serving the brethren. Those gifted with teaching should teach. Those who are gifted with mercy should show it to others. Giving, exhortation, service, leadership, discernment—we all have at least one talent we should use to the best of our ability. We should never work halfheartedly for God.

But this is where the struggle between flesh and spirit comes in. If you’re using your gift skillfully and doing great things in the right spiritual frame of mind, you should never want to receive recognition for it. You heard me–a believer should do everything with excellence and not get a scrap of praise for it! Why? Two reasons:

1. The talent wasn’t yours to begin with. You didn’t earn it, and while you may have practiced and gotten more skilled at it, it is a gift from God you could never have acquired on your own.

2. As a Christian, “you have been bought with a price” and should “glorify God with your body” because it is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Every ounce of praise given for the works you perform belongs to Christ, not to you. His Spirit living within you is what makes you want to perform good works in the first place, and we should always want to give Him the glory for all good things.

Image from yourdictionary.com

As a writer and editor for a Christian ministry, I am privileged to be able to use my spiritual gifts to witness to and exhort those who read what I pen each month. I love what I do, and I know that all the credit goes to my heavenly Father. After all, it was He who gave me my talent and who perfectly placed me in the right position at the best possible moment to serve Him.

People who read my work tell me how wonderful and talented I am or how beautifully I write. And it’s hard for a person who puts a great deal of time and energy into a piece of writing to not say, “Yeah, buddy. Don’t I know it!” Because writing is John Brown hard! Anyone who does it will tell you the same thing. It’s lonely work sometimes, frustrating work. Wrestling with the best way to say something that’s in your heart—doing it clearly and using just the right words can be exhausting! But, oh! When it’s done correctly and people read and instantaneously get what you meant, there is nothing better than that. However, not an ounce of that credit should go to me, and I have to remind myself that, in a real sense, I’m just the “transcriptionist.” God only uses me as His scribe to tell the world what He wants them to know. I just type and try to keep up, and I don’t deserve an ounce of credit for taking notes. I should instead be, you guessed it, invisible.

Sometimes, I even want to praise myself when I hit on just the right phrase or finally unlock the puzzle that is a concluding paragraph or perfect first sentence. If the task at hand is difficult, I often wish I had longer arms just so I could pat myself more forcefully on the back. But God doesn’t just get the credit for the end result. The Holy Spirit is always there, providing illumination and inspiration while I work. My best words and phrases are His; my best ideas came from within His mind. That’s why I can’t even accept praise from my own lips or heart; even it should be credited directly to the Father.

I was romping through John the other day, and I noticed something interesting. One little word makes all the difference sometimes when it comes to understanding Scripture. For instance, check out the three passages below:

John 3:14“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”

John 8:28“So Jesus said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.'”

John 12:32“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

What difference do you notice among these three relatively similar verses? It’s a tiny variation to be sure. It’s a small word in John 12 that makes all the difference. It’s not “when” you lift up the Son of Man, but “if.”

Christ knew for certain that He would die and that His death would take place on the rough and ignominious arms of the cross. That’s what the first two passages say–“even so” and “when.” However, not all translations use “when” in the passage from John 12. All the translations I prefer (KJV, NKJV, and NASB) use “if” instead, and I find that interesting because of the marked difference between the two words. “If” implies choice or uncertainty, but in Jesus’ mind, there was no “if.” It was why He said, “Now My soul has become troubled, and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:26-28).

That’s why I read John 12:32 as “If my people lift me up all around the earth, I will draw people to the foot of the cross and unto salvation.” In short, our methods of presentation hardly matter when the Person we are sharing is so preeminent. That’s why I say we need to be invisible when we serve Christ and witness to others about Him. We have to make sure we consciously remember that it’s not about us, our talents, the attention we can get, or gaining the love of man. It’s about “lifting Him up,” not on the cross necessarily, but because of what He accomplished on it.

