Formations lesson for April 3: Speaking of Challenge : Friday, March 11, 2005
March 11 2005 by Julia S. Ledford

Formations lesson for April 3: Speaking of Challenge : Friday, March 11, 2005
Friday, March 11, 2005

Formations lesson for April 3: Speaking of Challenge

By Julia S. Ledford
Focal Passage: Philemon 1:8-16

Phillip Keller has given us a heart-warming analogy of the power of love to transform lives. Most of us know Keller's writings best in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. But, he also wrote another book from his experience in sheep herding: Lessons from a Sheep Dog. In his search for a suitable sheep dog, he met 'Lass,' a border collie who provided a beautiful analogy of the change that love can bring.

Lass had been in the wrong hands - hands that did not recognize her potential and actually contributed to her becoming "a dog gone wrong" - double chained, angry, defensive and aggressive. Keller saw beyond the dog's fear-based hatred for anyone and everyone. He recognized a beautiful creature needing to be set free to change. In time, Lass emerged as a confident, courageous, obedient, valuable and effective partner and friend to the shepherd.

That story came to mind in reading the letter to Philemon. Though we are not told exactly how Onesimus came under Paul's influence, it is possible that he first came as an unkempt, uncaring, defeated and fearful man with no hope - a man gone wrong. But, love made a difference. He found in Paul the love of Christ at work. He heard in Paul's testimony the hope of change for himself. He saw in Paul the confidence and strength of faith, and he sensed the power of the resurrection life of Christ giving Paul freedom even in chains.

Our session title could be 'Speaking of Change' - as well as challenge. The letter breathes a message that people can and do change when they align themselves with Jesus Christ as Lord. It sets forth the essence of the gospel - transforming faith. There is a message of hope for change, but it is a reminder that the change promised in the gospel is intertwined with challenge. It underscores the saying that grace is free, but not cheap.

Paul provides through example a caution that we are not called to storm the world's fortresses of culture to demand or impose change. It serves to teach us that following Christ is not inherently a license to rebel against culture, but it is the freedom to live with hope and love toward others in any situation. One would think that two converted followers of Christ would be the first to emancipate slaves. But, Paul brought more change by setting a bit of "gospel yeast" out to rise and fill the hearts of Philemon and others.

This wonderful letter provides marvelous insight into first century Christianity and informs us for 21st century faith. We perceive the difficulty that first century believers had in experiencing the full scope of freedom in Christ within a culture bound by customs that kept slavery in place. The story reflects the difficulty that all believers have in allowing the full scope of the gospel to affect all their affairs. Here is a record of the gospel, alive and well on planet earth amidst prejudice and social constraints. Can it happen today? Most assuredly it can - when believers exert boldness to believe and live as ministers of reconciliation.

There may be an Onesimus in your realm of influence - someone running scared and needing the confidence of God's love. Through this letter, we can hear a sense of call to encourage others with wise counsel and actions. We are called beyond merely the dutiful, ethical, moral and legal expectations of culture. We are challenged to step up, go higher and farther. We can believe in the power of Christ's love to change us and change others. We can make a difference as messengers and examples of gospel hope.

3/11/2005 12:00:00 AM by Julia S. Ledford | with 0 comments

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