This past Christmas, Janet and I focused on others in the family and decided that we would limit what we gave to each other. Frankly, we are at that point in our lives when we pretty much get whatever we want whenever we want it and we derive much more enjoyment from giving to charities and watching our kids flourish.
When push came to shove this past December, I finally told Janet that there was one gift that I thought we could give each other – I thought we would both enjoy it. It turns out that I was right!
We agreed to subscribe to a company called Letterjoy. Although I have heard of it before, this was the first time that I really had a yearning to try it out. The concept is pretty simple – well, maybe not to our younger generations. You subscribe to a service that actually locates interesting letters from history and then sends them to you – by snail mail. They are handwritten by the original authors or typed on old fashioned typewriters. Each week for a year, we will receive another historical letter from important events in U.S. history.
Last week, our first week receiving a letter, we were treated to a front row seat involving Wilbur and Orville Wright as the drama surrounding a crash of their airplane came alive on the pages of the letter. It was awesome. This week, although we haven’t read it yet, I took a quick peek and there is a letter detailing the Hindenburg disaster! How interesting is that!
If you aren’t a history buff (like we are), you can subscribe to a scientific series of notes – or even letters from famous authors and other writers and poets from the past. There is even a military category if you prefer than genre. Whatever you get, I promise that it will be interesting. And remember, these are actual letters written by and sent to people who were a part of our well known history.
So we anxiously await each week’s delivery, complete with a real stamp! Just like the old days! Long before the time of cell phones or email, or even voicemail. It takes us back to our childhood – and before.
When we received our first letter, I couldn’t help but be transported back to Dr. Branine’s classes in seminary. As we studied the Bible in depth, we were taught that Paul, Peter and a number of other authors actually wrote epistles, or letters, sent to individuals or churches. Many times these epistles were informative, educational, instructive or even carried a tone of admonition or correction. Biblically, Paul was the master of letter writing but all the letters are of value to us as Christians today.
My favorite letters are what are referred to as personal epistles. These are letters that were written to individuals such as Timothy or Jude. My favorite one is to Philemon, a friend of Paul’s whose servant, Onesimus, was a runaway slave and aided Paul while he was in prison. Paul led Onesimus to Christ and this short letter is full of great biblical insights.
Regardless of what epistle you might land on to read, we were taught in seminary that there are two distinct ways to approach the study of these letters. Dr. Branine made it clear to us that to get the most out of the author’s intent, you had to imagine yourself looking over the shoulder of the author while the letter was being written. Or… you had to imagine yourself looking over the shoulder of the recipient of the letter as it was opened and read. You had to pick a side – you couldn’t stand in the middle and analyze both sides at the same time.
To drive this point home, I actually did a sermon on the letter to Philemon as a guest pastor at a church north of us. As each person entered the sanctuary, they received an envelope with the letter tucked away inside. Thankfully, it was a big hit with the congregation and it was a terrific learning experience.
Personally, I really enjoy leaning over the shoulder of the recipient as the letters are being read and this is the approach we have taken with our Letterjoy experience. Of course, if you want a different slant on things, read the letter a second time from the other point of view, reading as the letter is being written, imagining leaning over the shoulder of the author.
Tonight’s verse comes from the book of Philemon, a single chapter letter from Paul to his dear friend, Philemon, detailing the fact that during Paul’s imprisonment, Onesimus, a runaway slave, has assisted Paul and during this time, Onesimus has become a believer in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ. Paul even refers to Onesimus as his son. Part of Paul’s opening is so soft and tender that it must be studied.
Paul tells Philemon in verses 4-7, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”
My encouragement this evening is that most, if not all, of us enjoy receiving a letter. The Bible offers a great number of letters that we can read and receive as part of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. My prayer is that you will rejoice when you read, or write, letters to others – particularly encouraging people in their faith and their walk with the Lord. And who knows, you may even enjoy receiving letters from Letterjoy. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…