Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: forgiveness

Written in the earth

An interesting detail in the account of the woman taken in adultery told in chapter 8 of the gospel of John is that it is twice mentioned that Jesus wrote on the ground. This appears to have some connection with the fact that the woman’s accusers left one by one, from the oldest to the youngest. We are not given any more details than that, but I believe the following takes into account all the details of the story in the gospel..

Some have speculated that Jesus was writing the sins of the accusers. I doubt that was necessary. These men were scribes and pharisees, men with a deep and thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. They will surely have remembered the words of Jeremiah: “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 17:13).

To have one’s name written in the earth would be the opposite of having one’s name written in heaven. The woman’s accusers may have been surprised that Jesus knew each of them by name, even more surprised that He knew their ages, writing their names from the oldest to the youngest. They began to suspect He also knew the exact nature of their sin and thought it best to escape the presence of such a man.

Consider the accused woman. She was a sinner, she knew it. Now she was left alone with a man who had silently struck fear into the hearts of all her righteous accusers. What would He say to her?

He did not condemn her, He forgave her, set her free. With just one warning “Go and sin no more.”That is still the way of Jesus–judgment for those who think themselves righteous, mercy for those who know they are sinners.

Someone may doubt the connection between the passages in Jeremiah and John because one speaks of earth and the other of ground. This is simply the work of the translators. The Hebrew word in Jeremiah is erets, which is translated in different places in our Bible as land, earth, ground and country. The Greek word in the gospel is ge, which is translated by the same four English words in our Bibles. They are, in other words, exactly the same word.

Jesus and Satan

Jesus and Satan were not strangers when they met before Jesus began His earthly ministry. They had known each other since before the world began. Each understood the other’s intentions and that it would be defeat for them if the other one could gain his goal.

Satan offered Jesus sovereignty over all the nations and peoples of the world, as a subordinate to himself. Jesus could enforce righteousness over all the world, but in the end all people would be doomed to hell.

He had already convinced the Jewish leadership of that day that this was a good plan. Messiah would come and rule the world with a rod of iron and the Jewish people could Lord it over all the people of the world.

He offered the same idea, just packaged a little differently to Karl Marx. There would be a time of struggle followed by an ideal society of equality and peace. He offered it to the Ayatollah’s of Iran, a strict enforcement of righteousness would bring peace. He offers an earthly utopia in many different ways, all have brought disappointment, and left people worse off than they were before.

The devil is even offering this dream of an earthly utopia to Christians today. He tells them that Christ will return and establish a 1,000 year reign of peace over all the world. But even those who describe this earthly reign of peace in alluring terms say it will end badly. At the end of the 1,000 years there will be a great rebellion ending in an unprecedented bloodbath.

This dream offered by Satan in many different forms is a means of distracting people’s attention from their greatest need. They are sinners, doomed to eternal damnation.

Jesus refused Satan’s offer. Satan’s only alternative then was to destroy Jesus, so that he could have uncontested sovereignty. That was going to be easy, because Satan already had control of the Jewish authorities.

Thus it happened that Jesus was condemned to death, scourged and nailed to a wooden cross. There He hung, broken, defeated; Satan’s total victory just minutes away.

Then Jesus spoke from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and Satan’s expected became a crushing defeat. Satan had never anticipated that God would forgive the world of sinners who had rejected and mistreated His Son. How could He? Forgiveness is completely foreign to him.

Satan is defeated, doomed. He knows it; his hatred of God and his anger at God now moves him to capture as many people as possible and take them to hell with him.

God forgives us when we surrender completely to Him with all our being. He sets us free. But we won’t be free for long if we do not forgive others. If our feelings are hurt, if we are bitter over being mistreated or neglected, if we are angry, Satan already has us in his claws. The only way to get free is to forgive.

Even if we say, I forgive, but surely God will deal with that other person some day, Satan still has us in his claws. We must forgive completely to be completely free. God will judge all sin. He doesn’t need us to tell him who, or when or how. That is His domain, not ours.

We cannot outsmart Satan, we cannot overpower him. There is only one weapon that is effective against him. For that reason he does his utmost to prevent us from using it. Forgiveness is the weapon that is more powerful than anything in Satan’s arsenal.

Basic nonresistance

Matthew 5:39 — But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

If I cannot forgive the person who hurts my feelings, can I honestly claim exemption from military service because I am nonresistant?

All Christians are hypocrites

□ True
□ False

I think we have to check the true box on this one. Let’s be clear though, that we are not hypocrites because we are Christian, we are hypocrites because we are human. The desire to appear to be better than we are is endemic in humanity.

Becoming a Christian makes us aware of that fact, but we are very prone to forget. Perhaps we should write it in red lipstick upon every mirror in our home: “We are not better than other people.”

Would that help? Perhaps at first, then we would probably forget again. Oh, we would see it there and nod our heads in agreement. But, human nature being as it is, our thinking would gradually shift to believing that it applies to other people that we know, not so much to us.

The one thing that should make a difference between people who are Christian and those who are not, is the Holy Spirit in our lives. When I think back to the time before I was converted, I really and truly believed that I was doing the best that I could, under the circumstances. That is how we are made, and it is probably best for our mental health to think that way–as long as we know of no remedy for the all things in our life that we have messed up.

But there came a day when the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me I could not blame people and circumstances for all the things that I had messed up in my life. I had done them and I needed to own up to them. That condemnation was easier to accept by the invitation that came with it. If I would confess my sins to God, He would forgive them. I did, and He did.

My Christian life began at that point, when all my past sins were taken away. But that is only the beginning.  I did not suddenly become a “good” person, incapable of making the same mistakes that I had made in the past. The only difference was that now I had the Holy Spirit to warn me when I was about to sin. If I ignored Him, He would then prompt me to go back and clean up the mess I had made.

That should be the obvious difference between a person who is a Christian and one who is not. Both will make mistakes, do and say things they shouldn’t, often things that hurt other people. The Christian should admit his fault, apologize and try to make things right. And it should not seem in any way forced or artificial.

Restitution is difficult. It is often difficult to admit what I have done, apologize, and do the best I can to undo the damage that was done. But the more I will do that, the easier it becomes for me to hear and obey the warning voice of the Holy Spirit before I do such a thing the next time. It is when a Christian repeatedly quenches the warning voice of the Holy Spirit that he comes to appear more and more like a hypocrite.

© Bob Goodnough, January 05, 2020

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.

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