Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Jesus

Principalities and Powers

Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, he disappeared into the wilderness and fasted for forty days. Then Satan came to him and offered to let Jesus rule all the kingdoms of the world if he would acknowledge Satan as supreme. “Just bow down and worship me and you can govern the world as you wish. But in the end the people are still mine.” That would have avoided the necessity of the cross. Some Christians refuse to believe that the kingdoms of the world were Satan’s to offer. But how else would the offer have been a temptation?

Jesus did not come to the world to serve as a viceroy in Satan’s kingdom. He came to overthrow Satan’s kingdom, set people free from bondage to Satan and establish his own kingdom.

In the most stunning reversal of fortune in history, at the moment when Jesus hug dying on the cross and Satan thought he had eliminated Jesus as a threat, Jesus called out to his Father, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Forgiveness! Satan could not have seen that coming. The word is not in his vocabulary, the concept of forgiveness is foreign to him. In that moment Satan was defeated and a new kingdom established.

Nothing has changed for most people in the world. Satan is still the prince of this world, he still rules the kingdoms of this world through unseen principalities and powers. He is doing his utmost to conceal from mankind the fact that a rival kingdom is occupying part of his territory.

Yet everything has changed. Satan is doomed and he knows it. Jesus is offering hope to people who have no hope in the kingdom of Satan. The whole game of Satan now is to take as many people as possible with him to hell. He is out for revenge.

The kingdom of Jesus is a spiritual kingdom; it does not occupy a defined territory on this earth. Any person, anywhere on earth, who willingly submits to the reign of Jesus and is born again, is set free from the rule of Satan and becomes a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom. No earthly nation qualifies as a Christian nation, though it is one of Satan’s snares to think so.

We cannot defeat Satan by political means, or by any other human means. When we involve ourselves in any way with such movements, we are attempting to defeat Satan by using his own tools. That always results in defeat. Even if only our feelings are stirred, we risk making ourselves unfit for working for Jesus.

The tools that are effective against Satan are:

Trust. When we submit to the rule of Jesus we become meek and humble. We have nothing to prove, but trust that victory and vengeance belong to him alone. Satan’s goal is to divide people until each person stands alone and trusts no one else.

Love. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and enables us to do it, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the people around us do and say things that are sometimes hurtful Love them anyway. Jesus does.

Forgiveness. It is a given that we are going to get hurt. Satan would like to stir our feelings towards anger, revenge, or at least to demand an apology. If we give in to those feelings, he has won. If we can forgive from our heart, Jesus wins.

Thankfulness. Let’s freely speak of all the good that Jesus has done for us. Being meek and humble should not close our lips, except to any boasting of how good we are..

Prayer. We need to speak often with God, our heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus. That is how we get the strength to do the things listed already. Prayer is also the most powerful thing we can do to positively affect the evils we see around us, in individuals, families, governments.

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.

Unmoved by empathy

Empathy was foisted upon us 60 years ago as a more egalitarian substitute for sympathy. I suppose I’ve always had an analytical mind, sometimes that’s just an excuse for inaction. But I never believed this new word offered anything useful.

I have been part of a small minority. The majority has come to believe that what the world needs is more empathy. In recent years this has even crept into Christian thinking and Christian literature.

Empathy is the idea that we need to feel the pain and pleasure of others. But how does it help someone to tell him “I feel your pain”? How does it help me to be able to make myself feel the pain that others are going through?

Paul Bloom, a New York psychologist and researcher at Yale University, believes that empathy is a self-centred emotion and does more harm than good. In 2016 he published Against Empathy*, in which he argues that compassion is a far healthier and more useful response to the pain and suffering of others.

To put it as simply as possible, Bloom argues that when I feel empathy for your suffering it makes me feel very bad, but does not move me to do anything to help you. Compassion, on the other hand, causes me to do something to help you, rather than trying to analyse my own feelings. Bloom says that empathy can cause us to become overloaded with painful feelings and separate us from the ones who are suffering.

Compassion is a word that we often encounter in the Bible. Jesus demonstrated compassion for all those in sorrow and distress. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite may well have felt empathy for the poor man lying by the side of the road. But contact with blood, or with someone who was possibly dead, would have rendered them unclean for service in the temple. So they avoided looking too closely at the injured man. The Samaritan was moved by compassion and went ahead and did what he was able to do to help the man. Jesus closed the parable by telling the Pharisee “Go and do thou likewise.”

