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!

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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!

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!