A sermon on Philemon 8-22 delivered at Vesta Baptist Church in Carlton, GA on August 2, 2015.
I’ll be honest with you: Philemon has never been my favorite book of the Bible. I knew the story: Paul encouraged Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave Onesimus. Simple enough. But the letter was brief, seemingly hard to apply, and dealt with the thorny topics.
But as I wrote a lesson for Treasuring Christ Curriculum, I was forced to wrestle with Philemon, study it, and deal with its complexities. And I was blown away. Philemon taught me how the gospel restores tattered relationships. It challenged my generosity.
Most of all, Philemon taught me that the gospel brings radical equality.
Remember: Onesimus was a slave. While first-century slavery was different than the slavery we know from American history, it was still unjust and unfair. As a result, Onesimus was considered socially and economically inferior.
But when Onesimus encountered the gospel, everything changed.
- Onesimus had been an outcast, but Paul called him a “child” (Philemon 10).
- Onesimus had been Philemon’s “bondservant,” but now he was a “beloved brother ” (Philemon 16).
- Onesimus had been treated as sub-human, but now he was to be greeted like an apostle (Philemon 17)
With the gospel, the man who penned a third of the New Testament was no better than a runaway slave. The gospel brought a radical, Christ-centered equality.
At this point, most of us are nodding our heads in agreement. We think that inequality is bad and equality is good.
Yet practicing this truth is much harder than it seems.
Because we are experts at manufacturing inequality. We seek to frame our lives in such a way that we come out better than others. So we identify one of our perceived strengths — such as skin color, education, career success, theological knowledge, physical fitness, politics, or heritage — and we make it the standard by which we judge others.
We declare ourselves the kings of our own kingdoms, and we render others inferior.
It happens to all of us. Ask yourself:
- Honors student, do you really believe you’re no better than high school dropout?
- Wealthy executive, do you really believe you’re no better than cleaning crew that takes out your trash?
- Political activist, do you really believe you’re no better than the party you oppose?
- Stay-at-home mom, do you really believe you’re no better than the mother who leaves her kids with a baby-sitter while she goes to her 9-to-5?
- Personal trainer, do you really believe you’re no better than your overweight neighbor?
- Proud American, do you really believe you’re no better than an Iranian?
- Pastor, do you really believe you’re no better than the untrained deacon?
- Straight man, do you really believe you’re no better than the person who struggles with same-sex attraction?
Inequality is insidious. It creeps into our lives without our knowing.
Yet the gospel shatters inequality. The gospel tells us that we were all equally sinful before God. It reminds us that we all deserved God’s holy wrath. Yet it also points us to Jesus — who suffered and died so that we all could be forgiven.
You see, the gospel makes all our manufactured inequality seem petty. We are all the same at the cross: Black and white, blue-collar and white-collar, fat and thin, smart and dumb, even slave and apostle.
That’s why Paul could call a runaway slave his “son” and “brother.” That’s why Jesus taught us to love social outcasts like tax collectors, women, Gentiles, and the poor. And that’s why you’re no better than anyone else.
The gospel gave Onesimus dignity, spurred him to reconcile with Philemon, and it may have even encouraged Philemon to free Onesimus (Philemon 12, 17-18, 21). So the gospel changed everything for Onesimus. And it can change everything for us.
Franklin Graham has done more for the kingdom than you or I ever will. His humanitarian efforts have provided practical help and gospel hope to millions around the globe.
Yet his recent Facebook post about Muslim immigration troubles me. Here’s his main point:
“We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized–and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. “
A few days ago, I entered the kitchen late one night to prepare my coffee pot for the following morning. I twisted open the coffee canister, peered inside, and dread hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was out of coffee. Continue reading
I wrote this blog back in January, but it is more relevant today. The Gospel is greater than your rights — yes, even those rights to fly a Flag that you believe represents your heritage.
(For further reading, check out Russell Moore’s “The Cross and the Confederate Flag.”)
I’ve been a political junkie ever since middle school. While most kids were watching Nickelodeon or playing football, I was the oddball reading USA Today, watching cable news, and vehemently arguing politics with friends and family.
As an American, I had every right to assert my political opinions. To take a stand. To make my position known. And though I have mellowed in recent years, that itch never went away. As a result, I still liked posting opinion columns on controversial issues to my Facebook.
Then, last spring, I ran across this line in D.A. Carson’s book The Cross and Christian Ministry:
“How can Christians stand beside the cross and insist on their rights?”
This quote—and the passage in 1 Corinthians 9 it referred to—floored me. I was immediately convicted about my “right” to assert my political views.
You see, when I ardently posted my political views, I was inevitably driving away the friends…
View original post 590 more words
Chris Pratt has been all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds this week — not just for his role in Jurassic World, but because of his comments about faith. Evidently he turned to God at his son’s premature birth, posts verses to Facebook, and goes to church.
Last year, Shia LaBeouf received similar attention when he said he “became a Christian man” on the set of Fury. Then, as now, Christians excitedly shared the story across Facebook and Twitter.
But it’s not just these guys. We tend to glorify the Christian athletes who praise God after a victory, musicians who sing vaguely inspirational songs, or reality TV stars who say they’re Christians. In each situation, we hastily, enthusiastically share the story with glowing comments:
- “Can’t believe that he is a Christian, too!”
- “Wow, God could really use her!”
- “Take that liberals in Hollywood!”
We treat their faith, no matter how genuine, as a cause for unbridled celebration.
To be clear, my issue isn’t with Pratt, LaBeouf, and others. I desperately hope they know our Savior, and I applaud their openness to talk about matters of faith.
Rather, my issue is with us. Our frenzied reaction to such stories points to a problem: we have an unhealthy infatuation with Christian celebrities. I’m afraid we subtly believe that we need Christian celebrities to vindicate our beliefs — or worse, that God needs Christian celebrities to accomplish His will. Continue reading
I feel for the friends and family of seminary students. I really do. Seminarians incessantly name drop dead Puritans, use big words that end with –ology, quote books you’ve never heard of, and spice up their conversation with Greek and Hebrew. To the untrained ear, most seminarians don’t make a lick of sense.
Throughout my seminary career, I collected a list of the most common seminary clichés — and what they really mean — to help you understand what your seminarian is talking about.
“Land the Plane.”
Example: “I know we’re talking about some weighty theology, but soon we’re going to land the plane.”
What it really means: “I’m finally ready to tell you why this matters.”
No, your seminarian didn’t accidentally register for flight school. When he tells you he’s going to land the plane, it’s usually because he’s been droning on about a difficult-to-understand topic and he’s finally ready to tell you the point. Continue reading
I used to hate waiting at red lights. As I approached each intersection on my hour-long commute, I would strategically examine the multiple lanes of traffic, identify which lanes had the highest ratio of slow cars or trucks, and pick the lane that I thought would move the fastest. I wanted to expedite my journey with as little waiting as possible.
I wonder if the disciples felt this way at the start of Acts. I mean, they had sat at Jesus’ feet for three years. They had experienced remarkable, life-changing things—miracles, healings, cast out demons, teaching about the Kingdom of God, and their Messiah being brutally crucified and rising from the grave. I would have been itching to share these things with the world. I would have been sizing up the different lanes to pick the quickest one in spreading the good news.
Yet Jesus gave them a most curious command: Continue reading
A sermon on Acts 1:1-11 delivered at Blackwater Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, VA on May 3, 2015.
Today marks 70 years since Deitrich Bonhoeffer was killed in a Nazi concentration camp. In his honor, I’d like to reflect on his classic work on Christian community — and one of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read — Life Together.
Oddly enough, Life Together is more relevant today than when Bonhoeffer wrote it. Continue reading