Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Fifty years ago

It is 50 years since the Jesus people movement began in California. It followed close on the heels of the Summer of Love, that brief period in time when disillusioned young people believed they had found the solution to all the world’s problems. “All you need is love” by the Beatles was their theme. They gathered in San Francisco, wearing tie-dyed clothes and flowers in their hair, smoking pot and dropping acid, strumming guitars and loving everybody. This was the dawning of a new age of peace and love.

Somehow it didn’t quite work out. A lot of girls soon discovered they were pregnant with no means of support. There was an explosion of std’s, money ran out, a few had their minds truly blown, love began to come apart at the seams.

Amidst the crushing disillusion, some began to discover Jesus and found Him to be what they had been looking for all along. Suddenly there were young people everywhere, still looking like hippies, but toting Bibles and ready to talk to anyone about Jesus. And they were serious, the Bible had the answers to life, sin was real and needed to be repented of. That was how you found genuine love for everyone around you.

The movement spread like wildfire. In 1970 a rebellious young man from a small town in Manitoba found Jesus in the streets of Vancouver. Now he was troubled about the things he had done back home, acts of vandalism, stealing gas from farm yards and disrespect for parents and elders. His new Jesus people friends told him he had to go home and make those things right. So he did.

As he went through the community confessing the wrongs he had done and doing his best to make them right, all the while talking of his new found faith in Jesus, it caused quite a stir. He was back attending the church he had grown up in and other young people began to find Jesus and set about making right the wrongs they had done.

The pastor welcomed this enthusiasm for gospel truth and did his best to encourage it. He had Bible studies with the young people and they began to hold Wednesday night coffee house meetings in town, open to young people from near and far, where they sang the songs that were coming out of the Jesus people movement and shared their testimonies.

I was born again in the spring of 1970 and married that summer. In the summer of 1971 my wife and I began to attend this church. We were enthused by the love of Jesus and the Bible shown by these youth and the genuine changes taking place in their lives. I was a little older, but also a new believer and felt a kindred spirit in most of them.

There was just one little niggling doubt. Not about the whole movement, but about a few who seemed to go along just because this was the big thing, not because they had a genuine personal faith. The pastor didn’t seem to be able to discern the difference. Nothing that couldn’t have been corrected with the help of more seasoned older Christians.

Instead of that, the congregation fired the pastor. The enthusiasm of the youth was too frightening for them. The pastor moved on to a church a few miles away, the youth followed and so did we. The lack of discernment became more evident.

I have no doubt that the Jesus People movement as a whole was a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. But churches were woefully unprepared to welcome and guide the new believers. Some were appalled, some were willing to accept everyone without discernment. An untold number of people truly met Jesus through this movement, some fell away but the majority went on to live sanctified Christian lives.

Churches today are back where they were 50 years ago. Young people are disillusioned, leaving the churches in droves to seek fulfilment elsewhere. Is it possible that history might repeat itself? Why is it so hard to transmit faith from one generation to the next?

Jesus made two statements that seem contradictory, but really are not. In Luke 9:49-50 we read: “And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Evidently Jesus has no problem with people outside of His immediate circle working in his name. Then we shouldn’t either.

But a little later He said: “ He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth” (Luke 11:23). The New Testament picture of the church is a functioning body of which Jesus is the head. Scattered body parts, each interpreting the directions from the head according to their own understanding, cannot be the church.

The immediate baptism of all who professed faith in Jesus was a fundamental weakness among the Jesus people, leading to the fragmentation of the movement. The New Testament pattern is that new believers need to be taught before they are baptized, to ensure that they have genuinely met Jesus and are following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The pattern in Anabaptist churches has been that new believers need to tell their experience to a congregation of believers. When the congregation can say “Yes, we believe this person has truly met the Lord and we have seen the evidence that he or she is walking with Him daily,” then baptism means something. The acceptance and care of fellow believers is essential to maintaining genuine Christian faith and life.

A recent Canadian study shows that young people are more apt to maintain their faith after they leave home if they had had a meaningful relationship with adult believers other than their parents. Where else is this possible but in a congregation of true believers?

Summer hibernation

Two weeks ago, we still occasionally ran the air conditioner to make the house comfortable. Now we use heaters in the morning to make it comfortable. We haven’t seen hummingbirds at our feeder for four days now. Blackbirds are gathering by the hundreds, sometimes perched all along the wires of the power lines. We hear a few sandhill cranes in the air as they fly down from their northern breeding areas. Combines can be heard from the grain fields all around us. The signs of the changing season are all around us.

Yet we are facing the coming of fall with more enthusiasm than we have for many years. You see, my wife had her last chemotherapy treatment just two days ago. Now the recovery can begin. The doctors have told us her leukemia has been beaten back, there are no remaining symptoms. All that remains is to recover from the drugs.

We went to Boston Pizza for dinner after her last treatment on Thursday, before the drugs began to distort her taste. She will have a few days of weariness, maybe a couple of weeks when things don’t taste right, some inflammation of the blood veins where the drugs were administered, plus the hidden danger of a weakened immune system.

Nevertheless, her energy level has increased towards the end of the last two cycles of treatment. She was going for two days of treatment at four-week intervals. She never felt seriously ill after the treatments, but the first two weeks after the treatments she did not have a lot of energy. Then the energy and enthusiasm would begin to increase up to the time of the next two days of treatments. Now there are no next treatments ahead of us.

It feels like we have spent spring and summer in hibernation. Now that fall and winter are ahead of us, we can wake up and learn to enjoy life once more. Rejoice with us!

Self Help or Helping Others?

In my younger years, before I was a Christian, I read most of the well-known self-help books on the market. I was disappointed with the whole lot of them.

In The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale took a verse from the Bible and told me to recite it over and over, much like a Hindu mantra, and promised that would put me in touch with a powerful inner force that would transform my life. I found a Bible, looked up the verse and found that the Reverend Mr. Peale was twisting the verse to mean something very different from what the Apostle intended.

Then there was Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich. I have been thinking for seventy-two years now, when do I get to the growing rich part? Seriously, even as a non Christian, it felt to me that something was out of kilter with the thinking promoted in this book and others like it. The basic theme was how to manipulate other people for my own advantage.

Many books and training courses are offered to teach me how to get along with the difficult people in my life, at home, at work and at church. What I really need is a book to teach me how to avoid being that difficult person.

Um . . . yes, I guess that book has already been written — a long, long time ago.

The Bible is not a self-help book or a manual of best business practices. Its central theme is the reality of the sin problem and God’s desire to reconcile sinners to Himself. The Bible teaches me that I am not the most important person in any group of people, not even a group of two! I have been called to serve, not to be served. Our children do not need to be taught self-esteem; they have quite enough of it to start with. We need to teach them that happiness comes from helping others.

When we lived in Montréal, I often took note of a sign on the wall of a passageway in the metro system that said: “Be the most enthusiastic person that you know.” That thought has percolated in my mind for years. Most everybody will show enthusiasm if you get them onto the right topic. So . . . do I really want to outdo everyone else in enthusiasm when I talk about my work, my hobbies, my yard, my grandchildren? I don’t believe anybody else wants me to do that either.

I don’t know what was going through the mind of the person who made that statement, but finally, the thought that goes through my mind is that the best way to be known as an enthusiastic person is to be enthusiastic in encouraging others.

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