Posts Tagged ‘Paul the Apostle’

Why

The question was actually posed to me some time ago by a young German woman. I had befriended her and her husband in an online game that I was playing. She quickly became aware of my faith and one day as we chatted about life she abruptly posed this question.

Why do you serve God? What does he do for you?

My mind quickly went to all the theologically correct answers that I had learned over the years but quickly discarded them. First of all I don’t think her English was up to taking in a bunch of “Christianese” (and my German was certainly not up to conveying anything other than hello and thank you). Secondly my guess is that perhaps somewhere she had already heard the platitudes. She was looking for something more intimate, more personal. She really wanted to know , why did Sam Guidry (or Flamefanner as my gaming friends know me) choose to serve this god. I gave her an answer. I do not even recall what it was, however it set me to thinking and so I give you:

Five Reasons that I serve God

Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

Reason #2: God has engaged me without condition

In a world that is conditional, God is unconditional.  We often talk of God’s unconditional love but I think that sometimes we envision a schizophrenic god who has many aspects and that he changes from aspect to aspect based on what we do. I serve God because he exists unconditionally. What I mean by that is that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to change the way that God is or the way that God interacts with creation. This means that no matter how screwed up I got or acted, no matter how fast I ran from Him, He still is God. I cannot manipulate a single change in His being through prayer, through sin or any other behavior or attitude that I can conceive of. Uh oh, does that mean it is useless for me to pray or that it doesn’t matter what I do? With Paul I say “May it never be!” (Romans 6:2) Paul continues on to say, “How shall we who die to sin live in it”. Of course this is Paul’s answer to the questions, “Should we sin more that grace may increase?”, however the real question being asked is can we manipulate God by our behavior? How does Paul answer it? It is not about God, it is about us!

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask.  Matthew 7:11

God provides for His children not because we ask, he does so because it is in His unconditional nature to do so.  The barrier to receiving good gifts is not that we need to manipulate God into giving them, it is that we need to position ourselves to receive them.  When we allow the Great Unconditional to impact the conditional  we move into a relationship that opens us up to what God has for us.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,faithfulness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:23

For this reason we can say with Jeremiah and Thomas Chisholm, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”  (Lamentations 3:22-23, Great is thy Faithfulness. 1923)  No matter what circumstances I encounter, no matter what I do  God is my rock that I can count on to remain my heavenly Father.  It is with this great comfort that I can turn from trying to manipulate Him to maturing myself in the Faith.

For this reason also, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father… Colossians 1:9-12

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For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

I watched my Twitter Feed explode with one-liners a few months ago.  The words “Blown Away”, “Amazing” and “Life Changing” were bandied about with some regularity.  The many, many conferences held every year feature so many incredibly talented public speakers and so much good material.  I want to be clear that almost without exception I highly respect the achievements, concepts and talents of every one of them.  Why then is there not an international explosion of amazing Christian leadership throughout the world after such a life changing, mind-blowing, billion dollar events?

I grew up in the developing years of what I am going to call the “Conference Culture”. Whether it was “The One Minute Manger”, “Evangelism Explosion”, FISH (that was a fun one), Service that Sells, Promise Keepers, The OZ Principle, Who Moved My Cheese, Emotional Intelligence, 21 Irrefutable Laws…well you get the picture…I found one thing to be true:

The more “blown away”, the more “life changing”, the more “amazing” attendees found the speakers and content of any given conference, the less likely it was to have a lasting impact.  The men and women who were truly impacted by the content of any given conference were those who already had a framework that the principles and concepts could fit into.  

Hupomone living is about building that framework.  Notice the end of the last word in that sentence, work.  Paul called Timothy to exactly that kind of work.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15

Paul goes on to tell Timothy:  Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:19

It is on this firm foundation that we can build the framework of Hupomone living.  We engage the prayer, direction, promises and thanksgiving that will remove us from the reactionary world of circumstances and place us solidly in the steadfast, persevering world of the will of God.  It is only then that those “blown away”, “life changing” sound bytes that are all too quickly lost in the clutter of life to be soon replaced by the next “blown away”, “life changing” sound bytes will no longer blow you away.  They will find that niche, being plugged into a persevering lifestyle that is about maturing and growing anchored on the firm foundation.  That sound byte is unlikely to change your life, but Jesus will.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

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Demolition

“O Foolish Galatians…” Paul says in Galatians 3:1.  Solomon said it this way, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” Proverbs 26:11  Unfortunately as a whole we are rebuilders.  This is not always terrible.  It can demonstrate a certain resilience.  However when it comes to our Life in Christ it is terrible folly.  Everyone of us before coming into a personal relationship with Jesus and accepting the Holy Spirit into our very being, had built a house.  It was a house of beliefs, of axioms.  It was the house that defined who we were and how we chose to live.  In some cases these houses are terribly dysfunctional and destructive.  In other cases they are simply not a fit abode for the mature or maturing Christian.  Take for instance the child raised by believing parents, schooled in the Gospel.  The child grows up accepting the Gospel and believing on Jesus as his savior in the context of his faith and love for his parents (or her).  At some point the child must allow the Holy Spirit to demolish that home and move into a deeper personal relationship with Him that rests on that relationship not on the faith of others.

In this scripture Paul is specifically referring to Judaizers who would have required the largely gentile Galatians to adhere to the Law of Moses and all the corollaries that had been added over the centuries, for their salvation.  While Jesus did not destroy the Law and its significance (indeed he came to fulfill the purpose of the Law), He did destroy the “faith house” that called for salvation by works.  Jesus had also demolished the house of paganism that ruled their lives.  Why in the world would they begin rebuilding another house that had been demolished by the cross?  Over the past weeks we have been looking at the house already established, the house of Faith in Christ and the final work of the Cross.  Any other house is foolishness.  Consider the parable of man who built his house upon the rock.  The Cross takes that parable a step further, the house is built and prepared for us.  We simply accept God’s invitation to move in.

Peter expresses the dangers of rebuilding, “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.What the true Proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire”  2 Peter 2:21-22.  I am not here to debate the doctrines of Salvation only to say that when we leave our Hupomone house to rebuild what Christ has torn down in our lives there are consequences.

Why do we rebuild?  There are probably as many answers to that question as there are humans who have lived.  However I have come up with a few that I think can be generalized across the variety of humanity.

  1.  We are creatures made to be followers.  Even the greatest leaders in history were made to follow Jesus Christ.  Some were great leaders because they followed God.  Some were rebuilders extraordinaire, following a blueprint established by men and encouraged by the Enemy of all.  Adam and Eve were just such followers.  They were presented with a blueprint by Satan for a house of rebellion that had been demolished when he was cast out of heaven.  When they took their eyes of their heavenly Father, the following nature took its course.
  2. We are creatures of habit.  It is all to easy to justify old ways that are comfortable and even to fashion them into a rebuilt home that we allow ourselves to believe is a Hupomone House.  It is only when the storms come that the infirm foundation reveals itself.  On top of the poor foundation, the homes we rebuild are often made of inferior materials like pride, arrogance, logic (the human kind) etc.
  3. We are creatures of comfort.  When faith becomes difficult that old house (or someone else’s old house) suddenly looks comfortable.  The corollary to this reason is that we are creatures of limited memory because that old house that suddenly looks comfortable was in fact often not comfortable at all.

I am sure that there are many other reason’s that we rebuild that which the Cross has destroyed.  The key here is:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right had of the throne of god.” Hebrews 12:1-2

 

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I drafted this to be posted last Monday.  Obviously it did not get posted and many of you may know that it was a matter of circumstance (or consequence?) that kept it in the ether world for another week.  Since that time more circumstances have hit the national and world stage and at the same time struck close to home here in Northwestern Ohio.  Circumstances, they pummel us from every side.  I sit here with my broken leg propped up and my broken heart in the hands of God, knowing that none of these circumstances can separate me from my identity.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

Practically Hupomone

A friend of my paid me a great compliment and asked me a personal question.  “How do you stay the same as the world happens around you.  So many people I know turn cynical.  You are always kind and ready to help.”  I have to admit unfortunately I gave this person the wrong answer.  It focused on the situation at hand and not on my identity in Jesus Christ.  Why did I give the wrong answer?  Why didn’t I intuitively know what the correct answer was.  I pondered this over the last few days.  I absolutely believe that this question came to me through my friend by the hand of God. My friend did not realize that the question and the observance behind it answered a question that I have been placing before God for some time.  What is the value of this idea, these disciplines that you have placed so strongly in me?  What is practically speaking Hupomone Living?

So here is the answer (and I will email a copy of this to the person in question).

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and  increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. Colossian 1:9-12

Paul is brilliant here.  This passage contains a prayer, direction, promise and thanksgiving.  We find in this passage the core of Hupomone.

The prayer (for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ) is that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will not as the world (are even the church) sees it but through the lens of Spiritual wisdom and understanding as only comes from regular interaction with the Holy Spirit.

The direction is that we walk in a manner worthy of Lord.  As a young man my constant question of God was “What can I get away with, how far can I go without having your hammer drop on me?”.  This led me far from Hupomone living.  It was only when I began to see Him and ask, “What can I do that will be “in a manner worthy” of You Lord.” “What can I do today to please You.” Paul fleshed this out later in Colossians but just coming to the place of asking the question, praying the question is a big step in the right direction.  It begins to eliminate our reaction to circumstance in favor of our submission to God.

The promise is two-fold.  The implicit promise is that when we truly pursue the Hupomone life we will please Him, bear fruit, increase in our knowledge of Him and be strengthened, not according to our understanding or our circumstances but in accordance with His own.  As we pursue him, he pursues us.  It is the crazy train of our relationship with God but in a good way.  This leads to joyously giving thanks to God, not as a result of circumstances but as a result of relationship and identity and on this rests the explicit promise, we ARE qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints of Light.  The rest of the passage references our future, but all of that is based on His past,
“Father, who has qualified us..”  Paul goes on to say “for He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  It is on this that Hupomone living rests.  We are not here to react to circumstances, we are here to walk worthy, please Him, bear fruit, be strengthened and to live as those qualified by God to be heirs along with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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“I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.” Philemon 10-11

Onesimus was a slave, while not the lowest of the low in that society he was pretty far down the list.  Then he became a runaway slave and went even lower.  We do not have the back story of Onesimus but I bet that as Paul penned these words, he did.  However the details do not really matter because at its core, this is the story of humanity.  I love this verse because in an obscure verse, in an obscure book using what might seem purely concrete language Paul summarizes the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Holy Spirit takes that which was formerly useless and makes it useful.  It is Romans 8 in a nutshell.  “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God…and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:6-7 

Paul makes it clear that the change from useless to useful is not about performance of duties.  It is also not about a change in life status.  Paul acknowledges that Onesimus is Philemon’s property.  There is no impassioned plea to free the slaves.  How often we want to link our progress from useless to useful on a change in our circumstances.  The lie of Satan is that our usefulness rests in those circumstances.  Yet Paul begs Philemon to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in Onesimus’ life, transforming him from a useless slave to much more, a beloved brother.  “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Philemon 16

Paul then does something amazing which serves as an example to us all.  He engages this transformation from useless to useful on a personal level.  He leverages his own reputation and his own usefulness to aver the spiritual change in Onesimus and to square the life debt that he incurred.  The model is inescabable, demonstrating the way that Jesus stands before the throne and answers the accusations of the Devil, “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” Philemon 18  What a wonderful illustration of our Lord and Savior’s advocacy for us.  It is also a wonderful illustration of the way that we should be standing in the gap for our brothers’ and sisters’ in Christ.  Just as Jesus stands with us and offers himself to erase the debt of our sin, we should stand ready to leverage ourselves in service of those to whom the Holy Spirit leads us as we serve Him.

While the Bible does not give us the rest of the story, church traditions tell us that some years later Philemon and Onesimus were martyred for their faith, together.

 

 

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I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. Philemon 1:4-7

Philemon,  I have to wonder if it is the least read of all the books of the New Testament.  It is unfortunate because it contains one of the most beautiful stories of redemption and reconciliation ever.  The story centers around three men, Paul the Apostle, Onesimus the slave and our subject today Philemon.  Philemon was a leader of the church that met in his home.  This was typical of the early church.  He was also a slave owner, specifically he owned a slave named Onesimus.

Strangely enough we are not going to focus on the theme of the letter, instead we are going to take a quick look at the man and the qualities that I find qualify him as a hupomone man.

People pray for him – Specifically in this case Paul.  However if the Apostle Paul remembered Philemon in his prayers I choose to assume that others were also. A true hupmone man inspires prayer by the example that he leads.

Paul’s words are very specific here.  “I always thank God AS I remember you…”  We might make the mistake of thinking that Paul here is referring to a prayer of thanksgiving for this wonderful man of God.  There would be nothing wrong with this but it is not what he is saying.  Paul is praying for Philemon as he continues his hupomone ministry in Colosse.

The placement of this phrase immediately following the greeting speaks of the importance that he knows Philemon places on this subject.  The hupomone man values prayer.  He values a life of constant communication with God (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and in this particular case he values the prayers of others on his behalf.

People talk about him – People talk about the hupomone man.  They don’t talk about the amazing “things” he has accomplished.  They don’t talk about all the books he has written.  They don’t even talk about the incredible ministry that he has built.  “I hear about your love for God’s holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus…”  They talk about his love for people and his faith in Jesus.  Now don’t get me wrong all of the hupomone men that we have discussed over the last few years in this blog were men of action, but it is the heart and soul that defines hupomone, not the results of that heart and soul.

He is willing to collaborate – Partnership comes naturally to the hupomone man. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. The Holy Spirit cultivates collaboration among God’s people, very often among people very dissimilar or with competing priorities.  Consider the struggles of Paul and Barnabas, the motley crew of the twelve disciples.  Jonathon’s future clashed directly with the anointing on David.  The spies at Jericho and Rahab had so little in common yet together they brought down a city and brought forth the Messiah!  These collaborations serve to deepen our understanding of the faith.

