Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: love

Fifty years ago

It is 50 years since the Jesus people movement began in California. It followed close on the heels of the Summer of Love, that brief period in time when disillusioned young people believed they had found the solution to all the world’s problems. “All you need is love” by the Beatles was their theme. They gathered in San Francisco, wearing tie-dyed clothes and flowers in their hair, smoking pot and dropping acid, strumming guitars and loving everybody. This was the dawning of a new age of peace and love.

Somehow it didn’t quite work out. A lot of girls soon discovered they were pregnant with no means of support. There was an explosion of std’s, money ran out, a few had their minds truly blown, love began to come apart at the seams.

Amidst the crushing disillusion, some began to discover Jesus and found Him to be what they had been looking for all along. Suddenly there were young people everywhere, still looking like hippies, but toting Bibles and ready to talk to anyone about Jesus. And they were serious, the Bible had the answers to life, sin was real and needed to be repented of. That was how you found genuine love for everyone around you.

The movement spread like wildfire. In 1970 a rebellious young man from a small town in Manitoba found Jesus in the streets of Vancouver. Now he was troubled about the things he had done back home, acts of vandalism, stealing gas from farm yards and disrespect for parents and elders. His new Jesus people friends told him he had to go home and make those things right. So he did.

As he went through the community confessing the wrongs he had done and doing his best to make them right, all the while talking of his new found faith in Jesus, it caused quite a stir. He was back attending the church he had grown up in and other young people began to find Jesus and set about making right the wrongs they had done.

The pastor welcomed this enthusiasm for gospel truth and did his best to encourage it. He had Bible studies with the young people and they began to hold Wednesday night coffee house meetings in town, open to young people from near and far, where they sang the songs that were coming out of the Jesus people movement and shared their testimonies.

I was born again in the spring of 1970 and married that summer. In the summer of 1971 my wife and I began to attend this church. We were enthused by the love of Jesus and the Bible shown by these youth and the genuine changes taking place in their lives. I was a little older, but also a new believer and felt a kindred spirit in most of them.

There was just one little niggling doubt. Not about the whole movement, but about a few who seemed to go along just because this was the big thing, not because they had a genuine personal faith. The pastor didn’t seem to be able to discern the difference. Nothing that couldn’t have been corrected with the help of more seasoned older Christians.

Instead of that, the congregation fired the pastor. The enthusiasm of the youth was too frightening for them. The pastor moved on to a church a few miles away, the youth followed and so did we. The lack of discernment became more evident.

I have no doubt that the Jesus People movement as a whole was a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. But churches were woefully unprepared to welcome and guide the new believers. Some were appalled, some were willing to accept everyone without discernment. An untold number of people truly met Jesus through this movement, some fell away but the majority went on to live sanctified Christian lives.

Churches today are back where they were 50 years ago. Young people are disillusioned, leaving the churches in droves to seek fulfilment elsewhere. Is it possible that history might repeat itself? Why is it so hard to transmit faith from one generation to the next?

Jesus made two statements that seem contradictory, but really are not. In Luke 9:49-50 we read: “And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Evidently Jesus has no problem with people outside of His immediate circle working in his name. Then we shouldn’t either.

But a little later He said: “ He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth” (Luke 11:23). The New Testament picture of the church is a functioning body of which Jesus is the head. Scattered body parts, each interpreting the directions from the head according to their own understanding, cannot be the church.

The immediate baptism of all who professed faith in Jesus was a fundamental weakness among the Jesus people, leading to the fragmentation of the movement. The New Testament pattern is that new believers need to be taught before they are baptized, to ensure that they have genuinely met Jesus and are following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The pattern in Anabaptist churches has been that new believers need to tell their experience to a congregation of believers. When the congregation can say “Yes, we believe this person has truly met the Lord and we have seen the evidence that he or she is walking with Him daily,” then baptism means something. The acceptance and care of fellow believers is essential to maintaining genuine Christian faith and life.

A recent Canadian study shows that young people are more apt to maintain their faith after they leave home if they had had a meaningful relationship with adult believers other than their parents. Where else is this possible but in a congregation of true believers?

