Simeon

Simeon

 

 

 

 

 


Luke 2:25-32

25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” NLT

There is not much known of the Simeon spoken of in Luke 2. There are no other historical records regarding Simeon that give us a glimpse into his life. What’s written here is all we get. But when you look at these verses you discover an incredible picture of an incredibly godly man; a powerful example of a man whose focus and attention is laser-pointed on God.

The text shows us that Simeon was very old and was probably very close to death. He was righteous and devout. That was not the norm for an Israelite. He lived in a very dark time for Israel. The nation had lost its independence and was occupied by Rome. Its religious leaders were self-righteous, hypocritical leaders full of arrogance, pride, with a “better-than-everyone-else” attitude. They were full of themselves and empty of God. Israel, God’s chosen, was a backslidden, apostate people. But God has always reserved a remnant to himself. And Simeon was one of those. Regardless of his dark surroundings, Simeon lived in the light.

Simeon loved God with a pure heart, and that same heart longed to see the coming of Israel’s Savior. Although the scriptures do not say when God revealed to Simeon that he would see “…the Lord’s Messiah,” it does seem as though it happened many years prior to this story. And it’s something that Simeon never lost sight of over the course of those many years.

Simeon’s hope, faith, and trust was not abandoned due to a prolonged waiting period. He was confident in God’s faithfulness to do what He said, even though it took a long time. And when God said, “Simeon, today’s the day. Get over to the temple,” his ears were still in tune with what God had told him many years before. He knew exactly what was happening. Simeon had never forgotten the promise God made.

More than thirty years later after this event, Jesus tells a parable in Luke 12. Simeon is a vivid example of what Jesus was speaking. Listen to these words.
Luke 12:35-37
35 “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning;
36 and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching.” NKJV

Has there ever been anything you believed God spoke to your heart, but still has not come to pass? Let me ask you a question. Is God’s faithfulness subject to our timeline, or is it subject to His infinite wisdom? The answer is obviously the latter. But how often do we lose sight of God’s promise because its manifestation didn’t happen when we wanted to see it happen?

May we be men who never let loose of our faith in God and His promises. May we have the heart and faithfulness of Simeon who, in spite of a long waiting period, still kept his ear peeled for the voice of God, and when he heard, obeyed.

Just think of what his faithfulness and obedience allowed him to witness. What might yours allow you to see?

Blessings,
Gene Pietrini

“Faith is the ‘yes’ of the heart, a conviction on which one stakes one’s life.”
– Martin Luther

Benaiah

Benaiah

2 Samuel 23:20
20 There was also Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant warrior from Kabzeel. He did many heroic deeds, which included killing two champions of Moab. Another time, on a snowy day, he chased a lion down into a pit and killed it. NLT

Benaiah is probably not a Bible name lodged in the forefront of your memory banks, but he was actually well-known in Israel as one of David’s “Thirty Mighty Men,” so he actually has quite a bit of notoriety. But this one verse really stands out. “…on a snowy day, he chased a lion down into a pit and killed it.” Who does that? Who would even think of doing that? But in the midst of a crazy story, let’s look at an incredible lesson that can be found.

Think about this. Lions are not domesticated creatures. They are wild, massive, fierce, and dangerous. The Bible says that our enemy, the devil, goes around like one seeking to devour us. And this is what I think is crazy. Benaiah chases this lion into a pit (not the other way around). So now Benaiah is in this pit…surrounded…no way of escape, with a ferocious killer. And it’s a snowy day. He’s not wearing vibram-soled sandals that could give him better traction and footing in the snow. He’s wearing leather sandals that would make him unstable as he slips and slides around in that pit. This, my friend, would appear to be a disaster waiting to happen. An impossible situation. A situation where only one is coming out of that pit alive. And it most likely wouldn’t be human.

Lions are pictures of strength. It has the strength to strike down an ox and carry it off in its mouth. No wonder he’s called “king of the beasts”? Lions take down 600-pound plains zebras and 1000-pound cape buffalo on a regular basis. One swipe from a lion’s paw can crush a human skull, and its teeth can penetrate any human bone. Who wants to face off in close quarters with an adversary like that? Benaiah did. And here is what is so amazing…Benaiah came out the winner. You’re thinking, “That’s a miracle!” Well, you’re right.

Here’s what I see in this amazing story. Benaiah didn’t run from his problem. He brought the problem into the pit where there was nowhere he could go…there was nothing else he could do but face it. When he got a glimpse of that lion up close, I’m sure he was well aware of the fact that it was impossible for him to defeat it. But here’s the thing…all things are possible when you bring God into your impossibility. Benaiah didn’t have to go into that pit; he chose to. And consequently, he came out of the pit as conqueror and victor over quite a huge problem. What a beautiful illustration of implicit trust in the God of Power and Might.

Men, we all have “lions” in our lives that seek to devour us. That “lion” could be an addiction, a broken marriage, a life-threatening illness, a fear of the future…you “fill-in-the-blank.” Don’t ignore it or run from it; take it into the pit where you have to face it. But trust God that when you face that impossibility, you face it with the One for whom nothing is impossible. And regardless of how additional conditions can make a dangerous situation even more dangerous (like a pit…on a snowy day), with God there is no difficulty, no storm, no fire, no hurricane that can reinforce your defeat.
Friend, if you follow the “lion” into the pit with God, you are coming out the winner.

Isaiah 59:19
19 …When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him. NKJV

Here’s to devouring a few “lions” that have been looking to devour us. Let’s embrace the courage of Benaiah.

Blessings,
Gene Pietrini

“God loves with a great love the man whose heart
is bursting with a passion for the impossible.”
– William Boothe

The Man Born Blind

The Man Born Blind

John 9:19-27
19 And they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”
25 He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”
26 Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”
27 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” NKJV

Here is the story of an unnamed man.  He has been blind from birth…he has never seen the light of day…he has only experienced darkness his entire life.  All these things led to an uncertain future…a future which held no hope.  I can only imagine some of the thoughts this man may have had.  Maybe thoughts like, “What’s going to happen to me when my mother and father die?  What then?  Who will take care of me?”  Not really something to look forward to.
But in the midst of difficulty and hardship, the incredible happened.  This blind man came in contact with Jesus, and because of that meeting, he was completely healed, receiving his sight.  Amazing!  But here’s a kicker.  This miracle that Jesus did “coincidentally” took place on the Sabbath, and since the religious leaders believed this to be a violation of the Law, they were pretty hacked off.  The Pharisees questioned the man about the healing, hoping to get him to say something that would entrap Jesus, but he gave them no ammunition.  So then they went to the ex-blind man’s parents, threatening them with excommunication from the synagogue if they would not give them some “dirt” that would help with their plans against Jesus.  But the parents told them to ask their son.  So back to the ex-blind man with their intimidation-tactics and accusations against Christ.  But it still did not work.  That’s when we read those incredible words that the ex-blind man spoke to the Pharisees. 
Whether He is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”
What a statement of faith, and what a statement of courage!  No fear of the religious leaders, and no consideration for himself, but only heart-felt gratitude for the One who opened his eyes.  After this encounter with Christ, not only could he see, but he also received an infusion of God’s strength.  Remember the old “NO FEAR” brand of tee-shirts?  This guy could have invented the slogan.  What an example for us!
“One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”  He wasn’t anyone special.  In fact we are never given his name.  He’s just “the blind guy.”  But, oh, how Jesus changed his life.  And now there is only “one thing” that dictates the priorities of his life, and nothing would shake him from that declaration.
It reminds me of these words from the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…”
May we as men also distill our life down to “one thing,” and then live accordingly.  Whether we face persecution, or hardship, or threats, or recrimination, or inconvenience, or temptation, or maybe even the pleasure of all kinds of creature-comforts…may none of thosethings move us from our “one thing.”
Men…let’s keep our hearts focused clearly on Christ, keeping in the forefront of our minds that we once were blind, but now we see.  Previously blind from His love, His call, and His purpose…but now we see the One who has adopted us into His family.  I want to be numbered with those who are committed:
to live…
to proclaim…
to demonstrate…
to continually seek after…
that “one thing.”
May the “one thing” of our knowing Christ keep us steady regardless of the size of any storm we may face.
Blessings,
Gene Pietrini
“For if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us,
be they bishops, cardinals, popes, or whatsoever names they will?”
– William Tyndale

 

The Romans 16 Crew

The Romans 16 Crew

Romans 16:3-15
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman.  Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.  12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.

The Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Romans during his third missionary trip while he was in Corinth.  At this point, Paul had not yet been to Rome.  Although Paul addresses several issues facing the church there, it is this letter that establishes the doctrine that salvation comes by faith in Christ alone (Sola fide).

In the first several verses of chapter 16, Paul sends his greetings and appreciation to those who were instrumental in establishing the Gospel and churches in Rome.  Of all the names listed here in Romans 16, probably Priscilla and Aquila are the only really recognizable names.  They were a married couple who pastored and are mentioned other places in scripture, but all those other names in the Romans 16 Crew are pretty unrecognizable.  And although not known to us, they were all people who were very important to the Apostle Paul.  These were co-laborers with him for the sake of the Gospel.  These were people who had served, sacrificed, and suffered to bring the Good News to Rome.  Paul wants them to know just how much he loves and appreciates them…so he calls them by name.

Can you imagine when this letter was read aloud in the church, just how excited each of these people must have been to hear their name mentioned?  What an honor!  There’s an old quote attributed to Dale Carnegie that says, “There is no sweeter sound to one’s ear than the sound of his name.”  If there’s any truth to that, there’s a few people in that list that may have been disappointed.  There are a few others that seem to be mentioned, but not by name.  There is “the household of Aristobulus,” “the household of Narcissus,” “Nereus and his sister,” and “all the saints who are with them.”  I wonder if any of these unnamed people were thinking as they heard the letter read, “Hey, Paul…you mentioned everyone else by name, but you forgot me!  What’s up with that?  I’ve been working hard for the Gospel, too!”  What WAS up with that?  Were there too many people to list?  Had Paul forgotten their names?  Couldn’t he at least give a shout-out to Nereus’ sister, instead of just calling her “Nereus’ sister”?

That may not be an accurate depiction of what those people were thinking, but I think that kind of mindset is more prevalent today than we might care to admit.  There are men who want to be acknowledged for what they do.  There are men who want to be patted on the back for their service.  There are men who want to hear their name said out loud for everyone else to hear.  And although we should give honor where it’s due, is that why we serve?

Some of the “unsung heroes” in our series have been mentioned by name, and others have not.  But whether we know their names or not, God does.  Listen to these words from the writer of Hebrews.

Hebrews 10:6
10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.   NLT

Maybe we get a badge that says “Best Volunteer Ever,” but maybe we don’t.  Guys, God is the one who sees it all, knows it all (even Nereus’ sister’s name), and He is the One who will ultimately reward us.  Always remember who and what our service is about.  It’s about bringing glory to Him.  Learning to live in that confidence is a big step of faith and a big step towards maturity for all of us.
So let’s step up!

1 Corinthians 10:31
31 So…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Blessings,
Gene Pietrini

“The stamp of the Saint is that he can waive his own rights and obey the Lord Jesus.”
― C.S. Lewis

Epaphroditus

Epaphroditus

Philippians 2:25-30
25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. 29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; 30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.   NIV

Now this is not really an unknown guy since the Apostle Paul mentioned him twice in one letter, though Paul never wrote him his own letter like he did Timothy and Titus.  Still you get the sense that Epaphroditus was quite a guy.  Here is the backstory.  Paul was imprisoned in Rome, and the church at Philippi wanted to send him a “care package.”  Epaphroditus was the one who brought it to him.  Instead of returning home, Epaphroditus stayed in Rome with Paul to help him in the work of the ministry while Paul was behind bars.  Epaphroditus’ love for Christ and commitment to Paul caused him to go far above what he was initially asked to do.  In fact in his labors he had become extremely sick; so sick it could have been fatal.  But that did not deter him from his service to God. “Get through it and keep moving forward.”  That was his mindset.

I don’t think they got “sick days” or “personal days” in the New Testament.  Much different in our culture.  It is pretty well known here in L.A. that “sick leave” usage spikes on the day of the Los Angeles Dodgers home opener of the baseball season.  It’s called the “Dodger Blue Flu.”  But here’s Epaphroditus who is so sick he could die, yet he’s not thinking, “I need some time off from ministry” – he’s still engaged.  He’s not thinking about time off.  He’s not thinking about himself.  Even in his affliction he is thinking about serving the kingdom.  In fact he is more concerned about the people who are worried about him than he is for himself.  Pastor and author Warren Wiersbe writes, “Epaphroditus sacrificed himself with no thought of reward…”
Friend, that’s the heart of a truly selfless servant.

Is our faithfulness to serve God based on convenience, or whether there are more appealing options?  Or is it simply based on the mindset that since Christ laid down his life for me, I lay down my life (which includes times of inconvenience or difficulty) for him and the sake of his kingdom?  I certainly hope so.  I believe we are all called to live lives much bigger than our own.

Blessings,
Gene Pietrini

“How do we know if we have a servant’s heart?
By how we act when we are treated like one!”
–  Unknown

Ethiopian Eunuch

Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8:27-38
27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants?  For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.   NIV

This is an amazing story of an unnamed man.  He was, literally, a eunuch, a man castrated that he might serve in the royal court.  Now that’s commitment.  Castration was required to serve the royals for a number of reasons (of which I am not going to get into).  Somewhere along the line he heard about the God of Israel, and it piqued his interest in this God.  Consequently he began his spiritual pursuit, and began to explore the scriptures regarding the Israelite God.  He found himself on a spiritual journey that would take him to Jerusalem…the center of Judaism.  To go to Jerusalem from Ethiopia was no easy task; the journey by chariot was at least 1600 miles.  The scriptures only tell us this eunuch was returning from Jerusalem; they do not tell us what happened while he was there.  I do know this…as a eunuch wanting to worship God and to go to the temple, the deck was stacked against him.  But he went anyway.

Undoubtedly he was aware of some of the Old Testament scriptures such as: Deuteronomy 23:1 which says, “He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the Lord.”  Later, Isaiah prophesied that when the Messiah’s kingdom was established, things would change.  He writes this in Isaiah 56:4-5“For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.””

But the Pharisees did not believe Messiah had yet come.  So that put this eunuch’s pursuit of God in a precarious place, especially in a place like Jerusalem.  He would be unwelcomed and stonewalled at every synagogue.  Still, he continued in his pursuit of the God of Israel, even though it would appear he was excluded.

On the return trip to Ethiopia, he was reading another part from the prophet Isaiah.  Although he could not understand what he was reading, God in His providence and mercy brought Philip across his path to explain its meaning.  In verse 47 we read those beautiful words, “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”  The eunuch was so effected by the words Philip spoke, he apparently received Christ as Lord and Savior.  He was saved!  We can discern that since the eunuch was determined to be baptized.  Philip then had the honor of baptizing him.  But the story doesn’t end there.  Ethiopian tradition says that this converted eunuch was the country’s first evangelist.

Let me ask you a question.  Have you ever faced a challenge that was so difficult, or a mountain that was so high that it seemed like you were destined to fail no matter what you do?  Probably all of us can in one way or another.   I know there have been times in my past where I’ve copped the attitude, “Who needs this?  I give up.  This is just a losing proposition.”  Men, that’s the kind of situation the eunuch faced, and even after being told, “You lose,” he continued to pursue.  But that’s when God met with him.  He had a glimpse of something that was too valuable to let go.  And because he wouldn’t, he finally met the Savior.

Proverbs 23:23 says, “Buy truth and do not sell it.”  The truth of God’s Word is too precious to let anyone take it from you (try as they may).  Do not allow persecution, or humiliation, or ridicule, or mistreatment, or suffering to derail you from your pursuit of Christ.  None of those things can negate the truth of God which is founded in heaven.

May you, like the eunuch, continually pursue Christ regardless of the opposition you may face.  Just remember, where the world may say NO, God has a YES stamped on you.

Blessings,
Gene Pietrini

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
–  Desmond Tutu

The Epileptic Boy’s Father

The Epileptic Boy's Father

We don’t know his name, but we know he loved his son.  That’s all that matters.  And it mattered to Jesus.  This father may have been having a crisis of faith, but Jesus listened to him and still extended his hand of mercy towards him by healing his son.

Mark 9:17-27
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can? ’” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.   NIV

What a story.  Here’s a guy who’s not mentioned by name, who appears to not have faith…but still, Jesus takes the time to talk to the man, to listen to him, and to ultimately heal his son.
How does that work?
I think it was the unabashed honesty with which the man said, “I believe.  Help me overcome my unbelief.”  And that, my friend, is notable.  There is an important lesson for us to take away from here.

Maybe you are facing what seems to be an insurmountable difficulty.  In your heart of hearts you know that God is real.  You believe that He is good and merciful.  You believe that there is nothing too difficult for Him, and that nothing is impossible for Him.  But just as there are seasons in this natural life, there are seasons in our spiritual lives.  Sometimes we feel strong in faith, like our prayers are being heard and answered…a season where we have that sense that Christ really is walking right next to us.  But then there are those seasons that are difficult, where God seems like He’s a million miles away, and faith seems non-existent.

The “difficult season” can cause us to believe that we are too far away from God for Him to hear us, or that we are too weak in faith for Him to act on our behalf.  Don’t buy into that kind of thinking.  Whether you “feel” God, or “don’t feel” God, just go to him with honesty.   It might be with words as simple as these; “Lord, I am really having a tough time with this particular challenge, and I am having a tough time trusting that you will help me.  Help me overcome my unbelief.”

Here’s a promise we find in the scriptures to those who go to Him, even in the “difficult season.”
Psalm 102:17
17 He will listen to the prayers of the destitute.  He will not reject their pleas.  NLT

Have you felt that you have been “destitute” of faith?  That’s alright.  Just let him know honestly.  God has not forgotten your name, and He still knows where you live.
The story is not over yet!

Blessings,
Gene Pietrini

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”
– Alfred Lord Tennyson

Onesimus

Onesimus

Philemon 10-13, 15-16
10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.
12 I am sending him back.  You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.
15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.   NIV

Slavery is a scourge on the history of America.  Nothing really needs to be said about that; there’s no need to state the obvious.  Nevertheless, slavery was acceptable during New Testament times.  Jesus uses the topic of slaves in several of his parables, because slavery was part of the fabric of society.  Slaves were considered property of their owner.  As wrong and as archaic as that may be, that was the culture.  And for a slave to steal from his master and then run away, that was a punishable offense.

Paul writes a letter to one of his converts named Philemon from Colosse.  Philemon must have been fairly well off as he was a slave owner.  One of those slaves, Onesimus, had stolen from his master, and then fled to Rome.  While in Rome Onesimus came in contact with the Apostle Paul, and as a result he came to Christ as his Savior.

The primary theme of this letter that Paul writes is “forgiveness.”  Paul asks Philemon to now receive Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ.  He asks Philemon to let Onesimus off the hook for the wrong-doings committed against him.  Paul even offered to pay back whatever was taken.  That’s what Paul was ready, willing, and able to do for him.

But what did things look like from Onesimus’ vantage point while in Rome?

He was a slave, a thief, and a fugitive.  Life didn’t look so good before, and was looking even worse now.  This “temporary freedom” would bring him a world of problems if he returned to his master.  Punishment and payback would surely come from Philemon.  Onesimus’ name literally meant “useful, and profitable.”  He may have thought that living up to his name was impossible…that he was destined to be a slave forever…destined to be insignificant…destined to always be a captive.  But after he received Christ as Savior, Paul got in the way of Onesimus and what Philemon would do if that runaway slave was returned.

