Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: spirituality

What do we live for?

What do we live for?
Is labour so lowly,
Toil so ignoble, we shrink from its stain?
Think it not – Labour
Is God-like and holy;
He that is idle is living in vain.

What do we live for?
Creation is groaning,
Her desolate places are yet to be built;
The voice of the years
Swells deeper the moaning,
As time rolls along the dark tide of guilt.

What do we live for?
The question is sounding
Low in the silence, and loud in the din,
And to each heart-ear
With warm pulses bounding,
Answers come thronging, without and within.

What do we live for?
We live to be waging
Battle, unceasing, with indwelling sin,
We live to fight on,
In conflict engaging
Temptations without, and passions within.

What do we live for?
To sow, by all waters,
Fruit-bearings seeds of deeds for all years,
To toil in the ranks
With earth’s sons and daughters,
Manfully striving with doubtings and fears.

What do we live for?
We live not to rust out,
Slothfully standing aloof from the strife;
A thousand times better,
More noble, to wear out
Battered and burned in the hot forge of life.

-Jennie E. Haight (Miss Haight was a 19th century school teacher in Montreal.)

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.

The Only Man with “All Power”

“All power Is given unto ME In Heaven and in earth.”

These seem to me to be the most audacious, the most astonishing words that ever fell from the lips of man. We are told that the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke unto them saying:

“All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28.18).

Who said these words? A Jewish peasant, a Jewish carpenter. You know what carpenters are. You have seen a great many carpenters. This man was a carpenter—a poor man, had never been educated in the schools. He was educated in the carpenter’s shop. He made yokes and ploughs, I suppose, and helped build houses, and made boxes and chests and doors. And then He took up preaching, and went about among the common people, and some said He was a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners—a man who did not keep good company. Some said He was crazy, and one said He had a demon and some said He was a mover of sedition, and some said one thing and some said another; but the general conclusion among people who were anybody—the Scribes and Pharisees, the prominent men and the chief priests—was that He did not amount to very much anyway.

There were a few people who followed Him—fishermen and tax-gatherers and common people; but here this Man, who we are sometimes told was just like any other man, who has been called an impostor and deceiver— who was finally hung up on a Cross between two thieves, dying for these men—says, “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth.”

Just think of it, a carpenter says that! A poor preacher, without a pulpit, without a salary, without a parish; a man whom they tried to kill; a man who did not stand well among the better classes of the community. Such a man as that says, “All power is given unto Me”—all authority, all ability, all efficiency, all power!

Did you ever think how much power there is on earth?
There is the power of the wind. Do you know of anyone who can control that? There is the power of the waves. Do you know of anybody who can control or master them? There are the powers of nature; the heaving of the tides; the swelling of the seeds in the earth, the mighty upspringing that clothes the fields with grass. There is the power of the clouds. There is the power of heat in which the strongest iron that ever was forged will melt. There is the power which pours down floods from on high. Why, a centimetre of water falling on one hectare of land amounts to one hundred tonnes and all that power poured out so gently that we do not notice it. We do not understand what is going on. We call it a shower. Think of the millions of glowing orbs that flame through the skies. Think of this world rolling in its mighty orbit. Think of the sun, sweeping on in its eternal pathway. Think of the power that moves these things. Some people do not understand how the sun could be made to stand still. Well, if you will tell me what keeps it going, I will tell you how it was made to stand still. All power in the universe. All power over men; all power over demons; all power over everything.

He did have power to Make Himself Remembered on the earth.
There were hundreds of millions of people living on the earth then—how many of them could you name? There were kings and princes, emperors, philosophers, poets. I do not believe a man here could name twelve persons who lived then. What has become of them? You remember Him? He did have power to keep His Name before the public. The world has never forgotten that. They have tried to persecute it out of sight; but there is no continent where His Name is not known; He is more widely known than Caesar. He is more widely known than Alexander. He is known more widely than Nebuchadnezzar. He is known more widely than Washington. He is known more widely than any man that ever lived since God made this world. He had power enough for that. How many people will know anything about you a hundred years after you are dead?

Curious, isn’t it, that this dead Jew is so remembered? There have been thousands of Jews who have lived and died and the world has forgotten them. He had power to be remembered.

He had Power to be Obeyed
Nebuchadnezzar was a great king. Do you know anybody who cares what Nebuchadnezzar said? Alexander was a great conqueror. Do you know anybody who cares what he commanded? Napoleon was a great conqueror. Do you know anybody who cares what Napoleon did? He changed the map of Europe and the face of the world’s governments—who cares for his commands now? Who cares today for the commands of Jesus Christ? How is it that He who was hung on a Roman Cross two thousand years ago, He who, our skeptical friends tell us, is nothing but a dead Jew and a dead carpenter—how is it that He is obeyed today? There is not a king on earth who has such a sway as He has. There is not an emperor who ever lived that had such a host to bow to His commands.

He had Power to Make Friends
You have been living in this world, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years. How many friends have you made? I don’t mean how many would come and eat a big dinner if you would pay for it. I don’t mean how many would drink as long as your money lasted—but friends. I mean people who would go with you if a policeman walked on the other side. I mean people who would lend you money when you were hard up, and they did not believe they would get it back again? How many would go across the Atlantic to please you if you couldn’t pay their fare? How many people would die for you? It is two thousand years since any man has seen Jesus Christ. Not a man on earth ever heard His voice. Not a man on earth ever clasped His hand. Nobody has His autograph. Nobody ever saw His handwriting. Nobody ever heard Him speak, yet how many friends He has. How many friends have you got?

Friends of every nation, of every clime, of every colour. Friends of every condition—in palaces and huts; in cottages and caves of the earth. Friends delving in mines; friends drying their nets in the fishing boats; friends tilling the soil; friends riding in high places; friends everywhere. Hundreds, thousands, millions, tens of millions. How does He get so many friends? How is it that He who hung between two thieves two thousand years ago has so many friends who never saw Him, who never heard Him, and yet who know Him and love Him; who would lay down their lives for Him; who would go to the ends of the earth for Him; who would give the last dollar they have; who count nothing dear when He calls for them?

You say that He is a dead Jew, do you? I never saw a live Jew who could do that. I never saw a live Gentile who could do that. What does this all mean? It means that “all power is given unto Him.” It means that He has power over the hearts of men; that He grasps them and holds them by a bond which earth can never break.

He had Power to Make His Words Live
Millions of people are talking, talking, talking until they tire everybody out, but nobody remembers a word that they have said. Books have been written and perished. Poems have been written, orators have been recorded, but they have perished; but He said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”

He never had a reporter for the Jerusalem Journal or the Galilee Gazette, taking down what He said to print in the next morning’s paper, but His words remain.

He spoke to a little company of disciples on the Mount, and the world still listens to what He said. He told Nicodemus one night how “God so loved the world,” and those words have been ringing through the world for two thousand years. He talked to a few disciples on board ship, and His words have been echoing ever since. Today, in seven hundred different languages, men read the words of Christ. Many of the inhabitants of the earth this day can read in their own tongues the story of Christ and His Cross. The infidel can never root this out. He can scoff and sneer and burn up Bibles, but the “Word of the Lord endureth forever.”

“All Power!”
You have no power over the winds, but He could speak to the winds and they obeyed Him. You have no power over the waves, but He could say, “Peace, be still,” and there was a great calm. You have no power over “all manner of diseases,” but when He spoke to the sick, He healed them. You have no power over evil spirits, but He cast out demons with His word. You have no power over the dead but He called them from the silence of the tomb and bade them live.

And these were only the specimen of what He could do. He raised one dead brother; He is going to raise your dead brother. “All that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth,” for He says, “I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of Hell and of death” (John 5. 28, 29; Rev. 1. 18).