25 Flavours of Mennonites

When we lived in Ontario it would happen from time to time that someone I had just met would ask me what kind of Mennonite I was. “Does your church allow cars? electricity? telephones?”

I knew these questions arose because there were at least 25 flavours of Mennonites within a 100 km radius of where we lived and for many of them things of this nature were a big issue. I would gladly have avoided these questions because I couldn’t see what they had to do with being Christian, which should be the most essential part of being a Mennonite.

People were curious and they didn’t know where else to start. It was so easy to answer the questions and wander down a rabbit trail that didn’t lead anywhere, leaving the questioner no wiser than when he started and leaving me feeling that I’d failed to say anything really helpful.

What I wanted to say was that the way we use the things available to us in this world can reveal something about our relationship with God. But making rules about things results in a group that is impressive in their outward unity, but does not ensure that they have a relationship with God. It does not even ensure that the members trust one another; sadly, the unity is often only apparent to outsiders.

What I wanted to say was that the essence of Christianity is to be filled with love, joy, peace and all the other qualities described as the fruit of the Spirit. To do that, it is often necessary to avoid things that will feed our pride. Pride is a sneaky thing that tries to enter our lives in so many ways that no amount of rules could ever cover them all. We must each deal with pride on a personal level.

What I wanted to say was that the making of rules provides fertile ground for thinking that I am doing a better job of following the rules than others. That feeds my pride and a critical, suspicious attitude towards others. That would be to head in altogether the wrong direction.

What should I have said? What would you say? What are your questions about being Mennonite?

How can killing make the world better?

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It’s in all the news media  today. A man in Pittsburgh believed the world would be a better place without Jews and this morning he did his part to make it happen.

This seems to be a time-honoured tradition; if you can’t handle your own problems then blame them on somebody else and try to eliminate that somebody else.

Yeah, I said time-honoured; that doesn’t mean I think it’s honorable. It’s a sign of a troubled mind and it’s been going on far too long. The world cannot be made better by hatred and killing. No individual’s life can be made better by acting out his hatred and killing people.

There is an example in the Old Testament that doesn’t involve hatred, just the muddled idea that killing can make things better. Benjamin was a captive in Egypt; Reuben told his father “Trust me. I’ll bring back my little brother. And if I don’t, you can kill my two sons.”

I’m a grandfather, will someone please explain to me how I could be comforted for the loss of a child by the loss of two of my grandchildren? Does that make sense to anyone? Jacob didn’t seem to be impressed either.

Hatred and killing don’t make things better, they only lead to more hatred and killing. Jesus said “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” He didn’t invent that teaching, He was quoting from the Law given to Moses; the original is found in Leviticus 19:18.

There are two things we can do as individuals to make this world a better place. First is to face our own problems, take responsibility for them and take charge of our own life. The second is to love others, not only in our thoughts but in our actions.

My sympathy to all those who have been hurt by the events in Pittsburgh this morning.

Reality

  1. This is my Father’s world. I did not ask to be here. I cannot choose to be in another world. This is it and I may as well make the best of it.
  2.  I am made in my Father’s image. Even though I am earthly, like the animals, with all the capacity for savagery that entails, I am also a spiritual being, able to know and communicate with my Father, with all the wonderful possibilities that provides.
  3.  This world, this life, is not all there is. Voices are coming to me from beyond this world, alluring me to discontent, envy, anger, rebellion. Other voices, softer voices, urge me to love and be loved. My destination after this life depends on which voices I choose to listen to and obey.

This is reality. I may wish it wasn’t like that; I may choose to believe that it is not like that. But in the end, I cannot escape reality. Denying reality will not make me happy, now or ever. Happiness is only to be found in living in this world as it really is, not as it may appear to be or as I would wish it to be. Happiness is to be found in living to make others happy, not just in looking out for myself.

There are people around me who do not accept reality – many people, probably most of the people I meet. They show it by their attitudes, the way they choose to live their lives. Yet underneath the mask there is still a person made in the image of the Father. A person who is sometimes capable of great acts of kindness, a person who might be touched by the kindness of others.

It is not up to me to unmask them, or tear off their anti-God armour, only the Father Himself can do that. Words and acts of love and kindness will do more good than cutting words of criticism. They are receiving altogether enough criticism already. And underneath that hard shell there is still the image of the Father and the realization that their rebellion against Him is not working out as they thought it would.

To show love and kindness is not to accept their rebellion against the Father. It is to show them that genuine happiness is found when we are ready to live the life that the Father made us for.

A time to learn

Suddenly, almost unexpectedly, we were parents. We placed our baby into the blanket lined oval laundry basket on the seat between us and drove home.

Up to this point we had thought we knew all about how to raise a child. What we really had were strong ideas about the mistakes our parents had made and a determination not to repeat them. Well, life happens and you don’t have time to think about how you are going to react. It didn’t take long to realize we were making some of the mistakes that we had resolved to never make. But we were learning – about raising a baby and about ourselves.

The ideal age to become parents is somewhere between the stage where you feel completely helpless and the stage where you feel you have all the answers and it’s the baby’s fault if she doesn’t fit those answers.

We loved Michelle from the start. She wasn’t a difficult child and we weren’t totally incompetent parents. But the learning curve was pretty steep. “Love covers the multitudes of sins.” I believe that when a child feels loved the parent-child relationship will survive the mistakes of the parents. And we certainly did make mistakes.

When Michelle was about three months old, we noticed a bulge in her groin when she cried. We took her to the doctor who confirmed that it was a hernia. She had surgery to fix the hernia and was only in the hospital a few days. The hospital was in Carman, about 15 minutes away. I was busy at work, but Chris spent time with Michelle every day. I guess we, I, should have done more.

Chris’s birthday came March 27, when Michelle was five months old. We left her with Nancy, a friend from church, and went into Winnipeg to have dinner together. We had an enjoyable day, but when we got back we found that Nancy and Michelle had not. Every time Michelle saw Nancy’s face she began to scream. The only way Nancy could feed Michelle was to hold her so that she was facing away from her.

Several weeks later we went to the Polo Park Mall in Winnipeg to do some shopping. As soon as we walked in and Michelle saw all the people she began to scream. We went out until she settled down, then tried again, with the same result. For the rest of our day in town one of us would sit in the car with Michelle while the other shopped. After that day she seemed to trust that we weren’t going to abandon her again and there were no more incidents like that.

After a hot day in the summer we drove to Syl’s Ice Cream shop in Carman and bought milkshakes. There was some left in mine after we got home and I decided to see what Michelle would do with it. I put the container in her hands and the straw to her lips. She looked dubious. What is this thing? She started to suck on the straw and I watched the liquid rise slowly to the top. When it hit her mouth, the dubious look vanished and she began to suck on that straw in earnest. She was about nine months old.

And then we were three

“Herb and Hilda are applying to adopt a baby,” Chris announced one day. Herb and Hilda were a young couple around our age in the Lowe Farm church. That simple bit of news started wheels turning in our minds. We wanted a family and so far there was no sign of that happening. Adoption had never entered our minds, but now that it had it began to grow on us.

The first turn of the wheel was to find out where to apply. We filled out the initial application and were invited to attend orientation sessions in Portage la Prairie. I believe there were three or four evening sessions, one per week.

My understanding had been that adoption was all about finding a child to match the parents. The first thing we learned was that the Children’s Aid Society of Central Manitoba didn’t think that was a good idea. “When children are born into a home they vary in size, eye colour, personality and so on. Why should we try to do better than what nature does?”

They told us it was best if we didn’t know too much about the adoptive child’s background. “If you know all about the father and mother, uncles and aunts, when the child misbehaves you are apt to think he is just like his uncle and feel that there is nothing you can do about it. You need to feel that the child you adopt is your child and it is up to you to deal with any problems that arise.” This was a whole new thought to us, but they had research to back it up and it made sense.

One evening the topic was interracial adoptions. Some parents asked “But won’t a child of a different skin colour have a hard time adapting to living among white people?” The social worker answered “Are you concerned about the child or yourself? A child of a different skin colour is going to be surrounded by mostly white people, no matter who her parents are.”

