Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: truth

How to read the Bible

I grew up in a home where the Bible was read every day, my father often talked bout things he read in it. We attended a church, the Anglican Church of Canada, where every service had a reading from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, and several other passages from the Bible were spoken in unison by the congregation. I becam an altar boy and assisted the minister in communion services. It was in this setting that I first heard the call of God.

And yet, there was tension in our home, inconsistencies in the church, and in all the other churches around us. These things, plus what we were being taught in school and the books I read in my later teens, caused doubts to grow. Finally I abandoned altogether the Bible, Church and Christianity.

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Life was chaotic, without meaning or purpose. In my mid twenties I began to read the Bible for myself. After a few months, I became aware that every part of the book was linked to everything else in the book. It was one book. I found myself backed into a corner where I would have to reject the whole book, or accept it all as God’s truth. That was when God called me the second time and I prayed a spontaneous prayer for perhaps the first time in my life.

It took several months for me to grasp that the direction of my life had changed at that point and that what had happened to me was what Christians called being born again.

I have continued to read the Bible as a single book. I have read it through a number of times, in both English and French. At the very least I read a complete book of the Bible, reading small portions each day. Sometimes I have found it helpful to read a book all the way through at a single setting. That is what the writer expected us to do, isn’t it?

We can’t grasp the fulll meaning of any Bible passage if we separate it from the rest of the Bible. Just reading the highlights here and there is like playing hopscotch over the surface of the Bible and never really grasping what is going on.

I most emphatically do not believe that the Bible should be treated as a series of morality tales. That usually, perhaps always, results in a distorted idea of what was happening. The Bible was not written to teach us about God and how to live a successful life. The Bible is given to us as a personal message from God to lead us to know Him personally. When we truly know Him, He wants to direct our lives in the way that will honour Him.

That way will not be the way we our own inclination would take us. It may be inconvenient and uncomfortable at times, or worse. But it is the way that gives joy that we could never experience in any other way.

So Send I You

After the resurrection and before Jesus departed from this world, He told His disciples “As the Father hath sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21). Just a few simple words, so clear and plain that we are apt to miss their implication.

The Father sent Jesus into the Jewish nation to teach and portray the kingdom of God, a kingdom of truth, righteousness, peace and love. The political and religious forces of the day could not stand the message and conspired to get rid of the messenger.

Jesus rose victorious from the grave and now expects people who have experienced his grace and salvation to carry the same message into a world that is just as hostile. The whole world is in a mess and the Christian will be tempted to get sidetracked into fixing the world. But that has never worked and never will work. It cannot work because the problem with the world is not corrupt and misguided people, though there are enough of those, but the real problem is the powers of darkness which manipulate the affairs of this world.

Christians are called to teach and portray a different kingdom, with different values. We should not expect that to go unnoticed by the ruling forces of the realm of darkness. There will be opposition, attempts to deflect the Christian’s efforts to a different approach that will not be a threat to the realm of darkness. Persecution is not a barbaric relic of the past, it may well be the lot of Christians today who bear witness to the light in a world that loves darkness.

Hymn writer E. Margaret Clarkson understood this reality when she penned the poem So Send I You, which was later set to music by John W. Peterson. Here is the fourth of the five stanzas:

So send I you to to leave your heart’s ambition,
To die to dear desire, self-will resign,
To labour long, and love where men revile you,
So send I you to lose your life in Mine.

-copyright 1954 by Singspiration, Inc.

E. Margaret Clarkson was born 1915 in Melville, Saskatchewan and grew up in Toronto, where she taught school for 38 years. She wrote So Send I You in 1937 at the age of 22.

Rulers are not a terror to good works

I received my first injection of COVID-19 vaccine this morning. That means that I have chosen to ignore the warnings of well-intentioned friends who send me emails revealing the malevolent conspiracy behind the vaccination program. That means I have chosen not to live in fear.

Image by DoroT Schenk from Pixabay 

I have chosen to believe the information provided by Moderna, Health Canada, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and other competent authorities showing that the vaccine is safe and effective. I have chosen to do what I believe will protect my health and the health of those around me.

What good do conspiracy theories do? Do they help us live happy and productive lives? Do they helps us to comfort and encourage those around us? Jesus said “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 9:32). Conspiracy theories claim to be the truth, but they lock us in a prison of fear, a prison that we build for ourselves.

Witnesses of the Light

As the apostle John begins telling the gospel story, he identifies Jesus as the Light of the World. Then he says “There was a man named John,” referring to another John, John the Baptist, and says of him, “He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.”

Two thousand years later the world still needs someone to bear witness of that Light. That would be you and me, all who live by faith in Jesus Christ. Are we finding it difficult to do that? Or do we think people don’t want to hear? Perhaps we have become too much at ease in the world as it is, forgetting that it is a wilderness of woe. A good starting point is to realize that most people around us are not happy with the way life is going for them. They think there must be a better way, they try to find it, but they don’t really know what it is they are looking for.

We cannot force people to see the light. Force is characteristic of the realm of darkness and we cannot use the means of the enemy of the light to bring people to the light. The first step, then, in being witnesses of the Light, is to be sure that we ourselves are wholly living in that Light.

I am not that Light. I can, and should, speak the truth boldly. But I must remember that it is the Holy Spirit that leads people into all truth, not me.

I should contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; that is I must be steadfast in maintaining its truth, despite opposition. Yet I must not be quarrelsome, for I am not the one who delivered that truth to mankind.

I must demonstrate the reality of the faith by loving everyone as God does; even those who are opposed. I don’t know what is in people’s hearts. God knows; He will judge; I don’t need to.

Truth, or a convincing approximation of the truth, can satisfy the mind for a time, but it leaves the heart longing for something more. True faith that works by love will satisfy both heart and mind and draw people to seek fellowship with others whose hearts and lives demonstrate the work of the Holy Spirit.

The kingdom of God

In the Old Testament God selected the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to create a model of His kingdom. This kingdom attained the height of its glory, and the fulfilment of all the prophecies pertaining to the earthly kingdom, in the reign of Solomon. Yet as we look at the how that kingdom degenerated, we see that the seeds of destruction were there from the beginning. Most of the people descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were earthly minded.

The New Testament tells of the founding of a new kingdom. The king is Jesus, like Solomon a descendant of David. The citizens are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. This kingdom is not limited to any territory, has no political presence in any country, has no military force to avenge itself on its enemies. This is the true kingdom, of which the kingdom of Solomon was merely a representation. We need look for no other kingdom but the present kingdom of God.

Jesus likened the kingdom of God to leaven that was placed in a lump of dough, permeating and growing in the lump. The kingdom of God grows in a hidden way, in the hearts of those who repent and surrender their lives to the lordship of Jesus. Christian people cannot grow the kingdom. We must sow the seed, add the leaven – or better said, be the leaven, but it is God who gives the increase.

Jesus did not just talk about the kingdom, He demonstrated it. His miracles, the healing of the sick and handicapped, the casting out of demons, raising the dead to life, were evidence that a new power had entered this world and was undoing the work of the powers of darkness. Christians today do not have the power to perform miracles. God does, and He still does work miracles. But there are other ways in which Christians can defeat the powers of darkness.

The miracles of Jesus were real and they had a purpose. But let’s look beyond the miracles to the kind of person Jesus was. He demonstrated the perfect unity of truth and righteousness, love and compassion.

He forgave the woman taken in adultery and reproved her self-righteous accusers. The only time the Bible tells us that Jesus was angry was when the Pharisees were ready to condemn Him for healing on the Sabbath. The hardness of their hearts, their lack of compassion, was the opposite of true righteousness.

Jews despised Samaritans, considered them to be an unclean people, would not touch anything that had been handled by a Samaritan for fear of defilement. Jesus asked a Samaritan woman to give Him a drink of water, then talked to her about true worship, about her life, told her that He was the Messiah. She believed, ran back into the city to call others to meet Him. As they were coming out to the well, Jesus told His disciples to lift up their eyes and see the fields ripe for harvest.

He ate with publicans, took time for little children, depended on women for material support in His ministry, inspired faith in a Roman soldier and a Syro-Phoenician woman. He told the self-righteous Pharisees that other people who knew they were sinners, people like publicans and prostitutes, would find it easier to enter the kingdom than they would.

Blaise Pascal said “We make an idol of the truth itself; for truth without love is not God, but His image. Still less should we love its opposite, the untruth.” We are poor witnesses of the kingdom of God if we hold firmly to the truth, yet cannot find it in ourselves to show love, mercy and compassion to those ensnared by the deceptions and depravities of the kingdom of darkness.

We need to also heed the last part of Pascal’s thought. In our day there are many who want to include Jesus with all the religious teachers and prophets of all faiths and say that the true hope of mankind is in enlightenment that reveals the divinity within oneself. That is the untruth that offers no hope, no salvation, not even compassion.

Two way communication

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God has spoken once, His words are written in the holy book and it is the whole duty of man to obey all that is taught in the holy book. Religious leaders help to understand parts of the holy book that may not be clear, but God does not speak to people today.

The religion which believes that is called Islam. There are more than a billion devout followers of this religion.

Christianity also teaches that God has spoken in the past and His words are collected in a holy book called the Bible. But Christianity teaches something more than that: God speaks to people today by His Holy Spirit and by His church. There is full agreement in what God says by these three means.

If there is discord in what we are hearing, we need to search for the problem. Perhaps we have been taught an interpretation of parts of the Bible and the Holy Spirit is saying something that does not fit with what we have been taught. Is the problem with the interpretation we have been taught, or are we listening to a spirit that is not the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps the church to which we belong is teaching something that doesn’t seem to agree with what we read in the Bible or what the Holy Spirit is telling us. We need to be very careful to not become one who believes that he alone has the correct understanding of truth. But when it is clear that the church to which we belong is faithful to neither the Spirit nor the Bible, it is time to search for a church that is.

If we find the Bible difficult to understand, the best answer may not be to look for a Bible that is easier to understand. The best way to increase our understanding of the Bible is to be obedient to the parts that we do understand.

Prayer should not be a one way conversation. God wants us to talk to Him; He also wants to speak to us. If we are hearing nothing, we should search our hearts to see if we have obeyed the instructions He has given us in the past.

To be in full communion with God, we must be obedient to the things He says to us, whether through the Bible, the church or the Holy Spirit. This connection with God will also connect us with other true believers. This is not a man-made unity, which is fragile, but the unity of the family of God, founded on the bedrock of God’s truth.

The pen of the wise

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I begin every day by meeting God, first in His Word, then in prayer. My French Bible is on a shelf just above the computer monitor. Most often I read and hear gentle reminders of things I know, but which are always in need of reinforcement. The strength I receive from this quiet time helps me through the day, even if the words I read seldom come to mind.

Some mornings are different. It’s afternoon now and the message of Proverbs 15:2 is still turning around in my mind, like a cat looking for the most comfortable position to settle down. I have three French Bibles on that shelf, all translations I believe to be trustworthy. One word is different in two of them, but the sense is still the same: The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive.

Well, of course. That’s so obvious. I knew that already. But did I really? Have I really got it yet? Why do I so naturally slip into teachy-preachy mode, reproaching others for not understanding things that seem so obvious to me?

That’s why people love to read C. S. Lewis. It’s like sitting down to visit with an old friend about everyday things. After the visit, you realize you have learned something important, without ever feeling like you were being taught. There is nothing bombastic about his writing style; no hint of: “You need to listen to what I say because I am important.”

Blaise Pascal was like that, too. He set out to write a defence of Christian faith, knowing how difficult it would be: “People despise Christian faith. They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.  The solution for this is to show them, first of all, that it is not unreasonable, that it is worthy of reverence and respect. Then show that it is attractive, making good men desire that it were true. Then show them that it really is true. It is worthy of reverence because it really understands the human condition. It is also attractive because it promises true goodness.”

Pascal died young, before he could complete the book he wanted to write. All he left behind was scraps of paper on which he had written his thoughts. His friends collected those thoughts into a book; Les Pensées has become a classic of French literature on the same level as Pilgrim’s Progress in English.

I have four copies of Les Pensées (the thoughts) of Blaise Pascal, in French and in English. Each editor had his own idea of the way Pascal wanted his thoughts ordered. None of them agree. It doesn’t matter. Each time I read a few of those scraps of paper Pascal left behind I am struck with how simple Christian truth appears from his hand, his mind—and how profound.

And Wow! This is how it’s done. This is how one makes truth attractive.

Is possible for me to learn this?

Winsomeness

More than 350 years ago, Blaise Pascal described what he hoped to achieve with his writing this way:

People despise Christian faith. They hate it and are afraid that it may be true.  The solution for this is to show them, first of all, that it is not unreasonable, that it is worthy of  reverence and respect. Then show that it is winsome, making good men desire that it were true. Then show them that it really is true. It is worthy of reverence because it really understands the human condition. It is also attractive because it promises true goodness.
-Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées

I have often read this passage, given mental assent to it, desired that the things I write could be winsome and attractive. Yet it dawns on me now how far I fall short of achieving that goal.

I don’t do New Year resolutions. I tried years ago. They were largely futile attempts to make me feel better about myself with minimal effort. I took comfort in having noble aspirations, then promptly forgot them. Real change is only possible by taking an honest look at the not so noble part of my character.

Pascal used the word aimable in French. The above English version translates aimable by winsome in one place and attractive in the other. Apologetics, giving an answer for the hope that lieth within me, is only effective if it makes that hope winsome and attractive.

Giving an answer that carries the slightest whiff of self-righteousness or arrogance renders that answer unattractive.  Truth is important, right doctrine is necessary, yet if truth and right doctrine seem repugnant to the reader, I am an abject failure.

Effective apologetics then must be the putting Christian faith into words that bring out the winsomeness of the faith. As a writer, I need to get myself out of the way and think of how to present different aspects of the faith in Jesus Christ to the reader, who probably looks at life in quite a different way than I do. It is not my job to prove him wrong; it is not my job to prove myself an authority to be trusted. It is my job to show that Jesus Christ is worthy of our trust.

© Bob Goodnough, January 03, 2020

Why I am a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite

I was looking for a home—a family. An inner longing was pushing me to search for a church where there would be truth and warmth. Sometimes in my mind I thought I had found it, but that inner longing told me—No, this isn’t what you need.

I met many good people along the way, picked up little pieces of truth that I hadn’t known before, but always the emptiness within remained unsatisfied. Sometimes I visited a church once, sometimes I stayed for a year or two, but each experience ended in disappointment.

I reached the end of my search, was almost ready to give up. I had never thought the picture in my mind of what the ideal church should be was a problem. Then God told me I needed to give up that picture and allow Him to show me what I needed and where I should look.

From there on it was easy. Well, at least it was easy to find the church that was exactly what I was looking for. I had known of this church for years, but never gave it serious consideration because it did not fit the picture in my mind. Once I had checked out all the alternatives, God led me to take another look at this church. This time I knew it was where I wanted to be, where God wanted me to be.

My mind was at rest, my heart was at peace. This was the home for which I had searched. The doctrines of the church were Biblical, solid and complete. Brotherly love was genuine, not an act. Ministers were untrained and unsalaried, yet better able to discern between the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the world than any others I had met. All the members were born again. I did not meet any who thought they had just grown into salvation, or who thought showing the requisite level of enthusiasm, or wearing a certain unique cut of clothing, was evidence of the new birth.

God led me to my earthly spiritual home. But a spiritual family is much like a natural family. We are different people, with different tastes, different ways of doing things, different stresses in our life. Sometimes someone else steps on my toes, my feelings get hurt. I need to forgive; it wasn’t deliberate—I don’t know how many times I have stepped on someone else’s toes; I didn’t intend to, it just happens. I don’t know because they have forgiven me and got on with living.

Some are weak among us, they need help. Sometimes help comes in the way of correction, sometimes in practical help. We always offer help in kindness. Some are new in the faith, they need encouragement. Some make mistakes, they need forbearance. We are family, when one member is hurting, we all feel the pain.

Some members have come from different cultural backgrounds, some have not come from happy homes. Sometimes the help we offer is. Sometimes we don’t quite understand what is going on. But we are still family and we do our best to love and support one another as the Holy Spirit leads.

Silence like cancer

The fire, the wind, the earthquake beat upon the mountain like hammer blows. Elijah knew God did not speak like that. After all was silent, he heard a gentle voice. It was so soft that he could not discern the words; he went to the mouth of the cave to hear better. God spoke to him in a gentle tone, but did not beat around the bush. His first words were: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Jesus often wrapped the truth in a story. His purpose was not to conceal the truth, but to prompt the listeners to search for the meaning, and to make it stick. We should not take the example of Jesus as an excuse to wrap the truth in obscure words which conceal rather than reveal. No one should not have to guess what we are trying to say.

When a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus responded with the story we call “the good Samaritan.” The Pharisee nodded as Jesus told of the priests who had passed by without helping. That was how he saw the priests. He no doubt expected Jesus to tell how a Pharisee came along and saved the day.

Jesus shocked him to the depths of his being by making a Samaritan the hero of the story. Jews saw Samaritans as unclean people and avoided them. After telling the story, Jesus asked who had been a neighbour to the man in distress. The Pharisee could not even bring himself to pronounce the word Samaritan, but allowed that the one who helped had been the true neighbour.

Jesus’ final word, “go and do thou likewise,” was telling the Pharisee he needed to be more like the Samaritan in the story. The Pharisee got the parable’s message. We don’t know what he did with that understanding. The gospels say that most Pharisees hated Jesus, but some believed.

Our lives should be a witness of the hope that lies within us. But we cannot just be silent witnesses. If someone asks us a reason of that hope and all we can come up with is “That’s the way our church teaches,” or “That’s what it says somewhere in the Bible,” people are apt to conclude that we don’t know why we do things like we do. Could they be right?

We should be able to offer a clear testimony of the grounds of our faith. Important-sounding words are unnecessary, as is a round-about way of speaking. Simple words from the heart are more apt to touch the hearts of others.

Psalm 15:1-2 —LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth [as it is] in his heart.

The words I have inserted in italics appear in the most reliable French translations and I believe are the true meaning. It is not enough to hide the truth in our heart. We need to learn how to express it in words others can understand.

If we think it’s enough to have the truth hidden in our hearts, yet remain silent about it, that silence becomes like a cancer eating away at the truth within us. The world hears the blows of the hammers wielded by multitudes who claim to be proclaiming truth, so many kinds of supposed truth. We can’t compete with the noise, we don’t need a bigger hammer to ensure people hear our message. The truth is best told in a warm, gentle way.

Do we need to learn how to speak the truth? Truth-speaking does not need heavy words or “Christian” fairy tales to support it. If we can wrap it in a story from our own life, or one we have observed, so much the better. Let’s start now, in our homes, with fellow believers, and with those who do not believe.

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