Here on the dry plains of Saskatchewan we haven’t had any significant rain for six weeks. The grass has turned brown; it’s not dead, but it’s not growing either. The trees are green and show no sign of stress. The difference? Grass roots are shallow and depend on surface moisture provided by rain; tree roots go deep, down to the water table.
The first Psalm says this of the person who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates upon it day and night: “he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
What do other people see when they look at Christians? Do they see people who are tired, withered, just hanging on to spiritual life? Or do they see people with a living, growing, vibrant faith? If we resemble grass rather than trees, is it any wonder that people do not find themselves drawn to our faith?
There is a great void in our world today, people feel a lack of hope, a lack of purpose, and they try to fill that void with things and activities that do not give them hope or purpose. We believe we have the answer, but it doesn’t seem that anyone is interested. Perhaps what we need is not better techniques of evangelism, but a revitalized faith in our own lives.
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8). Some folks think they are getting deep into the Word when they are really following a man-made interpretation of a small part of the Word and ignoring the rest. Such teachings are grass, they will fade and they provide no meaningful nourishment.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (1 Timothy 3:16). So let’s read it all, even the passages that are difficult, that trouble our hearts. Reproof and correction are necessary for spiritual growth and vitality.
To be revitalized we need to drink deeply of the water of life, the Word of God. Superficial reading won’t do it. Reading only brief, familiar passages in a haphazard way, never getting to know the context and the background of those passages, is like depending upon brief drizzles of rain. They won’t sustain us in the heat of the day.
May we appear as an oasis in the desert of this world, not just part of the arid landscape, but a sign of hope.
Agnes grew up 100 years ago on a farm in southwestern Saskatchewan. Her parents were members of a church which called itself Mennonite and worshipped in the German language. At home the family spoke a Low German dialect called Plautdietsch, and English. There were 14 children in the family, spaced about two years apart. Agnes was number six.
The church claimed to hold to the original Mennonite faith. In her teens Agnes memorized a summary of the teachings of that faith, a German catechism which dated from 1792 and the bishop baptized her. She was the only one in her baptismal class to memorize the whole catechism, yet they were all baptized. The catechism said that they needed to be born again to become Christians and eligible for church membership, but the bishop said nothing of that.
Agnes was the last child in the family to learn German. As time went on, she realized the church had nothing for her younger siblings. Really, it had nothing for her. The catechism told of a faith that had once been, might yet be in some other place, but had died in this church. All that remained were traditions that could only be taught in the German language.
The church was like a box with ornate German lettering claiming to be the faithful remnant of the ancient Mennonite faith. But when Agnes had opened the box, she found it empty. So she threw it away. She remembered what the catechism said about Christian life, but did not found that life in the box.
Agnes was my mother; I am my mother’s son. That is why I have never found the “Mennonite culture” to be attractive. I didn’t want the box, I wanted to find the faith. In my adult years I searched for a place where the ancient Mennonite faith was still a living thing, not just words in the ai in a language I couldn’t understand. And I found it.
[From a Waldensian writing dating from the year 1120. The historical belief of the Anabaptist-Waldensian-Mennonite faith is that Antichrist refers to a counterfeit of Christ.]
The first is that he perverts the worship properly due to God alone, by giving it to Antichrist himself and to his works, to the poor creature, rational or non rational, sensible or senseless; rational as to man, deceased male or female saints, golden images or relics. His works are the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist, which he worships as God and as Jesus Christ, together with the things blessed and consecrated by him, and prohibits the worship of God alone.
The second work of Antichrist is that he robs and bereaves Christ of His merits, with all the sufficiency of grace, justification, regeneration, remission of sins, sanctification, confirmation and spiritual nourishment, by attributing them to his own authority, to a form of words, to his own works, to the intercession of saints and to the fire of purgatory, and separates the people from Christ and leads them away to the things said above, that they may not seek those of Christ, nor by Christ, but only in the works of their own hands, and not by a living faith in God, nor in Jesus Christ, nor in the Holy Spirit, but by the will and works of Antichrist, according as he preaches that salvation consists in his works.
The third work of Antichrist is that he attributes the regeneration of the Holy Spirit to the dead outward work, baptizing children in that faith and teaching that regeneration must be had by baptism , and then he creates orders and other sacraments, and grounds them all in his Christianity, which is contrary to the Holy Spirit.
The fourth work of Antichrist is that he has constituted and built all religion and holiness of the people upon going to mass, and has patched together all manner of ceremonies, some Jewish, some Gentile, some Christian. He leads the congregations and the people to them, thereby depriving them of spiritual and sacramental nourishment, leading them away from true religion, from the commandments of God, draws them away from works of compassion by his offerings. By such a mass he has captured the people in vain hopes.
The fifth work of Antichrist is that he does all his works to be seen, that he may feed his insatiable avarice, that he may make all things for sale and do nothing without simony.
The sixth work of Antichrist is that he allows open sin without any ecclesiastical censure and does not excommunicate the impenitent.
The seventh work of Antichrist is that he does not govern or maintain unity by the Holy Spirit, but by the secular power, and uses it to regulate spiritual matters.
The eighth work of Antichrist is that he hates, persecutes , searches out, robs and destroys the members of Christ.
These things are the principal works which he commits against the truth, they being otherwise numberless and past writing down.