Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The dying poplar

 

plane-tree-337780_1280Three native species of poplar grow in Saskatchewan: cottonwood, trembling aspen and balsam poplar. They are fast growing trees that can attain heights of  25 to 30 metres (80 – 100 feet) and a diameter of 100 cm (3 feet) at eye level. The balsam polar is more slender.

Cottonwoods send forth their seeds with tufts of white fluff that form a cottony layer on our lawns each spring. Trembling aspens have flattened leaf stems that allow their leaves to flutter against each other at the slightest breeze. The sap of balsam poplar has a balsam- like scent.

These are trees of the open prairies and boreal forests. Being fast growing trees, they are also short-lived. There is no old growth boreal forest, a 100 year old tree is either a dead tree or a terminally ill tree. Forest fires are nature’s way of renewing the boreal forest, cleaning out the dead trees and the debris from the forest floor and allowing new growth to begin and reach for the sun.

These trees have been widely used in farm shelter belts here in the flatlands, protecting farm yards from the constant prairie winds. But here, as in their natural habitat, they eventually grow old and die. Fires are not a desirable event in a farm yard, so these shelter belts eventually need maintenance. And often don’t get it. The wood from these trees is of little value for lumber, or even for fire wood, providing little incentive to go to all the work needed to remove dead and dying trees. This leads to scenes such as the one I described in my last post.

Several years ago one of these big old poplars could be seen from our dining room window. It was obviously close to the end of its lifespan, one massive branch fell during a summer windstorm. The next spring, most of the branches showed no sign of life, but leaves did appear on a few branches near the top of the tree.

One day, when there was only the slightest breeze, the tree came crashing down. It was easy to understand why when I went to look: the interior of the trunk had rotted until there was not much but bark to hold the tree upright.

I wondered if some Christians might not be like that tree: still upright, showing little signs of spiritual life from the outside, but almost spiritually dead on the inside.

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

We shall have music

722px-Toxostoma_rufum_-Virginia,_USA_-adult_and_juvenile-8These plain looking birds are brown thrashers, an adult and a juvenile. They are long-tailed birds, a little bigger than a robin. Brown thrashers are rather shy about letting themselves be seen in public, but they fill the air with beautiful song, especially in the mornings and evenings.  My wife saw one this evening, the first sighting this spring. We look forward to a melodious summer.

The male brown thrasher has a repertoire of over 1,000 song types, the largest of any bird. We typically hear it begin by mimicking the song of a robin and then go on for minutes at a time with a steady stream of other songs. It will pause for a moment, then begin again.

We live on an acreage next to a farm yard. Between our houses there is a long shelter belt of poplars and willows. The poplars were planted 100 years ago and have passed their best-before date. Many have died and fallen, coming to rest leaning on other trees or along the ground. Others are half dead, massive, tall trees from which many branches have fallen, yet showing signs of life in the remaining branches. This makes for an unsightly, almost impenetrable thicket between our two houses. But it is ideal bird habitat.

Cats and compassion

We share our home with three cats. Each one came to us as a feral kitten at about six months old. This summer they will be 15, 7 and 6.

They are dependent on us for shelter, food and affection. They tolerate each other, but don’t appear to really like one another, though Pookie will let us know when Angus wants to come in. But as soon as Angus is in the door Pookie acts like he wants to fight with him. They never do each other any harm, though.

Angus came home twice with a bloody ear and now has two neat v’s notched on his right ear. My wife thinks he was scrapping with some other neighbourhood cat, but he showed no other battle wounds. I think that both times he probably lost a game of tag with the magpies.

They appreciate the comforts of home, having a special preference for the two recliners or the two office chairs, which happen to be our preferred seats also. They often interrupt our work with loud demands for food, for brushing or to be let outside.

Our laundry centre is located beside the hallway between the office and kitchen. Every once in a while we will hear Angus calling loudly. There he is, on top of the washing machine and wanting one of us to come and pay him some attention.

Two of the cats shed a lot of hair; we are often awakened in the middle of the night by a cat wanting to go out. The only reward we get is knowing that they like us and feel secure being in the same room as us. And nothing can compare with the contented purring of a cat on one’s lap.

Despite their annoying habits, we love our cats and think most of the distractions are good for us. Which leads me to ponder: am I as compassionate towards the people around me as I am towards my cats?

Compassion for a magpie?

magpie-1987710_1280A magpie is one of the most striking and beautiful birds that you will see in our parts. Its iridescent feathers may appear blue or almost black, depending on the way the light falls on them.  Adults are 46 cm from beak to the tip of their long tail. The wingspread is 64cm and they are very graceful in flight.

Their song is anything but graceful, a harsh, loud chattering. Most people consider them a nuisance, even a pest. They steal pet food left outside and two of them will torment a cat, one chattering and walking back and forth in front, just out of reach, the other trying to sneak up behind to peck the cat’s tail.

Magpies are members of the Corvid family, related to crows, ravens, blue jays and gray jays. Birds of this family are reputed to be the most intelligent of all birds. Magpies are the only birds that can recognize themselves in a mirror.

Magpies are year round residents here and I consider them a nuisance in all seasons. My daughter likes to see them around, I can’t imagine why.

However, for the last few days I have sensing a most unfamiliar feeling within myself towards at least one magpie. We see it daily, pecking around on our lawn. It is unmistakably a magpie in all ways but one – it doesn’t have a tail. We wonder what disaster befell this bird that it has lost its tail feathers. It can fly, but it seems to take more energetic flapping of the wings than usual for a magpie.  I’m sure the loss of a tail makes a big difference in its aerodynamics.

I’m sure the tail feathers will grow back. In the meantime – who would have ever thought that I would be feeling compassion for a magpie?

Books that unsettle

I read a lot and glean at least a kernel of useful information from everything I read. Perhaps a snippet of information that might someday be useful, perhaps a way of seeing things that is new to me and helps clarify my vision.

Sometimes I read a book that shakes the walls of smug complacency that delineate my life. I have written about two such books in the past and will mention them again at the end of this post.

Another is The Power of Weakness by Dan Schaeffer. He tells us that most of us have it wrong when we think of what it takes to be useful in the kingdom of God. God wants to use us to glorify Himself, but we think that it is God’s plan to glorify us. That seems ridiculous at first, but if we examine our unspoken ambitions, we are apt to squirm at the realization that Schaeffer has identified the root of our ineffectiveness.

The book that really makes me uncomfortable is The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. Let me admit from the start that I was put off by the intense emotions that pulsate through this book. I have spent too much of my life stifling my emotions to welcome a book that invites me to be vulnerable, that tells me that admitting my brokenness is the key to the abundant life. But she is right.

These four books are an antidote to the smugness of so much modern Christian literature. I believe it is good to read books that shake us up. I don’t endorse everything that is said in these books, but may they be a means of refining our motives for serving our Lord and Saviour.

The four books are:

Humble Roots, © 2016 by Hannah Anderson, published by Moody Publishers

Embracing Obscurity, © 2012 by Anonymous, published by B & H Publishing Group, Nashville

The Power of Weakness, © 2014 by Dan Schaeffer, published by Discovery House Publishers

The Broken Way, © 2016 by Ann Voskamp, published by Zondervan

Christ in you, the hope of glory

Jesus spoke the following words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. The words were shocking, no doubt deliberately so.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:53-58)

Many who had been following Jesus turned away. These mysterious words didn’t sound at all like the Messiah they had been taught to expect. When Jesus asked the twelve if they would also turn away, Peter responded “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The apostle Paul explained the mystery like this in Colossians 1:26-27: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The key to understanding Messiah’s kingdom is that the citizens of this kingdom are people who have Jesus Christ inside of them, ruling their lives from the heart. Every time a person is born again, the Lord Jesus Christ is incarnate within them.

This was Jesus’ promise to His disciples in John 14:16-18: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” He repeats the promise in His prayer in the 17th chapter of John: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

Paul explains the promise a little further in Romans chapter eight: “ But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Verses 9-11).

The promise is that the believer will have both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ dwelling in him or her. “He (the Holy Spirit) shall be in you / I (Jesus) will come to you.” “If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you / And if Christ be in you.”

I believe this is what the apostle John is speaking of in the following verses: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2-3). I don’t think he is saying that it is enough to believe that Jesus once walked this earth in human flesh. We must know that He is here right now, in my flesh and your flesh, if we are Christians.

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Christ is in every Christian, no matter our ethnic background, social or economic status. This is the identifying mark of the true Christian, recognizable only by other Christians.

Darkness and light

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)

The Scriptures speak of two kinds of darkness: the one a natural darkness which is simply the absence of natural light: the other a spiritual darkness that is opposed to God and which is the dwelling place of spiritual beings opposed to God. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible use different words to differentiate between the two forms of darkness. Many languages have two words for darkness, English has only one and that can lead to misunderstandings of the text.

In French Bibles the underlined word in the above text is rendered ténèbres. The dictionary defines this word as profound darkness, most often considered to be a material environment; in a religious sense, that which is opposed to the light of God.This captures well the meaning of the word used in the original Hebrew.

Understood this way, the verse is telling us that the forces of spiritual darkness were present on the earth from the beginning of creation. It also explains why God created light on the first day of creation, but the sun was not created until the fourth day. The light of the sun cannot drive away spiritual darkness, only the light of God’s presence can do that.

The next verse tells us that God divided the light from the darkness. The conflict between light and darkness has continued from that day and will continue until the end of the world. Natural night and day are realities that should remind us of the deeper reality of spiritual darkness and light.

Many cultures confused the light of the sun with the light of God and worshipped the sun. God showed His judgment of Egyptian sun worship by bringing darkness on the land of Egypt. The word used in Hebrew (and in the French translation) denotes spiritual darkness, but it also manifested itself as natural darkness. The land of Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt, had light, both natural and spiritual.

Later on, when God called Moses to go up Mount Sinai, we are told that the mountain was covered by a cloud of thick darkness. The word used here simply means natural darkness. In French it is rendered obscurité. When Moses climbed up the mountain he was obscured from the view of the people below. When he reached the top of the mountain, the natural light of the sun was completely obscured and he was illuminated by the light of God’s presence.

Moving on to the New Testament, the gospel of John, speaking of Jesus, tells us: In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:4-5) Here again, the underlined words are rendered ténèbres in French, an accurate translation of the Greek word in the original.

Here are a few more New Testament passages:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness (ténèbres)rather than light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness (ténèbres) of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness (ténèbres) even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness (ténèbres), and walketh in darkness (ténèbres), and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness (ténèbres) hath blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

(This is a good verse for discerning those who profess enlightenment in social, environmental or spiritual matters, but react angrily to anyone who dares to disagree with their enlightenment. It should be first and foremost a standard to prove our own spirit in these and all other matters.)

Finally, there shall be an eternal separation between darkness and light:

Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness (obscurité) of darkness (ténèbres) for ever. Jude verse 13

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. Revelation 21:23

Misadventures of the kitchen klutz

I’m beginning to think I might be the fool for the whole month of April, not just one day. For the first part of this story please read my post from April 1.

The Thursday after that coffee fiasco, I decided to try baking a loaf of bread in my new to me breadmaker. I’ve been looking at breadmakers for years, dreaming of being able to make the perfect loaf of bread in my own home. As I looked, I would ask myself “How much do you really want to spend for a pipe dream?” After a while, I started looking at second hand machines. A few weeks ago I found one at Value Village that had a full size bread pan, the original instruction and recipe booklet and looked like it had hardly been used.  The sticker said $14.99, it was seniors day which meant 30% off for an old codger like me. With GST the price came to $11.00 and I thought I could risk that much on my pipe dream.

So, last Thursday I carefully measured  the ingredients, added them in the proper order, closed the lid and pushed the start button. Three and a half hours later I had a fresh loaf of bread. It smelled like bread should smell, looked pretty much like a loaf of bread, but seemed quite a bit more dense than what I had expected.

A light came on in my mind. I remembered how my mother carefully sifted and measured the flour when she baked bread. I had just scooped the flour out of the bag with the measuring cup. By doing that, I had packed the flour in and got quite a bit more than I should have. We ate part of that loaf – it wasn’t too bad; the rest went to the birds.

Yesterday I tried again. The recipe called for the liquid ingredients to be a little above room temperature, so I put two cups of milk and a cup of water into a measuring cup and miked then enough to take the chill off. Then I measured the flour, much more carefully this time, four cups of white, two cups of whole wheat. This time the dough rose – and rose – and rose, to the point of raising the lid of the breadmaker.

I went for the mail and when I returned there was an acrid smell in the house and smoke rising from the breadmaker. I pulled the plug. The dough had made its way over the edge of the pan and down the sides, until it came into contact with the electric element down below. I cleaned up the mess and will leave the breadmaker to air out a few days until I try again.

In between trying to make bread, last Saturday I tried the upside down coffee mug trick again. Both times when I did that I was using a mug from a family reunion. It is perfectly cylindrical in shape, the handle looks the same either way, and because of the dark blue colour the indentation on the bottom can look like the inside of the mug if one isn’t fully awake. That little indentation doesn’t hold much coffee, the rest travels to places it shouldn’t. You see, what I really need is a cup of coffee to wake me up before I make that morning coffee. Being a mere mortal, I don’t have that option.

My wife is somewhat bemused by all this, but willing to let me continue my experimentation. I have discovered that wives are much more tolerant of manly mishaps in the kitchen if they are not expected to clean up the resulting mess.

Oh, I think I discovered the problem with yesterday’s bread making experiment: the recipe called for a quarter cup of water and I used a full cup. I still believe that this is going to work – some day. I can’t guarantee that there won’t be any more mishaps on the road to that perfect loaf of bread.

Jesus as agent provocateur

Doesn’t it appear that Jesus deliberately did things that he knew would provoke the Pharisees to reveal their lack of compassion?

Jesus healed many people of their blindness; in some cases he touched their eyes, in other cases there was no physical contact, he simply declared them healed and they were. Why then did he make such a production out of healing the blind man in the incident recorded in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John? He spat on the ground, made mud and spread it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. What was the point of that?

Well, it was the Sabbath. The work of making mud and spreading it on the eyes of the blind man was a violation of the Sabbath, at least in the eyes of the Pharisees.

Jesus went on his way and left the man to face the outrage of the Pharisees. It was not slow in coming: “This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day;” “We know this man is a sinner.” When the formerly blind man did not agree with that judgment, they excommunicated him from the synagogue. (“cast him out” verse 34).

Towards the end of the chapter, Jesus returns to talk with the formerly blind man, who now acknowledges him to be the Son of God. By this time he had seen what the Pharisees were really like, no doubt so had many of the bystanders.

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10).

The Pharisees were exceedingly zealous for the law, but could not get their heads around the idea that love had any place in fulfilling the law. They were sure that they had caught Jesus in flagrant violation of the law. In reality, He had snared them into revealing their lack of love.

In the end the Pharisees were so outraged by Jesus’ continual challenges to their authority that they raised a mob to demand that He be crucified. The crucifixion, rather than being the triumph of the Pharisees and the forces of darkness, was where they were defeated. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15).

Love is always subversive of the forces of evil.

April’s fool

First thing this morning I went to the kitchen and prepared the coffee maker to make my morning coffee. Then I went to the office and read my French Bible for morning devotions. I could hear the coffee gurgling into the mug as I read, but when I went to get my coffee I saw the mug had filled to overflowing and there was coffee all over the counter. How can that be? Our K-Cup machine only holds a cup of water.

I cleaned up the mess and made a second cup, turning the mug right side up this time. Well, what do you expect? It’s April 1 and I’m the fool.

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