Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Without me ye can do nothing

The words of Jesus are blunt; unless we submit our lives, our being, to His control, we are not capable of being a Christian. We can pretend, we may think we are doing a great job on our own, but sooner or later something will happen and whatever is really in our heart will show up.

To take just one example: we read exhortations in the Bible about being humble and set about to make ourselves humble. It goes well; soon we think we have this down pat, we’re doing a much better job of being humble than most of the people around us. . .

Whoa! See the problem? We’ve become proud of our humility.

To become a Christian, we must admit that we have hopelessly messed up our life and cannot clean up the mess by ourselves. It’s pretty humbling isn’t it? That’s a good start in Christian life, the right start. However, as time goes on, we start thinking that we’ve got this figured out, we can complete the task of making ourselves Christian by our own understanding and will. When that doesn’t seem to be working out some folks wonder what the problem is. Others see that they have messed up again and turn to Jesus to make a new start.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us do what we cannot do. We all know that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace. But we don’t always remember the other qualities, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Aren’t they a good description of humility?

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart that makes us humble. Our own work on the outer man can’t do it. Our own work can’t do anything at all that will count in eternity.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

The foolishness of preaching

Singing and prayer have always been important ingredients of worship in the Anabaptist – Mennonite faith, but the focal point of a worship service is that which the apostle Paul called the foolishness of preaching. It appears to be foolishness because there are not many powerful orators amongst us, not many who make a great impression by their knowledge or wisdom, and very seldom are the effects of the preaching readily apparent. We don’t expect any of those things, but we do believe that Bible-based, Spirit-led preaching from the heart of godly ministers feeds the listeners with spiritual manna that enables them to persevere in the faith unto the end.

Many years ago we went to hear David Wilkerson preach at the Centennial Auditorium in Regina. Now there was a powerful preacher! And there were visible results, decisions made. The lady who came with us was bubbling over with new-found commitment on the way home. Her life was going to be different, she was not going to go to the dance the following Saturday night and partake of the atmosphere and beverages found there. That commitment lasted through Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday it was gone and she did go to the dance on Saturday. David Wilkerson’s message was good, but I question if one message is enough to make a lasting change in someone’s life.

I have heard several thousand sermons, from perhaps 200 different preachers, in the years that I have been a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. About the only things I remember of what all those preachers said was that when Wildoer Losier of Haiti was in Montreal for revival meetings 25 years ago he began every sermon with “Je vous souhait la paix,” (I wish you peace). and that when Arverd Wiggers was at St Marys, Ontario 10 years before that he told how Christian life is sometimes like a mountain climber descending the face of a mountain in the dark . He comes down the face of a cliff, reaches the end of his rope and still cannot find any footing for his feet. He hears a voice from somewhere saying “just let go.” He is certain that will mean falling to his death on the rocks below, so he keeps feeling around with his feet, desperately searching for a ledge. Finally he can hold on no longer, lets go and falls – about ten inches, and his feet are on solid ground.

Those are the only things that remain in my conscious memory, but they seem significant. There are orators who can stir a crowd to battle with one fiery speech. But Christian ministers are trying to stir their listeners to peace. To live in peace to the end of our days requires faith, love, patience, forgiveness, temperance. As we listen to sermon after sermon touching on various facets of living by faith and in peace, the Holy Spirit impresses those thoughts upon us and they find a place within us that is somewhere deeper than our mind.

There are moments in our lives when the Holy Spirit tells us to let go of something and that makes us tremble in fear. That thing, whatever it may be, is part of us, essential to our well-being. Yet the voice keeps telling us to let go. When we do, we find we have lost nothing at all, but gained a more sure foothold in our relationship with God.

A Scottish minister was visiting the members of his congregation and came to a lady who was a storekeeper. She told him, “That was a wonderful message you preached Sunday a fortnight ago.” The minister, a wee bit skeptical of the praise, asked “What part of the message was it that impressed you?” “I don’t remember,” she said. “What were the Scriptures?” “I don’t remember.” The minister now was sure she had only been flattering him, but then she said “All I remember is that I came home and took the false bottom out of my bushel measure.”

No doubt this lady had told herself for years that she needed that little dishonest advantage to enable her to make a living in her store. The minister had said nothing in his sermon about false bottoms in bushel measures, but the Spirit had taken something he had said to impress upon this lady her need to be completely honest in her business. When she obeyed, it gave her such a relief that she had to thank the minister.

The foolishness of preaching is like that. It can go beyond the words that a preacher speaks to address a problem that is completely unknown to him.

