Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christianity

Facing up to the bull

One year in my late teens I spent several months working for farmers. I drove the truck for one during harvest. Then I spent a month on a cattle farm, putting up hay, fixing fences, things like that.

The fences were in bad shape. The first day, the big Hereford bull walked through the fence to graze the greener grass on the other side. I had heard and read enough scary stories about what a bull could do that the sight of this guy filled me with a sense of impending trouble.

Then the farmer said “Put that bull back in the pasture.”

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Image by Olichel Adamovich from Pixabay

I was shaking, but I didn’t want to admit that a grown fellow like me was afraid of a bull. So I prayed. At that point in my life I only prayed when fear overwhelmed me.

Then I walked toward the bull. He looked up, shook his head–then ambled along the fence line toward the gate. I went ahead of him, opened the gate, he walked into the pasture and I closed the gate.

That was my daily task after that; when supper time came, I first helped the bull  go back where he belonged. The bull and I never became friends, but he knew the routine and was always cooperative. That stretch of fence was the last one fixed.

In later years I have faced other bulls in my life, in the form of thoughts. My father was prone to unpredictable outbursts of anger. That seems to have left a hook within me where fears of how other people might react in anger can fasten themselves. Other destructive thought patterns became a routine in my life.

In time I realized that these are tempting and tormenting spirits from the realm of darkness. I don’t want them, but my willpower is not enough on its own to overcome them.

So I pray. Then tell those thoughts to go away. By the grace of God they do.  The next day I have to rebuke them again. Victory comes through Jesus Christ, but the battles repeat day by day.

Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me,” (Luke 9:23).

The half-converted farmer

There was a farmer in our neighbourhood who lived a simple life. He had no need of electricity, running water or a lawn mower. He didn’t need a wife either though we heard that there had once been a lady of the house. Perhaps the rustic simplicity of the homestead soon lost its charm.

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Image by noahherrera from Pixabay

This rustic farmer had a simple approach to farming. In the spring he seeded his wheat and in the fall he harvested his wheat — as much as his equipment could capture. For the fields produced a much greater crop of weeds than of wheat, in such a manner that the wheat that grew was short in stature. Then too, he needed to manoeuvre around the many prominent rocks throughout the fields when seeding and harvesting. As we passed by his fields after harvest we saw much wheat still standing, waiting for the birds, mice and gophers to glean. The proximity of these heads of wheat to the rocks or to the surface of the ground made them inaccessible to the harvesting machinery.

Then came a day when the farmer announced that he had seen the light, from henceforth things would be different. He purchased top quality seed and fertilizer, enough for all his fields. He chose not to remove the rocks and the weeds. The good seed, he said, with the help of the fertilizer, would produce vigorous plants that would choke the weeds and grow so high the rocks would not be a problem.

Unfortunately, the bad seeds in the ground outnumbered the good seeds he planted. With the help of the fertilizer, they grew taller that year than ever before. The wild mustard plants resembled small trees. I did not see if the birds of the air built their nests in these great shrubs, but I observed them flitting joyfully from branch to branch.

Harvest that year was neither better nor worse than in previous years. Whereupon the farmer declared that scientific farming was a fraud designed to separate gullible farmers from their money. He would never again believe a word of it. And the latter end of that farmer was worse than the beginning.

Some people approach Christian life in like manner. They realize the futility of their old ways and resolve to follow the way of Jesus. They read the Bible and attend church, and verily their countenances change. They have hope.

Still, there are the hurtful things they have said and done in the past, and perhaps dishonest things. These are great rocks in their life and removing them seems too great a task. The cost and effort of confession and restitution is higher than they wish to pay. Thus the rocks remain, ever a hindrance to the trust they desire from others.

Worse yet, the tendency to hurt feelings and flare-ups of temper remains and impedes the good they try to do. An apology would be too humiliating, better to wait and hope people forget. These thorns in their personalities choke out their good intentions. After a time, they conclude that Christianity was only an illusion and return to their old ways.

It need not be that way. But many evangelists who mean well neglect to explain that one cannot live a fruitful Christian life without removing the rocks and the thorns.

What does an angel look like?

This question was prompted by my search for an image to illustrate the words of John Milton which I posted a few days ago. I found all kinds of images, but not one that I would fell comfortable using.

The question may seem frivolous, as the Bible does not give a clear description of an angel. There are descriptions of seraphim, cheubim, living creatures in Ezekiel, and living beasts before the throne of God in Revelation. I don’t know if anyone has really succeeded in drawing a picture that accurately represents those descriptions. These beings have some role in God’s kingdom, but just what it is isn’t exactly clear, except that they are continually praising God.

Angels are something a little different. The name means messenger and is used in Revelation to describe the human messenger, or minister, of each of the seven churches of Asia. The celestial angels appear to have the specific responsibility of being God’s messengers to mankind and also protectors of mankind.

