Final words for a believing generation

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:20-21 )

Here is again, the eloquence of coincidence. We are at the last day of the year, and here we are talking about fathers and children. And it reminds me of the old year as an old man, and the new year as a young child. And I have to wonder if there are any parallels.

Much as we would like to believe the new year will be different, what was valued and honored in the old year will probably carry over into the new year, new year’s resolutions not withstanding. Consider that new year’s resolution are based on what had gone on in the past year, and those things resolved are based on what the person in question valued and desired and not on some impulse that had not basis whatsoever. And if our resolution(s) for the coming year is(are) based on the positives found in our Christian values, anything we resolve will be pleasing to the Lord. Further, the ‘child’ the new year represents will (or should) grow up using the values of God as modeled by the parents. So the verse in this passage could be seen as instructions to the new year.

As to the year passing away, the old man which is the old year, one would hope that the year has not been so bad as to discourage us about the potentials and prospects of the new year. If it has been a year filled with God’s presence, most things aside, it would have been a good year. And if it has not been, most likely it has been humanity’s willfulness that has made it so, and not God. So the exhortation to the old year, and those that have been influential in it, is to have had acted so badly that the new year (and the innocence within it symbolized by the new year as a young child) is stripped of hope and potential.

It is, admittedly, a colorful slight of hand to appeal these verses to the time and season of the year. If it were not the end of the year I may not have made this connection between the verses and Father Time who represents the old year and the toddler who heralds in the new year.

We have the past few days been considering verses that are warnings for living righteous lives. It is not just the verses themselves that have sounded these warnings, but the Anabaptists interpretation of these verses that also sound a warning. These verses that deal with family relationships are also seen to one Anabaptist writer as fodder for discussing right living. Hendrick Alewijns wrote to his children, “See, my dear children, learn here what is becoming to you; see here, with what heavy duty of instruction and correction Christian parents are charged with regard to their children. . . . Behold, what a solemn charge the believer has concerning his children, and also those that are committed to him as his own children. Hence, dear lambs, endure kind correction, and be afraid of words, and you will not have to suffer this severe cruelty: otherwise you must suffer it, as has been heard. Behold, my children, in these holy instructions in correction I acquit myself of my duty towards you; and in all this I admonish you not only in your youth, but also in your riper years, to give ear to the advice of the wise and pious, and always to love the Christians, God’s dear children, the holy church . . .”
Gentle reader, for whom we have written conscientiously, may you receive from God’s hand the joy, hope, love, mercy, compassion, forgiven, and righteousness that will give you all that you need in the New Year. Selah!

What is this ‘return’ of which you speak?

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:3-7)

(Don’t you think you really need the King James for warning passages?)

I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a situation in which people get so tangled up in a particular outlook or set of plans, that changing one part unravels the whole. The mind naturally revolts against such upsets; we viscerally react against it.

The world’s view is: God-said-he’d-return-but-he-hasn’t-returned-in-2000-years-so-I-don’t-think-this-God-of-yours-is-coming-in-fact-there’s-no-God-at-all. And that’s a powerful idea, actually.

But wait a minute, says “Peter”: things last a long, long time. That God hasn’t returned as quickly as you thought God would might not reveal something about God, but about your own impatience. “Peter” had to worry about, oh, a century of waiting. We’ve had to wait something like 20 times that. And yet–what we know about the age of the universe, how long things have continued as they were from the beginning of the creation, is billions and billions of times longer than “Peter” probably thought (one imagines he would have been comfortable with Bishop Ussher’s chronology of 6k years). With this understanding, we have had to wait (according to our respective understandings of the age of the cosmos) immensely less than “Peter” and his critics did.

In other words, God isn’t being absent; God is being patient. God is preserving the cosmos, not ignoring it. Can we accept the difference this will make in how we view the cosmos, God, and ourselves?

This includes you!

“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 )

Lenaert Plovier, moved by the verse above, wrote to his children the following words. “Behold, dear children, that the Word of the Lord is food for the soul, by which the soul must live; and he that does not govern his life according to these words, is threatened with eternal damnation, as Christ says: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3. Hence Christ says: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel; for the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Mark 1:15; Matt. 3:10. Therefore, dear children, see that you escape punishment; for those who do not obey the Gospel shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. 2 Thess. 1:9. O dear children, behold what punishment shall come upon him who does not obey the Gospel – eternal banishment from the face of God, and everlasting punishment. Hence, dear children, prepare while you have time.”

Echoing what Will wrote yesterday, I want to emphasize the importance of this message. When it talks about everlasting destruction and being shut it, it means everyone who has turned away or ignored the message of God. And it is a painful thought. Every believer who knows of someone who has turned away from God worries and grieves for that unbelieving person.

The writer of 2 Thessalonians is writing to a community of believers, and so writes in the assurance that his audience is included in God’s holy people. In today’s world we dare not assume that the people we encounter are believers unless they have expressed that belief in word and deed. It is why Plovier wrote so impassionedly to his children, because he felt it was serious enough that he dare not take the chance that they might not be believers.

In our modern society evangelism is held in varying levels of approval. In some places evangelism happens naturally and daily. In other places evangelism is held in low regard as are sometimes Christians. Those impassioned with their faith are scorned and ridiculed, or criticized for opinions and actions that other Christians in other places and times have taken. Professing one’s faith and exhorting others to faith is not always popular. But it is this very attitude that verses such as the ones above are speaking to. What is a believing Christian to do?

May you, gentle and believing reader, continue to express your faith and encourage others to believe also. Selah!

Why choose wrath, when we can choose life?

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of [those] who suppress the truth by their wickedness. (Romans 1:16,17)

I don’t suppose that “a simple desire” has ever done this: to ask our readers to take to heart the warning of God that wrath is coming, but can be avoided. So, here I go:

The wrath of God is coming, but can be avoided.

You don’t have to believe in a wrathful God to see how wrath is being revealed day by day: it is enough to see the wrath of humankind, to see how the way we live: in active evil or passive indifference is leading to our destruction. Name your poison: war, materialism, sexism, racism, flaunting of personal immorality … it’s a long list, and we participate, whether willingly or no.

But the faithful God reveals a gospel, a good news available for the salvation of everyone (quite remarkable, that). The faithful God reveals that God is not surprised by the evil we humans do. On the contrary, from the beginning, the faithful God has planned this good news by first faithfully nurturing a people to whom was revealed God’s truths (the Jews), then, at just the right time, God sent Jesus, the Son of God to be the culmination and perfection of that truth. And Jesus’s death, in service to the truth of God and the needs of humanity, became (in the faithful plan of God) the means of salvation to all to Jews and “Greeks” (that is, non-Jews) alike.

This is the true story of the human condition, which Paul’s book of Romans describes out in more detail. But the good news: you can be good (or, as Paul describes it here, righteous) by trusting God’s plan, especially God’s brilliant decision to send Jesus, God’s Son, to become the righteousness we need. And then we can really live by faithfully following the road of righteousness set before us. Why choose wrath, when you can choose life?

What does it mean to be Godless?

Woe be unto thee, Assur, thou that hidest the unrighteous in thee! O thou wicked people, remember what I did unto Sodom and Gomorrha; Whose land lieth in clods of pitch and heaps of ashes: even so also will I do unto them that hear me not, saith the Almighty Lord.” (2 Esdras 2:8-9 )

What does it mean to be Godless? If you get the “Sip of Scripture” emailed to you, or if you view the verses online you will see that the Anabaptist theme for this verse is “Punishment of the Godless”. So if one is unsure, it might be prudent – in the light of what God did to Sodom and Gomorrha – to determine what it means to be Godless.

Some clue might be in the verse itself. Not hearing God is one grave offense. I suspect though the word ‘heed’ might be more precise then ‘hear’. This technicality rests on the fact not hearing might have less to do with not having been told about God, and more with not paying attention to God. A second offense is simply being ‘wicked’. Modern slang aside, being wicked or evil has been an offense against God ever since Adam and Eve made a mistake in the garden of Eden. It is, however, the offense that is mentioned first that captures my thoughts.

If a country or nation ‘hides’ the unrighteous this is an offense against God. Just like hearing/heeding God needs explanation, ‘hiding’ the unrighteous might has need further examination. If the unrighteous are in a country or nation, but the righteous are ignorant of their presence, does that condemn the whole nation? Or is it more a matter of the entire country or nation is unrighteous, and ‘hiding’ is just a metaphor to explain the insidious nature of their presence?

Dirk Philips speaks to the warning when he says, “These promises are the clear words of the Lord, by which we have testimony that God wishes just as well and equally to punish those who support and suffer the evil ones, by not separating them from themselves, as the same evil ones themselves.”

But be wary gently reader. This is a path which may wind and meander to places best left unvisited. If humanity decides to determine for itself what being Godless means, then there could be grave consequences. But wait a minute! Humanity already has! Who among us has not heard the epitaph “they’re a godless nation!” flung at some point on the globe. And has that not been the reason, rationale, and excuse for many a ‘purging’ of the ‘godless’.

On the spectrum of being utterly humble and self-effacing to arrogant and supremely confident in one’s righteous, all of humanity is sprinkled along that spectrum. It is an old warning to be sure, not assuming one’s place in God’s eyes. But then, it is an old text. And when it comes right down to it, Christianity is an old religion.

But we are not here to delve deeply into history, theology or any other ‘ism’. There is a simple solution. To avoid being ‘Godless’, one need only be filled with God. May you gentle reader be filled with the light of God and the hope and promise of Christ. Selah!

The Shewings of Julian of Norwich

I’ve been meaning to make a weblog of The Shewings of Julian of Norwich available for sometime, and I’ve finally done it:

http://shewings.wordpress.com

Consider it a Christmas present.

Julian (or Juliana) lived in the English village of Norwich in the fourteenth century. She received sixteen “Shewings” (or “Revelations”) which she later wrote down; these were separated into 86 chapters. This weblog will post two chapters, one on Saturday, one on Wednesday. This translation from Julian’s Middle English was done by Grace Warrack and published in 1901. The text was reformatted from the text provided by the Christian Classics Ethereal Library; the text version is used by permission; the content is in the public domain. More recent translations are available, although they are in copyright. Julian’s clear and elegant prose is reasonably easy to read even in Middle English; and Georgia Ronan Crampton’s edition of The Shewings (originally published in print by Medieval Institute Publications of Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1994) is also available on-line, with notes.

What is Due?

If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!” Proverbs 11:31

It is the day after Christmas when you are reading this (but early Christmas evening when I am writing it). For most of us the presents are unwrapped, the Christmas eaten and the dishes cleaned up, Christmas sweets have been had, and farewells have been said. And hopefully the most important task has been done for this Christmas season; thank yous have been given and received for all the gifts and bounty that has been enjoyed. My son, my youngest, is always very diligent about thanking me for a good meal and the gifts he receives.

So in answer to the question posed in the title of this writing, what is due is thanks. Thanks to God for the gift of the Messiah and salvation. Thanks for the love that God shows to us not just at Christmas but every day of the year. I hope in addition to the thank yous that you have given to friends and family, you have thanked God.

However, while this is good advice, it does not address completely the meaning of this verse from Proverbs. This verse talks not about what is God’s due, but what we as children of God will receive. Jan Hendrickss captures the essence of the verse when he says, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” The verse in The Message is very succinct when it says, “If good people barely make it, what’s in store for the bad!”

The implication is that good people have to struggle to be good, and even then ‘good’ may not be good enough. Hmmm . . . . Seems to me we may be right back at thanking God for salvation through Christ, and the example of Christ’s life for us to follow and live up to. All other gifts and bounty of the season aside, we have a lot to be thankful for.

May you raise a song of praise and thankfulness to God this Christmas season. And may God bless you abundantly. Selah!

It is done!

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”” (Revelation 21:5-7 )

It is done. All prophesying and foretelling has come to fruition. The baby is laying in the manager, and Mary and Joseph are keeping watch over the sleeping child. The shepherds are coming, and the Wise Men will be somewhere behind them. There is still an echoing from the heavenly choirs song. And the star of Bethlehem shines on.

It is done. The weeks of shopping and wrapping are over. Christmas dinner is planned and ready to be laid on the table. Friends, neighbors, relatives and invited guests are congregated at tables and in living rooms across the country. Children of all ages are being watched over as presents are unwrapped, oohed and aah-ed over, and enjoyed. And the Christmas decorations twinkling brightly shine on.

It is done. God has sent to us a means for salvation. God’s love has been made manifest in a way that cannot be ignored. And it will not be. It has not been. I doubt there is anyone on this planet that does not know about the Christian faith, even if it is not a faith they ascribed to. But in a way, it is just the beginning. When things come to an end, they have a habit of beginning again. This passage from Revelation has God declaring that the Lord is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega.

What God made manifest over two thousand years ago, we began telling, believing, and living again and again. The Promise that came in the life, and death, of Christ is always renewed. We will be children of God.

May this day and this season find you with friends and family, loved ones all. And may the Christ who was born this day many lifetimes away be born in you anew in the coming year. Selah!

The Coming of Light

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:2-4 )

There is, I think, poetic justice for these verses being on the day Christmas Eve. According to anecdotal stories Jesus was born early Christmas morning, when the star of Bethlehem was at its brightest. And this same light could be the light of the new Jerusalem coming. This verse also talks about God coming to men again as he did that early Christmas morning, and the promise that Christ as the infant Jesus brought is renew with the coming of God and the Holy City. Yes, verses fitting for this day that anticipates the coming of light from heaven.

And one could also get misty-eyed at if all, if it were not for remembering that the coming of the Holy City is the end of this time and this world. If one were to forget that the coming of God this time is for judgment and not just a reminder and help for how one ought to live. If one could only forget or put aside the images of the battle in heaven, the suffering of the saints, and the vengeance of the Lord, the coming of the Holy City could be serene and pastoral.

But fear not gentle reader; this Christmas Eve day is not the final day of waiting for the judging Lord. This is a day spent waiting for Christ Jesus, who in his tiny hand is clutching hope for the world. May you spend Christmas Eve in joyful wonder and hope, with family and/or friends waiting for our savior to be born anew in our hearts. Selah!

Palms of Victory and Crowns of Glory

I Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. (2nd Esdras 2:42-47)

Second Esdras is a non-canonical book (actually, a series of books), parts of which show up in the “Anabaptist Bible” from which we have been taking our passages this year. Cornelis Claez, according to “Reading the Anabaptist Bible” encouraged his wife to “take up [her] cross with patience and joy” that she might enjoy the palms of victory and a crown at the last day, as written in this passage.

I am reminded of the hymn “Palms of Victory” which picks up this same theme of the faithful sojourner who receives palms of victory at the end of the faithful journey. It appears in a couple of different versions.

Here’s one from the Wolf Folklore Collection, sung by Orville McInturff.

[Palms of Victory as sung by Orville McInturff]

I saw a blood-washed traveler,
In garments white as snow,
While traveling through the highway
Where heavenly breezes blow.

I saw him in the conflict,
When all around was strife,
And wicked men and devils
Convened to take his life.

I saw him cast in prison,
A dungeon dark as night,
And yet I heard him shouting:
“The burden is so light.”

Chorus: Then palms of victory,
Crowns of glory,
Palms of victory
I shall bear.

And this is a more “gospelly” version (listen from about 1:00 in):

Whether you like this music or not–may you be found faithful on the day of the Lord’s returning.