Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

I am a Canadian, eh?

I am a Canadian. Je suis bien dans ma peau (that is an expression that wouldn’t make any sense if translated word for word, but means I am content with what I am). For that reason:

  1. Find that little word eh, pronounced ay, to be quite useful, and much more elegant than huh? Oxford says eh is of English origin. That may be, but its use in Canadian English is exactly the same as the use of hein in French, which is pronounced pretty much the same (hint: an h is never pronounced in French).
  2. Grew up trying to decipher the French words on the breakfast cereal box by comparing them with the English words on the box.
  3. Had many opportunities to actually learn French, and finally did it.
  4. Have experienced something like 200 blizzards, but not a single hurricane.
  5. Think a busy beaver is a far better national symbol than a predatory eagle.
  6. Never pronounce the h in words like wheat, whole, what, where, etc.
  7. Think that removing the u from Saviour makes it look sacrilegious.
  8. Much prefer Tim Horton’s to MacDonald’s.
  9. Think in metric for all measurements of size, distance, weight, speed and temperature.
  10. Find Webster to be unhelpful; many spellings and pronunciations do not correspond to what I hear and say, read and write.
  11. Think it’s great that our paper money is not all the same colour.
  12. Pronounce the name of my country Canədə, not Canuhduh. The upside down e is the symbol for the schwa sound, which in Canadian English is the same as the e muet, or unstressed e of French and is most definitely not the same as the short u sound, as American textbooks say.
  13. Call it a university education when it culminates in a degree. A college is a vocational school. The word comes from France, where college is middle school, equivalent to grades 6, 7, 8 and 9.
  14. Am willing to submit to temporary curtailment of my liberties for the welfare of people around me. Protests against COVID restrictions have not gained much traction in Canada, though they have garnered a lot of publicity.
  15. Am thrilled when spring comes and wonder if it would be possible to feel the same joy if I didn’t have to live through a winter.

The enemy within

The Israelites were witnesses to miracle after miracle in Egypt and for a few hours believed that it was really God’s plan to lead them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. The evening of the first day they came to a road block, the Red Sea was in front of them, with no way to cross. Soon they saw the dust f the Egyptian army pursuing them. Their belief evaporated.

Then the Red Sea parted in front of them, the water piled up as huge walls on either side leaving a path of dry land for them to leave Egypt behind. When the Egyptian army followed, the wheels came off their chariots. There was tumult and confusion until the whole army was on that path through the sea; then the walls of water collapsed and they were all drowned.

The Israelites were now home free, an open way before them to enter and take possession of the Promised Land. Moses took a census of all the men twenty years old and up and came up with the number of 603,550. But only two of those men actually made it into the Promised Land.

What happened to the others? It turned out that their greatest enemy was not external, but internal. The Bible calls in unbelief. The Israelites had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years before 603,548 of those men died. Then Caleb and Joshua and the sons and grandsons of the others marched into the Promised Land and claimed it as their heritage.

This is a lot more than a story for little children. It is included the Bible as an example and warning to adults. There are dangers all around us in this world; they are not imaginary, they are very real. Yet none of them will prevent us from making it to the Promised Land. Our greatest enemy, the only one that will leave us dead on this side of Jordan, is the unbelief within us. The New Testament is in the Bible to show us that Jesus has opened the way to have victory over the enemy within.

Thoughts on the craft of writing

Image by eroyka from Pixabay 

Here are some reflections after reading books that were interesting and others that could have been interesting if the writer had known how to tell the story.

  1. Read books of the kind that you would like to write. You can’t be a writer if you are not a reader.
  2. Research thoroughly. What was the weather like, what trees and plants grew there, what did people have in their homes, what did they eat, what did they wear, what kind of work did they do, what were common religious and political themes, etc., etc.,
  3. Don’t tell your readers everything you learned. You are doing the research to avoid describing things that do not fit the time and place you are writing about. Count on it that some alert reader will notice if you do. But if you dump a pile of information in front of a reader they are apt to stop reading.
  4. Stick to one main point of view character and tell everything through her eyes and ears. It can work to have one or two other point of view characters, but that is enough. These are the people you want the reader to care about.
  5. There will probably be other major characters. Let the reader learn about them through their actions and their words. If you jump from one character’s point of view to another’s and then to another, your reader’s head will start to spin and she will put the book down.
  6. Start in the middle of the action. Show the dilemma and conflict your main character is facing. Slowly fill in information about how he got there as the story unfolds.
  7. Write for the reader, not yourself.
  8. Write every day.

Best wishes for 2022

Image by MegLearner from Pixabay 

It was -35° yesterday evening. The brightness of the lights began to fluctuate around 11 PM and at 11:30 the electricity went out altogether. I started a fire in our wood stove (which doesn’t look quite as nice as the one in the picture) and we entered 2022 to its warm glow.

