Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Simple and Complete – God’s plan for the church

Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the whole world has lain in wickedness. All mankind is by nature inclined to choose darkness rather than light, to obey Satan, the god of this world, rather than the Creator. Therefore God has from the beginning called people to come out of the kingdom of Satan and to love and serve God in His kingdom.

Those who have separated themselves from the realm of Satan and become members of the kingdom of God by a new birth and the baptism of the Holy Spirit should be united in love and faith. Yet even here Satan has been able to sow confusion by conflicting doctrines of human invention and by loyalty to human traditions.

Yet God’s plan is not complicated. We must allow Jesus to build His church, as he said He would. We do this by submitting to His commandments in the Bible as the Holy Spirit interprets them for the needs of our time and place. The Holy Spirit is not the source of confusion and dispute. Such things are the work of the enemy, Satan.

The church of God is a united body, bound together by faith and love in obedience to Christ, the head. It is also a spiritual temple built of living stones, that is believers led by the Spirit, of which Christ is the foundation. Here are believers untied to worship and praise God and to love and care for one another.

To maintain good order and charity in this body or temple, there must be leaders to instruct, encourage and help the members. Such leaders are chosen by the members, according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The must be known to the other members as faithful and unblamable servants of God, and must not expect their service to God and the brotherhood to bring them material gain.

Two types of leaders are described in the Bible. One, who may be called pastor, minister, elder, or evangelist, is principally occupied with the spiritual welfare of his fellow believers. The other, usually called a deacon, is principally occupied with the material welfare of fellow believers, in caring for the needy, the widows and orphans. These are chosen by the voice of the members and ordained by the laying on of hands of the elders. If any pastor or deacon departs in faith or conduct from the way of truth, he must be removed from his place.

If any member of the body or temple of Christ appears to depart from the way of truth, in faith or conduct, other members who are aware of this departure must reprove such a member. If he or she acknowledges their error and repents, peace and confidence is restored. If the erring member refuses the matter must be brought before the whole congregation. As a final step, an erring member who refuses the counsel of the congregation must be separated from the church until he or she repents. This must be done in love for the soul of the erring one and fear lest others be drawn away or that the church should be reproached for his or her wayward conduct.

The person who is severed from the fellowship of the church must be entreated in love to reconsider and repent. He or she is still welcome in worship services to be instructed in the gospel. When such a person truly repents before God and peace with God is restored, the church will then restore him or her to full fellowship with the brothers and sisters of the faith.

This is God’s plan for the church, a united body of believers who believe and live the truth of the gospel and proclaim it to others.

Seldom Seen Saskatchewan fauna

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Image by Bernell MacDonald from Pixabay

I have hardly ever seen a live porcupine. They are nocturnal, reclusive and prefer wooded areas. We know they are around by the steady stream of dogs brought to veterinary clinics with their snouts full of quills. We occasionally see a porcupine lying by the side of the road, a result of trying to cross the road in the dark. They move slowly and wear no reflective gear. They never run from predators, their quills being an effective deterrent. Automobiles, however, do not know that and dogs appear to be slow learners.

The northern pocket gopher spends most of its life underground in its network of tunnels. We do not have moles in Saskatchewan, the mounds of soil that appear in fields, gardens and lawns are the work of this little guy. The underground activity of the northern pocket gopher provides ecological benefits to the soil, but at great inconvenience to farmers and homeowners. We only know of their presence by seeing fresh mounds of soil appear in our fields, gardens and lawns. And by the occasional one that falls victim to our nocturnal cats.

More than one side to history

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My Grade 11 and 12 classroom had a library — a two shelf bookcase. I read all the books in that library, in class time, during those two years. One book was a history of an era we had recently studied in Social Studies, but gave a different version of that history than our textbook. That was when it dawned on me that history depends on the point of view of the one writing the story. The people and events may be the same, but the causes and results quite different. Not to mention the identities of the heroes and villains.

I also read historical novels, in which the English protagonists were noble, honest, kind and all round wonderful guys. Other people, especially if they were French, were portrayed as shifty-eyed, dishonest and cruel miscreants. Later in life I learned to read French and found that historical fiction in French was exactly the same as in English. Except that now the French were the noble, honest, kind and wonderful heroes and the English were double-dealing, arrogant, dishonest and pitiless villains. No doubt both the English and the French writers believed they had the facts on their side. Certainly, the French felt they had good and sufficient reason to refer to England as perfidious Albion.

I recall a Canadian federal-provincial conference of almost 50 years ago, a meeting of the heads of government of the provinces and the national government. Shortly before the meeting started an English-speaking reporter got a glimpse of a list brought by the Quebec delegation. He could not read the French-language list, but saw that the headings was Demandes. He began to hyperventilate and soon it was headline news all over English Canada that Quebec had come to the conference with a list of DEMANDS. A few cooler heads pointed out that in French demande means question, but the damage was done.

