Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: prayer

The presence of God

The funeral was in the church that was the city’s most famous landmark. Inside, there were vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows on each side and tiered rows of seating. The music from the Casavant Frères organ that filled the east wall, its largest pipes stretching from floor to ceiling, completed the atmosphere of reverence.

The minister entered at the lower level, wearing a cassock. He walked up the spiral staircase to the pulpit and said, “Let us pray.” Then he recited a poem. There was no “Our Father” at the beginning, no “In Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end. Just a poem. Later, in his homily, he told us that eternal life was the memories that we retained of our dear departed.

That was it. Behind all the man-made magnificence there was only emptiness.

The tabernacle in the wilderness had great beauty inside. But only the priests were allowed to enter and see that beauty. From the outside, its waterproof covering gave it a gray, drab appearance. The onlooker could see nothing striking or appealing about the tabernacle. Except for that inexplicable column of cloud that was always there, and as the day became dark that column became light. It was the evidence of God’s presence in the midst of His people.

When Christians gather for worship, we should not be in awe of the magnificence of the building, the excitement in the music or the eloquence in the preaching. We should be asking ourselves, “Is this a place where I can meet with God?”

In Colossians 3:11 the apostle Paul speaks of Christians who are of different ethnic and social identities, then says “but Christ is all, and in all.” We may be worshipping among plain and rather drab people. But if we see glimpses of the presence of Jesus Christ in each of those around us, then we are in the place where God can speak to us and bless us.

The weapons of a Christian

The whole world is in a mess. What can we do about it?

The answer Jesus gives is :

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

That’s counter-intuitive isn’t it? Our intuitive response is to answer anger with anger, hatred with hatred, violence with violence; guns with guns. But that always leads to more anger, more hatred, more violence, more shootings.

Some people say that citizens need to be armed to defend against the rogue element in our society. But the shooter at Uvalde was wearing a bullet proof vest. And where is a teacher going to keep a gun so that it will not get into the wrong hands, yet be instantly available when a threat arises? And how is a teacher to know the difference between rowdiness and a life-threatening situation?

There has to be a better way. The way of love and peace may seem weak. It is entirely possible that we may get hurt while countering evil with love and peace, yet they are still more powerful than any weapon used against us.

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds

The other epidemic

Image by picman2 from Pixabay 

There is an epidemic stalking our land, people are dying, others are left incapable of working or maintaining relationships. No, I’m not talking about COVID, this is an epidemic that was around before COVID and will probably still be afflicting people long after COVID is gone. Since this epidemic only affects people hooked on street drugs, the rest of us may think we can ignore it.

Last Sunday my wife’s sister was found dead in a city several hours from us, with drug paraphernalia on the table in front of her. She had no phone, no one in the family knew where she lived. My wife had been able to locate her and visit a few times in recent years, but she kept moving and did not keep in touch with any of her family.

Sometimes the opioid epidemic ceases to be just an item in the newspaper, comes this close to us and robs us of a beloved family member. The people selling street drugs are not pharmacists or chemists, the drugs they sell are not uniform in effect. When a person uses such drugs for years they are sooner or later going to get something that gives them a bad trip or something that turns the lights out for good. Naloxone reverses the effects of opioids, but it appears no one was with my sister-in-law when she took her last hit. No one to rush her to the hospital or to find a street worker with a Naloxone kit.

What can we do to help such people? We feel compelled to do what we can to fix broken lives. The tough reality is that we can do nothing to rescue people against their will. They made choices, choices that seemed small and insignificant at the time, that led them into being trapped in a lifestyle where nothing: family, job or home, means as much as getting another hit. They must start making small choices to break free from that web. No one else can make those choices for them.

What can we do to help such people? We can pray. We must pray. We cannot manipulate God, God does not manipulate people. But we can pray that at some place and moment a connection can be established between God and the person we are praying for. We can do our best to maintain a connection with that person. It won’t be easy because addictions lead to broken connections, or connections solely for the purpose of getting money to buy drugs.

Above all, we must keep ourselves in the love and peace of God, without anger or bitterness. A loved one who is an addict has probably betrayed our trust, lied to us, maybe even blamed us for his or her problem. But this addict is still a person whom God loves and so must we. If we feel angry or bitter, our loved one will know it and that will be a barrier between us.

Remedy for election fever

There is an election in Canada today; I will not vote. I am a citizen, I am qualified to vote, but I am also a citizen of the Kingdom of God and that citizenship is much more precious to me.

There has been a lot of anger, a lot of divisive emotions stirred by this election campaign. Those emotions should not be allowed entrance into the peaceful kingdom of Christ.