“Go ye into all the world
Suppose you had a message you wanted to send into all the world. You couldn’t get it out of town without paying somebody for it; and when your money stopped, the message would stop. He said, “I send you forth as sheep among wolves.” He promised them nothing but a cross. “Go,” you have imperial Rome against you. “Go,” you have idolaters against you. “Go,” you have Gentiles and Jews against you. What have you got? A story about a man hung up between two thieves. What do we care about them? To the Jews it is a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness. Christ says, “You go and tell it.” And all through these vast empires where men bowed the knee to heathen gods, today there is not a knee bowed to Jupiter or Mars or Venus, or any of these deities. Their temples are in ruins. Their oracles are dumb. Their priests have perished in the corruption of ages. But this foolishness of preaching that saves them who believe still marches on. Today the words of Christ have gone out to the ends of the earth.

That carpenter who died without a friend, except a few poor, weeping women, forsaken by those whom He had taught, is today acknowledged as Lord by countless numbers among all nations.

Every bank note that you have in your books has a date upon it, and it dates from the birth of that Man. Every cheque you draw has that Man’s birth date upon it. The deed you own your farm by has His birth on it. The note you give, the bond you hold, the contract you make, is not worth the paper you write on until it has that date.

Two thousand years ago A Little Company of a Dozen Persons
sat in an upper room around a table, ate some bread and drank from a cup, and the Master said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” If you had been looking on, and knowing that their leader would be betrayed, denied, forsaken by all, had you been asked, “How often will they observe this?” you would have said, “They will never meet again.” Two thousand years have passed since then, and there has never been a year that some one has not obeyed that command; and today in different lands, in different quarters of the earth, people gather, and with tearful eyes and tender hearts take the cup and break the bread in memory of Him who died on Calvary’s Cross. “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth.”

You Want to be on the Strongest Side!
Then be on the side of Christ. You want to be on the winning side; you want to be with the noble, the godly, and the good; this is the company you want to be with.

Today we may testify to His goodness; today we may glorify His Name. And it will be something to say in the day of His glory, when the angels shall glorify Him, when all Heaven shall adore Him—it will be something to say then, that in the day when He was dishonoured we stood by Him; in the day when He was rejected we suffered with Him.

-Author Unknown

[Forty years ago a cousin of mine had a printing press in a little building in his back yard in Saskatoon. One of the things he printed was this tract. The name of the writer was not given and I have been unable to find any trace of it elsewhere. I suspect the writer was British, but that is really only a guess. I hope others appreciate it as much as I have.]

Stony ground

Matthew 13:5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

Jesus told a parable about a man who went out to sow his grain by hand and didn’t seem to be all that particular about where the seed landed. Some landed on hard packed trails, some on stony ground and some among thorns and thistles. I was a Saskatchewan farm boy, I got the picture, he was just throwing his seed away. Some even landed on soil that was cultivated, weed and stone free, and it grew to produce more seed for the man to throw around the next spring.

Preachers loved to read this parable to us and urge us to get out there and break up that hard-packed soil of our hearts, pull the weeds and thistles and clear away the stones, so the good seed of the Word of God could take root and grow. It all made sense to Saskatchewan preachers and farm boys.

Stones seem to grow on about half the farm land in Saskatchewan. You go out in the spring and pick stones on a field and by next spring there is a fresh crop of stones on the field. Where did they come from? Long, long ago stone boats were invented to help move stones from fields. They were flat sleds made of planks nailed to timber runners and pulled by oxen or horses. Later, tractor drawn wagons were used, but the actual rock picking was done by hand.

I picked rocks one day with a helper who was physically capable, yet unable to decide on his own if a stone was big enough to be picked or small enough that it would cause no harm if it was left. He was a willing worker, but had to ask me about every stone he saw.

About 60 years ago a farmer somewhere in Saskatchewan built himself a tractor-drawn machine with heavy duty teeth on the front, spaced so that smaller stones would fall between and the bigger ones would be scooped into a pan as it was pulled through a field. It was equipped with hydraulic cylinders to dump the load of stones at some location off of the field. Before long there were farmers all over the place working in their shops to build their own version of rock picker; some of these farm shops developed into industrial operations.

That pretty much eliminated the back-breaking labour of rock picking. The reason the rocks had to come off the field was because they damaged farm equipment. When cultivator shovels and other tillage tools are continually bouncing off of rocks it reduces their life span. The shaking and rattling doesn’t do good things for the frame of the implement either.

I knew of a father and son who didn’t ever bother to pick rocks, or make any attempt to control the weeds in their fields. It seems strange to call guys hillbillies when they lived on the flat prairie, but I can’t think of a better label. Their home was pretty basic and there was never any sign of a woman around. I wondered if they might have some source of income other than the pitiful crops they produced on their land.

One spring they announced that they were going modern. They bought registered seed wheat and fertilizer. The weeds grew super high. The wild mustard resembled another parable of Jesus, with birds perching on the branches. They still had to maneuver their equipment around the rocks when they seeded and harvested, I wondered if they didn’t leave as much grain in the field as they put in their bins.

But what do stones have to do with hindering root growth? That was what Jesus talked about in his parable and I guess I missed it for years. You know, you hear a story repeated for years and just take it in the way it is told. But then you go back to the source and read the words of Jesus, and all of a sudden it just doesn’t add up. What does that part of the parable mean?

About that time, my wife and I took a trip to St. Lawrence County, New York, where my grandparents grew up. This is straight south of Ottawa, not far south of the St. Lawrence River. We visited several of my second-cousins. They were all dairy farmers, or retired dairy farmers. That seemed to be the only kind of farming that was viable in that county. As we drove around, we saw areas of exposed bedrock and were told that most fields had only six inches of soil, below that was solid bedrock. They could grow hay and silage crops, but grain crops would dry up before they matured, because the summer heat would dry the soil down to the rock.

The light went on. This is what Jesus was talking about. There are probably many fields like this in the areas where He walked. Comparing this to Christian life portrays the person who receives the gospel with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm is only superficial. When the heat is on, it becomes apparent that the good seed never took root in the hardness of their heart.

Is the state of such people absolutely hopeless? I don’t believe it is. There are trees growing in St. Lawrence County. Their fine roots find tiny fissures in the rocks, take hold, find what nourishment they can and grow. As those tiny roots grow, they split the rocks and more fissures develop. Finally you have a tree that is firmly rooted and grounded and immune to pretty well anything nature can throw at it.

Papa Panov should be Father Martin

Le Père Martin, a Christmas story about an old shoemaker who wanted to see Jesus, appeared over 130 years ago. It was the work of Ruben Saillens, writer, musician and Baptist pastor of Marseilles. Unbeknownst to him, the tale was soon translated into English and circulated without the name of the author.

The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy read the English translation of the tale, and, thinking it was an old English folk tale, made an adaptation in Russian. Tolstoy’s version quickly spread around the world, no doubt aided by the renown of his name.

When Ruben Saillens learned that his tale was circulating under the name of another, he wrote to Tolstloy, who apologized to him in 1888. Ten years later, seeing that the tale attributed to Tolstoy was still in circulation, Ruben Saillens again sent him a courteous complaint. Tolstoy replied with the following letter (written in French):

Sir,
As I have written to you, in all the Russian editions of my writings, it is said that the story Where love is, there is God, has been borrowed from a translation made from French. (1) With regard to the translations that are made of this story in America or elsewhere, it is completely impossible for me to control them, especially since more than 15 years ago I surrendered all of the copyrights for all my works published after 1881 in Russia as well as abroad.
Receive, Sir, the assurance of my distinguished feelings.
Leo Tolstoy
March 20, 1899
(1) and which is none other than your story: Father Martin

Tolstoy’s story, apart from being located in Russia, seems to give less importance to the Bible. In the tale by Ruben Saillens, the old shoemaker, Father Martin has had misfortunes in his life and it seems that he has recently obtained a large Bible that he is often seen reading. In Tolstoy’s story, Papa Panov searches for the old family Bible, which he has not read for a long time. From this point, the stories are almost identical.

