Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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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 Only Man with “All Power”

“All power Is given unto ME In Heaven and in earth.”

These seem to me to be the most audacious, the most astonishing words that ever fell from the lips of man. We are told that the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke unto them saying:

“All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28.18).

Who said these words? A Jewish peasant, a Jewish carpenter. You know what carpenters are. You have seen a great many carpenters. This man was a carpenter—a poor man, had never been educated in the schools. He was educated in the carpenter’s shop. He made yokes and ploughs, I suppose, and helped build houses, and made boxes and chests and doors. And then He took up preaching, and went about among the common people, and some said He was a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners—a man who did not keep good company. Some said He was crazy, and one said He had a demon and some said He was a mover of sedition, and some said one thing and some said another; but the general conclusion among people who were anybody—the Scribes and Pharisees, the prominent men and the chief priests—was that He did not amount to very much anyway.

There were a few people who followed Him—fishermen and tax-gatherers and common people; but here this Man, who we are sometimes told was just like any other man, who has been called an impostor and deceiver— who was finally hung up on a Cross between two thieves, dying for these men—says, “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth.”

Just think of it, a carpenter says that! A poor preacher, without a pulpit, without a salary, without a parish; a man whom they tried to kill; a man who did not stand well among the better classes of the community. Such a man as that says, “All power is given unto Me”—all authority, all ability, all efficiency, all power!

Did you ever think how much power there is on earth?
There is the power of the wind. Do you know of anyone who can control that? There is the power of the waves. Do you know of anybody who can control or master them? There are the powers of nature; the heaving of the tides; the swelling of the seeds in the earth, the mighty upspringing that clothes the fields with grass. There is the power of the clouds. There is the power of heat in which the strongest iron that ever was forged will melt. There is the power which pours down floods from on high. Why, a centimetre of water falling on one hectare of land amounts to one hundred tonnes and all that power poured out so gently that we do not notice it. We do not understand what is going on. We call it a shower. Think of the millions of glowing orbs that flame through the skies. Think of this world rolling in its mighty orbit. Think of the sun, sweeping on in its eternal pathway. Think of the power that moves these things. Some people do not understand how the sun could be made to stand still. Well, if you will tell me what keeps it going, I will tell you how it was made to stand still. All power in the universe. All power over men; all power over demons; all power over everything.

He did have power to Make Himself Remembered on the earth.
There were hundreds of millions of people living on the earth then—how many of them could you name? There were kings and princes, emperors, philosophers, poets. I do not believe a man here could name twelve persons who lived then. What has become of them? You remember Him? He did have power to keep His Name before the public. The world has never forgotten that. They have tried to persecute it out of sight; but there is no continent where His Name is not known; He is more widely known than Caesar. He is more widely known than Alexander. He is known more widely than Nebuchadnezzar. He is known more widely than Washington. He is known more widely than any man that ever lived since God made this world. He had power enough for that. How many people will know anything about you a hundred years after you are dead?

Curious, isn’t it, that this dead Jew is so remembered? There have been thousands of Jews who have lived and died and the world has forgotten them. He had power to be remembered.

He had Power to be Obeyed
Nebuchadnezzar was a great king. Do you know anybody who cares what Nebuchadnezzar said? Alexander was a great conqueror. Do you know anybody who cares what he commanded? Napoleon was a great conqueror. Do you know anybody who cares what Napoleon did? He changed the map of Europe and the face of the world’s governments—who cares for his commands now? Who cares today for the commands of Jesus Christ? How is it that He who was hung on a Roman Cross two thousand years ago, He who, our skeptical friends tell us, is nothing but a dead Jew and a dead carpenter—how is it that He is obeyed today? There is not a king on earth who has such a sway as He has. There is not an emperor who ever lived that had such a host to bow to His commands.

