When Your Rock Crumbles

waves crashing
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Tom is my rock. He’s always there for me. I don’t realize how much I depend on him until he is compromised. The first time that happened was in 2014 when he fell 16 feet and broke his hip and crushed his heel. Today, it’s laser surgery for a detached retina. Actually, the surgery took place a couple weeks ago. This was only to be a checkup but they need to “weld” around one spot. (Somehow the term weld should not be in the same sentence as eye) Ugh! And then the doctor said that it would probably happen in the other eye as well! Double ugh!
He’s my rock! But what do you do when your rock starts to crumble? As we sit here in the waiting room and I watch a young female patient fill out her forms I realize that, generally speaking, we do not realize what a blessing youth and good health is until they are gone. We live. We assume that we’ll just jump out of bed and do it all again today, and the next, and the next. But then, suddenly, we’re old! Just so you know, 60s are not like the 50s, 40s, or 30s. 60s makes you stop and realize that most of life is in the past. That may sound morbid. It’s not—it’s reality.
So, again I ask, what do you do when your rock starts to crumble? YOU MAKE CERTAIN THAT YOUR FEET AND FAITH ARE FIRMLY PLANTED ON THE ROCK THAT WILL NEVER CRUMBLE! Jesus is the Son of God. He IS God eternal. He is ALWAYS there and will always be there. He never changes. He has all the power that He always had and is willing to supply the strength that we—His genuine children— need for anything. What a wonderful promise!
Tom and I said on that special day of days, “In sickness and in health.” Well, here we are! It’s my turn. Tom had his turn during three Cesarean deliveries. We will be there for each other as long as God allows, but when the rock crumbles, my feet are secure, and so are his when this little pebble crumbles too! Praise God.
Lu 6:48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.

Unto Philemon Our Dearly Beloved: Part 5

Philemon 1-2

featureAllow me to introduce you to Philemon, the primary recipient of this letter. W. Graham Scroggie makes note of the fact that “all we know of this man is contained within this epistle and one or two sentences in the Colossian letter.” He then produces a list of facts that emerge from those Scriptures: 1. Philemon was a Gentile. 2. He was a Colossian (v. 2; Col. 4:9). 3. He was married and had a son. 4. He was led to Christ by Paul (v. 19). 5. He was characterized by evangelical zeal. 6. He was large-hearted and generously disposed. 7. He was well to do. Suddenly, this man appears before us larger than life with his personality fleshed out so that we may look beyond just his name, seeing a bit into the soul of the man. Not only is he seen as a wealthy man of prominent social standing, but there is a special reference to his liberality and hospitality that had been extended to brethren even from a distance (vv. 5-7).

Paul is descriptive in his choice of words when speaking of this man. He was counted “beloved” by Paul himself, and, even more than this, Paul called him “dearly beloved” (v. 1). Philemon is obviously a brother in the Lord who was especially close to the heart of Paul. The apostle recognizes this love toward Philemon and will momentarily ask Philemon to recognize it toward his runaway slave, Onesimus (v. 16). Indication is given (at least in part) as to the reason for this love. They labored in a common cause, and it bound them together—Philemon was a “fellowlabourer” in the work of God. He worked in the same cause so dear to the heart of Paul. May our mutual love of the brethren carry us willingly into the cause of God’s work, together. — John Duty

 

Bond Brothers new coverExcerpts from Chapter Six

Excitement mounted in the traveling group the next day as they drew near to Ephesus, matching the unusually charged atmosphere of the city. Philemon did not have to wonder what caused the agitation in the air. He sat taller in his saddle as they neared the city. The temple of Diana rose before them and an enormous crowd was gathered on the exterior steps. All eyes were focused on the figure between the columns. Philemon strained both eyes and ears as they drew near. His furrowed brow caused Appia alarm.

“What is it, Philemon? Is there trouble?” she asked anxiously, but her husband did not respond. He urged his mount toward the far side of the group and quickly dismounted. Appia looked at Solon, who only shrugged and followed his father’s lead.

“Who is he?” Solon asked, a bit startled and embarrassed by his father’s reaction to the speaker.

For a moment, Philemon did not respond. His eyes never left the face of the speaker, and he was so in tune to what he said that he never heard Solon’s question. It was not until Solon nudged him that he was brought back to reality.

“I am not sure,” Philemon answered vaguely, but as he pressed forward the voice and face of the speaker were familiar. His heart leaped as he realized that it was Paul.

“They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusts in them.” (Psalm 115:6-8)

Solon heard a united gasp and the rise of mumbling voices at the man’s offensive words; however, a good majority of the audience was still intently listening, hanging on every word just like his father. He turned away in disgust, but Philemon never saw him leave.

As Paul scanned the group, his eyes fell on Philemon. At first, he could not remember where he had seen that strong face, so full of earnest desire, but then he remembered: Athens.

He had said enough for one day. He could sense that part of the crowd was getting angry at his words; however, there was much fruit to be gathered. He had learned that it was best to leave them wanting a little more.

Paul was soon surrounded by others, but he saw Philemon moving his way. One by one, the believers paired off with seekers, leaving Paul free to speak to Philemon.

