Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

We lost Rose

My phone rang this morning as we were getting ready to leave for church. It was brother-in-law Jim; his first words were “We lost Rose.”

We were with the family yesterday around Rose’s hospital bed in Moose Jaw. We couldn’t tell if she knew we were there or not, but she was still breathing. Her husband Butch was there, their daughters Michelle and Crystal, Rose’s brother Jim and three of her four sisters. Jim is the oldest in the family, then Chris, to whom I am married; Rose was the middle of five girls.

Chris grew up in the home of an aunt and uncle, the others remained with their parents. Chris kept in contact with her siblings, with Rose more than any of the others.

Rose married at 15, was still happily married at 61. Way too young for this to happen. She had cancer a year ago, was now cancer free, but not strong enough to fight off the pneumonia that was the beginning of the end.

The family talked about old times, about everything and nothing. Mike and Kevin, the sons-in-law, brought in dinner for us all. We watched the nurse come in to check on Rose, give her morphine every two hours, place a steam mask close to her face from time to time to ease her breathing. We were aware of her presence. Was she aware of ours? We don’t know.

We left for home at 5 PM; Chris said good-bye to Rose, knowing it was for the last time. She breathed her last at 2 AM this morning. Jim’s call delivered the shock we knew was coming. We lost Rose.

© Bob Goodnough, December 29, 2019

Ten easy ways to squander our spiritual heritage

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1. Speak often about our goodly heritage but remain tongue tied when asked to explain what it is.
2. Say we believe everything in the Bible, but never read it from beginning to end.
3. Consider a worship service to be a spectator activity.
4. Never volunteer for any task in the congregation.
5. Be quick to notice every mistake made by the minister.
6. Talk often about the foolishness of neighbours, government officials and police officers.
7. Visit only with the brothers and sisters most apt to see things the same way we do.
8. Repeat stories we hear about brothers and sisters without trying to find out if they are true.
9. Take offence when brothers and sisters appear to neglect us.
10. Never talk about our faith to our neighbours, they aren’t interested anyway.

© Bob Goodnough, December 28, 2019

Change is in the air

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Image by Tovin Sannes-Venhuizen from Pixabay

A few days ago the days started to grow longer. I can’t tell the difference yet–the sun still rises at 9:15 AM and sets at 5:00 PM. The daily change so far is small: today is 25 seconds longer than yesterday, tomorrow will be 30 seconds longer than today. But I know that soon it will change by 3 minutes a day or more and in six months the sun will rise at 5:30 AM and set at 9:45 PM, giving us long, glorious summer days.

Winter has just begun, yet the change that will defeat winter has also begun. We will have snow storms and bitterly cold weather over the next few months, yet the inexorable force of the sun that will drive winter away has begun its campaign.

Today you see a little girl, carefree, careless, not paying much attention to the things her mother tries to teach her. If you watch her day after day you will not notice a change. But if you go away for a few years, then come back, you see this little girl transformed. Now she is a mother, trying to teach her own little girl all the things she learned from her mother. And almost despairing because the child doesn’t seem to be listening. But she is and the cycle will repeat. This is how growing up works. It is a natural process; it happens almost unseen until one day you take stock and realize how much is different.

Perhaps today you see a young man, a rebel, a wastrel, drifting farther into the dangerous allurements the world offers. People try to warn him, to help him. He ignores them, rejects their counsels. It seems hopeless. But just perhaps you may come back some day and find this same young man with a wife, a family, a home. He reads the Bible to his family, takes them to church, is always ready to speak of his love for God and for Jesus. It can happen, I’ve seen it happen, it happened to me.

This is not a natural change, it is supernatural. Yet the change did not happen overnight. There was a precise moment when there was a 180° turn in the direction his life was going. But people looking on didn’t notice a difference at first. Then a few changes appeared, one by one, a little at a time. He made mistakes, but now there was something within him that kept him from giving up. He made corrections and kept going. Today he does not seem at all like the person he used to be. Because he isn’t.

There are cycles that God set in order at Creation that continue to happen. We say it’s just part of nature. The movement of the celestial bodies, day and night, the cycle of the seasons, the growth of a child. We have no control over such things. There are other things, such as conversion, that will not happen unless we give God permission. He does not force us to be a Christian, we cannot make ourselves be a Christian by wisdom and determination. But if we hear God call our name, open the door of our heart, the Holy Spirit comes in and begins to transform us.

© Bob Goodnough, December 27, 2019

The return of the light

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The Israelites had light when the Egyptians were in darkness. The light went with them to show the way when the waters stood aside to let them cross the Red Sea. The light stayed with them for forty years through the wilderness, then led them through the Jordan into the promised land, while the waters once again stood aside to let then pass.

The light stood over their place of worship for generations until the Israelites forgot what a wondrous thing it was. Then Nebuchadnezzar came with his army, destroyed the temple, and the light disappeared.

In Babylon, once more in captivity, they remembered the promise given to Isaiah that the light would one day return:

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

They returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt the temple, the light did not return. They waited another 400 years.

The Magi in Babylon and Persia counted the weeks foretold by Daniel. They remembered the words spoken long before by an errant prophet and they too watched for the light:

I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies; and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city. (Numbers 24:17-19)

Finally the fulness of the times was complete. The glory of God appeared once more, not to the important people in Jerusalem but to shepherds on a hill outside of Bethlehem. That night, all the promises made to all the prophets began to be fulfilled:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:10-14)

It must have been that same night that the light appeared to the Magi, far away in the East. When they arrived in Jerusalem months later, no one knew of the baby they were looking for, but someone suggested they go to Bethlehem. As they left Jerusalem, the light appeared once more and led them directly to the house where they found the child.

Many years later that baby, now grown into manhood, told his closest friends:

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)

Jesus no longer walks this earth. On the day of Pentecost he gave the light to His followers. He wants us to share the light, not to huddle around it in some remote corner.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

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As we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, may we hold out the light of God’s truth and God’s love so others may see.

 

A Mother’s Teaching from 1897

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Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Ma was telling us that there are always men rising up and declaring that Jesus could not be the Son of God, but was just a wonderful teacher. But she says not to let that bother us, for none of those men who undertake to explain all the works of God, have been able to explain very much after all. All the wisdom of all the men of all the ages has never been able to explain what life is, or the Power that with no effort at all can make the same kind of green grass turn into wool on a sheep, or hair on a cow, or feathers on a goose.

She says that Christ coming the way He did is really no greater miracle than the miracle of any life that comes to the earth, and is just as easily explained.

Only being we see so many forms of life around us, we have to believe in that whether we want to or not. A man who plants grain in the ground has to believe that some Power is going to make it grow. Otherwise he would do no planting, and so would starve. Everybody sees what happens there and so believes, but nobody yet has been able to explain how it happens. So they just go ahead and plant their grain and stop bothering their heads about what can’t be explained.

But in believing in Christ, God has kept for us the gift of faith, and has made it so-that people of earth can accept Him by faith, or reject Him by unbelief. He has not made it so we must accept His greatest gift if we do not want to do so. In the miracle of Love we are not forced to believe, as we are in the other miracles that God has wrought, and that no man-wisdom has ever yet been able to explain.

Ma says this one most rare and precious gift, is far too dear to the Heart of God to be forced on any man’s unbelief.

It must first become to us our hearts’ desire, and only then may we stretch our hands and take it.

-Christina Young, When I Was Thirteen

Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.

The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home.

We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

The earth is wild as an old wive’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;

But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

G. K. Chesterton

Where was the manger?

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Image by Hucklebarry from Pixabay

There are many supposed and real hints in the Bible of just how things will play out when our Lord returns. For centuries eminent scholars have scrutinized these hints and endeavoured to put together a coherent time line of that event. They have written many stories based on those searches; they all sound wonderful, but they don’t agree.

Maybe we shouldn’t worry. God has it all in hand; someday we’ll see and it will surprise us. There were just as many conflicting prophecies about the coming of the Messiah: he would be of the lineage of David, born in Bethlehem; Rachel would weep for her children, because they were not; he would come from Egypt; he would be a Nazarite, etc. It seemed impossible that it could all be true. Then, events occurred in a very short time period that checked every one of those boxes.

Here is the account from the first seven verses of the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. Let’s ignore the legends, myths, folklore and tomfoolery that have become attached to this account and try to understand what happened.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)   And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Bible Background Commentary states; “pottery samples suggest a recent migration of people from the Bethlehem area to Nazareth around this time.” In retrospect this looks like poor planning on Joseph’s part, because he was now in the wrong place for the baby to be born. But perhaps he would never have met Mary if he had remained in Bethlehem. No matter, a decree from the Roman Emperor got them back where they needed to be, and just in time, too.

Now, if Joseph had to return to Bethlehem to be taxed, that must mean that he owned something there that was taxable, perhaps just a small plot of land. How did he get his very pregnant wife from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of 150km? Folklore says she rode a donkey. That is possible, but the Bible says nothing on the subject so its best not to be too categoric.

No doubt they came to the home of relatives in Bethlehem who welcomed them into their home. To refuse hospitality to someone would have been a disgrace in their culture.

But what about that famous “no room in the inn?” The word translated “inn ”is kataluma, which means guest chamber and is so translated in the two other places we find it in the New Testament (Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11). Homes in a rural community like Bethlehem were mostly single room affairs, with the family animals occupying the ground level and the family living on the upper level. Sometimes there was a guest room built on the roof. The animals would have been few, and the space kept scrupulously clean, because it was part of the home.

The “no room” part probably means that because of the number of people in the home there was no private place for a mother to bring a baby into the world. What woman would want to have that happen in the middle of a crowded room? So their host made a spot for them in the space below, clean, discreet and away from curious eyes. Surely they called the midwife, and she probably assigned Joseph some tasks to ease his nervousness and keep him at least partly out of the way.

So the baby was born in Bethlehem, according to prophecy. Some time later a group of Magi appeared in Jerusalem looking for the newborn King of the Jews. King Herod took drastic action to eliminate this rival, having all boys under the age of two murdered. And Rachel (all the mothers of Bethlehem) wept. An angel warned Joseph to take his wife and child and flee to Egypt. This was a trip of around 590km and may well have involved a donkey, though once again the Bible is silent. When Herod died, an angel informed Joseph it was safe to return (the Messiah called out of Egypt) and the family settled once again in Nazareth. Nazarite and Nazarene don’t sound as different in Greek as they do in our language and the Bible says this fulfilled the prophecy that Messiah would be called a Nazarite.

It’s a simple story. The wonder is how God used Emperors and Kings to work out His plan. They had no idea the events caused by their decrees fulfilled every detail of prophecies made hundreds of years earlier.

Why Mary?

The story is hardly credible to our modern minds. A fifteen-year-old girl informs her parents—I am assuming her parents were still living, though there is no mention of them—that an angel has visited her and now she is pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah.

We don’t expect the birth of Messiah, and few people know the Scriptures as Jewish people did then. Still, I suspect her family raised their eyebrows when Mary told them of the angel visit and her miraculous conception.

So she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, no doubt accompanied by a family member for security; it was a long walk from Nazareth to Hebron. Mary was of the tribe of Judah and Elizabeth of the tribe of Levi; the relationship must have been through their mothers.

hen she arrived at the home of Elizabeth, she found things just as Gabriel had told her.
Elizabeth greeted her by saying (and the Bible says she greeted her in a loud voice) “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” An astounding greeting from an elderly lady to her very young cousin.

Elizabeth’s welcome surely eased any doubts Mary may have had about the reality of the divine event happening to her. Her response, “My soul doth magnify the Lord . . . ,” reveals a deep grasp of the Scriptures and shows that she knew how this event fit into the past, present and future of Israel and the world.

Again, from the perspective of our day we can hardly grasp that a fifteen-year-old girl could have such a depth of understanding. But Mary did, and she probably was not all that unique in her day.

But God not chose her on account of her knowledge. Why was Gabriel sent to Mary, out of the many young ladies of the Davidic line who must have been living? Mary’s simple response to the message of Gabriel reveals the answer: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

The words of Elizabeth underline the power of the simple faith and trust of Mary: “Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Luke tells us more about Mary than any other New Testament writer. He must have known her and listened to her tell her story, from start to finish. She trusted, always watching to see what God would do next. She experienced a sorrow greater than any mother has ever known, yet still she trusted. She was there with the little group of believers at the beginning of the book of Acts. No doubt she experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and witnessed the glorious beginning of the church.

There is nothing that Mary can do for us today. But we can acknowledge her blessedness and follow her example of faith, trust and obedience.

The Glory of God

God’s showed His presence with the children of Israel during the Exodus by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. There were special manifestations of the glory of the Lord, such as when it descended upon Mount Sinai and God’s voice spoke out of the cloud, calling Moses to come up the mountain. Another was when when Moses’ authority was questioned. When the tabernacle was dedicated the pillar of cloud descended upon it remained above the mercy seat in the tabernacle from that point on.

Many years later, when Solomon dedicated the temple the glory of the Lord descended upon it and the cloud filled the temple. The cloud, or Shekinah, a Hebrew term not found in the Bible but used by rabbis to describe the cloud, remained above the temple until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel had visions of the glory of the Lord during the Babylonian captivity.

According to the Babylonian Talmud, five things which had been in Solomon’s Temple, were missing from the second temple built after the return from captivity. They were, the Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat, the sacred fire sent from God, the Shekinah, the Holy Spirit, and the Urim and Thummim.

Thus there appears to have been a complete lack of any evidence of the presence of God from the time of the rebuilding of the temple until the birth of Jesus. The Old Testament canon was settled during the time of Ezra and for four hundred years there was no prophet.

What then was the value of the worship in the second temple? At least the people had abandoned their former tendencies to worship the idols of the surrounding nations. It seemed though that, especially after the time of Jesus, the temple worship had itself become a form of idolatry. The synagogue worship system that developed during the captivity became a form worship available to all, where the Word of God was read and taught.

It does not appear that the glory of the Lord, the Shekinah, was seen again until the birth of Jesus. The second chapter of Luke tells of the shepherds on the hillside during that night and then verse says: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” No doubt the angels were glorious in appearance, but the phrase “the glory of the Lord” refers to a glory much greater than that of the angels.

Could this also explain the star seen by the Magi? They had the prophecy of Daniel to tell them when the Messiah would appear, and the prophecy of Balaam (Numbers 24:17) to tell them that this would be marked by the appearance of a star. I think we are on the wrong track when we try to explain the star by a comet or a conjunction of planets. This was a sign that was only seen by those who knew to look for it, the Magi. There is no natural explanation for a star, or heavenly sign, that appeared once in the East as a signal to the Magi to begin their journey, then appeared again to lead them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then to one specific house in Bethlehem.

The New Testament era was introduced by the first prophet in 400 years, John the Baptist, and then by the return of the Shekinah glory of God.

The manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost could also be considered an appearance of the shekinah, or the glory of the Lord: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:2-4).

From this time forward the glory of the Lord has been with God’s new covenant people, the church. The glory of God is not demonstrated today by an outward pillar of cloud and fire, but by the life changing power of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.

© Bob Goodnough, December 14, 2019

The tabernacle of David

When Moses was in the mountain communing with God during the Exodus, God gave him detailed directions for the structure that should be the centre of the people’s worship. He was to build a long tent, or tabernacle. The inside was of gold and beautiful tapestry, the outside was a drab, waterproof covering.

At one end, separated from the rest by a thick woven curtain, was the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat above it. To an onlooker, the only noteworthy feature of the tent would have been the Shekinah, the glory of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, that always stood above the mercy seat.

This tabernacle was of central importance to the people during their time in the wilderness, during the conquest of Canaan and throughout the time of the judges.

But there came a time when the ark was removed from the tabernacle and taken into battle against the Philistines. The Philistines were victorious in the battle, and captured the ark. Eli, the high priest and spiritual leader of the Israelites, died upon hearing this news. At this point the worship of the Israelite people took a turn for which no recorded instruction had ever been given.

Eli’s place as spiritual leader was taken by Samuel, who was not of the priestly lineage. The ark was returned to Israel, but never put back in the tabernacle of Moses. Samuel went from place to place throughout the land to offer sacrifices and teach the people.

Samuel was a true prophet and spiritual leader, but as he grew old and had no obvious successor, the people began to call for a king. God granted their wish and Saul became king. Things soon went bad with Saul and God sent Samuel to anoint David to be king.

When David became king over all Israel he built a new tabernacle on Mount Zion. He brought the ark and placed it in the tabernacle he had built, with no curtain to separate it from the people. The first time David tried to bring the ark to his new tabernacle, God smote Uzzah for trying to steady the ark, revealing the presence of God with the ark. The second time was successful. David put on priestly garments of linen and an ephod and offered sacrifices to sanctify the tabernacle.

There were no more sacrifices offered at the tabernacle of David. Thereafter it was a place of worship, where prayers were made, psalms sung and possibly the Word of God was read. Jehoshaphat is called the recorder, a word whose meaning might also mean one who causes to remember.

Here we see David acting as prophet, priest and king. Many of the Psalms he wrote are prophetic; he is called a prophet in Acts 2:30. 1 Chronicles 16:39-40 shows that the tabernacle of Moses still stood at this time, located at Gibeon, and Zadok the high priest was still offering the sacrifices called for in the law. But they were just going through the motions. The mercy seat was on the ark in the tabernacle of David.

This strange anomaly in the Israelite worship came to an end when Solomon built the temple and installed the ark in the holy of holies in the temple. The tabernacle of David, no longer used, fell into ruin.

In later years prophets reminded the people of the tabernacle of David. Isaiah 16:5 says: “And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness.” Chapter 33:20 says: “ Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.” Amos 9:11-12 says: “ In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.”

Many commentators interpret the references to Zion as referring to Jerusalem and the temple mount, and the references to the tabernacle of David as prophesying the restoration of the Davidic kingdom in Christ.

But the parallels are too striking. David as prophet, priest and king sanctified the tabernacle with a one time sacrifice. A new form of worship, completely separate from the tabernacle of Moses. Access to the mercy, seat without a veil to hide it from the worshippers.

Isn’t this what the leaders of the early church recognized at the meeting in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15? James quoted the passage from Amos and recognized it as a prophecy of what was then happening. The tabernacle of David had been restored, a place where all people, including the Gentiles, could freely worship God without having to approach Him by means of the ritual of the tabernacle of Moses or of the Jewish temple. Just as the tabernacle of Moses was empty in the time of David, the worship in the Jerusalem temple was now empty of all meaning after the one time sacrifice made by Jesus, the true son of David and our eternal prophet, priest and king.

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