Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

But God can save us yet

The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was uncommonly cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy fall of snow upon the 14th and 15th of May

A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning, hot summer; and the summer of ’34 was the hottest I ever remember.  No rain fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and withered beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and fever in the woods, and the cholera in the large towns and cities, spread death and sickness through the country.

Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres around the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me with the keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened a wider gap in the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and a clearer glimpse of the blue sky. But when the dark cedar swamp fronting the house fell beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got a first view of the lake my joy was complete: a new and beautiful object was now constantly before me, which gave me the greatest pleasure.

The confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side. Huge trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and uncomfortable appearance to the locality, and as the weather had been very dry for some weeks, I heard my husband talking with his choppers as to the expediency of firing the fallow. They still urged him to wait a little longer, until he could get a good breeze to carry the fire well through the brush.

Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict charge with old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job, by no means to attempt to burn it off till he returned, as he wished to be upon the premises himself in case of any danger. He had previously burnt all the heaps immediately about the doors. While he was absent, old Thomas and his second son fell sick with the ague, and went home to their own township, leaving John, a surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where they slept, and kept their tools and provisions.

The day was sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were lying listlessly on the floor for coolness, and the girl and I were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, “Bless us, mistress, what a smoke!” I ran immediately to the door, but was not able to distinguish ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud of smoke directly towards us.

“What can this mean?” I cried. “Who can have set fire to the fallow?”

John Thomas stood pale and trembling before me. “John, what is the meaning of this fire?”

“Oh, ma’am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it.”

“What is the danger?”

“Oh, I’m terribly feared that we shall all be burnt up,” said the fellow, beginning to whimper.

“We must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house to its fate.”

“We can’t get out,” said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which seemed the concentration of fear; “I would have got out if I could; but just step to the back door, ma’am, and see.”

I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute. Judge then my horror, when, on going to the back door, I saw that the fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field in fifty different places. Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of fire, burning ferociously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting off all possibility of retreat.

I closed the door and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking loudly at my heart – I felt stupefied. The girl sat upon the floor by the children, who had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping; while the fool who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not believe that we were to die.

My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each other’s arms, and my tears flowed for the first time. Mary, the servant-girl, looked piteously up in my face. The good, faithful creature had not uttered one word of complaint, but now she faltered forth, “The dear precious lambs! Oh such a death!”

I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were asleep, unconscious of danger.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and there was not a drop of water in the house. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a passage might have been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing but a dense cloud of fire and smoke – could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of the flames, which were gaining so fast on us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

“Ah,” thought I – and it was a most bitter thought – “what will my beloved husband say when he returns and finds that poor Susy and his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner? But God can save us yet.”

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I thought that our time was come, and that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder burst over our heads, and, like the breaking of a water-spout, down came the rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for so many weeks. In a few minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had quite subdued the cruel enemy whose approach we had viewed with such dread.

The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more forcibly after it was past than at the time, and both the girl and myself sank to our knees and offered up our hearts in humble thanksgiving to that God who had saved us by an act of His Providence from an awful and sudden death. When all hope from human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully stretched forth, making His strength more perfectly manifested in our weakness.

“He is their stay when earthly hope is lost,
“The light and anchor of the tempest-toss’d.”


 

Excerpted from Life in the Backwoods, by Susanna Moodie

Really Simple Testimony

“Tell what He’s done for you” should be a key part of sharing the gospel with others. It’s more powerful than any canned approach. Our testimony should sound natural and conversational, not scripted like a telemarketer. Nevertheless, there is value in writing out a significant experience to think through which details to include and what to leave out.

If you are telling your conversion, remember that the experience was between you and God and the same kind of experience is available to anyone, of any background or circumstances. If your testimony gives a lot of credit to your parents and your church, you may be missing the reality of what took place. This could lead the person you are talking to believe that the door is closed to her because she does not have those advantages.

Keep it simple, keep it short, but make sure it is complete. In some way, every experience includes a call from God, your response and the peace and assurance that God gave when you yielded to Him.

Here is mine:

Things were coming together for me; a secure job, a place to live and a wedding coming up in the summer. I believed I was doing the best I could in the circumstances. Then things started to unravel. Irregularities came to light at work and I seemed to be a suspect. My fiancee was having second thoughts.

One day, after troubled thoughts that led nowhere, I picked up a Bible and opened it. Revelation 3:16 stood out before me: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” The image shocked me. Was I that distasteful to God? I knelt down and confessed that my troubles were my own doing, and prayed that if God would help me now, I would do whatever He asked of me for the rest of my life.

No bells rang, but I was calm and knew what I had to do. The situation at work soon blew over, my fiancee made her decision (and has stuck with me for over 44 years). And God still asks things of me and reminds me: “this is part of what you promised back there.”

That’s 197 words, about the right size to convey the essential information. I won’t be able to tell it in exactly the same words every time, which is good – I don’t want to sound like I’m reading.

There are other experiences that have helped shape our lives and they can be dropped into a conversation if there seems to be an opening. Above all, it is important to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, not to run ahead and try to push open a door that seems stuck, nor to hold back for fear of what someone might think or say.

Put down that hammer!

If the only thing in your toolkit is a hammer, it’s surprising how many things look like a nail. -Anonymous

Some Christians are like that: “If you don’t know Jesus, you’re lost!” Pow! “You’re living in sin.” Wham! “You’re on the road to hell!” Smack! “You need Jesus in your life!” Thud!

All true, but I haven’t noticed that such an approach is remarkably successful. People tend to stay out of the range of that flailing hammer. What we need in our toolkit is a low impact tool that doesn’t cause bruising, yet leaves a message that sticks like duct tape.

The myth of incompetence

“It’s just not my gift to witness to other people about my faith. I get all flustered and nothing comes out right. Other people can do it, but I just can’t.”

Have you ever said something like that? I don’t know if I’ve ever said it, but I’ve certainly felt that way. After experiencing those feelings for many years, a little light began to flicker in my mind and the illumination has increased with time. I have been comparing myself with the wrong people all along. I have looked enviously at people who were smooth-talking and self-assured and thought that I needed to become like them. At the same time, just being around them made me feel inadequate.

There is good news for me, and you, and all the other believers who feel inadequate. Those people we envy and wish to emulate may not be the most effective witnesses for the Lord. We can do it. We can visit about most anything else, why not about the thing that is most important in our life?

The way we listen is more important than the way we talk. The questions we ask are more important than the answers we give, because our questions reveal whether or not we are really interested in the person we are talking to.

Being a good witness for the Lord has to start with noticing the people around us and being interested in them. Show some interest in the people who serve you in stores, coffee shops and restaurants. If you see them frequently, get to know their names, ask them about their family or how their day is going. Don’t be nosy, just friendly. Take time to visit with people, find what their interests are.

Eventually you may sense an opportunity to go a little deeper. Don’t be pushy, let the Holy Spirit guide you. Ask questions, listen, be sympathetic, but don’t be too quick to jump in with suggestions on how to fix things that aren’t working out in their lives. At some point the Spirit my prompt you to share a personal experience. Tell it simply, giving honour to God and not yourself.

Be patient. Keep trying a little friendliness with people you meet. If we come across as superior or pushy, people will clam up, or push back. We might then conclude that the people around us are not interested in the gospel and there is no purpose in trying to talk to them. If we hold back and don’t make small efforts to reach out to others, we come to the same conclusion.

It is comfortable to think that there is no use trying. The Holy Spirit really doesn’t want us to get comfortable with that kind of thinking. That may lead us to direct our efforts into materialism and recreation beyond what is healthy for our spiritual life.

The Holy Spirit wants us to step out beyond our comfort zone, but He is only going to ask us to take one little baby step at a time. We may find that those baby steps take us a long way, into territory that we used to think was completely inaccessible. A little effort can open up whole new vistas for us.

Foreign to Familiar

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The Delta flight was leaving on time. Three of us were strapped in, one next to the other, each finding it easy to make small talk. As the plane lifted off, so did our burdens of office work. We were off to Glorietta, New Mexico, for a week-long conference, and our minds were filled with thoughts of mountains and crisp air and a break from the Atlanta downtown routine.

“So, Sarah,” my aisle-seat colleague said in that chatty manner of a tourist on vacation, “tell me what it was like growing up in Israel.”

Of all conversation openers, this was my least favourite. I’d been hearing it ever since moving to the States to begin my university studies. But, being in the middle seat, I couldn’t escape.

My desire was to respond, “No, you first. Tell me what it was like growing up in a ranch-style house in suburbia.” What was there to say? And who cares anyway?

But I did answer . . . well, sort of. “It was great,” was the extent of my glib answer.

“No, I mean it, really,” she insisted. “What is the culture like over there?”

By the window sat Aida from Lebanon. She’d been in the States eight years and was much more of an expert on Middle Eastern culture than I was. But at the moment Aida seemed to be fascinated by the window. So I took up the challenge.

“Well, I grew up in a variety of cultures. The Jewish and Arab cultures are vastly different.”

“How so?” she asked.

“In the Jewish culture you say what you think. It’s direct, and you know where you stand with people.”

I glanced at her to see if she was still with me. She was, so I continued.

“The Arab culture, on the other hand, is much more indirect. It’s all about friendliness and politeness. If offered a cup of coffee, I say ‘No, thank you.’

“The host offers it again, and I decline again, with something like: ‘No, no, don’t bother yourself.’ He might offer a third time, and I’d reply, ‘No, I really don’t want any coffee, believe me.’

