Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: forgiveness

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.

Amazing grace

That saved a wretch like me
I am not wretched because of things others have done to me, even though those things may have been horribly wretched. I am wretched because of the things I have done, the choices I have made.

God is not a sadistic puppet master who made me do bad things, then condemned me to eternal punishment for doing them. There were always better choices available to me, but I always wanted to blame someone else for my wrong choices.

Eve did not force Adam to eat of the fruit. The serpent did not force Eve to pluck the fruit and bite into it. God did not force Satan to rebel against Him. None of these things were pre-determined. Neither were the bad choices that I made. I am wretched because I deliberately made those bad choices.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
It was hard to see that it was grace that brought me face to face with my wretchedness, that made me feel the crushing weight of my guilt and fear the utter hopelessness of my situation. Yet without that I would never have made the next step.

I admitted to myself and to God that all my problems were of my own doing, nobody had pushed me, all my problems were caused by choices I had made.

And grace my fears relieved
Suddenly, unexpectedly, that crushing weight of guilt, and the fear of God’s judgement were gone. God’s grace had come down and I was forgiven and free.

That is why grace is so amazing.

Faith based service

I got to chatting with some of the younger generation at the lunch after my cousin’s funeral on Tuesday. (In this case, younger means somewhere around 60.)

Ron is executive director of an organisation that flys volunteers into remote northern communities to conduct Vacation Bible School in the summer and to maintain contact at other times in the year. They also hold Bible Studies with the youth in these communities, sometimes go into the schools to pray with the students and teachers. The people in these communities are mostly Dene, Cree and Ojibway. The outreach is well received, the Vacation Bible Schools reach 5,000 children every summer and the communities are supportive.

Jackie (not her real name) was the executive director of a faith-based addictions rehab centre. This was largely government funded and several years ago the government decided to pull their funding. An attempt was made to raise enough money through donations to continue, but it didn’t work out.

The government said they wanted to fund evidence based programs, not ones that were faith based. I wondered about that, especially when Jackie mentioned that many of their clients were dealing with guilt issues. That would probably be the sticking point. From the psychological point of view, feelings of guilt are the problem. Counselling is geared towards helping people free themselves of such feelings.

As Christians, we acknowledge that sometimes there are guilt feelings that torment the mind but have no real basis in actual guilt. At other times, the only effective way to be set free of guilt feelings is to recognize that we really are guilty. Then it can be possible to be forgiven and to forgive others. That is the way of deliverance. Don’t expect governments to understand that. At lest not in the times in which we live.

Thanks be to God, there are still many faith-based organisations out there that are funded by donations and are doing effective work that is beyond the reach of psychology and government.

Our granddaughter becoms our sister

Friday evening two young ladies stood in turn before our congregation and told how God had called them, how they had felt troubled and fearful and how they had prayed and found forgiveness, happiness and freedom. A few questions were asked and the congregation found their testimonies genuine.

This morning they were baptized. One of those girls is our granddaughter Tami, the first of our grandchildren to become a born again child of God. Thus this 13 year old girl (she will be 14 this summer) is now our sister in the household of faith. (As is the other girl, of course.)

Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD . . .Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel. Psalm 128:1 & 6

Fire Road – a book review

FIRE ROAD – The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness and Peace, by Kim Phúc Phan Thi.

June 8, 1972, a nine-year-old girl had the clothes burned off her back by napalm during the Vietnam war. The photo taken by AP photographer Nick Ut won him a Pulitzer Prize and became one of the most iconic news photos of the twentieth century.

This is the first person account of the girl in the picture.  To his immense credit, Nick Ut gathered up the children burned by the napalm and drove them to a hospital in Saigon. Kim Phúc was the most badly burned and doctors doubted that she could be saved.

But survive she did. When she started university, news got out around the world that she was still living and reporters began coming to Vietnam wanting to meet and interview her. The communist government seized upon this as a propaganda opportunity.  Kim Phúc did not understand the words interpreters spoke in foreign languages when she answered the interview questions but realized they were not repeating what she had said, but telling a story that the communist officials wanted the world to believe.

These interviews came several times a week and prevented her from continuing her university studies. She finally got permission to go to Cuba to continue her studies. There she met Toan, a Vietnamese man and they married. They could only go to another communist country for their honeymoon, so they chose Moscow. The choice was not made because of the appeal of a trip to Moscow, but because Kim Phúc had no intention of returning to Cuba, or any other communist country.

She had learned that the return flight from Moscow to Havana would make a refuelling stop at Gander, Newfoundland. The passengers all disembarked from the plane into the terminal at Gander. Kim Phúc didn’t know what to do next, who she could trust. After some time, she decided to pray; when she opened her eyes she saw a door that she had not noticed before, leading into a narrow hallway. She knew this was the way she had to go. She took her husband’s hand, went through the door and soon came to an office where an official said “Welcome to Canada.”

Doctors have done all they can to lessen the effects of the brutal scarring on Kim Phúc’s back and arm, but she still lives every day with pain. The emotional pain she suffered was even worse. Her family, like most South Vietnamese, were devotee’s of the Cao Dai religion. She found no help, no solace in this religion. While still in school she met a Vietnamese Christian minister and found peace and strength to face her problems through faith in Jesus Christ.

Toan and Kim Phúc have become Canadian citizens, they are parents of two grown sons and now grandparents. She has speaking engagements around the world to tell her story of hope, that the only way to peace is forgiveness and love, which is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. Her story will move you, perhaps even change your life.

FIRE ROAD, © 2017 by Kim Phúc Phan Thi, published by Tyndale Momentum, Carol Stream, Illinois.

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