“Greetings, dear friend,” Paul spoke as he placed his hand on Philemon’s shoulder. “It is good to see you! Do I remember that you are from Colosse?”

Philemon nodded, amazed that he remembered. “Yes, I am here with my family on business and then heading to Athens to see our son.”

“Ah yes, Archippus was it?”

Philemon shook his head. “I cannot believe that you remembered me, much less my son.”

Paul’s gaze grew intense. “The Lord has blessed me with a good memory, but I have also been praying for you since we last met.  Have you chosen your way yet?”

Though his words sounded cryptic, Philemon knew exactly what he was saying. “I am still seeking the truth,” he said, his face clouded.

“Can you come back tonight? I will be speaking again after the dinner hour at the home of Aquila, the tent maker. He lives just down this road at the first crossroad,” Paul said pointing westward.

Philemon brightened. “Yes. We have business to attend to first, but then I will be free for the evening.” He nodded to Paul and turned to go. As he reached his family, he could sense their questions but once again chose to ignore them…

(later during the evening meeting) “Can you turn away from your idols and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the One sent by God to take away the sins of the world? For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” He looked at a group of Jewish men sitting right before him as though addressing them alone. “Certainly, you can see that He fulfilled all our prophecies. He is the Dayspring rising, the Daysman standing between the gap. He is Alpha and Omega; He died and rose again, conquering death. Shiloh has come, and He longs to gather you, my brethren.” Philemon could see the effect his words were having on the group, but they made no sense to him. That quickly, Paul shifted his gaze to the others. He scanned the room until his eyes rested upon Philemon.

“But Jesus has opened the way of salvation to anyone that will believe.” His eyes pleaded and his words were empowered by the Spirit of God. “Can you believe, my friends? Can you forsake all that you are holding on to and rest your soul upon Jesus alone?”

A woman on the far side of the room began to weep, and the one next to her leaned close. As whispered tones floated across the room, the two continued, bent in prayer. All over the room, the same scenario was taking place. Quietly, Aristarchus began to sing another of the songs of Zion. The words spoke of a God who was strength and light: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

It made Philemon ache deep down in his soul. The longing was nearly unbearable. Slowly, he slid down the wall and sat on his haunches, burying his head in his hands, aching to communicate with the Unknown God. If only he could see Him, touch Him!

A tender hand rested on his shoulder, and he looked up onto the eyes of Paul. “Can you believe, my friend?” Philemon searched his face, as though he would find the answer there.

“How can I believe what I have not seen?”

Paul remembered what Thomas had recounted to him about the night that Jesus had visited his disciples after his resurrection. He knelt down beside Philemon. “One of the disciples said much the same thing.” Philemon’s eyes burned with desire to know. “Thomas had said some harsh things to the other disciples who had seen the Lord after His resurrection. He had not been there when Jesus appeared the first time, but the second time he was.” Paul smiled at the recollection. “Thomas had told them that he would not believe unless he put his finger into the holes made by the nails in His hands and thrust his fist into His side where the spear had pierced Him.” He stopped as though imagining the scene. Philemon ached to prod him on but waited.

“Thomas said that the look in His eyes alone was enough to make him never doubt again; but it is Jesus’ words that I want to share with you, friend.” He paused for just a moment, his eyes bearing down on Philemon. “He said, ‘Blessed are they that have not seen and yet believe.’ I am not in that group, for I have seen Him; and I feel as though I am missing something very special. But you, Philemon, you can know the true meaning of faith. To believe only because He deserves our faith is true faith, my friend. Will you believe?”

A silence hung in the air. The battle raging in Philemon’s heart was clearly seen on his face. He wanted to believe, but images of Appia’s face danced across his mind. He as much as called us fools. Solon’s look of disgust, Onesimus’ mocking remarks all taunted his pride and crushed the work of the Spirit. He shook his head. “I am a Gentile, Paul. This is all so new to me. I can see my god. I can offer sacrifices.” His words sounded shallow even to him.

“And will those gods and your sacrifices assure you a place in heaven and cleanse your soul from sin?” Paul asked quietly. Oh, how he wanted this man to believe and forsake his idolatrous ways!

Philemon sadly shook his head. “I want to believe, Paul. I…” There were no words, only frustration.

Paul pitied the man—like so many others! If only he could pour it into their heads and hearts!

It was a quiet Philemon who accompanied a chatty Diana and a curious Appia down the streets of Ephesus to the docks. The words of the believers continued to haunt him, tormenting his heart. He was torn between the comfortable world in which he lived and the world of the Unknown God that was growing more and more irresistible to him.

As they approached the dock area, Appia pulled on his arm, her eyes shining. “Oh, Phil, look.” His eyes followed her pointing finger to a table of statues made in the image of Diana. As though on cue, Diana also got caught up in the excitement she saw in her mother’s face.

“I want one, Papa,” she squealed as she pulled out of his hold and raced to the table, her eyes shining as she pointed to one of the smaller ones. “That one, Papa. I want that one.”

Can a piece of silver or gold hear your prayers? Does an idol stir your heart and draw you to it, to love it and respect it? Can you worship it in spirit and in truth? The words swirled in Philemon’s mind as he stared at the figures.

