Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Hail the King of glory

 

Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
There He lay, the undefiled, to the world a stranger:
Such a babe in such a place, can He be the Saviour?
Ask the saved of all the race who have found His favour.

Angels sang about His birth; wise men sought and found Him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth, glory all around Him:
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight, heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night, all the hills were ringing.

Gentle Mary laid her child lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled, but no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth, beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!

-Joseph Cook, 1859-1933

Ten beautiful things about winter in Saskatchewan

1. Sparkling landscapes. The timing is unpredictable, but every once in a while every tree, bush and weed is turned into a dazzling crystalline structure by hoar frost.

2. The purity of the snow. All that is ugly is buried under a white blanket.

3. The absence of flies, ants and beetles. They will return in spring, but our winters have so far kept fire ants, killer bees and Burmese pythons from venturing into the province.

4. The absence of road construction crews. No more detours and delays.

5. Birds at our feeders. Many have left for the season but chickadees, woodpeckers and other birds are still here and appreciate the food we offer.

6. Children skating on outdoor rinks. I remember when I had that kind of enthusiasm and like to see the young ones for whom it is much more than just a memory.

7. Coming in to warm up. Somehow, coming in to cool off on a hot summer day just doesn’t have the same charm.

8. Christmas carollers. Hearing car doors slam and the sound of happy voices, then a couple of the old carols sung heartily just outside our door is a heartwarming part of growing old.

9. The shining faces of children singing and saying their parts at a Christmas concert. We love to hear the program presented by the children of our Christian school and so do many of our neighbours.

10. Spring. How can one truly appreciate spring if he hasn’t survived a real winter?

Let my people go

During the course of my lifetime I have heard the Nativity story told in many different forms at Christmas concerts and read still others in children’s books. Some have stayed quite close to the Biblical narrative, others have veered off into the land of make-believe in ways that left me bewildered.

Fear not, I’m not about to embark on a curmudgeonly rant. I think it will be more constructive to depict the outlines of a narrative that is hidden in plain sight in our Bibles. That is the amazing parallels between Moses and Jesus.

Both had the sentence of death upon them the moment they were born. In the case of Moses it was the decree of Pharaoh that all newborn Hebrew males should be killed. In the case of Jesus it was the decree of Herod that all children under the age of two in the region of Bethlehem should be slain.

Both were protected by a young lady named Miryam. For Moses it was his sister, for Jesus it was his mother. They are called Miriam and Mary in the Bible, due to the Old and New Testaments being written in different languages, but to their own people, in their own time, both were Miryam.

Both received invaluable help from Gentiles. Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and brought up not far from the man who had wanted to kill him. The gifts the Magi brought to Jesus were no doubt of great help in sustaining Joseph, Mary and Jesus during their flight into Egypt.

Later in their lives both embarked on a mission to deliver their people from their oppressors. Moses wrought many miracles upon the Egyptians to break their oppression of the Hebrew people and finally, on the day of the Passover, led them through the Red Sea to freedom. Jesus wrought miracles to demonstrate his power over the oppression of Satan and finally, through his death and resurrection at the time of the Passover, broke the power of Satan over mankind.

Fifty days after the first Passover (ten days march into the wilderness and forty days on the mountain), Moses came down the mountain with the laws of God written on tablets of stone. Fifty days after the last Passover, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit down from heaven to write God’s laws upon the hearts of the believers.

There is one major difference between Moses and Jesus. Moses, as representative of the law, could not lead his people through Jordan into the promised land. That was left for Joshua to do. The Hebrew form of Joshua is Yehowshua. That is the name that Jesus bore in his day, among his own people. Jesus comes from the Greek form of his name. Jesus, the New Testament Yehowshua, has delivered his people from their bondage to sin and has gone before us to prepare a place for us in the eternal promised land.

I would be delighted if Sunday School teachers, Christian teachers and Christian writers for children could flesh out the Biblical narrative to give children of our day a true picture of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

The Mennonite view of the Sabbath

They keep and sanctify the Sabbath which is not the literal, but the spiritual Sabbath, which never ends with true Christians, not by wearing fine clothes, not by carousing, vanity and idleness, as the reckless world do, but by the true fear of God, by a clear conscience and unblamable life, in love to God and their neighbours ; for that is the true religion, Heb. 12:1.
Menno Simons, 1554 – Complete Works, page 680

For, understand, the prophecy is fulfilled which said with reference to this time, that such people have beaten their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles, rest from their works, and truly observe the spiritual Sabbath. Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3; Ex. 20:10, 11.
Headrick Alewins, 1659 – Martyrs Mirror, page 755

Because man so soon transgressed God’s word, he at the same time was overtaken with unrest in body and soul. Hence God commanded him to rest on the seventh day. . . yet this rest day was to man a figure that a rest of both body and soul was awaiting mankind (Heb 4:4; 11). . .
In this Jesus there is rest for the soul, the spiritual, eternal sabbath that has not end; in Jesus this sabbath must be obtained. . .
By faith we receive Jesus, and by faith in Jesus we must make an end of the service of sin, our own sinful works, and turn away from them, and by faith in Jesus do the works meet for repentance; then the believer enters into the rest of soul, then the believer enters upon the spiritual sabbath of the soul in Jesus, which Jesus has wrought in his own body on the tree; then the believer is in the day of salvation and in the day of light (2 Cor. 6:2; John 7:12; 11:9). This is then the spiritual sabbath day for the soul of the believers, in which they shall rest and hallow in both body and soul from the works of sin.
Henry Funk, 1763 – Restitution, pages 99-100

Old Testament ceremonies did not represent literal ceremonies under the gospel, but every one met a spiritual fulfilment. The literal sabbath was bodily rest; the spiritual sabbath is soul rest. He, Christ, said, “Come unto me all yea that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. And ye shall find rest unto your souls.” We must, to be able to obtain or enter into this spiritual sabbath, cease from all our work; that is works according to our sinful will, as God did from His work of creating.
The true sabbath of the gospel dispensation is not the observance of any literal day. We have a perpetual sabbath, rest to our souls.
Wendell K. Petoskey, Messenger of Truth, 1944, Issue 19

God had set the Sabbath as a day of rest, which pointing to Christ and the rest to be enjoyed in Him. In Him is brought back the day of rest as it was enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. When man accepts Christ as personal Saviour, and lives the life of Jesus he comes into this Sabbath rest, as long as he is faithful. . . The Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ and man need not be in unrest.
D. J. H. Schmidt, Messenger of Truth, 1955, Issue 8

[The Messenger of Truth is a bi-weekly periodical of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.]

The Sabbath

God instituted a day of rest per week, because, after six days of toil the human body and brain need rest. That’s makes good sense, doesn’t it? Except that the Bible says nothing like that.

What we find in the Bible is that God completed all the work of creation in six days and then rested on the seventh day. There is no hint that on the first day of the following week God picked up his lunch bucket, punched the time clock, and began another week of work. His work was finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3).

The seventh day was the beginning of a never ending rest for God and the promise to us is that we can enter into that rest. The once a week Sabbath was commanded as a memorial and as a foretaste of the spiritual rest that would become available through the Messiah.

Unfortunately, the human mind finds it much easier to grasp the idea of physical rest than of spiritual rest. We have been aided in this by the reasoning of Greek philosophers and their followers in the churches.

The fourth commandment decrees that all labour cease on the Sabbath, but it gives no hint that this was because of the need of our bodies for physical and mental rest. The purpose of the Sabbath was to separate people from earthly cares so they could contemplate eternal realities. The New Testament makes it clear that the labour that must cease is our futile attempts to earn salvation.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus invites us to cease our labours, lay down our burdens and He will give us rest for our souls. Hebrews 11:1-10 is an invitation to cease from our labours and enter into God’s rest, the Sabbath. “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10).

We enter into that rest when we are born again. We know God as our Father and we are assured that He knows us as His child. He fills us with love, joy, peace and all the fruit of the spirit. He guides us, comforts us and helps us in all the troubles we face in life.

We are no longer anxious about food, clothing, or the health of our body. Our Father knows what we need and He will provide (Matthew 6:25-34). We should not take that as meaning we are now exempt from physical labour, that is still necessary and good for us. But we need no longer be burdened by worry and care as to how it will all turn out.

We have entered into the Sabbath, not a day on our earthly calendars, but a time that will continue to the end of time and into eternity. Spiritual realities now take priority over material realities. We need not worry about our status in the eyes of other people, what matters is that we are a child of God, surrounded by His love.

Living in the Sabbath also requires us to forgive others, hold no grudges, not to favour one person above another, but to see others as God sees them. Some are God’s children, God wants them all to be His children and so should we.

God gave the prophet Isaiah a beautiful picture of the right way to fast and to observe the Sabbath. Does any of this sound like something that one ought to do on certain occasions only, or one day a week? Doesn’t it rather portray the New Testament kingdom of God when God’s children will live the Sabbath every day?

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:6-14).

The fourth commandment does not give any instruction for gathering for worship one day a week. In the Old Testament era there were only three annual festivals when all adult males should assemble for worship in Jerusalem.

Neither is there instruction in the Old Testament for establishing synagogues and holding one day a week worship services. It was a tradition that appears to have begun during the Babylonian captivity, and it was a good tradition. Christians have adopted that tradition and the weekly worship has become the primary source of sustaining our spiritual life. It is not a law written on tablets of stone, but it should be a law written on our hearts that we would want to gather where and when spiritual nourishment is being served.

What do we live for?

What do we live for?
Is labour so lowly,
Toil so ignoble, we shrink from its stain?
Think it not – Labour
Is God-like and holy;
He that is idle is living in vain.

What do we live for?
Creation is groaning,
Her desolate places are yet to be built;
The voice of the years
Swells deeper the moaning,
As time rolls along the dark tide of guilt.

What do we live for?
The question is sounding
Low in the silence, and loud in the din,
And to each heart-ear
With warm pulses bounding,
Answers come thronging, without and within.

What do we live for?
We live to be waging
Battle, unceasing, with indwelling sin,
We live to fight on,
In conflict engaging
Temptations without, and passions within.

What do we live for?
To sow, by all waters,
Fruit-bearings seeds of deeds for all years,
To toil in the ranks
With earth’s sons and daughters,
Manfully striving with doubtings and fears.

What do we live for?
We live not to rust out,
Slothfully standing aloof from the strife;
A thousand times better,
More noble, to wear out
Battered and burned in the hot forge of life.

-Jennie E. Haight (Miss Haight was a 19th century school teacher in Montreal.)

The Christian art of soft persuasion

Jesus said: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We want to share the gospel; let’s not get distracted into wolf hunting. That’s not what Jesus has called us to do; He has called us to demonstrate an alternative to the wolves.

Not everyone out there in the world is a wolf. Many are confused, some are deceived, but that does not make them wolves. For this reason we need to be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. It is one thing to point out the snares in false teachings, but if we attack everyone who we deem to be deceived, we are acting like wolves.

wolf-in-sheeps-clothing-2577813_1280

Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The gospel is unchanging from age to age and culture to culture. Yet the words we use to explain the gospel must be adapted to the understanding of the hearers. Before we can present the gospel in a meaningful way to someone of a different culture, we must first unpack it from the baggage of our own culture. Here is where we are most apt to stumble. We are blind to our own culture. Why would we even think of changing what is right and good and workable, we ask?

To other people our culture is blatantly obvious. We have preconceived ideas of how a Christian should conduct himself. We like to shake hands, but hugging makes us uncomfortable. We are accustomed to keeping a generous amount of personal space between ourselves and the person we are speaking to. These things make us appear cold and aloof to people of a warmer culture.

We use words, expressions, examples that we believe are universal. They are not. We can’t understand the questions people ask, they seem so strange to our way of thinking. Our way of thinking is equally foreign to them.

Once we learn to recognize that the baggage we have carried all our lives is not essential to the gospel, then we can begin to share the message in a way that others can understand. We become soft and gentle sheep, submissive to the will of God, portraying the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and actions.

sheep-1323902_1280

“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Adam Clarke’s take on this is that Paul is saying that he assumed every shape and form consistent with innocency and perfect integrity; giving up his own will, his own way; his own ease; his own pleasure; and his own profit that he might save the souls of all. He did not accommodate or water down his message to the beliefs of others, his goal was not to get money, influence, or honour, but to save souls. It was not to get ease, but to increase his labours. It was not to save his life, but rather that it should be a sacrifice for the good of immortal souls.

The Only Man with “All Power”

“All power Is given unto ME In Heaven and in earth.”

These seem to me to be the most audacious, the most astonishing words that ever fell from the lips of man. We are told that the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke unto them saying:

“All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28.18).

Who said these words? A Jewish peasant, a Jewish carpenter. You know what carpenters are. You have seen a great many carpenters. This man was a carpenter—a poor man, had never been educated in the schools. He was educated in the carpenter’s shop. He made yokes and ploughs, I suppose, and helped build houses, and made boxes and chests and doors. And then He took up preaching, and went about among the common people, and some said He was a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners—a man who did not keep good company. Some said He was crazy, and one said He had a demon and some said He was a mover of sedition, and some said one thing and some said another; but the general conclusion among people who were anybody—the Scribes and Pharisees, the prominent men and the chief priests—was that He did not amount to very much anyway.

There were a few people who followed Him—fishermen and tax-gatherers and common people; but here this Man, who we are sometimes told was just like any other man, who has been called an impostor and deceiver— who was finally hung up on a Cross between two thieves, dying for these men—says, “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth.”

Just think of it, a carpenter says that! A poor preacher, without a pulpit, without a salary, without a parish; a man whom they tried to kill; a man who did not stand well among the better classes of the community. Such a man as that says, “All power is given unto Me”—all authority, all ability, all efficiency, all power!

Did you ever think how much power there is on earth?
There is the power of the wind. Do you know of anyone who can control that? There is the power of the waves. Do you know of anybody who can control or master them? There are the powers of nature; the heaving of the tides; the swelling of the seeds in the earth, the mighty upspringing that clothes the fields with grass. There is the power of the clouds. There is the power of heat in which the strongest iron that ever was forged will melt. There is the power which pours down floods from on high. Why, a centimetre of water falling on one hectare of land amounts to one hundred tonnes and all that power poured out so gently that we do not notice it. We do not understand what is going on. We call it a shower. Think of the millions of glowing orbs that flame through the skies. Think of this world rolling in its mighty orbit. Think of the sun, sweeping on in its eternal pathway. Think of the power that moves these things. Some people do not understand how the sun could be made to stand still. Well, if you will tell me what keeps it going, I will tell you how it was made to stand still. All power in the universe. All power over men; all power over demons; all power over everything.

He did have power to Make Himself Remembered on the earth.
There were hundreds of millions of people living on the earth then—how many of them could you name? There were kings and princes, emperors, philosophers, poets. I do not believe a man here could name twelve persons who lived then. What has become of them? You remember Him? He did have power to keep His Name before the public. The world has never forgotten that. They have tried to persecute it out of sight; but there is no continent where His Name is not known; He is more widely known than Caesar. He is more widely known than Alexander. He is known more widely than Nebuchadnezzar. He is known more widely than Washington. He is known more widely than any man that ever lived since God made this world. He had power enough for that. How many people will know anything about you a hundred years after you are dead?

Curious, isn’t it, that this dead Jew is so remembered? There have been thousands of Jews who have lived and died and the world has forgotten them. He had power to be remembered.

He had Power to be Obeyed
Nebuchadnezzar was a great king. Do you know anybody who cares what Nebuchadnezzar said? Alexander was a great conqueror. Do you know anybody who cares what he commanded? Napoleon was a great conqueror. Do you know anybody who cares what Napoleon did? He changed the map of Europe and the face of the world’s governments—who cares for his commands now? Who cares today for the commands of Jesus Christ? How is it that He who was hung on a Roman Cross two thousand years ago, He who, our skeptical friends tell us, is nothing but a dead Jew and a dead carpenter—how is it that He is obeyed today? There is not a king on earth who has such a sway as He has. There is not an emperor who ever lived that had such a host to bow to His commands.

He had Power to Make Friends
You have been living in this world, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years. How many friends have you made? I don’t mean how many would come and eat a big dinner if you would pay for it. I don’t mean how many would drink as long as your money lasted—but friends. I mean people who would go with you if a policeman walked on the other side. I mean people who would lend you money when you were hard up, and they did not believe they would get it back again? How many would go across the Atlantic to please you if you couldn’t pay their fare? How many people would die for you? It is two thousand years since any man has seen Jesus Christ. Not a man on earth ever heard His voice. Not a man on earth ever clasped His hand. Nobody has His autograph. Nobody ever saw His handwriting. Nobody ever heard Him speak, yet how many friends He has. How many friends have you got?

