Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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The affliction of Joseph

Judah and Ephraim were the two largest tribes of Israel. Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim; perhaps the Ephraimites carried from that some sense of entitlement that they should play more of a leadership role. When Jeroboam of the tribe of Ephraim rebelled against King Rehoboam, Mannasseh and all the other northern tribes followed his lead.

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From that point on the prophets referred to the whole rebellious northern kingdom and Joseph, or Ephraim, just as all the tribes united in the southern kingdom were called Judah. And Joseph was now once more separated from his brethren. That is the affliction of Joseph the prophet Amos was referring to in Amos 6:1-6.

Elijah and Elisha were both natives of the northern kingdom, used of God to warn the people and call them to return unto the true worship of the Lord. Hosea and Amos were from Judah and called of God to call the people of the northern kingdom to repentance.

Jonah was also of the northern kingdom. The only mention of him, beside the book which carries his name, is found in 2 Kings 14:25. This is the account of Jeroboam II retaking the northern part of Israel from the Syrians, as prophesied by Jonah.

2 Chronicles 21:12-15 records the letter sent to King Jehoram of Judah by Elijah: “Thus saith the LORD God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father’s house, which were better than thyself: behold, with a great plague will the LORD smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: and thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day.”

The only other connection of Elijah to Judah is that when he felt his life threatened by Jezebel he crossed into Judah, left his servant there and continued on to Mount Horeb.

There is a revealing incident in the life of Elisha when King Jehoram of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were preparing for battle and called on Elsha to enquire of the Lord on their behalf. Elisha replied to the king of Israel: “As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee” (2 Kings 3:14).

All of this is pretty conclusive evidence that the prophets regarded Judah as the people of God and Israel, led by Ephraim, to be apostate. Yet God had called them to minister to the people of apostate Israel to draw them back into full fellowship with His people.

Hosea spoke of a time when the two houses of Israel would be reunited. During the Babylonian captivity the prophet Ezekiel bemoans the unfaithfulness of the shepherds in chapter 34. Verse 11says: “For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.”

The sending of the 70 by Jesus to seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel should be seen as part of the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Note that he is referring to sheep, that is children of God. The lost condition referred to means that they had no shepherd, not that they were spiritually lost. When the Bible speaks of the saved and the lost it refers to them as sheep and goats. The sheep will enter heaven, the goats will be turned away.

There are multitudes of people in the world today who are unsaved and need to hear the gospel and see it being lived out in the lives of true children of God. But there are also the lost sheep, the children of God who wander through the wilderness of the world because they do not have a shepherd. They are also a mission field. Jesus said: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

The Christian art of soft persuasion

Jesus said: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We want to share the gospel; let’s not get distracted into wolf hunting. That’s not what Jesus has called us to do; He has called us to demonstrate an alternative to the wolves.

Not everyone out there in the world is a wolf. Many are confused, some are deceived, but that does not make them wolves. For this reason we need to be wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves. It is one thing to point out the snares in false teachings, but if we attack everyone who we deem to be deceived, we are acting like wolves.

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Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The gospel is unchanging from age to age and culture to culture. Yet the words we use to explain the gospel must be adapted to the understanding of the hearers. Before we can present the gospel in a meaningful way to someone of a different culture, we must first unpack it from the baggage of our own culture. Here is where we are most apt to stumble. We are blind to our own culture. Why would we even think of changing what is right and good and workable, we ask?

To other people our culture is blatantly obvious. We have preconceived ideas of how a Christian should conduct himself. We like to shake hands, but hugging makes us uncomfortable. We are accustomed to keeping a generous amount of personal space between ourselves and the person we are speaking to. These things make us appear cold and aloof to people of a warmer culture.

We use words, expressions, examples that we believe are universal. They are not. We can’t understand the questions people ask, they seem so strange to our way of thinking. Our way of thinking is equally foreign to them.

Once we learn to recognize that the baggage we have carried all our lives is not essential to the gospel, then we can begin to share the message in a way that others can understand. We become soft and gentle sheep, submissive to the will of God, portraying the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and actions.

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“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Adam Clarke’s take on this is that Paul is saying that he assumed every shape and form consistent with innocency and perfect integrity; giving up his own will, his own way; his own ease; his own pleasure; and his own profit that he might save the souls of all. He did not accommodate or water down his message to the beliefs of others, his goal was not to get money, influence, or honour, but to save souls. It was not to get ease, but to increase his labours. It was not to save his life, but rather that it should be a sacrifice for the good of immortal souls.

Living in the presence of the Shepherd

There are well-meaning Christians who put much emphasis abiding by correct doctrine, even adding numerous rules of guidelines as rules of conduct. The intention is to construct a barrier around the people of God so that they would know not to stray far from the truth as given in the Word of God.

But where is the Shepherd in this scene? It often seems that He has been relegated to a supporting role, the barrier that surrounds the flock is considered greater protection than the Shepherd.

Well, fences work well for cattle. When a herd of cattle is turned out into a new pasture, they will follow the fence around until they are sure that there are no weak spots. Then they will settle down and not trouble the fence again. Oh sure, there will often be one fence jumper in a herd, but the rest will contentedly ignore him and feed on the pasture.

Sheep are not like that. If the flock sees that one sheep has found a weak spot in the fence, they will all follow. That is why sheep need a shepherd, and that is why the Bible depicts the people of God as a flock of sheep. If left to ourselves, we are all inclined to follow the wayward sheep.

In the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. He calls His own sheep by name; they know His voice. They stay close to Him because they know He will lead them to good pasture and water, He will protect them from danger, He will care for the weak and injured.

Why then does the Bible spend so much time teaching doctrine? Why do we need doctrines if we are in the presence of the Shepherd? The doctrines are a big part of what enables us to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd from all the impostors out there. Jesus spoke of thieves, robbers and hirelings. They all call at first with pleasant, enticing voices. Some are trying to steal and destroy the sheep. Some are merely mercenaries who are acting as shepherds for personal benefit and do not care enough for the sheep to put themselves in the way of danger. “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Jesus says He is the door of the sheepfold. The sheepfold was a walled enclosure to protect the sheep at night during the colder months. The shepherd stood at the door to examine his sheep as they came in, to make sure that all his sheep made it safely into the fold and that no others tried to crowd in. Often he would sleep in the doorway at night to make sure no wild animals tried to get it.

The sheep knew and trusted their shepherd. They would not go out to pasture until the shepherd called them by name and went ahead to check for danger and to lead them to the best pasture.

Here is a God given picture of the ideal state of the children of God. To live constantly in the presence of the Good Shepherd is to live in peace and assurance that all is well. I am where the Shepherd wants me to be; I am doing what the Shepherd wants me to do.

By all means, let’s study the Word of God and learn the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. They all point us to the Shepherd and help us to know Him better. But may we never begin to think that our safety is simply in knowing and obeying the doctrines. It is in knowing and obeying the Shepherd who is revealed by the Word and the doctrines.

Submission = Freedom

I realize this is a counter-cultural statement in the present day and age where liberty is prized above all other virtues. But are people more free today than they were in ages past?

Consider the example of a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd watches over the needs of the flock, guards them from enemies, treats their wounds and sicknesses. Is this freedom or bondage? If an independent minded sheep leaves to seek his freedom, is he then free when the wolves are picking over his bones?

If an unwed woman wishes to abort her baby, she is free to do so; she will find much support and encouragement for this decision. Will she find as much support and encouragement if she makes a different choice? Or does the prevailing mood of our society push in one direction only? How can this be called freedom of choice?

People are fleeing repressive regimes in some countries and seeking a safe haven in nations that are more free. Most of them are willing to submit to the laws and mores of their new country and make it their new homeland. Others appear to want to re-create the laws and mores of the countries from which they have fled. It appears that they have carried with them a bondage of the mind.

Christianity promises freedom and demands submission. This sounds contradictory, but true freedom can only be found in submission to God. All the other forms of submission of which the Bible speaks – in the home, in the church, towards civil authorities – are simply means of working out our submission to God’s authority in all areas of our life.

There are many people who want to claim Jesus as their Saviour, but are not willing to acknowledge His as Lord of their life. It is a great fallacy to believe that such a thing is possible. Many people find Christian life burdensome and frustrating precisely because they believe that submission is an infringement of their liberty. They follow the path that they believe will bring liberty and happiness and find themselves deeper and deeper in bondage and more and more unhappy.

We are like sheep – we need a shepherd. When we can submit to the Good Shepherd and permit Him to lead us in all areas of our life, we find it a truly liberating experience.

One more point must be clearly established – in the Christian church everyone is called to submit, no one is called to lord it over the faith and life of others. God has an order that makes homes and congregations into havens of peace and love if each one can submit to his or her place in that order. Knowing that those to whom I submit are themselves submitted to authority, ultimately the authority of God, brings the assurance that there will be no abuse of the confidence I place in them. Those who are in authority over me are those who must watch for my soul. that cannot work if they try to do it in an overbearing and lordly way.

 

Porcupine allegory, part one

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a porcupine named Rolly.  Like the other porcupines in this far away land, Rolly was big, much bigger than the little porcupines that we mostly see as road kill along our highways.  Because of his size and his quills, other animals did not bother Rolly very often.  Yet he always needed to be on his guard, for he never knew when some dangerous creature would try to attack his soft underside.

He spent his days travelling around looking for food, climbing trees to look around, chatting a little with other porcupines without ever getting too close.  Those quills were just as painful to a porcupine as to other creatures.  Rolly didn’t spend much time wishing his life could be different.  He was just like porcupines had always been.

One day Rolly came over the top of a hill and found a group of creatures eating together in the meadow.  They were about the same size as he was, but instead of quills they had a soft fuzzy coat.  He watched as two of them bumped into each other, but neither yelled “Ouch!”  In fact, they didn’t seem to notice.  As Rolly watched, he could see this happening all over.  These creatures actually seemed to like being close together.

For the first time in his life, Rolly began to feel lonely, a kind of deep sadness that made him wish he could join these creatures.  But he knew his quills would drive them away.

From then on, Rolly would look for this band of fuzzy creatures each day and watch them.  He saw that when they laid down to sleep they would huddle close together.  It seemed like as they truly enjoyed being close to each other.  Rolly noticed too that there was a man with the sheep who appeared to be their guide.  He knew when they were thirsty and led them to a clean pool of water to drink.  Rolly learned that the creatures were called sheep and the man with them was their shepherd.

One day he saw a wolf creeping close to one of the sheep and wanted to yell a warning.  Before he could open his mouth the shepherd was there and struck the wold with the big stick that he always carried and the wolf ran away as fast as he could.  Another day a cougar caught one of the sheep and started to carry it away.  The shepherd took a round stone out of his bag and placed it in the pouch of a sling with two long cords.  The shepherd took the ends of the cords in one hand and began to swing the sling in circles, faster and faster.  Suddenly his arm stopped, pointing directly at the cougar and let go of one cord.  Rolly heard a Crack!, and the cougar dropped dead.  The shepherd picked up the wounded sheep, carried it back to the flock and began to care for his wounds.

“Wouldn’t you like to be one of us?”  Rolly jumped.  He had been so fascinated by the cougar and the shepherd’s actions that he hadn’t noticed the sheep approaching him.

“But I can’t” said Rolly.  “I’m a porcupine.  Nobody wants to get close to a porcupine.”  “Nobody cares about a porcupine,” he added sorrowfully.

“We all used to be porcupines, just like you,” responded the sheep.

This piece of news shocked Rolly.  “I don’t believe you,” he responded, wishing all the time that it could be true.

“If you ask the shepherd, he will make the quills fall out and you can become just like the rest of us.”

It was a promise, and a challenge.  Rolly was almost too afraid to accept the challenge.  On legs that had suddenly become very weak he began to walk over to where the shepherd was sitting and watching over his flock.  His mouth was so dry, he didn’t know if he would be able to say a word.

“Hello Rolly, are you tired of being a porcupine?”

The shepherd knew his name!  Now the words came tumbling out: “Yes, I’m tired of being alone, not having any friends, of pushing others away from me, of being afraid lest they get too close.  I don’t want to fight anymore.”

“If that is truly your wish, it may be so,” responded the shepherd.  And Rolly felt all the quills drop away from him.

“Let me introduce you to the other sheep,” said the shepherd.

Today we washed the sheep

Another excerpt from When I Was Thirteen, by Christina Young of Waubuno, Ontario

May 31, 1897
Today we washed the sheep.  I guess I had better describe how it is done, as the fashions may be changed by the time my descendants are able to read this.  There are so many new ways of doing things being invented these days that very likely sheep washing will be out of date in about twenty years from now.  I am glad I am myself and not one of my descendants, as I would hate to miss some of the customs we have in these days.  Still I suppose my descendants will think their ways are the best, and will pity me as they read this diary, for being so old-fashioned.

I know I rather pity old Mrs. Wilson for the times she had to come through when this country was all woods, and wolves and wild animals were common.  But still it is thrilling to hear her tell about those days, and the way they did things.  I would have loved to have lived through them for one whole year, and then skip the rest of the time till now.  I wonder if in heaven God will in some way bring back all the wonderful things of the past that we have missed by not being born soon enough.  Maybe eternity is just time going around in a circle with all the unbeautiful things left out, and everybody will be able to live through all the different ages and get the thrills out of them all.

I had quite an exciting experience while we were bringing the sheep up from the field, I had gone back with Pa to drive them up, and when we got there we found a lamb that had got on its back and couldn’t get up.  When Pa helped it up it was too weak to keep up with the flock, so Pa had to carry it and I had to drive the sheep.

Our old Billy sheep is quite cross, as we have teased him quite a bit when we would be in a safe place, such as close to a fence.

I had a big stick in my hand and was all right as long as it held out, but it broke once when I gave him a crack on the head as he was coming for me.  Then Billy saw his chance, and I knew the day of reckoning had come for me.

I jumped to one side just as he almost reached me, and he went on past the first time, but I expected he would soon get onto that dodge.

Pa was quite a way behind, but I could hear him laughing, though I couldn’t see any fun myself.

Pa yelled at me then to jump on Billy’s back, so the next time he charged I jumped to the other side, and before he could turn around I had climbed on his back.

He was that surprised he just stood still and shook his head.  He couldn’t understand what had become of me, I guess.  Pa was laughing very hard by this time, and I joined in then, as I began to see the fun, being safe myself.

Billy behaved like a gentleman after that.  As we got to the house we could hear Munroe’s sheep and Wilson’s coming down the road, Wesley’s joined us at the corner with theirs, and we drove all the sheep together down the road to the creek, a mile south of the corner.

All the boys and girls around the corner went along, as it is great fun watching the men wash the sheep and paddling around ourselves.

When they got to the creek, they drove all the sheep into a large three-cornered pen made of rails that had been built for the purpose, with one corner opening into the creek.

Then sheep by sheep the men took them all into the creek and washed them, and then turned them loose to run on the road a few days to dry.  Then they will be sheared.

As I write in my diary I can hear lambs and sheep bleating from every direction.  It is a most lonesome and sorrowful sound, the sound of a sheep that cannot find its lamb, or a lamb that has lost its mother.

Then, when they find each other, it is a most joyful and comforted sound that they make, as if all the sorrow is past and already almost forgotten.

I will be awake hours tonight, I suppose, listening for the sorrowful bleats to be changed into bleats of rejoicing.  And then I will go to sleep.

I expect that is a tiny bit like the Rest, that the angels feel up in heaven, whenever a sorrowing sinner finds God.

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