“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.

Greatest Miracle of All

In a great hall of academia, a debate arose as to which of God’s acts in history is the greatest of all. The hall was filled with male and female Christian academics of all shapes, sizes and colors.

A booming scholarly voice opined that creation, of course, was the greatest miracle of all. Just six days of speech and the masterpiece of a universe we find ourselves in was formed.

Then a scratchy voice of a scholar said he prefers the 10 plagues in Egypt and especially the parting and closing of the Red Sea. There was a whole nation of people there [actually two nations] to observe these acts (as opposed to the “miracle” mentioned already).  It was these miracles that founded of the chosen nation of God.

Next someone promoted the merits of Elijah calling down fire from heaven since it was in direct contrast to the impotence of the false gods.

This was followed by Jesus raising Lazarus, then the resurrection of Jesus himself. These knowledgeable men and women could not find agreement, it looked like consensus could never be reached.

Finally, a younger person walked forward, head down, limbs shaking. And with hesitation and an unsteady voice this person proceeded to state the following.

“I am sorry if I am out of place here, but I do want to speak my thoughts. These miracles mentioned so far are stunning, powerful, and spectacular. They can all fit into the category of “The Greatest Miracles of All Time”. The miracle I want to mention, however, was not this way. It was a quiet, almost secret one. Very few people on earth knew about it until decades later. The impact wasn’t seen very well on earth, but it must have indelibly been seen, felt, wondered about, and discussed in heaven.

“God the Son, in all of His majesty and honor, departed and was joined – irretrievably – with fallible mankind. The Incarnation of Christ has to be the greatest miracle in all of eternity. If any of you had magical power to change yourself into something different, would you change yourself permanently into an earth worm? At the incarnation, eternity was broken. Change took place in the unchangeable Godhead. God the Son became the son of Mary, the “son of man”. This was an act of compassion, of solidarity, of commitment that should keep us all stunned for a million years.

“Previous to this, no human being dared called another human being “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). Never before could it be said, “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Luke 1:43).

Human language, human self-awareness, human future, and human VALUE changed forever at the incarnation. There could never be a greater miracle than this.”

While this young person spoke these words there was otherwise total silence in the room. Upon completion, the whole room stood, applauded loudly, shifted into prayer, confession and worship. No one knows how long this lasted, but eventually the men and women and young people throughout the room, shook hands, hugged, spoke loving and affirming words, and eventually headed home with a memory they could never forget, with an insight they must continually share with others. They enjoyed, briefly, the unforgettable taste of the peace, love, wonder, and bonding that our Most-Incredible God wants for us all.

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Cor. 9:15.

Why the Inn?

The story of Jesus’ birth is so familiar and oft repeated that readers may be tempted to skip this chapter in favor of “juicier” ones. Please don’t. There are some things in this story that most everyone has missed. But these missing pieces are certainly part of gaining a correct picture of Who Jesus IS. Read on.

Outstanding Writing

We have no way of knowing how good of a medical doctor Dr. Luke was. We probably assume he was wise and competent, but we have no direct evidence for this belief. However, if we want to evaluate his ability and care as a writer, we do have enough material to form an educated opinion. The truth is (in this writer’s opinion), as a writer Dr. Luke was top of the line. He researched,[1] interviewed his sources,[2] and composed his lengthy writings[3] with thoughtfulness and care.[4] He was an accomplished writer, and his two books in the New Testament are living proof.

Luke the writer sometimes employed an economy of words that reveal incredible skill and deliberation. He knew how to structure a story. With careful arrangement and a few choice words he could paint a vivid scene.

The story of Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and ending up in a stable is certainly written this way. Dr. Luke does not describe Bethlehem, does not describe the journey there. He simply gets them there and states that it was time for the baby to be born. He has not described a scene at all.

He writes, “He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth . . .” Luke 2:5-7a).[5]

He offers this bland reporting then finishes off this episode with two bomb-shells:

             “. . . and laid him in a manger,”

            “because there was no lodging available for them.[6] (Luke 2:7a).

We may not have (up till now) understood these as bomb-shells, but Luke’s original readers knew more than we do, and they couldn’t miss it![7]

To catch the impact of these words we have to go back to the time and the cultural practices of the day. Near eastern people, and particularly Jewish people, had very fixed cultural and societal practices (which can still be seen today). Dr. Luke knew these things, the person/people he wrote to knew these things. He was not going to state the obvious when it wasn’t necessary (and might prove a stumbling block to some).[8]  Keep reading.

The Culture of the Day

In modern times, in technological, advanced societies, we are able to plan out and arrange all the details of an upcoming trip: Plane, car, and accommodation can be booked and paid for months in advance. Wherever we go there are coffee shops, restaurants, public restrooms, and a large array of accommodations to choose from.  This was clearly not the case two millennia ago. But there were structures in place that assisted people with travel.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day prided themselves on hospitality. Their houses were built to handle an influx of guests at any time.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day also had very strong relational ties to their large extended families. They kept family trees and knew the complex interrelatedness of their families, clans and tribes. Relatives in need would always be taken in and cared for.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day also celebrated life, they valued large families, and each and every child was welcomed and celebrated. The birth of a child was a joyful and sacred event.

Joseph and Mary didn’t voluntarily choose to go to Bethlehem during Mary’s ninth month. They (and everyone else) were ordered to return to their tribal and family homes by Caesar Augustus.[9] Joseph was from a proud family line.[10] He was a direct descendant of King David, and their ancestral home was Bethlehem. When Joseph and his betrothed,[11] Mary, arrived at Bethlehem, they arrived “home.”[12] The town was literally filled with relatives.

Under normal circumstances there would have been any number of relatives who would have welcomed them with open arms. And the advanced pregnancy gave an additional reason they would be welcomed, and this little family would be celebrated. Under normal circumstances.  

So why did they end up outside the inn with money in hand hoping for a place to stay? This is the very question that Luke expected his readers to ask. Look at his deliberate ordering of information and intentional wording. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”[13] Luke 2:6-7 NIV, 1984

What is left Unsaid

There is something desperately wrong here. Bethlehem was their ancestral home. It was filled with relatives, direct relatives, some were immediate relatives. Yet no one opened their door to them. No one welcomed them and their soon-to-be-born baby. Something was desperately wrong.

Here is Joseph taking his wife fiancée with him to his brother’s house, “please my brother, you see my wife fiancée is in great need, can you give us a corner of a room?” and the brother snorts, shakes his head, and briskly shuts the door.

Then there is Joseph going to his favorite aunt’s house, “we are so sorry to inconvenience you, aunty, but could we have a place to stay?”  And the aunt, with tears in her eyes, slowly closes the door and says softly, “sorry, I want to, but they won’t let me.”

Why did Joseph and Mary go to the inn with money in their hands hoping to find a place to sleep? Because every last relative in Bethlehem rejected them. No one offered a place to stay. They were resigned to let Mary have her baby outside in the elements. This is shocking!

Note this: Jesus was an unwelcome addition to the Davidic clan.[14] His own uncles and aunts and cousins and even grandparents did not rejoice at his birth. Why? Because whenever people looked at Joseph and Mary the word that came to their minds was a horrible one, “fornication.”[15]

No one in Bethlehem or anywhere in Israel was ready to believe any story about a virgin birth,[16] preposterous! This pregnancy was a scandal among a proud, devoted, judgmental people.

The impact of Luke’s account was not that there was no room for them at the inn, but that they were forced to check out the inn at all!

Jesus’ parents were outcasts among their own people, shunned, despised, hated. They would have been alone that night[17] if it were not for the host of angels announcing the special birth to shepherds on the hillsides. The shepherds came and gladly witnessed God’s greatest miracle.[18]

The Apostle John said it well, “He came to his own, yet his own people did not receive him.” John 1:11.CSB


[1] Luke 1:3.

[2] The detail he includes about Zechariah and Elisabeth and Mary and … must have come from detailed interviews.

[3] His books are the two longest in the New Testament.

[4] An example is given in this chapter, but they are all through. He also used the most expressive and varied vocabulary in all the Greek New Testament.

[5] The translation used here is NLT 2nd ed., 2004.

[6] The use of the word “lodging” in the NLT is a very good choice. KJV uses “inn”, as does GWT and earlier additions of NIV, and this has made it into all the Christmas performances. Another good choice is “guest room”, used in NIV and CSB. Houses were built with hospitality in mind, and it was every-day practice to take in relatives who are travelling.

[7] The insights in this chapter are not something I can take credit for. I would never in all my life observed and figured it out on my own. I am so grateful for a timely visit by Dr. John Hitchen of New Zealand during which we discussed many things including the kernel content of this chapter. I asked him if this is something he discovered himself or has he seen it written somewhere. He said he can’t remember seeing it anywhere in print. I told him on the spot that if I ever put it in print myself I would give credit to him as my source. So thank you, Dr. Hitchen.

[8] Dr. Luke uses tact here. He didn’t need to add extra words that might offend some of the line of David and possibly drive them away.

[9] Luke 2:1-3.

[10] It is commonly believed that Mary was also from the Davidic line. But what is the evidence for this? Contrary to this belief, we do know that she had a “close relative” who was from a completely different line, the line of Aaron (Luke 1:5, 36). 

[11] In modern language, the word “betrothed” gets switched out to our word “engaged.” These are similar but not synonymous arrangements. This is explained below.

[12] Even if they were born and raised elsewhere, their ancestral home is always “home.”

[13]  Normal narrative would have put the inn-search well ahead of the manger and birth. But by putting the inn-search at the end, it opens a pandora’s box to consider. [FYI, newer editions of NIV dropped the word “inn” and replaced it with “guest room”, but the point is still the same.].

[14] This explains Mathew’s genealogy. He hangs out the Davidic line’s “dirty laundry” for all to see. They should be ashamed to have rejected God’s chosen Deliverer.

[15] In modern language, the word “betrothed” gets switched out to our word “engaged.” These are similar but not synonymous arrangements. A betrothal is a legal agreement between two families (Individuals didn’t act alone, families were always involved.) Betrothal gave them (the families) about a year to prepare for the wedding. There was to be no sexual activity before or during the betrothal period. All Israelis’ were expected to marry as virgins. Deuteronomy 22:13-29 states very strict guidelines. Mary’s pregnancy caused a dilemma for Joseph and his extended family. They would have put pressure on him to report her as violating the betrothal, otherwise he himself will look like a guilty party. Mat. 1:19 shows he decided to break the legal agreement in as quiet a manner as possible [The Torah actually calls for the death penalty (Deu. 22:20-21), but under Roman rule this could not be done]. This was before the Lord told him to do otherwise Mat. 1:20-21. They then lived as an unmarried couple, or “too early” married couple from that point on. This was a serious violation of social and religious expectations, and a direct cause for being shunned.

[16] Except Elizabeth, Luke 1:42,43.

[17] It is very likely that midwives were present to assist with the birth. This would have been done out of a sense of duty and the value of life.

[18] If we were to enter the halls of deepest and greatest theological debate to answer the question of what is the most astounding act of God in known history, I would immediately put forward the answer – “the incarnation!”

Power of the Play List

The invention of digital music centuries ago😊 is now taken for granted. But could you imagine sitting for several hour in front of a radio hoping they would play that one particular song you want to hear? So it was back in the stone ages.

Music is a powerful medium, something uniquely tied to our common humanity. A beautiful gift from our Creator. Young people have showed me how to put it to good use – build the right play list!

What does this have to do with writing? Let me explain.

I have spent a fair amount of time this last month or two building a particular play list. I am gearing up to seriously tackle my second major study/writing project that wants to become a book. My first book was assisted immeasurably by its playlist, this second book is going to need even more help, therefore it needs its own special playlist.

My daily, weekly, monthly schedule is never the same. The life of a missionary. Some occasions provide gobs of free time that I can give to writing, other times can be a circus, while some weeks I can be “power-less” at remote locations without any electricity or even a cell network.

This is all to say that research and writing gets picked up, dropped, picked up, dropped again. And for anyone who knows me, I don’t have a crystal-clear memory to be able to just “pick up where I left off.”  This where a dedicated play list can be a writer’s best friend.  The music provides a continuity, along with a whole range of emotional affects, that helps “get in the mood” and draw back the memories I need. It puts me in the “zone” to give full concentration. It energizes, uplifts, relieves the pain, and keeps one going like energizer batteries. Thank God for the gift of music!

About Relationships

Far more than rules and doctrines, The Bible is especially about RELATIONSHIPS. Our creator wants us basking in fulfilling, uplifting relationships!

“This is the life we have seen and heard. We are reporting about it to you also so that you, too, can have relationship with us. Our relationship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that we can be completely filled with joy.” 1 John 1:3-4 GWN

Who Jesus Is

The words of S. M. Lockridge say it right:

I wish I could describe Him to you, but

He’s indescribable. He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistible.

Well,
You can’t get Him out of your mind. You can’t get Him off of your hand. You can’t out live Him, And you can’t live without Him. The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him, And the grave couldn’t hold Him.

Yea!, that’s my King, that’s my King.

(See more of his message by following the link below:)

https://www.shadowmountain.org/Content/HtmlImages/Public/Documents/General/EBI/Thats%20My%20King%20-%20Do%20You%20Know%20Him.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2cAcal8tgPRm7mhlZ4m5e1GSFGwQq3eROesytSRWWet3OURGr6g2Pa424