Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Faith vs Entertainment

There once was a day when people were able to listen to, or read, lengthy discourses on problems of the day. They understood what was being said or written and knew the difference between statements that were logical and coherent and those that were self-contradictory. Most people in North America have lost that capability.

Today we are bombarded with sound bites and visual images, most of which have no relevance to our lives. News has become entertainment, giving us the impression of being informed without giving us any useful information. Events in distant corners of the world are made known to us as soon as they happen, but no context is given to understand why or what it may mean. Local events are reported with the same lack of context or coherence, leaving us more and more estranged from our neighbours.

This is the thesis of Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. It was first published in 1985 and is still as illuminating as it was then.

Something similar has happened in Christian circles. Many people take a hop, skip and jump approach to Bible reading, trying to get to all the interesting bits without bothering to have to figure out the context. Reference Bibles reinforce that approach, making it easier for people to find those interesting bits. Most of them subtly offer their own analysis of what those bits mean, which is often not quite what you will find if you actually read the whole book.

Bible Story books for children do much the same thing, picking out the events that make the best stories. The lessons they draw from those stories don’t always coincide with what you will discover if you read the whole story in the Bible.

Expository preaching seems to have largely fallen out of favour, people’s attention spans having grown shorter than they used to be.

What can be done? May I suggest that we abandon all the so-called helps and go back to reading the Bible, the whole Bible. I realize that to most people that may seem like a recommendation to tedious drudgery. But people in past generations found the Bible interesting, engrossing, hard to put down.

Some of us still do. So, I guess our task is to talk about the Bible and how interesting and meaningful we find it to be.

Midsummer rambles and rumbles

I spent the past few days visiting the brothers and sisters of the congregation at Roxton Falls, Quebec and worshipped with them last Sunday. The purpose of the trip was to wok on the editorial revision of a church history book recently translated into French.

The other three members of the French editorial committee are members of the Roxton Falls congregation. We have frequent on-line sessions but it boosts our productivity if we can get together once a year and actually sit around the same table. We did that last Friday and Saturday.

Nature produced some impressive sound and light shows while I have been away. My plane landed in Montreal last Thursday evening just as an impressive thunderstorm hit the area. Other planes delayed their takeoff until the storm abated, we sat on the tarmac for 15 minutes until our plane could move up to the loading ramp and we could disembark. A tornado associated with that storm system hit Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, north of Montreal, and caused major damages.

Late Sunday evening my wife informed me that a thunderstorm with strong winds that passed through our area and produced 18 mm of rain. Later, we heard that a plow wind from that storm system had earlier struck the town of Eston, about 150 km southwest of us, destroying the hangar at the local landing strip and one house and damaging many more. Still later, we heard that lightning had struck a shed on the yard of a cousin who lives west of Saskatoon.

Yesterday afternoon, before I arrived home, another thunderstorm went through this area and left as much rain as the one Sunday evening. No reports of damage this time. Despite the destruction caused to buildings by these storms there have been no people injured.

I’m taking a break

WestJet 737.jpg

Plans are that by the time this appears on line I will be sitting in a little church in Québec working on editing a book recently translated into French. Then I will stay to worship with the brethren there on Sunday and do a little visiting around before returning home.

I will return – to my home and to this blog by the middle of next week.

Approaches to the Bible

All those who call themselves Christians say that their faith is built solely on Jesus Christ the solid rock and that they depend on the Bible for spiritual truth and for instruction in living a life that is pleasing to their Saviour. But how is it really?

Some folks base their faith on a set of proof texts garnered from here and there in the Bible and are endeavouring to build a Christian life using this material. They may be very earnest in expounding on these texts, but often don’t know the context in which these verses are found. In reality, they did not discover these proof texts for themselves, but learned them from various books, preachers and teachers. They were probably convinced of a particular interpretation of Scripture, then given verses to back up a view they had already been persuaded to accept as truth. This is not Bible-based faith and the assurance derived from the certainty of knowing the proof texts is often a false assurance. Such a second-hand belief system does not equip people to counter the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Others begin with a desire to learn from the Bible, but as time goes on they begin to trust their imagination to interpret what the Bible is saying. This is often because they find a plain interpretation of the Bible too constraining. Perhaps they had a remarkable experience or two that was genuinely from the Lord, and begin to think that God has a special role for them in life. They search for confirmation of this in the Bible and begin to interpret all the events of their life in the light of what they imagine to be their special calling. By this time they are no longer searching the Bible to find God’s truth, but searching it to validate their remarkable new insights. They still claim to have a Bible-based faith, but are far from the heaven bound narrow way.

There are a few who hold up their thoughts, desires, imaginations and experiences to the light of the Bible and allow God to prove what is genuine and what is useless baggage. They will be blessed in reading the Bible. They will find direction for their lives, strength for the daily battles with the forces of evil, and assurance that God is leading. There is peace and rest when they have nothing to prove, but are willing to let God prove their inner thoughts and desires through His Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Introduction to the New Testament -2

Acts of the Apostles – This is the second half of Luke’s history, the first part being the Gospel which bears his name. Again we see a meticulous historian at work, telling the history of the beginning of the church in chronological order and anchoring it all to places and people in the secular world. If we pay attention as we read, it should cause us to question some popular notions that we may have assumed to be true.

For instance, it is commonly assumed that the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost happened in the upper room. How big a room must this have been to hold 120 men and women? Acts 1:15 says that was the number of the disciples at that time. We find in verses 12 & 13 that this upper room served as the bedroom for the eleven apostles; do we really think they would have crammed 120 people of both sexes into this space?

Luke tells us in the last verse of his gospel that they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God and repeats that statement in Acts 2:46. The courtyard of the temple was huge, with room for many thousands of people. There were shelters here, such as the one called Solomon’s porch, and pools of water for ritual purification. It makes more sense to believe that all the action of Acts 2 took place here. Other people would have been drawn to these somewhat rustic people who suddenly began speaking in languages they had not previously known. It would not have seemed unusual to dip water from one of the pools to baptize 3,000 people by pouring. Any attempt to immerse them in one of those pools would no doubt have caused an uproar.

The Book of Acts shows the apostle Peter taking the lead in opening the door to membership in the beginning church, first of all to Jews on the day of Pentecost and not long after to Gentiles when he went to the home of Cornelius. Peter also took the lead in excluding unfaithful members from the church, namely Ananias and Saphira, God bearing witness to the truth of Peter’s decision by causing the immediate death of both.

This must not be taken to indicate that Peter was the head of the church. When the apostles and leaders of the church gathered at Jerusalem to discuss what should be required of Gentile converts, as recorded in chapter 15, it was James who rendered the final decision. This was James the son of Joseph and Mary and brother of our Lord. James, the brother of John had been slain by Herod before this time.

A large part of the book is taken up in recounting the conversion of Saul and his subsequent career as Paul the apostle. His mission journeys did much to expand the frontiers of the church throughout Asia and Europe. Luke appears to have accompanied him during much of this time.

We read in the book of Acts and elsewhere of disagreements between Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Peter, Paul and John Mark. There is no evidence in these accounts that the disagreements are evidence of sin on the part of the individuals involved, or that they caused a breech of fellowship between them. All were dedicated to the cause of Christ and the spreading of the gospel.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was growing up in the 1950’s, the older generation had scraped and scrabbled to survive the depression and they wanted their children to have a better life. The key to that was to get a good education so you could be someone who could make a living without working hard. Maybe that wasn’t what they intended to say, but that was what we heard. That gave rise to the question so often posed to us: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The question implied that there was no dignity in hard work; we should to be something better than our parents had been. That meant that our parents didn’t have what it would take to guide us into being the people we should be. We would need to turn to professional help.

Some time after high school, I had a visit with a guidance counsellor. He gave me a massive aptitude test to take home. The test comprised at least 200 multiple-choice questions. The questions were on card stock, with holes punched beside each of the four answers. You used a pencil to make a circle on the answer paper below and then use the key to interpret your responses.

I did the test once, and the result showed a strong interest and aptitude for accounting. I mused on that, realizing that this choice had been in the back of my mind as I did the test. I wondered what would happen if I did the test again, thinking of how I might answer the questions if I was interested in becoming an engineer.

I created a handwritten set of answer sheets, photocopiers didn’t exist back then, and went through the test again. Lo-and-behold the answer key told me I had a definite aptitude for engineering and should pursue a career in that field. I sat back and mused on the disparate results, concluding that if it was so easy to play games with the test, it wasn’t worth very much.

Some years later I became intrigued with Mensa. They limit membership to people with IQ’s in the top 2% of the population, with the grandiose notion that people with high IQ’s have what it takes to make the world a better place. I requested a preliminary test. It came in the mail; I completed it and mailed it back. Soon there came an invitation to do a full IQ test. Thus I arrived one morning at the University of Regina and found my way to a classroom where a dozen others were waiting to do the same test.

I believe there was a three-hour time limit and after we did the test, we all went home. A few weeks later a letter  came in the mail telling me I had scored 151, placing me in the top 1% of the population. Enclosed was a membership application and a request to write a brief profile. I filled them out, wrote a cheque for the membership dues.

In due time I received a booklet with the profiles of all Canadian members of Mensa. I discovered that most of these people supposed themselves to be much too intelligent to believe in God. Yet, they were ready to believe in all kinds of occult manifestations, mystical experiences, extraterrestrials and other nebulous and irrational spiritual theories. I lost interest right there. I didn’t have the self-confidence that would allow me to dismiss God.

Still, I took another IQ test a year or two later and came up with a score of 155. So what do those test scores reveal about me? Probably just that I am good at doing that kind of test. I don’t know if there is any practical application beyond that.

So here I am, 60 years past the age of 17, thinking maybe now I’m grown up enough to say I want to be a writer.

Canada Day Rain

As my dear wife says, times have changed. For several months the forecast promised rain that never materialized. Today the forecast promised 1 mm and we have received 15 so far.

Christine's Collection

Hello everyone, and Happy Canada Day to all my fellow Canadians.

Fireworks are planned in many communities all across the country this evening, but alas for our area, as there’s a severe thunderstorm watch in effect. Not to mention the dark blue clouds that have been rolling along west of us or the lighter grey ones overhead.

I went for a walk Saturday morning and admired all the toadstools popping up everywhere in our lawn. How can it be that this land, dry-as-dust two weeks ago, is producing such a fine crop of fungi? We were praying for rain and we got it. Clouds and rain almost every day — and again today. Over four inches in June, most of it in the last two weeks.

Crops in the fields are a beautiful green now, and SPROING went the weed seeds lying dormant in my newly dug flowerbed. I was…

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Introduction to the New Testament – 1

The Gospels
Matthew – The writer calls himself Levi; the other gospels call him Matthew, perhaps a name given to him when he became a disciple of Jesus. He was a publican before his call, a man who collected taxes on all merchandise transported along the road where he was stationed near Capernaum. This was the first gospel, written while Matthew was in Jerusalem, probably between A.D. 60 and 66. He wrote for Jewish readers, mentioning throughout his gospel all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Matthew gives the most complete version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These three chapters are the key to understanding the transition from the old covenant of the law to the new covenant of the gospel. Righteousness is not outward conformity to the law, but a heartfelt love of God that leads to a life of purity and allows us to mirror His love for all people.

The gospel of Matthew is the only one to mention the Gentile women in the genealogy of Jesus and the only one to mention the Gentile Magi who came searching the newborn king of the Jews.

The most complete wording of the great commission is found at the end of Matthew’s gospel, instructing the followers of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples from every nation.

After writing the gospel Matthew went as missionary to Persia and Ethiopia, where he died as a martyr for the faith.

Mark – The author is John Mark, cousin of Barnabas, close friend of Peter and mission companion of Paul. This gospel was likely written shortly after Matthew’s and before the fall of Jerusalem.

The early church fathers stated that Mark’s gospel was written at Rome for Gentile believers and based on the memories of the apostle Peter. It is the shortest of the gospels and the most vivid, as would befit the recording of Peter’s eyewitness accounts. It is not concerned with the fulfilment of messianic prophecies, but with showing Jesus to be the incarnate Son of God living among men and women and by His death and resurrection making salvation available to all mankind.

It is generally believed that after writing the gospel Mark travelled to Egypt, founded the church at Alexandria and died there as a martyr.

Luke was born at Antioch, not of Jewish parents, and studied medicine. Little is known of his early life and conversion, but he appears in Acts as a companion of Paul.

He was not an eye-witness of the life of Jesus, but consulted those who were. One of those may have been Mary, the mother of our Lord. Luke includes her genealogy, the visit of Gabriel, Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the visit of the shepherds, the meeting with Simeon and Anna in the temple and many other details of which she would have been the only surviving eyewitness.

Luke was a Gentile, and addressed his account to a Gentile. He compiled a history of the life of Jesus from the very first angelic messages of His birth. He strove for historical accuracy, linking events to the time of specific government officials. Luke differentiates himself from the other Gospels by putting events in chronological order, and from secular Greek histories by recording only reliable historical facts.

John – The gospel of John was the last one written. It is not really a history, dealing mostly with the last six months of Jesus’ life. Nor is it meant as a tool for evangelism, but rather for strengthening the faith of the church which already existed by that time. He supplies details missing in the earlier gospels and much teaching to cultivate the spiritual life of Christians.

John was possibly the youngest of the apostles and the only one who did not die a martyr. This gospel was probably written at Ephesus, where John lived and ministered for many years.

The opening passage of John’s gospel is a masterful statement of the Old Testament concept of the Word as being eternal and the active principle in Creation and can also be understood to take in the Greek concept of the Logos which gives coherence to all the universe. John goes on to state that this Word, or Logos, is God who made all things, who is life and light and who came to earth in the form of man and dwelt among men as one of them. This gospel contains the most explicit teaching on the new birth and on the Holy Spirit and demonstrates how it is only by knowing Jesus, the Creator, Lord and Saviour, that the created world makes any sense.

Robotic Christians?

Am I nothing more than a robot? Is every detail of my life preplanned and manipulated by an unseen hand, right down to the moment and circumstances of the end of my life?

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That made sense to Zeno the Stoic, to Augustine, to Mohammed, to Buddha and to John Calvin. Some people find it comforting to think that God is in control of everything, but is that really so comforting?

Paul writes about predestination in Romans and Ephesians. However, if we read the complete letters, we find that he is not using the word the same way the Stoics used it. He is saying that God had planned, predestined, before the world began, that salvation would be offered to all mankind.

There are those who believe Paul is speaking of individual predestination – that only some are predestined to be saved and others to be lost. What shall we do then with verses such as 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”?

What Paul is saying is that all mankind is predestined to be saved, not only the Hebrews. This was not clearly understood in previous times, but was revealed by the Gospel. Salvation is now offered to all people on th basis of faith.

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; as it is written, behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 9:30-33).

We live in a chaotic world. Forces were unleashed by the disobedience of our first parents in the Garden of Eden that make life unpredictable and dangerous. Those chaotic forces disrupt and distort everything.

God is not in control. He could intervene to control the actions of every person, and every event, in this world. If we choose to believe that He has done that, we make Him responsible for every atrocity, war, genocide and murder that has ever been. Would you trust your life into the hands of a God like that?

There is a god like that. He promises wonderful things if we will trust him and reach for the bait he offers us. That god is a liar. He gives us brief tastes of things that feel good, then torments us. He promises greater pleasures, and the result is greater torment. Finally he tells us that there is no good thing to expect from life. Everything is against us, why not just put an end to it.

We are responsible for allowing this chaos and evil into the world. God allows it to continue to show us the consequences of our disobedience. When we face that reality, then God reveals His grace, the blood of Jesus Christ to cover our guilt and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation. We can be happy, free and have a pure conscience.

The spirits of evil and chaos are still active around us and we are not immune to their influence on other people and the effects of their influence. People are not our enemies; our enemies are the evil spirits who egg them on into reacting with bitterness, anger and hatred.

The true God, our Creator, can give us inner peace and quietness in the midst of the chaos of this world. One day the chaos in our world will be transferred to a place where there never will be a hint of God’s grace and we who trust in God will live in a world where even the memory of the chaos will be gone.

We are not robots; the choice of our destination will not be made for us by the invisible hand of a God we hardly know. Now, while we have the opportunity, is the time to choose which world will be our final destination.

Hope

Ah hope! What would love be,
stripped of the encouraging smiles,
that teach us to look behind the dark clouds of today,
for the golden beams that are to gild the morrow.

—Susanna Moodie  sunlight-71092_640

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