Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: trust

Simplicity of the church

It was a fine summer day in 1627 and I was strolling through Plimoth Plantation when deacon Samuel Fuller fell in step beside me. “The church officials back in England are saying that we have no business calling ourselves a church here in Massachusetts, because we have no minister,” he said.  “But a church is made up of Christian people. They don’t even have a church. Who made them ministers and bishops?”

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Image by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay

Well, OK, the year was actually 1990, the man beside me was an actor playing the role of Samuel Fuller and we were in a recreated Plimoth Plantation, meticulously designed to look and feel like 1627. But I have no doubt that the real Samuel Fuller actually spoke those words.

Later that day, at a family reunion supper, I asked a young lady (a distant cousin) who also worked at Plimoth Plantation, if the modern Samuel Fuller really believed what he was saying. She hesitated a moment, then said “I think he has it in his head, but not in his heart.”

There you have the essential requirement of a church: Christian people. Not people motivated by tradition, emotion, social connection or intellect, but genuine, from the heart, born again Christians.

How can we do that? The short answer is we can’t. Jesus said He would build His church, The real question is how can we discern if a church is being built by Jesus or by people?

The New Testament speaks of believers meeting for worship, but there are no instructions as to what the meeting place should look like. Being as I live in Saskatchewan and it is bitterly cold outside right now, I am thankful for a warm building to use when we meet to worship. But I am wary when buildings become large and elaborate and are regarded with more reverence than the meeting going on inside.

The New Testament speaks of preaching, but never hints that the preacher needs special training, or that he should be paid a salary. The word minister means servant, yet a minister also has a responsibility to watch over the spiritual welfare of his congregation. But if he begins to think of himself as a lord over the congregation, he has crossed a line according to 1 Peter 5:3.

The New Testament speaks of singing, but never hints at the use of musical instruments. Entertainment is not an enhancement of worship, but rather a distraction.

The New Testament also shows that a close relationship between churches or congregations in different places and different countries. One of the warning signs that a congregation is not being built by Jesus is when it is totally independent of any other group.

I have known people who do church at home or who belong to small independent congregations. They appear to have good convictions but they are alone in their faith, there is no one else with whom they can have fellowship. And I have seen what happens to children from these tiny, self-isolated groups. They rebel. Some forsake Christian faith altogether, some find a home in a much more liberal church. They all blame their parents for their strict, legalistic attitude.

But they are missing something. A church does not become more spiritual, closer to Jesus, by ignoring most of His teachings, saying they were for a different era. The real problem was that their parents trusted no one but themselves. That is perhaps the greatest deception of all, to believe that I, and only I, am walking with the Lord.

This brings us back to the beginning. The Church built by Jesus Christ is a church made up of genuine, from the heart, born again Christians. A church where “Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).  Part of being a genuine Christian is the grace to see Christ in others, in spite of our outward differences.

The need for fellowship

I recently read something written by a young lady whose parents are very conservative Christians. She spoke of how difficult it had been to find a church where she could feel at home because she didn’t want to get into anything that felt like the way she had grown up.

I feel compassion for her, yet I’m afraid she has misdiagnosed the problem. It doesn’t seem that her parents were ultra strict, but they had no fellowship with other Christians with similar convictions. They tried various churches, but always had good reasons why they had to break fellowship with them.

Our daughter would probably be making the same complaints today if we had not joined the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite forty years ago. Prior to that time, while she was very young, we had attended a variety of churches for a few months or a year or two.

Our daughter was six when we began regularly attending a congregation of this church, and seven when we were baptized and became members. From that time on, most of her friends were children of our friends. We attended church together, visited in each others homes and followed much the same principles in raising our children.

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Fast forward forty years and we have a Christian daughter, a fine Christian son-in-law and four grandchildren, one of whom is now also a Christian. This is the blessing of following the leading of the Holy Spirit. I can’t see how we could be enjoying these blessings today if we had continued church-hopping, or even withdrew from organized church altogether.

We have known families who remained with one church, but held their own children to a higher standard than other families of that church did for their children. Their children rebelled. The parents meant well, but didn’t understand that Christian fellowship is of more value than getting all the details right.

We cannot raise Christian children if we hold ourselves aloof from other Christians. Yes, we need to avoid worldliness. Yes, we need to uphold moral and spiritual purity.

But we also need to avoid self-righteousness and a critical attitude toward others. Those things poison the atmosphere in a home and will eventually cause our children to rebel against us and all we tried to teach them. Or it may lead them to become lonely social outcasts, unable to develop a meaningful relationship with others.

God has made us in such a way that none of us are complete in ourselves. We need others to supply what we lack. The New Testament epistles have much instruction to help us live in fellowship with other Christians. This is important for us and for our children.

Above all, let’s not call it Christian fellowship when we are in full agreement with someone else about the mistakes other people make. Forbearance and forgiveness are essential for true fellowship. The most important thing is to see Christ in one another, whatever our ethnic origin or economic status. The people around us make mistakes. Do we see only the mistakes, or do we see a fellow Christian trying in weakness to follow the Holy Spirit? That’s the way we want others to see us, isn’t it?

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (1 Corinthians 3.11)

Happy 2019

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A friend was going from place to place, checking and re-filling displays of gospel tracts that had been placed in various businesses. He walked into a grocery store in a small town with some tracts in his hand. Seeing that he needed more, he left those on the counter and went back to his car. When he came back in, the clerk at the cash register was reading one of the tracts.

“Don’t read that!” he said, “— unless you want to change your life.”

She looked up at him and said “Doesn’t everybody want to change their life?”

I suppose that’s why the making of New Year’s resolutions appeals to so many. Even if they know they’ll never be able to keep them and it’s just an exercise in futility. Here is a better way:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

May we trust in the Lord throughout the coming year and allow Him to direct us in all we do.

WISHING YOU A BLESSED YEAR IN 2019!

Memories of Panda

Panda was our number one furry friend for over 15 years. We got her from a street cat rescue program when she was about six months old. She was part of a litter of long haired black cats found in an abandoned car in a back alley. She grew into a magnificent Maine Coon cat and lived with us in our last three homes.

In our first home, she would perch on the back of the couch, part the vertical blinds with her paw  to look out on the driveway and watch for our return.

She was the same age as our oldest grandchild and all our grandchildren learned from her that gentleness and kindness were the  keys to inspiring trust.

After spending hours at the computer I would turn around and see her on the floor quietly watching me. As soon as I made eye contact she was on her feet leading me to where I kept her brush and comb. A little time spent grooming her made her happy and gave me a needed break. She loved to be vacuumed, the air current through her long hair must have felt good.

The first evening afterwe moved onto this acreage she went outside to explore. When she didn’t come back we went looking for her with flashlights. We went all over the yard, searching and calling her. Finally we gave up and went back to the house. There she was, calmly sitting on the front step, as if to say “Where have you guys been? I’ve been waiting for you.”

I like cats because they are free. They could survive as feral anaimals but choose to make their home with us. They don’t often come when they are called, but when they feel like it they will jump on our lap and purr contentedly.

If I accidentally stepped on Panda’s tail or paw she would give a loud squawk, but that was all. She never believed that I had done it deliberately and it didn’t affect her trust in me. She would calmly sleep through sudden loud noises and commotions in the house, but if a can of salmon was opened she would wake from her sleep, wherever she was, and show up to ask for a share.

Yesterday we took her to the vet and had her put to sleep. Over the past few months she has lost weight until she was just skin and bones. Her blood pressure was high and her kidneys were failing. The vet gave us medicine and at times it seemed to be helping. Finally we had to face the reality that the things we were doing to try and relieve her distress were only causing her more distress. It is a relief to know her suffering is over.

I hope that I have learned something about respect and trust from my relationship with Pand that will transfer to my relationships with people.

Family heirloom

Dear children, I am sending this dear old book as a Granny present. It is one of my dearest friends. I have been reading it for the last fifty years and tried to teach my children to live by its teachings and pray you may do the same by your own children. Its blessed promises are so sweet. It has helped me to bear sorrow that otherwise I’m sure I never could have borne if I had not had his strong arm to lean on.
Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take him at his word.
May the Heavenly Father care for you and help you is the prayer of your Mother.
Mattie Zarn

This note was written in pencil on the fly leaf of an old Bible. Only that page from the Bible has survived. Mattie Zarn was the mother of Bert Zarn, husband of Lottie (Goodnough) Zarn, my aunt. Bert and Lottie were married at Pipestone, Minnesota in 1900, the note was probably written a few years later.

Walking Towards Hope – a book review

One day in October of 1997 Paul Beckingham, his wife Mary and one of their young sons were taking a Kenyan boy back to his home on the edge of Nairobi. They came over a hill to find a massive Kenyan military transport coming towards them and taking up the whole road. Their lives changed forever that day. The boys survived with no major physical injuries, Mary had a broken collar bone.

It took several hours to pry Paul from the mangled remains of his car. He lost massive amounts of blood, had many broken bones and one foot was severed. He was rushed to hospital where a team of Christian Kenyan doctors pieced him back together, re-attached his foot and stopped the bleeding. His heart stopped three times during the surgery.

After a few days he was flown back to Vancouver to continue his recovery. Over the next two years he moved from a hospital bed to a wheelchair, to crutches, then to a cane and was finally able to put the cane away. He began to look more and more like the old Paul Beckingham from before the accident.

But he wasn’t. He couldn’t always think clearly, couldn’t concentrate, didn’t always act appropriately and became immensely frustrated. He began to realize that the accident and his continuing disability did not only affect him, but was also hurting his wife and their five children.

Doctor Mel Kaushansky, an expert in neuropsychology, put him through a bank of tests, then sat him down to explain what had happened to his brain in the accident. He told Paul that all parts of his brain were affected and it could be compared to a blueberry muffin, with the blueberries being the damaged areas of his brain. Or it could be compared to Swiss cheese with the holes being the gaps in his mental capabilities. He would never again be able to take on the level of responsibility that he could handle before the accident.

As Paul accepted the devastating verdict and determined to pursue the things he was still able to do, it led him to the reality of Christian hope. He began accepting public speaking engagements and found that telling his story touched many others just whee they were hurting. He began to study again, but needed to take copious notes to compensate for the frailty of his memory.

And he wrote this book about his experience. Near the end of the book he quotes the words of David in Psalm 43:5 and says:

“His hope is not groundless. It is no mere wishful thinking springing from an overactive, positive mental attitude. Nor is it the idle daydreaming of someone who has finally lost touch with reality. This is no escape from reason. The psalmist’s hope is built on confidence beyond that of his own making. He trusts, instead, a hand that is greater than his own. It is a hand that steers his future, moving him from this place called I Don’t Know towards a place called A Hope and a Future.”

I highly recommend this book.

Walking Towards Hope – Experiencing Grace in a Time of Brokenness, ©  205 by Paul M. Beckingham. Published by Castle Quay Books, Kitchener, Ontario. Available on Amazon and Chapters Indigo. Also available as a e-book fro Kobo or Kindle.

The Gate of the Year

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I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known Way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
So heart be still, what need our little life, our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife of things both high and low,
God hideth his intention.
God Knows. His will Is best.
The stretch of years which wind ahead, so dim to our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God, our fears are premature;
In Him all time hath full provision.
Then rest; until God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes, when, as the sweeter features
Of life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise God’s thought around His creatures
Our minds shall fill.

-Minnie Louise Haskins

Travelling home

It was pouring rain, with low-hanging clouds, when our friends drove us to the Vancouver Airport. Our holiday was over, we’d visited family and friends we hadn’t seen for years, and now we were on our way home to Montréal.

Eventually we were seated in our plane at the beginning of the runway. The jet engines roared to life and we began barrelling down the runway, straight for the ocean. From where I was sitting it looked like it was just at the last moment when the nose tilted up and we were airborne. In a few seconds everything below us disappeared and we were lost in the clouds. Soon I felt the plane make a u-turn to head east, then it continued to climb until we were above the clouds.

For the next five hours there was only this fluffy white mass as far as the eye could see. I trusted that we were flying over the Rockies, the Prairies, then the forests and lakes of Ontario. I could see nothing to prove that, but I trusted the pilot would bring us to our intended destination.

Darkness comes early in January and then I could only see the clouds directly below the airplane. Then there was a glow of light below and ahead of us and before long we were flying above this glow that penetrated the clouds. There was still nothing else to see but I knew we were nearing home. The plane made another u-turn and headed west. Many planes a day made this manoeuvre above our home on the east side of Montréal, so I knew where we were.

The jet engines were quieter now, the airspeed began to diminish and we descended into the clouds. We flew on, swathed in clouds, with the glow of the city beneath us. Finally, we broke beneath the clouds and directly in front of us I could see the lights of the runway. The plane descended, touched down smoothly and we were back home in Montréal.

We saw nothing on the ground to tell us where we were during that whole 4,500 km journey and we knew the pilot didn’t either. But he was getting his information from another source and we trusted he knew exactly where we were at all times.

Not all journeys are that relaxing. My wife is on a journey of cancer treatment at this time and I am along for the ride. Today we will be in Saskatoon for another round of chemotherapy. She has Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and is receiving two drugs that target the white cells affected by that disease. We trust the oncologist and the nurses, but the journey is wearisome. The disease makes her tired already and one doctor told us the treatment will make her more tired and that before she is done she will be tired of seeing the Cancer Clinic and tired of seeing the doctors there.

It helps that we know that others have followed this same treatment protocol and have had their health and energy restored. It is not a journey we wanted to make, yet we have chosen to take it because the alternative would be worse. Someone, whom we once considered a trustworthy friend, has suggested a better way of treatment. We know that most of those who have chosen that “better way” are no longer living. So we go on, trusting that we will arrive at our desired destination.

There is another journey that we are all taking, the journey of life. It is not a passive journey where we are just carried along, but those who have chosen Christ as their guide have a promise of one day reaching Paradise, a paradise that will probably be far better even than the one from which our first parents were chased because of sin.

It isn’t always a smooth journey, the road is often rough, there are hills to climb and storms along the way. There are “friendly” voices which tell us there is a better, easier way. We dare not trust them, we have seen the wretched end of many that were lured onto the easier way. But we have not travelled this way before, the landmarks are unfamiliar, sometimes we go off course.

Our Guide is always there to help us correct our course, find the right landmarks and to renew our courage. And every step we take brings us closer to that City of Light where we can rest for evermore.

Finding peace in time of sickness

Most of us, at least in Canada, have heard the sad story of the young couple convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their child. The boy was sick for 2½ weeks, a friend told them it was probably meningitis, but they never took him to a doctor until he stopped breathing.

They were loving parents and did their best, according to their understanding, to help their little boy. Their understanding was that natural remedies were superior to anything the medical profession might have to offer.

These parents have lost their little boy and have been convicted of a criminal offense. I think they have suffered enough – a prison term would serve no purpose. But perhaps there needs to be a conversation about the limits of alternative medicine.

Some folks are of the opinion that herbal remedies are inherently superior to prescription medicines, and have no side effects because they are natural substances derived from plants. The situation is more complex than that. Many prescription meds are derived from plants; some “natural” remedies are useful, some are worthless and others are downright dangerous. I cannot take ginseng because it is too hard on my heart. Tobacco and heroin are derived from plants.

Friends recently told of a child that was born some years ago with congenital hip dysplasia, a condition where the hip socket does not form. If this condition is discovered in a newborn the remedy is simple – keep the legs spread apart for some months and the hip socket will form naturally. In this case the condition was not discovered until the girl started to walk, when it was seen that one leg would turn at odd angles. Well meaning friends advised the parents to take the little girl to a chiropractor. There is nothing a chiropractor can do by manipulation to manufacture a hip socket. By this time the little girl needed surgery, and she got it.

I am particularly troubled by the many Christian people who are prone to trust alternative medicine and therapies more than the medical profession. Many alternative therapies are based on a belief system that is not compatible with Christian faith.

A sister who was dying of cancer about 35 years ago faced the future with unwavering faith. The thing that troubled her the most was the Christian brothers and sisters who would press her to try some natural remedy or other, with such urgency that it appeared they thought that if she didn’t use their proposed remedy it would be her fault if she died.

As Christians we believe in miracles and there are instances of remarkable recoveries after a prayer for healing. I have also known cases where someone claimed to have been miraculously healed, only to die a year or so later from the disease they were healed from. It seems to me that cases of healing as a result of prayer are more common in places where medical help is not available.

Some people put far too much faith in doctors, expect them to have a remedy for every little ache, discomfort or worry. But is it pleasing to God if we go to the opposite extreme and mistrust the people around us who are most able to help in case of serious health conditions?

Such mistrust is often expressed in the name of God, claiming that He has a better way – a natural way. Yet there is often little evidence of a calm and peaceful trust in God. It seems to me that the best way is to trust God to lead us, and most often that will mean also trusting the guidance of our family doctor and whoever he refers us to. If God is truly leading us, we will have peace and quietness within.

Three cats in the house

We are two elderly people and three cats in a fairly small house, and it is winter. All five of us spend much more time inside these four walls than we would if the weather outside were more clement. This makes for some conflicts. We provide nice cushions for our cats, plus two recliners and two office chairs for ourselves. The cats prefer our chairs. Plus, they prefer to be in the same room as we are.

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Panda, the oldest at thirteen, coming fourteen in summer, is a big black Maine Coon cat. She wants to have her long hair brushed or combed several times a day. This grooming must take place in one specific corner of the living room carpet. If we try to brush or comb her when she is somewhere else she will get up and walk to this spot and lay down. She also loves to be vacuumed and will come whenever she hears the sound of the vacuum cleaner. The other cats maintain a respectful distance between themselves and that noisy machine. When Panda wants my attention she will use her claws to tug at my pant leg. She is a patient cat; if I speak to her emphatically she will lay down and wait for a more opportune moment.

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Pookie, the youngest and smallest, will be five in summer. He is a flame point Siamese, and the most talkative of our cats. He will let us know vocally if he wants our attention, and if ignored will reach up and tap our arm with a soft paw, the claws fully sheathed. He will also respond well to being told to wait awhile.

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Angus is a year older than Pookie, a Siamese in conformation and temperament, but all black. Everything is an emergency to him. He begins by running back and forth, punctuated by plaintive cries:”The sky is falling! the sky is falling! Do something right now!” If we ignore him he will bite one of us on the arm to make his point. The bite is not a vicious bite, never leaves a mark, but it does get our attention. Most often, the reaction is a shriek from my wife which startles Angus enough to make him forget the cause of his anguish, at least momentarily.

Why do we put up with these nuisances? Why do we feed them, groom them, take them to the vet and vacuum up the cat hair? A few answers have come to my mind.

  1. Having other living creatures around that are dependent on us keeps us from becoming too engrossed in our own thoughts and health problems.
  2.  There is something very soothing and calming about having a cat jump on your lap and start purring when you sit in the recliner and put your feet up.
  3. Cats are very forgiving. It is reassuring to know that our cats still like us and trust us even if we accidentally step on one’s tail, or take one on an unwelcome trip to the vet.
  4. There is an object lesson in all this. If I can love and accept my cats, with all their foibles and annoying habits, why can’t I love and accept the people around me in the same way?

[The cats in the photos are not our cats, the pictures were downloaded from Pixabay. Our cats do look very much like the ones in the pictures.]

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