by Kirk Walden
“Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do that which is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you . . .” Philemon 8-9A
If I Corinthians 13 is the scriptural chapter which best describes love, perhaps the brief letter we call the Book of Philemon is one which best shows us love in action. Because if we follow the examples of Paul, Onesimus and Philemon, those around us will see a powerful picture of what love looks like, in real life.
Let’s set the stage. Onesimus was a slave of Philemon. An indentured servant, one might surmise. But Onesimus ran away, no small infraction. To understand how egregious this was, in the culture of the day it wasn’t uncommon to execute runaway slaves.
But a funny thing happened after Onesimus snuck away to freedom. He found Paul, converted to faith in following Jesus Christ, and launched a partnership with the man who would become the most prolific of New Testament writers.
At some point however, Onesimus—perhaps guided by a new conscience—likely confessed to Paul that he was a runaway. Or Paul found out through other means and Onesimus confessed his past. Regardless, this admission was a dangerous one. But Onesimus came clean, out of love for Jesus Christ and a desire to follow—no matter the personal cost.
The story gets even more interesting however, when we find out Paul not only knew the master of Onesimus but had a close relationship with him. This was such a strong relationship that Paul sat down and penned the letter to Philemon which we read and study today.
Paul knew he could say the word and Philemon would do anything Paul asked, including freeing Onesimus. But as we see throughout this letter, Paul chooses instead to express love for Philemon, and to appeal to Philemon’s love for Jesus.
Remember when Jesus told us the two great commandments were to love God and to love others? In this letter, Paul puts this into practice.
Out of his love for God, Paul chooses to love Philemon—just like Jesus taught. Onesimus? He chose love by returning to Philemon with letter in hand, willing to take any punishment Philemon required.
Love from Paul. Love from Onesimus. And with this letter, it was up to Philemon to complete the circle.
Paul requests that Philemon not only release Onesimus, but to shift his entire view of his former slave. Paul presents Philemon with the challenge to consider Onesimus—a slave—as an equal, as a brother in the work of advancing the good news (v.15-17).
This was a monumental request, but Paul was confident his brother Philemon would not only honor this request but out of love, go beyond what he was asked (v.21).
While none of us knows for certain how Philemon responded, we can draw an educated conclusion that he did. Why? Because this short letter of only 335 words—tucked between letters to Titus and to the Hebrews—was so revered by the early church that it made its way into the New Testament.
As we look back on this brief letter from one Christ follower to another, it’s stunning to see what love—acted out in real life—can accomplish.
Paul poured his heart into Philemon over the years, building Philemon from “convert” to “fellow worker” for the faith (v.1). This is love.
Onesimus owned up to his wrong, returning to Philemon with a heart of submission and a desire for sincere reconciliation. This too, is love.
Next of course, is the man whose name is on the letter, Philemon. We can be confident Philemon responded with our favorite word, Love.
What were the results of each of these men choosing love?
First, the obvious. For Philemon and Onesimus, the wall between “slave” and “master” fell to the ground. We can guess, Onesimus and Philemon came together as shining lights for the Good News, a stunning example of love in action for friends, neighbors and the community at large. Without a doubt, when people saw these men, many were attracted to this new faith.
Next, as we already pointed out, the early church likely heard the story of these three and of the extraordinary example set, choosing to place this letter in what we refer to as The New Testament. This way, every Christian could read and hear of the impact love can have.
One more thing. Centuries later, this “little” letter was used in Christian countries to argue for the abolition of slavery altogether.
Three men. Each of the three choosing love. They changed their world, and the world to come.
All of which leads to a question. What could happen if each of us, when faced with any situation in front of us, chose love?
Our love might look like Paul’s, pouring into another through encouragement and hope, as we do for fellow staff members and so many who call on our ministries daily. The cost? Time. Effort. Emotional and physical energy.
Or love could look like it did for Onesimus, taking a risk and offering to right a wrong we knowingly or unknowingly created days, weeks, months or years ago.
And love could mean being a Philemon, choosing to forgive even when it costs us. For Philemon, forgiveness meant risking social standing in a community which likely demanded slaves be kept “in their proper place.” And it also meant giving up any right to the work an indentured servant could offer.
It’s hard to see Paul, Onesimus and Philemon saying to themselves, “If I practice love, the effect of this decision will bring thousands or even millions to faith and contribute to the abolition of slavery. One letter outlining this episode will be read by billions across the globe.”
No, they had none of this foresight. But they chose to love.
So, as we consider the people and the real-life situations in front of us, let’s take heart, remembering that choosing love is always a wise decision. We may not see the results today, but we know choosing love has the capacity to change . . . even the world.