***

And now for something completely different….”The Art of Not Being Seen.” (I couldn’t help myself!)

Through a Glass Darkly

It’s not in its final form yet by any means, but I wanted to get feedback from my baker’s dozen of readers about this piece. I’ve been slated to write an article for the February edition of In Touch Magazine, and this is what I pitched. The theme of the magazine is God’s beauty, and I said something that always struck me as beautiful is stained glass. Something about how the light shines through it and simply lights up a room has always had the ability to take my breath.

I visited a gorgeous episcopal cathedral in the area and took some photos. I also listened to the organist rehearse and sat in a pew taking notes and making observations. What you have below is the third draft of the article to date. I have also included the pictures you might like to see.

Please do not hesitate to leave me feedback here or via email. I am looking for any and all the help I can get!

***

Through a Glass Darkly

At ten o’clock in the morning, the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows fill the east side of the cathedral with kaleidoscopic brilliance. Everywhere I look, there are shades of scarlet, cobalt, gold, lavender, emerald, and aqua illuminating tiled floors and smoothly polished columns, gracing them with glittering embellishments. Standing in the midst of this radiance, the thought suddenly occurs to me that the sight I’m enjoying is what Jesus meant when He claimed the “stones will cry out” in worship should human lips ever fall silent (Luke 19:40).

I wander through the space, drinking it in and savoring the sights before me. Every windowpane in the expansive room tells a vivid story. In one, Jesus sits at the well speaking to the Samaritan woman, gesturing towards her earthen jar that cannot contain the living water He offers. In the next window, images of Christ as the Great Physician are featured. In one, the Messiah looks upward as three men lower a paralytic in need of healing through the roof, and in another He glances down with love at the woman suffering from hemorrhages whose faith assured her, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well” (Matt 9:21).

Nearby, Jesus works His many miracles. Standing in a boat with the waves curling around its bow, He rebukes the wind and tells the sea, “Hush, be still” (Mark 4:39) as His disciples look up, their mouths agape. The same disbelief is evident in those who watch as He overrules death itself, summoning Lazarus from his tomb with the words, “Come forth” (John 11:44). However, the same countenance of power and limitless pity is turned upwards in supplication in the panel depicting His evening of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cup that cannot pass from Him floats above His head, rays light connecting them inextricably together. In a smaller portion of the frame, Judas Iscariot plots with Roman guards, as if the two moments are happening simultaneously. In each of the twenty panels that tell the story of His life and ministry, Christ is beautiful and otherworldly in turquoise robes and crimson sash, a golden nimbus encircling His head as a sign of divinity.

For some reason, however, I’m drawn to the image of the annunciation repeatedly, lingering before it longer than I do others. In this panel, Mary, clad in pale shades of rose and teal, is a picture of tenderness and vulnerability, especially when contrasted with the angel hovering above her, his angular wings aflame. One of his hands rests above her forehead in comfort while the other is raised in blessing, the words “blessed art thou among women” suspended on his lips (Luke 1:28). Mary’s hands also speak volumes, for one is open upwards, as if she is questioning the truth of the message she’s receiving, while the other hovers over her stomach, already having accepted the proclamation and protecting the womb that will shelter the long-awaited Savior.

This is the moment in which both Mary’s future and ours were forever changed by the Father’s ultimate act of love. It is framed by diamonds of royal blue, silver arches, and buds of every primary color—all manner of rococo embellishments—as securely bound as a book. There is no plaque posted nearby to describe the scene to onlookers, yet it speaks to me as clearly as if the narrative were written on the wall. It is a lesson meant to be experienced with the eyes as well as the soul.

