Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: spirituality

Saved: for what?

For ye are bought with a price:
therefore glorify God in your body,
and in your spirit, which are God’s.

1 Corinthians 6:20

My natural tendency is to think that I have been delivered from the power of sin and death so that I, and my family, may one day have a home in heaven. That is not altogether wrong, but in God’s great plan the life that I now live has a much greater purpose.

That ye may be blameless and harmless,
the sons of God, without rebuke,
in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation,
among whom ye shine as lights in the world.

Philippians 2:15

We who have surrendered our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, have received light. This light was not given solely for our personal benefit, but to be shared with the multitudes around us who are in darkness. Not to be hidden within the container of our family, or our congregation, but to be visible to all.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:
and be ready always to give an answer
to every man that asketh you
a reason of the hope that is in you
with meekness and fear.

1 Peter 3:15

We cannot just be silent witnesses, or lights. If our life honours and glorifies God, we will be called upon to explain the reasons for our life and our faith. Our words then must also honour and glorify God, not ourselves.

The abolition of sin in children’s literature

Nowadays the lead character in a highly acclaimed book for children is apt to be a lesbian who is a practicing Wiccan. Parents have been banished from children’s books for many years, but are making a comeback in situations where a child has two mothers or two fathers. But any mention of God, Christianity or morality makes a book far too dangerous for young children.

Perhaps this started in a small way many years ago. The fairy tales of Charles Perrault, from the 18th century, were morality tales. When Little Red Riding Hood got into bed with the wolf, that was the end of her. Perrault made it clear at the end that he was thinking of wolves of the two-legged, smooth talking kind. In Cinderella, the heroine forgave her two stepsisters and found good husbands for them. Perrault’s point was that true beauty is not on the outside, but inside, in the heart. Those moral teachings disappeared in the versions of the Grimm brothers that appeared 100 years later. Little Red Riding Hood was miraculously rescued and Cinderella was well rid of her mean stepsisters.

Children’s books that depicted the value of moral purity and respect for parents went out of fashion years ago. Modern books are teaching a whole different sense of values.

On the other side are the type of conservative Christian children’s books where sin and evil have become unmentionable. Tender and sensitive children must be protected from such awful things. Many parents who think like that would be appalled to see what their children read a few years later.

Even Bible story books are getting the makeover to supposedly make themn less scary to children. David doesn’t kill Goliath, he just defeats him. The Bible says that David didn’t stop with stunning the giant with a stone from his sling, he cut his head off. That is not just gratuitous blood and gore, David did not want to see the giant get up from the ground and seek revenge. He wanted to be sure that he was well and truly dead. We need to do the same with the things that tempt us.

By either denying that anything is sinful or pretending that sin is something about which little children should have no knowledge, neither extreme prepares children to navigate the dangers and temptations of life. Children realize from quite a young age that the world is a scary place. How do we explain the dangers in the world in a way that helps them know to avoid evil and trust in the good?

C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and others have endeavoured to answer this question by creating a genre of Christian fantasy for children. As fantasies they portray dangers in a way that is not explicit, but shows that there are dangerous unseen forces in the world. Children can relate to that. Even more importantly, these books always show that evil can be overcome. The good guys in these fantasies never use the methods of the bad guys in order to win, in itself a very important lesson that is not characteristic of books like Harry Potter.

Another book in the genre is Hari & Rudi in the Land of Fruit, by English author Andrew Ratcliffe. It was published earlier this year and is available from Amazon.

 

What does the future hold?

“We are now at a point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.” – Margaret Mead

In a world that is changing in bewildering ways and at bewildering speed, a statement like the above appears at first glance to make good sense. But if we stop and think about it for more than five seconds, it begins to sound pretty scary. We need to get ready for something we don’t know anything about. How do we do that?

I suggest that those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, need to be firmly rooted and grounded in our faith. That is not the thinking of people like Margaret Mead, they tell us that Jesus Christ and the values we learn from Him cannot help us in the modern world.

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Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

I beg to differ. Eternal values will be valid for all eternity. We need to cling to them in order to keep our head above water in turbulent times.

The last 2,000 years have often been turbulent times. A study of history brings before us the shipwrecks of those who thought the safe way was to adapt their faith to the predominant thinking of their time. There are also the accounts of those who clung to Jesus, no matter what the cost, and testified of the joy of salvation even in persecution.

How do we prepare for the future? Whether we like it or not, the future is in God’s hands. He knows where the world is going, and how long it is going to last. The only safe way to live is in submission to God’s plan for our lives. Some people don’t like the word submission, I don’t want to risk the consequences of the alternative.

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty“ (Revelation 1:8). “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

Five reasons Christian communes don’t work

1. They isolate members from other people

Relationships with family and friends outside the community that do not further the goals of the community become suspect.

