Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: hope

Hillbilly connection?

I wrote my last blog post shortly after reading Hillbilly Elegy* by J.D. Vance. The book is a very personal memoir which incorporates sociological insights into the roots of poverty among the Scots-Irish people of the Appalachian region, the hillbillies.

As J.D. Vance writes, the poverty of a large swath of black people in the USA is due to pretty much the same factors. I have observed the same attitudes at work in many people in Canada, of various ethnic origins. Poverty is due more to the furniture of one’s mind than to outward circumstances.

The book was doubly interesting because my wife is a Vance. Her people came directly from Scotland to Canada, therefore any relationship would be distant. Yet her family was much like the one described by J.D. My wife was the product of two dysfunctional families; she was raised by her aunt and uncle because they feared she would not survive in the ongoing trauma of her parental home. Her five siblings did survive that home, some successfully, some not so much. One of them is her brother, Jim Vance.

The book struck pretty close to home. And it reinforced a conclusion I had already come to: the only way that a person can escape poverty is to believe that he or she can do it. Without that, all the good advice, all the money, all the government support programs, will never do much good. When a person has such an attitude, they can overcome every obstacle that life places in their way.

Some people will not like this book because of the way the people in it talk. Conversations are liberally laced with four letter words. That’s OK. Be forewarned and don’t try to read the book. But don’t condemn the people described for the way they talk. I don’t know if the book could have been as effective if J.D. had tried to sanitize people’s speech.

I didn’t hear words like that in my parental home, or in my extended family. But I heard a lot of it at school, at work and in other places. I still hear it, and I don’t condemn people for the way they talk. I wish they wouldn’t, yet some of them are better people, more caring people, than others whose speech is perfectly sanitized.

Faith in Jesus Christ can provide the mental furnishings that enable a person to climb out of poverty. Unfortunately, the kind of Christianity that many poor people have been exposed to is of the pharisaical, holier-than-thou, variety. People living in poverty are more apt to catch a glimpse of hope when they meet genuine followers of Jesus Christ, people who are kind, humble, compassionate, patient and not afraid or ashamed to spend time with them.

*Hillbilly Elegy copyright 2016 by J.D. Vance, published by HarperCollins publishers

Recipe for poverty

A home with a revolving set of parents

A home where parents scream at each other and at the children

A home where parents throw things at each other and at the children

A home where parents have no interest in what children are learning in school, or whether they are learning anything at all

A home with no books

A home where relatives, neighbours and friends all have that kind of home.

Such a home is a breeding ground for emotional, spiritual, intellectual and economic poverty. Government programs that provide economic help offer only palliative care.

Saving faith in Jesus Christ offers hope that things can be different, peace in the midst of turmoil, joy in a relationship with a loving heavenly Father, patience when things go wrong, perseverance to keep trying, compassion and love for those near and dear who are still trapped in poverty. This is the escape route from poverty in all its forms.

What’s wrong with the world?

A few years before the First World War a British newspaper published an article bearing the above title. Shortly thereafter the following letter to the editor appeared:

“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,” ― G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton later expanded on that thought, saying:

“In one sense, and that the eternal sense, the thing is plain. The answer to the question, ‘What is wrong?’ is, or should be, ‘I am wrong’. Until a man can give that answer his idealism is only a hobby!”

Now, I may see clearly, or believe I do, that other people are what is wrong with the world. In which case, all my attempts to fix what is wrong with the world will end in futility and frustration. But if I am able to honestly answer, as Chesterton did, that I am what is wrong with the world, then there is something I can do, and need to do. And then there is hope.

A place to stand

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 2 Timothy 2:19

The foundation of God: In the beginning of time, the second day of Creation, God separated the dry land from the waters. The people He was about to create needed something solid to stand on, upon which to build their lives. Later He promised Israel that He would give them a land of their own. That was a picture of how God wanted to give His people a solid foundation, a place to stand. Israel squandered that heritage by disobedience, by seeking prosperity in other gods.

All the time, God was pointing people to the real heritage, the solid rock, that He had for them–Jesus Christ. That foundation was fully revealed in the New Testament. Jesus is our rock, the only thing in this world that is unchangeable, that cannot be taken from us.

The Lord knoweth them that are his: How do we know that the Lord knows us? Because He talks to us. He is always there in the life of His children to guide our lives. He speaks softly, gently, we can miss His voice if we’re not paying attention.

When Elijah was in the mountain, he didn’t pay much attention to the earthquake, the fire and the wind. He knew God did not speak like that. But then he heard a still small voice. French Bible translations say a soft gentle sound, or murmur. That makes me think that Elijah could not discern any words, but he knew that voice. Then he began to pay attention.

We don’t need to figure out what God is saying to us in this COVID crisis. This is not the voice of God. Yet perhaps this quiet time is our opportunity to listen for what God does want to say to us. Perhaps He wants to tell me that the thing that I had so much planned and hoped for is not really so important after all. But there are little things that I have neglected, things that have to do with my relationships with others, these things are important to God and He wants them to be important to me.

Depart from iniquity: When we hear what God is saying, and do what He asks us to do, we are departing from iniquity. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17

Even those of us who are Christians may find that we have been building our lives partly on the Lord Jesus Christ and partly on something else. Whatever that something else may have been, it will not stand in the judgment. Why not abandon it right now?

Some people have placed much hope on a future earthly reign of Jesus, but may have neglected to make sure of the foundation for building their life in the here and now. It will be the way we lived our lives in the here and now which counts in the day of judgment. Is our personal life solidly anchored to the rock? Are we building our family on that rock? Our congregations?

Many around us have no hope in Jesus, but have built their lives on foundations that appeared to be rock solid. Those foundations may feel shaky right now. We probably don’t need to point that out to them.

May we be compassionate in our conversations with those who are in distress. Telling them where they have gone wrong doesn’t give them hope. Tell them how trusting in Jesus gives us hope and they might grasp it and find a place to stand.

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.”

SPRING!

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Image by a-mblomma from Pixabay

We heard, then saw, Canada geese this morning for the first time this spring. A reassuring sign that the wild things are carrying on as usual and spring is on its way.

Baby steps

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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.

Winsomeness

More than 350 years ago, Blaise Pascal described what he hoped to achieve with his writing this way:

People despise Christian faith. They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.  The solution for this is to show them, first of all, that it is not unreasonable, that it is worthy of  reverence and respect. Then show that it is winsome, making good men desire that it were true. Then show them that it really is true. It is worthy of reverence because it really understands the human condition. It is also attractive because it promises true goodness.
-Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées

I have often read this passage, given mental assent to it, desired that the things I write could be winsome and attractive. Yet it dawns on me now how far I fall short of achieving that goal.

I don’t do New Year resolutions. I tried years ago. They were largely futile attempts to make me feel better about myself with minimal effort. I took comfort in having noble aspirations, then promptly forgot them. Real change is only possible by taking an honest look at the not so noble part of my character.

Pascal used the word aimable in French. The above English version translates aimable by winsome in one place and attractive in the other. Apologetics, giving an answer for the hope that lieth within me, is only effective if it makes that hope winsome and attractive.

Giving an answer that carries the slightest whiff of self-righteousness or arrogance renders that answer unattractive.  Truth is important, right doctrine is necessary, yet if truth and right doctrine seem repugnant to the reader, I am an abject failure.

Effective apologetics then must be the putting Christian faith into words that bring out the winsomeness of the faith. As a writer, I need to get myself out of the way and think of how to present different aspects of the faith in Jesus Christ to the reader, who probably looks at life in quite a different way than I do. It is not my job to prove him wrong; it is not my job to prove myself an authority to be trusted. It is my job to show that Jesus Christ is worthy of our trust.

© Bob Goodnough, January 03, 2020

2020

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Image by eliza28diamonds from Pixabay

2019 is almost done; a brand new unspoiled year lies before us. May we begin it by thanking God for bringing us safely thus far, and trust our hand into His to lead us safely through all that 2020 will bring our way.

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The bad news and the Good News

“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine” (Luke 4:5-7).

The devil made a shocking claim; can it possibly be true? Jesus did not contradict it. The apostolic writings confirm it.  The apostle Paul calls Satan “the god of this world,” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. In Ephesians 2:2 he calls him “the prince of the power of the air.” In Ephesians 6:14 he informs us “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

In the gospel of John, Jesus refers three times to Satan as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30 and 16:11). In 1 John 5:19 we are told that “the whole world lieth in wickedness.”

The twelfth chapter of Revelation tells how Satan has been cat down to the earth and has great wrath “because  he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”

The apostle Paul also tells how Satan can transform himself into an angel of light (Ephesians 6:14).

All schemes to make this world a better place by political means, by revolutions and protest movements, are Satan’s work and will fail. When accusations fly, where there is strife and bitterness, this is Satan’s doing. His is not trying to make the world a better place, but to divide us all into groups at war with each other, each thinking they alone have the light to solve the problems of the world.

The Good News is that there is still hope for mankind. That hope is embodied in the Kingdom of God, the only place we can experience durable peace, understanding and brotherly love.

Satan counterfeits the Kingdom, tries to divide citizens of the Kingdom into rival camps over things of no eternal value.

True peace, freedom and happiness are only possible when we admit we have followed the wrong way and turn around, trusting only in the forgiveness of God that is possible by Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. When we are forgiven, and the risen Christ reigns in our lives, we are free at last

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