Unkempt Bill

His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans, and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of university.

He is brilliant, kind of profound and very, very bright. He became a Christian while attending uni.

Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students but are not sure how to go about it.

One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, wearing his jeans, T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat.

The church is completely packed and he can’t find a seat. By now, people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything.

Bill gets closer and closer and closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet.

By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.

About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill.

Now the deacon is in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this boy, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do.

How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor?

It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy.

The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man’s cane.  All eyes are focused on him. You can’t even hear anyone breathing. The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do.

And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won’t be alone.

Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister gains control, he says, “What I’m about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.” Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some people will ever read!

Note: I think I collected this story from Facebook many years ago. I would gladly give credit to the author if I knew who it was. Hope you enjoyed it.

Beyond Acts 28

After Acts 28

The Bible doesn’t tell us about Paul being released and what happened next, but from the writings of early Christian leaders it seems quite certain that Paul was released and was able to visit his “sons” in Colossae and his thousands of other children. But he was back in Rome again when Emperor Nero was inspired by Satan to try and kill off all the Christians there.

In 64 A.D. there was a long dry spell and a terrible fire burned a large section of the city of Rome. Accusations spread that Emperor Nero himself was responsible for the fire because it cleared the land for him to build himself a large, new palace. So Nero looked for someone else to blame and he decided to pick on the Christians.21  He publicly accused the Christians and had them arrested and killed. Thousands of them died terrible deaths at the hand of this ambassador of Satan.

It is reported that the Apostle Peter was sentenced to death by crucifixion, and that he complained that he was not worthy to die in the same way as his Glorious Lord, and that after some debate the soldiers agreed to crucify him upside down – feet up, head down.

It is reported that Paul was killed by having his head chopped off.

It is known that Nero killed thousands of Christians though public execution. He had some tied to poles at night and burned to death as lamps to provide light to his palace grounds. There was a stadium in Rome that could seat 250,000 people.22  Christians were brought there to be killed as sport. When one way of killing them became boring (gladiators, crucifixion), they found other ways to kill them – as a meal for lions, tigers and leopards. Then, when they realized these animals killed too quickly, they brought in other animals to give a better show, like bears, crocodiles and wolves who took their time at it. People had a sickening lust for violence.

Thousands of Christians were killed in this way. This would have been the end of Christianity if Christianity was just another man-made religion. But the Gospel is mighty; it is the force of the Kingdom of God. For every Christian shamed and killed, thousands of unbelievers witnessed their strength, joy, and “shalom” that could never be forgotten. These Christians in their intense pain were singing and praising their Saviour. The light of heaven shined on their faces and those who watched were convicted of their sin and separation from God. People turned to Christ, at the risk of their lives, faster than the emperor could kill them off. Nero was followed by other emperors who continued the attempt to wipe out Christianity. But they were powerless against the Kingdom of God and the Mighty, Mysterious Gospel. The spread of Christianity could not be stopped! It is still moving forward and will continue to do so until our King returns.

Gospel Dynamite in Rome

Paul in Rome

Paul thought of Rome as merely a “Launch Out” place for evangelism further away. But instead, God wanted Paul to spend a couple of years concentrating on reaching this huge city with its population of 1,000,000 (one million) people from all over the world.

Paul had so much physical energy. He walked thousands of kilometres to bring the gospel to new places and to follow up on all the churches he helped establish. But God allowed him to be locked up in Jerusalem (and Caesarea) for two years, and then be locked up in Rome for two more. He was like a mighty lion locked up in a zoo. He mentions his imprisonment 5 times in his little letter to Philemon. He wanted to get out and get back to work. But again, God knows better than we do.

Rather than sit and complain about his circumstances, Paul made his house a powerhouse of prayer. He gathered likeminded men who had the same commitment and energy for the Gospel. Their door was always open, and our friend, Onesimus, was just one of an unknown number who were transformed at Gospel H.Q. (Acts 28:30-31). Paul came to see that his imprisonment was being used by God to do things beyond what anyone expected.

“And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14). There were even believers in the Palace of Caesar himself! “And all the rest of God’s people send you greetings, too, especially those in Caesar’s household.” (Philippians 4:22).

The Gospel in Rome Before Paul Arrived

Setting: Rome

Rome was genuinely the centre of the ancient world. Many kingdoms have risen and fallen, but Rome dominated the then known world for longer than any other nation.

This is a brief history of the impact of the other-worldly message, the Mystery of the Gospel in the great city of Rome.

The Gospel in Rome before Paul arrived

There were an estimated 50,000 or more Jews living in the city of Rome during the time of Jesus and the book of Acts. There were Jewish schools and synagogues and they sought to follow the laws of the Old Testament. It is therefore very reasonable to believe that Jews from Rome were in Jerusalem attending Passover (their most cherished celebration) at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Some of those would have stayed on longer and were there the following month for the big feast of Pentecost. Indeed, we know for a fact that a group from Rome were there and heard Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, there were “visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism)” Acts 2:10. This was the start of the Gospel activity in Rome. These visitors to Jerusalem brought the news, the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ back with them to the capital of the World.

Paul wrote a long letter to the Christians in Rome (Romans) about 4 years before he arrived there himself. There were already a fair number of Christians there, some Jews and some Gentiles. He was planning to visit them and have some time there before he went further west to Spain (Romans 15:20-24). He was looking forward to assisting them spiritually and being helped by them physically as a partnership in the “Gospel in Action”. Things didn’t go quite as Paul planned, though. He was arrested and imprisoned in Jerusalem for two long years and then taken as a prisoner to Rome (Romans 15:25-29, Acts 21:15-36; 24:7; 27-28).

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome he greets, by name, 27 Christians, and refers to many more as members of the church and family members of the ones he names (16:5, 10, 11, 14, 15).

Some of these men and women were gospel VIPs. There was a prominent married couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who were powerful leaders (Romans 16:3-5; Acts 18:1-3,18,26) and who catered for a church in their home. There was Epenetus, a very early believer in Christ (16:5), and another married couple, Andronicus and Junia, who knew the Lord before Paul did (16:7) and were highly respected by the Apostles. There was a woman, Mary, who worked hard for the Christians in Rome (16:6), and an elderly woman that Paul would have called “mama” (16:13).

This all shows that Paul had reason to believe that he wasn’t needed in Rome. He didn’t plan to spend much time there. But God’s plans were different. God knows far more than we do (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Crucial Decision

Crucial Decision (As reported by Tychicus )

No one could remember when or where or how it started. No one could pinpoint its cause. But when talking things over afterward, each member of HQ could remember a feeling, a mood, an atmosphere that began to develop. They knew there was something that needed to be done, but no one wanted to face it.

It was Onesimus himself who brought it up. It was one quiet afternoon when we were all sitting together. He said to all of us.

“These past months I have seen time and time again that the Gospel is a power that transforms lives. I see it in all of you. I see it in the street boys and gang leaders. I see dramatic changes taking place that only God could do. And I know that God is doing this in me too, but there is something blocking me from going further. I have badly injured a fellow brother in Christ. I need to go home and face my master before I can ever be fully transformed in Christ. Regardless of what the consequences might be, I must make things right with Master Philemon, whatever that costs.”

We were all shocked at the spiritual maturity of this young man. He hit the nail on the head. Our Lord Jesus Himself declared that a right relationship with God depends on a right relationship with others. He said, “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” Matthew 5:23-24.

The group started talking and we wish someone had recorded it. In fact, it is I, Tychicus, who should have done this. But anyway, the following conversation is how I remember it.

Paul:  Son, we are humbled by your maturity. The truth is, I think we were all aware that this time would come, that it must come. But you are such a help and blessing to us that it will be hard to see you go.

Epaphras:  But wait, I know Philemon, he is a good man. He is committed to Gospel ministry just like we are. Couldn’t we just write to him and tell him how much we need his slave here and that through Onesimus he, Philemon, is having a great impact here in Rome?

Several members spoke up in support of this idea, but as the conversation went on we all knew this was not the way our Lord wants things done. God does things face-to-face. He didn’t send an angel to rescue us, he didn’t announce a decree from heaven that “all is forgiven”, he came himself. He came in person and was face-to-face with those who murdered him. That includes each of us, because we are all guilty of sin. Onesimus is right, he needs to right his wrongs himself.

Onesimus:  Thank you for your confidence in me. What I have shared with you today has been in my mind for a long time. I am ready to face the music. My master has the right to punish me as harshly as he likes. And I deserve full punishment.

Dr. Luke:  With Philemon being a believer like us we can hope and pray that he will be lenient, but he is in a difficult position. If he outright forgives you, it will send a difficult message to all the masters and slaves of Lycus valley. It will be expected that every Christian slave owner never punish their slaves and slaves will take advantage of it. We all agree that slavery is a bad thing, but our whole society and economy are dependent on it.

And this is when Paul interrupted with a thunderstorm of emotion.

Paul:  I wish that all slavery would be eradicated forever! Slavery is anti-God. God did not create human beings in His Own Image for them to be mere property of others. God is a free and living being. All who bear his image should also be free. I speak so strongly, gentlemen, because I come from a people who have long tasted the bitter and crippling life of slavery. We were slaves to Egypt for 400 years. We were captured and made slaves by Assyria and Babylon. And we continue to live like slaves to the mighty empire of Rome. I cry for all men to be free, so how can I allow my special son, here, to voluntarily accept the position of slave again.

We knew Paul well enough by now to understand this outburst. He wasn’t speaking as a social analyst or political theorist. He was speaking as a man with incredible love for individuals and the world as a whole. Paul is a man driven by this love. He hates sin, because it is an offence to God and a destroyer of people’s lives. He hates slavery because it is an offence to God and a destroyer of people’s lives. However, even while so emotional as Paul could be, we all knew that he is driven not by his emotions, but by his desire to do the will of God. But there was only one man in the room with the status and maturity to speak next. It was up to him to pick his words carefully.

Dr. Luke:  Thank you, Paul, for revealing your heart. We all agree with you, and we pray that in time slavery will be abolished. But let us focus on what is right before us. There is a brother in Colossae who has been wronged. There is a brother here who wronged him. These two must be reconciled. Can we pray and ask our good Lord to direct us?

Just asking the question was enough to find us all on our knees in serious prayer. Each one prayed from deep within our hearts and with tears in our eyes. No one knows how long we prayed. When our voices quieted down and silence took over, it was obvious the Lord told us that indeed Onesimus must leave us and return to his master and face whatever fate awaited him. It was late at night but no one thought of sleep or what awaited tomorrow. After a long pause, Paul spoke in a quiet voice.

Paul:  Jesus died on a dreadful cross because God believes in reconciliation.

God is committed to bringing healing, restoration, yes, “shalom” to every corner of this universe.

I will write a letter to the church in Colossae and I will include these words in the first chapter, “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace (shalom) with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20).

We will send my son back because our God is this committed to reconciliation. We will send him back because sin needs to be dealt with entirely and relationships need to be restored.

I know Philemon myself. It was I who led him to Christ. So he is also my son.

Onesimus, you and your master are brothers. We must pray that his heart can be cleared of anger and bitterness; that he can forgive the injuries you have inflicted on him.

This is no easy thing. We need God’s help to know how to carry this out.

Without any prompting, we all sunk to our knees again. This time we prayed for wisdom, for direction, for tact to do the right thing in the right way. Yes, our brother must go back, but what can we do to smooth the way ahead and encourage reconciliation and forgiveness? This was the content of our earnest prayers. We knew that Onesimus’ future was in the balance, and that Philemon’s wellbeing was also at stake. But more than that, what was about to transpire in Colossae would make a public statement about the transforming power of the Gospel in action. The Gospel must penetrate the very fabric of our lives, our families, and our working environments. This penetration has taken place in young Onesimus, would it do so in the wounded slave owner? This was the content of our prayers.

“No Worse Sinner than Me.”

Conversation #3

Time: Onis’ 10th day at H.Q.

Setting:  Paul’s room for prayer and study.

Participants: Onis and Paul

P:  It is so good to have time to talk with you. You look like you are doing well.

O:  Sorry Sir, I am not well. My sore is better and I am almost healed, but I am in a big mess on the inside.

P:  (Patient silence)

O:  I have heard and seen so much these past 10 days. I think I understand about Jesus dying and I know he is alive and real because I see it in how all of you live and love and pray and give.

P:  Yes . . .

O:  But I am not like all of you. I am a criminal and a runaway slave. I don’t deserve your kindness and I don’t belong in your group. I think I will need to leave.

P:  Settle down, my son. You know, there is no one who ever entered the door of this house that is a worse sinner than me.

O:  No!

P:  I was a pious, self-righteous Pharisee and I proudly hunted down the first Christians and had them killed.

O:  (Gulp)

P:  I bear this grief and regret every day. But the number and severity of our sins is nothing compared to the infinite grace of God and the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus. You see, he chose to accept a most horrible, murderous death – crucifixion – so that we could be made clean. You only need to repent before him and all your sins will be forgiven.

Then the apostle and prodigal knelt together and prayed an earnest prayer.

Angels in heaven shouted and danced. Gospel H.Q. in Rome was lit up with Joy. Demas, Mark, Dr. Luke, Aristarchus, Epaphras . . . hug and call him “brother,” Paul hugs and calls him “son”.

In the days that follow, the members of Gospel H.Q. learn about Onis’ past. He informs them that his real name is Onesimus. He apologizes for leading them on, you see, his name means “useful” but in no way did he consider himself worthy of such a name. But everyone envelopes him with love and acceptance and he experiences peace and belonging like never before.

What kind of place is this?

Setting:  A nondescript, but large, rented house: 4 bedrooms, a large sitting room. The back door leads to a courtyard bordered by a high brick wall, shade trees, stone benches for sitting and storytelling. It is a most pleasant environment.

The following four conversations took place at Gospel HQ (headquarters). Such conversations took place all the time (as in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), but these four are most relevant to our story.

Conversation #1

Time:  Onis’ 2nd day at HQ.

Setting:  Private room, kindly given by Paul and the others to help Onis recover.

Participants:  Onis[1] and Demas.

D:  Are you resting well my friend? I hope all the noise doesn’t disturb you too much.

O:  I’m OK, but a little concerned about where I am. There are too many people coming and going. There were two soldiers at the door when I came. Are they still here?

D:  The soldiers, yes. They’re here all the time. I guess we didn’t explain. They are here to guard Paul. He is imprisoned here as a dangerous enemy of the state. (Demas chuckles).

O:  He . . . what do you mean? What has the honorable Paul done to deserve imprisonment?

D:  The Roman government is afraid of the Christian Gospel. Paul’s mission in life is to preach the gospel to every corner of the Empire. So they tried to stop him by putting him in prison.

O:  So who are all these people coming and going? What do they come here for?

D:  What else? They come to hear the gospel, repent, and become followers of Jesus. (Demas says with a wide grin).

O:  But! But! I don’t understand! Don’t the soldiers stop this criminal activity?

D:  My young friend, never, ever, ever underestimate the power of God.

“For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.” Acts 28:30-31.


[1] We know him as Onesimus, but he didn’t want to give his full name to begin with.

Alarmed with Compassion

Setting #3: A rough, lawless settlement in Rome

It had been a long walk through the dusty streets of Rome. Demas found himself tired and hungry. He sat down in the shade of a building and pulled out his bread and wineskin to take some late lunch.

Then it struck him. He had just passed the rubbish pile and a solitary young man, weak and sickly looking, was digging through the smelly rubbish, looking for something to eat.

Demas got up, bread and wineskin in hand, and headed back the way he came. “If the poor young man is still there, he should have my lunch.”

Near the dump, Demas was stopped dead in his tracks by a battered body spread out on the ground. He immediately recognized the body of the boy who needed his lunch. But he had been bashed up and it looked like his head had hit a sharp stone upon falling to the ground.

Alarmed with compassion, Demas knelt down and checked the boy. He was unconscious and limp, but still warm and breathing. He must be attended to before he bleeds to death.

Demas removed his tunic and wrapped the boy’s head as best he could, lifted him to his shoulder and carried him single-handedly to the hospital, leaving his bread and wineskin for someone else to enjoy.

Onesimus – Transformed

Onesimus! One of the million-plus people in ancient Rome. Alone, hungry, dirty, thin, beat-up, scavenging through the rubbish heaps for just enough to survive another horrible day.

A criminal, runaway slave, a thief. Fit to be tied and crucified. There was no way out of this mess he created for himself.

Here is a sample of his thoughts: “As I walked further from the city I started to shudder and shake. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of dread. It was then that I remembered the other thing I had learned about this road. It was right along here, around 130 years ago, that a total of 6,000 slaves were crucified at once. They stood the crosses and performed the executions along this public road to make a statement to all the people of my class: “Obey your masters no matter what, and don’t even think about rebelling.” Crucifixion is the absolute most awful way to die; no one could ever accept such a fate. And here I am, a runaway slave, who is likely to join those 6,000 brothers if or when I get caught.”

But God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.

A people touched by this God came into contact with this lonely soul. Acceptance, love, forgiveness, grace, truth, and hope touched Onesimus like nothing else could. And with all eyes watching he is TRANSFORMED.

But there is a problem. The man who led him into this transforming relationship with Jesus had also, years earlier, led Onesimus’ master into the same. These two are now brothers in Christ but are in a “violent” relationship that must be reconciled.  The letter of Philemon, in the Bible, was carefully planned, crafted, and sent – with Onesimus – in an attempt to spare Onesimus’ life and bring Christian reconciliation between Paul’s two sons. Remarkable!

Here us a review of the book:

Hello Reggie,

I finished reading the Onesimus book you gave me.  I read it pretty carefully over a period of a week or so.

I was very blessed by how much thought and teaching there is available in the very small book of Philemon.  And I really appreciated the segments on the history and culture which provides the backdrop for Paul’s letter.

So kudos to you and the other authors; the book is very well done for the person who really wants to dig into the Scriptures.  I also appreciated the straightforward direct manner of writing – not much clutter and plenty of thought-provoking information and observations.  I also liked the layout of dealing with the story “on the surface” and then having a follow-up section of deeper understanding.

One thought that soon became paramount in my mind was that if there is that much to be gleaned from a single page of Scripture, I can only imagine how much more there is from all the rest of Scripture.  That’s pretty exciting actually.  

Steve Salins

Bless an Author

A gift as good as gold to an author is to gift them feedback. It cost nothing but a little time and effort, but it is received as precious. Writing and publishing a book can be a little like “walking the plank.” The author is on their own, entering unknown territory, and not knowing if sharks are waiting for a quick kill, or nothing is waiting but a huge, unpopulated ocean. Feedback reconnects the author, brings them back to shore. Helps them look around again with new eyes. Gratitude. Below is an example of feedback that is specific and oh so meaningful.

Shalom and blessings Reggie from me in New Zealand … I came to the Lord in Israel after being there as volunteer in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 which led to an ongoing interest and service to God’s chosen people ever since.

Why I wanted to drop you this note is in the belief that you must at times wonder if all the massive efforts you have put in writing your books ever bears fruit. Let me assure you it has and is doing so right now. One of my younger travelling buddies … drew my attention your amazing book “Indomitable Spokesperson for Deity – Prophet Jeremiah “. How timely it was for us both and others I am recommending in our fellowship to get it. Even after a lifetime of experiencing some very traumatic and at times dangerous events I still need to be reminded as to why the Lord has had to let these things happen

Your Chapter 15 is at the heart of all that Jeremiah and us just have to understand, and the way you have presented this has been a timely reminder and wake up call for us guys down here.

So thank you brother for you example and faithfulness in putting in all this work to help less gifted people like myself who aren’t trained to do the research necessary to get these insights.

May the power of the Lord’s Shalom be your blessing and gift in the coming year.

Rob

Note: Even critical feedback can be a blessing if it is specific and stated in a benevilant way. Authors whan their next work to be a step or two above their last.