Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: forgiveness

The bad news and the Good News

“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine” (Luke 4:5-7).

The devil made a shocking claim; can it possibly be true? Jesus did not contradict it. The apostolic writings confirm it.  The apostle Paul calls Satan “the god of this world,” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. In Ephesians 2:2 he calls him “the prince of the power of the air.” In Ephesians 6:14 he informs us “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

In the gospel of John, Jesus refers three times to Satan as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30 and 16:11). In 1 John 5:19 we are told that “the whole world lieth in wickedness.”

The twelfth chapter of Revelation tells how Satan has been cat down to the earth and has great wrath “because  he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”

The apostle Paul also tells how Satan can transform himself into an angel of light (Ephesians 6:14).

All schemes to make this world a better place by political means, by revolutions and protest movements, are Satan’s work and will fail. When accusations fly, where there is strife and bitterness, this is Satan’s doing. His is not trying to make the world a better place, but to divide us all into groups at war with each other, each thinking they alone have the light to solve the problems of the world.

The Good News is that there is still hope for mankind. That hope is embodied in the Kingdom of God, the only place we can experience durable peace, understanding and brotherly love.

Satan counterfeits the Kingdom, tries to divide citizens of the Kingdom into rival camps over things of no eternal value.

True peace, freedom and happiness are only possible when we admit we have followed the wrong way and turn around, trusting only in the forgiveness of God that is possible by Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. When we are forgiven, and the risen Christ reigns in our lives, we are free at last

We try to do too much

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Image by gentlegiant27153 from Pixabay

Trying to save the planet leaves us frustrated, angry, bitter and in despair.

Trying to compel other people turn to Jesus will do the same thing.

These jobs are too big for us; leave them to God.

We can be kind to others because of the love of God n our hearts.

We can respond peacefully to other people’s anger.

We can forgive others when they do us wrong.

We can tell of our own failures and how God forgave us.

We can praise God openly for what He has done for us.

We can explain how trusting Jesus enables us to live with hope.

These are little things, but they do more to make the world a better place than any of the big things we may try to do.

© Bob Goodnough

Why I am a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite

I was looking for a home—a family. An inner longing was pushing me to search for a church where there would be truth and warmth. Sometimes in my mind I thought I had found it, but that inner longing told me—No, this isn’t what you need.

I met many good people along the way, picked up little pieces of truth that I hadn’t known before, but always the emptiness within remained unsatisfied. Sometimes I visited a church once, sometimes I stayed for a year or two, but each experience ended in disappointment.

I reached the end of my search, was almost ready to give up. I had never thought the picture in my mind of what the ideal church should be was a problem. Then God told me I needed to give up that picture and allow Him to show me what I needed and where I should look.

From there on it was easy. Well, at least it was easy to find the church that was exactly what I was looking for. I had known of this church for years, but never gave it serious consideration because it did not fit the picture in my mind. Once I had checked out all the alternatives, God led me to take another look at this church. This time I knew it was where I wanted to be, where God wanted me to be.

My mind was at rest, my heart was at peace. This was the home for which I had searched. The doctrines of the church were Biblical, solid and complete. Brotherly love was genuine, not an act. Ministers were untrained and unsalaried, yet better able to discern between the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the world than any others I had met. All the members were born again. I did not meet any who thought they had just grown into salvation, or who thought showing the requisite level of enthusiasm, or wearing a certain unique cut of clothing, was evidence of the new birth.

God led me to my earthly spiritual home. But a spiritual family is much like a natural family. We are different people, with different tastes, different ways of doing things, different stresses in our life. Sometimes someone else steps on my toes, my feelings get hurt. I need to forgive; it wasn’t deliberate—I don’t know how many times I have stepped on someone else’s toes; I didn’t intend to, it just happens. I don’t know because they have forgiven me and got on with living.

Some are weak among us, they need help. Sometimes help comes in the way of correction, sometimes in practical help. We always offer help in kindness. Some are new in the faith, they need encouragement. Some make mistakes, they need forbearance. We are family, when one member is hurting, we all feel the pain.

Some members have come from different cultural backgrounds, some have not come from happy homes. Sometimes the help we offer is. Sometimes we don’t quite understand what is going on. But we are still family and we do our best to love and support one another as the Holy Spirit leads.

The second coming – of Karl Marx

Perhaps the best way to describe Karl Marx’s ideology is to call it the atheistic version of John Nelson Darby’s millennial doctrine. Marx foresaw a time of class warfare causing chaos and upheavals (a great tribulation) before a worldwide reign of peace (the millennium).

Marxism delivered on the great tribulation, historians estimate the deaths caused by communist regimes at upwards of 100 million. But the millennium did not arrive. All that happened was that one set of rulers, thought to be harsh and unjust, was replaced by another, even more harsh and unjust.

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Image by Bernd Marczak from Berlin from Pixabay

Karl Marx considered his ideology to be spiritual, that is it would satisfy the deep spiritual yearning of mankind, with no need for a god to worship. Yet it was a degrading doctrine. The end justified the means, and the doctrine was infallible. People bought into the idealized picture of a future classless society of brotherhood and abundance. The events unleashed by that belief left them brutalized and dehumanized.

The failed promises of Marxism led to disillusionment, for a time it seemed almost to fade away. But lo-and-behold it has reappeared. Scratch the surface of the fervent environmentalists and internationalists and you will discover the same collectivist dogma, the same quasi-religious fervour. “The world is in mortal danger and the only hope of salvation is to surrender yourselves to our programme so we can set things to right.”

I am labelling all this as Marxism because Karl Marx was the prophet. But the real power behind this movement is that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world (Revelation 12:9). Our enemies are not politicians, social activists, and other notables of the gender wars, climate change wars, class wars, etc. We are faced with intense spiritual warfare and it is vitally important to know who is our real enemy.

Many people today are stirred by a desire for personal fulfilment, for social justice and for the future of the planet. Other people who are not stirred by the same aspirations, in just the same way, are seen as enemies of progress. A fervour for change, a belief that such change must happen now or all is lost, leads to a feeling of urgency that the enemies of progress must be forced to change, or somehow gotten out of the way.

Nothing good will come out of this righteous-sounding activism. It is our chief enemy’s tactic for causing everyone to mistrust everyone else. That is his business – to divide us all so that there can be no united effort to counter his influence. It’s time to stop and look at what is happening. In the words of a pop song from the 60s “Ain’t nobody right if everyone’s wrong.”

As Christians we need to understand people are not our problem. If our feelings are stirred so that we criticize and argue with people who hold to other beliefs, we are playing the enemy’s game.

We are citizens of the peaceable kingdom of Jesus Christ. We can trust the future into His hands. The best way to counter the tumult of the kingdom of this world is to be animated by the forgiveness, brotherly love and compassion of our Lord.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The apostle Paul has the best advice for us:

 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. Ephesians 6:10-18.

Christians who discern the wiles of the devil and persevere in prayer will do more to help their country and their fellow citizens than they could ever do by engaging in the political process. And that is why I will not be voting today. But I will pray and I urge other Christians to join in praying for Canada and all those in positions of authority.

Seeking peace

I am a perfectionist. What that means is that most of the time my own imperfections are all but invisible to me while other people’s imperfections are highly visible.  Then, every once in a while I get to see how far I am from what I intended to be. That makes me realize that I am in the right place, in a church of people with flaws not much different from my own. We are all trying to lead sanctified lives that honour God, knowing all the while that our best efforts fall far short of our aspirations.

It is good to acknowledge the reality of who we are so that we don’t begin to think that any of the good we do is because we are really good people. The goodness is the work of God’s Holy Spirit. In the account Jesus gave in Matthew 25 of the Judgment day, those who were welcomed into heaven had no recollection of doing any of the good things mentioned. I believe that is because they were painfully aware of how far short they had come in obeying the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, it should always be our aspiration to live as  described in this poem:

Lord, make us instruments of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, may we bring love.
Where there is offense, may we bring pardon.
Where there is discord, may we bring unity.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
Where there is despair, may we bring hope.
Where there is darkness, may we bring your light.
Where there is sadness, may we bring joy.
O Master, may we not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

This is often labelled a prayer of  Francis of Assisi, but he had nothing to do with it. The French original first appeared in print in Paris in 1912, almost 700 years after the death of Francis.

God loves messed up people

Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Abram was ready to sacrifice his wife to the lusts of powerful men to save his own skin. Jacob gained his brother’s birthright by dubious means, and with his mother’s connivance. David had way too many wives. These were the kind of people God used to accomplish His plans here on earth. A disagreement arose between Paul and Barnabas so that they could not work together. Both died as martyrs for the cause of Christ.

Rahab helped the Israelite spies get safely out of Jericho, the Bible calls her a prostitute. Ruth got under the covers with Boaz out in the harvest field. Bathsheba had a one night stand with King David and he arranged the death of her husband in consequence. These are the three women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.

God blesses and works with people who are deeply flawed. There are no other kind of people for Him to work with. If we think we are better, we put ourselves in the category of the Pharisees who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Jesus called them white washed sepulchres – pure and clean on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones and filth inside.

I am not better than the people I have already named, or all the other messed up people described in the Bible. I have repented, I have been forgiven, but I am still a messed up person who messes up far too often when I am trying to do good. But I don’t hear God screaming at me every time I make a mistake “You idiot! You made a mess of things again!” He tells me that it was good that I tried and that He wants me to keep on trying.

