Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: joy

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.]

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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.

What are the signs that someone is a Christian?

A brother asked that question Sunday evening — a couple of verses of Scripture came immediately to mind, and more have come since that tine. I will put those thoughts down on the computer screen. I believe they give a good picture of what should characterize a true Christian, and while I acknowledge that it is not given to us to know the heart of another person yet the Bible says “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

The first sign is love, love to God and love to our fellow men. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35) He also told us to love our neighbour as ourselves and when He was asked “Who is my neighbour?”, He told a story that had as its hero a man that the questioner would have felt duty-bound to despise. In other words, if we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ there should not be anyone whom we cannot love. And this love is the best outward evidence of our love to God.

Next would be the fruit of the Spirit. If we claim to be a child of God and to have received the Holy Spirit, then the way we live and the way we react to the people and situations we encounter should demonstrate not only love, but also joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness and all the other qualities mentioned. The Scriptures (Galatians 5:22-23 & Ephesians 5:9) do not speak of fruits, as though we could pick some and not the others, but of a singular fruit which has all these characteristics.

Another sign is that a Christian will not be in love with the world and the things of the world (1 John 2:15-17), nor will his way of thinking be patterned after the thinking and spirit of the times in which he lives (Romans 12:2).  There should be clear evidence of submission to the will of the Lord: “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)

Thus if we meet someone who appears to be on fire for the Lord and filled with joy, yet also exhibits a passionate love for the things of the world and a craving for the approval of the world, there are some legitimate questions which need to be asked.

Likewise, if we encounter someone who is very scrupulous in his avoidance of anything which could be considered worldly, yet is openly critical of all who do not live as he does, we need to enquire if there is a genuine, active, connection to God.

Would to God that all those who name the name of Christ could be truly filled with the joy of the Lord, love for everyone they meet, have no attachment to earthly things, and never be troubled by the thought that this makes them better than other people.

Context for apologetics

Happy are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12).

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)

If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. (1 Peter 4:14).

But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;  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: (1 Peter 3:14-15).

These verses describe the context in which we are apt to be called upon to give an answer (apologia) for the hope that is in us. It is when we encounter persecution, slander, reproaches and trials and we are able to maintain an attitude of peace, joy and happiness. That is sure to cause some questions. Perhaps they will not all be expressed, and some might even question our sanity, But if our attitude of happiness and joy is genuine and lasting it will bring questions.

Happiness that is put on as a mask will not have the same effect. The mask will eventually slip; in many cases it will be obvious from the beginning that it is phony. My wife and I attended the wedding of one of her friends, the preacher had a big grin pasted on his face through the whole proceedings. My wife finally leaned over and whispered, “I bet he would wear that same stupid grin if he were preaching a funeral service.”

Our happiness must be the genuine thing, a supernatural happiness that is the gift of the Holy Ghost, or we will have no answer to give. We are not apt to be questioned about our hope either if we do not have a genuine and living hope.

Thus the primary qualification for doing apologetics is to be a real Christian. And if we are a real Christian, we do not have to fear being asked a reason of the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear. Note those last words that the apostle adds. It is not up to us to convince someone by the force of our arguments; we only have to speak of that which we have received from God, with gentle assurance.

The circle of God’s love

Ma says the greatest mistake in the world is the notion some people get that outside of God’s laws there is freedom.  She says that the only real freedom to be found on the earth is within the circle of His laws, and as soon as one steps outside of that circle, he finds himself in another circle that gradually closes in upon him, closer and closer till all the joy is squeezed out of his life and out of the thing he went outside to enjoy.  But God’s circle widens and widens to hold all your happy times, and add happy times unto them, and keep them for you forever.

[This is a repeat of a post from February 6, 2013, excerpted from When I Was Thirteen, copyright the estate of Christina Young Plumb.  It is the diary of a thirteen year old girl in south-western Ontario at the end of the nineteenth century.]

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