Service, Freedom and Slavery

Passage: Matthew 6:24

6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Soul Search Essay

There is a certain level of irony in this passage as it exists in Greek. The word for serve here is from the word group for slavery – doulas.  What is ironic is that the classical Greek man valued his independence, his personal freedom as the most important thing he possessed.  To be free to a ancient Greek undergirds every conceived and executed action.  To be in a state where doulos applied to him?  That would be a horror beyond all other horrors for a Greek.  Yet, here in Greek language is a strong statement about servitude.

Does the Greek focus on freedom sound familiar?

Don’t we Americans value freedom?  For people pursuing business success, social success are we not pursuing the freedom that wealth and connections can confer; the freedom from want and need; the freedom to do as we wish; the freedom to have what we want, go where we want, be what we want?  Isn’t this the American business dream; the social “A” list dream?  Isn’t this the wall that the corporate ladder leans against; a wall of access, of power, of wealth, of acclaim?  If so, are we not the same as the classical Greek?  Yes, we are.  Ask a secular history of philosophy professor and she will say that American and European life, concepts, beliefs, and ways of thinking were born in Greece. The Grecian umbilical cord is thousands of years long.  It is also incredibly thick.

There is a second word of interest in this verse as well, although it is not Greek.  The word “money” in this translation represents the word mammon.  This is an Aramaic word not just for money, but also possessions.  A modern paraphrase might be ‘net worth and social status.’ So, what is in view here is not just a bank account, but the home, clothes, cars, and all our other possessions.  So, the challenge issued in this verse is not just about pursuing wealth.  It also is about serving possessions.

What is insurance?  It is service of and for possessions.  It is the payment of time (via wages for most of us) as money to secure future replacement of possessions.  I work a portion of time each pay period inorder to maintain possessions.  Is this not serving mammon?

What is fashion?  Is it not the use of appearance to manage others impressions and opinions.  Clothes, cars, homes are purchased in order to convey something to other humans.  We manage our appearance in service to our desires and goals. Is this not serving mammon?

What is a person “having it made?”  Is it not a label applied to someone who excels at fashioning a perspective of him or her that embodies personal freedom due to access to money, the ‘right’ possessions, along with the acceptance of other ‘made men’ and ‘made women?’  Yes, I mean this in the mafia sense; even, even as I place this label on you and me.  To be made is to prove to power holders in a group that you have such total commitment to their approach to life that you become one of the power group.  Are you not a slave to the perceptions that you spin through possessions?  Are you truly free?

Freedom is the ability, will and effort expended in following a different agenda – an alien agenda.  You can serve God.  Freedom is found in devotion to an alien agenda provided by YHWH’s love.  It is given to you each day.  Yes, this love has tasks.  It also has community.  Real community.

It is a question of values.  It is a question of access.  YHWH’s values. YHWH’s access.

Magick, Time, Fate, and Choice

Passage: Ephesians 1:4 and 2:10

1:4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. 1:5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ,….

2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

Soul Search Essay

As Paul advises churches in a city (Ephesus) that is soaked through with dependence on magick (real demonic magick, not illusion magic) he takes time to point out that the believers have work to do.  In a city where true Chrisitan disciples would legitimately feel threatened by the surrounding environment, Paul makes it clear that they were created, chosen and subsequently molded by God himself for purposes set before time existed.

The larger context in Ephesians is that Paul is speaking to people whose perception of life is heavily indoctrinated by magick practices, the religion of Artemis of the Ephesians and the certainty of hopelessness from experiencing ‘gods’ that thought little about human interests.  The supposed gods in this environment were petty, capricious, cruel and most of all needy – needing food (offerings), drink (offerings), places to sleep (temples); all provided by humans.

To tell the Ephesians that the true God, the only real God is planful, caring, and deeply involved throughout history in every individual life is very difficult for them to comprehend.  They had to go through challenges and repeated education by Paul to come to the point of understanding that magick was not needed as a bulwark against life’s injuries, insults and incapacitations.  It took time before the Ephesians burned their magick books (as the book of Acts shows).  They had to learn that YHWH’s choice of them is based in a character that is dependable, loving and deeply involved with them.

They had to learn that the being known as YHWH has a character that can be depended on everywhere, in every situation, through every trial, in every joy and in the events of every day, every single day, regardless of how hard the day is.  Why?  They had to learn, because experience in life’s inflicted pains, deep disappointments and cruel losses seem to clearly demonstrate no one greater than us cares about you and me.  Becoming a believer did not make the Ephesian’s lives magically smooth and less difficult.  Accepting Christ ‘outed them’ in a hostile environment. What was Paul’s answer to this? YHWH knows all that will happen and before time itself existed, YHWH, Jesus and the Holy Spirit moved intimately through billions of lives.  They moved through every life in Ephesus.

The Ephesians, immersed in an environment hostile to their new belief, needed to understand that they were not adrift in a storm of heartache; swimming on their own.  Paul explains that there are no surprises for YHWH.  In fact, not only does YHWH know what will happen, he, Christ and the Holy Spirit (before time even began) placed specific purposes and individual moments of eternal meaning in each life.  The Ephesians did live in storms of heartache, but the storms were not greater than YHWH.  Within these storms were specific meaning conveying moments ordained for each life; moments that brought meaning, comfort and purpose; moments where YHWH defined people and communities.  This was a radical concept for these believers in Christ who had been conditioned to believe in ‘gods’ trapped by fate.

The ‘gods’ that the Ephesians had left behind (whether they were ideas, myths, demons or whatever) were trapped in fate, because they did not transcend time.  In the Ephesians’ understanding, time and fate affected all beings.  These supposed gods battled each other and fate, but fate ultimately won.  Everyone in the Ephesian’s universe swam in the river of time.  No one could climb its banks; not even gods.  Fate was the great leveler of man and gods, because it was inescapable.  To be told that YHWH existed before time, that YHWH made decisions before time existed means that fate has no power over YHWH; that YHWH is greater and stronger than time and fate.

To also be told that YHWH, Christ and the Holy Spirit moved through each of their lives before time is to speak of breath taking intimacy and focus.  These three persons intimately moved through your life and identified things for you to do.  What are the implications of this fact?  What does this planful, loving, intimate preview of your specific life which leads to tasks, to comforts, to opportunities and to trials suggest?

You are important.

You are intimately loved.

You and your life are part of something larger than you that does not belittle you in its largeness.  It elevates you!

Trials, horrors, success and dullness in your life do not define you.  What defines you is this intimate, entwining holiness that threads through the evil times where you worry and run away.  What defines you is the deific purpose threading through the dull, barren and discouraging times where you doubt and sink inward.  Life is not about you and that is wonderful.  It is wonderful.

It is wonderful that you are God’s workmanship; the product of his loving touch, thoughtful craftsmanship and deep thought.  Your  life is both yours to choose and God created.  I do not know exactly how that is true.  I do know that YHWH’s creative involvement drives meaning into your life.  Your choices to align with his involvement lead to beauty, rightness and redemption.  These choices also offer beauty, rightness and redemption to others.

The “…good works…” that Paul speaks of are other-centered specifically, because life is not about you, but it is about us.  The “something larger” that you are part of is expressed in community.  Central to Hebraic thought is the ‘us’ foundation.  Hebrews such as Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc. thought in terms of community, nation, tribe. Central to the thought of God’s chosen people is that identity is in community, rather than in the individual.  The individual is a component of the foundational units of extended family, town, nation.  The works that were set for you to do are about knitting together an ‘us’ from threads of ‘I.’  These ‘good works’ do not bring salvation, but they do bring life.

The Hebrew language is a language of action and life, because to be part of God’s people and his Kingdom is about being alive in a very special way.  It is about experiencing the Kingdom now.  It is about friendship with the Holy Spirit.  It is about passionate life being handed by you to hurting people.  It is YHWH supplied passion and life; a passion from the true character of God that easily trumps fate, time and decay.  Grace is in the present.  Grace is present tense, because YHWH is present in all time and outside all time.

Our glory is in being present with Holy Spirit in other’s lives.  We are not conduits to others, as if we are tools.  We are present witnesses and speakers of truth.  We are participants in the spread of kingship within lives and between lives.

