Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: temptation

We Bleed, All The Way Up

“We live in a disordered, chaotic, fractured, fallen world where the current of sin devours everything.” I love that phrase and it pretty much sums up the thoughts that were going through my mind today.

I was sitting with my wife as the chemotherapy drugs were dripping into her bloodstream and meditating on the twisted theology of well-meaning Christians who try to explain that God sends, or permits, cancer, leukemia and such things for His honour and glory. What I read in the Bible is that God created a paradise. When Adam sinned it opened the door for all manner of evil to enter this world and there has been warfare ever since between the forces of darkness and God’s true light.

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”

J.S. Park

The patient really believed her cancer was somehow “God’s amazing plan for my life.” She went on to say the things I always hear: “He won’t give me more than I can handle. Thank God we caught it early. God is going to use this for my good.”

I get why we say these things, because we’re such creatures of story that we rush for coherence. But even when such theology is true, I want to tell her that it’s okay to say this whole ordeal is terrible and that it really hurts and that we live in a disordered, chaotic, fractured, fallen world where the current of sin devours everything, that bad things happen to model citizens, that nothing is as it’s meant to be, and the people who don’t catch the cancer early aren’t well enough to thank God for anything, and that not every pain is meant…

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Disconnected

We don’t have a furnace in our mobile home. Where it once was, there is now a heat exchanger that takes heat from a hot water line that comes from our neighbour’s coal-fired boiler. A furnace fan mounted above the heat exchanger sends warm air through the duct work to heat the house.

A few evenings ago we heard strange noises from this apparatus. I took a look and found that an old stove pipe had worked its way down and was touching the electric motor of the fan. I turned the system off, worked that stove pipe out of the way, turned the switch back on and went to bed. The next morning the heat did not come on. I checked the programmable thermostat and it was calling for heat. Then I looked at the heating apparatus and at first all looked to be in order. Then I saw a little black wire dangling loose; there was a little connector on the end that looked like it might go with another connector on a switch box. I pushed the two together and we had heat.

I began wondering if there is sometimes a disconnect like this in my spiritual life. The warmth, the power, is right there, ready to be used. I want it, but nothing is happening. It must be that a connection is missing somewhere.

Perhaps I became frustrated and upset at someone, lost my temper and said words that I regret, but I haven’t been willing to apologize to this person.

Or perhaps someone did or said something that hurt my feelings and I am brooding over it. The other person probably has no idea that his action caused me any problem, but I just can’t forgive him and let it go.

Perhaps I felt the Spirit asking me to do something and I just wasn’t willing to do it.

All of these things, and many others, interrupt our connection to God and we find our spiritual life cooling off. We know there is a problem somewhere, but we are not able or willing to look where the problem really lies and make the correction needed. And when our spiritual life cools off because of disobedience in small things, we are more apt to give in to the bigger temptations, because there just doesn’t seem to be much benefit in trying to live a Christian life anyway.

That is why it is important to look after the small things as soon as we become aware that something isn’t working as it should in our Christian life.

 

Thine be the glory

Numbers 14:11-12 — And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

These people had seen the plagues by which God punished and tormented the Egyptians, had been miraculously led through the Red Sea, eaten the manna which appeared each morning, seen the glory of God on Mount Sinai and been led by the visible presence of God in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. And still they could not believe that God was able to lead them into the promised land. No wonder He was ready to disinherit them.

The promise to make of Moses an greater and mightier nation than the Israelites must have seemed almost irresistable. Yet Moses’ immediate reaction was to refuse it and to intercede for Israel.

Numbers 14:13-16 — Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)  and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.

Notice that Moses’ concern for the glory of the LORD completely overshadowed and obliterated any temptation he might have had to accept the glory that God proposed to him.

Can we do any less today? If we want to be known as men and women of God, our sole concern must be His glory. In chapter 20, God tells Moses to speak to the rock and it would give water for the people. But Moses became impatient with the people: “and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also” (verses 10-11). God still provided the water, but for this one act, where Moses spoke as though he was the one providing the water, God would not let him enter the promised land.

We are treading on dangerous ground when we begin to feel that we deserve some of the glory for the good that we do. God alone must receive all the glory.

Leaerning to recognize the tempter’s voice

[Another excerpt from When I Was Thirteen, the diary of a young girl in South-Western Ontario. The writer was Christina Young, but she used the pen-name of Mary McKenzie when the diary was published 20 years later in a weekly paper. As an incentive to keep writing in her diary, she had vowed to take castor oil if she ever forgot.]

June 15, 1897: It is queer how whenever you have to make a choice as to what you will do, you seem to be three people instead of one: yourself, and a jolly good friend who says, “Aw, take it easy and come on and have a good time,” and a sharp old scold who says, “Now don’t be a jelly fish again, be a real person for once and do what is right. Haven’t you any back bone?” And then if you do as a jolly friend says it seems to turn to a snake and stick out its tongue at you, and you hate it as it slithers away and leaves you feeling ashamed, and the sharp old scold seems your best friend, whose feelings you’ve badly hurt. But if you do as the old scold says, why she turns herself to a jolly good friend and you have a jolly good time in the end.

Sometimes as I’m walking along, I can feel one on each side as plainly as can be, and hear them lipping each other back, each trying to get me to go their way. Virginia says she can hear her two talking that way too, but they seem to be in her throat, instead of walking beside her.

It is queer how the jolly one can keep on fooling you though, if you sort of want to be fooled, though away down deep you are hating it all the time, knowing it will crawl away pretty soon not caring what happens to you after it’s got you into your trouble and the good time, that wasn’t a very good time after all, is past and gone and you are repenting in sackcloth and ashes.

But the scolding one stops scolding then and trudges along beside you feeling sad and hurt, yet still sticking to you and ready to put up a fight for you next time when the snake comes back as a jolly good friend and starts in to fool you again.

I expect they are really the spirit of goodness and the spirit of badness, striving to win your soul, and the bad one doesn’t really want your soul when he gets it, except just to laugh at your shame, but what he wants most is to hurt the spirit of goodness through spoiling something it loves.

August 2: I had to take castor oil last Monday as I forgot all about my diary on Saturday. I remembered it on Sunday just as I was eating a piece of apple pie, and I suppose I should have taken the oil right away, but I put it off though the thought of it spoiled my pie.

My bad one, which to myself I call Slop-Mouth, came popping up to my side and kept saying to put it off until Monday, as we were going to have a roasted rooster for supper, and I would not enjoy it if I took the oil then. I knew we were going to have the rooster because Ma had got it all ready on Saturday. For dinner on Sundays we just have lunch, but always have something extra for supper.

So I waited, not being sharp enough to see it was Slop-mouth talking to me. Then on Monday Slop-mouth said, how would it be to put off taking the oil till sometime I was sick and needed it anyway, as I hadn’t said in my vow just when I would take it. I was just deciding to do that when old Crusty, as I call my good one, who walks on my right, gave me one of her sharp digs and asked me if I didn’t know Slop-mouth yet when I saw him.

It is easy to get away from Slop-mouth, as soon as you let yourself see him, but it is queer how he can fool you into looking him straight in the face, and can get you to keep your eye off your good one at the same time.

As soon as Crusty said that, I jumped up and went to the pantry and got the oil bottle.

September 13: I always feel safer to let everyone know the worst things about me, and then I need never quake in my boots for fear they are going to find it out for themselves. And I notice that when you confess your sins yourself it takes away all the enjoyment anyone else might find in casting them up to you, if they happen to find out about them some other way. It is always safest, with nine in your family, to keep all your sins confessed up.

All the family knew about this anyway, because when I was the maddest I felt as though I must hear something smash, and I kicked a pane out of a window.

It wasn’t much to get mad at, and I knew I was in the wrong, which was what helped to make me so mad. I had left a little hair in the comb, and Jessie told me to go back and take it out. She said it in a rather bossy way, and I told her to do it herself. That was what started it, but it kept getting worse and worse, and when Ma made me take the hair out I was so mad that I walked up to the window and smashed the pane. And then I rushed upstairs and locked myself in my room and bawled.

I would have felt alright if Ma had given me a good licking, but nobody said a word. Pa put the pane in next day.

When I was mad like that old slopmouth didn’t seem like slopmouth at all, but like some powerful leaping snake that had suddenly somehow sprung into my body and was snapping and darting in every direction, and didn’t care where it bit. I hate putting it down in my diary, and I almost left it out, as I have been repenting ever since and don’t think I will ever lose my temper like that again, but I may have some descendants with very bad tempers, and this might be a lesson to them, supposing it does make them think less of me.

I will always be more afraid of slopmouth now, as I didn’t know he could act like that, and sort of take possession of me. I have changed his name to snake-eye. Writing it all down has made me feel so sort of dumpy that I don’t feel like writing anything else tonight.

The battles of life

Ah, simple boy! – well had it been for thee
Had thy ambitious longing been confined
To objects wisely placed beyond thy grasp.
But years stole on – thy ardent spirit broke
Its childish trammels, and with eager joy
Explored the warlike annals of the past,
And called up spirits of the mighty dead,
To set their hostile armies in array,
And fight for thee their sanguine battles o’er.
Oh, while such visions burst on thy sight,
While shouts of victory and dying groans
Rang on thine ear – time backward rolled his tide,
Rome in her ancient splendour proudly rose,
And murdered Caesar lived again in thee!

Young fiery soldier – let us trace thy steps
Through danger’s stormy paths, to win the goal
Of all thy lofty and ambitious hopes.
Wedded to glory, thy brave heart springs forth
To win thy bride from valour’s armed hand,
And pluck the laurel from the brow of death.
A novice in the camp and new to arms,
The bugle lulls thee to repose, the trumpet
Thrills on thy sleeping ear and bids thee dream
Of deathless fields in fancy fought and won.
At length the day of trial comes – the day
Which puts thy boasted courage to the proof –
Thy first in battle, and perchance thy last.
The camp is broken up, the air is rent
With strains of martial music, the loud neigh
Of prancing steeds, impatient for the strife,
With clang of arms, and oft-repeated shouts
Of warriors who impatiently leap forth
with reckless hardihood to meet their doom.

With beating heart, firm step, and flashing eye,
The young recruit of glory proudly grasps
The standard he must only yeild with life.
The march commences – deep excitement grows
To fiery expectation – he forgets
Amid the hurried interest of the scene,
The crown he fights for only can be won
Through seas of slaughter and the waste of life.
Alas! How few devoted hearts like his
Survive their first engagement with the foe.
Death strikes the hero to the dust. He falls
In honour’s mantle, the triumphant cry
Of victory on his pallid lips expires!

But what are conquests of the bow and spear,
And Alexander’s victories compared
With the stern warfare which the soul maintains
Against the subtle tempter of mankind –
The base corruption of a sinful world –
An evil conscience and a callous heart?
Oh, vanquish these – and through the gates of death
Triumphant pass and win a heavenly crown!

– Susanna Moodie, an excerpt from Enthusiasm

The cause of divisions

At one point in Jesus’ earthly ministry, those who doubted suggested that He performed miracles through the power of Beelzebub, or Satan. “But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:17-18)

Division is characteristic of our world today, in every area. There are conflicting ideas about nutrition and health, about child training, education, about the environment, about mental health, about the best way to help the poor and the homeless. There are conflicting truth claims about religion, conflicting doctrines among Christians. Does this mean that God is divided?

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 7:29, says: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” That is, God wishes to lead mankind in a way that is upright and simple to understand, but we have invented innumerable alternatives to His way.

We didn’t invent those alternatives all by ourselves; we had help. The serpent in the Garden of Eden suggested to Eve that there was perhaps an alternative to God’s instruction about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since that time, Satan has made it his business to suggest to each one of us that we are being treated unfairly by others, even by God Himself. Although those suggestions come from outside ourselves, we become guilty when we accept them and act on them.

Satan is not divided against himself. Division is his stock in trade. He sows division between children and parents, husband and wife, between close friends and even between Christians. His goal is to cause division and mistrust until everyone stands alone, trusting no one but himself or herself. We see this between nations, in relations between employers and employees, between citizens and governments, between members of a congregation and their pastors.

This is not to say that there are not injustices. Those there are aplenty. But every time Satan suggests a way to alleviate an injustice he makes the situation worse. We should not think this to be an accident and that the remedy would work if only better people were put in charge. If we are listening to the suggestions of Satan, he will see to it that no permanent remedy can be achieved.

God offers a way to find peace in the midst of this chaos and to mend broken relationships. But we first have to become reconciled to the fact that we live in a broken and unjust world. We cannot expect that others will always treat us fairly; injustice is part of our lot in life. Our role is not to correct the injustices done by others, but to correct the injustices that we have done, to learn to treat others with respect and love so that we do not repeat our acts of injustice.

Jesus left us this promise in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” One day He will return to judge all those who have been unjust in their dealings with others. May we not be found in that number.

How to catch a monkey

If you want to capture a monkey you first need to get a wooden box and fill it about half full with stones. Then cut a hole in the lid just large enough for a monkey to get his hand through, throw some peanuts on top of the stones and securely fasten the lid to the box. The only other thing you need is a rope strong enough that the monkey cannot break it. Now you take the rope, hide behind a tree and wait for a monkey to come along.

When the monkey appears he will be tempted by the smell of the peanuts, he will go closer and closer to the box, look around for any sign of danger, then thrust his hand into the box and grab the peanuts. When he tries to pull his hand back out he cannot because now it is a fist full of peanuts. He will try and try to get his hand out, but he will not let go of those peanuts.

That’s all it takes to trap a monkey. Now all you have to do is walk up behind him, put the rope around his waist and tie it. Then you can break the lid to set his hand free and let him eat the peanuts.

Or so the story goes. I do not have any first hand experience with this method, never having been in a land where monkeys roam and not having any desire to catch a monkey if I had been.

However, I’m afraid that too often I have been that monkey. Satan laid a trap for me, I grabbed what was offered and then I was trapped. Why is it so hard to let go of those things that we know have led us into a trap? Is there anything in this world that is that important?

I’m back

I have been missing in action for almost a week now.  It was all because of a nasty little culprit called a rotavirus, or one of his kinfolk, that is undetectable by the layperson before the nasty, explosive bodily reactions kick in.  Last Sunday a group of 25 got together for dinner, 12 adults and 13 children.  Gastrointestinal “disturbances” hit many of us in the ensuing days.  For my wife, they began Monday evening.  I believed myself spared until 1:30 A.M. Tuesday.  The last one affected developed symptoms just before noon Wednesday.  The fact that a recently irritated and totally empty digestive system does not take kindly to the kind of meals we would like to eat has complicated recovery.

At 7:30 A.M. Tuesday, as my stomach was in spasms trying to expel what was no longer there, I began to reflect on my body’s defensive response to the invasion of this virus.  It was using every means at its disposal to get that virus, and anything contaminated by that virus, out of the body.  Was there a spiritual lesson in this I wondered?

We are constantly bombarded with temptations, ideas, spirits that want to weaken and even destroy our spiritual life.  The difference is that these things cannot infect our heart, our inner spiritual life, without our permission.  Yet, if we would be totally honest, with ourselves and with God, we do admit many ideas or spirits without realizing their danger.  What then?

Jesus recommended strong action: “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off . . .  And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off . . . And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.”  (Mark 9:43-48).  The meaning of “offend thee” would be better expressed in today’s language as “cause thee to stumble.”

I don’t believe for a moment he meant actual self-mutilation, but rather a drastic commitment on our part to not allow the members of our body to be involved in any form of sin.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”  Job had come to that same conclusion many years earlier and as a result: “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?”  (Job 31:1).

During my time as a missionary in Montreal twenty years ago, my fellow missionary and I had a meeting with a young man who confessed to having had an unhealthy attraction to young children.  He claimed to have finally conquered that desire by castrating himself.  Yet he had a burning desire to reach school children with a message about how to avoid sexual predators.  As we listened, it seemed the intensity of that desire contradicted his claim of having conquered his own lustful feelings toward children.  We refused to have any part in his supposed mission, which drew from him a furious rant about how we were enemies of the gospel and the work of the Lord.  That experience reinforced my belief that Jesus had something else in mind than actual physical self-mutilation.

The apostle Paul admonished the church at Corinth to deal with the sin in their midst.  After he heard how thoroughly they had accepted this admonition, he wrote to them a second time: “For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:11).  These are strong words, indignation, vehement desire, revenge, yet I believe these feelings and actions were directed against the sin, not the sinner, for the apostle also wrote: “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.  Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8).

In any case, I am pretty much recovered by now, with a renewed respect for my body’s physical defence reflexes.  And a renewed desire that I might have the same repugnance for sin that my body does for a virus.

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