GOD WILL REPAY ALL . . . . So don’t give up!

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Reference: Galatians 6:7-9 )

Pilgram Marpeck wrote in “Five Fruits of Repentance” specifically referring to this passage from Galatians, “It is not enough that one merely says: I would gladly repent and confess of my sins. A part of it is to recognize what kind of fruit sin brings. For what each person sows,

they will and must reap or harvest, Gal. 6:8. For all pain, anxiety, distress, and suffering together with eternal death are the true fruits and reward, yes, the true wages of sin, which is given to all sinners who have not received grace, and by which they are condemned to eternal destruction. Whoever does not find Christ in this depth (that is, in this true baptism for the remission of sin) will not find Him in the height in joy and glory eternally.”

I am glad for Marpeck that “all pain, anxiety, distress, and suffering” can be avoided by the “ true baptism for the remission of sin”, and finding and abiding in Christ at a great depth. But there are people who lead good Christian lives and walk with God who still have “pain, anxiety, distress, and suffering”, and quite honestly we get tired of being told we could avoid this if only . . . .

Now I know Marpeck means these things that come into one’s life because of sin, and not because of ailments and illness, and circumstances beyond one’s control. But when you are struggling (as I have been for the past week or two) it is hard to hear these admonitions and not take it personally as being “preached to.” That is the problem, beloved, of preaching to an unknown audience – you don’t know if there are those out there whose life circumstances have caused them the very things you are preaching that can be avoided. And there has been many a “red-faced” preacher (or there should be) who has had to apologize because someone who is suffering has pointed out their lack of compassion. And isn’t that just the thing that God would warn preacher and minister about! DO NOT harm the innocent, naive, and down trodden.

But what should the message be to those who suffer in this life for things beyond their control? Well, actually, the same thing; don’t give up! Because God knows their suffering, and knows that they are innocent but suffer anyway. God’s mercy may not feel like it is coming through to them; but do not blame God. Set the blame at the feet of those who turn away from those suffering or dismiss them. As a person who both suffers and ministers to those who are suffering, I know important it is to discern between the suffering of a sinner and the suffering of an innocent.

I do not mean to preach to you, beloved, that you are dismissive of those who suffer. I just felt it was time again to stand up and remind the world that not all of those who suffer are deserving of it because they have sinned or have been wicked. In fact, it is those of us who are suffering that could and should be the recipients of good being done!

Beloved, may you be ever mindful of those in your faith group and circle of acquaintances, and of strangers also. Be mindful of their sufferings that they have not brought on themselves. Do good to them, encourage them not to give up but to keep moving forward to a life eternal that is free from suffering and misery. It is what we all long for! Selah!

PERSECUTION . . . A Final Word

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (Reference: 2 Timothy 3:12 )

How would we, in our modern day, define persecution? Perhaps that is the question that has been dancing around for a while. What constituents being persecuted? Is it having our faith tested by circumstances and events – ie temptations? Is it having someone dismiss or ridicule or otherwise not take seriously our faith? Is it being discriminated because of our faith? We may be afraid to define or label what we go through as persecution because it does not measure up to other forms of persecution that have resulted in far more suffering and physical violence. And maybe that is another issue we have been dancing around. I don’t know. What I do know is that for me the span of time when “Persecution” has been the theme has been challenging. In this the final day, I have found a letter excerpt that allows speaks to persecution in a way that gives room for a wide spectrum of definitions. Jerome Segers wrote to his wife Lijsken in 1551 when they were both imprisoned; both were executed, Jerome in 1551 and his wife a year later. I would hope that this letter gave her courage, and I would hope the same thing for us beloved. Selah!

So we too, my dear wife, have not yet won when we have confessed the truth and separated ourselves from the world with its desires and temptations. We must strive against the enemies in this world, that is against kings and authorities and princes, Eph. 6:12. We must suffer in this world, for Paul said that all who live godly in this world will suffer persecution, 2 Tim. 3:12. We must overcome the world, sin, death, and the devil not with external swords or spears, but with the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God, Eph. 6:17, and with the shield of faith with which we can stop all the sharp arrows, which are as fire, and take the helmet of salvation and the armor of righteousness, having our feet ready to proclaim the gospel. When we are strengthened with these weapons we too, with Israel, shall pass through this wilderness and overcome all our foes, 2 Tim. 3:8. . . .”

