Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: prayer

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.

Advertisements

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.

Worship styles – what is essential?

I was reading articles about the history of church pews and it seems most writers feel that pews became important at the time of the Reformation. In Roman Catholic worship the focus was on the communion and provisions for congregational seating were not of major importance. With the Reformation, the focus switched to the sermon where the congregation remained seated for a lengthy period of time and where and how they sat became more important.

That may be true, but I was raised in the Anglican tradition which did not fit neatly into either category. There were two Bible readings in every service, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. In addition there were a few significant passages of Scripture that were spoken aloud, either in unison or as responsive readings. There was a sermon, usually not lengthy, and often there was communion, but the real emphasis seemed to be on the Bible.

Contemporary worship music seems to have come front and centre in most evangelical churches today. Thus the worship leader who leads and directs this aspect of the worship service seems to be as important as the preacher.

Early Christian worship took place in places like private homes, forests, or the catacombs of Rome. This type of worship did not require a special church building, nor did it require pews or musical instruments. This was worship stripped to its bare essentials: Bible reading, prayer, and exhortation to faithfulness. And people risked their lives to be at these worship services.

Anabaptists retained that simple style of worship throughout most of their history. One could question whether the many persecutions they suffered made that the only feasible style of worship, or whether they were persecuted because they chose to avoid the worship style of the official churches. Both were probably factors.

Today, we of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite consider ourselves to be linear descendants of the Anabaptists. Bible reading, prayer, hymns and a sermon all have a place in our worship services. The sermon usually consists of some combination of exposition of a Bible passage, teaching, testimony and exhortation to faithfulness. It is not a prepared, scholarly discourse, but flows from a heart inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We sing both old and new hymns, without musical accompaniment. The message of a song remains with us much longer when we all sing together, rather than just listening. Many have testified of times of difficulty or crisis when part of a song has popped into their mind with words that brought comfort and direction.

Adopted

I remember the last time my father blew up at me. He was 80, I was 30 and it was the same tirade that I had heard so many times before during my 30 years. I knew there was no use trying to argue, change the subject or yell back at him. He was not in control of himself at moments like this and any resistance would just aggravate him further. I just waited patiently for the storm to blow itself out.

I had become a Christian two years earlier and when the blast was over I found a quiet place to pray. “Oh God,” I asked, “why couldn’t I have had a better father?”

The answer was immediate: “But you do, you have a perfect father.” I have clung to that ever since.

This is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 8:15: “ 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.”

My father sank into dementia not long after that, and soon he didn’t even know me. He was 50 when I was born, after all. I really think he meant well, but he simply didn’t know how to cope with starting a family at that age. Our heavenly Father does not have that problem. Even when we stray from Him and suffer the consequences, He does not drive us farther away, but calls us back.

Worship then and now

Then was sixty years ago when I was a teenager and member of the Anglican Church of Canada. Services would begin with this exhortation:

Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.

The service would continue with words of like eloquence, interspersed with a reading from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, the reciting of some poetic passages of Scripture, either in unison or as a responsive reading. There would be a few hymns mixed in plus a sermon. All followed the familiar pattern of the Book of Common Prayer, which was little changed since it was formulated by Thomas Cranmer 400 years earlier.

It didn’t take long until you had the services memorized and didn’t need to follow in the book any longer. This was the great danger: the words were beautiful, meaningful and true, but one could recite them with nary a thought as to what one was saying. I have no doubt that many Anglicans were born-again people, but many, probably the majority, just droned along with their mind somewhere else altogether.

I remain very thankful for all the Scriptures read and recited in the Anglican services. I suppose this began in the day when most attendees were unable to read and this was the only exposure they had to the Word of God.  It was still good for those who were readers.

Now, in the Mennonite church to which I belong today, the services might seem a little tohu-bohu (the Hebrew words translated without form and void in Genesis 1:2). There is a certain order to the services, but they are informal and unstructured compared the church of my youth. Still, just as in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God is present.

Most congregations have more than one minister. None of them are professionals, they do not derive their income from the church but earn their living much as other members of the congregation. The hymns we sing are not chosen in advance but are chosen in a seemingly random manner by members of the congregation as the service progresses.  Lay brethren are often invited to volunteer to present some thoughts and a prayer to open the service. It may take some time for one to get up from his seat to do so. The sermons are extemporaneous, not written out beforehand. Sometimes there are no ministers present and the whole service is conducted by lay brethren. 

It works. We are fed, encouraged, reproved, inspired. We trust that everything, the hymns that are chosen, the words that are spoken, is prompted by the Holy Spirit.

This type of service goes back to long before Archbishop Cranmer. The apostle Paul wrote:

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. . . Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

A series of coincidences?

We wanted to have children – and definitely more than one. I was an only child and my wife had been raised as an only child by her aunt and uncle. We didn’t think that was the ideal way to grow up.

We had been married less than a year when another young couple from the church we were attending mentioned that they were planning to adopt. We had never thought of adopting before, but the idea became more and more interesting as we talked about it. We contacted the agency and were invited to take part in a series of evening meetings for those preparing for adoption.

In my mind, adoption was about finding a child who would match the parents who wanted to adopt. I was wrong. We were told that it is natural for children in a family to differ considerably in looks and personalities. We were also told that the less we knew about the background of a child the better things would work. If we know too much about the personalities of parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, we would look for signs of that in the adoptive child. “This is your child,” we were told.

We have seen the wisdom of that in later years. Some mothers knew way too much about the background of their adoptive children and never tired of talking about it.  I could see in the eyes of the children that it was not healthy to hear constant reminders that they were misfits in this family. That was never the mother’s intention, of course, but it had that effect.

After the series of meetings, we were given the application form to complete. Most of it was straightforward questions about ourselves and our ability to provide for a child. But one question gave us pause. “Are you willing to accept a child of another race?” Several options were given, other races, mixed-race, pure white, no preference. We talked about it, prayed about it, and the only thing that felt right was to check the no preference box.

The application was accepted, a social worker came to visit our home, we began to gather the things we would need, thinking we had lots of time to get ready.  We never guessed that checking the no preference box moved us to the top of the waiting list. A call came just two weeks after the home visit saying that a baby girl was available.

We drove to the city where the agency office was located, were led into a private room and soon left alone with a 15-day old girl. She slept, we looked at her, took turns holding her, and when the worker came back she would have had to pry that baby away from us.

We signed some more papers and drove home with the baby sleeping peacefully on the seat between us. This was long before child car seats; cars back then didn’t even have seatbelts for the adults. Cars had bench seats, not bucket seats. We used a clothes hamper, they were smaller then than they are now, put a blanket on the bottom for a cushion, placed the baby on top of that, another blanket on top, and drove home.

That was almost 45 years ago. We never had any other children. Our daughter had an advantage that we did not have – we were part of a close-knit church family with many other children her age.I’m sure the influence of her friends’ parents had a tremendous impact on her becoming the fine young woman that she became.

Now, we don’t just have a daughter, we also have a fine Christian son-in-law and four wonderful grandchildren. Was it all a series of coincidences, chance happenings and pure dumb luck? I don’t believe that. I believe God was there every step of the way, opening doors and nudging us toward them.

Elections

All is quiet on the election front where I live – Canada had a federal election last fall and Saskatchewan had a provincial election just a moth ago. But the media that I read are full of angst and bewilderment about the upcoming presidential elections in the USA and France (this fall in the USA, early 2017 in France). It looks more and more like Donald Trump and Marine LePen have got a real shot at becoming leaders of their respective countries. Based on your political point of view either event could be the beginning of a better way of doing things, or an unmitigated disaster.

What is a Christian to do?

Just about everybody in every country of the Western World es ready to admit that something is seriously amiss. There is no agreement, however, on just what has gone amiss, how it happened, or what can be done to fix it. Does a Christian really want to wade into this mess and get himself befouled in trying to fix it by political means?

As I see it, politicians didn’t get us into this place, and they aren’t going to get us out of it. We live in an era of Big Government, Big Business, Big Education, Big Entertainment and Big Foundations. They have all grown too big to be controlled by anything else than their self-perpetuating Big Bureaucracies. What can a politician do?

Christianity has been known as a movement that could turn the world upside down. We forfeit that influence when we get involved in politics and try to change the world from the top down. Has that ever had good results? It may seem that way for a moment or two, but ultimately power corrupts even those with the purest of good intentions.

So, what is a Christian to do? We will do the most good by living as genuine Christians, keeping ourselves pure and unspotted from the world, praying for all those in positions of authority, being good neighbours, and being ready to give an answer for the hope that lieth within us.

 

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.

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.

The God who loves us

People who trust in pagan religions believe there are many gods. These gods spend so much time squabbling among themselves that people need to make great efforts to get their attention.

The religions of the native peoples of North America are much like that, but many of them have a creation account that sounds remarkably like the one in the book of Genesis. In most cases these people believe the Creator is not much interested in their daily lives. The Great Spirit is the one that they pray to. Some tribes believe the Great Spirit is the same as the Creator and wants to help them. Others believe the Great Spirit is a powerful spirit who might do them good, but is just as likely to trick them.

Islam teaches that there is only one god. Allah sent his angel to Mohammed to dictate the words of their holy book. Their holy book is called the Koran, or Qur’an, which means recite. The whole duty of man is to submit to the teachings of the Koran. Islam means submission. Allah is far away and does not give personal answers to prayer.

Judaism believes in the God who is revealed in the Old Testament, the God who loves His people and performed many miracles for them in ages past. Now they are waiting for Messiah to come and restore them to their rightful place of glory in the world.

Christians believe in the same God as the Jews, but the New Testament reveals aspects of God that were only hinted at in the Old Testament. God loves all mankind and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of all mankind. Now the way to heaven is open for anyone who will believe in Jesus. Not only that, but God has given the Holy Spirit to guide each believer through every day of his or her life.

The teaching that there is only one God, but He is three persons in order to better relate to us, is difficult to understand. Really, it is impossible for our human minds to understand just how it can be. But this is what the Bible teaches, and if we could understand everything about God, then we would think ourselves as great as He is.

The Trinity, the reality that God relates to us in three different ways, as three different persons, is what makes Christianity different than all other religions. It is what allows each one of us to know that God loves us personally, every day, wherever we are.

%d bloggers like this: