Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: friendship

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. We often focus on harvest and food on this day. This year we have been getting a little rain and snow every week that interrupts harvest, then it warms up and dries up and harvest resumes till the next precipitation.  So our congregation is delaying our thanksgiving supper for at least a week.

Nevertheless, there is much to be thankful for, as this song says:

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth,
Over and around us lies, —

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild,—

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thy Church, that evermore,
Lifteth holy hands above,
Off’ring up on ev’ry shore,
Its pure sacrifice of love, —

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thyself, best gift divine,
To our race so freely giv’n,
For that great great love of Thine,
Peace on earth, and joy in heav’n, —

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

– Folliott S. Pierpont, 1835-1917

Love is for giving

Love is the first-mentioned characteristic of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is given to us freely and abundantly, as long as we keep on giving it away, freely and abundantly.

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Image by Ingo Jakubke from Pixabay

But if we feel that smiles, thank you’s and kind words are too precious to be squandered unless we receive them first from others, we are apt to be love-starved.

What we read in others is often a reflection of what they read in us. If we have our guard up, unwilling to make the first move in being friendly, people will read us as being unfriendly and unapproachable and back off. Then we will believe our suspicions have been vindicated and label those people as unfriendly.

If we take the opposite approach, freely sharing smiles, heartfelt thanks and kind words and actions, not everyone will respond in kind. But we have lost nothing in giving, the well of love in our heart will be constantly replenished.

So what if some do not respond graciously to the love offered? Love them anyway. Don’t expect to know the effect our love has on others. It wasn’t ours to begin with, it’s not our business to keep accounts. But if we give freely and abundantly of the love we receive from God, we will be often surprised by love given to us from unexpected sources.

The church as the most important family

There are serious consequences of losing a sense of family within the church. . . We assume that the nuclear family can meet this need, and yet some of the loneliest, most isolated people in our communities are married with children, often so frenetically busy with child rearing and/or caring for aging parents that they have lost touch with old friends and no longer know how to make new ones.

The church is not a collection of families. The church is family. We are not “family friendly” ; we are family. We learn the skills within the church to be godly sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, and the reverse is also true. . .

God wanted to make Israel distinct, not just morally but also through the signs of the covenant and through the prohibition against their intermarrying with the nations around them. In order to bless the nations, Israel could not be absorbed into the other nations and cease to exist.

The Storm-Tossed Family, by Russell Moore, pages 60 & 61; © Russell Moore, 2018, published by B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee.

Is technology dehumanizing us?

The Machine Stops, by E.M. Forster depicts a future age in which technology is able to supply all our needs. People live in individual underground compartments, all their needs are supplied by the all-encompassing machine at the push of a button. Direct person to person contact is unheard of, having been replaced by electronic means and that permit one to see and speak to any one of his or her thousands of contacts at will.

Wars, conflicts, and crime have ceased, weather on the surface of the planet is of no consequence, thus there is no news. New ideas are to be feared, but events of history and nature are discussed endlessly and third or fourth hand ideas about those events are deemed to be the most trustworthy. The population never changes. Births and deaths are by permission of the machine; permission to die is only given when there is a birth. A mother’s responsibility ends when a child is born.

One person finds a way to get outside the machine to the surface of the earth. Before he is dragged back below ground by the repair mechanism of the machine, he realizes there still are a few people living out there. His longing for freedom is unfulfilled and eventually the all powerful, self repairing machine breaks down and everyone living in their individual cell of underground paradise dies.

A chilling forecast of where our society is headed? Perhaps. The story was written in 1908 and is a short novella with three chapters.

There is a lot of hand-wringing in our day about the influence and effects of technology. After reading this book I began to wonder if we might have things backwards. Is technology dehumanizing us? Or are we willingly surrendering our birthright of being fully human? Is our desire for convenience and security just a camouflage for the repugnance we feel at the inconvenience of having to interact with other people?

What about those of us who call ourselves Christians? We all give verbal support to the goal of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. At the same time, some of us are repelled by cities because of all the people. We would prefer to live in an isolated rural setting and be as self-sufficient as possible. Which of these conflicting ideas is the true expression of our heart’s deepest desire? What does that say about our faith?

The Jews of Jesus’ day despised the Samaritans, to the point of considering anything touched by a Samaritan to be defiled. Jesus used all sort of creative ways to try and jar people out of that rut.

For those of us who are members, or who attend, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, the Sunday School lesson for the coming Sunday looks helpful. It is based on Hebrews 13 and has a lot to say about hospitality, including to strangers. It says: “The love of Christ will move us to enlarge our circle of friends.”