“Ah, your child has good taste,” said the man behind the counter. Demetrius smiled at the little girl and then up at Philemon. He loved his craft and enjoyed it even more when the children were drawn to it.

Included as a Brother: Part 4

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When my wife and I moved to Montana to minister in a small church in a small ranching community, her mother wrote to us every week with all the news of farm, family, and friends at home. Can you imagine the eagerness with which we received and opened those letters? Well, transfer that excitement into the scene before us in Colosse when Philemon received a letter from the apostle Paul in Rome. After all, this was the man who had led Philemon to the Lord and established him upon the path of righteousness. By Paul’s faithfulness in preaching the Word, this saint of God had been lifted from an idolatrous lifestyle into the glorious heights of God’s grace.

As Philemon began reading the letter to the family, Paul’s name, of course, was presented immediately, but he also included “Timothy our brother.” Paul was the spiritual father of Timothy, and he could have spoken of him as such. However, he chose a wider relationship to highlight, for Timothy was a “brother” not only to Paul but to Philemon and, indeed, to all Christians. How gracious of this aged apostle to include Timothy in his salutation to this household! It was not unlike Paul to be generous in his recognition of young men in the ministry. Furthermore, it was a reminder to Philemon of that great brotherhood of all believers—the very spirit of brotherhood that Paul was trusting would work in his dear friend to bring about a kindly reception for Onesimus. Paul urged Philemon to receive with open arms the return of his runaway slave because they now belonged to the same spiritual family and were brothers in Christ. Oh that we, too, would receive one another as brothers and sisters in Him! — John Duty

Bond Brothers new coverExcerpt from Chapter Thirteen

(Onesimus has been taken prisoner and is being shipped to the prison in Athens. Angry with everyone and everything having to do with God, he lashes out at any hint of Christianity. One of the prison guards has an idea that will pour salt into his wounds, but little does this servant of Rome know that he is being used by God to draw Onesimus to the Truth.)

My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;
and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
 Psalm 22:15

Aegean Sea

The ship swayed and rolled on the open sea, and men moaned for lack of food and drink. Onesimus looked across the hull, his eyes half closed and his mind empty of thought. He had tried to do right—was on the verge of making things right. He looked down at the chains around his ankles, red and raw from the chaffing. This was only the beginning. What would become of him? If he could, he would somehow end it all, but Rome was a master of captivity. The chains were too short for strangulation. All he could do was sit in his own waste and rot away.

It seemed as though they had been traveling for many weeks; but in reality, they had been aboard the ship for less than a month. The mighty warship had weaved its way across the sea, picking up prisoners and tossing them in the hold like a giant feasting on human flesh. The soldiers were quick to remind them that they were less than the lowest of humanity and would regret the day that they had broken the laws of the land. Onesimus closed his eyes and wished for death.

Thoughts of family tried to push their way into his mind, and just as quickly, he pushed them out again. He thought of Philemon, sad that he would never be able to explain—make amends. Every so often, God would also try to overtake his thoughts, and Onesimus wondered if, at those times, his mother was praying for him.

On the thirteenth day, the call came that Rome was within view. As their shackles were replaced with a gang-chain, they were herded out of the belly of the mighty ship and into blinding sunlight. Shielding their eyes and stumbling, the prisoners cursed and swore until the lashing began. Quickly, their shouts of anger became cries for mercy.

The soldiers lined them up along the deck’s railing. As Onesimus’ eyes adjusted, he noticed buckets of water lined up before them. At the captain’s command, the soldiers moved forward and doused the prisoners with the salty brine. Cries of pain filled the air as the saltwater washed over their wounds and sores caused by the shackles’ constant rubbing and hours of sitting in filth.

More lashes and barking communicated their orders to make a line and proceed to the gangplank. Beside the open rails sat a barrel of tepid water. Each prisoner drank voraciously as much as he could gulp before being pushed ahead.

Onesimus watched the man in front of him, curious about his ability to keep silent. As though sensing a watchful eye, the man turned to glance at Onesimus when his feet hit solid ground. “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” He watched Onesimus reaction and continued. “Are you a believer?”

Something in Onesimus snapped. Anger and hatred filled his eyes. “Do not talk to me about your God!”

Pity filled the older man’s eyes. “There is nothing else to hope for, son. He is my rock, my shield, my…”

“Shut up!” Onesimus shouted before he realized what he was doing.

“What is going on here?” a soldier growled.

“Tell that fool to leave me alone,” Onesimus snapped.

The soldier looked at the old man. He knew that he was in prison because he would not bow a knee to the emperor, and it irked him. Was it not enough that Rome owned most of a man’s possessions and body? Must she demand his soul as well?

He cuffed Onesimus, nearly making him stumble and looked at the old man. Any casual observer would have missed the brief look of kindness in his eyes. He paused for only a moment, and then hurried away.

Something had changed within Onesimus. Disappointment and defeat fed the bitterness that hardened his heart, and he soothed his rankled soul by lashing out at everyone, especially followers of Jesus Christ. There were many in prison and more came every day. Their courage and limitless strength of character shamed him but fueled his anger as well. No matter how many lashings he received or how much food he was deprived, there was no controlling him, until the day Cassian came to his cell.

Cassian knew how to break a man and took pleasure in doing so. As he sat in the officers’ quarters listening to the others talk about the young man, he began to laugh. They looked at him questioningly. “You are missing his Achilles’ heel.”

“What do you mean?”

He leaned forward, placing an elbow on the table. “Who is he lashing out against?”

Silence.

“Us?”

He shook his head. Again, silence. He looked into their eyes, enjoying the riddle. “There is a group of people in here that he hates, despises almost as much as we do.”

A slow grin showed Livius’ missing teeth. His lips curled in disgust. “These Christians,” he spat.

Cassian’s eyes moved from one face to the next. “Exactly. So, let us eliminate our problem and make his life miserable.”

“That Paul fella,” another soldier answered.

“Yes. I will suggest it to Otho. He will make the necessary arrangements.”

Five days later, Onesimus was removed from solitary confinement. The guards came in, faces like stone, and unlocked the wall chains and shackled his legs and hands. He shuffled along, wondering if this was the end, hoping it to be true.

When they passed out of the inner gates, he grew hopeful, but when they entered the streets, he was confused. Where were they taking him? A cold chill ran up his spine as he realized there might be a fate worse than death.

When they entered a narrow stairwell, the soldiers sandwiched him between them, his chains clinking on the steps.

On the other side of the door, Paul looked at Tatius when they heard the sound of someone coming. They had been praying for the various churches before Luke came to continue Paul’s letter to the Philippians. They all stood as the threesome came through the door.

“Here’s another one for you, Tatius.”

Tatius remained standing at attention as the men removed Onesimus’ shackles and chained him to Tatius. They laughed. “Have fun, but beware. That one may try to slit your throat if he gets the chance.”

Without another word, they left the room. “It makes you wonder which one of us is the prisoner,” Tatius said to Paul. But Paul was staring at the new prisoner, unable to believe his eyes. He was nearly certain that it was Onesimus, but so much had changed about him, and he knew that most of the change was reflected from his heart.

“Onesimus?” he asked.

Onesimus had been staring at his feet, a stance he had found most helpful when he did not want to face reality. This all seemed so strange to him, but any thoughts concerning his future had long been crushed from his mind. When he heard his name from a voice that sounded vaguely familiar, his head shot up.

Onesimus focused on the face before him, trying to remember where he had seen the man before. Then he knew.

“No!” he cried, jerking the chain as he flailed his arms. His eyes were wild—he looked from Paul to Tatius, and then to the chains that bound them all together. His eyes were dark and menacing. “Is this some sort of a sick joke?” he growled.

Paul turned his gaze away from Onesimus and spoke to Tatius. Without a word, Tatius unlocked Paul’s chains.

“You know this man?” Tatius asked.

Paul looked once again at Onesimus. His hair was long and matted, and his beard was thick and filthy. His clothes were mere rags, and his skin held the sickly pallor of one who had been away from sunlight for too long.

“Yes,” Paul answered, never letting his gentle eyes leave Onesimus’ face. “Although I do not know his story. We met several years ago.” He paused. “I know his master,” he said with added meaning, as though questioning Onesimus.

Onesimus was calculating how much effort it would take to overcome the soldier and flee, but when he looked at Tatius, it was as though the man was reading his mind.

“We have a bit of an unusual situation here. I am not sure why they have brought you here, but Paul is under house arrest and is in my care. We have a measure of freedom, and I am not willing that anyone jeopardizes that.”

He walked toward the far wall where an iron loop was anchored into the wall. He unfastened his end of the chain and locked Onesimus to the loop, shoving a chair in his direction. Tatius then placed a basin of water before him with soap and a towel. “And if you are going to be staying here, you need to get rid of the stench that you picked up in the prison.”

Tatius opened a trunk, which stood on the opposite wall, and tossed him fresh garments. He then motioned to Paul, Tychicus, and Luke, and the four men left the room.

Onesimus looked around the area and sighed. It was certainly a step in the right direction, but the thought of living with the religious fanatic only infuriated him. He reached for the soap and was ready to hurl it across the room, but stopped, rethinking his actions. He was out of prison! Yes, he was still a prisoner, but he was away from the horrors of that place. A sense of hope that he had not felt since the day he boarded the ship tentatively crept into his hardened heart.

Slowly, he picked up the soap and began to wash. When had he last bathed? He could not even remember. He ripped the rags from his body and hurried to finish. Pulling the tunic over his head and poking his free arm through one armhole, he folded the towel and sat to wait.

Bond Brothers by Wanda MacAvoy

Salutation: Philemon, Part Three

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Luther said, “We are all God’s Onesimus.” It is true that, in this incident, we have a striking picture of our lost condition by nature and practice and of the activities of divine grace on our behalf. This letter sets forth, most beautifully, the great truths of forgiveness on the ground of the expiatory work of Another and of acceptance in the Beloved. Harry Ironside makes a strong case for this truth in a short gospel article entitled “Charge That to My Account.” We are presented with an excellent example of what God could do within both a householder and a slave in bringing them to Christ and causing the love of the Spirit to be manifested richly through them.

What a story the name of the writer calls to mind—Paul! It is he who presents the picture of that which we have just spoken. Allow all that you know of this man to roll through your mind. It was William Ramsay who speaks of the “Charm of Paul,” and indeed, when we think of Paul, we cannot help but be reminded of him as preacher, pastor, and man of prayer. He is self-described as the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), yet he was one who met Christ and had his life radically changed with sins forgiven and redemption received. God chose this man to pen a large share of the New Testament Scriptures. Paul wrote to numerous churches and individuals, giving us a wonderful view into the very depths of his own heart. When he might have “pulled rank” on Philemon as “Paul the Apostle,” he, instead, appealed to his friend and brother in Christ on the basis of “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ” (v. 1), preferring to entreat him (vv. 8-9) as a “prisoner” than as an “apostle.” Paul’s tact and appeal are consummate. — John Duty

Feature Bible Study Guide

Bond Brothers new coverExcerpt from Chapter One

Athens

The streets were crowded with an array of travelers and Athenians. Philemon put a protective hand on Archippus’ shoulder, and Onesimus flanked the boy’s other side, much to Philemon’s delight. Hagglers called to them as they picked their way through the filthy narrow spots, and Philemon was glad when the alley gave way to a wider street.

By the time they reached the Agora, it seemed as though every person in Athens was looking for something to eat! Philemon pulled several small loaves of bread from his sack along with a cluster of figs and handed them to his companions. The snack would hold them until their business was over and they were on the ship once more.

Philemon had decided on a small piglet for his sacrifice. It was not the biggest or most costly animal, but it was not the smallest either. The animal squealed as the young boy, presumably the merchant’s son, cornered it, picked it up by its hind feet, and handed it to Onesimus, who took the tiny creature and cradled it in his arms. Soon the squeals ended, and the tiny pig actually fell asleep bringing a smile to everyone’s faces.

Philemon watched his son’s face knowing exactly what he was thinking before he asked.

“Father, must we sacrifice it?”

Philemon only nodded.

“But why do the gods require a blood sacrifice?”

His father put an arm around his shoulders. “Our gods do not require it son, but the sacrifice lets them know that we are serious about our request.”

“Do some gods require blood?”

Philemon was ready to change the subject, but he knew he needed to answer the question. “Yes, Archippus, the Jewish God requires a blood sacrifice.”

“Is that why Simeon is a butcher?”

Philemon chuckled. “Well, I suppose that is part of the reason,” he replied, thinking of their neighbor and friend. The thought stopped him for a moment. He had never really given much thought to any god. Even this gesture of worship was for his wife, not him. At times he wondered if the gods even existed.

Another thought came to Archippus, and he looked at his father with alarm.  “Is mother ill? Is that what the sacrifice is for?” He had seen her outside one morning, relieving herself of everything in her stomach. She had brushed him off, but the memory came back in vivid detail as his mind whirled in all the wrong places.

Philemon turned and stopped their procession. He placed both hands on his son’s shoulders and looked him squarely in the eye. The boy had sprung up this past summer and was nearly as tall as his father. “No, Archippus, she is not in any danger. But you will have to ask her any more of your questions.” He knew the stern look would end all other inquiries.

As they drew near to the Areopagos, Philemon could see that a crowd was gathered. Someone was being pushed to the front. He was a short man, certainly not a Greek. Perhaps a Roman? No, his garments were more like that of the Jews. Philemon’s curiosity drew him into the crowd and the others followed.

“Tell us of this new doctrine of which you speak,” one of the elders of the city was saying. At the mention of doctrine, Philemon turned to go, but as the man began to speak, he felt drawn back. He turned and watched, now focused on the man’s eyes. There was something different about him, but Philemon could not understand what it was.

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious.” The man stopped and looked over the crowd as though seeing into the heart of every man. “For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.”

The speaker was warming to his subject, and every person present stood silent, watching him as he gestured to the sky, urging them to pay heed. He hesitated for a moment, as though he knew that his next statement would not be well received. “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

Unknowingly, Philemon leaned forward, as though fearing that he might miss a word. The man’s voice dropped in volume, drawing even more attention from each listener. “For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” The statement struck a knowing cord among the crowd. Many were nodding their approval. This man is an incredible orator, Philemon thought. I have never heard such things! A yearning to know and understand gnawed at Philemon’s heart.

“Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Somewhere further into the circle of people that were gathered to listen, a man laughed loudly. “You speak of the one they call Jesus, the Jews’ so-called Messiah,” the man mocked. He grunted and turned to walk away.

Archippus was turning to follow those who were leaving when he saw his father’s face. Philemon’s eyes were riveted to the speaker. It was as though their eyes were locked, sending messages that only those two could understand.

Dionysius watched the exchange, which was taking place between Paul and the man who had watched him so intently. He saw there the hungering that he himself felt in his soul. As the man turned to walk away, he felt an urging to meet him. Pressing through the crowd, he came beside him, not sure what to say; but as he considered his words, the man turned to face him.

“I could not help but watch you as our speaker shared his beliefs. They are quite unusual, would you not agree?”

Philemon could see the sincerity in the man’s eyes. He was obviously an elder of the city. “Yes, sir. I must say his words intrigued me.”

“I am hoping to have him to my home for the afternoon meal. Would you and your group care to join me? His words intrigue me as well.”

Philemon considered the offer. To refuse would be disgraceful to the man before him and a social indecency; however, if he accepted, it would mean an added night to their journey.      It was as though a war was battling within him. The greater part of his heart willed him to move on and forget what he had just heard, but somewhere in the recesses of his mind, the words UNKNOWN GOD vibrated over and over, creating questions that he ached to have answered. “That is very kind of you, sir. We have business in the city, but will be free by midday.”

“Good. Come when you are free.” He gave Philemon his name and directions and turned to find Paul.

Archippus looked at him questioningly, but Philemon ignored the look and hurried them to their task. As he passed the collection of gods and their altars, he decided upon Athena. After all, was not she one of the most powerful goddesses? To the Unknown God… Him I proclaim to you… Paul’s words continued to echo in Philemon’s mind, but he pushed them away. I must do this for Appia and our unborn child!

The priests were all too happy to accept and offer the little pig. Onesimus handed over the tiny animal, feeling some angst at the whole ordeal. As the priest chanted his incantations, the piglet squealed as though understanding its fate. However, it soon lay silent upon the altar, its blood oozing from its slit throat.  Philemon looked on, bowed his head and without a word walked away. It was done, but somehow, the entire scenario left him cold and empty. His pace quickened as he turned toward the Stoa.

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God’s Providential Purposes: Philemon, Part Two

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Philemon 1

As we saw yesterday, Paul opens his letter with these words: “Paul, a prisoner” (v. 1), and he strikes that same note again three more times (vv. 9-10, 13). His tact and consummate skill in communication make it nearly impossible for Philemon to refuse his request. We are provided with evidence here that asking will often succeed where commanding will altogether fail. And note that Paul does not speak of being a prisoner of Nero or Rome, but of Jesus Christ. It is striking that Paul is a captive who is pleading for a slave. He, in speaking of his captivity to Jesus Christ, reveals his faith. His eyes are shut to all secondary causes. Paul is well aware that his imprisonment was allowed and guided in the all-wise providence of God, just as Joseph, long before this, saw as well: “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). In the same manner, God controlled the circumstances so that Paul was in the right place at the right time to lead Onesimus to Christ and then send him back to Philemon.

For Paul, it was as though Christ Himself had placed the manacles on his wrists and chained him to a soldier. He wore them lightly and proudly, for he understood and believed God’s purpose for this situation. He knew that the events in every believer’s life have both human and divine aspects, with both primary and secondary causes. He was “a prisoner of Jesus Christ”—he was there according to the will of God and because of his loyalty to Christ. Paul saw the divine aspect of his afflictions and rejoiced in being a vessel in the Potter’s hand on the wheel of circumstances (Jer. 18:3-4). — John Duty

 

bookcoverpreview-2Excerpt from Chapter Twelve

Rome
60 AD

 So, as much as in me is,
I am ready to preach the gospel
to you that are at Rome also.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:
for it is the power of God unto salvation
to every one that believeth;
to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
 Romans 1:15, 16

“At last we make the final leg of our journey,” Luke said as he stood next to Paul and Tychicus on the deck of the Roman vessel. Since their shipwreck at Melitta, and the healing of Publius’ father, the Roman soldiers and sailors alike looked upon Paul with awe. Many had secretly come to him seeking to know more about his God, and some had even ventured to place their trust in Jesus, the Son of the unseen God. It was a courageous step, and Luke was not surprised that many kept their conversions to themselves.

         When there was no reply from his companions, he looked at Paul and wondered at the great man’s expression. Tychicus watched from the other side of the apostle. It was not a look of fear nor dread, but perhaps burden. Luke placed a hand on his arm, stirring Paul from his reverie.

         Paul smiled weakly and breathed in the briny air. “Yes, before us lies Rome.” A dark line could be seen in the distance, barely visible to the naked eye. He sighed, “I wonder what our Lord has in store for us there. Rome is a dark place, but it also holds many brethren.”

         “So I have heard. How good it will be to break bread once again,” Luke said. The statement brought a softened look to Paul’s face. “Yes, and may our Lord give us the opportunity to break the bondage of many more souls!”

         Tychicus smiled and shook his head. What other response would he have expected from the apostle? “Yes, indeed.”

         As they entered the port city of Puteloi, the day was clear and merchants were busy about their business. The prisoners were herded off the ship and into a corral of sorts, where they would be kept until arrangements were made for them to travel across land. All were bound except Paul and his companions.

         As the soldiers guided them through the gate, one pulled Paul aside. “You have the freedom to walk about, as long as Tatius accompanies you.” The soldier nodded toward one of the men who had made a rather bold profession of faith.

         Paul nodded and turned toward Tatius, who was waiting just beyond a tightknit circle of sailors. As he drew near, he heard several taunting remarks toward the young man; however, Tatius ignored them and stood tall with his jaw set and a light in his eyes, which many of the sailors envied.