“Then my host serves the coffee, and I drink it.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said, incredulously.

“No, really,” I assured her. “You’re supposed to refuse the first few times. It’s the polite thing to do.”

“Then what if you really don’t want the coffee?” she asked.

“Well, there are idioms that you can use to say that you wouldn’t for any reason refuse their kind hospitality, and at some point in the future you’ll gladly join them in coffee, but at the moment you really can’t drink it.”

Now Aida got into the conversation. “Incredible! I didn’t know that!” she said, as our heads turned her way.

“Aida,” I replied, “what do you mean that you didn’t know that? You’re Lebanese, for heaven’s sake.”

“Yes,” she said, “but I mean that I didn’t know this was not normal. I’ve been in the United States eight years already, and did not know it was done differently here. That explains so much.

“I’ve been lonely since moving here, and now I know why. When people in the office would ask me if I wanted to go to lunch, I would say ‘no’ to be polite, fully expecting them to ask me again. When they didn’t and left without me, I thought they didn’t want me along and had asked only out of politeness. In my culture, it would have been too forward to say ‘yes’ the first time.

“For this reason, I’ve had few American friends. After all these years, now I know why.”

I sat there stunned. Pondering the sadness of her story, I said to myself, “No one should have to suffer like that simply because they don’t understand the culture of another.”

For the Aidas around the world, I have written this book.

Sarah A Lanier


This is the preface to Foreign to Familiar, which I referred to in a previous post. © 2000 by Sarah A Lanier. Used with permission.

The English book is published by McDougal Publishing of Hagerstown, Maryland. ISBN 1-58158-022-3

Editions in Arabic, French, German, Korean, Norwegian, Russian and Spanish are available from the writer at the following address:

Sarah A Lanier
P.O. Box 874Clarkesville GA  30523
USA

The myth of gunslinger evangelism

“I would like you to meet brother Wyatt. Wyatt has got to be the fastest draw in the west with his Bible. Do you see all those notches along the spine of his Bible? That’s how many souls he has personally led to the Lord.”

Have you ever met a Wyatt, someone who could tell endless tales of soul winning? Are you trying to be a Wyatt? Do you feel that you need to be a Wyatt in order to be a “real” Christian?

Singing “Must I Go, and Empty-Handed?” can give you that feeling. “Must I meet my Saviour so? Not one soul with which to greet him: must I empty-handed go?” Kind of makes you feel guilty and useless if you don’t have any notches on your Bible, doesn’t it?

Will it shock you if I say that I want to be empty-handed when I meet my Saviour? I don’t want to be found among that crowd at His left hand who are pleading: “Lord, Lord, don’t you remember all the wonderful things I have done for you? Didn’t I win many souls for you?” Jesus is going to tell those people: “I never knew you. Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.” I definitely don’t want to be part of that crowd.

According to Matthew 25, those at the Saviour’s right hand will have no awareness of having accomplished anything useful for the Lord. If we are followers of Christ, living in obedience to the Holy Spirit, we take no credit for the things we do. I tend to be more aware of how unwilling I have been to obey the prompting of the Spirit, and of how often I have messed up when I thought I was doing the right thing. I find no assurance in trying to keep a record of the good I have done, I am not really capable of discerning whether I have done any good at all. My assurance is found in the fact that I am still on speaking terms with the Spirit; He is still asking more of me.

Looking back on my life, I know that a great many people have each played a little part in leading me to where I am today. Each one, in obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, did or said something that affected in some small way the course of my life. I doubt that any of them were even aware of the impact their words or actions had on me.

So I stumble on in life, trying in my bumbling way to pass on the blessings I have received. If some good results, it is the Lord’s doing, not mine.

“ As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good” (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6).

Let’s be led’s

A true Christian should be a light emitting disciple (led). Our purpose as a light emitting disciple is not to dazzle folks with our brilliance, but to shed light on their path. We don’t want to be a cold light, there needs to be some warmth, but no one should ever get burned from coming into contact with us.

What people need from a church

There are three things that every human being needs, and the Christian church is the only institution on earth with the potential to meet those needs.

First, there is a longing in the heart of every man, woman and child to understand the meaning of life and their place in it. People who reject God also tend to reject the idea that there is any meaning to life. That leaves them free to live as they please, or so they think. In reality, we keep bumping into the consequences of our actions. That is frustrating and it sets in motion internal conflicts that cannot be resolved and often lead to despair and even suicide.

It may seem at first a restriction of our liberty to believe in a God who created the universe and everything in it and placed me here for a purpose. I don’t even have a very clear picture of what that purpose is, but as God leads me daily by his Holy Spirit my life is painting a picture that will one day make sense. To simply accept that is a wonderfully liberating experience.

Secondly, because we are created in the image of God, we have a longing to have a relationship with him. That longing exists in everyone, but most people cannot identify what it is and they try to satisfy that longing with all kinds of things that give a temporary thrill, then leave them feeling empty and unfulfilled again.

Thirdly, there is a longing to be part of a community of love and understanding.

All of these longings are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. His life, death and resurrection are the central events of history and reveal the meaning and purpose of everything that came before and everything that has happened since. Both the good that has come when people did what God asked them to do and the evil that has been done by people who rejected God.

In Jesus Christ we can be forgiven and experience the love of God and the fellowship of his Holy Spirit. The bad things that we have done in the past can be forgiven, the wounds caused by bad things others have done can be healed.

This forgiveness and love then enables us to love and forgive others. If we become a follower of Christ, we will want to live in close relationship with others of his followers.

The real needs of men and women have not changed. The church of God does not need more and better programs, better music or more powerful preachers, we just need to trust that there is still power in the blood and grace to cleanse and revive. The Spirit is still calling the lost to repentance and the believers to lift up their eyes and see the awaiting harvest.

The empty pew — why?

Fifty years ago the Anglican Church of Canada asked well known author Pierre Berton to write a book on the state of the church and how to rejuvenate it. The book was called The Comfortable Pew, and it created a sensation when it was published. Here is a one sentence summary of the book that I found on the net: “He said the church had failed as an instrument of social justice and no longer served as a conscience for the nation holding people accountable to a high ethical standard.”

Ten years ago the church hired a consulting firm to advise them on demographic trends and the future of the church. As I recall the report stated that if present trends continued, in 75 years there would be two members left in the Anglican Church of Canada.

Pierre Berton’s talents in writing and historical research enabled him to write a number of best-selling books about important events in Canadian history. The Comfortable Pew was a good read too, but I fear that his vision of what people need from a church was distorted.

He wasn’t alone in that. Many church leaders have tried a variety of approaches and tactics to make their churches more attractive and relevant. Most of them have bombed.

The social gospel has been tried, especially here in Saskatchewan, and hasn’t created a more Christ-like society. Prophecy has enriched a few writers, but it doesn’t fill many churches anymore. Mussolini wasn’t the Antichrist after all; most of the generation alive in 1946 is no longer alive and Jesus has not returned. Christian rock music isn’t enough to fill churches Sunday after Sunday. If pop psychology is your interest, there are many other places to find it. None of these things are relevant to the real needs of mankind.

Unfortunately, far too many churches are focussing far too much of their energy and attention on things that have nothing to do with meeting the real needs of the people sitting in the pews. And little by little the pews are becoming empty.

Is there an antidote for extremism?

First a little background for those who may not be up on the news from Canada. There have been two incidents this week of what one newspaper writer calls “microterrrorism.” On Monday in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec an automobile driver struck two uniformed soldiers, killing one and injuring the other. Wednesday in Ottawa, a man shot a soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial, then ran through the hall of the Parliament building firing at random until he was shot and killed by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Both of the attackers were young Canadian-born men who had recently converted to Islam. In both cases police and security responded very quickly. There were no other injuries in the Parliament building and the first attacker didn’t get far before he was captured.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke today, calling for prayers of support for the families involved and said that Canada would not be intimidated. We must be vigilant, but we will continue to be a free, open and safe society.

A prominent Canadian Imam, Syed Soharwardy of Calgary, said today that imams should be investigating the backgrounds of new converts and those with recent problems with crime or drug abuse should not be allowed to convert. He also urged other imams to follow up with new converts to ensure they do not fall under the influence of radicals.

Mr. Soharwardy sounds like a moderate, yet some other things he has said leave room for doubt. The problem is that Islam has no doctrine of the separation of mosque and state. Living under the laws of a secular state is always second best. Living in a nation with religious freedom for all is second best.

I want to believe that there are moderate Muslims. I want to believe that the majority of Muslims who have come to this country have come to get away from religious intolerance and violence. But sometimes I find myself wondering if moderate Muslim is an oxymoron, at least at the organisational level.

Nevertheless, we will do far more harm than good if we treat all individual Muslims as suspect. We need to do our utmost to reach out to them and draw them into the fabric and tradition of our country and encourage them to leave behind the attitudes and suspicions they brought with them from their homelands.

Syed Soharwardy is quoted in one place as saying that 20 to 30 Canadians are converting to Islam every week. How many Canadian Muslims are converting to Christianity? It is happening in some places. What are we doing to give Muslim people an attractive and realistic picture of what Christianity is all about?

We need to realize that most Muslims are simply Muslims by birth and may not even have much grasp of the teachings of Islam. Most of them have been given an entirely unrealistic picture of Christianity. Let’s do all we can to bring the real picture into clearer focus.

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