SERVANT OF GOD . . . It runs in the family

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. “ (Reference: 1 Timothy 3:8-13 )

Yesterday, beloved, I told you about my step-father. But that is not the only mentor I had in my life – there was also my grandfather. He became a Anabaptist/Mennonite minister in his middle adult years. He was ordained by the Mennonite Church and traveled from church to church ministering and bringing people to faith. He was both an evangelist and a minister. I have memories of sitting in his church when I was a young child. When he was preaching from the pulpit it amazed me that was my grandfather.

But just like my step-father, he did not conform exactly to Paul’s description. He was worthy of respect, greatly worthy. He was temperate and honest – later in life he turned his hand to business and was honest and sincere, giving good value and service. Like Paul, he earned his keep and more. However, as I said, he came to faith not as a boy or as young man. It was after he became a husband and father, so Paul would not have considered him “tested”. Further, his marriage to my grandmother was a second marriage for both of them.

It was my grandmother actually who came to faith first, and over time brought her husband to Jesus. And my grandmother struggle to be a “proper Mennonite” wife. She was also worthy, very worthy of respect, temperate and trustworthy. And her faith in God and Jesus could not be questioned. She was a born a Jewess and came to see Jesus as her Messiah. But Sarah (Shirley) Burnstein Goodall was anything but a shy, demure, reserved Mennonite wife. At 5 ft tall (or a bit under) she was a natural force of power, and her husband knew it, and adored her for it. He could preach, prayer, and evangelize with the best of them. But Shirley was the one who lived for service and hospitality, and dispensed comfort, counsel, and compassion with every meal she served. Do not think she confined herself to just the role of hostess. My grandfather may have given the altar call that brought them to faith, then my grandmother taught/showed them how to live for God and Christ. They were a very good ministry team.

I’m not sure how Paul would have reacted to my grandmother. In fact it might be from her that I inherit my critical attitude towards Paul. For all I know, she may have already set him straight.

I thank you, beloved, for listening to me reminisce about the family members. They have served as wonderful examples for me as to how to be servants of God. I hope and pray that you have worthy examples in your life. Selah!

SERVANT OF GOD . . . And a diamond of the first water

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” (Reference: 1 Timothy 3:1-7 )

In 2008 ( and 2013) the year long theme for “Sip of Scripture” was the book Bread for the Enemy by Dorothy Jean Weaver. And on November 18 of both years this was scripture passage for the day. In 2008 I used the opportunity to write about my step-father. And in 2013 I referred to the commentary entry again. I have also referred to it other times. It means a great deal to me, aside from the fact that I wrote it. And I cannot and have not been able to read this passage from 1 Timothy since without remembering it and my step-father. The day I wrote this I was in the midst of a stressful situation and dearly wished I could talk to him about it. But he passed away many years ago, and each time I think of him I mourn that fact. But as you read what I wrote, you will come to share my assurance that he is with God. I quote it again (with a light hand at revising it) for two reasons. His life fleshed out this passage and he was a modern Anabaptist.

A diamond of the first water” can have several meanings. It can mean a man or woman of the highest merit. It can equally to an appraisal of a pearl or diamond; the color or luster of a pearl or diamond is called its “water.” So a gem of the “first water” would mean one of the best color and most brilliant luster. And when we say a man or woman “of the first water” it speaks to their character or personality.

But how does this apply to the 1 Timothy passage you ask. If you would read the entire passage of I Timothy 3:1-13 you would read not only the merits of a bishop, but also deacons. Deacons are to be just as exemplary as bishops. I have never known a bishop in the church, but I did know a deacon. He was my step-father. Now, by merit of being my step-father, you might assume that was not his first marriage and you would be correct. (It caused quite a stir in the church at the time because my mother was divorced.) Do not take this as a strike against his personality, as some did at that time. He was a diamond of the first water. His patience with a step-daughter who was just entering her angst teen years when he married her (my) mother was a testament to his gentle and caring nature. While I was not keen on the marriage when they were first married, I grew to love him not just as a step-father but as role model and mentor.

While Paul lists some excellent qualities for a bishop or deacon to have, the narrow demographics that Paul lists has often bothered me. Good bishops and deacons can be heads of well-ordered households from a single marriage as well as heads of chaotic and blended households. The measure of a good bishop or deacon is whether he (or she) is compassionate, caring, grace-filled and merciful. My step-father was such a man and knew that good people can have challenges and tribulations, and that one cannot judge them harshly or unduly by the circumstances they are in. It was our church that suffered the loss of a good deacon when they decided it was not fit and appropriate for him to remain in that office and to also be married to a divorced woman. Diamonds of the first water recognize other diamonds of the first water; so it was with my step-father and my mother.

That was my step-father, beloved. As the years unfold my home church came to realize that his judgment was sound, and that it was the church that needed to learn to see people as God sees them, looking at the heart and the spirit. Paul, for all his talk of love, was a judgmental fellow and could not see much past his own preconceived notions.

May you, beloved, be a servant of God. And may God bring other servants of God into your life. And may you cherish them. Selah!


SERVANT OF GOD . . . Those who follow carefully in the priestly tradition

True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction-because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,” says the LORD Almighty. “So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.” (Reference: Malachi 2:6-9 )

Do you know people who have followed in the footsteps of righteous who have gone before them? That is one of the reasons we study scripture and the lives of people of God – to learn what is good to do. With some exceptions that I have noted along the way, the historic Anabaptists have walked righteous foot steps, emulating those who came before them. But the historic Anabaptist were a contentious lot, bickering amongst themselves and critiquing the state religion.

