Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: love

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.

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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.

Is there any hope?

So many people want to save humanity. What do we need to be saved from? Who really knows? Is it the one who talks the loudest? Why does that person tell us it is a crime to allow those who disagrees with him to talk about their ideas? Is there any hope?

The Bible tells us that if we bite and devour each other, we will all be devoured. We cannot save humanity by fighting with each other. That is the devil’s game.

It is the devil who is behind every attempt to make us distrust and hate each other. If we want to make the world a better place, we must start by refusing to listen to the devil.

Jesus offers a better way. He came to help the sick, the suffering, the sorrowing and the brokenhearted and to offer hope to everyone. He says that we should love everyone and count no one as an enemy. Our true enemies are the devil and his dark angels.

Study the teachings of Jesus in the Bible. He wants us to forsake the ways of hatred and of doing things that hurt others. If we ask Him, He will give us a transformed heart and a new way of looking at life and at the people around us.

We can’t change the whole world, even governments have much less power to do that than we think. But we can do little things to help and encourage others. We can pray to God and ask Him to help others in need and to help our governments do what is best for all mankind. Those things will do more good than to defeat a government that isn’t doing what we think it should do.

We are able to do much more good than we think. Instead of saying “somebody really should do something,” why not be that somebody whenever we have the opportunity? If Jesus is directing our lives, He will show us little things to be done that will make a difference to someone. We shouldn’t keep a record of the good things we have done or boast of them to others. By doing these things we are laying up treasures in heaven, not working for an earthly reward.

It’s not hard to see that the world would be a better place if everyone would live the way that Jesus taught. Most people don’t. The only way to change that is to start with you and me. That is the only, and the best, hope for the world.

The breaking point

Dad and I had never been close; fear of his impatience and anger made me keep a safe distance. As I grew up the gulf between us widened and neither of us knew how to bridge it.

One Sunday in June of 1959 we were on our way home from church. I was driving, Mom was on the passenger side and Dad between us. Dad began berating me about some little thing that grew bigger and bigger as he spoke. His voice grew louder and his hands waved in agitation. Suddenly he was trying to wrest control of the steering wheel away from me. Then we were driving in the ditch, Dad shouting in incoherent rage. I broke his grip, pushed him away from the wheel, steered the truck back onto the highway and made it the rest of the way home.

Dad continued his tirade as we walked into the house. In the kitchen he grabbed a piece of firewood and began shouting that he was going to teach me a lesson I wouldn’t forget. A series of thoughts flashed through my mind: “I am 17, Dad is 67; I am as big as he is; I am as strong as he is; I can yell as loud as he can.” I reached down and picked up another piece of firewood, brandished it at him and bellowed back “I dare you to try it.”

Dad’s arm slowly went down, he put the wood back in the box beside the stove. “Next time I will teach you the lesson you need to learn.” I put my piece of wood back and went for a walk.

When I came back into the house Mom had dinner on the table and we all sat down. Dad said a prayer and we ate in strained silence.

I never knew what would trigger Dad’s anger and I doubt he did either. This was the first time he had completely lost control of himself and become violent. When I stood up to him, we knew we had each crossed a line and our relationship would never be the same.

My father was not an evil man. He meant well, but by the time his only child came along when he was 50 he didn’t have a clue how to teach me to be the son he wanted. All I ever wanted was a Dad who would love me and let me talk to him without fear.

Jesus as agent provocateur

Doesn’t it appear that Jesus deliberately did things that he knew would provoke the Pharisees to reveal their lack of compassion?

Jesus healed many people of their blindness; in some cases he touched their eyes, in other cases there was no physical contact, he simply declared them healed and they were. Why then did he make such a production out of healing the blind man in the incident recorded in the ninth chapter of the gospel of John? He spat on the ground, made mud and spread it on the man’s eyes and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. What was the point of that?

Well, it was the Sabbath. The work of making mud and spreading it on the eyes of the blind man was a violation of the Sabbath, at least in the eyes of the Pharisees.

Jesus went on his way and left the man to face the outrage of the Pharisees. It was not slow in coming: “This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day;” “We know this man is a sinner.” When the formerly blind man did not agree with that judgment, they excommunicated him from the synagogue. (“cast him out” verse 34).

Towards the end of the chapter, Jesus returns to talk with the formerly blind man, who now acknowledges him to be the Son of God. By this time he had seen what the Pharisees were really like, no doubt so had many of the bystanders.

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10).

The Pharisees were exceedingly zealous for the law, but could not get their heads around the idea that love had any place in fulfilling the law. They were sure that they had caught Jesus in flagrant violation of the law. In reality, He had snared them into revealing their lack of love.

In the end the Pharisees were so outraged by Jesus’ continual challenges to their authority that they raised a mob to demand that He be crucified. The crucifixion, rather than being the triumph of the Pharisees and the forces of darkness, was where they were defeated. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15).

Love is always subversive of the forces of evil.

Two shall become one

– But it’s easier said than done.

On Sunday, before God and 500 witnesses in our country church, a young man and a young woman said their vows, joined hands and were declared husband and wife. Our little church could not possibly hold 500 people, even with chairs in the aisles and all the way back to the doors. The rest of us sat outside in a large tent where we could peer at the open doors and get a small idea of what was going on inside. There was a speaker in the tent and the sound quality was excellent, except when it cut out for short periods of time for no discernible reason.  No matter, they are now married and embarked on a whole new adventure in life.

Marriage has unexpected consequences. It shows up things in our spouse, and ourself, that we were not aware of before. My wife found that the cool, laid back guy she married was pretty much a slob around the house. Dirty clothes were left wherever they landed when they came off. That was no problem in my single days, I would just sweep through the house on laundry day, gather them all up, sort them and wash them. That wasn’t so cool when there were two people in the house. As a bachelor, washing dishes was a once a week event. I had just enough dishes that there was no need to do it more often.

On the other hand, it seemed to me that when we planned to go somewhere my wife would start to get ready about the time I wanted to walk out the door. Then I would find something else to do while she was getting ready and when she was all set, she had to wait on me to do some last minute thing.

Before we married, we were both independent, with our own way of doing things. We found that it can’t be business as usual when two people are trying to build a life together. Things have to change. And change is not something that happens smoothly, naturally and effortlessly, even if you are very much in love. Sooner or later, you fall back into the old routine. How soon that happens often comes as a shock to your spouse.

We each had our mental picture of what our ideal wife or husband would be like. So when we found that the person we married didn’t really match that picture, we set about to help them change to better match our ideal. That is not the recipe for a peaceful and happy home. It took a long, long time, but eventually it dawned on me that the only person I could ever hope to change was myself.

Sometimes we learn from a bad example. At meal time during my childhood I occasionally heard my father say: “That doesn’t taste like mother used to make it.” I resolved that when I got married I would never say that.

Little by little, I have learned some of the things that my parents never taught me and I never heard in the churches I attended in my youth. There were things the preacher said at the wedding on Sunday that I wish I could have heard before I got married. But we were in a totally different setting; neither of us came from a home where we had the example this young couple had in their homes. Yet our marriage has survived for 46 years and we have the joy of being grandparents. There is so much joy that we would have forfeited if we had thrown in the towel during the rough spots.

 

Really Simple Theology

Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure,
having this seal,
The Lord knoweth them that are his.
And,
Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

Here in 2 Timothy 2:19 the Apostle Paul gives the ground rules for discerning whether or not I am a Christian.

The first rule is that salvation is not a one-sided transaction – it is not enough to say that I know God and that from now on I will be a Chriustian. The real question is “Does God know me?” Jesus warned that at the judgment there will be many who claim that they know Him and did many wonderful things in service to Him, yet He will reply “I never knew you.”

God calls, I respond, and if God sees that I have responded with all my heart, no reservations, he adopts me as His child. We will know when this happens. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). “And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (1 John 3:24).

The second rule is that I cannot go on living as I did before. “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27). “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him” (1 John 2:9-10) .

Theology can quickly become very complex, and sometimes it is merely an intellectual exercise that offers no real help in showing us how to truly live as a Christian. But if I have the Holy Spirit within me and love my neighnour as myself, I will not want to steal, lie, cheat or hurt anyone. Why make it more complicated than that?

What makes a church attractive?

Church attendance across Canada has been declining for years. Yes, there are new churches being built, some quite large. Many more are being torn down, or re-purposed. I suspect the majority of the people in our country have never set foot in a church. Nowadays, most weddings and funerals do not take place in a church. What would it take to change this decline?

Christian churches have always been engaged in helping widows and orphans, the poor and neglected. They called it charity, which means love, and most of it was genuinely motivated by love. A new idea came along – charity is demeaning to the poor. Churches could make themselves more meaningful by advocating for the government to take care of the poor, the sick, the needy. So now we have the nanny state, a security net to catch all those who fall, or are pushed, from the ranks of those who can care for themselves. But government agencies operate by rules and regulations and there is precious little love involved.

Meanwhile, people in droves have bailed out of the churches that advocated this system, feeling that if social reform is the important thing they can accomplish more through politics and other secular means. What these churches are really preaching is the gospel of money; and money can’t buy love, can’t buy happiness, can’t hold a church together.

More recently, many churches have re-jigged the way they do church in order to become more seeker friendly. This manifests itself in many ways – small, very informal groups with unstructured worship forms, all the way to mega churches with lots of pizzazz. Very often there will be coffee available before, during or after the service. New and different intrigues people for a while, eventually they weary of being fed only dessert, never a substantial meal. Is the gospel of new and different still the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The core of the gospel of Jesus Christ is: ” Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”

Isn’t this what people are longing for? How do we make our church more like this? The answer is that we can’t. The essence of a real, live, dynamic church is not in doing, but in being. We can try to persuade our church people to be more friendly, more welcoming, to care more about the people around them. These are all things they should do. But if the doing doesn’t come from a real love kindled in their heart by the Holy Spirit, their actions will cry out hypocrisy to all who see.

The ideal is a church where every member is keenly aware of God’s goodness, loves God with all his/her being and isn’t embarrassed to let others see that love. That means I need to start with myself and stop prodding others to do what I know I should do. None of us ever do things quite right, so we need to discern the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our brothers and sisters and not judge them by their awkwardness and clumsiness in following the Spirit. We need to love our neighbours enough to want them to know the same love and peace that we have.

If we try to do the things a real Christian should do, without being a real Christian, it will not work. If our goal is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength, we will find endless opportunities to do and say things that will demonstrate that love to others. The more of us who do that, the more attractive the church will be.

Gossip

Gossip. talk or news about the personal lives of other people that is often not kind or true.

The above definition comes from the Harcourt Brace Canadian Dictionary for Students, © 1997. I think this was the best school dictionary ever, but it is unfortunately out of print due to Thompson Corp buying up a whole bunch of Canadian textbook and dictionary publishers and merging them into one. I also think this definition is better than any definition in a dictionary for grownups.

Christians may be particularly prone to gossip. We care about each other and when we hear about some bad thing happening to a brother or sister we want to know if it is true. Whether or not that is gossip depends on who we ask. If we ask someone who probably knows no more than we do, or less, “Did you hear what happened to sister so-and-so?”, that is gossip. And it will surely spread and grow into an even bigger scandal.

If we ask the person supposedly involved, or someone close to her, that is not gossip. If we find that the story is true, we don’t need to talk to others about it, but we can, and ought to, pray. If we find the story is not true, then we have a responsibility to pass that news on to those who think it is.

I learned that lesson from a minister many years ago. A group of brethren were visiting after church and the main topic was the disrespect shown to a visitor in a far away congregation. The minister listened awhile, then spoke up “I heard those stories too, so I phoned the person who was supposed to be involved. It never happened.” The others took that in and decided that was not an interesting topic of conversation anymore.

Wouldn’t it do a lot to build love and unity among brothers and sisters if we would all pick up the phone when we hear such stories and ask what really happened. We will often be left wondering how such a baseless story got into circulation. Even if the story is more or less true, it is likely that some details got changed or added before the story got to us.

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