The Letters

Smile

I can imagine someone reading this letter in English might also read, speak, and understand Swahili, or Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Portuguese, Icelandic, Norwegian, Russian, Afrikaans, etc. But it is unlikely that anyone reading this would know all of those languages. Remember the story of when humanity was unified, and they (we) decided to build something great? We used bricks to make a tower and we wanted to do it without God to make a name for ourselves. That is when God separated us from one another by creating the different languages. That story of the Tower of Babel is found in Genesis 9. After that, we spoke different languages and communication with each other was more difficult, but not impossible. There was a form of communication that God did not change, and it remains pretty much universal today. This language of facial expression is literally something we are all born with. A newborn infant has no trouble letting mom and dad know when it is upset! In fact, regardless of one’s ethnicity, any human would be able to tell. Facial expressions seem to be designed into us.   

but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So, Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? (Genesis 4:5-6)

“Countenance” is understood to mean facial expression. Charles Spurgeon was credited with saying, “When you speak of Heaven, let your face light up, let it be irradiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of Hell—well, then your ordinary face will do.”

A friend of mine made this observation: In a public space when there is a baby present, most of the time the adults that are paying attention to the baby are all smiling. There is something about the innocence and purity of a baby that makes us smile. That observation reminded me of this scripture:

[Messiah] said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)

Maybe when we exhibit the innocence and humility that a baby has, God smiles at us.

There are many published studies that show how smiling and, by extension, laughter, are beneficial to us. These benefits include physical health improvements such as lowering one’s stress level, anxiety, and blood pressure, increasing one’s immune function, and improving one’s homeostasis. There are psychological benefits such as making one feel happy; this is true for both the person smiling and whoever sees the smile! Laughter and smiling also provide an outlet for emotions. There are sociological benefits; people tend to have more trust in and are more attracted to people who are smiling. There is also evidence that these benefits can come even if the smile is fake! If you force yourself to smile when you are feeling down, you will likely improve your mood and feel better.

Bright eyes gladden the heart; Good news puts fat on the bones. (Proverbs 15:30)

A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken. (Proverbs 15:13)

Dr. Paul Ekman is a psychologist who has studied facial expressions for his entire career. I learned a lot about smiles from his website. From his research, he claims there are, and has categorized, dozens of different types of smiles. Most interestingly, a genuine smile will engage two circular muscles on the face that surround each eye. Often one can tell if a smile is fake when the eyes are not “smiling.” Lately most of us have had some opportunity to experience people smiling with their mouth covered. Even while wearing a mask, a smile can be perceived, received, and enjoyed. I think maybe part of what makes a person “photogenic” is that they are able to engage these eye muscles to create an authentic looking smile. This is one way to explain how “the eyes are a window to our soul.”

The scriptures also make it clear to us that God smiles. Since we are made in his image, it would only make perfect sense that we would share, relate to, and understand His “facial” expressions:

Make Your face shine on Your servant, and teach me Your Statutes. (Psalms 119:135)

Early in the book of Numbers, God was laying out the rules for and expectations of the Levites, Aaron, and the priesthood. At the end of chapter 6, God gives Moses a blessing to deliver to Aaron:

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.‘ “So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.” (Numbers 6:22-27)

Such a Blessing it is to have God smile on you. There is another smile that I want to look at here. That is the internal smile – it is like a secret of happiness that you have. This is the smile that you can carry with you no matter what happens. I have experienced this while working hard, maybe digging a hole in the ground. My expression is concentrated, my body is feeling discomfort from the exertion, my actions are focused on the job, but my mind may have been reminded of something joyful. I think of something that pulls me away from the physical situation and I smile in my mind. I feel my heart filled with peace and an ease of existence. That is a true blessing. God smiles at me and fills my heart with gladness.

Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?” Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O LORD! You have put gladness in my heart, More than when their grain and new wine abound. (Psalms 4:6-7)

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in prison, undoubtedly cold, hungry, and beaten. But they have an internal smile and they let some of it out in the form of song! They sing in their misery. They are able to smile in their suffering! Messiah, James, David and others understood this also:

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12)

The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him. (Psalms 28:7)

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

We also would do ourselves well to understand this… Practice your internal smile, but don’t keep it inside always. It is most effective when it is freely and widely shared!

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)           

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Inclusion

When I hear the word “exclusive,” I think of luxurious resorts, private golf courses, and posh parties. When searching for synonyms of “exclusive,” I am not surprised to see words like ritzy, swank, posh, fashionable, etc. But these words are not literal synonyms, they have become associated with “exclusive” through their use and have often given that word a desirable connotation. An exclusive country club is a place where only members can play golf. And to become a member is generally quite costly. The poor “riff-raff” who cannot afford the membership fees are excluded from playing.  I might feel honored or fortunate to be invited to spend the day at an “exclusive club” like that. But, in real life, in everyday life, I am considered riff-raff, not worthy of such privilege, and excluded from the club. Exclusive really means “Excluding or tending to exclude, not allowing something else.”

Looking at the scriptures, especially the Hebrew Bible, there seems to be many examples of exclusion. Here are some references that paint a picture of an exclusive club God has set up. All of humanity, except for Noah and his family were excluded from living beyond the flood. (Gen6:7) All the descendants of Ham were excluded from God’s blessings. (Gen9:25) Ishmael was excluded from the covenant. (Gen17:20) Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were excluded from Jacob’s blessing. (Gen49:3-7) The Amalekites were excluded from life. (1Sam15:3) The Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites were excluded from the land beyond the Jordan. (Exo23:24) Even the Israelites were excluded from coming near the Tabernacle during set-up and take-down. (Num1:51) Even the “sons of the kingdom” are excluded from the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Mat8:12) The man without wedding clothes is excluded from the wedding feast. (Mat22:12) There is a lot of exclusion that we read about. One might think that getting on God’s good side, gaining His favor, receiving His promises, are reserved for the few.  In fact, that seems to be plainly declared two verses later in Mat22:

“But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he *said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14)

 So, even Messiah admits, God’s Kingdom is an exclusive place.

“Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. (Numbers 14:22-23)

This passage in Numbers is excluding people from the Promised Land. Many times, if the conditions of God’s promises are not met, the promise is not honored. This is the mechanism of a covenant.

Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.” (Genesis 17:1-2)

So, where is the inclusion? Who is included in life, in the promises, in the Kingdom? When God says “many are called, but few are chosen,” I don’t think He is telling us about what He does; He is not showing us that He chooses people. I think He is telling us about our human condition. “Few are chosen,” because few choose to turn back form their evil ways, few choose to love their neighbor as themselves, few choose to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. We can choose to be chosen. Knock and the door will be opened, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find… choose and you will be chosen.

The Assyrian empire was ruled by ruthless, violent people whose reputation for horrible atrocities was well known throughout the world at the time of Jonah. These people deserved to be excluded from anything godly. Yet, God showed His mercy and spared them after they repented. God included them in His mercy. They chose the narrow gate, they chose life.

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (Jonah 3:10)

There are two prongs to this discussion. The first is regarding our inclusion into God’s plan. I think we all who are reading this somewhat know how that goes and what we need to do. The second prong is with respect to the inclusion of others into God’s plan. Again, I think we mostly understand what is needed. But I want to emphasize here that another’s inclusion is not a decision or judgement that I can make.

Maybe you have heard the line, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” This is a gruesome mistranslation of a Latin phrase an army commander spoke to his troops during the Crusades in the year 1209. The original quote, while no less gruesome, was a direct reference to 2 Timothy 2:19 “…The Lord knows those who are His…” Given the many scriptures that hint at God’s desire for complete and total inclusion in His plan, and given the examples set by our Messiah, I feel that we should reword the quote yet again. Let us adopt the phrase, “Love them all and let God sort them out.”

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

In Luke 15:11 the story of the prodigal son begins. After leaving his family with the money and breaking all the rules, he came back home and was not excluded. Be merciful as the Father is merciful. I mentioned the “many scriptures that hint at God’s desire for inclusion.” Here is a partial list: Ezekiel 33:10-11, John 10:16, 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:32, 1 Timothy 2:3-6, Ecclesiastes 12:13 and surely you can find others. There are also many great indirect references to this idea of complete inclusion that Christ taught us through His examples. Again, here is a list: The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25) Throw the First Stone (John 8:1) Prostitutes (Luke7:36-50) Lepers (Mark 1:40) Tax Collectors (Mark 2:15-17) Children (Mark 10:13-15)

Exclusion is God’s job, not ours. Our job is inclusion. Love them all and let God sort them out.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Word

The Bible is the Word of God – not many people that I know would argue against that statement. But the Bible is not His only Word. You’ve heard the philosophical question that goes something like, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Certainly, physicists and engineers would argue that it does. But we don’t need a calculation to prove it to be true. God spoke his word into the void, and it was heard! God’s Word truly is The Most Powerful.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

We are most familiar with words being delivered as either spoken or written and we receive them by hearing or seeing. But, regardless of how the word is delivered, we don’t fully receive it until we understand it. I am confident that God has delivered words directly to me that I never received because I did not comprehend that they were, in fact, words from God. Most likely I was listening more closely to my old man, also known as distraction.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

I think I need to establish what exactly I am talking about by “receiving” and “comprehending” God’s word. I am referring to times when, for example, I read a scripture like Luke 16:9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Here, God’s word – in fact, a direct quote from Messiah – was delivered to me through the scripture; I received it, but I do not (yet) fully understand it. I know that with prayer, meditation, and studying the context, I would be able to comprehend it. And one day that will happen. Until then, that word delivered to me has little value.

And, I am also referring to times when God delivers a word to me that is not a scripture. There have been a few times when He has “spoken” to me. Sometimes I heard the word but did not comprehend it until it was too late to act. Upon reflection, I realized that God was speaking to me, prompting me to some action, and I was too slow to realize it. Other times I did hear, understand, and act. Acting on God’s word is the “goal,” but, to use a soccer analogy, recognizing it after some reflection is the “assist.” In other words, practicing our ability to identify the words God delivers to us – even if the identification comes too late – is how we draw closer to Him. Practice.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. (James 1:22-24)

Sometimes a memory of someone suddenly comes to mind for no apparent reason. That could be the Word of God speaking to you, prompting you to connect with that person. Have you ever heard a “Word” like that? Did you act on it? Were you a Doer of the Word? In connecting with that person, you very well could be the answer to a prayer that they had sent up.

What are other ways God’s word can come to us? How many ways does God speak to us? A friend of mine was recently feeling discouraged, so he decided to step into a church to hopefully “feel the presence of God.” The choir was practicing and the hymn they were singing immediately lifted him up and his discouragement evaporated. He told me, “That song was exactly what I needed to hear.”

Surely you’ve witnessed a beautiful sunset, unable to take your eyes off it. Or, the low, full sun illuminating a distant grove of trees with a contrasting blue sky.  Or the invisible song of a bird filling the space around you with a sound you could never reproduce. Undoubtedly, something in nature has grabbed your attention and caused you to stop what you were doing and acknowledge the beauty before you. In Genesis 2:9, God created trees that were beautiful to look at. Why?

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. (Psalms 19:1-3)

The rest of that psalm is so beautiful. You really should read it – right now… The Heavens are telling us of the Glory of God without using “words!” The beauty of the sky is a declaration of His great work. Is it even possible to explain to someone how great God’s creation is using just words? I think you need some graphics to help! Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words… When we experience something beautiful, is it God’s Word, declaring His glory?

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17)

Someone once pointed out to me that, of the implements making up the armor of God we are given here in Ephesians, the only offensive weapon we have is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. I always took comfort in that, knowing that having scripture written on my heart and mind are the weapon I get to use against the adversary. That was one incentive I had to read my Bible! But, I am seeing that the word is not only the scriptures. My weapon to attack the spiritual forces of wickedness is the Whole Word of God! The beauty that surrounds me, the giggle of a baby, the smell of hyacinth, the taste of honey, the warmth of a hug, a majestic waterfall, and whatever else stimulates my senses, declaring the glory of His creation, are all implements I get to use for defeating the spiritual enemy. So put on the armor of God and join the fight!

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Burden

You have likely seen a version of the classic image of a wealthy person reclining on cushions and being fed grapes by a servant. So wealthy and powerful is that person that they are able to liberate themselves of the burden of lifting their hand to feed themselves. Oh, life is so burdensome

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish, But will not even bring it back to his mouth
(Proverbs 19:24)

A little earlier in the same chapter:

Laziness casts into a deep sleep, And an idle man will suffer hunger. (Proverbs 19:15)

There are many scriptures in the Bible, and many proverbs from worldly wisdom, that warn of the troubles that come from being lazy. We know this inherently, but given the number of reminders all around us, it seems that we humans have a tendency to lean toward relaxing rather than working. We know that hard work pays off, right? But, what is the pay-off? Why work hard? Why have such a burden? Our efforts show that we accept the gift that we are given. Messiah tells us:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Is He encouraging us to be lazy? No, of course not… Every wheel carries a load, a racecar, a conveyor system, a bicycle, a toy fire truck… And every wheel has a bearing – commonly called a “ball bearing.” The ball bearing needs to be the correct size, or the wheel will fail under its load. Imagine designing an earth moving dump truck with wheel bearings from a skateboard. The wheels would probably break off before the engine was even installed. A bearing cannot carry a burden that exceeds its capability, or it will break. In a sense, we are all bearings, carrying our burden of life. And we can break.

For my iniquities are gone over my head; As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me. (Psalms 38:4)

God is merciful – thankfully. As our designer, He knows what loads we are rated for, and He provides us with a supplemental bearing for when the load gets too heavy. That is what Mat 11:28-30 is for. But remember, we need to cast our burdens on Him. This is an action verb – to cast… He won’t just take them from us without our asking. We need to own the decision and recognize our need of His assistance. And God won’t take all our burden. We are in training and need to carry what we are able – always increasing our capability.  

As we walk along our journey through this life, we need to consider and choose which burdens to carry and which to leave behind. There are burdens that are worthy of our efforts, necessary and/or beneficial. And there are worthless burdens that we carry around, reducing our capacity. If a plane is having engine trouble or running out of fuel and in danger of crashing, it will jettison (throw out) things that are not essential to lessen the load and increase capacity. We need to carry only what is beneficial toward our goal and jettison those burdens we carry that hold us back.

The burdens we carry, and the burdens that Messiah offered to relieve us from are not physical burdens. If we need to move a pile of soil to plant a garden, we will need a shovel, a wheel barrow, and some muscle. Christ is most likely not going to push the wheelbarrow for us. The burdens He will take for us are emotional, psychological, spiritual, relational burdens.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

That peace which surpasses comprehension is Christ taking on our mental burdens. And let’s be thankful that built into His system is a filter – we can cast all our mental burdens on Him and He will discard those that are worthless and carry those that are worthy. We need to fight our fleshly urge to pick them up as they are discarded. For example, I cast my prideful desire to be admired by people onto Him. He will immediately drop that burden saying, “No, this burden is worthless and Nate will not grow from it.” And inevitably, I will see it lying on the ground, pick it up, dust it off, put it in my wheel barrow, and continue along. This is the struggle that He wants us to discard. Forever. The Old Man strikes again… Beware of the Worthless Burdens you carry.

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad. (Proverbs 12:25)

So, what about the worthy burdens that we should be carrying, those burdens that are beneficial, the things that help us in the end and train us for the journey? These are the burdens we should bear with joy, enthusiastically, and with all our might, knowing that our position in Christ will be enriched and made firm by carrying them.

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. (Galatians 6:2-5)

I think the seeming contradiction in Gal 6:2-5 (“Bear one another’s burdens…each one will bear his own load”) is intending each of us to always look to help another, but to never expect another to help us. In our humility, we should talk about our blessings more than we talk about our burdens.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation. (Psalms 68:19)

Here’s some encouragement to bear the burdens that we must carry:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)

Care for each other by lifting another’s burden, cast your mental burdens on Messiah, and don’t pick up the worthless burdens that He discards for you.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Desire

There are several things that everyone desires. Some of these “universal” desires are fundamental to our being. These are the things that make for a good life. Examples of these fundamental desires are the desire to be loved, to have good health, to live in safety, that our basic needs are met. I think these fundamental desires, that every human has, are inherently good. They keep us alive. There are other very common desires, some may even be universal, that may not always be good for us. To be clear, I’m not saying they are bad, but unlike the fundamental ones, they could lead to trouble. These are things like the desire to be comfortable, to have more than I need, to be right in my thinking, to be respected by others, etc. These desires are not inherently bad, but if we put too much effort into pursuing them, we will end up going down a wrong path. For example, comfort is good – it allows us to sleep well which contributes to our health. But, pursuing comfort to an extreme will make us lazy.

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. (James 1:14)

And, certainly there are simply some desires that we have that are just plain bad. I am sure we are all familiar enough with these and are engaged daily with those battles. I see that desire is either good or bad. But, as I illustrated above with comfort as an example, there is a gradient in our level of desire that, at some point, crosses some obscure line that separates “good” from “bad.” It is our nature to always brush up against that invisible line.

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:14-15)

Have you ever felt this – what Paul is expressing here? I have – At times incredulously, I’ve asked myself, “What am I doing? – I desire to keep God’s law, yet I am fulfilling the desire of my flesh.” Why is it that we have desires that we know are bad for us, yet we fulfill them regardless? In my humanness, I have normalized the notion that becoming athletic is a long-term process that will take me months of diligent exercise. So, I can easily justify eating a bag of chips while I sit and relax. I’ll exercise tomorrow! But then I know that if I eat a whole bag of chips, my gut will not like that, and I will feel ill in an hour or two. This is not at all in line with my justification that physical fitness is such a long-term process that waiting one more day will not matter. The regretful results are mere minutes away, yet I “love” those chips and eat the whole bag anyway… Paul tells me that my struggling with such a desire is actually proof to me that I believe that God’s law is good and that I desire to keep it.

But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. (Romans 7:16-17)

Here Paul says that “sin” is what is doing the thing that is wrong, not him. I have heard people use this to justify bad behavior. Let us not fall into that trap! My “old man” is at play here – alive and shouting out commands that I often struggle to silence or ignore. Blaming my old man for poor decisions and bad behavior is accurate and truthful, but in no way creates a valid excuse for it. We are commanded to bury, drown, crucify that old man. Yet, few of us have had any success in doing so.

“…knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)

So, how can we accomplish this seemingly impossible task of killing the old man? Here’s an instruction:

“…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Renewed in the spirit of your mind. I’ve read that in another place, also:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

In Romans 7 Paul struggles deeply with this topic that we are discussing here, this topic that I struggle with too often. And I have found myself reading Paul’s struggle and feeling good about myself… Hey, if Paul couldn’t overcome it, if Paul couldn’t figure it out, then how can I be expected to? I don’t come close to Paul, so I shouldn’t even try. Chapter 7 ends with what sounds a little like Paul giving up – surrendering to the fact that his old man has some mastery over him. But the story doesn’t end with chapter 7. Thankfully, Paul wrote chapter 8! It is worthy of quoting here in its entirety, and you should read it all for its encouragement. But here is a nugget that sums it up:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)

I believe the reverse is also true – that is, those short term desires, like eating a whole bag of chips, will pale in comparison to the satisfaction we will get from accomplishing the long term goals, like having a strong, fit body. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, knowing that God loves you infinitely.

 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Be strong and courageous, be diligent in seeking Him in all things, endure to the end, desire the right things and you will be blessed. The Main Commandments are this: love God and love your neighbor – desire God above all else and all things will fall into place.

Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalms 37:4)

When you’re faced with the temptation to desire something that will take you away from God, remember that it cannot and does not compare to the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Release

I woke up with the joyful task in front of me to write this month’s letter. The title of it you may see next month; it was not going to be “Release.” This morning during my time with God, I was compelled to change the noun I had planned to write about to “release.” I am really trying to get proficient at listening and hearing and obeying God’s words to me. Some may think it odd, or even worthy of ridicule, to believe that God would speak words to me of an insignificant nature such as the topic of this letter. But, I tend to believe that He speaks to us constantly through His spirit. There was a man who was arguably the most successful man ever to live; I am convinced that He was so successful because He listened, heard, and obeyed continually. He listened and obeyed continually. He walked by the Spirit, and for Him, all things, all the time, worked out for the best. We would do ourselves well to use Him as an example in our walk.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:16-18)

I think we are many times trapped by our own thoughts. These thoughts are understandably influenced by our experiences, insecurities, imaginations, and our physical surroundings. So, there should be no surprise that we are not accustomed to hearing a guiding voice from our Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Healer, Guide – whose realm is not in the physical. But He does guide us, and he does want us to seek His guidance. Our own guiding thoughts are limiting and oftentimes they mislead us to make poor decisions.

Our God is so big and amazingly powerful that He created billions of galaxies, each of which contain billions of stars with the distances between them taking light thousands of years to travel between them. Surely you have stopped to consider how awesome God is. A champion of God that I know and respect puts it this way: “My God is so awesome, He puts hairs on the legs of ants.” And, He can break rocks with the wind:

So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Elijah was no stranger to the important job he had to do for God. And he was no stranger to hearing God’s voice, in whatever way it came to him. The prophetic writings are full of examples of God telling the profit what to do. I think this passage was written for us as an example to remind us that we need to be looking at and paying attention to everything around us, big and small, loud and quiet, bright and dim, with question and discernment. The more we do this, the better at it we get.  

One definition of the noun “release” is “an abatement of distress; a means of deliverance.” The word comes from Old French “relaissier” – to relinquish or quit. Older roots are from Latin, “relaxare” which gives us “relax.” Aside from the verb, the noun “release” is used in many ways: the release mechanism of a catapult, a press release, a letter of release that legally transfers responsibility, or an activity that provides an escape from stress. But they all have the commonality of purpose that is to allow something to change from being captive to being set free.

If we are to “walk by the Spirit,” but we are trapped by our own thoughts, our ability to listen, hear, and obey will be severely compromised. We need to find a release from that trap. No surprise that we should look to God for such a release. He’s shown a few times throughout history that He can and will provide a release from captivity. He released the Israelites from Egypt, Daniel from the lion’s den, Israel form the Philistines, Noah from the flood, David from Saul, Isaac from sacrifice, Judah from Babylon, Israel from the Midianites, Lot from Sodom, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego from the furnace, and mankind from sin.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

The great news is that our Old Man, the likely source of the trap of our own thoughts, was buried in baptism, crucified on the cross. He’s dead and we are not subject to his influence any longer. Right. Right? My faith tells me that is true, but my flesh still hears him calling to me, shouting out orders like a ship’s captain whom the mutineers tied to the mast. My old man should be dead, but he’s not. My weak flesh has kept him alive and sometimes even obeys his “orders.” We are, in a sense, captive to the old man and we need a release mechanism from that captivity. Christ is that release.

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:4-7)

At the end of 2Corinthians 6, Paul seems to give us a release from being among the unbelievers. He’s referring to Isaiah 52:10-12. But the original Greek also sounds like a release from our old man. The word for “their” (their midst) is “autos” which also means “self.” So, the scripture below could also be read as “come out from the midst of yourself…”

“Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:17-18)

We are the Ecclesia, according to Messiah in Matthew 16:18. This word, generally translated as “church,” literally means “called out ones.” Called out of what? Released from what? Released from darkness…

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9)

God’s love for us is a release from death, the wage of sin. His plan for salvation is a true gift and a miracle that we are privileged to experience. Claim it for your own, follow Him, and rejoice in your release!

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Currency

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

How much do you earn? Wages are compensation for the work you have done. Paul here in Romans is hinting that sin is the opposite of work. The compensation for sin is, likewise, the opposite of something profitable. Eternal life is the free gift of God – it is not a compensation.  Does it make sense that you cannot accept a free gift if you have collected the wages of sin… and you’re dead?

In another letter, I talked about slaves. A slave is commonly understood to be someone who is forced to work without compensation. But, technically, this is not true. A slave’s compensation is food, shelter, clothing, protection… Of course, those “compensations” are generally in such meager and minimal amounts that there is no perception of a wage. There is never any hint of abundance or even adequacy.

However, this letter is entitled “Currency.” In free societies, the wages of work is generally currency. Currency, as we know it, is understood as “money.” But the word has the same root as the “current” of a river – the condition of flowing, from the Latin “currere” which means “to run.” We work for currency, but we don’t need currency. All we really need is food, clothing, shelter, air, and water. There is another thing that we need that money cannot buy – that is love. Please hold on to that thought. Currency is a medium that allows the flow of goods and services in a society. And since we need some of those goods and services, currency is a way to get them. Certainly, we can bypass currency and barter one thing for another. I have seen people standing on the street holding a sign that says “will work for food.” With no job to earn currency, these people are hoping to trade a service for a meal.

“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” (John 6:27)

The rest of chapter 6 of John talks a lot about food, true food that comes from God. Here in verse 27, Messiah tells us that we should work for the wages that will last only until we are granted that gift of God that Paul told us about in Romans above – eternal life. But, again I will point out, wages are not necessarily currency.