Want proof? Let’s ask the three men we read about in the letter to Philemon. If they were to look back on a real-life story about a runaway slave, they might just agree.
Special thanks to Tom Haddon, pastor of Northfield Church in Hendersonville, TN for two sentences on a Sunday morning which prompted Kirk to dig into the story of Paul, Onesimus and Philemon. You never know the impact a pastor’s words might have!
by Jor-El Godsey, PresidentHeartbeat International
“Two are better than one…” says the preacher in Ecclesiastes. Because, well, the word “Ecclesiastes” actually means “preacher.”
Of course, this can be both a controversial statement on parenting structure and a statistical parenting reality in success metrics for children.
It is, after all, that we find in Ecclesiastes - the encouragement for connection revealing that “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor; for if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion…”
Enter the dad.
Whether biological, adopted, or spiritual, a dad fits into God’s design that “two are better than one.”
God, Himself, declared this of Adam even while still in the perfection that is the Garden (Genesis 2).
A dad brings many things to the family.
Okay, more than “Dad Jokes” and the globally recognized meaning of “Pull my finger.”
With our eyesight, it is best to have two eyes in order to have the best sense of depth perspective.
With our hearing, two ears can better sense distance and motion from the sounds we hear.
With parenting, a dad adds a dimension of perspective to the lives of children.
When our kids were small, my wife, Karen, was more quickly inclined to say “be careful” at the playground, while I was often quick to say, “How high can you go?” At the pool our directives were similarly disparate.
Our perspective on exploring our world was somewhat different.
Dads often see the world in terms of the challenge.
I’m guessing most kid trips to the Emergency Room started with the phrase, “Watch what I can do, Dad!”
That’s why two are better than one. We need both perspectives – be careful and push farther.
Let's be sure to celebrate the fathers in our movement and the future fathers who walk into our organizations in a particular way this Father's Day.
by Betty McDowell, LSW, LASVice President of Ministry Services, Heartbeat International
Mary Anna Russo LaRosa (pictured on the right with her two oldest sons, Frank and Al) could not have imagined how the decision she made 100 years ago in 1921, at the age of 25, to sail from Italy to Ellis Island, NY would shape generations to come.
My grandmother Mary was born in 1896 in Caltanissta Province to Liberio and Concetta Russo and was married off at the age of 13 to my grandfather, Alfonso, who was 13 years her senior. My understanding is that life was very difficult for this young woman as poverty, war, and hopelessness surrounded and invaded her life. Alfonso, my grandfather, headed to the United States in 1914 leaving behind his young wife and two small boys. He left to start a new life in the land of opportunity. The seven years apart proved to be very difficult for Mary and her two young sons as they lived without support from family and suffered hardship upon hardship. As a single, vulnerable mother, Mary became a victim of rape which resulted in a pregnancy and the birth of a son. The shame of rape, the pressure to hide this shame, and the anger of my grandfather (who was informed of the rape and birth of a child through a letter sent to him in the US) resulted in Mary placing her son in the care of another. Mary and her two other sons had to say goodbye to this child, never to see him again.
I have tried to imagine what it must have been like to kiss a baby goodbye, board a ship headed to a land with a language unknown to me and sail the ocean with two young children in the hopes of making my way to a husband not seen in seven years. The anguish, the grief, the fear she must have experienced fills me with compassion for a grandmother I never had the privilege to meet. Mary passed away before I was born but I have cherished the grandmother memories of my older siblings and cousins.
After arriving in the United States and making her way to Cleveland, Ohio, Mary and Alfonso went on to have three more children, my father being one of them. I have been told stories of what a sweet, kind, faith-filled, loving woman my grandmother was. My father once shared with me that his mother lived with a great sadness, but it was not until my adult life that I became aware of just how deep the sadness and how great the pain was she bore throughout her life.
My brave grandmother left quite a legacy. Due to her faith, love of family, willingness to bear shame, poverty, loss, pain, inequality, and prejudice, she provided for and shaped the lives of her six children and 18 grandchildren. Mary’s life has continued to shape the lives of generations she never met, those of the 26 great grandchildren and those of her great great grandchildren as we share her stories with them.
My cousin shared a precious childhood memory of often seeing my grandmother kneeling and praying. I would love to know what Mary carried deep in her heart of faith and I wonder if she prayed for the future generations of her family. I’m guessing she never thought that 100 years after she boarded a ship to America her story would be told, and her bravery celebrated.
This Mother’s Day my family and I will take a moment to honor the memory of brave moms like my grandmother, Mary Russo LaRosa, and pray for the brave moms of today and their future generations.
Happy Mother’s Day 2021!
by Mary Peterson, Housing SpecialistHeartbeat International
My young nieces are on a chicken kick. They have hatched eggs, studied the various chicken breeds, and dreamt about being chicken farmers. When I catch them on the phone, chirping sounds fill the background. With a little chick cupped in their hands, they rattle on and on about this chicken's unique features, filled with stories of how cute it is now and how many eggs it will lay in the future.
Their love is a testimony to new life and springtime. It is simple and good.
The egg is a symbol of Easter, often found in religious artwork to indicate life springing forth from the darkness of the tomb. That symbolism has spilled over into the egg-dyeing, egg-hunting, and chocolate egg-eating traditions that we associate with Easter.
And in some ways, the egg echos the work of maternity housing. The women we serve often arrive trapped in the darkness of their lives but literally filled with life and possibility. We fuss to create a little corner that is safe and cozy for them; we fluff and fill their space with items to communicate excitement about their presence. We attempt to keep that mom in the warmth of a lived Christian experience and do regular check-ins to see how things are going.
We hope and pray in anticipation that new life will spring forth. We trust that renewal and redemption is possible in her life, just as we seek it in our own life. We accompany her as she awaits the new life that she carries and serve as a model of rejoicing and celebrating in the preciousness of that life.
May your egg traditions help you to remember the joy of life springing forth. May this season of Easter and spring and renewal and possibility have an impact on your life. May people look at the way that you love within your work and be inspired. May our hearts be simple and good!
by Candy Marballi
The Prayer Covenant is a ministry focused on leading children and adults to follow Jesus through the power of prayer. The Prayer Covenant for Women is designed to speak to the hearts of women and encourages them to boldly approach God’s throne in their time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Each line of the prayer is based upon an unshakeable truth and centered on the person and presence of Jesus Christ. Each line of the prayer has a corresponding scripture to encourage and equip the reader with Biblical truths. Scripture enriches our prayer time with Jesus, inviting Him to speak to us.
Whether praying the Prayer Covenant for Women yourself or with a friend, I’m not sure there is a more beautiful expression of showing our love for Jesus and for one another than through prayer. When we pray, we give ourselves fully to Jesus--receiving His love, His compassion, His mercy, His healing and His forgiveness.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6,7) Prayer replaces despair with hope, sorrow with joy. It fills the deepest longing within our hearts--soothes our fears and comforts us even in the darkest valley. Whether a few minutes or hours, prayer is life-giving and fills us with hope because we are in the presence of the greatest hope giver.
Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)
The exact history of April Fools’ Day is a mystery. Tradition includes playing pranks and practical jokes on friends, family, co-workers and others. Even famous personalities and businesses have been known to create outrageous April Fools' hoaxes. I remember back in 1996 when Taco Bell fooled people with the announcement of purchasing the Liberty Bell and renaming it the Taco Bell. Some quickly realized the silliness while others were downright offended until they made the April Fools’ Day connection.
This year April Fool’s Day falls on Thursday of Holy Week. Some may feel uneasy about April Fool’s Day having such a close connection with our precious Holy Days and joyful Easter celebration, but I am at peace as I see a deeper perhaps even prophetic connection.
We currently find ourselves living in a world where “wisdom” from institutions we once held in esteem like the AMA, Universities, Government and even churches now tell us that we who hold to our ancient biblical values and Christian faith are foolish. The war on the value of human life wages as the cultural pressure increases to compromise, comply, and embrace a progressive view which completely goes against the biblical truth, that every person is made in the image of God and holds precious value at each stage of life.
If holding to my convictions regarding the value of the unborn means being counted a fool by the world’s standards, I am more than okay with that and you should be too. After all we are in good company. The disciples must have looked like fools to the Romans – and even many Jews – when the Chief Priests and others were clearly turning against Jesus. Shouldn’t they have seen the writing on the wall? Judas certainly seemed to think so. Christ himself was considered a fool. He was mocked, condemned, tortured, and hated for serving, healing, teaching, saving and loving others.
It seems fitting to me that this year April Fool’s Day falls just before Good Friday. After all, the ultimate April Fool’s hoax was really played on the enemy of our souls. Christ willingly chose to look like a fool when he gave His life for ours. The enemy thought he had won. The enemy thought himself wise and rejoiced for three days when Christ died and was buried.
BUT then…Christ arose and won the victory.
I do have hope that a time of revival is coming, a time when people will awaken from their stupor and follow God with their whole hearts loving what He loves and hating what He hates. Until that times comes, when I find myself troubled by the “wisdom of this world” I comfort myself with this scripture.
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’ and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.’ So then, no more boasting about men!” (1 Cor 3:18-21)
From all of us at Heartbeat International we wish you the wisdom of God and the joy of a Happy Easter.
by Kim Hayes
What is true? What does love require? Will I trust God? These are the questions which guide my life and shape the narrative.
Narrative identity theory postulates that individuals form an identity by integrating their life experiences into an internalized evolving story which gives you a sense of unity and purpose in life. In essence, it integrates your view of the past, present and future and acts to guide your thoughts, goals and direction in life.
In his book, We Will Not Be Silenced, Erwin W. Lutzer responds to the cultural assault on the church. This has resulted in many churches submitting to the culture in many areas, especially in regard to sexuality and even weakening our stance on the sanctity of life. The cultural narrative has had a devastating effect.
Re-shaping the narrative is worth the effort to win back the lost. The church must take the lead in clarifying who God says we are and what His Word teaches accurately. When we rewrite or soften the message to make it work along with what is going on in the current culture, we are doing great harm to the kingdom and damaging our ability to bring light into the darkness and help people understand what is at stake for eternity.
Jesus commanded us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves—following this directive we can speak powerful truths to individuals. This requires educating ourselves from reliable sources, focusing on what is truly essential and then forming a narrative built on Biblical wisdom to guide our own lives and encourage others.
We all need a standard to follow, to act as a compass as we navigate through life. A compass is a great metaphor because of its consistency in guiding individuals who have learned how to use it to determine direction. But in the great divide in our nation, we need to realize we are not all using the same compass.
Radical Secularists are utilizing a compass that is focused on false principles if not outright lies. So we will compare two compasses as an exercise to lay out the major differences between Radical Secularists and Christians to hopefully draw us toward more effective strategies for the future.
The true compass, the Essential Narratives of Christ followers, primarily operates on the principle of LOVE. When life takes us to the deepest darkest places where confusion and discouragement can crush us, leaving us to question God and His goodness, love is the only answer. His answer to our confusion and discouragement is a cross.
To empower and guide our clients in crisis, we also have TRUTH as a primary point on the compass. Whatever negative, misleading or outright false thought seeks to dictate our decisions, we need to bring it into the light of truth.
Our compass leading us to Christ also offers HOPE and FAITH. You may have heard the statement, “You can choose to be a victim or a victor.” We all have witnessed people who have thrown off and rejected victimhood as an identity and chosen to allow hope and faith to find the way forward.
These are the four primary points of the compass. In between are additional points. Biblical wisdom, trust, grace and forgiveness, and, finally, obedience all play key roles in guiding us as well.
We need to be prepared both with the essentials to solidify our own narrative identity and to guide others. 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Kim Hayes is a writer for Pregnancy Help News. She has been a teacher, author, speaker and facilitator for marriage and family issues and married for over 35 years to Jeff, with four grown children. Kim's counseling experience included 21 years as a volunteer consultant and trainer at Pregnancy Decision Health Centers. She was the athletic director of Columbus Crusaders Youth Sports ministry for 15 years. Kim has written several books, including the latest release, Prodigal Rewind: The Grateful Son. She is presenting Essential Narratives as a part of the 2021 Heartbeat International Virtual Conference.
“And last of all, as if to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” I Cor. 15:8
The Apostle Paul was known for his ability to connect his faith to disparate groups, from fellow Jews to Greeks in Athens, to political leaders. Paul could “make the case” for Jesus and His resurrection like almost no one else. He wrote much of what we call The New Testament.
In short, Paul was a force to be reckoned with.
Was Paul a great theologian? Sure. Heck, he invented theology, for the most part. Was Paul a terrific apologist? There was probably no one better, except for Jesus of course.
But if we get to the core of who Paul was, we find he was quite simple. Because when it came to theology or apologetics, Paul stuck with one tactic, using it again and again. We might say that when it came to sharing his faith, Paul was mostly a one-note wonder.
His crafty strategy? Telling his story. We find this in I Corinthians 15, where he lays the foundation of the Good News, that Jesus “died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.” Simple stuff. But there’s more.
Paul goes on to speak of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to Peter, the twelve disciples, another 500 people, James, all the apostles, then . . . “as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
Paul told his story. In fact, Paul’s story of Jesus appearing in front of him was Paul’s connection to the resurrection he speaks of so often.
We see the same in Acts 22, where Paul spoke in front of the Jewish council, beginning with his story of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:1-21). Later, in front of Agrippa in Acts 26, Paul shares the same story.
Certainly, Paul did much more than tell his story. But in so many of his encounters and letters, he refers back to this one story as the foundation upon which he builds his defense of the One he followed, Jesus.
We can do the same. When we have opportunity to talk about our faith, we don’t have to know every verse or defend against every argument. All we need is our story. Because just like Paul, our story is more than enough to show someone Jesus is real.
The next time we sense the need to talk about our faith, let’s start with our story. Because for many, our story will be more than enough to open the door for a valuable, faith-filled conversation.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
by Tamara “Tammy” Hall, M.ED
Tamara Hall will be presenting a workshop on this topic at the 2021 Heartbeat International Annual Conference in Columbus, OH. Click here to learn more about all Conference options.
“STOP, DROP AND ROLL” If ever we are on fire, these words of warning are so engraved in our subconscious that our survival instincts will spring into action, sending us rolling to the ground. The three simple words, although rarely needed and arguably dramatic, are indeed life-saving techniques.
I find it an irony of adulthood that the childhood commands, “stop, drop and roll” have morphed into oft used, although ineffective, tools for those facing personal, financial and spiritual trials. Overwhelmed and under-appreciated, many workers and volunteers emotionally revert to an updated version of the childhood directives:
Stop communicating out of fear of offending anyone, even those we love.
Drop out of activities we previously enjoyed and responsibilities we previously embraced.
Roll into a figurative fetal position of fear and inaction.
And yes, these behaviors might temporarily smother the flames but they will not extinguish the fire. 2020 with its polarizing political rhetoric and the COVID pandemic exacerbated our stress levels like athletes binging on steroids.
Given the seriousness of today’s topic, you may wonder why I added the somewhat humorous sub-title, “Burnout is not a Way to Keep Warm.” The answer is simple: people learn more and retain longer if they are enjoying themselves. Discussing even serious topics with laughter does not minimize the pain of a life out of balance. But like the proverbial spoonful of sugar, laughter does help the medicine go down. And most importantly, it’s biblical: “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs: 17:22).
Trust me friends, you do not want dry bones. It’s a sign of death. You show me a person who has lost their ability to laugh and I’ll show you a person who is on emotional life support.
At the height of the COVID epidemic, pro-life workers, volunteers and leaders were defined by many as “non-essential.” How demoralizing. How demeaning. Those who made, shipped and sold baby products were widely considered essential but the people saving babies were considered as disposable as the babies they were dedicated to saving. Our secular society offered political and financial support to abortion centers (aptly described in John 10:10 as, “The thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”) Meanwhile, the same people declared financial and political warfare on those who protect the very children God knitted together in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). The definition of the pro-life movement as “non-essential” was designed to demoralize the very warriors who stand between life and death for the most vulnerable.
How sad. How crazy. How evil.
We are doing God’s work and we must cling to his promise that He will never fail us. He holds us tightly when we weep, He picks us up when we fail and He rejoices with us every time a precious child breathes his or her first breath.
When the burden of stress and burnout threatens to send your life spinning out of control, remember the new and improved version of Stop! Drop! And Roll!
Stop listening to the attacks of the world. Turn off the turbulent chatter and embrace the peace of a quiet prayer time. “Be Still and Know that I am God” Psalm 46:10.
Drop the unrealistic burden of being all things to all people. Focus on those things that glorify God, restore your family and clarify your calling.
Roll with the punches. God doesn’t promise us an easy life. What God promises us is far more valuable: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest” (Psalm 119:13).
God promises us eternal life. He promises to bring justice in His own way, in His own time. (…and lest we forget... Stop Drop and Roll will be totally ineffective against the fires raging around those who reject God’s mercy and grace.)
If you are a part of the pregnancy help community experiencing a struggle right now, please know this: Your burnout and discouragement are real and understandable. Your life is stretched and pulled like ill-fitting masks at a Zumba class.
Nonetheless, you must not give up or give in. God has called you to this work and he will equip you. One step at a time, one day at a time, one life at a time….you make a difference.
Tamara is an award-winning newspaper columnist, radio host and speaker. She has presented in 49 states and 8 Canadian provinces. She was a speaker for the Family Research Council DC Briefing and emceed for President Bush and President Trump when they visited Montana. Tamara authored the gift book, Motherhood: A Noble Calling. This book, beautifully Illustrated by Alora Foreman, is empowering women to embrace the miracle of Motherhood.
2021 is a special year for Heartbeat as we announce our 50th birthday. So many things come to mind as we reflect on the original founders’ hearts to offer continuous learning for those serving in the pregnancy help community. While we originally called each annual conference “Academy” we are sure our founders could not have imagined all that is being accomplished today whether in person, online, or in print.
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