Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Jesus

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

Some more thoughts on evangelism

OK, we need to strip the gospel message down to the pure Bible-based essentials and restore all those essentials that have been cast away. Now, when we come to sharing this vital message, we need to strip away all the verbiage and attitudes that hide the message rather than revealing it.

Here are some thoughts about how to share the Good News, as much for my benefit as anyone else’s.

1. Be curious —In the end, the gospel message is the same for everyone. But not all start at the same place. We need to get to know people, find out what are their greatest concerns. The best way to do that is to ask questions.

2. Hide the hammer — If someone doesn’t understand our message, or doesn’t want to listen to it, hammering away at the same point isn’t going to help. We may need to go back to step 1.

3. Stick a needle in the hot air balloon — Impressive words, adjectives, adverbs, a round about way of speaking and Christian jargon are not the stock in trade of a good communicator. A pompous speaking style pumps hot air into our balloon, we go floating away and lose contact with the person to whom we are speaking.

4. Get down off the pedestal — The message is important; we are not. A servant does not try to impress you with how important he is. Let’s take a lesson from the apostle Paul: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more,” (1 Corinthians 9:19).

6. Admit you don’t know everything — The Bible is the source of all truth; I am not. In evangelism, if I am always the teacher and the other person is always the student, I have failed. The goal of evangelism is to lead others to dependence on God. Jesus is the Master, we are all disciples (students), always learning from the Master and from one another.

Three Impossible Things That I Believe

I believe that God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons, yet only one God. All three are shown in the scene of the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16-17: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I have no logical explanation of how it is possible that three can be one, yet I believe it is true. As Billy Sunday once said: “God is not an explanation; He is a revelation.”

I believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, but not two persons in one body. I believe that Jesus’ body was identical to our bodies in every way, except for the inheritance of the sin nature and the effects of sin. In other words, though His body was formed in Mary’s womb, He had no genetic inheritance from her.

One of the best expositions of why it was necessary for the body of Jesus to be a special new creation was done by Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research. You can read his article here.

Again, I have no logical explanation of how this was possible. But to believe otherwise leads to the sort of illogical conclusions that Menno Simons encountered: “The English, or Zwinglians believe and confess that there are two sons in Christ Jesus, the one is God’s son, without mother and impassive; and the other is the son of Mary, or the son of man, without father, and passive. And in this passive son of Mary, the impassive Son of God dwelt; so that the son of Mary, who was crucified, and died for us, was not the son of God.”

I believe that Jesus, after the resurrection had a physical body that could be seen and touched. That he could break bread, cook fish and eat them. Yet He could enter a room without going through the door, the wall or the ceiling and leave as He came. This was not a magical conjuring trick, nor some mythical Star Trek technology. It appears that He could pass at will from the visible physical realm to the invisible spiritual realm. This was not done through technology yet to be discovered by mankind, nor was it an illusion. I believe He is still alive today with a physical resurrection body, in a realm that cannot be discerned by our physical senses.

These three things are all clearly impossible in any way that my human mind can comprehend. Yet to say that God cannot do anything that my human mind cannot understand is to reduce God to my level, or to exalt myself to His level. If God were to be limited by the capacity of my human mind, He could not be God.

© Bob Goodnough, November 18, 2019

We try to do too much

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Image by gentlegiant27153 from Pixabay

Trying to save the planet leaves us frustrated, angry, bitter and in despair.

Trying to compel other people turn to Jesus will do the same thing.

These jobs are too big for us; leave them to God.

We can be kind to others because of the love of God n our hearts.

We can respond peacefully to other people’s anger.

We can forgive others when they do us wrong.

We can tell of our own failures and how God forgave us.

We can praise God openly for what He has done for us.

We can explain how trusting Jesus enables us to live with hope.

These are little things, but they do more to make the world a better place than any of the big things we may try to do.

© Bob Goodnough

A faith worth dying for

Many of the Old Testament prophets died for the things they said. They were speaking the truth that God had revealed to them by His Spirit and the leaders of the people could not stand to hear that truth. So they killed the messengers of God thinking that would bring them peace.

The Jewish leaders in Jesus day did the same. Jesus was a threat to their positions and the respect the people had for them, so they killed the messenger. We should not be too harsh in blaming Pilate, he seems to have understood better what Jesus was up to than did the Jewish leaders.

Most of the apostles died as martyrs; people could not accept their message, so they killed the messengers. That has continued through history. The Roman Catholic church probably killed more Christians than pagan empires ever did. After the Reformation the Protestant churches continued the slaughter of Christians who would not accept their compromises.

Worth killing for

The reason for the killing of peaceful Christians has always been that other people saw them as a threat to their authority and position. Not that peace-loving Christians were ever a physical threat. Their offence was that they refused to mix the values of the world with the teachings of Jesus Christ; this was a stinging reproof to those who did. So they have tried to silence and eliminate the messengers.

Worth keeping quiet about

The German pietists thought they had found the solution. They would be outwardly members of the Lutheran church and inwardly born again believers in Jesus Christ. They would attend the Lutheran services, take communion, baptize their babies, get married in the church, then meet privately to share their faith. They called themselves “the quiet in the land.” Some Mennonite groups have also thought this was a good idea. Since they were no longer messengers, they were not in danger of persecution, or even ridicule, for the cause of Christ.

Light and salt

Light is what reveals both truth and error. To be quiet about our faith is to put our candle under a bushel and rob those around us of light.

Salt is what preserves from spoiling. In Old Testament times all sacrifices were salted in order not to offer to God something that was beginning to putrefy. If we feel free to indulge in the unfruitful practices of the world, where is the salt the world needs?

Be always ready

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.

People wonder about us, form conclusions from our silence that impute the things that we do to factors other than a faith in Jesus Christ. When they ask questions, they often don’t know quite what to ask. Let’s not leave them in confusion. We don’t have to be pushy or difficult, but let’s be willing to talk about our faith, nor our culture or our lifestyle.

Perhaps some day that will put our lives at risk. If so, we are in the company of the prophets, apostles and saints of past generations.

© Bob Goodnough

To be a disciple

The Great Commission tells Christians to make disciples from all nations. In practice though, it seems many evangelical efforts have thought it sufficient to get a profession of faith from new believers, to make converts.

That’s only a beginning. If I stop at being converted, I am not sufficiently rooted and grounded in the faith to stand when faced with temptation or persecution. How is becoming a disciple different?

A disciple does not just want Jesus to be his Saviour, he wants Jesus to be Lord of his life. That goes beyond conversion to a full commitment—being willing to accept teaching and discipline from our Lord and Master.

That sounds like it will put a crimp in my free-wheeling lifestyle. In fact, it will put an end to my former lifestyle. Why can’t I have both? The peace and assurance of being a Christian, plus the fun and excitement of the way I used to live?

It doesn’t work. If I try to have it all, I wind up with nothing.

Jesus wants my full attention, my full allegiance. Perhaps that sounds painful, dull, boring.

Painful it may sometimes be, but following Jesus without reserve will not be dull and boring.

Being a disciple brings a different joy and excitement that I had known before. It brings assurance that my life, my future, is in the hands of a Master that knows the way ahead when I don’t have a clue what might be around the next corner.

Is there a greater thrill than to be a disciple of He who said: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth”?  When I don’t find it thrilling, the problem has always been in me, not in Him. If I follow Him at a distance, because of fear or doubt, I am not a disciple and Christian life isn’t very interesting.

Just open it and read

[First posted June 13, 2014]

What is the best way to read the Bible?

Just open it up and start reading. It’s that simple.

I quit attending church when I left home. I had heard all the old familiar Bible stories that are taught in Sunday School. I had also absorbed a lot of contradictory teachings in school, through the media and through the books and magazines I read. I had begun to consider myself too intelligent to believe the Bible. Some parts of it were probably true. If there was a God, He probably inspired people in ancient days to write the good stuff, but there was a lot in the Bible that just wasn’t believable. Sound familiar?

I started to get curious, though, and wanted to take another look at the Bible for myself. I didn’t want to be seen buying a Bible, though. Neither did I want to ask my parents if I could borrow a Bible. But I knew the place in my parents’ home where the old worn-out Bibles were stored. One weekend when I was home, I went to that old cupboard, selected a Bible that was pretty much intact and not too big and packed it away in my stuff.

I began to read, trying to separate fact from fiction, searching out the accounts that I found unbelievable and reading them from beginning to end. I found references to these accounts in other parts of the Bible and read them carefully. As I read more and more in the Bible, trying to understand the context in which these events happened and what the Bible writers were saying about them, I started to get the uncomfortable feeling that this wasn’t going to turn out quite like I had expected. I could see that a life based on the teachings of the Bible would be an admirable thing, but all the stories that I didn’t want to believe seemed to be inextricably linked to those teachings.

Jesus evidently believed that all that was written in the Old Testament was completely factual. Was He deceived? If He was wrong about that, how could He be right about anything?

Slowly it dawned on me that this collection of books, written by 40 different men over a period of sixteen centuries, was not a collection at all, but one unified book. I could not choose to believe some parts and reject the rest as mythology or mere records of often bloody history. There were only two choices before me: believe it all from beginning to end, or dismiss it all as a work of fiction.

It was at this point that a crisis arose in my life and the Bible revealed to me that I was a sinner destined to be forever rejected by God, unless I repented. I repented, without fully understanding the significance or the ramifications of what I was doing. My life changed at that moment, yet it took months, years even, for the full reality of that change to sink in.

So here is my advice for anyone who wants to read the Bible but is afraid of getting confused. Read the Bible. Get the whole story.

Don’t trust any Bible reading plans that chop the Bible up into little pieces and have you skipping here and there without ever really getting a picture of what is going on. Don’t trust books about the Bible to steer you right. There are Bible dictionaries and Bible commentaries that can be helpful, but don’t start out letting someone else guide you through the Bible. Let the Bible reveal itself to you.

It might be good to read accounts here and there to start with, but soon you will want to read books of the Bible all the way through to get a grasp of the context. Pray for direction. Once you begin to get some sense of what the Bible is all about, it would be a good thing to read the whole Bible through. Don’t bite off too much at one time, expect it to take four years to make it all the way through. Along the way you will find that the Bible “heroes” were really not very good people. And if you are honest with yourself, just at the point where you become indignant about the weaknesses and failures of David, Elijah or Rebekah, you will begin to see the same weaknesses and failures in yourself. That is why Jesus had to die.

You will never understand it all, and that’s OK. The Bible never gets old; there is always something new to discover.

Silence like cancer

The fire, the wind, the earthquake beat upon the mountain like hammer blows. Elijah knew God did not speak like that. After all was silent, he heard a gentle voice. It was so soft that he could not discern the words; he went to the mouth of the cave to hear better. God spoke to him in a gentle tone, but did not beat around the bush. His first words were: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Jesus often wrapped the truth in a story. His purpose was not to conceal the truth, but to prompt the listeners to search for the meaning, and to make it stick. We should not take the example of Jesus as an excuse to wrap the truth in obscure words which conceal rather than reveal. No one should not have to guess what we are trying to say.

When a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus responded with the story we call “the good Samaritan.” The Pharisee nodded as Jesus told of the priests who had passed by without helping. That was how he saw the priests. He no doubt expected Jesus to tell how a Pharisee came along and saved the day.

Jesus shocked him to the depths of his being by making a Samaritan the hero of the story. Jews saw Samaritans as unclean people and avoided them. After telling the story, Jesus asked who had been a neighbour to the man in distress. The Pharisee could not even bring himself to pronounce the word Samaritan, but allowed that the one who helped had been the true neighbour.

Jesus’ final word, “go and do thou likewise,” was telling the Pharisee he needed to be more like the Samaritan in the story. The Pharisee got the parable’s message. We don’t know what he did with that understanding. The gospels say that most Pharisees hated Jesus, but some believed.

Our lives should be a witness of the hope that lies within us. But we cannot just be silent witnesses. If someone asks us a reason of that hope and all we can come up with is “That’s the way our church teaches,” or “That’s what it says somewhere in the Bible,” people are apt to conclude that we don’t know why we do things like we do. Could they be right?

We should be able to offer a clear testimony of the grounds of our faith. Important-sounding words are unnecessary, as is a round-about way of speaking. Simple words from the heart are more apt to touch the hearts of others.

Psalm 15:1-2 —LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth [as it is] in his heart.

The words I have inserted in italics appear in the most reliable French translations and I believe are the true meaning. It is not enough to hide the truth in our heart. We need to learn how to express it in words others can understand.

If we think it’s enough to have the truth hidden in our hearts, yet remain silent about it, that silence becomes like a cancer eating away at the truth within us. The world hears the blows of the hammers wielded by multitudes who claim to be proclaiming truth, so many kinds of supposed truth. We can’t compete with the noise, we don’t need a bigger hammer to ensure people hear our message. The truth is best told in a warm, gentle way.

Do we need to learn how to speak the truth? Truth-speaking does not need heavy words or “Christian” fairy tales to support it. If we can wrap it in a story from our own life, or one we have observed, so much the better. Let’s start now, in our homes, with fellow believers, and with those who do not believe.

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.

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.

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