DAY OF THE LORD . . . Another version

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (Reference: 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 )

I do not know how consistent this narrative of the “Day of the Lord” is to other narratives, either written by the same writer as that of 1 Thessalonians (Paul) or by other epistle writers. It would be an interesting study. Such a study would need to take into account whether the “Day of the Lord” is the one of punishment or the gathering of the faithful – both dead and still living. Even in this series of verses on the theme of “Day of the Lord” has not been consistent in its accounts.

It is accounts such as these from the first letter to the Thessalonians that rapture stories are made of. I remember them first in the early to mid 1970’s, and then again with the “Left Behind” series, that has been a subject of many of my postings. In fact in December 6, 2009 I wrote about the “Left Behind” series and made some observations about that series in conjunction to this passage and a possible explanation as to why Paul wrote what he did to the Thessalonians. Clink on the underlined Dec 6 date to be taken to that post. I also post there what historic Anabaptist Jan van Hasebroeck wrote to his wife. It is, beloved, a love letter. It is of course a reminder and exhortation to faith – a great deal of the writings of the historic Anabaptist were. But it is also a love letter, testifying to his love for his wife and children and the hope that a time will come when they will no longer be separated.

This portion of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is also a love letter, outlining the love that God and our Lord Jesus Christ have for the believers, both those now dead and those still living. If Paul’s vision is accurate and correct, it is also still relevant. That everyone one who Paul knew and wrote to has already passed away, and their families also have passed away, and even theire descendents have passed away, and that countless generations after that have passed away – none of that matters if Paul’s vision is still accurate. It could still happen! Will it happen that way though? I do not know. But it is a lovely thought and vision.

May you beloved hold fast to your faith and belief so that when Christ returns, however the Divine returns, you will be welcomed into that holy presence! See you there! Selah!!

DAY OF THE LORD . . . And those whose task it is to wait and watch

Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!” (Reference: Mark 13:33-37 )

I feel sorry for the servant at the door. While the rest of the servants are inside completing their daily tasks, and resting so that they may work again tomorrow, the servant at the door keeps watching, ready and waiting for when the master shall return. The servants inside eat at leisure and have time to talk with one another while the one at the door must keep his/her eyes alert and aware of everything that is going on outside the door. For him/her life begins and ends at the door. It is no wonder we Christians grow weary and lax; being ever vigilant is tiring. We long to take part in what is just behind us, outside our sight and hearing. And we stuck at the door, not being allowed to venture out into the world and see what is beyond the door post. We are kept on limbo, not part of anything, but waiting.

Why, you may ask, is it only the servant at the door who must be ever alert? The answer is simple – the servant at the door is to announce when the master returns. It is his/her task to let the other servants know when the master has returned, welcoming the owner of the household. Are we all, perhaps, to be “servants at the door” waiting for the Master? It is the task of all of us who work and dwell in our Master’s “household” to watch and wait for the Lord’s return? Sometimes, beloved, it feels like it is. At least that is the role I often see for myself. Being ever watchful and aware.

Historic Anabaptist Peter Glock wrote, “For how could we answer for ourselves if we were not prepared for the supper of the Lamb? . . . . Therefore let us watch, so that we do not perish with them [the wicked and unprepared]. For each will receive recompense from the Lord as he has acted, evil or good.” And he sums up my feelings exactly. How could I and would I answer if I were not always in readiness? Even at my age I am still discovering what that means for me.

May you beloved know your task in your Lord’s household, and if you are called to be a servant at the door, may your fulfill your task with diligence and perseverance. Selah!

DAY OF THE LORD . . . Terrifying in its coming

See, the day of the LORD is coming–a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger–to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. I will make man scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir.” (Reference: Isaiah 13:9-12 )

What can I say beloved? That the writer of Isaiah is correct, and when the Lord comes all these things will happen? It will the apocalypse as if it was stage for a movie only the sound effects and special effects will be real as will the blood etc?! Is this how you envision the day of the Lord?

I do not hold to one of the end times over another. There will be tears, and there will be rejoicing. Which one does depends on whether are one of the haughty and ruthless. And if it would calm your fears beloved, I will tell you that this is actually an oracle concerning, and proclamation against Babylon. Yes, that generic, mystical and all-encompassing enemy Babylon. So, you have nothing to worry about . . . unless you are the haughty and ruthless enemy Babylon.

I will pose the question that I “danced around” yesterday – have you lived your life so that no one would call you their enemy – that you are not someone’s “Babylon”? Because if you are, then you should be worried about the “Day of the Lord.” And the cruelness you have committed against others will be brought back to you! But you are not such a person, are you beloved. When the Lord comes you will be part of those rejoicing that the Lord has come to the world and you will be spared what happens to those of “Babylon.”

The historic Anabaptists warned each other not to sin or be sinners, and I am assuming to not be like “Babylon. “Hence hear further the terrible, relentless and awful punishment of God upon sin and sinners, which has ever taken place and will yet take place. Take heed, my dear children, I counsel you, as much as you value your souls, to this special, eternal punishment of sin and sinners” writes Hendrick Alewijns to his children. It is simple and simplistic to say “be good” so as to avoid the wrath and fierce anger of God. But what more can we do?

While today’s scripture passage does not hold out much chance for mercy, we can still hope that on the Day of the Lord there will be mercy for us. And may that hope sustain you beloved. Selah!

GIVE BACK . . . Let the vengeance be applied to the proper place

Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, “I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.” Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.” (Reference: Revelation 18:6-8 )

First let’s identify the focus of this verse; Babylon – the generic enemy of the people who lived during the time of Jesus, and the decades following. Also included in this generic group is Rome, more precisely the rulers in Rome that persecuted and oppressed the early Christians. It is no wonder than that the historic Anabaptist read into this passage indictments against their generic enemy, the state church at the time of the Reformation. Walter of Stoelwijk wrote about this enemy of his fellow believers saying, “Let all apostate Christians, who return to the Roman Babylon, from which they had separated, and make friendship with the whore whom they had hated bear this in mind. What shall we say to such unstable persons? How can men who once knew the truth be so blinded as to depart from Christ Jesus their only Saviour, and return to the infamous accursed whore of Babylon, the mother of all unrighteousness, and queen of all the children of unbelief and cursing, who has become their comfort and protection, yea, their idol . . . . Woe unto such perverse men, who depart from righteousness, from light to darkness, from life to death, and go from Jesus Christ to antichrist, seeking consolation from Satan, and not in God. Woe unto such fearful ones, who fear those who can kill only the body, more than God, the Almighty Lord, who can cast both body and soul into eternal damnation. Rev. 21:8; Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4, 5. Woe unto such, that they were ever born unless they remarkably amend their ways and go out of Babylon; for the Scripture says not in vain: “Go ye out of the midst of Babylon, my people, and touch not the unclean thing, that ye be not partakers of her plagues, or sins.” Isa. 52:11; 2 Cor. 6:17; Rev. 18:4.”

I cannot, however, join in with the writer of Revelation and the historic Anabaptist in their reviling of such enemies because those enemies no longer exist! Each generation, each country, each faith group has their own enemies, those that they would cast in the role of (as several commentators label it) mystical Babylon. We all set up people, places, things that are our enemies and we relegate them to the deepest crevices of hell and vow that God will keep them there in eternal punishment! But I, beloved, do not want to be a part of such hatred and revulsion. Sure there are people, places, and things that I do not like and try to avoid. And there are people, places, and things that are contrary to my Christian beliefs. But such spewing hatred? I do not want to take a part of it.

There is a tremendous amount of hurt and anger in the world. I know, because I have been hurt . . . several times. And I will also admit I have been tempted to go down that road of . . . just venom that seethes! And have taken one or two steps towards such a destination. But it didn’t change anything; didn’t even make me really feel any better. But I could feel it corroding my spirit and soul, and determined then and there not to ever let myself feel that kind of wrath toward anyone!

So what should we do with those poisonous feelings? Vent them? Harbor them? Stuff them under a couch cushion and hope no one notices them? No, none of those beloved. We should give them over to where they belong – to God. If anyone going to carry out this plan of revenge and vengeance, let it be God. And let us not rejoice in it, but mourn that there has to be such suffering in the world.

We are fallen world, beloved, and it does not help us or the world to be glad when someone has vengeance set on them. Let us hope and pray for better outcomes for ourselves, the rest of humanity, and creation. Selah!

P.S. Beloved, I am always interested to see how my views have changed from five years ago, when last Reading the Anabaptist Bible was the year long focus. And I am continually surprised how much my views have NOT changed. I am inserting a link to what I wrote five years ago, “Double Portions of Vengeance”  I invite you to read it also.

GOD IS JUST . . . But God’s vengeance is evident also

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. “ (Reference: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8 )

Some four hundred years since the Reformation, and some two thousand odd years since Christ Jesus came to Bethlehem, we still have many views of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and what the end of all days will be like. Will God come? Or will it be the manifestation of Christ? Will it be like Revelation, with battle and fire? Or silent and mysterious, like the thief in the night? And the largest question of all, when?

Maeyken Deynoots (d. 1571) wrote to her brothers and sisters in the faith, “The abundant grace and mercy of God our heavenly Father, through His only, eternally begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered up Himself for us to God His heavenly Father, as a propitiation of our sins, that He might deliver us from the future wrath that shall come upon all them that have not obeyed the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction (2 Thess. 1:8); but may wisdom, power, and the consolation of the Holy Ghost, which proceeds

from both the Father and the Son, this only eternal and almighty God, by whom every good and perfect gift is given, always abide with us and you, my dear brethren and sisters, so that He may through grace make us all together fit through Himself, that we may be found worthy in the day of His coming. Amen. Luke 21:36.” Wow! Here we have a complete theology, compressed into the opening of one letter. Worthy of Paul I would say.

And it sets up well the dichotomy that is evident – God’s mercy if we would only avail ourselves of it through “Lord Jesus Christ” versus the “future wrath” and punishment of “everlasting destruction . . . in the day of His coming.” Might it be both? One scenario for the faithful believer and the other for “then that have not obeyed the Gospel”? If our God is a transcendent God (which the God-self is) there might well be two kinds of appearances – one for the faithful and one for the not-so-faithful. I will not ask, beloved, which one you might be at. But I trust and pray that we all may be counted amongst the worthy. Selah!

A THIEF IN THE NIGHT . . . So comes the consequences of sin

“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (Reference: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 )

Like square pegs into round holes – that is what it has been like the past few days trying to match scripture passage to the themes of “Sip of Scripture” to the themes from Reading the Anabaptist Bible. The historic Anabaptists applied this verse from 1 Thessalonians to the consequences of sin and of being sinners, catching those who committed the sin unaware. Bartholomeus Panten wrote to his daughter, “For the time will come when they [those who have sinned] shall lament it, who have spent their life here in that which was not proper; for when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 1 Thess. 5:3.”

The traditional understanding of these verses has been that Christ’s return will not be heralded by anything, so the faithful must be ready for Christ’s return. It is a different sort of spin to consider the warning being given to the sinful and what might befall them. The historic Anabaptists had a tradition of considering themselves a people apart from everyone else (and always being found living under God’s guidance), therefore seeing all others are sinful and fallen by default so logical.

That this verse is placed under the theme of “Vengeance” underlines the idea that the passage speaks to the vengeance of God coming to the sinful, as opposed to the surprising return of Christ coming to the world. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible, prefacing this passage with the following, “Be prepared always, for sudden destruction will come upon those who partake in sin” give us an insight into the thinking of the historic Anabaptists.

For me it is an interesting exercise to try to discern why the historic Anabaptists might have understood and why they used verses in such unique ways. What were their theological understandings that gave rise to such interpretations? How did their experience of oppression and persecution shape their theological understandings? And I wonder how have modern Anabaptist/Mennonite understandings have changed? And how might their historic understandings and modern understandings contrast to different denominations’ understandings? If this were a theological blog, I might try to answer these questions. I think my answers might reflect more of my personal theology. And I am not persuaded that you, beloved, are needful of hearing me espouse on my theology.

What is clear is this. First, we do not know when Christ will return. Or if it will be a judging vengeful Christ, or a forgiving and reconciling Christ. Second, there will always be those who misread the signs and portent, declaring safety when it is really disaster that is coming. Third, we do know that it is never wise to be caught “with our hand in the cookie jar” – so to speak.

May you beloved never have to fear for what will come because you will always be found in God’s grace. Selah!

P.S. Beloved, this is first week that posts will be appearing for the Advent theme. It is a transition period for me, moving from one way of writing this blog and posting to another. There will be duality for the Advent season, and then moving to a less frequent schedule. There will also be the duality of finishing Reading the Anabaptist Bible and starting in on the Advent and Christmas season. May our Lord God help us to hold both themes in our hearts and minds! Selah!

VENGEANCE REBUKED . . . But from whence did it come?

