Season After Pentecost – Hard Words for the Christian Life (The Gospel Passage)

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.” (John 6:56-59)

If this passage is familiar, beloved reader, it is because we looked at it last week. I seem to be falling into the pattern of looking and and commenting on the Gospel Passages during the first part of the week. I do not know why the RCL repeats some of the verses from the previous week during the current week. But it sort of provides an anchoring, a reminding of where the reading stop the previous week. And that is not such a bad thing. The passage continues saying . . .

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (Verses 60-62)

I want to make a quick explanation here. The reference to what Jesus said being “hard” meant it was hard to understand, or more specifically, not an easy fact to accept. They did not like the sounds of it and did not want to hear it. Jesus was saying things that made the uncomfortable and confused.

It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” (Verses 63-65)

Being able to understand what Jesus said, what was meant and the inner meaning was an ability and blessing given by God – in those times, and according to what verse 65 tells us. But we who study the bible in modern day understand these things – most probably because someone explained them to us; someone to whom understanding was given most likely. But even having this understanding of what Jesus meant, as opposed to the confusing and unpleasant way the writer of the gospel of John tells us, some do not and will not follow Jesus and God.

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Verses 66-69)

Who are you, beloved reader? Are you one of the ones who “turned away” because it is too hard to know, understand and follow God and the Christ God sent? Or are you like Simon Peter and the other disciples (excepting of course and eventually Judas) who believe that the Divine is the One and Only One who has the “words of eternal life.” May you ponder your decision carefully beloved reader. Selah!

CHILD REARING . . . . The end and the beginning of the Christian Life

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

It is the last day of the year, beloved. And the last post on Reading the Anabaptist Bible. This collection of scripture has taken us from “Fear of God” through activities of church life such as “Discipleship”, “Baptism”, “Prayer”, “Communion” to pitfalls of life such as “Sin”, “Greed, “Wrath”, “Useless Chatter” to the events of human life such as “Brotherly Rebuke”, “Marriage”, “Human Law”, “Food” and to punishment of not living as God would have us live. Three hundred and sixty-five days of considering how the historic Anabaptists lived and believed. And we end at “Child Rearing”, which is passing on what we have learned in this life to the next generation. This comes as we see the old year passing away and the new year coming. A poetic ending to be sure.

And what of this last verse? Is there some final message we can glean? The writer of Colossians says it is pleasing to the Lord to have children listen and obey their parents. This rests on the premise however that one’s parents have wisdom and experience following and living for God. I hope and pray, beloved, that your parents were/are like this. And if not, that you have found mentors and spiritual parents who have taught you of God and an authentic Christian faith.

This verse also gives a warning to parents (this is advice not only for fathers but mothers too) not to “embitter” their children. In other words, to be the parents that are models for following God and leading an authentic Christian life. Hendrick Alewijns wrote to his children, saying, “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 . . . “

It was intention at the beginning of the year to present to you, beloved, as clear picture of what they historic Anabaptists believed, and where that believe may have sprung from. I hope I have done that. But as spring turned into summer and then summer into fall, I found that the historic Anabaptists, while at times squarely addressed some issues relevant to our modern times, were also badly out of step with our modern times. And as the themes grew more grim and stern, I found it harder and harder to support their perspective. Our times differ so radically from theirs, that I think we must look on them as history as opposed to signposts for Christian living. There are good lessons contained in their writings, but in this new century that is almost 15 years old we must forge new ways and understandings.

Five years ago when I finished writing on Reading the Anabaptist Bible, I was anticipating another year of writing posts based on the scripture passages from “Third Way Cafe.” But as you have been aware since soon after Thanksgiving, in 2015 I will be continuing down a different path. It is my hope for the coming year that we can look together at scripture passages and find within them the signposts for a new year, drawing on wisdom from all ages of humanity.

This signals the end of my interlinked relationship with “Third Way Cafe.” It is just you and I now beloved. May God be with us in the new year. Selah!

PUNISHMENT OF THE GODLESS . . . . It will come. But do not live for that day!

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” (Reference: 2 Peter 3:3-7 )

Scoffers have come and gone, writer of 2 Peter. Generations of them. And yet the world goes on. We have had proclaimers of the world coming to an end in all shapes and sizes. And each one of those proclaimers has passed on to the next world. But this world goes on. If we are in the last days, the last days have gone on for hundreds of years.

But I am not scoffing, beloved. Neither am I following my own desires. I see proof all around me that God’s power and might is as strong now as in the past. What I do not see is any proof that these last days are any different than the last days of decades ago. So what must I understand, writer of 2 Peter?

Walter of Stoelwijk posed the question, “who are these unbelievers, who do not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and shall therefore suffer everlasting pain?” and answered it saying, “They are those who now do not observe the commandments of Jesus Christ, and will not suffer for the name of God, or confess the truth according to the instruction of the Gospel . . .“ Many of the historic Anabaptists believed they were living in the last times and they would be delivered from the persecution and oppression that was pressed against them. But the Day of Judgment did not come, and all of those who lived in that time, both the historic Anabaptists and their accusers, they all passed away as mortals do.

Hear me well, beloved. If you are living for the day that the “godless” will be punished and the “Godly” will be rewarded, you are not truly living. It is not the Day of Judgment that you should be ready for, but the daily question, . . . . are you living for yourself? Or living for God? This is a question some of the historic Anabaptists wrestled with, and this past year we have heard their voices speak of their faith. If you would remember them for anything, remember them for sincere efforts to live as they felt God called them to live. Selah!

PUNISHMENT OF THE GODLESS . . . . Does this mean 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. “ (Reference: 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 )

The writer of 2 Thessalonians was writing to a people who had believed in God, and the writer’s warning about those who did not believe was tempered with the assurance that the writer’s audience did believe – therefore I believe it was a positive message.

The historic Anabaptist, Lenaert Plovier, wrote to his children saying, “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.” And this seems like a negative pessimistic message to me.

I have read writings where the message is of constant correction and need for repentance. Not all of the historic Anabaptist writing comes from that exhortation, a “hellfire and brimstone” perspective if you will; but it is hard to remember that when it seems like for many weeks we have been steeped in that sort of message. And it is especially hard to read, and write on in the Christmas season. Five years ago it seems I was more able to address these sort of verses without becoming weary of the constant message of correcting wrong living. Back then I wrote This includes you! which also noted that the message of Plovier was for those not living as he and other historic Anabaptist thought they should.

And I wonder, off and on, why it is draining on me. Part of it might be my own health is more precarious than 5 years ago. Another reason might be that I have also been writing Advent and Christmas themed posting and so have been looking at our coming hope rather than doom. And I cannot discount the fact that I have been writing solo and that I have been doing this for many years. I think than the change I am planning for 2015 will be good for me, and I hope it will be beneficial to you too beloved.

It is my hope and prayer that you are not among the godless, beloved. It is my hope and prayer you are like those Thessalonians who believe in the life and testimony of Jesus Christ. Selah!

PUNISHMENT OF THE GODLESS . . . . Those who have placed themselves outside of faith in God

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 men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” (Reference: Romans 1:16-18 )

I almost feel like these verses could be a continued theme from yesterday. I ended yesterday’s posting with a declaration of faith for all of us, that we believe in God and want our lives to be filled with God. Historic Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier wrote a scathing indictment of those he and his fellow believers labeled as “godless” and wicked. But it was not just (or was not at all) their own opinion, but one that they felt God had established. Hubmaier wrote, “This is a judgment of the righteous God on account of their own wilfull [sic.], wanton, and unrepentant evil, because they fight against the known and recognized truth. Yes, they turn their backs on God and say that he will not let himself be seen. They stop up their ears so that they do not have to hear his voice. If they were to hear his voice they think they would have to die, even though it is in that way that one must and should become alive. They turn their eyes away from God and blame him for not wanting to know them. They close off their hearts and hide themselves and yet complain that he does not knock at their heart’s door nor seek them. . . . the time is coming when they will seek God, but will not be able to find him.”

I had posed the question yesterday as to whether the “godless” are those who do not believe in God, or simply those who do not do God’s will but their own will and wicked agenda. Hubmaier adds another layer to this when he says they refuse to believe in God even when the evidence is presented to them and is before them. I guess there are many ways to be “godless.”

But what comes through very clearly in this verse, aside from not being ashamed by the gospel and spreading true faith in God, is that it is God’s task to judge who is godless and who is not. We can, as Hubmaier has, describe the type of people who we think are godless and what sort of godlessness we think they practice. But it is for God to judge them and release God’s wrath on them. And that is an important word to be heard in our current world. And if we claim and cling to being Godly, then we should not exact any punishment on one another, leaving that to God.

As the final days of this year close out beloved, may you invite God into your life (again) for the coming year, filling yourself with God. Selah!

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!