This clarity and enlightenment was what Abbot Suger, the twelfth century clergyman, had in mind when he began the renovation of Saint Denis, his abbey church near Paris. Suger was an advocate of anagogicus mos, or “The Upward Leading Method,” and believed that light was a divine force that could compel a person to transcend the material world and better understand the very nature of God. As a result, he incorporated flying buttresses, arches supporting the church’s soaring rooftop, which allowed for taller, thinner walls with increased space for windows. The combination of high ceilings and boundless light filtering through the colored glass drew the eyes of parishioners heavenward and made it possible for everyone regardless of gender or rank to experience the spiritual in a tangible way. Also, the windows served another purpose—to communicate God’s Word to parishioners who were illiterate. That is why some refer to stained glass windows as “The Poor Man’s Bible.”

Even now, in our modern world where structures hundreds of stories tall dominate the skyline and light can be manufactured, stained glass still maintains the power to captivate. Perhaps it’s because these breathtaking works bear the indelible fingerprints of God. The artisans whose skills are themselves gifts from the Father create their works with fire and iron using only sand, soda, limestone, salts, and oxides, none of which are manmade. Therefore, glass attests to the truth of Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, O LORD, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”

However, no matter how intricate the designs are, how accurate the depictions in these fragile works might be, or how long they were lovingly labored over by craftsmen, without one essential factor, they remain dull and lifeless. Without light, the first creation of the Almighty God, our works are left as half formed as Quasimodo, the famous hunchback of Notre Dame. And only God can provide the light, the divine illumination that can release the colors within the glass.

For the Christian, they are even more compelling because we recognize them as kindred spirits. Unlike darkness and light, the sky and seas, and all moving creatures, each of which was created when God simply said, “Let there be. . . ,” man was “formed” from the dust by the very hands of the Creator (Gen. 2:7). Of all His accomplishments, only we are made in the image of God and according to His likeness (Gen 1:26), and for this reason, we are the most precious of all His handiwork. Because we received the breath of life and were made to commune with our Father, we see God most clearly in that which is lovely. Also, we desire to create beautiful things in order to obtain a deeper understanding of who He is.

Likewise, we understand that, just like the window is strengthened and perfected by heat and pressure, we too are purified through trials in order to be made more Christlike (see Mal. 3:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6-9; Rom 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). And like that gorgeous glass, the light of Christ shines through us, compelling the lost in such a way that they can no longer turn aside from the truth of Christ. As the apostle Paul said of believers:

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord. . . .For God who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. . . .For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4: 5-7, 11).

One thing, however, is certain. As beautiful as stained glass might be, it also reveals just how poor our power to present the full glory of God is and how limited our ability to fully understand Him remains while we reside in the flesh. In truth, our many-hued masterpieces undoubtedly appear to God like a child’s finger painting does to an adoring parent, paltry when compared to the extent of His skill but all the more valuable for their sincerity.

Yet, praise be to God, there will come a day when we no longer need rely on crude tools and materials for understanding because we will be in the presence of the Master Craftsman. For now, “we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. . . .For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now [we] know in part; but then [we] shall know even as [we are] also known” (KJV, 1 Cor. 13: 9-10, 12).

I’m Sick of Praying for People With Cancer…

I know the title of this blog may be a little misleading. I do not mean to say that I’m fed up with people who are dealing with cancer, and I certainly do not want to imply that I am tired of praying. What I am saying is that I pray for no fewer than ten people a week, all of whom are struggling with some form of this disease.

I’ve had enough of it…..Cancer, I mean.

According to the American Cancer Society’s latest data, 1,529,560 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2011. That’s just about evenly split between men (789,620) and women (739,940). For those who have cancer of any system or organ, it is estimated that 569,490 will lose their lives to it. Again, the numbers are fairly evenly split between males (299,200) and females (270, 290). Be aware that this is in the United States ALONE.

Over half a million people will pass away this year because of this malady. Yes, that’s nearly 570,000 people, which is equal to one tenth of the population of Atlanta. Some cases might have been brought on by poor lifestyle choices or work environment, but many more are simply caused by genetic and environmental factors. People who have done their level best to take care of themselves and have shied away from any and all behaviors that can tempt this disease to draw near can feel ill, head in for a visit with the doctor, and come out diagnosed with this disease.

