Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: relationship with God

25 Flavours of Mennonites

When we lived in Ontario it would happen from time to time that someone I had just met would ask me what kind of Mennonite I was. “Does your church allow cars? electricity? telephones?”

I knew these questions arose because there were at least 25 flavours of Mennonites within a 100 km radius of where we lived and for many of them things of this nature were a big issue. I would gladly have avoided these questions because I couldn’t see what they had to do with being Christian, which should be the most essential part of being a Mennonite.

People were curious and they didn’t know where else to start. It was so easy to answer the questions and wander down a rabbit trail that didn’t lead anywhere, leaving the questioner no wiser than when he started and leaving me feeling that I’d failed to say anything really helpful.

What I wanted to say was that the way we use the things available to us in this world can reveal something about our relationship with God. But making rules about things results in a group that is impressive in their outward unity, but does not ensure that they have a relationship with God. It does not even ensure that the members trust one another; sadly, the unity is often only apparent to outsiders.

What I wanted to say was that the essence of Christianity is to be filled with love, joy, peace and all the other qualities described as the fruit of the Spirit. To do that, it is often necessary to avoid things that will feed our pride. Pride is a sneaky thing that tries to enter our lives in so many ways that no amount of rules could ever cover them all. We must each deal with pride on a personal level.

What I wanted to say was that the making of rules provides fertile ground for thinking that I am doing a better job of following the rules than others. That feeds my pride and a critical, suspicious attitude towards others. That would be to head in altogether the wrong direction.

What should I have said? What would you say? What are your questions about being Mennonite?

Keep it authentic

Love thy neighbour as thyself

This means to love your neighbour because God has given you a love for him. Don’t try to love your neighbour because you know you should and hope that pretending to love will cause genuine love to spring up in your heart. The better way is to get down on your knees and ask God to show you what is preventing you from truly loving your neighbour. Be prepared for Him to reveal some ugly baggage that you have been carrying and be willing to throw it overboard. This doesn’t guarantee that your neighbour will love you in return, but it removes the obstacles that you have placed in his way.

By love serve one another

We sing “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and think we mean it. The words above are a test of whether we really do. Do we really want what is best for our brother or sister? No doubt we really want them to believe we do. But if we try to serve our brother or sister in the way that we think will be best for them without inconveniencing ourselves too much, it will be phony. And they will know that it is phony. The motivation for serving another must come from God – and it generally involves a sacrifice of some kind on our part. True God-given love makes that sacrifice seem totally worthwhile without giving us a feeling of pride for the good that we have done. It’s all about our brother or sister, not about us.

Let each esteem other better than themselves

Ooh. This one cuts pretty close. We know we need to be humble. We are humble. Then why do we find it so easy to notice how our brother or sister is not as humble as we are?  We need to admit that humility is not something that we can do. It is a condition of the heart that comes from God. True humility is the Christian’s steel-toed work boot: it allows our brother to step on our toes and we don’t even feel it. It allows us to see the Spirit of Christ in our brothers and sisters and to see their admirable qualities, many of which we know we lack.

Authentic Christian faith is a matter that is between me and God alone. I cannot obtain it from my parents, my forefathers, doctrines and teachings, even though all may be genuinely Christian and spiritual and an encouragement to us as we follow our Lord. But faith can only come from God.

Some folks find such statements scary. If we base our faith solely upon our relationship with God, won’t that leave room for a lot of individualistic variations?

Doesn’t such a fear betray a lack of trust in God? Can’t we trust that our Father will want to draw His children together?

I believe there is room in God’s family for variations due to circumstances. Variations due to personal preferences are another matter. They may well indicate a relationship with God that is not very secure or stable.

Relying on outward forms to compel unity among Christians lessens our dependence upon God, our Father, and will eventually break down. Let’s keep our faith authentic.

Parents: Don’t run ahead of God!

I heard it again the other night — the failure of a childhood conversion.

The counsellor at a Christian summer camp had talked about Jesus and heaven and then asked the children if they wanted to go to be with Jesus in heaven when they died. A little girl was among those who said yes. The counsellor led her in a prayer and then told her that she was saved. She tried to do all the right things after that, but God didn’t seem very real and eventually she quit trying. After many twists and turns in her life she found herself a single mother in desperate need of help.  This time her prayer came from her heart and God was there to answer and has continued to guide and sustain her.

It’s not always the camp counsellor, most often it’s Mom and Dad. They want an assurance that their precious child will not be lost and so they begin at a tender age to prompt their child to give her heart to the Lord. Precious Child is happy to please Mom and Dad and recites the sinner’s prayer, often at the age of four, five or six. Mom and Dad rejoice that Precious Child is now a child of God. As soon as Precious Child grows up and leaves home, she drifts away from the church and her profession of Christianity.

One Canadian writer described these young people as the Goodbye Generation — those who appear outwardly to be faithful Christians during their youth. Yet when they say goodbye to Mom and Dad and face life on their own, they also say goodbye to faith and church. I think it is fair to ask if they ever really had a relationship with God. A survey a year or two ago found that young people who find meaning and direction in Bible reading and prayer while growing up, continued to live out their faith after they left home.

I know Moms and Dads, you love your children, you want them to be saved. But salvation is a personal relationship between your child and God. You cannot arrange, manage or force the beginning of that relationship. If you try, the results might be heart-breaking.

Wait for God to call your child. You are not the Holy Spirit, you cannot force God to do His part. Just trust that He will. Neither can you persuade or force your child to do his part. That is entirely between him and God.

I know that it can be painful to wait. While you are waiting, you might want to check your own relationship with God, ask Him if your life is all the He wants it to be. Don’t give your child a mixed message by calling yourself a Christian, yet living as though God has little place in your life.

So many of the things that are done to make church attractive to young people are a tragic waste of time and effort.  Churches should not be trying to convince young people that they can have Jesus plus all the worthless baubles that the world runs after. Tell them that it will cost something to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Young people are searching for meaning in life, don’t try to sidetrack them with empty fun.

But most of all, let God do the God part. Let God do the calling, let your child make the choice to respond to that call and then let God do the adopting. God will not adopt your child as His own if all He sees is a forced or halfhearted repentance. But when the repentance is truly from the heart then God responds by wrapping your child in His love. This is what you really want, isn’t it? Then try not to get in God’s way.

The Cost of Discipleship

This is the title of a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s not hard to understand that attempting to be faithful to Christ in Nazi Germany would come at a cost, but it has been more difficult for us to grasp that to be a true disciple of Christ will always entail a cost, even in times of peace, prosperity and favourable public opinion.

We are forgetful people. It appears that we have forgotten that the friendship of the world is enmity with God. Or perhaps we never really understood how that could be true. The world was just a big, soft, cuddly bear, and would never do us any harm. Are we beginning to see the danger today? Is it too late to sound an alarm?

When we speak of the cost of discipleship, it should not be thought to mean that we can earn or pay for salvation. It simply means that if we try to carry the baggage of the world as we embark on our pilgrimage to heaven, we will never reach our intended destination. There will be dangerous, narrow passages along the way where we just will not be able to squeeze through with that baggage. There are alternate routes where that baggage will not be a hindrance. Christian beware! Those routes do not lead to the celestial city.

That baggage includes things like pride of accomplishment, feelings of superiority, bitterness, resentment, lust, the desire for material gain, a failure to admit and take full responsibility when we have done wrong, refusing to accept admonition and anything that might diminish our love for others.

It is entirely possible to convince ourselves that we love God and the feeling is mutual, but others just don’t understand us. Perhaps they don’t fully understand us; or perhaps they understand us better than we do ourselves. More important, we have missed the teaching that our relationship with God can largely be discerned by our relationship with our fellow believers. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11).

The cost of discipleship will vary from person to person, according to what part of the world is most dear to us. God may grant material abundance to someone, but let such a person beware of boasting or thinking himself better than those who have less. God may use someone to do great things in His kingdom, but let such a person beware of thinking he is too important to consider the reproof of his brethren.

Others may study to become humble, learning the right appearance, words and mannerisms to appear the most inoffensive. Such a person may be unwilling to do the little things the Spirit prompts them to do for fear that someone might misunderstand and criticize. This may be the worst mistake of all. A person who is active in serving the Lord will be criticized, sometimes with cause, sometimes unjustly. The one who is truly spiritual will recognize his faults, make the needed corrections and carry on serving the Lord.
Perhaps fear is the most cumbersome piece of baggage that some carry. Such a person may believe himself to be humble, but could fear get such a hold if there was no pride for it to fasten itself to?

God is sounding the alarm today for all who will hear to cast off the baggage that hinders us from truly being His disciples. If the cost seems too great, perhaps we do not grasp how great the reward will be for those who are faithful, nor how great the loss for those who are not.

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