The electricity came on again shortly after 1 AM and we got some sleep, and some more through the day. We made it through that little crisis, I trust the Lord will have a way for us through all the crises that we will face in 2022. We look forward to good times, but crises are a part of life, too.

Happy New Year to all who read this. May you trust in God and have a thankful heart to help you through all the highs and lows this year may bring.

Rest

An inspiring memorial from the daughter of Bill Sweeney that I want to share with all who face the loss of a loved one, or our own uncertain future. May we all know the rest that is spoken of here.
“It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart”. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Unshakable Hope

I know we are all wishing right now that this post was coming from Bill Sweeney, but instead, I (Lauren, his eldest daughter) will share a little post in his honor. Last year, we were celebrating one last miraculous Christmas with Bill, enjoying his invaluable presence that was still with us. He told us a few weeks before (struggling to type with his eyes) that he knew his body and lungs were shutting down and that he was ready to “throw in the towel” and say goodbye to his ALS-depreciated body.”The jig is up,” he sarcastically typed to my mom. (He would always somehow find a way to make us laugh despite the heavy circumstances.) The past several years had been a long journey of near-death experiences and fighting to stay alive with the aid of my mother right beside him.

Every day of his 24-year journey of ALS, Bill…

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Weather complaints

Image by Nobis from Pixabay 

Have you noticed how apocalyptic weather reports have become? “Unprecedented Siberian cold blankets the prairies!” “High risk of frostbite and hypothermia.”

Those of us who are native to the prairies love to complain about our weather extremes. I used to tell people that when I was a boy we had days every winter when the temperature went down to 50° below zero Fahrenheit and every summer we had days of 105° above zero Fahrenheit.

Sifting through my memories a little more realistically, I believe that 50° below zero happened twice during the years I attended school. I had a half mile walk to school, I was bundled up in layers of winter clothing and still had to keep clapping my hands together to keep my fingers warm. And the coal-fired boiler at school had a hard time getting steam up to the registers in the second floor classrooms.

As for the 105°, that happened at least once. We were having a family picnic beside Plaxton’s Lake in Moose Jaw, I was wearing swimming trunks and it took a few days to recover from the sunburn.

Yesterday we cousins had a get-together on Zoom to exchange New Year’s wishes. A cousin in Portugal said that they hardly went out to a café because it was raining all the time. She grew up in Saskatchewan, the high here was -27° Celsius yesterday, what was she complaining about?

I have concluded that we here in Saskatchewan love to complain about the weather because it proves how tough we are. We can handle it.

It helps, of course, to have a warm house, a car with heated seats, a heated steering wheel, all wheel drive and enough clearance not to get hung up on snow drifts. And a grandson who comes over with a big machine to clear our driveway.

Image by Franz Roos from Pixabay 

White winter morning

This morning our world looks somewhat like this. Oh well, at least the days are getting longer. Not so you’d notice it yet, though.

Image by Pixaline from Pixabay 

It is -32° C outside, there is a fresh layer of pure white snow on the ground, 15cm of it. I have cleared the steps and walkways, plugged the car in and now it’s time for this:

Image by Melk Hagelslag from Pixabay

Misunderstanding the Gospel

In 1655 the plague spread through London, killing a quarter of the population. The city was rife with reports of strange visions, prophecies and rumors. Daniel Defoe wrote about the happenings during the plague, writing in the first person although he was only four years old at the time. Nevertheless, the book is not fiction but rather a well-researched account of the events during the plague. It is quite possible that much of the information came from the journals of his uncle. The book makes the following observation about the way many preachers attempted to apply their understanding of Christian faith to what was happening all around them. Words that could be applied in many other places and circumstances.

“Neither can I acquit those Ministers, that in their Sermons, rather sunk, than lifted up the Hearts of their Hearers; many of them no doubt did it for the strengthening of the Resolution of the People; and especially for quickening them to Repentance; but it certainly answer’d not their End, at least not in Proportion to the injury it did in another Way; and indeed, as God himself thro’ the whole Scriptures, rather draws to him by Invitations, and calls to turn to him and live, than drives us by Terror and Amazement; so I must confess, I thought the Ministers should have done also, imitating our blessed Lord and Master in this, that his whole Gospel, is full of Declarations from Heaven of God’s Mercy, and his readiness to receive Penitents, and forgive them; complaining, ‘Ye will not come unto me that ye may have Life,’ and that therefore, his Gospel is called the Gospel of Peace, and the Gospel of Grace.”
-Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, first published in 1722

The quietly disruptive Jesus

Christmas is supposed to be white, isn’t it? Here in Canada we expect to have snow on the ground at Christmas time and many of the Christmas cards we receive feature snowy scenes.

Yesterday I began to wonder what scenes people in the southern hemisphere put on Christmas cards. So I asked my wife, “What kind of pictures do people in Australia have on their cards?” “Ayers Rock,” she said. Well why not? A huge rock formation in Australia has as much to do with the birth of Jesus as does snow on the ground in Canada.

Uluru, aka Ayers Rock – image from Pixabay

Yesterday evening I heard the crunch of tires on snow and then there were young people from church on our doorstep singing carols. Now that does have something to do with the birth of Jesus. Not the snow, but the carols and the good will.

The third stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks says

How silently, how silently 
The wondrous gift is giv'n! 
So God imparts to human hearts 
The blessings of His heav'n. 
No ear may hear His coming, 
But in this world of sin, 
Where meek souls will receive Him still,  
The dear Christ enters in. 

None of the important people were informed that a baby was about to be born who would turn the world upside down. No religious leader, no political leader had a clue of what was about to happen. The angel Gabriel spoke to a teenage girl in Nazareth who was preparing to get married and forever disrupted her life. The angel then spoke to the man she was about to marry and disrupted his life.

Then the emperor in Rome decreed that everyone needed to be enrolled in the tax register. That meant that Joseph had to return home to Bethlehem; he probably had some property or inheritance there. He took Mary with him and they came to this town of about 300 where everyone knew each other and Joseph was no doubt related to them all.

The Bible does not mention an inn, an innkeeper or a stable. Hospitality is a given in this country and the young couple would have been warmly welcomed. But when it was time for the baby to be born, the upper room was too small for such an affair. Help was called, a midwife and other ladies of the family and the baby was born in the courtyard below, where the animals were kept, and laid in the closest cozy place for a newborn, the manger. Then a group of excited shepherds appeared, telling how their night’s rest had been disrupted by the glorious light of God, angels had announced that Messiah was born and told them where He would be found.

It didn’t take long and the story began to be embellished, supposedly in ways to help us understand what had happened. Mostly they transform Jesus into a poor, helpless, rejected baby who is no threat at all to our comfortable attitudes and habits.

But He did disrupt the history of the whole world. He wants to disrupt our lives, too. For each of us there should be a before and an after; the way we lived and thought before we knew Christ and the way we think and live after we truly came to know Him.

May you have a joyous Christmas!

There is a famine

Image by nancygebhardt from Pixabay 

Rural and small town churches across Canada are rapidly disappearing.  Fifty years ago, the town where I grew up had five churches.  Only two remain, and they are the churches where one is least likely to ever hear Bible-based preaching.  Smaller towns nearby have no churches at all.

This is more than a demographic curiosity.  It means that in whole swaths across our nation people are deprived of a readily accessible place to hear the Word of God preached.  In times past many people deemed this a necessity.  Families would invest money, time and labour to ensure they would have a place of worship.

What has caused the decline?  One part of the problem is the cost of maintaining a minister.  To provide suitable living accommodations and a decent salary for a minister and his family was by far the greatest part of the operating cost of most small town churches.  Some denominations would have one minister serving congregations in three or four towns.  Over a period of years the smaller congregations died out one by one.  Other denominations merged rural and small town congregations into a congregation in a larger town.  Many people find it too far to drive and now many congregations in the larger towns are struggling.

Ministers do not want to stay long in a low-paying church; the parishioners find the constant turnover of ministers discouraging.  Some ministers are young and find it hard to develop a rapport with parishioners older than themselves.  Others have been taught new ideas in the Bible Schools and Seminaries that do not resonate with their staid small-town parishioners.  Old-fashioned Bible truths and the old hymns are laid by in favour of teachings and choruses thought to be more appealing to younger people.  None of it seems to have worked.

The real problem is the notion that a church cannot survive without a trained and salaried minister.  The pattern shown in the Scriptures is for believers to meet together for worship and mutual edification.  In such a setting, The Holy Spirit will eventually give direction to choose one or more brethren to be ordained as ministers.  They will minister to the needs of the brothers and sisters, while continuing to earn their own livelihood.  The congregation may provide help for expenses incurred in their ministry, but they will not need a salary.

The preparation needed for the ministry is not training in Bible School or Seminary, but a genuine spiritual life, with love for God, the brotherhood and all mankind.  Such a minister is well equipped to minister to the needs of people and point them to the same Saviour who has delivered him in all his times of need.

The preaching of the Word should not be a lecture by someone who is considered to have superior knowledge, but an exposition of Bible truths that relate to the very real present day needs of every man and woman, including the preacher himself.

This is the pattern of the New Testament and of Anabaptists of former generations.  Congregations organized in such a manner can prosper and grow and multiply.

There was once much sound Bible-based preaching in most denominations.  I fear that over time the reliance on trained and salaried ministers introduced unsound teachings, as well as creating a financial burden that small-town congregations could not manage.

Are there still people in the small towns and rural areas with a longing for Christian fellowship and sound Bible-based preaching?  Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost and to gather together His scattered sheep.  Such sheep are not only to be found in the glamour of foreign mission fields or big city missions, some might be found in the very prosaic setting of a small town.

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