         The little group of believers fell into an even gait, enjoying solid ground beneath their feet. “You are a good man, Tatius. Already you have found the way to be difficult?” Paul asked.

         Tatius looked his way and smiled. “No, sir, I have found that nothing can dispel the light that shattered the darkness of my former life.”

         Paul just smiled as they continued their way through the market area. As they followed the curve of the road, Paul’s face brightened. Before them was a fish market, and on the post, for all to see, was the carving of a fish—the symbol for followers of Jesus Christ! It was as though all three men saw the symbol at the same time, and they moved in unison toward the booth. An old man appeared from within but recoiled when he saw Tatius, dressed in his Roman uniform. He looked suspiciously from face to face until his eyes rested on Paul. He studied Paul, who could not conceal the Owner of his heart, and a smile spread across the weathered fisherman’s face.

         “Welcome, my brother, welcome. I see the love of our dear Savior clearly in your eyes.” He reached out and clasped Paul’s arm warmly; however, his gaze was still wary concerning the others.

         Paul laughed. “These are also believers, my brother.” First, he turned to Luke. “This is Luke, the beloved physician who has done me great service. Tychicus is also a faithful follower.” Then looking fondly at Tatius, he continued, “And Tatius is a new believer who has also served me well.”

         The old man nodded to the other men before looking back at Paul, staring for a moment before he put his hand to his mouth in surprise. “You are Paul, the great champion for our Lord!”

         The others smiled at his reaction, but Paul merely shook his head. “I am the least of His servants, my friend.” He pointed to the fish, hoping to change the course of conversation. “You are a bold one to post this sign so openly. God will surely bless you. Are there other believers in this place? And forgive me for not asking your name.”

         The old man smiled broadly, showing several gaps where his teeth expired long before their owner. “My name is Caelius, and yes, there are several believers.” His face brightened. “Will you speak to us?”

         “It would be my joy.”

         Caelius spoke excitedly, “I will make all the arrangements. Can you be here after the evening meal?”

         Paul looked at Tatius questioningly. “I will arrange it,” the young soldier replied.

         Caelius raised his hands to the heavens. “Praise Jehovah!”

         Several folks passing by looked at him in disgust and then hurried on their way. Paul slapped his back, and they moved on. Caelius could be heard humming an old tune from the Psalms. “What a wonderful testimony he has,” Paul commented.

         “Let us hope it does not cost him his life,” Tatius countered.

         “Just the opportunity to see our blessed Savior that much sooner,” Paul replied.

*        *        *

         For seven days, Paul met with the believers at Putioli before all was arranged for their departure to Rome. Like every believer who knew of Paul’s future, the small group sorrowed to see him go to Rome. They, as well, urged him to be careful, but Paul knew that his life was not his own. He was going to Rome because his heavenly Father was sending him there.

         By the end of the week, the weary prisoners were entering the gates of Rome. Paul eyed the massive walls, admiring their strength and enormity. Rome was like no other city! As they passed through the streets, the bulwarks of the prison rose before them. Some whimpered while others openly wept at the thought of what lay ahead.

         Paul and the others were at the end of the caravan with Tatius. As the others entered the prison, the commanding officer came to stand before the small group. He was glad for this voyage to be over. It was undeniable that this man, Paul, had strange powers unlike anything he had seen before, but he had more important things to do than to muse the miracles of a Jew.

         He looked sternly at Tatius. He had heard of the soldier’s choice to follow this prisoner’s beliefs. Weak! What a shame. The young man could have had a prosperous future, he thought. “Tatius, you will be keeping this prisoner under house arrest. If he should escape or cause any disturbances before his trial, you will be held directly responsible. Is that clear?”

         “Yes, captain,” Tatius barked as he saluted his commanding officer. The captain handed him a scroll.

         “It is all explained here.” He looked at Paul, showing no emotion on his face, and then turned away, walking briskly into the prison. The doors swung closed and clattered to a halt as they were barred and latched.

         Tatius unrolled the scroll and read his instructions. His face showed his surprise. “There is a house down the street and across from the prison where we are to live together.” He wondered if the great leader would frown at the notion, but the look on Paul’s face put his heart at ease.

         “Praise Jehovah! I do not mind telling you that the thought of living in a prison again was not appealing to me.” His face beamed at the young soldier. “God is already using you, my son.”

         The four ambled down the crowded street, each silently thanking the Lord for going before them in such a remarkable way. “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear,” Luke quoted.

         “Isaiah 65:24,” Paul replied as Tatius looked on questioningly.

         “Is that a quote from your holy scriptures?” he asked.

         Paul smiled, “Yes it is.” He could see the longing in the young soldier’s eyes. “That promise is for you too, Tatius. Soon we’ll have you quoting scripture like a Hebrew rabbi!”

         Luke chuckled at Tatius’ look of surprise.

         As they neared the house, Luke looked further down the street as Tatius unlocked the door. The road began to slope down as it narrowed and curved out of sight. Houses seemed to be built on top of each other, and some looked like a strong wind would topple them, as though they were built in great haste. The stench from raw sewage and trash wafted up the hill, and the ragged condition of many of the tenants made Luke wonder if sickness and disease was an accepted part of these people’s lives. Living so close with filth all around, he was certain it would not take much to have an epidemic.

         Tatius entered first, walking up the rickety steps that led to the second floor. The smell of bread baking from the bakery below made their stomachs rumble. “Well, we will not need to go far for our food,” Tatius said over his shoulder as he reached the landing at the top. He opened the door and stepped into the first of two rooms: one faced the street and the other a courtyard behind the building. As they all walked into the back room, they were pleased to find a porch, which extended the length of the room and allowed them to look down into the courtyard. The sun was nearly set, casting long shadows across the ground and buildings.

         “Jehovah be praised,” Paul whispered, drawing the attention of his companions. His face was radiant, as though he had just seen a vision. He closed his eyes and bowed to his knees. Luke, and then Tychicus and Tatius followed his example. “Thank you, Father. Truly, You have filled our lives with every benefit this day. Only You could provide this place. Only You would allow our new brother to be with us, and only You would even give me a porch which faces east. Oh, we long for Your return, Lord Jesus! Oh, to see the true Son rising in the east to deliver us! But until that day, may You find us faithful!”

         Tychicus murmured a soft ‘amen,’ and when Paul finished his prayer, he was surprised to find tears streaming down Tatius’ face. The young soldier’s eyes were still closed, and with the faith of a little child, this strong soldier added his own words of praise. “God of heaven, thank You for bringing this great man of faith into my life.” He still could not bring himself to speak Paul’s name. Quietly, he continued. “Thank You for all the miracles which You have already done, but most of all, thank You for this privilege to stay with this great one. Keep him safe, and may I be strong enough to remain faithful to You, my Lord.”

         The others also prayed, and they continued in prayer until the sun had set. Then Paul, Tychicus, and Luke led Tatius in a simple song of praise written long ago by another worshiper in another place and another time.

For there they that carried us away captive
required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth,
 saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

         Their voices rang and echoed across the courtyard, and those below stood still, listening to the beautiful canticle. When they had finished, a holy hush hovered around them sending messages of peace and comfort to their souls. Though weary in body, their spirits soared to the highest heavens, and the angels seemed to echo back their praises.

Lessons from Brio

51Q5LV7ahpLMy mother-in-law was Swedish and she lived her roots in her baking, nick-knacks, Christmas and even color schemes. Blue and yellow were her favorite colors! Even her pens came from Sweden, but one of our children was blessed every Christmas and birthday with Brio, the Swedish made wooden train track.

As I played on the floor with my grandson, putting together the track (or I should say, embellishing my son’s creation!) I realized how many lessons are in these little wooden pieces!

  1. They’re made of wood and they don’t bend! How often am I like that track, forcing MY way instead of being mold-able in the Master’s hand?
  2. Some are bent, and if you put all bent pieces together, you get a circle that goes nowhere. That’s a great picture of my life when I’m going my own way.
  3. Some are straight, but without the bends, my track will not be complete. God wants to take me on HIS path. It may include twists in a direction I don’t want to go!
  4. Connecting the pieces is not always easy! I need to get from one track to the next but the pieces don’t always fit! God’s plan includes pieces or people of all shapes and sizes! We’re not all straight pieces! It’s often that unusually shaped piece that is necessary to complete the course!

  As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried:
he is a buckler to all those that trust in him. Psalm 18:30

Brio will break if it is pressed or pushed upon too hard. Then the piece may become unusable. That is not God’s plan for our lives! What is He doing right now in your life which may hurt or be uncomfortable or make no sense? Maybe you need to sit back and let Him plan the direction He wants to take your “track.” Believe me, His plan will be perfect and so much better than any we could come up with! Only God sees the beginning AND the end!

The Pot’s Prayer

woman making clay pot
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

Thank you, dear Potter, for choosing this lump of clay. Thank you for molding me into Your creation. Your design will be perfect, completely according to Your plan. Thank you for Your tender touch. I know the push and pressure of your gentle hands will make me better—more of what You envisioned for me.

I’m sorry when the bubbles of my own sin mar Your ideal. Forgive my pops of anger, frustration, selfishness. and self-will. I’m sorry that they make You work twice as hard to create Your masterpiece. And I’m sorry when this clay has a mind of its own, wanting its own way instead of Your perfect one. You know all.  You see all. You’ve been there from the beginning and have already seen the end, so help me to trust You as I spin on Your wheel, for all I see is a blur.

I’m sorry for those hard lumps that stubbornly push to the surface and rip blemishes into my image of Your formation. Thank you for applying the Water and working so diligently to smooth the rough places. Only You can make them disappear. I spin in wonder and awe at Your amazing patience and perfect skill.

Oh, dear Potter, press me, push me, stretch me beyond my limits to Your possibilities. And when Your task is complete and the fires forever set me as Your perfect pot, please use me for Your purpose. Fill me with Your cool Water that I may pour it out in serving others according to Your precious will. I am Your handiwork. You have fitted me for Your use. I have no other purpose than to please You! Help me to make it be so.

 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter:
so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Jeremiah 18:4

 Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay:
for shall the work say of him that made it,
He made me not?
or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it,
He had no understanding? 
Isaiah 29:16

Wanda MacAvoy

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