EXCESSIVE EATING/DRINKING . . . Making the choice

“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.” (Reference: Romans 13:13 )

You may not know it beloved, but I can be quite irreverent. Oh . . . you do know that . . . hm. Well then, you won’t be shocked if I say my very first response to this verse was, “does that mean that it is during/only during the night that people behave badly?”

I believe, beloved, you need to read this verse in context to understand it, and do avoid irreverent people such as myself from making comments.

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.” [NRSV Romans 13: 11-13]

The writer of Romans is equating the darkness of night to the lack of knowledge of Christian living; and the light of day as enlightenment and wisdom as to how to live a good Christian life. It is a well-used metaphor, but one that unfairly stigmatizes night and things that have natural dark coloring.

Historic Anabaptist, Pieter Pietersz, wrote “The Way to the City of Peace” in which he cites this verse from Romans chapter 13 but does not employ (much) the imagery of dark and light. He wrote “Therefore . . . let us constantly pray to God for a clear vision, that we may recognize these situations, with which the devil even tempted our Lord. Then there is also high living with the need for expensive clothing, and other unnecessary external glamor, with the lust of the eyes through which the poor person is led away from the love of the Father through carnal lust as drinking, indulging, impure works, as we have already discussed, Rom. 13:13. Many wants make people into slaves of sin in which they seek through false means and other practices to support their evil front and to carry out that which in the end leads to eternal damnation, Phil. 3:19. Therefore, let us gather courage in order to follow the crucified Christ for a little while, who is himself the light which shall lead us through all the struggle and temptations to the desired end in the spiritual Jerusalem, the perfect City of Peace . . .”

There are a good many things in this excerpt from his writing that I like; and since at times I have been critical of some historic Anabaptist writing I felt it only fair to say some positives. First, Pietersz acknowledges that Christ had temptations set before him – not that he gave in, but that in his human form there were attempts to pull into sin. Second, it is deliberate decisions that bring about sin, and desires beyond daily needs that are seen as sinful. Often in historic Anabaptist writing there is the sense that you cannot avoid sin. Here the sinner needs to make the choice. Third, Christ is seen as the light as opposed to activities done in the light or in the dark. And finally, that struggles and temptations come in this life despite our best intentions. It gives the sense of grace, mercy and forgiveness that is sometimes absent.

So you see beloved, I am not always irreverent!

May you beloved make good choices, and chose to follow the truest light which is Christ our Lord. Selah!

CONCERNING DESIRES OF THE FLESH . . . . The “Great Conundrum”

In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment.” (Reference: 2 Peter 2:3-4 )

Yesterday I cautioned all Christian believers to deal carefully and gently with those they feel are not living a good and wholesome Christian life. It is a conundrum to live in this world but not be bound by earthly agendas. It is something that many Christians struggle with – understanding and putting into action Christ’s teachings. In their struggle to live in this world as they feel Christ has taught, they make life difficult for others. Now clearly this is against what Christ taught and what his disciples wrote about. Yet it happens. And, keeping with the theme of the verses above, if God put erring angels into hell, what do you think the Lord would do with Christians who have judged and condemned others while not attending to their own sinfulness?

But this is not the only scripture passage for this day. In the book, Reading the Anabaptist Bible the historic Anabaptist quoted for today wrote on 2 Peter chapter one verses 3 to 4, but cited the chapter as chapter two. Therefore “Sip of Scripture” has as their daily reading 2 Peter chapter 2, which is not what Jerome Segers wrote on. I addressed this situation 5 years. [Beware of puzzlements] But with the passage of time I did not remember this “conundrum” – until I sat down to write again, and discovered the divergence of the two scripture references.

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature.” (Reference 2 Peter 1: 3-4)

This second scripture passage from earlier in 2 Peter has a remedy for the situation I outlined above and yesterday – if you read it as I do.

God has given us everything that we need for life and godliness. Both instruction and grace. We have knowledge of God, for both righteousness and compassion. And through this knowledge we can escape corruption and sin, and become participants in the Divine Nature (I capitalized it). But if we are participants of the Divine Nature, does that give us the right to passage judgment on others? No.

If we think so, and do so, we have misunderstood what the Divine Nature is. The historic Anabaptist Jerome Segers makes this error (the second, the first being designating the correct chapter number) when he says, “Peter says that we shall be partakers of His divine nature; yea, we shall be where Christ Himself will be, and shall with Him judge all nations . . . ” You have read, beloved, enough of the historic Anabaptists to know that they were very judgmental. And they conceived of themselves being right, and everyone else being wrong. However, in his defense and defense of other historic Anabaptist believers, I think he did get this right; “yea, we shall follow the lamb whithersoever he goeth; yea, we shall sing the new song on Mount Sion, and we know assuredly that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, eternal in the heavens.”