Friends of every nation, of every clime, of every colour. Friends of every condition—in palaces and huts; in cottages and caves of the earth. Friends delving in mines; friends drying their nets in the fishing boats; friends tilling the soil; friends riding in high places; friends everywhere. Hundreds, thousands, millions, tens of millions. How does He get so many friends? How is it that He who hung between two thieves two thousand years ago has so many friends who never saw Him, who never heard Him, and yet who know Him and love Him; who would lay down their lives for Him; who would go to the ends of the earth for Him; who would give the last dollar they have; who count nothing dear when He calls for them?

You say that He is a dead Jew, do you? I never saw a live Jew who could do that. I never saw a live Gentile who could do that. What does this all mean? It means that “all power is given unto Him.” It means that He has power over the hearts of men; that He grasps them and holds them by a bond which earth can never break.

He had Power to Make His Words Live
Millions of people are talking, talking, talking until they tire everybody out, but nobody remembers a word that they have said. Books have been written and perished. Poems have been written, orators have been recorded, but they have perished; but He said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”

He never had a reporter for the Jerusalem Journal or the Galilee Gazette, taking down what He said to print in the next morning’s paper, but His words remain.

He spoke to a little company of disciples on the Mount, and the world still listens to what He said. He told Nicodemus one night how “God so loved the world,” and those words have been ringing through the world for two thousand years. He talked to a few disciples on board ship, and His words have been echoing ever since. Today, in seven hundred different languages, men read the words of Christ. Many of the inhabitants of the earth this day can read in their own tongues the story of Christ and His Cross. The infidel can never root this out. He can scoff and sneer and burn up Bibles, but the “Word of the Lord endureth forever.”

“All Power!”
You have no power over the winds, but He could speak to the winds and they obeyed Him. You have no power over the waves, but He could say, “Peace, be still,” and there was a great calm. You have no power over “all manner of diseases,” but when He spoke to the sick, He healed them. You have no power over evil spirits, but He cast out demons with His word. You have no power over the dead but He called them from the silence of the tomb and bade them live.

And these were only the specimen of what He could do. He raised one dead brother; He is going to raise your dead brother. “All that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth,” for He says, “I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of Hell and of death” (John 5. 28, 29; Rev. 1. 18).

“Go ye into all the world
Suppose you had a message you wanted to send into all the world. You couldn’t get it out of town without paying somebody for it; and when your money stopped, the message would stop. He said, “I send you forth as sheep among wolves.” He promised them nothing but a cross. “Go,” you have imperial Rome against you. “Go,” you have idolaters against you. “Go,” you have Gentiles and Jews against you. What have you got? A story about a man hung up between two thieves. What do we care about them? To the Jews it is a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness. Christ says, “You go and tell it.” And all through these vast empires where men bowed the knee to heathen gods, today there is not a knee bowed to Jupiter or Mars or Venus, or any of these deities. Their temples are in ruins. Their oracles are dumb. Their priests have perished in the corruption of ages. But this foolishness of preaching that saves them who believe still marches on. Today the words of Christ have gone out to the ends of the earth.

That carpenter who died without a friend, except a few poor, weeping women, forsaken by those whom He had taught, is today acknowledged as Lord by countless numbers among all nations.

Every bank note that you have in your books has a date upon it, and it dates from the birth of that Man. Every cheque you draw has that Man’s birth date upon it. The deed you own your farm by has His birth on it. The note you give, the bond you hold, the contract you make, is not worth the paper you write on until it has that date.

Two thousand years ago A Little Company of a Dozen Persons
sat in an upper room around a table, ate some bread and drank from a cup, and the Master said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” If you had been looking on, and knowing that their leader would be betrayed, denied, forsaken by all, had you been asked, “How often will they observe this?” you would have said, “They will never meet again.” Two thousand years have passed since then, and there has never been a year that some one has not obeyed that command; and today in different lands, in different quarters of the earth, people gather, and with tearful eyes and tender hearts take the cup and break the bread in memory of Him who died on Calvary’s Cross. “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth.”

You Want to be on the Strongest Side!
Then be on the side of Christ. You want to be on the winning side; you want to be with the noble, the godly, and the good; this is the company you want to be with.

Today we may testify to His goodness; today we may glorify His Name. And it will be something to say in the day of His glory, when the angels shall glorify Him, when all Heaven shall adore Him—it will be something to say then, that in the day when He was dishonoured we stood by Him; in the day when He was rejected we suffered with Him.

-Author Unknown

[Forty years ago a cousin of mine had a printing press in a little building in his back yard in Saskatoon. One of the things he printed was this tract. The name of the writer was not given and I have been unable to find any trace of it elsewhere. I suspect the writer was British, but that is really only a guess. I hope others appreciate it as much as I have.]

Truth is tough

Truth is tough. It will not break like a bubble at a touch; nay, you may kick it around all day like a football, and it will be round and full at evening.

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

Stony ground

Matthew 13:5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

Jesus told a parable about a man who went out to sow his grain by hand and didn’t seem to be all that particular about where the seed landed. Some landed on hard packed trails, some on stony ground and some among thorns and thistles. I was a Saskatchewan farm boy, I got the picture, he was just throwing his seed away. Some even landed on soil that was cultivated, weed and stone free, and it grew to produce more seed for the man to throw around the next spring.

Preachers loved to read this parable to us and urge us to get out there and break up that hard-packed soil of our hearts, pull the weeds and thistles and clear away the stones, so the good seed of the Word of God could take root and grow. It all made sense to Saskatchewan preachers and farm boys.

Stones seem to grow on about half the farm land in Saskatchewan. You go out in the spring and pick stones on a field and by next spring there is a fresh crop of stones on the field. Where did they come from? Long, long ago stone boats were invented to help move stones from fields. They were flat sleds made of planks nailed to timber runners and pulled by oxen or horses. Later, tractor drawn wagons were used, but the actual rock picking was done by hand.

I picked rocks one day with a helper who was physically capable, yet unable to decide on his own if a stone was big enough to be picked or small enough that it would cause no harm if it was left. He was a willing worker, but had to ask me about every stone he saw.

About 60 years ago a farmer somewhere in Saskatchewan built himself a tractor-drawn machine with heavy duty teeth on the front, spaced so that smaller stones would fall between and the bigger ones would be scooped into a pan as it was pulled through a field. It was equipped with hydraulic cylinders to dump the load of stones at some location off of the field. Before long there were farmers all over the place working in their shops to build their own version of rock picker; some of these farm shops developed into industrial operations.

That pretty much eliminated the back-breaking labour of rock picking. The reason the rocks had to come off the field was because they damaged farm equipment. When cultivator shovels and other tillage tools are continually bouncing off of rocks it reduces their life span. The shaking and rattling doesn’t do good things for the frame of the implement either.

I knew of a father and son who didn’t ever bother to pick rocks, or make any attempt to control the weeds in their fields. It seems strange to call guys hillbillies when they lived on the flat prairie, but I can’t think of a better label. Their home was pretty basic and there was never any sign of a woman around. I wondered if they might have some source of income other than the pitiful crops they produced on their land.

One spring they announced that they were going modern. They bought registered seed wheat and fertilizer. The weeds grew super high. The wild mustard resembled another parable of Jesus, with birds perching on the branches. They still had to maneuver their equipment around the rocks when they seeded and harvested, I wondered if they didn’t leave as much grain in the field as they put in their bins.

But what do stones have to do with hindering root growth? That was what Jesus talked about in his parable and I guess I missed it for years. You know, you hear a story repeated for years and just take it in the way it is told. But then you go back to the source and read the words of Jesus, and all of a sudden it just doesn’t add up. What does that part of the parable mean?

About that time, my wife and I took a trip to St. Lawrence County, New York, where my grandparents grew up. This is straight south of Ottawa, not far south of the St. Lawrence River. We visited several of my second-cousins. They were all dairy farmers, or retired dairy farmers. That seemed to be the only kind of farming that was viable in that county. As we drove around, we saw areas of exposed bedrock and were told that most fields had only six inches of soil, below that was solid bedrock. They could grow hay and silage crops, but grain crops would dry up before they matured, because the summer heat would dry the soil down to the rock.

The light went on. This is what Jesus was talking about. There are probably many fields like this in the areas where He walked. Comparing this to Christian life portrays the person who receives the gospel with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm is only superficial. When the heat is on, it becomes apparent that the good seed never took root in the hardness of their heart.

Is the state of such people absolutely hopeless? I don’t believe it is. There are trees growing in St. Lawrence County. Their fine roots find tiny fissures in the rocks, take hold, find what nourishment they can and grow. As those tiny roots grow, they split the rocks and more fissures develop. Finally you have a tree that is firmly rooted and grounded and immune to pretty well anything nature can throw at it.

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