After attending those meetings we had to fill out the official application to adopt. This required information about income, the size of our home, and also asked for references. One question on that application was cause for soul searching. It asked what our racial preference was. We looked at that question and felt we needed to pray before answering it. After the prayer we knew that the only answer that we could feel at peace about was to check the box that said “no preference.”

Once the application was accepted we had a home visit by a social worker. We were told that the waiting list was several months long, but we should start getting together the things that we would need to care for a baby in our home.

One of the things we would need was a crib and there was a used crib available in a town not far away. When Chris was in the process of buying the crib, another lady came along just a bit too late. The other lady was obviously nearing the point where the crib would be a necessity. Chris presented no such appearance, but we really would be needing that crib before the other lady.

The call came far sooner than we had anticipated. There was a baby girl available, were we interested? We were ready. We didn’t know what changes a child would bring to our lives, or how we were going to cope, but we were ready to embark on that adventure.

We drove to Portage la Prairie. The social worker told us the girl was part Scandinavian and about one eighth indigenous (back then they said Indian) ancestry and we were the only applicants who had indicated that we would accept a child who was not 100% white. Then she led us into a small room, brought in the baby and left us alone with her. She was sound asleep, wrapped up in a blanket. All we could see was her face, short dark hair on her head and her tiny hands. We took turns holding her. When the social worker came back to ask what we had decided, we knew that we did not want to hand her back.

There were a few more papers for us to sign and then the three of us were on our way home, our lives forever changed. We named our daughter Michelle Marie. She was 15 days old when she came into our home.

Memories of a Bridge Builder

My mother was born to a family that spoke Plautdietsch at home and German in church. Those languages, sometimes called Low German and High German, were meant to be a protective wall, preventing folks of that heritage from feeling at home with the people around them. They also served to exclude the people around them from their churches and hopefully from their families.

Mom spoke only Plautdietsch until she started school; there she learned German and English. As she neared adulthood, she memorized the German catechism and was baptized, becoming a member of the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church.

Schools stopped teaching German; the church held German classes for the children one winter and stopped. Mom’s eight younger siblings never learned German, thus understood nothing of the Bible reading, preaching or hymns in church. Many of them didn’t bother to attend. Mom began to ponder how the language in which the Christian message was preached could be more important than the Christian message itself.

She listened to Christian messages in English on the radio and learned many English hymns. In 1935 her sister Katherine married Art Goodnough and Mom began to get acquainted with the Goodnough family. In 1940 she married Walter, Art’s older brother. I was born in 1942, the only child of Walter and Agnes.

When I was a very small child Mom would occasionally use a Plautdietsch word or two. But she had cast her lot with the mainstream English-speaking Canadian society and she was a determined woman. She studied her dictionary and built an English vocabulary that was more extensive than most people around her. She completely lost her Low German accent.

When we moved to Craik she joined the Anglican Church Women’s group and the Hospital Auxiliary and built relationships with the other ladies of the community. Despite having had only six years of schooling, she was my first and best teacher. She was interested in my school work and always wanted to get to know my teachers.

She had no prejudices that I ever discerned. Colour of skin and ethnic background were not barriers to her. She occasionally expressed a wish that she could have learned French when she was younger. She never forgot Plautdietsch and German, but they were of no value to her any more, except in visiting with some of her family.

Since I was her only child, Mom determined that she would accept and love whoever I would decide to marry. She carried through on that and she and Chris became very close. She loved her only granddaughter and that love was returned. Mom was already past 90 when Michelle was expecting her first child; Michelle told her Grandma before she told her parents.

Mom was a bridge builder, not a builder of walls. That is the legacy that she has left for us to cherish and continue.

Fire Road – a book review

FIRE ROAD – The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness and Peace, by Kim Phúc Phan Thi.

June 8, 1972, a nine-year-old girl had the clothes burned off her back by napalm during the Vietnam war. The photo taken by AP photographer Nick Ut won him a Pulitzer Prize and became one of the most iconic news photos of the twentieth century.

This is the first person account of the girl in the picture.  To his immense credit, Nick Ut gathered up the children burned by the napalm and drove them to a hospital in Saigon. Kim Phúc was the most badly burned and doctors doubted that she could be saved.

But survive she did. When she started university, news got out around the world that she was still living and reporters began coming to Vietnam wanting to meet and interview her. The communist government seized upon this as a propaganda opportunity.  Kim Phúc did not understand the words interpreters spoke in foreign languages when she answered the interview questions but realized they were not repeating what she had said, but telling a story that the communist officials wanted the world to believe.

These interviews came several times a week and prevented her from continuing her university studies. She finally got permission to go to Cuba to continue her studies. There she met Toan, a Vietnamese man and they married. They could only go to another communist country for their honeymoon, so they chose Moscow. The choice was not made because of the appeal of a trip to Moscow, but because Kim Phúc had no intention of returning to Cuba, or any other communist country.

She had learned that the return flight from Moscow to Havana would make a refuelling stop at Gander, Newfoundland. The passengers all disembarked from the plane into the terminal at Gander. Kim Phúc didn’t know what to do next, who she could trust. After some time, she decided to pray; when she opened her eyes she saw a door that she had not noticed before, leading into a narrow hallway. She knew this was the way she had to go. She took her husband’s hand, went through the door and soon came to an office where an official said “Welcome to Canada.”

Doctors have done all they can to lessen the effects of the brutal scarring on Kim Phúc’s back and arm, but she still lives every day with pain. The emotional pain she suffered was even worse. Her family, like most South Vietnamese, were devotee’s of the Cao Dai religion. She found no help, no solace in this religion. While still in school she met a Vietnamese Christian minister and found peace and strength to face her problems through faith in Jesus Christ.

Toan and Kim Phúc have become Canadian citizens, they are parents of two grown sons and now grandparents. She has speaking engagements around the world to tell her story of hope, that the only way to peace is forgiveness and love, which is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. Her story will move you, perhaps even change your life.

FIRE ROAD, © 2017 by Kim Phúc Phan Thi, published by Tyndale Momentum, Carol Stream, Illinois.

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.

Looking for real Mennonites

All I learned about Mennonites while I was growing up was that my mother had been one and had left because the German language was more important than the faith and that my grandma, a dear sweet old lady, was one and wanted me to learn German so I could be a Christian.

Perhaps there was one more thing. My mother, though no longer member of a Mennonite church, seemed to have carried some of the faith in her baggage when she left. There was something about her that was more peaceful and attractive than the argumentative faith of my father.

In my mid twenties I decided I wanted to know more about Mennonites. This was half a century ago, long before you could go to your computer and ask google to find the information you wanted. Encyclopedias offered a little information, but I wasn’t sure they were getting it right. So I bought a book, probably more than one, I forget.

As I read Mennonite history I discovered a group of people who truly believed in God, who loved God, knew they were loved by God, and believed God wanted them to love everyone else. For some reason the state churches believed such a faith was subversive and persecuted the Mennonites. The Mennonites treasured their faith more than their homes, material possessions, even their lives. They were burnt at the stake and kept telling the bystanders about the love of God as long as they had breath.

I read about a time when soldiers seized a stock of books written by Menno Simons and were about to burn them in the town square. Several daring men began grabbing books from the pile and passing them to the bystanders, who immediately fled. It all happened so quickly that the few soldiers present were unable to prevent it and were left with almost nothing to burn.

There had been a power in that faith that I longed for. I knew there were many kinds of Mennonites in our province and hoped that somewhere I could find that old faith sill living.

I got up early one Sunday morning, dressed in my best clothes and drove into a nearby city to attend a Mennonite service. I was impressed by the simplicity of the non-liturgical service, don’t remember anything about the sermon, but hoped to learn more about this church. However, it appeared that I was an invisible person. One or two people nodded to me as we left that service, but none appeared interested in the stranger in their midst. I tried again several weeks later, with the same result.

I still thought that the faith I had read about must surely exist somewhere, but I gave up looking until after I was married. We experienced more disappointments and came to realize that most churches that called themselves Mennonite had no idea what the name meant. But we still kept looking.

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