Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Epilogue

That is the end of the story I set out to write, but not the end of the journey. We spent 15 years in Ontario, 5 in Québec and have been back in Saskatchewan for 20 years. We are living in the Swanson congregation, where I saw no hope of finding work 40 years ogo. Times have changed, there are many small businesses run by members of the congregation and other employment opportunities in the area. I work part time as a bookkeper now.

Michelle experienced a new birth at the age of 12 and was baptized December 6, 1984. In her late teens and into her twenties she worked several years in nursing homes, then as a teacher in the schools of congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. She was an eastern girl, having spent most of her growing up years and her early working life in Eastern Canada.

She was teaching at Dumas, Arkansas when we moved back to Saskatchewan. We fully expected that her permanent home would be far away from us, but a young man at Swanson took note of her and proposed a year after we moved. We are very grateful to Ken Klassen, not only for bringing our daughter back to Saskatchewan, but for his kind and gentle ways as her husband and as father to their four children.

Tami Klassen, our oldest granddaughter was baptized earlier this year. The decisions we made many years ago are bearing fruit unto the third generation.

My mother visited us every year while we lived in the east, usually spending several weeks or a month at a time. She turned 90 in January of 1998 and we knew it was time to come back home to Saskatchewan. She lived with us for a few years and then spent her last years in a nursing home in Rosthern. She passed away December 31, 2006, just 18 days short of her 99th birthday.

Chris has had two bouts with cancer and is healthy and cancer free at this time. We will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary this summer. Over the last few years we have both been working at developing writing skills to be able to share what God ha done for us and what He has taught us.

To know God without knowing our own wretchedness only makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ provides the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. – Blaise Pascal

Advertisements

I want to be an L.E.D.

We all know what led’s are, right? Those things that give off a nice clear light but won’t burn you if you get too close to them. That’s what I want to be – a Light Emitting Disciple.

There is a problem, though – I am not capable of producing light by myself. But I sure am capable of producing heat. Far too often I have tried to enlighten someone else and that person had to back off for fear of getting burned.

That has never been what I wanted to do, but it took me years to realize that when I begin to get hot under the collar the possibility of convincing someone else of what I believe to be right drops to zero.

I had a lesson on this in my youth – from a cow. The cows were coming into the barn and I needed to get this cow into a different stall than the one that had been her home up to then. She had no idea what I wanted her to do or why, she just wanted to get into her old familiar stall. I started to yell and to slap her. She was frightened and tried to get away from me. Finally I realized that I had lost this battle. I waited until we had both cooled off, then took her by the halter and led her to the stall where I wanted her to go. Once she understood what I wanted she settled right down.

You’d think a lesson like that might have stuck, but it took quite a few more, with people and animals, before the lesson was learned. If indeed it has been learned, and I think it has for the most part.

Through all this, I have come to understand what James was talking about when he wrote:

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. James 3:14-17

He is saying that heat comes from below and light comes from above. If I truly want to be a Light Emitting Disciple, I need to disconnect myself from the source of heat and connect to the source of light.

Finding home

The factory where I found work made engineered rubber parts for the automobile industry. I was started on the press line, where rows of hydraulic presses produced vast quantities of rubber parts. The moulds were maintained at tempertures above 300° F to cure the rubber. I started when the weather was already hot and humid and it was even hotter and more humid working over those moulds. It was a shock to the body of this prairie boy, but soon I was acclimatized.

While I was being trained I could not help but be aware of Howie. He was operating several presses and every once in a while parts would not release from the moulds as they should. There would be loud yells and banging sounds coming from Howie’s direction. I decided I would do well to keep my distance from him.

The second week I was given presses to run by myself. The first time I had parts stick to the underside of the top part of the mould and began trying awkwardly to get them down, Howie appeared beside me and took the bar from my hands. He got the parts down and then showed me once again how much mould release to spray on that part of the mould. Then he was back to his own work leaving me to meditate on how mistaken a first impression can be. Howie was a loudmouth, but turned out to be a good guy, easy to get alnog with.

Chris began making arrangements to move as soon as she knew I had work. It took me a couple more weeks to find a place to live but before the month was over we were together again.Chris packed everything that could be put in boxes, sold the rest and shipped the boxes by train. Then she and Michelle rode the train from Moose Jaw to Toronto where I picked them up.

It was the last Sunday in June when we drove into the St Marys churchyard as a family for the first time. As we got out of the car, a young lad, almost eight years old, walked up to us and said “Welcome to St Marys.” And we did feel welcomed by everybody.

In September Michelle started Grade One in the Mapleview Christian School. She enjoyed school and we felt assurance in knowing that her friends were the children of our friends.

At first we had invitations to the members’ homes every Sunday, but after several months that tapered off. One Sunday the brother whom I had first met asked me how things were going. I replied that life was working out well for us, but we weren’t getting invited out much anymore. He pondered that for a moment, then asked if we had invited anyone to our home. Bingo! Immediately I felt reproved and knew what we had to do. We started inviting others for meals, most often Sunday dinners, and that warmed and strengthened our fellowship with the congregation.

We had several visits with the ministers and deacons and were asked to tell our experiences to the congregation one Sunday evening. The congregation voted their acceptance that we had truly met the Lord, were born again and were living as Christians by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Sunday morning, February 11, 1979, we  were baptized by minister Robert Toews.

The day after our baptism, a vivid memory of a time long ago flashed into my mind. Just after being confirmed in the Anglican Church as an eleven year old boy I had knelt and gone through the questions in the little red book of self-examination before communion. Now God was telling me: “That was when I first called you to come to me. During all your wanderings I have continued to call you and now you are part of my family.”

And I was finally a Mennonite who wore a beard.

Confusion about the Gibeonites

Four years ago I published a post entitled Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. The first two paragraphs read as follows:

Moralistic, therapeutic deism, a term first used by Christian Smith, seems a fitting description of much of what passes for Christianity in North America. The followers of this religion believe in a God who wants them to be good, wants them to feel good about themselves, doesn’t need to be consulted except in case of emergencies, and who will accept all good people into heaven.

One unfortunate result is that such people read the Old Testament as a series of morality tales, leading to conclusions that play up the foolishness and waywardness of Old Testament characters. Such a reading altogether misses the redemption story that is an essential ingredient of these histories. The New Testament points to these histories as God’s way of revealing little by little his plan of redemption.

Today I want to write about how the story of the Gibeonites, beginning in the ninth chapter of Joshua, is commonly misinterpreted. Bible story books and Sunday School lessons tend to make a big thing of how the Gibeonites tricked the elders of Israel. In doing so, they altogether miss how this account fits into the redemption story.

If God had been displeased with the Israelites for accepting the Gibeonites, would he not have told Joshua to just stand back and let the armies of the south destroy Gibeon? Instead he told Joshua to go up to battle and that he would deliver the attacking armies into Joshua’s hand. Then God performed one of the great miracles of the Old Testament, making the sun stand still for another whole day. At the same time, God poured out hail on the attacking armies.

Up to this point, the children of Israel were occupying a small enclave in the plains of Jericho. The mountainous country was before them; the population in those mountains far outnumbered the Israelites and they were men of war. Yet the pact with the Gibeonites provided the opening to utterly destroy those armies during the battle of the long day and subsequent battles in the days following. Now the Israelites were masters of all the southern half of the Promised Land.

This stirred the nations in the north to gather together to battle, but once again the Lord assured Joshua that He would deliver them to him. Joshua and the Israelites won another great victory and were now in possession of all the land. They had not destroyed all the people of the land, but there were no longer any mighty armies to stand against them.

As we read the whole story, the inescapable conclusion is that God blessed the Israelites for accepting the Gibeonites. Yes, they came with a deceitful story, yet they did it because they recognized the greatness of God. They submitted willingly to the conditions laid upon them by the elders of Israel, knowing that the alternative was death. Joshua 11:19 says: “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle.”

The Gibeonites became hewers of wood and drawers of water for the service of the tabernacle. There was an element of mercy in this, they were not made slaves to individual Israelites, which could well have led to oppression and mistreatment. It is likely that the Gibeonites are the same people as those later called Nethinims.

The Gibeonites were Hivites, descendants of Canaaan. Others of the Hivites remained and later troubled the Israelites. There is no hint in the Bible that the Gibeonites were in any way associated with them. They had made their choice to take their place among the people of God.

Nevertheless, there came a time when King Saul thought he would be doing God a service by wiping out the Gibeonites. Because of this God sent a three year famine in Israel in the time of King David. The famine ceased when seven of Sauls grandsons were hung. This may look like revenge, but perhaps a better explanation is that this was a means to make it publicly known to all Israel that the slaying of the Gibeonites was entirely Saul’s idea and contrary to the will of God.

Are we perhaps thinking like Saul if we condemn the Gibeonites for their deception? The real story here, as I see it, is a group of Gentiles forsaking their gods to seek refuge with Israel and their God. Perhaps their methods were questionable, but all the accounts that mention them demonstrate the purity and sincerity of their desire to fully submit to the Almighty God.

God’s way is best

I watched bemused as Michelle pedalled her tricycle back in forth on the sidewalk in front of our house. Then she saw a bus coming and pedalled to the bus stop at the end of the block. After a passenger or two had dismounted or mounted the bus, she lined up beside it. When the bus began to move she did too, pedalling for all she was worth to beat the bus to the other end of the block. She never quite beat it, but she could keep up.

“She’s just a little girl trying to amuse herself,” I thought. “She knows to keep out of the way of pedestrians and she never leaves our block. But I’ve got to get my family to a place where she has something better to do than drag race with a city bus.”

January 18 of 1978 was my mother’s 70th birthday. That was also the day my Dad suffered a stroke. He lived for two more days and passed away early in the morning of the 20th. Dad had been fading away for some time; after the stroke we had known the end was near. But that knowledge didn’t insulate me from the shock of him actually being gone. That shock triggered an allergy attack.

Mom’s life had centred around visiting Dad in the nursing home, but she was a resilient person adn soon settled into the new reality in her life. Circumstances made it necessary for Dennis to stop farming. I helped him for a few weeks that spring, cleaning up around the yard and getting machinery ready for the auction sale. After the sale it seemed that we were now free to leave for a congregation where we could make our home. Mom was quite capable of looking after herself and said nothing to discourage us from leaving.

But where would we go? Congregations in Western Canada were rural and there didn’t seem to be work available anywhere near them. At least not for someone with my allergy problems. When a new congregation began to form that spring at Swanson, my hopes were aroused. Some families from Linden were moving there, as well as all the members from Hague. We looked around there in May. Swanson was west of the South Saskatchewan River. There was an irrigation district on the east side with the main crop being potatoes. My hopes began to rise.

On our way home I stopped at a potato storage plant and asked the lady in the front office if they were hiring. She said yes and handed me an application form. I took it out to the car and was going to fill it out. The first question stopped me: Do you have any allergies?

A dark cloud filled the car as we began the drive home. Then an idea popped into my mind : “Why don’t you go to St Marys, Ontario?” It was ridiculous, so far away and we didn’t know anyone there. But it seemed to bring a little glimmer of light.

We talked it over in the following days. It was such a little glimmer of light, but it was all we had. We decided I would drive out there first, find work and a place to live, then Chris and Michelle would follow.

We packed everything we could into our little Toyota and June 1, 1978 I started the long eastward drive. There is a song in the Christian Hymnal entitled “God’s Way is Best.” The first line of the chorus goes “God’s way is best, I will not murmur, although the end I do not see.” That was my situation; I certainly did not have any idea what I would find or how things would turn out when I got where I was going. Yet it seemed that this was what God wanted me to do, and I went. As I travelled I sang that hymn off and on and found that I could remember all four verses.

I got to the St Marys area Sunday afternoon and drove down the road where the church was located and where some of the families lived.  I didn’t have the courage to stop but drove on into Stratford and found a motel for the night. As I sat in that room the question uppermost on my mind was “What on earth am I doing here?” A prayer before I went to bed settled my mind again that I was where God wanted me to be.

The next morning I drove down the road by the church and saw a farmer adjusting a piece of equipment in a field. It was Howard Nickel and he directed me to a place down the road where a house was being renovated to be the home of minister Robert Toews. I stopped there and that broke the ice. I spent the next couple days looking for work and found a job at an auto parts plant in Mitchell, on the northern edge of the congregation.

There was Bible Study Wednesday evening and I sat in the St Marys church for the first time. I wanted to ask for the hymn I had been singing on the trip to Ontario, but I couldn’t remeber the number. As I paged frantically through the book, someone else called out a number. My heart sank, but when I found the place in the hymnal it was the one I had been looking for. As we sang “God’s Way is Best,” a feeling washed over me that I had arrived where I was supposed to be.

Don’t believe everything a machine tells you

One of my bookkeeping clients received the following missive from the Canada Revenue Agency:

Re: Source deductions arrears
      Balance:  $0.00

Thank you for your recent payment of $-,—.–. (there were actual numbers on those blanks which I shall not reveal for reasons of client confidentiality.) This has reduced your account, but you still have an outstanding balance of $0.00.

We would appreciate it if you would pay this amount within 14 days.

This was obviously a computer-generated letter. Too bad that whoever developed the software didn’t endow it with the ability to compute that a balance owing of $0.00 means the account is paid in full.

Of course, those of us who are not machines but highly-spilled writers would never make mistakes like that.

Would we?

A step forward, a step back

We found a house to rent just a few miles from church. I started working for Ed Klassen’s carpenter crew. Things were working out well for me; I wasn’t so sure how this was going to work for Chris. I was still a young Christian, trying to sort things out for myself and didn’t know how to be much help to her.

The big sticking point for Chris was that she knew these Holdeman Mennonites believed that if you were a Christian there had to have been a starting point, a new birth. She thought she didn’t have anything to tell and wouldn’t be allowed into the church.

Sure, there had been those times as a young girl at camp where the counsellor had led her in praying the sinner’s prayer then assured her that now shew was saved. Then she had those nightmares when we were first married that the end of time had come and she wasn’t ready. The General Conference Mennonite preacher had assured her she was fine. Her testimony before she was baptized in that church was that she had always wanted to be a Christian. That had been enough, and it would have been enough for the Conservative Mennonites. But she knew that wasn’t going to work here.

As I remember it, when I came home after my first day’s work, Chris met me with the news that minister Bennie wanted to visit with us. Lillian, his wife, had visited with Chris during the day and they had talked about the changes in our lives over the past few years. Lillian thought there was something there that sounded like a new birth experience.

We had supper and went over to Bennie and Lillian’s. Chris recounted the event she had told Lillian earlier that day. She had always believed that she was a Christian. About a year earlier she had felt that God was asking something of her that she was not willing for. She had outright refused. Then the awful truth dawned on her for the first time in her life – she was lost. She had knelt down and prayed, promising to do whatever God asked of her. At that she felt complete peace.

Since she had always thought she was saved, she had not understood this experience as the beginning of her Christian life. But as we talked it over it became clear to all of us that this had been unlike anything she had experienced before. This was where she was born again and became a child of God.

This was a new beginning for both of us. We were now fully united in faith and knew we were where God wanted us to be.

Linden was a big congregation; there were a lot of people for us to get to know, and lots of children Michelle’s age. She celebrated her fourth birthday October 28, 1975.

I had always known that carpenter work was a bit of a stretch for me, but it was the kind of work that was available. My allergies left me with an insecure sense of balance. Working on a roof was almost torture, but I forced myself to do it as best as I could. I managed to cope for a couple months, but late in November the allergy problem kicked in with a vengeance. It started with sneezes and snuffles, developed into a sinus infection and then I lost my voice. With antibiotics I was feeling fine in about a week and started back to work. Before the end of that week I was as sick as I had been the first time.

Okay, this line of work just wasn’t for me. Perhaps there might have been something else for me in the Linden area, but it seemed like we should go back to Moose Jaw.

The return to Moose Jaw was a detour from our route to the church, but it was soon evident that there was a need at home. My father’s dementia rapidly becoming worse, the burden on my mother was too much for her to bear alone.

We settled into life in Moose Jaw once again. Chris went back to working at the senior’s residence; I worked for Dennis on the farm the next two summers. In between time I taught Michelle to read. I know I wasn’t as patient and kindly a teacher as my mother had been, but she did learn. Then she could read the little books that Julia had given me when I was her age.

My father went into a nursing home and my mother went to visit him almost every day. I drove her sometimes, but there was no use trying to visit with my father. He didn’t know who I was anymore. He still knew Mom and my uncle Art, his youngest brother. But I guess I came along too late. Dad was 50 when I was born and that event didn’t seem to be in his memory bank anymore.

We went to church at Hague or Bredenbury about once a month. It was a three hour trip to get to either place. I remember one trip to Hague on a very cold winter day. We were driving a 1972 Toyota Corolla, a very small car in that era. We found that the heating system was just enough on that frigid day to keep the windshield clear or to keep ourselves warm, but it wasn’t up to doing both. The choice was obvious, we had to see where we were going. It wasn’t a comfortable trip.

We enjoyed the Sundays in those small congregations, the fellowship, the opportunity to worship with fellow believers, and looked forward to a time when we would be free to move into a congregation.

Is technology dehumanizing us?

The Machine Stops, by E.M. Forster depicts a future age in which technology is able to supply all our needs. People live in individual underground compartments, all their needs are supplied by the all-encompassing machine at the push of a button. Direct person to person contact is unheard of, having been replaced by electronic means and that permit one to see and speak to any one of his or her thousands of contacts at will.

Wars, conflicts, and crime have ceased, weather on the surface of the planet is of no consequence, thus there is no news. New ideas are to be feared, but events of history and nature are discussed endlessly and third or fourth hand ideas about those events are deemed to be the most trustworthy. The population never changes. Births and deaths are by permission of the machine; permission to die is only given when there is a birth. A mother’s responsibility ends when a child is born.

One person finds a way to get outside the machine to the surface of the earth. Before he is dragged back below ground by the repair mechanism of the machine, he realizes there still are a few people living out there. His longing for freedom is unfulfilled and eventually the all powerful, self repairing machine breaks down and everyone living in their individual cell of underground paradise dies.

A chilling forecast of where our society is headed? Perhaps. The story was written in 1908 and is a short novella with three chapters.

There is a lot of hand-wringing in our day about the influence and effects of technology. After reading this book I began to wonder if we might have things backwards. Is technology dehumanizing us? Or are we willingly surrendering our birthright of being fully human? Is our desire for convenience and security just a camouflage for the repugnance we feel at the inconvenience of having to interact with other people?

What about those of us who call ourselves Christians? We all give verbal support to the goal of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. At the same time, some of us are repelled by cities because of all the people. We would prefer to live in an isolated rural setting and be as self-sufficient as possible. Which of these conflicting ideas is the true expression of our heart’s deepest desire? What does that say about our faith?

The Jews of Jesus’ day despised the Samaritans, to the point of considering anything touched by a Samaritan to be defiled. Jesus used all sort of creative ways to try and jar people out of that rut.

For those of us who are members, or who attend, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, the Sunday School lesson for the coming Sunday looks helpful. It is based on Hebrews 13 and has a lot to say about hospitality, including to strangers. It says: “The love of Christ will move us to enlarge our circle of friends.”

The best way to avoid becoming dehumanized is by frequent face to face contact with other humans. Technology offers us a way to maintain an appearance of a wide circle of friends without really having to listen to them. It is that unwillingness to listen to others, the desire to avoid admitting there might be anything valid about their point of view, that is dehumanizing. Technology is the enabler, but not the real problem.

The education of a bird lover

bird-2140675_640

When we moved to our current home ten years ago, I put up a post that was clearly visible from our dining room window and hung a bird feeder. In other places where we have lived that kind of feeder drew a variety of interesting little songbirds. Here it drew mostly magpies and grackles, noisy and greedy birds who scattered the seeds looking for the ones they wanted, and scared away the small birds. We stopped filling that feeder.

We had more success with a thistle seed feeder hung from the same post; we love to watch the goldfinches float down from the trees and compete for a spot on the feeder.

We put a hummingbird feeder on the other side of the house and it didn’t take long for the little hummers to find it. Occasionally an oriole would come and drink from it. I saw an oriole feeder at Canadian Tire – same principle as the hummingbird feeder but larger holes. It seemed like a great idea; I bought one.

The first summer it attracted wasps, who prevented any birds from coming near. Many of the wasps managed to crawl down the tubes to get closer to the nectar, and drowned. It turned out to be an effective wasp trap, but that hadn’t been our intention. This year we tried the oriole feeder again. Within a couple days there were a bunch of dead flies floating on the nectar inside. We took that feeder down and gave up on it.

Yesterday I took down the unused birdseed feeder, drove a spike through a scrap wood block and screwed it to the bracket the bird feeder had been sitting on. Then I impaled a half orange on the protruding end of the nail. It didn’t take long for an oriole to find it. They seem to be happy, and so are we.

Time to make a decision

At least I thought we had exhausted all the possibilities in trying to find a church that still believed and lived the old Anabaptist faith. Could I have missed something? Or had I misunderstood something?

If I was honest with myself, I had felt more at home in congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite than anywhere else. But the fear of being deceived was holding me back from considering whether this church might be what I was looking for.

Just what does “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) mean? I went alone to pray and ask God to help me see what the Bible really taught about the church. As I rose from the prayer, I felt a need to read again what Menno Simons wrote about the signs by which the true church of God could be identified. He listed six:

1. By an unadulterated, pure doctrine.
2. By a scriptural use of the sacramental signs.
3. By obedience to the Word.
4. By unfeigned brotherly love.
5. By an unreserved confession of God and Christ.
6. By oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s Word.

As I read them this time, and considered all the churches we had known, it was suddenly crystal clear that there was no other church to which even one of these signs could be applied. We had met many friendly and helpful people, they seemed from the outside to get along well together. But could it be called unfeigned brotherly love when they didn’t really trust each other? Many churches talked about the new birth, and about spiritual unity. Yet they baptized anyone who said they had been born again and had communion at appointed times, even though they were not fully at peace with one another.

These thoughts were pointing me strongly toward the Holdeman Mennonites. But what about the claim of exclusivity? Once again, I looked to see what Menno said. It wasn’t hard to find and again I understood something I had missed before. Here is what Menno wrote:

Reader, understand what I mean ; we do not dispute about whether or not there are some of the chosen one’s of God, in the before mentioned churches ; for this we, at all times, humbly leave to the just and gracious judgment of God, hoping there may be many thousands who are unknown to us, as they were to holy Elias ; but our dispute is, in regard to what kind of Spirit, doctrine, sacraments, ordinances and life, Christ has commanded us to gather unto him an abiding church, and how we should maintain it in his ways.

Menno obviously believed there were many Christians in other churches; he was not saying that there was only one church in which one could be saved. But he was concerned that other churches were offering comfort to the unsaved and not guiding and supporting those who were saved.

My heart was settled. I knew where God wanted us to be and where I wanted to be. I made several two hour trips to visit a minister in the Linden Congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and knew that was where I wanted to be.

This was too abrupt a change in direction for Chris. She was frightened and not at all willing to make another move. She felt at home where we were and was sure that I was deceived. We hashed this over many times without getting any closer to seeing things the same way. The possibility that we might have to part ways loomed before us.

Finally we knelt together and prayed about the direction we should take. When the prayer was finished, Chris said she still felt the same apprehension about the direction I was taking, but she would go with me.

The night before we left, the bishop and his wife invited us for supper. Before we parted, he had one last warning for me. “You have expressed some misgivings in the past about the Holdeman church. I share those misgivings. We have never seen it happen that a church could drift from full obedience to the truth and recover itself. When a church has drifted, it is time to come out and start over again on the gospel ground.”

As I listened to those words, I realized the bishop understood a church to be merely a man-made entity. What he meant as a warning I took as a confirmation that God was leading me to a church where He was doing the building and the refining.

%d bloggers like this: