Spend some Grace

Name something that believers know they should do but often don’t do. Several things might come to mind: evangelizing, serving, and forgiving are what I think of. Imagine having billions of dollars and never spending any of it. That is similar to believers who never evangelize, serve or forgive others. God gives us grace in abundance and expects us to give grace with abundance too. When believers share their faith, serve the church, and forgive each other they are passing out, participating with, or spending some of God’s grace. Life is better when believers practice faith rather than avoid faith.

The little Bible book written to Philemon deals with all three of the above issues. All three are fundamental tenets, behaviors, or practices of Christianity. We do not know much about Philemon, but it is clear he was challenged to be faithful and to spend some of the grace God gave him.

Philemon 1:6, “and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” If you do not share your faith, you will never know the real good things Christ has for your life, but if you do share your faith, your knowledge of Christ’s goodness grows.

In Philemon 1:10-12, Paul points out that Onesimus (the man Philemon needed to forgive) was “useless” before he knew Jesus, but now he is a great partner in the gospel because of how he serves. Service of one another does not lead to being looked down upon. Rather, it leads to love as “a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Onesimus’ servant heart demonstrated his activity with God’s grace and his trustworthiness to be a partner in the gospel.

Finally, Philemon is not just encouraged to forgive, he is ordered or simply expected, to forgive. Paul writes:

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. - Philemon 1:17-21

This would be like a couple coming to see Pastor Paulson because of marriage trouble and he told them to stay together for his sake because they owe him and they owe the church. That advice is within his right as a pastor, but it is difficult for us to imagine that advice being respected by the couple from today’s culture. It is easier to picture that couple bailing on the church and bailing on each other following that kind of admonition.

What we miss in translation, and in our own experience, when we think about forgiveness this way is the reality that forgiveness is expected, encouraged, and ordered by believers because it really is good for them. Jesus models forgiveness with his whole life, suffering, and death, and Paul orders it for Philemon’s own good and the opportunity to partner with Onesimus in the gospel. Spend God’s grace rather than trying to hord it or hold it. When we forgive we spend some of the abundances of grace that God lavished on us.

Pastor John Riley
Jr. High Pastor

Refreshing Reconciliation

A few Sundays ago I shared the following story at the end of the sermon. I hope that it will be a refreshing story of reconciliation for you today:

My Great-Grandmother, who I called Nana, was born in Western Armenia in 1910. During WW1, the Ottoman Turks forcibly claimed this part of Armenia as their own and in the process, they systematically attempted to kill as many Armenians as possible. They succeeded in killing 1.5 million and it has become known as the Armenian Genocide. My Nana lived through the worst of it. She was sent out on what has been called “death marches,” where she saw countless people killed in front of her and others simply die of starvation and exhaustion. She told us terrible stories of having to hide from her tormentors among dead bodies, of learning to walk with a limp so that the lonely soldiers wouldn’t find her attractive, and all sorts of awful experiences. But through it all, she survived, but only to be kidnapped by a Turkish couple who treated her like a slave for years. The wife was especially cruel and made her do all of the housework while she did nothing. She told us stories about how she would be fed in crumbs. At one point, the Turkish government declared that the Armenian kids had to go to orphanages, and she was put in one run by German missionaries. There at that orphanage, she was told about Jesus. She was told about forgiveness. Because of the good news that she heard there in that orphanage, even after all of that chaos, she believed that she was the lucky one because she was forgiven.

Years later, after miraculously making it to the United States, getting married, and starting a family in Lowell, Massachusetts, an old woman knocked on her door. Sure enough, it was the same Turkish Woman who had abused her back in Turkey. Our family doesn’t know how she made it to the states and we have even less of an idea as to how or why she sought out my Nana, but she did. This time, the tables had turned, and she was the one who needed help. My Nana, Esther Chetakian, had pity on her. She found it in her heart to forgive this poor, pathetic woman. She forgave because she had been forgiven. And for the rest of that woman’s life, she supported her whenever she could. Not because the woman deserved it, but precisely because she didn’t. That’s just what Christians do because that is who we are… we are forgiven people who forgive people.

Josh Rose
Teaching Pastor

The Cost of Forgiveness

I can remember when I first started hearing politicians talk about student loan forgiveness. My initial thought was: why did I work so hard and sacrifice to pay off my student debt? I should have just waited to have it forgiven! My guess is, you know someone who had a similar thought, you might have even offered the same sentiment yourself.

We know that there is a massive problem with the rising debt that students are graduating college with. In fact, one study showed that students who graduated in 2020 had 102% more debt than those who graduated in 2010. In one decade, we’ve seen the debt rate skyrocket as tuition costs have done the same. Ironically, I think exploring the idea of “loan forgiveness” might help us understand the nature of person-to-person forgiveness, and it might help us better understand the way God forgives.

When we talk about student loan forgiveness, we are talking about a debt that someone willingly incurred, being erased from their account. But it’s just as important to point out what we are not talking about. We are not talking about going back in time to undo all that the money was used to accomplish. The person who borrowed money to attend University keeps their degree, they hold onto the experiences they had while in college and the things they learned, they maintain the job that they got because of the degree. They keep all the benefits of the loan. We’re also not talking about going to collect the money that was borrowed and then distributed. We don’t go back to professors (who got a minuscule amount of the money borrowed, by the way) and say, “Jimmy defaulted on his loan which means you need to pay part of your salary back.” No, that money has already been spent or invested – it’s already changed hands numerous times.

When we talk about student loan forgiveness, we’re really talking about the transferring of debt. It’s forgiveness for the person who incurred the debt, but it's an accumulation of more debt for our government. But that’s the way forgiveness always works. The wrong is never erased or undone, that’s often impossible… and that’s why forgiveness is hard. In relational settings, when we forgive, we give up the pipedream of being repaid. We know that would be impossible in most cases anyway, but it’s a hope many of us hold onto. When we forgive, we accept that a wrong has been transferred to our account and we stop asking, assuming, or hoping that someone will pay it back. We absorb the cost – the debt is transferred to our account.

That’s the very thing that God in Christ has done for us. Forgiveness is free for us, but it’s costly for God – because the debt of our sin, which earned death, was transferred to Jesus’ account. We got his righteousness, and he got our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Sin cannot be simply eliminated; it must be transferred – just like student loans. The wrong goes somewhere, and in our case, it went directly onto the shoulders of Jesus.

Take some time today and ask Jesus if there is anyone you’re resisting forgiving because you want to be repaid. Think about the way Jesus has forgiven you, and then ask for the grace to live the same thing out toward those who have wronged you.

Pastor Ryan Paulson
Lead Pastor

Release of Reconciliation

I remember a friend of mine who decided, against his parent's wishes, to pierce his ear. He sterilized a needle and did it himself. Here is what happened: his parents got mad, his ear got infected, his friends made fun of him and he tried to pretend it was all okay. The only real way to bring reconciliation was to repent and release the control that had caused the problems and of course, get rid of the piercing.

Wouldn't it be great if we could just let go of conflict and the effects it has on our hearts and minds? Pain usually leaves a mark that we try to avoid or we try to fix. I used to think that I had more control over the reconciliation process and I’m sure God had a good laugh at my effort sometimes. Over the years I have learned that I can’t control the process, all I can do is own my part. As an adult, I am still shocked by how hard it is to allow my heart to release the control and let the Spirit do the work of reconciliation.

Paul in verse 13 writes, “I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.” Paul could have tried to control the process and in power and authority hold onto Onesimus, but that would not have allowed reconciliation. Philemon could have looked at Paul’s words in this letter and not wanted to let go of the past to allow Onesimus to become a brother. Onesimus could have just kept running instead of facing the hurt he felt as a slave. We need to allow God to work the process of reconciliation, we have to release the past, the pain, the power, and the control.

If we want to be kingdom people, we have to allow reconciliation to become a normal part of life. To have that happen we have to be willing to let go of our control and step into only owning our part of the process. We cannot control others, but we can work with Jesus to control our choices, actions, and feelings. This is HARD (all caps means really hard sometimes). Our challenge is to lean in and release the things keeping us from reconciliation with others. If you are having trouble releasing past or present pain due to some brokenness, we are here to listen, guide and pray. However we can help, we will.

Pastor Jeremy Johnson
Family Pastor

It Takes Two

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. Philemon 17-18

Arguably the greatest hip-hop song of all time came out in 1988. It was called “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock. You probably have heard it before, the chorus line goes, “It takes two to make a thing go right. It takes two to make it outta sight.” While it will probably be stuck in your head the rest of the day, that little tagline holds an important lesson for us in the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. One person can forgive, but it takes two to reconcile.

As Paul encourages Philemon to receive Onesimus back and to charge any wrongdoing to Paul’s account, it’s a reminder to us that reconciliation requires first forgiveness and then an openness to receive someone back into your life despite past hurts. With God’s help, forgiveness is possible no matter how great the wrong done to us. Not always easy, but my ability to forgive someone else does not depend on anyone else’s disposition or actions. Reconciliation goes one step further than forgiveness. In reconciliation, both parties must choose to do whatever is necessary to restore the relationship. This often requires mutual humility and submission and can be a long and difficult process. Yet with reconciliation, as Paul seems to understand and mention to Philemon, sometimes we are separated for a time so that we may be back together forever (v.15). Reconciliation can often lead to stronger relationships. Forgiveness is always a part of reconciliation, but reconciliation takes two to make it go right.

In this way, forgiveness can be seen as an inward process and reconciliation as an outward one. Forgiveness of another person does not depend on receiving an apology, it does not depend on another person acknowledging how they have hurt us. It is something we can practice independent of anyone or anything else. There is no sin or grievous harm done to us that is outside of forgiveness when forgiveness is empowered by God’s grace. Reconciliation however requires the second person (and sometimes a third or fourth who is a licensed professional!). Once we add more than ourselves to the process, it can become complicated. Sometimes in a broken relationship, there is a desire to reconcile and restore immediately. Other times, life, children, work, and other distractions can get in the way.

Sometimes reconciliation is not in the best interest of a relationship. Sometimes the hurt can be so deep, the harm done so grievous, or the relationship so toxic that forgiveness is the only thing possible to protect ourselves. Whenever possible, reconciliation is a beautiful thing. Reconciliation can make previously broken relationships come back even stronger and make life “outta sight.”

Seth Redden
HS Pastor

Forgive Them

Elizabeth Elliot was a missionary who inspired generations by returning to Ecuador with her toddler daughter to preach the gospel to the Indian tribe that killed her husband when her daughter was an infant. After Mr. Elliot and his colleagues landed by plane on Jan. 2, 1956, he kept rehearsing a message of goodwill — “Biti miti punimupa,” meaning “I like you, I want to be your friend” — from a Waorani phrasebook. Three tribe members made a friendly visit, but then there was apparently a miscommunication or a perceived threat. After the missionaries failed to make radio contact with a base station, searchers found their bodies pierced by wooden spears. Elizabeth Elliot renewed contact with the tribe over the next two years. In 1958, accompanied by her 3-year-old daughter and the sister of one of the murdered missionaries, she moved in with the Waoranis, known to their neighbors as Aucas, or savages. She ministered to them and remained in their settlement, in the foothills of the Andes.

Jesus, in the last moments of his life, stripped and tortured, asked the Father to forgive those who didn’t know what they were doing. Jesus endured death on the cross for us to have the opportunity to be reconciled to God the Father. Knowing that, how can we as believers not forgive? We might not even know we are holding onto unforgiveness, but we can ask the Lord to reveal it to us. Think how differently the lives of Elizabeth and the tribe would have played out if she hadn’t forgiven those who killed her husband.

The only thing that costs more than forgiving someone is not forgiving them. What happens when we don’t forgive ranges from loss of joy to depression, and even physical ailments. Forgiveness is not just about saying the words, it's a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not. It’s about making a conscious choice to let go of the negative feelings and begin to feel empathy and compassion for the person who wronged you. To live like Jesus, we have to say “Father forgive . . .”  just as He did. Hebrews says it this way, “…fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:2   That’s what Jesus did for us, so we can extend grace to others.

Deb Hill
Executive Assistant

The Freedom of Forgiveness

A few years ago I found myself reeling from a painful situation where I had been hurt; indirectly, but nonetheless hurt by the actions of a person who I trusted and valued. I struggled between caring for this friend and longing for her healing, desiring the natural consequences that I felt she deserved. I started to realize that my lack of forgiveness was beginning to deeply impact me. I knew that I would not be able to trust her again, but could I forgive? I understood deep in my soul that I needed to have an honest conversation with God.

I decided to go for a long run on the beach where I could pour out my frustrations to God. As I ran along the shore, I felt the anger rise within me. Thoughts of confusion, frustration, bitterness, and resentment welled up inside. I recalled painful memories and how they had impacted me as well as others who had been hurt. I cried out to God, thinking I was trying to forgive, but in reality, there seemed to be something in me that wouldn’t let go of the pain.

After running a few miles and not feeling a bit of relief, I suddenly caught a glimmer of the sun shining on the ocean water just a few feet away. It stopped me in my tracks. I had been running hard and had not stopped even once to soak in the breathtaking grandeur of the ocean that stretched out for miles right next to me. At that moment I could hear God saying, “you are so unwilling to forgive, that you are missing one of your greatest joys; one of my greatest blessings to you here on earth”. He then reminded me of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:26-27, “And ‘don’t sin by letting anger control you’... for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”

In that moment, my anger, my lack of forgiveness was only hurting me. By holding onto anger, I was also holding onto pain. Anger blocks the peaceful, healing balm that forgiveness brings. Forgiveness does not have to equal trust. Forgiveness is just transferring the right to bring justice over to God. Forgiveness is taking the foothold, that place from which to speak lies, away from the devil. Nothing about forgiveness is passive. It is actively giving control to God and allowing him to do his job.

Who is God calling you to forgive today? Is a lack of forgiveness poisoning your soul? Are you missing God’s blessings because of a need to control or hold onto pain? Right where you are, ask God for strength; you can’t do it on your own. Forgiveness is a beautiful gift from God. Forgiveness will set you free to experience God’s abundant love, peace, and grace.

Lynette Fuson
Director of Soul Care & Counseling


“Yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.” v. 9

When our kids were young, it was often the case that conflict between them required their dad or me to step into the role of advocate, helping them to find a way forward through forgiveness. When one had wronged the other, we taught them that simply saying “Sorry” was not enough, that seeking forgiveness means that our hearts must be involved.  Together we looked to Jesus and his great love to show us the way. He was and is our perfect example. Children, though, aren’t the only ones in need of someone to walk alongside them in the journey of forgiveness.

Even as adults, we may know in our heads that we’ve been called to forgive in the same way that we’ve been forgiven through Christ, but our hearts struggle to get there in practice.  Perhaps our feelings have turned to bitterness and we don’t even want to know where to start. It is sometimes easier to just ignore it. At other times we can find ourselves minimizing our responsibility to do anything at all to restore a relationship. Instead, we leave it up to the other person to make the first move. The result is that we’re stuck and not living out the reality of the gospel in our daily lives. We miss the incredible opportunity to be living examples of the radical love and forgiveness of Jesus to others.

In Paul’s very brief and personal letter to Philemon, we see a beautiful picture of what it can look like to step into the brokenness and hurt with others, calling those with damaged relationships to pursue forgiveness through and because of Jesus’ great love for us. While the master/slave dynamic between Philemon and Onesimus certainly placed Philemon in the position of power between the two men, Paul stepped in to help them live out their greater identity as brothers in Christ. He could have written very differently, but he was compelled by love for both men, to help them experience the joy and peace that comes through forgiveness.

Take a few moments today to consider how you might need a Paul to help you pursue forgiveness toward someone who has hurt you. What would it look like for you to reach out to those around you who may be stuck and in need of gospel encouragement to pursue forgiveness? How might your willingness to come alongside others in love be used by God to bring about reconciliation and restoration?

Nicole Jiles
FaithKids Director

Appeal - Philemon

I have this memory from when I ran after-school programs and two kids came up upset and crying. They had a misunderstanding, which led to name-calling, pushing, and hurt feelings. It all started because they wanted to be the same character in the imaginary game they were playing. After a lengthy conversation and sorting out the details, they had everything resolved and were having fun playing together. Forgiveness and reconciliation happened after cleaning up some of the mess because both had a basis of love. Of course, they needed someone to step into the mess with them. Paul gives us a good example of someone who wasn’t afraid to step into the mess of forgiveness.

In the case of Philemon and Onesimus, Paul stepped in to help broker a broken relationship that needed healing. At times, we can all use a little help in this way, and sometimes we might even be called to help. Paul did something that I think is really important in appealing for forgiveness. In verses 5 and 7 he used two simple words to establish a base of forgiveness, “your love.” Paul was encouraging Philemon of the reports he had heard from others and how it was Philemon’s love God used to work so powerfully among the people he ministered to. Paul was creating a foundation for forgiveness with Onesimus by reminding Philemon of the love he has freely given to others.

The basis for forgiveness is built upon Jesus’ love for us. It allows us to see others differently, it allows us to extend the forgiveness that was extended to us because we have all we need in Jesus’ love. Of course, it can still be messy and it might not look like what you have pictured. As followers of Jesus, we might be called to make the appeal of forgiveness. Here is my encouragement to you, if you find yourself in the middle of messy forgiveness, start with Jesus. You might be playing the role of the peacemaker or advocate, so be ready with truth and love, be ready for a little mess. Paul was ready for the possible cost of forgiveness and he appealed to Philemon anyway because it was what he was called to do. So be ready and be willing to appeal to the people you love when it is needed. If you need any help or someone to talk through this process with you, we are here to help, just let us know.

Pastor Jeremy Johnson
Family Pastor

Onesimus is My Name

“I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.” Philemon 10

In the first century, there were many ways that a person might find themselves a slave. It wasn’t necessarily an issue of the color of your skin like in the disappointing American version of slavery. In theory, you could own slaves that you grew up with as equals, if they came into hard times. People could have been forced into slavery because they got defeated by an invading army, if they couldn’t afford to pay their debts, or if they just ran out of options. However, it is my guess that Onesimus was born into a life of slavery. The reason I think this is because of his name. The name Onesimus means, “useful” or “beneficial” in Greek. This just sounds to me like the kind of name that a slave owner would give to a child that he sees as his property. I don’t imagine two young parents dreaming about the life of their baby boy and choosing a name like “Useful.” It’s just too cold and utilitarian. It’s a name given by someone who only cares about how much the slave can produce. I think that Onesimus’ slave owner gave him the name in the hope that he would be “Onesimus” for him.

But he wasn’t. In fact, Onesimus not only ran away, but he might have even stolen some money when he did. Mr. “Useful” actually became quite the opposite to Philemon. He became useless. Now, Paul’s invitation to a former slave owner is that Onesimus can become useful to him again, but not in the same old way. Paul invites Philemon to see Onesimus as an equal, as a brother. A brother’s usefulness is not measured in what they do, but in who they are.

In a lot of ways, this must be how God sees us. He designed us to be useful to God and others. He designed us to be his image-bearers on earth. But because of sin, we have become useless. The only reason that we have any hope of being restored to usefulness in God’s kingdom is that Jesus took the initiative and paid the price for our uselessness. Now, and only because of what Jesus has done for us, we can actually reclaim the name Onesimus. We can actually be useful in the kingdom of God. So, let’s pray that we too can be Onesimus today.

Josh Rose
Teaching Pastor