Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The lament of the creator

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.
– Isaac Bashevis Singer

Do you suppose that’s why Monet painted so many pictures of his flower garden — he was trying to capture it on canvas exactly as he was seeing it?

I don’t believe a writer is ever fully satisfied that he has communicated exactly what he wanted to say, in exactly the way he wanted it to come out.

God the Creator is also painfully aware of the chasm between the world as He wanted it to be and the world as it really is. But in this case it is not the fault of the Creator. After all, He started with paradise, the Garden of Eden. We, the creatures, messed that up; and we continue to mess up the world, because we think we have a better idea.

Affection deficit syndrome

The photo is from Shutterstock, but looks very much like our cat Pookie.

Remember how Charlie Brown used to say that he wished he could stay home from school and dedicate his life to making his dog happy? Sometimes I think that’s what Pookie expects from me. Of course, he likes to sleep most of the day. Come to think of it, that fits quite well with working from a home office.

This morning both cats wanted to go out as soon as I was out of bed. Angus disappeared for three hours, but Pookie soon wanted in again. I gave him some treats and some food, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy him. All the time that I was eating my breakfast he wandered around grumbling to himself in the soft, mournful way that he has.

When I was done breakfast I went to sit in one of the recliners and put my feet up. Pookie was soon sitting on my chest facing me. It took ten minutes of petting to satisfy his affection deficit. Now he is asleep on the bed in the far corner of the house and I can get on with my day.

Evidence of roots that go deep

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay 

We can read the Bible in a superficial way, looking for heart-warming stories or good moral guidelines, but if our roots are shallow a storm or drought might be enough to topple our faith. When we go deeper, seeking to know God through His Word and through prayer, our roots will grow strong and deep. Others do not see the roots, but our attitudes and actions will show strength and endurance that are beyond self help or self discipline.

There will be:

  1. A greater appreciation of God’s love for weak and fallible humans. God does not love people in proportion to their obedience to a set of rules. The Bible reveals just how weak we humans are. Men of old talked to God, tried to do what He asked of them and often blundered. God still loved them and blessed them. We must discern between a mistake and deliberate disobedience. Let’s beware of the thought that, “I made a couple of mistakes, but you were disobedient.” The reality may be just the opposite. Nevertheless, whether we made a mistake or disobeyed, God is merciful if we are willing to try again. Deep and strong roots in the love of God enable us to have the same compassionate attitude toward others.
  2. Submission to God, trusting that He knows what is ahead of us and will guide us in the way He wants us to go. Such trust is known as humility and meekness. When God and His ways are mocked or attacked, I don’t need to be defensive, it’s not my job to set these people straight. The battle is God’s and He will deal with His enemies in His own way and His own time.
  3. Boldness in speaking of God’s love and righteousness. Yes, it is possible to be humble, meek and bold, all at the same time, as long as there is no combativeness mixed with my boldness “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). The oracles of God are not my opinions, and not for me to enforce, but I must not be fearful or apologetic about speaking them.

A time of transition

Someone has suggested that Adam turned to Eve as they were leaving the Garden of Eden and said “My dear, we are in a time of transition.”

Probably not, but it would have been appropriate and the world has been in a continual time of transition ever since. Our happiness, our peace of mind, and it wouldn’t be too strong to say even our salvation, depend on how well we adapt to transition.

Transitions happen on many levels. My grandchildren are in a hurry to reach the age where they can join the youth group at church (two of them are already there), to get a driver’s license (one has his, another is taking drive’s ed) and all the other new things that become available to them as they get older. Grandpa wishes the pages on the calendar wouldn’t turn quite so rapidly.

Fall is in the air, many of our songbirds have left, harvest is nearing completion, frost is forecast for tonight. We know winter is coming, but we don’t know just what it will be like. This will be my 79th winter, no two have been the same.

Children are going back to school. We are all going to be spending a lot more time indoors in the coming moths. How is that going to work when the COVID virus is still active.? No one knows.

COVID makes everything a little more uncertain than it used to be. But when was life ever predictable? This time will pass; what will our world look like afterwards? Anyone who claims to know is not to be trusted.

About 200 years ago, Henry Lyte wrote:

Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
.*

Faith in our unchanging God and Saviour is all we have to hold on to that will enable us to safely ride out the transition to an unknown future. Any kind of transition, including the transition from time to eternity.

