Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: heaven

Questions of life and eternity

What is the most important factor in making a person want to be a Christian? Is it the fear of hell, or the longing for heaven?

Have you ever been in a discussion like that? What was the conclusion?

I think both factors have some motivational influence, but I do not believe that either is enough to empower someone to lead a victorious and happy Christian life.

For that, we need to find meaning for our life in an active relationship with the Creator and Saviour, and in serving Him and our neighbour. That relationship grows when we feed on the God’s Word and communicate with Him by both praying and listening.

That relationship must be the overriding guide in business, work, family and friendships. That does not mean that we talk of God all the time and try to force our views on others. All we need is to be ready to obey whenever the Holy Spirit prompts us to do or say some little thing. A victorious and joy filled life is built by those little things,

My home and native land

I am Canadian by birth. I am part of this country and its people; this country and its people are part of me. The history and culture of Canada are an integral part of who I am. I have lived and worked in five of Canada’s ten provinces and visited three more; I am at home anywhere in our land; I speak both official languages.

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Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

Being a citizen by birth is much like being part of a family. We may not always agree, but our roots go deep, our histories have intertwined so we cannot escape the fact that we are family. People from other countries, other cultures, have married into our family and become part of who we are as a family. So it is with our country. We used to have a family doctor who came here from the Democratic Republic of Congo, had received his medical training there. He told me once that he sometimes thought of going back, but his children were Canadian, their roots were here.

I love the land of my birth, my home and native land. I love her people. And yet. . .

By the new birth I am a citizen of another country, the kingdom of God. Specifically, I am a member of one special part of this kingdom, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Not by natural birth, my parents and my wife’s parents were not members of this church. The natural birth does not make anyone a citizen of the kingdom of God.

At the beginning, we had no roots here. They soon grew and twined together with our brothers and sisters so that we cannot imagine being spiritually at home elsewhere. We love our brothers and sisters. Like us, they are sometimes weak, sometimes clumsy, we all make mistakes but we are family.

We are citizens of two kingdoms, but our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God. Our Canadian citizenship is only for this life, our heavenly citizenship is for eternity. As the second century writer of the Epistle to Diognetus so eloquently described the life of Christians:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life.. . They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign. . . Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

There is an election in Canada on Monday. I will not vote. However, I will continue to pray for the members of our government, for they are ministers of God for the matters of this life. I will pray that God will bless them with wisdom and vision to exercise their ministry for the good of all the people of our land, so we can live in peace, order and safety. Above all, that we may be at liberty to worship and serve God according to His will.

Seeking peace

I am a perfectionist. What that means is that most of the time my own imperfections are all but invisible to me while other people’s imperfections are highly visible.  Then, every once in a while I get to see how far I am from what I intended to be. That makes me realize that I am in the right place, in a church of people with flaws not much different from my own. We are all trying to lead sanctified lives that honour God, knowing all the while that our best efforts fall far short of our aspirations.

It is good to acknowledge the reality of who we are so that we don’t begin to think that any of the good we do is because we are really good people. The goodness is the work of God’s Holy Spirit. In the account Jesus gave in Matthew 25 of the Judgment day, those who were welcomed into heaven had no recollection of doing any of the good things mentioned. I believe that is because they were painfully aware of how far short they had come in obeying the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, it should always be our aspiration to live as  described in this poem:

Lord, make us instruments of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, may we bring love.
Where there is offense, may we bring pardon.
Where there is discord, may we bring unity.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
Where there is despair, may we bring hope.
Where there is darkness, may we bring your light.
Where there is sadness, may we bring joy.
O Master, may we not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

This is often labelled a prayer of  Francis of Assisi, but he had nothing to do with it. The French original first appeared in print in Paris in 1912, almost 700 years after the death of Francis.

What the Bible is all about

The Bible is not a story about good people versus bad people. It is a story of people that were created to be good and rather chose to be bad from the very beginning. From that point on it is a story of people who have been rescued from evil and those who still need to be rescued.

God created our first parents with the power to choose to obey Him or to choose to obey the temptation offered by the serpent. He knew the risk He was taking, but He never wanted us to be puppets, obeying Him only because we had no choice.

Satan and his dark angels have been at war with God since a time before the physical world was created. The first chapter of the book of Job shows the subtle way in which Satan works and God’s willingness to allow our devotion to Him to be tested. The end of the book shows how God bestows blessings upon us when we steadfastly resist everything that Satan uses to make us mistrust and deny God.

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The Old Testament is the history of God calling people to come apart from the wickedness of the world and follow Him. It is also a demonstration of how people were unable to maintain a life of faith. Step by step God was teaching how the things in which the ungodly trust will always lead to disaster. It was a lesson that usually didn’t stick from one generation to the next. The prophet Jeremiah described it well: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

There arose among the Jewish people a group who believed they had full understanding of the Word of God and of how God wanted people to live. They were considered to be experts in being faithful servants of God. They were called Pharisees, a name that denoted that they were separate from the ungodly and unbelieving.

When we come to the New Testament we see Satan and his forces using every weapon at their disposal to win mankind to their side. What does God offer to draw us to His side? A man who bled and died on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago.

Doesn’t sound like much of a contest does it? But that man was Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. His death on the cross laid bare the evil intentions of the forces of darkness. When Jesus spoke from the cross and said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He won a victory over Satan. Forgiveness is not in Satan’s vocabulary, not something he comprehends. Rather than moving God to obliterate mankind for ever, Jesus’ death on the cross made forgiveness available to us all.

Jesus did not stay dead, He rose to life the third day and lives today. The distinctive mark of New Testament followers of God is that the Holy Spirit is now given to every believer, not only to a few prophets and spiritual leaders. We can now have the power of God within us to identify and defeat the ruses of Satan.

The Pharisees knew the Word of God and endeavoured to be obedient in the minutest details. It would seem that they should have been the first to recognize Jesus as the long-promised Messiah. But their status as experts blinded them to the truth. Jesus told them: “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).

It is still that way. Experts find it very difficult to be a Christian. They are too busy looking at how other people are doing everything wrong. Those who admit that they have been dishonest and immoral find they are welcome to come to Jesus. God wants sons and daughters who will trust Him in every aspect of their life. He wants to be obedient so He can lead us in a safe way and in the end bring us to be with Him in heaven.

The great lesson of the Bible is not just that through the blood of Jesus we can be forgiven, come away from the evil that is in the world and one day have a home in heaven. The part that we tend to miss, because we so much want to be experts, is that this is only possible on God’s terms, which we can only know by holding to His hand every step of the way.

Ever With Thee

No more in darkness, trials, and temptations,
No more a waif on trouble’s billowy sea,
How sweet will be the day of my abiding
Ever with Thee!

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Bright after darkness shines the summer morning,
Bright is the sunrise when the tempests flee;
But brighter far the home where dwell thy chosen
Ever with Thee.

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Dear are the hours when those we love are near us;
Dear, but how transient must their brightness be:
That one glad day will know no sadder morrow
Ever with Thee.

Love will be there: methinks all other glories
Nothing to those enraptured souls will be,
Filled with the transport of that one assurance,
Ever with Thee.

But long may be the way that we must travel,
And many a dark’ning storm we yet may see,
Dread sorrows may o’erwhelm us ere we’re sheltered
Ever with Thee.

Not so: Thy hand, extended through the darkness,
Leadeth us on the the way we cannot see,
And clasping that, e’en here we are in safety
Ever with Thee.

Annie Louisa (Walker) Coghill, 1836-1907

This game is rigged!

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We want to prosper in life, we want to have fun, we want to taste all the good things that are available to us. But we don’t find satisfaction in the things that promised pleasure, other people disappoint us, there never seems to be enough money to do all that we want, there is too much hurt and pain, sometimes it seems like life itself is conspiring against us.

Well, it’s true. This game is rigged. There is one right way to live this game of life and an endless variety of wrong ways. People tell to you try this, try that, this is where you can really find the thrill in life. Stop and take a close look at the people who make those promises. Do they seem happy, contented, at peace with themselves?

You have convinced yourself that only weak-minded people believe this God stuff. The soul, judgment, hell and heaven are just old wives tales to scare little children. This life is all there is and when it becomes unbearable the best thing is to stop living.

What if that idea was really just a tale to comfort weak-minded people? What if the death of the body is not the end of life, the soul lives on and there really will be a judgment? As much as you may try to block those thoughts from your mind, to drown them in loud music and furious activity, doesn’t that question pop into your mind at unguarded moments?

The soul is not some mythical add-on in your body; the soul is you, all that makes you who you are. The body is temporary, it will die but the soul will live on. The purpose of the game of life is to prepare us for everlasting joy. But if you decide that the only joy in life is what you can grasp for yourself right now, you are preparing yourself for endless misery and torment.

The rules of the game of life are simple. God revealed them many years ago to the prophet Micah: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (This is found in the Old Testament book of Micah, chapter 6 verse 8.)

You will find these rules often in the Holy Bible, in more detail and different phrasing, but this is the complete summary of what you need to know to win the game of life. Do what is right, be compassionate to others, and let God guide you. There is no way that you can outsmart the rules of the game of life. The game is rigged so that only those who accept the rules that God has given will experience true and lasting joy, peace and happiness, in this life and forever.

Two keys

I have two keys that, to my eyes at least, appear to be identical. One was made with a state of the art key cutting machine; the other was made by an elderly gentleman using a grinding wheel. Guess which one works?

The machine-made key goes into the keyhole just a little bit roughly and will not turn. The man-made key slides in smooth as silk and turns to open the lock. This guy obviously knows about keys.

Years ago an acquaintance of mine decided to visit Québec. He didn’t know French but he was filled with confidence and enthusiasm because he had this marvelous hand held phrase translator. All he would have to do was find the phrase or question he wanted, press a button and the little electronic marvel would speak it in French. Then he was supposed to hand the device to the French-speaking person who would find the right phrase in French, press the button and it would be spoken aloud in English.

I probably don’t have to tell you that my friend’s enthusiasm took a severe hit when he tried to actually use the marvelous little gizmo. I believe it remained in the bottom of his suitcase after the first day.

I have used computer translation programs off and on over the years. I figured the first ones were about 40% accurate. Google translate has doubled that figure; it puts out readable text, but still doesn’t quite get it. Words in every language have a range of nuances and shades of meaning and to expect a machine to pick a matching word in another language with exactly the same shade of meaning is not realistic. Sometimes such a word does not exist in the other language. People don’t think the same in one language as they do in another. You are not fully bilingual until you understand the way of thinking and expressing oneself of both languages.

Some folks think about Chrisianity as a matter of learning to conform to an outward pattern. The pattern can range from dour conservatism in life and attitude all the way to pertetual joyous enthusiasm. Neither of those keys will unlock the door to heaven, unless they are accompanied by a genuine personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Inherit the earth

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

I guess by now it is evident that I have been meditating on the Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is the cornerstone of Mennonite doctrine. Things like the right understanding of prophecy and the sacraments are important to us, too, but not nearly to the same extent as in many other church traditions.

God promised a land to Abraham and to his seed. Finally, during the reign of Solomon, the children of Israel possessed the full extent of the promised land, in peace. And that was it, that land has not had peace at any time since then.

What happened to God’s promise? The epistle to the Hebrews has this to say of Abraham: “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And a little later: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. . . But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

The promised land will have its full accomplishment in heaven, where there will be no more wars, or rumours of wars. Yet there is even now a place of safety and stability for the children of God. Perhaps not always a place of physical security, but a place of peace and contentment, and of spiritual security, for those who truly are seeking that better country.

The meek will find that spiritual land and make it their home. Those who battle for their right to be left in peace, those who feel it their duty to defeat all who are hostile to their belief, make themselves incapable of recognizing that place of peace when they see it. It is the heritage of those who are strangers and pilgrims amidst the turmoil of this world.

Slaying the beast within

A year and a half ago, a young man who had served a sentence for armed robbery appeared in court to explain that he had learned his lesson. He said that he had learned that he needed to stop and think before doing something and consider the consequences. “I have learned to tell the difference between good and evil,” he testified.

Two weeks ago, the fiancee of this young man, mother of his two young children, went missing. A few days later a sack containing her dismembered body was found under a bridge. The young man who had supposedly learned to tell the difference between good and evil has been charged with murder. What happened?

There is a beast within each one of us that cannot learn, cannot be tamed. Most often it shows itself in words, but sometimes far more horrible things happen. James writes:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  James 3:6-10

The apostle Paul wrote: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). No  anger management course, no behaviour modification therapy, can ever fully master this beast. It has to die.

That is why Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). That is, if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ, we must daily renounce the inclinations of that inner beast and nail it to the cross. Paul is saying the same thing when he writes: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13). “Mortify” is used here in its original French sense of “make to die.”

The new birth is the result of the death of this inner beast, to be replaced by a new life, one that is not animated, or in harmony with, the forces of hell, but one that is animated by the Holy Spirit and in harmony with the powers of heaven. Here are the words of Paul again: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

The beast within does not want to stay dead. That is why Jesus spoke of the daily need for self-denial and cross bearing. That does not mean a daily new birth; the Holy Spirit does not leave us so easily. A Christian may do and say things at times that indicate the influence of the inner beast; if someone else has been hurt the Holy Spirit will prompt him to make amends for the hurt he has caused. No one should ever have to wonder who has control of the life of someone who calls himself a Christian.

The Universalist and the Quaker

A Universalist preacher, who believed that no one would be excluded from heaven, held a series of meetings in a rural town. He was a gifted speaker and many people came to hear him. At the close of the meetings he announced, ” Now if you would desire, I would like to come each Sabbath evening and preach to you. I would like a response from this audience.”

No one responded. Finally he asked anyone who objected to speak.

Again there was a long silence. Finally an aged Quaker arose and said, “Friend, I have been listening to thee and thought I would say nothing, but thou hast insisted that someone speak. We don’t want thee because, if thy theory is correct, we have no need of preaching for all will be saved. And if thy theory is not correct we don’t want thee, because it is then a lie and we don’t want thee to preach lies to us.”

-Source unknown

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