Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: spirituality

More than one side to history

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My Grade 11 and 12 classroom had a library — a two shelf bookcase. I read all the books in that library, in class time, during those two years. One book was a history of an era we had recently studied in Social Studies, but gave a different version of that history than our textbook. That was when it dawned on me that history depends on the point of view of the one writing the story. The people and events may be the same, but the causes and results quite different. Not to mention the identities of the heroes and villains.

I also read historical novels, in which the English protagonists were noble, honest, kind and all round wonderful guys. Other people, especially if they were French, were portrayed as shifty-eyed, dishonest and cruel miscreants. Later in life I learned to read French and found that historical fiction in French was exactly the same as in English. Except that now the French were the noble, honest, kind and wonderful heroes and the English were double-dealing, arrogant, dishonest and pitiless villains. No doubt both the English and the French writers believed they had the facts on their side. Certainly, the French felt they had good and sufficient reason to refer to England as perfidious Albion.

I recall a Canadian federal-provincial conference of almost 50 years ago, a meeting of the heads of government of the provinces and the national government. Shortly before the meeting started an English-speaking reporter got a glimpse of a list brought by the Quebec delegation. He could not read the French-language list, but saw that the headings was Demandes. He began to hyperventilate and soon it was headline news all over English Canada that Quebec had come to the conference with a list of DEMANDS. A few cooler heads pointed out that in French demande means question, but the damage was done.

History is not only made by well-intentioned people defending what they believe to be noble principles. Bone-headed stupidity also plays a role. So does propaganda. During the first five years of Nazi rule in Germany, they carried on a pervasive propaganda campaign through books, movies and all media to depict the Jews as the cause of all that had ever gone wrong in Germany. By the time Hitler launched his final solution, a large part of the German population believed that the Jews had brought it on themselves.

An older brother spent several weeks in hospital. The man in the bed beside him was constantly complaining about the faults of his wife. Our brother told him, “You know George, there are three sides to your story. There is your side, there is your wife’s side, and then there is God’s side.”

How do we discern what is God’s side in current history? The first step is to cast aside all thoughts that God has a preferred nation in the world today. The time of an earthly kingdom of God came to an end 2,000 years ago. The only kingdom that is of interest to God today is His spiritual kingdom. As we consider political events today, in our own country or on the international scene, our question should not be which party or which country God favours, but how these events affect the spiritual kingdom.

Let us remember, above all, that our physical and financial well-being is not a prerequisite for the welfare of God’s spiritual kingdom.shutterstock_736401193

A more intense exercise

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The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends aerobic exercise to improve cardiovascular health. That kind of exercise also improves energy levels, alertness, helps maintain a healthy weight, or lose weight if necessary, and avoid diabetes. Aerobic exercise can be any physical activity that raises your heart rate and is sustained for some time. Heart and Stroke recommends simple, low impact exercises, beginning with 15 minute sessions three days a week and working up to 30 minute sessions at least five days a week.

Is there a spiritual exercise that would do the same for our spiritual vitality? I wonder what kind of pictures pop into your mind in response to a question like that. More intense prayer and praise? I don’t know how to describe that, or just what it would do. Let’s start with something very basic.

The best way to increase our spiritual vitality is to get to know God better. After all, He is the source of spiritual life. I know of no better way to become better acquainted with God than to read His Word. Well, we do that already, don’t we? We also do some walking and other physical activity every day, too, but if we want to feel better we need to do more.

The Bible was not meant to be chopped up into little pieces and consumed one little bit at a time. That being said, most of us do read shorter passages during our normal devotional periods. But if we are looking for greater spiritual fitness, we must make a more intense effort to get the whole picture.

So here is the plan. Choose one book of the Bible and read it through in one setting. Don’t stop to analyse, just read it from beginning to end and let it sink in, a little of it anyway. Wait two days and then read it again. This time try to understand more of the big picture and how each part leads into the next. Wait two days again, then read it once more, out loud this time. Some things pop out when you read aloud that you hadn’t noticed before.

Not all books of the Bible can be read this way, but the New Testament epistles were intended to be read in churches from beginning to end. The Minor Prophets and many other shorter books should be read this way. The book of Job was probably originally told by shepherds around their campfires in the evening.

Later on, you may want to look at Bible dictionaries or commentaries, but forget them for now. Imagine you are back in the time the epistle or book was written and try to hear the message the divinely-inspired writer wanted you to hear.

If we only read short passages of the Bible, constantly skipping from one book of the Bible to another, we are like a person who looks at five pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and thinks he knows the whole picture. That is when the Bible seems obscure, mysterious, and not all that interesting. When we look at the whole picture we see details and aspects that we never knew were there. The Artist is speaking to us and we are revitalized.

Flotsam and jetsam

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At the beginning of Creation, God separated earth and sky from the primordial sea. The sea remains as a constant threat to the earth and those that dwell upon it. The sea is chaos, unpredictable, ever changing, ever threatening to overflow the boundaries that God set for it.

The Bible depicts the multitudes of mankind who do not put their trust in God as the sea. There is the same disorder and tumult in the masses of mankind where ideas of right and wrong are built upon the changeable fashions of human reasoning, where the ebb and flow of quests for wealth and power create continuous instability.

Here are some examples of what the Bible says about that sea:
Ephesians 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
James 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Jude 1:13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
Revelation 17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
Revelation 17:15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

Christians who think that they, or other well-meaning people, are capable of bringing order to the sea, are not seeing things as they really are. The shipwrecks of previous attempts to set the sea in order now make the sea an even more dangerous place.

When Jesus stilled the storm on Galilee, He demonstrated his authority over the raging of the sea, both the natural sea and the primordial sea that is driven by winds from the realm of darkness. Christians must cease to entertain dreams of creating a refuge in the chaotic sea of this world and build our refuge on the rock, Jesus Himself.

Psalm 65:7 Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Luke 6:48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
Malachi 3:6 For I am the LORD, I change not.
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

Getting from survival to revival

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I trust that most of us have coped well during this time of enforced hibernation. Now spring has come, nature is alive once more and we want to be too.

What now? Do we go back to the way things were before our hibernation? Is that even possible? What is normal going to look like a few months from now? What should it look like?

So many questions, so few answers. For we who are Christians the best place to find answers is by reading the Bible and spending time in prayer. This has been a good time to do more of that, but anytime is a good time to start.

Last week I read through the book of Hebrews in a single sitting. I did that three times, on different days; one of those times I read it aloud. That has given me a whole new perspective on what that letter is about. I spoke about it in our virtual worship service yesterday, I will write about it some day soon.

I am convinced that this is how the Bible is meant to be read. We find the Bible to be a mysterious, almost impenetrable, book if we read it any other way. Always flitting from one short passage to another somewhere else in the Bible is a good way to make the Bible boring. To treat each verse or short passage as an independent saying and then attempt to discern its meaning by our own intellect or imagination can lead to deception. The writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, expected us to read the whole story.

This is the road to revival. We cannot have a revival that springs from our own will, it has to be prompted by the will of God. The more we immerse ourselves in His Word, the more He is able to reveal His will to us.

This hibernation season has been a good time to reach out to others. At least, it should heave been. We can’t meet in person, but we have so many ways to connect – telephone, text, email, even an old-fashioned letter.

I confess that I have done a little more of that, but not nearly as much as I thought I was going to do. It seems that even in a quiet time there is so much happening that I can be busy without ever planning to be busy. If I want to reach out to others, I have to make it happen.

It feels good when I receive an encouraging note, or a bit of news. I can do that too, I want to do it, but it doesn’t just happen. I need to be connected to fellow Christians, to family members, There are acquaintances who are lonely, hurting, afraid. A word of comfort, cheer or hope could make their day just a bit better. When the Spirit prompts me to reach out, I need to obey promptly. That too is the road to revival.

The COVID conundrum

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Image by Sumanley xulx from Pixabay

Saskatchewan doesn’t have a huge population, perhaps we’re an anomaly in the big picture. The COVID infection rate is edging up to 0.05%, the death rate is 1 for every 200,000 people in the province.

The seasonal flu has infected far more people, the death rate is much higher — even if half of us got the flu shot. Nobody pays any attention to those numbers. I guess the seasonal flu is the devil we know.

Stores that have been closed will reopen on Tuesday. Monday is a holiday and it looks like a glorious long weekend coming up. Golf courses are open, fishing spots and parks are open, but not for barbecues and camping. Churches are still limited to 10 people.

Some businesses are doing well, such as the manufacturers of Plexiglas. The vet clinic where I go to do bookkeeping once a week is busier than it ever has been, even if they keep the door locked and let in only one client at a time.

Meanwhile the government keeps shoveling out money, a little more to seniors like my wife and I. And we keep on spending it — that’s the idea isn’t it, keep the wheels of the economy turning. I really do need new glasses and new orthotics.

What’s your guess on how things will look a year from now? Will we still think all this upheaval was necessary?  A friend today suggested that the government will raise the GST to 10%. Something like that will be necessary to fill the hole they have dug in the budget. To make it politically palatable I think they would call it an emergency measure and promise to reduce it by 1% per year until it is back down to 5%.

For folks outside of Canada, the GST is a Canada-wide value added tax on goods and services purchased by the consumer.

What will be the long-term damage to the health of people whose surgeries and other medical treatments have been cancelled during the crisis? What will be the emotional and spiritual consequences? Will children being home schooled for the first time do better or worse than they would have in a classroom?

The pandemic has given a tremendous boost to online shopping, I think that will be a permanent change in our shopping habits. A lot of people who have switched to working from home will never return to their office cubicle. We need to become more focused and effective in online missions.

What things will surprise us when we look back a year from now?

Exegesis vs Eisegesis

(First posted six years ago)

I know some people will see this title and will already have a pretty good idea of what I am going to say. Others may wonder why I am using such fancy words. I hope you will all bear with me, read the post and feel free to comment.

In layman’s terms, exegesis is what is happening when we search the Scriptures to find out what God is saying to us. Eisegesis, on the other hand,  is what is happening when we come to the Scriptures knowing already what we want them to say and search for verses to bolster our position. I hope I don’t have to tell you on which side I want to be.

There are several reasons why we might want to read into the Scriptures the beliefs we already hold. One is that we have been taught certain things in our denominational tradition and we very much want them to be true. Thus we select verses that seem to support this position, most likely taking them out of context, and ignore those verses that seem to say something else.

Another, more subtle, reason is that we may be afraid of being deceived if we just open ourselves to what we read in the Word of God. Much better to have a pre-established framework of belief and read only those portions of Scripture that seem to be in accord with that framework. The danger is that, even if that framework is completely true, we will not be fed by reading the Bible in this way.

I don’t believe that we will be deceived if we come to the Bible with an open mind and heart, genuinely desiring that God would reveal to us the truth that we need to know at each stage of our spiritual journey. It is important to read the whole Bible and to read it prayerfully. The things that seem to be contradictory will all make sense if we do not isolate one passage of Scripture from the rest.

Years ago, a man I worked with would often approach me with questions about Bible passages. As we discussed them, it was clear that he  understood clearly what the Bible was saying. He told me that he had been converted in his later youth and had been fearful of being deceived when reading the Bible, as he was hearing so many contradictory views. So each time he picked up the Bible he would pray that God would protect him from deception and reveal His truth to him. It was evident from our discussions that God had answered his prayers.

The sad part of the story is that he had fallen into sin and was no longer following what he knew to be true. One day he did something at work that got him fired. He moved far away and I never saw him again.Still today I believe his approach to the Bible was right. So much of the religious confusion of our day could be resolved if Christians everywhere would just open their hearts and minds to what God is saying to them in His Word, and then be obedient to what is revealed to them.

Only an empty box

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Agnes grew up 100 years ago on a farm in southwestern Saskatchewan. Her parents were members of a church which called itself Mennonite and worshipped in the German language. At home the family spoke a Low German dialect called Plautdietsch, and English.  There were 14 children in the family, spaced about two years apart. Agnes was number six.

The church claimed to hold to the original Mennonite faith. In her teens Agnes memorized a summary of the teachings of that faith, a German catechism which dated from 1792 and the bishop baptized her. She was the only one in her baptismal class to memorize the whole catechism, yet they were all baptized. The catechism said that they needed to be born again to become Christians and eligible for church membership, but the bishop said nothing of that.

Agnes was the last child in the family to learn German. As time went on, she realized the church had nothing for her younger siblings. Really, it had nothing for her. The catechism told of a faith that had once been, might yet be in some other place, but had died in this church. All that remained were traditions that could only be taught in the German language.

The church was like a box with ornate German lettering claiming to be the faithful remnant of the ancient Mennonite faith. But when Agnes had opened the box, she found it empty. So she threw it away. She remembered what the catechism said about Christian life, but did not found that life in the box.

Agnes was my mother; I am my mother’s son. That is why I have never found the “Mennonite culture” to be attractive. I didn’t want the box, I wanted to find the faith. In my adult years I searched for a place where the ancient Mennonite faith was still a living thing, not just words in the ai in a language I couldn’t understand. And I found it.

Note to myself

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I believe I know something that others should want to know, but telling is not a good way to get their attention.

What does he/she want to know? Why? What are the barriers to even considering the spiritual aspect of life? How do I help someone become interested in something he/she believes has no importance?

In writing, don’t insult the intelligence of the readers. They believe they have good and sufficient reasons for the way they believe. I have been where they are. What changed my way of seeing things? What made me want to see if I was missing something?

How can I take the reader along on that journey? What caught my interest, made me want to keep looking? When did doubts about the things I had always believed to be true begin to creep in? When did those doubts become stronger than my original beliefs?

What was the turning point, the climax of doubt, the need to find an answer?

It does not work to give someone the answer to a question that has never come to his mind. It didn’t work that way for me, why should I expect it to work with someone else? Sharing the gospel is not a matter of giving pat answers, but of asking questions–questions that will make others begin to ask their own questions.

The voice of God

Early in my Christian life I obtained some literature that gave an intellectually logical explanation of the atonement. The theme was that Jesus had suffered punishment in hell equivalent to the eternal torment of every soul that would ever be saved. Therefore there was no way that a saved soul need ever fear hell, because his penalty had already been fully paid. On the other hand, there was no hope for those for whom Jesus had not borne the eternal punishment.

This is just the briefest of summaries of what I read, the subject was expounded at considerable length with selected Scriptures that seemed to support the view of the writers. I considered this explanation for some time. It was a watertight argument, intellectually precise with no loose ends that I could find. Yet in this mathematical precision I could find no means for a person to know in which camp he was; was he predestined to salvation or to damnation? Was it possible to know?

Finally, in the turmoil of these questions, I knelt to pray, asking God to give me an understanding of how the death of Jesus made it possible for God to forgive the sins of mankind. The response was immediate – it was silent but unmistakably from God: “You don’t need to understand.”

I was disappointed for a moment, then realized that the turmoil was gone – my mind was at rest.  I had been seeking an understanding of the mechanism of the atonement that would be intellectually satisfying and set my mind at rest. I realized now that it is not possible for that kind of understanding to bring rest and peace. Yet it only took five words from the voice of God to do that.

To know that God was aware of my turmoil, that He was waiting for my prayer, that He had answered in a way that addressed my real need, was of more value than any intellectual understanding could ever have been.

How I stay sane during a time of confinement

(Or at least try to)

  1. Talk to my cats. I know this probably sounds like I’m already losing it, but if there are not many people to talk to, cats are not a bad substitute. They are not persons, but they do have personalities, often a little eccentric, Both of ours are largely Siamese and they like to talk. Pookie is my Plautdietsch cat: he has blond hair, blue eyes and speaks a language I don’t understand.
  2. Drink coffee. I like A. L. van Houtte French Roast, from k-cups. I didn’t really like coffee before we went to Montreal in 1993, but driving by the van Houtte roastery on the way to church and inhaling the aroma changed that.
  3. Talk to people. That involves picking up the phone and dialing their number. It used to be hard to find my friends at home, but now they are in the same boat as I am and ready to pick up the phone and talk.
  4. Write to people. I get lots of impersonal emails and texts every day, I wish for more personal messages. Maybe other people do, too. There’s no better time than now to send a personal note.
  5. Exercise. I have a pedometer app on my phone and try to get 10,000 steps four or five days a week. At this time of year most of those steps are from jumping on my rebounder.  If our driveway ever dries I’ll do more walking outdoors.
  6. Try not to think about how late spring is this year. Complaining isn’t good for the state of my mind.
  7. Be thankful for every little spark of beauty in this dreary time.
  8. Be realistic about the Covid-19 virus. Ignore stories about conspiracy theories and quack cures.
  9. Find something interesting to read that takes me to a place and time where there is no Covid-19.
  10. Use this time to strengthen and deepen my relationship with God.
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