Concerning this passage of scripture, in a group letter several Dutch Anabaptists criticized some of the priests/preachers in the state church. They said in part, “That they also say that we will not hear the Word of God, because we do not hear the preachers in church, to that we reply that we do not hear the preachers, to this the Word of our God constrains us, as they are not fit persons to administer such an office. . . . But if the preachers were according to the apostolic doctrine, we would gladly hear them from the depths of our hearts, and would also be the first and the last in church. . . . The prophet says: “The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth.” Mal. 2:7. . . But that this should be an argument from the word of Christ (Matt. 23), to hear the preachers, cannot be; since the preachers are not of the tribe of Levi, whom Israel had to hear, but from the Gentiles.”

It is good, beloved, to pick and chose who you are going to pay attention to, and who you are going to emulate and follow. I hope and pray that you have worthy leaders to follow and righteous examples of the Christian life set before you. Selah!

THE KINGDOM OF GOD DOES NOT CONSIST OF WORDS . . . Preacher and Seeker encourage us to action

Preacher: “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins.”

Seeker: I know that my Lord God came to me, and allowed himself to be placed on the cross so that I may be found without sin!

Preacher: “And in him is no sin”.

Seeker: Christ was without sin, but I am filled with sin.

Preacher: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”

Seeker: Lord, stop me from sinning! Show me the way you would have me live!

Preacher: “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”

Seeker: I will follow my Lord God. My feet will seek out the way of Christ. I will seek righteousness for the Lord’s sake!

Preacher: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”

Seeker: Lord, the devil comes to me in my weak moments. I fear what I might do if I heed the devil’s words! I tremble Lord!

Preacher: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”

Seeker: The Son of God has conquered the devil for all time! I need not fear if I walk with God!

Preacher: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

Seeker: Let me be re-born as a child of God. Let God’s seen be in my so that I might grow strong and resist the devil & sin!

Preacher:This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (Reference: 1 John 3:5-10 )

Seeker: I know right from wrong. I seek the right and flee from what is wrong. I seek out my brothers and sisters in Christ, and ask for their counsel. They remind me of God’s words and God’s law of love. My compassion and love for them grows as my love for God grows. May we bind ourselves together to worship God, receive God’s grace and mercy, and further God’s mission for the world. Selah!

THE KINGDOM OF GOD DOES NOT CONSIST OF WORDS . . . You need to develop “muscles” to lead a Christian life

[Beloved, today I am using different sizes of fonts to emphasis the content. I am hoping it works the way I want it to.]

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness;and to brotherly kindness, love.”

[Note, beloved, how each virtue involves additional effort and commitment. We are called to actions that “exercise” our spirit and soul. And as we continue this spiritual workout, we gain in spiritual strength and are able to do even more.]

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

[Christians often wonder how they can grow in Christ and grow in knowledge in Christ. This is one of the ways, to do more for our fellow believers and offer more to people who do not yet believe.]

But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”

[It is possible, beloved, to grow smaller and smaller in Christ. What is not exercised atrophies, and we are less able to live a Christian life.]

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Reference: 2 Peter 1:5-11 )

THE KINGDOM OF GOD DOES NOT CONSIST OF WORDS . . . There must be corresponding actions

There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” (Reference: Romans 2:9-13 )

It is an Anabaptist/Mennonite tenet of faith that proper and righteous actions (“good works”) MUST accompany faith. It is not enough to believe; that belief must show forth in actions. The historic Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier said, “Since mere faith is not sufficient for salvation, good deeds must . . . be added to the faith. This article I stressed so earnestly and highly in my booklets on the Lord’s Supper and the second one on the freedom of the human will that my heart can be known from them well enough, by the vigor of my insistence on good works. In both pamphlets I cited these verses of Scripture: It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law who will be justified, Rom. 2:13. Everyone who hears my words and does them will be likened to a wise man who builds his house upon the rock, Matt. 7:24. In Sum: Just as a good tree cannot be without fruit at the proper season, so it is also impossible for true faith to be without good works. Those who say they can do nothing good deceive themselves and there is no true faith in them.”

I could discuss Paul’s logic and rhetoric about this passage; how this passage and letter differs from other letters he has written, and explain that Paul wrote for his audience but keeping within the large boundaries of his own faith beliefs. It would not further the understanding of how historic Anabaptists and modern Anabaptists/Mennonites perceive this passage. And I do not want you to think, beloved, that Anabaptists/Mennonites express perfect faith through perfect action. What I do want you to understand is that they/we believe our actions should be a direct reflection of our faith stance. If you want to know what we believe, watch what we do. And if that does not match God’s law of love, call us on it!

May you, beloved, be found righteous in the eyes of God and of others. Selah!

THE KINGDOM OF GOD DOES NOT CONSIST OF WORDS . . . There is the “sap”

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (Reference: John 15:1-8 )

When I first read these verses – and I mean for the very first time in my life, I did not quite understand. I tried to understand it thinking about trees and bushes, but it left gaps in my understanding of meaning in these verses. I had never seen a grape vine or fruit vine up close enough to see how it is formed. And I think, but I am not sure, that this metaphor is meant to rest on grape vines.

The anatomy of a grape vine goes like this – the vine grows out of the ground straight up. Then the branches grow sideways and need wires or strings to grow upon or they are just a gnarled mess on the ground. The branches grow the grapes, but without the vines the branches wither and die. But it is the sap that gives the branches life. Because when the branches are disconnected from the vine, the life-growing sap does not reach the branches.

Now, place the understanding beside the text of John 15 verses 1-8. When you understand how a grape vine grows, Jesus’ meaning becomes clear. And do not forget the sap! The sap, beloved, is the Holy Spirit – that comes through the vine that is Christ into us. The “sap” remains in us only as long as we are connect to God/Jesus. Once that connection is broken . . . . well, we are brush for the fire.

I pray, beloved, that you are connected to the Vine of God and are producing good fruits. Selah!