Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: restitution

Still looking for an entry level church

We still appreciated the people at the Lowe Farm church, but decided we needed to go shopping for another church. We wouldn’t have been able to put it into words, but we were looking for an entry level church, one that wouldn’t cost us too much in the way of commitment. Nevertheless, we had been disappointed when the Lowe Farm church didn’t even require believer’s baptism.

The first church we tried was a church of a different Mennonite denomination in the town of Carman. As the service began, the minister asked everyone to stand up, shake hands and introduce themselves to the persons on either side, in front and behind. It seemed genuinely warm and friendly. The warm glow of those introductions lasted right up until the final amen was said and all the people around us headed straight for the doors. We were the last ones out, exchanged a few words with the pastor and left. In the car going home we decided we wouldn’t need to visit that church again.

Next we decided to try the other Mennonite church in town. The first thing we noticed was the large number of earnest young people. The story of what was happening emerged as we continued to attend. A young man who had grown up here had lived a decidedly non-Christian life and left looking for adventure. He heard a street preacher in Vancouver and came under conviction. As he surrendered his life to the Saviour all the things he had done back home came flooding into his mind. He associated with a Jesus People group for awhile, until they encouraged him to return home and clean up the mess he had left behind.

He had come home and looked up the people he had wronged, confessing what he had done and paying for damage he had done where needed. His example, the freedom that was evident in his life, brought other young people under conviction.

One young lady told of feeling she needed to go to a store where she had shoplifted a number of items and confess what she had done. She resisted at first, because she had no idea how she could pay for what she had stolen. But she had gone, asked to see the store manager and told him the whole story. His face gave no hint of what he might be thinking. When she was done, he asked “Do you think your youth group could come and share their testimonies at our church? Our young people need to hear this.”

And so the movement had spread. The church was now sponsoring coffee house meeting every Wednesday eveing in town, where young people would gather to sing and share testimonies.

Pastor Harvey* was fully supportive, always ready to listen and counsel. We too found him warm and supportive. He told us he used the Living Bible as he thought it was worded in a way that young people could more readily understand. So I bought myself another Bible.

Chris had several dreams during this time, nightmares really. The dreams brought vivid scenes of the end of the world and the return of the Lord, accompanied by a feeling of dread that she was not ready. She went to visit Pastor Harvey* and he assured her that she need not worry, she was doing what God wanted her to do.

In the fall it was announced that retired bishop Daniel* would be conducting Bible studies through the winter on the subject of the end times and the return of Christ. We attended those Bible studies and took it all in as the elderly bishop took verses and parts of verses from here and there and wove them into a story of the rapture of the church, the coming on Antichrist, seven years of great tribulation, the battle of Armageddon and the establishment of the kingdom of Christ when He would reign for a thousand years from Jerusalem.

All appeared to be going well, in our visits with Pastor Harvey* it seemed that baptism would not be far off. Then there was a surprise meeting at church where the elders of the church informed us that this youth movement was getting out of hand, it seemed too much like Pentecostalism. So they had decided to dismiss Pastor Harvey* and give the pastoral responsibility back to bishop Daniel* until a new pastor could be found.

*Names marked by an asterisk are real people, but these are not their real names.

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The half-converted farmer

Years ago, there was a farmer in our neighbourhood who lived a simple life. He had no need of electricity, running water or a lawn mower. He didn’t seem to have a need for a wife either, though it was rumoured that once long ago there had been a lady of the house. Perhaps the rustic simplicity of the homestead soon lost its charm.

This rustic farmer had a simple approach to farming as well. In the spring he seeded his wheat and in the fall he harvested his wheat — as much as his equipment could capture. For you see, the fields produced a much greater crop of weeds than of wheat, in such a manner that the wheat that did grow was short in stature. What is more, there were many prominent rocks throughout the fields that needed to be avoided in seeding and in harvesting. As we passed by his fields after harvest we saw much wheat still standing, waiting to be gleaned by the birds, mice and gophers. The proximity of these heads of wheat to the rocks or to the surface of the ground had made them inaccessible to the harvesting machinery.

Then came a day when the farmer announced that he had seen the light, from henceforth things were going to be different. He purchased top quality seed and fertilizer, enough for all his fields. Nevertheless, he chose not to attempt to remove the rocks and the weeds. The good new seed, he said, with the help of the fertilizer, would produce such vigorous plants that they would choke out the weeds and grow so high the rocks would not be a problem.

Unfortunately, the bad seeds far outnumbered the good. With the help of the fertilizer, they grew taller that year than ever before. The wild mustard plants did indeed resemble small trees. I did not ascertain if the birds of the air built their nests in these great shrubs , but I did observe them flitting joyfully from branch to branch.

Harvest that year was neither better nor worse than in previous years. Whereupon the farmer declared that scientific farming was a fraud designed to separate gullible farmers from their money. He would never again believe a word of it. And the latter end of that farmer was worse than the first.

I have observed people who approached Christian life in like manner. They are convicted of the futility of their old ways and resolve to follow the way of Jesus. They begin to read the Bible and attend church, and verily their countenances are changed. They have hope.

Still, there are all the hurtful things they have said and done in the past, and perhaps dishonest things as well. These are great rocks in their life and the problem of removing them seems insurmountable. The cost and effort of confession and restitution is higher than they are willing to pay. Thus the rocks remain, ever a hindrance  to the trust they desire from others.

