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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PATIENCE . . . When you are suffering

“My children, suffer patiently the wrath that is come upon you from God: for thine enemy hath persecuted thee; but shortly thou shalt see his destruction, and shalt tread upon his neck. My delicate ones have gone rough ways, and were taken away as a flock caught of the enemies. Be of good comfort, O my children, and cry unto God: for ye shall be remembered of him that brought these things upon you. For as it was your mind to go astray from God: so, being returned, seek him ten times more. For he that hath brought these plagues upon you shall bring you everlasting joy with your salvation. “ (Reference Baruch 4:25-29 )

I have a very difficult time, beloved, reading texts that talk about both destruction and deliverance coming from God. Why would the God of love bring destruction to the Lord’s people just so that same God could bring them deliverance. Would that not mean that God is a passive/aggressive nutcase with delusions and a bizarre rescue complex?

In our society we have people who cause disasters just so they can rescue the victims from that. And we considered aberrant criminal behavior! Why would seek of a God guilty of aberrant criminal behavior? But this is the God that a good portion of the Old Testament talks about. God was seen as the source of all things, good and bad, that happened to the Lord’s people. And even if the “wrath” of God is a punishment for going astray, how can we place this same God in the role of the Divine who sent Jesus to atone for sin?

Now . . . my seminary professors would say I am stirring in to many theologies in the same pot, so no wonder it smells bad. But still, what can we do with these paradoxes? Don’t go looking in historic Anabaptist theology for the answer to that one. They had no problem seeing the hand of God “smiting” them, and then “delivering” them.

The problem is beloved, when Christians go astray and then find disaster, they assume God made the disaster in order to bring them back. But what is actually happening is that because of human free will other people are making choices that bring disaster, and we find ourselves becoming the victims of that disaster. Now if you want to lay that at God’s feet because the Divine continues to add and abet human free will, go ahead. But then don’t ask how a loving God could “allow” such things!

To restate this; God does not smack you upside the head because you have strayed from the Divine and then applies a cold compress to alleviate your pain. God says, “You have been smacked upside the head because the world is a cruddy and dangerous place. Come to Me for refuge and strength and let me bind up your wounds.” God says further, “Sit with me and wait, wait for those who have hurt my followers to be brought to justice.”

Two days ago we read about being patient while God devises “traps” for the wicked to fall into. It might be said and understood that the wrath we are supposed to suffer patiently are these “traps.” But I reject that notion because the writer of Baruch uses the salutation, “My children” which implies not an audience of evil doers but victims who are suffering unduly. It does not say, “You wicked people who have thumbed your nose at God one too many times.”

Beloved, it is hard to wait patiently when you are enduring suffering in this world. It is tempting to cry, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” It may seem like God has turned the Divine back to you. But Jesus is also to have said, “Into your hands Lord I commit my Spirit.” Beloved, may the Lord be ever with you and may you wait patiently on the Lord’s everlasting joy. Selah!

PATIENCE . . . For dark days to give way to light

“The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” (Reference: Isaiah 50:4-7)

A close relative of mine sent me an email asking for my advice and counsel on an issue. And I was not sure what to say, and if I had anything to say. But I sat down and read closely his description of the situation. I asked back with some questions that his description brought to mind. Then I did a little research of my own, which lead me to ask more questions and do more research and thinking. Finally, after considering several issues and factors, I concluded my response and sent it off to him.

Five years ago, when I wrote on this passage, I talked about how the book of Isaiah was sustaining to me. I remember writing that, but moreover I remember that time very clearly. I remember sitting at the kitchen table each evening reading over scripture and writing about my thoughts on scripture and how it connected to what was going on in my life. It was a dark time.

But out of the that dark time came light, and the inner strength and wisdom to find my way through other dark times. And, to tell others how to connect to God so that they might find their way. During the dark time I focused more on the beating on the back, the beard pulled out, and the mocking and spitting. Well, . . . I said they were dark times. But now, beloved (and mom) there may be darkness in the days but I am constantly in the light of God. I am wakened by the Lord’s teachings and keep my ears open to the Lord’s guidance (even though my human hearing is lousy!). And I can say without reservations that the Lord has given me an instructed tongue that I share with others out of the gratitude I feel to the Lord.

May you beloved be instructed, and may your dark days give way to the Light of God. Selah!

PATIENCE . . . While a place is prepared for the wicked

Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord, the man you teach from your law; you grant him relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked. For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.” (Reference: Psalms 94:12-15 )

Those of you who have just started following this blog this year may not be familiar with my high regard for Albert Barnes, a biblical scholar and commentator from the middle 1800’s. While he wrote well over a hundred years ago, his comments can be very relevant to today’s society. Of this passage he said, “Until the wicked be punished; that is, while the preparations are going on, or while God seems to delay punishment, and the wicked are suffered to live as if God did not notice them, or would not punish them. The idea is, that the mind should not be impatient as if their punishment would not come, or as if God were unconcerned; and that just views of the divine administration would tend to make the mind calm even when the wicked “seemed” to prosper and triumph. . . The phrase “until the pit be digged” is derived from the method of hunting wild beasts by digging a pit into which they might fall and be taken.“

This piece of mind seems to be something that the historic Anabaptists had in abundance. Endres Keller, 1563, wrote after his fierce torture on the rack, “I know that God will never leave me if I suffer for the sake of his Word. For I well know that the devil accuses me very much before you, which I have learned with much pain. May God forgive you this, and all the dear people who have so falsely accused me before you . . . Therefore, dear sirs, you will find nothing in me except patience in words and deeds.” In all the excerpts that I have read from what the historic Anabaptists have written, I have never heard then rail or denigrate their accusers. Accused them of not correct believe or mistaken in their claims, but never verbally abusing them etc. Now, when it came to fellow believers who differed on important points, they had harsh words for them! But it seemed that they had patience for God to deal with the truly “wicked.”

And using Barnes’ explanation of the pit that is dug to trap the wicked seems to be a good explanation of the historic Anabaptists using scripture to debate with their accusers in order to show them the error of their thinking. Would that we could leave punishment to the Lord and set “traps” only to bring extreme and violent dissenters back into harmony with the rest of humanity. This is one of the goals and dreams of modern Anabaptists/Mennonites, that violence and war would be no more and we would participate only in discussions that bring enlightenment and mutual understanding.

May you beloved have patience while the rest of the world seems to pull itself apart, and may you emerge whole and unharmed. Selah!

P. S. This theme of patience and discipline is a good theme for this the fourth Sunday of Lent. This is the heart of Lent – waiting patiently on God and learning more deeply how to follow and love God. A reader has asked for clarification as to how/if Lent is based on practices from the bible. It is not from historical practices during time that the bible was written, but Lenten practices are based on scriptural understandings and a desire to set aside time before Easter to think and ponder on Christ’s life, ministry, and then on his death and resurrection. Shalom!