Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: choices

Amazing grace

That saved a wretch like me
I am not wretched because of things others have done to me, even though those things may have been horribly wretched. I am wretched because of the things I have done, the choices I have made.

God is not a sadistic puppet master who made me do bad things, then condemned me to eternal punishment for doing them. There were always better choices available to me, but I always wanted to blame someone else for my wrong choices.

Eve did not force Adam to eat of the fruit. The serpent did not force Eve to pluck the fruit and bite into it. God did not force Satan to rebel against Him. None of these things were pre-determined. Neither were the bad choices that I made. I am wretched because I deliberately made those bad choices.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
It was hard to see that it was grace that brought me face to face with my wretchedness, that made me feel the crushing weight of my guilt and fear the utter hopelessness of my situation. Yet without that I would never have made the next step.

I admitted to myself and to God that all my problems were of my own doing, nobody had pushed me, all my problems were caused by choices I had made.

And grace my fears relieved
Suddenly, unexpectedly, that crushing weight of guilt, and the fear of God’s judgement were gone. God’s grace had come down and I was forgiven and free.

That is why grace is so amazing.

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Lonely people

We had dinner the other day with a man, his newest girlfriend, his mother and his youngest son. This man works hard, is very well paid, and is using his money to try to fix his broken relationships.

When he was a young man he married and two sons were born to him. He and his wife split up, largely because she was afraid of him. She had another off and on boyfriend, then one day she was murdered and the killer took the two boys, without coats, boots or mittens and dumped them in a field on a cold winter night. I don’t know all the story, but it seems likely the killer was her new boyfriend.

The boys were raised by the mother’s family. The father was young, afraid, broke, without a job, didn’t know what to do. He tries to make up for it now, he’s generous with his money, but still kind of clueless about relationships.

The youngest boy has no fingers – there are thumbs on both hands, but no fingers. They froze that night he was dumped in the field and had to be amputated. He was a year and a half old. He is a big young man, polite and friendly, but appears to have other problems that make him unable to work. It is surprising what he can do with his maimed hands. He lives alone, takes his medications and spends a lot of time playing video games.  He seems to get along well with his dad when they are together.

The dad has had a string of girlfriends but no relationship has lasted very long. He has a very iffy relationship with his brother and none of his sisters will speak to him. He’s getting older and is beginning to worry that he won’t have any family or friends when the money runs out.

There are a lot of lonely people in our world. It’s their own fault, the result of choices they have made. But I wonder – do they even know that there were, and are, other choices open to them?

Some folks will tell them that they need to get right with Jesus, turn their lives around and start walking on the road that leads to heaven. That’s the right advice, but so often it seems that the ones giving that advice aren’t walking that road themselves. Most of them certainly don’t have time to be a friend to the friendless. I am beginning to wonder, is there any other way to be an ambassador for Christ?

Inside or outside?

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There is a line that we cross when we give our hearts to the Lord. Many people stop once they have crossed the line, mill around with others they find there and wonder why they are not experiencing the blessings of Christian life that they were promised. After awhile, some of them step back to the wrong side of the line, become once more captives to sin and console themselves that Christian life wasn’t what they had been led to believe.

God’s plan is for us to keep on going after we have crossed that line and go ever deeper into His love and obedience to His will.Those who do that find the rewards and joys of Christian life are far beyond their expectations.

The tennis ball doesn’t decide which side of the line it falls on, but we can.

Who is our Lord?

We are told in 1 Kings chapter 17 that the people of Samaria “feared the LORD, and served their own gods.” In reading the whole account, we find that the people understood that they needed to reverence Yahweh to save their lives from the lions. But when it came to the mundane affairs of life, they sacrificed to other gods for the fertility of their fields, their flocks and their homes.

Well, we may say, that was a long time ago, and maybe those people didn’t really know any better. What’s my excuse? and yours?

Jesus said “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Of course not, we wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. We are very punctilious in our worship of Yahweh. But what influences our choices in clothing, vehicles, homes, lifestyles? I don’t believe that we have to deliberately strive to be different, but what motivates our choices from the many options available to us? Some Christians seem to be trying to prove that a Christian can live and party just like anybody else. What motivates that desire? Jesus said:  “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

The Apostle Paul wrote: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Who, or what, has power over our choices?

Unless we allow Yahweh to be Lord over every aspect and every activity of our life, we are going to be very much like those people back in Samaria.

Authenticity and tradition

On Saturday we travelled to Moose Jaw to attend a workshop for writers. We’ve only lived there for short periods of time, the last one being 37 years ago, but it still feels like this is where our roots are. I wanted to visit my 91 year old cousin after the workshop, but there was a disease outbreak at the nursing home and we were not allowed in. We did get together with another cousin and his wife for a two hour visit over supper before leaving for home.

I was inspired by the things we heard at the workshop — those things then linked to other thoughts that had been floating around somewhere in the back of my mind — and I have decided to share some of those thoughts in a few short posts over the next few days.

The first speaker was the librarian from Briercrest College who told us that college aged students are looking for authenticity in Christian fiction. They connect with realistic characters who struggle to live out their Christian values in the face of true to life temptations and pressures. The plot needs to be compelling, a reflection of real life. This does not mean that evil should be glamourized or made overly explicit, but it needs to reflect what young people are facing in their own lives.

Non-Christian characters need to be believable, not caricatures. They also struggle with temptations and with longings to do what is right. Their problem is that too often they make the wrong choices.

Characters need to have a real past and an unknown future. This does not mean that the writers need to tell the past of their characters, but they need to develop in their own mind a clear picture of how the character came to be who she is and where she is. This will lead to making this character act in a way that is consistent throughout the book, rather than appearing to be someone with a multiple personality disorder.

Christian fiction should honour God and gently point people to God, but it should not be preachy. There should be some mystery and ambivalence left at the end, to allow the reader to think through the issues that have been raised. Think about that for a moment. Jesus explained some of His parables but in most of them He made one main point and left us with many questions. Consider the discussions that we get into about the prodigal son and his jealous brother. Jesus didn’t resolve that question for us.

Another point made by this speaker is that young people today are longing to feel part of something bigger than themselves. Tradition appeals to them. I wondered if there might be a conflict between this thought and the  musical portion of the workshop. Do young people today find what they long for in the seeker-friendly contemporary worship music that is featured in many churches?

Builders

Isn’t it strange that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common folks, you and me,
Are buildings of eternity?

To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, and a book of rules;
And each must make, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a stepping stone.

                                    Author Unknown

Life isn’t fair

These are real people that I’m going to write about, but I’m not going to use their real names.

Elsie and Elizabeth were already quite elderly when we knew them; the story of their earlier life was told to us by others. They were sisters, born in pioneer days on a prairie farm and grew up during hard times.

Elsie was the oldest and was born before her mother was married. Her mother appeared to find her a constant reminder of her shame and treated her harshly. Elizabeth, on the other had, was her mother’s favourite. Both girls grew up and married. Elsie and her husband moved several times and endured many hardships; four or five of their children died when quite young. Elizabeth and her husband were never very prosperous but all of their children grew up and married.

When we knew them late in life, Elsie was a sweet and caring lady. She was interested in others, thankful and content, never complained, a joy to visit with. Elizabeth was the one who seemed bitter about how life had treated her, and appeared to have little interest in others. Both would have called themselves Christians and were faithful in attending church. I don’t know all the story and it is not up to me to judge, but the difference in attitude was striking. What impressed me the most was that the one who might have had reason to complain that life wasn’t fair was the one who was the happiest.

Sheila was a young girl we got to know on our visits to Saskatchewan. Her mother subsisted mostly by welfare and had a series of live-in boyfriends, some of whom had fathered her children. Sheila was eleven years old when we invited her to spend a few weeks with us in Ontario. We spent a night with friends along the way and in the morning the husband took Sheila out to show her his chicken barn. Sheila was a city girl and that morning she learned for the first time where eggs came from.

The following year we heard that Sheila had cancer. Along with that we learned that she had been sexually abused by one of her mother’s boyfriends. We were back in Saskatchewan when she had her first chemotherapy treatment. We had a little contact over the next few years as she continued to battle the cancer.

When she was fifteen she flew out to BC to spend some time with her mother’s aunt. We were travelling to Saskatchewan again that summer and arranged to meet her and her mother at the airport when she came home. We met Sheila as she got off the plane, but her mother never showed up. “She never does,” Sheila told us, “even when I come home from the cancer clinic in Saskatoon, I have to find my own way home.” We took Sheila out for a meal and a visit, then drove her home. That was the last time we saw her alive; she died shortly after her sixteenth birthday.

This was certainly a disadvantaged child, yet she was the most stable and mature person in her family. When she was twelve and in the hospital for chemotherapy, she was trying to teach her brothers to behave. She loved her mother and never complained about her. This was just the way things were and Sheila accepted that. We didn’t sense any anger or bitterness in her.

We don’t know how much exposure she had to the Bible or Christian teachings. Certainly, there was none at home. She talked of attending Salvation Army services at times. In the short time she spent with us, she experienced how we prayed before meals, had family devotions every day, and she attended Sunday School and church with us. Members from a nearby congregation went into Saskatoon to sing for her several times when she was there for chemotherapy.

Considering the setting she came from, could she still have been in a state of childhood innocence, or had she at some point made a decision to follow Jesus? I don’t know if even Sheila could have given a clear answer to that, but there was something about her that gives us hope that we shall see her again one day.

Life isn’t fair, but the things that happen to us do not determine whether we are happy or unhappy, whether we are saved or lost. It is the way we react to those things that makes all the difference. “Therefore choose life,” Moses told the people.

The strait way or the straightaway

Which road are you on? The straightaway is a wide, smooth road with gentle curves and gradual slopes. Multitudes are travelling down this road, pedal to the metal, hellbent on getting to . . . well — hell. Where else would you expect to get to on this road?

Jesus tells us that a lot of people travelling this road actually do expect to arrive at a different destination. At the judgement day they will complain insistently that a terrible mistake has been made. Indeed there has been a terrible mistake, but the Judge is not the one who has made it.

English can be a little confusing at times. The Bible does not speak of a straight and narrow way — it speaks of a strait gate and a narrow way. Strait means narrow, tight, restricted. We cannot get through that strait gate with our burden of unresolved sin, our list of accomplishments, our list of grievances. A good thing, too, as the weight of those things would be an insupportable burden on the narrow way.

Many people have looked at that way and decided that it’s not going to get them anywhere that they want to go. This is a fatal mistake, for this is the way that leads to the destination which every heart longs for.

The road to heaven is strait, or narrow, but it is not straight. We will get glimpses of our destination, but it will often be hid from view. We can never know what will be around the next corner in our life. We don’t need to; we have Someone to guide us: “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30.21).

There is a passage in Isaiah that, at first glance, appears to contradict what I am saying here: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isaiah 40:4). If one reads the whole passage from verse three to verse five, and then Luke 3:4-6 where it is quoted to describe the ministry of John the Baptist, it takes on a different meaning. God is calling people to prepare the way of the Lord, by untangling the crooked and perverse ways in their heart, by allowing their pride to be abased and by allowing faith in God to grow to fill the emptiness in their heart.

Perhaps we could make a secondary application of this verse in Isaiah by saying that the mountain doesn’t seem as high after we have climbed it with God’s help, and the valley not so deep after we have climbed out of it with God’s help. Nevertheless, there are mountains and valleys on the narrow way, and some of them are formidable.

The strait way is not easy on the flesh. But there are companions on this way to help us through the rough spots, and opportunities for us to help others who may be faltering. There is time to stop and smell the roses — and to admire the orioles who come to admire the roses (one was at our rose bush as I was writing this).

What choice will you make? If you choose the road, you must accept the destination to which it leads. If you choose the destination, you must accept the road that will get you there.

These are the options

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Is it hot?

My wife and I went away for the day, leaving our four-year-old daughter with Grandma. When Grandma started to make dinner, our daughter saw the electric element on the stove glowing red hot, asked “Grandma, is it hot?” and placed the palm of her hand on the element.

I guess she really never understood what hot was until that moment. Her hand didn’t stay in contact with the element very long so the burn wasn’t deep and healed without leaving any scars. Grandma did what grandmas do so well in caring for the wound and comforting a little girl, but we wished that we could somehow have made it more clear what hot meant so she didn’t need to find out in such a painful way.

How can we make it clear to others how hot hell will be? The Biblical image of a lake of fire and brimstone seems to have lost its impact over the years. Cartoonists have had fun portraying how certain individuals or groups of people might be tormented in hell, but they are not really intended to be taken seriously. Nothing much about hell is taken seriously anymore, not even by Christians. Perhaps we have been talking about the torments of a lake of molten sulphur for so long that we don’t really believe it ourselves?

What the Bible is really telling us is that we live in a world polluted by sin. If heaven is to be a place of beauty and happiness, another place had to be prepared for all that would pollute the purity of heaven.

Think of hell as the toxic waste dump for all that is evil in this world, and for all the people who have willingly polluted themselves with that evil. Heaven will be a place of peace, joy and love, unmixed with sorrow or pain. Hell will be a place characterized by hatred, envy, anger, lust and fear. All the spirits that have so long tormented this world will be there and all the people who thought to find some advantage or self-justification in yielding to those spirits. It will be a place of sheer, unmitigated terror.

Is that hot enough? Consider this also: everyone in hell will remember clearly the moment they made the choice that sealed their doom. No one will accidentally find himself or herself in hell.

There will be people in heaven who never lived long enough to make a choice. It is the great mercy of God to welcome all those who never reached a level of maturity where they could know what their choices were. The innocent will be in heaven. No one in hell will be able to claim innocence.

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