I will continue to pray for the government of our land, no matter who is elected. I will continue to strive to be a good citizen, a good neighbour.

There is much evil taking place around us and most people like to talk about it. But we cannot promote what is good by focusing our attention on what is wrong. There are also many acts of goodness and kindness happening around us. I will strive to be one who notices and talks about the good, and not the evil.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33

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. Jeremiah 22:7

Pray for them which despitefully use you

Job didn’t know why this was happening to him. All his children and all his livestock were suddenly gone, then his body became covered with oozing sores. He used dust and ashes in an attempt to calm the itching.

His three closest friends came to commiserate with him and at first had no words to say in face of such a calamity. It seemed logical to them that Job must have somehow brought this on himself. The more Job protested his innocence and his trust that God would vindicate him, the more his friends became convinced that he was hiding a great sin.

“Miserable comforters are ye all,” Job responded. “No doubt but that ye are the people and the truth will die with you.” In frustration, Job demanded an explanation for his suffering from God.

The three friends ran out of accusations and fell silent. Another person, Elihu, began to speak, saying “God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.”

In the end Job repented of asking for answers, but his trial was not quite over. God spoke to Job’s three friends and told them to bring animals for a sacrifice to Job and ask him to pray for them. It was only when Job prayed for these men who had spoken falsehoods against him that God set Job free from his troubles.

That is still the only way to experience peace and freedom. Jesus said “Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” In other words, when we face criticism and unjust accusations, rather than thinking of ways to cut our accusers down to size, let’s pray for them.

Suicide is a spirit

One night, somewhere in Canada, a young indigenous woman found herself battling thoughts of suicide. She was a Christian, she knew that was not what she wanted to do, yet the thought kept coming to her that it would be so easy to escape from her troubles. All she needed to do was walk out to the kitchen, take the big sharp knife and put an end to her days. She would pray and read the Bible yet soon she found herself walking toward the kitchen; she would stop and turn around and pray some more. She knew that those thoughts were coming from a spirit, a spirit that was more powerful than she was and wouldn’t leave her alone. She prayed that God would come to her help, yet the thought of going out to the kitchen and picking up that knife kept coming to her. She read in her Bible and found a passage in Psalms that seemed to be an answer for her, but the thought of suicide kept coming back.

Finally, at 3 am, she picked up her phone and called her pastor. He listened and understood the great danger she was in. He opened his Bible and felt prompted to read to her a passage from the book of Psalms. It was the same passage that she had read earlier! She knew now for a certainty that the Holy Spirit was with her to help her fight this battle. The pastor prayed with her over the phone and when they hung up she knew the battle was over, the enemy spirit was defeated and the peace of God restored in her heart. She went to bed and slept peacefully.

I read this account several years ago and have tried to retell it as I remember it. May we remember when thoughts of suicide come to us that these thoughts are not our own thoughts but come from an enemy who wants to destory us. The only way to be victorious over those thoughts is to seek the help of the Spirit who is more powerful, all powerful. The young lady who told of her encounter with the spirit of suicide sought help in all the right ways: by prayer, by reading God’s Word, by talking to another Christian who was patient, understanding and compassionate.

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

I want to live until I die

Age segregation begins in schools. As schools get bigger and bigger it is more and more difficult for a child to relate to those outside her own age group. At the other end of life, retirement offers freedom, but it is freedom with no purpose. Retirees associate with other retirees and strive to keep themselves amused. Eventually they go into retirement homes, which isolates them still more from other age groups. Then they go to nursing homes. As more people require nursing home care, those places become larger and more impersonal. I believe this is a recipe for dementia.

I have painted a pretty bleak picture and we all know people who have stepped out of that flow and lived a meaningful life in their older years. The way people cope with the aging process is a personal choice. Many don’t know what else to do but be carried along with the flow. I don’t want to be in that number. I want to live until I die.

I want to feel that there is a purpose to my life, that I am doing something useful to others, even as I withdraw from the workforce. To accomplish that, I will need to maintain a healthy body, a healthy mind and a healthy heart.

To have a healthy body I need to keep physically active. That doesn’t happen naturally any more, it has to be a deliberate choice. Walking is the best way to keep active, it is low impact and stimulates the whole body. But where I live, for about half of the year it is not very inviting to go out for a walk. So I need a treadmill or a rebounder. Regular, vigorous exercise maintains the health of the heart, the lungs, and the brain.

Having a healthy mind also requires making the choice to exercise it. Doing puzzles and word games is one form of mental exercise, but that is not enough. To prevent my mind from becoming fossilized I need interaction with other people, especially people who do not see everything in exactly the way that I see it. That means children, youth, all ages, plus people of different backgrounds and different life experiences. I need to read books that stretch the mind and help me see the world from a new perspective.

Above all, I need a healthy heart, in the spiritual sense. To maintain the peace and joy of being a Christian also requires exercise. That includes reading and meditating on the Word of God, not just an assortment of favourite passages, but the whole thing, in order to get the whole picture of what God has to say. It includes prayer, not just for myself and my family, but for others — friends, acquaintances, those in authority and those who are not so friendly. That is a very healthy exercise, the more we pray for others, the harder it becomes to say nasty things about them.

As I become more serious about writing, I am challenged to convey my thoughts in a way that is provocative, informative, and sometimes humorous. I need to exercise myself to recognize and avoid trite statements, pat phrases and slogans that no one outside of my bubble will understand. Above all, I need to speak the truth in love, with compassion and without biting criticism.

As a writer, there are times when I need to be alone in my cave in order to get words onto paper. But in order to have words to write, to know what to write and how to write in a way that will interest somebody else, I need to get out of that cave and be with people, all kinds of people. I need to talk to people, listen to people, observe people. The best anti-aging treatment that I know of is people. People who jar my thinking out of its customary rut and help me see things and understand things I would not think of on my own.

Principalities and Powers

Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, he disappeared into the wilderness and fasted for forty days. Then Satan came to him and offered to let Jesus rule all the kingdoms of the world if he would acknowledge Satan as supreme. “Just bow down and worship me and you can govern the world as you wish. But in the end the people are still mine.” That would have avoided the necessity of the cross. Some Christians refuse to believe that the kingdoms of the world were Satan’s to offer. But how else would the offer have been a temptation?

Jesus did not come to the world to serve as a viceroy in Satan’s kingdom. He came to overthrow Satan’s kingdom, set people free from bondage to Satan and establish his own kingdom.

In the most stunning reversal of fortune in history, at the moment when Jesus hug dying on the cross and Satan thought he had eliminated Jesus as a threat, Jesus called out to his Father, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Forgiveness! Satan could not have seen that coming. The word is not in his vocabulary, the concept of forgiveness is foreign to him. In that moment Satan was defeated and a new kingdom established.

Nothing has changed for most people in the world. Satan is still the prince of this world, he still rules the kingdoms of this world through unseen principalities and powers. He is doing his utmost to conceal from mankind the fact that a rival kingdom is occupying part of his territory.

Yet everything has changed. Satan is doomed and he knows it. Jesus is offering hope to people who have no hope in the kingdom of Satan. The whole game of Satan now is to take as many people as possible with him to hell. He is out for revenge.

The kingdom of Jesus is a spiritual kingdom; it does not occupy a defined territory on this earth. Any person, anywhere on earth, who willingly submits to the reign of Jesus and is born again, is set free from the rule of Satan and becomes a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom. No earthly nation qualifies as a Christian nation, though it is one of Satan’s snares to think so.

We cannot defeat Satan by political means, or by any other human means. When we involve ourselves in any way with such movements, we are attempting to defeat Satan by using his own tools. That always results in defeat. Even if only our feelings are stirred, we risk making ourselves unfit for working for Jesus.

The tools that are effective against Satan are:

Trust. When we submit to the rule of Jesus we become meek and humble. We have nothing to prove, but trust that victory and vengeance belong to him alone. Satan’s goal is to divide people until each person stands alone and trusts no one else.

Love. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and enables us to do it, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the people around us do and say things that are sometimes hurtful Love them anyway. Jesus does.

Forgiveness. It is a given that we are going to get hurt. Satan would like to stir our feelings towards anger, revenge, or at least to demand an apology. If we give in to those feelings, he has won. If we can forgive from our heart, Jesus wins.

Thankfulness. Let’s freely speak of all the good that Jesus has done for us. Being meek and humble should not close our lips, except to any boasting of how good we are..

Prayer. We need to speak often with God, our heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus. That is how we get the strength to do the things listed already. Prayer is also the most powerful thing we can do to positively affect the evils we see around us, in individuals, families, governments.

How did we make it this far?

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Nothing has been heard from this corner for ten days. I don’t have a good explanation for that, except that my mind has been elsewhere. Our 50th wedding anniversary is coming up in a few days and I have been contemplating how we got here and where do we go from here. In between all that heavy thinking I have been able to get some useful things done, like finish painting the garage and clean out much of the accumulated detritus inside.

