Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Lord of All

By divine appointment, Peter was called to initiate the propagation of the gospel to the Gentiles. The divine nature of the appointment was unmistakable to both Peter and Cornelius.

Cornelius was the captain, or centurion of a band of 100 soldiers, a century. In the Roman army, six centuries made a cohort and ten cohorts made a legion. Caesarea was the headquarters of the Roman army in Judea. Thus Peter walked right into the heart of the Roman power structure to preach the gospel.

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Image by macrysstina from Pixabay

The heart of Peter’s message is found in Acts 10:36: “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all).” This message that God first sent to Israel, He now called Peter to bring to representatives of the Gentile forces who ruled in Judea.

“He is Lord of all.” At the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate the Jewish leaders had rejected that claim, saying “We have no king but Caesar.” But Cornelius, a representative of Caesar’s authority, now accepted the claim of Jesus Christ to be his true Sovereign. The result was evident to all who were there, including the six Jewish believers who accompanied Peter to the home of Cornelius in Caesarea.

When Peter asked, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”, no objection was raised. The six who had accompanied Peter later testified convincingly to the church in Jerusalem that God had indeed granted repentance and salvation to these Gentiles.

How many people today would willingly accept the first half of Peter’s message, peace by Jesus Christ, but want no part of having Jesus as Lord of their life? May that not be the reason there are so many restless Christians today? It doesn’t work. True and durable peace is ours only when we willingly submit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Just open it and read

[First posted June 13, 2014]

What is the best way to read the Bible?

Just open it up and start reading. It’s that simple.

I quit attending church when I left home. I had heard all the old familiar Bible stories that are taught in Sunday School. I had also absorbed a lot of contradictory teachings in school, through the media and through the books and magazines I read. I had begun to consider myself too intelligent to believe the Bible. Some parts of it were probably true. If there was a God, He probably inspired people in ancient days to write the good stuff, but there was a lot in the Bible that just wasn’t believable. Sound familiar?

I started to get curious, though, and wanted to take another look at the Bible for myself. I didn’t want to be seen buying a Bible, though. Neither did I want to ask my parents if I could borrow a Bible. But I knew the place in my parents’ home where the old worn-out Bibles were stored. One weekend when I was home, I went to that old cupboard, selected a Bible that was pretty much intact and not too big and packed it away in my stuff.

I began to read, trying to separate fact from fiction, searching out the accounts that I found unbelievable and reading them from beginning to end. I found references to these accounts in other parts of the Bible and read them carefully. As I read more and more in the Bible, trying to understand the context in which these events happened and what the Bible writers were saying about them, I started to get the uncomfortable feeling that this wasn’t going to turn out quite like I had expected. I could see that a life based on the teachings of the Bible would be an admirable thing, but all the stories that I didn’t want to believe seemed to be inextricably linked to those teachings.

Jesus evidently believed that all that was written in the Old Testament was completely factual. Was He deceived? If He was wrong about that, how could He be right about anything?

Slowly it dawned on me that this collection of books, written by 40 different men over a period of sixteen centuries, was not a collection at all, but one unified book. I could not choose to believe some parts and reject the rest as mythology or mere records of often bloody history. There were only two choices before me: believe it all from beginning to end, or dismiss it all as a work of fiction.

It was at this point that a crisis arose in my life and the Bible revealed to me that I was a sinner destined to be forever rejected by God, unless I repented. I repented, without fully understanding the significance or the ramifications of what I was doing. My life changed at that moment, yet it took months, years even, for the full reality of that change to sink in.

So here is my advice for anyone who wants to read the Bible but is afraid of getting confused. Read the Bible. Get the whole story.

Don’t trust any Bible reading plans that chop the Bible up into little pieces and have you skipping here and there without ever really getting a picture of what is going on. Don’t trust books about the Bible to steer you right. There are Bible dictionaries and Bible commentaries that can be helpful, but don’t start out letting someone else guide you through the Bible. Let the Bible reveal itself to you.

It might be good to read accounts here and there to start with, but soon you will want to read books of the Bible all the way through to get a grasp of the context. Pray for direction. Once you begin to get some sense of what the Bible is all about, it would be a good thing to read the whole Bible through. Don’t bite off too much at one time, expect it to take four years to make it all the way through. Along the way you will find that the Bible “heroes” were really not very good people. And if you are honest with yourself, just at the point where you become indignant about the weaknesses and failures of David, Elijah or Rebekah, you will begin to see the same weaknesses and failures in yourself. That is why Jesus had to die.

You will never understand it all, and that’s OK. The Bible never gets old; there is always something new to discover.

Picking up change

I believe it’s been five years since I last wrote about my weight loss progress, mainly because there wasn’t any progress to report. Things have gone better over the past two years and I have now lost 27 pounds (12 kg). That’s enough to get my pant size down to 36 from 40 and move me from the obese to the overweight category. I need to lose another 25 pounds to get to where I should be, which should bring me down to a 32 inch waist.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Some years ago I was inspired to believe weight loss was possible by reading Calvin Nowell’s book, Start Somewhere: Losing What’s Weighing You Down From the Inside Out. In the book, he describes an incident where he saw several loose coins on the sidewalk and bent down to pick them up. As he did so, the thought came to him that he was “picking up change” and that was what he needed to do to make his weight loss effort work. Long term weight loss will not happen by taking some miracle pill or going on some miracle diet plan. It is a matter of “picking up change,” continuing to make small changes to your lifestyle that will become habits and help lose and keep off excess weight.

Corny as it sounds, “picking up change” is just what I needed to do. The changes didn’t come all at once; but every once in a while I would come to a plateau where I wasn’t losing weight anymore and I would find another change to make.

Here is a list of the changes that I have made, in the order that I made them:

1. I bought a mini trampoline, or rebounder, to use when I don’t go out for a walk.

2. I downloaded a pedometer app on my phone to track the steps I made in a day, aiming for 10,000 or more at least four days a week.

3. I cut out all between meal snacks and quit eating dessert at supper time.

4. I quit eating desserts altogether, except for meals with company.

5. I started wearing custom orthotics all the time. I had tried the cheap Dr. Scholl orthitics and for a time all was well. Then my knees started bothering me and I had to curtail my walking time. I went back to the custom orthotics and it took some months for the pain in my knees to go away. Lesson learned.

6. I started using maple syrup to sweeten my coffee. It has a lower glycemic index than sugar.

7. I stopped drinking pop. The only carbonated beverages I drink now are unsweetened Perrier water with a hint of citrus flavour.

8. I started drinking two glasses of water with every meal.

There it is, nothing miraculous, just slow and steady progress. Mostly it came down to harnessing my natural stubbornness for the cause of my health. I have two suits hanging in my closet. One is now too big and baggy to wear anymore. The other I haven’t worn for twenty years because I was too big and baggy to fit into it. I may just wear it to church tomorrow.

Requiem for the barber shop

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Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Time was when every little town had a barber, and that barber was busy ten hours a day, six days a week. For 75 cents one could get a haircut and catch up on the local news and tall tales. The day of 75 cent haircuts is long gone; barbers today, if you can find one, charge 20 dollars. The conversation is still good, though. If you can find a barber.

Two days ago I went looking for a barber in my old home town. This town is actually a city of 35,000 people. It’s two and a half hours from where I now live, so I don’t get there often. I went looking for the barber that I have known for 50 years. He’s not there any more. After a little mental calculation, I realized he was in his nineties the last time he cut my hair, about a year ago. I guess it was time for him to retire.

I found out there are two barber shops left in that city, with two elderly barbers who will also probably retire soon. That will leave the young lady who cut my hair on Wednesday. At least she is young from the perspective of my 77 years: she says she has been cutting hair for 19 years. It looks like the whole future of barber shops in that city is in her hands.

Closer to home, in a city ten times the size, I have been frequenting the same barber shop for twenty years. That barber shop used to have three chairs, three barbers. Now it is down to one chair in the front corner of a hair dressing salon. He still charges barber rates, not hair salon rates.

It seems the younger generation prefers the hair salons, where they pay twice as much for a haircut that doesn’t look any different than a haircut by a barber. I guess they consider the barber shop too lowly a place.

I’m thankful that there are still a few old-time barber shops left where an old geezer can go to get his hair trimmed, as much as he has left, and have a good chat to boot.

Silence like cancer

The fire, the wind, the earthquake beat upon the mountain like hammer blows. Elijah knew God did not speak like that. After all was silent, he heard a gentle voice. It was so soft that he could not discern the words; he went to the mouth of the cave to hear better. God spoke to him in a gentle tone, but did not beat around the bush. His first words were: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Jesus often wrapped the truth in a story. His purpose was not to conceal the truth, but to prompt the listeners to search for the meaning, and to make it stick. We should not take the example of Jesus as an excuse to wrap the truth in obscure words which conceal rather than reveal. No one should not have to guess what we are trying to say.

When a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus responded with the story we call “the good Samaritan.” The Pharisee nodded as Jesus told of the priests who had passed by without helping. That was how he saw the priests. He no doubt expected Jesus to tell how a Pharisee came along and saved the day.

Jesus shocked him to the depths of his being by making a Samaritan the hero of the story. Jews saw Samaritans as unclean people and avoided them. After telling the story, Jesus asked who had been a neighbour to the man in distress. The Pharisee could not even bring himself to pronounce the word Samaritan, but allowed that the one who helped had been the true neighbour.

Jesus’ final word, “go and do thou likewise,” was telling the Pharisee he needed to be more like the Samaritan in the story. The Pharisee got the parable’s message. We don’t know what he did with that understanding. The gospels say that most Pharisees hated Jesus, but some believed.

Our lives should be a witness of the hope that lies within us. But we cannot just be silent witnesses. If someone asks us a reason of that hope and all we can come up with is “That’s the way our church teaches,” or “That’s what it says somewhere in the Bible,” people are apt to conclude that we don’t know why we do things like we do. Could they be right?

We should be able to offer a clear testimony of the grounds of our faith. Important-sounding words are unnecessary, as is a round-about way of speaking. Simple words from the heart are more apt to touch the hearts of others.

Psalm 15:1-2 —LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth [as it is] in his heart.

The words I have inserted in italics appear in the most reliable French translations and I believe are the true meaning. It is not enough to hide the truth in our heart. We need to learn how to express it in words others can understand.

If we think it’s enough to have the truth hidden in our hearts, yet remain silent about it, that silence becomes like a cancer eating away at the truth within us. The world hears the blows of the hammers wielded by multitudes who claim to be proclaiming truth, so many kinds of supposed truth. We can’t compete with the noise, we don’t need a bigger hammer to ensure people hear our message. The truth is best told in a warm, gentle way.

Do we need to learn how to speak the truth? Truth-speaking does not need heavy words or “Christian” fairy tales to support it. If we can wrap it in a story from our own life, or one we have observed, so much the better. Let’s start now, in our homes, with fellow believers, and with those who do not believe.

The second coming – of Karl Marx

Perhaps the best way to describe Karl Marx’s ideology is to call it the atheistic version of John Nelson Darby’s millennial doctrine. Marx foresaw a time of class warfare causing chaos and upheavals (a great tribulation) before a worldwide reign of peace (the millennium).

Marxism delivered on the great tribulation, historians estimate the deaths caused by communist regimes at upwards of 100 million. But the millennium did not arrive. All that happened was that one set of rulers, thought to be harsh and unjust, was replaced by another, even more harsh and unjust.

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Image by Bernd Marczak from Berlin from Pixabay

Karl Marx considered his ideology to be spiritual, that is it would satisfy the deep spiritual yearning of mankind, with no need for a god to worship. Yet it was a degrading doctrine. The end justified the means, and the doctrine was infallible. People bought into the idealized picture of a future classless society of brotherhood and abundance. The events unleashed by that belief left them brutalized and dehumanized.

The failed promises of Marxism led to disillusionment, for a time it seemed almost to fade away. But lo-and-behold it has reappeared. Scratch the surface of the fervent environmentalists and internationalists and you will discover the same collectivist dogma, the same quasi-religious fervour. “The world is in mortal danger and the only hope of salvation is to surrender yourselves to our programme so we can set things to right.”

I am labelling all this as Marxism because Karl Marx was the prophet. But the real power behind this movement is that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world (Revelation 12:9). Our enemies are not politicians, social activists, and other notables of the gender wars, climate change wars, class wars, etc. We are faced with intense spiritual warfare and it is vitally important to know who is our real enemy.

Many people today are stirred by a desire for personal fulfilment, for social justice and for the future of the planet. Other people who are not stirred by the same aspirations, in just the same way, are seen as enemies of progress. A fervour for change, a belief that such change must happen now or all is lost, leads to a feeling of urgency that the enemies of progress must be forced to change, or somehow gotten out of the way.

Nothing good will come out of this righteous-sounding activism. It is our chief enemy’s tactic for causing everyone to mistrust everyone else. That is his business – to divide us all so that there can be no united effort to counter his influence. It’s time to stop and look at what is happening. In the words of a pop song from the 60s “Ain’t nobody right if everyone’s wrong.”

As Christians we need to understand people are not our problem. If our feelings are stirred so that we criticize and argue with people who hold to other beliefs, we are playing the enemy’s game.

We are citizens of the peaceable kingdom of Jesus Christ. We can trust the future into His hands. The best way to counter the tumult of the kingdom of this world is to be animated by the forgiveness, brotherly love and compassion of our Lord.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The apostle Paul has the best advice for us:

 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. Ephesians 6:10-18.

Christians who discern the wiles of the devil and persevere in prayer will do more to help their country and their fellow citizens than they could ever do by engaging in the political process. And that is why I will not be voting today. But I will pray and I urge other Christians to join in praying for Canada and all those in positions of authority.

My home and native land

I am Canadian by birth. I am part of this country and its people; this country and its people are part of me. The history and culture of Canada are an integral part of who I am. I have lived and worked in five of Canada’s ten provinces and visited three more; I am at home anywhere in our land; I speak both official languages.

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Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

Being a citizen by birth is much like being part of a family. We may not always agree, but our roots go deep, our histories have intertwined so we cannot escape the fact that we are family. People from other countries, other cultures, have married into our family and become part of who we are as a family. So it is with our country. We used to have a family doctor who came here from the Democratic Republic of Congo, had received his medical training there. He told me once that he sometimes thought of going back, but his children were Canadian, their roots were here.

I love the land of my birth, my home and native land. I love her people. And yet. . .

By the new birth I am a citizen of another country, the kingdom of God. Specifically, I am a member of one special part of this kingdom, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Not by natural birth, my parents and my wife’s parents were not members of this church. The natural birth does not make anyone a citizen of the kingdom of God.

At the beginning, we had no roots here. They soon grew and twined together with our brothers and sisters so that we cannot imagine being spiritually at home elsewhere. We love our brothers and sisters. Like us, they are sometimes weak, sometimes clumsy, we all make mistakes but we are family.

We are citizens of two kingdoms, but our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Our Canadian citizenship is only for this life, our heavenly citizenship is for eternity. As the second century writer of the Epistle to Diognetus so eloquently described the life of Christians:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life.. . They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. . . Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

There is an election in Canada on Monday. I will not vote. However, I will continue to pray for the members of our government, for they are ministers of God for the matters of this life. I will pray that God will bless them with wisdom and vision to exercise their ministry for the good of all the people of our land, so we can live in peace, order and safety. Above all, that we may be at liberty to worship and serve God according to His will.

Women of the Bible – answers

1. Who was Adam’s wife?
– Eve (Genesis 3:20)

2. Hadassah changed her name when she became Queen of Persia. What was her new name?
– Esther (Esther 2:7)

3. Abraham married again after Sarah died. What was the name of his second wife?
– Keturah (Genesis 25:1)

4. There are three women mentioned in the Bible who had roles usually held by men.
A) A woman named as a judge in the book of Judges.
-Deborah (Judges chapters 4 & 5)
B) A woman who was a prophetess in the time of King Josiah.
– Huldah (2 Kings 22:14 & 2 Chronicles 34:22)
C) A woman named as a deaconess [diakonos] in the book of Romans.
– Phebe (Romans 16:1-2 – I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.)

5. What tribe did the prophetess Anna belong to?
– Asher (Luke 2:36)

6. Name the women who accompanied Jesus.
– Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Salome, Mary the mother of James the less and others.
(Luke 8:1-3: And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.)
(Mark 15:40-41: There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.)
(Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.)

7. Which women are named in the genealogy of Jesus?
-Thamar, Rahab and Ruth. Bathsheba is mentioned as the wife of Uriah, but not named.

8. Which two sons of David and Bathsheba are named in the genealogies of Jesus?
– Solomon in Matthew 1:7.
– Nathan in Luke 3:31.

9. Who was the mother of Mary?
– “I don’t know” is the correct answer.
(Some churches venerate Saint Anne, who they say was the mother of Mary. But there is no mention of the mother of Mary in the Bible nor in any other historical record of the time.)

Women of the Bible

[I was assigned to present  some Bible questions during the Sunday evening service at our church. I decided to post them online today. Tomorrow I will post the answers.]

1. Who was Adam’s wife?

2. Hadassah changed her name when she became Queen of Persia. What was her new name?

3. Abraham married again after Sarah died. What was the name of his second wife?

4. There are three women mentioned in the Bible who had roles usually held by men.
A) A woman named as a judge in the book of Judges.
B) A woman who was a prophetess in the time of King Josiah.
C) A woman named as a deaconess [diakonos] in the book of Romans.

5. What tribe did the prophetess Anna belong to?

6. Name the women who accompanied Jesus during his ministry.

7. Which women are named in the genealogy of Jesus?

8. Which two sons of David and Bathsheba are named in the genealogies of Jesus?

9. Who was the mother of Mary?

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. We often focus on harvest and food on this day. This year we have been getting a little rain and snow every week that interrupts harvest, then it warms up and dries up and harvest resumes till the next precipitation.  So our congregation is delaying our thanksgiving supper for at least a week.

Nevertheless, there is much to be thankful for, as this song says:

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth,
Over and around us lies, —

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild,—

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thy Church, that evermore,
Lifteth holy hands above,
Off’ring up on ev’ry shore,
Its pure sacrifice of love, —

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thyself, best gift divine,
To our race so freely giv’n,
For that great great love of Thine,
Peace on earth, and joy in heav’n, —

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

– Folliott S. Pierpont, 1835-1917

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