Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Faith and life

“Finders keepers” would have been the wrong choice

[First posted November 14, 2013]

Noah Muroff, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, and his wife Esther went shopping online for a desk for the study in their home and found a cherry wood executive desk that they were able to buy for $150.  When they got it home, they found it would not fit through the door of the study.  The only option seemed to be to take it apart and then reassemble it inside the study.

Image by kalhh from Pixabay 

When Rabbi Muroff pulled out the file drawer, he noticed a plastic shopping bag had fallen behind it.  Inside the bag was $98,000 in US $100 bills.  When they bought the desk the middle-aged woman they bought it from said she had bought it at Staples and assembled it herself, so there was no doubt where the money had come from.

The Muroffs say they didn’t need any time to discuss what they were going to do.  Although it was 11:30 at night, they called the woman right away.  She was shocked by their honesty.  She told them that if they had decided to keep the money she would have been none the wiser.

The money was an inheritance from her parents who had died, one shortly after the other.  She had been too overwhelmed to make any decisions about the money at the time and had simply stuffed it away in a safe place.  Later she had looked in the desk and it was not there.  She reasoned that it must be somewhere else in the house and put the desk up for sale, not realizing the bag had fallen behind the file drawer.

The next day the Muroffs returned the money, taking their children along to show what to do when one finds something that does not belong to him.  The woman gave them $3,500 for their honesty and also returned the $150 they had paid for the desk.

Rabbi Muroff is 28, a Torah teacher at the Yeshiva high school in New Haven, Connecticut.  He and his wife have four children.  The oldest is six.  The Yeshiva cannot afford to pay a big salary and the family is used to careful budgeting.  Still, the money they found in the bag was not even tempting.  “If God wants us to have the $98,000,” Esther said to her husband, “He’ll make sure He gets it to us in some other way.  God is not limited.”

The importance of French

One of our ministers visited in Côte d’Ivoire and was invited to preach the sermon in a Sunday worship service. He spoke in English, the missionary translated to French and a local brother translated to the local language. Someone might ask, “Why didn’t the missionary learn the local language?” The answer to that is another question, “Which one?” There are around 100 tribal languages in Côte d’Ivoire.

Many languages of the world serve as a means of identifying a group of people of common heritage and distinguishing them from other tribal groups. Imagine trying to run a government, a legal system, a school system, a medical system, a police force, an army, using 100 different languages. These languages serves as barriers, walls really, around the individual tribal groups.

Another language is needed to serve as a bridge to connect all these tribal groups and enable the unified administration of the country and all its functions. This is where French comes in. Many people may still speak their tribal language, but it is apt to be only an oral language. For business and many other purposes the usefulness of French as a national language has become more and more evident. Not only within Côte d’Ivoire, but also in their relationship with other countries and for the ability to access all the resources that are available in the French language.

There are 75 million people in the world who speak French as their mother tongue. If we stop there, French does not appear to be a very important language. But if we consider French as a bridge language, a language that people use on a daily basis, that number is much higher, probably about four times higher. And that number is growing rapidly. It is estimated that 100 to 125 million people are learning French and that by 2050 the number of French speaking people in the world will reach 500 million. Some say 600 or 700 million.

English and French are the only two languages that are spoken on every continent and by at least a few people in every country of the world. There are other languages that are spoken by large numbers of people, but do not serve as bridges between people of different ethnic origin. Swahili serves as a bridge language in parts of eastern Africa, but isn’t particularly useful in Europe or North America.

On a local level, there are 6,000 children in Saskatoon, our nearest city, who are receiving their education in French. Some are from French-speaking families and attend a French school, most are attending French immersion schools. Among these are many new Canadians of Asian and Hispanic background.

What are all these people reading? There is an abundance of information and entertainment available in French, but the supply of literature that portrays an authentic Anabaptist-Mennonite faith is limited. That is the reason for the existence and activity of the French editing committee of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, of which I am a member.

Old money and new money

During my teen years, I used to pick up the latest copy of Look magazine at the drugstore and read it end to end. I can only remember one article. I don’t remember the title, but it was about people from families that had been wealthy for several generations and the new rich.

The point of the article was that those with old money did not feel they had anything to prove, while those who had recently become wealthy were always trying to prove, to themselves and others, that they were rich.

One example was two men going into the hardware store to buy gloves for working in the yard. The clerk (this was back in the day when stores still had clerks) showed each man the same pair of gloves. The first man, the one who had always been wealthy, did not find it at all embarrassing to ask “Don’t you have something a little cheaper? I only want them for working in the dirt and the bushes.”

The second man, whose wealth was of more recent date, asked “Don’t you have something better than that? I don’t care how much they cost.”

Why do we as Christians so often behave like the second man, as though we needed to prove something? If we are children of God we are heirs of imperishable riches. We should have a calm peace and assurance that lets us stand aside from the mad rush for the riches that shall perish.

Are You Perfect?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed his disciples: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:46). Instructions like this are found all through the Old and New Testaments. In Genesis 17:1, God said to Abraham: “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.”

Some people say that the only way that we can be perfect is by faith in Jesus Christ so that His perfection is imputed to us. How does that fit with God’s instruction to Abraham?

There are 12 Hebrew words that are translated perfect in the Old Testament, and 8 Greek words that are translated perfect in the New Testament. These Hebrew and Greek words are often translated by other words in the Bible, usually words like complete or finished.

The Greek word teleios, which is twice used in the first verse that I quoted, means brought to an end, full grown, adult, mature. In 1 Corinthians 14:20 the same word is translated men: “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” And in Hebrews 5:14 it is translated of full age: “ But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

The English word perfect is defined thus by Oxford: 1 complete; not deficient 2 flawless; without defect 3 very satisfactory 4 exact; precise 5 entire; unqualified 9 eminently suitable. Meanings 6, 7 and 8 deal with grammar, botany and sports. In English grammar the perfect past tense refers to an action that was completed in the past before something else happened; the imperfect past tense refers to an action that began in the past and was not complete at the moment being spoken of.

Too many people get hung up on definition 2 and think it is the only meaning of perfect. In fact, that meaning does not seem to be implied in any of the Scriptural uses of the word perfect. Most often the intended meaning, when referring to people, is grown up, mature. Maturity does not make us flawless, it makes us responsible. We make mistakes, confess them and do our best to make amends. That is what God wants of us.

We read in history of some Christians of many years ago who referred to their leaders as the perfect. If we understand the true meaning of perfect, that amounts to much the same thing as calling them elders. The use of the word perfect by those people is not enough in itself for us to judge them as having a false belief.

So, yes, we are called to be perfect, in the sense of being mature and responsible. It is a high calling, but God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us fulfill that calling.

Pray for them which despitefully use you

Job didn’t know why this was happening to him. All his children and all his livestock were suddenly gone, then his body became covered with oozing sores. He used dust and ashes in an attempt to calm the itching.

His three closest friends came to commiserate with him and at first had no words to say in face of such a calamity. It seemed logical to them that Job must have somehow brought this on himself. The more Job protested his innocence and his trust that God would vindicate him, the more his friends became convinced that he was hiding a great sin.

“Miserable comforters are ye all,” Job responded. “No doubt but that ye are the people and the truth will die with you.” In frustration, Job demanded an explanation for his suffering from God.

The three friends ran out of accusations and fell silent. Another person, Elihu, began to speak, saying “God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.”

In the end Job repented of asking for answers, but his trial was not quite over. God spoke to Job’s three friends and told them to bring animals for a sacrifice to Job and ask him to pray for them. It was only when Job prayed for these men who had spoken falsehoods against him that God set Job free from his troubles.

That is still the only way to experience peace and freedom. Jesus said “Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” In other words, when we face criticism and unjust accusations, rather than thinking of ways to cut our accusers down to size, let’s pray for them.

What is Christian mission?

Do we think of mission as a structured work of the church whereby we elect a committee, choose a location to do mission work and then choose people to go there and be missionaries? What are the missionaries supposed to do when they get there?

The starting point for all Christian outreach is to tell others what God has done for us. Do we need a committee to tell us to do that? I hope not. It is possible for every person who has experienced the forgiveness of sins and freedom from the power of sin to tell others about what they have experienced and are experiencing daily as they walk and talk with God.

Sometimes organisation is needed to share the gospel in places far from home. But people are ill-equipped to be missionaries far from home if they have never been missionaries close to home.

Let’s not make it complicated. This is not an intellectual exercise, it is a matter of sharing from the heart about the most important thing in our life. Let’s encourage one another to freely tell what God has done for us.

Connecting the dots

In our small town school, there was a two shelf bookcase in the Grade 11 and 12 classroom. That was our library, and I read every book in those shelves during my last two years in that school. During the reading of one of those books, a historical book, I had a moment of enlightenment. This was over 60 years ago, thee name and subject of the book have vanished into the mists of time, but I remember that it dealt with the same period of history that we were studying in class. It named the same people and places, the same events, but the narrative was different. That was when it dawned on me that the way history is told depends upon the point of view of the writer.

After that I looked on historical research as a page covered with dots, some small, some large. Different historians studied the information provided by those dots and each one connected the dots he felt to be most important to produce a recognizable picture. Some may do it with the intent to deceive, but I believe most are honestly trying to create a clear picture for their readers.

Even the Bible has examples of histories told from different points of view. There are two histories of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The first, 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings, was written before the Babylonian captivity by Jeremiah, or by someone else under his direction. The unity of purpose linking these books with the book of the prophet Jeremiah is underlined by the fact that the same four verses form the conclusion of 2 Kings and Jeremiah. Jeremiah consulted the records of those kingdoms and pointed out the episodes of disobedience and idolatry that led to the judgment of God.

The second history, written by Ezra after the people returned from their captivity, is drawn from the same records as the first. But Ezra points out how God was faithful and had often poured out blessings upon His people. He tells how King Manasseh, the most evil king Judah ever had, repented and spent the last years of his life labouring to undo the evil he had done. The link between 1st and 2nd Chronicles and Ezra is evident in that the two final verses of 2 Chronicles are repeated in the beginning of Ezra.

In the New Testament we have four accounts of the life of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is an eyewitness account, generally understood to have been told to Mark by Peter. Matthew was writing for Jewih readers and pointed out in great detail how the life of Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah. Luke, wrote as a Greek historian and told a coherent, well documented story of Jesus’ life from beginning to end, including the resurrection. John put more emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Each writer told the story in a different way, sometimes choosing different dots. There is no contradiction, we are enriched by having all four.

We need to be very careful in accepting all that we read in the news of current events. News reporters often choose the dots that fit a predetermined point of view. Here is one instance. We are often told that the income disparity between black people and white people in the USA is positive proof of racism. But if you look at the incomes of married black people and married white people, that disparity disappears.

That should cause us to look for the causes of the difference in the number of stable marriages among black people and white people. Then we see the same forces working among all groups of people to undermine the family. There is a war on the family in the world today. This war is not going to be won on the battlefield of politics. It is a matter of faith.

WASP to Woke

In my school days, over 60 years ago, I learned that anyone who wasn’t a WASP was less than the ideal Canadian. WASP stood for White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I could check all the boxes, and felt good about it.

What I received in school was an indoctrination into the Orange Order perception of Canada and Canadian history. The Orange Order frequently resorted to riots to get their point of view across to governments. They believed that people who were not white, Anglo-Saxon protestants should have no influence on Canadian society. They did not share the moral values or the nobility of character that was characteristic of WASPs. Perhaps it was not stated so blatantly, but that point of view permeated our curriculum. The books we read portrayed WASPs as noble and true, other people were shifty-eyed and untrustworthy.

There is a segment of our society that still thinks that way; I don’t anymore. One reason was my mother’s quiet influence. She was much more open-minded and that gradually undermined my tendency to be dogmatic in my attitudes. I read a lot, from many points of view, including books in French, that challenged the Orange Order view of the world that I had learned in school.

Woke is the correct way to think nowadays. The woke perception of Canadian society and history now permeates our educational system, the media and the political parties. The term originated among African-American people in the 1940’s to refer to those who were awake the the social injustices inherent in the structure of society.

The meaning has grown to encompass every perception of injustice and the need for a revolutionary restructuring of society. To those who are woke, it seems imperative to erase all prior history. The views of those who are not woke should not be allowed to be disseminated in any form to the public. In other words, we are now facing an ideology that is every bit as intolerant as the Orange Order, right down to the riots.

As Christians, we must not let ourselves be drawn into such ideological strife, either for or against the prevailing attitudes. We are part of the heavenly kingdom, a kingdom of peace and love; we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The devils must laugh with glee when Christians get emotionally involved and make statements that do not come from the Spirit of Christ.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but [is] earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18).

Defenceless Christians?

As Anabaptists/Mennonites we call ourselves nonresistant, or defenceless, Christians. Let’s take a moment to examine ourselves in one small aspect of what this means, or should mean.

The question is, how should we relate to persons in our congregation whose ethnic, social or cultural identity differs from that of the majority of the members? Do we expect all the adaptation to come from their side, so that they fully identify with the cultural norms of the majority? Is that even possible?

We must, of course, be fully united on all points of the faith. The problem is that when almost all the members of a congregation are of the same background, we tend to think that everything we do is based on our faith. We can’t imagine doing things any other way. It wouldn’t seem right.

When someone who is new to the faith asks why we look at aspects of daily life a certain way, we can’t understand why there is even a questions. No one has ever questioned those things before. Our reflex is to become defensive. And when we become defensive, we stop listening.

Image by maestrosphere1 from Pixabay

When the person asking the question senses our defensiveness, he will often draw back and stop asking questions. But the questions don’t go away, over time they accumulate. Finding no answer to what he considers legitimate questions, he may cease to feel at home in the congregation.

The apostle Paul tells us “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16). The modern meaning of condescend is to be gracious to those who are of a lower state than we are, while maintaining an awareness of our superiority. To read the verse with this meaning is to miss what the apostle was trying to tell us. French translations say to accommodate ourselves to men of low estate, which I believe is the original meaning. Conceits has also shifted in meaning over the years, the last sentence tells us to not think of ourselves as being wiser than others.

Adam Clarke concludes his commentary on this verse with “Believe that you stand in need of both help and instruction from others.” Isn’t that the attitude we need in order to accommodate ourselves to people of other backgrounds? If we expect that all accommodation must come from their side, we cannot be successful ambassadors for Christ.

Let’s lose the defensiveness. Let’s stop expecting square pegs to fit into round holes. If we can see Christ in people who came from a different cookie cutter that we did, our eyes may be opened to see fields ripe for the harvest all around us.

Without me ye can do nothing

The words of Jesus are blunt; unless we submit our lives, our being, to His control, we are not capable of being a Christian. We can pretend, we may think we are doing a great job on our own, but sooner or later something will happen and whatever is really in our heart will show up.

To take just one example: we read exhortations in the Bible about being humble and set about to make ourselves humble. It goes well; soon we think we have this down pat, we’re doing a much better job of being humble than most of the people around us. . .

Whoa! See the problem? We’ve become proud of our humility.

To become a Christian, we must admit that we have hopelessly messed up our life and cannot clean up the mess by ourselves. It’s pretty humbling isn’t it? That’s a good start in Christian life, the right start. However, as time goes on, we start thinking that we’ve got this figured out, we can complete the task of making ourselves Christian by our own understanding and will. When that doesn’t seem to be working out some folks wonder what the problem is. Others see that they have messed up again and turn to Jesus to make a new start.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us do what we cannot do. We all know that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace. But we don’t always remember the other qualities, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Aren’t they a good description of humility?

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart that makes us humble. Our own work on the outer man can’t do it. Our own work can’t do anything at all that will count in eternity.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

%d bloggers like this: