ONE SHOULD WORSHIP GOD ALONE . . . Not what is “awesome”

Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Reference: Revelation 19:9-10 [Emphasis mine] )

There are some things in this live that are pretty wonderful. All sorts of things on a long continuum of life experiences. For myself chocolate of most any kind (dark especially), hugs from friends and family, sleep, and a cooling breeze are things I could almost worship. For others it is financial resources, furniture, jewelry, and cars. Still others have other things that they place on a figurative or literal altar. The writer of Revelation was probably closer than most in trying to worship something truly worthwhile, an angel. But the only thing that should be worship is God.

Now we may put things high on our priority list, and that is a sort of worship. But I do not think my chocolate or someone else’s diamond necklace should take priority over compassion, mercy etc. It is okay to really like those things, but if the pursuit of those things and authentic Christian living conflict, you know what has to go. And this should be even more abundantly clear when we talk about our relationship with others – although I am very willing to share my chocolate!

The historic Anabaptist for today focused on a different portion of this passage than I did. His focus was hearing and having faith in the true words of God. Jelis Strings wrote, “Behold, dear friend, if we hear His word, and keep it well in our hearts, we are entitled to all these promises of blessedness; for it is the true food of the soul, by which all Christians must be fed, if they are to live; for Christ says that man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Matt. 4:4. Yea, as the prophet Jeremiah says, in the 15th chapter, verse 16: “Lord, thy word sustains me, since I have obtained it; and thy word is the comfort and joy of my heart.” Solomon, also, says: “Every word of God is pure, and they are a shield unto them that put their trust therein.” Prov. 30:5. Therefore, dear friends, let us always put our trust in God’s Word; it will not deceive us; for John says: These sayings of God are true; heaven and earth shall pass away, but the words of God shall not pass away. Rev. 19:9. O dear friends, let us heed it well, for it is what will judge us in the last day . . .”

In looking at what I wrote five years ago I discovered I had focused on the same portion of this passage, where the angel rooted his identity in being a fellow believer. In “Fellow Servants” I said that we stand in a long line of believers spanning back to the disciples of Christ, and we have all worshiped God together be in through scripted liturgies and litanies, or praise chorus and hosannas. Authentic Christians focus their prayer, praise, and worship on God; and that unifies us all as fellow believers. May your belief hold strong beloved as we all worship God together. Selah!

ONE SHOULD WORSHIP GOD ALONE . . . It’s not that hard!

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” (Reference: Revelation 14:9-12 )

Perhaps it is because I myself am worn out, but I can almost feel sorry “for those who worship the beast and his image”, and those who have received “the mark of his name” having “no rest day or night”. I am tired out and am already thinking longingly of sleep, how must it be to get no rest but to worship endlessly and relentlessly something that we never do anything for you or intercede for you, but actually seeks your harm and destruction!

But then I am not sure I am capable of “patient endurance.” I am not really sure what that means – unless it means putting up with the beast roaming around unchecked, the image of the beast popping up all over, and those with the mark of the beast generally being “beastly.”

Maybe Menno Simons’ patience was being tried when he wrote “Behold, such an unbelieving, impenitent, tyrannical, idolatrous, contrary, disobedient, blind, carnal people are they who imagine that they are the believing church and the real and lawful bride of Christ. These poor children do not notice that all under heaven is spoiled, even as the prophet complains that there is not truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying and killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break out and blood toucheth blood. Hos. 4:1,2. The world, says John, lieth in wickedness.”

It could be something as simple as obeying God’s commandments and being faithful to Jesus. If that is the case, I can do that no matter how worn out and tired I am. May you beloved patiently endure until the time God and Christ return putting an end to the “beast” and those who follow and worship the “beast.” Selah!

ONE SHOULD WORSHIP GOD ALONE . . . And hold on to hope

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth–to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Reference: Revelation 14:6-7 )

Albert Barnes says (amongst other things), “The design of this portion of the chapter Revelation 14:6-7, also, was to comfort those to whom the book was addressed, and in the same way to comfort the church in all the persecution and opposition which the truth would encounter. The ground of consolation then was, that a time was predicted when the “everlasting gospel” would be made to fly speedily through the earth, and when it would be announced that a final judgment had come upon the anti-Christian power which had prevented its being before diffused over the face of the world. The same ground of encouragement and consolation exists now, and the more so as we see the day approaching; and in all times of despondency we should allow our hearts to be cheered as we see that great anti-Christian power waning, and as we see evidence that the way is thus preparing for the rapid and universal diffusion of the pure gospel of Christ.”

