HUMAN LAW . . . Honoring the parameters of God’s commandments

See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it. “ (Reference: Deuteronomy 12:32 )

In studying the Talmud Jewish scholars would be very careful not to add anything to the passages nor take away (not one letter, not one symbol) from passage. But studying and understanding it, discerning what it meant, they did will great glee and sometimes with abandon! I mention this because at times Jews remind me of historic Anabaptists. And, historic Anabaptists remind me of Jews sometimes.

Historic Anabaptist Peter Riedeman wrote, “God did not wish to have heathens in his worship services, [Exod. 12:43; Ezra 4:1-3] nor did he wish his people to learn the ceremonies of the heathen. [Deut. 12:1-3] In fact, he threatened that if they did that, he would do to them as he had intended to do to the heathen. [Num. 33:55-56] For the same reason, at the time of the apostles, unbelievers were not permitted to join the believers. [Acts 5:3-13] Paul, too, separates the faithful from the unbelievers. [Acts 19:9; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1] Accordingly, we also wish in this matter and in all things, to be worthy to receive with him the promise of the inheritance. This is possible, insofar as it is in us to follow Christ as our Master. With his help we will keep his command and covenant, not turning aside from it to the right or to the left. [Josh. 1:7; 23:6; Deut. 5:32-33; 12:32; Prov. 4:27] May he give us and all others who wholeheartedly want it, his grace to do this, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Modern Anabaptists/Mennonite also strives also to keep the boundaries of faith and Christian living clear and tidy. We had created for ourselves a faith creed/confession that outlines our commonly shared beliefs – at the time of its creation. But that was something written at least one generation ago, and this creed and confession reflects understandings that no longer the way some Mennonites practice their faith. And it has caused problems.

Humanity, no matter how hard we try not to, does add things to the bible when we read it. Jewish scholars might when they interpret scripture. The Mishnah & Midrash are the ommentaries (sort of) on the Torah that have been written over the years. But unlike Christian commentaries they are read as part of scripture reading instead of just used for study. Does this mean something is added to God’s commandments?

The historic Anabaptists added understandings when they read scripture for themselves instead of relying on religious leaders. Does that mean the historic Anabaptists added something to God’s commandments? Did the religious leaders of the established church of that time add something that should not have been? Or did they take something away that the historic Anabaptists added back in?

And what of other religious that are based on the belief of one God? Have they added or taken away from God’s commandments? Because the problem is, beloved, only the Almighty truly and clearly knows what what meant. Anabaptists/Mennonites then and now rely on the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit when trying to discern scripture. And that is a fine thing; but still, it is dependent on the discernment of human and so fallible beings.

I have no words of advise on this; no blessing that will insure that a correct and precise understanding is gained. All I can do is ask that the blessing of the Spirit be on your scriptural study and understanding. Selah!

EXCESSIVE EATING/DRINKING . . . Mixing the metaphors

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (Reference: 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 )

Do you remember, beloved, from yesterday where I talked about the use of dark/light as a metaphor for good and evil? And that the historic Anabaptist for that day did not that metaphor? There is a reason, and today’s editorial word from the editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible make note of it. They said, “Some reproached the Anabaptists for meeting in secret, as if they were committing shameful acts “in the dark,” and cited these words from 1 Thessalonians.” Dirk Philips responded to that accusation carefully explaining that the light meant is the Divine Word of God and that Word shows what is evil and what is good. Those who do evil hide from that light, knowing that God will show what shameful things they do.

It was a very unfair accusation to make because the historic Anabaptists hid their worship not because of shame but because of fear. Fear that they would be hunted down, arrested, tortured and killed! The established church of the time conveniently “forgot” that early church worshipers had to hid too. Paul-who-was-Saul hunted them down before his conversion.

The writer of 1 Thessalonians does not stop at one metaphor but uses another one that is sometimes just as confusing – putting on “armor” as a way of preparing to live a good Christian life – faith, love, and the hope of salvation are imaged as armaments that are put on to combat the darkness of drunkenness, ignorance and sin. Historic Anabaptist held peace as a tenet of faith as strongly as their other beliefs. So when they used metaphors of armor they made very clear what was meant. That it is Christian virtues that are put on to defend one from evil and sin, and to be protected by God’s power and strength.

May you beloved keep clear in your own mind what is correct and good to in your Christian journey. And may you walk in the path that is shown to us by the light of Christ’s teachings. Selah!

EXCESSIVE EATING/DRINKING . . . Making the choice

“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.” (Reference: Romans 13:13 )

You may not know it beloved, but I can be quite irreverent. Oh . . . you do know that . . . hm. Well then, you won’t be shocked if I say my very first response to this verse was, “does that mean that it is during/only during the night that people behave badly?”

I believe, beloved, you need to read this verse in context to understand it, and do avoid irreverent people such as myself from making comments.

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.” [NRSV Romans 13: 11-13]

The writer of Romans is equating the darkness of night to the lack of knowledge of Christian living; and the light of day as enlightenment and wisdom as to how to live a good Christian life. It is a well-used metaphor, but one that unfairly stigmatizes night and things that have natural dark coloring.

Historic Anabaptist, Pieter Pietersz, wrote “The Way to the City of Peace” in which he cites this verse from Romans chapter 13 but does not employ (much) the imagery of dark and light. He wrote “Therefore . . . let us constantly pray to God for a clear vision, that we may recognize these situations, with which the devil even tempted our Lord. Then there is also high living with the need for expensive clothing, and other unnecessary external glamor, with the lust of the eyes through which the poor person is led away from the love of the Father through carnal lust as drinking, indulging, impure works, as we have already discussed, Rom. 13:13. Many wants make people into slaves of sin in which they seek through false means and other practices to support their evil front and to carry out that which in the end leads to eternal damnation, Phil. 3:19. Therefore, let us gather courage in order to follow the crucified Christ for a little while, who is himself the light which shall lead us through all the struggle and temptations to the desired end in the spiritual Jerusalem, the perfect City of Peace . . .”

There are a good many things in this excerpt from his writing that I like; and since at times I have been critical of some historic Anabaptist writing I felt it only fair to say some positives. First, Pietersz acknowledges that Christ had temptations set before him – not that he gave in, but that in his human form there were attempts to pull into sin. Second, it is deliberate decisions that bring about sin, and desires beyond daily needs that are seen as sinful. Often in historic Anabaptist writing there is the sense that you cannot avoid sin. Here the sinner needs to make the choice. Third, Christ is seen as the light as opposed to activities done in the light or in the dark. And finally, that struggles and temptations come in this life despite our best intentions. It gives the sense of grace, mercy and forgiveness that is sometimes absent.

So you see beloved, I am not always irreverent!

May you beloved make good choices, and chose to follow the truest light which is Christ our Lord. Selah!

EXCESSIVE EATING/DRINKING . . . Living a balanced life

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Reference: Luke 21:34-36)

I had to look up “dissipation”. It means “the process of slowly disappearing or becoming less” or “the act of using all or a lot of money, time, etc., in a foolish way” or “behavior that shows you are interested only in pleasure, money, etc.” I don’t any of the three are something that it would be wise to do. We of course know that drunkenness is something that should be avoided. But this third item, “the anxieties of life” – the writer of Luke has Jesus advising his disciples not to be weighed down with the anxieties of life. It sounds to me like Jesus is telling his disciples to live a balance life. Not too much partying and loose living, but not too much worry and concern. Be aware of what goes on around you, but do not be caught up in the excesses that are in the world.

I could say more . . . maybe even much more, for this scripture passage has much to say. But I feel strongly that each person must find for his/her self balance in life. I cannot say for you what you should or should not do. I leave that to the Spirit to inspire and guide you. All I will say is that after a good day’s work should come some ease and comfort; and each person should spend time in communion with our Lord so that at the end of all things you might be known by our Lord God. Selah!

EXCESSIVE EATING/DRINKING . . . But how do you define “excess”?

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
(Reference: Matthew 24:37-39 )

If one were to judge the historic Anabaptists by one representative (the one who wrote on this verse), one would say the historic Anabaptists did not hold much with eating and drinking, marrying and raising families. He wrote to his daughter, “Even as Noah had warned and preached, before the flood came, so Christ preached, and caused His apostles to preach, repentance, and still causes it to be done daily, by me, unworthy one, your beloved father, and by other servants of Christ. But what does it avail them? not many repent; they remain with the great multitude; we are lightly esteemed, for we are a plain, small and unlearned people. But Christ could well foresee the hardness of the people; hence He says in the Gospel: “As it was in the days, or times, of Noah; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until Noah entered into the ark; so shall it also be in the coming of the Son of man,” that is, Jesus Christ. Matt. 24:37.”

Perhaps he meant that no one did, or does, take special not of living according to Christ’s teachings. And only concerns themselves with things of the flesh. (Shades of previous themes.) But Jesus, who the writer of Matthew is having speak, did not say this as condemnation, but as fact. Everyone was going about their ordinary lives never thinking that it would come to an abrupt end, and that judgment was swiftly coming to them. That is how it often is with life changing events. And often we do not even know they are life changing, or that they should be life changing! That is a sad thing about the Christian life – when people forget that in the midst of their eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage they should be doing it as Christians and authentic followers of God. Not that they, or we, should stop living; but that we should do it in such a manner that it reflects God’s mission for the world.

Five years ago Will Fitzgerald (the originator of this blog) posted a wonderful story based on the story of Noah. I do not know if he wrote it or found it elsewhere – my suspicion is that he did write it. It speaks to the very heart of living life and not knowing when it has changed unalterably. And it speaks to being prepared – not so much for our lives to continue as they were but to be prepared for the changes that come, and prepared for new life in the world to come. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did when I first read it five years ago and when I rediscovered it this day. Selah!

It was a day like any other day, except for the rain. We’d never seen such rain.

I woke a little early because of the sound of the rain. It was a good thing, too, I thought; the rivulet that had been running through the chicken yard had turned into something more like a river, and the rushing water was eating away at the coop’s foundations. I think if I hadn’t got there when I did, the coop would have tipped over. By the time I had shored it up, I was hungry.

I’d taken to breaking fast with my neighbor, Seth, since both our wives had died. The bread was getting a bit moldy from all the dampness, but it was edible. Seth had just returned from attending the marriage ceremony of his second daughter’s oldest son; a number of his kin from that generation were of marriage age, so it was a season of weddings for Seth. Even all the rain couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

Seth told me a strange story: he’d heard that a man we knew when we were all children had built a large boat. He said the rain would continue until it drowned us all, and that he was planning to enter the boat with his family and ride out the storm. No one had ever seen such a boat, which was large enough for all kinds of animals. We decided to go to see it; it was a few hours walk away.

The way was somewhat more difficult because of the water. We had to ford several new creeks, and we found a couple of people who needed help, so we helped them out as best we could. By the time we got to the boat, it was nearing noon. We didn’t get a chance to talk to Noah, actually; we could see him entering the boat with his family from a distance. And here’s one strange thing: the door to the boat seemed to close on its own. When we arrived, we knocked at the door, but it appeared that it had been shut up with pitch. No matter how hard we knocked and shouted, no one heard us, apparently.

We then heard a kind of roar, and could see a flood of water rising towards us. We moved as quickly as we could to higher land, until we could look down at the rising waters and the large boat. The water eventually started to rise the boat, and it began to float. We again tried to shout down to the boat, but even if the sound of the rain hadn’t covered our voices, I think we would have been too far to have been heard.

We had to go even higher as the water increased. I thought about my chickens; they were probably gone.

We’ve made a camp at the top of this high hill. We don’t have much protection from the rain as it falls, and I don’t know if the water when the water will stop rising. We’ll be in trouble pretty soon. I wish I were on that boat of Noah’s.

It was a day like any other day, except for all the rain.

CONCERNING DESIRES OF THE FLESH . . . . The “Great Conundrum”

In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment.” (Reference: 2 Peter 2:3-4 )

Yesterday I cautioned all Christian believers to deal carefully and gently with those they feel are not living a good and wholesome Christian life. It is a conundrum to live in this world but not be bound by earthly agendas. It is something that many Christians struggle with – understanding and putting into action Christ’s teachings. In their struggle to live in this world as they feel Christ has taught, they make life difficult for others. Now clearly this is against what Christ taught and what his disciples wrote about. Yet it happens. And, keeping with the theme of the verses above, if God put erring angels into hell, what do you think the Lord would do with Christians who have judged and condemned others while not attending to their own sinfulness?

But this is not the only scripture passage for this day. In the book, Reading the Anabaptist Bible the historic Anabaptist quoted for today wrote on 2 Peter chapter one verses 3 to 4, but cited the chapter as chapter two. Therefore “Sip of Scripture” has as their daily reading 2 Peter chapter 2, which is not what Jerome Segers wrote on. I addressed this situation 5 years. [Beware of puzzlements] But with the passage of time I did not remember this “conundrum” – until I sat down to write again, and discovered the divergence of the two scripture references.

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature.” (Reference 2 Peter 1: 3-4)

This second scripture passage from earlier in 2 Peter has a remedy for the situation I outlined above and yesterday – if you read it as I do.

God has given us everything that we need for life and godliness. Both instruction and grace. We have knowledge of God, for both righteousness and compassion. And through this knowledge we can escape corruption and sin, and become participants in the Divine Nature (I capitalized it). But if we are participants of the Divine Nature, does that give us the right to passage judgment on others? No.

If we think so, and do so, we have misunderstood what the Divine Nature is. The historic Anabaptist Jerome Segers makes this error (the second, the first being designating the correct chapter number) when he says, “Peter says that we shall be partakers of His divine nature; yea, we shall be where Christ Himself will be, and shall with Him judge all nations . . . ” You have read, beloved, enough of the historic Anabaptists to know that they were very judgmental. And they conceived of themselves being right, and everyone else being wrong. However, in his defense and defense of other historic Anabaptist believers, I think he did get this right; “yea, we shall follow the lamb whithersoever he goeth; yea, we shall sing the new song on Mount Sion, and we know assuredly that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, eternal in the heavens.”

I think he means our earthly bodies when he says “our earthly house”. Our earthly bodies are what they are. A miracle in design for housing our soul/spirit. Maybe not perfect and may be not as others think they should be. Science has discovered the mind and body are tightly intertwined. And if God’s power has given us ALL of what we need for life and godliness, we should not despair of and despise what God has given.

I encourage you to read what I wrote 5 years ago. Little did I know at that time how relevant my words would be in the years to come. As I said then, I say now [with some updating] – May you not be ensnared by faulty teachings, teachers and judgments; but may you be guided by God’s compassion and knowledge as participants in the Divine Nature. Selah!

CONCERNING DESIRES OF THE FLESH . . . . Remember that for better or worse, we are all flesh

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
(Reference: 1 Peter 2:11-12 )

[A paraphrase of sorts]

Dear Fellow Christians,

I urge you to remember that while you may live you life out differently from those around you, that does not mean you can label the way they live as “sinful” just because it does align to what your beliefs are. You may think that you are doing the correct thing, but your judgmental nature is warring against the law of love. And everyone is losing out because of it. Live such caring and compassionate lives amongst the rest of humanity so that though they might accuse you of not understanding, but they can never accuse you of not caring. Live such caring and compassionate lives that they might see the compassionate and accepting nature of God and Christ our Lord, and be drawn to God as you are drawn to God.

We may feel we are aliens and strangers in the world, but do not let that alienate you from others. And do not condemn as “too strange” what others feel is natural for them. We are the face and hands of God – let us also have God’s caring heart so that God is glorified by all of humanity. Selah!