This spread is done at God’s direction to expand the Kingdom, to strengthen others when they are weak and to knit the expanding community of Christ together.  You are not responsible for the results in your YHWH created moments; your good works.  You are responsible to respond to directions of the Holy Spirit by acting in the us of the kingdom and in the us of an evil world.  We exist in both the community of Christ and in the community of Satan.  Our participation in YHWH’s meaningful moments is a recurring choice; in our choices within time to act on things conceived before time itself existed.  Acting with the Holy Spirit is important.  It knits.  It validates.  It creates.  It expands who and what we are – all of us.

The Good Life and the Response

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:12-13

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 5:12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

Soul Search Essay

“[You are fortunate] when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”

In the Beatitudes, Jesus has outlined important elements of the cost of discipleship. I have called these items “the Good Life” to highlight the discrepancy between what many of us Christians conceive of and live out as our good life versus what we sing about in church and what we say we do.

Unlike the modern (worldly) American concept of the “good life,” which produces interpersonally the envy of position, lust after acquisitions and affirmations of success, Jesus’ good life produces outrage among the non-believing world. The odd thing is that we as American Christians produce less outrage than Jesus did in Israel.

Yes, at the time of this writing there is increasing polarization in the  USA against Christianity as a concept and as a practice, but it is still relatively rare to see this specifically directed against individual Christians.  Yet, I hear talk among Bible-oriented Christians about fears of “persecution” in the US.  In reality, we are only at the insult level or stage for the vast majority of us.  That insult seems also generally indirect, rather than in our face.

The worldly citizens of the USA do make fun of us.  They sneer at times in our face or behind our backs.  They create TV shows that make Christians look stupid; but in our lifetimes only rarely has someone been killed in America for their faith in Jesus Christ (the “…on account of me…” part of the verse).  Yes, it happened in recent years, but it is not a trend. There has definitely been a sustained multi-decade effort to strip Christianity from the American culture.  This is blatantly true.  Also, people do lose jobs (such as professors, etc.) over their faith in Christ and/or the Bible, but they are not killed.

When we label insult and economic hardship as more than insult, when we label it persecution, we skew the reality of what Jesus, Paul, Stephen, Peter and countless others faced.  We equate discomfort and altered life paths with truly life threatening situations.  I have experienced multiple unexpected alterations to my life path.  Some where shocking.  All were painful; some pain lasted decades.  If I elevate that pain in my mind to equate with persecution’s pain, I belittle what others faced in Christ’s time and what other Christians across the world face today.

Jesus encouragement in this passage covers the range of Christian experience of human opposition from mild to deadly.  In doing this, he acknowledges that the full range of these experiences generate rewards.  To put it slightly differently, everything from insults to the death of a believer due to proclaiming Jesus in her or his actions, beliefs, thoughts and words matter.  It matters.  The insults we experience matter.  The pain of insults matter.  There is no need, however, to mislabel our experiences.  Mislabeling is a way of buying into the lie of, “This is really bad.”  No.  It is uncomfortable to very painful.  True persecution is much, much worse.  Why make this point?

To make up a word, ‘uplabeling’ our experiences decreases our proclaiming Jesus in our actions, beliefs, thoughts and words.  Uplabeling increases the power of the forces in our minds that stifle active, engaged discipleship. We empower the fear of mild or moderate conflict to the level of deathly fear.  Perhaps we do not go that far, but we seem to empower the fear enough to hesitate.  We seem to give into this fear.  So, we huddle.  We wait for the corrupt world to enter our church doors.  That makes us feel safer since we gave into assuming persecution is around the corner when in fact it is on a different continent.

Yes, evil is all around us and harms us.  Jesus, however, is speaking of human persecution of believers here.   The Kingdom is tasked with loving these persecutors.  If we give into this uplabeling?  We live not in the Kingdom of God that is breaking into this corrupt world to save those most trapped by the corruption.  We live in the “What will they think??!”and “What will they do??!” worlds; worlds we were called out of at our conversion.

Lies and fear are primary weapons of Satan.  Empowering our fears by uplabeling?  We are doing Satan’s work for him.  We are making his efforts more effective.  We have more than that.

We have a Kingdom.  We have an aggressive war of love being waged by the active, engaged disciples in this world.  We have a Conqueror leading the war.  We have a Spirit supplying resources, motivation and means for the war.

Love (agape) wins!

The Long-Sufferer (YHWH) wins!

Remember Truth and set aside fears.  Participate….