I think he means our earthly bodies when he says “our earthly house”. Our earthly bodies are what they are. A miracle in design for housing our soul/spirit. Maybe not perfect and may be not as others think they should be. Science has discovered the mind and body are tightly intertwined. And if God’s power has given us ALL of what we need for life and godliness, we should not despair of and despise what God has given.

I encourage you to read what I wrote 5 years ago. Little did I know at that time how relevant my words would be in the years to come. As I said then, I say now [with some updating] – May you not be ensnared by faulty teachings, teachers and judgments; but may you be guided by God’s compassion and knowledge as participants in the Divine Nature. Selah!

PURSUE PEACE . . . Secure the grace of God

“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it …that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:14-15a, 15c from Hebrews 12:1-29 )

In the missing section that is absent from this excerpt, Paul exhorts his readers to be sure “that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” But even with this piece absent, this verse is alludes to what in my opinion is the missing piece in Paul’s theological discourse. What we must do in response to Christ’s gift of grace. We must seek to be at peace with everyone, which is another way of talking about right relationships. We must be holy, from which comes the desire to be in right relationship and conduct our lives with justice, for ourselves and others. When we allow no bitterness in our lives and solve problems before they become trouble, we increase our chances for shalom. And if we have the grace of God, all other things will fall into place.

But if we lose the grace of God, or disregard the gift that Christ gives us and that God has ordained, then we have lost our way. No matter how wondrous or enduring God’s grace, we can still walk away from it.

I was reminded again on the evening of this writing that Paul would carefully design his letters for the purpose that he wanted to address. And scholars believe that this letter to the Hebrews was one of Paul’s best. So I have to believe there was a reason that only a slice of the “good news” was told. But don’t you, gentle reader, err by thinking that nothing is expected of us. Especially in this year where the focus is changing an enemy to a friend. And doubly so on this day after Thanksgiving when people had come together to celebrate family and friendships, and blessings received. Let the leftovers of that day remind us that right relationships and justice are for every day and for everyone. And that shalom can be glimpsed when come together in harmony and gratitude.

May you gentle reader pursue peace, and hold closely to you the grace of God and the holiness that it bestows. May trouble and bitterness be far from you, and may you be pure before our God. Selah! And shalom for your day.

APPROACH IN ASSURANCE . . . With a true heart

“Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us . . . and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith . . . “ (Hebrews 10:19-20a, 21-22a from Hebrews 10:19-39 )

I have spent the last few days railing against Paul’s “narrow” view of Christ’s role. But today, already weary, I am seeing another side of this; the compassion of Christ. Perhaps Paul has finally worn me down, or maybe the long-ness of the day is making me grateful for a warm and friendly welcome to the presence of Jesus and God. Granted, we need to come “a true heart” but Jesus has even done the hard work of that by offering us redemption. All we need to do is bring our forgiven selves. And maybe that is what Paul is has been trying to show his reader all this time. Christ says “Come over! The water is good, deep and life giving. The banquet table is set, and eternal life awaits!” What we need to do in order to deserve it pales in comparison to what Christ did in order to establish it for us.

This is not to let humanity off the hook. No! In fact, it should shame us into better behavior. Our response to Christ’s gift of grace should be our extending grace, compassion, care, mercy, right relationship and justice to others. Our response to Christ should as much as possible match Christ’s outreach to us.

May you gentle reader approach Christ’s sanctuary with a true heart and full assurance of welcome; and may you extend the same welcome to others. Especially on this day when many have gathered together to raise thanks for the blessings of the year. Selah! And shalom for all of us this day.

