SACRIFICE . . . Once and for all time

“Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Reference: Hebrews 9:26-28 )

I only have one purpose for writing today beloved – well, maybe two. The first is to tell you that Christ only needed to sacrifice his life one time to save all people in all times – the Old Testament past where people tried to follow God but did not seem to fully know the God that sent Christ; Jesus’ time on earth when the Jews has suffered so much that it made a mockery of being the “chosen people”; and the future being both our present and the days to come when the world and Christianity have come together in so many ways but have also diverged in so many ways. One time, one sacrifice, one Christ, one God.

I do not know why it was then, at that time, and in that place. It almost seems to defy understanding. But someday we will, when Christ returns and the final judgment of all things is at hand. We are not even sure how that will happen. So we wait. The only difference is amongst all the world – do we wait in anticipation . . . or in fear?

May you beloved make one firm and unending decision to follow Christ. Selah!

P.S. On a personal note. Happy Birthday mom! The second reason for writing today!

SACRIFICE . . . On Mother’s Day

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Reference: Roman 12:1-2 )

[A re-write for Mother’s Day! First of Pilgram Marpeck, historic Anabaptist believer, and then Romans 12:1-2]

May our heavenly Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, give grace that all sincere people [mothers], through pure understanding and knowledge, may commit themselves to this sacrifice [of motherhood].”

Therefore, I urge all of you who are mothers in view of God’s mercy and supported by God in your calling to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – although you already have!

For what is a body with stretch marks and weariness from doing so much for your family but a body given as a living sacrifice! Your body gave life and then gave birth to your children!

But that is only one venue to motherhood, because giving birth is not the only way to become a mother. Long hours and long days of caring and nurturing go into being a mother and you have done this time and time again. The action and sacrifice is your spiritual act of worship. Each mother, how ever that motherhood started, acknowledges and worships the Being who first created life.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world where too often the skills and gifts of being a mother are ignored or marginalized. But be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and take the time you need to renew your mind and spirit. The strength of your mind and spirit can transform the world! You have that power!

If you have taken the role and task of motherhood deep into your heart and spirit, then you have already tested and approve what God’s will is—our Holy Creator’s good, pleasing and perfect will that loves all people unconditionally and forgives all things without reservation.

God may be called “Father”, but the Lord has the compassion and caring of a mother. May you beloved thank the “Moms” in your life for the sacrifices they have made. And if your experience of a mother or of being a mother is not something to be remembered or cherished, may God renew your mind and spirit, and nurture you in the finest tradition of perfect and holy motherhood. Selah!

SACRIFICE . . . Thy name is “Mom”

“He that keepeth the law bringeth offerings enough: he that taketh heed to the commandment offereth a peace offering. He that requiteth a good turn offereth fine flour; and he that giveth alms sacrificeth praise. To depart from wickedness is a thing pleasing to the Lord; and to forsake unrighteousness is a propitiation. Thou shalt not appear empty before the Lord. For all these things [are to be done] because of the commandment. The offering of the righteous maketh the altar fat, and the sweet savour thereof is before the most High. The sacrifice of a just man is acceptable. and the memorial thereof shall never be forgotten. Give the Lord his honour with a good eye, and diminish not the first fruits of thine hands. In all thy gifts shew a cheerful countenance, and dedicate thy tithes with gladness. Give unto the most High according as he hath enriched thee; and as thou hast gotten, give with a cheerful eye.” (Reference: Sirach 35: 1-10 )

Five years ago May 10th was Mother’s Day. And on that occasion I wrote a commentary that used the theme of Mother’s Day and the tradition of giving gifts to wives and mothers. This year Mother’s Day is on May 11th, one day later than 2009. So the timing is close – close enough I thought. Tomorrow I will bring more Mother’s Day greetings. Let us turn back the years to 2009 as I share with you what I wrote then. Shalom beloved!

It is Mother’s Day, and mothers of all ages and descriptions are receiving the gifts of Mother’s Day with joy and delight, whether feigned or genuine. Does that surprise you? There are some Mother’s Day gifts that are truly a joy to receive. And there are other gifts that we mothers receive with joy, not because of the gift but because of who the givers are. And Mother’s Day, rather than a day of rest for moms, can be on of the most draining days of the year. I think that is one of the best kept secrets of motherhood.

Now with that beginning, you may think the rest of my comments are directed at the gift givers, to make sure they give good gifts. Perhaps you entertain the notion that gift-giving to moms should be like honoring God. (Well, I have to admit that notion briefly crossed my mind!) But who I want to speak to actually is the readers who are mothers. Moms, I want to remind you that whatever your family, greeting card manufacturers, and other merchants may think, Mother’s Day is not really about what you might get. It is a day when your family will show, with varying degrees and varying amounts of success, how much they love you. And it behooves you as the fine caliber of mothers that you are, to receive the gifts with joy and delight. Because they all mean well. From the homemade gifts to the homemade breakfasts to the Mother’s buffet meals to the gifts wrapped with glittering paper that may containing glittering items, they all mean the same. They love you mom, and it would be intolerable to be without you. And God is looking down on you too, and the way you receive the gifts that you are given reflects the way God has spoken to your heart. And if the gift-giving is not what you hoped for, consider that to be a sacrifice to God.

The verses from Sirach speak of the heart and the intent of the one who is sacrificing. That is you moms. Let me re-word Sirach to show what I mean. “The ones who love mothers make many offerings; the mother who is loved heeds the commandments to love the gift-givers and makes an offering of well-being. The one who returns a kindness by accepting the gift gratefully lifts up a thanksgiving offering to God. To keep from wickedness (that is, to not disdain the gift) is pleasing to the Lord, and to allow your family to offer the gifts that they bring maybe an atonement for all the times you have been less loving and caring than you should. Do not appear ungrateful, for all that you offer to your family is in fulfillment of the commandment of love. [The following are some general comments on family.] The offering of the loving family enriches the altar, and its pleasing odor rises before the Most High. The sacrifices that families make for each other is acceptable, and it will never be forgotten. Be generous when you worship the Lord who has given you a loving family and the love of family, and do not stint the first fruits of your hands.”

There are some that may say that I am doing an injustice to Mother’s Day, that moms just don’t feel that way about their ‘special day’. Well, there are a lot of moms, and a lot of Mother’s Days in every family’s lifetime, and not all of them have been Hallmark moments. The ones that have been, thank God. And for the ones that have not been, give thanks for them too.

May your Mother’s Day be all that you have hoped for and more! Selah!

SACRIFICE . . . Preacher and historic Anabaptist Seeker: What shall we sacrifice to God?

Preacher: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “To do justice is to offer a pleasing sacrifice to God.”

Preacher: “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “O my dear wife, lay to heart the virtues which the Lord has caused to be proclaimed to you . . .”

Preacher: “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “O dear lamb, I also beseech you on high from the bottom of my heart, to keep you from all error of unbelief . . .”

Preacher: “He has showed you, O man, what is good.”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “Let us pray together with a broken heart, an humble spirit and a pure conscience . . .”

Preacher: “And what does the Lord require of you?”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “. . . . lifting up holy hands, without contention or strife, praying to God steadfastly in the faith . . .”

Preacher: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Historic Anabaptist Seeker: “ . . . then will our prayer be a sweet savor and an acceptable offering to God; for every gift comes from the Father of lights.”

(Reference: Reading the Anabaptist Bible page 154 and  Micah 6:6-8)

I cannot take any credit or claim for the above. It is a weaving of the passage from Micah chapter six and a letter from the historic Anabaptist believer Hans Symons wrote to his wife in September of 1567 while in prison at Antwerp. So often in the letters of the historic Anabaptists they quote scripture for encouragement and instruction. I wanted the two voices to blend. May you beloved offer our Lord the greatest sacrifice – your devotion. Selah!

SACRIFICE . . . Doing what needs to be done

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Reference: Isaiah 1:13-17 )

I went back and read what I wrote 5 years ago. Back in 2009 (when we last looked at Reading the Anabaptist Bible ) I did not try to connect it to what excerpt from historic Anabaptist writing was being used. This time I am trying to be more faithful to the perspective the historic Anabaptists had and how the editors ground the scripture in the faith beliefs of the historic Anabaptists. At times it has made it hard to explain their faith in new ways.

But for this passage it is not so difficult for me to comment on. However, the historic Anabaptists (meaning the theological explanations that have been passed down to us) did not seem to have a clear cut response. Balthasar Hubmaier (who usually speaks/writes clearly) says, “. . . these ceremonies, like any other good works, are not sufficient for salvation, and no one should also hope for that from them, nevertheless, since water baptism is an institution of Christ, which no one may deny, everyone who believes inwardly is also obligated to confess his faith outwardly with it before the Christian church. Where now a Christian sees that these outward things, which Christ himself instituted, are being thrown to the ground, he is obligated to cry out without ceasing about that and not stop, even though the outward worldly peace among the godless is thereby shaken . . . Christ is the sign that is contradicted. He is the cornerstone which the builders reject . . . Whoever now destroys his Word and institutions, whether they be outward or internal, should after sufficient instruction be properly esteemed as a destroyer of the indivisible cloak of Christ. Concerning the ceremonies of the Old Testament, however, we clearly find that God himself has abolished them, Isa. 1:12-17 . . . .”

Now what is interesting is that the historic Anabaptists rejected much of the smoke and incense that made up the state religion (which continued on to be the Roman Catholic church). But the case for that is not made here – it would have been a good opportunity. Instead Hubmaier seems to be taking the side of offering and incense bringers. Maybe it is because the historic Anabaptist faith was so new that it was not definable in contrast to the established church. I am guessing here as to what their reasoning was. Hubmaier wrote this in 1525 which was very early on in the historic Anabaptist movement – in fact just at the beginning cusp. Later on the theology was well defined.

It might be of interest to you beloved to read what I wrote five years ago – to see what I said when I writing in a “less defined way.” [ Get off your knees and start acting justly ]

May you beloved define well your faith, and follow through on it. Selah!