That’s because cancer doesn’t care who you are—male or female, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, conservative or liberal. You can be five, fifty, or one hundred and four when it decides to show up at your door. Whether you worship God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the almighty dollar, cancer can and will take residence somewhere in the amazing body the Lord has blessed you with. It is one of the few diseases that knows no prejudice. It has no agenda other than causing havoc in your body and putting a strain on patients and their loved ones.

Who said equality was impossible?

If you divide the projected number of new cases by 365, you’ll find out that, on average, 4,190 people will find out that they have some form of cancer each and every day in this country. Today, 4,190 people will start a journey that will take them from second opinions to treatment options and from offices and work stations to the chairs where they’ll spend hours getting chemotherapy or radiation. For some, there will come a day when their own comfortable beds, covered with linens still redolent of laundry detergent and their spouse’s shampoo, will be replaced by the stiff confines of a hospital bed and impersonal sheets, starched and bleached until they’re brittle and scratchy.

Life as they’ve known it will be over.

For some people, their bodies will be weakened and their immune systems as vulnerable to attack as a village once was to the war machine of Rome. For others, their hair will do an impersonation of Elvis and “leave the building,” so baldy jokes will be made and colorful scarves bought by the dozens. 5K walks will take place, and ribbons of every color of the spectrum will be donned by friends, families, and co-workers to show support and raise funds for research.

For some, survival parties will eventually be held, and the countdown to the one-year anniversary of the happy date will begin. For others, a more somber gathering is the end result as friends and relations are left to try to understand what happened and to breathe a sigh of relief because the person who came under cancer’s tyrannical grasp and fought so valiantly has gone to a place where it can never harm him or her again.

No soul is safe, no system immune. The tongue can play host to it just as easily as the prostate or the breast. The lungs serve as its dwelling place along with the brain, the skin, the colon, the stomach, and even the reproductive organs responsible for creating life. It travels from system to system, organ to organ, as easily as a family station wagon cruises the highways and byways of the nation on a cross-country vacation. No paperwork is required; no border systems are in place to check its progress.

I’ve lost two grandparents to this disease as well as friends and students. I name some here to tell you they were real people with souls who breathed and walked on this earth. They were not numbers or statistics. I loved them all and still do today.

***

Betty Hill, my grandmother, loved to watch boxing. She cooked a mean plate of eggs, worked harder than any woman I ever knew, and apparently talked as rapidly as I do.

Leonard Hill, my grandfather, fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II and was a deacon, a Mason, and a Gideon. He loved feeding friends and family, had a fondness for dogs, and was an amazingly generous tipper.

Catie Carter, one of the brightest and most beautiful girls I had the privilege to teach, loved pink and took pride in keeping up with her homework no matter what. She approached everything with humor and love, and everyone who knew her is better off for it.

***

Today, people I love continue to fight the cancer in their lungs and their prostates, in their bladders, their blood, and their bones. And I pray. I hate it, but I pray. Why? Because James 5: 13-16 tells me:

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Praying for someone who is ill, especially if he or she does not get well, is one of the hardest things to do because it’s easy to feel like God doesn’t answer that prayer, no matter how fervently it’s offered. If you’re reading this and you’re angry with God or feel like He’s cruel and unjust, I can understand. I’ve felt the same way.

However, what I’ve come to understand is that God didn’t intend for this disease to exist. He created a perfect world without sickness and death, and it was we who lost it because of sin. What He does is allow it to occur so that those who are ailing, and those who stand by them through it all, can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and attain the reconciliation that comes with accepting Him as Savior. One day, we can all know the glory of the body we were intended to have. One day, we can see those we lost again in a place where separation is no longer a possibility. One day, cancer will be a foreign concept, an impossibility no longer cause for concern. But until then, it is our burden to bear together.