History is not only made by well-intentioned people defending what they believe to be noble principles. Bone-headed stupidity also plays a role. So does propaganda. During the first five years of Nazi rule in Germany, they carried on a pervasive propaganda campaign through books, movies and all media to depict the Jews as the cause of all that had ever gone wrong in Germany. By the time Hitler launched his final solution, a large part of the German population believed that the Jews had brought it on themselves.

An older brother spent several weeks in hospital. The man in the bed beside him was constantly complaining about the faults of his wife. Our brother told him, “You know George, there are three sides to your story. There is your side, there is your wife’s side, and then there is God’s side.”

How do we discern what is God’s side in current history? The first step is to cast aside all thoughts that God has a preferred nation in the world today. The time of an earthly kingdom of God came to an end 2,000 years ago. The only kingdom that is of interest to God today is His spiritual kingdom. As we consider political events today, in our own country or on the international scene, our question should not be which party or which country God favours, but how these events affect the spiritual kingdom.

Let us remember, above all, that our physical and financial well-being is not a prerequisite for the welfare of God’s spiritual kingdom.shutterstock_736401193

Leadership in the church

Three words are commonly used in the New Testament to describe leaders in the church: diakonos (servant or minister), episkopos (overseer or bishop) and presbuteros (elder). A careful reading shows that these words do not denote different offices in the church, but different areas of responsibility for the same person. Neither is there any sense of a hierarchy, of one church leader having authority over the others.

The qualifications for church leadership are that a man be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

These are not qualities that can be learned in a Bible School or Seminary. They are virtues that are best attested to by those who know the person well – the members of his own congregation. In addition, this person must be called of God and of the congregation, he must not take the responsibility of leadership upon himself.

The New Testament gives instructions for providing material support for a leader, but not for making him an employee of the church. The leader should be able to support himself and his family, but the congregation should help when responsibilities of leadership demand travel or extra expenses. The apostle Paul worked as a tent maker, but welcomed gifts during the times he was in prison.

When the simplicity of the New Testament pattern is ignored it creates many troubles in a congregation. A leader may assume lordship over the church and demand conformity to his way of thinking. Congregations divide over personality differences or small differences in practice that cannot be reconciled. Individuals start their own churches. Small rural churches close because they believe they need a trained pastor, but cannot afford to pay one.

The New Testament leadership pattern is workable and blessed of God when it is followed by those who are true believers.

Meekness

Meekness rhymes with weakness; modern English dictionaries defines it with words that sound like weakness. That is not what the Bible means by meekness.

Meekness is a strength of character that is neither an inherited personality trait nor the work of the human will, but solely a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is an inner strength, founded on trust in God, which enables the child of God to face adversity, opposition and even persecution with assurance and joy rather than resistance or dispute.

The meek do not inherit the earth by strength of will, nor by timid and passive waiting. They proclaim their trust in God, their willingness to suffer injustice for His sake, their refusal to deny God for the sake of temporal safety. They make no counter accusations, but trust that in the end of all things God will judge them and others according to His perfect righteousness.

18,263 days ago,

on August 1, 1970, I married a young lady named Christine. The marriage took place in the St Barnabas Anglican church in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; the church is gone, but Chris and I are still married. The days slip by one after another, then we wake up one morning and we are old folks.

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Early in our married life we drove a car that looked like this, different colour though. They don’t make Plymouths any more, but we are still happily plugging along.

A renewed commitment to writing well

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Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

I have always thought of myself as a writer, one who would get serious about writing at some moment in the future. If reading is part of the training for becoming an effective writer , then I have been in training all my life. One cannot learn to write effectively without noting how and why some people’s writing catches your attention and draws you in; and how you mind wanders to other things when trying to read the words of others.

I feel that the moment to get serious about writing has come, and the place to start is to pull up the memoir of my faith journey and put it through the refining fire. If I were to publish it as it is now it would probably sell a couple hundred copies to people who know me or know a little bit about me. That’s nice, but the real test of writing is whether it is interesting to people who know nothing about me.

Here are some thoughts on writing well that I am putting down as an aide-memoire to myself. I hope others might find something here to consider.

1. Forget the Sergeant Joe Friday approach: “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.” That may have been an effective police interview technique 70 years ago, but it doesn’t work in story writing. Not even when writing my own story. I know the story, I’ve lived it, I remember it because it had an impact on my life. How can I make it grab the attention of a reader who knows nothing about me and make him care about the outcome?

