Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: gospel

Writing as a slave of Jesus Christ

When the apostle Paul wanted to write to Christians at Rome, he could have introduced himself by listing his credentials and experience, then said: “You see how important a man I am and I have something important to say. So listen up!”

But that’s not what he said; he introduced himself as a slave, putting himself at the very bottom of the social ladder. (Our Bible may say “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,” but the word Paul used was doulos, meaning slave.)

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Image by Hawksky from Pixabay

In order to honour Jesus who gave us the message, we need to interpret the message into words the recipients will find easy to understand. Most people won’t waste their time searching through a thicket of unnecessary words in the hope of finding a message. We need to skip the pompous words and bombastic writing style that some Christians think is the way to impress readers with the weightiness of their subject matter. The weight of those words will sink your message.

We need to consider ourselves as servants of the people for whom the message is intended. Paul wrote, in I Corinthians 9:19-52: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. . . I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

In all his epistles, Paul challenges the new believers notions of ethnic, economic or social superiority, telling them that none of these things matter in the kingdom of Christ. In Philippians 3:8 he says: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ”

“All things,” that would include everything about who I am: education, social status, family, ethnic origin, even my church affiliation. Boasting of any of these things will not gain us a hearing with the people to whom we want to bring the message of Jesus.

This may sound alarming for those of us who are firmly committed to our church, its doctrines and history. But there is nothing there for us to boast of, we did not create the doctrines and history. We are children of the most high God, brothers and sister of Jesus Christ, we are living honest and pure lives. Where will it get us to boast of that? The people around us already suspect that we think we are better than they are.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” God says in Zephaniah 3:11-12: “then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain. I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.”

The mountain of God is holy, but we did not put it there, nor did we receive our spiritual heritage as an inheritance from our fathers. It is a gift of God that we have received and others are just as eligible to receive it, regardless of their background.

If we assume that other people think just like we do, our message is compromised before we put a word on paper. In order to be “all things to all men” we need to get out of our bubble, our comfort zone, and learn how other people think. That means that we need to listen and to read before we begin to speak and to write.

The words of Paul are timeless because he did that in his day. He was thoroughly acquainted with the Jewish way of thinking and with the Greek way of thinking. His discourse in Athens consisted almost entirely of quotations from Greek philosophers. He gained a hearing because those words were familiar to the men he was speaking to. Then he disrupted their complacency by introducing the resurrection of Jesus.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus says: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” That is our challenge today. To be servants, poor and afflicted, harmless and non-threatening. And yet be wise enough to see the chinks in the walls of complacency that people build around themselves and try to widen them a little to let the light of the gospel shine in,

If we are in earnest about the cause of Christ, let us come down to the bottom rung of the social ladder and become the slaves of Christ and of all mankind.

The fulness of the time – today

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

News reports are dismal: mass shootings; random killings; skyrocketing suicide rates; ethnic conflicts; antisemitism; recreational drug use on the rise, with fatal consequences for some; economic instability; political instability; refugees fleeing conflict in search of safety, many dying in the attempt; violence against women; and on and on.

It would seem that the condition of mankind today cries out for the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed. Does anybody believe it anymore? In most countries the agnostics and atheists outnumber those who call themselves Christian. Even those who call themselves Christian don’t appear to have much of an answer. Many have detoured into save the planet activism; others into pop psychology and others into feel good emotional revivalism. None of these offer a genuine solution or a durable healing of the gaping wounds in the souls of men and women.

The gospel of Jesus Christ offers exactly the healing balm that allows men and women, young and old, rich and poor, of any skin colour or ethnic identity to be made whole and to be able to love and respect others, and to be loved and respected by others.

The gospel needs to be proclaimed, and today we have the modern equivalent of the Roman road system that allows the gospel to be carried into all the world. It is called the internet. Yes, there is immorality being offered on this highway. Yes, there are other wares being offered that are harmful; Yes, there are deceptions and dangers out there on this highway. Christians of two millennia ago faced exactly the same dangers along the Roman roads; but they went out to proclaim the gospel and the gospel changed the world. Can that happen again?

Part of the inspiration for this post comes from Bill Sweeney’s blog, Unshakable Hope. Bill suffers from ALS and cannot speak or move any part of his body – except his eyes. He has a computer that is controlled by his eye movements and he is able to share his testimony and the saving truth of the gospel with people around the world. I first read the comparison of the internet to th Roman road system in his blog.

Gospel Tract and Bible Society of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, of which I am a member, has a web site offering free gospel tracts to people around the world. Tracts are available in 100 languages, they can be read online or printed. Copies can be ordered at no charge for distribution, questions can be asked (though perhaps in only about 20 of those languages). Of course there comes a time when interested people need a personal contact. Visits are made and when there is a need missionary couples are sent to mentor and disciple. Churches exist in many countries today which originated from some individual reading a tract and then sharing it with friends.

I have a French-language blog. Last month at least one person in 65 different countries looked at that blog. I take no credit for that as most of what I post there is writings of the Anabaptist-Mennonite faith from hundreds of years ago. Are people reading out of curiosity or out of a hunger in the soul? Does it matter? It would be enough for curiosity to be a beginning.

To return to where I began, I believe there is a hunger in the souls of men and women the world around that is not being satisfied. Most cannot even identify what they are hungry for and try to satisfy it with things that do not satisfy. That leads to despair. Christians need to proclaim the message of hope, and with the internet I believe we have the means at our fingertips.

Introduction to the New Testament -2

Acts of the Apostles – This is the second half of Luke’s history, the first part being the Gospel which bears his name. Again we see a meticulous historian at work, telling the history of the beginning of the church in chronological order and anchoring it all to places and people in the secular world. If we pay attention as we read, it should cause us to question some popular notions that we may have assumed to be true.

For instance, it is commonly assumed that the pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost happened in the upper room. How big a room must this have been to hold 120 men and women? Acts 1:15 says that was the number of the disciples at that time. We find in verses 12 & 13 that this upper room served as the bedroom for the eleven apostles; do we really think they would have crammed 120 people of both sexes into this space?

Luke tells us in the last verse of his gospel that they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God and repeats that statement in Acts 2:46. The courtyard of the temple was huge, with room for many thousands of people. There were shelters here, such as the one called Solomon’s porch, and pools of water for ritual purification. It makes more sense to believe that all the action of Acts 2 took place here. Other people would have been drawn to these somewhat rustic people who suddenly began speaking in languages they had not previously known. It would not have seemed unusual to dip water from one of the pools to baptize 3,000 people by pouring. Any attempt to immerse them in one of those pools would no doubt have caused an uproar.

The Book of Acts shows the apostle Peter taking the lead in opening the door to membership in the beginning church, first of all to Jews on the day of Pentecost and not long after to Gentiles when he went to the home of Cornelius. Peter also took the lead in excluding unfaithful members from the church, namely Ananias and Saphira, God bearing witness to the truth of Peter’s decision by causing the immediate death of both.

This must not be taken to indicate that Peter was the head of the church. When the apostles and leaders of the church gathered at Jerusalem to discuss what should be required of Gentile converts, as recorded in chapter 15, it was James who rendered the final decision. This was James the son of Joseph and Mary and brother of our Lord. James, the brother of John had been slain by Herod before this time.

A large part of the book is taken up in recounting the conversion of Saul and his subsequent career as Paul the apostle. His mission journeys did much to expand the frontiers of the church throughout Asia and Europe. Luke appears to have accompanied him during much of this time.

We read in the book of Acts and elsewhere of disagreements between Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Peter, Paul and John Mark. There is no evidence in these accounts that the disagreements are evidence of sin on the part of the individuals involved, or that they caused a breech of fellowship between them. All were dedicated to the cause of Christ and the spreading of the gospel.