In this society, we tend to measure virtually everything in terms of, or with respect to, money. In accounting, there is a concept or term called “intangible assets.” This concept assigns a monetary value to something that inherently does not have one. Things like employee morale, customer satisfaction, and advertising effectiveness are given a dollar value. The practice makes sense with respect to making financial decisions. Other terms give similar benefit to financial planning like “return on investment,” and “cost benefit analysis.” But, this monetary lens through which we view our world, where everything is monetized to some extent, comes from and leads to the same erroneous perspective where money is king. Such a perspective gives rise to the blasphemous phrase “the almighty dollar.” Sadly, this phrase does add to an accurate description of our society. Everything seems to revolve around money. We know that the dollar is not “almighty,” but we tend to give it enormous weight and attention. God knew what He was doing when he peppered the scriptures with warnings and instructions about the dangers that money has. Here’s one:

“If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.“
(1 Timothy 6:8-11)

That list overlaps a bit with the list of the fruit of the Spirit.  Could it be that the food we should work for that endures to eternal life is that fruit of the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

 So, we can work for food that leads to eternal life – and get the Godly things we need. But what about Godly currency? Is there anything that we might acquire or possess and give or distribute that facilitates the flow of Godly “goods and services?”  Is that even a thing? Is the analogy breaking down here?

I don’t believe we get “paid” for doing God’s work, but, there is a compensation for the work we do: the food that does not perish. I believe that there is also a currency that God distributes to and collects from His children. The currency is not used as wages to pay for the work we do, but it does flow. It is separate from compensation.

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go. (Isaiah 48:17)

Messiah did tell us that we would always have the poor. There is no question that some will be wealthy and some will be poor, but this is only relative to the physical aspect of life. And I don’t think this disparity between wealthy and poor was intended from the beginning. God’s creation is one of abundance. Physical abundance is what God originally intended for his children to experience and enjoy. The Garden of Eden was a place of rich abundance. Even today, if we followed His ways, that abundance would manifest itself for us to enjoy once again.

O fear the LORD, you His saints; For to those who fear Him there is no want. The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing. (Psalms 34:9-10)

And, there is a better part… Spiritual abundance is also available to us

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

The reason we get so much from Him is because of His great love for us. And, we know the greatest commandment is that we love Him and each other. (Matthew 22:36) And in 1John 3:16 we see “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” God’s love is the medium that allows for all good things to flow. The following scripture brings out the concept of Godly currency.

“…and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)

This passage sounds like a transaction to me! There is an exchange going on here – an exchange of love that mutually benefits both recipients. How does the Lord cause you to increase in love for all people? By loving you. How does He establish your heart blameless? By loving you. How do we show our love for God? By loving Him, and all other people. There is a current of love that God causes to flow. Love is the currency that we should be measuring all things by.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Tolerance

Let’s say I give you a saw and a tree branch and ask you to cut me a piece of wood 21 inches long. If you comply and hand me back the wood that you cut, how long will it be? That would depend on what type of saw I gave you, and how skilled you are at wielding that saw, and actually, how accurately the wood was measured before and after it was cut. I might say to you, “please cut me a length about 21 inches long” – that word “about” says a lot. Actually, it says, not very much. If I need that branch for firewood, then pretty much whatever you give back to me will work fine and “about” is an appropriate instruction. But if I need it as the 4th leg of a table, the dimensions need to be accurate so the table does not wobble. I would not want to use the word “about” to describe the length of a table leg. You might think I should ask for a piece “exactly” 21 inches long.  But technically, that is not possible. There will always be some deviation from the target and some error in the measuring device. But thankfully, the length of the table leg can tolerate a certain error and still not wobble. If the table leg is within a 1/16 inch of the target, it will probably work fine.  The leg can tolerate 1/16 inch of error. If the firewood is within a few inches, it will still burn, but if it is too long, it will hang outside the fire pit and could be dangerous. So, the firewood should have a higher, or looser tolerance.  A low (or tight) tolerance is nice, but more difficult to achieve. Generally speaking, maximizing the tolerance is a goal; a high (or loose) tolerance may be easier to achieve, but if it is too loose, the function will suffer. Determining the proper tolerance range for a given situation is important.

Tolerance is not only applied to table legs, firewood, and physical things. Some tolerances we simply accept and don’t think about much. Consider your personal tolerance for pain. The ability to tolerate more pain might be a good thing. Some argue that you can increase your tolerance to pain through mental exercise and meditation. But, if your tolerance of pain is too high, you may suffer serious injury without knowing and ignore it. What might feel like a little scratch could require stitches. There is someone I am close to who has a very low tolerance for bad smells, but personally, I do not. I will notice the smell and I can categorize it as “bad,” but I can live with it more easily. I know someone that is pretty much universally considered “annoying.” And some people will avoid being near that person at all costs. Others seem to be friends with them – someone actually married that annoying person! What a great thing to have – a high tolerance for annoying people. There are so many things in life that we have a tolerance for – noise, tickling, temperature, bright sunlight, out of tune pianos, crooked pictures hanging on the wall, messy rooms, violence, hatred, lying…

What about sin? What is your tolerance for sin? We all have an inherent tolerance for “bending the rules.” A common example of that is (not) driving at the speed limit. Are you comfortable driving 5 or 10 miles per hour over the limit? We would like the table leg to be perfectly straight and have the exact length, but tolerance eases the burden and makes way for “straight enough and long enough.”

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

How far away from perfect is “good enough” when we talk of perfectly imitating Messiah?

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; (1 Peter 2:21-23)

We are told to “be perfect” and to “follow in His steps, who committed no sin…” If the boss said “cut me a piece of wood exactly 21 inches long,” would you argue with him and say “technically, that’s impossible…”? Or would you get out the good saw and triple check your measurement and carefully make the best cut you possibly can make? I would choose the second choice – and Hope that my accuracy fell within the boss’ tolerance.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)

God does not specify a tolerance that we must meet in our perfection because God does not have a tolerance range that is acceptable. There is no “good enough.” He needs the leg to be exactly 21 inches long.  Exactly.

Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they? (Habakkuk 1:13)

But, before we argue with “technically, that’s not possible…” or say “that’s too hard, I’m not even going to try…” let’s consider some amazingly wonderful facts. If I cut the table leg too short, it will likely end up in the pile of firewood. Unless, the boss is a highly skilled carpenter and can fabricate a spacer, or a shim, to make up for the short leg! The above scripture in Romans continues:

being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:24)

In attempting to hit an exact length, we will always end up cutting the table leg too short, but God’s gift of redemption can keep the short leg out of the firewood pile.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

We need to get out the good saw, triple check our measurements and carefully make the best cut we can.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

We need to make that cut again and again and again, improving our skill and accuracy.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.        (Galatians 6:9)

We need to seek out the advice and instruction of others who have more experience.

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.      (Proverbs 11:14)

As the Master Craftsman, God does specify a zero tolerance. Even though our efforts will fall short of that standard, He will still make a beautiful, sturdy table. As His apprentice, however, we should exercise humility and patience, effectively loosening our own tolerances.  Ironically, by doing this, we will get closer to achieving the required perfection we strive for.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Charity

Some time ago, I was working in the city and took the train to get there. One day there was a snowstorm and all the evening trains were severely delayed. My train was so late, that it left after the scheduled time for the following train to leave. So, there were about twice as many people as normal wanting to get on that train. The aisles were packed solid with tired, wet, standing passengers. And, what was scheduled to be an express train, was changed to a local train, making stops at every station. Adding to that, delays due to the weather turned what was normally an hour ride into a very uncomfortable 2 hour and 15 minute commute.  Well into the trip, the crowd thinned enough so that most people could enjoy their own seat. That relief was quite welcomed by all. From my seat at the front of the car, I looked back and saw that nearly all the seats had one occupant; most of them were sitting sideways with their feet up on the seat. It was striking to see so many pairs of dirty, wet boots carelessly resting on the seats where commuters were sitting just minutes ago. On that train, I was obviously in the minority thinking such behavior was not right. Maybe the passengers just figured that the seats would be cleaned before the next morning’s commuters would need to sit there. They were not considering the riders that might want a seat before the cleaning crew did their job. Nor were they considering the extra work they were creating for the cleaning crew. In my mind, they were being inconsiderate. They were self-serving.

And another thing… My daughter stays up later than I do and frequently she will close a door in the house loudly enough to wake me up. And my son and I are usually the first people in the house to wake up on the weekends. I regularly I need to remind him to walk softly and consider the others who are still sleeping. Come on people, let’s be considerate of others! Yes, I know, I know, I need to take the log out of my own eye here. Surely my habits are inconsiderate of others at times.

Wait. What does all of this have to do with charity? Today, we equate “charity” with “giving to the poor.” But the word means more than that. We get the word from the Latin “caritatum,” which also is translated as “affection” or “love.” This was used many times to translate the Greek “agape” in the oldest English translations of the scriptures to distinguish it from the other Greek words for love, “phileo” and “eros.”

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have {love, charity, agape} it profits me nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:3)

Here we see that “giving to the poor” is not necessarily an example of “charity.” Today, one could give lots of money to charity, and not be exhibiting any true charity. Know what I mean?

So, what about muddy boots on train seats, slamming doors at night, and stomping feet in the morning? Those are examples of annoying, “non-charitable,” behaviors. But there are more troublesome and dangerous examples that have potentially dire consequences. There is a story in 1Samuel 25 where Nabal is inconsiderate of David and his request for some food for his men. Nabal is self-serving and refuses to help. Even with the benevolent intervention of his wife, Abigail, he does not fare well in the end. If you want to be charitable in this life, please use the story of Nabal as a bad example to follow.

Nabal’s example of how not to exhibit charity is an extreme case. Denying the direct request for support from a righteous man of God is a poor decision. If there were some “spectrum of charity” that rated how good an act was, this might not even register. It might measure below zero. Certainly, we are smarter than that and would never be so boldly callous. Remember my whining about people putting their dirty boots on a train seat? Where does that fall on the “spectrum?” Is there a spectrum of charity that we can measure up to? Are we judged according to how good our charity is? My answer is that it should not matter to us. Certainly, some sins are worse than others, and some charitable acts are better than others. If Messiah died to take all the sin away, regardless of the severity, is there a better reward for more benevolent acts of charity? 1 Corinthians chapter 3 might hint at that, but I do not think so. Without being explicitly told in the scriptures, this is surely a good question to meditate on.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. (James 2:10)

We should always be considering our actions and words from the perspective of how they will affect others – and this only works if we do so before committing. (you cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube!) You have probably heard the phrase “perception is reality.” Whatever the other person perceives your intention to be is what they will believe to be true, regardless of your actual intention. Here is some good advice that is rarely followed: “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance.” Many times, we tend to perceive what others do as malicious. But the reality is that many people just are not considering how their actions will be perceived. They are likely operating out of ignorance. Please remember that we are always on either one side of this exchange or the other. We are either (potentially) causing one to stumble due to our actions, or we are (potentially) stumbling over another’s actions.

For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So, then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (Romans 14:18-19)

Knowing, understanding, considering, and committing God’s will over our own self will is one element of success that we need to be striving for. A second element that would serve us well is considering and understanding another’s motive or intent before judging them or reacting. If we are feeling offended by something, first consider whether that action was committed out of either malice or ignorance. Regardless of the answer, we are instructed to forgive the offense; would you agree that forgiving ignorance is easier than forgiving malice? For us, yes – but for God, probably not.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Messiah walked with perfect compassion toward others – all others, not just the “church.” And, we are called to be imitators of Him.  Our compassion and consideration and effort to not offend should be broadcast to all who we encounter. We are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the example of His love.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

Could there be a better, more effective method to preach the gospel to another than to show compassion and charity to them through all our actions and words? To the extent that you did this to one of His children, you did it to Him.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
(Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Service

The service industry is a huge part of any modern economy, where workers are paid a wage for the service they perform, for something they “do” versus something they “make.” In fact, in modern times, the service industry is generally the largest economic sector of any country. But the English word originates from Latin “servus” and “servitium” which both mean “slave” and do not make provision in their definitions for any form of payment. Today we tend to draw a clear distinction between servant and slave, and I can think of at least two elements that define the difference. I already mentioned payment, or some type of desired compensation, which is absent from the position of slave. The other element is consent – or agreement to the arrangement. Surely there are no modern slaves that are such by choice. But, the seemingly unimaginable concept of voluntarily being a slave to someone is not unheard of in ancient times. The New American Standard translation uses the term “bond-servant” to describe the idea of being a voluntary slave to God. This is translated from the Greek word “doulos” (Strong’s G1401) which includes the ideas of both voluntary and forced enslavement. Maybe there could be a benefit to us today in learning about ancient Hebrew and Greek cultures and how or why people might agree to become a slave. Perhaps it is the idea of having humility toward and honor for one greater than oneself. Or, it could be that voluntary enslavement is better than starving to death? More research is needed on my part; please feel free to help out with that if you have any insight.

So, what about those bond-servants in the New Testament? Most of those references use the term to describe an individual: Paul, James, Simon Peter, Epaphras, Tychicus, Jude, Moses… But, in the second chapter of 2Timothy, Paul encourages Timothy, and us I think, to be voluntary bond-servants or slaves to God. He uses examples of a soldier, a farmer, and an athlete, as people who are willing to sacrifice and endure for a greater good. Our service to God is a necessary act if we are to be considered followers and children of His. So, how do we serve God?

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. “You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. (Luke 7:44-46)

In John 13, we see Messiah doing the same for His disciples as an example of how to serve, but washing someone’s feet is not so much a useful or appreciated service for anyone today; it is more of a symbol of true, physical servitude. That symbol leads us to humility toward others, providing for their needs without pride or concern for self. Selfless giving is true sacrifice.

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

This passage tells us that our physical service to God is perfectly reflected in our service to our neighbor. So, voluntarily being enslaved to God, which is something that many of us could align with and agree to, is in some respects the same as enslaving ourselves to another human. Sure, that is a stretch, but if I consider this idea using the ancient definition of slavery discussed above, I can start to imagine that as a possibility for myself. Through my desire to serve God, I will freely sacrifice my time, money, or other resources to better another person’s existence, without expectation of any return.

“But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

If we are to imitate the Christ, we are to give up our life for others. That is an extreme statement, but one we should think about as we choose our actions in life. Serving others can be a way to serve God, which should be a priority for us. Remember 2 Timothy? We are called to volunteer our service to God. But, there is another service that we need to consider in life.

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” (Galatians 5:13-14)

Indeed, through love, serve one another. “Love your neighbor as yourself” could be understood as “serve your neighbor as yourself.” How do you serve yourself? How SHOULD you serve yourself?

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Serving the flesh is obviously not a good idea. If your flesh is anything like mine, serving it will certainly get you into trouble. No, when you serve yourself, you need to focus on the good things – those things that will draw you closer to God. Serve yourself the things that will benefit you. Serve yourself healthy things. Serve yourself food that sustains.

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David.
(Isaiah 55:1-3)

Listen to God, that you may live. Feed on good things. Enjoy the fruit of the Spirit. Crucify the deeds of the flesh. If you serve yourself in the right way, your desire will become to serve others, thereby serving God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24)

In Romans chapter 13:12, Paul tells us to “put on the armor of light” and then to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” And, one more reference to Galatians, this time 5:16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Isaiah said above, “Listen to God, that you may live.” God does speak to us in many ways, but the most direct and easiest to discern is through the scriptures. Investing some of your valuable time every day in His Word will draw you closer to Him, guiding you to walk by the Spirit.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
(Colossians 3:2)   

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

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