Maybe you’ve had those same ideas.  You feel enslaved…enslaved by habits…captive to wrong thoughts…thoughts of insignificance that your life doesn’t make a difference.  You could never live up to the idea of being useful or profitable.  There is just too much baggage, and you feel trapped in life because of it.

That may be how your story started, but the incredible news is that it does not have to end that way!  Jesus has forgiven you; He’s paid the debt that belongs to you; He’s given you a new identity – “child of God.”  He’s even given you a new destiny…a new purpose as an ambassador for Christ.  Jesus got in the way of the judgment you had coming, and chose to write a new ending for you.  Your name has been changed from “slave to child,” from “unuseful to useful,” from “purposeless to His ambassador,” from “slave to free,” from “in debt to forgiven.”

When Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he wrote to the church at Colosse (approximately a year after writing to Philemon) telling them he was sending one of his co-laborers, Tychicus, to encourage them.  In chapter 4, verse 9 of that letter he says, “He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you…”  It is speculated that he is the same Onesimus that Paul refers to in his other letter.  What a transformation!  What hope!

Remember, the words of Christ in John 8:36 (NLT).  “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free!”

Blessings,
Gene Pietrini

“The voice of sin is loud, but the voice of forgiveness is louder.”
D.L. Moody

God the Source of All Good

New Year Prayer

In the January 2016 entry, I posted a New Year’s prayer that came from The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers.  The prayers within this book have rattled the way I think.  They have stretched me, convicted me, encouraged me, challenged me, inspired me, corrected me…and I could go on and on.

One thing I know is that my life has a lot of room for improvement.  Reading some of the prayers have caused me to ask myself, “Why don’t I think like that?”  I have found these prayers to be inspiring on one end, and humiliating on the other.  No one wants to be humiliated, but that’s not always a bad thing.  Isn’t the root word of humiliation, humble?  We all could use a dose of humility, no matter where we are in our walk with Christ.  And many of these prayers, if considered and prayed honestly, have the potential to do that.

The following prayer, God the Source of All Good, is another one of them.  I have read this prayer (prayed this prayer) many, many times.  And each time I read it, I discover that its impact on me never wanes.  It continues to make me face myself, my weaknesses, and my character flaws.  And friend, that is the only way God’s Kingdom can be built in us…if we first recognize our “…need of renovation as well as of forgiveness.”

The highlighted parts of the prayer are the parts that rock me every time.  After you read them, you might be thinking, “Then you are a great sinner.”  Perhaps.  But at least I know I need work.  And that’s a start.

God the Source of All Good
O Lord God, who inhabitest eternity,
The heavens declare thy glory,
The earth thy riches,
The universe is thy temple;
Thy presence fills immensity,
Yet thou hast of thy pleasure created life,
and communicated happiness;
Thou hast made me what I am, and given me what I have;
In thee I live and move and have my being;
Thy providence has set the bounds of my habitation,
and wisely administers all my affairs.

I thank thee for thy riches to me in Jesus,
for the unclouded revelation of him in thy Word,
Where I behold his Person, character, grace, glory,
humiliation, sufferings, death, and resurrection;
Give me to feel a need of his continual saviorhood,
and cry with Job, ‘I am vile‘,
with Peter, ‘I perish‘,
with the publican, ‘Be merciful to me, a sinner‘.

Subdue in me the love of sin,
Let me know the need of renovation as well as of forgiveness,
In order to serve and enjoy thee for ever.
I come to thee in the all-prevailing name of Jesus,
with nothing of my own to plead,
no works, no worthiness, no promises.
I am often straying,
often knowingly opposing thy authority,
often abusing thy goodness;
Much of my guilt arises from my religious privileges,
my low estimation of them,
my failure to use them to my advantage,
But I am not careless of thy favour or regardless of thy glory;
Impress me deeply with a sense of thine
omnipresence, that thou art about my path,
My ways, my lying down, my end.

Here’s to walking more closely with Christ this month.

Blessings,
Gene Pietrini

We must lay before him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.”
C.S. Lewis

Mordecai

Mordecai
To get this one, you really need to read the Book of Esther.  It’s only ten, short chapters, so go ahead and read it before you read the rest of this.

Esther showed incredible courage, to the place of risking her life (and we can’t minimize that), but although this book of the Bible is entitled the Book of Esther, I think it could have just as easily been named the Book of Mordecai.  Mordecai is the unsung hero in this story.  Esther was Mordecai’s younger cousin who he raised as a daughter.  Through a series of events, Esther became the Queen of Persia.  And through the courage of Mordecai and Esther, the Jewish exiles were saved from genocide.  Here’s just small glimpse into the story.

Esther 3:1-6
1 Some time later King Xerxes promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite over all the other nobles, making him the most powerful official in the empire. All the king’s officials would bow down before Haman to show him respect whenever he passed by, for so the king had commanded. But Mordecai refused to bow down or show him respect.
Then the palace officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you disobeying the king’s command?” They spoke to him day after day, but still he refused to comply with the order. So they spoke to Haman about this to see if he would tolerate Mordecai’s conduct, since Mordecai had told them he was a Jew.
When Haman saw that Mordecai would not bow down or show him respect, he was filled with rage. He had learned of Mordecai’s nationality, so he decided it was not enough to lay hands on Mordecai alone. Instead, he looked for a way to destroy all the Jews throughout the entire empire of Xerxes.   NLT

Esther 4:12-14
12 So Hathach gave Esther’s message to Mordecai.
13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”   NLT

The king’s right-hand man, Haman, was a man rooted in arrogance, greed, and self-importance.  A real likable guy.  Mordecai was not impressed in the least, even though Haman somehow got the king to sign off on a decree that would require people to bow before him.  He was so insecure and self-aggrandizing that this one lone Jew, who would not bow, caused him sleepless nights.  There was only one possible solution.  Kill him.  In fact, why not kill all the Jews.  So Haman planned on having Mordecai hanged on the gallows he had built for this occasion, and the rest of the Jews at a later date.  But through a miraculous turn of events orchestrated by God…Mordecai, Esther, and the entire Jewish people in Persia were delivered, and Haman was hanged on the same gallows he had built to execute Mordecai.  Even a Hollywood screenwriter could not come up with a more perfect story with a more perfect ending.  But I think the very last verse of the entire book is one that should not be neglected.

Esther 10:3
Mordecai the Jew became the prime minister, with authority next to that of King Xerxes himself. He was very great among the Jews, who held him in high esteem, because he continued to work for the good of his people and to speak up for the welfare of all their descendants.   NLT

Guys, I think there is an incredible lesson in this for us as men.  Yes, Mordecai exhibited great courage and tenacity and faith, and he was rewarded for it.  The king raised him up to the second highest position in the land.  But this is what stands out to me.  It didn’t go to his head“…he continued to work for the good of his people and to speak up for the welfare of all their descendants.”   Pride is such a subtle enemy.  Something good comes your way…a promotion happens…and the next thing you know, pride starts creeping in.  “I’m so talented…I’m so smart…look at me…I’ve forgotten where I come from.”  That’s a dangerous place that will ultimately become a lonely place.  You can’t escape the truth of God’s word that says “pride goes before destruction.”  (Proverbs 16:18)  Mordecai never went to the “look-at-me” place.

Philippians 2:3-9
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names…   NLT

There’s the example we have.  Christ himself.
Mordecai was an example of that as well…and he didn’t even have Philippians 2 to look at like we do!
Never forget.  The way up is down.  And the way to be first is to be last.  And the way to be great is to be the least.  And the way to be honored is to humble yourself.  And not many guys really like to hear that.  But that doesn’t change what God has to say.

Which leaves us with a terrifying question.
Who are we trying to impress?
May it always be the God who elevates without ruining.

Blessings,
Gene Pietrini

“Greatness lies not in trying to be somebody, but in trying to help somebody.”
—Unknown