Holy violence

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)

The tax gatherers and heathen, whom the scribes and Pharisees think have no right to the kingdom of the Messiah, filled with holy zeal and earnestness, seize at once on the proffered mercy of the gospel, and so take the kingdom as by force from those learned doctors who claimed for themselves the chiefest places in that kingdom. He that will take, get possession of, the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and spiritual joy must be in earnest. All hell will oppose him in every step he takes; and if a man be not absolutely determined to give up his sins and evil companions, and have his soul saved at all hazards, and at every expense, he will surely perish everlastingly. This requires a violent earnestness.

-Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible

Mr. Average Canadian 

This was first published four years ago.

In 1926 Stephen Leacock tried to describe the average Canadian man of his day. Eighty-nine years have passed and Mister Average Canadian of that day is long dead and buried. Therefore, I will take it upon myself to describe his modern counterpart, according to census statistics.

In 2015 Mr. Average Canadian is 42 years old and lives in Sudbury, Ontario, but was not born there. His mother tongue is English, but one of his grandparents was French and he speaks 1,000 words of that language. He also speaks 100 words of Mandarin and 100 words of Hindi, Urdu or Arabic, and knows a few words of Cree or Ojibwe.

He has lived with three women, is halfway divorced from one and halfway married to another. Two children live with him and his halfway wife, they each have one other child who lives with the partner from whom they are halfway divorced. Mr. Average Canadian and his halfway wife each have one half of a university degree, but this does not add up to one full degree between them.

Mr. Average Canadian drives a Ford pickup and his halfway wife drives a Toyota Corolla. They also own a riding lawnmower and either a Skidoo or a Kawasaki ATV. Mr. Average Canadian shops once a week at Canadian Tire for parts for their vehicles and equipment, parts to fix the tap in the bathroom, new tools with which to do the repairs, or clothes to wear on his upcoming hunting trip. He also meets with friends for coffee at Tim Horton’s two times in the week. He has an Android phone which he uses to keep up with family and friends, the weather, sports, news and various other things.
Mr. Average Canadian and his halfway wife attend a church five times a year. They may also go to a synagogue or a mosque occasionally. They have one quarter of a Bible in their home and each will pick it up three times a year and try to read something in it, but they still don’t have a clue what it’s all about.

This I believe is a reasonably accurate portrait of Mr. Average Canadian. Here is the big question: where does one begin when he wishes to share the gospel with such a person?

The answer should be obvious — you need to be one of those friends he meets with at Tim Horton’s, show him the nifty Bible app on your Android phone and encourage him to download it too. That is the beginning.

The Christian art of soft persuasion

Jesus said: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We want to share the gospel; let’s not get distracted into wolf hunting. That’s not what Jesus has called us to do; He has called us to demonstrate an alternative to the wolves.

Not everyone out there in the world is a wolf. Many are confused, some are deceived, but that does not make them wolves. For this reason we need to be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. It is one thing to point out the snares in false teachings, but if we attack everyone who we deem to be deceived, we are acting like wolves.

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Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The gospel is unchanging from age to age and culture to culture. Yet the words we use to explain the gospel must be adapted to the understanding of the hearers. Before we can present the gospel in a meaningful way to someone of a different culture, we must first unpack it from the baggage of our own culture. Here is where we are most apt to stumble. We are blind to our own culture. Why would we even think of changing what is right and good and workable, we ask?

To other people our culture is blatantly obvious. We have preconceived ideas of how a Christian should conduct himself. We like to shake hands, but hugging makes us uncomfortable. We are accustomed to keeping a generous amount of personal space between ourselves and the person we are speaking to. These things make us appear cold and aloof to people of a warmer culture.

We use words, expressions, examples that we believe are universal. They are not. We can’t understand the questions people ask, they seem so strange to our way of thinking. Our way of thinking is equally foreign to them.

Once we learn to recognize that the baggage we have carried all our lives is not essential to the gospel, then we can begin to share the message in a way that others can understand. We become soft and gentle sheep, submissive to the will of God, portraying the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and actions.

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“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Adam Clarke’s take on this is that Paul is saying that he assumed every shape and form consistent with innocency and perfect integrity; giving up his own will, his own way; his own ease; his own pleasure; and his own profit that he might save the souls of all. He did not accommodate or water down his message to the beliefs of others, his goal was not to get money, influence, or honour, but to save souls. It was not to get ease, but to increase his labours. It was not to save his life, but rather that it should be a sacrifice for the good of immortal souls.

The truth can stand by itself

A friend likes to preface many of the things he says with:“Without a word of a lie.” For some reason I don’t find such a statement all that convincing. It makes me wonder if he is not accustomed to telling the truth.

I guess that’s why Jesus instructed us: “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matthew 5:17). In other words, tell the truth all the time and people won’t have to wonder whether or not you are telling the truth this time.

Sometimes we attempt to shore up the truth with big words and adjectives, for fear that the unadorned truth is too weak to stand on its own. We’ve got that wrong. Our attempts to buttress the truth, to make it stronger, weaken it.

Do we plant dandelions and thistles in our flower beds for emphasis? If that sounds ridiculous, and it should, it’s just as ridiculous to think that we can add emphasis to the truth by throwing in a bunch of adjectives. They draw the hearer’s or reader’s attention away from the truth we are trying to present.

Christian jargon is just as bad. We may know exactly what we are trying to say, but to the hearer it is probably an unknown tongue. Words and expressions that have a profound meaning to a Christian have no meaning at all to most other people. If we wish to communicate the truth we need to use simple words that everybody can understand. That may take some time and effort on ur part. The thing about jargon is that after a number of years it becomes a way to avoid thinking about what we are saying.

The truth of the gospel does not need our help to stand. But it must be told. Let’s tell it simply and often.

Where is the way where light dwelleth?

Earlier  today I re-blogged two posts that pointed to inconsistencies in US media coverage of President Trump’s actions. I was not wanting to make a political point, after all I am a Canadian, but trying to point out the folly of trusting the media to shed light on current issues.

Someone, I think it was Stephen Leacock, once wrote: “The combined labours of many scholars has shed much darkness on the route taken by Hannibal and his army to cross the Alps. As they continue their research it is probable that we shall soon know nothing at all.”

I was living in Toronto in my early twenties and a provincial election campaign was drawing to a close. One day the Telegram newspaper appeared on newstands with huge headlines proclaiming that the leader of one of the minor parties had switched allegiance to the Conservatives, The next issue of the Globe and Mail pointed out that this was true, but hardly a scoop as that event had occurred three years previously.

Thankfully there are still some journalists who prefer truth to hysteria. News stories written by the others should be taken with a grain of salt.

The title of this blog is a quote from the book of Job, chapter 38, verse 19. As Christians we should not give credence to the type of news stories that would whip us into a perpetual state of indignation. That is definitely not where light dwells.

To find the true light we need to look far beyond the political arena. The crisis of this day, this week, this month, will pass and be forgotten. But the true light is eternal and unchanging.

The apostle John tells us in the beginning of his gospel that Jesus is that true light and that light is available to everyone. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians tells us that we are to shine as lights in the world. We can’t do that if we let our thoughts and feelings become stirred up and confused by the shrill alarms coming from the media.

Trying to swim upstream

Duyring the winter of 1973-74 our pastor spent several weeks in California taking in a seminar on church growth. Upon his return to Moose Jaw, he called  a meeting at church to talk about what he had learned. He began the meeting by asking “What makes a church grow?”

One lady responded with what seemed to her the obvious answer: “The Holy Spirit.” This was the lady whose mother had recently been converted. Evidently this was not the answer the pastor had anticipated: “Well, yes, but, er, um.”

