Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: peace

The threefold purpose of the church

As I read the New Testament, the evidence accumulates that there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church. Each of these purposes is connected to, and dependent upon, the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

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1. To Glorify God
The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others.

2. To be a safe place for God’s people
The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others.

3. To make new disciples in our home communities and in all the world
The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The Great Commission says to teach, make disciples of, all nations. Proclaiming the gospel is only the beginning. When those who here are converted, that is still the preliminary stage of fulfilling the mission Jesus has given to us. New converts need the help of seasoned Christians to discern if a new life has sprung up within them, or merely a desire for a new life. They need teaching, support and encouragement as they forsake their old pathways and learn to walk with Jesus. We all need the support of genuine believers all through our Christian life.

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

Peacemakers

We took a trip yesterday to visit my cousin Paul We being my wife and I plus our daughter and her husband. Somehow Michelle and Ken have never met Paul, although he and his wife live only two and a half hours away.

Maybe it’s because we older cousins mostly meet and visit at funerals. Our last uncle passed away at the beginning of the month, at the age of 95. I guess his children have had very little contact with the extended family and didn’t know how many nephews and nieces would want to say their good-byes at a funeral. So they didn’t have a funeral.

My wife suggested a couple weeks ago that we should take that day we would have spent going to a funeral in Alberta and go visit cousin Paul and his wife instead. Ken & Michelle were interested, so yesterday was the day.

Paul and Vivian have lived on their farm in the South Saskatchewan River valley for forty years. They had a herd of registered Simmental cattle grazing on the hills and raised chemical free hay on irrigated land in the valley. Some years ago they cut back on the farming operation and began to operate a guest ranch. Since they live beside the river and Paul had never used pesticides or herbicides on his land they have an amazing variety of bird life that appealed to nature lovers.

Now they have sold most of their land and quit the guest ranch business. But Paul hasn’t quite got farming out of his blood yet. He has built up a small herd of registered Texas Longhorn cattle and  has a few Appaloosa horses.

Paul is 77, a year older than me, and has accumulated a lifetime of stories. I’ll just repeat one I heard for the first time yesterday. One day when Paul was 11 or 12 his best friend, a peace-loving boy, came to school with a full package of chewing gum in his pocket and proceeded to give sticks away to the other boys. When it was all gone, one more boy came around the corner of the school and asked for a stick. When he was told there was no more he punched Pal’s friend in the mouth, splitting his lip and knocking him to the ground. Paul helped him get up and then started out to catch up with the attacker and teach him a lesson. His friend caught him by the arm and said “You’ll not get into a fight on my behalf.” According to Paul, his friend maintained that peace-loving attitude all his life.

I remember a story my mother told years ago about Paul’s parents. Uncle Hank, my mother’s oldest brother, had always admired his uncle’s farm and yearned to have a farm just like it. His uncle was a very good farmer and his prosperity was evident in the impressive and well maintained buildings on his yard. However, he wasn’t so wise when it came to investing his extra cash, and lost large sums of money on the stock market.

One day uncle Hank came home and excitedly told his wife, “I just heard that the bank has foreclosed on uncle Jake’s farm. I’m going to get cleaned up and go to the bank and swing a deal to buy that farm.” His wife said, “If you do that, everybody is going to say that you took advantage of your uncle when he was down.” Uncle Hank’s dream of owning that farm he had always envied ended right there.

I want to be an L.E.D.

We all know what led’s are, right? Those things that give off a nice clear light but won’t burn you if you get too close to them. That’s what I want to be – a Light Emitting Disciple.

There is a problem, though – I am not capable of producing light by myself. But I sure am capable of producing heat. Far too often I have tried to enlighten someone else and that person had to back off for fear of getting burned.

That has never been what I wanted to do, but it took me years to realize that when I begin to get hot under the collar the possibility of convincing someone else of what I believe to be right drops to zero.

I had a lesson on this in my youth – from a cow. The cows were coming into the barn and I needed to get this cow into a different stall than the one that had been her home up to then. She had no idea what I wanted her to do or why, she just wanted to get into her old familiar stall. I started to yell and to slap her. She was frightened and tried to get away from me. Finally I realized that I had lost this battle. I waited until we had both cooled off, then took her by the halter and led her to the stall where I wanted her to go. Once she understood what I wanted she settled right down.

You’d think a lesson like that might have stuck, but it took quite a few more, with people and animals, before the lesson was learned. If indeed it has been learned, and I think it has for the most part.

Through all this, I have come to understand what James was talking about when he wrote:

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. James 3:14-17

He is saying that heat comes from below and light comes from above. If I truly want to be a Light Emitting Disciple, I need to disconnect myself from the source of heat and connect to the source of light.

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.

Manchester and the Crusaders

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Islamic extremists are telling Muslim youths that it is their religious duty to strike back at Christian nations because they are descendants of the Crusaders who wreaked havoc upon Muslims many years ago. There are serious flaws in this simplistic approach:

1. The Crusades were efforts by the popes to expand their political influence. Religion was only a camouflage for their real purpose.

2. Crusades were directed against people who also called themselves Christians but were not Roman Catholics: The destruction of Constantinople, the seat of the Greek Orthodox faith; the Albigensian Crusade that soaked the south of France in blood.

3. The Crusades were manifestly contrary to the true faith in Jesus Christ, a fact recognized even by most Roman Catholics of our day.

4. It is absurd to label the nations of Europe and North America as Christian nations when the majority of people have no connection to a church.

5. The Crusades probably did as much harm to Christianity as they did to Islam. Besides the slaughter of innocent non Roman Catholic Christians, they have left a lasting stain on many people’s perception of Christianity.

In the same way, Islamic extremists of our day are doing more harm to their fellow Muslims than they are to Christians.

Leaving aside all thoughts about the nature of the Islamic faith, I believe most Muslim people want to live in peace. They don’t really want to be looked upon as accomplices or sympathizers of the extremists. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Muslim parents and Imams everywhere could find a way to teach their children that acts of brutality and the slaughter of innocent children are doing more harm to other Muslims than to anyone else?

Have we misdiagnosed the problem?

It is at least 50 years since C.S. Lewis wrote: “The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin . . . We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect then to welcome the news of the remedy.” (from God in the Dock, published by Eerdmans.)

The evangelism methods of 100 years ago still work quite well in many places in third world countries. Not so well in North America and Europe. In fact, hardly at all. Why, they don’t even seem to have a lot of impact on children raised in Christian homes.

Evangelicals have responded in various ways: We have to try harder; We have to make our approach more seeker-friendly; We have to avoid those parts of the gospel message that people find offensive.

Have we misdiagnosed the problem? People have been told for the last 100 years, by people calling themselves Christian, that it is the society around us that needs fixing; people aren’t sinners, the world we live in is sinful. Fix the world and we can all live like Christ wants us to live.

There is now a continual hubbub around us of people trying to save the world. And it seems that they are in a constant state of outrage towards those who don’t wholeheartedly endorse their project for fixing the world. If one steps back a moment to observe, it all goes to prove that people are indeed sinners. The anger, hatred, harassment and violence that comes forth from attempts to save the world actually prove the need for the message of the gospel.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18)

Inherit the earth

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

I guess by now it is evident that I have been meditating on the Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is the cornerstone of Mennonite doctrine. Things like the right understanding of prophecy and the sacraments are important to us, too, but not nearly to the same extent as in many other church traditions.

God promised a land to Abraham and to his seed. Finally, during the reign of Solomon, the children of Israel possessed the full extent of the promised land, in peace. And that was it, that land has not had peace at any time since then.

What happened to God’s promise? The epistle to the Hebrews has this to say of Abraham: “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And a little later: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. . . But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

The promised land will have its full accomplishment in heaven, where there will be no more wars, or rumours of wars. Yet there is even now a place of safety and stability for the children of God. Perhaps not always a place of physical security, but a place of peace and contentment, and of spiritual security, for those who truly are seeking that better country.

The meek will find that spiritual land and make it their home. Those who battle for their right to be left in peace, those who feel it their duty to defeat all who are hostile to their belief, make themselves incapable of recognizing that place of peace when they see it. It is the heritage of those who are strangers and pilgrims amidst the turmoil of this world.

Finding peace in time of sickness

Most of us, at least in Canada, have heard the sad story of the young couple convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their child. The boy was sick for 2½ weeks, a friend told them it was probably meningitis, but they never took him to a doctor until he stopped breathing.

They were loving parents and did their best, according to their understanding, to help their little boy. Their understanding was that natural remedies were superior to anything the medical profession might have to offer.

These parents have lost their little boy and have been convicted of a criminal offense. I think they have suffered enough – a prison term would serve no purpose. But perhaps there needs to be a conversation about the limits of alternative medicine.

Some folks are of the opinion that herbal remedies are inherently superior to prescription medicines, and have no side effects because they are natural substances derived from plants. The situation is more complex than that. Many prescription meds are derived from plants; some “natural” remedies are useful, some are worthless and others are downright dangerous. I cannot take ginseng because it is too hard on my heart. Tobacco and heroin are derived from plants.

Friends recently told of a child that was born some years ago with congenital hip dysplasia, a condition where the hip socket does not form. If this condition is discovered in a newborn the remedy is simple – keep the legs spread apart for some months and the hip socket will form naturally. In this case the condition was not discovered until the girl started to walk, when it was seen that one leg would turn at odd angles. Well meaning friends advised the parents to take the little girl to a chiropractor. There is nothing a chiropractor can do by manipulation to manufacture a hip socket. By this time the little girl needed surgery, and she got it.

I am particularly troubled by the many Christian people who are prone to trust alternative medicine and therapies more than the medical profession. Many alternative therapies are based on a belief system that is not compatible with Christian faith.

A sister who was dying of cancer about 35 years ago faced the future with unwavering faith. The thing that troubled her the most was the Christian brothers and sisters who would press her to try some natural remedy or other, with such urgency that it appeared they thought that if she didn’t use their proposed remedy it would be her fault if she died.

As Christians we believe in miracles and there are instances of remarkable recoveries after a prayer for healing. I have also known cases where someone claimed to have been miraculously healed, only to die a year or so later from the disease they were healed from. It seems to me that cases of healing as a result of prayer are more common in places where medical help is not available.

Some people put far too much faith in doctors, expect them to have a remedy for every little ache, discomfort or worry. But is it pleasing to God if we go to the opposite extreme and mistrust the people around us who are most able to help in case of serious health conditions?

Such mistrust is often expressed in the name of God, claiming that He has a better way – a natural way. Yet there is often little evidence of a calm and peaceful trust in God. It seems to me that the best way is to trust God to lead us, and most often that will mean also trusting the guidance of our family doctor and whoever he refers us to. If God is truly leading us, we will have peace and quietness within.

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