That message is meant for all of us. Let’s discard this newfangled empathy which leads to a preoccupation with our own feelings. May we rather allow ourselves to be moved to action by compassion.

Against Empathy: The case for rational compassion, by Paul Bloom, © 2016, published by The Bodley Head, London

Questions

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The techniques for evangelism known as the Church Growth Movement, were first introduced to North America in 1961. I use the word techniques deliberately, as the movement sought to use sociological research to select social groups that could be reached through the use of modern marketing methods. The key assumption of the movement was that people are most likely to feel comfortable with and trust people like themselves.

Does this sound like an opportunity to share the gospel more effectively?

Or does it sound like a description of the problem that we should expect the gospel to overcome?

Why are churches still the most segregated places in North America?

Has the Church Growth Movement done anything to heal tensions between ethnic groups?

How many close friends do you or I have who are of a different skin colour or different ethnic origin?

How open are we to changing that?

This is where we need to accept that the best way to change the world is to start with ourselves. We need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. If we are to make any lasting friendships with people who are not just like us, we are going to learn that we have not always been such nice people as we thought we were. That might be painful, but it can be liberating, too.

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:11 (Substitute the peoples in your city for the underlined words.)

Its shame and reproach gladly bear

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One hundred and forty years ago a young Englishman came to an Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan as a missionary. He learned the Cree language well enough to effectively share the gospel and some band members were converted. He returned to England to marry and then came back A church was established and began to grow, his family grew also. After a few more years the missionary had to leave his post on the reserve since there was no one for his children to play with. Not of the correct social class, anyway.

My father would often approach strangers and strike up a conversation by asking “What do you think of Jesus?” Yet he considered black people and “half-breeds” to be inferior people; he reproved his mother for speaking French to their neighbours; he persisted in mispronouncing names that sounded foreign to him.

Shouldn’t Christian faith trump attitudes like that? Why are Christian people so inclined to think themselves superior to others?

It seems that years of living prosperous, untroubled lives has led us to believe that this is the norm for Christians. We carefully select Bible passages that seem to emphasize the blessedness of Christian life. Yet these verses are closely linked to the message of suffering with Christ, with not thinking ourselves better than we are, with rejoicing in persecution. We cannot comprehend those parts, so we invent ways to interpret them as metaphors for minor difficulties in our lives.

Aren’t we missing the whole point of the New Testament? Jesus did not die to save us from suffering in this life. Jesus said: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) and “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11). Paul taught “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Peter said: “ If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

We can spiritualise these passages, and others like them, saying they mean something else than what they say. What shall we say then of Christian martyrs of ages past who gloried in these verses and took strength from God to face persecution, torture and death? Or Christians suffering today in other countries.

Are we not missing the essential part of identifying with Christ in His rejection and suffering? I believe we misunderstand what He meant by denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily. The cross is not a minor affliction like rheumatism, nor is it a fashion accessory. It is an instrument of torture and death.

If our faith is going to be without respect of persons, that means that we need to identify with those who are looked down upon by the world, not with those the world looks up to. We must seek the approval of Christ, not the approval of the world.

There is no point in comforting ourselves in the esteem of the world anyway. All signs point to the distinct possibility, or probability, of that being taken away from us. Let’s be true followers of Jesus Christ, whatever the consequences may be.

The kingdom of God

In the Old Testament God selected the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to create a model of His kingdom. This kingdom attained the height of its glory, and the fulfilment of all the prophecies pertaining to the earthly kingdom, in the reign of Solomon. Yet as we look at the how that kingdom degenerated, we see that the seeds of destruction were there from the beginning. Most of the people descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were earthly minded.

The New Testament tells of the founding of a new kingdom. The king is Jesus, like Solomon a descendant of David. The citizens are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. This kingdom is not limited to any territory, has no political presence in any country, has no military force to avenge itself on its enemies. This is the true kingdom, of which the kingdom of Solomon was merely a representation. We need look for no other kingdom but the present kingdom of God.

Jesus likened the kingdom of God to leaven that was placed in a lump of dough, permeating and growing in the lump. The kingdom of God grows in a hidden way, in the hearts of those who repent and surrender their lives to the lordship of Jesus. Christian people cannot grow the kingdom. We must sow the seed, add the leaven – or better said, be the leaven, but it is God who gives the increase.

Jesus did not just talk about the kingdom, He demonstrated it. His miracles, the healing of the sick and handicapped, the casting out of demons, raising the dead to life, were evidence that a new power had entered this world and was undoing the work of the powers of darkness. Christians today do not have the power to perform miracles. God does, and He still does work miracles. But there are other ways in which Christians can defeat the powers of darkness.

The miracles of Jesus were real and they had a purpose. But let’s look beyond the miracles to the kind of person Jesus was. He demonstrated the perfect unity of truth and righteousness, love and compassion.

He forgave the woman taken in adultery and reproved her self-righteous accusers. The only time the Bible tells us that Jesus was angry was when the Pharisees were ready to condemn Him for healing on the Sabbath. The hardness of their hearts, their lack of compassion, was the opposite of true righteousness.

Jews despised Samaritans, considered them to be an unclean people, would not touch anything that had been handled by a Samaritan for fear of defilement. Jesus asked a Samaritan woman to give Him a drink of water, then talked to her about true worship, about her life, told her that He was the Messiah. She believed, ran back into the city to call others to meet Him. As they were coming out to the well, Jesus told His disciples to lift up their eyes and see the fields ripe for harvest.

He ate with publicans, took time for little children, depended on women for material support in His ministry, inspired faith in a Roman soldier and a Syro-Phoenician woman. He told the self-righteous Pharisees that other people who knew they were sinners, people like publicans and prostitutes, would find it easier to enter the kingdom than they would.

Blaise Pascal said “We make an idol of the truth itself; for truth without love is not God, but His image. Still less should we love its opposite, the untruth.” We are poor witnesses of the kingdom of God if we hold firmly to the truth, yet cannot find it in ourselves to show love, mercy and compassion to those ensnared by the deceptions and depravities of the kingdom of darkness.

We need to also heed the last part of Pascal’s thought. In our day there are many who want to include Jesus with all the religious teachers and prophets of all faiths and say that the true hope of mankind is in enlightenment that reveals the divinity within oneself. That is the untruth that offers no hope, no salvation, not even compassion.

Pharisee to sinner

Saul of Tarsus was a devout man, zealous in the service of God. He was a pharisee, taught by Rabban Gamaliel, grandson of Hillel the Elder and the most renowned Jewish teacher of his day. Saul scrupulously obeyed the teaching that he received and counted himself to be faultless in keeping the Jewish laws.

His desire to serve God filled him with zeal to eradicate all aberrant forms of the Jewish religion, especially the one that was based on the life and teachings of a certain Jesus of Nazareth. He was still a young man when he witnessed with approval the stoning of Stephen, but soon made a name for himself as the most ferocious enemy and persecutor of the followers of Jesus. His fame extended far beyond Jerusalem, even to Damascus in Syria.

As Saul saw firsthand how threats and persecutions could not make the followers of Jesus deny their loyalty to Him, his conscience must have begun to question whether his zeal was truly from God. When he met Jesus in a supernatural encounter on the road to Damascus, Jesus told him “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” In that moment Saul knew that his zeal had been misguided, that he had been fighting against God, not for Him. Addressing Jesus as Lord, he asked “What wilt thou have me to do?”

The answer to that question transformed Saul, the self-righteous Pharisee into Paul, the sinner and apostle of Jesus Christ. Later, he would say that all the things that he had counted on as righteousness while a pharisee were nothing but dung.

Now he saw himself in the light of day: “ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). “ This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Paul the apostle carried this awareness of his sinfulness the rest of his life. He had nothing more to boast of but the grace of God. And that was enough.

Is it enough for Christians today? We have been given much, but let us remember who gave it and why we needed to have it given. We cannot claim any credit for our heritage, the things we have been taught, the way we live. It is all a gift from God. As soon as we think we have some merit of our own, an odour of dung clings to us and people try to keep a certain distance upwind.

Written in the earth

An interesting detail in the account of the woman taken in adultery told in chapter 8 of the gospel of John is that it is twice mentioned that Jesus wrote on the ground. This appears to have some connection with the fact that the woman’s accusers left one by one, from the oldest to the youngest. We are not given any more details than that, but I believe the following takes into account all the details of the story in the gospel..

Some have speculated that Jesus was writing the sins of the accusers. I doubt that was necessary. These men were scribes and pharisees, men with a deep and thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. They will surely have remembered the words of Jeremiah: “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 17:13).

To have one’s name written in the earth would be the opposite of having one’s name written in heaven. The woman’s accusers may have been surprised that Jesus knew each of them by name, even more surprised that He knew their ages, writing their names from the oldest to the youngest. They began to suspect He also knew the exact nature of their sin and thought it best to escape the presence of such a man.

Consider the accused woman. She was a sinner, she knew it. Now she was left alone with a man who had silently struck fear into the hearts of all her righteous accusers. What would He say to her?

He did not condemn her, He forgave her, set her free. With just one warning “Go and sin no more.”That is still the way of Jesus–judgment for those who think themselves righteous, mercy for those who know they are sinners.

Someone may doubt the connection between the passages in Jeremiah and John because one speaks of earth and the other of ground. This is simply the work of the translators. The Hebrew word in Jeremiah is erets, which is translated in different places in our Bible as land, earth, ground and country. The Greek word in the gospel is ge, which is translated by the same four English words in our Bibles. They are, in other words, exactly the same word.

Jesus and Satan

Jesus and Satan were not strangers when they met before Jesus began His earthly ministry. They had known each other since before the world began. Each understood the other’s intentions and that it would be defeat for them if the other one could gain his goal.

Satan offered Jesus sovereignty over all the nations and peoples of the world, as a subordinate to himself. Jesus could enforce righteousness over all the world, but in the end all people would be doomed to hell.

He had already convinced the Jewish leadership of that day that this was a good plan. Messiah would come and rule the world with a rod of iron and the Jewish people could Lord it over all the people of the world.

He offered the same idea, just packaged a little differently to Karl Marx. There would be a time of struggle followed by an ideal society of equality and peace. He offered it to the Ayatollah’s of Iran, a strict enforcement of righteousness would bring peace. He offers an earthly utopia in many different ways, all have brought disappointment, and left people worse off than they were before.

The devil is even offering this dream of an earthly utopia to Christians today. He tells them that Christ will return and establish a 1,000 year reign of peace over all the world. But even those who describe this earthly reign of peace in alluring terms say it will end badly. At the end of the 1,000 years there will be a great rebellion ending in an unprecedented bloodbath.

This dream offered by Satan in many different forms is a means of distracting people’s attention from their greatest need. They are sinners, doomed to eternal damnation.

Jesus refused Satan’s offer. Satan’s only alternative then was to destroy Jesus, so that he could have uncontested sovereignty. That was going to be easy, because Satan already had control of the Jewish authorities.

Thus it happened that Jesus was condemned to death, scourged and nailed to a wooden cross. There He hung, broken, defeated; Satan’s total victory just minutes away.

Then Jesus spoke from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and Satan’s expected became a crushing defeat. Satan had never anticipated that God would forgive the world of sinners who had rejected and mistreated His Son. How could He? Forgiveness is completely foreign to him.

Satan is defeated, doomed. He knows it; his hatred of God and his anger at God now moves him to capture as many people as possible and take them to hell with him.

God forgives us when we surrender completely to Him with all our being. He sets us free. But we won’t be free for long if we do not forgive others. If our feelings are hurt, if we are bitter over being mistreated or neglected, if we are angry, Satan already has us in his claws. The only way to get free is to forgive.

Even if we say, I forgive, but surely God will deal with that other person some day, Satan still has us in his claws. We must forgive completely to be completely free. God will judge all sin. He doesn’t need us to tell him who, or when or how. That is His domain, not ours.

We cannot outsmart Satan, we cannot overpower him. There is only one weapon that is effective against him. For that reason he does his utmost to prevent us from using it. Forgiveness is the weapon that is more powerful than anything in Satan’s arsenal.

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.”

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