Reader, I serve a Savior who raised a man from the dead four days after the fact (John 11:1-45). I serve Jesus Christ—He who walked on water, who gave sharp eyes to the blind and nimble legs to the cripple, and who, with His death, tore the veil between me and my heavenly Father clean in two, making it possible for me to be reunited in fellowship with Him forever.

As much as I might pray for it, I know God’s will is not that we all be spared from cancer. Some of us will have to walk that road in order to be brought to a place where true healing can occur. When our bodies betray us, our spirits begin the search for answers and find the Almighty had them all along. As one who God allowed disease to touch for His glory, I echo the words of the apostle Paul, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).

My sickness led to my salvation, and that is why I would not ask for it to be removed from me were it even possible. My thorn in the flesh made me humble, dependent, and wise in the ways of the Father, and I am well in soul though I am weak in body. So I continue to testify to the goodness of God, to worship He who is already in my tomorrow, and to pray that His will be done in all things.

***

If you have cancer (or any other disease that is affecting you physically or spiritually), you are in my prayers. Post a reply, and let me know your story. More importantly, keep fighting! Keep following Dylan Thomas’ advice and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Life is precious, and we have so much to do before it’s over.

Waiting for Onesimus

Isaiah 55:11 reads, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” It is an oft-paraphrased verse that is usually quoted in a more stylized, King James Version kind of way—“My Word shall not return void.” Isn’t that the truth?

Every time I earnestly study God’s Word looking for a deeper understanding of Him and what He would have for my life, I come away with more than I can process in a single sitting. It provides answers…in spades! This blog may be a bit on the circuitous side, so let me apologize for that in advance. However, I felt like saying something on paper was better than letting it roll around in my head, unformulated, any longer.

This all started yesterday when I read all of Titus in my daily Bible study. I started noticing a pattern throughout Paul’s letter—the repeated use of the phrase “good works.” In fact, there are seven uses of this phrase, only two of which are variations.  The two that are different (“lover of what is good” and “disqualified for every good work”) both refer to what a Christian leader must be. The former phrase describes those fit to be elders while the latter is applicable to the people of Crete, many of whom were grossly unqualified.

Having studied Galatians, I know that works are not what “earn us a spot” in heaven. In fact, our works are nothing more than “filthy rags” before God, worthless in the scope of eternity (Isa. 64:6). However, good works are something we cannot help but produce as fruit of the spirit. Once saved, we can manifest our gratitude to the Father by serving others and bringing His light to the world.

I got to thinking about “good works” and what, for lack of a better term, “qualifies” a work to be good. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I read stories about amazing missionaries who are converting entire villages in African countries with names I can’t even pronounce and marvel. I hear about people who are fighting to stop child sex trafficking by taking in girls despite the daily threats they receive from the animals trying to sell them, and I want to stand up and applaud. THOSE are “good works” in my book. Through of actions like these, lives are lives being transformed because of the strength security in Christ provides.

What do I have to offer in return? My best example of a “good work” this week was getting a six-pack of Jello chocolate pudding down off the top shelf for an adorable old lady. How is that even comparable!?

Thankfully, we are not meant to compare our good works against others’. In fact, we are not to judge anyone’s actions, including our own. That’s God’s privilege. Paul writes:

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Cor. 4:1-5).

God knows why we do good works, and that is even more important than what we do. Buying one homeless man a meal is just as “good” as running a twenty-four hour soup kitchen if it is done with the right intentions—to show kindness to others and share the love of Christ with them.

I’ve been asking God to show me what good works He would have me do. I’ve even told Him, “Father, even if I’m afraid or what You ask makes me uncomfortable, I know You will help me to see it through. I’m willing.” When in prayer, that sounds all well and good, but I would like to think I genuinely mean it. I want to be a “good and faithful servant” and do things that honor my Savior (Matt. 25:21).

But then I read the book of Philemon and swallowed audibly.

After reading the twenty-five verses of this short epistle, I realized that there are times when God gives people moments in their lives when they have to “put their spiritual money where their mouth is” and show that their faith is more than window dressing, some sort of Christian Kabuki theater.

Here’s the backstory—Philemon was a wealthy Christian living in Colossae. His slave, Onesimus, had run away from him and attempted to hide in Rome. However, God had other plans, and Onesimus was brought to Paul who was under house arrest at that time. Paul, who had likely led Philemon to Christ, led the slave to salvation as well. Paul enjoyed Onesimus’ company and desired to keep him nearby, but he knew that healing the breach with his former master was more important and that more spiritual good could be accomplished by sending him back with a letter.

Under the law, Philemon had the right to kill Onesimus. In fact, beating him within an inch of his life would have been viewed by many as merciful in the extreme. However, Paul doesn’t suggest that. Instead, he asks his friend to receive his runaway slave as “a beloved brother” because they were both a part of the family of God.  What he was asking was unheard of at that time! To show mercy to a slave, a person you had previously owned? It was nearly unthinkable.

Paul might have made it easier if he’d ordered the master to forgive the slave, but he does not. Paul writes, “…I wanted you to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion as it were, but voluntary. . . .Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (Phil. 1:14, 20-21).

In essence, Paul tells his friend, one of the many he brought to a saving knowledge in Christ, “I know you understand the concept of forgiveness because you have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s all well and good, but now I am asking you to practice it as well.” Philemon had every right to abuse, starve, and kill this man that Paul was sending back to him. The world would not have condemned him for any of those actions. In fact, he would draw more ire for doing what Paul was asking him to do—“Receive him as you would me” (Phil. 1:17).

I’m sure Paul sent the poor slave home, letter in hand, hoping that his fellow Christian would do the right thing having been given the choice. And that is what God does with us. He offers salvation to all, but only a few receive. He gives us the choice to heed or disregard His will, all the while earnest that we’ll choose the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13). However, the asking does not stop there. God will continue to push us, to present us with moments and times where we can choose to follow His leading and His will for our lives, leaving it up to us as we grow in faith.

According to all the records and commentaries on this epistle, Philemon did indeed accept Onesimus back into his household, even freeing him from slavery. Many even claim that he “was the Onesimus consecrated a bishop by the Apostles and who accepted the episcopal throne in Ephesus following the Apostle Timothy”! Philemon was able to exercise forgiveness and allow it to strengthen his testimony, and because of it, his formerly rebellious slave became a useful servant of Christ.

The symbolism of their names makes it altogether wonderful. Philemon means “affectionate,” and it is he who shows Christ-like affection for his lost servant. Onesimus means “profitable,” and that is exactly what he became because of Philemon’s willingness to forgive.

Had the Holy Spirit not been working in Philemon and the man himself sensitive to His leading, how many others might have missed out on seeing Christian forgiveness in action? How many might not have come to know the saving grace of Christ Jesus? This is an amazing example of practical righteousness, of Christian brotherhood and love that showed many people the way to salvation who might otherwise miss out.

After all, words and mighty ideals might sound good, but many people will not be willing to sit down and listen to a lengthy scriptural argument. Many care nothing for doctrine or spirituality, those things that show what many are doing is sinful and of the world. However, if they can see it in action and realize that being Christian is more than just a slogan on a t-shirt, hearts that might otherwise be firmly shut and locked against the Word might be opened—even if it is but a crack. That’s all the Holy Spirit needs.

Like Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, the absurdist play, I am waiting for my Onesimus. Unlike their “friend” who never shows up, I know my moment will one day arrive. I will then have a choice to make—to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit and be an effective witness or to let the opportunity pass.  Perhaps, Lord willing, there will be many such times. Therefore, I ask the Lord that I may be like Philemon, affectionate and willing to humble myself in His service , to be used as only He can use me for His glory.

 Soli Deo Gloria!