Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: spiritual life

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. We often focus on harvest and food on this day. This year we have been getting a little rain and snow every week that interrupts harvest, then it warms up and dries up and harvest resumes till the next precipitation.  So our congregation is delaying our thanksgiving supper for at least a week.

Nevertheless, there is much to be thankful for, as this song says:

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth,
Over and around us lies, —

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild,—

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thy Church, that evermore,
Lifteth holy hands above,
Off’ring up on ev’ry shore,
Its pure sacrifice of love, —

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For Thyself, best gift divine,
To our race so freely giv’n,
For that great great love of Thine,
Peace on earth, and joy in heav’n, —

Christ our God, to thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

– Folliott S. Pierpont, 1835-1917

Approaches to the Bible

All those who call themselves Christians say that their faith is built solely on Jesus Christ the solid rock and that they depend on the Bible for spiritual truth and for instruction in living a life that is pleasing to their Saviour. But how is it really?

Some folks base their faith on a set of proof texts garnered from here and there in the Bible and are endeavouring to build a Christian life using this material. They may be very earnest in expounding on these texts, but often don’t know the context in which these verses are found. In reality, they did not discover these proof texts for themselves, but learned them from various books, preachers and teachers. They were probably convinced of a particular interpretation of Scripture, then given verses to back up a view they had already been persuaded to accept as truth. This is not Bible-based faith and the assurance derived from the certainty of knowing the proof texts is often a false assurance. Such a second-hand belief system does not equip people to counter the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Others begin with a desire to learn from the Bible, but as time goes on they begin to trust their imagination to interpret what the Bible is saying. This is often because they find a plain interpretation of the Bible too constraining. Perhaps they had a remarkable experience or two that was genuinely from the Lord, and begin to think that God has a special role for them in life. They search for confirmation of this in the Bible and begin to interpret all the events of their life in the light of what they imagine to be their special calling. By this time they are no longer searching the Bible to find God’s truth, but searching it to validate their remarkable new insights. They still claim to have a Bible-based faith, but are far from the heaven bound narrow way.

There are a few who hold up their thoughts, desires, imaginations and experiences to the light of the Bible and allow God to prove what is genuine and what is useless baggage. They will be blessed in reading the Bible. They will find direction for their lives, strength for the daily battles with the forces of evil, and assurance that God is leading. There is peace and rest when they have nothing to prove, but are willing to let God prove their inner thoughts and desires through His Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Introduction to the New Testament – 1

The Gospels
Matthew – The writer calls himself Levi; the other gospels call him Matthew, perhaps a name given to him when he became a disciple of Jesus. He was a publican before his call, a man who collected taxes on all merchandise transported along the road where he was stationed near Capernaum. This was the first gospel, written while Matthew was in Jerusalem, probably between A.D. 60 and 66. He wrote for Jewish readers, mentioning throughout his gospel all the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and how they were fulfilled in Jesus’ life and ministry.

Matthew gives the most complete version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These three chapters are the key to understanding the transition from the old covenant of the law to the new covenant of the gospel. Righteousness is not outward conformity to the law, but a heartfelt love of God that leads to a life of purity and allows us to mirror His love for all people.

The gospel of Matthew is the only one to mention the Gentile women in the genealogy of Jesus and the only one to mention the Gentile Magi who came searching the newborn king of the Jews.

The most complete wording of the great commission is found at the end of Matthew’s gospel, instructing the followers of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples from every nation.

After writing the gospel Matthew went as missionary to Persia and Ethiopia, where he died as a martyr for the faith.

Mark – The author is John Mark, cousin of Barnabas, close friend of Peter and mission companion of Paul. This gospel was likely written shortly after Matthew’s and before the fall of Jerusalem.

The early church fathers stated that Mark’s gospel was written at Rome for Gentile believers and based on the memories of the apostle Peter. It is the shortest of the gospels and the most vivid, as would befit the recording of Peter’s eyewitness accounts. It is not concerned with the fulfilment of messianic prophecies, but with showing Jesus to be the incarnate Son of God living among men and women and by His death and resurrection making salvation available to all mankind.

It is generally believed that after writing the gospel Mark travelled to Egypt, founded the church at Alexandria and died there as a martyr.

Luke was born at Antioch, not of Jewish parents, and studied medicine. Little is known of his early life and conversion, but he appears in Acts as a companion of Paul.

He was not an eye-witness of the life of Jesus, but consulted those who were. One of those may have been Mary, the mother of our Lord. Luke includes her genealogy, the visit of Gabriel, Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the visit of the shepherds, the meeting with Simeon and Anna in the temple and many other details of which she would have been the only surviving eyewitness.

Luke was a Gentile, and addressed his account to a Gentile. He compiled a history of the life of Jesus from the very first angelic messages of His birth. He strove for historical accuracy, linking events to the time of specific government officials. Luke differentiates himself from the other Gospels by putting events in chronological order, and from secular Greek histories by recording only reliable historical facts.

John – The gospel of John was the last one written. It is not really a history, dealing mostly with the last six months of Jesus’ life. Nor is it meant as a tool for evangelism, but rather for strengthening the faith of the church which already existed by that time. He supplies details missing in the earlier gospels and much teaching to cultivate the spiritual life of Christians.

John was possibly the youngest of the apostles and the only one who did not die a martyr. This gospel was probably written at Ephesus, where John lived and ministered for many years.

The opening passage of John’s gospel is a masterful statement of the Old Testament concept of the Word as being eternal and the active principle in Creation and can also be understood to take in the Greek concept of the Logos which gives coherence to all the universe. John goes on to state that this Word, or Logos, is God who made all things, who is life and light and who came to earth in the form of man and dwelt among men as one of them. This gospel contains the most explicit teaching on the new birth and on the Holy Spirit and demonstrates how it is only by knowing Jesus, the Creator, Lord and Saviour, that the created world makes any sense.

Doesn’t everybody want to change their life?

Jim walked into the small town grocery store, a bundle of tracts in his hand. He looked around, found the tract rack and saw it was almost empty. He dropped the tracts in his had on the counter and went out to his car to get more.

The clerk was reading one of the tracts when he returned. “Don’t read that!” he said. “Unless you want to change your life.”

She looked up at him, smiling. “Doesn’t everybody want to change their life?”

I’ve pondered that for a long time. I don’t think we do. We want our life to be different, but it’s other people and the circumstances of my life that need to change. I am not the problem here, my life will never change unless someone else makes some changes in the way they treat me.

It’s like banging my head against a brick wall. I get a headache, the wall is just the same, has no idea why anyone would expect it to change.

One day God says “You are the problem. You need to change.”

That’s ridiculous. I’m doing the best anyone could hope to do when he has to live and work around all these turkeys.

God persists. I begin to see little things where I might have said things differently, done things differently. But what would that really help? The turkeys are the real problem.

One day things go really badly, and I know that I caused this problem. A light goes on. “OK God, I don’t know how to get out of this mess I’ve made. Please help me.”

Nothing great happens, except I’m a little calmer, now. After a few days I realize that the turkeys don’t seem much like turkeys anymore; they’re pretty much the same as me. I even start to like them. I don’t often see them making mistakes any more but my own mistakes are becoming painfully obvious. I find myself saying “I’m sorry” quite often. I never used to do that. 

One morning I realize that I am looking forward to the day, the little interactions that I might have with all those interesting people around me. Something has changed, and it’s not them. I am different, but it is God who has made the difference in me. I didn’t have a clue where to begin.

Do you want to change the world?

So does God.

He wants to begin with you.

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.

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

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