PUNISHMENT OF THE GODLESS . . . . Again, 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.”
(Reference: 2 Esdras 2:8-9 )

Five years ago I think I did a masterful job of looking at this text in the post What does it mean to be godless? I am not sure I could much improve upon it, though I did do a little minor tweaking. I posed the question as to what it means to be “godless”, meaning devoid of the attributes that mark believers of God.

But it seems to me, some five years hence, there could be another way to look at it. What does it mean to be a person or a nation that does not believe, espouse, or follow God? Does it mean to be without compassion, ethics or morality? Are those attributes of a person or nation only available with belief in the one monotheistic God?

It is possible to be “godless” yet believe in God. Historic Anabaptist Dirk Philips makes this point when he reminds his reader that “the church in Thyatira was reprimanded by the Son of God (although it was adorned with several virtues and gifts of the Spirit) because it permitted the prophetess Jezebel, (which means false doctrine) by whom the servants of God were seduced, Rev. 2:18-23.” And that when one sees evil, one is to separate one’s self from it. Does this mean it is possible to be not “godless” but not follow God? There are no easy answers in our world. Sometimes the old ways from the past do not work in the present. That is one of the things I have come to realize over this past year.

But, you beloved and myself, we believe in God. We seek to follow God. We turn from evil and rather than be without God, we seek God each day. And if we have a time or a day when we have not been “Godly” we ask for forgiveness, and seek mercy and redemption. As we come out of this Christmas season may be resolve to be God-filled! Selah!

PUNISHMENT OF THE GODLESS . . . . Do we receive what is truly due to us?

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

A large message in just a handful of words – if the good that people do here on earth is rewarded, the evil that people do will also receive the consequences that evil doing deserves. However, according to some commentators there is another way to understand this verse – if those who try to do good get punished for the small sins they do, think how much more those who commit evil by intention and design will be punished! Or as historic Anabaptist Jan Hendrickss wrote to his wife, “And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

But these are heavy thoughts for the day after Christmas. We are more likely to be thinking about the presents given and received, the fine feast that has been prepared and eaten, and the friends and family with whom we have enjoyed Christmas cheer. I am pretty sure we did not stop and think if these were things that were “due” to us as rewards. And it is doubtful we received them with as a punishment; more likely with joy and thanksgiving.

And looking at the theme of Christmas more specifically, the gift of the Christ child was neither something that was our reward for correct behavior, nor our punishment for sins. In fact what is due is 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 expressing thanks for the gifts you received, the meal you enjoyed, and the companionship that was offered, you have thanked God for the blessings that have been bestowed upon you. Beloved, I do not think we always receive what is due to us – either as reward or punishment. So let us take what good comes to us as God’s blessing to us. And if there are unfortunate things in our lives, let us not assume we are being punished. The historic Anabaptists had at times a dim and melancholy outlook on life. Let us, in the keeping of the season, raise a song of praise and thankfulness to God this Christmas season. And may God bless you abundantly. Selah!

Week of Christmas, Proper III: Let us celebrate that the wait is over!

The scripture passages of Proper III are ones of celebration and praise. Let us enter into the celebration, and praise our Lord for the wondrous gift of the coming Savior!

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. “ (Hebrews 1:1-2 [from verses 1 – 4])

Through the days and weeks of Advent you have spoken to us, our Lord. We have set aside time to listen. Bless the days that come after our celebration of Christ Jesus’ birth. Inspire us to share what we have heard from you, our Lord.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7 [from verses 7- 10])

The good news of Christ Jesus has reached us, and we are moved by God’s love and compassion on us. We have been called as the Lord’s messengers to carry the news of peace and salvation. Bless our feet as we spread this good news. And bless our words as we speak of God and Christ Jesus.

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” (Psalms 98: 1-3)

A new song we sing; today it may be like a lullaby to the sleeping holy child. But let us remember, it is not just a child that has come into the world, but God breaking into our world to bring us new joy and new hope. The victory that is God and Christ Jesus comes in many ways into our world. So as Christ grew, may our faith grow also.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.”(Psalms 98:4-6)

Our hearts are filled with joy, and all of creation sings with us in praising our Lord and God! The long wait is over. The days of darkness are past. For we have a King who is above all other kings and whose glory will last forever!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:6-9)

Our King has come! Let us renew our faith and recommit our lives to our Lord and King. He that was born in a stable grew to be our Savior. He knows our hearts and our minds. Let us raise up a joyful noise to the Lord. Let us also raise up our hearts; but then bow our heads in prayer pledging our lives to the God who has given us hope for this world and the world to come. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Our Lord says, “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.” (Reference: Revelation 21:5-7)

It is done. All the prophesies and foretelling has come to fruition. The holy child is laying in the manager, and Mary and Joseph are keeping watch over their sleeping child. The shepherds are coming, and the Wise Men will be following shortly after. The songs and praises of the from the heavenly choirs still ring in the air. And the star of Bethlehem shines on.

It is done. The weeks of shopping and wrapping are over. The Christmas feast is planned and ready to be laid on the table. Friends, neighbors, relatives and honored 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 in households across the globe.

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 any continent that does not know about the Christian faith, even if it is not a faith they profess.

But in a way, it is just the beginning. Soon the new year will be coming. New hopes and new possibilities. Just when you think things have come to an end, they have a habit of beginning again. The writer of Revelation says that the Lord is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. The Lord was there at the beginning and will be there at the end.

What God made manifest over two thousand years ago, we can began telling, believing, and living again and again. The Promise that came through the life and death of Christ will always be renewed. We have been and will be again, 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! And the merriest of Christmases!

 

Week of Christmas, Proper II: Come see what we have waited for!

Today’s scripture passage is taken from the grouping of scriptures in Proper II. The other scriptures are Isaiah 62:6-12, Psalm 97, and Titus 3:4-7 – all good scripture passages. But I have chosen the Nativity story.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)

When I think on this passage, the first thing I think of is Mary giving birth in an unfamiliar town in rough and unwelcoming conditions. The event she had been waiting nine months to come to pass was here. Giving birth is not easy; and certainly not easy when you are young and away from home. The book of Luke makes it sound so easy; it was time, she gave birth, and wrapped him as was the tradition. And then I am sure she looked at the child she had been waiting for!

Our wait, beloved reader, has been much easier. Oh, we say it is hard to wait. Especially after so much hurry and preparations. It is my hope that now that the waiting is just about done that we will take time to consider, and appreciate, what we have been waiting for.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

The opposite of waiting, beloved reader, is not being aware of what is coming to pass. There was a time, a couple thousand years ago, when people lived without knowing Jesus Christ. (Of course, in a sense, there are still people in this day who do not “know” Jesus Christ.) To them there were all types of people (Jews, Romans, Greeks etc) and each group had their own God and worship practices. Little did they know that the coming of the child, this Savior Messiah was to change forever they way people believed.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:13-20)

Suddenly! The wait was over! In one instant everything changed! The shepherd saw it. The wise men saw it. And from that point on, people who saw, meet, and came to know Jesus (int all sorts of ways and meanings) saw that things had changed.

But, you may say, it is the same decorations, the same celebrations, the same traditions from year to year. What has changed for us? Indeed, beloved reader, what has changed for you? We have “waited” through four weeks. Has anything changed? That is the challenge. To not just go along in our same old paths, doing the same old things, but to find fresh and new God and Jesus Christ in our life and in our world.

This season of Advent and Christmas has been the opportunity to see things new and fresh, to renew and recommit yourself to our Lord God who so desired that the world knew their Lord that God sent the God-self as a child into the world.

I wrote this to be posted the day before Christmas so that you might be reminded of what the waiting has been for. It is my hope and prayer that the actual day of Christmas will be filled with the joy and love of family and friends, and the presence of God and Jesus Christ in your hearts and spirits! Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Celebrating the infant Jesus and looking forward to the Lord’s return

“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.” (Reference: Revelation 21:2-4 )

There may be thematic appropriateness for these verses being used for this day, the day of Christmas Eve. (Five years ago I was more sure than I am now. This actually a re-working of my thoughts from December 24th 2009.) According to anecdotal stories, Jesus was born early Christmas morning when the star of Bethlehem was at its brightest. This same light could be re-imaged as the light of the new Jerusalem. And these verses also talk about the Divine coming to humanity again as it happened that early Christmas morning – the infant Jesus born in a stable growing to be the Messiah that these verses say said will come again along with the coming of God and the Holy City. Yes, these verses could be a good fit for a Christmas Eve day that anticipates the coming of light from heaven.

It is intriguing to have juxtaposed the coming of the infant Jesus with the coming of the Holy City as a bride to the now grown Christ – if it were not for remembering that the coming of God and Holy City in Revelation means the end of this world. If one were to forget that the coming of God in these verses is the time of judgment. If only one could forget or put aside the images of the battle in heaven and the vengeance of the Lord, the coming of the Holy City could be serene and pastoral.

The world forgets however, at its peril, that the coming of the baby Jesus started a chain of events that the world has not yet seen through to completion. The coming of the baby Jesus is a soft and pastoral scene. And the final day of God when the new Jerusalem, the purified and Holy City, comes down is a day of joy and looking forward to a new way. But in-between there is still mourning, crying, pain and death.

I think this is why, beloved, during Christmas we are encouraged and we encourage others to set aside animosity and hostility, and to focus on love and compassion. It has been a time when nations lay down their military arms and remember our connection to one another. We remind ourselves and others that God sent light to the earth in the form of the baby Jesus. And that some day the Lord will return to complete what was started so long ago.

But that day, I do not think, is this day. 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 mourning and pain filled world, and in our hearts. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . But can we not find reward in the here and now?

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. “ (Reference: 2 Esdras 2:42-47 )

Five years ago I “passed” on this scripture passage, choosing not to comment on it but instead leave it for my writing partner. This year, as I am the only one writing, it falls to me to comment on this. The historic Anabaptist quoted/excerpted for this day would tell us, as he told his wife, “Thus, my dear wife, follow Christ, and take up your cross with patience and joy, and follow Him all the days of your life, for He had to suffer so much for our sakes, to save us. Therefore let us suffer for His sake; since it is our hour, let us joyfully contend for the crown of life, which is prepared for us and them that fear and love the Lord. Hence let us be satisfied in Him, and take our cross upon us with joyfulness and patience, and wait with firm confidence for the promises which He has made us, and that we may be crowned upon Mount Sion, and adorned with palms, and may follow the Lamb. 2 Esd. 2:42; Rev. 14:4.”

Most of the rewards for the pious seem to come at this end of this world, or at least at the end of their lives. There does not seem to be much “reward” bestowed during this life, or during our lifetimes. And I have to wonder, does every believer consider it to be this way? That rewards from the Divine come only after death or after this world has passed away? It seems a lot to ask to wait.

And I don’t mean that in a whiny impatient way. What I mean is, is there no reward in this life for following God and Christ? Don’t we or can’t we find reward in doing what Christ models and God asks of us? Is it not enough to know one is following God and Christ, or does there have to be a “reward”, a “carrot” dangling at the end of a Divine stick? Does humanity have to have a solid reason for being righteous?

Beloved, I am often dismayed at this “modern” world; but then I am also often dismayed at what the world was like decades and centuries before. I constantly see being kind and caring as a deliberate choice, and chose to be that one on most all occasions – after all, no one that is human is perfect. But altruism is a choice that I consciously make, for reasons that are my own and do NOT depend on getting some reward at the end of this world, or even at the end of my life. And while it is nice that the “pious” are rewarded, my actions that have their foundation in my Christian faith are not dependent on a reward.

May you beloved make good and authentically Christian choices, for whatever your reasons may be. Selah!