He cultivates joy and encouragement – If the joy of the Lord is his strength, the hupomone man likes to spread his strength around. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement. It is the essence of the Holy Spirit flowing out of him to those around that extinguishes fear with encouragement that is not tied to circumstances but to the source of all hupomone, God Himself.

He refreshes – The word that Paul uses here is the same word that is used to quote Jesus when he said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28.  The hupomone man is quite simply allowing the very basic qualities of his Lord and Savior flow out of him.  He calls out to those around him to cease their futile labors. Anapaow is an emphasized form of the Greek word for pause.  Literally it is an “up pause”.  The presence of a hupomone man brings “up pause”.

Paul gives us a snapshot of the hupomone man.  It is the mirror for Philemon to look into as he stepped into a personal and cultural challenge.  Onesimus, his slave/property had run away.  Potentially he had stolen from Philemon as well.  Somehow this run-away slave met up with Paul in Rome.  Onesimus became a brother in the faith and told Paul what had occurred.  Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon instigating a journey in faith and hupomone living for both of them.  Scripture leaves us to our own interpretation of the outcome of the journey, but church tradition tells us that some years later Philemon and Onesimus are martyred side by side proclaiming the Gospel message and establishing them both as hupomone men.

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“The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me – the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day – and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.” 2 Timothy 1:16-18

Everything that we know from the Bible about Onesiphorus is in 2 Timothy.  This is significant because Paul knew that his execution was near when he wrote this final epistle of encouragement to Timothy.  Orthodox tradition tells us that Onesiphorus was one of the 70 disciples sent out by Jesus.  These men were the second tier of intimates to Jesus after the twelve. Roman Catholic and Orthodox tradition holds that he was martyred in a town called Parium not far from Ephesus where Timothy served God, leading the church in that pagan city.

While we do not have a lot of details, Paul tells us volumes about this man Onesiphorus.  When I read these verses the picture of a Hupomone Man comes into focus.  Paul actually begins this passage with comments on two men who were not Hupomone men. When the going got tough in Rome Phygelus and Hermogenes got going….out of Rome or at least away from Paul.  Onesiphorus on the other hand “eagerly searched” for Paul knowing the difficult circumstances that Paul was in and the very real danger that association with Paul brought during this time.  This is the nature of the Hupomone man.  As God has brought me to study this idea I have found that by example in Scripture it far transcends the simple definition.

steadfastness, constancy, endurance;
in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings;
patiently, and steadfastly;
a patient, steadfast waiting for;
a patient enduring, sustaining, perseverance

Unfortunately the concept has been too often hijacked to mean some kind of groaning endurance as we wait to be taken to heaven.  This is not what we find in Onesiphorus.  So let’s walk backward through this brief exposition on a hupomone man.

  1.  Eager

The hupomone man is eager to serve.  He understands the greatest commandments as Jesus taught them in Matthew 22,

“And He said to him, YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” 

This makes him eager to serve, eager to follow the hand of God wherever it leads, whether into the streets of poverty, the halls of power or simply to the side of a suffering fellow follower of Jesus.  Perhaps it is with Onesiphorus in mind that Paul penned this description of love, ” does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,” 1 Corinthians 13:5  The eagerness of the hupomone man is not born of self-interest.  Onesiphorus gained nothing by seeking out Paul.  In fact in may have begun the series of events that would lead to his martyrdom.  What do we search for eagerly?

2.  Unashamed

The hupomone Man is unashamed of the truth that has been entrusted to God’s people.  Onesiphorus was unashamed of the Gospel nor of the chains and danger that it brought.  There is a certain pride that is the hallmark of the hupomone man.  It is a pride born of the understanding of our position as Children of God.  It is a pride born of 1 Corinthians 13 love and grounded in the great commandments.  Paul raises up the relatively unknown man of God to Timothy, an example of the exhortation, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, ” 1 Timothy 1:8

3.  Refreshing

The Hupomone Man is a breath of fresh air in a dank and room, a ray of light shining in the darkness.  When one perseveres through hard times in the abundance of Christ there is an aura of refreshment that permeates the situation.  What amazing testament to this little known man of God, “for he often refreshed me…”.  This is a quality that Onesiphorus brought to even the most difficult situations.  It is the very nature of Jesus Christ shining through his children empowered by the Holy Spirit, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10.

Paul ends this passage about Onesiphorus with “and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.”  The hupomone man carries his qualities wherever he goes.  It did not matter whether he was on the streets of Ephesus or in the halls of power in Rome comforting Paul as the specter of execution hovered nearby, Onesiphorus was eager to serve, unashamed of the Gospel and brought refreshment to those around him.

 

 

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