Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Lesson from Philemon (or φιλεω)

I read Philemon today. What a short and awesome little book on brotherhood. Christ, our brother, defines our relationships.

In the letter you see:

1. Paul’s brotherhood with Philemon.

2. Paul’s brotherhood with Philemon’s former slave Onesimus.

3. Paul’s expectation for Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother.

I knew that much about the letter to Philemon before reading it today, but I had always focused on Paul’s expectation that Philemon receive Onesimus back again. I had never really looked at what Paul said about his relationship to Philemon.

“I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 1:7)

Joy and comfort from the love of a brother.

A little bit later he writes, “Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.”

As brothers and sisters (see verse 2) in Christ we can bring joy and comfort to one another.

Perhaps this aspect of the Paul’s letter sticks out to me because this past week I received some good encouragement from a brother in Christ. I had been down and struggling about a number of things, but we talked and my heart was refreshed.

I do not think that is finding joy and peace from someone other than Christ. No, the joy and comfort I experienced from that conversation could only happen as a result of what Christ has already done in our lives. His redemption in our hearts has made it possible for His Spirit to work within us. The Spirit is making us more like Christ. And Christ is the brother of all brothers.

Christ changes everything.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Responding to Ivan, pt. 6 (or Apology)

This post is a part of a series:


Responding to Ivan, pt. 1

Responding to Ivan, pt. 2

Responding to Ivan, pt. 3

Responding to Ivan, pt. 4

Responding to Ivan, pt. 5

**Please feel free to join the discussion. Your comments will help me as I continue the series**

The story must start at the beginning, as all stories do. I suspect that stories start at beginnings on account of this story starting at the beginning. But that’s another matter.

In the beginning, God made everything in this universe and world in which we live. Some may ask where God came from. That question, and all of the many answers, have no place in this story. They can come after it, but not during it. Remember, the story has to be heard under the presupposition that it might be true.

This God, was and is, the being that is the most supreme being. He is the most beautiful being. He is the most true being. The most good being. Since He is the One who is the good, the beautiful and the true, His work is work that is born out of goodness, beauty, and truth.

This world, as He made it, was marvelous. Were it not for the diminished image of the world, which still remains with us today, we would be unable to grasp what untold wonders it held. We can only imagine based off of the glimpses of its glory that we can still see.

It was a world of perfect peace and harmony and delight. Everything was good. Everything was beautiful. The sights and sounds of that world were pure pleasure. It was a world of beautiful lands, and waters, and gardens, and trees, and vegetation, and animals. Each element of the world was, in its own way, a reflection of the creativity of the one who brought it into being.

In this world God made a man and a woman. He made them in His image and told them to be fruitful and multiply in all the earth.

In the image of God. God, as Trinity, is perfect community and fellowship. God experiences perfect companionship. God experiences a full range of emotions. God appreciates beauty and pleasure and that which is good. He loves and treasures and delights. In His image man and woman were made.

Even today, we, at least in some degree, still bear this image. This is why we like pleasure. This is why joy and delight are desired. This is why people want to be happy. The quest for truth and answers is rooted in the fact that we are made for an existence defined by truth. We desire beautiful things and to be beautiful things because God is beautiful and loves beautifully all that is beautiful. We seek friends and companions because we are in the image of one who is perfect fellowship and perfect friend. It is why we do not like to be lonely. Because God is not lonely and when we are lonely we are something that we were not intended to be. Everything that we see as good and everything that we do that is good is connected to the fact that we were made by a good God to be in His image and were then placed in a good world.

To the man and the woman God gave dominion over this world. They were to rule as His vice-regents over a vast and glorious creation. This is why there is an impulse within us for power and authority. This is why we are creative and constructive. This is why we pursue order over chaos. This is the reason why we desire peace and harmony.

All was good.

But something went wrong.

The man and the woman rebelled against God. The woman was deceived by a crafty serpent. And together the man and the woman rebelled. Some question where the deceiver came from. However, the origin of the serpent is not relevant at this point, it can be addressed after the story.

They rebelled against the One who is perfect Good, perfect Truth, and perfect Beauty. When they turned from Him, they turned to find an evil darkness, accompanied by lies, and all that is ugly. Feeling the shame of their rebellion, they ran from Him and hid.

When they were found out God cursed them. It would seem that God had every right to annihilate them on the spot. He had already warned them that death would be the consequence of rejecting life since one cannot say no to life without having anything other than death.

He could have done that, but He did not. Instead He cursed the serpent. And then He cursed His creation: both the world and the man and woman. I am not sure if the curse is simply the removal of some of His blessing, or something more than that. But what is certain is that everything that is off or wrong in this world is off or wrong on account of man’s rebellion.

With the rebellion came pain and suffering. It also brought a strain to our relationships and a disharmony in the created order. Work became toil. Beasts and vegetation, and the whole of the creation began what has been a long history of lashing out against the traitorous and treacherous steward-rebels. All of creation is said to groan on account of the way it has been subjected to bondage and decay. Death would come at the end of a man’s days. And he would return to the dust from which he was formed. Everything was changed.

Paradise was lost.

The world is not how it is supposed to be. Everything that you see that is not right is wrong, in some way or another, because of man’s rebellion.

But when God spoke after man’s rebellion it was not just a curse. There was more. There was the promise of redemption. God would send a son through the woman who would make things right.

Man, or as the Hebrews said, Adam, believed the promise and turned to the woman and called her “Life-giver.”

They looked for the promised son who would deliver. They had two sons. But one was murdered and the other was a murderer. Both sons were testimony to the terrible effects of the rebellion.

A third son came, but he was not the one either. The earth continued to fill with people, and while many forgot the promise of redemption, all longed for it.

The serpent, sought to thwart the coming of the promised one. He continued to deceive men. Making them believe that there was no more happiness to be found beyond that which was around them. Men continued to find ways to pervert the goodness that still remained. Even worshiping created things. Every man that participated in the rebellion demonstrated that the rebellion permeated all things. It seemed impossible that a man would ever be born that would be able to escape the power of rebellion and the effects of the curse. All men everywhere were rebelling. And all men everywhere were dying.

But God’s promise remained. Through the years He revealed more and more about what sort of man the promised one would be. He would be the son of Abraham. He would belong to the tribe of Judah. He would come from the line of David. He would demonstrate perfect obedience. He would redeem man and reign forever. His kingdom would be an everlasting Kingdom. He would be full of wisdom and understanding and counsel and might. His eternal reign would be marked by righteousness and equity.

He would be murdered.

He would come.

And for years, people continued to rebel, but many continued to persistently cry out for the Redeemer. They looked with longing for the One who would change things. The One who would make things new again.

Then, at just the right time, He came. It turns out that He was God Himself: the Son of God. The Christ, meaning the Annointed One, was both God and Man. This God-Man, Jesus, came to bring the long awaited redemption. He declared to the people of His day that “the Kingdom of God is coming and is now here.” And then He set about reversing the curse. He restored relationships. He healed those who were sick. Gave sight to the blind. Restored the hearing of the deaf and gave a voice to the mute. He fed those who were hungry and he fed them in abundance.

He freed those who were possessed by the powers of darkness.

He even raised the dead.

He demonstrated a dominion over creation. He could fill the fishermen’s nets. He calmed the angry sea. Walked on water. An untrained donkey carried Him into the city of Jerusalem.

All the while He maintained a perfect obedience to the Father, something that no man before or since has been able to do.

He was ushering in the long-awaited redemption of men. He was establishing a new reign. It was the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Just as He appeared to be entering the pinnacle of his influence and power He was betrayed, arrested, and unjustly sentenced to death.

The God-Man was murdered on a cross. The murder, shocking then and shocking now, had been foretold long ago and was all a part of the divine plan for bringing about redemption.

Christ, the Innocent One and the Righteous One, took the sins of the world upon Himself.

And in a great mystery, a person of the triune God, screamed out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

In taking on our sin He experienced that separation from God that we are due. And He took our death.

He was buried in a tomb in a garden.

Then, as He had promised beforehand, He was resurrected on the third day. Alive as the firstborn of a new, redeemed, and glorified race of men.

He appeared to many before ascending to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Before leaving, He charged His followers with the task of spreading the good news, or Gospel, of redemption to all the peoples of the world.

Through faith in the atoning work of Christ people of every nation, tribe, and tongue will be a part of the Kingdom. Redemption is for all people and the word about it must be spread to the ends of the earth.

You see, the Kingdom of God is coming. There is a day when Christ shall return to make all things right. Everything will be made new again. Heaven and earth shall be reborn and united together for a glorious eternity.

All pictures and visions of this eternal glory, of this new creation, indicate that it will far exceed the grandeur of this present world. The new creation will be even greater than it was in the days prior to man’s rebellion. This present world is to the new world what a seed is to the resulting plant. You would never guess that so grand an oak or so beautiful a lily could come from a seed. But the story of the miracle of the seed, is a story that all of creation will one day share.

Yes, the Kingdom is coming. There will be a day of no more pain and no more suffering. All darkness, all evil, all wickedness, all pain and hurt shall be no more. But that day is not yet.

The Kingdom is coming, and it is now already here. But for the time being, it only reigns in the hearts of men and women. At whatever time God makes things right, He will do away with everything that is in opposition to His goodness, beauty, and delight. In that day, all who live in rebellion against Him will be removed. How could it be any other way?

But He waits, that more may come in. That more may have faith in the sacrifice of the one who redeems. That more may be born again. That more may walk in the life of the Spirit and begin the transformation.

The age of the Kingdom has already been inaugurated in the lives of people and it will one day be consummated in the whole of the created order. But until that day, though we, and all of creation with us, may groan with longing for the glory that is to one day be revealed into us, we must carry forward the good news of the Savior who has come.

Redemption is here. So what will you do with it? Will you believe and be saved? Please, you must believe and be saved.

Listen to that voice within you that recognizes that this world is not the way that it is supposed to be. Listen to the part of you that cries out against a world in which a little baby could suffer. Listen to the part of you that refuses to accept a world in which evil thrives and pain and suffering seems to be inescapable.

You have a problem with such things because God has a problem with such things. There is still a diminished part of us that reflects His image. We do not want this world to be as it is, because God does not want this world to be as it is.

Turn to Christ. He will save you. He will save you from the coming judgment. But He will also begin the work of saving you from the wickedness and rebellion within you that causes you to contribute to the pain of this world each day.

Do not just look at the darkness around us, but also look at the darkness within. We hate the suffering that we see, but we cannot deny that we also choose dark things. We are impacted by evil, lies, and ugliness, but we also contribute to it when we choose to reject the ways of the One who is good, true, and beautiful.

Reject Him no more. He died that He may take the punishment we deserve. He was resurrected in vindication of His story and His claim that He is the Redeemer. He was resurrected as an indication of His power over death and His ability to establish a new created order.

Turn to Him and believe. You hope for a reason. We were not made for despair. We were made for glory. A glory that is only found in Him.

Believe this story and you will see in new ways each day how it explains the world better than anything else. You will see that all that is good finds its explanation in a Creator who is good.

You will see that all that is wicked and evil finds its explanation in a people who were charged to exercise a good dominion over a good world who instead rebelled against all life and happiness.

You will see more and more each day, how humanity longs for a redemption. Men seek to find a way to make things right. People want to place their hope in a savior. Some look to religion. Some look to politicians. Some look to science and technological advancements. But they all hope for things to be made right.

Things will be made right. Everything will not only be restored, but made new again. And in that day, all that stand opposed to the Righteous King will be removed. Do not be one of them.

Trust Him today. Believe the story of His Gospel. There is no other story that can better explain the world or the human experience. Every other story comes up short, because every other story lacks Christ. He is the key to it all.

I have no other explanation and no other answer. No argument that can be understood without first understanding the truth about the history of the world and its future. It is a history and a future centered around Christ.

Yes, there is no other answer to your question.

Christ is the answer.