In the few mentions we have of an angel appearing to individuals in the Bible, he is usually described as appearing to be a man. That is, the angel appeared to be human. That would preclude wings. Though the other beings are usually described as having wings and flying, angels appear to simply step from the unseen celestial realm into the terrestrial.

Angels appear to have no gender, “neither marry, nor are given in marriage,” thus depictions of angels in sensuous feminine form are clearly false. For the same reason, it is probably correct that angels are never depicted with a beard.

Thus, the best I can do to describe an angel is to describe what is probably not part of his appearance: no wings, not distinctly masculine or feminine. Sometimes an angelic appearance is glorious, often there is nothing startling about the appearance of the angel.

The ministry and purpose of angels is more important than their appearance, for that reason I will quote Hebrews 1:14 as the conclusion:

Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

Freedom of the will

Freedom of choice means that I am at liberty to do as I please. Nevertheless, I learn every day in small ways that the choices I make have consequences; and the choices that other people make often have consequences that affect me. Why then should I not expect that consequences might not only be immediate, but long-term, even eternal?

God is not to blame when bad things happen, He has given us the liberty to choose freely. Often those choices have unanticipated consequences. The unpleasant consequences of our bad choices should lead us to pause a moment to consider whether God might not have a better way for us.

God does not protect us from the negative consequences of the choices we and other people make. Neither does he force us to choose His way.

Yet God does speak to us, quietly and often, asking us to reconsider the direction we are travelling in life. Some time in our life He will tell us that the bad things happening to us are the result of our bad choices which make us sinners.

It doesn’t work to decide that we will live the way God wants us to live by our own will and strength. But we do have the ability to accept God’s judgment on our sin and ask Him to help us. That is called repentance and when God sees that our repentance is genuine, He forgives us because of the sacrifice Jesus has made for our sin, He adopts us as His child and gives us His Holy Spirit to enable us to make right choices.

That is called the new birth, conversion, regeneration. Those words all mean a change in the way we think and a u-turn in the direction of our life. When we live to please God and to love and help the people around us, we will be far happier than when we were only trying to please ourselves.

This is the beginning of Christian life. Some people stop as soon as they reach this point, thinking this is all there is to Christian life. God wants us to keep on going, learning a little more each day about our own weakness and about God’s will and the blessings that He has for those who really consecrate their lives to Him.

Meeting God in His Word

I grew up in a home where the Bible was read every day and we attended the Anglican Church every Sunday. I became a member of that church when I was 11; a few years later I became an altar boy and continued faithfully until I moved away from home to attend university.

There was a time when God seemed very near, yet never did it seem like a connection was made. After I left home, I lost connection with the church and with the Bible. It seemed to me that most churches talked a lot about God, but followed a path that didn’t have much to do with God. The Bible was suspect, too. Perhaps some of it was inspired by God, but it seemed to contradict itself, most of it must be the opinions of those who wrote it.

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When I was 24, I borrowed a well-worn Bible from my parents and began reading it again to try and sort out what was really the Word of God and what was man-made additions. After several years I knew that was an impossible task. This book, written by 40 different people over a period of 1,500 years, was only one book. Every part of the Bible was connected to every other part. It was either the Word of God from beginning to end, or entirely a man-made fraud.

The second option seemed less and less tenable as I saw how the Bible explained itself as I read the whole thing. The so-called contradictions disappeared as I began to discern a purpose in them and see how God had revealed Himself step by step to recalcitrant mankind.

Then came the day in 1970 when I was reading the Bible and God pointed His finger directly at me and told me I was a sinner. And I knew it was true. On my knees I admitted to God that all that had gone wrong in my life was my fault and no one else’s. That was the point where my relationship with God began.

That relationship has grown over the years. I have read the Bible through many times, in both French and English. I don’t follow any Bible reading plan that leads me skipping hither and yon through the pages of the Bible. It is only meaningful when I read a book of the Bible through and get the whole picture.

From time to time God still points His finger at me and tells me “You’ve been struggling with that temptation, that bad attitude, or that unwillingness, for long enough. It’s time to repent of it, to clean house.” And He gives the grace to do it. I am constantly amazed at His patience, with the people of Bible times and with me.

The purpose of daily reading and meditating on the Word of God is not to learn about God, or to learn how to please God. Our motivation for opening the Bible must be to meet with God, to deepen our acquaintance with Him whose actions and purposes appear on every page, who inspired those 40 men over a millennium and a half to write the things that are in the book. We will learn about God and about how to live a life that is pleasing to Him, but that has to be a result of first learning to know Him in a personal way. The teachings of the Bible will not stick if we do not know the Author.

The Christian art of soft persuasion

Jesus said: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We want to share the gospel; let’s not get distracted into wolf hunting. That’s not what Jesus has called us to do; He has called us to demonstrate an alternative to the wolves.

Not everyone out there in the world is a wolf. Many are confused, some are deceived, but that does not make them wolves. For this reason we need to be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. It is one thing to point out the snares in false teachings, but if we attack everyone who we deem to be deceived, we are acting like wolves.

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Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The gospel is unchanging from age to age and culture to culture. Yet the words we use to explain the gospel must be adapted to the understanding of the hearers. Before we can present the gospel in a meaningful way to someone of a different culture, we must first unpack it from the baggage of our own culture. Here is where we are most apt to stumble. We are blind to our own culture. Why would we even think of changing what is right and good and workable, we ask?

To other people our culture is blatantly obvious. We have preconceived ideas of how a Christian should conduct himself. We like to shake hands, but hugging makes us uncomfortable. We are accustomed to keeping a generous amount of personal space between ourselves and the person we are speaking to. These things make us appear cold and aloof to people of a warmer culture.

We use words, expressions, examples that we believe are universal. They are not. We can’t understand the questions people ask, they seem so strange to our way of thinking. Our way of thinking is equally foreign to them.

Once we learn to recognize that the baggage we have carried all our lives is not essential to the gospel, then we can begin to share the message in a way that others can understand. We become soft and gentle sheep, submissive to the will of God, portraying the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and actions.

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“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Adam Clarke’s take on this is that Paul is saying that he assumed every shape and form consistent with innocency and perfect integrity; giving up his own will, his own way; his own ease; his own pleasure; and his own profit that he might save the souls of all. He did not accommodate or water down his message to the beliefs of others, his goal was not to get money, influence, or honour, but to save souls. It was not to get ease, but to increase his labours. It was not to save his life, but rather that it should be a sacrifice for the good of immortal souls.

Loss of power

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Getting our wires crossed

A few days ago, I reorganized our home office. When I turned my wife’s desk a quarter turn, all the wires that were hidden behind it were now a mess in the open air. Not as bad as the illustration above, but seriously unsightly and possibly dangerous.

I went about to put a little order into the confusion. I managed to eliminate one power bar and plug everything into the other. Now the monitor’s power cord was too short to lead it along the wall behind the computer. So I pulled a cord from the wall outlet and plugged it into the power bar, then plugged the monitor’s power cord into the wall outlet. Everything seemed fine now. But nothing worked. The printer, the computer, the monitor, the internet router were all dead.

I thought maybe by rearranging the cords I had inadvertently pressed the power bar switch. But nothing worked at either position of the switch. How could the power bar fail as fast as that?

Most cords were much longer than necessary for this setup and I was not sure which cord went to which device. I followed the cord plugged into the last socket of the power bar, it made a loop – and turned out to be the power cord of the power bar!

These power bars are a wonderful thing: several years ago the modem in a computer was fried during a thunderstorm and I don’t want to risk that happening again. But they have no power in themselves – they must be plugged into a source of power. Everything worked fine once the power bar was plugged into the wall outlet once again. And if the monitor cord is a little short, we will buy a longer one.

I, too, become powerless in Christian life if I am not connected to the source of power. I can not live as a Christian by my own power – I just do not have it in me. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me. The Apostle Paul’s desire was to “know Him, and the power of his resurrection.” So I need a living connection with the source of spiritual power – Jesus Christ – to live as a true Christian.

25 Flavours of Mennonites

When we lived in Ontario it would happen from time to time that someone I had just met would ask me what kind of Mennonite I was. “Does your church allow cars? electricity? telephones?”

I knew these questions arose because there were at least 25 flavours of Mennonites within a 100 km radius of where we lived and for many of them things of this nature were a big issue. I would gladly have avoided these questions because I couldn’t see what they had to do with being Christian, which should be the most essential part of being a Mennonite.

People were curious and they didn’t know where else to start. It was so easy to answer the questions and wander down a rabbit trail that didn’t lead anywhere, leaving the questioner no wiser than when he started and leaving me feeling that I’d failed to say anything really helpful.

What I wanted to say was that the way we use the things available to us in this world can reveal something about our relationship with God. But making rules about things results in a group that is impressive in their outward unity, but does not ensure that they have a relationship with God. It does not even ensure that the members trust one another; sadly, the unity is often only apparent to outsiders.

What I wanted to say was that the essence of Christianity is to be filled with love, joy, peace and all the other qualities described as the fruit of the Spirit. To do that, it is often necessary to avoid things that will feed our pride. Pride is a sneaky thing that tries to enter our lives in so many ways that no amount of rules could ever cover them all. We must each deal with pride on a personal level.

What I wanted to say was that the making of rules provides fertile ground for thinking that I am doing a better job of following the rules than others. That feeds my pride and a critical, suspicious attitude towards others. That would be to head in altogether the wrong direction.

What should I have said? What would you say? What are your questions about being Mennonite?

Duty of separation of the Christian

That the Christian is commanded to separate himself from the Antichrist, is said and proved by the Old and the New Testament:

For the Lord says, Isaiah fifty-two: Depart ye, depart ye; get out of here, do not touch anything unclean, get out of it; purify yourself, you who carry the vessels of the Lord. For you will not go out in haste, nor will you walk away.

And Jeremiah fifty: Flee from Babylon, come out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be like goats at the head of the flock. For behold, I will stir up and set up against Babylon a multitude of great nations in the land of the north; they will fight against it, and will seize it.

Numbers, sixteen: Separate yourself from the midst of this assembly, and I will consume them in a moment. And then: Depart from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you perish at the same time that they will be punished for all their sins.

Leviticus: I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You will observe the distinction between clean and unclean animals, between pure and unclean birds, so as not to make your people abominable by animals, by birds, by all the reptiles of the earth, which I have taught you to distinguish as unclean.

Exodus, Thirty-four: Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are to enter, lest they be a snare for you.

And then: Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, lest they prostitute themselves to their gods and offer them sacrifices, and invite you, and eat none of their victims; lest you take their daughters for your sons, and their daughters, prostitute themselves to their gods, do not lead your sons to prostitute themselves to their gods.

Leviticus, fifteen, 31: And ye shall drive the children of Israel away from their uncleanness, lest they die because of their uncleanness, if they defile my tabernacle that is in their midst.

Ezekiel, eleven, 21: But for those whose heart is pleased with their idols and with their abominations, I will make their works fall on their heads, says the Lord, the Eternal.

Deuteronomy, eighteen: When you have entered the land which the LORD your God gives you, you will not learn to imitate the abominations of those nations. For whoever does these things is an abomination to Jehovah; and it is because of these abominations that the LORD your God will drive out these nations before you. You will be wholly to the Lord your God. For those nations that you are hunting will listen to astrologers and soothsayers; but to you the LORD your God does not allow it.

In the New Testament, too, it is manifest, John, eleven: That the Lord should die, that he should gather in one the children of God.

For it is for these truths of unity and separation from one another that he says, Matthew ten: For I came to put the division between man and his father, between the daughter and her mother between the daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law; and the man will have for enemies the people of his house. And he commanded to part, when he said: He who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, & c.

Similarly – Beware false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, etc.

So also: Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.

In the same way: Take care that no one deceives you. For many will come under my name, saying; It’s me. And, they will deceive many people. If anyone says to you then: Christ is here, or: He is there, do not believe him. ; do not go after them.

And, in the book of Revelation, he admonishes in his own voice and commands his people to come out of Babylon, saying: And I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her, my people, that you do not participate in her sins, and have no part in her plagues. For her sins accumulated to the heavens, and God remembered her iniquities.

The Apostle says this very same: Do not put yourself with the unbelievers under a unequal yoke. For what connection is there between justice and iniquity? or what is there in common between light and darkness? What agreement is there between Christ and Belial? or what part has the faithful with the unfaithful? What connection is there between the temple of God and the idols? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord; do not touch the unclean, and I will welcome you. I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.

Ephesians five: So have no part with them. Formerly you were darkness, and now you are light in the Lord.

1 Corinthians ten: I do not want you to be in communion with the demons. You can not participate in the Lord’s table, and at the table of demons.

2 Thessalonians three – We recommend you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to depart from every brother who lives in disorder, and not according to the instructions that you have received from us.You know yourselves How then must we be imitated? And then: And if any man obey not what we say by this letter, note it, and have no communication with him, that he may be ashamed. Ephesians five: Do not take part in the unfruitful works of darkness.

Similarly, 2 Timothy 3: Know that in the last days there will be hard times .. And lower: Having the appearance of godliness, but denying what makes it strong. Keep away from these men.

Of the above-mentioned things, the evil deeds of Antichrist and his perversity are clearly demonstrated. And as it is ordained by the Lord to separate from him internally and externally, and to unite in Jerusalem the holy city. Thus, knowing these things which the Lord reveals to us through his servants, and believing in this revelation, according to the holy Scriptures, and being at the same time admonished by the commandments of the Lord, we separate ourselves internally and externally from what we believe to be Antichrist, and we stand together with one another, united in goodwill and righteous intentions, with the pure and simple foundation of pleasing the Lord and being saved, with the help of the Lord, as much as the truth of Christ and his Bride, as well as our weak intelligence, may permit it.

We therefore point out the causes of our separation, as well as of our congregation, so that if the Lord gives others the same truth, they may love Him at the same time as us. And so that if they are not well enlightened, they will be helped by this blessed ministry sprinkled by the Lord. And if it happens that more has been granted to someone, and more abundantly, we humbly desire to be taught, to know better about Him and to be corrected in what we lack.

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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