Showing posts with label follow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label follow. Show all posts

05 June 2013

Writing to Philemon

Paul's letter to Philemon throws light on slavery in the Roman world. It also shows how Paul taught, not by demanding certain behaviour and instilling knowledge but by applying principles and illustrating them by living them out in his own actions and thoughts, setting a good example.

Roman slaves filling bowls with wine
When Paul wrote his letter to Philemon he was appealing to him as a fellow believer on behalf of a runaway slave. I've just read Steve Addison's take on this in chapter 16 of his book, 'What Jesus Started'.

The book is an excellent read, by the way. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting an introduction to life in Israel and the Greco-Roman world of the first century.

Steve describes the life of Jesus and the disciples, and the beginnings of church as the early believers were scattered. He also covers the life and work of Saul (Paul to the Greeks) and how this continues in us, today. He brings it all to life and makes it seem very real. It's both interesting and challenging; it's an accessible glimpse into the lives of real people lived two thousand years ago.

Here's a brief extract...

Paul spent about a quarter of his ministry under arrest. On one occasion Paul was under house arrest, probably in Rome awaiting trial, when a runaway slave came looking for him.

Onesimus was a slave in the household of Philemon, a friend of Paul's. Onesimus must have known something of the gospel, as Philemon was a Christian in whose home the church gathered. Onesimus had fled after he wronged his master in some way. Under Roman law a master had the right to hunt down and brutally punish an escaped slave, and anyone harboring an escaped slave was liable to pay the owner for compensation. Onesimus may have hoped Paul would mediate between him and his master.

Through Paul, Onesimus became a believer. Paul loved him as a father loves his son and came to rely on his help during his imprisonment. Paul wanted to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus, so Paul wrote a short note for Onesimus to take back to Philemon.

The letter to Philemon gives us an idea of how Paul trained disciples to follow Christ in a world corrupted by sin. Paul wanted Philemon to see how Christ could transform his social relationships. Onesimus was still a slave under the law, but he should no longer be treated as one because he was now a brother in Christ. Paul reminded Philemon that both slaves and masters are servants of Christ and members of the one household of faith. Philemon, Onesimus's master, himself had a master in heaven. Paul could have ordered Philemon to act in a particular way; instead he appealed to the truth of the gospel and its implications for how Philemon should treat a brother in Christ who happened to be a slave.

Paul offered to repay any wrong Onesimus had done, but because Philemon had found Christ through Paul, he owed Paul a greater debt than Onesimus owed him.

The shortest letter Paul wrote, Philemon is a window into how Paul trained disciples. Both Philemon and Onesimus came to know Christ through Paul. Having shared the gospel of God's grace with them, Paul was now, from prison, teaching them to live out the gospel's implications. He was not laying down a new law; he was teaching disciples to follow Christ.

Let's look again at the points Steve makes here; they are essential for our lives in Christ as believers and followers. Further into the chapter, Steve explains that Paul regularly uses the same structure in his letters and in his recorded conversations in Acts.

He begins by setting out the basic truth of the gospel and then, using that as a launchpad, he appeals to people to have attitudes and lives that are modelled on that gospel and on Jesus himself. So all of the things that the Bible teaches us about grace and forgiveness, love, caring for the weak and the sick, generosity, holiness and all the rest, all of the things expressed in the life of Jesus, these things become challenges to us to live and think the same way.

He does it here twice in this very short letter. He has evidently persuaded Onesimus to return with the letter, showing by his own life and imprisonment that obedience to Jesus is necessary regardless of the cost. In the same way, Onesimus should show obedience to Philemon.

Paul opens his letter by mentioning Philemon's love for all the believers. His appeal is based on the love that Jesus showed, paying our great debt and forgiving us out of his pure love for the lost. In Christ we are all sinners rescued by grace because of love and Philemon should continue to imitate Jesus in this.

But above all, Paul shows us that we should be especially slow to judge one another, slow to criticise, and avoid telling one another how to behave. Instead we should ourselves behave in ways that are full of love and grace and are worthy of following; then we will demonstrate the way to others just as Paul himself did, and just as Jesus did.

Questions:

  • Do you know people who are imitators of Christ?
  • What advantages do you see to modelling Jesus in your daily life? (First for yourself, then for those who watch you.)
  • There's an old proverb, 'Actions speak louder than words'. Is it true? Why, or why not?

See also:

29 April 2013

Men, women and children

Prompted as I wrote a reply to a blog post, I felt I needed to write at greater length on some principles of leading and following. Men, women and children all have a place in leading us in following Jesus. But is it men, women or children who do the best job of leading?

The simplicity of a young child
Felicity Dale, writing recently about women as leaders, asks, 'What is God about to do?' (It takes both men and women, Simply Church).

As I began to write a reply to her post, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me along a track I'd not considered before.

I'd had hints of this from time to time over the years but I hadn't put it all together in my mind.

Here's my response to Felicity's post.

If we define kingdom as the realm in which the King is obeyed, then wherever men, women and children are following Jesus - that is the kingdom.

But let's remember the children in all this. Believing children have some wonderful advantages over us adult believers. Everybody agrees that men can lead, a growing number agree that women can lead too, but who has considered that children can lead? Sometimes they do so in the most natural and unselfconscious way. And sometimes, as men and women, we just need to swallow our pride and follow them!

What is Father about to do?

I have a strong hunch that he is beginning to show us that all should lead and all should follow. What I mean by that is that we don't need to recognise particular people as leaders and others as followers. Instead we will be recognising leaders in the moment. Who is leading right now? Who is leading by their words, by their actions, by their love, by their compassion, by their joy, by their wisdom, by their humility? If Christ is revealing himself through a particular person right now, follow that person!

I'd like to develop this a little more.

Leaders - What do we mean when we think of leaders and leadership? A leader is clearly a person who leads, someone who goes in front. Leadership extends the idea to suggest someone whose role is to lead, someone who is skilled at leading and is expected to lead often, even always.

But I'd like to ask the question, 'Which way is a person facing when they lead?' There are three possibilities.

Looking forwards - Someone who is looking forwards is looking away from the people who are following. Such a person is looking at Jesus and following him. If I follow such a person I will also be following Jesus. Jesus goes where he chooses to go, the person who is looking towards him follows where he goes. I follow the follower so I go where the follower goes - so I go where Jesus goes. This is good, this is safe, this is what someone who leads should always do.

Looking sideways - I think we often do this. Such people are not looking at Jesus but nor are they looking at those who follow them. They're going off at a tangent. Follow them at your peril!

Looking backwards - Is this what we sometimes mean when we talk about leaders and leadership? Is the focus on the listeners and followers, not on Jesus?

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not talking here about someone speaking to a group of people. You can do that with your eyes firmly focussed on the King. I'm talking about someone who is focussed on the listeners and followers, someone who cares more about being followed than about following Jesus.

Another name for people who do this is 'false shepherd' (or 'bad shepherd'). These people want to feed on the sheep rather than lead the sheep to good pasture. Jesus shows us what a good shepherd is like. He is the Good Shepherd. He told Peter, 'Do you love me? Feed my sheep'.

Perhaps most of us, most of the time, look in all three directions. We gaze partly at Jesus, we glance away to the side, and we look to see who's following us.

Men, women and children - Remember, we're talking about believers here. So now ask yourself, can a man play the part of any of these three kinds of human leader? Yes, he can.

Can a woman play any of these parts? Yes, she can.

Can a child play any of these three parts? Well, perhaps. But in my experience believing children tend to look forward towards Jesus. Young children, in particular, tend to be much too naive to look sideways or backwards. So what does that tell you about the right kind of person to follow?

Jesus wasn't kidding when he told us that unless we come like little children we won't even see the kingdom of heaven.

Questions:

  • Do you know people who lead looking forwards, sideways or backwards?
  • Would you trust a child to lead you?
  • Depending on your answer to the previous question, why? or why not?

See also:


23 April 2013

To Egypt and back

Leaders in the church, Part 7
< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

Joseph takes his family to Egypt to escape from Herod, and later they return and head for Galilee. This shows us how important it is to lead from obedience. But what do we do when the information is incomplete? And what does this say about leaders and about followers?

A painting of the escape to Egypt
When I began my trawl through the New Testament for information on leadership, I had no idea that by the seventh article I'd still be in the second chapter of Matthew!

But that is right where we are, looking at Joseph and Mary's escape to Egypt and then their decision to settle in Nazareth in Galilee. (Matthew 2:13-23)

Once again, dreams are an important feature. I've occasionally been guided by dreams in the past, I wonder if you have too? This time, the angel in Joseph's dream instructs him to take his family to Egypt because Herod is going to hunt down the baby to kill him. As before, Joseph was obedient, he got up and set off in the night for Egypt.

Later, when Herod was dead, he was told to return to Israel (again by an angel in a dream) and was finally guided (in another dream) to settle in Galilee in the town of Nazareth.

Leadership - What can we learn from this about leadership? Right away we  can see the importance of acting on what we hear from the Father.

Leading is not about following our own plans and visions, it's about following the Father's plans and visions. In other words, leading is about obedience. It's not about my wisdom, it's about Father's wisdom expressed in whatever way he chooses.

In Joseph's case the Almighty's will was expressed in dreams, it may sometimes be the same for us. However, the Holy Spirit may choose to speak in many different ways. It's up to us to be alert and notice his communication - whatever form it takes.

Acting on incomplete information - Something else we can glean from this story is that leading through obedience is not always easy.

'Escape to Egypt and stay there until I tell you' meant that Joseph's obedience would be open-ended. Not only would they go to Egypt, they would stay there for an unknown period of time. Presumably he would have found work as a carpenter and there was a large ex-pat Jewish community in cities like Alexandria. Should they settle, build a house and set up a business? Or would it be better to do contract jobs and find temporary lodgings?

Similarly, 'Go to Israel' is incomplete information; apparently Joseph was not told what part of Israel to choose or how long to remain there. Guidance and obedience don't always result in the clarity we might like.

There's also the important matter of using our own brains, wisdom and experience. When guidance lacks detail we may need to depend on our own resources to fill the gaps. Joseph decided for himself that it was unwise to go to Judaea. In a further dream he was warned again and decided to settle in Galilee in the small town of Nazareth. He worked the rest of his life and died in Nazareth without seeing what Jesus would eventually do. We rarely see the end from the beginning.

For us and for others - Leading implies followers. We have responsibilities to others and to our heavenly Father. Here is Joseph having to make decisions that also affect Mary and the infant Jesus. Here's the One who has come as Emmanuel ('Elohim with us') placing his safety in the hands of a carpenter! Even those with great authority (even Jesus) must learn to put their trust in the hands of other leaders.

This is true in the church, isn't it? Christ himself is the head of the church yet he has entrusted his body to the leading of ordinary men and women, not because he needs to but because he chooses to. And it's the same for us.

One of the primary ways leaders come off the rails is when they begin to think people should follow them. Demanding to be followed will never be effective because true authority is always given freely, not demanded. If people don't want to follow you no amount of cajoling or threatening or persuading will change their minds. But if you are worthy of respect and trust they will follow you without hesitation, even without conscious thought.

Joseph was followed into Egypt, back to Israel and on to Galilee because Mary respected and trusted and loved him. And the infant Jesus, the fullness of the Most High in tiny, helpless, human form was also entrusted to his care and to that of Mary. Have you ever thought how truly awesome that is?

And have you ever thought how awesome it is that the Father trusts us to lead one another? Jesus lives in every believer, he has planted his Holy Spirit and nature in us individually. If you lead you are leading people who are filled with the presence of the King of Kings! So be very careful and ever so humble in all you say and do and think.

This is why we are told that few should teach (James 3:1) and none should be called Teacher (Matthew 23:8). And it's why Paul wanted the churches to recognise elders who would be true and faithful (Titus 1:5-9). Much depended on it. Much depends on it still.

Leading by doing - Notice how an angel was sent repeatedly to show Joseph what to do next. He was given dreams that showed him the need to journey and provided clear destinations. There's a clue for us here if we are willing to see it.

If anyone aspires to lead the body of Christ they must lead by their actions, not merely by talking. If the lesson is to love one another then leading will involve practical and sacrificial loving. Isn't that how Jesus did it? If the lesson is sharing the good news in every day life then leading will involve inventive ways of sharing it daily.

Unlike Father, we can't insert a dream into a sleeping person's mind. However, we can insert a dream by demonstrating it in our own lives, by acting it out. In the church we are, I think, surrounded by many, many sleeping people (certainly in Western society). So go and show them the dream, reveal it to them by your actions. You are a leader, in many ways we all are. So get to it!

Questions:

  • What would have happened if Joseph had ignored the dreams in his leading?
  • Can you think of examples of local leaders in your own life who show the way?
  • How might you lead, or lead more effectively?
  • Had you considered that when you lead you are leading people who contain Christ?

See also:


< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

08 September 2012

Strategy? Who's strategy?

Do we need to follow good strategies, or do we simply need to obey everything the Holy Spirit shows us to do? I believe obedience, not strategy is the key to success. How about you?

Obedience training
I'm growing tired of hearing about strategy. Don't misunderstand me, there's nothing wrong with having a strategy but it had better be the right one, from the right source.

My strategy always misses something important.

My strategy is based on limited experience and the goal is one of my own choosing.

I select goals from a place of partial knowledge, poorly developed wisdom, and a proud and selfish heart.

Therefore my strategy will fail.

Perhaps I need an expert's strategy. If I read all the right books, listen to all the right teaching, get the right counselling and coaching, follow best practice and model my techniques on those of others who have succeeded, maybe I'll do much better.

So how, exactly, do I choose the right expert, the best example to follow, the best plan or programme or technique? However and whoever I choose, I am really just going around the same loop again. I am the one judging who represents the best example to follow. And I will be depending on the rightness of someone else's vision and judgement. I will still fail!

There is a solution, there is a way to succeed. It's called obedience.

I need to begin by listening to the Holy Spirit, then I need to do what he tells me. That's it, here endeth the method. There are good examples out there and it's good to be encouraged by the good examples of others. But the best examples are people who demonstrate obedience.

What do you think? Is obedience all we need if we are to follow Jesus into the harvest?

If not, why not?

What else, in addition to obedience, do we need?

01 September 2011

Little Paxton - Finding rest

< 25th August 2011 | Index | 13th September 2011 >

This evening the Holy Spirit led us in a theme of peace and rest from struggling. Father wants us to follow him wholeheartedly, then we won't wander about in the wilderness.

We shared information about friends facing change or difficulties in their lives, and we talked about our own lives and direction. We chatted about what we have been doing and what we plan to do. Jim's summer Sunday activities have finished for this year, Sean and I plan to be at the Moggerhanger Millenials meeting, and Paul is planning three events before next summer's kid's camp. Jim is thinking about future employment and also about the house of prayer concept.
The Sinai desert
Later in the evening we prayed for the various people and needs we'd identified.

Thinking about our busy lives, Jim reminded us about the forty years the Israelites spent in the wilderness, going round and round. He felt that we have been doing much the same. We struggle with too much to do, overload and stress in our jobs, sometimes with little sense of peace or satisfaction. I sensed the Spirit saying that we need a real peace in our lives. He said, 'Peace is not in inactivity, it's in right activity'.

In different ways, we all felt the need to be listening people. Sean said he hasn't been listening as he should, Jim thinks he's just an infant in terms of spiritual hearing, and I'm aware that I need to be more eager to listen. Jim added that we want Jesus to be in the house and that our peace and rest are in him. We asked for spiritual hearing. We all have it but we all need more of it!

Then Jim told us about a scratch card he'd been given when he stopped to buy petrol. Apparently it was necessary to scratch the card to reveal a code, the next step was to visit a website and enter the code to find out if a prize had been won. All of this requires too much time, too much effort, and almost certainly for nothing.

In contrast the gospel comes with no such rigmarole. The gospel is pure good news. Jesus says, 'Come to me if you are struggling and heavily loaded down - I'll give you rest' (Matthew 11:28). Rest is very good news. It's peace, shalom, wholeness, an end to searching, an end to struggling, and an end to going around in circles in the wilderness. Jesus is a destination, not more rigmarole. The rest he gives us is good news!

< 25th August 2011 | Index | 13th September 2011 >

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