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!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . But can we not find reward in the here and now?

I Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. “ (Reference: 2 Esdras 2:42-47 )

Five years ago I “passed” on this scripture passage, choosing not to comment on it but instead leave it for my writing partner. This year, as I am the only one writing, it falls to me to comment on this. The historic Anabaptist quoted/excerpted for this day would tell us, as he told his wife, “Thus, my dear wife, follow Christ, and take up your cross with patience and joy, and follow Him all the days of your life, for He had to suffer so much for our sakes, to save us. Therefore let us suffer for His sake; since it is our hour, let us joyfully contend for the crown of life, which is prepared for us and them that fear and love the Lord. Hence let us be satisfied in Him, and take our cross upon us with joyfulness and patience, and wait with firm confidence for the promises which He has made us, and that we may be crowned upon Mount Sion, and adorned with palms, and may follow the Lamb. 2 Esd. 2:42; Rev. 14:4.”

Most of the rewards for the pious seem to come at this end of this world, or at least at the end of their lives. There does not seem to be much “reward” bestowed during this life, or during our lifetimes. And I have to wonder, does every believer consider it to be this way? That rewards from the Divine come only after death or after this world has passed away? It seems a lot to ask to wait.

And I don’t mean that in a whiny impatient way. What I mean is, is there no reward in this life for following God and Christ? Don’t we or can’t we find reward in doing what Christ models and God asks of us? Is it not enough to know one is following God and Christ, or does there have to be a “reward”, a “carrot” dangling at the end of a Divine stick? Does humanity have to have a solid reason for being righteous?

Beloved, I am often dismayed at this “modern” world; but then I am also often dismayed at what the world was like decades and centuries before. I constantly see being kind and caring as a deliberate choice, and chose to be that one on most all occasions – after all, no one that is human is perfect. But altruism is a choice that I consciously make, for reasons that are my own and do NOT depend on getting some reward at the end of this world, or even at the end of my life. And while it is nice that the “pious” are rewarded, my actions that have their foundation in my Christian faith are not dependent on a reward.

May you beloved make good and authentically Christian choices, for whatever your reasons may be. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Those who remain patient and righteous

You have said harsh things against me, says the LORD . Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. They will be mine, says the LORD Almighty, in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Reference: Malachi 3:13-18 )

There are several parts to this passage, and it is confusing that they all seem to run together. First, the Lord (through the writer of Malachi) has complaints concerning the way some people talk about the Lord. However when challenged on this they claim not to have spoken against the Lord. But, the Lord counters, you have spoken unfairly and further more claim that the Lord has treated you unfairly. Second, those who truly fear the Lord prayed to the Lord and the Lord heard them. To them the Lord promises that the Lord cares about them and reward them for their faithful belief. Lastly, the Lord says it will be easy to see who is considered righteous before the Lord and who is judged and being wicked.

In reading this passage I can catch a hint of what could be labeled historic Anabaptist thinking. That those who are not practicing correct belief in God seem to be getting away with it for the time being, but their wrong belief will catch up to them. But God has heard the faithful, and they will be rewarded.

It seems to me that one definition of “pious” that can be drawn from this is someone who believes in God despite things going against them; believes that God will at some point claim and reward those who have remained faithful; and that some day it will be easy to tell who is righteous and who is not. As I have said before, it is a matter of being patient.

May you beloved be patient in the Lord and believe that the Lord will reward such patience and righteousness in the fullness of time. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . By way of the self-understanding of the “pious”

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the LORD your Redeemer. To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the LORD , who has compassion on you.“ (Reference: Isaiah 54:7-10 )

The writer of Isaiah at times seems to take great liberties in personifying God. Five years ago my writing partner at the time said he was uncomfortable with the image presented in this passage of Isaiah. [December 21, 2009] God abandoning the Lord’s people? Becoming angry and hiding the Divine Face? And my writing partner correctly reminded our readers that God did abandon the Lord’s people again after this writing.

And argument could be made that the Lord’s people abandoned God, so their punishment of being abandoned, and then being abandoned again might be considered a deserved one. But this brings to mind a wrathful God. The wrath of God is a frequent image in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament it is a kinder and gentler God that has sent Christ. I have heard or read several different theories as to why this is so, and known of them really satisfy me. I have my own idea . . . of course. Well, actually it might be partly mine and partly from other people who have expressed the same discomfort.

The historic Anabaptists did not seem to have any discomfort with this image of God. G. Kleermaecker, wrote about it saying, “Therefore, my dear sister in the Lord, though our God does now hide His face from us for a little while, yet will He gather us again with everlasting kindness, as the prophet says: “I will lead you into mine house, and give you a place within my walls, and a name better than of sons and of daughters; yea, I will give you an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Yea, he will lay our stones with fair colors, and lay our foundations with sapphires, and will make our windows of crystal and our gates of carbuncles.” Isa. 54:7, 8; 56:5; 54:11, 12.” It is for this reason, I image, this passage is placed under the theme of “Reward of the Pious.” A theme title such as “Reward of the Patient” might be just as appropriate. If the historic Anabaptist believes that their persecution comes about because God’s face is “hidden” from them, then they might well believe that in time and/or through their death, and if they maintain their devote faith, they might see God’s face again.

But this explanation does not satisfy me any better than any other I have heard. Does this mean that God has hidden the Divine’s Face from those who suffer; but those who are doing well, and safe, and are prospering enjoy the full revelation of the Divine’s Face? You see the problem beloved.

I just don’t know about this God that the writer of Isaiah is personifying. And that is just it, beloved. We are reading the Old Testament writers’ theories and personifications of God. It is being interpreted by human perception through the lens of trying to make sense of what is happening to God’s “chosen” people. I believe it is an erroneous perception that if the people of God are suffering, it must be because God has allowed them to suffer or is setting them up to suffer.

I believe that the faithful will be rewarded; and by a God who has seen and felt every day of their suffering. I do not believe God has ever hidden the Divine Face, but that we have let things block and blind our sight so we cannot see God’s face. And sure, God gets angry about it. What loving Parent or Spouse would not? Your reading of these passages from Isaiah and other parts of the Old Testament may differ from mine. And I welcome your thoughts, ideas and reflections as always. Shalom for your day.

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . They are not forgotten

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Reference: Isaiah 49:14-16 )

[Look out, beloved. I am “preaching” today!]

This is a hard truth, beloved, whatever century and era you live in – children of God suffer in this world. It was true in the time of the historic Anabaptists, and it is true now. But what one has to remember, beloved, and cling to with all one’s might when suffering comes to you – all of humanity and all of creation are children of God. So if you say that those who you would number amongst the “faithful” (meaning those of your own faith group, cultural group ethnic group etc) suffer, remember that others who YOU would not number amongst God’s faithful suffer also. We all suffer. We all are Zion who says “the Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” The Lord says to all of us . . . the historic Anabaptist, the magistracy of the 1500’s, the faithful of North America, the faithful of Europe, the faithful of Asia, the faithful of Africa, the faithful of South America, and every one who all the “faithful” would not consider “faithful” . . . all of us! The Lord has said “I have not forgotten any of you. Throughout history and time. Not one in any nation of the world now, nor in the past. I have not forgotten any of you. Each of you are precious and engraved on the palms of my Hands. You are ever before me!” Each of us, beloved, is a child at the Lord’s breast and has been borne of God’s image. Selah! What we may have forgotten – that we are all children of God – the Lord has not! Amen!