Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The law does not teach us how to be a Christian

But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3:23-25).

Schoolmaster = Paiadagogos = a guardian, or guide, of boys. A trustworthy slave who was charged with supervising the life and morals of the son of a well-to-do family. The boy was not allowed to step out of the house without him before arriving at the age of manhood.

The Law and the Prophets point us to Christ, but they do not teach us how to be a Christian. The Law and the Prophets can keep us out of trouble until we come to Christ. The Old Testament still has this value of revealing the futility of trying to live a godly life by our own efforts and thus pointing us to our need of Christ. But Christ is the true teacher who empowers us to live his teachings.

Dreams and happiness

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

Tom Sukanen came to Saskatchewan from Finland as a young man with immense strength and talent. He was a friend to all. He helped neighbours build their homes, work their land, repair their machinery, thresh their crops.

Through tragic circumstances he lost his family. He withdrew from his neighbours and began building a small ship that he would float up the Saskatchewan River to Hudson Bay and return to Finland. He built every part of the ship himself. He knew his business, he had charts of the river system, he knew the seas – it would have worked.

Tom Sukanen’s ship, now in a museum south of Moose Jaw

The drought of the 1930’s intervened. Tom Sukanen almost starved to death, and died a broken man in 1943 at the age of 65.

Would he have been happy if he had managed to return to Finland and receive a hero’s welcome for his accomplishment?

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

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

He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. Proverbs 14:21.

May God’s peace rule your heart

Let the peace of God rule in your hearts – May the peace of God “judge, decide, and govern” in your hearts, as the judge did in the Olympic contests of Paul’s day. No heart is right with God where the peace of Christ does not rule, and the continual prevalence of the peace of Christ is the decisive proof that the heart is right with God.

In one body – You cannot have peace with God, in yourselves or among each other, unless you continue in unity; and, as one body, continue in connection and dependence on him who is your only head; to this ye are called.

And be ye thankful – It is a glorious state of salvation, and you should be forever thankful that you are thus privileged.

(From the Commentary of Adam Clarke on Colossians 3:15)

The way to happiness

Image by dima_goroziya from Pixabay

The Bible demonstrates again and again how futile it is for a person to think he is able to understand and decide by himself how to live a successful and happy life. But we keep trying.

Four centuries ago, René Descartes, elevated this human propensity into a philosophical belief systemn which says that a person can discover everything he needs to know by his own reasoning ability, beginning with the simple concept, cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). This philosophy has slowly percolated through western thought and it is now the foundation of our thinking that tradition and historical principles are a form of slavery. We should not accept any belief or authority that does not come from our own mind.

We Christians are no better. Too often we know just enough of the Bible to pick the parts that authorize us to live as we want to live. We don’t want to accept any authority that comes from outside of ourselves. We think that being Christian makes us better than other people, and we are disdainful of those looking on who don’t see us that way.

Let’s go back to the beginning. We are made of dirt, there is nothing good in us. We think of David, Jeremiah and Paul as great men of God, but listen to how they saw themselves: “verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (David, in Psalm 39:5); “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); “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Paul, in Romans 7:18).

Jesus said: “there is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). Therefore, if there is to be any good in us at all, it will have to come from God. That is why He gave us the Holy Spirit, not to make us perfect, not to make us feel good, not to exalt us above others, but to enable us to become what He has planned us to be, so that we can be a testimony of His goodness.

The apostle Paul was not gentle towards our feelings of self-esteem: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Galatians 6:3).

Believe it or not, this is the recipe for a useful and happy life. The old ways, the old teachings, respect for our elders and for authority, allow us to develop our ability to serve others. We don’t need to beat our head against the wall trying to make others accept our vision of reality. Contentment and inner peace come from accepting God’s revealed vision of reality and seeking approval from God.

Good news, somewhat disguised

1918, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. People began dying from the Spanish Flu in the first week of October. Sick soldiers returning from the European front were housed at the Moose Jaw Armoury and the disease spread from there.

The Moose Jaw and District Medical Officer, Dr. Turnbull, ordered all gathering places closed until further notice. That included schools, places of worship, pool halls and so on. He asked for volunteers to work with the sick and for people to wear masks and not gather. The military district sent soldiers home directly and stopped housing them at the armoury. Their discharge papers would be mailed to them. Dr. Turnbull converted Prince Arthur School and the hotel on the South Hill into hospitals.

When the war ended in the second week of November, thousands of people thronged the streets in celebration. Dr. Turnbull feared a renewed outbreak of Flu , but it didn’t happen. The five weeks of closure got Moose Jaw through the worst of the outbreak. It wasn’t over, but the rapid spread had been stopped, infection and death numbers were lower. Dr. Turnbull re-opened schools, pool halls, places of worship, gathering places and closed one ‘relief’ hospital.

2020, France. A month ago, in the face of an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases, the government decreed a strict shutdown. At first the number of cases and deaths continued to increase. But during the past week the number of infections and deaths have decreased every day. President Macron has now announced a gradual relaxation of the confinement rules, beginning this week.

Meanwhile, back here in Saskatchewan, COVID cases continue to rise and the government says that new restrictions will be announced today. That should be good news, shouldn’t it?

Image by Please support me! Thank you! from Pixabay 

Changes

A barber once told me “Men don’t lose their hair as they grow older. The hair that disappears from the top of your head just moves to different places. Your eyebrows get bushier and tufts of hair grow out of your ears and nostrils.”

I guess he was right; the hair on top is receding but now I need to trim hair in locations I never gave a thought to until a couple of years ago. That’s something you young fellows have to look forward to.

Where are we?

Image by lea hope bonzer from Pixabay 

A friend told me that scientific evidence shows that the COVID epidemic ended in May and what we have now is just ordinary influenza. Others tell me that they have read scientific proof that COVID is far worse than we have thought up to now. Some say it is a conspiracy to take our freedoms away from us. Whatever your point of view, you will find unassailable evidence on the internet to support it.

Is there such a thing as “just ordinary influenza”? Half a million people die every year from the flu. The epidemic that began near the end of World War One killed more people than the war.

As Christians, whatever our point of view might be about COVID, our conduct should reflect a concern for the people around us. We should follow the directives of our local health authorities, such as wearing masks and refraining from large gatherings. We should avoid criticism of authorities and refrain from belligerent arguments supporting a point of view contrary to theirs.

Remember, people around us are very sick, some are dying. That nay yet become our lot. Jesus told us to love our neighbour as ourselves. May that love govern our attitudes, our conduct and our conversation.

We are in a fog, much that is happening around us veiled from our view. Nor do we know what the world around us will look like when the fog lifts. Let’s just admit that and trust our Lord who knows all things.

Evangelism in a time of persecution

Two brief excerpts from the writings of Menno Simons (1496-1561)

This is my only joy and the desire of my heart, that I may extend the borders of the kingdom of God, make known the truth, reprove sin, teach righteousness, feed the hungry souls with the Word of the Lord, lead the stray sheep into the right path, and win many souls for the Lord Through His Spirit, power and grace.

To this end we preach as much as opportunity and possibility affords, both in daytime and night, in houses and in fields, in forests and wildernesses, in this land and abroad, in prison and in bonds, in water, fire and the scaffold, on the gallows, and upon the wheel, before lords and princes, orally and by writing at the risk of possessions and life, as we have done thes many years without ceasing.

Divine intervention

Daniel was in a dilemma. He was a captive in a strange land, yet now he was being offered training that would prepare him for a lucrative career. The only problem was that one of the benefits of this training program was that he would be given the same food to eat that the king ate. The food itself was not what troubled Daniel. It would be healthy, nutritious food; but it was food that had been offered in sacrifice to the king’s god. Daniel knew that he was in captivity because God’s people had compromised for years with the gods of the heathen peoples around them.

So Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself. What a momentous decision for a young man to make. He knew his decision might result in being barred from the great opportunity before him, it might even have fatal consequences. But that was his decision and he held to it.

God blessed Daniel’s decision. That gave Him a man in Babylon who was fully devoted to Him and He would use Daniel to move the king of Babylon to protect the people of God. We know how things went from there. The king had dreams, Daniel interpreted them. The king promoted Daniel and his three friends to the highest administrative positions in Babylon.

Daniel’s three friends were cast into a super-heated furnace and came out without even the smell of smoke on them. The king then decreed severe punishment for anyone who would say anything against the God of Daniel’s three friends.

The king lost his mind and was put out to pasture with the animals. I imagine that all the time that he was out with the beasts he kept telling himself “I am the great king Nebuchadnezzar, I can just get up and walk back into the palace any time I want and continue as before.” But he couldn’t. It wasn’t until he admitted that the God of heaven was greater than he was, that his reason returned to him. Now Nebuchadnezzar fully acknowledged and submitted to the God of heaven as supreme.

Nebuchadnezzar’s son learned nothing from his father’s experience. When he became king he threw a great party and called for the vessels from the temple of God to be brought out and used for drinking wine at his party. Then he saw the writing on the wall. No one knew what it meant, finally his mother came and told him to call for Daniel. Daniel told him the writing said that he had been weighed and found wanting and the kingdom would be taken from him.

Babylon was overthrown that very night by the Medes and Persians. Daniel continued as a trusted advisor to the king of Persia. They were others in the Persian kingdom who put their lives on the line to be faithful to God, such as Esther, Mordecai and Nehemiah. It appears from history that as long as there were people who refused to defile themselves with paganism, God intervened directly in the affairs of great heathen kingdoms to protect His people.

At what point in time are we in North America. Is God about to reveal the writing on the wall for Canada and the USA? Or will the writing on the wall be for us as Christians in these countries? Is God about to weigh us in the balance and declare that we have come up short?

God has intervened in the history of our two countries to provide for our religious freedom. Yet it seems to me that we have been to prone to honour men for what God has done, even to the point of calling our nations Christian nations. They are not, and never have been. Is labelling a nation of this world as Christian and regarding men and historical places and events almost as saints, sacred writings and shrines much different than defiling ourselves with food sacrificed to idols?

God has intervened directly to provide freedom of conscience in our two lands. Delegates at the Continental Congress in 1774 debated which church should be the official state church of the new nation, because almost all delegates agreed that such a thing was necessary. The New England states were Congregationalist and allowed no other church. The southern states allowed only the Church of England. Maryland was Roman Catholic. Only Rhode Island and Pennsylvania had no official state church. Because of these divisions the delegates were not able to come to agreement and finally abandoned the idea of having a state church for the new republic.

This was not the work of great men with a true vision of liberty of conscience. It looks to me more like a direct intervention of God to prepare the way for the establishment of His church in North America.

Likewise in Canada, as long as Upper Canada and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) were separate colonies, The Church of England was the state church in one and the Roman Catholic church was in the other. But when they were united under a single government in 1841 it was no longer possible to have a state church for the whole country and as the country expanded eastward and westward it was not possible to make any one church official.

When Mennonites first settled in Upper Canada around 1800, they were tolerated, but could not conduct legal marriage services. The Orange Lodge was very powerful in Ontario and fiercely opposed to any groups who were not White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. The Roman Catholic church in Quebec was equally intolerant. I see it as divine intervention that Canada was brought together in such a way that neither camp could dominate the country, thus allowing freedom of conscience for God’s people.

New belief systems have emerged and become predominant in both countries, propagated by the cathedrals of learning (the universities), and the whole educational system. We are now coming to a point where freedom of conscience is seen as a dangerous thing, almost treasonous.

The freedom we have enjoyed was not granted to us by great and noble politicians, but by the direct work of God. The solution to our present situation will not come from political sources. We must seek God’s mercy and purpose in our hearts not to defile ourselves with ideas, beliefs and programs that come from other sources.

The intruder

Image by ivabalk from Pixabay 

A few years ago I took an old picnic cooler, cut a square hole in one corner large enough for a cat to go through, put an old blanket on the bottom, and set it on our back step. It was meant as a shelter for our cats if they were outside in cold or stormy weather.

Tuesday morning Chris opened the door to let Angus and Poolie go outside. A half-grown kitten emerged from the cat shelter and walked in the open door. He has made himself right at home here, even though we’re not sure we need another cat. Angus and Pookie are especially dubious about that.

He is obviously accustomed to being a house cat and has been well cared for, though probably went a day or two without food. He is going to be big, his ancestry is probably largely Norwegian Forest cat, (I had to look that up, I knew there was a long-haired Norwegian cat with a ruff, the only name that came to mind was Norwegian Elkhound and that’s a dog so it couldn’t be right.)

If he had been a stray that long hair would be messy and matted, and it wasn’t. He didn’t wander in from the farm next door (we asked) and the next closest house is a kilometre away. Chris’s guess is that he is getting to the age that he should be neutered and the previous owner didn’t want to pay the vet bill.

He is gentle, friendly, playful, cute and pushes himself into the middle of whatever is happening. Chris thinks we should call him Frosty, for the colour of the fur on his back. I’m afraid that if we give him a name that means we have accepted him as part of the family.

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