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A Monopoly of Outcasts

The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

The church is filled with all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. Let’s not be prideful about our problems and prudish about the problems of others. 

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Look before you… Entertainment

There is something about physical harm and pain that reminds us to look before we… leap. Why? Because we leaped one too many times without looking and our brain has trained us not to do that again. That’s the way our brains work. And our brains work well. That is, at least, for a lot of things. However, our brains may work against us when it comes to others things.

We sit down and watch a cute, funny dog video on YouTube and that’s fine; no pain. Actually, we quite enjoy it. Our brains do not tell us: Look before you… watch. So, we don’t. We don’t consider what we watch or how often we watch because, after all, we like it.

Plus, entertainment is everything.[1] But, is it? Or, should it be? We would do well to consider this question as (likely) the most entertained people in all of history.[2]

What is “entertainment”? What does that word mean? It has been defined in this way: “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” So, entertainment gives us pleasure, enjoyment, and diversion; especially by a performance of some kind. For instance, I was entertained at NitroCircus when Travis Pastrana did a double backflip on a dirt bike.

To quote someone from a different arena, it would have been fitting for Pastrana to scream out:

“Are you not entertained?! Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!”

There is a danger that people will die in entertaining us but is there also a danger for us as we are endlessly entertained?

Neil Postman wrote in 1985 about the danger of, as his book title says, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and that was before public internet, let alone social media and the smart phone. It is not an understatement to say that we are likely to amuse ourselves to death. There are serious health risks for us when all we care about is entertainment. There is the further danger that we’re not living and loving as we should. We’re liable to amuse ourselves until death, and never do anything worthwhile with the time we’ve been given.

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Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 2)

What do we learn about Onesimus?
Paul calls Onesimus his child, as he often does with converts, especially, it seems, those whom he had a special connection with through discipleship (cf. 1 Cor. 4:14-15; 2 Cor. 6:13; Gal. 4:19; Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2).

Onesimus, had a common slave name, his name meant “useful.” Paul makes a pun here. He basically says, Useful was useless to you Philemon but now he is useful to both you and me (v. 11).

So, how was “Useful” previously useless? What did he do that explains the remark from Paul? He ran away from his master Philemon and likely stole money from him to pay for his voyage and new life. He used to be useless but not now, now Paul says, he is indeed useful.

We have already seen that Paul used a term of endearment by saying Onesimus was Paul’s child. However, Paul does not stop there. Paul says, in sending Onesimus back to Philemon, he is sending his very heart (v. 12). Paul has a deep bond with Onesimus, he has been helpful to Paul (the old man!) in prison. As Paul says, “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” (v. 13). So, Paul is making the case that Onesimus, though once deemed useless, is indeed useful both to Paul and Philemon.

Onesimus, proves his new usefulness, as we’ve seen, by helping Paul. But not only that, he is repentant. He is willing to go back to Philemon his master, a bold step. In that day, slaves could be branded with the letter “F” for fugitive or “T” for thief (if they had a “gracious” master). Other masters may have their slave executed, perhaps even on a cross. There was a near contemporary of Philemon, a very wealthy slave owner, that was killed by a slave so in order to punish the slave and make an example all of the man’s slaves were killed; all four hundred of them (Hughes, p. 161-62). In fact, in Martin Hengel’s book Crucifixion there is a chapter titled “the ‘slaves’ punishment,” and in this chapter he tells about one occasion after a slave rebellion where there were six thousand slaves crucified (p. 55). Read More…

Philemon: A Case Study of New Life in Christ (Part 1)

We see in Paul’s letter to the Colossians[1] that Christians are to put on the new self with new practices, new characteristics. And Paul tells us about the unprecedented unification and reconciliation that happens in Christ between all sorts of different people. Paul says, “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11 cf. 1 Cor. 12:13-14; Gal. 3:26-27).

But will this really work?! Paul is talking all this big talk but can it ever be practiced. He says, here there is neither slave nor free, and yet there truly were slaves and freemen. There really were Greeks and Jews. There were and are people that are in the world and see the world in all sorts of different ways. How can they be united? Is it really possible? And if so, how?! Read More…

Slavery and its defeat

At the time of the writing of the New Testament, in the Roman Empire, there were essentially three classes of people: The rich, the slaves (about half the population), and freemen. These “freemen” were free in that they were not owned by anyone, yet they often went hungry because of their “freedom.” Whereas, slaves sometimes had good masters and sometimes had bad masters.

Slavery in Rome was not what it was like in America 150 years ago.

“In Paul’s day, slavery was not based on race. Additionally, slaves had any number of duties and responsibilities, ranging from farming, mining, and milling to cooking, teaching, and managing. Furthermore, slaves were not infrequently freed from the shackles of slavery (a process known as manumission).

There is no mistaking the fact, however, that slavery in the Greco-Roman world was degrading, dehumanizing, and downright disgusting. Taken together, slaves were perceived and treated as property and were frequently subject to unimaginable punishments based on their maters’ malevolent whims. Indeed, Roman historian Cassius Dio tells of an especially cruel slave owner, Vedius Pollio, who had slaves who displeased him thrown into a pool of flesh-eating eels.”[1]

So, what was slavery’s defeat? Harriet Beecher Stowe said:

“The Christian master was directed to receive his Christianized slave, ‘NOT now as a slave, but above a slave, a brother beloved [Philemon 16];’ and, as in all these other cases, nothing was said to him about the barbarous powers which the Roman law gave him, since it was perfectly understood that he could not at the same time treat him as a brother beloved and as a slave in the sense of [unconstitutional] Roman law.

When, therefore, the question is asked, why did not the apostles seek the abolition of slavery, we answer, they did seek it. They sought it by the safest, shortest, and most direct course which could possibly have been adopted.”[2]

Paul’s system founded on Jesus the Christ—Jesus who came to serve and not be served—subverts any form of human oppression.[3] So, we see Paul lays the necessary groundwork for the emancipation proclamation. The gospel has changed the basic structure of the way Paul looks at the world and it should change the way we see the world as well. Read More…

How we live as exiles…

 

The Bible teaches us that we, as Christians, are exiles (1 Pet. 1:1, 17; 2:11; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 13:14). That is, we as Christians are separated from our true country. This is a biblical reality and more and more becoming an empirical reality. For instance, Newsweek has said, “Christians are now making up a declining percentage of the American population” (cf. U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious“). 

America has been postmodern and now we’re told America is post-Christian. But it’s not surprising. And it’s actually ok because this is not our home. We are “exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1, 17) and so we shouldn’t expect to have a nice cushy Christian majority (not that a Christian majority is wrong). We function, as the early church functioned, from the margins, not from the center.

Also, notice that Peter doesn’t tell us to wage war to ensure that we are the “moral majority.” No. Peter says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:11-12 see also 1 Cor. 5:9-13).

It’s actually Christian’s morality that Peter is concerned with. Peter doesn’t say watch out for the world’s morality (and Peter lived under Roman control). No. He says, watch out for your own morality. Wage war against your soul. We are called to live our lives “constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals” (Lee Beach, The Church in Exile, 183). Read More…

A few thoughts on loving our neighbors…

God is a missionary God. God sent prophet after prophet and even sent His own Son (cf. Matt. 21:33ff). And now Jesus the Son is sending us into the world (Jn. 17:18). The task was dangerous for the prophets and deathly for Jesus. We shouldn’t expect anything less (Christians are the most persecuted group in the world). We were sent into the world, not a Christian conclave. And we were sent into the world not to win the world over to our side but to love the world, to love our neighbor. To implore the world on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). 

We are not to hide in Christian castles, build castles, or lob missiles at the outside world from our castle. The commission from Christ did not include a castle, it included sacrificial—boots on the ground—compassion. God showed His love for us through the amazingly tangible incarnation and cross. There is a sense in which we too can give love flesh.

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