SACRIFICE . . . Do not confuse sacrifices to God with obedience of God

“But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord ? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (Reference: 1 Samuel 15:22-23 )

This passage and the meaning that the historic Anabaptists attached to it is actually a warning against sacrifice. From this passage they took the idea that obedience is better than sacrifice. King Saul has offered up the best, finest, and fattest of the plunder they had gotten in battle. God, through Samuel, has told King Saul to destroy it all. But Saul was convinced to offer up the best to God, as he had been taught from birth I imagine. But Samuel said God wanted obedience rather than sacrifice and because King Saul could not follow that, God’s support (and Samuel’s) was withdrawn.

So beloved, do you think the sacrifice that the historic Anabaptists made of their lives was what God wanted? There are more days where “Sacrifice” is the theme, and as in previous days, I am sure we will read a broader span of interpretations.

Ydse Gaukes wrote from his prison cell, in 1571, to someone who I am pretty sure was his wife, “My much beloved, now that you know that the day is approaching when you must have [the faith that has been given you], take earnest heed lest you lose [that faith]; for if you should lose it the last day, it could avail you nothing; though one had kept it a hundred years, it could not avail him anything; as the prophet says: “If a man hath done good all his life, and walked uprightly, and turned himself to unrighteousness, all the good that he hath done before shall avail him nothing.” See, how the Lord requires obedience of us, as the prophet Samuel said to Saul: “The Lord delighteth more in obedience, than in sacrifices.” 1 Sam. 15:22. . . . Hence, look diligently before you, lest ye be deceived; for Christ has truly said, that many false prophets shall rise and cry: “Here is Christ, there is Christ.” Matt. 24:11, 5. Therefore, my chosen, beware, lest you be deceived.” There is much theology and faith beliefs in this short writing. And it would exhaust my fingers and your eyes, I am sure, to take it all in. In brief, one slip from obedience means all the good that has gone before means nothing. Having faith is synonymous to being obedient to God. Both obedience and faith can be ruined by listening and following false beliefs.

Heed the word of God beloved, so that all your days are spent obeying God. Selah!

DISCIPLESHIP . . . . Living it for the long run

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Reference: Luke 9:57-62 )

When you read the gospels and the accounts of Jesus’ ministry literally, it is not surprising that you would envision the Christian life as difficult and one of deprivation. Dirk Philips echoes these sentiments when he reflected on the losses that Jesus talked about and commending one to look to the future for recompense. “Comfort and admonish yourselves among each other with such and similar comforting passages from Holy Scripture, and do not let yourselves be frightened by the tyrants and persecutors, 1 Thess. 2:1ff. . . . Whenever you now look upon the suffering of our Savior, Jesus Christ, then your suffering is not yet to be compared with it. For he was rich (as the apostle says), 2 Cor. 8:9, and for our sake became poor, that he had less than the birds of heaven and the foxes of the earth, Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:59, so that we through his poverty might become rich. Who can wonder then if we for his sake abandon everything and lose the temporal goods, since we have a better possession in heaven?”

Sometimes I extol and praise the willingness of the historic Anabaptists to take on the losses and suffering that was their lives – like yesterday. And sometimes I get impatient with their gloomy and dour outlook on life – like today. But where my impatience is focused most specifically is that they speak of the sadness of loss and suffering but do not speak of the joy in doing it. In other words, if you decide to be a martyr, you don’t get to wimp about it!

I remember quite well when my family was young slaving away in the kitchen or elsewhere in the house while my family took their ease. It frustrated me to no end that I was stuck with all the chores while everyone else benefited from my labor. I took myself strongly in hand and said, “You are the one who is making yourself work like this for whatever reason you think there is. If you resent it so much, don’t do it. Make a different plan. But if you choose to do this, you have to set down the attitude.” So I did. I decided in my own mind that if I played out the servant role I had to do it willingly. If I didn’t want to be the servant, I had to speak my mind and let my family know what I was willing and not willing to do. And it was very liberating.

So let’s back at what Philips says. He says the historic Anabaptists were to comfort themselves with the fact that Jesus was homeless too. But the problem is, Jesus was not really homeless. He had a home. And he had friends and family who offered him and his disciples places to stay and refresh themselves.

Philips cites 2 Corinthians 8:9 saying that Jesus made himself poor. But that was not of physical possessions but giving up divinity for a time and taking on a human role. And it was only because of his divine nature that he could “suffer” as he did. That is why his suffering can not be compared to the historic Anabaptists’, and not because they suffered less than Christ did.

The historic Anabaptists did, as do many other forerunners of new faith traditions do, is overdue their clinging to the new ways of faith and thinking. For I tell you beloved, if the historic Anabaptists DID NOT leave the area they first established their faith in, there would not have been anyone to pass the traditions on. Adherence to discipleship, as I said yesterday, is a very good thing. But allowing sacrifice and self-sacrifice to swallow up everything means the new faith tradition will never have the chance to become an established faith tradition. We must find a place between the two extremes – blind devotion resulting in extinction and lax values/priorities that result in being indistinguishable in the larger society.

May you beloved find the good path of discipleship so that you can carry on the sacred traditions that define your beliefs. Selah!