The accusations come from another source, the accuser of the brethren. If I listen to him I won’t have the courage to try to do anything good again.

The Bible tells us we need to be perfect. Some people have devised a doctrine whereby they believe they have had a second touch from the Lord, a second work of grace, and now they don’t sin anymore. I’ve met people like that. They didn’t seem like the kind of people I’d want to go to if I was troubled.

The perfection the Bible speaks of is maturity. Perfect means complete, not flawless. Biblical perfection is taking responsibility for what we do. When I do something bad, it was not Tommy, or Suzy, or the devil, who made me do it. I did it all by myself and I need to own up to it.

When David numbered the people and God gave him a choice of punishments to be visited upon the people, he responded “I have sinned, but what have these sheep done?” That is maturity, or perfection. That is why David was a man after God’s own heart.

Isaiah said “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”  I often mess up and hurt other people by the things I say and do. Other people often hurt me by the things they say and do. That’s life. That’s why Jesus instructed us to pray that God would forgive us as we forgive others. Forgiveness can’t just be between me and God. I need to forgive others for every careless word and deed they do.

All unrighteousness is sin. But not all is deliberate, not in the things we do or in the things others do. We are messed up, every one of us, and God loves each one of us. Let’s just forgive and move on.

Jesus told the Pharisees that the prostitutes and publicans would find it easier to enter the kingdom of heaven than they would. We may look at the people who are leading honest and orderly lives and think they are the ideal mission prospects. In all likelihood they are quite content with the results of their own efforts and don’t see any need to repent and trust in the blood of Jesus. A few will, just as some of the Pharisees did.

But we should not expect converts to present themselves to us in neat, gift-wrapped packages. Most often their lives, their feelings and their ideas about themselves, and about God and Christianity, will be in turmoil. These are the ones who know that things are  not right, that they need help. The challenges they present do not have easy answers. Let’s remember that God loves messed up people. After all, He has accepted us. All we need to do is listen to them and listen to God. He is the one who has the answers, we don’t.

Light and Land, conclusion

God did not just create light, He is the light. Those who follow where God leads are in the light, those who reject God are in darkness, whee all manner of evil spirits dwell.

This was symbolized at the time of the Exodus when God allowed darkness to fall over the whole lad of Egypt for three days, while the Israelites in Goshen had light.

When God led the people out of Egypt, He was a light for them, but to the Egyptians He was a dark cloud that prevented them from coming near. A little later, Moses went up the mountain, through the thick cloud that hid him from the people camped around the mountain. But when he reached the top of the mountain he was in the light of God’s presence, so much so that when he came down the mountain his own face shone so brightly the people could not bear to look at him.

But the natural tendency of humanity is to prefer darkness, so that others do not see what we do, even though God has promised that He will forgive us when we confess our sins and open them up to the light.

The Old Testament warned the people of Israel:
And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee. Deuteronomy 28:29
And I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD: and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Zephaniah 1:17

It also promised that one day light would come into the world in a new and glorious way:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Isaiah 60:1-3

Jesus was that light and all four gospels tell how the forces of darkness conspired against Him. Yet he continually demonstrated His power over the realm of darkness by healing diseases, casting out demons and giving sight to the blind.

There were sinister forces behind those waves on the sea of Galilee that threatened to destroy the disciples, and even Jesus Himself, if possible. In one incident, Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves and their power was gone. In another, He came walking on the waves, showing that they had no power over Him.

And yet, the forces of darkness did eventually appear to triumph, having Jesus nailed to a Roman cross where He died. He was declared innocent by the Roman trial, yet the religious leadership demonstrated just how thoroughly they were controlled by the realm of darkness by insisting that He be crucified.

Their plan backfired. The tomb could not hold Him. Fifty days later, after our risen Saviour had departed from this world, His followers received power to become bearers of the light. They numbered 120 at that time, according to Acts 1:15. On the day of Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared upon each of them and they began to boldly preach the gospel. Since that day, the light of the gospel has spread into all the world.

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.

The need for fellowship

I recently read something written by a young lady whose parents are very conservative Christians. She spoke of how difficult it had been to find a church where she could feel at home because she didn’t want to get into anything that felt like the way she had grown up.

I feel compassion for her, yet I’m afraid she has misdiagnosed the problem. It doesn’t seem that her parents were ultra strict, but they had no fellowship with other Christians with similar convictions. They tried various churches, but always had good reasons why they had to break fellowship with them.

Our daughter would probably be making the same complaints today if we had not joined the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite forty years ago. Prior to that time, while she was very young, we had attended a variety of churches for a few months or a year or two.

Our daughter was six when we began regularly attending a congregation of this church, and seven when we were baptized and became members. From that time on, most of her friends were children of our friends. We attended church together, visited in each others homes and followed much the same principles in raising our children.

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Fast forward forty years and we have a Christian daughter, a fine Christian son-in-law and four grandchildren, one of whom is now also a Christian. This is the blessing of following the leading of the Holy Spirit. I can’t see how we could be enjoying these blessings today if we had continued church-hopping, or even withdrew from organized church altogether.

We have known families who remained with one church, but held their own children to a higher standard than other families of that church did for their children. Their children rebelled. The parents meant well, but didn’t understand that Christian fellowship is of more value than getting all the details right.

We cannot raise Christian children if we hold ourselves aloof from other Christians. Yes, we need to avoid worldliness. Yes, we need to uphold moral and spiritual purity.

But we also need to avoid self-righteousness and a critical attitude toward others. Those things poison the atmosphere in a home and will eventually cause our children to rebel against us and all we tried to teach them. Or it may lead them to become lonely social outcasts, unable to develop a meaningful relationship with others.

God has made us in such a way that none of us are complete in ourselves. We need others to supply what we lack. The New Testament epistles have much instruction to help us live in fellowship with other Christians. This is important for us and for our children.

Above all, let’s not call it Christian fellowship when we are in full agreement with someone else about the mistakes other people make. Forbearance and forgiveness are essential for true fellowship. The most important thing is to see Christ in one another, whatever our ethnic origin or economic status. The people around us make mistakes. Do we see only the mistakes, or do we see a fellow Christian trying in weakness to follow the Holy Spirit? That’s the way we want others to see us, isn’t it?

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (1 Corinthians 3.11)

The Sabbath

God instituted a day of rest per week, because, after six days of toil the human body and brain need rest. That’s makes good sense, doesn’t it? Except that the Bible says nothing like that.

What we find in the Bible is that God completed all the work of creation in six days and then rested on the seventh day. There is no hint that on the first day of the following week God picked up his lunch bucket, punched the time clock, and began another week of work. His work was finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3).

The seventh day was the beginning of a never ending rest for God and the promise to us is that we can enter into that rest. The once a week Sabbath was commanded as a memorial and as a foretaste of the spiritual rest that would become available through the Messiah.

Unfortunately, the human mind finds it much easier to grasp the idea of physical rest than of spiritual rest. We have been aided in this by the reasoning of Greek philosophers and their followers in the churches.

The fourth commandment decrees that all labour cease on the Sabbath, but it gives no hint that this was because of the need of our bodies for physical and mental rest. The purpose of the Sabbath was to separate people from earthly cares so they could contemplate eternal realities. The New Testament makes it clear that the labour that must cease is our futile attempts to earn salvation.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus invites us to cease our labours, lay down our burdens and He will give us rest for our souls. Hebrews 11:1-10 is an invitation to cease from our labours and enter into God’s rest, the Sabbath. “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10).

We enter into that rest when we are born again. We know God as our Father and we are assured that He knows us as His child. He fills us with love, joy, peace and all the fruit of the spirit. He guides us, comforts us and helps us in all the troubles we face in life.

We are no longer anxious about food, clothing, or the health of our body. Our Father knows what we need and He will provide (Matthew 6:25-34). We should not take that as meaning we are now exempt from physical labour, that is still necessary and good for us. But we need no longer be burdened by worry and care as to how it will all turn out.

We have entered into the Sabbath, not a day on our earthly calendars, but a time that will continue to the end of time and into eternity. Spiritual realities now take priority over material realities. We need not worry about our status in the eyes of other people, what matters is that we are a child of God, surrounded by His love.

Living in the Sabbath also requires us to forgive others, hold no grudges, not to favour one person above another, but to see others as God sees them. Some are God’s children, God wants them all to be His children and so should we.

God gave the prophet Isaiah a beautiful picture of the right way to fast and to observe the Sabbath. Does any of this sound like something that one ought to do on certain occasions only, or one day a week? Doesn’t it rather portray the New Testament kingdom of God when God’s children will live the Sabbath every day?

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:6-14).

The fourth commandment does not give any instruction for gathering for worship one day a week. In the Old Testament era there were only three annual festivals when all adult males should assemble for worship in Jerusalem.

Neither is there instruction in the Old Testament for establishing synagogues and holding one day a week worship services. It was a tradition that appears to have begun during the Babylonian captivity, and it was a good tradition. Christians have adopted that tradition and the weekly worship has become the primary source of sustaining our spiritual life. It is not a law written on tablets of stone, but it should be a law written on our hearts that we would want to gather where and when spiritual nourishment is being served.

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