Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: obedience

To be a disciple

The Great Commission tells Christians to make disciples from all nations. In practice though, it seems many evangelical efforts have thought it sufficient to get a profession of faith from new believers, to make converts.

That’s only a beginning. If I stop at being converted, I am not sufficiently rooted and grounded in the faith to stand when faced with temptation or persecution. How is becoming a disciple different?

A disciple does not just want Jesus to be his Saviour, he wants Jesus to be Lord of his life. That goes beyond conversion to a full commitment—being willing to accept teaching and discipline from our Lord and Master.

That sounds like it will put a crimp in my free-wheeling lifestyle. In fact, it will put an end to my former lifestyle. Why can’t I have both? The peace and assurance of being a Christian, plus the fun and excitement of the way I used to live?

It doesn’t work. If I try to have it all, I wind up with nothing.

Jesus wants my full attention, my full allegiance. Perhaps that sounds painful, dull, boring.

Painful it may sometimes be, but following Jesus without reserve will not be dull and boring.

Being a disciple brings a different joy and excitement that I had known before. It brings assurance that my life, my future, is in the hands of a Master that knows the way ahead when I don’t have a clue what might be around the next corner.

Is there a greater thrill than to be a disciple of He who said: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth”?  When I don’t find it thrilling, the problem has always been in me, not in Him. If I follow Him at a distance, because of fear or doubt, I am not a disciple and Christian life isn’t very interesting.

Not a scary book

When Howard was converted, he knew there were a lot of differing ideas out there about what the Bible said. So, every time he sat down to read the Bible, he would pray first and ask God to help him understand correctly. When I met him some years later it was evident that God had honoured those prayers. Unfortunately, Howard also clearly understood that by the time I met him he was living in sin that the Bible condemned, and didn’t know what to do about it, or perhaps more correctly, didn’t want to know.

Still, if you find the Bible intimidating, prayer would be a good place to start. Understanding isn’t enough, though, as Howard had discovered. It would also be a good idea to pray after you read the Bible and ask God to help you be obedient to as much as you understood from His Word.

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God didn’t intend for the Bible to be a scary book. Can I say it that way? What I mean is that there should be times when the Bible speaks to us in a way that will frighten us out of our complacency and lukewarmness, but most of the time we will find it the most fascinating book we have ever read. It tells us that our life has a meaning, that God loves us, wants to have a conversation with us and has always battled the unseen powers that are against us.

Perhaps a little introduction to the structure of the Bible will help demystify it. The Old Testament began with Moses and reached its completion in the days of Ezra. Jewish synagogues still have the books of the Old Testament written on scrolls and those scrolls are arranged a little differently than how the same books appear in our Bibles. It may interest you to know that arrangement and the reasons behind it.

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The Jewish Scriptures are divided in three: first the Torah, the teachings, or the law – the books of Moses; then the Nevi’im, the Prophets; and lastly the Ketuvim (Writings). All together, they are referred to as the TaNaKh, an acronym of the first letters of each section.

When the New Testament refers to the law and the prophets it is referring collectively to the first two groups of scrolls. “It is written in the prophets” means that it is found somewhere in the group of scrolls called the Prophets.
Here are the divisions, I will elaborate a little more in the posts that follow:

Torah, or Law:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, all written by Moses.

The Prophets:
The former prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
The latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve (the minor prophets).

The Writings
Poetry and wisdom literature: Psalms, Proverbs, Job
History: Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah
Five special scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther.

You probably noticed that the books called the former prophets are books we think of as history and that the book of Daniel is grouped with the history scrolls rather than the prophets.

One other interesting point is that the last five scrolls listed were each read every year, and still are in synagogues, at specific festivals. The Song of Solomon was read at Passover; Ruth at Pentecost; Lamentations on the eve of the ninth of Av to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem; Ecclesiastes at the feast of Tabernacles; and Esther at Purim, the festival commemorating the deliverance of the Jews in Persia that is described in Esther.

What the Bible is all about

The Bible is not a story about good people versus bad people. It is a story of people that were created to be good and rather chose to be bad from the very beginning. From that point on it is a story of people who have been rescued from evil and those who still need to be rescued.

God created our first parents with the power to choose to obey Him or to choose to obey the temptation offered by the serpent. He knew the risk He was taking, but He never wanted us to be puppets, obeying Him only because we had no choice.

Satan and his dark angels have been at war with God since a time before the physical world was created. The first chapter of the book of Job shows the subtle way in which Satan works and God’s willingness to allow our devotion to Him to be tested. The end of the book shows how God bestows blessings upon us when we steadfastly resist everything that Satan uses to make us mistrust and deny God.

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The Old Testament is the history of God calling people to come apart from the wickedness of the world and follow Him. It is also a demonstration of how people were unable to maintain a life of faith. Step by step God was teaching how the things in which the ungodly trust will always lead to disaster. It was a lesson that usually didn’t stick from one generation to the next. The prophet Jeremiah described it well: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

There arose among the Jewish people a group who believed they had full understanding of the Word of God and of how God wanted people to live. They were considered to be experts in being faithful servants of God. They were called Pharisees, a name that denoted that they were separate from the ungodly and unbelieving.

When we come to the New Testament we see Satan and his forces using every weapon at their disposal to win mankind to their side. What does God offer to draw us to His side? A man who bled and died on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago.

Doesn’t sound like much of a contest does it? But that man was Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. His death on the cross laid bare the evil intentions of the forces of darkness. When Jesus spoke from the cross and said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He won a victory over Satan. Forgiveness is not in Satan’s vocabulary, not something he comprehends. Rather than moving God to obliterate mankind for ever, Jesus’ death on the cross made forgiveness available to us all.

Jesus did not stay dead, He rose to life the third day and lives today. The distinctive mark of New Testament followers of God is that the Holy Spirit is now given to every believer, not only to a few prophets and spiritual leaders. We can now have the power of God within us to identify and defeat the ruses of Satan.

The Pharisees knew the Word of God and endeavoured to be obedient in the minutest details. It would seem that they should have been the first to recognize Jesus as the long-promised Messiah. But their status as experts blinded them to the truth. Jesus told them: “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31).

It is still that way. Experts find it very difficult to be a Christian. They are too busy looking at how other people are doing everything wrong. Those who admit that they have been dishonest and immoral find they are welcome to come to Jesus. God wants sons and daughters who will trust Him in every aspect of their life. He wants to be obedient so He can lead us in a safe way and in the end bring us to be with Him in heaven.

The great lesson of the Bible is not just that through the blood of Jesus we can be forgiven, come away from the evil that is in the world and one day have a home in heaven. The part that we tend to miss, because we so much want to be experts, is that this is only possible on God’s terms, which we can only know by holding to His hand every step of the way.

How well do you know God?

How well do you know your neighbour? Perhaps you think you know quite a lot about him, but do you really know him? Do you know what makes him tick, what things motivate him, what things give him joy or sorrow? Do you know what he’d like to tell you about how you could be a better neighbour?

How well do you know God? Perhaps you read the Bible and pray every day. Do you hear God speaking when you do that, or is it just something a good Christian is supposed to do? Do you hear God telling you what He’d like to make of your life? Do you hear Him telling you about things He really wishes you would do differently?

When you read the Bible, are you just wandering to and fro, picking the prettiest flowers, the shiniest stones? Do you ever wonder why some people seem to find so much more? Or do people sometimes tell you something they say they found in the Bible and it just don’t seem right, but you don’t know how to find out for yourself?

Let’s start from square one: the goal of reading the Bible is not to learn nice stories about God; it is not to learn about the future: it is not to discover a set of rules to guide our life; it is not to equip ourselves to argue or debate with others. The only purpose for reading the Bible is to get to know its author and to know what He wants us to do here and now in this time and place in which we live.

It has always been the people who were small in their own eyes who accomplished the most for God. Noah spent 100 years building a huge boat. Do we understand how ridiculous that was? Water falling from the sky – that had never happened in the entire history of the world. Yet here was this old guy saying that God was going to send rain to wash the world of all the sin that was happening. I imagine the people scoffed at his foolish words and actions.

Finally the boat was built and stocked with food for all the people and creatures that would ride out the flood. Just more foolishness. Then the animals started coming to the ark. I suppose those who saw thought it strange, but what did it prove? Noah did not exclude anyone from coming into the ark to be saved, but finally God shut the door. And the deluge came. We know a lot about this foolish old man who built the ark, and nothing at all about those who perished in the flood, however great they may have been in their own eyes.

King Saul started out small in his own eyes, but the romance of being king soon began to grow on him. He didn’t come to a good end, either. It is still that way – those who develop a sense of how important and needful they are for the work of God, cease to be useful to God.

