REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . It is a comfort

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” (Reference: Isaiah 40:1-2)

Isaiah 40:1-11 is also part of the Revised Common Lectionary for Advent and was the verse I used on December 2nd. I also thought of this verse in conjunction with yesterday’s passage where the focus was on rewards found on God’s “Holy Mountain.”

There are several components of this “comfort” that is to be delivered to Jerusalem. First, it is to be spoken tenderly. In other prophetic writings the writers seem to have God shouting and yelling at Jerusalem, Israel, or Judah. But her the voice of the Lord is to be tender. Second, that while there have been hard times, the hardship is over and has been done successfully and completely. Third, that the hardship has paid for the sin and so beleaguered Jerusalem is now free of sin. Lastly, anything that has been taken away is returned and doubled, so that her loses have been redeemed and her fortunes restored to twice the amount. One can well imagine that this would be news that would comfort.

But this comforting and tender word is not just for Jerusalem but for the faithful who have suffered. It is news especially appropriate for Advent and Christmas, which is why I am sure it is included in the scripture passages in the Revised Common Lectionary.

I am not overly inclined to include what Reading the Anabaptist Bible quotes and excerpts of the writings of historic Anabaptists. It is, quite frankly, a downer and not in keeping with merriment of this season. One would almost think that the historic Anabaptists did not access the joy of Christ’s coming to us, but instead looked forward to their joy of going to Christ through death. Leonhard Schiemer writes, “The oil [of the third grace] is the Holy Spirit. He cannot teach anyone who has not first despaired of all human comfort and wisdom, and has raised the heart to God alone. He comforts and strengthens no one who has not first been terrified [over the soul’s condition] and alienated from all human comfort and strength.” A little further on he writes, “The life of the world has a happy beginning and an eternal mournful end. Our life has a mournful beginning, but then the Holy Spirit comes soon and anoints us with the oil of joy unspeakable. It is not a matter of solitary waiting for the comfort of God, but a Christian should and is able to encourage others and give comfort in tribulation. God speaks through Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her” [Isa. 40:1].”

It is understandable when all around you is suffering and death to look beyond the present reality to what might come. But, beloved, there have been decades and generations of suffering, and there will be more I am sure. There is nothing wrong in finding joy in this life through Jesus and our Lord God. In fact Jesus came to us to give us joy in this life and hope for a life to come. Our joy in the Lord is daily, and so too should our comfort be. May this season bring you comfort and joy beloved! Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . In the past and in the present

When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Reference: Psalm 126 )

If this passages seems vaguely familiar, beloved, it is not your imagination. It was exactly one week ago that Psalms 126 was one of the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that I commented on for the Third Week of Advent. In my introduction I had said that the scripture passages used in RCL were passages used at other times. Perhaps not explaining it precisely that way, but wanting you to understand that the scripture found in the RCL is well known and frequently used.

Apparently the historic Anabaptists found such passages instructive for their lives also. This particular passage was a reminder to them that times of struggle and tribulation were not forgotten by the Lord, but would be remembered and rewarded by the Lord. Jelis Matthijss wrote, “Hence, O my flesh, my blood, comfort yourself with these promises, this I pray you; for those who sow here in tears, shall hereafter reap in great joy. Ps. 126:5. Oh, therefore do not think, my dear lamb, that the tears you now weep will have been wept in vain; for they have already come before the face of the Lord.

In the same way the sentiments of Advent are ones we can carry with us throughout the whole year. Year B is the year of renewal and re-commitment to God. God never falters in the Divine’s faithfulness. And welcomes back those who have gone astray; and reminds them (and us) that what they may have suffered for faith’s sake will be rewarded. Beloved, take this passage into your heart and savor it for the promises and pronouncements it gives. And if you have wandered from faith, let this season of Advent be a time when you return, secure in the knowledge that our Lord remembers our times of trouble. Selah!

GOD WILL REPAY ALL . . . . Repayment that is final! But do not fear!!

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Reference: Revelation 20:12-15 )

The Book of Life. The writer of Revelation alludes to the belief that everything that one has done is recorded in great record books. And from those books the names of those found worthy are entered into the Book of Life, which is literally (according to the writer of Revelation) the names of people who are deserving of eternal life. If your name is not there . . . well, you read what is excerpted here.

Peter Riedeman in his Confession of Faith says, “So we truly believe that all our words and deeds, good or evil, are recorded before God and his Son as though written in a book. When the time comes, God will open his secret book and show to each all their deeds.” And based on those deeds each person will be rewarded or punished. But, beloved, I am not preparing to deliver a fiery exhortation. Quite the opposite in fact. I believe, and I want to tell you, that it is the cumulative nature of those deeds that will be rewarded or punished.

If we were perfect beings, each deed would be glowing in its report and our names would be prominently featured in the Book of Life. But our God knows we are not perfect; that is why our God sent Jesus Christ, of whose birth we are in the midst of celebrating. (See the companion pieces of Advent postings.) I don’t think we can or should read the book of Revelation separate from the story of salvation. I do not think the book of Revelation intends to set aside Christ’s redemption of the faithful. But sometimes when we talk about judgment and punishment etc we forget that our faithful belief and worship of God has secured our name in the Book of Life. Do not fear that day of judgment beloved, whenever it may come! Selah!

GOD WILL REPAY ALL . . . . So give God your all!

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.” (Reference: Colossians 3:23-25 )

The historic Anabaptists focused on the last part of the verse, while making a nodding acknowledge to working for the Lord and not men. Menno Simons warned the magistracy that they will be judged for their actions no matter their stance and position. I do not know where some contemporary Anabaptists/Mennonites might put the emphasis. However, I know what part of this verse speaks to me more than caution of repayment.

For many years I needlessly worried that I was in the place where God wanted me. I was not sure if I made the correct choices about employment and livelihood. I keep wondering, asking and praying, “Am I doing the work that God would have me do?” In other words, was I working for the Lord and not for people? It took me some time to realize that if I have turned my life over to God, I am where God wants me and am serving the Lord. No matter where that is. And since letting go of my fears and words, I have found peace about my job and my life. And I have found that the worries I have in my job seem to work out much better than when I was obsessing about “being in the right place.” That is not to say my work, or my life, is any easier. But since I stopped worry about doing correct work , and focused on doing the work correctly according to God’s guidance, I am much more at peace . . . most of the time.

And I am not so sure that we have to wait for the “inheritance” and “reward” from the Lord. I firmly believe being at peace about my job is an inheritance and a reward. Not to mention seeing the results of my working helping and benefiting God’s people. That too is an inheritance and a reward.

Furthermore, I would be hard pressed to see where one can go “wrong” serving the Lord. We all know that it is possible to claim that you are doing God’s will when you have actually substituted your will for God’s. And that may be what Menno Simons was accusing the magistracy of. But as yesterday’s scripture passage said, God will not be mocked. The Lord knows what is truly in the hearts of men and women.

May you beloved work for God and work under God’s guidance wherever and whatever your employment may be. And may God reward you with an inheritance worthy of your efforts. Selah!

GOD WILL REPAY ALL . . . . So don’t give up!

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Reference: Galatians 6:7-9 )

Pilgram Marpeck wrote in “Five Fruits of Repentance” specifically referring to this passage from Galatians, “It is not enough that one merely says: I would gladly repent and confess of my sins. A part of it is to recognize what kind of fruit sin brings. For what each person sows,

they will and must reap or harvest, Gal. 6:8. For all pain, anxiety, distress, and suffering together with eternal death are the true fruits and reward, yes, the true wages of sin, which is given to all sinners who have not received grace, and by which they are condemned to eternal destruction. Whoever does not find Christ in this depth (that is, in this true baptism for the remission of sin) will not find Him in the height in joy and glory eternally.”

I am glad for Marpeck that “all pain, anxiety, distress, and suffering” can be avoided by the “ true baptism for the remission of sin”, and finding and abiding in Christ at a great depth. But there are people who lead good Christian lives and walk with God who still have “pain, anxiety, distress, and suffering”, and quite honestly we get tired of being told we could avoid this if only . . . .

Now I know Marpeck means these things that come into one’s life because of sin, and not because of ailments and illness, and circumstances beyond one’s control. But when you are struggling (as I have been for the past week or two) it is hard to hear these admonitions and not take it personally as being “preached to.” That is the problem, beloved, of preaching to an unknown audience – you don’t know if there are those out there whose life circumstances have caused them the very things you are preaching that can be avoided. And there has been many a “red-faced” preacher (or there should be) who has had to apologize because someone who is suffering has pointed out their lack of compassion. And isn’t that just the thing that God would warn preacher and minister about! DO NOT harm the innocent, naive, and down trodden.

But what should the message be to those who suffer in this life for things beyond their control? Well, actually, the same thing; don’t give up! Because God knows their suffering, and knows that they are innocent but suffer anyway. God’s mercy may not feel like it is coming through to them; but do not blame God. Set the blame at the feet of those who turn away from those suffering or dismiss them. As a person who both suffers and ministers to those who are suffering, I know important it is to discern between the suffering of a sinner and the suffering of an innocent.

I do not mean to preach to you, beloved, that you are dismissive of those who suffer. I just felt it was time again to stand up and remind the world that not all of those who suffer are deserving of it because they have sinned or have been wicked. In fact, it is those of us who are suffering that could and should be the recipients of good being done!

Beloved, may you be ever mindful of those in your faith group and circle of acquaintances, and of strangers also. Be mindful of their sufferings that they have not brought on themselves. Do good to them, encourage them not to give up but to keep moving forward to a life eternal that is free from suffering and misery. It is what we all long for! Selah!

GOD WILL REPAY ALL . . . . The good, the bad and the in-between

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God,and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” (Reference: 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 )

Just as the writer of the gospels and epistles believed, the historic Anabaptists believed that the time of judgment would be coming soon. And if that was coming soon, then all who wished to repent should do so quickly. Jan Wouterss encouraged his accusers to make themselves right with God before the time of judgment. The irony is that his accusers thought it were people such as Wouterss and other historic Anabaptists who were living wrongly.

Wouterss said, “If I must innocently suffer for this unadulterated faith, I can think, that my Lord Jesus Christ, whose servant, I poor, sinful man am, fared no better at the hands of the authorities of that day and this through the instigation of the learned. O my honorable lords, repent, amend your ways and your doings. Jer. 7:3. And I also proclaim repentance of all my lords still living, who are guilty of the innocent blood of Joris de Ve, [Joris Wippe, who was put to death 1558] who shall soon come forth, shining in God’s glory, with great joy. For the day of the Supreme Judge is at the door: this is apparent from the pestilence, dearth, rumors of wars, and many other signs. O my honorable lords, be cordially warned of the evil which is to come upon you, for it is done out of love and friendship, and not through bitterness, for beyond doubt, we must all appear before the Supreme Judge; there every one shall give account of himself, and receive according to that he hath done; there excuses or regrets will not avail. Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10. Oh, reflect; it will soon come to pass, and none can escape it.”

There is an authenticity in Wouterss statement that is compelling. He stakes his sincerity on the fact that all will be judged by God, and if his motivations in encouraging his accusers were not pure, he will be judge by God in that regard. And this resonates deep within me. How we spread God’s word and the attitude/motivation we have to spread God’s word is just as subject to scrutiny and judgment as how we life and organize our own lives. It is no wonder we need the support and intervention of the Holy Spirit to live well and wisely!

May you beloved live your life such that the judgment and scrutiny of God will bare witness to your to dedication to a Godly life. Selah!