Witnesses of the Light

As the apostle John begins telling the gospel story, he identifies Jesus as the Light of the World. Then he says “There was a man named John,” referring to another John, John the Baptist, and says of him, “He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.”

Two thousand years later the world still needs someone to bear witness of that Light. That would be you and me, all who live by faith in Jesus Christ. Are we finding it difficult to do that? Or do we think people don’t want to hear? Perhaps we have become too much at ease in the world as it is, forgetting that it is a wilderness of woe. A good starting point is to realize that most people around us are not happy with the way life is going for them. They think there must be a better way, they try to find it, but they don’t really know what it is they are looking for.

We cannot force people to see the light. Force is characteristic of the realm of darkness and we cannot use the means of the enemy of the light to bring people to the light. The first step, then, in being witnesses of the Light, is to be sure that we ourselves are wholly living in that Light.

I am not that Light. I can, and should, speak the truth boldly. But I must remember that it is the Holy Spirit that leads people into all truth, not me.

I should contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; that is I must be steadfast in maintaining its truth, despite opposition. Yet I must not be quarrelsome, for I am not the one who delivered that truth to mankind.

I must demonstrate the reality of the faith by loving everyone as God does; even those who are opposed. I don’t know what is in people’s hearts. God knows; He will judge; I don’t need to.

Truth, or a convincing approximation of the truth, can satisfy the mind for a time, but it leaves the heart longing for something more. True faith that works by love will satisfy both heart and mind and draw people to seek fellowship with others whose hearts and lives demonstrate the work of the Holy Spirit.

Suicide is a spirit

One night, somewhere in Canada, a young indigenous woman found herself battling thoughts of suicide. She was a Christian, she knew that was not what she wanted to do, yet the thought kept coming to her that it would be so easy to escape from her troubles. All she needed to do was walk out to the kitchen, take the big sharp knife and put an end to her days. She would pray and read the Bible yet soon she found herself walking toward the kitchen; she would stop and turn around and pray some more. She knew that those thoughts were coming from a spirit, a spirit that was more powerful than she was and wouldn’t leave her alone. She prayed that God would come to her help, yet the thought of going out to the kitchen and picking up that knife kept coming to her. She read in her Bible and found a passage in Psalms that seemed to be an answer for her, but the thought of suicide kept coming back.

Finally, at 3 am, she picked up her phone and called her pastor. He listened and understood the great danger she was in. He opened his Bible and felt prompted to read to her a passage from the book of Psalms. It was the same passage that she had read earlier! She knew now for a certainty that the Holy Spirit was with her to help her fight this battle. The pastor prayed with her over the phone and when they hung up she knew the battle was over, the enemy spirit was defeated and the peace of God restored in her heart. She went to bed and slept peacefully.

I read this account several years ago and have tried to retell it as I remember it. May we remember when thoughts of suicide come to us that these thoughts are not our own thoughts but come from an enemy who wants to destory us. The only way to be victorious over those thoughts is to seek the help of the Spirit who is more powerful, all powerful. The young lady who told of her encounter with the spirit of suicide sought help in all the right ways: by prayer, by reading God’s Word, by talking to another Christian who was patient, understanding and compassionate.

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Our neighbours are not interested in our faith

What are we doing, or not doing, that leaves our neighbours uninterested in our faith? Looking at myself, I recognize that I come from a family of opinionated and argumentative people. Some people enjoy a good argument, but it’s not the best way to share the gospel. A whole lot of people are wary of any conversation that threatens to turn into an argument.

Dale Carnegie’s most famous statement was: “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you.” Some people accused him of being manipulative. Carnegie’s advice can be used in a manipulative way, but being interested in others is not a bad thing.

Can we apply that thought to the way we share the gospel? Isn’t loving our neighbours as ourselves one of the foundations of Christianity? I need to learn to be a better listener. How do I do that? Here are a few thoughts that have come to me.

• Ask questions that invite them to talk about themselves.

• Let the other person do most of the talking.

• Don’t find fault, but try to understand their point of view.

• Respect their opinions; even if we don’t agree, our goal is not to condemn them for things they honestly believe.

• Suggest a better way of seeing things in a way that appeals to their noble instincts.

• Tell our own struggles and experiences when they seem relevant.

• Listen to the other person and to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

• Be patient, let our attitude reveal a settled faith, rooted and grounded in the solid rock.

• Admit it when we make a mistake, or don’t know the answer to aquestion.

• Make the other person feel respected and valued.

