MURDER . . . All types . . . throughout the land

“What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave. The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright man remains. All men lie in wait to shed blood; each hunts his brother with a net. Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire- they all conspire together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen has come, the day God visits you. Now is the time of their confusion.” (Reference: Micah 7;1-4)

I am set once again to quote and comment on Menno Simons’ critiquing the church leaders of the time, warning them, “Do not excuse yourselves, dear sirs, and judges, because you are the servants of the emperor. . . . Do not usurp the judgment and kingdom of Christ, for He alone is the ruler of the conscience, and besides Him there is none other . . . . You must hearken to God above the emperor, and obey God’s Word more than that of the emperor. If not, then you are the judges of whom it is written in Micah . . . “ He tells them, “Let Him [God] be your emperor in this matter and His holy Word your edict, and you will soon have enough of storming and slaying.” I am sure Simons’ lament would be like Micah’s that the godly and upright are no longer in the land. But I am weary of hearing such laments and explaining again that it is not fair too condemn a large group for what just a handful do.

But then I remember my own peeves against politicians and such. How can I critique Simons when I myself long to lash out and the social and political pundit and “movers/shakers” when their beliefs do not coincide with mine. And Simons does have the greater peeve, for his “pundits” were putting people to death rather than just putting them down!

But you know what? I am tired of all of them. Simons and all the others’ rants and rhetoric. Modern day political/social commentators and all of the news media who feeds on it and feeds it to us. I am weary of this person criticizing that person for what they said about another person. I am tired of hearing about it and reading about it. I am tired of it all!

The misery is mine! I long to gather peace and harmony – shalom. But it is not there! The branches are empty of any good fruit! As to the godly and upright? Well . . . they are there. You are there beloved. Do you tire of it also? The murder – make no mistake, there is loss of life – and the verbal murder – fueled at times with anger that could kill with a look. Where is the peace beloved? Let us look for it, gather it where we may. Selah!

CONCERNING FALSE PROPHETS AND THE ANTICHRIST . . . What comes around . . . Goes around

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore, this is what the LORD says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine.” (Reference: Jeremiah 14:14-15 )

It is tempting, beloved, to continue connecting political people (especially commentators and pundits) to this verse – inferring that they are prophesying what is to come and what should be done. But that would be unfair and mean-spirited, ie not Christian. Instead, I want to highlight the symmetry that they (who Jeremiah is speaking of) are prophesying against the very thing that will happen to them. It is like (but I do not mean it in a mean-spirited way) a weather forecasting that there is no rain in sight, and then stepping outside only to be drenched in a downpour!

But of course, the writer of Jeremiah is speaking of much more serious issues, and the verses previous to these talk about what will happen to the people who have displeased the Divine. “Thus says the Lord concerning this people:
Truly they have loved to wander,
they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the Lord does not accept them,
now he will remember their iniquity
and punish their sins.

The Lord said to me: Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Although they fast, I do not hear their cry, and although they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I do not accept them; but by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence I consume them.” (Verses 10 – 12)

The God of the Old Testament was very strict and at times unforgiving. Imagine, beloved, if we were told in our modern times NOT to pray for someone’s welfare? Even the historic Anabaptists (at least some) said they prayed for their accusers and oppressors that they might see the error of their ways and turn to living the way the historic Anabaptists felt was right. But I am straying from my point. But it raises another interesting analogy. Supposing the oppressors and persecutors of the historic Anabaptists were they themselves accused of heresy and put to death? But beloved, it this very thing that the historic Anabaptists prayed would NOT happen (again, at least some of them). I remembering reading a while back of a historic Anabaptist who spoke such a caution to his accuser – I cannot remember when however.

My plea and admonition to you then, beloved, is to live rightly according to God. Do not prophesy falsely or live apart from God’s commandments and guidance. May your worship of God be heard by our Lord and be found acceptable. Selah!

NO ONE CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS . . . You cannot split your faithful devotion

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. “
(Reference: 1 Kings 18:21 )

What I find interesting, beloved, is that people said nothing. They did not defend themselves, respond to the charges, or state which way their beliefs lead them. They said . . . nothing. Such indecision has never been popular with God. The Lord has been known spit lukewarm-ness out of the Divine mouth. You are with God, or not with God. There is no “some of this” and “some of that.” This historic Anabaptist profiled this day wrote a letter to his two brothers pleading with them to come to faith. Joost Verkindert said he has embraced faith in God and worries for “those who have not obeyed the Gospel of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”

One of the things that modern Anabaptists/Mennonites strongly state is that one’s faith be lived out not just on Sundays and days of religious observation, but all days of the week and under all circumstances. You can not pick and choose when you want to be a Christian and when you slid by on a weaker morality and belief ethic.

May you beloved stick with your choice and honor that choice daily, Selah!

PRIDE . . . Something to avoid (?)

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. “ (Reference: Proverbs 11:2 )

Joost de Tollenaer wrote to his daughter “A proud heart is an abomination unto the Lord, and it shall not remain unpunished . . . . Out of it proceeds all pride, when man apostatizes [meaning forsaking one’s faith] from God, and departs with his heart from the Creator; and pride impels to all sin, and he that is infected with it causes many abominations.” [Insert mine]

You would be hard pressed to find an Anabaptist/Mennonite born before, say 1960, who has a strong sense of pride. Pride in self or pride in another is not a trait of Anabaptists/Mennonites – at least not one that they would own up to. Unfortunately that includes not only the pride that de Tollenaer and the writer of Proverbs talks about but also pride in worthwhile and legitimate endeavors. We Anabaptists/Mennonites are subject to both humility and false humility – the “aw shucks” response when someone congratulates us on something. We do not handle compliments well.

But compliments is not what de Tollenaer or the writer of Proverbs is talking about. The word in the Hebrew is closer akin to arrogance or insolence – the haughty “look down your nose at others” attitude. So one can imagine there will be a “comeuppance” sooner or later. Later perhaps being when one is “disciplined” by God. Therefore avoiding that by being humble is a wise decision.

But what about moderate and deserved pride in one’s accomplishments. Having false humility is as serious a charge, in the Anabaptist/Mennonite world I grew up in, as pride. Doubly so in a sense, because not only are you hiding the “sin” of pride but you are lying to cover it up! The better course, again in the Anabaptist/Mennonite world I grew up in, is to be modest and humble in thought and action – and let others compliment you and sing your praises! Giggle if you must, beloved, but it is a serious thing, this having pride!

Ah me, beloved. Sometimes it is not easy being an Anabaptist/Mennonite – historic or contemporary. May you, beloved, keep far from the sin of pride. May you look upon yourself with humility but also a strong sense of your own with as seen through God’s compassionate and caring eyes. Selah!

LIGHT . . . All around us, if we but look

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Reference: Psalm 36:9 )

I have pondered over this verse for several days now, not sure what to say. What I have finally concluded is that using words is not quite right. Five years ago I did use words [The Rainbow within God ] but this year I just feel that it was the correct approach. That left images.

I looked through the pictures I had to see if I could find something that would fit. And I found this.

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This is an interesting location and picture. It was a water fall at the end of a trail through the Oregon timbers. Because it was deep in the woods, not much light got to the falls. You can see a small bit of greenery in light in the upper left hand corner. Because there was not much light, my camera overemphasized the dark of the water and picked up the lights of the form. Others who were with me got more “normal” pictures, but mine came out like this. And this.

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It was from further down from the waterfall, water rushing over rocks. Again dim lighting that my camera did unusual things with. At first I was disappointed but as I looked at, I started to see something mystical about it. There are many more pictures like it. But I will not post them all.

May you beloved be aware of the fountain of life that comes from God and the light of God in your life. Selah!

SACRIFICE . . . Preacher and historic Anabaptist Seeker: What shall we sacrifice to God?

Preacher: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “To do justice is to offer a pleasing sacrifice to God.”

