Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Spiritual radar

On Dec. 7, 1941 Lt. Kermit Tyler was the supervisor for a series of radar stations. In the early morning a radar operator who was a private called about a large blip on his scope. Lt. Tyler told him not to worry about it. Not long after, he went outside and witnessed the beginning of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

An investigation concluded that Lt. Tyler couldn’t have been expected to do any better. Radar was a new technology, there were no procedures in place to tell what to do even if the radar blip had been correctly interpreted. This was only Lt. Tyler’s second shift as supervisor, he had been given no training or instructions as to what his duties were.

Two months ago, when COVID-19 was still thought to be something only happening in Asia, doctors around Seattle noticed a rise in flu-like illnesses causing fevers, sore throats and respiratory distress, yet tests for the influenza virus came back negative. That area now has the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in the USA.

Did doctors and the Centers for Disease Control misread the blips on the radar? Would it have made any difference if they had recognized them for what they were? Probably not, these were still early days for that virus and no one understood how it worked or what to do about it. We are still learning.

There is a lesson there for Christians if we feel secure in our understanding of how to live a life pleasing to God and of the dangers that might trip us up. The serpent always has something new to put in our way, something we have never before encountered and have no idea how to handle. Most often it will seem innocent and harmless at first, until we realize that we have been bitten and the poison is already eating at our Christian life.

Christians have something far better than radar to warn us of such dangers. We have the Holy Spirit. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). That voice will always show us the way that is safe. Are we paying attention?

A life-giving faith

We Christians have a lot to say about heaven and how we long to be there. Is anticipation enough to get us there? If we are not experiencing joy in the journey, will we make it?

Many Christians are experiencing a joyous and happy life, filled with joy far more abundant than they ever knew before they abandoned the way of the world. Others are burdened with care, wanting to always do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing. Their eyes are so fixed upon the ground, ever fearful of dangers that may lie on their path, that they forget to look up and see the glory of the Lord.

We don’t have to live like that. We don’t want to look for pleasure in things the world around us calls fun; but living with the dread of making a misstep is not the way Jesus wants us to live. He has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us on our way, to comfort us when we are on the right path and warn us if we are in danger of stepping off that path.

The fear of the Lord is an honest awareness of the seriousness of life, the seriousness of the choices we make every day. That kind of fear leads not to dread but to trust and joy.

May I offer this paraphrase of Romans 12:2;

“Don’t pattern your thinking after the things that are highly esteemed in today’s world, but let the Holy Spirit renew your thinking to understand the complete will of God so that your life can be transformed into what He wants it to be.”

A Christ-centred faith

The Anabaptist/Mennonite faith is Christ-centred in a way that differs significantly from other Christian traditions. We believe in the virgin birth, the sacrificial death on the cross, the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. But what is most important to us is the life of Jesus between his birth and the cross.

There are six ways in which this matters:

1. Jesus is God in human form, therefore He is the clearest revelation of what God is like.

2. Jesus is the clearest revelation of what God intends human beings to be like. Jesus tells us many times in the gospels to “follow me.” The new birth is just the beginning of being a Christian, it is what enables us to follow Jesus.

3. Jesus reveals how God works in history. The Old Testament accounts of Abraham, Moses and Israel are incomplete without Jesus. His life reveals what Old Testament history was all about.

4. For Jesus to be central to our life we must be united with His church. It is not a viable option to be united with Jesus and stand apart from His body, the Church.

5. The work of the Holy Spirit is experienced through Jesus. Any claim for the work of the Spirit that is not in harmony with the life and teaching of Jesus must be judged false.

6. To make Jesus central to our life is to be concerned for the salvation of the world. If there is only one God, and He is revealed in Jesus, then those who know Jesus have an obligation to introduce the rest of humanity to Him.

-adapted from A Third Way, Paul M Lederach © 1980 Herald Press, Scottdale PA

Their citizenship is in heaven

The Kingdom of God is the only kingdom or nation that is rightfully called Christian. The citizens of this kingdom are on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They do not treasure things that are highly esteemed in this world, which are an abomination to their heavenly King. Their treasure is in heaven, where they long to be when their earthly time and duties are done.

The values that govern their lives do not conform to the prevailing value system of the world, but their minds have been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit so they understand the will of their heavenly King.

They are also citizens of the nation or kingdom where they live and are subject to all the laws of that kingdom or nation. They are loyal citizens and thankful for the benefits conferred by their earthly citizenship. But their first loyalty is to their heavenly King and His Kingdom.

It is folly for citizens of the kingdom of God to think an earthly kingdom can be a Christian nation. The principles of the kingdom of God don’t work in earthly nations because too many people follow the enemy of the heavenly King.

It is necessary for earthly kingdoms to use some measure of force to maintain order, sometimes lethal force. The kingdom of God is governed by the Holy Spirit working in the heart of those people whose hearts have been transformed to value peace and love above all other things. Those whose hearts are hardened and cannot hear the voice of the Holy Spirit must be governed by other means.

The heavenly King gives us the freedom to choose between good and evil, therefore He allows the enemy to work. There is a day coming when He will destroy the enemy and all earthly kingdoms; today He calls people the world over to come into His kingdom and find peace.

The methods of the enemy of God will never result in peace. When citizens of the heavenly kingdom take part in the government of an earthly kingdom, they must abandon some values of the heavenly kingdom. They will have more power to transform the world if they pray to their King and implore Him to overrule the plans of the enemy, to protect His people, and soften hard hearts.

Baby steps

people-2603224_640

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

“God will provide.” We say those words glibly, so certain of their truth that we may appear to have no compassion for people in distress. That isn’t what they are experiencing day after day. Life seems to be stacked against them. Perhaps they don’t have the skills to find a job that will pay a living wage. So they eke out a meagre existence on welfare.

If they take part time work, the income is deducted from their welfare cheque. The government offers financial aid to get the training needed for a better paying job. But if they accept that offer, they no longer qualify for subsidized housing and they are worse off than before. What are they to do?

Some do escape from the welfare trap. That possibility exists for many more, but it looks hopeless who are caught there.

If they could just win the lottery that would give them a way out. Except it doesn’t; the lottery is just another trap. Those who win big are usually back where they started within two years.

The real problem is not a lack of education or a lack of money. Those problems are real, but the underlying problem is a lack of hope. Well-meaning people can’t inspire hope in the poor by telling them that there is work for anyone who really wants to work. All the listener feels from that is condemnation. Neither does it help to label them as lazy or stupid.

A baby watches big people walk around on two legs. Eventually she gets the courage to try it for herself, and she falls. The next day she tries again, and falls again. But she sees the big people doing it and wants so badly to do it herself that she keeps trying. Soon she can stand by herself. Then she takes a step or two, and falls once more. But she keeps trying and pretty soon she can walk; before long she is running.

That is the way life works. Winning the lottery does not instantly make one capable of walking, in whatever metaphorical context one may wish to apply it. None of the people who appear to be so successful in life got there without a shaky start. Everyone began with baby steps.

That is the way that God works in the life of a newborn Christian. Jesus told the disciples “ I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). The Holy Spirit does not dump the whole load on us and tell us the shape up; he gently guides us step by step, allowing us to concentrate on making the next step and giving us a gentle assurance that we are moving in the right direction.

This is the kind of help needed by those who feel trapped in a dead-end street. First, they need to grasp the hope that it is possible to get out of there. Then they need the courage to take just one step. Even if that step doesn’t get them very far, they need to feel that they have accomplished one little thing and that will give them the courage to take one more step. In time their steps become more confident, leading to possibilities they thought were forever beyond their grasp.

As Christians we have a reputation for thinking that the misfortunes of the poor are entirely their own fault, for lacking compassion. I’m afraid many of us have earned that reputation. Perhaps we need to begin making baby steps toward an attitude that inspires hope in others.

All Christians are hypocrites

□ True
□ False

I think we have to check the true box on this one. Let’s be clear though, that we are not hypocrites because we are Christian, we are hypocrites because we are human. The desire to appear to be better than we are is endemic in humanity.

Becoming a Christian makes us aware of that fact, but we are very prone to forget. Perhaps we should write it in red lipstick upon every mirror in our home: “We are not better than other people.”

Would that help? Perhaps at first, then we would probably forget again. Oh, we would see it there and nod our heads in agreement. But, human nature being as it is, our thinking would gradually shift to believing that it applies to other people that we know, not so much to us.

The one thing that should make a difference between people who are Christian and those who are not, is the Holy Spirit in our lives. When I think back to the time before I was converted, I really and truly believed that I was doing the best that I could, under the circumstances. That is how we are made, and it is probably best for our mental health to think that way–as long as we know of no remedy for the all things in our life that we have messed up.

But there came a day when the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me I could not blame people and circumstances for all the things that I had messed up in my life. I had done them and I needed to own up to them. That condemnation was easier to accept by the invitation that came with it. If I would confess my sins to God, He would forgive them. I did, and He did.

My Christian life began at that point, when all my past sins were taken away. But that is only the beginning.  I did not suddenly become a “good” person, incapable of making the same mistakes that I had made in the past. The only difference was that now I had the Holy Spirit to warn me when I was about to sin. If I ignored Him, He would then prompt me to go back and clean up the mess I had made.

That should be the obvious difference between a person who is a Christian and one who is not. Both will make mistakes, do and say things they shouldn’t, often things that hurt other people. The Christian should admit his fault, apologize and try to make things right. And it should not seem in any way forced or artificial.

Restitution is difficult. It is often difficult to admit what I have done, apologize, and do the best I can to undo the damage that was done. But the more I will do that, the easier it becomes for me to hear and obey the warning voice of the Holy Spirit before I do such a thing the next time. It is when a Christian repeatedly quenches the warning voice of the Holy Spirit that he comes to appear more and more like a hypocrite.

© Bob Goodnough, January 05, 2020

Change is in the air

snow-3116559_640

Image by Tovin Sannes-Venhuizen from Pixabay

A few days ago the days started to grow longer. I can’t tell the difference yet–the sun still rises at 9:15 AM and sets at 5:00 PM. The daily change so far is small: today is 25 seconds longer than yesterday, tomorrow will be 30 seconds longer than today. But I know that soon it will change by 3 minutes a day or more and in six months the sun will rise at 5:30 AM and set at 9:45 PM, giving us long, glorious summer days.

Winter has just begun, yet the change that will defeat winter has also begun. We will have snow storms and bitterly cold weather over the next few months, yet the inexorable force of the sun that will drive winter away has begun its campaign.

Today you see a little girl, carefree, careless, not paying much attention to the things her mother tries to teach her. If you watch her day after day you will not notice a change. But if you go away for a few years, then come back, you see this little girl transformed. Now she is a mother, trying to teach her own little girl all the things she learned from her mother. And almost despairing because the child doesn’t seem to be listening. But she is and the cycle will repeat. This is how growing up works. It is a natural process; it happens almost unseen until one day you take stock and realize how much is different.

Perhaps today you see a young man, a rebel, a wastrel, drifting farther into the dangerous allurements the world offers. People try to warn him, to help him. He ignores them, rejects their counsels. It seems hopeless. But just perhaps you may come back some day and find this same young man with a wife, a family, a home. He reads the Bible to his family, takes them to church, is always ready to speak of his love for God and for Jesus. It can happen, I’ve seen it happen, it happened to me.

This is not a natural change, it is supernatural. Yet the change did not happen overnight. There was a precise moment when there was a 180° turn in the direction his life was going. But people looking on didn’t notice a difference at first. Then a few changes appeared, one by one, a little at a time. He made mistakes, but now there was something within him that kept him from giving up. He made corrections and kept going. Today he does not seem at all like the person he used to be. Because he isn’t.

There are cycles that God set in order at Creation that continue to happen. We say it’s just part of nature. The movement of the celestial bodies, day and night, the cycle of the seasons, the growth of a child. We have no control over such things. There are other things, such as conversion, that will not happen unless we give God permission. He does not force us to be a Christian, we cannot make ourselves be a Christian by wisdom and determination. But if we hear God call our name, open the door of our heart, the Holy Spirit comes in and begins to transform us.

© Bob Goodnough, December 27, 2019

The Glory of God

God’s showed His presence with the children of Israel during the Exodus by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. There were special manifestations of the glory of the Lord, such as when it descended upon Mount Sinai and God’s voice spoke out of the cloud, calling Moses to come up the mountain. Another was when when Moses’ authority was questioned. When the tabernacle was dedicated the pillar of cloud descended upon it remained above the mercy seat in the tabernacle from that point on.

Many years later, when Solomon dedicated the temple the glory of the Lord descended upon it and the cloud filled the temple. The cloud, or Shekinah, a Hebrew term not found in the Bible but used by rabbis to describe the cloud, remained above the temple until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel had visions of the glory of the Lord during the Babylonian captivity.

According to the Babylonian Talmud, five things which had been in Solomon’s Temple, were missing from the second temple built after the return from captivity. They were, the Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat, the sacred fire sent from God, the Shekinah, the Holy Spirit, and the Urim and Thummim.

Thus there appears to have been a complete lack of any evidence of the presence of God from the time of the rebuilding of the temple until the birth of Jesus. The Old Testament canon was settled during the time of Ezra and for four hundred years there was no prophet.

What then was the value of the worship in the second temple? At least the people had abandoned their former tendencies to worship the idols of the surrounding nations. It seemed though that, especially after the time of Jesus, the temple worship had itself become a form of idolatry. The synagogue worship system that developed during the captivity became a form worship available to all, where the Word of God was read and taught.

It does not appear that the glory of the Lord, the Shekinah, was seen again until the birth of Jesus. The second chapter of Luke tells of the shepherds on the hillside during that night and then verse says: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” No doubt the angels were glorious in appearance, but the phrase “the glory of the Lord” refers to a glory much greater than that of the angels.

Could this also explain the star seen by the Magi? They had the prophecy of Daniel to tell them when the Messiah would appear, and the prophecy of Balaam (Numbers 24:17) to tell them that this would be marked by the appearance of a star. I think we are on the wrong track when we try to explain the star by a comet or a conjunction of planets. This was a sign that was only seen by those who knew to look for it, the Magi. There is no natural explanation for a star, or heavenly sign, that appeared once in the East as a signal to the Magi to begin their journey, then appeared again to lead them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then to one specific house in Bethlehem.

The New Testament era was introduced by the first prophet in 400 years, John the Baptist, and then by the return of the Shekinah glory of God.

The manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost could also be considered an appearance of the shekinah, or the glory of the Lord: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:2-4).

From this time forward the glory of the Lord has been with God’s new covenant people, the church. The glory of God is not demonstrated today by an outward pillar of cloud and fire, but by the life changing power of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.

© Bob Goodnough, December 14, 2019

A refuge

A refuge, a place where I could escape the storms that beat around me; that’s what I needed. When one is young, many storms are more imagined than real. But my father’s anger was real. He was not violent, but when he lost his temper angry words rang throughout the house, seemed to be in the air I breathed. I needed a place of refuge where I could breathe and sort it all out.

When I was nine years old, my parents moved to a small farm that bordered the northwest edge of Craik, Saskatchewan. I discovered my place of refuge the day after we moved in. I found in a hollow, halfway up the bank at the far end of the coulee that ran through our pasture. In that hollow sat a rectangular granite boulder, shaped like a giant step or chair, worn smooth by thousands of buffalo trying to relieve their itch, over a thousand years or more.

First, I sat on the rock, then I sat in the hollow beside it and something wonderful happened—all evidence of the modern world disappeared. I was alone on the open prairie, no buildings, fences, roads or telephone lines were visible. Even the sounds did not penetrate this peaceful spot.

How long had the rock been here? Geologists say that when Lake Agassiz drained thousands of years ago, the rushing waters that carved the ravines, coulees and river valleys of Saskatchewan also swept rocks like this to new locations.  It had been here through the time the buffalo roamed the prairies and the hunters followed them. The time since the settlers had come was just a tiny blip in its history.

Through the rest of my growing-up years that rock became my refuge. When life seemed difficult, I would leave the house and find this spot, my place of refuge. In that quiet and secure place I would rest until the anxiety, the fear, and yes, my anger, had dissipated.

Eight years later I left home. Twice I moved back for a time and each time the ancient buffalo rubbing stone was there when I needed it. Later, in my twenties and on my own, I faced new anxieties and fears.  The rock of my childhood was far away, and no longer the hidden spot it once was. A four-lane highway now runs through the old pasture, the rock is visible from the highway.

It took years for me to find the rock of refuge spoken of in Psalm 94:22 “My God is the rock of my refuge.” I found the words of the Bible drawing me towards that rock. The eternal rock. I read in Malachi 3:6: “I am the Lord, I change not,” and in Hebrews 6:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” I heard and responded to The Spirit’s call to build my life upon that rock. I found that rock to be a refuge of peace wherever I was, whatever the circumstances.

Now I wanted to find a church built upon that rock, where I could be in fellowship with people with a living faith and lives solidly anchored to the rock, Jesus Christ. I knew that wouldn’t be the church I had attended in my youth.

I read in history books of a people who had lived such a faith centuries ago. People for whom the kingdom of God was separate from the kingdoms of this world; people for whom their relationship with Jesus Christ was more important than this earthly life. Other people called them Anabaptists, Waldensians and Mennonites. Surely there would be Christians like that today in the Mennonite churches. I visited many churches, met many good people; most were unaware of the old-time faith.

My search finally led me to a church whose members believe and live the faith I had read about; I became a member of that church 40 years ago.

© Bob Goodnough, January 3, 2019

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,

%d bloggers like this: