Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: charity

Spectator or participant?

Canadian politics just became much more interesting. Maxime Bernier has withdrawn from the Conservative Party, of which he almost became leader, to found a new political party. He is speaking up about issues that others want to avoid talking about and this has raised a storm of criticism. Perhaps he is starting a movement at just the opportune moment to bring the country back to the principles that unite us. Or perhaps his movement will fizzle out and just be a footnote in history. In either case the next few months promise to be interesting for political observers.

However, for those of us who are Christians, we must remember one thing: in politics we must remain spectators, not participants. Politics is a dirty business and no one who engages in politics, however pure his intentions, can avoid becoming soiled. Politics is he art of the compromise, but a compromise is seldom reached before a lot of grime and slime is slung about. Christians cannot win at such a game, unless they cease speaking and acting like Christians.

In the church we must be participants, not mere spectators. If we think the purpose of the church is to provide spiritual entertainment, we will be disappointed. But if we are looking for something to do that is meaningful and fulfilling, the church has a place for us. It may not be highly visible, but if that’s what we want we should ask ourselves if we understand what truly matters in life. There are people in the church who see things differently than we do. Listen to them, perhaps we have missed something. We should speak freely about the things that matter to us that they may have missed. We need to love them, and be lovable. Above all, follow the promoting of the Holy Spirit and trust that they are doing that too. When we are all led by the Holy Spirit the work we are doing will result in something far better than any one of us could have planned.

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What makes a church attractive?

Church attendance across Canada has been declining for years. Yes, there are new churches being built, some quite large. Many more are being torn down, or re-purposed. I suspect the majority of the people in our country have never set foot in a church. Nowadays, most weddings and funerals do not take place in a church. What would it take to change this decline?

Christian churches have always been engaged in helping widows and orphans, the poor and neglected. They called it charity, which means love, and most of it was genuinely motivated by love. A new idea came along – charity is demeaning to the poor. Churches could make themselves more meaningful by advocating for the government to take care of the poor, the sick, the needy. So now we have the nanny state, a security net to catch all those who fall, or are pushed, from the ranks of those who can care for themselves. But government agencies operate by rules and regulations and there is precious little love involved.

Meanwhile, people in droves have bailed out of the churches that advocated this system, feeling that if social reform is the important thing they can accomplish more through politics and other secular means. What these churches are really preaching is the gospel of money; and money can’t buy love, can’t buy happiness, can’t hold a church together.

More recently, many churches have re-jigged the way they do church in order to become more seeker friendly. This manifests itself in many ways – small, very informal groups with unstructured worship forms, all the way to mega churches with lots of pizzazz. Very often there will be coffee available before, during or after the service. New and different intrigues people for a while, eventually they weary of being fed only dessert, never a substantial meal. Is the gospel of new and different still the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The core of the gospel of Jesus Christ is: ” Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”

Isn’t this what people are longing for? How do we make our church more like this? The answer is that we can’t. The essence of a real, live, dynamic church is not in doing, but in being. We can try to persuade our church people to be more friendly, more welcoming, to care more about the people around them. These are all things they should do. But if the doing doesn’t come from a real love kindled in their heart by the Holy Spirit, their actions will cry out hypocrisy to all who see.

The ideal is a church where every member is keenly aware of God’s goodness, loves God with all his/her being and isn’t embarrassed to let others see that love. That means I need to start with myself and stop prodding others to do what I know I should do. None of us ever do things quite right, so we need to discern the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our brothers and sisters and not judge them by their awkwardness and clumsiness in following the Spirit. We need to love our neighbours enough to want them to know the same love and peace that we have.

If we try to do the things a real Christian should do, without being a real Christian, it will not work. If our goal is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength, we will find endless opportunities to do and say things that will demonstrate that love to others. The more of us who do that, the more attractive the church will be.

Why charity is not what it used to be

The Greek word agape was used often by the New Testament writers. In the AV (KJV) Bible it is translated 86 times as love and 27 times as charity. In the Louis Segond French translation it is translated 60 times as amour and 55 times as charité. 

Agape, as used in the New Testament, is the quality of love that should be the defining characteristic of every genuine Christian. It is a pure, unselfish love that is known by the actions that it prompts. It is used to describe God’s love to mankind, our love to God, our love for our brethren and our love for our neighbour.

Agape is not an impulse prompted by feelings, emotions or natural inclinations; it may in fact be quite the opposite of our natural inclination. It desires the welfare of all and seeks opportunity to do good.

In French, the Petit Robert dictionary defines charité as:
1. the theological virtue in Christianity which consists of the love of God and of our neighbour for God’s sake;
2. love of our fellow man;
3. good works for the poor;
4. kindness.

This correlates very well with the Greek word agape and I suspect that 400 years ago charity still meant pretty much the same in English. Over time charity has been debased to to where it is now commonly understood only as giving help to the poor. Unfortunately, this often seems to carry the idea that the one receiving the help is inferior to the one who is giving.

Here is the current English definition of charity from the Canadian Oxford dictionary:
1. a) a voluntary giving to those in need; b) help or money so given;
2. a) an institution or organization for helping those in need; b) non-profit organization;
3. a) kindness, benevolence; b) balance in judging others; c) love of one’s fellow humans.

There is not much evidence of agape in such a definition. Perhaps that is why even our concept of charitable giving seems to have gone askew. 1 Corinthians 13:4 says “charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1 says “knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” and Romans 12:9 says “let charity be without hypocrisy,” (following the wording in the Louis Segond translation). In other words, the goal of charity should be to edify, or build up, the one receiving, not to allow the one giving to puff up with pride.

A few years ago some celebrities got the idea of raising money to eliminate malaria in Africa. The use of their names allowed large sums of money to be raised to buy mosquito nets to be sent to all countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

How has it worked? A few days ago I googled “mosquito nets for Africa” and came up with a long list of sites boasting of how many hundred million nets had been sent to Africa and how malaria would soon be vanquished. At the bottom of the list there was a news article from the Los Angeles Times which noted that many of those nets were not being used for their intended purpose. Some were poorly designed, some had mesh that was too tight for free air movement. Some folks had found that they made good room dividers, but many were simply stuck in a corner somewhere and not used.

I have also heard of instances where farmers have laid these nets out on the ground and spread their crops on them to dry and of local officials who try to supplement their incomes by selling these nets rather than giving them out free of charge.

But that is not the worst part. Dambisa Moyo, in her book Dead Aid, Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, speaks of local African manufacturers of mosquito nets who have been forced out of business by the distribution of free nets, leaving labourers and their extended families without an income. In a few years the free nets will need to be replaced, the celebrities will have turned their attention elsewhere and there will be no locally made nets available.

It begins to look like this whole enterprise has had the effect of making the donors feel good about helping the poor people of Africa, while in fact the poor people of Africa are worse off than they were before the help came.

This is far too often the case. In reality the supposed charity has a decidedly uncharitable effect. It sounds like just one more case of Rudyard Kipling’s White Man’s Burden gone seriously awry.

 

Being childlike without being childish

“When I became a man I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

That would be things like:

-wanting to be the centre of attention
-wanting to be entertained
-wanting what somebody else has
-wanting other people to do what I want
-feeling sorry for myself when things don’t go the way I want
-trying to get even
-boasting
-whining
-not admitting when I have done something wrong
-blaming somebody else

“And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6)

” Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

Childlike qualities:

-willing to trust
-taking delight in unexpected beauty
-feeling happy because others are happy
-feeling sad when others are hurt
-giving without counting the cost
-forgiving
-eager to learn
-curiosity
-looking up to others
-caring about others

These are a few thoughts that came to me over the past two days. These are not complete lists, I would be happy if others would add to them.

This was prompted by the question of why some people seem to shrink emotionally and spiritually as they come to their latter years, while others seem to keep on growing. It seems to me that the ability to keep on learning and to see and delight in little scenes of goodness and beauty keeps us from becoming stiff and brittle as we age.

As I write this there are signs all around that summer is dying. Leaves are turning colour and beginning to fall. There has been no frost yet, but that can’t be far away. Most green plants have stopped growing and will soon be dying. There is no need for us to do the same. May we find joy in living all the days that God gives us.

Intellectualism, reason and faith

Intellectualism is the idea that all truth can be discovered by reasoning. René Descartes started with “I think, therefore I am,” and proceeded down this line of reasoning to discover all that was worth knowing, to his own satisfaction at least.

The fatal flaw in this is that God is considered as irrelevant and thus the reasoning is based on the false premise that the human mind is able to comprehend the meaning of all things. Reason is not contrary to faith, but reasoning based on false premises does lead away from faith.

The rage against faith by many intellectuals of our day should be seen as an acknowledgement that they know they are on shaky ground. Their fine sounding reasoning has not brought the fulfillment and happiness they anticipated, but they are determined to never admit that. Hence the furious attempts to ridicule, vilify and silence anyone who has the temerity to point out the weaknesses in their reasoning.

There is nothing about Christian faith that is contrary to reason; there is no evidence in the way that things really are and how they work that contradicts the revelations given in the Bible. Christian faith puts us in harmony with the way things really are. That is to be expected if we are in harmony with the Creator of all things.

It is enough for Christians to patiently and humbly point out the reasonableness of Christian faith. We should never be the ones on the attack, with ridicule and harsh words. We should avoid all triumphalism and above all avoid all fables that purport to offer proof of Christian faith. The Bible is enough.

Is Christian humilty the same thing as stoicism or zen buddhism?

Consider the following:

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is for me to feel no trouble, never be fretted, or vexed, or irritated, or sore, or disappointed. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me and when I am blamed and despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. It is the fruit of the Lord Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on Calvary’s cross, manifest in those of His own who are completely subjected to the Holy Spirit.” This is Andrew Murray’s concept of Christian humility.

Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, taught that true happiness was to be found in becoming insensitive to the four negative emotions: desire, fear, pleasure and pain. Epictetus, another Stoic philosopher, taught that “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men’s desires, but by the removal of desire.”

“Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual’s ethical and moral well-being: Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature.’ This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; ‘to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy.'” (Wikipedia)

In Zen Buddhism, mushin “is a state of mind where mind is not fixed on or occupied by any thought or emotion, and is thus connected to the Cosmos. . . This pure state of mind, of pure mental clarity is produced by the absence of the ego or limited self.” (zen-buddhism.net)

It seems that when we try to make humility the chief virtue of Christian life, the temptation immediately presents itself to veer off into elements of pagan philosophy and mysticism. The definition of humility is the absence of pride, but when we make humility our goal, it becomes a self-centred thing and we circle back to feeling pride in our mastery of destructive emotions.

The antidote to this is love. Love is, after all, the chief virtue demanded of Christians and we dare not trade the positive virtue of love for the negative virtue of humility. If our life is genuinely motivated and empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of which love is the first mentioned, there will be precious little room for pride to take root.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

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

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Notice that Jesus does not say: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have humility.” 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is a beautiful description of humility, yet humility is not once mentioned. All the virtues described are attributed to the working of God’s love in our hearts and lives. Humility is the result of love, not the source of love and virtue, or something to be sought on its own.

Therefore give us love.

The healing power of forgiveness

There is a great peace that comes over us when God forgives our sins, a release from the load of guilt that we have been carrying and a soothing of the pangs of conscience. Yet we tend to soon forget the caveat that comes with this peace: ” But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:15).

Other people do and say so many irritating and hurtful things. Surely they should apologize and ask our forgiveness so we could feel better about what they have done. Some will, but we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for every single person who has ever wronged us to come and apologize.

The apostle John tells us: ” If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16). He goes on to say that “all unrighteousness is sin,” that is, everything that is not done out of a pure heart is prompted by our own sinful tendencies, aided by the tempter. No matter how minor they may be, they are sin. Yet, as long as they are not deliberate, wilful sins, we should not consider them grounds for separation of Christian fellowship. We should rather pray for that brother, and hope that he prays for us when we do or say hurtful things that we really did not intend to be hurtful.

“Charity shall cover the multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8). Charity is a healing balm in our Christian fellowship that helps us forgive others, accept them and feel accepted by them. There are serious sins that require a sterner approach, but let us consider two things. First, those sins are first and foremost sins against God. We should not put ourselves in God’s place in the judgment seat. Secondly, could it be that those sins are a result of a lack of charity among us? Let us examine ourselves lest the lack of charity become a stumbling block to others.

How much emotional distress, in ourselves and others, would be relieved if we could just learn to more ready to forgive? “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7). This was said in the circumstance of someone who had repented of a very serious sin. Surely it would not be wrong to apply it in less serious circumstances.

It is good to be zealous in upholding that which is right and true. We need to be careful however, that in our zeal we do not do more harm than good. There is a way to take a stand for the truth that does not leave people with bruised and hurt feelings. A readiness to forgive does not mean an acquiescence in sin. If we cannot forgive, we cause ourselves to suffer and do no good for the person who has sinned. When we freely love and forgive we have a much greater opportunity to point others to the source of forgiveness.

Analyzing ourselves to death

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what has happened, and is still happening, in Ferguson. There seems to be an element of truth in every analysis, even though the conclusions conflict. There’s really not much those of us at a distance can do about Ferguson; and I’m afraid that much that is being counselled will not produce the desired result.

It remains then, for we who call ourselves Christians, to look at things closer to home: in our homes, our congregations, our communities. Are we applying the healing balm of Christian charity to the sore spots around us? To learn to understand is good; to learn to forgive is infinitely better.

The worthy poor, and other heresies

Charity, with all its shades of meaning, is one of the chief virtues of Christianity. We know that one way to exercise charity is to help those who are unable to buy the necessities of life. But we don’t want to be too profligate with our largesse, so we decide to limit our giving to the “worthy poor.” Let’s stop a minute and think about that. If they are worthy, if they deserve our charity, then our charity is no longer charity, we are simply giving them what they deserve. That is justice, not charity.

The giving of material help, in the form of money or otherwise, is only a small part of what is meant by charity. But that thought of restricting our charity to those who are worthy tends to worm its way into all our human relationships. So and so doesn’t understand me so there’s no point even trying to visit with her. Someone else has such a contrary attitude that it’s a waste of time trying to explain anything to him. Thus we limit our friendship to a select circle. If it’s all about me and my feelings, that is not charity.

Jesus promised a blessing to those who are poor in spirit, so we want to be poor in spirit in order to receive the blessing. But is there a conviction deep inside, that we almost succeed in hiding from ourselves, that we are one of the “worthy” poor in spirit? We deserve the blessing because . . .  Because of what? Good blood lines? Because we never did anything that was very wrong? Or perhaps we have led an outstandingly, spectacularly sinful life and we have become worthy by turning around. Again, it is all about me. Grace that is deserved because I am “worthy” is not grace at all.

I need to come to God and confess that everything that has ever turned out wrong in my life has been my own doing. Nobody helped me, I did it all by myself. And I need to hold on to that truth the rest of my life. I am still capable of all the things I once did, and far more besides. Then the grace of God is truly grace, and I can be charitable to all those who don’t seem to like me very much, because I am not worthy that anyone should like me. Everything good that comes my way in life is an unmerited blessing.

Walking in the light

There is a line that is crossed when we come to the Lord.  That line is the border between darkness and light, unbelief and faith, death and life.  Glimmers of light and faith from the realm of life have helped us find the way to this line, but the new birth takes us across the threshold that separates spiritual death from spiritual life.

This is not the end of the journey, only the beginning of a new journey.  We should not stop and rest as soon as we cross the line.  Yet too many people do just that.  They had to abandon some baggage on the other side that would be an unnecessary load on the new journey.  Still, that baggage was precious in their former life, an essential part of the way they identified themselves.  As they mill around, just across the line, the way ahead begins to seem difficult and the baggage once left behind grows in importance.  All too soon, they are back on the wrong side of the line.

They give all kinds of reasons for this: people inside the line just did not understand them; they were never told what it was going to cost to leave that baggage behind; people inside the line are not as friendly as they first seemed; and on and on.

The true reason is that these people have stopped when the Lord said “Come.”  He wants us to continually come closer to Him.  If we obey that call, we will find that with each step of the way the light grows brighter and faith grows stronger.

Many of those who have gone back the way they came still claim to have a good relationship with the Lord.  Let all such measure their claim of fellowship with God by their fellowship with God’s children.  The teaching of the New Testament is that if our relationship with our neighbour is broken and our fellowship with our brethren is broken, our fellowship with God is also broken.

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1 John 2:9).  “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14).  “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  (1 John 4:20).

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

Some folk profess a holy allegiance to this commandment to love their neighbour and all mankind.  Yet it seems that this love is largely theoretical, for in observing their relationship to individual people, it appears they just cannot get along with many of them.  May that never be said of a true child of God.

So how do we press deeper into the kingdom of light?  I would suggest a very simple answer: spend time with God and with His people.

Read the Bible to understand how God worked in ages past and how He works today.  Read the whole Bible.  It is good to read the Bible from beginning to end at least once or twice in your life.  It is not necessary to do that continually, but reading the Bible in context leads to a deeper understanding.  Therefore it is best to read one complete book of the Bible at a time, breaking it up into bite-sized pieces for daily reading.

Thank God daily for salvation and all the blessings He has showered upon you.  Take a little time to remember all He has done.  Pray for grace for each day, pray for your family, pray for the ministers, pray for our governments, pray for those you have difficulty understanding.

Be present in every worship service of your congregation, as much as possible.  We simply cannot worship God as fully when we are alone.  Maybe there are some people in church who rub us the wrong way.  This may be a question of the chicken or the egg — did we first rub them the wrong way?  We have no doubt rubbed others the wrong way and they have chosen to ignore it and love us anyway.  Try to emulate such people.

Practice hospitality.  The apostle Peter gives this as a commandment: “Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Peter 4:9).  If you ever feel that the other members of the congregation have left you out of the loop and you do not feel a part of what is going on, ask yourself how long it has been since you had company in your home and sat around and talked of the things that really matter.  If circumstances make it difficult to prepare a big Sunday meal, invite people for night lunch or afternoon coffee break.  Such little things do make a big difference.  Do not be too choosy whom you invite.

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