When Chris and I married on Saturday, August 1, 1970 I was 28 years old, had a good job and a place to live; Chris was 17. I think in some ways she was the more mature person. I had grown up walking on eggshells is dread of the next explosion of anger from my father. He was never violent, except with his tongue, but that left me with a fear of anything that might lead to conflict.

But I found a new Father a few months before the wedding day. In the spring of the year I was facing a crisis, several of them in fact. A feeling of doom was building up inside and I didn’t know what to do. I took a drive around the countryside to consider that dark cloud in the fresh air and sunshine. When I got home I knelt and confessed to God that all of my troubles were of my own doing, they were not the fault of anyone else, and asked Him to forgive me and help me find a way out. Then I made a very open-ended promise: I would do anything He asked of me for the rest of my life.

It didn’t seem like anything much happened, yet the feeling of doom was gone and I was able to make rational decisions. Several months later it dawned on me that my life had changed, my interests and my goals were leading in a totally different direction and that change had begun when I prayed. Up to that time I had taken a very cynical view of people who claimed to be born again; most of them were not any more honest or honourable than others who made no boast of knowing God.

But I could not deny that I had changed, was still changing. That must be what the Bible calls a new birth, the beginning of a new kind of life. It’s not so much that I know God, but He knows me and remembers the promise I made back in the spring of 1970. Every once in a while He asks me to do something, often it is a habit or an attitude that needs to go, and reminds me that this is part of what I promised. I believe that is a big part of the reason I am still married to the same lady after 50 years.

What are we afraid of?

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I was afraid of a lot of things as a boy, the two main ones being girls and dogs. Girls were different, mysterious; they didn’t look, talk or act like boys. The thought of actually speaking to one crippled my mind and my tongue.

Yet there was always a girl or two that I could talk to without stammering like an imbecile. For some reason most of them were named Joan. Thinking back, it might have been because Joan was the most common girl’s name for that era, just like Robert was for boys. There were two grades to a classroom in our school and three Roberts in my class. In order to distinguish between us we were known as Bob Dixon, Bobby Adamus and I had to be Robert Goodnough.

There were two girls with whom I never had a problem visiting and they weren’t even named Joan. But they were cousins and that was even better. By now I think I have pretty much gotten over my fear of girls, of any age. I finally plucked up enough courage to ask one to marry me. Then we had a daughter to raise and by now we have two teenage granddaughters.

Dogs were even worse than girls. Not all dogs, but any big dog that barked was surely some kin of the Hound of the Baskervilles. I had a half mile to walk to school, straight down the west side of town. Halfway between home and school there was a house set well back from the street with a dog chained up outside.

Every day, when I walked by that house, the dog would bark. It was a big, dark coloured dog. My friends said it was half wolf. I was terrified. This went on for a couple years as I passed from nine to ten to eleven. I didn’t pray much in those days, but every time that dog barked I prayed that God would protect me from that evil wolf dog and give me the courage to keep on walking.

There was a wide coulee several miles east of ton with a little creek running along the bottom called the Arm River. At most places the river was ankle deep. But there was one spot that was wider and deep enough for children to swim in. It was an old-fashioned swimming hole, completely unsupervised, the nearest house a half mile away.

I didn’t go there often, it was too far and I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, too. But I knew that I was in no danger of drowning in that swimming hole; if I stood up in the deepest place my head was well above the water.

One day as I was walking home from school I saw that evil wolf dog trotting down the road toward me. I took to the opposite side of the road and he went by without paying me any attention. I noticed two things as he passed – he was dripping wet, and the pupils of his eyes were rectangular horizontal slits, not like the eyes of any dog I’d ever seen before. He was a wolf dog for sure.

The next day I heard that he had been down at the swimming hole. A young boy who couldn’t swim had gotten into the deep part where the water was over his head. He was floundering, gasping for air and calling for help. The dog had jumped in, the boy had grabbed his long fur and the dog had towed him up and out of the water. Apparently the dog was quicker thinking than the boys.

Thus ended my fear of the evil wolf dog. What had I been afraid of anyway? It wasn’t the dog, it was the overheated thoughts in my own mind.

Isn’t that how it is most times? Often, the things we fear the most have no existence outside of our own minds. Those thoughts can paralyze us. I wonder if, in our present circumstances, fears like that might not be doing more harm than the virus. I don’t mean to suggest that we should act as though the virus is not dangerous; let’s take all necessary precautions. But at the same time, let’s pray to God to be set free from irrational fears that hinder us from reaching out to those who are lonely, or in any kind of distress.

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