Worse yet, their tendencies to hurt feelings and flare ups of temper still remain and get in the way of the good they try to do. An apology would be too humiliating, better to wait and hope people forget. They are keenly aware of other people’s faults, and quite blind to their own. Such thorns in their personalities choke out their good intentions. After a time, they conclude that Christianity was only an illusion and return to their old ways.

It need not be that way. But too many well-meaning evangelists neglect to explain that one cannot live a fruitful and fulfilling Christian life without removing the rocks and the thorns.

Don’t be anxious for anything

We were going through self-examination before communion when a frail elderly brother stood and said “I want to say that I have peace with God, but it seems like I should do something to be able to claim that I have peace. I have prayed God to show me if there is anything I need to make right, but nothing comes to me. I don’t know where I’m at.”

One of the ministers called this brother aside and explained to him that if he had honestly prayed God to show him if there was anything in his way, and nothing came to him, that meant that he did have peace. There was nothing he needed to do. Whereupon the dear old brother was able to say “I believe by faith that I have peace with God.”

Jesus taught: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). This is something we consider in self-examination — is there something that hinders me from coming to the communion altar with a clear conscience?

This is well and good, and Scriptural, but it can become a pattern. We expect that we need to find something to confess so that we can claim peace with God. And when we make that confession we feel a release of tension and believe we can now claim that our peace with God is unclouded by any transgression on our part.

Most of the time it is probably genuine, but perhaps there are more serious needs that we don’t want to deal with, yet we feel we have done what was expected of us and claim that all is well. Or, we may be like this old brother and feel we need to confess something, but their is nothing to confess.

What we are missing in both cases is that the peace of God cannot be purchased by our efforts, however sincere and earnest we may be. God does want us to keep our lives pure and uncluttered by things that would be a hindrance to ourselves or others. But all our efforts to maintain a pure and upright life do not earn peace with God. It is a gift. “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” (Job 34:29).

As I grow older the passage in Philippians 4:6-7 becomes more meaningful to me. (I have changed a few words to follow the French translation of these verses.)

Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all intelligence, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The peace which God gives goes far beyond anything that we can attain to by our intellect. We may feel a certain relief by confessing a wrong, or making restitution for something we have done. We need to do those things, but that relief is not necessarily the peace of God. If we are simply doing things according to our own understanding and feeling satisfied in doing them, there is no keeping power in that. Only the peace of God can bring rest to our hearts and minds and guard them from intrusions of needless anxiety.

Heat: physical and spiritual

We are sweltering in a heat wave here, with temperatures up to 32° with a humidex of 35°.  (That translates into 90° & 95° for those still using Fahrenheit.)  I realize that many readers might even consider those temperatures cool for this time of year.  But I live in Saskatchewan where we haven’t had a long summer of similar temperatures to get us acclimatized.  There is the added factor of being 71 years old — I don’t remember that such temperatures were much hindrance to me 50 and 60 years ago.

Anyway, as I was lolling around trying to avoid any activity that might generate heat, my mind went back to a time around 40 years ago when my wife and I were newly married.  (I should qualify the first part of that statement. At dinner time I rode my bike 2 1/2 kilometres to the seniors’ home where my wife was cooking dinner.  I was fine as long as I was pedaling along, since I created my own little breeze, but as soon as I got off my bike the heat washed over me.)

Back to forty years ago, we witnessed heat of another kind — young people on fire for the Lord.  One young man, around 25 I believe, had kind of slipped into the hippie movement, then encountered some ‘Jesus people’ in Vancouver who challenged him to commit his life completely to Jesus.  He did, then returned home to Manitoba to face up to all the things he had done in the past.  As much as he could remember, he confessed to those he had wronged and paid restitution where needed.

The change in this young man had a tremendous impact on other young people in the church where he had grown up.  Many were convicted and made genuine new commitments to follow Jesus, whatever it would cost.  One young lady had shoplifted items of considerable value from a store and didn’t know how she would ever be able to pay for them.  Nevertheless, she went to see the store manager, shaking in her boots (or whatever she had on her feet) and told him the full story, including how the testimonies of the peace the other young people experienced moved her to want to come completely clean.  The manager listened to the whole story without comment, then said “Do you think your youth group could come to our church and share their experiences? The young people in my church need to hear those testimonies.”

Thus the influence of this group of young people began to spread beyond their home congregation.  The pastor was supportive, but perhaps not quite discerning enough.  I have no doubt at all that most of those experiences were entirely genuine.  But it seemed that there were a few who felt that they had to come up with testimonies like their peers.  I don’t want to sound too judgmental, however some testimonies sounded a little flat and there didn’t seem to be a corresponding change in their life.

The congregation became alarmed, not about the experiences that did not seem genuine, but about those that were.  All that enthusiasm!  This could not be a good thing.  So they dismissed the pastor.

The pastor moved to another congregation of the same denomination in a neighbouring town and the youth followed.  So did we for a time, then we moved to another province and lost track of what happened in the years since.

I want to believe that those who made such a genuine commitment of their lives to Jesus have remained faithful.  It would have been a wonderful thing if the whole church could have experienced a revival.  But it rather seemed that the weight of tradition was going to smother the enthusiasm and stifle the revival before it could really start.

Many voices today are pleading for Christians everywhere to pray for a revival.   It’s not apt to happen if what we really want is a nice tame revival that won’t shake things up too much.

 

 

 

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