*Last part of the second verse of Abide With Me, by Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847

Fraudulent calls from the Service Canada legal department

If you live in Canada, you need no explanation of that headline. We get those calls several times a week, up to three times in one day. The call display on our phone shows a different number each time, often what appears to be a local number. When we answer, we hear a message that our Social Insurance Number has been detected being used for fraudulent purposes and a warrant has been issued for our arrest. We are urged to press a button to speak to a supervisor to resolve the problem and avoid dire consequences.

Image by Sammy-Williams from Pixabay 

For people outside of Canada, Service Canada is the government agency that administers programs such as Employment Insurance, Old Age Security, the Canada Pension Plan, the Canada Child Benefit, etc. Each Canadian is issued a nine digit Social Insurance Number (SIN) to identify ourselves for these programs. Employers need to know our SIN, because they have to make deductions from our paycheque for Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan. Financial institutions from which we receive interest or investment income need to know our SIN in order to report those income amounts to the government. We are not required to provide our SIN to any other organisation, though it is not illegal for them to ask for it.

Most of us know that these calls purporting to come from the legal department of Service Canada are fraudulent. After receiving enough such calls, we hang up as soon as we recognize the familiar voice. Yet over the past three months the people behind this fraud have succeeded in defrauding 779 individuals of a total $1.5 million. These are almost exclusively vulnerable people such as the elderly who tend to believe anyone sounding official, or newcomers to Canada who do not realize that no government department would demand money in such a way.

Tristan Péloquin, a reporter from the Montreal French-language daily la Presse, recently followed the instructions given by the fraudulent caller to be able to tell how it works. If you read French, his article is here. He was told that 25 bank accounts had been opened using his SIN and all were being used for illegal purposes. When he denied having anything to do with such accounts, he was told that his SIN number would be cancelled and a new one issued. But first he would have to withdraw all his money from his bank account, or accounts, place the money in a special holding account and close those accounts. He would then be able to open a new account using the new SIN and transfer the money to that account. Unfortunately, that holding account was a bitcoin account and if he would have followed through the money would have been gone without any means of tracing it.

According to the RCMP, these calls are coming from India and they are working with the police in India. It is complicated and slow work when the fraud is committed in one country and the perpetrators are in a different country. In 2018 they succeeded in getting several fraudulent call centres in India closed and 45 people arrested. No doubt they will eventually succeed this time also, but the fraud is lucrative enough that others will start up using a slightly different line.

Phone companies are working on technology to block these calls. That is complicated when the fraudsters have the means to spoof numbers that appear to be local and keep on changing them. Mr. Péloquin reports that Telus is offering an ingenious option. When a call comes from an unfamiliar number, the caller gets a message asking them to press one additional number on the keypad, any number. A call coming from a robotic dialling device cannot do this and the call aborts. A live caller pushes a number and the call goes through.

Most people are discerning enough not to bite on such threatening phone calls, or on emails offering free gift cards from Canada Post or Walmart. Those emails are trying to obtain personal information for fraudulent purposes. But there are enough people who do not have such an internal warning system to make these scams profitable. I am thankful for news reports like the one in la Presse that help to reduce the number of people vulnerable to such frauds.

The Myth of the Good Christian

To all my fellow believers in the saving blood of Jesus Christ. I believe we have a problem. At least most of us do. For sure I do.

The problem is that we want to be good Christians. So we mine the Scriptures for clues about how we should conduct ourselves. What we should do; what we should not do. Maybe that’s not a bad idea, but how does it work out in real life? We try to do things the way we should, and while we’re doing that a little voice tells us that we should go and visit someone. But we’re busy doing something good and important. And we’re pretty sure that person isn’t impressed with how good we are. We don’t know how to talk about God to someone who doesn’t want to hear.

We are trying so hard to be good and we think that should be enough to point people to God. We think even God should be impressed with how good we are. Do you see what is happening here? We have become self-conscious. And we should be God-conscious.

When we read the Bible we see all the mistakes that people have made, all the way through the Bible. We wonder why they were so foolish. But have you noticed that God continued to speak to those people and they went on to accomplish some pretty marvellous things? Maybe we could actually have an impact on the people around us if we stopped trying to be good and just listened to what God is trying to tell us.

We are not good people. We’re never going to be. Even Jesus objected when someone called him Good Master. “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God,” is what He said.

So let’s stop trying to run our own lives and rather ask “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Sometimes we will have trouble discerning the Lord’s voice because we are hearing so much other noise. We will make mistakes, just like the men of God of the past. He is ready to forgive. Are we ready to try again?

Let’s remember: we are not good, but God is. No one is ever going to turn to God because they see what a good person I am. But if they can see that God is helping this clumsy fool find his way in life, they might want to trust Him too.

Let your roots go deep

Image by Peggy Choucair from Pixabay 

Here on the dry plains of Saskatchewan we haven’t had any significant rain for six weeks. The grass has turned brown; it’s not dead, but it’s not growing either. The trees are green and show no sign of stress. The difference? Grass roots are shallow and depend on surface moisture provided by rain; tree roots go deep, down to the water table.

The first Psalm says this of the person who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates upon it day and night: “he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

What do other people see when they look at Christians? Do they see people who are tired, withered, just hanging on to spiritual life? Or do they see people with a living, growing, vibrant faith? If we resemble grass rather than trees, is it any wonder that people do not find themselves drawn to our faith?

There is a great void in our world today, people feel a lack of hope, a lack of purpose, and they try to fill that void with things and activities that do not give them hope or purpose. We believe we have the answer, but it doesn’t seem that anyone is interested. Perhaps what we need is not better techniques of evangelism, but a revitalized faith in our own lives.

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8). Some folks think they are getting deep into the Word when they are really following a man-made interpretation of a small part of the Word and ignoring the rest. Such teachings are grass, they will fade and they provide no meaningful nourishment.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (1 Timothy 3:16). So let’s read it all, even the passages that are difficult, that trouble our hearts. Reproof and correction are necessary for spiritual growth and vitality.

To be revitalized we need to drink deeply of the water of life, the Word of God. Superficial reading won’t do it. Reading only brief, familiar passages in a haphazard way, never getting to know the context and the background of those passages, is like depending upon brief drizzles of rain. They won’t sustain us in the heat of the day.

May we appear as an oasis in the desert of this world, not just part of the arid landscape, but a sign of hope.

The farmer and the salesman

Once upon a time there were two Bible study groups, one led by a farmer and the other by a salesman. Both groups studied the same portions of Scripture, but the discussions were not at all the same.

The farmer spent his days alone, driving a tractor up and down the fields or repairing the fence around his pasture. When he came to Bible study he was ready to talk. Any time there was a gap in the discussion he filled the time with philosophical musings about life that had come to him while he was alone or with something interesting that he had read. Nobody could think of much to say about the Bile passage, except to repeat a few platitudes they had all heard before.

The folks in the farmer’s class went home feeling they had reaffirmed what they already believed about the Scripture and didn’t think much more about it during the following week. Their spiritual lives continued to unfold along a predictable path without many challenges.

The salesman did not have a product to sell and didn’t see any need to sell himself. As a salesman he understood that the way to begin was to find out what people needed. So he would ask a question or two and let others think about it. He was comfortable with quiet moments in the discussion and never tried to fill them with chatter that would distract from searching for the meaning and application of the Scripture. Others in the class felt comfortable sharing their own thoughts and questions.

The folks in the salesman’s class went home with new thoughts about what the Scripture meant for their lives and questions about how they could be more obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit. These people explored the Scriptures, saw new implications for their lives and talked about these things with their friends. They were growing spiritually.

This is a parable and the occupations of the Bible study leaders are inconsequential. I could just as easily have told how the farmer watched in wonder as his crops and his calves grew, knew that it was not his doing, tried to sow the seed in his Bible study and let God make it grow. The salesman could have been convinced of a particular teaching, supposedly drawn from the Scriptures, and endeavoured to sell this teaching to his class. I have chosen to write as I have because the parable is loosely based on a real example from many years ago.

My true purpose in writing this parable is that I have looked in the mirror and realize that I am way too much like the farmer, and I want to grow to be more like the salesman.

Bird watching

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay 

We have three hummingbird feeders and enjoy watching the little guys zip to and fro. They are also very much aware of our presence and every once in a while one will come close to the window and hover there a few moments to get a better look at one of us.

The value of history

Some folks dream of the coming of a golden age, when the gospel will have created a state of peace and benevolence on earth almost approaching that of heaven. Most of us dismiss such ideas as folly, the pride of man.

What about the good old days? Many folks believe things were better in the past. Such an idyllic view of the past is evidence of a selective memory which chooses to ignore the wars, oppression, violence, immorality and cruelty that have marked the history of mankind. There are sincere Christians who think that is how history should be taught; future generation will be better off if they learn nothing about wars and conflicts of the past. I believe there is a fatal flaw in that line of thought.

Most people consider their own country to be the greatest example of human civilization. China, for example, has called itself the Middle Kingdom since 1,000 BC, the centre of the world around which everything else revolves. There is a similar tendency in the USA. I am a Canadian, but my roots in the USA go deep. When my grandparents came to Canada with their sons in 1908, the Goodnough family had been in the USA for 270 years, going back to before there was a USA.

When we reminisce about a golden era in US history, let us not forget that there has never yet been a golden era for black people, or native people. We put people of the past on pedestals, telling ourselves that they were the very models of Christian public figures. Take the Puritans of New England, for instance. (This includes my ancestors who landed in Massachusetts 18 years after the Mayflower.) They were such kindly, peace-loving people; didn’t they have the wonderful Thanksgiving meal with the native people? That was nice, to be sure; but it didn’t last.

The Puritan settlers believed that they were God’s elect and therefore could take any land they wanted for their growing settlements with no consideration for the original residents. Their attitude eroded the trust of the Indian peoples and finally led to what is called King Philip’s War in which thousands of Indians were killed.

Neither did they tolerate any variation in Christian doctrine. When Roger Williams, one of the Bay Colony (Boston) preachers, advocated believer’s baptism he was forced to flee for his life in the dead of winter, with only the clothes on his back. The few Quakers in the colony talked about non-resistance. They were expelled from the colony, but some came back. Two of them were burned at the stake.

shutterstock_252139876

Roger Williams (right) being sheltered by Native Americans after fleeing Massachusetts Colony to avoid arrest, 1636. Image from Shutterstock 

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know,” Thomas Jefferson, 1819. Jefferson considered Jesus to be the greatest moral teacher of all time, but rejected anything that smacked of the supernatural, or the divinity, the miracles or the resurrection of Jesus. He was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, which begins by saying:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Jefferson most definitely did not believe that black people were created equal, nor had they any unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Lafayette urged Jefferson on several occasions to free his slaves. His response always was that black people were not fit for freedom. That did not prevent him from fathering six children by one of his slaves. Four of those children lived to adulthood and were the only slaves that Jefferson ever freed.

Those children were only one eighth black ancestry. Their great-grandmother was an African woman who was made pregnant by a British ship captain. The daughter who resulted grew up as a slave on a Virginia plantation and was in her turn made pregnant by the plantation owner and gave birth to Sally Hemings. When her master’s daughter married Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings went to Monticello. When Jefferson’s wife died, he turned to Sally Hemings to satisfy his carnal lust. She was only 14 at the time, a half-sister to Jefferson’s wife and three quarters white ancestry. As a slave, she had no choice in the matter; this cannot be termed a romantic relationship.

For years people have argued passionately that someone else was the father of Sally Hemings’ children. A few may still hold to that argument, but the evidence seems conclusive that Jefferson was the father.

Slavery was brutal, people were forced to work long and hard, with poor food and whipped savagely if they faltered or dared to ask questions. From the time slavery ended until well into the 20th century, at least 3,000 black people were lynched in the US South. These were not clandestine events, carried out in the dark of night. They were publicised, postcards with photos of lynchings were sold in the stores, in one case an excursion train was arranged for people wanting to witness a lynching. Law enforcement officers looked the other way.

shutterstock_242290558

Anti-slavery poster of 1780

In the “Red Summer” of 1919 there were anti-black riots in more than three dozen cities across the USA. In 1943, with auto plants converted to war production, the Packard plant in Detroit promoted two black workers to supervisory positions. The white workers walked out and a riot ensued as the news spread. In the evening, unemployed white youth traveled to black residential areas, looting and vandalizing homes. The police ignored the white vandals and arrested black men trying to protect their homes and families.

It is good for us to read history, especially those parts of history that jar our illusions of the sweetness and light of our forefathers. We are not better than the people of past generations. The most important lesson of history is that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. My heart is no different than the heart of any of the villains of the past. It is when I ignore the true nature of my heart that I become a villain, while believing that I am doing some great and noble good. As Blaise Pascal wrote: “Man is neither angel nor beast; and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the beast.”

Solomon said: “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

%d bloggers like this: