Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: thankfulness

The threefold purpose of the church

As I read the New Testament, the evidence accumulates that there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church. Each of these purposes is connected to, and dependent upon, the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

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1. To Glorify God
The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others.

2. To be a safe place for God’s people
The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others.

3. To make new disciples in our home communities and in all the world
The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake 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 Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The Great Commission says to teach, make disciples of, all nations. Proclaiming the gospel is only the beginning. When those who here are converted, that is still the preliminary stage of fulfilling the mission Jesus has given to us. New converts need the help of seasoned Christians to discern if a new life has sprung up within them, or merely a desire for a new life. They need teaching, support and encouragement as they forsake their old pathways and learn to walk with Jesus. We all need the support of genuine believers all through our Christian life.

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

Family

We can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. We can conceal things about our past from our friends, but our family knows the real story. And we know theirs.

My cousin Ted was 80 on Thursday. Friday evening a few of us got together to celibrate and share memories. Ted’s next older brother, Dennis, was there too. Ted is 3½ years older than I am, Dennis 4½. That was huge 70 years ago, it doesn’t matter anymore.

Their Dad was a brother to my Dad, their Mom a sister to mine.There are differences between us, but they are small; our DNA must be pretty much identical. Ted and I both have trouble with respiratory allergies and with exczema, that seems to run in the family.

Our families always did a lot of visiting back and forth when we were young. Today all three of us are church-going Bible-believing people. It wasn’t always that way and we know things about each other’s history that we don’t talk about anymore. There are some differences in the way we understand the Bible and Christian life, but our experience of the transforming power of Jesus’ love draws us together.

Our daughter and her family were part of the gathering Friday evening. She talked about growing up in an Ontario congegation where all her friends had cousins living close by. Michelle could say that she also had cousins, but they were back in Saskatchewan. I was an only child, my wife was raised apart from her siblings and we have never been all that close to them and their children. Michelle calls Ted and Dennis her uncles and has a good relationship with their children, her cousins. I  didn’t realize just how much that has meant to her until she talked about it Friday evening.

Family — I can clearly see my cousin’s faults, but they are much like my own and it seems that we are together in the struggles of life. We know all kinds of embarrassing stories about each other, but we never talk about them — except for some of the really funny ones. I guess we’re just thankful that the Lord has watched o0ver us and brought us safely this far in our lives.

No room for boasting

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

For we brought nothing into this world” (1 Timothy 6:7). The Apostle was talking about material things, but I don’t think it does his words any violence to say that no one of us came into this world with any pre-qualifications for salvation. In that respect, we are all equally impoverished.

Perhaps we had parents who were genuine Christians in word and in life, and grandparents and great-grandparents. And they all belonged to a church that was firmly grounded on the unadulterated gospel of Jesus-Christ. That’s wonderful. It’s something for which to be thankful.

But it’s not something to boast about. Their faith is not transferable. I get no credit for the faith of someone else; my salvation is solely based on my relationship with Jesus Christ.

I was not saved because I was “raised in the church.” That gave me an opportunity to hear the gospel. But many others have had the same advantage and spurned it. There are many who grew up with the light of the gospel shining all around them who are now walking in darkness.

Others who grew up in the darkness of this world are now walking in the light. And are probably much more thankful for it than those for whom the light has been an everyday reality as far back as they can remember.

It is well and good for those who have been raised in Christian homes to be thankful. But there is only a fine line between thankfulness and boastfulness. When we talk much about our Christian heritage and think that it sets us apart from the common run of humanity, we are no longer poor in spirit. And to those around us who may be seeking for spiritual light, we are apt to be more of a hindrance than a help.

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

The spiritual riches that we enjoy are not our own. We did not inherit them. We did not acquire them by wisdom, by doing the right things, or by any other means at our disposal. These riches came from admitting that we were impoverished, blind and unable to help ourselves. Let us rejoice and be glad in them. But let’s forget the boasting.

Dementia

My mother wasn’t able to look after herself anymore and had come to live with us. One day a conversation with a visitor went like this:
—How old are you?
—What year is it?
—Two thousand and four
—Then I am ninety-six.

That was my mother; she couldn’t remember how old she was, but she wasn’t about to admit it so she answered with a question of her own. When she was given the year she instantly made the calculation in her head and gave the right answer.

My father’s dementia worked a little differently; he lived to be 86 but always told people he was 82. It seems that was how old he was when dementia took away his ability to connect with what was happening.

Some people become quite difficult as dementia sets in. They resent being told to put on clothes that they don’t recognize. The problem is that their mind has slipped back 50 years and the clothes they would recognize are long gone. Others may be just as confused about where they are and what is happening, yet they are sweetly thankful for every little act of kindness.

Some people eventually lose the ability to communicate. A familiar face, a familiar voice, may stir some sign of recognition, but they can’t quite grasp who it is they see and hear. There are those who seem altogether vacant, yet their eyes light up when a familiar hymn is sung. Sometimes they might even sing along, yet show no sign of remembering after the song  is finished. It is important for us to believe that there is still a person in that body, and even though they cannot reach out to us, they do know when we reach out to them by kind words and touches.

Some people seem immune to dementia. We visited a lady after she turned 100, she may have been a distant relative of my wife. She was bright and chipper, her hearing was good, her eyesight was good – she read a regular print Bible, had no difficulty walking. We visited her again several months later – she recognized us and remembered our names.

We met a man, a distant relative of mine, who was also over 100. He played billiards, drove his car to his country church every Sunday, pushed people in wheelchairs around the yard of the nursing home.

Both of these people had a positive outlook on life and were interested in other people. This leads me to some observations:

  • A self-centred person has a miserable life and seems to be more inclined to develop dementia, where he can make everybody around him miserable, too.
  • A person who is genuinely interested in others develops the ability to exercise their mind in following a multitude of paths his mind might not otherwise take and this may make him less apt to develop dementia.
  • A person who is genuinely thankful, and readily expresses that thankfulness will be a pleasant person to be around even if he develops dementia.

I know, these are totally unscientific conclusions and there are many other factors involved. Still, I think they are thoughts to bear in mind as I grow older so that I can cultivate the attitudes that will make life less difficult for those who may have to care for me if I ever develop dementia.

And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus came to Bethany and was invited to a meal in the home of Simon, a man whom He had healed of leprosy. To get the full story of the event, we need to put together the accounts found in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12. Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, was one of the guests and his sister Martha was serving the meal. At some point Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, came into the room with a container of very precious ointment, broke the neck of the container, poured the ointment over Jesus’ head and feet, then wiped his feet with her hair.There is no mention of a motive, but no doubt she was still overwhelmed with thankfulness over having her brother restored to life.

There is a somewhat similar account in Luke 7, but the differences are so striking that it must have been another time, another place, another Simon and another woman and another container of ointment. The host at this supper was a Pharisee, quite possibly one who had come to believe in Jesus. It was the other Pharisees who were his guests who murmured about the waste of the costly ointment, not the disciples as in the other gospels. The woman in this account is referred to as a sinner, which probably meant she was a Gentile. To the Pharisees all Gentiles were sinners.

We should not imagine Jesus and the other guests sitting on chairs at the table , as our custom is. The custom of that place and time was to place oneself on a couch in a semi-reclined position, which would have made Jesus feet readily accessible to be anointed.

There are two things that stand out to me in the account of Mary’s anointing of Jesus. The first is Jesus’ statement, recorded in Matthew and Mark, that: “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

The other is the mention, found only in John, that “the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”

We talk of heroes of the faith, many today desire ardently to do great things for the Lord. What did Mary do? She broke a vial of ointment and anointed the head and feet of our Lord. That simple action has been told and retold for almost two thousand years. And what is the aroma that emanates from us when we strive to do great deeds for our Lord? Too often, we must confess, there is something pungent and disagreeable about the fruit of our efforts.

The image of the broken vial must become central to our Christian life. Only when our pride, our ambitions, our self-righteousness are broken can there come forth the sweet and refreshing scent of true Christianity.

Is it really that bad?

This world is a horrible place. There are environmental catastrophes, threats of international terrorism, dangers in the streets. The danger of religious persecution threatens us even here in North America. There is sexual exploitation of women and children. There is abuse of power by those in positions of trust: police officers, preachers, teachers and parents. There are dangers on the internet. It seems that you can’t trust anyone anymore.

Um . . . let’s back up a little bit here and see if we’re getting the whole picture. Yes, all these things are going on; and yes, these are the things the media wants to tell us about. But is that really what most of us are experiencing in our daily life?

My grandchildren are blissfully unaware of any threats to their well-being. I am not experiencing any harassment because of my religious beliefs. I encounter friendly and helpful people wherever I go.

I started using a cane about six weeks ago and I am amazed how that triggers acts of kindness from others. I have even had young ladies hold a door open for me. A few days ago I bought my fast food lunch at Tim Horton’s and the lady behind the counter offered to carry my tray to a table. I declined, but not without a hearty thank  you. Someday I may need her assistance.

Today I was in my favourite coffee shop – the one where the young ladies behind the counter don’t need to be told that I want a cappuccino with amaretto syrup. This time I asked the young lady who served me if she  had ever heard an old, old song that has her name in the title. Her response floored me: “You remembered my name!” I have known her name for a long time, she has served my coffee countless times, we have talked about other things than coffee, but I had never called her by name. This is something I have encouraged others to do, and here I wasn’t even doing it myself.

That seems such a small thing, but it was a reality check. When I begin thinking that the world is such a cold heartless place, perhaps the first question I need to ask is “Am I the problem?”

By the way, she was all too familiar with the song. Her music teacher used to sing it every time she went for a lesson.

Do you really want to know how I’m feeling today?

Yesterday I stopped at the pharmacy counter in Walmart to pick up a prescription. There were several pharmacists in the back busily preparing prescriptions for others. I waved at the head pharmacist and said, “How are you Marc?”

There was an almost imperceptible hesitation before he answered “Fine'” The clerk who was serving me smiled and said “He didn’t sound so sure, did he?”

When I had finished paying for my prescription, Marc came out to the front and motioned me to come aside where we could talk. He told me that the question of how to answer the question “How are you?” had recently come up at Bible study. If you are having a rough day and you answer “Fine,”  are you being honest?

On the face of things, it may seem that the person who always says “Fine” is not really being honest. But perhaps there is another way of looking at this. I told Marc about our two elderly cousins. One is related to me and one to my wife, I won’t say which is which, it doesn’t really matter to the story.

One of these old ladies has been married twice, couldn’t get along with either man and divorced them. She has six children and they don’t treat her right, according to her. Lord knows they try, but it’s never enough. People are mean to her and try to cheat her everywhere she goes. I don’t know if she has any real friends, but she is still on speaking terms with a few people. Sometimes she gets upset and won’t speak to one of them for months, but eventually she needs their help for something and picks up the phone to call them again.

One day she was feeling so miserable that she told one of those contacts that she felt like ending her life. This contact lives 600 km away and couldn’t just pop over to visit. So she suggested this lady needed to get out of her apartment, go to a mall, have a coffee, find someone to talk to. She called back in the evening overjoyed at the wonderful day she’s had. Turns out she never did visit with anyone, but she found all kinds of things on sale at the mall. We heard later she had spent $700 on jewellery and clothing, things she really couldn’t afford and might never wear, but spending gave her a one-day high.

If you ask this lady how her day is going, she will probably fill your ear with a long tale of woe.

The other lady is 91 and lives in a senior’s residence. Her husband of 65 years died a few years ago and she misses him. But she talks of all the good memories she has of their life together. Their only son lives close by, comes to see her every day, does all he can to help her. She is always singing his praises.

Almost a year ago she suffered a stroke and spent some time in the hospital. The nurses were all very good to her. She had to use a walker after she came home, but she didn’t complain. Now she is fully recovered and goes for a half-mile walk every morning. She knows every resident in the senior’s residence and loves to visit. Her hands are crippled with arthritis, yet she is typing out her life’s story to share with her family. She keeps in touch by phone with all her many relatives.

If you ask this lady how things are going, she may mention some health problem, or she may not. Mostly she will tell you how good everyone is to her and how the Lord has blessed her life.

There is the difference, one of these ladies knows the Lord. The other does not, will not even consider that such a thing is possible.

So, how is your day going? It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

Things I am thankful for

Our son-in-law

My wife got up early yesterday morning and had three loads of laundry done before I had my shower, and I still had hot water for my shower.  I was away until mid afternoon and when I came home my wife informed me that we had no hot water.

I checked things out, just like I knew what I was doing. The breaker hadn’t tripped, so I took the outer panel off the water heater to look at the wiring. There was a red thing that said reset so I pushed it. Nothing happened. So I texted our son-in-law, who was at a meeting. He came over this morning, looked things over, pushed the reset button — it clicked and the water heater started working again.

Well, I thought I had pushed it.

Our oldest grandson

I took our oldest grandson into Saskatoon today for a session at Sylvan Learning, then did some shopping while he was there. We had lunch, then came home. Along the way, we saw lots of big equipment working at twinning the highway we were using. We saw all kinds of highly specialized machinery working on the railway on the other side of the highway. They are replacing ties, levelling the rails and who knows what else. We stopped at the work site where his dad’s crew is building a road for some industrial lots in a town along the way. Nathan is much more knowledgeable about this sort of stuff than I am and enjoys explaining it. I enjoyed the time with him.

Honda engines

It takes me about two hours with a riding mower to trim the grass on our yard. I have a smaller mower that I used to use for closer trimming around buildings and trees. About this time last summer the cable to the safety bar broke. I got cable to fix it, but the job never got done before winter. I finally did it today. It had sat for a year with a little gas in it. I didn’t check the oil, the air filter, the spark plug or anything. I just pulled the starter cord and it started on the second pull. Then I checked the oil, which still looked pretty good, not having seen much use last year.  I have a replacement air filter and want to do a little more service before I use it much.

I know other engines are better than they used to be, but I am thankful to have a Honda on this little mower.

Back to work

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Early in the fall of 2007, I became aware of distorted vision in my right eye. I went for an eye exam and was referred to Doctor Kevin Colleaux, a specialist in Saskatoon. Within a few days I received the first injection in that eye. Over the next three and one half years I had more than a dozen injections in each eye before the macular degeneration was stopped.

I consider myself fortunate, because the drug used, Lucentis, had only become available a short time before I developed macular degeneration. I did lose the central vision in my right eye, but the left eye still has undistorted vision. I am able to drive, read, work and use a computer. I know someone who developed macular degeneration a few years before I did and he is legally blind, he can do none of those things.

More recently, the vision in my right eye has become quite cloudy. Wednesday, I had cataract surgery in that eye. The procedure involves making a small incision in the eye, inserting a tool to dissolve the lens by ultrasound, sucking out the dissolved material and inserting a new plastic lens. I was given several types of eye drops prior to the surgery, then a gel containing several more drugs was spread over the eye. It took some time for this all to work to dilate the eye and to make it insensitive to pain. The operation itself took five to ten minutes, I was awake during the procedure, felt nothing in my eye, and had no pain afterwards. I still have no central vision in that eye, but the cloudiness is gone. The plastic insert is a prescription lens giving me clear distance vision. In about six weeks I will have my eyes tested and get new glasses.

My wife had to drive me around after the surgery because that eye remained dilated for 24 hours or more, giving me foggy vision. As of today I am back to work and very thankful to Doctor Colleaux, his support staff, and all the researchers who have developed means to help me keep my vision.

My times are in thy hands

As teenagers we were invincible. We were young, healthy and strong, what could possibly go wrong?

It turned out that a whole lot of things could , and would, go wrong.  A year after we graduated from high school in 1959, Jim and his dad were installing a septic system for their home. All the digging was done by hand and Jim was at the bottom of a trench when one side collapsed. He was dead by the time they dug him out.

Bobby wanted to see the world, so he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He went through training, specializing in radio communications. He was assigned to an aircraft carrier; one day out of port an electrical short circuit caused a fire in the radio cabin and he perished.

Joan Vickers’ father was an Anglican minister and had been transferred to another town before we finished school. Joan was a slim, attractive young lady, just nine days younger than me, there was no hint of any health problem. Yet she was only 21 when she suffered a heart attack and died.

A few years later, Ken was driving down the highway in a snow storm. He must not have realized that the white out condition just in front of him was being caused by a semi-trailer. He plowed into the back of the semi and the lights went out for him.

Yet here I am, past the Biblical best before date of threescore and ten, and still going. I won’t say that I’m going strong, though; by now I am well aware that I am not invincible. If I have learned anything in those years, it is that I have no right to expect good things to happen to me. The good things that have happened are not a result of my inherent goodness or wise planning. It’s all a bonus; something to be thankful for.

Yesterday I was part of a group in charge of a chapel service in one of Saskatoon’s hospitals. These services are short; I shared some thoughts on David’s statement in Psalm 31:15: “My times are in thy hands.” Nobody ever wishes or plans to be a hospital patient. Much of our life consists of unplanned things that happen to us. There’s no point looking for someone to blame these things on, especially not God. Yet God knows every detail of our life and will be with us, no matter what we face, if we don’t push Him away.

After the service, one of the attendees told me a little of her life. One day, when she was 30 years old, she had been a happily married lady in the morning; before evening her husband died in a car accident and she was a widow, left to raise their 5 year old daughter by herself. She said it drew her closer to God. He is there when everything else we depended on fails us.

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