2. They disconnect members from the reality of the world around them

People who don’t have to choose and pay for their own food, clothing and shelter can hardly relate to the people around them who do.

3. Giving is mandatory, not voluntary

When someone joins a commune, he voluntarily gives all he has to the community. After that he is assigned tasks to do for the well-being of the community.

4. Conversion becomes merely assent to the values of the community

When one’s home and livelihood are tied to being a member, young people who grow up in the community face enormous pressure to make an outward commitment to the faith of the community. Those who are already members also face pressure to admit young people on such a basis, for the continuation of the community.

5. Allegiance to the community outranks a relationship with God

Since the community is believed to be the ultimate expression of the will of God, a personal relationship with God and being led of the Holy Spirit are taught to be synonymous with living in accordance with the values of the community.

Sharing of material blessings received from God, mutual aid, bearing one another’s burdens, helping the poor and the weak are all values clearly taught in the New Testament. But they are taught as voluntary actions proceeding from a heart that is transformed by the Spirit of God.

2 Corinthians 9:7 – Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

Government sponsored morality

“Every generation, no matter how paltry its character, thinks itself much wiser than the one immediately preceding it, let alone those that are more remote. ”
-William Shakespeare

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Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Old Mr. Shakespeare was a pretty keen observer of human nature with all its foibles. I guess that’s why his plays remain so popular, we are still much the same as the people that he was watching 400 years ago.

Our generation is so much wiser than all who have come before us that we have set aside the spiritual foundation for morality. Now we are trying to develop a sense of morality by legislation and psychological counselling.

A case in point is a recent headline that caught my eye: the Saskatchewan government is budgeting 1.5 million dollars for a program to combat violence against women.

What are the chances that such a program will make a difference whence there are no longer any spiritual restraints in men’s hearts?

Sins of omission?

James 4:17: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

The last clause of this verse is written in the passive voice which leads some presumptuous readers of the Bible to take it to mean that there are sins of omission which are much less serious than sins of commission.

“There’s nothing happening here folks, nothing to be alarmed about.”

But there is something happening and we should be alarmed. When we neglect to do what we know we should do, we have made a choice. That choice is rebellion against God, and it is a sin. It is just as serious a sin as any other choice we make that we know to be contrary to the will of God.

French Bibles cast this verse in the active voice: “He then sins, who knows what is good and does not do it.”

Adam Clarke says: “As if he had said: After this warning none of you can plead ignorance; if, therefore, any of you shall be found to act their ungodly part, not acknowledging the Divine providence, the uncertainty of life, and the necessity of standing every moment prepared to meet God – as you will have the greater sin, you will infallibly get the greater punishment. This may be applied to all who know better than they act. He who does not the Master’s will because he does not know it, will be beaten with few stripes; but he who knows it and does not do it, shall be beaten with many; Luke 12:47-48.”

May we not take false comfort from a mistaken reading of one verse. Remember that God is keeping account of every decision we make. May we live accordingly.

Adam Clarke says it well: “That man walks most safely who has the least confidence in himself. True magnanimity keeps God continually in view. He appoints it its work, and furnishes discretion and power; and its chief excellence consists in being a resolute worker together with him. Pride ever sinks where humility swims; for that man who abases himself God will exalt. To know that we are dependent creatures is well; to feel it, and to act suitably, is still better.”

Some spirits need to be quenched

I was alone in the lunchroom when Rhonda came in. She sat down on the other side of the table, opened her lunch bag and announced “He told me I looked like a horse.”

“What? Who did?”

“Doug, that young guy who got a summer job here. He just walked up to me and said: ‘You look like a horse.’”

While I was trying to digest that, she asked: “He’s going to Bible School isn’t he? What is he learning there?”

“I don’t know”

That wasn’t entirely true. There were stories about the students from the Bible College that Doug attended. They had a reputation for unusual and inconsiderate behaviour. The school encouraged them to “Quench not the Spirit.” Be open and enthusiastic and speak and act according to the impulses that came to them.

“What does he plan to do when he graduates? Become a missionary?”

“Probably.”

“How is that going to work?”

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Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

I allowed that it didn’t seem that Doug had quite got the hang of relating to other people in a way that would be an asset to the cause of Christ.

With that our conversation turned to subjects other than Doug, but every once in a while it replays in my mind. Rhonda was Roman Catholic. Working with Doug did not give her the impression that evangelical Christianity had anything to interest her.

I am all in favour of enthusiasm and of being prompt to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible also tells us that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, that we need to prove the spirits, and that we will one day need to give account for every idle word that we have spoken. Doug failed on all counts.

Here are some wise counsels from the apostle Paul: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” Colossians 4:6 . “Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you” Titus 2:6-8.

[A true story, names have been changed, location shall remain unidentified.]

