I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)

Philemon 10, 11

This is a difficult relationship to consider, for it is clear that Onesimus was a slave. His name means either “useful” or “profitable” and was one that was commonly given to slaves. It would seem that he has run away from service to his master Philemon and has come to be among the group of people who had gathered around Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome in around 62 AD. Something has happened during this time with Paul. Elsewhere the apostle describes a hard and a painful process that is much like a woman giving birth to a child. So, too, Paul uses parent-child imagery when he describes Onesimus and their relationship. It is also clear that Paul trusts this former runaway slave with important tasks such as carrying his letters to Colossae and to Ephesus. Now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon while he is also appealing to the slave holder to see the transformation that has taken place in Onesimus through eyes and with a heart that have undergone their own transformative work.

This is a fundamental aspect of what it means to follow Christ. In so committing to that relationship, Christ also makes a commitment to each of us. We will not come out of this relationship the same as we were before. That change may not happen quickly; in fact, at times it may seem as if it is progressing at a pace that is too slow to measure. Still, it does come about, for the Spirit of Christ is present in all of us when we embrace faith in Christ, and that Spirit is relentless and powerful in His capacity to bring about the conforming of our hearts and so our minds to that of Christ. Now some people do radically change in a matter of moments, but most of us do this over the course of the remainder of our earthly lives. There will be days when Christ will be very apparent on and in us, and there will be others when the old self seems to raging forth and causing the same sorts of havoc that it did previously. This is the reality of what it means to be a new person in Christ. The work of the Spirit is continuous and on-going, and we need to remain faithful and committed to obedience to God’s Word and to His Spirit in order to fully develop as Christians.

Philemon was asked to be patient and gracious in his reception of Onesimus. Paul implores him to see the new man before he assumes that the old one is present. This is how we are to engage with people who have come to Christ in our world, too. If we believe that Christ works in people to change them, then we must also believe that people can change. So, we are called upon by God to extend grace and understanding to these people, who are new beings in Christ. In the letter to Philemon there is an unstated appeal for the slave owner to extend freedom to the slave upon his voluntary return, for in fact, Onesimus has already been set free by Christ. He is no longer a slave to the greater mastery of sin and its death; so, the freedom that Philemon can extend is relatively minor in its importance or in its impact upon Onesimus. Still, it is important for Philemon’s spiritual growth that he trust Christ enough to release his hold on another human life. We do not know how this aspect of this story concluded, but we can enter into the same form of trust as Philemon was called to do. So, we can seek the Spirit’s guidance as we encounter people who are undergoing the transformative work of the Spirit in their lives so that we, too, can extend the grace that is needful for the day at hand and truly embrace fellow new creatures in Christ with the love and the acceptance that we would desire to receive from them in return.

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Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them;

let all around him bring gifts

to him who is to be feared,

who cuts off the spirit of princes

who is to be feared by the kings of the earth.

Psalm 77: 11, 12

 

Trust is an interesting thing. It is hard to establish and easy to damage; yet, we all need it and engage with and in it every day. The people and the institutions that each of us trust helps to create our identity. These trust relationships shape and define us for ourselves and for others, too. Some come to us through natural process. Generally, we learn at an early age to trust our parents or other primary caregivers, most people follow the rules that are set out by our governments and by other civil institutions, and we move on in life to form adult relationships in which trust is a significant aspect of the bond that holds those relationships together.

 

As we live our lives in this world, these trust relationships become the anchors that keep us grounded and that aid us in navigating through our days. They help to keep us true to our moral and our spiritual goals. During the course of any given day we will hear many voices calling out for us to trust them. Unfortunately most of these speakers fall far short of true trustworthiness. We are frequently asked to follow along based upon some form of relatively blind allegiance or to accept the direction of someone because that person is affiliated with or supported by an institution. This sort of obedience to people and to human institutions is dangerous for followers of Christ, for it tends to replace the Lord with something or someone else.

 

When it comes to placing trust, the only valid place to start is with God. He has proven that His commitment to people is true, lasting, and absolute. Through all of history the Lord has been faithful to His vow of care, provision, and salvation for our souls. We can trust Him and His Word in all matters that confront us today. The solid ground of truth is found in relationship with Christ. He is completely worthy of our vows of allegiance. We can give ourselves totally to Christ and to no one else. Yet, as we do this, He opens our hearts and strengthens our minds in ways that enable us to enter more fully into all of our other relationships. Jesus Christ is the King who is worthy of our trust!

 

 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.

Philippians 3: 12

 

It seems that Paul is saying that his best efforts and most sincere intentions are not enough. No matter how much he desires to put to death his old self and to join Christ in His resurrection from death, the odor of decomposition continues to cling to him. This is troubling for the Apostle, and he knows just how hard this fact can be for other Christians. After all, Paul had a lot more going for him than most of us do. He was brought up and trained to be the nearly perfect man of God. At least that was the way that people would have viewed him. By comparison, most of us were raised into purely pagan practices by a God-denying world.

 

Yet Paul’s position in society and his training were of little value when it came to knowing and to serving Christ. In fact, they were a hindrance to him, for Paul fought against Christ and His followers with the stridency of a zealot until Jesus grabbed hold of him and refused to let go. Jesus truly claimed Paul. The Lord took him out of this world and into His in order to teach the powerful rabbi the truth about God. Then the newly formed Paul was sent back into the world in order to bring the message of life to us all. Still, Paul realized that even with the direct teaching of Christ he was not perfect, for Christ was not yet finished with him. The miracle in this is the fact that living in an imperfect reality was not discouraging to this masterful keeper of the Law. Instead, he found encouragement in the fact that Christ claimed him as His own.

 

As I look at my own life, I find myself in a position that is similar to Paul’s. Not that I can even begin to utter the word perfect when I consider my life; yet, like Paul, the perfection of Christ does dwell in me. Also, Christ has claimed me out of this world and made me His own. This is a truth that all Christians can recognize and reflect upon as we stumble and blunder our way through life. Although our steps may falter and we will head down wrong paths, this does not need to be the way that we continue to live. Additionally, we should actually find encouragement in these times of wandering, for Christ wants to take us from these darkest of days and bring us ever closer to His glorious perfection. Just like Paul did in his recognition of the need to be committed to seeking to live as Christ called him to despite his failings, we are called by the One who has claimed us out of this world to press on and to trust Christ as we are blessed by the miracle of transformation.

 

 

 

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him on the way.

Mark 10: 52

 

It is easy to appreciate the care, compassion, and mercy that Jesus exhibits when He stops for a moment in this final portion of His last journey to Jerusalem in order to heal Bartimaeus’ blindness. This man had obvious great need. His condition had reduced him to the status of beggar, and that meant that for the sake of survival he was required by society to leave behind his dignity and to literally risk his life in order to plead with the masses for their pocket change. He was beyond desperate. That condition had departed long ago. Now, he was alone, a castoff along the side of the road, and condemned to spend whatever remained of his life in a state of oppression under the weight of the sin that his own understanding of God said had caused his blindness.

 

This is a new thought for me, but it does seem that Bartimaeus, the man, is much too close to my world for easy comfort. I seldom encounter a blind person who is begging by the roadside, but I don’t think that that is the point of this story. Here is a person who has lost his way through life. The moment that we encounter him is the one where he comes to the end of all that had been sustaining him. Bartimaeus seems to have landed at the bottom of his resources and at the end of his pride at the very moment that he was also sitting at the feet of Jesus. This is no casual encounter. In this scene we are witnessing the presence of Christ in our world. This is the way that God brings healing and restoration to all who are lost, alone, outcast, and broken. As Jesus comes to this simple blind man, so He comes to anyone who desires to be healed and the story is much the same for us all, too.

 

Although this is an account which is about entering into a saving relationship with Christ, there is much more here. Even after we have accepted Christ, most of us continue through life with aspects of our sin-ravaged brokenness in place. For many and varied reasons we hold onto these damaged and dysfunctional ways of thinking and acting. Thus we continue to collide with walls, and we stumble and fall down as we blindly go about our day. Yet, just like that day at Jericho, Jesus is with us, and He is ready and willing to bring sight to our blindness. All that He asks of us is that we have enough faith to trust Him. There is little more that is required of us. Christ doesn’t ask us to perform any deeds, engage in acts of purification, or speak special words. All that He does ask is that we open up our wounded hearts to Him and sincerely seek His healing touch. Like Bartimaeus, sight is gained through faith as we trust Christ and ask Him to heal us, and restoration comes as we commit our lives to Him and follow where He leads.

“Behold I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;

Your walls are continually before Me.” declares the Lord.

Isaiah 49: 16

 

We all know people who write the things that they really need to remember on their hands. This may include phone numbers, names, or prompts to “get milk.” whatever the important, immediate data or fact, the hand is a very good notepad on which to record it. This works because our hands are always with us and are continually visible. Unlike scraps of paper or even notebooks, it doesn’t require any extra effort to remember where we put them. They can’t even hide behind the back for long or get buried deep inside of a purse or a briefcase.

 

So consider Isaiah’s statement that God, Himself, holds each of us as so important that he writes our existence onto His hands. It seems that there must be a lot of ink on those hands! Yet, there are times when it seems like God must surely have forgotten me. Life feels like there is no hand of God in control or like His attention must certainly be focused somewhere else. Still, He comforts me with the fact that He has me continually before His eyes. There are times and seasons in this life, and God is fully aware of them. He fully feels the pain and experiences the sadness and loss; yet, He also stays true to His promise to restore everyone who loves Him to the fullness of His intended place as beloved children of God. The Lord asks us to trust Him with this and to keep our eyes open to see His presence in even the darkest of times.

 

Christ knows where the attacks upon each of us will come from. He has fully experienced the cunning, the relentlessness, and the furry that Satan brings to bear upon those who love God. He knows what we need in order to remain safe from these assaults, and He knows what defenses we will require in order to survive their most intense moments. We can trust that Christ is on the alert and that He does not sleep or even glance away for an instant. As we trust Him with every detail and each hour of the day, Christ reveals Himself and His responses to our situation. I can have absolute faith in the fact that God has me before Him and that I am completely safe in the palm of His mighty hand.