The best way to avoid becoming dehumanized is by frequent face to face contact with other humans. Technology offers us a way to maintain an appearance of a wide circle of friends without really having to listen to them. It is that unwillingness to listen to others, the desire to avoid admitting there might be anything valid about their point of view, that is dehumanizing. Technology is the enabler, but not the real problem.

Lonely people

We had dinner the other day with a man, his newest girlfriend, his mother and his youngest son. This man works hard, is very well paid, and is using his money to try to fix his broken relationships.

When he was a young man he married and two sons were born to him. He and his wife split up, largely because she was afraid of him. She had another off and on boyfriend, then one day she was murdered and the killer took the two boys, without coats, boots or mittens and dumped them in a field on a cold winter night. I don’t know all the story, but it seems likely the killer was her new boyfriend.

The boys were raised by the mother’s family. The father was young, afraid, broke, without a job, didn’t know what to do. He tries to make up for it now, he’s generous with his money, but still kind of clueless about relationships.

The youngest boy has no fingers – there are thumbs on both hands, but no fingers. They froze that night he was dumped in the field and had to be amputated. He was a year and a half old. He is a big young man, polite and friendly, but appears to have other problems that make him unable to work. It is surprising what he can do with his maimed hands. He lives alone, takes his medications and spends a lot of time playing video games.  He seems to get along well with his dad when they are together.

The dad has had a string of girlfriends but no relationship has lasted very long. He has a very iffy relationship with his brother and none of his sisters will speak to him. He’s getting older and is beginning to worry that he won’t have any family or friends when the money runs out.

There are a lot of lonely people in our world. It’s their own fault, the result of choices they have made. But I wonder – do they even know that there were, and are, other choices open to them?

Some folks will tell them that they need to get right with Jesus, turn their lives around and start walking on the road that leads to heaven. That’s the right advice, but so often it seems that the ones giving that advice aren’t walking that road themselves. Most of them certainly don’t have time to be a friend to the friendless. I am beginning to wonder, is there any other way to be an ambassador for Christ?

Collateral damage – or the real target?

I have been musing about the Islamist terrorist attacks in Europe and North America; who are these attacks really targeting? Is it the terrorists goal to make Western nations more favourable to the aspirations of Muslim people and nations around the world?  I think we can give them credit for being smart enough to know that isn’t going to work.

Our governments have shown admirable restraint in the comments they make about the supposed religious motivation of these attacks. The same cannot be said about all the citizens. There is a portion of the populace who have voiced suspicions about all the Muslims now present in our nations. Often it goes beyond mere suspicion to statements that no one if the Muslim faith can be trusted. Some of these statements are coming from people who self-identify as Christian.

Is this perhaps the real goal of the terrorists? To make Muslims in our countries feel marginalized, to fear that they will never be accepted and trusted? That makes fertile ground for Islamist propaganda among Muslim young people.

How are Muslims going to know that love permeates the foundation of the Christian faith,if supposedly Christian people are actively promoting distrust of Muslims?

Earlier this year, after a shooting at a mosque in Québec City, Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister of Québec told people that words matter and that we should endeavour to get our facts straight before we speak and write. He also spoke of the need to talk to each other and suggested: “The next time you walk past someone of the Muslim community, why don’t you stop and say hello?” That’s good advice.

Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Answering Jihad gives the same kind of advice. He advises Christians to reach out to the Muslims around us and develop friendships, but not to expect overnight conversions. It will probably take years for a Muslim to make the step of trusting Jesus rather that Allah. But many have done that, including Qureshi himself. First we have to convince them that Christians are not their enemies, even if we do not worship Allah.

Do you really want to know how I’m feeling today?

Yesterday I stopped at the pharmacy counter in Walmart to pick up a prescription. There were several pharmacists in the back busily preparing prescriptions for others. I waved at the head pharmacist and said, “How are you Marc?”

There was an almost imperceptible hesitation before he answered “Fine'” The clerk who was serving me smiled and said “He didn’t sound so sure, did he?”

When I had finished paying for my prescription, Marc came out to the front and motioned me to come aside where we could talk. He told me that the question of how to answer the question “How are you?” had recently come up at Bible study. If you are having a rough day and you answer “Fine,”  are you being honest?

On the face of things, it may seem that the person who always says “Fine” is not really being honest. But perhaps there is another way of looking at this. I told Marc about our two elderly cousins. One is related to me and one to my wife, I won’t say which is which, it doesn’t really matter to the story.

One of these old ladies has been married twice, couldn’t get along with either man and divorced them. She has six children and they don’t treat her right, according to her. Lord knows they try, but it’s never enough. People are mean to her and try to cheat her everywhere she goes. I don’t know if she has any real friends, but she is still on speaking terms with a few people. Sometimes she gets upset and won’t speak to one of them for months, but eventually she needs their help for something and picks up the phone to call them again.

One day she was feeling so miserable that she told one of those contacts that she felt like ending her life. This contact lives 600 km away and couldn’t just pop over to visit. So she suggested this lady needed to get out of her apartment, go to a mall, have a coffee, find someone to talk to. She called back in the evening overjoyed at the wonderful day she’s had. Turns out she never did visit with anyone, but she found all kinds of things on sale at the mall. We heard later she had spent $700 on jewellery and clothing, things she really couldn’t afford and might never wear, but spending gave her a one-day high.

If you ask this lady how her day is going, she will probably fill your ear with a long tale of woe.

The other lady is 91 and lives in a senior’s residence. Her husband of 65 years died a few years ago and she misses him. But she talks of all the good memories she has of their life together. Their only son lives close by, comes to see her every day, does all he can to help her. She is always singing his praises.

Almost a year ago she suffered a stroke and spent some time in the hospital. The nurses were all very good to her. She had to use a walker after she came home, but she didn’t complain. Now she is fully recovered and goes for a half-mile walk every morning. She knows every resident in the senior’s residence and loves to visit. Her hands are crippled with arthritis, yet she is typing out her life’s story to share with her family. She keeps in touch by phone with all her many relatives.

If you ask this lady how things are going, she may mention some health problem, or she may not. Mostly she will tell you how good everyone is to her and how the Lord has blessed her life.

There is the difference, one of these ladies knows the Lord. The other does not, will not even consider that such a thing is possible.

So, how is your day going? It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

Sitting around the fire

We were in a small mission congregation in a major Canadian city. A middle-aged single lady, I’ll call her Anne, had been attending for a year or more. One day she said to me, “It seems like there is a warm fire burning here and you are all gathered around to warm yourselves by that fire, but you won’t let me get close.” “No,” I answered, “we want you to join us around the fire, the problem is that you are afraid of the fire.”

We all struggle with that fear from time to time, some more than others, and some never seem to overcome that fear. To enter into the presence of God, to warm ourselves in His love and the love of fellow believers, requires that we let go of some things. Things like pride, lust, materialism, envy, anger and so on.

The problem is that we don’t want to call them by their proper names. We create a mask for ourselves, depicting the person that we want to be, the kind of person that we think will be admired and respected by those around us. We want to believe that this is our true identity. Yet as soon as we approach that warm bonfire of God’s love that mask starts to melt and we hasten back to the cool shadows.

This is futility, and deep down we know it. Still, we are afraid to take off the mask and let others see what we are really like. The plain truth is that God cannot do anything for the person we are pretending to be. It’s only when we drop the mask and all pretense that we can become the person God wants us to be. And that will be far better than the person we were pretending to be.

We can’t develop warm and lasting friendships with others either if we don’t allow them to see who we really are. When we stop trying to protect ourselves from the warmth of God’s love, there is nothing left to inhibit the warmth of our fellowship as we gather around the fire.

Anne died a few years ago. Those who visited with her in her last days say that near the end she seemed to grasp the reality that we must come to God on His terms, holding nothing back. There is hope that she finally did enter into the warmth of His love. God is gracious and full of mercy, but why would any of us want to wait until the last minute to discover that?

I dreamed there was no God

[From an out of print book, When I Was Thirteen by Christina Young. I first posted this in March of 2013, and thought it worth posting again as it seems to me that far too many people today are living in just such a nightmare and do not know that it would be possible to awaken from that dream and experience the love of God who really is there.]

June 1, 1897
This is Sunday morning, and also the first day of June.  Everyone else is sleeping still, as the sun is just coming up over the trees at the ditch.  I got up early like this, because I had a bad dream, and couldn’t sleep any more, and I thought maybe if I would go out into the beautiful morning, I could crawl back up out of the slough of despond that had swallowed me up in my dream.

I will write down my dream pretty soon, but first I want to get happy again, and feeling that God is close by, as it was a most desolate feeling, to feel shut away from Him.

So I am sitting out here on the stoop watching the sun rising up, and smelling the sweet morning smells that the night sprinkles over the earth to make it sweet for the people when they get up in the morning.  It is a great pity the children in town can never have country mornings.

The little lost lambs have all found their own mother now.  I can see them frisking around along the sides of the road.  You would never think that they were such sorrowful lambs last night, and the happy old mother sheep seem to have clean forgotten their worry for fear they had lost their lambs.

Out in the orchards the birds are holding a service of song, and are nearly bursting their throats trying to make the world understand how happy they feel for this lovely June morning.  And back there in the pasture, the horses and cows are just getting up for another good day in the grass.  Old Nell looks quite a fine lady.

Somewhere in the Bible there is a verse which says “They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountains, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”  And that is the way the world looks this morning.  No one with a soul locked up in their body, and looking out of their eyes, could see the earth on a morning like this, and not be sure that God made it and loved the people upon it.

But I dreamed last night that there was no God.  And, though it was only a dream and I am awake again now and sure that He is closer to me than the morning air I am breathing, I am sad to think that there must be millions of people and sorrowful little children, away in the heathen lands, who have all the time the unhappy feeling I had while I was dreaming my dream.  For they don’t know about God.

In my dream, the children would not obey their parents, but did as they wanted to do themselves, and nobody wanted to bother themselves with children anyway, and they had to look out for themselves.  The parents found fault with each other, and with the ones higher up, and they wouldn’t stick to each other, and kept stirring up ugly feelings, and the ones higher up did just as they pleased and didn’t care who suffered for it, but were always living in fear of someone conquering them.  Everyone was afraid of everyone else and there was no faith in the world.

I was even afraid of Ma, as the thing that held us together, seemed not to be there anymore, and where love and tenderness once had been, fear and distrust were now.

Each one walked alone, and had no friend.

I was sleeping out on the road, trying to keep myself hid, and had huddled up in the dark beside one of the sheep, as that was the kindest thing I could find, and I wasn’t afraid of it.  I thought that Ma didn’t care for me anymore, but had told me to shift for myself, and there was no use praying to God for there wasn’t any God there.

I was wishing with all my heart that I had never been born, and hoping I would soon die.  I was planning, as soon as the daylight came, to try to sneak down to the creek and be drowned.  I would have to keep out of sight of a man, as they were all cruel to children.  I thought it would be all right to drown myself because if there was no God, neither would there be any Heaven, and if there wasn’t a Heaven, not likely there’d be any Hell, and being so miserable as I was, I would rather be nothing at all.

Just then a sheep bleated a little, and I woke up.  Of all the bad dreams I have ever had, that was the very worst.  There wasn’t any thrill in it, but just a heavy despair, as there was no chance to escape, and nowhere to turn for help.

I was never so glad to wake up before, and find it was just a bad dream.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Hell should turn out just to be shut out forever from under the care of God.

I know there are some in the world who say they do not believe in Him, although they are living in safety and peace, because others’ believe and act that way, but I think they must have a feeling that there is a God taking care of us, although maybe they don’t know that they have it.  Because if they really didn’t believe, and felt as I felt in my dream, I think they’d all kill themselves and so end up the misery.

I think, when God gives life to a child, He plants in its soul the feeling that there is a God.  They say even the worst of the heathens have the instinct that there is some such Presence, and are always searching to find it and seeking to know its will, though so doubtfully and so darkly that they never know any real peace, being so full of the terrors that live in their minds.  I expect the children all feel as I felt last night in my dream.

Pa is up now, and was surprised to see me sitting out here on the stoop.  It was good to see his face, with only kindness on it, and to know that he is a good man and walks in the way of God, and it is good to know that Ma is still Ma, and we can be sure of her love for us and can all be together still, and sure of the love of God, and that He is right here watching out for us all, and none of us need be afraid.  I guess I had better start setting the table for breakfast now.  Pa has the fire going.

Friendship

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! (John 11:33-36).

I have at times wondered about the accounts of the close friendship Jesus had with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. The gospel accounts make it clear that there was a special connection here and He loved to visit their home. What do we think about the preference that He seemed to show for the company of Lazarus and his sisters?coffee-367887_640

Then again, what would we think of Jesus if He had no close friends? What if He had gone about treating everyone with the same kindness and respect, yet never allowing Himself to get too closely attached to anyone? What if He had never been moved to tears by the sorrow of close friends?

In everything Jesus is our example. If we belong to a congregation of believers, they should all be our friends. Yet it is completely normal, and highly desirable, that we should form closer bonds with a few. These close friendships should not be limited to our own kinfolk either. There will be those whose nature and interests naturally draw us together. These close bonds of friendship should not ever be the source of divisions in the body, they should rather bind us more closely to the whole body. Our closest friends may also feel close to someone with whom we might other wise not have been able to develop much rapport, but our mutual ties will draw us together.

It would also be entirely normal to have friends outside the bounds of our Christian fellowship. They may be unsaved family members, work associates, people with common interests. We should be just as much Christians when with them as when with our Christian friends. Not that we should browbeat them with the gospel or constantly remind them of shortcomings in their lives. Those could be quite effective means of ending the friendship. But if they never have questions about our faith, perhaps we are trying to hard to be like them.

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly  (Proverbs 18:24). When we show a genuine interest in other people’s lives, they are more apt to be interested in what makes us tick. That is the basis for forming true friendships and also the basis upon which those friendships can become a setting for heart to heart sharing of spiritual concerns, trials and victories.

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