Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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The fear of some people who called themselves Mennonites

Beginning in the 16th century many Mennonites fled persecution in Friesland and Flanders and settled in the Vistula delta region of Poland. Here they gradually lost their evangelistic fervour and their faith dwindled to a mere outward conformity to some principles that they felt to be the essence of the faith. It seems they ceased to read the writings of Menno Simons and lost any concept of what it meant to be of the same faith that he upheld.

When Prussia annexed the Vistula delta region in the late 18th century, many of these people moved into southern Russia (today Ukraine). Here they could live in peace and began to feel that their peace depended upon keeping quiet about the real foundations of the Mennonite faith. When two men had Menno Simon’s writings printed for the benefit of those who called themselves Mennonites in the Russian colonies, the Mennonite church reacted strongly.

In August of 1835, all 29 elders and ministers of the Moltotschna colony signed a letter demanding that all copies of Menno’s book should be confiscated and destroyed. The pretext was that some people of other faiths, or some government officials, might read those writings and cause trouble for the so-called Mennonites.

Abram Friesen, one of those who had arranged for the printing, had a different impression of the true motive for banning the book:

“One would like to ask these men: How come do you want to put the lighted lamp under a bushel? Oh, that they might take the words of Christ in Matthew 5:13, 14, 15 to heart! They would have to call out woe upon woe for having done so foolishly. For what do these good men think of this? Menno feared neither tyranny nor persecution, neither pressure nor disfavour, hatred nor poverty, but in this book has freely professed before all men his ground and faith, and confessed the Lord Jesus Christ before men according to Matthew 10:31-39. But without imminent threat of danger these good elders and teachers are afraid without reason, for the hearts of the higher authorities are favourably inclined concerning freedom of conscience and worship and rule over the pious with great gentleness. Not only do they refrain from interfering in their faith and principles but often refer us back to them.

“On the contrary, the elders and teachers, who should be more in favour of the work consider it a great risk, and fear hatred from people of other religious persuasions. I only fear that a different matter in their own conscience aroused hatred in themselves because Menno Simon’s teaching severely reproves the Mennonites of the present and especially the ministry. Consequently they feel ashamed and reproved and therefore prefer not to have these books in their congregations.

The last two paragraphs are taken from By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them, by Peter Toews, emphasis added.

Living in Apprehension

Many people today are convinced that the Great Tribulation and the rule of Antichrist are imminent. One would think that if such a person had an assurance in the depth of his heart that he would be removed from the earth before that happened, he would be at rest about the future.

That doesn’t seem to be the case. Such people read the news with great fear. So many government initiatives are evidence of the coming of a one-world government, which will soon lead to the rise of Antichrist. Christian bookstores have whole shelves of books pointing out signs of the end. In many churches it is the main topic of preaching. There are blogs and podcasts. If people believe what they say they believe, why are they so anxious?

The spread of COVID-19, government actions to limit its spread, the vaccines that have been developed, are all fodder for the mill of conspiracy theorists. The underlying fear of many of those spreading these theories is that these events are preparing the way for a one-world government.

Other people see the Communist Party of China behind almost everything that goes wrong. For others the great danger is Vladimir Putin. The USA is descending into chaos. BLM and Antifa are actively promoting a Marxist revolution. Marxists have control of the schools, the media.

Whatever element of truth there is behind any of these things that cause so much fear, it is important to realize that the real problem is not secret conspiracies, Vladimir Putin, the Communist Party of China, or any other force in this world. It is the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan. He has been the source of all mankind’s strife and sorrow since the Garden of Eden.

The dragon loves for us to see the problem everywhere else but him. He loves it when we begin to blame one another because we cannot see the imminent danger of such and such a thing that is happening. His purpose is to divide mankind until eachy individual stand alone and trusts noone else. It is especially his goal to divide Christians. And we are letting him do it far too often these days.

It is time to stop and see what is happening, to us and to those we love. Let’s stop trying to fix the world. Every time we do that, the dragon is right beside us to lend a hand. In the end, we only succeed in making things worse than they were before.

The way to begin making the world a better place is to stop worrying about things we have no power to change. We need to let go of all our hurt feelings, forgive one another and work to mend broken relationships. We need to talk more about the healing, cleansing, saving power of Jesus’ blood.

That may not sound like much. But that is the only way to extract ourselves from the grip of the dragon and to help those we love get free. Every time that happens is a defeat for the dragon. Every time we try to do something big is a victory for the dragon.

Rulers are not a terror to good works

I received my first injection of COVID-19 vaccine this morning. That means that I have chosen to ignore the warnings of well-intentioned friends who send me emails revealing the malevolent conspiracy behind the vaccination program. That means I have chosen not to live in fear.

Image by DoroT Schenk from Pixabay 

I have chosen to believe the information provided by Moderna, Health Canada, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and other competent authorities showing that the vaccine is safe and effective. I have chosen to do what I believe will protect my health and the health of those around me.

What good do conspiracy theories do? Do they help us live happy and productive lives? Do they helps us to comfort and encourage those around us? Jesus said “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 9:32). Conspiracy theories claim to be the truth, but they lock us in a prison of fear, a prison that we build for ourselves.

What went wrong?

Some reports say that 75% of the deaths from COVID-19 occurred in long-term residences for seniors. I don’t find that hard to believe. Here is Saskatchewan there have been 130 deaths so far this year, 25% of those deaths occurred during one recent outbreak in one residence. I believe everyone did the best they could with the situation as they understood it, but resources and personnel have been overwhelmed by the spread of an invisible attacker.

At the beginning of the pandemic there was a fear that hospitals would be overwhelmed. In some cases hospitals were able to make more beds available by transferring elderly people to long term care homes. In retrospect, that does not seem to have been a good idea. Here are some of the problems that have been identified.

  1. Many of the larger homes had multi-patient rooms, up to four beds in one room. When one person in that room became ill there were no private rooms available to isolate them. You could draw a curtain around the bed with the sick person, but the virus spread by airborne particles over, under and around that curtain.
  2. Most homes had a large contingent of part-time workers. In larger urban centres that often meant that many of those workers were employed at more than one home. When the virus arrived in one home those workers carried it to the other home where they worked before they realized they had been infected.
  3. Elderly people often do not present the same symptoms of COVID-19 as younger people, leading to delays in diagnosis.
  4. Long-term care homes were closed to visitors. Workers who were unknown to the patients were brought in to replace those who were sick. Cutting off the elderly from family, faith communities and familiar caregivers caused loneliness, confusion, and fear. Those emotions have physical consequences.

    With all good intentions, we have largely botched the care of the most vulnerable among us. It will serve no good purpose to find people to blame this on, but perhaps some lessons can be learned for the future. One lesson may be that bigger is not always better. Perhaps the ultimate lesson is that we are all to blame because we thought it was a good idea to separate the elderly into large institutions where their physical needs could be provided, which has resulted in isolating ourselves from them.

Scaredy-cat

Image by JL G from Pixabay

We used to have a nice screen door. We still have the door, but it’s not so nice anymore. The wind slammed it against the railing, more than once. I tried to straighten it, but it will never fit right again. Then the latch mechanism wore out. It would cost a lot to replace the latch and the door is no longer worth that kind of repair. So I installed plain handles inside and out and an old-fashioned screen door catch that goes snap! when we open the door and snap! when we close it.

One of our cats has always been wary of doors. Angus is afraid there might be something scary on the other side; he approaches with caution and peers to see what might be out there before stepping through the open door. The snap! the door now makes has unnerved him. He comes to the door and meows to come in. Before I even open the door, he has run halfway down the walk. I guess it’s the back door for Angus from now on. At least until he gets used to the snap! of the front door.

Pookie, our other cat, trusts that whatever we have done to that door is not any danger to him. He is not going to let a snap! stop him from going through an open door.

This has got me to wondering – when God shows me an open door, am I like Angus? Or am I like Pookie?

What are we afraid of?

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I was afraid of a lot of things as a boy, the two main ones being girls and dogs. Girls were different, mysterious; they didn’t look, talk or act like boys. The thought of actually speaking to one crippled my mind and my tongue.

Yet there was always a girl or two that I could talk to without stammering like an imbecile. For some reason most of them were named Joan. Thinking back, it might have been because Joan was the most common girl’s name for that era, just like Robert was for boys. There were two grades to a classroom in our school and three Roberts in my class. In order to distinguish between us we were known as Bob Dixon, Bobby Adamus and I had to be Robert Goodnough.

There were two girls with whom I never had a problem visiting and they weren’t even named Joan. But they were cousins and that was even better. By now I think I have pretty much gotten over my fear of girls, of any age. I finally plucked up enough courage to ask one to marry me. Then we had a daughter to raise and by now we have two teenage granddaughters.

Dogs were even worse than girls. Not all dogs, but any big dog that barked was surely some kin of the Hound of the Baskervilles. I had a half mile to walk to school, straight down the west side of town. Halfway between home and school there was a house set well back from the street with a dog chained up outside.

Every day, when I walked by that house, the dog would bark. It was a big, dark coloured dog. My friends said it was half wolf. I was terrified. This went on for a couple years as I passed from nine to ten to eleven. I didn’t pray much in those days, but every time that dog barked I prayed that God would protect me from that evil wolf dog and give me the courage to keep on walking.

There was a wide coulee several miles east of ton with a little creek running along the bottom called the Arm River. At most places the river was ankle deep. But there was one spot that was wider and deep enough for children to swim in. It was an old-fashioned swimming hole, completely unsupervised, the nearest house a half mile away.

I didn’t go there often, it was too far and I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, too. But I knew that I was in no danger of drowning in that swimming hole; if I stood up in the deepest place my head was well above the water.

One day as I was walking home from school I saw that evil wolf dog trotting down the road toward me. I took to the opposite side of the road and he went by without paying me any attention. I noticed two things as he passed – he was dripping wet, and the pupils of his eyes were rectangular horizontal slits, not like the eyes of any dog I’d ever seen before. He was a wolf dog for sure.

The next day I heard that he had been down at the swimming hole. A young boy who couldn’t swim had gotten into the deep part where the water was over his head. He was floundering, gasping for air and calling for help. The dog had jumped in, the boy had grabbed his long fur and the dog had towed him up and out of the water. Apparently the dog was quicker thinking than the boys.

Thus ended my fear of the evil wolf dog. What had I been afraid of anyway? It wasn’t the dog, it was the overheated thoughts in my own mind.

Isn’t that how it is most times? Often, the things we fear the most have no existence outside of our own minds. Those thoughts can paralyze us. I wonder if, in our present circumstances, fears like that might not be doing more harm than the virus. I don’t mean to suggest that we should act as though the virus is not dangerous; let’s take all necessary precautions. But at the same time, let’s pray to God to be set free from irrational fears that hinder us from reaching out to those who are lonely, or in any kind of distress.

Change and decay in all around I see

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

It surely does seem that God is shouting at us right now. But what is He saying? Is he telling us to repent? Most likely that is part of it for most of us. But I can’t tell you what you need to repent of, that is a matter between you and God, No one else knows exactly what your need is.

What should be clear to everybody by now is that we have been trusting the wrong things. Money, jobs, health care, our own plans, all seem shaky now, not at all so sure and solid as we thought. One thing, one person, remains unchanged.

For I am the LORD, I change not (Malachi 3:6)

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 30:6)

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me (Psalm 23:4)

The following hymn, written by Henry F. Lyte almost 200 years ago, is known throughout the English-speaking world. If anyone is thinking of singing something meaningful to strengthen and comfort folks in nursing homes, this hymn should be at the top of your list.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Soar with the eagles

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Image by Flash Alexander from Pixabay

Somewhere in Africa, a hunter returning home spies in a rocky place a large nest of branches on which lies a beautiful egg spotted with red. Still warm from the mother bird who will soon come back.

Curious, the man examines the nest. Delighted at his discovery, he slips the egg into his pocket to take it to his house to hatch. Since yesterday, there is a hen sitting on her eggs in a corner of his kitchen. The big egg will find its place among the chicken eggs, under the mother hen.

Then comes the day of hatching: one by one, the chicks with yellow down come out of their shells. Among them, a big one, already covered with almost white feathers! Wow!
To see him pecking with the others, jostling between them to get the mash as best he can, you would take him for a young chicken.

But look up. Is that an eagle flying over the chicken coop? At the sound of his wings, a shiver of terror passes over the village. At his raucous cry there is general panic in all the yards, the dogs bark, the pigs hide, the cows moo. Roosters and hens cackle; all the chicks rush instinctively to find cover under the wing of their mother.

The danger? What danger? Alone outside while the raptor is soaring above, he has not moved, our big chick. Far from being frightened, he lifts his head. Motionless, neck extended, he listens. It seems that he recognizes the call, this one. The eaglet! Oh yes! So well adapted to this backyard life for which he was not made, he alone hears the call. The eagles up there, with their piercing eyes, also spot him, far below, in the yard of a hunter, under the banana trees.

Every time they make their rounds, his eagle gaze scans the sky. Until the day, his wings having grown, a large bird emerges from the clouds and begins to descend towards him in gliding flight.

Then, crying with joy, the young eagle rises towards the sun.

– adapted from a story in Les bananiers du miracle, by Flora Quintin. © 1987 Réalités de la foi, Montreux, Switzerland.

So here we are, cooped up in the chicken yard, other chickens around us crying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” We are here, but our home is not here. May we remember that.

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Memories of the 1998 Ice Storm

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Image by cplo from Pixabay

We had been to Saskatchewan to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. We left Moose Jaw on New Year’s Day, 1998 and arrived at our home at Acton Vale Quebec about 3:00 am Monday January 4. There was a gentle rain falling and by the time we were up and around in the morning it had turned to a freezing drizzle.

The rain got heavier toward evening and the temperature was just right that it fell as rain and instantly froze on to everything it touched. We needed to go into Montreal the next day and the ice was building up on the highways and streets, but there were ruts to drive in.

Wednesday was when the power first went out. The electric wires were encased in a thick sheath of ice and tree branches were starting to fall on the wires. We had a wood stove in the basement that kept our house warm and we could use it to warm up our food and we had a kerosene lamp for light. We felt secure in our home, but if I opened the door I could hear the crack if falling branches and every once in a while there were flashes of light from the countryside. The power lines were so heavy with ice that finally one of the wooden power poles couldn’t bear the load anymore. When one power pole fell, it took the whole power line for a mile with it.

The rain continued for two more days. Thursday there were stories of massive steel power line pylons crumpling to the ground in a heap of twisted metal. The ice on our roof was so thick that we heard a few ominous cracks, but no damage was done. Massive hardwood trees lost branches, sometimes whole trees lay on the ground. Tall evergreens lost their treetops. Other trees bent over until their tops touched the ground, then froze there. Deer were frightened by the branches falling all around them and came out of the woods to stand on the roads.

Late Friday the rain stopped. By that time most of Montreal was in the dark and the whole region south of Montreal to the Vermont border. 100,000 wooden power poles had broken and 100 steel pylons. A Columnist for La Presse (they had a generator to keep the newspaper going) wrote of leaving work in the afternoon and walking down the centre of Sherbrooke Street during what should have been rush hour. It wasn’t safe to walk on the sidewalk because of the danger of falling chunks of ice from the buildup on the buildings.

The army was called out. In our area they patrolled the streets of Acton Vale to prevent looting. In Montreal they went door to door to see if anyone needed help. This was too much for some new immigrants. One said “I knew in my head that they were coming to see if we were safe. But our fear was stronger than we were and we went to our friends. In the country I came from, when the army knocked on your door they weren’t coming to help you.”

By Monday the cleanup and rebuilding was in full swing. Quebec has the youngest farmers in Canada and they were up for whatever it took to keep their farms running. Even before the rain stopped the farm organization had located a warehouse in Tennessee full of generators. They bought them all and got them loaded on semis heading for Quebec.

Hydro Quebec called in tree service companies from neighbouring states to remove the tree branches hanging on the wires, or threatening to fall on them. They ordered massive amounts of new wooden poles from forestry companies in British Columbia. They went to a steel supplier with warehouses all across the province. They had all their inventory in all the warehouses on their computers, but there was no electricity to run the computers and no lights in the warehouse. They improvised and found all the steel needed to rebuild the pylons.

For several weeks our electricity was on and off. We had supper company one day and the lights went out just as we were about to sit down to eat. But the food was ready and we ate by lamplight. We had an evening church service, beginning with lamp light. The electricity came on during the sermon and I got up and blew out the light. A few minutes later the lights went out again and I relit the lamp. The minister was unperturbed by it all.

It seemed during the storm that everything around us was falling apart and would never be the same again. Yet three months later a newspaper columnist wrote, “We sometimes think we are poor. But we have just built an electrical distribution system in a few weeks that a lot of countries won’t have 100 years from now.”

We moved back to Saskatchewan that spring to take care of my mother. We have visited the Acton Vale area several times since and see no sign of the trauma of 22 years ago.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Most congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite are set up to audio stream their services for the benefit of those who are unable to be physically present. This is a wonderful thing for the sick and frail, for anyone who is prevented from attending, for whatever reason.

Yet that is second best. Listening is but one part of worship, There are valid reasons why someone may need to stay at home, but fear is not one of them.  Let us, if at all possible, be physically present in today’s worship services and be active participants, exhorting and encouraging one another. 

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