When he could get back to his train of thought, he expounded to us the principles of the church growth movement. To succeed at evangelizing a community you had to divide it into demographic groups with a natural affinity for each other, based on ethnicity, occupation or other criteria. Then you designed a congregation and a message thart would appeal to each of these homogeneous groups.

I agreed with the lady who thought the Holy Spirit was the key. I also thought that the gospel was supposed to bring people together, not separate them. But no, mass marketing advertisers had proved this approach worked and now it was time to use it to expand the market for the Christian faith.

The congregation began planning evangelistic meetings for spring. A committee was formed to plan and I was elected to it. Everybody was mobilized, the women got together weekly to discuss and pray for the outreach.

Meanwhile, there had been record snowfall in the winter and when spring came there was unprecedented flooding in low-lying parts of the city. As the waters began to abate we began to talk of what could be done to help. Mennonite Disaster Service is an inter-Mennonite organisation that could call out voluteers to come and help. At one of our evangelism planning meetings one member talked of how he had contacted city hall to offer help from MDS. He was told that someone from the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite at Linden, Alberta had already called city hall and said a group of men would be coming.

No one in our group had ever heard of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Except me. I got as far as explaining that the men wore beards when the pastor rushed to the phone, called city hall to get the number of the man from Linden and called him. “Everything is being taken care of, we have a lot of volunteers coming already. You don’t need to go to the trouble of coming all that way.”

The man on the other end decided they would come anyway. The last thing the pastor wanted before this great effort of evangelism was a group of bearded Mennonites being seen about the city. But he made the best of it and offered that they could bring sleeping bags and stay in the church basement.

Before any out of town help arrived we men went out one evening to remove furniture and other belongings from a house that had been flooded to the eaves. That was the end of any cleanup work for me. That night I had an allergic reaction to the mould inside that house that left me incapacitated for almost two weeks.

But I could man the phone at church. Insurance adjusters had to do their investigation before anything could be done to a house. They would inform city hall when a house was ready to be cleaned out, city hall would phone me with the address and when a group of volunteers was finished with one house they would call me for directions to the next one.

That put me in place to visit with the men from Linden when they came in from their day of work. A dozen men came for a week and went home for the weekend. Three others came the next week. Chris came in the evenings after work and our discussions helped us get a better idea of where we wanted to go.

This was when it dawned on me that the churches we had been attending were all happily flowing downstream toward the gulf of diluted Christianity, while we were trying to swim upstream to find the source of living water.

Silence like a cancer grows

Paul Simon was right. Hidden amidst the noise that permeates our daily lives – the noise of our appliances, the hum of our computers, traffic noise, telephones, sirens, music, celebrations, protests, news – there is a pernicious silence. No one dares talk of the things that are churning in their heart. It’s just not done, no one wants to hear. We face this invisible barrier – the sound of silence.

Thoughts come silently – “you’re not good enough,” “you don’t matter,” you’ll never make it,” “nobody likes you.” They become voices that echo incessantly in waking moments, in dreams. They can’t be escaped, they are tormenting demons. But everyone has their own demons and they don’t want to hear about yours. Silence like a cancer grows.

There is an epidemic of suicide, no one quite understands why.

What is a Christian to do? The old gospel message doesn’t resonate with people of the 21st century. Some say we need to make it more relevant, make ourselves more relevant, make ourselves heard.

Sure, let’s grab our megaphomes and join our voices to the cacaphony out there. Do you think anyone will hear? Do you think anyone wants to hear what Christians have to say?

Nobody is listening. Not even the Christians. That is the problem. Rather than trying to make ourselves heard, could we try to help others make themselves heard?

Let’s open our hearts, our minds, our ears to hear the words that no one else wants to hear. We’ll hear a lot of stuff that might make us cringe and want to stop our ears, but if we listen long enough someone might trust us enough to show where it really hurts.

And if we can bear to listen, that person might even give us permission to open our mouths and tell of the healing balm of Jesus’ blood.

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