MERCY . . . Very much hoping for mercy and not vengeance!

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.” (Reference: Hebrews 10:28-31 )

Do you remember that from the first books of the bible? That many things were punishable by death? I am not talking about the basic ten commandments but all the other laws that governed their lives. Many of those laws were set aside in favor of God’s law that came through Jesus Christ. The laws of Christ were/are much easier to follow, but they require not only following them but believing in Christ as the Son of God. That is what the writer of Hebrews is telling his readers, that failing to believe and follow Christ is much worse than not following the law of Moses.

But does that mean there is no recourse, no hope for mercy? Not from this excerpted passage. But we know, beloved, that there is hope, and that there is mercy. There is always hope and mercy for those who believe. And if you believe, it is NOT “a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” It is in fact a wondrous thing!

May you beloved place yourself in God’s hands, accepting and acknowledging the Son of God, honoring Christ’s holy blood that was shed for to make a covenant with God, and asking for the Spirit of Grace to be with you all your days! Selah!

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GOD IS JUST . . . But God’s vengeance is evident also

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. “ (Reference: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8 )

Some four hundred years since the Reformation, and some two thousand odd years since Christ Jesus came to Bethlehem, we still have many views of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and what the end of all days will be like. Will God come? Or will it be the manifestation of Christ? Will it be like Revelation, with battle and fire? Or silent and mysterious, like the thief in the night? And the largest question of all, when?

Maeyken Deynoots (d. 1571) wrote to her brothers and sisters in the faith, “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. Luke 21:36.” Wow! Here we have a complete theology, compressed into the opening of one letter. Worthy of Paul I would say.

And it sets up well the dichotomy that is evident – God’s mercy if we would only avail ourselves of it through “Lord Jesus Christ” versus the “future wrath” and punishment of “everlasting destruction . . . in the day of His coming.” Might it be both? One scenario for the faithful believer and the other for “then that have not obeyed the Gospel”? If our God is a transcendent God (which the God-self is) there might well be two kinds of appearances – one for the faithful and one for the not-so-faithful. I will not ask, beloved, which one you might be at. But I trust and pray that we all may be counted amongst the worthy. Selah!

The First Week of Advent: Getting Ready While We Wait

During Advent many churches closely follow and use the scripture passages found in the Revised Common Lectionary, even if they do not use the lectionary during the rest of the year. The fourth reading each week is usually from the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

Since the first Sunday of Advent is November 30th you might wonder why I have started to post these Advent commentaries and reflections the week before the first Sunday of Advent. It is a common practice, regardless of the time of year, to study and reflect on scripture passages during the week for the coming Sabbath/Sunday. During the days that lead up to the weekly communal worship we prepare ourselves by reading and pondering on the scripture passages that will form the basis and be part of the worship – if the worship service does follow the lectionary cycle.

But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” (Mark 13:24-27)

The passage from Mark also talks about preparation – preparation for the coming of the “Son of Man”. In verses 24-27 creation itself is preparing for what is to come. Sometimes preparations are times of joy and celebration. But other times preparing for what is to come involves hard work and endurance. And the timing of the preparations are important too.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mark 13:28-31)

Some changes are temporary and fleeting. We respond to new conditions and then return to older more familiar ways. Other times the change is permanent, or is a series of changes that take us from one point in our lives to another one. Often this change comes upon us when we are unaware, and we scramble and hurry to incorporate new ways. And we may need to abandon or leave behind what is familiar, and embrace newness and change.

But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Verse 32-37)

It may seem unusual to look at scripture passages that we have read before, and expect them to tell us something new or prepare us for change. But as our understanding and knowledge of living a Christian life changes and grows, we may respond and react to scripture passages differently. In this way scripture lives and grows within us. But we must make the effort to continue reading and studying, if we are to grow in our Christian faith. Then when change comes, we will be ready – stronger and deeper in our faith.

May you remain awake and alert in your faith, beloved reader. And it is my hope and prayer that your first week of Advent is preparing your for the growth and change that our Lord has planned for you. Selah!

 

 

 

The First Week of Advent: Instructions from those gone before

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” ( 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 [Emphasis mine] )

In the Christian life one is always growing and maturing. Sometimes that process calls on us to re-learn and re-commit ourselves to our faith and beliefs. And it is good to receive instruction, guidance and teachings from those who have gone before us. These we find in the third set of readings each week – the Epistles. Sometimes from the apostle Paul – because he wrote so many letters. But also from others of the disciples. Especially during this Advent season they call us to faith, and re-call us, and make us recall what our faith had been.

During Advent, while waiting to celebrate Jesus coming to us, we do not sit idle. But we grow and learn. So that when Jesus comes to us again, we are ready. This week’s Advent Epistle reading is a “love letter” from Paul; and a blessing from Paul. For all of us flaws, Paul knew how to speak/write a blessing. And what better to receive while we start to wait than a confirmation of our strength and determination in our Christian lives. It makes us want to do better, be better people and people of God.

Grace and peace to you, beloved reader, as we continue on in this first week of Advent. Selah!

A THIEF IN THE NIGHT . . . So comes the consequences of sin

“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.” (Reference: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 )

Like square pegs into round holes – that is what it has been like the past few days trying to match scripture passage to the themes of “Sip of Scripture” to the themes from Reading the Anabaptist Bible. The historic Anabaptists applied this verse from 1 Thessalonians to the consequences of sin and of being sinners, catching those who committed the sin unaware. Bartholomeus Panten wrote to his daughter, “For the time will come when they [those who have sinned] shall lament it, who have spent their life here in that which was not proper; for when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 1 Thess. 5:3.”

The traditional understanding of these verses has been that Christ’s return will not be heralded by anything, so the faithful must be ready for Christ’s return. It is a different sort of spin to consider the warning being given to the sinful and what might befall them. The historic Anabaptists had a tradition of considering themselves a people apart from everyone else (and always being found living under God’s guidance), therefore seeing all others are sinful and fallen by default so logical.

That this verse is placed under the theme of “Vengeance” underlines the idea that the passage speaks to the vengeance of God coming to the sinful, as opposed to the surprising return of Christ coming to the world. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible, prefacing this passage with the following, “Be prepared always, for sudden destruction will come upon those who partake in sin” give us an insight into the thinking of the historic Anabaptists.

For me it is an interesting exercise to try to discern why the historic Anabaptists might have understood and why they used verses in such unique ways. What were their theological understandings that gave rise to such interpretations? How did their experience of oppression and persecution shape their theological understandings? And I wonder how have modern Anabaptist/Mennonite understandings have changed? And how might their historic understandings and modern understandings contrast to different denominations’ understandings? If this were a theological blog, I might try to answer these questions. I think my answers might reflect more of my personal theology. And I am not persuaded that you, beloved, are needful of hearing me espouse on my theology.

What is clear is this. First, we do not know when Christ will return. Or if it will be a judging vengeful Christ, or a forgiving and reconciling Christ. Second, there will always be those who misread the signs and portent, declaring safety when it is really disaster that is coming. Third, we do know that it is never wise to be caught “with our hand in the cookie jar” – so to speak.

May you beloved never have to fear for what will come because you will always be found in God’s grace. Selah!

P.S. Beloved, this is first week that posts will be appearing for the Advent theme. It is a transition period for me, moving from one way of writing this blog and posting to another. There will be duality for the Advent season, and then moving to a less frequent schedule. There will also be the duality of finishing Reading the Anabaptist Bible and starting in on the Advent and Christmas season. May our Lord God help us to hold both themes in our hearts and minds! Selah!

OVERCOME EVIL . . . Do not take vengeance

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.” (Reference: Romans 12:19-21 )

For an entire year (in fact twice for an entire year!) the focus of this blog was “Bread for the Enemy.” The first year was 2008, and the second year was 2013. The scripture passage citation were taken from the book Bread for the Enemy and based on the idea found in Romans that the best way to win over an enemy is to treat as a friend. This of course precludes taking revenge and wreaking vengeance.

But throughout the two years of commenting on passages that point to, advocate for, or cry out for peace and reconciliation, I also learned a lot about revenge and vengeance. Revenge/vengeance is not a “dish best served cold” but a meal served with warmth and caring. For are you not trying prove, beloved, that you are a better person than the one who hurt you or slighted you or injured you in some way? And by your warm and caring response, you leave your “enemy” with little options. Either the person responds back to you with care and warmth, and if so you have won over an enemy. Or they ignore your response and you have shown yourself to be the better person. Or they respond back with the same hatred etc that they first had, and don’t they look like the fool and bully that they are!

Leave straight vengeance to God. Human revenge and vengeance only lasts through this lifetime, and may not even last a lifetime. God’s vengeance, while maybe not being evident in this lifetime is indisputable for the life to come and will last for an eternity!

Choose the better beloved. Whether it be motivated by pure love of those who oppose you OR by the guidance and grace of God that values shalom above all things – may you choose to feed and care for those who set themselves up as your enemies. And may you live in such a way that no one would could you their enemy. Selah!

VENGEANCE REBUKED . . . But from whence did it come?

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.” (Reference: Luke 9:54-56 )

The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible say that throughout the historic Anabaptist writings there is a caution against personal vengeance. And I suppose that is true – throughout all the fiery writings that the historic Anabaptists writings it was God they called on and God they said would “smite” those that came against them. I don’t remember them saying/writing that they would personally do the smiting.

Paul Glock wrote to his wife Else, “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.”

My NRSV tells me that “other ancient authorities” added the comments about the disciples not knowing “which spirit’s children you are”, and I am intrigued by that footnote. Does it simply mean they did not know what they were talking about – that is, not think through what they were saying. Or does it mean that vengeance like that comes from evil spirits? Because these “other ancient authorities” are not available to elaborate, we cannot be sure. Barnes does talk about these extra part and suggests that Jesus is trying to explain to them that they may think their zeal is from love for Jesus – that is protecting and defending Jesus good name. But actually it is the disciples own opinion and attitude that is “firing” them up and it is not right or part of Jesus’/God’s plan for humanity. So beloved, shall we examine our own hearts and spirits for unGodly zeal for vengeance? I think Paul Glock would be a good instructor for this.

May you learn gentleness from our Lord, and patience with those who seem opposed to you. May your love for humanity squelch out any thoughts or inclinations for vengeance. Selah!