Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: God

Preface

Half a century ago a drunken young man announced to a couple of friends that one day he would be a Mennonite and wear a beard. His friends dismissed this as babbling inspired by the booze he had consumed. The young man himself was bewildered. The few Mennonites he had met, from his mother’s side of the family, had not inspired any longing to be like them. He had never seen a Mennonite who wore a beard, didn’t know if he wanted to be a Christian, or even if there was such a thing as a real Christian.

Over the next twelve years he quit drinking, quit smoking cigars, became a Christian, got married and started a family, in that order. Then he and his wife joined a Mennonite church, one that is of the persuasion that if hair grows on a man’s face it doesn’t make sense to try to remove all trace of that hair each morning.

That drunken declaration was prophetic, springing from a longing within that took the young man years to understand. It is now apparent that the longing came from God, and that over the years He continued to prompt and nudge that young man in ways that would allow that longing to become a living faith.

This book is the story of all that led up to that unexpected statement and all that happened after to make it become reality, despite the bumbling confusion of the young man, who was me. I am an old man now, and look back in wonder at that journey.

I hope that my story will encourage others to trust that there is light for the pathway and unexpected moments of joy in the journey, even when one is stubborn and doubtful of the way.

[With this post I am beginning a memoir of my spiritual journey, which I hope to publish before I get too old for stuff like this. The working title, for now at least, is One Day I Will be a Mennonite and Wear a Beard. I encourage readers to offer critiques and comments. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. Does my writing style put you to sleep? Do I offer too much information, or not enough? Your thoughts are welcome.]

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Living stones of Zion

Only living stones can strengthen the walls of Zion.
Other stones do not bond and will be pushed out of place.
A block of wood, a bale of hay or straw, will fill a gap in the wall,
They do not bond, they offer a route for vermin to enter Zion.
When the fiery darts of the enemy strike them they go up in flames.

Sunlight shows flashes of gold, silver and jewels in some living stones.
Others are plain granite, all help bear the loads of brothers and sisters
And form bonds that make the walls a sure defence against the enemy.
There is safety within for little ones, not yet spiritually living stones,
And a place where the weak and wounded heal and renew their strength.

Spiritual sacrifices are daily offered within these walls,
Sacrifices of selfish will and pride, of personal desires and ambition.
Sacrifices that arise as sweet incense to the courts of heaven.
Peace, joy and love here are tested, are strengthened and endure ,
Pleasing God and making glad the hearts of the citizens of Zion.

A pillar of fire by night and of cloud by day is seen upon these walls,
The Shekinah glory of God, invisible to unbelieving eyes,
Yet seen and feared by demonic beings that love darkness.
Weary seekers of the city of God catch glimpses of light from afar
Angels of light watch over them, help them find their way home.

Looking for real Mennonites

All I learned about Mennonites while I was growing up was that my mother had been one and had left because the German language was more important than the faith and that my grandma, a dear sweet old lady, was one and wanted me to learn German so I could be a Christian.

Perhaps there was one more thing. My mother, though no longer member of a Mennonite church, seemed to have carried some of the faith in her baggage when she left. There was something about her that was more peaceful and attractive than the argumentative faith of my father.

In my mid twenties I decided I wanted to know more about Mennonites. This was half a century ago, long before you could go to your computer and ask google to find the information you wanted. Encyclopedias offered a little information, but I wasn’t sure they were getting it right. So I bought a book, probably more than one, I forget.

As I read Mennonite history I discovered a group of people who truly believed in God, who loved God, knew they were loved by God, and believed God wanted them to love everyone else. For some reason the state churches believed such a faith was subversive and persecuted the Mennonites. The Mennonites treasured their faith more than their homes, material possessions, even their lives. They were burnt at the stake and kept telling the bystanders about the love of God as long as they had breath.

I read about a time when soldiers seized a stock of books written by Menno Simons and were about to burn them in the town square. Several daring men began grabbing books from the pile and passing them to the bystanders, who immediately fled. It all happened so quickly that the few soldiers present were unable to prevent it and were left with almost nothing to burn.

There had been a power in that faith that I longed for. I knew there were many kinds of Mennonites in our province and hoped that somewhere I could find that old faith sill living.

I got up early one Sunday morning, dressed in my best clothes and drove into a nearby city to attend a Mennonite service. I was impressed by the simplicity of the non-liturgical service, don’t remember anything about the sermon, but hoped to learn more about this church. However, it appeared that I was an invisible person. One or two people nodded to me as we left that service, but none appeared interested in the stranger in their midst. I tried again several weeks later, with the same result.

I still thought that the faith I had read about must surely exist somewhere, but I gave up looking until after I was married. We experienced more disappointments and came to realize that most churches that called themselves Mennonite had no idea what the name meant. But we still kept looking.

Optimsm – Pessimism

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A pessimist fears that every silver cloud conceals a dark and foreboding lining, and says that he is just being a realist.
An optimist believes every dark cloud will have a silver lining and also says he is being realistic.
Who is right?

A pessimist looks at the increasing godlessness and wickedness of the world and sees only doom and gloom.
An optimist looks at the same things and sees a mission field.
Who is right?

A pessimist sees things that are wrong in the world and marches in the streets to get the government to do something.
An optimist sees little things to do to help others and does them.
Who is doing more to make this world a better place?

Optimism is not following our natural inclinations and impulses and trusting that everything will turn out right. But we won’t get better results if we fear that nothing will ever work out, so there is no point in even trying. We need to be doing, but we need wisdom to know what to do.

Our bodies are mature when we are 18, but our brains are not fully mature until we are 25. The last part of the brain to mature is the part that controls our impulses. We are apt to be naturally optimistic when we are young, but will have some painful encounters with reality as we mature. Perhaps that is what helps the brain mature. The ideal outcome is that we will become less impulsive, but remain optimistic.

We worry about the growth of Islam and fear that those people are immune to evangelism. Yet we hear that many Muslim people all over the world have seen a vision or had a dream of Jesus and become Christians. God is at work in every place where there are Muslims even if no missionaries can enter those lands.

The Bible tells us in different places to lift up our eyes. That implies that when we look only at circumstances at ground level we are not seeing things as God sees them. And we are not seeing God.

Solomon said “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” Is there a farmer anywhere that wakes up on a September morning, sees clouds in the sky and decides to go fishing? When it comes to our spiritual lives, how often do we go fishing (or something else, anything else) to avoid facing difficult decisions?

Optimism is not a self-help plan, it is not the power of positive thinking. An optimist is one who is ready to do what needs to be done, even if there is no guarantee of a positive outcome.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

WASPs and other Canadians

When I was young, WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), considered themselves to naturally be the epitome of all that was right and good. It was the privilege of the WASPs to grant each other entrance to the best schools, the best jobs and the best clubs. The Orange Lodge bears a large share of the responsibility for inculcating this attitude. To an Orangeman, anyone nonwhite, non-Anglo-Saxon, or non-Protestant was a threat to the good order of society.

In most of the historical novels I read as a boy, WASPs were portrayed as brave, honest, trustworthy and heroic. Everyone else was shifty-eyed, cowardly and obviously not to be trusted. Years later, after I learned to read French, I found exactly the same attitudes in French-language historical fiction for young people. Except that the roles were reversed: the French were honest, heroic and good and the WASPs were the ones who were shifty-eyed, cowardly and untrustworthy. I suspect the same self-congratulatory attitudes would be found in the literature of all peoples.

In the span of my lifetime attitudes have shifted radically. A large segment of our society wants to blame all the sins of the past on the WASPs, including many of the WASPs themselves. The WASP label is not much used anymore, the current term is White Privilege. All kinds of people are seeking reparation, thinking that punishing the representatives of White Privilege will somehow make life better for themselves.

I suppose that this might make some sense if there was any sign the other groups would then get along with each other. There doesn’t seem to be much chance of that. Blaming others, demeaning others, seeking retribution, are not ways to build a peaceful society.

Many of the abuses of the past were done in the name of Christianity. That makes the task of reconciliation difficult. Rejecting the Bible, rejecting the fundamental tenets of Christianity, leaves people with no landmarks, no shared sense of direction. Many believe they see a way forward, yet their goal constantly shifts and seems to get farther away. If nothing changes, current trends will lead to anarchy and chaos.

I did not choose the colour of my skin, my ethnic heritage or the religious affiliation of my parents. Neither did anyone else. It is not our job as Christians to defend the sins of the past, or to apologize for events in which we had no part. But it is our job as Christians to point out that reconciliation between people doesn’t work well when people are not reconciled to God. As Christians, we must believe and proclaim the whole counsel of God.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20.)

Darkness and light

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)

The Scriptures speak of two kinds of darkness: the one a natural darkness which is simply the absence of natural light: the other a spiritual darkness that is opposed to God and which is the dwelling place of spiritual beings opposed to God. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible use different words to differentiate between the two forms of darkness. Many languages have two words for darkness, English has only one and that can lead to misunderstandings of the text.

In French Bibles the underlined word in the above text is rendered ténèbres. The dictionary defines this word as profound darkness, most often considered to be a material environment; in a religious sense, that which is opposed to the light of God.This captures well the meaning of the word used in the original Hebrew.

Understood this way, the verse is telling us that the forces of spiritual darkness were present on the earth from the beginning of creation. It also explains why God created light on the first day of creation, but the sun was not created until the fourth day. The light of the sun cannot drive away spiritual darkness, only the light of God’s presence can do that.

The next verse tells us that God divided the light from the darkness. The conflict between light and darkness has continued from that day and will continue until the end of the world. Natural night and day are realities that should remind us of the deeper reality of spiritual darkness and light.

Many cultures confused the light of the sun with the light of God and worshipped the sun. God showed His judgment of Egyptian sun worship by bringing darkness on the land of Egypt. The word used in Hebrew (and in the French translation) denotes spiritual darkness, but it also manifested itself as natural darkness. The land of Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt, had light, both natural and spiritual.

Later on, when God called Moses to go up Mount Sinai, we are told that the mountain was covered by a cloud of thick darkness. The word used here simply means natural darkness. In French it is rendered obscurité. When Moses climbed up the mountain he was obscured from the view of the people below. When he reached the top of the mountain, the natural light of the sun was completely obscured and he was illuminated by the light of God’s presence.

Moving on to the New Testament, the gospel of John, speaking of Jesus, tells us: In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:4-5) Here again, the underlined words are rendered ténèbres in French, an accurate translation of the Greek word in the original.

Here are a few more New Testament passages:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness (ténèbres)rather than light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness (ténèbres) of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness (ténèbres) even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness (ténèbres), and walketh in darkness (ténèbres), and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness (ténèbres) hath blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

(This is a good verse for discerning those who profess enlightenment in social, environmental or spiritual matters, but react angrily to anyone who dares to disagree with their enlightenment. It should be first and foremost a standard to prove our own spirit in these and all other matters.)

Finally, there shall be an eternal separation between darkness and light:

Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness (obscurité) of darkness (ténèbres) for ever. Jude verse 13

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. Revelation 21:23

Book review: Humble Roots

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Hannah Anderson is the wife of a country pastor in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia who finds inspiration for her writing in her garden and other growing things.

This book helped me understand why I have always felt uncomfortable when Christians talk about their humility. She tells us that “Show, don’t tell,” one of the cardinal rules of effective writing, should also apply to humility. If we have to tell people that we are humble, we probably aren’t. If people cannot see evidence of humility in our lives, there’s no use telling them we are humble.

She quotes C.S. Lewis: “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell them the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud.” Pride can corrupt our attempts at humility. We talk about feeling unworthy, about how undeserving we are, and all the while what we are really doing is drawing attention to ourselves.

In the book, Hannah Anderson says:”Humility is not feeling a certain way about yourself, not feeling small or low or embarrassed or even humiliated. Theologically speaking, humility is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are as a result.”

I highly recommend this book; it confronts the realities of life in a gentle, down to earth, and often humorous manner and leaves you with an important message to chew on.

© 2016 by Hannah Anderson, published by Moody Publishers.

Blessed are the pure in heart

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Well, I have tried to keep myself pure. I read the Bible every day and hardly ever miss a church service. I have been married to the same woman for almost 47 years; it’s been at least 45 years since the last time I got drunk; I quit living in a cloud of cigar smoke about the same time – do you suppose there might be some connection between those three things?

But – Jesus was talking about the pure in heart. Do good things that I do prove that the thoughts and intents of my heart are pure?  Solomon asked: Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? The prophet Jeremiah said: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

So here I am: I want to be pure in heart, but I can’t make it happen. Jeremiah described my predicament many years ago:  O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.

The answer is found in the New Testament, but it is also there in the Old. David prayed: Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

The path to preparing my heart so that I can see God must begin with God. The Apostle Paul described it this way: For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

The Holy Spirit dwelling in us will do what we are otherwise incapable of doing. It is being spiritually minded that makes us pure in heart.

Follow on to know the Lord

A teenage girl is convinced that she is pregnant and about to become the mother of baby Jesus, even though her mother, her doctor and an ultrasound all assure her that she is not pregnant at all. Why is this news? I suppose the media think this is one more way of poking fun at Christians, even though no real Christian would believe such a thing. Wouldn’t it be much better to pull a veil of respectful silence over the poor young lady and her delusion?

Granted, there are some credulous people who claim to see the face of Jesus in a blotch on the wall and are convinced it is a sign of something or other. Even if Jesus said He was not in the business of giving signs.

A lady of our acquaintance called us and ecstatically announced that she had been about to light a cigarette when she heard an almost audible voice saying “Stop!” She was convinced that our Lord had singled her out for a special touch of His grace. But she went ahead and lit that cigarette and many more after it.

A man had an unmistakable message from God in his younger years, calling him to repent. He never did repent, yet he went to his grave believing that he had a special relationship with God, because God had once spoken to him.

The missing element in all these accounts is the failure to follow on to know God. Visions, dreams and voices could be genuine attempts by God to get our attention. But they do us no good if we do not follow on to know Him.

God does not save us in our sins. He asks us to repent so He can forgive us and set us free from the clutch of our sins. He is not trying to take all the pleasures of life away from us, He wants us to exchange the pleasures that have painful consequences for everlasting joy. He promises to give us a more abundant life. But we have to follow on to truly know Him to experience that abundant life.

Raised eyebrow Christians

I was going to write supercilious, but that’s just a fancy latin word meaning raised eyebrows. So I decided to speak plain English.

There was a time in my mid-twenties when I was quite sure that everyone who claimed to be born again thought they were better than anyone else. Then there came a time in my life when everything was going wrong, at work and in my personal life. I wanted to run away and start over somewhere else, but I had already tried that a few years earlier and it didn’t work. My troubles were my own doing and there didn’t seem to be a way out. I mulled this over and over in my mind. There is much more to the story, but I finally came to the point of believing that God was real and I was a sinner. I prayed for forgiveness and for help to find a way through my troubles.

The only immediate change I was aware of was that the turmoil was gone and I believed I could find a way through my troubles. Over the next few weeks I realized that more had changed, my attitude, the things that I thought were important and the things I wanted to read. Eventually it sunk in that this was what the Bible called being born again.

Years have passed. After many years of being a born-again Christian, I see that I am also in danger of being one of those raised eyebrow Christians who thinks he is better than others.The gospel is so plain and simple, why can’t they grasp it? Why do the short-lived pleasures of the world have such a grip on them?

Why do I find it so hard to remember that I was once like they are? Even the apostle Paul needed to remind himself what kind of man he had been before he met the Lord on the road to Damascus. He reminded others, too, of what they had been: “Such were some of you.”

I need to remember that if it was possible for me to be saved, it is possible for anyone. I need to communicate that to others, not just by words but by attitude and action. I am not made of any better material than others, they are not made of inferior material, the only difference is forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

And I need to ditch the Christian jargon. It has become so familiar, but there was a time when it was an unknown language that made me feel that Christians though they were above me.  I don’t want to make someone else feel that way.

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