Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Jesus

The race of life

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

Jesus said: “but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” Matthew 10:22

Something in me would like to think that He meant:
All you have to do is sit tight
And everything will turn out right.

But I believe what He really meant was:
Keep on running with all your might
Until you cross the finish line.

Witnesses of the Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The drama of Jesus

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Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore–and this in the Name of One who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which He passed through this world like a flame.

Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction.

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon dogma–dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man–and the dogma is the drama.

Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual human record of futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.

Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that at least once in world history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the Resurrection.

-Dorothy Sayers, excerpts from Letters to a Diminished Church, Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine. This is a collection of 16 articles, mostly written during World War II, collected and republished in 2004.

Have you left your first love?

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Revelation 2:4).

When Christians discuss this verse they often take it to mean that Jesus is saying “I am disappointed in you because you’ve lost that loving feeling.” The question then is how to tell if we’ve lost that loving feeling and what to do if we have.

What if it really means “I am disappointed in you because you’ve found somebody new?” What if love for Mammon has become more important than love for our Saviour?

It happens so subtly. Mammon offers immediate gratification and we don’t consider what this short-term benefit might do to the long-term relationship with our Lord. The first time we do it, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, so we go on, getting deeper and deeper into this adulterous relationship with Mammon.

Soon our attention is wholly taken up with the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, honour and pride and we forget the reason why we first entered into a relationship with Jesus.

The apostle Paul wrote: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)

Who has control of your heart, Jesus or Mammon?

Wimpy evangelism

Forty-five years ago there was a city-wide outreach in our city based on the theme “I found it!” The slogan was purposefully vague so as to engage all churches who called themselves Christian.

The purpose of the slogan was to prompt people to ask “What did you find?” To which the answer was “New life in Jesus Christ.” This answer encompassed a wide range of possibilities of what the new life could be or how it could be attained.

The campaign was ambitious, including billboards, bumper stickers, radio and TV spots, mail outs and a newspaper supplement with testimonials from the whole Christian spectrum. Members of all denominations made a door to door campaign to distribute New Testaments to every home. They were ready to answer people’s questions and to ask them if they had found it or were interested in hearing more about finding it.

The whole effort was so vague, like a gray fog over the city, whose origin or meaning could not be discerned. The slogan was deliberately vague to get past the resistance of the populace and the media to all things Christian. So vague that we couldn’t clearly articulate what we were trying to get past their resistance.

“I’ve found it!” just didn’t resonate with people like another well-known slogan of the day: “Things go better with Coke!” We knew it was all over the day we saw a bumper sticker that read: “I stepped in it!” and laughed. We had tried so hard to appeal to everyone that there was no message left.

Evangelism that talks about Jesus but doesn’t try to make disciples, what good does it do? Discipleship means discipline. People willingly discipline themselves for a sport or a cause that they believe in. If Christian faith is not worth self-denial and discipline, why should anyone be interested?

If we are so afraid that people will find Christianity offensive that we try to water it down, it has no power to change people’s lives. Perhaps we should consider the success of Buckley’s Mixture cough syrup. W. K. Buckley freely admitted that it tasted awful, but said it worked. They have used advertisments that showed a bottle of Buckley’s Mixture and proclaimed: “You’d have to be really sick to take that stuff!”, followed by the question “Are you sick?” That is effective advertising.

Jesus didn’t try to sugar coat his message. He was gentle to the sinner who repented, yet blunt with the self-righteous. He seemed to look for ways to confront the scribes and Pharisees with the emptiness of their law, it’s lack of power to make a difference in the lives of sinners.

The result of wimpy evangelism is not wimpy Christians, it is make-believe Christians or outright atheists.

The living Word of God

When Aaron made a golden calf for the people to worship, he was not intending it as idolatry. The people could not grasp the concept of an un seen God and wanted something they could see. It is called a calf in the Bible, but it was a bull, represented in the prime of his strength. This was the best symbol they could imagine for a god who was the all-powerful source of life.

Yet it was idolatry, for a bull comes far short of representing the reality of a God who spoke and the universe, the world and everything in it appeared. Well not quite everything. He created the first man and woman with his own hands.

But even if we can stretch our minds to comprehend God as omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, yet unseen, our understanding of who He is remains superficial. That is why He came into this world and walked among us, as one of us, yet much more than one of us.

Jesus, the living Word, calmed the storm with a word, healed the eyes of Bartimaeus with a word, cast out devils with a word, healed the sick with a word, restored Lazarus to life with a word. “What manner of man is this?” The reality of who Jesus is goes beyond the physical form. It was revealed in his love for children, for sinners, for outcasts, his rebukes to the self-righteous, his compassion for those in distress, his words of forgiveness from the cross.

Jesus said “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” You cannot draw a picture that shows the love, compassion, grace and power of Jesus, nor make a statue to represent it. Most of those who saw Jesus when he walked on the earth did not see who he was. They wanted the physical representation more than the reality. That is the way our minds work.

Some did see, by faith. As we read the record they left for us, let us pray for faith to see Jesus as they saw him, the living Word, the Almighty God in action, the Saviour of the world..

The way to happiness

Image by dima_goroziya from Pixabay

The Bible demonstrates again and again how futile it is for a person to think he is able to understand and decide by himself how to live a successful and happy life. But we keep trying.

Four centuries ago, René Descartes, elevated this human propensity into a philosophical belief systemn which says that a person can discover everything he needs to know by his own reasoning ability, beginning with the simple concept, cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). This philosophy has slowly percolated through western thought and it is now the foundation of our thinking that tradition and historical principles are a form of slavery. We should not accept any belief or authority that does not come from our own mind.

We Christians are no better. Too often we know just enough of the Bible to pick the parts that authorize us to live as we want to live. We don’t want to accept any authority that comes from outside of ourselves. We think that being Christian makes us better than other people, and we are disdainful of those looking on who don’t see us that way.

Let’s go back to the beginning. We are made of dirt, there is nothing good in us. We think of David, Jeremiah and Paul as great men of God, but listen to how they saw themselves: “verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (David, in Psalm 39:5); “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23); “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Paul, in Romans 7:18).

Jesus said: “there is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). Therefore, if there is to be any good in us at all, it will have to come from God. That is why He gave us the Holy Spirit, not to make us perfect, not to make us feel good, not to exalt us above others, but to enable us to become what He has planned us to be, so that we can be a testimony of His goodness.

The apostle Paul was not gentle towards our feelings of self-esteem: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Galatians 6:3).

Believe it or not, this is the recipe for a useful and happy life. The old ways, the old teachings, respect for our elders and for authority, allow us to develop our ability to serve others. We don’t need to beat our head against the wall trying to make others accept our vision of reality. Contentment and inner peace come from accepting God’s revealed vision of reality and seeking approval from God.

Four women named Mary, three men named James

I suppose there has always been a fashion in names. When I was a boy in school there were three Roberts in one classroom. To our teachers we were Bob, Bobby and Robert; to our classmates we were Bob, Professor and Goofy. I was Professor, I must have been a know-it-all. Goofy was the class comedian; in the midst of a serious discussion he would come out with an off-the-wall remark that would crack up the whole room. The teachers did their best to pretend they were not amused, but even they could not help smiling at times.

Years later, while working in an auto parts factory, there were often three Bob’s out on the floor. Bob Wolfgram was a shift supervisor, Bob Wickenheiser an electrician, and Bob Goodnough was from the quality assurance department. When Bob was paged over the PA system, we had to listen carefully to get the last name.

And back in my younger years all the nice girls were named Joan. At least it seemed that way to me, though I did have a couple of female cousins who were not named Joan and who I thought were pretty nice. I believe Joan was the most popular name for girls in that era.

Getting to the subject at hand, it can seem confusing to sort out all the Mary’s mentioned in the gospels. The name was popular because Miriam was one of the most prominent ladies in the Old Testament. In Hebrew the name was spelled Myriam or Miryam; it became Maria in the transition to Greek and Latin and is spelled Maria, Marie or Mary in most European languages.

The first lady we encounter in the New Testament is Mary, the virgin who was espoused, but not yet married, to Joseph and who became the mother of Jesus. Then there is Mary, the wife of Alpheus (also spelled Cleophas or Clopas), Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene.

There is no indication in the Bible that Mary remained a perpetual virgin. Matthew 1:25 states that Joseph knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son. That plainly indicates that a normal conjugal relationship began after the birth of Jesus and that he was the eldest among the children of Joseph and Mary.

Mary, the wife of Alpheus, is sometimes called Salome, and John 19:25 states that she was the sister of Mary, the wife of Joseph. They both had sons named James and Jude (or Judas). Those who hold to a doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary take verses like Matthew 13:55 to refer to the children of the other Mary and Alpheus. To this Adam Clarke comments: “Why should the children of another family be brought in here to share a reproach which it is evident was designed for Joseph, the carpenter; Mary, his wife; Jesus, their son; and their other children?”

Jesus was a frequent guest in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, this Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with spikenard (John 11:2 and 12:3). This should not be confused with the incident recorded in Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:s and Luke 7:37, of a woman anointing the head of Jesus. This anointing also took place in Bethany, but a few days later in the home of Simon, the Pharisee, and the woman is not named.

Neither should the woman in the latter anointing be confused with Mary of Magdala. Nor should we assume that Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute or a very sinful woman. The scribes and pharisees would surely have made such accusations against her if there were any grounds for doing so. All the information we have of her indicates that she was a respectable woman of some wealth, Jesus had cast seven evil spirits out of her and that she was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.

James in the New Testament is a translation of the Greek form of Jacob (Yaakov in Hebrew), the father of the Israelite people. There are three men named James in the gospels and the early church. The first is James, the brother of John. He became the first leader of the church in Jerusalem. James, the brother of our Lord, remained a skeptic during the life of Jesus, but became a believer after the resurrection. He was the second leader of the church in Jerusalem after the first James was murdered by Herod. It is this James who wrote the epistle of James. James the less, son of Alpheus and Mary Salome was also one of the apostles of our Lord.

And ye would not

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

The devil and the powers of the realm of darkness keep the world in turmoil. Then they tell Christians to look at what’s going on and urge them to get out there and set things right. That gets Christians stirred up, some trying to fix the world in one way, some in another, and blaming each other that they are not doing enough, or are doing the wrong thing.

Why are we, who say that we trust in God, so prone to think that we have to get out there and save the world? Didn’t Jesus say: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)?

When we think we have to do something to fix the world, aren’t we much like God’s people of old, to whom Isaiah said: “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not” (Isaiah 30:15)?

Why don’t we just try this quietness and confidence thing?

The beauty of Jesus – Part One

Jesus and his disciples had been in Jerusalem and were returning to Galilee. The road took them through Samaria and when they came near the town of Sychar Jesus sent the disciples into town to buy food. He stayed by Jacob’s well, because he had an appointment there. The woman who was coming to the well didn’t know she had a divine appointment, but Jesus did.

Jews considered Samaritans to be an unclean people and believed they would defile themselves if they touched anything that had been touched by a Samaritan. When the Samaritan woman came to the well, she recognized Jesus as being a Jew and expected he would ignore her.

Jesus asked her for a drink. That was unheard of, for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan woman, let alone ask for a drink from something she had touched. Jesus spoke to her of living water and revealed to her that he knew she had been married and divorced five times.

The Samaritans held strictly to the Mosaic law, as did the Jews. There is no provision in that law for a woman to divorce her husband, but a man could divorce his wife for any frivolous reason. Perhaps he didn’t like the shape of her nose, perhaps she had burned his toast once too often (or whatever the equivalent might have been in that day). This woman had been married and dumped by five men. Jesus mentioned another man, to whom she was not married. Perhaps she was betrothed but not yet married, or perhaps some kindly man had offered her a place to stay with no intention to take her as his wife.

Then the woman challenged him on the differences in the beliefs of the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus refused to be drawn in, simply saying that Jerusalem and Mount Gérizim didn’t matter any more, but it was time for true believers to worship God in spirit and in truth.

The woman then said that she knew that all things would be made clear when Messiah came. Jesus told her “I am the Messiah,” something that he had never previously said to anyone. The woman believed him and ran to tell the people of her town.

The disciples returned with food and pressed Jesus to eat. He was not ready yet to eat but spoke to them of the harvest, telling them to lift up their eyes and see the fields that were ripe for the harvest. What did they see when they looked up? A stream of the despised Samaritans coming out of the town to the well to meet the Messiah.

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