Preacher: “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “O my dear wife, lay to heart the virtues which the Lord has caused to be proclaimed to you . . .”

Preacher: “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “O dear lamb, I also beseech you on high from the bottom of my heart, to keep you from all error of unbelief . . .”

Preacher: “He has showed you, O man, what is good.”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “Let us pray together with a broken heart, an humble spirit and a pure conscience . . .”

Preacher: “And what does the Lord require of you?”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “. . . . lifting up holy hands, without contention or strife, praying to God steadfastly in the faith . . .”

Preacher: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “ . . . then will our prayer be a sweet savor and an acceptable offering to God; for every gift comes from the Father of lights.”

(Reference: Reading the Anabaptist Bible page 154 and  Micah 6:6-8)

I cannot take any credit or claim for the above. It is a weaving of the passage from Micah chapter six and a letter from the historic Anabaptist believer Hans Symons wrote to his wife in September of 1567 while in prison at Antwerp. So often in the letters of the historic Anabaptists they quote scripture for encouragement and instruction. I wanted the two voices to blend. May you beloved offer our Lord the greatest sacrifice – your devotion. Selah!

MERCY . . . When things look topsy-turvey, show your Christian side

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Reference: Luke 6:36 )

I am currently writing in duality – that is, writing for the current time (plus a few days) and also writing ahead for when I am gone in May. And because I believe truly that God is in the details and in all things, I am struck by the contrast of the two themes I am writing on. In “real time” (or as close to it as I am) I am writing about persecution and that it often is the cost of belief and faithful discipleship. But I am also writing for the time ahead (what you are reading now) and the theme is “Mercy.” And my thought is, how do I hold the two together? How can I write on mercy when the historic Anabaptists received little? And how can I right on persecution when mercy is also my focus?

The excerpt from the historic Anabaptist writings (by the way beloved, did you know that much of these excerpts come from The Martyr’s Mirror which is a collection of historic Anabaptist writings that were collected and passed through the generations; it makes interesting reading) that goes with this verse was written by Soetgen van den

Houte (d. 1560) and was written to her children. She told them“Be diligent in prayer, and love the poor; for Christ also was poor for our sakes. 2 Cor. 8:9. Be therefore also merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful; for such shall be blessed, and shall obtain mercy. Also learn to be meek and lowly in heart; for such are blessed and shall inherit the earth. Luke 6:36; Matt. 5:5. And blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” If you would look back to the section on “Persecution” you would see that the same sort of admonitions and exhortations are given under that theme. And one would be tempted to ask, “Just what is it with those historic Anabaptists?” They/we are a strange lot, constantly directing our listens to God and more perfect devotion. We were persecuted, but advocated mercy. Much of Anabaptist faith can be seen as a paradox. But we also consider the “Kingdom of God” to be upside down in comparison to current society. Or maybe it is current society that is wrong way up.

May you beloved show mercy to all whom you encounter, and may God’s mercy be with you. Selah!

HOPE . . . . A Preacher and Seeker Call and Response

Preacher: Who fears the Lord?

Seeker: I fear the Lord, and am afraid for I am a sinner!

Preacher: Do not be afraid, gentle soul, for you are blessed!

Preacher: Who loves the Lord?

Seeker: I love the Lord, for God’s mercy is well established from days gone by!

Preacher: You are wise, gentle soul, for your hope is well placed in the Lord.

Preacher: Who desires to look upon the Lord?

Seeker: I do, but I an fearful to see the Lord’s divine countenance!

Preacher: Do not fear, for the eyes of the Lord are upon you with caring and compassion.

Seeker: The Lord is my protection and strong stay!

Preacher: The sun is strong at noon, and would scorch your soul!

Seeker: The Lord protects me and preserves me from stumbling.

Preacher: There are many things in this world that you will stumble over! Beware!

Seeker: The Lord will steady my footsteps and keep me from falling.

Preacher: The Lord will raise up your soul at the end of all days.

Seeker: The Lord will bring light to my eyes so that I will see and understand.

Preacher: The Lord will give you health, life, and blessing!

Seeker: Blessed be the name of the Lord.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. It is an important point on Jesus Christ’s journey to the cross. It seemed good to me, and the Spirit helped, to write a call and response with today’s scripture passage. My hope is that it will help you focus on this season of preparation for Easter. This year’s lectionary passages come from Matthew 21: 1-11; Psalms 118:1-2,19-29; Isaiah 50:4-9z; Psalms 31: 9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; and Matthew 26: 14 to 27:66. The coming week is called Holy Week and culminates in Good Friday. While some churches follow the format of Lent, other churches do not. However most churches include Palm/Passion Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. If you have any questions about the season of Lent, please let me know. And may Jesus be the unfailing source of hope that you need. Selah!

HOPE . . . . Like Moist Cooling Drops in the Desert of Life

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Reference: Jeremiah 17:5-8 )

I was ready to feel discouraged and distressed about trusting in people – you see, I have been reading a lot of posts from the Facebook support group I joined recently. I have been very encouraged by reading their posts and posting my own comments. But then I looked up the comments made by Albert Barnes on this passage, and he says concerning verse five and following, “In the rest of the prophecy Jeremiah dwells upon the moral faults which had led to Judah’s ruin.” It reminded me that Jeremiah is talking about military strength and false worship practices. And he says concerning verse 6, “God’s people feel trouble as much as other people, but they do not fear it because they know (1) that it is for their good, and (2) that God will give them strength to bear it.”

Now do not think that God creates “trouble” just so the faithful will stay that way and that we do not have the strength to bear our troubles that means we have not been faithful enough to God. That is a trap that I learned to avoid many years ago. Trouble will find us whether we believe in God or not. But when trouble comes we can depend on God being with us every step of the way, and that God’s wisdom will be available to us to solve our troubles or withstand them until they are past. And we do not have to have the strength to bear our troubles. We can say we are weak and are made low by troubles. There is no shame in that. In fact admitting our limitations and relying on God is just what the Divine is hoping we will do. We would be foolish to try to face our problems without God.

And the second part of the passage says just that. When trouble threatens to “dry us out”, God is there to water us and get us through the heat. And even in the midst of our trouble, our faithfulness to God will help us bear fruit. Often my Facebook friends will commend each other to God, and ask for prayer and prayer for those who are in need. We are a “well watered” group!

May you beloved hold tightly to God through your troubled times, and may God keep you “moist” so that you may withstand the heat of your troubled times. Selah!

BE NOT AFRAID . . . You have been claimed

But now, this is what the Lord says: he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord , your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.” (Reference: Isaiah 43:1-3 )

The prophet Isaiah portrays a Lord who adamantly claims God’s people. If God’s people wanted to wiggle free, they could not. It is both comforting – in terms of not needing to fear – but also a little foreboding because much might be expected. I say this because the writer of Isaiah not only speaks of comfort but of discipline and taking God’s people to task for not living right. But in this portion of Isaiah there is no condemnation.

What I find interesting is that the writer of Isaiah has the Lord saying that the Divine has ransomed God’s people, paying a great price; more than the wealth/health of Egypt, Cush, and Seba. (These were enemies of God’s people and were destroyed in order that God’s people should be safe.) The Message says, “Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you: all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in! That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you.” To me that foreshadows God’s Son paying the price for our sins.

I did not know if the “commentators” would agree with me or not, so I “consulted” with one of them, and he did. But he (the commentator, Matthew Henry) also said that it was odd that God said “Fear not” because in the proceeding chapter of Isaiah God’s people were being verbally “spanked” by God for their behavior. But there is no paradox here – when you are “owned” by someone that Someone gets to moderate your behavior and set standards. And if you do not meet those standards, you can get into trouble. So beloved, accept the comfort and security if you will, but then you must also accept the consequences. However, we know that Christ our Savior said do not fear, my burden on you is light and my tasks are easy.

May you beloved take comfort in being claimed by God, knowing you have nothing to fear – except the Lord! Selah!