The Third Sunday of Easter – Being healed from what truly ails you (The substituted Old Testament Passage)

When Peter saw it [the response to his healing of a crippled man], he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out . . .” (Acts 3:12-19)

There was a time, beloved reader, when Jesus name had the power to heal. In many instances, it still does. But not so many instances that it is used as a replacement for medicine or medical procedures/interventions. My own situation is a case in point – I have several medical/health diagnoses, and prayer has not taken one of them away. But, despite all of the things medically wrong, I am still active in my job, in my home, and lastly but certainly not least, writing this blog.

There was a time, soon after my visit medical diagnosis, that I thought it should be or could be a matter of faith for me to be healed – that is, to prayer with fervent believe and devotion that I could “beat” the diagnosis and be whole. But the Spirit very quickly “cured” me of that notion. And that it was not a matter of faith but a matter of God’s plan that I should know illness and sickness. But it was also a matter of God’s plan that – as verse 20 of this passage says – “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus”.

I am sure that if one asked Peter, “Why, and how did you know, through Jesus’ name, you could/should offer that man healing?” Peter would have said, “The Spirit spoke to me, that I should and could, and that it would bring about faith in the people.” I cannot tell you, beloved reader, how or when or even if someone could do this. What I can tell you is that healing through God comes for a reason or purpose that we many times do not know. I can also tell you that healing comes in many ways; and what may not seem to be “healing” because it is not the alleviation of symptoms, it actually a renew ability to function in the face of the illness or symptoms. Note too that Peter took the opportunity to preach to the people, not about how they could be illness/symptom free but how they could claim Christ’s “healing” for their sins; and that is even more important.

May you, beloved reader, feel our Lord God’s healing touch in your life – both in body and spirit. Selah!

Holy Week – Monday (The Psalms Passage) Singing Praises to our Lord

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.” (Psalm 36:5-6)

Many of the psalms passage were first designed as being songs or song-like refrains used for prayer and worship. It is no wonder that modern day Christians have turned psalms passage into songs. When ever I read this lines from Psalm 36 I think of the song by Third Day entitled “Your love, Oh Lord”. If you have an internet connection, I would encourage you to listen to the song if you are not already familiar with it.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Verses 7-9)

Who would not want to sing praises to a God such as this! But there have been many people, throughout all the ages, who have not been moved to bring praise and worship to such a God. And many people who have not remained faithful to such a God. Or have not followed faithfully and completely such a God. What I am trying to say very gently, beloved reader, is that we have not consistently and unswerving followed such a God. This lectionary year the focus is recommitment and renewal of our faith. And during the season of Lent is when this need seems most poignant. Thankfully one of the wondrous things about this God is that the Divine forgives us without end and has made preparation for our redemption even before we needed it.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!” (Verse 10)

As to this last verse, since we are looking inward, I would, again gently, put forth one idea as to how to understand this verse.

Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.” (Verse 11)

Do not let us mess up ourselves, so much Oh Lord, that we cannot find our way back to You! Selah!

SIN . . . When it is really sinful! Part II

“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 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?” (Reference: Hebrews 10:26-29 )

Lord, I really don’t know what to do! I have this really bad habit of . . . of . . . sinning! I just can’t help it! I try to do what’s right. Or at least what I think is right. I fear the Lord. And I love the Lord. I try to follow the laws of Moses, not only in word but in spirit also. I know and understand what Jesus was saying about the spirit and intent of the laws that were passed down! But sin finds me! I know judgment shall come upon me!

Beloved, do find yourself praying such a prayer as above? I think at one time or another every believer has expressed this sort of fear. The writer of Hebrews is very good at summing up the failings of humanity and delivering it in a fiery letter. But this is the same person who wrote “I don’t do what I should do. And I shouldn’t do what I do.” Or something like that.

What we need to be attentive to in this verse is the word “deliberate.” It does not mean the slip ups that we are all guilty of. No, it is the tossing out of everything we know about God, letting go completely of God’s laws, both of Moses and Jesus’ law of love. It is a calculated doing of things that is at all points contrary to what God would have us do.

The writer of Hebrews says Moses’ law called for death on small points with only a few witnesses. But that is NOT the deliberateness that the writer of Hebrews means. It is the utter rejection of God and the Son of God that will result in there being no appeal possible to God’s grace and mercy. For indeed, if someone has rejected God, then God’s grace is also not available to them.

The historic Anabaptists took sin very seriously. Their dogmatism reminds me of the writer of Hebrews – not when he was doing his internal assessment of self but when he was lashing out at others. And if you doubt what I am saying, hear the verses that come before this passage. “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Verses 16-18)

Beloved, remember both the words of the apostles and disciples of Christ and the words of our Lord Jesus and God. Remember that mercy and forgiveness were offered even before you first sinned. Honor and glorify God and Christ by living a Christian and accountable life. And may the Divine keep as free from sin as possible. Selah!

BROTHERLY REBUKE . . . Taking it to heart

Those who hate reproof walk in the sinner’s steps, but those who fear the Lord repent in their heart.” (Reference: Sirach 21:6 )

There is sort of a theological conflict here. “Reproof” means that someone has brought the sin to the sinners attention, and the sinner has decline the correction. But the second part of the verse says that those who fear (read love, worship, and follow) God are already repenting or have repented in their heart. The historic Anabaptist quoted today, Hendrick Alewijns, wrote to his children “I now show you for the first, how you may attain to the foundation of virtue, and the beginning of wisdom . . . open your ears, and receive instruction, and you shall become wise and honorable; if not, you must remain unwise, ungodly, worldly and in error.“ Perhaps it is my assumption that repenting in your heart means done on your own as opposed to public instruction. Another interpretation might be that repenting in your heart means you repent deeply and sincerely. And that is the way to virtue and wisdom that Alewijns was recommending to his children. If that is so, I would recommend it to you also beloved. Whoever and wherever the reproof comes from – that is, from God or a caring fellow believer – may you accept it as a word from God and repent with sincerity and devotion to the Lord who offers mercy and forgiveness to all. Selah!

HUMILITY . . . Like none we have known

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Reference: Matthew 11:28-30 )

Five years ago I wrestled with this verse, and do not feel that I explored all its depths then. Of course now as then I am not sure how it connects to humility. And the historic Anabaptist believer writing does not address the theme of humility either. At least that was my perspective then. But thinking on it now . . . .

Michael Sattler’s writing that is cited with this verses says that we learn from Christ that violence is to be rejected. He said, “Now many, who do not understand Christ’s will for us, ask: whether a Christian may or should use the sword against the wicked for the protection and defense of the good, and for the sake of love.

The answer is unanimously revealed: Christ teaches and commands us to learn from him, for he is meek and lowly of heart and thus we shall find rest for our souls, Matt. 11:29. Now Christ says to the woman taken in adultery, John 8:11, not that she should be stoned according to the law of his Father (and yet he says, “what the Father commanded me, that I do,” John 8:22), but with mercy and forgiveness and the warning to sin no more, says: “Go, sin no more.”

The questions (as I understand it now) is whether we, who are followers of Christ, should defend ourselves to the point of using violence or whether we should not think so much of ourselves that our defense is worthwhile to attack another. The question (as Sattler) sees it was presented to Christ when the woman caught in adultery was brought before him. He was asked by the religious leaders – in a sense – do the laws of Moses need to be defended to the point of bringing violence and death to this woman? Christ answered – again, in a sense – if your own conscience tells you that you are blameless and have not sought to advance yourselves at the cost then you may stone her. Christ did not seek to punish her to advance himself, but rather offered mercy, forgiveness, and a life without sin.

This is not the way we usually think about humility, not being aggressive and insisting on our way. But is it a frequent trait of the historic Anabaptists to not press to the point of violence etc. But to be mild and meed, offering compassion rather than hostility.

May you beloved follow the example of Christ our Lord and go gently in this world. Selah!

KEEPING WATCH . . . During Holy Week – Tuesday

Now, 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. But you are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” (Reference: 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-5)

The historic Anabaptist believer, Abraham Picolet, shares the concern common to the historic Anabaptists of those times that believers would be found negligent in their faith. He wrote, “Make great haste to fear the Lord; for we live today, but do not know whether we shall live tomorrow. Be therefore watchful to fear the Lord; take courage; lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees; and take diligent heed, for we know not when the Lord will come. Heb. 12:12; Matt. 24:42. The day of the Lord draws nigh; it comes as a thief in the night, when it is not expected. 1 Thess. 5:2. Look therefore not to men, for there are few that fear the Lord. Think how many there were when the whole world perished, and yet there were but eight who feared the Lord. Also, how many were saved when Sodom and Gomorrah perished. O think how few entered into the promised land, only Joshua and Caleb; the rest all perished because of their wickedness (even as it still goes with many on account of their wickedness), and because they would not believe God’s words, but resisted, vexed and persecuted the righteous; and if these will also not repent, they shall all likewise perish, for all those are for an example to us. Luke 13:3.” And if you consider the examples that he gives – Noah and his family, Lot and his family, and Joshua and Caleb out of all of those who were lead out of Egypt – it has been challenging to many to live a good Christian life. The writer of Thessalonians is of the perspective that his listens are good Christians and followers of God. But the historic Anabaptist believer Picolet seems to express a more pessimistic perspective. This could be based on how comparatively few “true” believers that the historic Anabaptists knew.

May you beloved be a true and faithful follower of God so that you will not be surprised by the return of Christ! Selah!

It is the second day of Holy Week – Tuesday. The theme for this day is being attentive and aware of many things – from the passage in Isaiah 49:1-7 where the writer of Isaiah recognizes his identity in God to the passage from Psalms 71:1-14 that celebrates God’s rescue of us; and the passage from I Corinthians 1:18-31 that recognizes that what may be foolishness to the world but wisdom to the believer; and the culmination in John 12:20-36 where Jesus is identified for the benefit of those with Jesus. May you beloved continue to be aware this week of Jesus’ mission in the world and the Lord’s mission in your life. Selah!

FAITH . . . The Beginning of “Greatness”

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Reference: John 14:12 )

I have always wondered how we can do even greater things than Christ. It doesn’t seem possible. But then I thought, what if it is on a comparative scale?! We, operating out of our human-ness are able to rise above our human limitations and do wondrous compassionate things, perform heroic and sacrificial acts, and turn evil into good. Change enemies into friends (referring to 2013’s theme here and in “Sip of Scripture” on the website Third Way Cafe) and sow peace where there is discord, hatred, and violence. If can do all of these things that are above the norm, maybe that is comparable to Christ performing divine miracles! At least that is the way my faith/belief system worked it out.

However, Balthasar Hubmaier (one of the more outspoken historic Anabaptists) has another way of looking at this passage and pronouncement. He said that it is through Christ and only through Christ – that is using Christ’s power and strength – that Christians can do “even greater things”. He said, “Thus Christ also says in John 14:12, “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do.” And yet it is known that we do not and cannot do

anything, but he must do it through and in us, as it is written in Acts 3:12 and 14:15.I would agree with this, and humbly suggest it dovetails into my theory, that through Christ we rise above our human limitations and start to emulate the Divine. And if that is so, we are capable of such “miracles” every day, showing compassion, care, mercy, forgiveness etc.

May you beloved do ever greater things in your life, inspired by the love and example of Christ. Selah1

REPENTANCE . . . A lifestyle change

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Reference: Isaiah 55:6-9 [Emphasis mine] )

The historic Anabaptists, at least from a certain perspective, felt they were returning to God after have been at a distance from the Divine. Hans Denck, in a tract from 1526, wrote, “Whoever in the depths of his soul and in truth will offer himself to the Lord so as to leave his will and seek God’s will, let him respect God’s work, and the merciful Father will receive and accept him with great joy, regardless of how he hitherto conducted himself. . . . O that the whole world would come in this manner! Surely the Lord would be wondrously ready to embrace them.

With advent of printing writing and “publishing” one’s thoughts on religions and other topics became quite common. Both religious and state leaders, and dissenters of this authority wrote and circulated their thoughts and opinions. These tracts are not much different that then tracts of our not-so-recent past; consider them the modern equivalent of tweets etc. The historic Anabaptists put great emphasis on repentance and confession. They felt confident that God’s mercy would cover them and offer them forgiveness and redemption. But it was not enough to simple confess. Once forgiven the penitent was expected to change their behavior and not delve into sin again. Human will was to be given up and God’s will was to be carried out. This is a theme that comes up again and again in both historic and modern Anabaptism.

Seek God’s mercy and forgiveness, beloved, and respect God’s will and work. Selah!

LOVE ONE ANOTHER . . . The road to a Godly life

“For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another . . . . We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another.” (I John 3:11, 14a from I John 3:11-24)

There is nice symmetry between yesterday’s scripture passage and today’s. Yesterday we were told that “faking” love for a brother or sister would bring darkness and death. Today we are told authentic love and care for a brother or sister will bring us out of death and into life. It almost seems like there is a reprieve for those who have strayed into darkness. And we should not begrudge this gentle reader because the love and care for a brother or sister flows both ways – we are loved and cared for – and forgiven and made welcome – and we should love and care for – and forgive and make welcome – our brother and sister. If we love and forgive the temporarily or new-believing brother and/or sister, we have passed or confirmed our life as well as allowing them to pass from death to life. We love them, and in loving them model how love should be given and received in the Godly life.

May you gentle reader live new lives in our Lord, and may you make welcome others in new life with our Lord. Selah! And shalom for all of us this day.

A MORE EXCELLENT MINISTRY . . . Mercy & Forgiveness just gets better & better! But . .

“But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.” ( Hebrews 8:6 from Hebrews 8:1-13)

Paul is continuing his theme of Jesus as high priest. And because Pal was very skilled in composing letters that both address and support his audience’s needs and theological perspectives, I am tempted to believer that this Hebrew audience clung to the need for a high priest to offer sacrifices and atonement. I have known contemporary Christians who also look to Jesus for this blessing. In fact, as Paul pointed out in yesterday’s scripture passage, for some this is Jesus’ primary purpose.

While I may believe it is a stilted view of Jesus, this theology is not without its profess-ers and supporters. Being at-one-ment with God and Christ is very important. And the belief that this can only be accomplished by Christ’s sacrifice is a valid one. As I said yesterday though, it is not all that Jesus is about. But there is no question that if one wants to be at-one-ment with God, having Christ accomplish it is the best option. And the one that is most likely to place one in right relationship with God, access a merciful justice, and in due time achieve shalom.

But that is not all there is to the Christian life. This year’s triune theme of right relationship, justice, and shalom covers and is appropriate for many scripture passages and theological issues. But it is not everything! Multifaceted Christianity can not be pinned down to one set of issues. Not even Paul addressed the same lineup of issues in each of his letters.

Christianity is like a bottomless endless pool (or well) of living water that is sufficient to sustain all of humanity. If one person wants to dip in and bring up a certain flavor of “living water” be he/she be blessed through it. But not think because Paul says Jesus “high priest” ministry is “more excellent” that it is the only one.

May you gentle reader be ministered to and blessed by Jesus the highest of priests. But may you also know Jesus in different roles, each most excellent! Selah! And shalom for your day.