She never gives up

Saturday afternoon Bianca Andreescu won the U.S. Open women’s tennis tournament. She is 19 and the first Canadian ever to win a grand slam tennis tournament.

A comment made by one of her opponents has stuck in my mind: “She never gives up.” In several matches she seemed to be faltering, on the verge of being defeated. Then Ms. Andreescu would re-focus, buckle down and do what she needed to do to win the match.

The New Testament writers, especially the apostle Paul, often drew analogies from the popular sports of their day. Here, in abbreviated form, is the way Adam Clarke explained the last four verses of the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians:

They which run in a race run all – The apostle alludes to the athletic exercises in the games celebrated every fifth year on the isthmus which joins the Peloponnesus, or Morea, to the main land; and were thence termed the Isthmian games. The exercises were running, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus, etc.; to the three first of these the apostle especially alludes.

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Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

But one receiveth the prize? – The apostle places the Christian race in contrast to the Isthmian games; in them, only one received the prize, though all ran; in this, if all run, all will receive the prize; therefore he says, So run that ye may obtain. Be as much in earnest to get to heaven as others are to gain their prize; and, although only one of them can win, all of you may obtain.

Is temperate in all things – All those who contended in these exercises went through a long state and series of painful preparations. To this exact discipline Epictetus refers, cap. 35:“Do you wish to gain the prize at the Olympic games? – Consider the requisite preparations and the consequences: you must observe a strict regimen; must live on food which you dislike; you must abstain from all delicacies; must exercise yourself at the necessary and prescribed times both in heat and in cold; you must drink nothing cooling; take no wine as formerly; in a word, you must put yourself under the directions of a pugilist, as you would under those of a physician, and afterwards enter the lists. Here you may get your arm broken, your foot put out of joint, be obliged to swallow mouthfuls of dust, to receive many stripes, and after all be conquered.” Thus we find that these suffered much hardships in order to conquer, and yet were uncertain of the victory.

They do it to obtain a corruptible crown – The crown won by the victor in the Olympian games was made of the wild olive; in the Pythian games of laurel; in the Nemean games of parsley; and in the Isthmian games of the pine. These were all corruptible, for they began to wither as soon as they were separated from the trees, or plucked out of the earth. In opposition to these, the apostle says, he contended for an incorruptible crown, the heavenly inheritance. He sought not worldly honour; but that honour which comes from God.

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly – In the foot-course in those games, how many soever ran, only one could have the prize, however strenuously they might exert themselves; therefore, all ran uncertainly; but it was different in the Christian course, if every one ran as he ought, each would receive the prize.

Not as one that beateth the air – Pugilists were said to beat the air when they had to contend with a nimble adversary, who, by running from side to side, stooping, and various contortions of the body, eluded the blows of his antagonist; who spent his strength on the air, frequently missing his aim, and sometimes overturning himself in attempting to hit his adversary, when this, by his agility, had been able to elude the blow. We have an example of this in Virgil’s account of the boxing match between Entellus and Dares, so well told Aeneid. v., ver. 426, etc., and which will give us a proper view of the subject to which the apostle alludes: viz. boxing at the Isthmian games.

To such a combat as this the apostle most manifestly alludes: and in the above description the reader will see the full force and meaning of the words, So fight I, not as one that beateth the air – I have a real and a deadly foe; and as I fight not only for my honour but for my life, I aim every blow well, and do execution with each.

But I keep under my body, etc. – This is an allusion, not only to boxers, but also to wrestlers in the same games, as we learn from the word υʽπωπιαζω, which signifies to hit in the eyes; and δουλαγωγω, which signifies to trip, and give the antagonist a fall, and then keep him down when he was down, and having obliged him to acknowledge himself conquered, make him a slave. The apostle considers his body as an enemy with which he must contend; he must mortify it by self-denial, abstinence, and severe labour; it must be the slave of his soul, and not the soul the slave of the body, which in all unregenerate men is the case.

Lest – having preached to others – The word which we translate having preached, refers to the office of the herald at these games, whose business it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, display the prizes, exhort the combatants, excite the emulation of those who were to contend, declare the terms of each contest, pronounce the name of the victors, and put the crown on their heads.

Should be a castaway – The word signifies such a person as judges of the games reject as not having deserved the prize. So Paul himself might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God. Had this heavenly man lived in our days, he would by a certain class of people have been deemed a legalist; a people who widely differ from the practice of the apostle, for they are conformed to the world, and they feed themselves without fear.

God loves messed up people

Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Abram was ready to sacrifice his wife to the lusts of powerful men to save his own skin. Jacob gained his brother’s birthright by dubious means, and with his mother’s connivance. David had way too many wives. These were the kind of people God used to accomplish His plans here on earth. A disagreement arose between Paul and Barnabas so that they could not work together. Both died as martyrs for the cause of Christ.

Rahab helped the Israelite spies get safely out of Jericho, the Bible calls her a prostitute. Ruth got under the covers with Boaz out in the harvest field. Bathsheba had a one night stand with King David and he arranged the death of her husband in consequence. These are the three women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.

God blesses and works with people who are deeply flawed. There are no other kind of people for Him to work with. If we think we are better, we put ourselves in the category of the Pharisees who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Jesus called them white washed sepulchres – pure and clean on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones and filth inside.

I am not better than the people I have already named, or all the other messed up people described in the Bible. I have repented, I have been forgiven, but I am still a messed up person who messes up far too often when I am trying to do good. But I don’t hear God screaming at me every time I make a mistake “You idiot! You made a mess of things again!” He tells me that it was good that I tried and that He wants me to keep on trying.

The accusations come from another source, the accuser of the brethren. If I listen to him I won’t have the courage to try to do anything good again.

The Bible tells us we need to be perfect. Some people have devised a doctrine whereby they believe they have had a second touch from the Lord, a second work of grace, and now they don’t sin anymore. I’ve met people like that. They didn’t seem like the kind of people I’d want to go to if I was troubled.

The perfection the Bible speaks of is maturity. Perfect means complete, not flawless. Biblical perfection is taking responsibility for what we do. When I do something bad, it was not Tommy, or Suzy, or the devil, who made me do it. I did it all by myself and I need to own up to it.

When David numbered the people and God gave him a choice of punishments to be visited upon the people, he responded “I have sinned, but what have these sheep done?” That is maturity, or perfection. That is why David was a man after God’s own heart.

Isaiah said “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”  I often mess up and hurt other people by the things I say and do. Other people often hurt me by the things they say and do. That’s life. That’s why Jesus instructed us to pray that God would forgive us as we forgive others. Forgiveness can’t just be between me and God. I need to forgive others for every careless word and deed they do.

All unrighteousness is sin. But not all is deliberate, not in the things we do or in the things others do. We are messed up, every one of us, and God loves each one of us. Let’s just forgive and move on.

Jesus told the Pharisees that the prostitutes and publicans would find it easier to enter the kingdom of heaven than they would. We may look at the people who are leading honest and orderly lives and think they are the ideal mission prospects. In all likelihood they are quite content with the results of their own efforts and don’t see any need to repent and trust in the blood of Jesus. A few will, just as some of the Pharisees did.

But we should not expect converts to present themselves to us in neat, gift-wrapped packages. Most often their lives, their feelings and their ideas about themselves, and about God and Christianity, will be in turmoil. These are the ones who know that things are  not right, that they need help. The challenges they present do not have easy answers. Let’s remember that God loves messed up people. After all, He has accepted us. All we need to do is listen to them and listen to God. He is the one who has the answers, we don’t.

The Christian nation heresy

Time was that most Canadians attended a church where Christian values were taught and claimed to govern their lives by those teachings. In such circumstances governments found it expedient to pay lip service at least to Christian principles and to legislate accordingly.

Times have changed. A survey several years ago found that 16% of Canadians attend church each week and only 5% of us read the Bible daily. 55% have never in their life opened a Bible and read a few words in it.

The few of us who still read, believe and endeavour to live by the Bible are left in disarray by this shifting of the ground beneath our feet. It’s all the fault of the government, we say. This was once a Christian country, but it doesn’t feel like it anymore.

We are avoiding reality when we say such things. The government did not create the situation we find ourselves in and has no ability to remedy it. Political activism is a snare for the Christian, a means of diverting us into fruitless activity while the world around us pursues its downward course.

Another danger for Christians is to draw apart from the troubles of the world and concentrate on being ready for our Lord’s return. But this is just the self-centred attitude that has allowed the society we live in to drift into its present situation.

For as Christians we have a responsibility to our fellow citizens. Jesus said we are the salt of the earth. He was talking of salt as a preservative, the only means available in those times to prevent food from spoiling. What good is salt if it is deposited in little piles that have no contact with what it is supposed to preserve?

He also said we are the light of the world and warned us not to hide our light under a bushel. If we cannot talk about our Christian faith in terms that are readily understood by others, isn’t that hiding our light under a bushel? Worse still is to think we don’t have to say anything, people will observe us and be drawn to enquire about our faith. Really? When we don’t even know how to articulate that faith?

When the people of God were taken captives to Babylon, the Holy Spirit inspired Jeremiah to tell them to “seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Paul told Timothy: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Can we say that we love God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves if we decide the best thing for us to do is live in peace and quietness and let the world go on its merry way to destruction?

That wasn’t the way the early Christians thought, nor the Anabaptist martyrs whom we call our forefathers. There is no such thing as a Christian country. Never has been. There used to be Christian people. Do they still exist today? Do our neighbours know anything about them?

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