What’s New?

It’s hard to leave the old, the comfortable, in search of something new, even if we are excited about the new.

That’s how many of us are feeling about this new year. 2020 was a miserable year, a disruptive year, in so many ways I don’t want to depress myself recounting them!

But we did find a way to be comfortable in the midst, to even find “joy.” Joy came in the form of a kale and lettuce garden, drives in the mountains, spending time with one or two “safe” family and friends. Joy came in making masks, quilting Christmas gifts, doing audio editing for her.BIBLE – a million little things that made me feel I was connecting with the world “out there” with our leaving “here.”

And it was a joy to study Job and Philemon together. It’s hard for me to leave Philemon – like leaving a Covid friend! He’s become dear to my heart, and I will never forget him.

But it looks like we are entering, although slowly, into “new.” With the immunization coming, we can venture out into the world. I imagine there will be will be a return to some of the old, taking some new with us, entering into a world we’re still not sure we can trust. I wonder how much of this last year we will take with us?

So what’s next?

For me, I’m getting a hip replacement (yeah!) this Thursday (so please be in prayer). That will be something new – being able to walk without pain, I trust.

For a study, I was thinking about an overview of Genesis? “In the beginning,” everything was made new. And some people embark on Bible reading programs that begin in Genesis. I’ve been audio editing Genesis, so you can listen to it on her.BIBLE soon. If not, maybe I can cheat and give you little previews of what is to come.

What say ye? Will I see you in the New Year?

Grace – Philemon

Epaphras, my fellow prison in Christ Jesus, send greetings to you,
and do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

This book begins and ends with grace, and grace is throughout the middle.

Remember, the greeting was, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And now we end with “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

And the middle was the request for Philemon to extend grace, unmerited favor, to Onesimus, just as Jesus had extended grace to Philemon, and Paul extended grace as he discipled Philemon.

Grace is everywhere!

Sometimes I wonder how we get caught up in our uptight little worlds. We lack grace, unmerited favor, towards others. And we often lack it for even ourselves, instead of grace going before us, with us, and flowing through us.

So I guess I want to leave this study acknowledging that we are not alone. Others are with us in the journey, just as we have been together through this journey. 

And we are surrounded by grace. God’s grace. Grace to forgive others. Grace to believe better days are coming. Grace to give to ourselves and others.

God’s grace. 

Freedom – Philemon


Confident of your obedience, I write to you,
Knowing that you will do even more than I say.
At the same time, prepare a guest room for me,
For I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

Remember how we talked about how Philemon could “refresh” Paul’s faith? 

It was because Paul believed he already knew what Philemon would do. He had so much confidence that once Philemon wrapped his head around hearing what Paul was asking, he would do over and beyond.

Over and beyond.

I think of things God asked of me that I could barely squeak out. But Paul had the confidence that Philemon would do over and beyond.

And refreshed with what he believed Philemon’s faith would equip him to do, he began to believe boldly for himself — that soon he would be out of prison and enjoying the beautiful guest room he had seen in Philemon’s house when he was there for prayer meeting! 

Paul was able to believe that just as Onesimus would be freed, he would be freed.

And freedom would come through prayers, Philemon’s prayers. Paul knew Philemon’s choices would draw them together in fellowship as they followed the Lord. And Paul saw it as them being reunited.

By setting others free, we are set free.

Tonight, I prayed with two dear friends. Our hearts have been heavy. We haven’t been able to sleep, and we’ve all taken our turns with anxiety. But through prayer, we were set free. We helped set each other free, and in the process, we were freed.

Freedom – what a glorious feeling!

Refresh Button – Philemon

I Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it –
to say nothing of your owning me even your own self.
Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord.
Refresh my heart in Christ.

Paul goes back to the personalness of this letter – he’s not writing to someone he doesn’t know, or a large congregation out there. No, he’s writing to Philemon.

He was there as Philemon came to faith. He saw him in his fine clothes, hanging around just outside of the Jewish circle, trying to look like he wasn’t really listening.

He was there when Philemon invited him into his house, to ask more questions. He was there that moment when Philemon believed in Jesus as his savior and was filled with the Spirit. They laughed in joy, dancing like two peasant girls, celebrating new freedom in Christ.

Paul was there when Philemon opened his home to the new church. They all knew the risks, but they also knew the rewards. The baby church grew, but each new convert was also a potential betrayer. And then Philemon got the word Paul had been imprisoned. The mantel now fell on his shoulders…

Philemon knew what Paul had given of himself for him to find salvation. And now Philemon knows how to pay him back, the “benefit” from Philemon in the Lord.

They have been apart while Paul was in prison. Philemon now has the opportunity to “refresh my heart in Christ.”

Isn’t it refreshing to know our work, our time, our devotion bears fruit?

That’s what Paul wanted to know. Sure, he wanted Onesimus to be freed and forgiven. But more than what Onesimus would gain, he wanted to know that his friend and disciple, Philemon, was willing make the choice, the sacrifice, to make that happen.

I wonder, Whose heart could I “refresh” today? And how?

Saved by Grace – Philemon


So, if you consider me you partner,
receive him as you would receive me.
If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything,
charge that to my account.

Don’t you hate those darn “if’s” in life? If you do this, then I will do that? It makes life “conditional.”

And yet, life is conditional. There are tradeoffs and consequences for actions.

First, “If you consider me your partner,” Paul, once again, takes a position of humility, not as Philemon’s leader or elder, but as a equal partner.

After all, they are both sinners saved by grace.

Then, “receive him as you would receive me.” Just as Jesus takes our place in payment for our sins, Paul draws a dramatic picture of Onesimus taking Paul’s place, as a “partner,” not a runaway slave.

After all, they are both sinners saved by grace.

Second, “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything” Paul acknowledges the wrong done. He knows this is not easy. Onesimus is a sinner who has been saved by grace. Before God, he is holy. But, he still has debts here on earth that need to be reckoned. 

Then, “charge it to my account.” Just as Jesus took all our actions, our wrongs, our debts, and paid for them through the cross, Paul steps into position to take on Onesimus’ debts and put them onto his account. Remember, Paul is in prison. How would he pay? He doesn’t know, but he does know…

After all, they are all sinners saved by grace. 

It’s hard to forgive others, even if they are brothers or sisters in faith. The physical things they did, and maybe still do, grind within us. We want payment. At the very least, we want a confession. It‘s hard to move forward without it.

For me, it’s only when I’ve been able to say in my heart, “OK, God, put it on my account. You’ve saved me when I owed so much more, and you are continuing to save me as I continue to sin. Put it on my account, because I know…”

We are sinners…

saved by your immeasurable, freely given, sacrificial…


Everything for a Reason – Philemon

For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant,
as a beloved brother – especially to me,
but how much more to you,
both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Sometimes it helps our hearts understand, if our minds understand.

There is so much about this story we don’t know, so it makes it hard to understand. But Philemon and Paul and Onesimus knew what happened all too well, and we are, well, just peeking over their shoulders, reading their mail…

I’m sure Philemon had been through a ton of emotions about Onesimus’ “parting.” It was a loss to say the least, and maybe an embarrassment if Onesimus was still in the area or in contact with those who knew Philemon. I’m sure in moments of weakness and anger, Philemon muttered under his breath, “That little no good for anything (or cruder language). Run away from me? Never – I’ll catch up to you someday…”

But Paul is appealing to Philemon in another way.  Onesimus had come to faith in Jesus. Maybe he would have never heard of Jesus if he had not “parted.” Even though this feels so bad and wrong, maybe it is good?

Before, Philemon had control of Onesimus in the flesh, as his slave. Now he has the opportunity to have him “in the flesh and in the Lord.” 

 It can be hard for us to get out of ourselves and see that what felt bad, might actually be good? That God can move things around so dramatically that wrong can be turned into right? 

It takes giving up our self, our own way of thinking, to allow the Lord to turn things around. And it takes even more humility to confess that God’s way is better…

I wonder what I am holding on to that God wants to twist around, out of my grasp and into his, benefiting me and others? Will I allow him, by loosening my hold, and believing in his grace?

Actions Speak – Philemon

I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.
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,
but I preferred to do nothing with your consent
in order that you goodness might not be by compulsion
but of your own accord.

Now we shift from words to action. Paul is laying it all on the line.

Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, in the flesh. He has no idea how Philemon will respond. He could beat or kill Onesimus, which would be his right as an owner. Or, Philemon could respond in love.

Paul not only used words, but he sacrificed himself.

Onesimus is referred to as Paul’s “very heart.” Such emotional words! Onesimus was not only Paul’s son, but it was as if he had become a vital organ in his body. But Paul was willing to tear out his heart to do what is right.

He’s not only giving emotionally, but physically. Onesimus was Paul’s hands, mouth and feet. Where Paul could not go because of imprisonment, Onesimus went.  Who Paul could not greet with a holy embrace, Onesimus could embrace. What news or insight Paul wanted to share, Onesimus could share.

And Paul saw Onesimus as an extension of Philemon. He recognized Philemon as Onesimus’ owner, and in his own mind, he knew he could justify Onesimus helping him. After all, Paul had shared the message of salvation with Philemon. Surely Philemon was too busy to help him in prison, and Onesimus was available. Surely Philemon would want this…

But Paul did not justify his feelings into what was right: what was right legally, by consent, and what was right ethically, for the growth of character in all of them.

For Philemon, he had the choice to give freely, not by compulsion but in love.

For Paul, he had the choice to sacrifice something precious to himself, in hopes that the sacrifice would be blessed and returned in full.

For Onesimus, he had the opportunity to experience forgiveness and new life, modeled by his spiritual mentor and his physical owner. As Jesus was God and man, Onesimus could see how God rules on earth.

God allows us to go through experiences to develop our character. 

But it’s not until we go from what we believe in our heads and hearts to action, that we see results in our character.

Useless or Useful? – Philemon

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). 

Paul is appealing for Onesimus, on his behalf.

Who is Onesimus? He’s Paul’s spiritual “son,” coming to faith while Paul was imprisoned. We don’t know how his conversion happened. I like to imagine Onesimus was guilt ridden about leaving his master and what he stole. He stumbled across believers who told him how they had been forgiven through the blood of Jesus. Wanting to hear more, they brought him to visit Paul in prison, where he heard the gospel and responded in faith. Since then, he was a daily visitor, eagerly soaking up all Paul had to teach him about this Jesus. 

It’s easy to imagine how Onesimus was a sweet reminder to Paul that God could still use him, whatever his limitations, whatever his age.

So, Paul is appealing on Onesimus’ behalf. I’ve heard Onesimus’ name meant “useful,” but to Philemon he was “useless,” probably because he ran away. Philemon may have already replaced him; he was expendable, a commodity, a bondservant. Maybe Onesimus always felt trapped in a life he didn’t choose, useless, unappreciated, used.

But to Paul, he was a son. He felt loved. He felt like he had a purpose, someone to serve who treated him with heart and soul. One who didn’t see his earthly status or position, but his heavenly position. He, with Paul, was now a child of the King.

His transformation, when he came to know Jesus, went from useless to useful. He was useful not only to Paul, but could be useful to Philemon also, not as a unwilling bondservant, but now as a fellow-heir in Jesus.

Useless…to useful. 

Useless to the world as we are in our sin…Useful for eternity to display the righteousness of God before others.

Useless to give hope…Useful to communicate the transformational message of Jesus Christ. 

Who Are We? – Philemon

Who Are We? – Philemon

Paul is making a request in the midst of relationship, in the midst of a context – past, present and future. He’s already written about this, but now he goes into it deeper, and I feel it deeper…

I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus –

Paul identifies himself as “old.” Depending which imprisonment theory you go with (Rome or Ephesus), Paul is either old in age or older in seniority. But I don’t think that was what Paul meant…

He felt old. He felt limited. He felt vulnerable, and needy.

I’m getting older, and I identify with him.  As you age, you are so much more aware of your limitations – the limitations of your knowledge, skill, physical strength, what your body can and can’t do.

He was feeling his age as well as his limitations, as a prisoner. I have to confess, in this world of Covid, at times I’ve felt as a “prisoner” even though I believe in the cause!

We’re all getting older. For some, that’s exciting. But for many of us, we know our days of greatest impact may be behind us. We tend to look forward through the eyes of our children, physically and spiritually.

What can they achieve? We find purpose and meaning through them, carrying on the message of Jesus through their lives.

And we find joy.

Love’s Sake – Philemon

Requests carry risk.

though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to what is required,
yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…

Requests get our desires out into the open, maybe even exposing a need.

Paul had the “authority” over Philemon. He was the leader of the church, the father of the community of faith. He had paid the price for them to hear the gospel. So in this community of faith where he could have made demands based on his position of authority, he chose to go a different direction – the direction of love.

Paul never lacked boldness, but in this situation, he chose love.


Could it be because he is making a request for Philemon to not use his authority, but to choose love?

Philemon has the authority legally, as Onesimus’ owner, to press charges on his run-away slave. He has all legal rights, while his slave has none. 

Paul is appealing to him not about power, but about love, compassion, mercy.

All of us have a certain amount of power in our relationships. If nothing else, we have the power to leave the relationship. We also have power to hurt the other person, or the power to encourage the other person.

Paul is making the point clear – Philemon can use his boldness, his power, his position to hurt Onemimus. Or…he can use it for “love’s sake” and express not just love for his brother in faith, but his love for a man who has been a father in faith.

Paul modeled the choice before he made the request, not using his authority but deferring to love.

How can I use my boldness, power, position in relationships to encourage others, to show love, mercy and forgiveness…

For “love’s sake?”