Monday, June 29, 2009

Anabaptism and Mennonitism

Question: The Anabaptist Vision is coming into it's golden age. Why is it that the Mennonites seem to be in decline? (from Mark Van S. on Facebook)

My response:
Because only some of the Mennonites are Anabaptist. Because the Mennonites are too focused on organization instead of spirituality. Anabaptism will reach it's peak when released from the Mennonite shackle of bureaucracy.

Only when Mennonites see that Anabaptism is a vision, not an organization that need be restructured, that Mennonites will thrive.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who Are the People of God?

We can look around at the different religions and the many different kinds of Christianity and we can wonder, who among all of these different kinds of religious people does God really care for? Some religions are strict, others are lax; some are private and personal, while others are public and in-your-face; some are meditative, others are ethical, while others are very social. And each one of them has their own ideas of what makes up the people of God and who really belongs.

Of all the people in the world, Jesus is one of the few who we can trust to really know what God prefers. Jesus lived among his people and taught and healed—but more importantly, God gave his stamp of approval on his life and teaching beyond anyone else, because God raised him from the dead. No other religious teacher or prophet or theologian could claim that. So rather than delving into theology or religious doctrine, let’s just look at what Jesus said about the subject.

The Beatitudes—Matthew 5:3-10
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ blueprint for God’s people. He didn’t come up with it himself—although he packaged it. Most of this teaching comes from the Hebrew Bible (which is usually today called the Old Testament). It is called “the beatitudes” today because each statement speaks about a blessing that the people of God will receive. “Beatitude” comes from a Latin word which means “state of bliss”. And these statements explain who will receive a state of blessing or fortune from God. Before we explain it, though, let’s hear what Jesus has to say about God’s people for himself:

3. The poor in spirit are fortunate because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
4. Those who grieve are fortunate, because they will be cheered.
5. The meek are fortunate, because they will inherit the earth.
6. Those hungry and thirsty for justice are fortunate, because they will eat their fill.
7. The merciful are fortunate, because they will be granted mercy.
8. The clean in heart are fortunate, because they will see God.
9. The peacemakers are fortunate, because they will be called 'sons of God.'
10. Those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are fortunate, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Who are these people?
The first thing we want to look at are the characteristics of God’s people. Jesus statements about these characteristics can be divided in two: a. Situational characteristics and b. Ethical characteristics.

The Anawim of God
Some of the characteristics of God’s people relate to the awful situations they find themselves in:

• The poor in spirit (oppressed, especially economically),
• The grieving (remorseful about the situations they find themselves in),
• The meek (lowly, disenfranchised or outcast),
• Those hungering and thirsting for justice (greatly desiring right to prevail in their lives)
• And the persecuted (rejected or spoken ill of).

This isn’t exactly a top-ten of things that we want to be! These characteristics can be summarized in one Hebrew word—anawim. The Bible speaks much of the anawim, because they are the kinds of people God focuses on, and desires to help more than anyone else. (Read Exodus 22:21-24; Psalm 37:11 and Psalm 34:6.) That’s because they have no one else but God to turn to. No power on earth will pay attention to them, because most people would prefer to pretend that they didn’t even exist. Some of the anawim in our society are the homeless, the mentally ill, the elderly, the chronically sick and all the various others who are socially outcast. These are the poor, the lowly, the outcast—and they are God’s people. If a person thinks that they are of God or His people, but have never experienced this kind of rejection by society, then they are not, in reality of God’s true people.

The Loving of God
However, one cannot just be rejected or poor and be of God’s people. Many teachers and theologians today will teach that Jesus said that everyone who is poor or outcast represents him. But that simply isn’t true. Jesus said that those of his “brothers” who are needy are his people. And Jesus said that his brothers would “do the will of my Father in heaven”. In other words, they listened to and obeyed God. But what kind of obedience is Jesus talking about? Not drinking on a Friday night? Studying the Bible every day? Standing on a street corner yelling, “You’re going to hell” to everyone you see? Hmmm… let’s see what Jesus says:

• The merciful (those who do good to everyone in need without exception);
• The clean in heart (those who do what is right because they have a mind focused on God, and not because of superficial reasons)
• The peacemakers (those who do good to their enemies, who refuse to judge on appearances and who gather people to be devoted to God);
• And the persecuted for righteousness’ sake (those who are rejected because they were doing the good God said to do).

These are the people who keep two things on their main agenda: They are devoted to God first and foremost, not allowing anything else in their lives to get in the way of their love of God. Second, they are doing everything they can to benefit other people, no matter who they are. This makes sense, because Jesus said that these two things are to be the focus of everyone who lives for God (Matthew 22:35-40). They love God and they love other people. And sometimes they get burned because of it. Sometimes they are rejected or even physically hurt because of it. But they know it’s worth it.

How can it be worth it?
It doesn’t seem worth it. Jesus is saying that God’s people are those who are so focused on devotion to God and assisting others that they get hurt by it. It just doesn’t seem right. But it really is—in fact, it is a weird sense of justice that indicates that these are God’s people and not others. Just look at what God’s people get:

• Theirs is the kingdom of heaven (God lets them rule His coming nation!)
• They will be cheered (God gives them happiness!)
• They will inherit the earth (God gives them land and city to be in charge of!)
• They will eat their fill (God will give them true justice—forever!)
• They will receive mercy (God will overlook their faults and meet their needs!)
• They will see God (God will let them be in his presence!)
• They will be called sons of God (God will call them his own!)

All wrapped up, these are the blessings of God that almost everyone wants. It is peace, security, true spirituality, all of one’s needs met, a peaceful society to live in. It is winning the real lottery—obtaining true happiness that you could never get with cash.

So why do these people get it, and not others? Because only God is offering it, and only those who are truly devoted to God and His ways will get it. And how can anyone know that we were really devoted—and not just faking it? How can anyone know that we really cared about other people and weren’t just faking it? Because we acted in love even though we were living in hard times. We stayed right with God, even though we suffered for it. We continued to help others, even though people thought we were wrong to do it. We suffered and loved at the same time.

How fortunate are the oppressed because they will rule God’s kingdom!
How fortunate are the sorrowful, because God will cheer them up.
How fortunate are the lowly, because God will give them the earth.
How fortunate are those who desperately desire justice, because they will get just what they want.

How fortunate are those who act in compassion, for God will be compassionate to them.
How fortunate are those single-minded on God, for they will see Him.
How fortunate are the creators of peaceful communities, for God will make them rulers.
How fortunate are the sufferers for righteousness, because they will rule God’s kingdom!

Peacemaking 101

“I can’t believe he did that!” “What a jerk!” “They are morons!” We often feel like this when people have hurt us, whether on purpose or carelessly. When we are hurt, we act in different ways—perhaps we want to run away, perhaps we want to lash out, perhaps we want to pretend it never happened, perhaps we want to “talk it out.” Jesus and his followers say that the way to respond to those who hurt us is to attempt to make peace, instead of hostility. The way of peace is to listen, confront and to accept. How to do this is explained below:

Stop ourselves from being hostile. (Romans 12:17, 21)
When we have been wronged, we often want to respond in kind or to hurt the other person in some way. Sometimes we want to just separate ourselves from the one who hurt us and never come back. Sometimes we want to lash out at the person, verbally or even physically. The first thing we must do is to ask for God’s strength to be “slow to anger”, and to not respond with punishment.

Check our principles for judging (Matthew 7:1-2)
We have to decide if we have the right to judge the one who hurt us. Are we judging them by God’s standards of right and wrong, or our own? Are we assuming what their motivation was, or do we know? Do we have our facts straight? To help with this process, you might want to look at another tract, “Judging With a Right Judgement”.

Check our motivation for responding (I Corinthians 16:14)
In everything we do to another, if we do it according to the Lord, we do it for the benefit of the other person. Do we want to respond to the hurt in order to hurt in return? Do we want to just make ourselves feel better? Do we want the other person to admit they did wrong? Do we want to insist upon our “rights”? None of these motivations are according to the Lord. Instead, if we respond to someone who hurt us, we want to help them to grow in the Lord or to allow there to be reconciliation between us.

Ask the other person for their perspective and listen (James 1:19)
Rather than being hostile, which is an easy out, our first task is to listen to the other person’s perspective. Most of the time, we will find, that people either didn’t intend to hurt us at all, or they were responding to a misunderstanding of our words or actions which caused them to be hurt. If we can understand what they were really doing, then we can better evaluate how to prevent such a situation happening again.

Speak about how we were hurt (Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3; Galatians 6:1)
We need to let the person who hurt us know how they hurt us and what they did. This step is essential, for the person might not know that they have done anything wrong, or not know that they have hurt anyone else. Even if it seems like it is obvious, we need to tell them. We should try not to say, “you did this wrong”, but talk about the actions that hurt us, and anything Jesus and the apostles say about that kind of action. When we speak about our hurt, we need to be brief and to be gentle, hoping for reconciliation.

Listen again. (Matthew 18:15-16)
We need to give the other person a chance to respond to our statement. Perhaps they will want to reconcile, perhaps they will want to say how we misunderstood what they intended. Of course, they may also want to excuse their behavior and claim that they were right to hurt. Whatever the response, we need to give them the opportunity to show how they really feel about their action.

Accept any attempt at repentance and reconciliation.(Luke 17:3-4)
If the person who did wrong makes some attempt at correcting their wrong, we should accept them. We must not look for a particular formula of apology or reconciliation. If the person, in some way, admits a wrong they have done, and is looking for the relationship to be restored, then we need to do our part and try to restore the relationship. This is the case, even if they have hurt us time and time again!

If they don’t want to reconcile, then get someone else involved. (Matthew 18:16)
If either party of a hurt doesn’t want to reconcile—either because one thinks they haven’t done anything wrong, or because one doesn’t want to forgive a repented wrong done—then someone who is of the peaceful Holy Spirit and is objective in the situation should come in to attempt to restore the relationship. That person should be able to listen to both sides fairly and to determine, according to Jesus, what could be done.

If trust isn’t possible, bear with each other (Galatians 6:2)
If the two of us were unable to completely resolve the conflict, then the teaching of Jesus is that we are still to love each other and care for each other. That doesn’t mean that we need to be “best friends”, but we need to be able to live together and at times serve together in the community. Perhaps, over time, the issues will be resolved.

Work something out to prevent the situation from happening again. (Matthew 18:15-17)
The ones involved in the hurt should make some kind of informal (or sometimes, formal) plan to prevent the hurt from happening again. This should almost always involve action on both sides, in order not to cause another to fall away from God or His ways (Mark 7:42-50). If one party refuses to reconcile, then a separation may be necessary until they are willing to.

If the way of Jesus’ peace sounds appealing, but too difficult, consult with your local pastor to gain spiritual strength and counsel, or call the number below.

In as much as we are able, let us be at peace with everyone.