The Christian’s Third Tradition

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:28-31)

I may have mentioned that I have become somewhat intrigued at understanding Alcoholics Anonymous better, and I recently heard someone’s “lead” (what Christians might call a testimony) from an early AA. In her lead, she said that there was a lot of discussion about when they might throw somebody out of AA because they weren’t following the program, getting drunk, etc. It’s a classic question, and one Christians faced in the early days, and one we face now. Eventually, AA adopted a set of “Twelve Traditions” which describe AA groups and their functions. The third tradition describes the requirements for membership in AA:

The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

There is no “three strikes rule,” no “you can’t be a member if you’ve drunk anything in the last month,” or whatever you might think up. Indeed, an AA friend of mine says the third tradition use to read that the only requirement for AA membership was a sincere desire to stop drinking, and even this seemingly innocuous adjective was removed: it’s impossible to judge another’s sincerity.

I wonder what would be different if (instead of the one strike rule suggested by the author of Hebrews), this were the requirement:

The only requirement for membership in the Christian church is a desire to follow Jesus.

The writer asks how much more severely should someone be punished for denying Jesus after affirming him (compared, I guess, to one who doesn’t keep Torah). My answer is, “no more, and no less.” And my answer is to invite us to help one another follow Christ Jesus more and more.

When ignorance is not bliss

“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-8 ) [Emphasis mine]

There are many things I do not know. I do not understand geometry. I do not know how to speak any other language but English fluently. I could not build a computer if my life depended on it. I do not know more than the first few number of pi. I do not know how to drive an 18 wheel truck. In fact, in the total sum of things there are probably more things I do not know than I do know. But amongst my friends and family I am considered quite intelligent. And I know that I know, cold-facts stone-hard know, what it means to live a Christian life. And like Paul of the bible, I can boast of that.

It is frightening to think that one could be in line to suffer the vengeance of God because one does not know about God and does not follow the example of Christ. In many circumstances one can plead ignorance as an excuse and rationale for not doing what was expected. But just like our judicial systems, at times ignorance of the law is no excuse.

It is I believe an anti-thesis of Christianity to be judgmental of one, especially if one did not know. And that is what bothers me about verses like this. Ignorance should not be punished, and if it is punished the one who failed to inform the ignorant person or party should be just as liable as the one who was uninformed. However, that might mean it is us who are to blame, with incomplete, ineffective, or absent evangelism as the charge. No one, I repeat no one, can be 100% sure that they will be seen as guiltless and blameless when the day of judgment comes. There are just too many ways that we can slip up.

But there is hope. And on this Sabbath day I want to leave you with hope. Or rather, I give to you the hope that Maeyken Deynoots gave to near and dear to her.

“The abundant grace and mercy of God our heavenly Father, through His only, eternally begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered up Himself for us to God His heavenly Father, as a propitiation of our sins, that He might deliver us from the future wrath that shall come upon all them that have not obeyed the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction (2 Thess. 1:8); but may wisdom, power, and the consolation of the Holy Ghost, which proceeds from both the Father and the Son, this only eternal and almighty God, by whom every good and perfect gift is given, always abide with us and you, my dear brethren and sisters, so that He may through grace make us all together fit through Himself, that we may be found worthy in the day of His coming. Amen.”

May it be so for you. Selah!

Vengeance, a swift and unexpected response

“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 )

When I was a youth, around the early 1970’s, one of the big issues going around the faith/spiritual discussion table was the rapture. This discussion of the Second Coming predated the whole “Left Behind” series by some twenty years. Without getting into the story line of those books, while the rapture spelled bad new for those in the “Left Behind” series, it was good news and a time of rejoicing for those who were gathered up and taken up to heaven with God. The message that was transmitted to myself and my peers was that the Second Coming will come without warning, so one needs to be ready. But it would be a joyous occasions for those who were prepared, and we youth were encouraged to be prepared.

So it is striking to my ear and my thinking that these verse be speak of the day of the Lord as a vengeful event. Snyder and Peters say that the Anabaptists would warn us that we should “Be prepared always, for sudden destruction will come upon those who partake in sin” and Bartholomeus Panten wrote to his daughter in a letter, “For the time will come when they shall lament it [meaning “filthiness of the flesh and spirit”], who have spent their life here in that which was not proper.”