The farmer and the salesman

Once upon a time there were two Bible study groups, one led by a farmer and the other by a salesman. Both groups studied the same portions of Scripture, but the discussions were not at all the same.

The farmer spent his days alone, driving a tractor up and down the fields or repairing the fence around his pasture. When he came to Bible study he was ready to talk. Any time there was a gap in the discussion he filled the time with philosophical musings about life that had come to him while he was alone or with something interesting that he had read. Nobody could think of much to say about the Bile passage, except to repeat a few platitudes they had all heard before.

The folks in the farmer’s class went home feeling they had reaffirmed what they already believed about the Scripture and didn’t think much more about it during the following week. Their spiritual lives continued to unfold along a predictable path without many challenges.

The salesman did not have a product to sell and didn’t see any need to sell himself. As a salesman he understood that the way to begin was to find out what people needed. So he would ask a question or two and let others think about it. He was comfortable with quiet moments in the discussion and never tried to fill them with chatter that would distract from searching for the meaning and application of the Scripture. Others in the class felt comfortable sharing their own thoughts and questions.

The folks in the salesman’s class went home with new thoughts about what the Scripture meant for their lives and questions about how they could be more obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit. These people explored the Scriptures, saw new implications for their lives and talked about these things with their friends. They were growing spiritually.

This is a parable and the occupations of the Bible study leaders are inconsequential. I could just as easily have told how the farmer watched in wonder as his crops and his calves grew, knew that it was not his doing, tried to sow the seed in his Bible study and let God make it grow. The salesman could have been convinced of a particular teaching, supposedly drawn from the Scriptures, and endeavoured to sell this teaching to his class. I have chosen to write as I have because the parable is loosely based on a real example from many years ago.

My true purpose in writing this parable is that I have looked in the mirror and realize that I am way too much like the farmer, and I want to grow to be more like the salesman.

Simple and Complete – God’s plan for the church

Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the whole world has lain in wickedness. All mankind is by nature inclined to choose darkness rather than light, to obey Satan, the god of this world, rather than the Creator. Therefore God has from the beginning called people to come out of the kingdom of Satan and to love and serve God in His kingdom.

Those who have separated themselves from the realm of Satan and become members of the kingdom of God by a new birth and the baptism of the Holy Spirit should be united in love and faith. Yet even here Satan has been able to sow confusion by conflicting doctrines of human invention and by loyalty to human traditions.

Yet God’s plan is not complicated. We must allow Jesus to build His church, as he said He would. We do this by submitting to His commandments in the Bible as the Holy Spirit interprets them for the needs of our time and place. The Holy Spirit is not the source of confusion and dispute. Such things are the work of the enemy, Satan.

The church of God is a united body, bound together by faith and love in obedience to Christ, the head. It is also a spiritual temple built of living stones, that is believers led by the Spirit, of which Christ is the foundation. Here are believers untied to worship and praise God and to love and care for one another.

To maintain good order and charity in this body or temple, there must be leaders to instruct, encourage and help the members. Such leaders are chosen by the members, according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The must be known to the other members as faithful and unblamable servants of God, and must not expect their service to God and the brotherhood to bring them material gain.

Two types of leaders are described in the Bible. One, who may be called pastor, minister, elder, or evangelist, is principally occupied with the spiritual welfare of his fellow believers. The other, usually called a deacon, is principally occupied with the material welfare of fellow believers, in caring for the needy, the widows and orphans. These are chosen by the voice of the members and ordained by the laying on of hands of the elders. If any pastor or deacon departs in faith or conduct from the way of truth, he must be removed from his place.

If any member of the body or temple of Christ appears to depart from the way of truth, in faith or conduct, other members who are aware of this departure must reprove such a member. If he or she acknowledges their error and repents, peace and confidence is restored. If the erring member refuses the matter must be brought before the whole congregation. As a final step, an erring member who refuses the counsel of the congregation must be separated from the church until he or she repents. This must be done in love for the soul of the erring one and fear lest others be drawn away or that the church should be reproached for his or her wayward conduct.

The person who is severed from the fellowship of the church must be entreated in love to reconsider and repent. He or she is still welcome in worship services to be instructed in the gospel. When such a person truly repents before God and peace with God is restored, the church will then restore him or her to full fellowship with the brothers and sisters of the faith.

This is God’s plan for the church, a united body of believers who believe and live the truth of the gospel and proclaim it to others.

Meekness

Meekness rhymes with weakness; modern English dictionaries defines it with words that sound like weakness. That is not what the Bible means by meekness.

Meekness is a strength of character that is neither an inherited personality trait nor the work of the human will, but solely a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is an inner strength, founded on trust in God, which enables the child of God to face adversity, opposition and even persecution with assurance and joy rather than resistance or dispute.

The meek do not inherit the earth by strength of will, nor by timid and passive waiting. They proclaim their trust in God, their willingness to suffer injustice for His sake, their refusal to deny God for the sake of temporal safety. They make no counter accusations, but trust that in the end of all things God will judge them and others according to His perfect righteousness.

The Church of God is not racist

But members sometimes do and say inappropriate things

Several weeks ago the French news magazine Le Point carried an interview with a man who had come to France in his youth from Togo. The title of the article was France is not racist, a point of view staunchly upheld by the man being interviewed, although he did talk of incidents when the colour of his skin had caused difficulties.

This man had come to France to attend university, then stayed and made himself at home. He applied for citizenship and in due time received a brown envelope in the mail with a paper inside that told him, “You are now a Frenchman.” He wondered about the  impersonal nature of that notice. Many years later he became Minister of Citizenship in the government of François Mitterand and used the opportunity to establish a public ceremony for welcoming new citizens.

Being born in France, or born elsewhere to French parents, is not the only way to become French. France has always welcomed people from all parts of the world, believing that anyone can become French. But that means that you must become French, become at home with the language, the culture and the French values of liberty, equality and brotherhood.

Within this framework there is room for a great deal of diversity. One example is that education has been compulsory in France for 140 years, but the law has never made school attendance compulsory. Home schooling is legal, as long as it includes the essential subjects, which includes achieving fluency in French and one other language.

In the same way, the Church of God is not racist, even if there are sometimes misunderstandings between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Membership is never by birth, but only by choice, in choosing to answer the call of God to salvation and sanctification. Anyone can become a member, on those conditions.

We can be united in faith, yet not think and act in identical ways. That is perfectly all right, we can all learn from the ways that people of a different ethnic background see things.

However, when most members of a congregation are of the same ethnic background it is easy to assume that we do things in a certain way because that is the way that a Christian should do things. Some of those things are deeply rooted ethnic traditions. They are not wrong, but we cannot expect that people of other ethnic backgrounds will conform to those things that are passed on through our culture.

Problems arise when ethnic traditions harden into a belief that there is only one right way to think or act. This is being carnally minded, not spiritually minded. Another way to describe such an attitude is ethnocentrism. Such an attitude hinders us from seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people with different cultural values. It may hinder Christians of other backgrounds from feeling at home among us.

That is not racism. There is nothing deliberate about ethnocentrism, it is learned in childhood and one is unaware of even having such an attitude. I believe the time has come for us to name it as a problem. That does not mean we need to change our culture, such a thing is pretty much impossible. All we need to do is learn to value and love people of other cultures just the way they are.

Two way communication

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God has spoken once, His words are written in the holy book and it is the whole duty of man to obey all that is taught in the holy book. Religious leaders help to understand parts of the holy book that may not be clear, but God does not speak to people today.

The religion which believes that is called Islam. There are more than a billion devout followers of this religion.

Christianity also teaches that God has spoken in the past and His words are collected in a holy book called the Bible. But Christianity teaches something more than that: God speaks to people today by His Holy Spirit and by His church. There is full agreement in what God says by these three means.

If there is discord in what we are hearing, we need to search for the problem. Perhaps we have been taught an interpretation of parts of the Bible and the Holy Spirit is saying something that does not fit with what we have been taught. Is the problem with the interpretation we have been taught, or are we listening to a spirit that is not the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps the church to which we belong is teaching something that doesn’t seem to agree with what we read in the Bible or what the Holy Spirit is telling us. We need to be very careful to not become one who believes that he alone has the correct understanding of truth. But when it is clear that the church to which we belong is faithful to neither the Spirit nor the Bible, it is time to search for a church that is.

If we find the Bible difficult to understand, the best answer may not be to look for a Bible that is easier to understand. The best way to increase our understanding of the Bible is to be obedient to the parts that we do understand.

Prayer should not be a one way conversation. God wants us to talk to Him; He also wants to speak to us. If we are hearing nothing, we should search our hearts to see if we have obeyed the instructions He has given us in the past.

To be in full communion with God, we must be obedient to the things He says to us, whether through the Bible, the church or the Holy Spirit. This connection with God will also connect us with other true believers. This is not a man-made unity, which is fragile, but the unity of the family of God, founded on the bedrock of God’s truth.

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