Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Faith and life

I want to live until I die

Age segregation begins in schools. As schools get bigger and bigger it is more and more difficult for a child to relate to those outside her own age group. At the other end of life, retirement offers freedom, but it is freedom with no purpose. Retirees associate with other retirees and strive to keep themselves amused. Eventually they go into retirement homes, which isolates them still more from other age groups. Then they go to nursing homes. As more people require nursing home care, those places become larger and more impersonal. I believe this is a recipe for dementia.

I have painted a pretty bleak picture and we all know people who have stepped out of that flow and lived a meaningful life in their older years. The way people cope with the aging process is a personal choice. Many don’t know what else to do but be carried along with the flow. I don’t want to be in that number. I want to live until I die.

I want to feel that there is a purpose to my life, that I am doing something useful to others, even as I withdraw from the workforce. To accomplish that, I will need to maintain a healthy body, a healthy mind and a healthy heart.

To have a healthy body I need to keep physically active. That doesn’t happen naturally any more, it has to be a deliberate choice. Walking is the best way to keep active, it is low impact and stimulates the whole body. But where I live, for about half of the year it is not very inviting to go out for a walk. So I need a treadmill or a rebounder. Regular, vigorous exercise maintains the health of the heart, the lungs, and the brain.

Having a healthy mind also requires making the choice to exercise it. Doing puzzles and word games is one form of mental exercise, but that is not enough. To prevent my mind from becoming fossilized I need interaction with other people, especially people who do not see everything in exactly the way that I see it. That means children, youth, all ages, plus people of different backgrounds and different life experiences. I need to read books that stretch the mind and help me see the world from a new perspective.

Above all, I need a healthy heart, in the spiritual sense. To maintain the peace and joy of being a Christian also requires exercise. That includes reading and meditating on the Word of God, not just an assortment of favourite passages, but the whole thing, in order to get the whole picture of what God has to say. It includes prayer, not just for myself and my family, but for others — friends, acquaintances, those in authority and those who are not so friendly. That is a very healthy exercise, the more we pray for others, the harder it becomes to say nasty things about them.

As I become more serious about writing, I am challenged to convey my thoughts in a way that is provocative, informative, and sometimes humorous. I need to exercise myself to recognize and avoid trite statements, pat phrases and slogans that no one outside of my bubble will understand. Above all, I need to speak the truth in love, with compassion and without biting criticism.

As a writer, there are times when I need to be alone in my cave in order to get words onto paper. But in order to have words to write, to know what to write and how to write in a way that will interest somebody else, I need to get out of that cave and be with people, all kinds of people. I need to talk to people, listen to people, observe people. The best anti-aging treatment that I know of is people. People who jar my thinking out of its customary rut and help me see things and understand things I would not think of on my own.

The beauty of Jesus – Part One

Jesus and his disciples had been in Jerusalem and were returning to Galilee. The road took them through Samaria and when they came near the town of Sychar Jesus sent the disciples into town to buy food. He stayed by Jacob’s well, because he had an appointment there. The woman who was coming to the well didn’t know she had a divine appointment, but Jesus did.

Jews considered Samaritans to be an unclean people and believed they would defile themselves if they touched anything that had been touched by a Samaritan. When the Samaritan woman came to the well, she recognized Jesus as being a Jew and expected he would ignore her.

Jesus asked her for a drink. That was unheard of, for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan woman, let alone ask for a drink from something she had touched. Jesus spoke to her of living water and revealed to her that he knew she had been married and divorced five times.

The Samaritans held strictly to the Mosaic law, as did the Jews. There is no provision in that law for a woman to divorce her husband, but a man could divorce his wife for any frivolous reason. Perhaps he didn’t like the shape of her nose, perhaps she had burned his toast once too often (or whatever the equivalent might have been in that day). This woman had been married and dumped by five men. Jesus mentioned another man, to whom she was not married. Perhaps she was betrothed but not yet married, or perhaps some kindly man had offered her a place to stay with no intention to take her as his wife.

Then the woman challenged him on the differences in the beliefs of the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus refused to be drawn in, simply saying that Jerusalem and Mount Gérizim didn’t matter any more, but it was time for true believers to worship God in spirit and in truth.

The woman then said that she knew that all things would be made clear when Messiah came. Jesus told her “I am the Messiah,” something that he had never previously said to anyone. The woman believed him and ran to tell the people of her town.

The disciples returned with food and pressed Jesus to eat. He was not ready yet to eat but spoke to them of the harvest, telling them to lift up their eyes and see the fields that were ripe for the harvest. What did they see when they looked up? A stream of the despised Samaritans coming out of the town to the well to meet the Messiah.

The mask

I am very susceptible to respiratory allergies. For that reason I wear a dust mask the first time I mow the lawn in spring. The mower stirs up the dried leaves, dust and mould that have accumulated in the lawn and I know I will have trouble breathing for a few days afterwards if I don’t wear a mask.

This year, half way through summer it turned hot and dry and the grass stopped growing. I mowed the grass one last time in fall to trim it evenly and mulch the tree leaves that had fallen. I wore a mask again for that. My eyes were itchy for a few days after, but I could breathe freely.

Then I thought of the COVID season we are in. If I have no problem wearing a mask to protect myself, why should I have a problem wearing a mask to protect others? If wearing a mask will help to break the chain of transmission of the virus, to people who I know and people I don’t know, then it makes sense to do it.

This is not a season for Christians to become more self-centred, rather we should be even more concerned with the well being of others than we are at other times.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.)

Principalities and Powers

Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, he disappeared into the wilderness and fasted for forty days. Then Satan came to him and offered to let Jesus rule all the kingdoms of the world if he would acknowledge Satan as supreme. “Just bow down and worship me and you can govern the world as you wish. But in the end the people are still mine.” That would have avoided the necessity of the cross. Some Christians refuse to believe that the kingdoms of the world were Satan’s to offer. But how else would the offer have been a temptation?

Jesus did not come to the world to serve as a viceroy in Satan’s kingdom. He came to overthrow Satan’s kingdom, set people free from bondage to Satan and establish his own kingdom.

In the most stunning reversal of fortune in history, at the moment when Jesus hug dying on the cross and Satan thought he had eliminated Jesus as a threat, Jesus called out to his Father, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Forgiveness! Satan could not have seen that coming. The word is not in his vocabulary, the concept of forgiveness is foreign to him. In that moment Satan was defeated and a new kingdom established.

Nothing has changed for most people in the world. Satan is still the prince of this world, he still rules the kingdoms of this world through unseen principalities and powers. He is doing his utmost to conceal from mankind the fact that a rival kingdom is occupying part of his territory.

Yet everything has changed. Satan is doomed and he knows it. Jesus is offering hope to people who have no hope in the kingdom of Satan. The whole game of Satan now is to take as many people as possible with him to hell. He is out for revenge.

The kingdom of Jesus is a spiritual kingdom; it does not occupy a defined territory on this earth. Any person, anywhere on earth, who willingly submits to the reign of Jesus and is born again, is set free from the rule of Satan and becomes a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom. No earthly nation qualifies as a Christian nation, though it is one of Satan’s snares to think so.

We cannot defeat Satan by political means, or by any other human means. When we involve ourselves in any way with such movements, we are attempting to defeat Satan by using his own tools. That always results in defeat. Even if only our feelings are stirred, we risk making ourselves unfit for working for Jesus.

The tools that are effective against Satan are:

Trust. When we submit to the rule of Jesus we become meek and humble. We have nothing to prove, but trust that victory and vengeance belong to him alone. Satan’s goal is to divide people until each person stands alone and trusts no one else.

Love. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and enables us to do it, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the people around us do and say things that are sometimes hurtful Love them anyway. Jesus does.

Forgiveness. It is a given that we are going to get hurt. Satan would like to stir our feelings towards anger, revenge, or at least to demand an apology. If we give in to those feelings, he has won. If we can forgive from our heart, Jesus wins.

Thankfulness. Let’s freely speak of all the good that Jesus has done for us. Being meek and humble should not close our lips, except to any boasting of how good we are..

Prayer. We need to speak often with God, our heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus. That is how we get the strength to do the things listed already. Prayer is also the most powerful thing we can do to positively affect the evils we see around us, in individuals, families, governments.

The Mennonite service ethic

Protestant work ethic is a termed coined by German sociologist Max Weber in 1905 in his book Die Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).

The gist of Weber’s thinking is summarized thusly in Wikipedia: “Calvinist theologians taught that only those who were predestined to be saved would be saved. Since it was impossible to know who was predestined, the notion developed that it might be possible to discern that a person was elect (predestined) by observing their way of life. Hard work and frugality were thought to be two important consequences of being one of the elect. Protestants were thus attracted to these qualities and supposed to strive for reaching them.”

Mennonites have never taught a work ethic, or that there is any redemptive value in work for work’s sake. Nor do we find any basis in Holy Scripture for such an idea. We beliee that God grants salvation only by grace, upon repentance from dead works. The evidence of salvation is not in self-serving work, but in love, joy, peace, patience, temperance and the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit.

What Mennonites do teach, and always have, is a service ethic, based on the golden rule and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Of course this leads to work, but it is work that is done without feeling a need to prove anything. It is not self-centred, but other-oriented.

We are taught that this service ethic should permeate and motivate all of our relationships with others: in the home; the congregation; at work; in business; helping others in time of distress or disaster; in everything we do. We don’t always get it right, sometimes our feelings may prompt us to be impatient and demanding. The Bible teaches that at such times an apology is in order.

Other people also serve, and that is a wonderful thing. The more people who are willing to serve others, the better this world will be. We are not in competition with anyone, we are not looking for publicity or reward. The Mennonite service ethic prompts us to not think only of ourselves, but to be aware of the needs of others and do what is in our power to do to serve and make life a little easier for them.

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

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.

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