Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The half-converted farmer

Years ago, there was a farmer in our neighbourhood who lived a simple life. He had no need of electricity, running water or a lawn mower. He didn’t seem to have a need for a wife either, though it was rumoured that once long ago there had been a lady of the house. Perhaps the rustic simplicity of the homestead soon lost its charm.

This rustic farmer had a simple approach to farming as well. In the spring he seeded his wheat and in the fall he harvested his wheat — as much as his equipment could capture. For you see, the fields produced a much greater crop of weeds than of wheat, in such a manner that the wheat that did grow was short in stature. What is more, there were many prominent rocks throughout the fields that needed to be avoided in seeding and in harvesting. As we passed by his fields after harvest, it was plain to see that much wheat had not been harvested, due to its proximity either to the rocks or to the surface of the ground.

Then came a day when the farmer announced that he had seen the light, from henceforth things were going to be different. He purchased top quality seed and fertilizer, enough for all his fields. Nevertheless, he chose not to attempt to remove the rocks and the weeds. The good new seed, he said, with the help of the fertilizer, would produce such vigorous plants that they would choke out the weeds and grow so high the rocks would not be a problem.

Unfortunately, the bad seeds far outnumbered the good. With the help of the fertilizer, they grew taller that year than ever before. The wild mustard plants did indeed resemble small trees. I did not ascertain if the birds of the air built their nests in these great shrubs , but I did observe them flitting joyfully from branch to branch.

Harvest that year was neither better nor worse than in previous years. Whereupon the farmer declared that scientific farming was a fraud designed to separate gullible farmers from their money. He would never again believe a word of it. And the latter end of that farmer was worse than the first.

I have observed people who approached Christian life in like manner. They are convicted of the futility of their old ways and resolve to follow the way of Jesus. They begin to read the Bible and attend church, and verily their countenances are changed. They have hope.

Still, there are all the hurtful things they have said and done in the past, and perhaps dishonest things as well. These are great rocks in their life and the problem of removing them seems insurmountable. The cost and effort of confession and restitution is higher than they are willing to pay. Thus the rocks remain, ever a hindrance  to the trust they desire from others.

Worse yet, their tendencies to hurt feelings and flare ups of temper still remain and get in the way of the good they try to do. An apology would be too humiliating, better to wait and hope people forget. They are keenly aware of other people’s faults, and quite blind to their own. Such thorns in their personalities choke out their good intentions. After a time, they conclude that Christianity was only an illusion and return to their old ways.

It need not be that way. But too many well-meaning evangelists neglect to explain that one cannot live a fruitful and fulfilling Christian life without removing the rocks and the thorns.

Little men

Two little men attended our worship service last Sunday.  Kirk and Gary have Down Syndrome and their “handicap” was apparently too much for their birth parents to cope with, so they became foster sons of a couple who used to live here. Here they were loved, cared for and taught responsibility. They were also taught to love and worship God.

“Mom and Dad” eventually grew old and moved off the farm. They found supervised living accommodation for Kirk and Gary in a nearby town. Here they work in a sheltered workshop, serve as school crossing guards and generally live a peaceable and useful life. They are short in stature and somewhat short in intellectual capacity but they are coping quite well with life. Kirk speaks clearly, but most people understand little of what Gary says.

Yet Gary has always been the preacher. I remember a  time when the family was visiting in Ontario, about 25 years ago, and came to our home for dinner. After dinner Gary walked up to the landing on the stairs and for 15 minutes or more his fervent preaching served as a backdrop to our conversation in the living room.

They are in their fifties now. “Dad” died several years ago, “Mom” lives in Alberta. They still keep in touch with her. Sometimes, when there is something special up at church, someone will think of Kirk and Gary and offer them a ride out. Last Sunday the special event was a potluck dinner and Kirk and Gary were in church.

At the beginning of the service, Gary asked for hymn number 350, What a Friend we have in Jesus, his favourite. When it was announced that it was open for someone to come up and have introductory remarks and prayer, Gary popped out of his seat, marched up to the rostrum and spoke to us and then prayed. All I understood was a couple of mentions of Jesus and the Amen at the end of his prayer. No doubt some people understood a little more.

The presiding minister thanked Gary and we carried on. No one suggested that we should now have a “real” introduction, this was sufficient. Whatever Gary said, it came from his heart and without a doubt touched the heart of God. I think even the little children recognized it as a sacred moment — there were no smiles or snickers.

“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).

The healing power of forgiveness

There is a great peace that comes over us when God forgives our sins, a release from the load of guilt that we have been carrying and a soothing of the pangs of conscience. Yet we tend to soon forget the caveat that comes with this peace: ” But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:15).

Other people do and say so many irritating and hurtful things. Surely they should apologize and ask our forgiveness so we could feel better about what they have done. Some will, but we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for every single person who has ever wronged us to come and apologize.