APPROACH WITH BOLDNESS . . . But not swagger

“Since, then, we have a great high priest . . . Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession . . . . Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14a,c,16 from Hebrews 4:14-5:10 )

 

Whenever I read this verse, I imagine a person (okay, the person is male but I don’t want to appear biased) approaching the “throne of grace” with swagger and smug confidence saying, “I’m going to get forgiven!” And I do not think that is what Paul meant; but for better or worse that imagine is stuck in my brain. The idea is, I know, that we do not have to be afraid of approaching or confessing to Jesus because he knows how strong temptations can be and that a lesser divine being might give in. The different translation I looked at said either “boldness” or “boldly” or used the term “confidence.” The Aramaic Bible in Plain English uses the term “publicly” which gives the passage a different feel and meaning. Now my ubiquitous generic person is emerging from the crowd and walking quietly & calmly to the “throne of grace” making public the need for confession and forgiveness. Not afraid to show him/herself as sinful. But not brazenly either. Just completing a long over due task, but hopeful that it will work out well. Or perhaps not confession and forgiveness but needing to have a conversation with God and knowing that one will not be challenged in approaching but will be welcomed.

 

May you gentle reader be assured of welcome and hospitality whenever and however you approach the “throne of grace.” Selah! And shalom for your day.

SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN . . . Or some such extremely high number: A Preacher and Seeker Conversation

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21b, 22 from Matthew 18:21-35 )

Seeker: The person who sits beside me in church stepped on my toes while going up to give his announcement. Can I step on his toes when he comes back?
Preacher: No, you must forgive him. He was in a hurry to share his good news.

Seeker: The person who sits behind me sneezed and I could see the droplets flying around! Can’t I tell her to shove the germs where the sun don’t shine!
Preacher: No, but you could offer her a tissue.

Seeker: Outside in the parking lot I bet someone opened their door to wide and bumped my car when they got out because I just noticed scuff marks that I don’t think were there before! And I bet I know whose car it is too! Can I sue?!
Preacher: If there was no damage let it go. And even if there was, it could have happened anywhere. Don’t sully your fellowship with other believers.

Seeker: I am getting tired of being the only person who brings at least two dishes to the potlucks. We need to get more people bringing food so there is enough to eat!
Preacher: Many people cannot afford to buy extra food, and they may depend on the potluck for a hot meal. You can afford to buy the food, so share it with others.

Seeker: Those visiting children wriggle and squirm during church. It makes it hard to concentrate on the service. Can’t the usher do something?!
Preacher: As Jesus welcomed children, so do we. We just need to keep modeling attentive behavior.

Seeker: The benevolent fund loaned a couple some money three months ago and I don’t think they have paid back any of it!
Preacher: You do not know their needs or situation. We do not loan money just to have it repaid. We loan money because there is great need.

Seeker: I think I have been pretty patient with some people and some issues in the church. When are they going to be resolved? I’m not sure I am willing to wait much longer.
Preacher: Our Lord said that when we think we have taken all we can and should from other people, we need to extend grace to them at least ten times more than we already have. Remember that God does not keep count or limits the amount of times we are forgiven; so neither should we limit how often we forgive others. The forgiveness we extend to others is returned to us as we need it. You have spoken of the “sins” that others have committed again you. Would you want to hear what others think of you? . . . I thought not. Go in peace Seeker knowing that seventy times seven is not a limit, but an example of the myriad of times grace has been extended to all of us!

[Post script: this “Seeker” is not the same persona that I have used in the past; but perhaps another seeking person who is still young in the faith and in the church, or the “Seeker” at a much earlier stage. May you gentle reader not count the number of times you have forgiven another; rather count the number of times God gives you the opportunity to extend Divine mercy and compassion. Selah! And shalom for your day.]

Salvation – Stepping into Grace

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5: 1-2)

This passage in The Message sets forth an interesting visual image. The passage from The Message goes as follows: “By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” {Visual image in bold]

Can you see that in your mind’s eye? Picture two sets of doors, as in adjoining rooms. It does no good to open one set of doors because if the other set of doors is not open, you cannot get to the other room. So we, who are sinners, fling open our doors thinking we must bang and barter our way into Christ’s room of grace. But lo and behold when we open the doors on our side, we find that Christ had already opened his doors and was just waiting for us. Joy of joys, we can invite Christ into our room, or go into his room. There can be communication and interchange, continually. It is only if we close our doors that we are cut off from Christ, because never would Christ close his doors.

There is of course the old image of Christ knocking at the door. That is a good image also. But I like the idea/image of God/Christ’s door always being open while humanity might sometimes close their side of the door to the Divine. May you gentle reader always keep your side of the door open to your God. Selah!

God’s Nature: God’s love is for self and for others

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)

As a spiritual director I would echo this, love your neighbor as yourself. But as a counselor and therapist, I know the opposite must also be true; love yourself as you love your neighbor.

One of the “traps” in Christianity is to put yourself down, and place God, then others before you. One of the ditties from my Sunday School growing up years was, “J-O-Y, J-O-Y! This will surely mean, Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between.”

I tell you gentle reader, I knew what it meant to be last – last picked, last to get something special, last to be noticed. So I knew what was expected of me – that is, what I thought God expected of me. And my life would have had a pretty sad prognosis, but I was fortunate that I was an only child, and a cherished child, both by my family and my church family. I had several good friends, and congenial peers. And most of the people lived by that “J-O-Y” principle themselves, so putting each other first insured that no one was truly left out.

If you “hate” yourself, but continue to try to love others and submit to God, you condemn yourself to a downward spiral that can end up in a “dark” place. Fortunately the majority of people see that dark end, and pull themselves out. But there are those who hit bottom and self-destruct themselves and quite likely hurt others in the process.

There are many reasons for loving yourself. And very, very few for not loving yourself. If I had years and years of time I could enumerate them. Primary of these is that God loves us, and so we demean God’s love if we do not see ourselves as being lovable. Plus, we can best love our neighbor if our own self image is strong because then we believe that what we have to give and share is worthy. And we love and accept ourselves, we do not deplete ourselves by giving to others, and thus will be able to continue giving and loving.

So the spiritual director and the therapist/counselor come together in encouraging you to love your self as fully and completely as God loves you, and to love others in the same way. Selah!

Before the beginning . . . of the Beginning

“This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. “ ( 2 Timothy 1: 9b-10 )

Yesterday my focus was Paul the beloved “uncle”. Today, as this passage continues, my focus is on Paul the theologian and his theology.

The grace that Jesus gives did not commence, apparently, with Jesus but precedes Jesus’ appearance on earth. It is only with Christ being evident that the grace that was there all along is now visible. Further, this Christ who brought grace also abolished death – taking away its power – and instead offers us life. And more than transitory life, but immortal life.

This is what can be called irrefutable fact. It transcends sects and denominations. It is at the center of the belief in Christ, but need not be confined to Christianity. If it were just a matter of faith and belief in Christ who was born into the world, we could call it Christianity. But when Paul says “before the ages began” it places it outside of Jesus the Messiah and within the total plan of God. And this, seeker, has “rumbling” ramifications. In short, it asks the question of what God started when the Divine first created . . . creation. How far back did God plan that Christ would come into the world? Was which we call “Christ” a part of God from the beginning? My mind boggles at the entirety of it.

Grace . . . it seems like such a simple thing. The allowance to be without punishment and the chance to make amends for one’s actions. But God’s grace not only allows and amends, but makes it as if the offense never was. And this indulgence was to be even before the need arose – according to human chronology.

Let us pause and think on this seeker. Shalom.

Part of the Plan

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. “ ( Ephesians 2: 8-10 [NLT] )

When Paul boasted, he boasted about God and not about himself. There is, I think, a fine line there. If Paul boasted about what God had done for him, and it sounded like Paul was boasting about himself, one believes that Paul knew he, alone as a frail fallen person, could not and would not take credit for what he did. A fine line – but I will not press it.

A good thing to ponder is this; is it just God’s grace that is the gift, or is it also the ability to believe? Barnes hints at this in his comment on this passage. Barnes says, “Whether this passage proves it or not, it is certainly true that faith is the gift of God. It exists in the mind only when the Holy Spirit produces it there, and is, in common with every other Christian excellence, to be traced to his agency on the heart. “ Barnes goes on to say that humanity (actually, “man”) believes, and God does not believe for us. But that it is God’s gift to us that we may have belief, and believe that comes because of God’s gift of grace. That by God’s gift of grace our believe will save us. But simply believing in . . . something . . . will not save. But believing in God will bring us salvation. We do not earn salvation; that too is a gift.

I have added verse 10 to this passage because I think with its addition the focus on missional works is enhanced. Because of God’s gift of grace, believe, and salvation, we are masterpieces – new creations that are no longer impeded by old yearnings and agendas. Thus freed, we are able to more fully be a part of the missional plans that God has. God had planned from ages back to have humanity involved in missional work. But humanity failings and weakness keeps us from fully partaking of God’s missional works. And within God’s gifts also comes the desire and impulse to bind together with other believers in churches and communities, so that supported we can do greater missional works.

So while we may “boast” of the missional work that we do, we must be aware that it is only through God and Christ that there is anything to boast of. As I said, it is a fine line. We may show evidence of our faith and belief, but its inspiration is from God.

May you missional seeker have much to boast of, because God has gifted you greatly. Selah!