On Either Side of the River

“On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22: 2b from Revelation 21:1-22:5 )

Today is the last day of the year, and the last day that this blog focuses on right relationships, justice, and shalom – or at least in a concentrated way. I am sure in 2014 we will touch on the same sort of issues; dealing rightly and fairly with each other and promoting God’s peace. But in 2014 we will be looking at verses that the historic Anabaptists used. C. Arnold Snyder’s book, Reading the Anabaptist Bible is the source of these verses, and five years ago when “Sip of Scripture” last used these verses, Arnold was generous enough to provide me with a copy of the book. I will be drawing on that same resource for 2014. But back to the verse for today.

Thinking about healing of the nations and moving from the old year into the new year, I was struck by the “either side” notion, and the image of the tree of life bridging from one side to the other. The concept of bridge building is a good one when one thinks about moving from the old to the new, and for changing one way of being for another. Those who were enemies are now friends, and we have “bridged” the gap that separated us. Because we have moved over and beyond what separated us, we can now dwell as friends. This is as relevant and possible a concept for individuals as it is for nations. In fact, if nations can bridge over and get past what separated them, it is more likely that individuals in the nation will make that positive movement too. BUT then the nation needs to bridge and move past what separates the entities within it, and unfortunately gentle reader we do not seem to do well at that.

So I must ask myself, and I ask you, has this past year made a difference in your life? Has the focus of right relationships, justice, and shalom helped you or refocused, or even changed your thinking? Has it made a difference? I do not assume or pretend to think that solely what I have written has made a change in you; what I hope instead is that as you have read what I have written God has spoken to you and fostered and nourished your thinking. If that has been the case, then I am content.

There are many things I wish and hope for myself in the new year, and I hope and pray that God will bless you with what you need for the new year. I am excited about what God will reveal to me in the coming year through the verses that the historic Anabaptists used, and I would be honored if you journey with me this coming year.

May your year end sum up all that was good this year, and dispel all that was not good. And may the new year find you ever closer to God, and ever closer to those around you. Selah!

2013 In Review

If you have a blog on WordPress.com you may have gotten a year end summary of your blog – how often it was viewed, what posts were popular and where the viewers were from in addition to those who commented the most and what they commented on. All in all pretty comprehensive. In sending me this report WordPress.com said “The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.”

As you may have gathered, numbers and popularity are not something I am muchly interested in – the long run. It is nice to see that people have viewed the posts and left comments. But mainly because I want to make sure that what I write is of interest and worth to others. And this summary of the year tells me that many found it of interest and came back to read more. I am truly grateful for your interest.

I have to be amused though that this report does not include the very last day of the year! Supposing I write something so over the top great on the last day that blows these stats out of the water! I doubt it would happen, but still . . .

Mostly I am thankful to God that the Lord has given my the endurance and stamina to post something each day. And the inspiration. Praise to God for that!! I have a good source though – the Bible! And of course the daily verses from it that Third Way Cafe provides with their “Sip of Scripture.”  It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be associated with them for so many years.

So read what WordPress. com has to say and where they place their importance and emphasis. But remember too that it is our Lord God where we should place emphasis and importance. May God be with you in the coming year. And I hope you will continue to check in with me daily in the coming year. May it bring you closer to God. Selah! And shalom!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

PRAY FOR PEACE . . . Who shall we pray for?

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.” For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity. “ (Psalms 122:6-9 from Psalm 122:1-9 )

I had thought at first I would do a paraphrase and an updating of this passage. But as I was ready to begin, I thought “Who or what nation or place should I put in for ‘Jerusalem’?” And it was at that point I was stumped and knew I could not continue. Indeed, I should not continue. For what ever name of place or person I put in, someone would be left out. And if I put in some generic term like the “global community” it would be so neutral as to mean nothing.

Mmmm . . . maybe what I could do is allow you, gentle reader to put in the name or places that you would pray for. And that would work and give you a wonderful meditation. But would that right and in keeping with our triune theme which is just one day away from passing into history?

So here is the challenge I set before myself – to make something contemporary out of something very old.

“Pray for the peace of your neighborhood, and the neighbor far away: “May they prosper who love you, and who you love. But may those for whom love is not a reality prosper also. Peace be within your walls and all the walls that humanity has constructed. And security within the hearts of every nation. But may each nation’s security not threaten another nation.” For the sake of every one of God’s children’s relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God who is the God of child, women and man, I will seek their prosperity. “ Selah! And shalom for the days to come.

GOD AS COMFORTER . . . and Tissue

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. “ (Revelation 7:17b from Revelation 7: 14-17 )

Yes, we read this before, twelve days ago. But it is worth looking at again. Why? Because after God wipes away the tears there is a sense of relief and hopefulness. As I think on this, I reminded for Psalms 30, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (verse 5b) I would assume that John, the writer/recorder of Revelation, would be familiar with this. Or maybe not. We as readers certainly are. While we may mourn and grieve, when the sun/Son comes out/comes our tears, sorrow, and sadness fade away. And since God blessed and gifted us with the Son, God has provided the means for our tears to be history.

The baby Jesus is now four days old; four days past Christmas many people are taking down Christmas decorations and readying themselves for the New Year. The tears of yester-year are fading away and new hopes for the New Year are taking shape. It is my hope, gentle reader, that you have set aside the sorrows for 2013 and are looking forward to the New Year.

I will be here in the New Year, if that is a source of joy and happiness for you. I cannot promise you a year without tears, but what I can promise you is hope that will dry and wipe away your tears because we will be again looking at scriptures that bring hope and help us define our faith.

May the tears of yesterday be a faded memory, and may you have hope, joy, and shalom for today and tomorrow. Selah!

WELCOME AS YOU WOULD WELCOME ME . . . Fully and Completely

“So welcome Onesimus as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account . . . I will repay it.” (Philemon 1:17, 18, 19b from Philemon 8-22)

I re-read what I wrote five years ago about this passage. Then I read what Albert Barnes said about it. Barnes made note (and said it better than I did) of Paul’s promise to repay to Philemon what ever loss was realized by Onesimus’ running away and absence. He said that this action and promise by Paul parallels that action Christ made on our behalf. Paul is not saying that he is now guilty of what ever Onesimus’ did, but he is willing to pay the penalty of it. Paul also reminds Philemon that Paul had done much on his behalf, so perhaps Philemon will count this toward his debt to Paul.

But as instructive and illuminating as this is, they way this verse relates to our triune theme is that even thought Onesimus might be guilty of some things, he is to be made welcome by his former master – the one he was indentured to and to whom he should have owed allegiance to. If Philemon is to welcome him as he would welcome Paul, to whom he is evidently in great debt to, how much more should we welcome and extend hospitality to others. Precisely, how much more? A kind word? More than that. A friendly smile? More than that? A firm handshake or hug? No, more than that too. We should welcome others as long-lost or not yet known friends. They should be made welcome to our homes and our hearts. In this last verse of this chapter, Paul asks Philemon to prepare a room for him – to offer him hospitality. No where does it say whether Philemon did this or not, but if he had been instructed in the Christian life by Paul, you can rest assured the room was ready for Paul’s arrival.

May you gentle reader extend a hardy to welcome to all who come into your circle of acquaintance. Selah! And shalom for all of us this day.

PEACE THAT SURPASSES ALL UNDERSTANDING . . A Preacher & Seeker Conversation

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus . . . Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 3: 7,9  from Philippians 3:12-4:9 )

Preacher: “And the peace of God . . . ”
Seeker: “. . . which surpasses all understanding . . .” Preacher, why does it surpass all understanding?
Preacher: Well Seeker, peace on the earth, that is humanity’s concept of peace, can be broken and shattered so easily. We think things are at peace, but someone gets upset about something and that upsets others. Before you know it there is arguing and bickering, which can lead to aggression and violence. We just don’t humanly know how to keep peace. But God’s peace is eternal; God’s peace never breaks and there is never any strive. For right now though, we try to emulate God’s peace on earth, but we can’t do it like God does. We can’t understand how to keep eternal peace. Let’s continue – God’s peace “will guard your hearts . . . “
Seeker: “. . . and your minds in Christ Jesus . . . ” But then how can the peace of God guard our hearts and minds if we can’t manage it?
Preacher: When we read about God’s peace or meditate on it, it reminds us of how peace should be. Peace and renewed peace comes when we live in harmony with each other and creation. God’s teachings show us how to live in harmony and when we do that, we are at peace again. And if we keep God’s peace in our minds, we are more likely to live in harmony with one another. It guards or protects us from unkind thoughts and actions etc, which we also call sin. The writer of Philippians continues saying, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and . . .”
Seeker: Preacher, did the writer of Philippians keep God’s peace perfectly?
Preacher: The writer of Philippians was human, just like you and I, so he did not keep God’s peace perfectly. But each day he committed and recommitted his life to preaching about God and God’s peace. He was not perfect but he focused his life and his teachings to reflect God’s peace. He is not suggesting you study his life as a template for living, but that you study and keep in mind what he preached and tried to do in his own life. He said if you do that, “. . . the God of peace will be with you.”
Seeker: Was the peace of God with him?
Preacher: The writer of Philippians has his own problems and struggles. Some of his letter reflect those, and he talks quite honestly about himself and the issues he faced. Many people consider him to be an extremely good man, but what we know of him comes from the letters that he wrote, and what he strived to do. Remember he said that God’s peace surpasses all understanding, so that would include his. He knew that God’s peace was perfect and that we need to strive for that, but he also knew that striving does not mean we will get it perfect.
Seeker: So he is encouraging us to do what he did himself, look to God to learn how to live in peace and then practice it diligently in our lives?
Preacher: Yes, and doing that is the best way to guard our hearts and minds so that only Christ Jesus’ influences our thoughts and actions. He also said, “Finally, beloved whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Seeker: And doing that is our best chance to keep God’s peace as much as we humanly can!
Preacher: Amen, Seeker, Amen!

And selah, gentle reader. Shalom for your day.

HONOR SUCH PEOPLE . . . Whether they have died . . . or lived courageously & with conviction

“Welcome (Epaphroditus) then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ . . . . “ (Philippians 2:29-30a from Philippians 2:19-3:1)

Some of the most notable and worthy people I have known have not “come close to death” as a result of their work for Christ. But then these people did not live in a time or place where they risked death by working for Christ. Maybe I am being a little picky about this verse, and I do not think Paul meant to exclude others – risk takers or note – from a good welcome either. It is not necessary to risk one’s life in doing Christ’s work. Certainly it makes a more exciting story. It is actually harder and more challenging to lead an authentic Christian life when it is hum-drum and boring. Close calls and risking life and limb can make you grab hold of your faith tightly and refuse to let go. But when you are not challenged in your Christian life and allowed to calmly go about your faith practices, it is easy to become complacent and lax.

Maybe this is something you have not considered before; that the saints that have gone before us were saints because it was a constant struggle to remain saintly. It is easy to look like a saint amongst sinners. But consider the firm believer amongst other such believers. What holds them to a standard and encourages them to be ever more devote and righteous? These are the types of people I look up to as well as the daring-doers of Christianity.

May you gentle reader hold the course as you walk with ease through this Christian life, and may you find saints with quiet and unassuming conviction to emulate. Selah! And quiet and mild shalom for your day.

NO MURMURING OR ARGUING . . . Silence before the Holy Child

“Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” (Philippians 2:14-15b from Philippians 2:12-18 )

More often in the past few days I have looked back to see what I wrote five years ago. I have done this somewhat with an eye to make sure I did not go “off course” in my interpretation and exegesis. Fortunately I did not. But when I re-read what I wrote for Christmas day five years ago [ “Christmas in the midst of fallen generations” ] I had to wonder how I was going to improve on that.

But what caught my eye this year was something different than five years ago; the writer of Philippians tells us to be “ blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.” Well, that reminds me of baby Jesus. And all other babies I have seen – not just my own! Who cannot wonder and marvel at a baby. All the possibilities in the world rest in a baby. And none as much as baby Jesus.

With all that goes into the Christmas season, I have to remind myself to still myself and imagine baby Jesus at peace and sleeping. It reminds me that God that did not want to be at a distance from creation and humanity, but wanted to be a part of it and in the midst of it. What better way to do that then to merge with humanity and walk that earth that the Divine created.

May you gentle reader take time from your busy schedule to breathe in the wonder of the Christ child, silencing all the noise and distraction so that you might focus on the purity and innocence of the season. Selah! And shalom for your day!

HAVE THE SAME LOVE AS CHRIST . . . Focused on God and God’s mission in the world

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2 from Philippians 2:1-11)

It is Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve most things focus the evening hours, leading up to midnight when the hours of darkness slowly turn to the hours of dawn. And the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

But two thousand plus years ago, the story of Jesus’ birth tell us, the focus was the daytime hours and Mary & Joseph journeying into Bethlehem and the busy-ness and noise there. If you have ever played a part in birthing a baby, you will know the hours leading up to the birth can be fraught with pain and desperation. So this passage is quite conducive to the minutes and hours leading up to Christmas day.

Encouragement? I am sure Mary needed lots of encouragement. “I’ll find some place for us to stay tonight” Joseph must have said. “It’s only a little further” Mary must have told her self. “I’ll find something soft for you to lay down on” Joseph probably told Mary. “Lots of women have had babies and lived to tell about it” Mary probably told herself.

Consolation from love? Joseph loved Mary – he took her for his wife, braving the scandal. Mary loved Joseph – he believed she was special amongst all women, and not just because she was his wife. They both loved God and believed that God was with them and blessed them.

Sharing of the Spirit? Oh, the Spirit was there gentle reader. Make no doubt of that. No other baby had its birth announcement done by a heavenly choir.

Compassion and sympathy? While a stable might have been one of the worse places to give birth, it is a birth story that has moved countless millions and has engendered Mary and Joseph as celebrated of parents.

As for joy? The world have been moved by joy yearly.

Paul may not have intended for this snippet of his letter to the Philippians to be applied to the Christmas story, but I do not think he would be displeased. So would say to you also, gentle reader. Be of the same mind; trust in God as Joseph did. Allow yourself to be used for God’s plan as Mary did. And go out into the world declaring joy and peace as Christ did. Be of one mind with them all! Selah! And shalom for your day.

LIVE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL . . . That Christians and Christianity might look good

“Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that . . . I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel . . . .” (Philippians 1:27a,c from Philippians 1:12-30 )

From December 23, 2008: “At the season of Advent and Christmas we do not ask ourselves or each other whether we are worthy of the gift of Christ. That is a question that comes later at Lent and Easter. Christmastime is a time when we celebrate the fact that “God so loved the world . . . “ I went on to make the comparison between God and Santa Claus, noting that God is more forgiving than Santa by not threatening to hold back the gift of Jesus Christ is someone is found naughty. In fact God would say if you are “naughty” you need Christ even more. Then I said, (again from 5 years ago) “Looking at Christmas in this way, we would be foolish to put more emphasis on the Santa-style of Christmas then the Christ-style of Christmas.”

But I made an error back then; I did not delve more closely into the passage but took only the surface meaning. In looking at it again, I realized this passage has little to do with Advent and the birth of Christ, and more to do with the commercialized Christmas – appearance and not inward intent.

But what then do we make of Paul’s admonition to be “worthy”? After I “wrestled” with the passage for a little while, I did a brief consultation with Barnes and his remarks showed me that Paul is telling the Philippians to act in a way that reflects well on Christians and the Christian faith. Not that their conduct be worthy of God and Christ’s grace and mercy, but that others might see and judge that Christians are good citizens and good people.

Early Christianity was lived out in the public eye, and appeasing the public eye was very much a concern. That is not to say that was wrong, nor that we should not take care to live good and wise lives. But appeasing the public eye should not take precedence over living as God has commanded us. Faith was a very private thing, and not shared much unless one specifically asked. When you fear being put together because of your faith beliefs, you are not likely to shout them from the roof tops. Nor by making use of a choir.

I think it is hard for us to conceive of a faith that needed to be hidden – especially at this time of year when Christmas decorations have been in displayed since before the third Thursday in November! If this passage had come earlier, I might not have erred in the surface reading. But here we are, two days short of Christmas, and Paul is speaking to us advocating care and caution in our daily lives.

Did it occurred to you that Christ did not live his life carefully? That he set a course for his life, guided by God, and proceeded to live the life even at the cost of the cross. That is what I would advocate for you gentle reader – live life fully and completely, confident that God is leading you well. Pay attention to scripture, reading it closely and completely. Pray often. Reflect on the inspiration laid down by the saints and spiritual ancestors before us. And celebrate Christ’s birth with choirs and compassion. Let no one come away from you not knowing that you believe fully and completely in our revealed Lord.

As I said last year (at least I got that right!) “May you find the true Divine Spirit of Christmas in your heart and in your home; and may the Divine Spirit be a part of you living all year round. Selah!” And shalom for your day.