Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: joy

The threefold purpose of the church

As I read the New Testament, the evidence accumulates that there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church. Each of these purposes is connected to, and dependent upon, the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

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1. To Glorify God
The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others.

2. To be a safe place for God’s people
The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others.

3. To make new disciples in our home communities and in all the world
The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The Great Commission says to teach, make disciples of, all nations. Proclaiming the gospel is only the beginning. When those who here are converted, that is still the preliminary stage of fulfilling the mission Jesus has given to us. New converts need the help of seasoned Christians to discern if a new life has sprung up within them, or merely a desire for a new life. They need teaching, support and encouragement as they forsake their old pathways and learn to walk with Jesus. We all need the support of genuine believers all through our Christian life.

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

This game is rigged!

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We want to prosper in life, we want to have fun, we want to taste all the good things that are available to us. But we don’t find satisfaction in the things that promised pleasure, other people disappoint us, there never seems to be enough money to do all that we want, there is too much hurt and pain, sometimes it seems like life itself is conspiring against us.

Well, it’s true. This game is rigged. There is one right way to live this game of life and an endless variety of wrong ways. People tell to you try this, try that, this is where you can really find the thrill in life. Stop and take a close look at the people who make those promises. Do they seem happy, contented, at peace with themselves?

You have convinced yourself that only weak-minded people believe this God stuff. The soul, judgment, hell and heaven are just old wives tales to scare little children. This life is all there is and when it becomes unbearable the best thing is to stop living.

What if that idea was really just a tale to comfort weak-minded people? What if the death of the body is not the end of life, the soul lives on and there really will be a judgment? As much as you may try to block those thoughts from your mind, to drown them in loud music and furious activity, doesn’t that question pop into your mind at unguarded moments?

The soul is not some mythical add-on in your body; the soul is you, all that makes you who you are. The body is temporary, it will die but the soul will live on. The purpose of the game of life is to prepare us for everlasting joy. But if you decide that the only joy in life is what you can grasp for yourself right now, you are preparing yourself for endless misery and torment.

The rules of the game of life are simple. God revealed them many years ago to the prophet Micah: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (This is found in the Old Testament book of Micah, chapter 6 verse 8.)

You will find these rules often in the Holy Bible, in more detail and different phrasing, but this is the complete summary of what you need to know to win the game of life. Do what is right, be compassionate to others, and let God guide you. There is no way that you can outsmart the rules of the game of life. The game is rigged so that only those who accept the rules that God has given will experience true and lasting joy, peace and happiness, in this life and forever.

Can there be peace in Babylon?

Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Jewish people carried away as captives to Babylon. There were prophets among them telling them that God was soon going to set things right, punish the horrible people of Babylon and bring them back to their own land. Jeremiah sent a letter to the Jews in Babylon, saying essentially, “Not so fast. You are going to be there a while. Build houses, plant gardens, raise families and just make the best of it.”

Then he added this shocking admonition: “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Well, here we are in the 21st Century, smack dab in the middle of Babylon. There are prophets, from the political, ecological, sociological and religious spheres, loudly and incessantly warning us of impending doom if we don’t implement their solutions right here and now. And there is is truth in all that is being said.

Two thoughts lead me to believe it would be wise to ignore those prophets:

  1. Didn’t we get into this mess in the first place by believing them?
  2.  Won’t their solutions squeeze out the good that yet remains in Babylon?

Jeremiah’s admonition offers direction for us today. Why don’t we just ignore all the doom and gloom talk and look for the good that remains around us? Let’s open our eyes to all that is good and beautiful, talk about it, encourage it. It may be that there are many people around us who would blossom into influences for good with just a little encouragement. The more that we can encourage peace in our own neighbourhood, the more we will be able to live in peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring forgiveness.
Where there is discord, let me bring unity.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me 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 forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

Preface

Half a century ago a drunken young man announced to a couple of friends that one day he would be a Mennonite and wear a beard. His friends dismissed this as babbling inspired by the booze he had consumed. The young man himself was bewildered. The few Mennonites he had met, from his mother’s side of the family, had not inspired any longing to be like them. He had never seen a Mennonite who wore a beard, didn’t know if he wanted to be a Christian, or even if there was such a thing as a real Christian.

Over the next twelve years he quit drinking, quit smoking cigars, became a Christian, got married and started a family, in that order. Then he and his wife joined a Mennonite church, one that is of the persuasion that if hair grows on a man’s face it doesn’t make sense to try to remove all trace of that hair each morning.

That drunken declaration was prophetic, springing from a longing within that took the young man years to understand. It is now apparent that the longing came from God, and that over the years He continued to prompt and nudge that young man in ways that would allow that longing to become a living faith.

This book is the story of all that led up to that unexpected statement and all that happened after to make it become reality, despite the bumbling confusion of the young man, who was me. I am an old man now, and look back in wonder at that journey.

I hope that my story will encourage others to trust that there is light for the pathway and unexpected moments of joy in the journey, even when one is stubborn and doubtful of the way.

[With this post I am beginning a memoir of my spiritual journey, which I hope to publish before I get too old for stuff like this. The working title, for now at least, is One Day I Will be a Mennonite and Wear a Beard. I encourage readers to offer critiques and comments. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. Does my writing style put you to sleep? Do I offer too much information, or not enough? Your thoughts are welcome.]

Inside or outside?

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There is a line that we cross when we give our hearts to the Lord. Many people stop once they have crossed the line, mill around with others they find there and wonder why they are not experiencing the blessings of Christian life that they were promised. After awhile, some of them step back to the wrong side of the line, become once more captives to sin and console themselves that Christian life wasn’t what they had been led to believe.

God’s plan is for us to keep on going after we have crossed that line and go ever deeper into His love and obedience to His will.Those who do that find the rewards and joys of Christian life are far beyond their expectations.

The tennis ball doesn’t decide which side of the line it falls on, but we can.

Spiritual mourning

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

There is an obvious way of understanding these words. We encounter sorrow and loss during our lives that are cause for mourning, and we can find comfort in Jesus that is not available anywhere else.

  • But these seemingly simple words also contain a far deeper meaning:We need to mourn for our own sins, like David: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” (Psalm 51)We need to mourn for conditions in the church: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it” (The apostle Paul to the church at Corinth). “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (The message in the book of Revelations to the church at Ephesus). Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
  • We should grieve for Christians who are separated from a truly spiritual church fellowship. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria. . . but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:1-6). We often hear the first part of verse one and think that is the message. But God gave Amos a burden for those in the apostate kingdom of Israel, led by the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, sons of Joseph, because they were separated from the true worship of God in the temple at Jerusalem. God sent Hosea to Israel with the message that God sorrowed for wayward Israel just as Hosea sorrowed for his wayward wife.
  • We should grieve for conditions in the world we live in, not only for those in faraway lands, but also for the people who are our near neighbours. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). “ But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17).
  • The apostle Paul said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” This leaves us no ground to think of ourselves as better than others. We cannot serve the Lord with that kind of thought in our minds. First, we must grieve for our sinfulness, weakness and inadequacy. Then we see others as being the same as we are. We are in a world ruled by hostile spiritual forces and we have no strength in ourselves to overcome those forces. Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Isn’t that the meaning of the beatitude quoted above?

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).

Summer hibernation

Two weeks ago, we still occasionally ran the air conditioner to make the house comfortable. Now we use heaters in the morning to make it comfortable. We haven’t seen hummingbirds at our feeder for four days now. Blackbirds are gathering by the hundreds, sometimes perched all along the wires of the power lines. We hear a few sandhill cranes in the air as they fly down from their northern breeding areas. Combines can be heard from the grain fields all around us. The signs of the changing season are all around us.

Yet we are facing the coming of fall with more enthusiasm than we have for many years. You see, my wife had her last chemotherapy treatment just two days ago. Now the recovery can begin. The doctors have told us her leukemia has been beaten back, there are no remaining symptoms. All that remains is to recover from the drugs.

We went to Boston Pizza for dinner after her last treatment on Thursday, before the drugs began to distort her taste. She will have a few days of weariness, maybe a couple of weeks when things don’t taste right, some inflammation of the blood veins where the drugs were administered, plus the hidden danger of a weakened immune system.

Nevertheless, her energy level has increased towards the end of the last two cycles of treatment. She was going for two days of treatment at four-week intervals. She never felt seriously ill after the treatments, but the first two weeks after the treatments she did not have a lot of energy. Then the energy and enthusiasm would begin to increase up to the time of the next two days of treatments. Now there are no next treatments ahead of us.

It feels like we have spent spring and summer in hibernation. Now that fall and winter are ahead of us, we can wake up and learn to enjoy life once more. Rejoice with us!

Miserable comforters are ye all

“I have been hurt more by Christians than by non-believers.”  This was said, not so much as a complaint but as a simple statement of fact, by a friend with whom my wife and I were visiting the other day.  This lady has many heartaches and struggles in her past and I don’t doubt her statement. But I began to ponder why such a thing should be.

This led me to the story of Job and the misfortunes that befell him. In one day he lost all his children and all his wealth. As if that wasn’t enough, he then lost his health. His three closest friends came to comfort him. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were God-fearing men and their hearts were moved with compassion for their friend. They wept and mourned with him for seven days and seven nights without opening their mouths.

The trouble came when they began to speak. They truly wanted to help their friend and the only cause they could think of for his misery was that he must be suffering punishment for some hidden sin. The more Job protested his innocence, the more they were sure they understood the problem. Finally Job said: “ I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.”

