Season After Pentecost: The Old Testament Passage – Being full of self, or full of God

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Who are you, beloved reader? Who are you in the midst of other people? Do you consider your self a “somebody”, a “nobody”, or something in between? In a crowd of people, do you stand out or do you blend in? What worth and importance are you in this world? Would those around you, strangers and friends/family have the same opinion of you?

I think of these things quite frequently. Who am I that others should pay attention to me or take note of me? I am no one really; not someone to have attention paid to me. I am neither tall nor short, fat nor skinny, a beauty nor a beast. I don’t really know who I am from the outside looking in. I know who I am from the inside looking out.

I think if I am known, or known well, it is not so much for who I am but how much I open myself to let God work through me. Now hear me well! Not what I do, but what I allow God to do through me! In that I am a lot like Paul.

I had an employee tell me I am the best boss she has ever had; impressive since she is in her late 70’s and has worked all her life. She says it is because I show so much compassion and care for her. I told her, quite honestly, I treat her the same way I treat anyone else. [Okay, maybe one or three notable exceptions!] But my point is, whatever makes me special according to her is only the result of allowing and inviting God’s care and compassion show through me!

Now, back to the temple. How do you feel you stack up against other people? And how do you think God considers you to stack up against other people? Who fills up your being? You, or God?

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Known by the Lord God

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” (Psalm 139:1- 4)

The last few days have been complicated days. Changes may be coming. There have been so many changes in the past that I am not sure I am ready for more. Yes, I do need some things to change. And until I know what the changes are, and how they will affect me, I am just not ready to talk about them yet. That is why these verses are so good for me today and in the days to come. I don’t need to explain to God and the Divine how I am feeling, why I am feeling; God knows me without me having to say/pray anything!

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” (Verse 5)

The Message translate this verse as God being all around, and not being a suffocating presence. It means to me that whatever is ahead – God is there. Whatever is in the past – God was there. And God is with me in the present – even now!

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. (Verse 6)

Now this is where I part ways with the psalmist, unless the psalmist is taking poet license. I would expect no less than “such knowledge” from the Divine. This is am important aspect of the God I believe in, that this God is capable of such things and deems everyone worthy of such gentle attention.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” (Verses 13- 16)

It comforts me too that all of my days were known before I existed – at least to God. When I am unsure of what is ahead, and not sure if I have done things correctly in the days that are past – it is God to know that God knew all about them. I may have not been all that I could or should have been, but I was known by God. And even through my missteps and mistakes, God was there. And where God is, so is love.

“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. “ (Verses 17 -18)

When I think I have done all that I can do – that my energy is exhausted and I want to give up – God sustains me and renews me, and gives me hope. I do not have to really on my own strength, and do not have to fear when my strength runs out. I rest in God, and the Lord renews me.

May you beloved reader allow the Lord God to search you, because the Divine knows you already. To do not fear that, but depend on that. That the Lord God knows you in all the ways that you can be know, and loves you with all the love that is within the Divine. Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Preacher and Seek speak out

Preacher: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
Seeker: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.”

Preacher: We are spread throughout the globe, beloved listeners. On every continent there are people of good hearts and of strong faith who mourn what has befallen their brothers and sisters. We pray to our Lord that those are hurt, in pain, and whose lives have been devastated might be gathered up in the Lord’s comfort and grace.

Seeker: “Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.”

Preacher: But it is not just the task of the Lord’s, beloved listener, to gather up those who are hurt and broken. It is our task to! We are the hands and feet of the Lord. We carry within us the capacity to show similar love and carrying as the Lord does. No, we cannot heal as the Lord does, and sadly we cannot love with the same consistent and eternal love as the Lord does, but we can bring that love to those we meet.
Seeker: “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:1-9)

Preacher: What more can I say to you, beloved listener? What can I say that will move your heart? That will move your spirit and soul? How much longer must I and those who speak and believe as I do preach to you – until love covers the world? As long as one act of violence, one instance of hatred is carried out, our mission will not be over. We must preach and exhort love until it rules and guides each heart!

Seeker: Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” (Verse 43) Selah!

Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Prayer for the Restoration of God’s Favor

LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.

Selah
You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

(Psalms 85:1-3)

I can not take any credit for the title of this, beloved reader, because it is what the NRSV has for the heading for this psalm. I can take credit, however, for deciding it is a good one for me to use. Just as we can take no credit for the grace and blessing that God bestows on us, but we can take credit for passing on that grace and blessing to others. And in light of the recent events in our world, I think it would be a fine thing to give grace and blessing to each life in our global community. It seems there has been far too little of that going one. And, it is a fine thing, a very very fine thing, to pray for restoration for a our global community.

Certainly there is every appearance and fact that not everyone in our global community wishes to live in harmony with each other person. The events fo the past two weeks give ample proof of that. I can just imagine what Preacher and Seeker would have to say. And it may not be to farfetched a thing to say they are in mourning over the recent events – not to mention what might happen between the time I write this and you read it.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.” (Verse 4)

God’s favor is something that our world desperately needs. It may not be something that some think others deserve, whatever the reason, rationale, or (dare I say it) bias/prejudice. But I tell you . . . exhort you . . . assure you . . . that God’s favor is for all. The writer of psalms may have thought God’s favor had left the people in light of what was happening. Remember, however, this was written before the coming of Jesus and the assurance through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that God’s love in eternal and unchanging.

“Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?” (Verses 5 -6)

Ah, here is the key beloved reader. And Preacher/Seeker would be the first to point it out that many times . . . too many times . . . the “people” rejoice in God only when things are going well. When things are going . . . not well – think of the recent events in our world – the “people” fear and bemoan the times, the situation, and the other “people” who have caused the “not well-ness.” But that is the whole problem beloved reader; this “them/us” mindset where one group of people are given lesser value and important than others – it is literally killing us! We need to, for our very survival! Extend God’s favor and blessing to everyone! EVERYONE! Yes, EVERYONE!!!! If we allow the hatred that one person’s or one group’s action effect how we relate to each other, we have denied the possibility of God’s favor extending to them, and have set the stage for more violence.

Now, you may think I just mean certain groups or situations, but I am talking about even those who oppress, persecute, and yes, kill others. That does not mean we do not recognize their sin and evil intent. And we must restrain and stop them from allowing their sin and evil to cause more harm. But we also must make sure that our rejection to the sin and evil does not cause us to spread sin and evil that forms and festers in our own hearts! We, those who are suffering in all manner of ways, need God’s restoration too. And let it be that God’s favor heals the wounds in our hearts and the hearts, souls, and lives of those who have been brutally wounded.

“Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” (Verses 7 – 8)

I have often asked myself in these last two weeks what I can do in the face of this. What can I do? I am not a person who attends rallies and speaks to the crowds. I do not belong to any group that marches or demonstrates or protests. I once did such things, but not now. And I have found that my efforts to add to what has been written social media forums has not resulted in good outcomes. So here I am, simply writing here on my blog, trying to address the issue of the day by putting forth scripture and commenting on it. And living peaceably with all those around me. Not much when you add it up. Yet . . . . .

Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” (Verse 9)

If I can, through my small efforts, show “fear” for the Lord and encourage “fear” that is love, honor, reverence, and devotion to/for the Lord – then I have done much. And you, beloved reader, can do the same!

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.” (Verses 10 – 13)

This is a prayer, and a hope, that the psalmist set forth. And it is also a promise that some day will have its fulfillment. We wait for that day, we long for that day; and, most importantly, we work towards that day in whatever ways we can and when ever we can spreading that love that we KNOW is from God. Because in these days human love just is not enough. We need to connect to the love that is from and of God. And that love will restore us! Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Opposite ends of the spectrum (The Gospel Passage)

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12:38-40)

The writer of Mark portrays Jesus as quite a social pundit – to put into modern day terms. Many of the Jews expected a warrior, someone to fight and save them from their oppressors. Jesus was not that kind of warrior. To be sure, he “fought” for humanity but used the tools of love and spiritual and divine wisdom. One view of Jesus Christ is a commentator on false piety and religious living. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Temple officials and scribes were frequent targets of Jesus’ barbs and innuendos. The writer’s of the gospels may have painted a picture of Jesus having little patience or pity for those who were more show than substance in living a religious life. I think though, Jesus desired them to be saved as much as anyone else. And that he desired to show them the same compassion he showed the poor and marginalized.

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Verses 41 – 44)

We are, beloved reader, somewhere between the arrogant scribes who look wonderful from the outside but are false and hollow inside, and the poor who have little looking from the outside but are rich beyond measure within. I do not know, and would not assume to know, where you are. That is something each of us much determine for ourselves. May God’s grace cover what is lacking in us, and may God’s strength nurture the richness that is within each of us. 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.