Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: understanding

Do you think wisdom comes with old age?

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That was the question my barber asked me yesterday. My answer was that I don’t want to believe I have wasted all 76 years of my life. I hope I have learned something from the things I have experienced.

BUT – If a man would spend his whole life trying to demonstrate that he is still young and with it – will he have attained to much wisdom there when he gets to his older years?

The zeal of youth is not the same thing as wisdom. Young people need mentors to open their eyes to see that there is more to the world than what they have yet experienced in their short lives.

When young people today feel they know what is right and it is their duty to prevent any contrary viewpoint from being heard, I must conclude that their mentors have lied to them. I can only learn to understand the world by listening to people who see the world differently than I do.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that what I believe is wrong and the other person is right. But how can I even begin to show the other person where he has gone wrong if I don’t understand the basis of his belief? Even when the vision of others is distorted it helps me to better understand truth if I can discern what is distorting their vision.

The greatest piece of wisdom that I have learned in my 76 years is that the truth is not dependent on me. Emotion and intellect can be either a help or hindrance in learning to understand truth. My perception is not infallible, I learn to see more clearly by listening to those who see what I have not yet seen.

A good understanding of truth makes a safe foundation for our lives. But truth without compassion is idolatry and that is a very shaky foundation.

Hazards of cross-cultural ministry

At a worship service in Québec the visiting minister rose to begin his message. He had just heard us singing in an unfamiliar language but the melody was familiar and he felt he had found a common thread to connect  with the congregation. He began by referring to several words of the English hymn he thought he had heard.  The brother who was interpreting first explained in French that the minister was referring to an English hymn, then gamely tried to express his thoughts as clearly as he could in French.

As the minister continued with his message, he kept coming back to the words of the English hymn and the interpreter valiantly tried to create something coherent out of those thoughts in French. Those of us who were bilingual smiled inwardly, others listened in respectful bafflement.

That is a common stumbling block in cross-cultural ministry. Every major language has a number of hymns that are unique to that language. Some hymns have been translated into many languages. How Great Thou Art is a Swedish hymn that is familiar to people in many other languages. A Mighty Fortress is our God originated in German and is likewise known to many people in their own language. However, differences in grammatical structure and rhythm often make it  next to impossible to create an exact translation. Thus, new songs are written in other languages, expressing more or less the same thoughts.

More hazardous yet for a preacher venturing to speak to people through an interpreter, often a completely different hymn is set to a tune that is familiar to the speaker in his native language. That is what happened in the incident mentioned above. The words of the song we had been singing bore no resemblance at all to the words that had been playing in the preacher’s mind.

Just a little reminder that in cross-cultural ministry we first need to try to understand before we try to make ourselves understood.

And lean not unto thine own understanding

“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” -Proverbs 3:5.

I’ve been wondering of late if I really understand this verse. God has given us a mind with the capacity of understanding vast and complex subjects, and surely He wants us to use it. The Bible certainly assumes that we can understand logic and that this understanding will guide our actions.

As I consider this verse now, it appears that there is a choice involved on what we use as the foundation for our understanding. When we face a troubling situation and have no clear direction from the Lord, asking ourselves “What would Jesus do?” will produce an answer that has no foundation other than our own understanding. In other words, an answer that is built on sand that will shift according to our moods and wishes. If we rather ask, “Lord, what would thou have me to do?” and wait for an answer, we are much more likely to make a decision that won’t have unfortunate repercussions.

God provides a solid foundation for our understanding in different ways: through His Word, by the Holy Spirit, by His people. Yet we are not robots, having our every thought and movement directed by a cosmic remote control. There is much scope for the exercise of our own reasoning in working out the details of our lives in accordance with the foundation provided by God.

Even here, though, there is a very real danger that after a number of years of living as a Christian and making many decisions that have proved to be a blessing in my life and the lives of those around me, I might begin to feel that I have this Christian life thing all straight in my mind and can now proceed on auto pilot. I have learned Christian speech patterns, Christian rules of behaviour and for the most part my life continues on fairly successfully.  Yet little signs begin to appear that maybe I am forgetting to lean upon the Lord. My contributions to a spiritual discussion sound like a tape-recorded message that has been played many times already. I am not particularly concerned about the problems of others. And I seem to have become immune to reproof.

Solomon said: “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished” (Ecclesiastes 4:13). Perhaps he was thinking of himself when he wrote those words. We are not wiser than Solomon, may we not build our lives on the foundation of our own understanding. Let us rather consider Solomon’s final words of instruction:

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

Analyzing ourselves to death

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what has happened, and is still happening, in Ferguson. There seems to be an element of truth in every analysis, even though the conclusions conflict. There’s really not much those of us at a distance can do about Ferguson; and I’m afraid that much that is being counselled will not produce the desired result.

It remains then, for we who call ourselves Christians, to look at things closer to home: in our homes, our congregations, our communities. Are we applying the healing balm of Christian charity to the sore spots around us? To learn to understand is good; to learn to forgive is infinitely better.

The way of peace

Forty-five years ago I was picking up my mail in a village post office when I heard two older men reminiscing about the war. Somehow the subject of Mennonites came up. “Mennonites!” one of them said angrily, “They should all be lined up against a wall and shot!” The other agreed.

This was at a time when I was just beginning to think about becoming a Mennonite and neither of these men would have been aware of that. They had both served in World War II and were well-respected members of the community. What aroused such feelings of animosity?

I can’t really speak for them, yet those feelings could have been based on several factors.  At the time of the war, Mennonites generally held themselves aloof from the rest of society, to the point of believing there was something almost holy about speaking a Germanic dialect rather than English. As a result, they were not well known or well understood by other Canadians. Some Mennonites seemed to have a sense of entitlement about exemption from military service. Many Canadians may not have been aware that Mennonite boys were serving in alternate service camps during the war, or if they knew, still felt they were being given an unfair advantage.

Peace has always been the central belief of the Anabaptists, Waldensians and Mennonites. Peace with God first of all, then through that peace with our fellow men. Unfortunately, we may sometimes make it seem that the main point of our peace doctrine is non-participation in war. If that is all it amounts to, we are missing the whole foundation of Christian life and the reason why we believe we cannot participate in the shedding of blood.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, taught that we should be peacemakers, suffer persecution if need be and turn the other cheek. James wrote that God gives His children a wisdom that is “peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy”; then goes on to say that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”

This is all part of loving our neighbour as ourself. Yet it is very natural and human to think of ourselves first. We are naturally prone to feelings of envy, of being left out, of not being appreciated at our just value. James tells us that these feelings are not heaven-sent, but are earthly, sensual and devilish.

If we take offence at every imagined slight, the peace of God is not reigning in our hearts. We are to esteem others as better than ourselves. Experience should tell us that those who make the greatest efforts to impress others with their own importance are the least appreciated. Yet our concern for others should never be motivated by thoughts of personal advantage.

Canada enacted conscription laws during the two World Wars, but granted exemptions to young men who were members of churches who taught a doctrine of peace. Young men from these churches who were eligible to be conscripted were allowed to join alternative service programs, such as working in forestry camps for the duration of the war.

We understand that if conscription is ever enacted again there will be no automatic exemption based solely upon church membership. Young men and women will be individually examined as to the reality of their personal convictions and whether they have lived according to those convictions.

This is as it should be. Not only our young people, but all of us, should live in such a way that our neighbours know us as peace-loving people, who are always ready to lend a helping hand to a neighbour in need. We should not have a lot to say about the faults of those who govern us; neither should we disdain the poor who have not the courage to believe that anything will ever turn out right for them in life. May we rather be people who can feel the hurts, the sorrows and the joys of others.

I remember my Dad picking me up after school one day when I was nine years old and telling me that my mother was sorrowing that day. She had just received news that her youngest brother, to whom she felt very close, had been killed in Korea. I remember when her last two letters to my uncle were returned unopened and how she kept those letters for years. We need to understand the sorrow of those who have lost loved ones in war.

As Christians, we should never have a sense of entitlement. We are called to serve, not to be served.

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