The vitality, the purity and the growth of the kingdom of God depends on the vitality, the purity and the growth in faith and obedience of each individual member of the kingdom. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Let’s read it all, chapter by chapter, book by book, the whole Bible, over and over. Let’s read it in bite-sized pieces so that we can grasp what is happening; let’s read the whole story in sequence so that we can grasp the context and see the larger picture.

Let’s read it prayerfully, asking God to reveal to us step by step what He wants us to see, what we need to see for this particular moment and place in time. As we do so, we will develop an acquaintanceship and a relationship with God that grows deeper all the time. He will reprove us, instruct us and encourage us, as long as we are obedient in each small step of the way.

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.

Saved through childbearing

And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety (1 Timothy 2:14-15).

These are Christmas verses. Here is why. In verse 14 and the first part of verse 15, the Apostle Paul speaks of the woman being in the transgression and the woman being saved in childbearing. I believe this speaks of two women, taken as the embodiment of all womankind. The first was Eve, by whose disobedience sin came into the world. The second was Mary, by whose obedience the remedy for sin came into the world.

Mary’s obedience has taken away the reproach that had fallen upon women by Eve’s disobedience. Through the birth of Jesus, the seed of the woman, the head of the serpent has been crushed (Genesis 3:15). 1 Timothy 2:15 switches from she to they after the comma. She refers to Mary as representative of all womankind, they refers to women as individuals and describes the evidence of salvation for each one.

Other attempts to explain these verses are not very satisfactory. The difficulty arises from extracting a verse or two from the Scripture and attempting to explain them without reference to the rest of Holy Writ. To suppose that the salvation of women depends on bearing children creates more questions than it answers. What about those who have never borne children? The idea that women’s lives will be spared during childbirth is just as problematic. What about faithful Christian women who did die in childbirth?

The explanation I have given follows that given by Daniel Whedon and Adam Clarke in their commentaries. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown and Matthew Henry only hint at it. (Matthew Henry had finished his commentary to the end of the Acts of the Apostles when he died suddenly of a stroke. The commentaries on the remaining books of the New Testament were done by thirteen other writers.)

Did Moses speak with a stutter?

We know the story. Moses was an Israelite child raised by an Egyptian princess. After he had lived as a prince for 40 years. He fled Egypt after an unfortunate incident and spent the next 40 years as a Midianite shepherd. Now God was asking him to go back to the Israelite people, speak to Pharoah on their behalf, and lead them out from of their bondage. Moses pleaded with God to send someone else, because he couldn’t speak clearly. Some say the problem was a stutter. What does the Bible say?

“And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). This is the verse that leads many to believe that Moses had a speech impediment of some sort. But consider the following verse from the speech of Stephen before the Sanhedrin: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22).

“Mighty in words” does not seem to be a description of a man who stuttered and stammered and could hardly get his words out. Josephus says of Moses that he was made a general and led the Egyptian army to a great victory. Does that sound like a man who had trouble speaking clearly? As we follow the account in Exodus, it does not appear that Moses had any difficulty in speaking to Pharoah.

What then was his problem? Remember that Moses had been raised by his parents until he was weaned. Then he became an Egyptian and later a Midianite. It is probable that he spoke both those languages without difficulty. At the age of 80, he no doubt still have retained some of the rudiments of the Hebrew tongue, but he could hardly have been fluent in that language. And here God was asking him to go back and present himself to the Hebrew people as their deliverer! Why should they believe him when he could hardly speak their language?

Finally God asked “Who hath made man’s mouth? ” There was no way out for Moses, God was telling him to go. And it worked. He relied on the help of his brother Aaron when he first met with the Israelite people, but it appears that he was soon speaking to them on his own.

Moses was the right man for the job God was asking him to do. He knew all the ins and outs of the Egyptian culture and government. He was a natural leader. But he needed those forty years of watching the sheep in the wilderness to temper his character so that he would be able to lead the Israelite people through that same wilderness.

God knows our abilities and our weaknesses, all the things we have been through in life, all the mistakes we have made. If we are willing, He can take all the lessons that we have learned so painfully and use them for the benefit of others in His kingdom. But we must not run ahead of God as Moses did when he killed the Egyptian and then had to flee. We should rather wait patiently on God and let Him show us the times and the places where we can  serve Him. Then, when He does prompt us to do something, we should not make excuses.

Disconnected

We don’t have a furnace in our mobile home. Where it once was, there is now a heat exchanger that takes heat from a hot water line that comes from our neighbour’s coal-fired boiler. A furnace fan mounted above the heat exchanger sends warm air through the duct work to heat the house.

A few evenings ago we heard strange noises from this apparatus. I took a look and found that an old stove pipe had worked its way down and was touching the electric motor of the fan. I turned the system off, worked that stove pipe out of the way, turned the switch back on and went to bed. The next morning the heat did not come on. I checked the programmable thermostat and it was calling for heat. Then I looked at the heating apparatus and at first all looked to be in order. Then I saw a little black wire dangling loose; there was a little connector on the end that looked like it might go with another connector on a switch box. I pushed the two together and we had heat.

I began wondering if there is sometimes a disconnect like this in my spiritual life. The warmth, the power, is right there, ready to be used. I want it, but nothing is happening. It must be that a connection is missing somewhere.

Perhaps I became frustrated and upset at someone, lost my temper and said words that I regret, but I haven’t been willing to apologize to this person.

Or perhaps someone did or said something that hurt my feelings and I am brooding over it. The other person probably has no idea that his action caused me any problem, but I just can’t forgive him and let it go.

Perhaps I felt the Spirit asking me to do something and I just wasn’t willing to do it.

All of these things, and many others, interrupt our connection to God and we find our spiritual life cooling off. We know there is a problem somewhere, but we are not able or willing to look where the problem really lies and make the correction needed. And when our spiritual life cools off because of disobedience in small things, we are more apt to give in to the bigger temptations, because there just doesn’t seem to be much benefit in trying to live a Christian life anyway.

That is why it is important to look after the small things as soon as we become aware that something isn’t working as it should in our Christian life.

 

The true signs by which the Church of Christ may be known

1. By an unadulterated pure doctrine. Deuteronomy 4:6, 5:12; Isaiah 8:5; Matthew 28:20; Mark 16:15; John 8:52; Galatians 1

2. By a Scriptural use of the sacramental signs. Matthew 28:19; Mark 16; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:22,23

3. By obedience to the Word. Matthew 7; Luke 11:28; John 7:18, 15:10; James 1:22

4. By unfeigned brotherly love. John 13:34; Romans 13:8; 1 Corinthians 13:1; 1 John 3:18, 4:7,8

5. By a bold confession of God and Christ. Matthew 10:32; Mark 8:29; Romans 10:9; 1 Timothy 6:13

6. By oppression and tribulation for the sake of the Lord’s Word. Matthew 5:10, 10:39, 16:24, 24:9; Luke 6:28; John 15:20; 2 Timothy 2:9, 3:12; 1 Peter 1:6, 3:14, 4:13, 5:10; 1 John 3:13

-Menno Simons, 1554 AD

I didn’t get the message

elevator-48615_1280Way back when I was still single, some time before 1970, I was living alone in a little Saskatchewan town and running a grain elevator. Well, I wasn’t completely alone — there was a cat sharing the house with me. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that there would have to be a cat in the picture.

I was sound asleep one night when the yowling of the cat penetrated the fog of sleep. My first thought was that she was hungry, but no, her food dish was full. I stumbled around the house, turning lights on and off, even turning on the outside light and peering out at my pickup just a few feet from the door. There was nothing unusual anywhere and the cat didn’t seem upset anymore, so I stumbled back to bed, muttering “stupid cat.”

I should have known better. The next morning I got up, had breakfast and drove to the grain elevator, opened the doors, unlocked the office and walked in. I happened to glance out the office window and stopped in my tracks. There on the front of my pickup was a British Columbia license plate. I wrote down the number and called the RCMP. Now I understood what the cat had been trying to tell me — someone was messing around just outside my door. No doubt he had left quickly when I turned the lights on.

The police informed me a couple days later that they had caught up with the guy at Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, with my licence plate still on the car that he had stolen in B.C. It took my neighbour across the street a few more days to discover the matching B.C. licence plate on the back of his car.

I wish I could say that I have always gotten the message when the Holy Spirit tried to get my attention. To my regret, I have often let His warnings and the gentle prompts pass me by. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what He was saying, but it seemed too hard a thing for me to do and I persuaded myself that I must have misunderstood.

Ignoring the cat usually doesn’t have serious consequences. I have slowly learned that when the Spirit speaks it pays to trust that the message is important and to obey, even if what He asks is not at all what I want to do.

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