PERSECUTION . . . Not unknown to our world

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him… “ (Reference: Philippians 1:29 )

The historic Anabaptists suffered. I think I have made that clear enough, several times over. But I also hope I have emphasized that the historic Anabaptists felt very close to God and clung to the Divine in order to withstand their persecution they were placed under. If that is not the case, then I have been remiss in giving you a complete picture of the historic Anabaptists. As I have said in previous days, this year considering the suffering and persecution of the historic Anabaptists has hit closer to home than five years ago. But I have also found my relationship with God is closer than it was five years ago. Part of that has been intentional; but has also been the leading of the Spirit.

Five years ago I wrote on this text [ To Believe and Suffer ] and I liked what I wrote then. Not enough to simply use it again; but enough to note it here. At that time a faithful reader pointed out that in the 1500’s life was harsher and the consequences for not living correctly were more strict and the punishment more physically painful. What we cringe it may not have been as out of line for them. But then again, in the recent decade (or maybe even longer) violence has escalated and each day someone or a bunch of someones encounter violence and death, and for causes that are much less imperative than faith beliefs. So maybe our current day is not that much less violent than the 1500’s. The reasons have changed but not the actions. And with that being the case, then the words of the historic Anabaptist believer, Paul Glock, are even more appropriate, and I leave then with you beloved as a parting thought. With these words we commend you all together with ourselves to the faithful Father in heaven under his merciful protection and safekeeping. May he be your and our champion in all our troubles.” Selah!

PERSECUTION . . . Wearing and wearying

This is my command: Love each other. If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: “No servant is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (Reference: John 15:17-20 )

So that you may remain oriented, today is March 10th. Yesterday was March 9th. And I am lost between the timing of the daily “Sip of Scripture” and Reading the Anabaptist Bible . But I am also reminded that we are to live according to God and God’s time, and not according to humanity’s time. God created the world, and our translation of what was first written down by the writer of Genesis divides that into days, and we have defined days as 24 hour units. So I will set aside the matter of mismatched days and postings.

Jesus said “This is my command” and it was a command to love one another. To not hate one another as the world hates, but to love. If our only goal was to belong to the world that is filled hate and persecution, we would act the way the world wants us to act. But as true Christians (as opposed to people who espouse Christianity but hate anyway) we do not act as the world wants us to act, but at God wants us to act. How God wants us to act is sadly open for debate, and debated it is. And this is the source of some of the cruelest persecution ever devised. And I sigh beloved, because from what God and Christ commanded humanity has taken and twisted for its own agenda.

Yes beloved, this constant focus on persecution has worn me down to my nerves and bare bones. What is travail for one may be a small thing for another. But each of us bears up under what life and the world bring. Whether the burdens are small or large, we have respite in our Lord. We can say it is too much, and we can bear no more. It would be easier, we say, to give up and let the world have its way. And therefore think that we can escape. Without the protection and comfort of our Lord, however, our troubles can double and triple.

But I am being melancholy, and more than a touch dramatic. The historic Anabaptists may have waxed poetical about how they “suffered” for their faith, but their suffering was real. And there have been those since who have suffered bodily for their faith – and some still do. The amount one suffers for their faith depends a great deal on where you are in world. I would not want to lessen the struggle and challenges Christians in other parts of the world face simply because where I live there is ample freedom of faith practices.

But neither do I believe that those who suffer for their faith would set aside their faith if they knew the suffering would cease. They know of the truth that Christ spoke.

As always beloved, it is my hope that the world does not make you suffer for you belief in God. And if suffering is your journey, may God be with you every step of the way. Selah!

PERSECUTION . . . When it comes relentlessly, but with ample warning

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Reference: Matthew 10:16-20 )

No beloved, this is not some sort of deja vu. The “Sip of Scripture” for yesterday and today are the same verse, as it was five years ago. Reading the Anabaptist Bible has a different passage for March 9th, from John 15: 17-20. “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me,they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.”

Back on March 7th (when I was expressing weariness about the long series of verses on persecution) I said that Jesus warned his disciples that if he was persecuted they would be also for simply following Jesus. I was not thinking about any specific verse, but making a general statement. But we have verses today from Reading the Anabaptist Bible that speaks to this specific theme; the only thing more coincidental would be if “Sip of Scripture” had noted these verses from John 15 as the verses for today.

I had also yesterday (when commenting on the verses from Mathew chapter 10) quietly alluded to the fact that I feel (maybe not all the time but many times) that the Spirit is prompting me in what to say. So, am I “reading” too much into the fact that two days ago I touched onto the theme of the verse that Reading the Anabaptist Bible has for today? And with the repetition yesterday’s verse I again have cause to wonder if something beyond coincidence is providing a “Ghost Writer” for me?

What then of persecution, if God seems to be supplying a back drop against which so many Christian lives are being lived out? What should one do if persecution is indeed a part of God’s plan? For if one had a “suspicious” mind, one could almost think that Christ’s warnings in Matthew and John were a foreshadowing of persecution that WILL come instead of persecution that MIGHT come. And not just of Jesus’ generation, but generations hundred’s of years in the future. Thanks be to God that I am not the only harbinger of such things. Jacques Mesdagh, who was burned at the stake in November of 1567 said, “For if the holy men and prophets, and the apostles, had to suffer, yea, Christ Himself, who is one Head and master, how much more ought we, who are poor, sinful and frail men to suffer, if we want to be found little members of His body; for the members are surely not better than the head, nor the servant greater than his lord, says Christ Himself.” In fact many of the historic Anabaptist believers testified that they expected suffering and persecution to be their lot. I have tried to believe that should no longer be part of the Christian experience. But as we read on and on about persecution my hope that Christians everywhere will not have to suffer dims.

Yes, I had said in a previous post that there are signs in the media that some Christians may be severely critiqued for strong and immovable attitudes that have been labeled as hostile and not accepting of all people. But that I would think is far removed from what these scriptures prophesy. At least that is my hope for today. And today is the first Sunday of Lent; perhaps a good day to struggle with the concept of persecution. It is also the first day of daylight savings time. I will leave how all of this might connect to your pondering. What tomorrow may bring I do not know.

May you beloved know assurance when you speak of your faith and God, and may you be resilient in the face of persecution, knowing that Christ our Lord has gone ahead. Selah!

PERSECUTION . . . Knowing the way to walk, and to walk it regardless

Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Reference: Isaiah 30:20-21 )

Beloved, as I sit down to right on this passage, a desires overcomes me to write from my personal experience. No, am not under persecution, at least not for my faith beliefs. I have been coping with illness for many years, and just recently had a new diagnosis added. It has been a long and trying day, and I am in pain. I had thought maybe I should wait a day and write on this passage tomorrow, but the beginning of these verses calls to me; “Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction . . . “ The writer of Isaiah uses metaphors of bread and water several times in the book of Isaiah, the most memorable to me being Isaiah chapter 55 verses 1 & 2. [Go look it us if you so desire] In that passage bread and water is desired, but here the bread and water presented to the reader is to one’s determent and not to support healthy living. But even so, when there is suffering and affliction the Lord is present with you and guides you through the difficult times.

Whether it be difficult choices, suffering and persecution at the hands of another, or (as in my case) ill-health and problems of the body – the Lord is with us. God does not always take away the suffering, as the historic Anabaptists found. In fact cleaving to God sometimes results in the suffering and persecution. I am thankful to God that I am free to practice my faith beliefs without fear. (I hope it is so for you too beloved.) Our faith can be a comfort and support at all times; and when it may seem to be the better choice to let go of our faith or give in on some points in the face of persecution, I tell you beloved it is a thousand times worse to abandon even the smallest tenet of faith than it is to hold firm and suffer the consequences.

Now, this does not mean our faith should not grow or mature, changing and evolving as new wisdom is revealed to us. It may be just as bad to hang onto a faith that is not in line with God’s precepts as it would be to give up one’s correctly grounded faith. One of the historic Anabaptist, Maerten van der Straten, encouraged his wife writing, “But the Almighty King is the true fountain, who, as Jeremiah says, with His learned tongue comforts the weary soul,

and, according to the words of the prophet, in time of need gives bread, and in thirst water.” This stands in contrast to the words of Isaiah who said “Though the Lord may give you . . . adversity and . . . affliction.” We hold in tension, beloved, that while difficulties may come because of held beliefs, support and comfort also comes because of held beliefs.

But I have rambled away from my starting point – that suffering comes in many forms. I have been asked several times if I have not prayed to God to be healed; and what conclusions have I come to since I have not been healed. And my answer is this beloved; there are many who suffer without relief. And in my suffering I can identify with their pain, and I can encourage them to call on God to be with them and support them, knowing from my own experience that thought one may suffer it does not mean that God has abandoned us. God is with us, guiding us and strengthening us so that we may stand firm in our faith, continuing a legacy that spans from the past and carries forward to the future. May you stand firm in that tradition beloved. Selah!

If I have withheld anything, let me be without limbs

“If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail . . . . . then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.” (Job 31:16, 22 from Job 31:13-28 )

“What have I done Lord to deserve all this?” is a cry often made by Christians. “If I have erred, let me suffer! If I have not erred, why must I suffer?” It is a question without answer. Who can say why some suffer and some do not? Job was looking for answers, and pleading his case to all who would listen. Chapter 31 of Job contains some very heart rending pleas and dramatic statements. But I, gentle reader, am not muchly (no, it is not a real word) moved.

I first read Job with serious intent on my first real job. I was a weekly live-in nanny and housekeeper for four children, twin boys about 6 months and two girls – one 6 years old and one around 3 years old and not completely potty-trained. [I lasted 6 months. But relatives of the children said I did a good job, and since they all survived my care I guess I did. BUT after having three children myself, I know from experience one more would be one too many! ] But at the tender age of 19 years old myself, it was a total deluge of being not ready for the job! So Job, a fellow suffer, was muchly appreciated.

I have no doubts that Job suffered, and when I first read the book of Job I felt his suffering. But now, looking back at my live, I know that humanity suffers, and not just the way Job did. And not always with the happy ending that Job had. So, no, I am not especially moved by Job claims of integrity and rants of unfairness.

Have you suffered gentle reader? Have you been tossed on life’s garbage heap? And how has that changed the way you have interacted with the world? Right relationships are not just for when things are going right with your world. And justice is not given out only when you have received justice. And you should not withhold the blessing of shalom to others just because you have not been experiencing it yourself.

May the shalom of your day also be the shalom for all creation. And vice versa. Selah!

Discipleship and the Christian Life: Suffering for the faith

“… If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:16)
“… So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” ( 1 Peter 4:19 )

Five year ago [What does it mean to suffer?] I asked some probing questions about how much we truly suffer – in our modern age – by being Christians. Are we absolutely miserable because of our Christian commitment? Are we missing out on enjoying life because “suffering” gets in the way, or our commitment to God forces us into a certain way of life? And just how do we think our suffering compares to believers in the past – both the distant past and in the past hundred years?

But I am no longer that critical. The reason? Because the definition of Christianity and the hallmarks of that life are so diverse and scattered that one strain of Christianity can actually be at odds with another. And that, gentle reader, means there is suffering. Suffering by the Christian or Christians who believe they are the right. Suffering by those Christians who really are in the wrong. And suffering by the general non-Christian population seeing the friction and dichotomy between these two “Christian” groups. It may not be the suffering that Christians did in ages and eras before. But it is suffering – do not be in doubt on that point.

And the greatest tragedy is that this suffering can not be abated and healed until we know what is correct and authentic Christian belief. I have given my opinions on this issue; but this is not the time to re-examine and discuss that. I have never been a fan of divisiveness, and I am certainly not going to allow it here. But would I do suggest is that the varying Christian groups take solace from these verses. If they feel strongly that are suffering because they do not see or feel unity with other Christian groups, then these verse is for them. And if they suffer because Christianity itself is misunderstood and attacked or maligned, these verses are for them.

I would not ask a committed Christian to veer from their faith beliefs. I would ask though that all Christians remain open to discussion about their faith, both with other Christians and those who do not espouse a Christian faith.

May our God see our suffering, and heal us, every one. Selah!