Historic Anabaptist Adrian Corneliss (who died in 1552) wrote (in part), “Hence, faint not at the tribulation in which we are, but adhere to the Lord, and the tempest will soon attack you; but, my dear friends, remember, as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ, since eye hath not seen, nor ear hear, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. Eph. 3:13; Matt. 7:25; 2 Cor. 1:5; 1 Cor. 2:9.”

Remember beloved, Barnes comes some 250 to 300 years later than the historic Anabaptists. And where they has but learning in biblical scholarship that came naturally to them, Barnes had devoted years of education and study to. And Barnes was not persecuted or oppressed for his beliefs and scholarship, but was recognized and appreciated. And yet there is a common theme that weaves its way through both commentaries. What Corneliss hoped for himself and his fellow believers, Barnes states is for all believers. That hope should not be abandoned, but held onto. And that while we may be in tough times now, there will be a time when faith will be fulfilled and rewarded.

It is a legacy passed on from generation to generation that belief and worship of God alone should be maintained no matter what may come. So we hold on to hope and true belief and worship. It seems to me though that as each succeeding generation grows into faith, it is harder to hold on to hope. The historic Anabaptists held on in opposition to their persecution. Barnes’ generation held on as scholarly understandings deepened, Christianity was spreading, and there was a growing conviction that Christ’s return would be realized. But in 2014 we are still holding on. And the Christianity that was known in Barnes’ time is splintering into diverse groups of believers. Yet somehow we must hold on to hope and faithful worship. May your faith in the one God and the hope that our Lord gives to us be renewed afresh each day. Selah!

ONE SHOULD WORSHIP GOD ALONE . . . Well, duh! Of course!

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”  (Reference: Matthew 4:8-11 )

I have always thought this third temptation of Christ was pretty lame. Did the devil not know who he was talking to? I mean really! Tempting Christ with kingdoms of the earth and splendor when Christ through God made creation and will endure beyond any kingdom on earth?! You notice the Christ Jesus did not respond on the temptation but reminded the devil that you are only supposed to worship God. Personally, I don’t think Jesus was very tempted.

May favorite part of this passage is that the angels “came and attended him.” That is the part I would like to happen to me. Historic Anabaptist Pieter Bruynen van Weert speaks in part [I have put in bold that portion] to this desire when he says “. . . dear brethren, be valiant and fearless, and walk with a firm and unchanging faith before God and His church, and firmly resolve, not to depart from the Lord, nor to separate from His love, on account of any distress or tribulation; and He can give you assistance and comfort, when you are forsaken, being deprived of all human help and consolation; for He comes to the help of him that forsakes and denies himself, since He dwells and will dwell alone in the hearts of men, and will not have it that we should serve any one but Him. Matt. 4:10. Thus, be established and built up in Him, and let love increase among you, whereby one sustains the other, and each joyfully endeavors to be the chiefest in virtue.

I don’t know about beloved, but I would willingly exclusively serve the God who endures beyond all things on the earth, and who sends angels to minister to those in need. In fact, God sends the God-self in the form of the Spirit to attend to the needs of those who have place God above and in place of all other things. Why would we serve and worship anything than the authentic God?! Duh! (And selah!)

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . Final closing words

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (Reference: 1 John 5:18-21 )

It occurred to be beloved that what I posted for this day and for this verse says very little about the verse itself except for the very last bit, about idols. Before I read what the historic Anabaptist writers (for it was a group and not an individual) wrote, I was going to make a “call and response” (if you do not know what that is . . . well, maybe you better just ask me in a comment) out of this passage. But then I got on to a different line of thought. But I did not want to just walk away from this verse.

The writer of 1 John wants us to know that being born of God means that sin cannot and should not have a part of our lives. It is a wonderful hope . . . and a good exhortation, but not always the way it is. But being children of God we can learn a different way of living, and that God’s own Holy Spirit will guide us in that way. We do not need to fear that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” because we need not be under the evil one’s control. And that we can know what is true and false, fleeing the false and embracing Truth.

And I think that is what avoiding idolatry is all about – knowing what is false and what is true. Worshiping in truth and only the Truth. And leaving completely alone what is false. Easier said than done. But it has been said by God, and God’s will is to be done on earth as God’s will rules heaven. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . The separation of religion and art

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (Reference: 1 John 5:18-21 )

The historic Anabaptists who were captured and taken to the Italian port of Trieste wrote, you shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only (Deut. 6:4; Matt. 4:10). He is the true God and eternal life. Children, beware of the adoration of images (1 John 5:21)! Keep watch over your hearts! You saw signs of God on the day when he spoke to you out of the fire (Deut. 4:12) so that you should not become perverted and make an image like man or woman or an animal on the earth or bird in the air. There is your witness that God, who is the only God, desires that he alone is to be honoured, worshipped, and served. The whole Scripture is full of this testimony. These texts clearly reject, destroy, and condemn all idolatry, specifically all wooden, stone, golden, waxen, bread idols, frescoes, and carvings of images by all of which God is robbed of his honour. All such things are excluded in this commandment of God.”

Artistry and historic Anabaptism have had a long and difficult history and relationship. One would have to be so careful not to let your art work be constrained as worship of God. However, Anabaptists/Mennonites found ways to be artist without taking the chance of making images that would take the place of God’s presence in their lives. If you have ever seen a quilt made by some Anabaptist/Mennonite women or seen tools or furniture designed and made (especially wooden items) by Anabaptist/Mennonite men, you would know the yen to create and make beauty is alive and well. But as I said, care had to be taken. Few if any quilts will have images of any bird or animal. They are designs and shapes that cannot be misconstrued as replicas of things in our world. The same with tools and furniture; all basic utilitarian items that are used in every day life without representing any image found in nature. The craftsmanship and skill is evident in each piece.

Using pieces of art work in worship has made a slow come back, and only in ways that direct one’s attention to God instead of the image in the piece of art work itself. On Oct 14th I wrote very briefly about seeing the inside of an ornate Catholic church for the first time. I was entranced by the statutes and pictures on the walls, the silver and gold items scattered around the church, and the lushness of the seating. I could have wandered around there for ever. Was it perversion I wondered to have all these things in one place? It seemed to me like the type of place God would live in, just as well as our plain church with nothing on the walls and wooden benches with thin carpeting. Nothing adorned the church except maybe at Christmas, and even then in only a limited way.

I wondered if these things “robbed” God of the Lord’s honor. Or was it perhaps we who dishonored God by refusing the magnificence that evidently was available. Images have power. And beloved, the inside of the church I grew up in therefore had very little power but great austerity and strictness.

In contrast to this, in seminary we were specifically taught how to bring art back into worship. As I remember back, there was less instruction about HOW to bring it into worship than there was the emphasis that it was okay to have it in worship. It was like, in a sense, being given a new toy but not told how it works.

And I hold these two things in my mind; the plainness of the church I grew up in and the rush to re-place art back into worship. And the conclusion I come to is this; God is more powerful than any piece of art, be they “wooden, stone, golden, waxen, bread idols, frescoes, and carvings of images.” I do not think God fears art in worship, but neither do I think the Lord demands it. I think if we approach worship with proper parts of love, reverence, and fear – God will welcome us and whatever we bring. Selah!

IDOLATROUSNESS . . . When it hurts!

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” (Reference: 1 Peter 4:1-3 )

I can not get past the first sentence of this verse. It just does not resonate with me. I think it is because I am a person who has suffered in my body – not as Christ suffered because the implication is that Christ suffered unto death. And once I get past that first sentence, the meaning of the passage becomes clear. But that first verse just holds me up.

So I sat with it until I saw my way through it. And really, once I sat with it I could see how it can apply to me, and perhaps to others that suffer bodily. We (meaning those that suffer from bodily ailments) can get so consumed by our suffering that we can see little else. Our suffering so overwhelms up and takes over our lives that we allow that to pus away Christian considerations.

Now before you get all heated up and take to me task, just listen! When we suffer bodily (or even emotional/psychological suffering) we CAN tend to make that our focus. Our world (because of our pain) revolves around us and we just can’t/won’t see anything else. Everything becomes in service to our pain, alleviating our pain, and (this is the big one) compensating us for our pain. We CAN tend to think that because we are in pain, God’s laws can be bent for our benefit. But that is not so! Yes, God has utter and complete compassion for our pain, suffering etc. Never doubt that! But God has the same level of compassion for everyone else. We can’t/shouldn’t slide by because of our pain and suffering. And if we “worship” our pain – that is use it to take advantage of every situation we can – that just about satisfies the criteria for idolatry!

Christ put his pain to work to save us all. Now, we can’t put our pain to work as Christ did; but what we can do is be sensitive and aware of the pain of others because we know what it is like to be in pain. And if we can spread hope and compassion to those who are in pain, because we know what pain is, then we have taken on in part the work of Christ.

We who live with pain are not likely to indulge in “debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing” and other such sins. Heck, we don’t have the physical ability too! But we know what our sins are. And God is merciful with us. More merciful than with those who are pain free? Well, . . . I don’t know the mind of the Divine but since we can wallow in God’s love and comfort I don’t think it matters (or should matter) if others wallow in it too.

I hope and pray beloved that you do not live in pain. If you do may God’s blessing be upon you and lift you up. And may you look forward to the day that all creation lives pain free! Selah!