2. Don’t preach, don’t moralize, don’t explain. Let the story tell the story. Animal Farm by George Orwell and The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster are two short books by British authors that make us think about our relationships with others. They are not Christian books, they don’t spell out any moral instruction, yet the messages are powerful.

3. Use simple words. A word with a single syllable is more powerful than one with six. Two adjectives to a noun cancel each other. Most adjectives and adverbs do more harm than good.

4. Eliminate jargon: Christian jargon or anything that is only understood by a certain group of people. It’s OK to use a little in dialogue to paint a picture of the character, but go easy.

5. Master the language you are writing in. Don’t use a word unless you are 100% sure of its meaning.

6. Respect the people you write about, whether real or fictional. Some of the people who appear in my memoir have made deplorable choices. That’s real life. People make choices that lead to unfortunate consequences and most don’t find their way home. That doesn’t mean they are stupid, or evil.

How did we make it this far?

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Nothing has been heard from this corner for ten days. I don’t have a good explanation for that, except that my mind has been elsewhere. Our 50th wedding anniversary is coming up in a few days and I have been contemplating how we got here and where do we go from here. In between all that heavy thinking I have been able to get some useful things done, like finish painting the garage and clean out much of the accumulated detritus inside.

When Chris and I married on Saturday, August 1, 1970 I was 28 years old, had a good job and a place to live; Chris was 17. I think in some ways she was the more mature person. I had grown up walking on eggshells is dread of the next explosion of anger from my father. He was never violent, except with his tongue, but that left me with a fear of anything that might lead to conflict.

But I found a new Father a few months before the wedding day. In the spring of the year I was facing a crisis, several of them in fact. A feeling of doom was building up inside and I didn’t know what to do. I took a drive around the countryside to consider that dark cloud in the fresh air and sunshine. When I got home I knelt and confessed to God that all of my troubles were of my own doing, they were not the fault of anyone else, and asked Him to forgive me and help me find a way out. Then I made a very open-ended promise: I would do anything He asked of me for the rest of my life.

It didn’t seem like anything much happened, yet the feeling of doom was gone and I was able to make rational decisions. Several months later it dawned on me that my life had changed, my interests and my goals were leading in a totally different direction and that change had begun when I prayed. Up to that time I had taken a very cynical view of people who claimed to be born again; most of them were not any more honest or honourable than others who made no boast of knowing God.

But I could not deny that I had changed, was still changing. That must be what the Bible calls a new birth, the beginning of a new kind of life. It’s not so much that I know God, but He knows me and remembers the promise I made back in the spring of 1970. Every once in a while He asks me to do something, often it is a habit or an attitude that needs to go, and reminds me that this is part of what I promised. I believe that is a big part of the reason I am still married to the same lady after 50 years.

Heart Health

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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities have been telling us that elderly people are most in danger from the virus. Mortality counts appear to bear that out. However, studies of the data are refining that message, showing that heart health is the critical factor in whether or not one survives an attack of the virus. To be sure, the elderly are far more likely to have heart problems, but younger people with heart problems are just as apt to succumb to the disease, and the elderly with healthy hearts are likely to be survivors.

The heart is just a pump, but when the health of that pump is impaired the cells of the whole body no longer receive sufficient oxygen to function effectively. In some cases the heart is weakened by genetic defects or by disease, but most commonly it is harmed by poor nutrition and lack of exercise.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us there is a close parallel in our spiritual life: Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. No MRI will detect the heart spoken of here, yet the similarities between physical health and spiritual health are very striking.

  • Comfort food may taste good, but if that is all our diet consists of our health will suffer. We can subsist for years on familiar Bible stories and spiritual platitudes, but our health will go steadily downhill.
    For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
    And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. (Luke 21:34)
  • Exercise is essential to our health
    But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
  • God supplies the “oxygen” to purify our hearts.
    Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. (James 4:7-8)
  • A healthy heart can resist invasion by a virus, or temptation
    But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. (1 Timothy 6:6-9)

Yesterday didn’t turn out as planned

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Image by cyberscooty from Pixabay

Our garage was new seven or eight years ago, the walls of osb panels which should have been covered by siding long ago. That never happened; finally I decided that at least we could paint it. So I bought the supplies and started to clean up in preparation for painting, trimming the grass around the bottom and removing everything screwed to the walls.

Yesterday morning our daughter called and said our granddaughters wanted to come and paint. And they did, along with their mother and younger brother. A couple of hours in the morning and a couple more in the evening, with their dad along this time. They applied undercoat to the whole garage and started with the top coat on the front. Those weathered walls have a whole new look.

All the other things I had planned for yesterday didn’t happen. A small price to pay for family time and a garage that looks new.

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