He had Power to Make Friends
You have been living in this world, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years. How many friends have you made? I don’t mean how many would come and eat a big dinner if you would pay for it. I don’t mean how many would drink as long as your money lasted—but friends. I mean people who would go with you if a policeman walked on the other side. I mean people who would lend you money when you were hard up, and they did not believe they would get it back again? How many would go across the Atlantic to please you if you couldn’t pay their fare? How many people would die for you? It is two thousand years since any man has seen Jesus Christ. Not a man on earth ever heard His voice. Not a man on earth ever clasped His hand. Nobody has His autograph. Nobody ever saw His handwriting. Nobody ever heard Him speak, yet how many friends He has. How many friends have you got?

Friends of every nation, of every clime, of every colour. Friends of every condition—in palaces and huts; in cottages and caves of the earth. Friends delving in mines; friends drying their nets in the fishing boats; friends tilling the soil; friends riding in high places; friends everywhere. Hundreds, thousands, millions, tens of millions. How does He get so many friends? How is it that He who hung between two thieves two thousand years ago has so many friends who never saw Him, who never heard Him, and yet who know Him and love Him; who would lay down their lives for Him; who would go to the ends of the earth for Him; who would give the last dollar they have; who count nothing dear when He calls for them?

You say that He is a dead Jew, do you? I never saw a live Jew who could do that. I never saw a live Gentile who could do that. What does this all mean? It means that “all power is given unto Him.” It means that He has power over the hearts of men; that He grasps them and holds them by a bond which earth can never break.

He had Power to Make His Words Live
Millions of people are talking, talking, talking until they tire everybody out, but nobody remembers a word that they have said. Books have been written and perished. Poems have been written, orators have been recorded, but they have perished; but He said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”

He never had a reporter for the Jerusalem Journal or the Galilee Gazette, taking down what He said to print in the next morning’s paper, but His words remain.

He spoke to a little company of disciples on the Mount, and the world still listens to what He said. He told Nicodemus one night how “God so loved the world,” and those words have been ringing through the world for two thousand years. He talked to a few disciples on board ship, and His words have been echoing ever since. Today, in seven hundred different languages, men read the words of Christ. Many of the inhabitants of the earth this day can read in their own tongues the story of Christ and His Cross. The infidel can never root this out. He can scoff and sneer and burn up Bibles, but the “Word of the Lord endureth forever.”

“All Power!”
You have no power over the winds, but He could speak to the winds and they obeyed Him. You have no power over the waves, but He could say, “Peace, be still,” and there was a great calm. You have no power over “all manner of diseases,” but when He spoke to the sick, He healed them. You have no power over evil spirits, but He cast out demons with His word. You have no power over the dead but He called them from the silence of the tomb and bade them live.

And these were only the specimen of what He could do. He raised one dead brother; He is going to raise your dead brother. “All that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth,” for He says, “I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of Hell and of death” (John 5. 28, 29; Rev. 1. 18).

“Go ye into all the world
Suppose you had a message you wanted to send into all the world. You couldn’t get it out of town without paying somebody for it; and when your money stopped, the message would stop. He said, “I send you forth as sheep among wolves.” He promised them nothing but a cross. “Go,” you have imperial Rome against you. “Go,” you have idolaters against you. “Go,” you have Gentiles and Jews against you. What have you got? A story about a man hung up between two thieves. What do we care about them? To the Jews it is a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness. Christ says, “You go and tell it.” And all through these vast empires where men bowed the knee to heathen gods, today there is not a knee bowed to Jupiter or Mars or Venus, or any of these deities. Their temples are in ruins. Their oracles are dumb. Their priests have perished in the corruption of ages. But this foolishness of preaching that saves them who believe still marches on. Today the words of Christ have gone out to the ends of the earth.

That carpenter who died without a friend, except a few poor, weeping women, forsaken by those whom He had taught, is today acknowledged as Lord by countless numbers among all nations.

Every bank note that you have in your books has a date upon it, and it dates from the birth of that Man. Every cheque you draw has that Man’s birth date upon it. The deed you own your farm by has His birth on it. The note you give, the bond you hold, the contract you make, is not worth the paper you write on until it has that date.

Two thousand years ago A Little Company of a Dozen Persons
sat in an upper room around a table, ate some bread and drank from a cup, and the Master said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” If you had been looking on, and knowing that their leader would be betrayed, denied, forsaken by all, had you been asked, “How often will they observe this?” you would have said, “They will never meet again.” Two thousand years have passed since then, and there has never been a year that some one has not obeyed that command; and today in different lands, in different quarters of the earth, people gather, and with tearful eyes and tender hearts take the cup and break the bread in memory of Him who died on Calvary’s Cross. “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth.”

You Want to be on the Strongest Side!
Then be on the side of Christ. You want to be on the winning side; you want to be with the noble, the godly, and the good; this is the company you want to be with.

Today we may testify to His goodness; today we may glorify His Name. And it will be something to say in the day of His glory, when the angels shall glorify Him, when all Heaven shall adore Him—it will be something to say then, that in the day when He was dishonoured we stood by Him; in the day when He was rejected we suffered with Him.

-Author Unknown

[Forty years ago a cousin of mine had a printing press in a little building in his back yard in Saskatoon. One of the things he printed was this tract. The name of the writer was not given and I have been unable to find any trace of it elsewhere. I suspect the writer was British, but that is really only a guess. I hope others appreciate it as much as I have.]

Family

We can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. We can conceal things about our past from our friends, but our family knows the real story. And we know theirs.

My cousin Ted was 80 on Thursday. Friday evening a few of us got together to celibrate and share memories. Ted’s next older brother, Dennis, was there too. Ted is 3½ years older than I am, Dennis 4½. That was huge 70 years ago, it doesn’t matter anymore.

Their Dad was a brother to my Dad, their Mom a sister to mine.There are differences between us, but they are small; our DNA must be pretty much identical. Ted and I both have trouble with respiratory allergies and with exczema, that seems to run in the family.

Our families always did a lot of visiting back and forth when we were young. Today all three of us are church-going Bible-believing people. It wasn’t always that way and we know things about each other’s history that we don’t talk about anymore. There are some differences in the way we understand the Bible and Christian life, but our experience of the transforming power of Jesus’ love draws us together.

Our daughter and her family were part of the gathering Friday evening. She talked about growing up in an Ontario congegation where all her friends had cousins living close by. Michelle could say that she also had cousins, but they were back in Saskatchewan. I was an only child, my wife was raised apart from her siblings and we have never been all that close to them and their children. Michelle calls Ted and Dennis her uncles and has a good relationship with their children, her cousins. I  didn’t realize just how much that has meant to her until she talked about it Friday evening.

Family — I can clearly see my cousin’s faults, but they are much like my own and it seems that we are together in the struggles of life. We know all kinds of embarrassing stories about each other, but we never talk about them — except for some of the really funny ones. I guess we’re just thankful that the Lord has watched o0ver us and brought us safely this far in our lives.

Miserable comforters are ye all

“I have been hurt more by Christians than by non-believers.”  This was said, not so much as a complaint but as a simple statement of fact, by a friend with whom my wife and I were visiting the other day.  This lady has many heartaches and struggles in her past and I don’t doubt her statement. But I began to ponder why such a thing should be.

This led me to the story of Job and the misfortunes that befell him. In one day he lost all his children and all his wealth. As if that wasn’t enough, he then lost his health. His three closest friends came to comfort him. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were God-fearing men and their hearts were moved with compassion for their friend. They wept and mourned with him for seven days and seven nights without opening their mouths.

The trouble came when they began to speak. They truly wanted to help their friend and the only cause they could think of for his misery was that he must be suffering punishment for some hidden sin. The more Job protested his innocence, the more they were sure they understood the problem. Finally Job said: “ I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.”

I am a Christian, I care about my fellow believers and all the people around me. I want to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Yet when I try to put that into practice, all too often I have come across much like Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. I want to understand what has happened, offer some helpful suggestions, when it would be better to keep my mouth shut.

Job never accused his friends of sin for the way they spoke to him. One time he called them “miserable comforters,” another time he responded with this little zinger: “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.” But he never sinned in accusing them falsely.

At the end, God asked Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar to go to Job and ask him to pray for their forgiveness. I think the most significant part of the whole book is found in verse 10 of chapter 42: “And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.”

Isn’t forgiveness always the answer? Job was not restored until he could forgive his friends and pray for them, and we won’t be either. Our friends may do and say hurtful things. Forgive them. Or they may not know what to do or say and so avoid us for a time. Forgive them.

We will get hurt in this life. Well-meaning friends will say that we should just forgive and forget. That may come as a fresh wound, the forgetting part is not always easy, or even completely possible. Let’s forgive our well-meaning friends and do our best to put the original hurt behind us by applying the healing balm of forgiveness every time it gives us pain.

Girl on a pilgrimage

I worked in Delisle today, sitting in a cubbyhole office in the vet clinic, hunched over a computer trying to get financial records up to date. About One o’clock my stomach finally got through to me that it was time to eat and I walked over to the nearby snack shack. The waitress soon brought me my usual meal of poutine, cookies and Diet Pepsi and I sat down to eat.

A young lady came in, ordered an ice cream cone, ate it while visiting with an older lady at another table. Then she decided she needed a little more to eat. I had overheard her talk about biking across Canada so I started asking questions. She sat down at my table and started answering.

She started out from Vancouver 15 days ago and is trying to average 120 km a day on her bicycle. Her destination is St. Johns, Newfoundland and she hopes to be there in another 2 months. The mountains were slower travelling, her best day so far was 140 km. She is travelling alone, sometimes camping for night, sometimes staying with friends. Tonight she plans to be with a friend of a friend in Saskatoon. At the end of her journey she will fly back to Vancouver and look for work in one of the smaller cities in the mountains of B.C. She is a nurse. I admire her courage and spirit of adventure and I believe she will make it.

Back in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, I was living in a small town beside the Trans-Canada Highway in Southern Saskatchewan. Many people making the cross Canada trek passed through our town that summer, some on foot, some on bicycle, some on roller skates, some on horseback.

A few years later Terry Fox attempted the trip from east to west running on an artificial leg. He had lost his leg from cancer and was raising money for cancer research. There is a monument to Terry Fox beside the highway at Thunder Bay where he had to abandon the trek because his cancer had returned. Rick Hanson made the trip by wheelchair a year or two later, raising money for spinal cord research. Both of these were being accompanied by a support crew of family or friends.

I had to wonder about an attractive young lady making this trip on her own. But don’t we all make our pilgrimage through this life on our own? As the song Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley says “Nobody else can walk it for you, You’ve got to walk it by yourself.”

This young lady knows of others who are making the same trip this summer, she says there is one couple not far behind her. We have company on our Christian pilgrimage through life, they offer encouragement and help when they can, but we’ve got to make this pilgrimage on our own determination. There are people along the way who will offer us shelter, nourishment and a chance to recharge our inner batteries, but then we have to keep on going. We don’t know when our journey will end, but every morning we are one day closer to our destination and it will be worth all the troubles of the way.

Hitherto hath the LORD helped us

“And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).  I have had some experience in tilling the soil and have learned the danger of looking back to admire the straight furrow I have made.  When I stopped looking forward, the furrow began to swerve from its intended path.

Looking back to enumerate my accomplishments over the past year would probably have the same effect.  Even more so if I would see little to boast of and begin to blame others for my lack of accomplishments.

However, I do see much evidence of how the Lord has helped us through the past year.  I have Macular Degeneration that required repeated injections of Lucentis directly into the eyes over several years.  It is almost three years since the last injection and I now only need to go for a checkup once a year.  It was frightening to receive the diagnosis six years ago, then the Lord gave me an assurance that “there will be a way.”

My wife was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia earlier this year.  After many tests she has also been told that her condition is stable and only needs to be monitored once per year.

We have not accumulated much in the way of material goods over the years, but we have accumulated many friends.  We keep in contact with people in places where we have lived and places we have visited.  I count it a special privilege to have corresponded with three missionary couples (two in the Philippines, one in Cameroun) over the past few years.  All three of the wives were toddlers when we first met 35 years ago as we moved to Ontario.  It has been a few years since we have seen them, and we have never seen their children, but it is a blessing to know that those little girls have grown into fine Christian women.

We are still learning new things, new skills, making new friends.  We are growing in faith, and in faithfulness.  Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.  I want to face the future with that calm assurance.

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