Lessons From Philemon.

The book of Philemon (the last page before Hebrews) is a short letter with a big lesson for God’s revolutionary leaders today.

A little bit of background: Philemon, the guy the letter was written to, was a fairly wealthy Christian in the city of Colossae two thousand years ago. The book is a letter to him, from the apostle Paul, and about someone else: a slave named Onesimus.

Onesimus had belonged to Philemon, before he ran away from his master, which was a capital offense in those days. The moment Onesimus left, Philemon had the legal right to kill him as an example to the rest of the slaves in the household, so returning home was pretty much not an option for Onesimus: he’d burned his bridges; if he ever went home he’d be heading to the gallows.

Some time later Onesimus was arrested in Rome and thrown into jail, where he met Paul and of course Paul introduced him to Jesus. Onesimus gave his life to Christ, and Paul began – in the Roman prison – to teach him about the ways of the Kingdom. And as Onesimus grew in his understanding of God and His ways, he understood that he needed to go back to Philemon and make things right, even if it cost him his life.

Paul is a Onesimus’ spiritual father, and Onesimus is really helping him. Roman prisons are pretty ugly places (think medieval dungeon) and Onesimus – who was out of prison by now – is serving Paul, bringing him meals, relaying messages from believers outside, and generally making life bearable. But Paul sends him back to his rightful owner to resolve the issue of his crime of running away.

This letter went with him, a greeting from Paul to his brother Philemon, and it included some instruction for Philemon for this reunion. In the midst of that teaching, Paul reiterates how useful Onesimus has been, and he instructs Philemon on how to receive Onesimus (“…that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother.”). But he leaves the ultimate decision to Philemon. “I could order you to receive him, but I’m leaving the decision in your hands.”

There are two lessons here for today’s Christian leaders. (Please understand that I’m not talking about professional pastors; I’m talking about believers who lead or influence or mentor other believers, though that will include professional pastors.)

1. The people that minister with you or to you are not your people. They belong to another Master, and we need to be completely free with them; we must welcome their service and we must release them freely when their Master calls them to another place, regardless of what it costs us. Hopefully, we’ll send them to their next assignment as more equipped and able servants than when they came to us.

2. There are times when we know the answers better than those whom we’re mentoring; we understand what they need to do better than they do. And sometimes, we could functionally order them to do the “right thing.” But we must resist that! We must give them the freedom to make the decision for themselves, even if (even when) their wrong decision could hurt them and us. We can advise them; we can instruct them, but we cannot – we dare not – make the decision for them, else we make them dependent on us, not on Him. And woe unto us if we make someone dependent on us!

This was a tough lesson in Paul’s day. You can tell he really wants Philemon to make the right decision; Paul calls Onesimus “my own heart”; he really loves this guy, and he knows that he’s putting Onesimus’ life into Philemon’s hands, and if Philemon chooses what his world demands, what is legal and expected, Paul will lose a good friend, and the Kingdom of God will lose an important leader. But still Paul leaves the decision to Philemon. He still sends Onesimus back.

The Bible doesn’t tell the rest of the story, but church history does: Philemon did receive Onesimus back, and he went beyond forgiving him, and he freed Onesimus from his slavery. And Onesimus went on to become the apostolic leader over the church in the city of Colossae.

We can trust people to make the right decision, but even if it’s difficult, we still must make that choice: it’s their decision, let them make it, even if they make it wrong.

A Season Of Opening Old Wounds

Some time ago, I was working on a cedar picnic table, and I got a sliver in my hand. It was a busy day, so I didn’t get a chance to pull it out right away, and I forgot about it. Over the next several days, the spot swelled up and became painful until I got a sharp knife and cut the spot open and dug out the piece of wood.

Later, I cut my other hand, and I was “too busy” to stop and slap a bandage on it, so of course it got sawdust and dirt and germs in it before I was through with the picnic table, but the damage had been done. This wound also swelled up and got tender, and I had to open it up, but there was no chunk of cedar to pull out.

A lot of God’s people are like my hands were: we’re wounded, but the wounds are hidden, buried because we didn’t deal with the issues when they were fresh. We have two kinds of wounds: some have slivers in them, foreign stuff that doesn’t belong in our lives, and some are just infected with lies or accusations or bitterness.

The pressing problem with healing old wounds is that they must first be opened. If we’re looking at our wound or our soul, then we encounter the pain first; sometimes we feel all of the pain that put the wound there in the first place and sometimes we have all that topped by the additional pain of having remembered the wound, or feared its opening, for Lo! these many years. However, I believe that God is urging us to not focus our attention on the wound, but on Him, and as we do that, He’ll be our anesthesia: the wound will be opened, cleaned and healed, and we won’t have suffered the same debilitating pain again and again.

Let me prophesy this: we are in a season where God is opening up old wounds in His saints, bringing to the our consciousness things that we haven’t thought about for years or decades. Some, we haven’t ever dealt with, and some we have addressed, but God wants to get the last little specks out of them and clean the wounds.

God wants His warriors healed; He wants us able to fight the enemy without fear that a stray shot will hit our old wounds and knock us out of the battle. His goal is healing those hidden places, and it might hurt for a while, but he’s taking out the foreign stuff, cleaning out the infection.

There are three things that are needed to bring healing in these old wounds:

· First, we must let God take us there, but we look at Him, not at the wound. If He says to repent of stuff, we repent. If He says to forgive folk, we forgive. If He says to make declarations, we make declarations. We need to focus on what He has done, not on what He hasn’t [yet] done. Psalm 37:3 saysDwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness.” If we dwell on His faithfulness, it grows good things. If we dwell on our lack, it grows bitterness and offense.

· Second, we immerse ourselves in good input. This is more than just immersing myself in Spiritual or godly activities, it’s intentionally making place for Him to speak into my life. Worship is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. If I use worship to run from the work God is doing, it’s less wonderful, it’s hiding from God and the work He’s up to. But if in worship I open my heart to his scalpel, it’s more profitable for both Him and me. Immersion in the Word – sitting under Its teaching, not marking off pages or studying to teach – brings faster healing. Opening my spirit to anointed teaching CD’s or podcasts, or reading the blogs of radical God-chasing Revolutionaries will be helpful.

· Shut up and move on. OK, that was too blunt. Sorry. How about, “Let’s not complain about the process but instead, let’s position ourselves for growth by aggressively pressing forward into the good things of God.”

· Get over the blame game. We really often blame God (“It must be His will…”) or ourselves (“I must need to learn some lesson from this”). God pretty much never answers the “Why did that happen?” question, but He loves to answer the “How shall I respond?” one.

· Look for the profit. In the Bible, the standard is that stuff that is stolen from us must be repaid seven times. Your wounds, your losses can be seeds for a profitable harvest. But the thief never repays what was taken voluntarily; you must take it back, perhaps violently. It’s called plunder, and it’s yours. But that’s another story.

So don’t be surprised if old hurts come back in the weeks and months ahead: God is bringing an invitation to us: will we let Him clean the wound? Will we let Him heal us? Will we be healed so we can heal others?



Today, I prayed for a dead guy for the first time.

I was at a gathering of a bunch of God chasers, maybe a hundred, and we were in God’s presence, and we were making some declarations. God told someone there that He wanted to heal some folks, and gave some details about people’s intestines, and that person announced God’s intentions. There were some guys that recognized those details and stood up and we prayed for them, and God brought a pretty substantial measure of healing to their intestines.

Then we were worshipping some more, and Mike just got juiced up. A friend of his and mine was in the coroner’s office in another county, looking at the 25-year-old body of William, who was lying on the slab there.

What do we do? We say we believe in healing, and God had just done some of that. We say we believe in raising the dead, and we needed some of that. I know – I really know – four people who have raised the dead in the past, and I have always admired them, and their boldness is part of why I admire them.

So Mike calls our friend and asks him if he’s still there in the morgue (he was) and if it was OK for this company of people to pray for the young man (and it was). So Mike puts the phone on “Speaker”, and invites us to pray.

Suddenly, I’m overwhelmingly aware that I’ve never prayed for a dead guy before. I’ve believed this for decades, but I’ve never had a chance, and here I am, with a chance, and I don’t know what to do. I’m stormed with fears about my own issues, and I’m aware that that’s really not appropriate, so I ask God for compassion, and I go for it. All 100 of us went for it. For a long time.

I was so proud of my troop. This company of people didn’t shy away when facing Goliath. Dead guys are scary. At least when it’s time to pray and they’re looking at you. It’s terrifying. It’s like he’s shouting that he’s taken this kid and he’s not letting go, and why don’t you just give up.

But we didn’t give up. We stood up to Goliath and we looked him in the eye and we spat in his face and we went after it. We didn’t have a clue how to raise the dead, but we went for it anyway. I was so proud of the group: they didn’t chicken out.

But the dead guy didn’t stir, at least as far as I know. (If I find out differently later, you’d better believe I’ll post it here!)

And I’m aware that young William paid the price for our ignorance, our unpreparedness. We were bold, but we were ignorant, and William stayed dead. Jesus commanded us to raise the dead, and our spirits were willing, but we were weak. Our gospel doesn’t have resurrection in it yet, not really.

I want to make this declaration: if we are going to be serious about following Jesus, we need to do what He did. We need to Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. We know how to worship. We know how to pray. We are learning about prophesy and about healing the sick and about casting out demons. We have to get better at all of that, and add raising the dead. We’re good at chasing after Jesus, and we need to get good at doing the stuff that Jesus did.

On the other hand, if I keep hanging out with a troop like this, we’ll get there. The dead won’t be safe in this town.

We gotta do what we talk about. Can we keep up the pace? Can we keep pressing into Him until we get there? Or will we quit early and keep leaving people dead on the coroner’s slab?