GOD WILL REPAY ALL . . . . All the choices we have made

If thou wilt, to keep the commandments, and to perform acceptable faithfulness. He hath set fire and water before thee: stretch forth thy hand unto whether thou wilt. Before man is life and death; and whether him liketh shall be given him. For the wisdom of the Lord is great, and he is mighty in power, and beholdeth all things: And his eyes are upon them that fear him, and he knoweth every work of man. He hath commanded no man to do wickedly, neither hath he given any man licence to sin.” (Reference: Sirach 15:15-20)

A paraphrase – according to me:

If you have the will and intent, keep all the laws and precepts that God has established from the time of the first calling of God’s people up until and including what Jesus made known. And try to keep with good intentions and determination as you can. God has placed before humanity two options – fire and water. Reach for whichever seems to suit your intentions. Before all of humanity is the choice of life and death; what people strive for, that is what they receive. Remember, the Lord’s wisdom is great, and the Lord is mighty in power, and sees all things. God’s eyes are on those who fear the Lord (and those who don’t.) He knows what everyone does, and is capable of doing. The Lord God has commanded that no wicked thing should be done, and has not given any permission to sin.”

I have not said much about the fact that we are in the third week of Advent. I have posting along side the daily blog Advent themed postings. There has not been much overlap between the two. That is not surprising because the themes of historic Anabaptists don’t have much overlap between themes of Advent and Christmas. It was the Roman Catholic’s intention to appropriate Christ’s birth and secular winter celebrations. And since the historic Anabaptists did not have much use for the state-run Roman Catholic church, I imagine that during that time there was not much overlap of Advent themes into their Anabaptist households. At least I have not read accounts where their would be.

Over years the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith has picked up Advent and Christmas themes, using them in worship services and other times of fellowship. I remember Advent candles playing a part of worship services, and we had yearly Christmas programs. And of course we sang Advent and Christmas hymns. And Christmas was celebrated in every Anabaptist/Mennonite home.

You may ask why I am writing along this line. Humanity has the choice, and has always had the choice as to how they celebrate Advent and Christmas. Whether they “stretch out their hands” to the commercialism of Christmas or the sacred/religiousness of Christmas. Whether the focus is on the bottom of the Christmas tree or in the stockings hung up in waiting. Or on the nativity scene and the baby Jesus. And those choices, it seems to me, might be reflected at other times of the year. We choose and reach out our hand to what is important in our life. God watches us. And in the fullness of God’s time those choices will be repaid. So, what you choose now will determine what you receive later.

It is my hope and pray in this Advent season, which is the beginning of a new church year, that you will choose will. And will continue choosing well throughout the year. Selah!

GOD WILL REPAY ALL . . . . All that we humans attempt to do and be

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Reference: Jeremiah 17:9-10 )

Sometimes I am not really sure how to take these scriptural excerpts. They seem to come across differently just reading them straight, out of context. When you read them in context surrounded by their neighboring verses a different sense comes across. So, what about this one? Is the heart “deceitful”? [A brief survey of translations shows that the word “heart” is used most often, but there are one or two instances where the word “mind” is used instead.) Well, it depends on the heart, and what you mean by “heart.” If you are taking about emotions, as in human emotions all on their own according to will-full human agendas, yes the “heart” is deceitful. But if you are taking about care and compassion, sensitivity and kind regard, no the heart is not “deceitful.”

The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible say that “the Lord searches the human heart and renders judgment” so I guess that would mean that the heart may be deceitful . . . or it may not. The writer of Jeremiah qualifies his statement by saying the Lord looks at the heart and mind, and judges one’s actions. But are not one’s actions motivated by the heart, and by the mind? Isn’t all of that a “package deal”?

In the verses preceding verses 9 to 10 two examples are set up; those who trust in human/mortal flesh, and turns away from God. And those who trust in the Lord and reap the benefits of living within the Lord’s guidance. So how could that faithful-to-God heart be “deceitful”? Or perhaps “deceitful” is not the right/best word. The Hebrew word has the sense of a steep or treacherous hill. Maybe a better way to understand this is that the human heart is inconsistent. It maybe oriented towards God; or it may be ruled by earthly or base agendas. This would makes sense if the Lord is to judge the heart by the actions that it prompts and motivates.

How would God judge your “heart” beloved?

GOD WILL REPAY ALL . . . . No Tricks or Hidden Information Involved

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” (Reference: Deuteronomy 30:15 )

Five years ago I said;

The essence of magic is misdirection. In a very simple magic trick the conjurer challenges his/her audience to find the small item (a small ball, a nut or some other small object) hidden underneath one of the three cups, shells, or other hollow object. And no matter how many times the guesser tries to guess where the item is hidden, they guess wrong. The reason? The item is never hidden under the object but is palmed by the conjurer. The essential knowledge needed to understand what is happening is hidden by the conjurer. God does not operate like that.

God sets out clearly and without misdirection what can be found in this life. If one searches for evil and sin, it can be found. If one searches for goodness and righteousness, it can be found. If one follows the round to death and destruction, one will get there. And if one follows the road to life and glory, one will get there also. The choice of which way one goes is up to each individual traveler.

Balthasar Hubmaier wrote, “See here, Christian reader, how bright and clear this Scripture shows us that God has freely entrusted to the human being anew also after the Fall the choice of evil and good, blessing and curse, life and death. So that even if the whole world said otherwise, heaven and earth would stand against it and testify openly on the last day before the judgment throne of Christ against all people that not God, but we ourselves, out of free will, are responsible for our sins and eternal damnation.”

May you, gentle reader, see what is clearly before you and make your choice accordingly. Selah!

It is no coincidence I am sure, beloved, that this theme comes after the theme of “Day of Lord.” While we do not know the timing, we are pretty sure end times are coming. These past years have been hard years with many changes, destruction, and death. Yet the world turns on. But it does not matter when the “Day of the Lord” comes because it is the destiny of humanity and all creation to come under judgment of God. How and when? No one knows for a certainty. One might not even believe that such judgment is inevitable. But it cannot be argued that this was written in Deuteronomy. And it cannot be argued that for at least two thousand plus years or more people have believed it and lived accordingly. The only question remains is, “What are you going to do about it?” I say again beloved, make your choice. Selah!

DAY OF THE LORD . . . Still another version . . . And more chances for wrongful living!

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” (Reference: 2 Peter 3:9-13 )

God is patient. And all things happen according to God’s time and not our time. Perhaps that is why some 2000 years after the writer of 2 Peter wrote this, we are still here. And perhaps that is why some 440 years after historic Anabaptist Jan Hendrickss was put to death we are still here. Hendrickss, like many others, wrote to his wife exhorting her to life a Christian life saying, “Let your meditation be in the word of the Lord, day and night concern yourself in His commandments and statues, and watch for His coming, and long for it, and avoid all appearance of evil, and act not as though you might live many years yet, but walk before the Lord just as if you were to die immediately.”

For many of the historic Anabaptists their best hopes for being reunited with family was when the Day of the Lord came and the Lord created a new heaven and a new earth for faithful believers. Earning a spot in that new heaven/new earth was where they hoped to be reunited with beloved friends and family for all time. If that day has not come, does that mean that the historic Anabaptists have still not yet been reunited? Or does the tremendous time between the writing of 2 Peter (and all the other gospels and letters), and the time between the historic Anabaptists now, mean that those passed from this old earth do not have to wait?

The question is, beloved, since we are now in the year 2014, and near the end of it at that, does all the waiting for new life in God still continue? It is easier to think that we need to wait if we do not anticipate the wait to be long. The gospel and epistle writers were sure that Christ would return soon. The historic Anabaptists were sure (I gather this from their letters) that the Day of the Lord would not be long in coming. But still we wait. And if this was not enough, I am writing this several days before you are scheduled to read it. And I am fairly certain my writing this will not bring about the end, anymore than the gospel/epistle writers and the historic Anabaptists writers writing were foretelling a speedy coming of the Day of the Lord.

Rather than living as if the Day of the Lord will come soon, we need to live as if the Day of the Lord is decades and centuries off. But that does not mean we can live any way we want! Quite the contrary! We need to live even MORE accountable lives! Each day we live longer than the day more, the more chances we have to go astray of the Lord. Each subsequent day brings dangers and dangers anew for sin and corruption, evil and vice.

We live in fearsome times, beloved. As fearsome as our spiritual ancestors, and more so. I pray for you beloved, as I pray for myself. May the Day of the Lord find us in good and correct relationship with our Lord. And may all the days until that last day may we draw courage, strength, endurance, and wisdom from our God. Selah!