When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.” (Reference: Luke 9:54-56 )

The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible say that throughout the historic Anabaptist writings there is a caution against personal vengeance. And I suppose that is true – throughout all the fiery writings that the historic Anabaptists writings it was God they called on and God they said would “smite” those that came against them. I don’t remember them saying/writing that they would personally do the smiting.

Paul Glock wrote to his wife Else, “The Lord explained it saying if they lie about you, let your friendliness, which is a fruit of the spirit, be manifest towards all and do not reward evil with evil. For we are God’s children born through the Gospel and our heavenly Father lets his sun shine on the devout and on the godless and has never turned his mercy from them. He has at all times shown himself to be fatherly, according to his name, by giving them rain from heaven and fruitful times and has filled their hearts with joy although humanly a person might sometimes think, like John and James: “Lord, shall we ask that fire come down from heaven and devour them?” [Luke 9:54]. But Christ, who had come to save souls and not to destroy, said to them: “You do not know which spirit’s children you are.” With that he plainly gave us to understand that we are not to avenge ourselves but to learn gentleness and humility from the Master.”

My NRSV tells me that “other ancient authorities” added the comments about the disciples not knowing “which spirit’s children you are”, and I am intrigued by that footnote. Does it simply mean they did not know what they were talking about – that is, not think through what they were saying. Or does it mean that vengeance like that comes from evil spirits? Because these “other ancient authorities” are not available to elaborate, we cannot be sure. Barnes does talk about these extra part and suggests that Jesus is trying to explain to them that they may think their zeal is from love for Jesus – that is protecting and defending Jesus good name. But actually it is the disciples own opinion and attitude that is “firing” them up and it is not right or part of Jesus’/God’s plan for humanity. So beloved, shall we examine our own hearts and spirits for unGodly zeal for vengeance? I think Paul Glock would be a good instructor for this.

May you learn gentleness from our Lord, and patience with those who seem opposed to you. May your love for humanity squelch out any thoughts or inclinations for vengeance. Selah!

CONVICTED . . . After being judged

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Reference: Jude 1:14-15 )

It would be helpful I think to establish the context of who “these men” were that the writer of Jude was talking about. Adversaries of God and those who did not truly/rightly belief in God had sneaked into the faith group that the writer of Jude was addressing. And the writer of Jude was warning the faith group that people had used “the grace of our God” (verse 4b ERV ) to commit sin. It was these people that he says Enoch was prophesying about. This historic Anabaptists took this as a warning that sinners would not escape judgment. In fact there would be many – more than enough – to judge all the sinners. The implication is clear – would you want to be found a sinner by “thousands upon thousands of . . holy ones”? Imagine beloved if someone would sit down and meticulously go through your life trying each act and word that was ungodly? Do you really think you would be found completely innocent?

But as I sit back and consider this verse, I have to wonder how the writer of Jude knew that the faith group he was writing to had been infiltrated in this way. Let’s say for arguments sake that he did not know for a certainty that they had, but rather was warning that if they had, these ungodly people would be found out. Or more likely, the writer of Jude had heard of problems and troubles, and concluding that false teachers/preachers/believers were causing the problems, and was warning them that they would be discovered.

I think, beloved, this is a verse that would tend to reassure the faithful believer as opposed to alarming him or her. At least that is how I am interpreting it. And this being the last passage focused on the theme of “Judgment”, I think it pleasant to end with a reassurance that God knows who is faithful and who is not. And that those who are not faithful will not escape judgment but will be subject to close scrutiny. May this bring you comfort and assurance that our Lord God is an able defender of the faith and faithful. Selah!

JUDGMENT . . . And the “antidote”

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (Reference: James 2:12-13 )

I took some time, and did some research, to understand these verses. The writer of James is not as clear in some translations/versions as he is in other. Anticipate that the law by which you will be judged is a law that has mercy in it – you can feel safe and assured when you are judged by that law. But if you have not shown mercy to others, mercy will not be shown to you. If you want mercy, show mercy. Mercy will triumph over any judgment, but where there is not mercy, judgment (and that judgment may well be harsh) will prevail.