The connotation of vengeance is that of justified (or sometimes unjustified) retribution for actions that have wrecked havoc on another. But the day of the Lord is not an answering or balancing of the scales because someone has been oppressed, victimized or made to suffer. It is because the unbeliever has persisted in that unbelief, or has lived contrary to God’s laws. I am not sure for whom or on whose behave the vengeance is for. There is of course the dichotomy between a God who wants all to be saved, and the Mighty Judge who separates the lambs from the goats. And it would seem that the Anabaptist emphasis the latter as opposed to the former.

As an impressionable teenager I was fearful that the rapture would catch me unawares and unprepared. So I diligently went about those things that I was told would insure my being ‘caught up in the air.” As an attentive and informed adult I looked for signs that the day of the Lord was need at hand. Now, as a mature adult I am content for the day of the Lord to come when it will. I do not fear the unexpected or anticipate great vengeance. It is my prayer that you gentle reader would be as calm in the face of such eventuality; prepared and ready for the world to come. Selah!

Beware, live coals

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jesus came announcing the gospel: the kingdom of God is spreading. His gospel is good news: release from sin, healing from illness, reprieve from God’s judgment.

As we are more and more fully incorporated into the spreading kingdom of God, we too have the privilege and honor of bearing that good news to others. We are changed, and we seek that change in others, too.

Demanding our own rights when we are wronged can get in the way of the good news spreading. If we plan and work to get others to pay for the ways that they have wronged us, then our focus is on the sin, the illness, the judgment. It may be “right” to repay evil with evil–so others get the punishment they deserve–but it can move people further away from God, and, furthermore, remove us further from the mind and ways of God.

God calls us, instead, to overcome evil with good: to be kind to those that harm us, providing them all that they need (such as food and drink). We can remember that, in the end, God will rightly judge and rightly take any vengeance God’s justice requires.

This is really hard to do, and much of the time we have to take it on faith. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the biggest obstacles I have about the Christian way at the present time. When I do extend grace to others, it’s not very clear that evil is overcome. Others chide me for my foolishness, and my failure to extend such grace to them. It’s as hard as balancing live coals on one’s head, one might say.

Thanksgiving Grace

“When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.”
( Luke 9:54-56 )

Happy Thanksgiving! Today, November 26th in 2009 it is Thanksgiving day. A day when family and friends squeeze around a communal table to enjoy food and fellowship. Traditionally it is a day when grievances are set aside and good will and hospitality is extended to all. And for this reason it is often (unfortunately) a day of stress and tension. Early morning preparations give way to mid-day feasting and late afternoon clean up. While the date itself is not universal, the concept is. Family and friends bring covered dishes and high expectations to a common meeting place.

Our scripture passage today also tells the story of high expectations. Luke says in the verse preceding, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” (verses 51-53) The Jews and the Samaritans had a long standing animosity towards each other. You would not find them squeezing together around a common table at any time. I am not sure what the messengers expected would happen. Was the expectation that the people of the village would welcome Jesus, hosting him at a common meal or put him up for the night. In other towns and villages Jesus had been welcomed warmly and gladly. But here Jesus and his fellow travelers found no welcome.

Disconcerting perhaps, but the disciples reaction of wanting to destroy them was a bit over much. And you can imagine the kind of rebuke that Jesus would have given them. Jesus was all about everyone being welcomed at the feast of the Lamb and around the communion table. Luke does not say anything more than just that Jesus rebuked them. I think the other gospels had more to say about it. But a good story for this Thanksgiving day. And a good warning against vengeance.

And the Anabaptist Paul Glock, warns against this in his writing. He wrote, “The Lord explained it saying if they lie about you, let your friendliness, which is a fruit of the spirit, be manifest towards all and do not reward evil with evil. For we are God’s children born through the Gospel and our heavenly Father lets his sun shine on the devout and on the godless and has never turned his mercy from them. He has at all times shown himself to be fatherly, according to his name, by giving them rain from heaven and fruitful times and has filled their hearts with joy although humanly a person might sometimes think, like John and James: “Lord, shall we ask that fire come down from heaven and devour them?” [Luke 9:54]. But Christ, who had come to save souls and not to destroy, said to them: “You do not know which spirit’s children you are.” With that he plainly gave us to understand that we are not to avenge ourselves but to learn gentleness and humility from the Master.”

May those around your table be warmly welcomed and may God’s abundance in grace, mercy, and food be evident. Selah!