I am a Christian, I care about my fellow believers and all the people around me. I want to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Yet when I try to put that into practice, all too often I have come across much like Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. I want to understand what has happened, offer some helpful suggestions, when it would be better to keep my mouth shut.

Job never accused his friends of sin for the way they spoke to him. One time he called them “miserable comforters,” another time he responded with this little zinger: “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.” But he never sinned in accusing them falsely.

At the end, God asked Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar to go to Job and ask him to pray for their forgiveness. I think the most significant part of the whole book is found in verse 10 of chapter 42: “And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.”

Isn’t forgiveness always the answer? Job was not restored until he could forgive his friends and pray for them, and we won’t be either. Our friends may do and say hurtful things. Forgive them. Or they may not know what to do or say and so avoid us for a time. Forgive them.

We will get hurt in this life. Well-meaning friends will say that we should just forgive and forget. That may come as a fresh wound, the forgetting part is not always easy, or even completely possible. Let’s forgive our well-meaning friends and do our best to put the original hurt behind us by applying the healing balm of forgiveness every time it gives us pain.

Sing Out!

Alf Soper was janitor of the school I attended as a boy. Once he had been a travelling repairman for a farm implement company, then the boss of some large construction projects. New he was old and content to tend the coal fired boiler that heated the two storey brick school, sweep the floors, carry out the garbage and do all the other little chores involved in cleaning and maintaining this building that was daily swarmed by more than a hundred children of all ages.

Alf Soper never married, didn’t appear to have much of a social life, yet never seemed grumpy about the shenanigans of the children. He often attended the same little Anglican Church that our family attended. He would sit on the second bench from the front on the side nearest the organ. Our family sat the second seat from the back on the opposite side, yet when a hymn was sung we could near Alf’s voice as clearly as if he was sitting beside us.

Alf was born in England and was probably of pretty much unadulterated Celtic heritage. The rest of us were not terribly good singers and were content to sing along with the organ, taking care not to be too loud lest someone hear our false notes. Not Alf. He was in his element when we sang the old hymns and not the least self conscious about letting his powerful voice be heard. And I don’t think he ever hit a false note.

Years later, we were members of a congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Ontario. There was no organ in our church, we sang a cappella in four part harmony, and most people loved to sing. A song leader would go up to the front mike, use a pitch pipe to set the correct pitch and lead the singing.

Except when Frank Adams was in church. Frank was another elderly man of Celtic ancestry, Welsh to be exact, and an amazing singer. He would sit on the fourth bench from the front and give out the number for Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah or one of his other favourites. The song leader would dutifully get up, blow the pitch, start the song – and from there on Frank would lead it. The song leader would be someone with a good voice and he had the advantage of the PA system, but he simply was no match for the power of Frank’s voice.

I’m glad no one ever told Frank that maybe he should turn down the volume a bit. He loved to sing, he was enjoying himself, and to tell the truth, we enjoyed it too.

Perhaps we take singing a bit too seriously, trying to get every note just right. If you listen to one of our church services, you will hear the voices of little children babbling along with the singing. They don’t know the words or the melody, but they joyfully blend their voices with the rest of the congregation and it does not distract at all from the beauty of the singing.

When these children get older they learn to read the words, they learn to read the music and hit the notes, but lose their childlike innocence and become self-conscious about letting their voice be heard. Most grow out of that stage, but not all.

I’m one of the self-conscious ones. I learned next to nothing about music in public school, in the church we attended when I was young, or at home. My mother loved to sing, but we never had any family singalongs because my father didn’t sing. I do my best singing in the shower, probably always will, but I enjoy it when I see others sing out with no thought of “what will people think?,

Being childlike without being childish

“When I became a man I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

That would be things like:

-wanting to be the centre of attention
-wanting to be entertained
-wanting what somebody else has
-wanting other people to do what I want
-feeling sorry for myself when things don’t go the way I want
-trying to get even
-boasting
-whining
-not admitting when I have done something wrong
-blaming somebody else

“And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6)

” Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

Childlike qualities:

-willing to trust
-taking delight in unexpected beauty
-feeling happy because others are happy
-feeling sad when others are hurt
-giving without counting the cost
-forgiving
-eager to learn
-curiosity
-looking up to others
-caring about others

These are a few thoughts that came to me over the past two days. These are not complete lists, I would be happy if others would add to them.

This was prompted by the question of why some people seem to shrink emotionally and spiritually as they come to their latter years, while others seem to keep on growing. It seems to me that the ability to keep on learning and to see and delight in little scenes of goodness and beauty keeps us from becoming stiff and brittle as we age.

As I write this there are signs all around that summer is dying. Leaves are turning colour and beginning to fall. There has been no frost yet, but that can’t be far away. Most green plants have stopped growing and will soon be dying. There is no need for us to do the same. May we find joy in living all the days that God gives us.

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