The apostle John tells us: ” If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16). He goes on to say that “all unrighteousness is sin,” that is, everything that is not done out of a pure heart is prompted by our own sinful tendencies, aided by the tempter. No matter how minor they may be, they are sin. Yet, as long as they are not deliberate, wilful sins, we should not consider them grounds for separation of Christian fellowship. We should rather pray for that brother, and hope that he prays for us when we do or say hurtful things that we really did not intend to be hurtful.

“Charity shall cover the multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8). Charity is a healing balm in our Christian fellowship that helps us forgive others, accept them and feel accepted by them. There are serious sins that require a sterner approach, but let us consider two things. First, those sins are first and foremost sins against God. We should not put ourselves in God’s place in the judgment seat. Secondly, could it be that those sins are a result of a lack of charity among us? Let us examine ourselves lest the lack of charity become a stumbling block to others.

How much emotional distress, in ourselves and others, would be relieved if we could just learn to more ready to forgive? “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7). This was said in the circumstance of someone who had repented of a very serious sin. Surely it would not be wrong to apply it in less serious circumstances.

It is good to be zealous in upholding that which is right and true. We need to be careful however, that in our zeal we do not do more harm than good. There is a way to take a stand for the truth that does not leave people with bruised and hurt feelings. A readiness to forgive does not mean an acquiescence in sin. If we cannot forgive, we cause ourselves to suffer and do no good for the person who has sinned. When we freely love and forgive we have a much greater opportunity to point others to the source of forgiveness.

The voice of God

How does God speak to you? Do you know His voice? Jesus said that his sheep would know his voice and would not follow the voice of a stranger. Are all the people who call themselves Christians listening to the same voice?

Sometimes God speaks to a person through circumstances or dreams in such a clear and striking way that it is unmistakable who is speaking. But God does not want to always have to use such dramatic means to get our attention. Elihu told Job that “God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not” (Job 33:17). Elihu went on to describe how God speaks to us in dreams, but his words are equally applicable to the way God speaks to us in our waking hours. His voice comes to us in our mind in such a soft, gentle way that we can easily ignore it or push it aside.

Elijah knew God’s voice. When he heard all the noise and tumult outside the cave where he had taken refuge on Mount Horeb, he knew that was not God’s way of talking to him. But when he heard a soft murmur he recognized it as the voice of God and then he began to pay attention. If only we could be as alert to God’s voice and tune out all the distractions.

Many years ago, my wife and I were searching for a church home where we could worship God in spirit and in truth with fellow believers, and it had to be in a location where I could find work. After several disappointments when we tried to figure things out on our own, a thought came to me to move to a place several thousand miles away. We had never been there, did not know anyone there — it wasn’t at all clear to me why we should move there or how it would work. But it was the only direction we had and I went. Things fell into place one after another and that move was a tremendous blessing to all three of us.

God speaks to us often, are we hearing? My wife speaks to me with a pointed reproof and my immediate reaction is one of indignation at her unjust accusation. My feelings begin to boil, then a quiet thought comes to my mind, “She is right, you know.” That voice goes on to point out things beyond what my wife has said. That too is a life-changing experience. Perhaps no one else sees what has happened, but I know God has spoken to me and set me free.

Often that voice comes to me when I am contemplating the problems of someone else. As I analyze his attitude or conduct, I can clearly see where he has gone wrong. Then the thought comes into my mind, “That’s your problem, too.” God is not necessarily telling me that I am wrong in what I see in the other person, but He is telling me that I am no better and that I had better first see about removing the beam from my own eye.

As Elihu was telling Job how God spoke to mankiind, he included this thought: “Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man” (Job 33:16-17).

“Hide pride from man” — God needs to do that continually, I have such a tendency toward self-righteousness. When a thought comes into my mind and points out the subtle ways in which I have once again begum to think myself better than others, I know that voice. That is God speaking.

Mission statement for writers

I confess that I am quite cynical about the term “mission statement.” In my experience in the business world, a mission statement is an exercise in public relations where management attempts to come down on the right side of every hot button issue of the day. Creating a mission statement has generally been an exercise in creative writing, not a serious attempt to redefine the values that will guide corporate decisions in the future.

Neverthtypewriter-584696_1280eless, when I attended the recent Christian writers workshop and listened to Janice Dick advocate that writers create a mission statement for their work something clicked in my mind. Jan has published four books of historical fiction and I think she might just know something that hadn’t occurred to me before.

Creating a mission statement will help a writer clarify his thinking, decide just what his goal is, and direct his activities towards that goal. If a writer works in different formats and genres the mission statement will probably need to be tweaked and fine-tuned for each project. Here are the five questions that Jan suggested to help us create our mission statement (with my additions in brackets).

1. What do I do? (Am I a historian? a business writer? a story teller? an apologist? a fiction writer? a devotional writer? a doctrinal writer? etc., etc.)

2. How do I do it? (How much research is needed? Where do I get my inspiration?)

3. What is the value of what I do?

4. Who am I doing it for? (Is my target audience children? teens? young adults? seniors? believers? seekers? skeptics? mothers? teachers? etc. etc.)

5. What do I believe and why? (My faith does not need to be on display in every word that I write, but a lack of integrity will make my writing weak and ineffective.)

Transcendence and Immanence

The more one understands about the order of the universe, the inter-relationship of all its parts, the harder it becomes to believe that it could be the result of mindless chance. It is the same when one gets just a layman’s grasp of the minute detail of living things, the intricacy of DNA and the complex functions of microscopic organisms. If we acknowledge that blind chance could not have produced any of this, we are left to contemplate the possibility of a Creator whose intelligence is vastly superior to ours.

The Creator must transcend that which He has created; that is, He must be outside of, and greater than anything else that exists. The Bible describes just such a God: “O LORD, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep. A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this” Psalm 92:5-6. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:8-9. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” ! Kings 8:27.  ” For all those things hath mine hand made” Isaiah 66:2.

Nevertheless, a great and almighty God would not inspire trust in mankind if He was far away, unknowable, uncaring and unreachable. That is not the God described in the Bible. God is Immanent – present everywhere in His creation. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee” Psalm 139:9-12.

The immanence of God is more alarming than His transcendence. He knows everything about me, my present, past and future. He know what I am going to say before I say it. But the wonder of His immanence is that He wants to use it to help us: ” This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” Psalm 34:6-8. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” Isaiah 41:10

It can be a fearful thing to contemplate the transcendence and the immanence of God. In fact, there are many who are running away from God, trying desperately to convince themselves that it cannot be true. But to those who understand that to run away from God is to flee the source of genuine peace and happiness, it is confidence building.

Dumb spam emails

Spam emails show up in my inbox every day, despite the increasing sophistication of spam filtering done by ISP’s. These emails tell me that my account at such and such a bank has been frozen and I need to click on the link provided to resolve this issue. In almost all cases I don’t have an account at the bank named. Or they tell me that my email account is being frozen because I have exceeded my spam quota. Again there is a link provided to fix this issue. Others tell of huge sums of money awaiting me in some foreign bank, or offer a fantastic job.

These emails are too ridiculous to be believable; many contain errors in grammar and spelling. We are apt to conclude that the people sending them are probably not very bright. I believe that is just what they want us to think.

You see, the spammers don’t want to have anything to do with people who would immediately go to the authorities when things go wrong. Even though the spammers are almost all offshore, their schemes could unravel if too much light was focused on them.

Their target audience is people who are not literate enough, or informed enough, to discern how ridiculous and improbable these messages are. People who have passed the requisite number of hours sitting behind a school desk, but not much has stuck; people for whom English is a second language that they have never quite mastered; older people whose mental faculties are not as sharp as they used to be, but who still have healthy bank accounts. In other words, the most vulnerable people in our society.

Phone scams are getting more sophisticated all the time. Last week a call came to my fax machine — from the phone number of my fax machine! That was odd, but not much can go wrong when a recorded message from offshore tries to talk to my fax machine. A few days later my land line phone rang and the call display said the call was from my phone line. I picked it up out of curiosity and got the beginning of a recorded message wanting to help me get out of debt. I think that if I had bit, the end result would have been the opposite of the promise.

I believe our best defence against these scams is to be aware that they are scams, and to do our part to inform others, especially those who might be vulnerable enough to take the bait.  If these scams were not finding enough people to take the bait, they would stop. Automated voice messages and emails are not costly to send out, it only takes a minuscule success rate to make them worthwhile to the perpetrators. The more people who are informed, the lower that success rate will be.

Loving God

It is important to have an assurance that God loves me just the way I am. But is that the most important factor in Christian life?

The Law and the Gospels tell us that: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. ” This quote is from Luke 10:27, but the same instructions are found in Deuteronomy, Matthew and Mark.

Now, since love is the gift of God, part of the fruit of the Spirit, we really don’t have to be concerned about whether we love God – right? I wish. In a way, it really is that simple, but we humans have a talent for making simple things complicated.

First off, I start by thinking God and I see things the same way and what He wants for me is exactly the same as what I want for me. You’ve got to love a God like that. Then things start to go awry, things don’t happen the way I thought I had a right to expect — and my relationship with God starts to get a little sour. Why wasn’t God listening to me?

Eventually a little wisdom begins to develop — God knew all along that the things I wanted would not be good for me, wouldn’t turn out like I expected. He tried to warn me — I was the one who wasn’t listening. A hard lesson.

For a time I go on in a constant state of agitation and tension between the things I want and the things God wants for me. This is not a good place to be, the problems get bigger and bigger — to the point that it becomes almost impossible to believe that there is a way out.

How many years does it take before the light dawns that my problems are big because I haven’t allowed God to be God in my life? Oh, I have always wanted to serve Him and I have not wandered away from Him. But I never really comprehended how big He is. I have relegated Him to a small corner of my life and tried to conquer my problems alone, with just a bit of advice from Him from time to time.

Why don’t I just let Him take charge of the whole big mess? Things aren’t going to turn out as I had anticipated, they are going to turn out far better, because now I am allowing God to show me what is truly valuable.

When I learn to let God be God, and love Him with every fibre of my being, my problems don’t go away. But now they are dwarfed by this great big wonderful God who has control of my life.

Less is more (and more is less)

Too many new writers have the idea that they have to use interesting words to entice others to read their prose. They load up on colourful adjectives and adverbs, the more syllables the better, and replace simple nouns and verbs with ones that are larger and weightier. Readers get weary trying to wade through that stuff and soon head for the exit.

We should not try to impress the reader with our grandiloquent vocabulary, just take him gently by the hand and show him what we see. The adverbs, adjectives and big words get in the way of that view.

Stripping away the useless words forces us to describe what we see. Don’t write “A magnificent vista opened before my awe-struck eyes,” describe what you see. Don’t make yourself and your feelings the focal point, the reader wants you to paint a word picture.

Some writers think that it gets boring to continually repeat “he said,” “she said.” They opt for “Eleanor sighed,” “George growled,” Nancy wailed,” “Eddie mumbled,” “Vickie sobbed,” and worse. There are two mistakes in this kind of thing. “Said” does not hinder the flow of the story, it is the simplest way to tell your reader that someone said something. Replacing it with something more creative may stop the reader in her tracks to contemplate this strange object on her pathway through the story. Secondly, if someone is shocked, hurt, surprised, it is more effective to describe the changes in that person’s face. Do her eyes grow wide, or narrow? Does her mouth fall open, or are her lips pressed together?

The goal in writing is to tell a story, describe an event, give instructions or give reasons why something should, or should not, be believed. It is not to draw attention to ourselves. There are times when a big word is the most appropriate word to use, but most of the time big words, adverbs and adjectives are just ways of saying “Look at me! See what I can do!” Cutting those words out will make our writing more effective, leaving them in could cause verbal indigestion in the reader.

Double-decker church planting

I grew up in a town I shall call Seagull, Saskatchewan. This is a fictional name, as are all the other names given in this account, but the events are true to life as best as my memory serves. Like all other prairie towns, there were a number of tall wooden grain elevators lining the railway tracks in Seagull. As soon as you got out of town you could see the elevators of the next town.

Yet the land was not as flat as it appeared from the highway, it was broken by ravines and coulees which eventually led into the Grand Valley River. Ravines and coulees, we tended to use those words interchangeably. I guess a coulee leads into a ravine, which eventually leads into a river. In spring, these valleys funnelled water from the melting snow into the river, the rest of the year they were dry. The river valley was indeed grand — deep and a mile wide; the river itself was a narrow stream tracing a sinuous path along the floor of the valley.

There were three churches in Seagull, none of which could be considered evangelical. Some folks wished for something more. When I was twelve a Baptist evangelist from the USA came to town and held a week of meetings in the Legion Hall. This caused quite a stir, some made fun, some were curious, some were searching and appeared to find what they were looking for.

At the end of the week, it was clear that there were enough committed people to establish a church. There was an empty country schoolhouse available, they bought it, moved it into Seagull and made it into a church. They called it the Seagull Baptist Church and hired a young Bible School graduate named Larry McLeod as their pastor.

They began as an unaffiliated congregation and happily worshipped together in Christian fellowship for several years. Some members advanced the thought that there would be benefits in affiliating with a denomination and it seemed that the majority were persuaded that this was the way to go. Thus, after seven years of independence they affiliated with one of the Baptist denominations. A hitch developed, though, when it was found that pastor McLeod and the denomination were not altogether in harmony. He was replaced by someone more acceptable to the denomination.

Feelings were ruffled, some members withdrew from the Baptist church and asked Pastor McLeod to stay on as their pastor. More evangelistic meetings were held, a new congregations was formed, and a rural church that had not been used for some years was moved into town. This was the beginning of the Seagull Gospel Church. Now Seagull had five churches, enough to satisfy most everyone you would think. But could they all afford to support a preacher?

The Baptist church was the first to go, closing their doors 13 years after they began, 6 years after the split. The cost of supporting a minister was just too much for those who were left. The Gospel church struggled on four more years, then voted to amalgamate with a congregation in a town twenty miles away so that together they could afford to support Pastor McLeod. The evangelical witness in Seagull lasted a total of 17 years.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 426 other followers

%d bloggers like this: