Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Christians

The way to happiness

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The Bible demonstrates again and again how futile it is for a person to think he is able to understand and decide by himself how to live a successful and happy life. But we keep trying.

Four centuries ago, René Descartes, elevated this human propensity into a philosophical belief systemn which says that a person can discover everything he needs to know by his own reasoning ability, beginning with the simple concept, cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). This philosophy has slowly percolated through western thought and it is now the foundation of our thinking that tradition and historical principles are a form of slavery. We should not accept any belief or authority that does not come from our own mind.

We Christians are no better. Too often we know just enough of the Bible to pick the parts that authorize us to live as we want to live. We don’t want to accept any authority that comes from outside of ourselves. We think that being Christian makes us better than other people, and we are disdainful of those looking on who don’t see us that way.

Let’s go back to the beginning. We are made of dirt, there is nothing good in us. We think of David, Jeremiah and Paul as great men of God, but listen to how they saw themselves: “verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (David, in Psalm 39:5); “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23); “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Paul, in Romans 7:18).

Jesus said: “there is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). Therefore, if there is to be any good in us at all, it will have to come from God. That is why He gave us the Holy Spirit, not to make us perfect, not to make us feel good, not to exalt us above others, but to enable us to become what He has planned us to be, so that we can be a testimony of His goodness.

The apostle Paul was not gentle towards our feelings of self-esteem: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Galatians 6:3).

Believe it or not, this is the recipe for a useful and happy life. The old ways, the old teachings, respect for our elders and for authority, allow us to develop our ability to serve others. We don’t need to beat our head against the wall trying to make others accept our vision of reality. Contentment and inner peace come from accepting God’s revealed vision of reality and seeking approval from God.

Where are we?

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A friend told me that scientific evidence shows that the COVID epidemic ended in May and what we have now is just ordinary influenza. Others tell me that they have read scientific proof that COVID is far worse than we have thought up to now. Some say it is a conspiracy to take our freedoms away from us. Whatever your point of view, you will find unassailable evidence on the internet to support it.

Is there such a thing as “just ordinary influenza”? Half a million people die every year from the flu. The epidemic that began near the end of World War One killed more people than the war.

As Christians, whatever our point of view might be about COVID, our conduct should reflect a concern for the people around us. We should follow the directives of our local health authorities, such as wearing masks and refraining from large gatherings. We should avoid criticism of authorities and refrain from belligerent arguments supporting a point of view contrary to theirs.

Remember, people around us are very sick, some are dying. That nay yet become our lot. Jesus told us to love our neighbour as ourselves. May that love govern our attitudes, our conduct and our conversation.

We are in a fog, much that is happening around us veiled from our view. Nor do we know what the world around us will look like when the fog lifts. Let’s just admit that and trust our Lord who knows all things.

And ye would not

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The devil and the powers of the realm of darkness keep the world in turmoil. Then they tell Christians to look at what’s going on and urge them to get out there and set things right. That gets Christians stirred up, some trying to fix the world in one way, some in another, and blaming each other that they are not doing enough, or are doing the wrong thing.

Why are we, who say that we trust in God, so prone to think that we have to get out there and save the world? Didn’t Jesus say: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)?

When we think we have to do something to fix the world, aren’t we much like God’s people of old, to whom Isaiah said: “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not” (Isaiah 30:15)?

Why don’t we just try this quietness and confidence thing?

The mask

I am very susceptible to respiratory allergies. For that reason I wear a dust mask the first time I mow the lawn in spring. The mower stirs up the dried leaves, dust and mould that have accumulated in the lawn and I know I will have trouble breathing for a few days afterwards if I don’t wear a mask.

This year, half way through summer it turned hot and dry and the grass stopped growing. I mowed the grass one last time in fall to trim it evenly and mulch the tree leaves that had fallen. I wore a mask again for that. My eyes were itchy for a few days after, but I could breathe freely.

Then I thought of the COVID season we are in. If I have no problem wearing a mask to protect myself, why should I have a problem wearing a mask to protect others? If wearing a mask will help to break the chain of transmission of the virus, to people who I know and people I don’t know, then it makes sense to do it.

This is not a season for Christians to become more self-centred, rather we should be even more concerned with the well being of others than we are at other times.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.)

Flotsam and jetsam

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At the beginning of Creation, God separated earth and sky from the primordial sea. The sea remains as a constant threat to the earth and those that dwell upon it. The sea is chaos, unpredictable, ever changing, ever threatening to overflow the boundaries that God set for it.

The Bible depicts the multitudes of mankind who do not put their trust in God as the sea. There is the same disorder and tumult in the masses of mankind where ideas of right and wrong are built upon the changeable fashions of human reasoning, where the ebb and flow of quests for wealth and power create continuous instability.

Here are some examples of what the Bible says about that sea:
Ephesians 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
James 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Jude 1:13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
Revelation 17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
Revelation 17:15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

Christians who think that they, or other well-meaning people, are capable of bringing order to the sea, are not seeing things as they really are. The shipwrecks of previous attempts to set the sea in order now make the sea an even more dangerous place.

When Jesus stilled the storm on Galilee, He demonstrated his authority over the raging of the sea, both the natural sea and the primordial sea that is driven by winds from the realm of darkness. Christians must cease to entertain dreams of creating a refuge in the chaotic sea of this world and build our refuge on the rock, Jesus Himself.

Psalm 65:7 Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Luke 6:48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
Malachi 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not.
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

The Quiet in the Land

MennoSimons

Throughout Christian history, there has always been a united, visible body of believers who professed much the same faith regarding conversion and a personal relationship with God but who refused to conform to the state enforced form of worship of their day. The Martyrs’ Mirror catalogues the faith, and the persecution of these people because of their faith, from the time of the apostles up to the time the book was published in 1660.

Other people decided to live their faith in a way that would not bring persecution. They conformed to the outward practices of the state church, Reformed, Lutheran or Roman Catholic, but professed an inward piety and heartfelt devotion to God

The label of pietism first appeared in the seventeenth century. Some members of the Lutheran Church professed to have received forgiveness of sins through a conversion experience that warmed their hearts and led them to a deeper communion with God. They remained in outward fellowship with the Lutheran Church, attending worship services regularly, receiving communion, and baptizing their babies, but sought fellowship in private gatherings with like-minded people to testify of what God had done for them.

Sometimes the pietists called themselves “the quiet in the land”, from Psalm 35:20. That term, and pietism itself, appealed to large groups of Mennonites who had grown weary of persecution, and may even have forgotten why they had been persecuted. When Mennonites from Prussia settled on colonies in Ukraine 200 years ago they agreed not to proselytize the Russian people. Around them were other German colonies, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. The Mennonites absorbed pietist teachings from Lutheran pietists and called themselves “The Quiet in the Land.”

That term is not part of our Mennonite heritage. Indeed, I feel it marks the abandonment of that heritage. Menno Simons wrote a lengthy article in 1539 entitled Why I do not Cease Teaching and Writing. In other articles he wrote:

This is my only joy and the desire of my heart, that I may extend the borders of the kingdom of God, make known the truth, reprove sin, teach righteousness, feed the hungry souls with the Word of the Lord, lead the stray sheep to the right path, and so win many souls for the Lord, through His Spirit, power and grace,” and

We preach, therefore, as much as is in our power, both day and night, in houses and in the open air, in forests and in wildernesses, hither and thither, in this and in foreign lands, in prisons and in dungeons, in water and in fire, on the scaffold and on the wheel, before lords and princes, orally and by writings at the risk of possessions and blood, life and death; as we have done these many years.”

The reluctance of the pietists to unite with the persecuted church may have saved them much physical suffering. The result of this individualistic approach is the tendency to interpret the Bible in the light of one’s own experience, rather than subjecting one’s experiences to the light of Scripture. They are convinced that they have attained to a level of spiritually and communion with God that is not shared by the common run of professing Christians. Such a person may conform to the outward practices of a church for the sake of avoiding censure or persecution, but does not feel bound to give account of his faith and life to other Christians.

Listen to the falling rain

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Image by Benjamin Nelan from Pixabay

In the nineteenth century an expedition was sent to survey the Canadian prairies to determine its suitability for agriculture. They reported that a large part of the prairies were far too arid to be farmed. That area is still known as the Palliser Triangle, after the leader of that expedition.

The Triangle has now been farmed for 100 years. In the 1930’s it seemed that the Palliser expedition was right. The rains all but ceased, nothing grew and the dust began to blow.
Farming methods have changed since then and this land produces good harvests in all but the driest years.

This year has been dry. The grain has germinated and is growing, but rain is needed. We had good rains here where I live ten days ago, but other areas received little or nothing. Days of heat and drying wind have depleted the moisture in the soil.

A light rain began at supper time and increased as the evening went on. The forecast says it will continue until dinner time tomorrow. This is what we call showers of blessing! Soon the growing crops will cover the soil and limit evaporation.

Here is a test for Christians: Do we rejoice when others get rain and we don’t?

Jesus said: But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

God is not a respecter of persons, and he does not want us to be either.

Spiritual radar

On Dec. 7, 1941 Lt. Kermit Tyler was the supervisor for a series of radar stations. In the early morning a radar operator who was a private called about a large blip on his scope. Lt. Tyler told him not to worry about it. Not long after, he went outside and witnessed the beginning of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

An investigation concluded that Lt. Tyler couldn’t have been expected to do any better. Radar was a new technology, there were no procedures in place to tell what to do even if the radar blip had been correctly interpreted. This was only Lt. Tyler’s second shift as supervisor, he had been given no training or instructions as to what his duties were.

Two months ago, when COVID-19 was still thought to be something only happening in Asia, doctors around Seattle noticed a rise in flu-like illnesses causing fevers, sore throats and respiratory distress, yet tests for the influenza virus came back negative. That area now has the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in the USA.

Did doctors and the Centers for Disease Control misread the blips on the radar? Would it have made any difference if they had recognized them for what they were? Probably not, these were still early days for that virus and no one understood how it worked or what to do about it. We are still learning.

There is a lesson there for Christians if we feel secure in our understanding of how to live a life pleasing to God and of the dangers that might trip us up. The serpent always has something new to put in our way, something we have never before encountered and have no idea how to handle. Most often it will seem innocent and harmless at first, until we realize that we have been bitten and the poison is already eating at our Christian life.

Christians have something far better than radar to warn us of such dangers. We have the Holy Spirit. “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). That voice will always show us the way that is safe. Are we paying attention?

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.

Baby steps

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“God will provide.” We say those words glibly, so certain of their truth that we may appear to have no compassion for people in distress. That isn’t what they are experiencing day after day. Life seems to be stacked against them. Perhaps they don’t have the skills to find a job that will pay a living wage. So they eke out a meagre existence on welfare.

If they take part time work, the income is deducted from their welfare cheque. The government offers financial aid to get the training needed for a better paying job. But if they accept that offer, they no longer qualify for subsidized housing and they are worse off than before. What are they to do?

Some do escape from the welfare trap. That possibility exists for many more, but it looks hopeless who are caught there.

If they could just win the lottery that would give them a way out. Except it doesn’t; the lottery is just another trap. Those who win big are usually back where they started within two years.

The real problem is not a lack of education or a lack of money. Those problems are real, but the underlying problem is a lack of hope. Well-meaning people can’t inspire hope in the poor by telling them that there is work for anyone who really wants to work. All the listener feels from that is condemnation. Neither does it help to label them as lazy or stupid.

A baby watches big people walk around on two legs. Eventually she gets the courage to try it for herself, and she falls. The next day she tries again, and falls again. But she sees the big people doing it and wants so badly to do it herself that she keeps trying. Soon she can stand by herself. Then she takes a step or two, and falls once more. But she keeps trying and pretty soon she can walk; before long she is running.

That is the way life works. Winning the lottery does not instantly make one capable of walking, in whatever metaphorical context one may wish to apply it. None of the people who appear to be so successful in life got there without a shaky start. Everyone began with baby steps.

That is the way that God works in the life of a newborn Christian. Jesus told the disciples “ I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). The Holy Spirit does not dump the whole load on us and tell us the shape up; he gently guides us step by step, allowing us to concentrate on making the next step and giving us a gentle assurance that we are moving in the right direction.

This is the kind of help needed by those who feel trapped in a dead-end street. First, they need to grasp the hope that it is possible to get out of there. Then they need the courage to take just one step. Even if that step doesn’t get them very far, they need to feel that they have accomplished one little thing and that will give them the courage to take one more step. In time their steps become more confident, leading to possibilities they thought were forever beyond their grasp.

As Christians we have a reputation for thinking that the misfortunes of the poor are entirely their own fault, for lacking compassion. I’m afraid many of us have earned that reputation. Perhaps we need to begin making baby steps toward an attitude that inspires hope in others.

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