Installment 54

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Way back in Installment 17, and back in Installments 31 and 34, I mentioned the Church of Philemon. In this Installment, I will share how that came about.

In my journal, on June 24, 2013 I recorded the following:

Today my bus assistant told me about hearing God. [They] left chicken on high boil on [their] stove and went uptown. [They were] gone about 45 minutes and [were] taking [their] time getting back home, looking at the trees and birds, and heard, “Hurry home.” and [they] expressed that “Hurry home” was stated as clearly as [they] and I were talking. [They] asked me, if I had ever heard God, and I replied in the affirmative. [They] told me that when [they] arrived home, the house was filled with smoke and was minutes from the fire spreading and engulfing [their] house. [They] expressed how pleased [they were] that God saved [them] and the house.

Over the course of my tenure as a bus driver, I worked with several different bus assistants, each assistant being unique. Being that I worked with so many assistants, several just once or twice, the infrequent moments made it difficult to build a cohesive working relationship. Some assistants and I didn’t squabble but the work energy between us was different. Others and I worked really well together.

With this particular assistant, I don’t recall how many times we had worked together, but I can say that we seemed to work well together, probably having worked several times together. The assistant’s thoughts are unique, unique in the sense that the assistant was speaking about their faith. That type of dialogue usually occurs only after some time has been given to developing a comfort zone of trust. Needless to say, I found the assistant’s information sufficiently intriguing so as to record it in my journal.

There was a time that I used to hear things like this and then find ways to dismiss the information. The manner in which I devalued their experience does not matter. What matters is I found all kinds of ways to negate their experience.

But, thankfully, that changed, long ago.

Amazing, is it not, to have insight into something that quite literally kept that person from losing their home. If that impressed my reader, then what my bus assistant shared with me about their hospital experience should be even more impressive.

I wrote in my journal:

My bus assistant also told me [their] testimony. [They] went to the hospital with respiratory problems, and that respiratory failure and a heart attack killed [them] in the hospital. [My assistant] didn’t remember much more other than [they were] praying in the spirit and woke up with the doctor yelling in [their] ear “Put your arms down.” Repeatedly. Because [my assistant] told me that [my assistant was] reaching out with [their] arms while praying in the spirit. [My assistant] awoke with tubes and devices hanging to [them], incisions here and there, but [were] put in recovery. [My assistant] informed [their] nurse that [my assistant] wanted to talk to the doctor. Both the nurse and the doctor told my assistant [they] had to remain over night. [My assistant] told them that Jesus healed [them] and [they were] ready to go home. The nurse asked [my assistant] if [they] heard voices, and my assistant said, “I hear Jesus Christ.” [The medical staff] let [my assistant] go, but recommended [that my assistant] see a psychiatrist.

How’s that one? Have to admit that it is pretty wild. Go to the hospital and crash, flat line. Wake up to hear the doctor yelling at you and find yourself wired up to the machines.

But it is how my assistant found their arms that impressed me – reaching out. And that my assistant remembers that they were praying in the spirit. That is what is impressive.

Then the recounting takes an interesting turn. My assistant wants to go home, believing they are healed. The discussion turns to voices. My assistant was honest, but that honesty garnered a rather brash assessment from the medical staff.

It does beg the question: what happened?

There are all kinds of stories about death that emerge from near death and flat line (death) experiences. I don’t have a way of measuring what is said. All I can say is that they definitely had an experience that defies science and rationale.

But that does not mean that my assistant was not assisted in the spirit. There is something about God that is mysterious, and that mystery is not going to be resolved. God is amazing, and does amazing things.

The next day, I was able to work with that bus assistant again. For readability in this Installment, I have reorganized my journal entry, but in my journal, I recorded the following:

Today my bus assistant told me some things about [their] faith. [They were] born into [a certain Christian denomination], baptized as an infant, even had the baptism certificate, but [their] maid who helped [them] during [the] dying days [of my bus assistant’s spouse], helped lead [my assistant] to [my assistant’s] immersion, where [my assistant] said that [they] felt God reach in and change [their] heart, which enabled [them] to cry true tears having lost [their] hard heart.

[My assistant] first asked me if I was non-denominational, and I answered in the affirmative. To which, [they] began asking me lots of questions. We discussed things like when to worship and Trinitarian Theology.

First, I am almost always apprehensive about people’s questions about the Bible. It’s not because I can’t give an answer, I can, for those familiar, I give thorough answers. But it does not go unnoticed that my answers generally are counter-intuitive to what most Christians think the Scriptures say. Let me explain.

Simply consider the reality that I am pursuing a second wife.

The Christian’s typical argument has several components.

One, there is no example of any polygamy in the New Testament.