Cleaning up the mess

“Behold, saith the Lord, I will bring plagues upon the world; the sword, famine, death, and destruction. For wickedness hath exceedingly polluted the whole earth, and their hurtful works are fulfilled. Therefore saith the Lord, I will hold my tongue no more as touching their wickedness, which they profanely commit, neither will I suffer them in those things, in which they wickedly exercise themselves: behold, the innocent and righteous blood crieth unto me, and the souls of the just complain continually. And therefore, saith the Lord, I will surely avenge them, and receive unto me all the innocent blood from among them.” (2 Esdras 15:5-9 )

Our cat is afraid of vacuum cleaners. Or more precisely, afraid of vacuum cleaners that are turned on and move. He can be quite brave and nonchalant about vacuum cleaners sitting around and silent. But if I start to move it or start the motions to get it out and use it, he takes off for parts unknown. And what, you may ask, does that have to do with today’s verse? Well, I need to vacuum today. In fact, after I finish this blog entry for today, and I am just thinking about the comparison between how the cat will feel about that and how the “wicked” inhabitants might feel about the Lord’s plans. The Lord does not ‘bother’ them when the Divine is upset but not doing anything. No, it is when the Lord makes movement or motions to start a plan that they might get upset.

It is probably not a stretch to say our cat feels like the vacuum is a plague, and dirt on the carpet could be seen as pollution; dirt as hurtful acts may be a stretch. And if you permit me to be briefly and superficially in the role of God, I am not holding back any more in my plan to clean. And I do desire the ‘innocence’ of my floor, that is dirt etc free. And if I was to anthropomorphize the carpet, it might be less than thrilled to be pounded upon and subjected to the vacuum; but it might also recognize the need for cleansing. So sure, why not let the metaphor stand. You see, much of what has ‘polluted’ the carpet is cat hair. Aahaa, you say! Now it is clear! The cat is the ‘villain’ in the metaphor.

The Anabaptists also had villains who they took to task for their behavior. Jakob Hutter in a scathing piece wrote about the lords and rules of his time. “[T]hreefold woe to you Moravian lords into all eternity! You have given in to [King] Ferdinand, the awful tyrant and enemy of divine truth—you have agreed to drive those who love and fear God out of your lands. You fear a weak, mortal man more than the living, eternal, almighty God and are willing to expel and ruthlessly persecute the children of God, old and young, even the Lord’s widows and orphans in their need and sorrow, and deliver them up to plunder, fear, great suffering, and extreme poverty. It is as if you strangled them with your own hands. We would rather be murdered for the Lord’s sake than witness such misery inflicted on innocent, God-fearing hearts. You will have to pay dearly for it, and you will have no more excuse than Pilate, [John 19:6- 12] who also did not want to crucify and kill the Lord Jesus. Yet when the Jews threatened him (by God’s plan), fear of the emperor made Pilate condemn an innocent man. You do the same, using the king as your excuse. But God has made it known through the mouth of his prophets that he will avenge innocent blood with terrible might on all who stain their hands with it.” But notice in Hutter’s remarks that Pilate was fulfilling God’s plan. In other words, Pilate could no more avoid doing as he did than our cat can avoid shedding.

This is so often the catch when we see evil happening in the world. Evil and all the other terrible things that happen in the world happen because evil first came into the world not through humanity, but through immortal opposition to God’s good. And so it is important that we leave vengeance, which is the theme for the next few days, in God’s hands. I can vacuum up what the cat sheds, but I cannot prevent the cat from shedding. And preventing the cat from shedding would take action that would severely injure the cat. So too is the task of humans on this world. We can mend as best we can the hurt the world suffers, but it is beyond our capacity to stop the Evil One.

Everyone that is touched by evil suffers; the innocent and the guilty. The innocent because the suffer for actions that they did not undertake. And the guilty because they will be punished at some point by God. May you, gentle reader, take only that action which is rightly in your power. And may God comfort you as we comfort our cat when the time of cleansing is over. Selah!

Judgment upon Judgment upon . . . Judgment

“Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 1:14-15 )

It has been brought to our, the writers of these commentaries, attention that the series on judgment has been going on a long time. I just want to say, we know! Just like some of the early themes, the Anabaptists found a great many verses on judgment that were pertinent and relevant to them. While (thankfully) I have forgotten some of the longer themes, it seems to me we dealt and dwelt for a long time on baptism, persecution, and false prophets. We are now on the tenth and the last day of judgment. Hmmm . . . . the last day of judgment. That should sound ominous.

These verses from Jude should especially put fear into those who are “ungodly”. Hendrick Alewijns said in writing to his children, “Therefore, learn now to understand further, what proceeds from sin, and what are the wages of sin, for these are damnation and death. . . . This impending calamity, the punishment and righteous judgment of God, was announced and promised a very long time.” The problem is (and it is a problem that has existed for a very long time,) those identifying who is to be judged and how are fallible humans. That is, the word of judgment has been transmitted with human ears and tongues.

The Lord may be coming to judge the ungodly but for hundreds of years humans have been judging who the ungodly are. This label and critique has been tossed around ever since the first division in faith beliefs became apparent. Even Paul in some of his letters cited some who did not hold the true faith. The salient point is (and if I have said this before and have been too repetitive I apologize) everyone ought to look more to themselves and less to those around them when it come to faith and spiritual self improvement.

I was just thinking as I read today’s portion from Reading from the Anabaptist Bible (on judgment again!) that what we contributors to this blog have been doing is not so different from what the Anabaptists did. That is, commenting on scripture through the lens of our current social and political situation. I do not think any of us writer aspire to be remembered as the Anabaptists were. But still, as they wrote to those who were around them and dear to them encouragements for keeping faith, we of the blog A Simple Desire are too. We have the potential advantage of being heard more wide spread, and having our words saved for us electronically. Whether our words will have the impact that the Anabaptists did, I do not time. That is for others to judge.

But that judgment pales in comparison to God’s judgment. And it is God’s judgment that matters.
Lord God, may you look down with favor on us who strive daily to live our your commandments. May you judge us with compassion and mercy forgiving us where we have gone astray. And lead us back to you with redemptive love. Amen!

Contagious health

They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human opinion in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Peter 4:4-6)

The author of 1st Peter is complaining about “the Gentiles.” By this, he does not mean non-Jews. The author means non-Christians; most likely subscribing to what is sometimes called “successionism;” that is, the Christians replaced Jews as the people of God. There are several sad things about this, primarily, of course, in what it would eventually mean for Jews to be considered Gentiles and outside of the love of God (of all things).

In my teaching this week, I described how Jesus’s gospel was seen as almost literally contagious: the kingdom of God spreading to more and more people as Jesus released them from their bondages, impurities, and diseases. Although the author of 1st Peter is right that we all will stand under the judgment of God–and therefore should take care to understand what it is that God requires of us–I think he has shorted the importance of spreading God’s good news of freedom, purity and health.

But, let us not forget it! Let us look for how the kingdom of God is spreading, and do what we can to ‘infect’ others with a release from the ways we used to follow.

Let mercy triumph!

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” : (James 2:12-13 )

Lord, Judge of all humanity, we come expecting the judgment that we deserve for we too often go astray and have not live as we ought. But our hearts are filled with joy and praise because we have been shown mercy. And in joyful responses we seek to show mercy to others. We show mercy because we know how easy it is to lose sight of the right path, and to follow wrong paths that lead to sin and shame. We show mercy because we know the log in our own eye prevents us from seeing the small mote in the eye of the other. We speak lightly when we admonish others, encouraging instead of condemning. And as we show grace to others, we receive grace.
Lord, Freer of all humanity, we come to you a grateful and humble people. We thank you for showing mercy to us when you could have shown harsh judgment. We thank you O Lord for extending love when you could have shown anger. We pray that we would continue to show mercy and love to our fellow believers. And we pray that your love and mercy would prompt us to show mercy and love to the unbeliever so that they might know your mercy and love.
Lord, Redeemer of the world, we come asking for wisdom so that we might proclaim your holy name, live out your holy mercy and love, and triumph over evil and sin. All things we ask for in your precious name, and lift praises to you from from our humble hearts. Amen!

Do what you were going to do anyway

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2 )

I am not what else I can say beyond what the title states. The books of Timothy, the first and the second, are letters to Timothy from Paul. They are very honest forthright letters where Paul reveals some of the man behind the mask. It is as much illuminating to the reader and believer as it must have been to Timothy.

I do not imagine that Timothy would have not preached, would have not been prepared, would not have corrected, rebuked nor encouraged. He would not have been impatient or careless with his instructions. It is my hope and prayer, and I am sure God’s wish that you would fulfill Paul’s charge as it was passed on to Timothy. And may it be as automatic as I am sure it was for Timothy. Selah!