The historic Anabaptists, naturally, felt they were worthy of the judgment that is softened by mercy for did they not show mercy!? (And I would ask of them, if I could, did you show mercy to ALL people?) And when they were judged harshly – and they were by the oppressors, accusers, and persecutors – they reacted strongly to it. Urich Stadler wrote to/about the authorities who were persecuting the Hutterites who lived there, “So far you have always dealt crookedly with us. You have continually threatened to divide and scatter us as if we were prisoners you have captured in battle or criminals under arrest or slaves you have bought. You have not only threatened to do these things but have actually done them to us. You were not willing to search your hearts and humbly consider that God, the protector of widows and orphans, knows how unjustly you are dealing with his poor, exiled children. Yes, in very truth, God the Lord, the righteous Judge, will bring upon each man’s head whatever he did in this world, be it good or evil, for on the day of judgment it will be clearly shown to all. Strict judgment without mercy will be passed on everyone who has not been merciful to his neighbor in this world. [James 2:13]”

One must take, however, in reading and applying this passage. The writer of James does not mean that all types of sin will be forgiven if you have shown mercy. In fact, quite the contrary! The verses preceding verse 12 & 13 deal with the issues of partiality, and not fulfilling both the letter and the spirit of the law. The emphasis is to keep all parts of the law, and to show mercy to others. While many translations/versions interpret the word as “mercy” I am thinking that mercy here is not just forbearance that would soften judgment, but compassion and care that would dissolve harsh judgment away.

So in fact, historic Anabaptist Stadler is not asking too much of the “authorities in Poland” but too little! In fact it could be a question posed to all of the authorities of that time – “Why are you persecuting those who are actually fellow believers?” But beloved, the question can be turned and be applied to the present times – why are some contemporary Christians being so harsh and judgmental, seeming to be without mercy? They are NOT, beloved, upholding God’s law! And where they are without mercy, there will be judgment brought against them!

And how vehement am I about that, beloved?! I know and see the paradox. It is not vehemence, but sorrow I feel. Those who are persecuted and those who persecute equally have my sorrow and concern. We must all make sure we are not pulled into the vortex of hating the haters.

May you, beloved, show mercy at every opportunity, and where you think there should be judgment show mercy instead. And may mercy be shown to you! Selah!

JUDGMENT . . . Paul speaks to it and other things

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. “ (Reference: 2 Timothy 4:1-2 )

The first time I read this verse through, beloved, I did not pick up on where the “judge” part was. It took me by surprise that it was in the description of God and Christ Jesus because of the way I read Pauline writing. Paul is all about living wisely and well in the light of the revelation given by God and Jesus Christ. (Thank you Daniel Schipani & Jake Elias for your insights.) So if the description of God and Christ Jesus is the reason for highlighting this verse, it is an injustice to Paul. I may take Paul to task at times (one polite guffaw will do!) but I try to be fair when reading and using what he wrote. The focus of this verse, I think, is the “charge” or instruction he is giving Timothy in this second letter. You see, Paul would wax poetic about who God is and what God does, but the real meat of his letters is what we should do.

Menno Simons referenced as part of his statement of faith. He said, “I believe and confess that [Christ] was thus, without any doubt, that same flesh which had its origin in the Holy Spirit, born of the seed of the tribe of David and Abraham. Matt. 1:20. He was said to be born of a woman, under the law (Gal. 4:4), circumcised the eighth day, obedient unto His parents, increasing in all wisdom, in age and in grace before God and man. Luke 2:40. This same man, Christ Jesus, preached, was crucified, died, and was buried. He arose and ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Almighty Father, according to the testimony of all Scripture. From thence He will come to judge the sheep and the goats, the good and the evil, the living and the dead. 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1.” While we have read in the past days about judgments, and who and how it is to be done, for the most part any lasting and consequential judgment will be done by God and Christ.

But what about the rest of the verse? Can we or should we just ignore that? Is it not an important thing to take note of? And if not, why would Paul include it? The answer is, as I stated above, the description of God and Jesus Christ is just Paul’s opening to what he really wants Timothy (and the reader) to know and do, especially in light of the fact that God and Christ Jesus will be evaluating the living and the dead. First, preach. Spread God’s word, tell of Christ Jesus’ life. Tell people because it is important! Second, be ready. For any and everything. Both God’s continued blessing and instruction, and Christ’s return. Be ready to live your life for God, but be prepared for the judgment that will come at the end of all things. Third, teach. Teach what you have learned and what God has told you. Help people to know what it is they should do and support them in doing that. Recognize when someone has gotten lost or gone astray, and lead them back to God and right living. But more over, do this carefully, gently, and prayerfully asking God and the Spirit’s guidance and wisdom.

Beloved, may the God who was God to Paul be with you this day and the days to follow preparing you for the final judgment, and inspiring you to minister to others. Selah!