Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Peacemakers

We took a trip yesterday to visit my cousin Paul We being my wife and I plus our daughter and her husband. Somehow Michelle and Ken have never met Paul, although he and his wife live only two and a half hours away.

Maybe it’s because we older cousins mostly meet and visit at funerals. Our last uncle passed away at the beginning of the month, at the age of 95. I guess his children have had very little contact with the extended family and didn’t know how many nephews and nieces would want to say their good-byes at a funeral. So they didn’t have a funeral.

My wife suggested a couple weeks ago that we should take that day we would have spent going to a funeral in Alberta and go visit cousin Paul and his wife instead. Ken & Michelle were interested, so yesterday was the day.

Paul and Vivian have lived on their farm in the South Saskatchewan River valley for forty years. They had a herd of registered Simmental cattle grazing on the hills and raised chemical free hay on irrigated land in the valley. Some years ago they cut back on the farming operation and began to operate a guest ranch. Since they live beside the river and Paul had never used pesticides or herbicides on his land they have an amazing variety of bird life that appealed to nature lovers.

Now they have sold most of their land and quit the guest ranch business. But Paul hasn’t quite got farming out of his blood yet. He has built up a small herd of registered Texas Longhorn cattle and  has a few Appaloosa horses.

Paul is 77, a year older than me, and has accumulated a lifetime of stories. I’ll just repeat one I heard for the first time yesterday. One day when Paul was 11 or 12 his best friend, a peace-loving boy, came to school with a full package of chewing gum in his pocket and proceeded to give sticks away to the other boys. When it was all gone, one more boy came around the corner of the school and asked for a stick. When he was told there was no more he punched Pal’s friend in the mouth, splitting his lip and knocking him to the ground. Paul helped him get up and then started out to catch up with the attacker and teach him a lesson. His friend caught him by the arm and said “You’ll not get into a fight on my behalf.” According to Paul, his friend maintained that peace-loving attitude all his life.

I remember a story my mother told years ago about Paul’s parents. Uncle Hank, my mother’s oldest brother, had always admired his uncle’s farm and yearned to have a farm just like it. His uncle was a very good farmer and his prosperity was evident in the impressive and well maintained buildings on his yard. However, he wasn’t so wise when it came to investing his extra cash, and lost large sums of money on the stock market.

One day uncle Hank came home and excitedly told his wife, “I just heard that the bank has foreclosed on uncle Jake’s farm. I’m going to get cleaned up and go to the bank and swing a deal to buy that farm.” His wife said, “If you do that, everybody is going to say that you took advantage of your uncle when he was down.” Uncle Hank’s dream of owning that farm he had always envied ended right there.

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Don’t take your vision for granted

I wasn’t seeing quite as clearly as I thought I should, but it was difficult to discern just what the problem was. My glasses, perhaps? At the end of last week, when part of a line of text would drop down on the line below, I knew what was happening. Macular degeneration had come again to my left eye.

I have received many treatments for this problem over the past 11 years. I had seen the eye specialist six weeks earlier and all was stable at that point, but now it was changing again. What happens is that tiny capillaries develop behind the macula, the central part of the retina, and cause it to bulge, distorting vision. T This can lead to permanent vision loss and  blindness. At least to the point where I would no longer been able to drive a car, read or use a computer.

I called Saskatoon Retina Consultants Monday morning and a day later I was there to have tests done once again, including a scan of the back of the eye. The doctor looked at the results and saw just the tiniest beginning of swelling. In a few minutes he had injected Lucentis into the eye and I was able to go home, with my wife doing the driving.

Lucentis acts to dry up those tiny capillaries, it has to be placed as close to the action as possible so as to be effective where it is needed and not to affect capillaries elsewhere in the body. Thus it is injected by needle directly into the eye. Sounds gruesome, but the doctor is smooth and quick and the eye feels no more effects by the next day.

This morning my vision was more distorted than it had been yesterday morning, but now by evening I can tell that the medicine is working, the swelling in the macula must be going down as lines of type stay more or less straight. By tomorrow I expect to be able to put in a day’s work of bookkeeping. I will need two more injections, at one month intervals, to maintain the effect. I have had 12 or 15 needles in each eye over the past years and they are the reason I am still able to function. It was eight years since the last episode in my left eye.

It’s wonderful that there is a treatment for macular degeneration. It would be better to avoid having it if possible. Here are some tips for doing that:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Include green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange fruit, fish and whole grains in your diet
  3. Don’t smoke.
  4. Check your blood pressure regularly, high blood pressure is a contributing factor.
  5. Exercise regularly.
  6. Don’t spend time in bright sunlight without sunglasses.