If anyone wants to have the story written by Ruben Saillens, the copyright is now expired and I can send it by email (text only, without illustrations). Also, because I have been unable to find this tale in English I have translated it. Send me an email at the address found under Contact Me at the top to request this story in French or English, or both.

Get out of the bus and walk

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Sunday morning. Dad had come in with pails of steaming milk and was cranking the cream separator, Mom was getting breakfast ready and I was setting the table. Over the radio came the voice of Ernest Manning, telling us again how world events were shaping up just as foretold in the book of Daniel and in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Gog and Magog (Soviet Russia) and their allies were on the verge of attacking Israel, which would trigger the Battle of Armageddon.

Dad had experienced crushing disappointment when the Wesleyan Methodist Church that he had been raised in disappeared into the United Church of Canada. This was a church that now taught that Jesus, if he ever really existed, was our model for setting to rights the evils of society. Dad had no use for this Social Gospel, he wanted to hear about the Jesus who could save us from our sins.

Shortly thereafter he heard William Aberhart preaching on radio and had gone to Calgary to visit the Prophetic Bible Institute. When Aberhart formed the Social Credit Party (which was the complete antithesis to the social gospel) and was elected Premier of Alberta in 1935, Dad decided the way to defeat the Social Gospel, Socialism and Communism was to elect Christian statesmen to government. When Aberhart died in 1943, Ernest C Manning took his place as head of the Prophetic Bible Institute, speaker on Canada’s National Back to the Bible Hour and Premier of Alberta and held those roles for another 25 years.

We listened to Manning every Sunday morning and once when the broadcast team held a service in Regina we went to hear him preach in person. I suppose he spoke about other things in all those years, but all I remember is Gog and Magog and the Russian bear.

I was aware that there were people propounding other versions of Bible prophecy. I had listened to the Voice of Prophecy a couple times, out of curiosity. According to them, the “voice of prophecy” the only reliable source of Bible truth, was the writings of Ellen G White. They also talked about a millennium, but had a different interpretation. And they had a lot to say about the Sabbath day. People calling themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses occasionally showed up on our doorstep. Dad called them Russellites, after Charles Taze Russell, their founder. They had another explanation of how things would work out when Jesus returned.

In 1970 I was converted and then married. In the winter of 1971-72 an aged minister conducted a series of Bible studies in which he expounded the dispensational pre-millennial doctrine. We drank it all in. After all, he had Bible verses to prove every point and the way he told it, it seemed completely relevant to events in the world at that time. I got myself a Scofield Reference Bible and read books by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, Hal Lindsey and others.

Those four were all prominently associated with Dallas Theological Seminary, but I began to note a few discrepancies. Then I began to wonder if those Bible verses the old preacher had quoted actually fit together the way he said. It seemed that it would not be possible to find those meanings just by reading the Bible, you needed a guide to show you how to take the Bible apart and put it together the right way. At that point, my confidence in their teachings crumbled.

It seemed to me that all the different prophetic teachings that I had ever heard were like tour buses, taking people on a tour of ancient cities and each one only showing the sites they wanted you to see, in the order they wanted you to see them. I decided it would be better to get off the bus and hike through the Bible myself, with only the Holy Spirit to guide me.

Later, I have read how that the whole millennial fever was sparked by Jesuit writers trying to counter evangelical criticism of the papacy. Anabaptists identified the papacy as the Antichrist hundreds of years before the Reformation. Luther and Calvin picked up on that and repeated it in their attacks on the Roman Catholic Church.

In order to defend itself, the Roman Catholic Church first decreed that its members could only read books approved by the church. Two 16th century Jesuits wrote books explaining how Antichrist was not the papacy, but an individual who would appear at the end of the Christian era, become ruler of the world and abolish Christianity. Those books weren’t read by many people, but in 1791 another Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza of Chile wrote a book under the assumed name of Rabbi Ben Ezra. This book was translated into English and French and seems to have been the springboard for the millennial fervour which followed.

Edward Irving, a former Presbyterian, formed the Catholic Apostolic Church in England and began to expound on Lacuna’s teaching of the end time Antichrist. John Nelson Darby, a former Church of England clergyman joined the Plymouth Brethren, took on Lacuna’s teachings and expanded them into the dispensational pre-millennial doctrine that I was taught 45 years ago.

A fifteen-year-old girl from Irving’s church had a dream that Christians would be removed from the earth before the coming of Antichrist. Darby also went to hear the young lady tell her dream. This is the origin of the secret rapture teaching. No one has ever found that teaching in the Bible, since all the mentions of Christ’s return talk about the trumpet sounding, the voice of the archangel, and “every eye shall see him.”

Many different millennial fever tour bus companies were spawned in the mid 1800’s, each offering their own unique view of future events. As you can see, I have gone along on a few of those rides and eventually decided they were leading me away from Jesus, rather than closer to Him.

What I was longing for, and not finding on those bus tours, was a place of rest and joy near to the heart of my Saviour. I have realized that anything that comes between me and that place of rest and joy is Antichrist. That word means “in place of Christ” or “in front of Christ.” If we forget the tour guides and search for Christ alone, we will find Him.

Self-made flower

self-made flower

I am a self-made flower!

(This is my first attempt to create an image using Libre Office Draw.)

Years ago I was struck by a cartoon in le Bulletin des Agriculteurs, a French language farm paper. It showed a neat row of flowers in bloom, all standing up straight with perfectly shaped petals. Except for one. It looked rather limp and bedraggled with petals missing from its asymmetrical flower. The flower beside it asked:

– What happened to you?

– Nothing! It’s only that I haven’t let the Master Gardener help me. I am a self-made flower!

Self-made Christians aren’t very attractive either.

An exposition of First Corinthians chapter three

An older brother, a minister, once suggested to me that I should write about one portion of this chapter. He didn’t tell me what I should write, but appeared to have confidence that I would be able to cut through the misinterpretations of the apostle Paul’s words that are often repeated in our day and make plain what he was really saying.

Twenty years have passed, the brother no longer walks this earth. But that suggestion and the confidence implicit in it have continued to echo in the recesses of my mind. Today it is time to sit down and make it happen. I will discuss the whole chapter because I don’t believe we can understand any one part of it if we do not understand the whole.

1 Corinthians 3:1 ¶ And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

The brethren at Corinth did not have confidence in one another, or in the church. They had been converted, yet they were still set in the pagan pattern of following a teacher, rather than being followers of Christ. For this reason Paul told them they were still babies, at the very beginning of the life of faith, still feeding on only the simplest spiritual nourishment.

5 ¶ Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth;but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

Paul is telling the Corinthians that the new spiritual life they have found came from God, he and Apollos are only servants. He begins with the metaphor of a vine that they have planted and watered, but the life in the vine came from God, not Paul or Apollos. Then he switches to the metaphor of a building, saying that all together they are one building. The foundation has been laid and many are building upon it, but they must be careful how they build.

11 ¶ For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

The only possible foundation for the building of God, the church, is Jesus Christ. As there is only one foundation, there is only one building. The verses that follow are not meant to be understood in an individualistic way. They speak of the materials used to build the church, some are precious metals and stones that come from God and cannot burn. But ministers, parents, all of us really, will sometimes use our own reasoning to try and build the church, but these materials tend to weaken the structure, rather than strengthen it.

Yet there is grace for those who are building upon the true foundation, even if some if their efforts will not stand the test of fire. Paul is not saying that our personal salvation is at risk when in ignorance we use inferior materials, his words should lead us to sanctification, to let burn what will burn so that we may continue to build with the materials that are durable.

16 ¶ Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

English-speaking readers of today find these verses difficult to understand. Our language has dropped the singular pronouns thee and thou, and even the plural pronoun ye, replacing all three with the plural you. Those pronouns had a purpose and we need to understand them to grasp what is being said in passages such as this.

When Paul uses the plural pronouns ye and you in these verses he is addressing the church as a whole, all members. But the temple of God is singular. He does not say “thou art the temple of God,” or “ye are the temples of God.” He is saying that altogether we are part of one temple, or church. This distinction is not something created by stuffy old translators 400 years ago, this is exactly the way Paul wrote in Greek.

Other passages that speak of the church as a single building or temple are found in 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5-7 and Revelation 3:15.

There is one passage which says something a little different: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ). Some people want to take this verse as the key to understanding all the others just cited. But that is to make those verses contradict what they so clearly state. Perhaps the best way to understand this verse is to read it in the light of the passage from 1 Peter which speaks of living stones. The temple of God is not built with stones that have no life in them. Just as in the case of Solomon’s temple, they must be prepared to fit before they are added to the temple.

When we interpret 1 Corinthians 3:16 as referring to each believer as an individual temple then it is easy to interpret verse 17 to refer to things that defile our own body, such as smoking, drug use, and immorality. Those are serious concerns, and they are addressed in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20). But this verse goes deeper than that.

Think of Achan in Joshua chapter 7. Achan took things that he knew he should not have and hid them in his tent, thinking that what others didn’t know could not harm him. But his action defiled the whole company of God’s people and God did not help them fight against their enemy, leading to much loss of life. When Achan’s sin was punished, then God once more gave the people victory over their enemies.

We are tempted to think as Achan did: “Nobody sees or knows what goes on in my private world. What harm can it do? ” It does great harm, not just to me but to all the church, even if no one knows the source of that harm. A living stone in the wall of God’s temple who permits himself such defilement causes the whole temple to be defiled. That stone no longer has the life of God within and must be removed and cast aside.

The difference between such a person and Achan is that in the gospel era there is opportunity for the defiled stone to have the fire of the Holy Spirit rekindled within and then be returned to a place in the wall of the temple.

18 ¶ Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
20 And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

The wisdom of this world tells us that once a person has given his heart to God it is impossible for him to once again be lost. We have an enemy who delights in feeding us that kind of wisdom because it hinders us from hearing God’s call to repent and re-consecrate our lives to Him. It is better to think of ourselves as fools and ask God to direct us in the way that will safely bring us to our eternal home in heaven.

21 ¶ Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;
23 And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

God has given servants to the church to preach the gospel, to teach and to guide His people. Let us honour and respect such men; but we must not glorify them or compare them with one another. Each one has gifts to help in building the walls of Zion. Those gifts are given to help us and to glorify Jesus Christ and God.

Fifty years ago

It is 50 years since the Jesus people movement began in California. It followed close on the heels of the Summer of Love, that brief period in time when disillusioned young people believed they had found the solution to all the world’s problems. “All you need is love” by the Beatles was their theme. They gathered in San Francisco, wearing tie-dyed clothes and flowers in their hair, smoking pot and dropping acid, strumming guitars and loving everybody. This was the dawning of a new age of peace and love.

Somehow it didn’t quite work out. A lot of girls soon discovered they were pregnant with no means of support. There was an explosion of std’s, money ran out, a few had their minds truly blown, love began to come apart at the seams.

Amidst the crushing disillusion, some began to discover Jesus and found Him to be what they had been looking for all along. Suddenly there were young people everywhere, still looking like hippies, but toting Bibles and ready to talk to anyone about Jesus. And they were serious, the Bible had the answers to life, sin was real and needed to be repented of. That was how you found genuine love for everyone around you.

The movement spread like wildfire. In 1970 a rebellious young man from a small town in Manitoba found Jesus in the streets of Vancouver. Now he was troubled about the things he had done back home, acts of vandalism, stealing gas from farm yards and disrespect for parents and elders. His new Jesus people friends told him he had to go home and make those things right. So he did.

As he went through the community confessing the wrongs he had done and doing his best to make them right, all the while talking of his new found faith in Jesus, it caused quite a stir. He was back attending the church he had grown up in and other young people began to find Jesus and set about making right the wrongs they had done.

The pastor welcomed this enthusiasm for gospel truth and did his best to encourage it. He had Bible studies with the young people and they began to hold Wednesday night coffee house meetings in town, open to young people from near and far, where they sang the songs that were coming out of the Jesus people movement and shared their testimonies.

I was born again in the spring of 1970 and married that summer. In the summer of 1971 my wife and I began to attend this church. We were enthused by the love of Jesus and the Bible shown by these youth and the genuine changes taking place in their lives. I was a little older, but also a new believer and felt a kindred spirit in most of them.

There was just one little niggling doubt. Not about the whole movement, but about a few who seemed to go along just because this was the big thing, not because they had a genuine personal faith. The pastor didn’t seem to be able to discern the difference. Nothing that couldn’t have been corrected with the help of more seasoned older Christians.

Instead of that, the congregation fired the pastor. The enthusiasm of the youth was too frightening for them. The pastor moved on to a church a few miles away, the youth followed and so did we. The lack of discernment became more evident.

I have no doubt that the Jesus People movement as a whole was a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. But churches were woefully unprepared to welcome and guide the new believers. Some were appalled, some were willing to accept everyone without discernment. An untold number of people truly met Jesus through this movement, some fell away but the majority went on to live sanctified Christian lives.

Churches today are back where they were 50 years ago. Young people are disillusioned, leaving the churches in droves to seek fulfilment elsewhere. Is it possible that history might repeat itself? Why is it so hard to transmit faith from one generation to the next?

Jesus made two statements that seem contradictory, but really are not. In Luke 9:49-50 we read: “And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Evidently Jesus has no problem with people outside of His immediate circle working in his name. Then we shouldn’t either.

But a little later He said: “ He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth” (Luke 11:23). The New Testament picture of the church is a functioning body of which Jesus is the head. Scattered body parts, each interpreting the directions from the head according to their own understanding, cannot be the church.

The immediate baptism of all who professed faith in Jesus was a fundamental weakness among the Jesus people, leading to the fragmentation of the movement. The New Testament pattern is that new believers need to be taught before they are baptized, to ensure that they have genuinely met Jesus and are following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The pattern in Anabaptist churches has been that new believers need to tell their experience to a congregation of believers. When the congregation can say “Yes, we believe this person has truly met the Lord and we have seen the evidence that he or she is walking with Him daily,” then baptism means something. The acceptance and care of fellow believers is essential to maintaining genuine Christian faith and life.

A recent Canadian study shows that young people are more apt to maintain their faith after they leave home if they had had a meaningful relationship with adult believers other than their parents. Where else is this possible but in a congregation of true believers?

Loss of power

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Getting our wires crossed

A few days ago, I reorganized our home office. When I turned my wife’s desk a quarter turn, all the wires that were hidden behind it were now a mess in the open air. Not as bad as the illustration above, but seriously unsightly and possibly dangerous.

I went about to put a little order into the confusion. I managed to eliminate one power bar and plug everything into the other. Now the monitor’s power cord was too short to lead it along the wall behind the computer. So I pulled a cord from the wall outlet and plugged it into the power bar, then plugged the monitor’s power cord into the wall outlet. Everything seemed fine now. But nothing worked. The printer, the computer, the monitor, the internet router were all dead.

I thought maybe by rearranging the cords I had inadvertently pressed the power bar switch. But nothing worked at either position of the switch. How could the power bar fail as fast as that?

Most cords were much longer than necessary for this setup and I was not sure which cord went to which device. I followed the cord plugged into the last socket of the power bar, it made a loop – and turned out to be the power cord of the power bar!

These power bars are a wonderful thing: several years ago the modem in a computer was fried during a thunderstorm and I don’t want to risk that happening again. But they have no power in themselves – they must be plugged into a source of power. Everything worked fine once the power bar was plugged into the wall outlet once again. And if the monitor cord is a little short, we will buy a longer one.

I, too, become powerless in Christian life if I am not connected to the source of power. I can not live as a Christian by my own power – I just do not have it in me. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me. The Apostle Paul’s desire was to “know Him, and the power of his resurrection.” So I need a living connection with the source of spiritual power – Jesus Christ – to live as a true Christian.

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