Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Friendship

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! (John 11:33-36).

I have at times wondered about the accounts of the close friendship Jesus had with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. The gospel accounts make it clear that there was a special connection here and He loved to visit their home. What do we think about the preference that He seemed to show for the company of Lazarus and his sisters?coffee-367887_640

Then again, what would we think of Jesus if He had no close friends? What if He had gone about treating everyone with the same kindness and respect, yet never allowing Himself to get too closely attached to anyone? What if He had never been moved to tears by the sorrow of close friends?

In everything Jesus is our example. If we belong to a congregation of believers, they should all be our friends. Yet it is completely normal, and highly desirable, that we should form closer bonds with a few. These close friendships should not be limited to our own kinfolk either. There will be those whose nature and interests naturally draw us together. These close bonds of friendship should not ever be the source of divisions in the body, they should rather bind us more closely to the whole body. Our closest friends may also feel close to someone with whom we might other wise not have been able to develop much rapport, but our mutual ties will draw us together.

It would also be entirely normal to have friends outside the bounds of our Christian fellowship. They may be unsaved family members, work associates, people with common interests. We should be just as much Christians when with them as when with our Christian friends. Not that we should browbeat them with the gospel or constantly remind them of shortcomings in their lives. Those could be quite effective means of ending the friendship. But if they never have questions about our faith, perhaps we are trying to hard to be like them.

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly  (Proverbs 18:24). When we show a genuine interest in other people’s lives, they are more apt to be interested in what makes us tick. That is the basis for forming true friendships and also the basis upon which those friendships can become a setting for heart to heart sharing of spiritual concerns, trials and victories.

Dreams and happiness

Let me ask you a question — if you achieve the thing you are dreaming of, will you be happy?

Tom Sukanen was one of the pioneers of this part of Saskatchewan. He came from Finland as a young man with immense strength and talent — and a dream of one day going back to Finland as a wealthy man with a family. In the early years he was a friend to all around them. He helped build their homes, showed them how to work their land, repaired their machinery. He built a steam-powered threshing machine and threshed his neighbour’s grain. He built a sewing machine and let the women of the community use it to sew clothes for their families. He made his own violin and played it to lighten the long winter evenings.

Through tragic circumstances he lost his family. That part of his dream was shattered, he withdrew from the people around him and focussed all his time and might on the other part of his dream. He built a small seagoing ship that he would float up the river to Hudson Bay and return to Finland to a hero’s welcome. He built every part of the ship himself, including the boiler to provide steam power, the propeller, gears and chains. He knew his business, he had charts of the river system, he knew the seas – it would have worked.

Unfortunately, the drought of the 1930’s intervened. Tom Sukanen almost starved to death, refusing government relief and all offers of help from his neighbours. Some neighbours thought he was crazy, vandals got away with parts of his work. He died a broken man in 1943 at the age of 65.

sukanenshipToday the ship has been restored and is located in a museum south of Moose Jaw. Tom Sukanen is buried beside it. The question remains for us to ponder — would he have been happy if he had managed to return to Finland and received accolades for his accomplishment?

Or did he experience true happiness when he was helping his neighbours, then turn his back on it to follow his dream?

We all need a dream, and we should follow our dream. But if it is a selfish dream, know that we will not find happiness at the end. Let us rather dream of helping others find happiness. Then genuine happiness will sneak up and surprise us.

Somewhere a forest is burning

Somewhere a forest is burning
A blue smoky haze blurs the horizon.
Acrid fumes affect our breathing
Causing eyes to sting, tears begin to run.

Somewhere a forest is burning
A forest of churches now redundant;
Made weak and sickly from learning
To accommodate half-true new doctrine.

New interpretations of truth
Weakened those who once were mighty and tall.
Rottenness took hold of the roots
One by one the branches began to fall.

Places where once the Word of God
Shone over the pathway for young and old.
Who will weep for all that is gone?
Who recalls the truths that once here were told?

Fire consumes twisted undergrowth
Heavenly light touches the hidden seeds.
Out of ashes appears the truth
Growing the forest this world so much needs.

All that man builds the fire will try
That alone which came from God will remain.
Then may we forever rely
On the Word of truth that He has proclaimed.

Copyright © August 16, 2014 by Bob Goodnough

[Another poem? I think this is all for awhile. Friday I sat in Scott's Parable Christian Store in Saskatoon with a cappuccino and a notebook and scribbled down some notes. After considerably more scribbling, crossing out and shifting things around I came up with these two poems. The smoke was pretty noticeable on Friday, from forest fires a thousand miles away in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.].

Ebola

That fearsome disease,
The deaths do not cease.
Who can help when such fear
Clutches all who are near?

Disease is a curse,
Fear just makes it worse.
We flee those who would help.
Trust things that cannot help.

Thousands are dying,
Thousands are trying
To arrest the bleeding,
And stop it from spreading.

Has a cure been found?
Will it go around?
Can science stop the curse?
Or will it still get worse?

Ebola will pass.
Leave behind a mass
Of graves, sorrows, questions.
Who can tell the reason?

The sin plague remains;
All mankind it stains.
Science gives us no might
To protect from this blight.

Yet down from heaven
The cure is given;
The fountain filled with blood –
 The remedy of God.

Truth before their eyes
Is hid from the wise.
Then go to those in need,
The way of life to plead.

Though their life be drear
Don’t recoil in fear.
The word of life make plain
Live it, tell it again.

Copyright © August 16, 2014, Bob Goodnough

[I make no claim to poetic skill. My wife is the chief poet in the family, our daughter is second, though for the present her children claim her time and attention. But these thoughts came to me yesterday and seemed to make sense only in poetic format.]

Self Help or Helping Others?

In my younger years, before I was a Christian, I read most of the well-known self-help books on the market. I was disappointed with the whole lot of them.

In The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale took a verse from the Bible and told me to recite it over and over, much like a Hindu mantra, and promised that would put me in touch with a powerful inner force that would transform my life. I found a Bible, looked up the verse and found that the Reverend Mr. Peale was twisting the verse to mean something very different from what the Apostle intended.

Then there was Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich. I have been thinking for seventy-two years now, when do I get to the growing rich part? Seriously, even as a non Christian, it felt to me that something was out of kilter with the thinking promoted in this book and others like it. The basic theme was how to manipulate other people for my own advantage.

Many books and training courses are offered to teach me how to get along with the difficult people in my life, at home, at work and at church. What I really need is a book to teach me how to avoid being that difficult person.

Um . . . yes, I guess that book has already been written — a long, long time ago.

The Bible is not a self-help book or a manual of best business practices. Its central theme is the reality of the sin problem and God’s desire to reconcile sinners to Himself. The Bible teaches me that I am not the most important person in any group of people, not even a group of two! I have been called to serve, not to be served. Our children do not need to be taught self-esteem; they have quite enough of it to start with. We need to teach them that happiness comes from helping others.

When we lived in Montréal, I often took note of a sign on the wall of a passageway in the metro system that said: “Be the most enthusiastic person that you know.” That thought has percolated in my mind for years. Most everybody will show enthusiasm if you get them onto the right topic. So . . . do I really want to outdo everyone else in enthusiasm when I talk about my work, my hobbies, my yard, my grandchildren? I don’t believe anybody else wants me to do that either.

I don’t know what was going through the mind of the person who made that statement, but finally, the thought that goes through my mind is that the best way to be known as an enthusiastic person is to be enthusiastic in encouraging others.

Women and men

“A man once asked me … how I managed in my books to write such natural conversation between men when they were by themselves. Was I, by any chance, a member of a large, mixed family with a lot of male friends? I replied that, on the contrary, I was an only child and had practically never seen or spoken to any men of my own age till I was about twenty-five. “Well,” said the man, “I shouldn’t have expected a woman (meaning me) to have been able to make it so convincing.” I replied that I had coped with this difficult problem by making my men talk, as far as possible, like ordinary human beings. This aspect of the matter seemed to surprise the other speaker; he said no more, but took it away to chew it over. One of these days it may quite likely occur to him that women, as well as men, when left to themselves, talk very much like human beings also.”
― Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society

Fanatics

A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case.
-Finley Peter Dunne

A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
-Winston Churchill

Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.
-George Santayana

Fanatic is often the name given to people of action by people who are lazy.
-Bryant H. McGill

A fanatic is always the fellow on the other side.
-Will Rogers

The self-important self

Nelson Gage Canadian Dictionary

The dictionary pictured above lists 80 hyphenated words beginning with self; the Canadian Oxford Dictionary lists 200. What a bunch of self-centred, self-satisfied, self-important bores we have become!

We think that good self-esteem is essential for happiness. We study self-help books to help us attain self-fulfillment, self-actualization and self-realization. There is a little problem though — everyone else is  engaged in the same quest for self-empowerment and has little time or interest for admiring our enhanced self-image.

Jesus invites us to step off this merry-go-round and follow Him to find true happiness. He says the first step in following Him is self-denial. This should not be confused with self-abasement. Jesus is simply inviting us to turn our attention from self to Him and to allow Him to lead us.

Some Christians talk about self-discipline, self-control and self-restraint. These may produce results that somewhat resemble self-denial, but they hold a snare for the unwary. What those words really imply is control of self by self — and self gets the credit! That is self-deception. We cannot turn to God without turning away from self.

Jeremiah was moved to write: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23). God also revealed to Jeremiah: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s plans are always going to be better than ours. Why not abandon all those efforts for self-improvement and allow Him to lead us?

Broken paradigms

Sixty years ago, when I was twelve years old, I  did not know any child my age who had not had the same father and a mother from the time they were born.  One neighbour boy was being raised by his grandmother; there was a highly publicized fund raisng effort every year for the orphange in Indian Head, Saskatchewan. These and other evidences made me aware that not all children were growing up in a  stable, two parent homesuch a setting, but that was the accepted norm, or paradigm.

Two generations later, I wonder what percentage of twelve year olds would now say that none of their friends and school-mates have lived with the same two parents since their birth? Judging by the weekly birth listings from a newspaper in a mid-sized Saskatchewan city, only 40% of babies are born to parents who share the same surname. Some unmarried parents will later marry, but 40% of all marrieages will end in divorce. This paints a pretty bleak picture — the majority of today’s childrenwill not grow up in a stable two parent home.

What happened? Not all the homes of 60 years ago could be described as happy homes; a few would have been miserably u8nhappy. Because of these few unfortunate situations, our society has taken a sledgehammer to the paradigm of marriage and family. Years ago the intellectual leaders of the sociology and psychology departments of our universities made no secret of their desire to destroy the family, teaching that it was the enemy of human progress toward freedom and self-fullfilment.

The sexual revolution came upon us very suddenly. The pill gave teenagers the feeling that they could experiment freely with sex withoiut consequences. And if there were consequences — well, abortion soon became readily available and socially aceptable. And then the stigma of homosexuality was removed. Within a few years everything that stood in the way of seeking unbridled pleasure in sex was swept away. Of course there have been consequences, but no one wants to admit that the increasing abuse and violence against women and children has anything to do with the sexual revolution.

We survey the wreckage around us and agree something needs to be done to fix it. But we can’t agree on what should be done. The seeds sown many years ago are bearing fruit today in the form of people who see persoanal freedom as the ultimate goal and therefore view marriage as a form of bondage for both men and women.

Sixty years ago, the majority of people still went to church every Sunday. I think we are down to about 10% now. Many of the churches of years ago had bought into the social gospel movement, which was just a camouflaged version of socialism and psychological-sociological thinking. Those same churches endorsed the sexual revolution on the basis that all liberty is good and wholesome. Today they are dying out, since a church that applauds all that is done in secular society makes itself irrelevant.

What may be a greater problem are the self-proclaimed evangelical churches that have no idea how to apply the evangel to the needs of society around them. They are seen to be making inept attempts to appear relevant, without addressing the basic needs of people. All too often, that is because they have bought into a large portion of the values of the secular society.

In a few years time we have gone from being a society largely founded on Christian values to a pagan society that is not much different than the world in which the apostles lived. What is needed today is the same straightforward gospel that they preached. That is, the gospel needs to be presented to the people who are suffereing the most from the malaise of our time as the only true remedy for their distress. That would mean actually taking the Word of God at its word, and not trying to smooth over the parts that challenge the current paradigms of our society. We need to preach repentance as John the Baptist and our Lord preached it. Not in a self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude, but with compassion for all the victims of the current broken and fatal paradigms.

Paradigms – effective and defective

Paradigm (pronounced pair-a-dime) means model, pattern, example. The word was first popluarized by Thomas S Kuhn to describe a framework for scientific research. He wrote: “Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice.”  ¹

Paradigm then escaped from this narrowly scientific application to become a term used to describe the framework of thought which governs the actions of people with a common worldview, a common ethnic or social background, or a common professional training. Willis Harmon defined a paradigm as “the basic way of perceiving, thinking, valuing, and doing associated with a particular view of reality. A dominant paradigm is seldom if ever stated explicitly; it exists as an unquestioned, tacit understanding that is transmitted through culture and to succeeding generations through direct experience rather than being taught.”²

We could argue about the validity of terms like worldview or paradigm, but they seem like useful concepts for explaining what makes us approach the circumstances of life in the way we do; and why there can be such a lack of comprehension between one group and another. This lack of comprehension is not always worthy of being labelled prejudice, it’s usually just a matter of my paradigm tells me that the way you’re doing something is all wrong and can never work. On the other hand, your paradigm tells you that this is the way things have always been done and my harebrained idea cannot possibly work.

A paradigm is generally a useful thing. The boundaries and guidelines that are inherent in a paradigm mean that we do not have to stop and figure out what to do next when faced with many of the familiar situations that occur in life. The pattern has been set and we follow it without realizing that there is a pattern

To look at a different angle of what consitutes a paradigm, I’ll use my father as an example. Sometime around 95 years ago, he went to Knoxville, Tennessee to study automobile mechanics. One Sunday afternnon he took a drive to explore the city. He suddenly realized he had entered the black part of Knoxville and broke out in a cold sweat. I can almost see him, hands clenched to the steering wheel, his jaw clenched and his eyes fixed straight ahead, he drove on until he was out of that part of town and could breathe easier again. Why such a panic? I doubt that he could have explained it, but the paradigm of that day told him it was just a place where he did not want to be.

I’m not sure of the exact year that he was in Knoxville, whether it was before or after the time when white people rioted and rampaged through the black section of Knoxville, smashing store windows and looting. But that little bit of history tells me that the paradigm of the white people of Knoxville included strong feelings toward black people  that my father would would have easily picked up. (To be fair to my father, his best friend at the technical school was a young man from Korea.)

A firmly entrenched paradigm caused the death of several nuclear engineers after the explosion of the nuclear reactors at Chernobyl. They knew the design of the reactors and they knew it was impossible for them to explode and expose radioctive material. Immediately after the accident they looked in the turbine room and walked around outside the reactor. They were pieces of glowing black material everywhere and they could not figure out what it might be. It was radioactive graphite from the reactor core, but because of their paradoigm that such a thing could not happen, these highly trained engineers looked right at the evidence that the reactor had exploded, and did not know what they were seeing.  They died due to massive radiation exposure.³

Times and circumstances change and it may take some time for our paradigms to adapt to the new reality. It took light falling from heaven to convince Saul that he was labouring under the influence of a false paradigm. The majority of the Pharisees never could bring themselves to abandon their old paradigm

I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a genuinely Christian paradigm, but many of us live as though there were. We tend to get frozen into a pattern of understanding how we ought to live that does not equip us to face new and unexpected temptations and often leaves us unprepared when unexpected opportunities for sharing the gospel by word or deed present themselves. Only if we are living in daily communion and obedience with the Holy Spirit will we know what to do or say in those situations.

1 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S Kuhn, Univesity of Chicago Press, © 1970

2 An Incomplete Guide to the Future, Willis Harmon, W W Norton, New York, © 1970

3 As reported in Future Edge, Joel Arthur Barker, William Morrow and Co, New York, © 1992

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