Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: spiritual life

Collateral damage – or the real target?

I have been musing about the Islamist terrorist attacks in Europe and North America; who are these attacks really targeting? Is it the terrorists goal to make Western nations more favourable to the aspirations of Muslim people and nations around the world?  I think we can give them credit for being smart enough to know that isn’t going to work.

Our governments have shown admirable restraint in the comments they make about the supposed religious motivation of these attacks. The same cannot be said about all the citizens. There is a portion of the populace who have voiced suspicions about all the Muslims now present in our nations. Often it goes beyond mere suspicion to statements that no one if the Muslim faith can be trusted. Some of these statements are coming from people who self-identify as Christian.

Is this perhaps the real goal of the terrorists? To make Muslims in our countries feel marginalized, to fear that they will never be accepted and trusted? That makes fertile ground for Islamist propaganda among Muslim young people.

How are Muslims going to know that love permeates the foundation of the Christian faith,if supposedly Christian people are actively promoting distrust of Muslims?

Earlier this year, after a shooting at a mosque in Québec City, Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister of Québec told people that words matter and that we should endeavour to get our facts straight before we speak and write. He also spoke of the need to talk to each other and suggested: “The next time you walk past someone of the Muslim community, why don’t you stop and say hello?” That’s good advice.

Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Answering Jihad gives the same kind of advice. He advises Christians to reach out to the Muslims around us and develop friendships, but not to expect overnight conversions. It will probably take years for a Muslim to make the step of trusting Jesus rather that Allah. But many have done that, including Qureshi himself. First we have to convince them that Christians are not their enemies, even if we do not worship Allah.

Have we misdiagnosed the problem?

It is at least 50 years since C.S. Lewis wrote: “The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin . . . We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect then to welcome the news of the remedy.” (from God in the Dock, published by Eerdmans.)

The evangelism methods of 100 years ago still work quite well in many places in third world countries. Not so well in North America and Europe. In fact, hardly at all. Why, they don’t even seem to have a lot of impact on children raised in Christian homes.

Evangelicals have responded in various ways: We have to try harder; We have to make our approach more seeker-friendly; We have to avoid those parts of the gospel message that people find offensive.

Have we misdiagnosed the problem? People have been told for the last 100 years, by people calling themselves Christian, that it is the society around us that needs fixing; people aren’t sinners, the world we live in is sinful. Fix the world and we can all live like Christ wants us to live.

There is now a continual hubbub around us of people trying to save the world. And it seems that they are in a constant state of outrage towards those who don’t wholeheartedly endorse their project for fixing the world. If one steps back a moment to observe, it all goes to prove that people are indeed sinners. The anger, hatred, harassment and violence that comes forth from attempts to save the world actually prove the need for the message of the gospel.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18)

Reflections on my bread machine saga

I thought I had this bread machine almost figured out, I had managed to produce two loaves that were completely edible. Friday’s trial number six proved that I still have a ways to go – the loaf rose too high and then fell. I cut off the top part and the rest is quite edible, but I still haven’t mastered the process.

My mother was an artisan in the kitchen. she baked white bread, brown bread, rye bread, buns and cinnamon rolls without a recipe and without a failure.  A machine that makes breads does not have my mother’s knowledge and skills.

A bread machine is known as a robot boulanger in French – a robot baker. It occurs to me that in order to successfully produce a good loaf of bread with this robot I have to become its servant. If I do not do everything exactly as the robot wishes my efforts will produce flop after flop.

How much are our lives ruled by things? The weekend cyberattack creates some doubt in my mind about the brave new world that is promised by the internet of things. Could some shadowy group, directed by a criminal organization or a hostile government, bring all those things to a crashing halt?

What about self-driving cars? If one reads closely the propaganda in their favour, it becomes evident that the ultimate goal is to eliminate private ownership of automobiles. Would that then make us all slaves to some arcane algorithm? Who would design and control that algorithm?

The ultimate question is: How would a Christian live by the leading of the Holy Spirit if he cedes so much control of his life to things and algorithms?

I am not a Luddite, but these questions trouble my thoughts.

The dying poplar

 

plane-tree-337780_1280Three native species of poplar grow in Saskatchewan: cottonwood, trembling aspen and balsam poplar. They are fast growing trees that can attain heights of  25 to 30 metres (80 – 100 feet) and a diameter of 100 cm (3 feet) at eye level. The balsam polar is more slender.

Cottonwoods send forth their seeds with tufts of white fluff that form a cottony layer on our lawns each spring. Trembling aspens have flattened leaf stems that allow their leaves to flutter against each other at the slightest breeze. The sap of balsam poplar has a balsam- like scent.

These are trees of the open prairies and boreal forests. Being fast growing trees, they are also short-lived. There is no old growth boreal forest, a 100 year old tree is either a dead tree or a terminally ill tree. Forest fires are nature’s way of renewing the boreal forest, cleaning out the dead trees and the debris from the forest floor and allowing new growth to begin and reach for the sun.

These trees have been widely used in farm shelter belts here in the flatlands, protecting farm yards from the constant prairie winds. But here, as in their natural habitat, they eventually grow old and die. Fires are not a desirable event in a farm yard, so these shelter belts eventually need maintenance. And often don’t get it. The wood from these trees is of little value for lumber, or even for fire wood, providing little incentive to go to all the work needed to remove dead and dying trees. This leads to scenes such as the one I described in my last post.

Several years ago one of these big old poplars could be seen from our dining room window. It was obviously close to the end of its lifespan, one massive branch fell during a summer windstorm. The next spring, most of the branches showed no sign of life, but leaves did appear on a few branches near the top of the tree.

One day, when there was only the slightest breeze, the tree came crashing down. It was easy to understand why when I went to look: the interior of the trunk had rotted until there was not much but bark to hold the tree upright.

I wondered if some Christians might not be like that tree: still upright, showing little signs of spiritual life from the outside, but almost spiritually dead on the inside.

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Books that unsettle

I read a lot and glean at least a kernel of useful information from everything I read. Perhaps a snippet of information that might someday be useful, perhaps a way of seeing things that is new to me and helps clarify my vision.

Sometimes I read a book that shakes the walls of smug complacency that delineate my life. I have written about two such books in the past and will mention them again at the end of this post.

Another is The Power of Weakness by Dan Schaeffer. He tells us that most of us have it wrong when we think of what it takes to be useful in the kingdom of God. God wants to use us to glorify Himself, but we think that it is God’s plan to glorify us. That seems ridiculous at first, but if we examine our unspoken ambitions, we are apt to squirm at the realization that Schaeffer has identified the root of our ineffectiveness.

The book that really makes me uncomfortable is The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp. Let me admit from the start that I was put off by the intense emotions that pulsate through this book. I have spent too much of my life stifling my emotions to welcome a book that invites me to be vulnerable, that tells me that admitting my brokenness is the key to the abundant life. But she is right.

These four books are an antidote to the smugness of so much modern Christian literature. I believe it is good to read books that shake us up. I don’t endorse everything that is said in these books, but may they be a means of refining our motives for serving our Lord and Saviour.

The four books are:

Humble Roots, © 2016 by Hannah Anderson, published by Moody Publishers

Embracing Obscurity, © 2012 by Anonymous, published by B & H Publishing Group, Nashville

The Power of Weakness, © 2014 by Dan Schaeffer, published by Discovery House Publishers

The Broken Way, © 2016 by Ann Voskamp, published by Zondervan

Moving on, or pressing on

I really thought that spring would be here in just a day or two. The sun shone warmly on Saturday, the few patches of snow left were becoming smaller and smaller, we heard of birds coming back to a place just a few hours south of us.

Alas, it was but a dream. We awoke Sunday to a thick covering of fresh snow and rapidly cooling temperatures. Today the wind is blowing fiercely, cleaning the snow from open places and packing it into firm drifts in other places. The forecast doesn’t offer any hope of warmer weather until the 21st when spring officially begins.

No wonder the Romans named this month after Mars, their god of war. Many of the worst blizzards I have experienced arrived without warning during this month.

Wouldn’t it be better to live in a part of the world that never has winter? That sounds like a good idea on days like today. But – I have visited Arkansas and Mississippi at the end of March, when the weather was beautiful and I don’t know how I could survive a summer in those places. Besides, winter provides us with an all natural, ecologically safe barrier to things like fire ants, brown recluse spiders, Burmese pythons and other such creatures. Tornado season here is much shorter and less destructive.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I am accustomed to the hazards of living in this climate and know how to cope with the unpleasant aspects of it. If I moved somewhere else to avoid those issues, would I know how to cope with unfamiliar and unexpected aspects of the new locale?

A Saskatchewan politician visiting in British Columbia once said “A lot of Saskatchewan people move to B.C. because of the climate. Most of them move back because of the weather.” My father-in-law was one. He got so depressed by week after week of clouds, rain, and no sunshine in B.C. that he came back to Saskatchewan.

I think that applies to other aspects of our life. Someone grows frustrated in his job, his marriage, his church, the place he lives, and thinks a change will make things better. (I used the masculine pronouns because that is what I am and what I am most familiar with, not to imply that persons on the feminine side may not have the same temptations.) Most often the result is not what was anticipated.

Often a person will explain the change in one of these relationships by his need to get away from persons who are causing him trouble. Oddly enough, the same kind of persons, causing the same problems, are usually found in the next job, church, town, or marriage. And the next one after that.

If we take an honest look at ourselves, we are apt to find we have a full time job looking after the troubles caused by our own attitudes and actions. If we occupy ourselves with that, we will usually be quite content to stay where we are.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to move on, other than discontent with the people we have to do with. My wife and I tried out a number of churches years ago. We met a lot of fine people, but not the spiritual fellowship that we longed for. We have belonged to the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 37 years now. That doesn’t mean we have found nicer people, or better people, it just means that we are content that we are where God wants us to be.

Here in the Swanson congregation we have been trying for over a year to decide what to do about our aging church building. Such a situation provides endless possibilities for conflict. But it also creates possibilities for confession and apology when attitudes and words have been uncharitable. It feels like this process is drawing us closer together.

The cackle or the egg?

chicken-180596_1280

The cackle of a hen is a promise that she has laid an egg. But my farm boy experience taught me that sometimes the cackle was a false promise – no egg could be found.

Christians put a lot of emphasis on experiences, and rightly so. Christian life is a new life that must begin with a new birth, an experience. As we grow after the new birth, there should be other experiences: a deeper consecration, a correction in the course our life has been taking, a conviction about whom we should marry, a conviction for service.

I wonder, though, if we should put less emphasis on the experience and more on the result. Some people claim heart-warming experiences with the Lord, but nothing changes in their life. They have mistaken the cackle for the egg.

Blaise Pascal wrote that the heart of man is so wicked that as soon as he begins to think of getting converted he believes he is converted. Someone who has travelled in Christian circles long enough knows what an experience sounds like. He may want so badly to have his own experience that he manages to convince himself that he really has had one.

This is a dangerous situation. Forty years ago my wife and I went to hear David Wilkerson speak in Regina, taking a friend with us. Our friend was deeply moved during the meeting and stood when the call came. All the way home she bubbled over with how her life was going to be different from then on. The bubbles lasted a couple of days and then were gone, leaving no sign of a change in her life. It wasn’t David Wilkerson’s fault, he gave good direction, but our friend didn’t make a connection with God. The cackle filled a momentary emotional need but left no trace of changed life.

As Mennonites, we do not baptize solely on the basis of a person’s experience. The person who claims to have had a new birth experience tells that experience to a congregation made up of people who are born again and know how it transforms a life. The congregation decides on the baptism, not just on the basis of the experience, but on the substance of the changed life they have observed in the convert.

I don’t mean this to sound disrespectful of anyone. But I do want to point out the emptiness of telling a wonderful experience with the Lord when there is no evidence of a changed life. Years ago a friend told me about someone with whom he’d had some costly business dealings. I’ll call the man Andy. My friend said “Every time Andy gets into trouble, he get’s born again. He’s been born again four or five times already and he’s still the same man he always was.” I knew the circumstances and I knew my friend was telling things as they were. Andy’s multiple claims of being born again were no more than empty cackling.

I don’t want to hear that so-and-so has had an experience. I want to see that his life is transformed. Just like I don’t care how often a hen cackles, I want to see the egg.

A holy appetite

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:
for they shall be filled

Here is something more than mere vacuity, or penitence, or tranquil readiness. It is an ardent longing — a holy appetite for all that is right and good.
Filled — The Gospel can fill the largest desire for the true good.

-Daniel Whedon

Spiritual mourning

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

There is an obvious way of understanding these words. We encounter sorrow and loss during our lives that are cause for mourning, and we can find comfort in Jesus that is not available anywhere else.

  • But these seemingly simple words also contain a far deeper meaning:We need to mourn for our own sins, like David: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” (Psalm 51)We need to mourn for conditions in the church: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it” (The apostle Paul to the church at Corinth). “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (The message in the book of Revelations to the church at Ephesus). Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
  • We should grieve for Christians who are separated from a truly spiritual church fellowship. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria. . . but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:1-6). We often hear the first part of verse one and think that is the message. But God gave Amos a burden for those in the apostate kingdom of Israel, led by the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, sons of Joseph, because they were separated from the true worship of God in the temple at Jerusalem. God sent Hosea to Israel with the message that God sorrowed for wayward Israel just as Hosea sorrowed for his wayward wife.
  • We should grieve for conditions in the world we live in, not only for those in faraway lands, but also for the people who are our near neighbours. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). “ But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17).
  • The apostle Paul said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.” This leaves us no ground to think of ourselves as better than others. We cannot serve the Lord with that kind of thought in our minds. First, we must grieve for our sinfulness, weakness and inadequacy. Then we see others as being the same as we are. We are in a world ruled by hostile spiritual forces and we have no strength in ourselves to overcome those forces. Our only hope is Jesus Christ.

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Isn’t that the meaning of the beatitude quoted above?

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).

No room for boasting

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

For we brought nothing into this world” (1 Timothy 6:7). The Apostle was talking about material things, but I don’t think it does his words any violence to say that no one of us came into this world with any pre-qualifications for salvation. In that respect, we are all equally impoverished.

Perhaps we had parents who were genuine Christians in word and in life, and grandparents and great-grandparents. And they all belonged to a church that was firmly grounded on the unadulterated gospel of Jesus-Christ. That’s wonderful. It’s something for which to be thankful.

But it’s not something to boast about. Their faith is not transferable. I get no credit for the faith of someone else; my salvation is solely based on my relationship with Jesus Christ.

I was not saved because I was “raised in the church.” That gave me an opportunity to hear the gospel. But many others have had the same advantage and spurned it. There are many who grew up with the light of the gospel shining all around them who are now walking in darkness.

Others who grew up in the darkness of this world are now walking in the light. And are probably much more thankful for it than those for whom the light has been an everyday reality as far back as they can remember.

It is well and good for those who have been raised in Christian homes to be thankful. But there is only a fine line between thankfulness and boastfulness. When we talk much about our Christian heritage and think that it sets us apart from the common run of humanity, we are no longer poor in spirit. And to those around us who may be seeking for spiritual light, we are apt to be more of a hindrance than a help.

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

The spiritual riches that we enjoy are not our own. We did not inherit them. We did not acquire them by wisdom, by doing the right things, or by any other means at our disposal. These riches came from admitting that we were impoverished, blind and unable to help ourselves. Let us rejoice and be glad in them. But let’s forget the boasting.

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