Two, the picture of Jesus and the Church are as husband and wife, thus monogamy.

Three, the obligatory use of Scripture to identify the “ills” of polygamy.

Four, the declaration that polygamy is sin.

Five, when all else fails, the use of the New Testament Scripture that Christians have to be submissive to the governing authority.

I am not going to use this Installment to argue why a man can Scripturally have two wives. Why? I have presented this argument in other places. But I will provide the following.

One, the NT may very well not identify the name of a husband and his two wives, but 1 Timothy 3.1-13 and Titus 1.5-9 exist, in part, because in the First Century, some Christian men had multiple wives. Those passages disqualify a man from serving in certain leadership roles when he has multiple wives. But those passages do not prohibit polygamy.

Two, the picture of Jesus and the church is a symbolic illustration and is not able to fully answer the question about a marriage of multiple wives. Many of those Christians who are against polygamy prohibit the Parable of the Virgins to be any kind of NT passage about polygamy. Yet, many of those same Christians do not realize that Jesus and his marriage to the church is symbolic, and therefore cannot be used as doctrine to enforce monogamy.

Three, the Scriptures are filled with the “ills” of humanity: lies, cheating, theft, murder, and jealousy. But just because the Scriptures identify humanity’s “ills” does not automatically mean that those “ills” are manifest in a person’s life. We know that Ananias and Sapphira lied and summarily died, but that doesn’t mean all liars suffer immediate death. We intuitively know this, but somehow the “ills” of jealousy are always labeled against polygamy.

Four, no where, and I mean no where does the Bible declare it a sin for a man to have multiple wives. Yet many Christians declare polygamy to be sinful.

Five, no particular passage may come out and directly state that Jehovah is the God of all nations, but the concept is there (e.g. Isaiah 56.7, Psalm 86.9). In Christian paradigms it is common to understand that a nation is answerable to God, and that the nation does not exist without God’s permission, which is why many Christians will give vocal testimony that if something becomes “unlawful” but is scriptural they will continue to practice that unlawful but scripture thing. Yet when it comes to polygamy, Christians take a different tactic.

That is brief, very brief. But it provides an example of why I run counter-intuitive to so many Christians. Christians study the Bible, I give them that. Ministers, preachers, church leaders study the Bible, I give them that. But proof-texted and otherwise concordance organized sermons and lessons and other contrived dogmas do not necessarily mean that the Bible was rightly divided, as in understood. Sadly, in many instances, the Bible is divided, but divided like it had been run through the proverbial wood chipper.

Many Christians can “quote” the Bible, but have no working knowledge of the Book in which that quote resides. Many have no working knowledge of the context of the passage, fewer still have working knowledge of the circumstances of the historical, social, cultural and theological issues that develop and shape the quote that is found in any particular book.

Yet, ministers quote, preachers quote, teachers quote, and thus Christians quote. When taken in the context of literature, history, society, culture, and theology, many times, new light is shed upon the quote, resulting in instances where doctrines and dogmas cannot be substantiated.

All of those things are why I hesitate to answer the questions Christians ask of me. Discussing sacred beliefs is a delicate matter, because the last thing I want is to rattle someone’s faith. Yet, my bus assistant seemed to find the question and answer session helpful.

Afterwards, I recorded into my journal something that my bus assistant said. I am not certain what prompted my bus assistant to say it, but this is what they said “So this is why God cancelled shop.”

For me, it is not important that they said that. It is important how I reacted to that statement. In my journal, I wrote:

[When my bus assistant said] “So this is why God cancelled shop.” I began to consider the larger ramifications of our interaction. [They] told me how [they] pre-purchased pants so [they] would have them for working in the shop, [they] expected to work there this summer because [they] had worked in the shop for the last three or four summers. But when [they] learned that the school closed the summer shop for bus drivers and bus assistants, God told [them] to get rid of [their] pants. [They] then expressed [their] belief that God put [them] with me, and that this is where God wants [them]. I found all this quite startling.

So after that impromptu question and answer and their response, my journal says that I had to fuel the bus, and while fueling I began praying asking God “What are you doing to me?” The Divine responded:

Putting people in your way [path].

My journal states that the day prior to that question and answer with my bus assistant, I had been reading the Book of Philemon. During that reading I had observed that Philemon refreshed the saints.

Interestingly, when the Divine said the previous about putting people in my path, I reacted saying “Refreshing the saints.” To that, the Divine responded with:

And I will move you, and bring more people to your path.

Then my journal records the following:
I felt and saw Abba, stretch forth his hands, spreading his arms, and said:

The Church of Philemon.

The Church of Philemon is a concept that I have mentioned previously (Installments 17, 31, and 34). Based upon what I understand, which could change, I understand that the Church of Philemon is not a “church” in the traditional or modern sense of the word. The Church of Philemon is not a “church” were people go to attend worship. Nor is the Church of Philemon a house church.

But before I provide more thoughts about this, let me add something about my bus assistant. In my journal, I wrote:

Something I learned later in the day, during [my] second run [with the bus assistant] returning the students home, is that my assistant prayed that God would send [them] someone [who] understand[s] Sabbath, and [my assistant] is fully convinced that God gave me [to them], weird, because I would have never expected me to be an answer to prayer. [My assistant] said [they] had questions about Sabbath and church worship and gathering and prayed asking for someone to help [them].

There is the clue that I needed to understand my bus assistant’s statement of “So this is why God cancelled shop.” As a driver I had been assigned a summer route. In lieu of working in the shop, that employee had been assigned to me as a bus assistant for that route.

In many ways, for me that summer was difficult. Yet for my bus assistant, they interpreted me as an answer to their prayers. Based upon my journal entry, I have no doubts that we discussed those things.

In my journal, I wrote some initial reflective thoughts about this:

So Monday morning, I read Philemon with earnest attention, not to the plea about Onesimus, but to the details surrounding that situation. …there was a church in Philemon’s house. That was a true revelatory thought. I spoke of it to [a couple of friends], and told both [of them] that Philemon is not a personal letter as we have thought, but a letter to a church, because of verse two….

I observed that [the] church in Philemon’s house had no specified headship (meaning no elders, bishops, deacons, etc.) and one of the individual’s mentioned by name is a woman. So, I considered the possibility that these individuals were perhaps the leaders of that assembly. Women church leaders, imagine that. That assembly of believers had faith, love for the brethren, and refreshed other believers. But Paul asked them directly to rise to the occasion and do something very difficult with Onesimus.

As of today, I was considering that during these last three years, I have often wondered about my work in the church, it seems that only now, within the last 36 hours, did God reveal the type of church I am to establish, built upon the model found within Philemon. It cannot be any more evident to me than the vision of God stretching forth and opening his arms, expressing ‘The Church of Philemon’.

Based upon my prayer at worship later that week (June 29, 2013), I must have spent time thinking about this moment during that week. In that interactive praying, the Divine said:

“You are being sent, sent to those who need help. Lost they are, but not lost as unsaved, lost as in lost in man’s misunderstandings of discipleship. … You must have my words in your heart, in your mind, on your lips. …

These people will come in a mess in their thinking, in their lives, help them, refresh them, rebuild their understanding. Let me take care of the global church and all the debates, let me take care of all the social and governmental issues. Your call is to help my people understand, help clear up where they are weak in their individual lives. I work in the church through the mouths of leaders, you work with those lost within and to the system, if they find their way back to a ‘church’ so be it, that is a good thing. If they don’t, then encourage [them] to visit the watering hole, called church. The church is not lost, but is mistaken, about several things, arguing about issues that make little difference.

My interactive prayer continued with me asking several questions. One of the questions I asked was “What about the church of Philemon, is this what you want me to do?” The Divine answered:

Yes, I will help you find the path, continue your dissection of Paul’s letter to his convert [Philemon] in it you will find some insight about the church of Philemon, but also study my expectations found in my instructions [Torah]. In Messiah Yeshua [Jesus Christ] there is freedom, freedom to manage the assembly, even the synagogue, even the church. The synagogue and the church are outgrowths of the great assembly found in my instructions [Torah]. Understand how I established parameters, limitations – certainly, but also large boundaries for freedom, in me through Yeshua [Jesus] is a large field for assembly, not limited by man’s imaginations, considerations, or theologies. Understand the instructions [Torah] to understand freedom. Live in that freedom, revealed by me, supported by Yeshua [Jesus].

Then the Divine finished by saying:

You will be moving, and you will be given the resources, as in provided the resources for helping those I send to your assembly, pray for my help, do not hesitate to pray, give me our supplications, this proves your trust, to you and to them. You will eventually have a great vineyard that you will help. Always seek me. I provide and provide in abundance. People want the help; help them. Freely you have received; freely give. Love all; debate few; be humble. You have my love and my protection. Amen!

As of today, I ask: what is the church of Philemon?

It is a “church” where Christians can “visit” having their spirits refreshed. Refreshment comes by having dialogue and interaction with other Christians. As Christians, we may or may not think alike or see the Bible similarly or even interpret significant doctrines the same. Yet in the Church of Philemon there is the ability and willingness to delve into the Bible, discuss doctrine and dogma, yet maintain a healthy love and respect for God and faith.

That is a massive concept. And a beautiful “church” that I get to be a part of.

Blessings and Shalom