Man-made churches of God?

John Winebrenner was a minister of the German Reformed Church in Pennsylvania who was severed from that denomination in 1828 for being too evangelical, i.e.: not Calvinistic, in his preaching. He continued preaching wherever people would hear him and in 1830 he and his followers organized the denomination now known as the Church of God, General Conference. This new Church of God had no written creed, taking the Bible as the sole guide to faith and stated that their objective was to unite all true Christians in one body.

Daniel Warner became a minister of this body in 1867. In 1877 he claimed to have an experience of entire sanctification. The Winebrenner church rejected this doctrine of perfectionism and Daniel Warner was expelled in January of 1878. He continued preaching this doctrine and found many in agreement.

In studying the 7th chapter of the book of Daniel, he calculated the time of the supremacy of the Roman Catholic church as beginning 270 A.D. and lasting 1260 years (counting a year for a day) bringing him to 1530. He was on pretty solid ground thus far, but then turning to Revelation 11:11 he came to a period of three and a half days when the witnesses of God appeared to be dead. Now reading 100 years for a day he discovered that the true witness was scheduled to revive in 1880 A.D.

Thus he organized a new Church of God in 1880 with full confidence that this was the fulfilling of Bible prophecy. I would not call Daniel Warner a charlatan, but it would appear that he was susceptible to mistaking his own wishes and imagination for the leading of the Holy Spirit. He believed that his new movement, with a twin emphasis om the restoration of the Church of God which had long been absent from the earth and on the full and entire sanctification of believers by a second work of grace after conversion.

The new church had many talented and prolific song writers, including Warner himself. Others were Andrew L. Byers, Charles W. Naylor, Benjamin H. Warrren Clara M. Brooks and many more. Most of their hymns were sound evangelistic hymns, but a few point to their distinctive doctrines. Much mention is made of the “evening light,” Warner having interpreted Zechariah 14:7 to be a prophecy that the gospel light would once again shine at the end of the age. Warner died in 1895. The church is now known as the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana.

There have been a number of schisms in that body over the past 75 years. One was the Church of God (Restoration) which was led by Daniel Layne until his death in 2011. There were many who felt the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana had drifted from its original fervency into worldliness. Layne took his inspiration from Revelation 8:1 which speaks of silence in heaven for the space of half an hour. Now taking each minute for a year, Layne concluded that the former church had become apostate in 1950 and the silence in heaven ended when he began his restoration movement in 1980.

The Church of God (Restoration) has about 20 congregations. Some in Canada are made up largely of German-speaking people who were formerly part of Mennonite denominations. These German language congregations are known as Gemeinde Gottes.

All these churches began with considerable sincerity and a fervent desire to unite the people of God. Looking back over their history it seems they have done more to divide the children of God.

Do people make a church?

A church leader once told me “We have never seen it happen that a church would begin to drift away from the truth and then recover itself. When you see a church begin to drift, it’s time to get out and start over again.”

I have observed a lot of getting out and starting again over the years. Some people have given up on the whole idea of church and just meet at home with a few family or friends.

Where is Jesus in all of this? When Jesus said “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” He meant it. Why are  many people today so ready to believe that the gates of hell have prevailed against the church?

The rock is Jesus Himself, not Peter, not the words that Peter spoke. This is made plain when we consider other verses:
1 Corinthians 3:11: For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 28:16: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Acts 4:11: This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.

The New Testament portrays the church as a building or temple with Jesus as the foundation or corner stone, or as a body, of which Jesus is the head.

Jesus is the architect, the foundation and the builder of the church. Nowhere in the Bible do we read that we mere mortals are called upon to build the church, nor that we are capable of doing so.

People are running to and fro today, trying to find a church that fits their concept of what the church should be. Time after time they are disappointed.

I have been there and done that. After many such disappointments, I began to understand that while I had been searching for a church that fit my design, Jesus had been searching for people like me that He could form and shape to fit into the church that He has designed.

A little humility is in order here. We may be born again and be doing our best to live a life that conforms to our idea of what a Christian should be. But is our idea the same as Jesus’ idea? Just being willing to ask that question might break through our pride and stubbornness and allow Jesus to lead us to something far better than we could attain by our own efforts.

Leaving on a jet plane

I used to get butterflies at the thought of climbing into a pressurized metal tube and being blasted through the skies at 700 kph at an altitude of 12 km. Those butterflies didn’t show up last weekend as I flew to Montréal and back. Maybe I’m beginning to enjoy air travel. Four hours on a jet plane is much more relaxing than three days of driving.

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The four of us on the French editing committee decided that we might get more done by spending two days together than we do in months of three hour Saturday night conference calls. Since the other three are members of the Roxton Falls congregation in Québec and I am the outlier, way out here in Saskatchewan, it was more economical for me to fly out there.

Thus I boarded a WestJet plane to Montréal on Thursday and Ronald, Philippe, Hugues and I spent the next two days editing a book that has recently been translated from English. Even considering the amount of time we spent hashing over plans for the future of our work, we got enough done that it appears that even when the cost of my ticket is included the amount of work done per hour is no more costly than when we do it by conference call. This trip worked out so well that we are talking about doing it again some time, if our individual schedules can be aligned. Ronald and I are semi-retired and more flexible but Philippe and Hugues have to find a time that does not conflict with their employment.

I very much enjoyed the time I spent in Québec. I have corresponded with Hugues by email, talked with him on the phone, but hadn’t seen him since he was nine years old. He is 24 now and it was good to see and work with him face to face. It was good to see Philippe again, he has married since I saw him three years ago and has a five-month-old son.

It was good to be in a place where the lawns are green, the trees tall, and the crops flourishing. (It has been a dry year here at home; I mowed the lawn once in each of the last three months. The grass is still more or less green and the crop yields only a little under the average, but it hasn’t been a year of abundance.)

I worshipped with the brothers and sisters in Roxton Falls on Sunday morning. I know most of them, some of them for many years, but some I met for the first time. That is a good thing, the congregation is growing.

Monday morning when I awoke it was 22° and humid. It was 30° by dinner time and then it began to pour rain. When I got into Saskatoon in the evening, it was 12° and still dry and dusty. But all the family was there to meet me and welcome me home.

False alarm?

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The Arctic Ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from Consultafft, at Bergen, Norway.

Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers, all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone. Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met as far north as 81 degrees and 29 minutes. Soundings to a depth of 3,100 metres showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared.

Very few seals and no whtefish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts which have never before ventured so far north, are being encounterred in the old seal fishing grounds.

-The Washington Post, November 2, 1922

Yes dear reader, that date is correct. This is a report of conditions in the eastern Arctic 96 years ago. The warming spell began in 1918 and continued for some years before returning to normal, whatever normal is. Haven’t climatic conditions always been abnormal? Normal is an average, not an enduring condition.

Free will

We must believe in free will — we have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Hmm. I wonder what he was getting at? Having nothing more to go on to discern a more complex meaning in Mr. Singer’s thought than this fragment, I will say that I agree.

When Moses told the people “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life;” and Joshua later said to the same people “ Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” we must assume that the people really were free to make the choices offered to them.

Yet many Christian denominations, probably most, teach that we do not have free will to choose our own destiny. They magnify the sovereignty of God to the point of saying that if humans can choose whether or not to answer God’s call then we are saying that God is less than almighty.

But if words mean anything, the Bible is offering us just such a choice, from Genesis to Revelation. Where then do people get the idea that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says?

Determinism, the belief that the gods, karma, fate, or whatever you want to call the ultimate power in the universe, have pre-determined every detail of one’s life, has always been part of Eastern religions. It entered Western thought through Zeno, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.

It entered pseudo-Christian thought through Augustine, who laid the intellectual foundation for Roman Catholic policy. Augustine adapted Zeno’s thought, saying that God has predestined some people to be saved, and some to be damned. Since it is not given to mankind to know into which category they fall, the church has the right to compel all people within its territory to be members of the church and to turn the non-compliant over to the civil authorities. And since the church and the civil power were in complete unity, disobedience to the church was treason to the state and must be punished by death.

Since it could not be known who was predestined to salvation or damnation, then one could not discern that by the moral conduct of the person. In fact, those who led a pure and holy life were deemed to be deceived and the worst of heretics. This led to such aberrations in the Middle Ages as girls being led to the executioner because they refused the advances of the priests.

During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin refined the doctrine of Augustine; the essence of Calvin’s doctrine is often described by the TULIP formula:
Total depravity – the depravity of mankind prevents them from choosing to answer God’s call.
Unconditional election – The conduct of the elect has no part in determining their salvation.
Limited atonement – Christ only died for the elect, those predestined to be saved.
Irresistible grace – the grace of God is imparted to the elect, who have no power to resist it.
Perseverance of the saints – The elect can never lose their salvation.

This is the explicit doctrine of the Presbyterian, Reformed and most Baptist churches. Other churches believe much of what Calvin taught, but may be a bit nebulous about the origin of their beliefs.

The problem with believing Calvin’s doctrine is that church pews are occupied by people who believe that they have been born again through the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, but show little evidence of leading a Christian life. The old Westminster Confession got around this by saying that a born again person may take many years to develop an assurance of salvation. The modern teaching is that the new birth and conversion are quite different things, the new birth being instantaneous and conversion being a slow, almost imperceptible process.

The Bible makes no such distinction, the words are used interchangeably. There was a transition period for the disciples who walked with Jesus but did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost. Jesus told Peter “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” It was only a few days later that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized. After that, the Apostle Paul says “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Some may be confused by Paul’s thoughts on predestination. Read the passages as a whole. He is saying that God had predestined that there should be no more division between Jews and Gentiles, but that all could be saved in the same way. He is not speaking of individuals being predestined to salvation. At the end of one long passage on predestination, he writes: “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.”

A lesson learned

 

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When we lived in Ontario we often visited the farmers markets in and around Kitchener-Waterloo (there were three). Then we moved to Montréal and found markets that were even more wonderful, especially the Marché Jean-Talon. Now we are back in Saskatchewan and like to visit the Saskatoon Farmers Market;  except we live out of the city and it’s only open three days a week.

Online markets have become a big business in recent years, ebay being the leader. In these online markets, like all markets, we are dealing with individual vendors, not the market itself. Most are trustworthy, but buyers need a touch of skepticism when eyeing the bargains offered.

I overruled my skeptical nature on a recent purchase. A vendor was offering WordPerfect X9  at a ridiculously low price. I was suspicious, but the vendor’s description assured that it was the full version. I have bought software at bargain prices through ebay before and been satisfied. So I bit. Dumb move.

What I got was a link to download the software,which was indeed the full version. But no serial number was given or available. So what I have is a 30 day trial version that I could have obtained free of charge from the Corel website. Upon complaining to ebay I found that their guarantee does not extend to downloaded software. I wish the exceptions to their guarantee were displayed for all to see on their website.

So I’m left holding the bag, which will soon be empty when the 30 day trial period expires. I think I’ve learned the lesson, and it really didn’t cost that much. But I still want WordPerfect X9.

This game is rigged!

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We want to prosper in life, we want to have fun, we want to taste all the good things that are available to us. But we don’t find satisfaction in the things that promised pleasure, other people disappoint us, there never seems to be enough money to do all that we want, there is too much hurt and pain, sometimes it seems like life itself is conspiring against us.

Well, it’s true. This game is rigged. There is one right way to live this game of life and an endless variety of wrong ways. People tell to you try this, try that, this is where you can really find the thrill in life. Stop and take a close look at the people who make those promises. Do they seem happy, contented, at peace with themselves?

You have convinced yourself that only weak-minded people believe this God stuff. The soul, judgment, hell and heaven are just old wives tales to scare little children. This life is all there is and when it becomes unbearable the best thing is to stop living.

What if that idea was really just a tale to comfort weak-minded people? What if the death of the body is not the end of life, the soul lives on and there really will be a judgment? As much as you may try to block those thoughts from your mind, to drown them in loud music and furious activity, doesn’t that question pop into your mind at unguarded moments?

The soul is not some mythical add-on in your body; the soul is you, all that makes you who you are. The body is temporary, it will die but the soul will live on. The purpose of the game of life is to prepare us for everlasting joy. But if you decide that the only joy in life is what you can grasp for yourself right now, you are preparing yourself for endless misery and torment.

The rules of the game of life are simple. God revealed them many years ago to the prophet Micah: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (This is found in the Old Testament book of Micah, chapter 6 verse 8.)

You will find these rules often in the Holy Bible, in more detail and different phrasing, but this is the complete summary of what you need to know to win the game of life. Do what is right, be compassionate to others, and let God guide you. There is no way that you can outsmart the rules of the game of life. The game is rigged so that only those who accept the rules that God has given will experience true and lasting joy, peace and happiness, in this life and forever.

Nature notes

Several times, when I have been out for a walk after dark, I have seen fireflies in the ditches close to our home. There were fireflies near my boyhood home here in Saskatchewan, I saw lots of them when we lived in Ontario, but these are the first I have seen since coming back to Saskatchewan 20 years ago.

The orioles seem to have left us. I put an orange half up on a pole a week ago and it was completely cleaned out. I put up a fresh one on Thursday and it has not been touched.

Most of the hummingbirds seem to have moved on, also. There are still two that come to our feeder numerous times during the day.

We thought we saw hummingbirds among our flower pots after dark several nights ago. A closer look revealed that they were not birds at all, but moths. They are fittingly called hummingbird moths and this is what one looks like. No wonder we were confused. (You don’t see the antennae in semi-darkness.)

 

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The barn swallows who built a nest in the rafters of our garage have just hatched their second batch of the summer. Hope it stays warm long enough for the little ones to become airborne in time for the trip south.

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