Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Bible

Are you a deist or a theist?

If you are a deist, you believe:
– that there must be a higher power because this complex world could not just have happened;
– that there are moral lessons in the Bible that will help us to find happiness;
– that the Bible as a whole is mysterious and confusing and better left alone;
– that it is good to pray when in need, because the higher power might hear and help.

If you are a theist, you believe:
– that God is not an explanation, He is a revelation;
– that the God who created all things reveals himself personally to us;
– that the whole Bible is an introduction to God;
– that we need to read the whole Bible to recognize how God speaks to us;
– that God is near, hears our prayers and answers them;
– that true happiness can only be found by making God the Lord of our life.

Getting from survival to revival

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I trust that most of us have coped well during this time of enforced hibernation. Now spring has come, nature is alive once more and we want to be too.

What now? Do we go back to the way things were before our hibernation? Is that even possible? What is normal going to look like a few months from now? What should it look like?

So many questions, so few answers. For we who are Christians the best place to find answers is by reading the Bible and spending time in prayer. This has been a good time to do more of that, but anytime is a good time to start.

Last week I read through the book of Hebrews in a single sitting. I did that three times, on different days; one of those times I read it aloud. That has given me a whole new perspective on what that letter is about. I spoke about it in our virtual worship service yesterday, I will write about it some day soon.

I am convinced that this is how the Bible is meant to be read. We find the Bible to be a mysterious, almost impenetrable, book if we read it any other way. Always flitting from one short passage to another somewhere else in the Bible is a good way to make the Bible boring. To treat each verse or short passage as an independent saying and then attempt to discern its meaning by our own intellect or imagination can lead to deception. The writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, expected us to read the whole story.

This is the road to revival. We cannot have a revival that springs from our own will, it has to be prompted by the will of God. The more we immerse ourselves in His Word, the more He is able to reveal His will to us.

This hibernation season has been a good time to reach out to others. At least, it should heave been. We can’t meet in person, but we have so many ways to connect – telephone, text, email, even an old-fashioned letter.

I confess that I have done a little more of that, but not nearly as much as I thought I was going to do. It seems that even in a quiet time there is so much happening that I can be busy without ever planning to be busy. If I want to reach out to others, I have to make it happen.

It feels good when I receive an encouraging note, or a bit of news. I can do that too, I want to do it, but it doesn’t just happen. I need to be connected to fellow Christians, to family members, There are acquaintances who are lonely, hurting, afraid. A word of comfort, cheer or hope could make their day just a bit better. When the Spirit prompts me to reach out, I need to obey promptly. That too is the road to revival.

Written in the earth

An interesting detail in the account of the woman taken in adultery told in chapter 8 of the gospel of John is that it is twice mentioned that Jesus wrote on the ground. This appears to have some connection with the fact that the woman’s accusers left one by one, from the oldest to the youngest. We are not given any more details than that, but I believe the following takes into account all the details of the story in the gospel..

Some have speculated that Jesus was writing the sins of the accusers. I doubt that was necessary. These men were scribes and pharisees, men with a deep and thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. They will surely have remembered the words of Jeremiah: “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 17:13).

To have one’s name written in the earth would be the opposite of having one’s name written in heaven. The woman’s accusers may have been surprised that Jesus knew each of them by name, even more surprised that He knew their ages, writing their names from the oldest to the youngest. They began to suspect He also knew the exact nature of their sin and thought it best to escape the presence of such a man.

Consider the accused woman. She was a sinner, she knew it. Now she was left alone with a man who had silently struck fear into the hearts of all her righteous accusers. What would He say to her?

He did not condemn her, He forgave her, set her free. With just one warning “Go and sin no more.”That is still the way of Jesus–judgment for those who think themselves righteous, mercy for those who know they are sinners.

Someone may doubt the connection between the passages in Jeremiah and John because one speaks of earth and the other of ground. This is simply the work of the translators. The Hebrew word in Jeremiah is erets, which is translated in different places in our Bible as land, earth, ground and country. The Greek word in the gospel is ge, which is translated by the same four English words in our Bibles. They are, in other words, exactly the same word.

The dark side of the Protestant work ethic

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In 1905 German sociologist published what many called the most important sociological work of the 20th century: Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus. The book was later translated into English and published in 1930 as: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

His thesis was that because of the teaching of predestination, that one’s eternal destiny was determined before he was born, Protestants, especially Calvinists, were left with no clue as to their personal salvation. Protestantism also taught the deification of all productive work. Therefore the idea arose that material success, due to diligence on one’s work, was evidence of salvation. And this became the foundation for the rise of capitalism.

This is not the place to discuss whether Weber was right or wrong in his thesis. I mention it only to point out that the concept of a Protestant work ethic is drawn from this book by Weber.

Neither do I want to be understood as denying Christian values of honesty, integrity, responsibility and the value of a job well done. But I believe we can uphold those values without labelling them a “work ethic”.

For there is a dark side to the Protestant work ethic. It is that a human being is valued by his productive capacity, or in other terms, his earning capacity. For money so easily becomes the yardstick by which to measure a person’s work ethic. It is assumed that those who are poor are that way because they lack a work ethic. Work such as Bible study, the reading of good books, writing, etc., should be kept to a bare minimum, as they are a distraction from a person’s true purpose in life.

Where are the older men and the older women that the New Testament tells to instruct the younger ones? Too many of them are still pretending to be young. Why is being young at heart valued more than the wisdom of old age? Isn’t it because people have spent a lifetime striving to live up to the material values that they believed were expected of them and don’t believe they have acquired much spiritual wisdom that the younger generation wants to hear?

I’m not so sure the younger generation is so closed to learning spiritual lessons from their elders. But let them be genuine spiritual lessons, not just “this is the way we used to do things.”

I acknowledge that most Christians who talk of a work ethic don’t think of all the baggage that may be attached to the term in our society. I feel, however, that it does carry too much baggage in the minds of others and we might be better off to lay it aside. Work ethic is not a term found in the Bible and we do have clear instructions in that book about the values relating to work and material things that Christians should uphold.

A time of testing

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof; namely, five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sidonians, and the Hivites that dwelt in mount Lebanon, from mount Baalhermon unto the entering in of Hamath. And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. (Judges 3:1-4)

This has been the situation of Christians from the time of the apostles till today. We are living in enemy territory, there is spiritual warfare being waged against us every day.

Yet we are comfortable here, we see no danger. The LORD wants to teach us war; is it too late for us to learn? Do we know who our enemies are? Perhaps we are too much aware of those who are corrupt, dishonest, immoral, teachers of deception. Taking all such people out of the way would not solve the ills of this world. They are tools of the enemy and he would find others to do his bidding.

Is it possible that we can live moral and upright lives, praise God with our lips and at the same time the desires of our heart and the thoughts of our mind can be patterned after the world?

Here are a few things the Bible speaks of that may indicate whether we have identified the real enemy. Do we:

  • Suppose that gain is godliness?
  • Respect the rich and despise the poor?
  • Feel discontent with what we have?
  • Speak evil of others?
  • Find it difficult to speak of our relationship with the Saviour?
  • Have compassion for those who are weak in the faith?
  • Speak disrespectfully of people in authority?
  • Look down on people of different language, culture or skin colour?
  • Attribute our salvation to the faith of our parents?
  • Judge a person’s faith by his lifestyle?

Our enemy has no problem with people who are Bible-reading, church-going Christians, as long as they don’t get enthused about it. We can know and live by to all the principles and guidelines of the Christian faith, as long as we are comfortable being passive Christians. As soon as we become active he becomes alarmed and tries to sidetrack us or discourage us.

The Pride of Man

Fifty-five years ago I bought Gordon Lightfoot’s first LP record. Most of the songs were ones he wrote. One, The Pride of Man,  was written  by Hamilton Camp. The song is based on Biblical prophecies of the fall of Babylon. Every stanza ends with the line “Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.”

That pretty much describes our situation during this pandemic. My plans, your plans, the plans of people much more important than you and me, they are all broken in the dust. Everything has changed.

Can we accept that? I want to go out, work, visit, shop, go to a coffee shop. It is hard to abandon all those plans for however long this situation may last. Is that an indication that my pride isn’t broken in the dust yet?

The Bible says a lot about our need of humility,  but it also warns of the danger of voluntary humility. Voluntary humility is something produced by my own will. Voluntary comes from French, volonté is the French word for will.

It doesn’t work for me to make myself humble by the strength of my own will. Why not? Because, if I can make myself humble, I am going to think that I am doing a much better job of it than you are.  I won’t say it, but I will have this smug feeling that I’ve got the hang of this humility thing. That’s the opposite of humility.

What I see in the Bible is the instruction to submit. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.” “Humbles yourself therefore under the mighty had of God.” James is very straightforward: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
submit yourselves therefore to God.” “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.”

I don’t want to submit, I want to do this humble thing by myself, my own way. Therein lies the problem. My pride needs to be broken in the dust.

I fight to retain my freedom, but I don’t know what freedom is until I give up fighting and submit. Them I find my heart and mind aligned with the plans God has for me.

“Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.” That’s a good thing. May we allow this season of confinement to bring us down to earth where we can think more of others than of ourselves.

Pray for all God’s children

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There is an epidemic sweeping the world that no one dares mention. Jacques Ellul, French sociologist, philosopher and theologian, wrote The Technological Society in 1964. In the book he describes how technology has supplanted the church and the Bible as the ultimate source of truth. Efficiency has become the sole moral absolute. There is no room for other moral considerations regarding the use of technology.

Jacques Ellul died in 1994 and did not live to see how horribly prescient he was. The technology now exists to change a person’s gender. If it is possible, then it is wrong to deny it to anyone. Children are being exposed to propaganda in the public schools and on TV telling them they may have a person of another gender inside them. If they decide this is true, then no one can prevent them from allowing that person of the other gender to manifest itself, first through hormone therapy and later through surgery. Parents have no right to interfere. There is no God, therefore man is perfectly free to play at being God.

This is child abuse, pure and simple. But in the view of the technological society it is altogether right and good. Even when it is now generally known that the human brain does not reach full maturity until the age of 25, and the last part that matures is the area governing impulse control.

Our children, all children, need to be told clearly and often that we love them, and God loves them, just the way they are. Let’s pray for the children too, not just our own children and grandchildren, but all children.

The pen of the wise

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I begin every day by meeting God, first in His Word, then in prayer. My French Bible is on a shelf just above the computer monitor. Most often I read and hear gentle reminders of things I know, but which are always in need of reinforcement. The strength I receive from this quiet time helps me through the day, even if the words I read seldom come to mind.

Some mornings are different. It’s afternoon now and the message of Proverbs 15:2 is still turning around in my mind, like a cat looking for the most comfortable position to settle down. I have three French Bibles on that shelf, all translations I believe to be trustworthy. One word is different in two of them, but the sense is still the same: The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive.

Well, of course. That’s so obvious. I knew that already. But did I really? Have I really got it yet? Why do I so naturally slip into teachy-preachy mode, reproaching others for not understanding things that seem so obvious to me?

That’s why people love to read C. S. Lewis. It’s like sitting down to visit with an old friend about everyday things. After the visit, you realize you have learned something important, without ever feeling like you were being taught. There is nothing bombastic about his writing style; no hint of: “You need to listen to what I say because I am important.”

Blaise Pascal was like that, too. He set out to write a defence of Christian faith, knowing how difficult it would be: “People despise Christian faith. They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.  The solution for this is to show them, first of all, that it is not unreasonable, that it is worthy of reverence and respect. Then show that it is attractive, making good men desire that it were true. Then show them that it really is true. It is worthy of reverence because it really understands the human condition. It is also attractive because it promises true goodness.”

Pascal died young, before he could complete the book he wanted to write. All he left behind was scraps of paper on which he had written his thoughts. His friends collected those thoughts into a book; Les Pensées has become a classic of French literature on the same level as Pilgrim’s Progress in English.

I have four copies of Les Pensées (the thoughts) of Blaise Pascal, in French and in English. Each editor had his own idea of the way Pascal wanted his thoughts ordered. None of them agree. It doesn’t matter. Each time I read a few of those scraps of paper Pascal left behind I am struck with how simple Christian truth appears from his hand, his mind—and how profound.

And Wow! This is how it’s done. This is how one makes truth attractive.

Is possible for me to learn this?

What is a Biblical ethic of work and wealth?

There are Christians who revere voluntary poverty, seeing it as a means of escaping from the materialism of the world and of not abusing the resources of the earth.

Other Christians revere work and consider the benefits that flow from it to be good stewardship and evidence of the blessing of God.

Those in each group see themselves as being more righteous than those in the other group.

Taking that as a warning and a starting point in seeking God’s will for our material affairs, here are some points that come to my mind:

  1. Self-righteousness is abhorrent to God
  2. We need to do honest work to provide for our needs and the needs of our family.
  3. We should be content; there is no need to envy those who have more than we do.
  4. We need to have enough to give to the work of God and to help those who do not have enough.
  5. If we don’t have time for family, worship, prayer and reading the Bible and other Christian literature, we are probably too busy with material pursuits.
  6. If we are ashamed to ask for advice or help, we are too proud.
  7. Recreational shopping wastes not just money but valuable time that could be spent with family and friends.
  8.  Maybe we don’t need to travel as often, or as far, as we would like to.
  9. It’s not healthy to never leave home; visiting in other communities gives us new insights.
  10. God is interested in every aspect of our life.

What do you think? Suggested changes or additions are welcome.

Should we aspire to be poor?

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When there are so many warnings and examples in the Bible of the dangers of being rich, why does it seem that many Christians think it is desirable to be rich?

Luke 18:25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. / 1 Timothy 6:9-10 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. / James 5:1-2 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. / Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. / James 2:5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

So, it is well nigh impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, but God has chosen the poor to be heirs of the kingdom. Have we got our priorities wrong?

Some Christians interpret these verses as referring to those who are poor in spirit. Hmmm. Honestly now: does it really seem like those who make that interpretation are poor in spirit? Or are they trying to justify their riches, in their own eyes at least?

The middle class was created by Christians who were honest and diligent in work and business and not wasteful and self-indulgent in their spending. That kind of living is right and good and inevitably leads to a measure of prosperity. Therein lies a snare. People who were converted under the preaching of John Wesley quit spending money and drink and rather took it home to feed and clothe their families. Their children grew up never having known poverty, many of them forgot God.

This is the danger when Christians grow smug in their prosperity and forget that their prosperity has more to do with the grace of God than with their devotion to their work. When we despise the poor, say that their poverty is their own fault, they should be wise and have a work ethic like we have, we have become too rich.

Most Christians are not hypocrites, hungry for money and status. A few may be, but there is far too much good being done in little and big ways to say that all is lost. But perhaps most of us would benefit by examining ourselves to see if we have the right balance between the spiritual and material aspects of our lives.

How much time do we take for Bible reading and prayer? Something more than a few verses of the Bible and a one minute prayer? How much time do we make to help a neighbour in distress? How much time do we have for a friend who wants to talk? How much time do we have for our family? Our Lord is probably much more interested in these things than in the state of our bank account, we should be, too.

Matthew 6:31-33 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

It’s not that we are doing everything wrong. But it is worth taking stock every once in a while and honestly asking ourselves if the kingdom of God is our first priority. We should not aspire to be rich, or poor, but to be faithful citizens of the eternal kingdom.

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