Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: worship

Confusion about the Gibeonites

Four years ago I published a post entitled Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. The first two paragraphs read as follows:

Moralistic, therapeutic deism, a term first used by Christian Smith, seems a fitting description of much of what passes for Christianity in North America. The followers of this religion believe in a God who wants them to be good, wants them to feel good about themselves, doesn’t need to be consulted except in case of emergencies, and who will accept all good people into heaven.

One unfortunate result is that such people read the Old Testament as a series of morality tales, leading to conclusions that play up the foolishness and waywardness of Old Testament characters. Such a reading altogether misses the redemption story that is an essential ingredient of these histories. The New Testament points to these histories as God’s way of revealing little by little his plan of redemption.

Today I want to write about how the story of the Gibeonites, beginning in the ninth chapter of Joshua, is commonly misinterpreted. Bible story books and Sunday School lessons tend to make a big thing of how the Gibeonites tricked the elders of Israel. In doing so, they altogether miss how this account fits into the redemption story.

If God had been displeased with the Israelites for accepting the Gibeonites, would he not have told Joshua to just stand back and let the armies of the south destroy Gibeon? Instead he told Joshua to go up to battle and that he would deliver the attacking armies into Joshua’s hand. Then God performed one of the great miracles of the Old Testament, making the sun stand still for another whole day. At the same time, God poured out hail on the attacking armies.

Up to this point, the children of Israel were occupying a small enclave in the plains of Jericho. The mountainous country was before them; the population in those mountains far outnumbered the Israelites and they were men of war. Yet the pact with the Gibeonites provided the opening to utterly destroy those armies during the battle of the long day and subsequent battles in the days following. Now the Israelites were masters of all the southern half of the Promised Land.

This stirred the nations in the north to gather together to battle, but once again the Lord assured Joshua that He would deliver them to him. Joshua and the Israelites won another great victory and were now in possession of all the land. They had not destroyed all the people of the land, but there were no longer any mighty armies to stand against them.

As we read the whole story, the inescapable conclusion is that God blessed the Israelites for accepting the Gibeonites. Yes, they came with a deceitful story, yet they did it because they recognized the greatness of God. They submitted willingly to the conditions laid upon them by the elders of Israel, knowing that the alternative was death. Joshua 11:19 says: “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle.”

The Gibeonites became hewers of wood and drawers of water for the service of the tabernacle. There was an element of mercy in this, they were not made slaves to individual Israelites, which could well have led to oppression and mistreatment. It is likely that the Gibeonites are the same people as those later called Nethinims.

The Gibeonites were Hivites, descendants of Canaaan. Others of the Hivites remained and later troubled the Israelites. There is no hint in the Bible that the Gibeonites were in any way associated with them. They had made their choice to take their place among the people of God.

Nevertheless, there came a time when King Saul thought he would be doing God a service by wiping out the Gibeonites. Because of this God sent a three year famine in Israel in the time of King David. The famine ceased when seven of Sauls grandsons were hung. This may look like revenge, but perhaps a better explanation is that this was a means to make it publicly known to all Israel that the slaying of the Gibeonites was entirely Saul’s idea and contrary to the will of God.

Are we perhaps thinking like Saul if we condemn the Gibeonites for their deception? The real story here, as I see it, is a group of Gentiles forsaking their gods to seek refuge with Israel and their God. Perhaps their methods were questionable, but all the accounts that mention them demonstrate the purity and sincerity of their desire to fully submit to the Almighty God.

Advertisements

A step forward, a step back

We found a house to rent just a few miles from church. I started working for Ed Klassen’s carpenter crew. Things were working out well for me; I wasn’t so sure how this was going to work for Chris. I was still a young Christian, trying to sort things out for myself and didn’t know how to be much help to her.

The big sticking point for Chris was that she knew these Holdeman Mennonites believed that if you were a Christian there had to have been a starting point, a new birth. She thought she didn’t have anything to tell and wouldn’t be allowed into the church.

Sure, there had been those times as a young girl at camp where the counsellor had led her in praying the sinner’s prayer then assured her that now shew was saved. Then she had those nightmares when we were first married that the end of time had come and she wasn’t ready. The General Conference Mennonite preacher had assured her she was fine. Her testimony before she was baptized in that church was that she had always wanted to be a Christian. That had been enough, and it would have been enough for the Conservative Mennonites. But she knew that wasn’t going to work here.

As I remember it, when I came home after my first day’s work, Chris met me with the news that minister Bennie wanted to visit with us. Lillian, his wife, had visited with Chris during the day and they had talked about the changes in our lives over the past few years. Lillian thought there was something there that sounded like a new birth experience.

We had supper and went over to Bennie and Lillian’s. Chris recounted the event she had told Lillian earlier that day. She had always believed that she was a Christian. About a year earlier she had felt that God was asking something of her that she was not willing for. She had outright refused. Then the awful truth dawned on her for the first time in her life – she was lost. She had knelt down and prayed, promising to do whatever God asked of her. At that she felt complete peace.

Since she had always thought she was saved, she had not understood this experience as the beginning of her Christian life. But as we talked it over it became clear to all of us that this had been unlike anything she had experienced before. This was where she was born again and became a child of God.

This was a new beginning for both of us. We were now fully united in faith and knew we were where God wanted us to be.

Linden was a big congregation; there were a lot of people for us to get to know, and lots of children Michelle’s age. She celebrated her fourth birthday October 28, 1975.

I had always known that carpenter work was a bit of a stretch for me, but it was the kind of work that was available. My allergies left me with an insecure sense of balance. Working on a roof was almost torture, but I forced myself to do it as best as I could. I managed to cope for a couple months, but late in November the allergy problem kicked in with a vengeance. It started with sneezes and snuffles, developed into a sinus infection and then I lost my voice. With antibiotics I was feeling fine in about a week and started back to work. Before the end of that week I was as sick as I had been the first time.

Okay, this line of work just wasn’t for me. Perhaps there might have been something else for me in the Linden area, but it seemed like we should go back to Moose Jaw.

The return to Moose Jaw was a detour from our route to the church, but it was soon evident that there was a need at home. My father’s dementia rapidly becoming worse, the burden on my mother was too much for her to bear alone.

We settled into life in Moose Jaw once again. Chris went back to working at the senior’s residence; I worked for Dennis on the farm the next two summers. In between time I taught Michelle to read. I know I wasn’t as patient and kindly a teacher as my mother had been, but she did learn. Then she could read the little books that Julia had given me when I was her age.

My father went into a nursing home and my mother went to visit him almost every day. I drove her sometimes, but there was no use trying to visit with my father. He didn’t know who I was anymore. He still knew Mom and my uncle Art, his youngest brother. But I guess I came along too late. Dad was 50 when I was born and that event didn’t seem to be in his memory bank anymore.

We went to church at Hague or Bredenbury about once a month. It was a three hour trip to get to either place. I remember one trip to Hague on a very cold winter day. We were driving a 1972 Toyota Corolla, a very small car in that era. We found that the heating system was just enough on that frigid day to keep the windshield clear or to keep ourselves warm, but it wasn’t up to doing both. The choice was obvious, we had to see where we were going. It wasn’t a comfortable trip.

We enjoyed the Sundays in those small congregations, the fellowship, the opportunity to worship with fellow believers, and looked forward to a time when we would be free to move into a congregation.

Belle Plaine, continued

My prescription for the heart pills ran out about as soon as I got settled in Belle Plaine. The doctor who had originally prescribed them had retired in the meantime so I saw Doctor Gass. He flatly refused to renew the prescription. I thought I needed it and tried to argue with him. “You don’t need them,” he told me and that was that. I guess he was right, that was over 50 years ago and I’ve managed quite well without them. Somewhat later I figured out that Phenobarb wasn’t a heart medication anyway.

That ended the problem with being able to drink alcoholic beverages. I tried just about every variety of alcoholic drink and liked them all. This was thankfully before the days when recreational drugs were so readily available, or I might have tried them, too.

It was at Belle Plaine that someone suggested taking an antihistamine for my allergy problems. I have been taking them ever since and they make a difference. They haven’t made my problems go away, but they have enabled me to cope, most of the time.

In January of 1967 there was a two week training session for new UGG elevator managers in Winnipeg. We were put up in one of the better downtown hotels, just a few blocks from UGG headquarters. One morning we were given a tour of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Our tour guide was none other than Bill Parrish, president of Parrish & Heimbecker, one of our competitors. He was also chairman of the grain exchange at that time and not many years older than I was.

Joe and I had spent the night in the bar and it was around midnight when we arrived back in Belle Plaine one night. We weren’t ready to call it a day, so when we saw a light in Bill and Wilma Paskaruk’s house we went and banged on the door. They let us in and we sat around, drank coffee and made small talk.

As we were leaving I turned and blurted out “Someday I am going to be a Mennonite and wear a beard!” I was just as shocked at that revelation as my friends were. Where did it come from?

I had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol, yet I knew this was not some drunken whimsy. My memory of that moment is crystal clear and I knew it was somehow connected to the thoughts that had been tumbling around in my mind.

As I mulled that over I decided the time had come to visit a Mennonite church. I searched the phone book and discovered there was a Mennonite church on the west side of Regina. I drove by the church the next time I was in Regina and checked the time for worship services. A Sunday or two later I got up early, dressed for church and drove into Regina. I was impressed by the simple form of worship, but found that I was invisible. I walked into that church, sat down in a pew just before the service began and walked out when it was over and nobody seemed to notice. I went again the next Sunday, with the same result. That was the end of that little experiment, I decided to try again some other time, some other place.

There were thousands of wooden grain elevators in the Western Canada grain belt. But trucks were getting bigger, able to haul more grain over longer distances, and the days of  small elevators were numbered. In January of 1969, at a district meeting in Regina I was informed that my elevator was being closed. I would be going back to being a helper until something else opened up. For the next two months I was located in Markinch, north of the Qu’Appelle Valley, again with an older manager who would soon be retiring.

I made frequent weekend trips back to Moose Jaw, with stops in Belle Plaine to visit Christine. At the beginning of March I was told that an elevator manager in Sperling, Manitoba had suffered a heart attack and I was to go there and take his place. Facing the prospect of 400 miles between us, Chris and I began making marriage plans.

Living stones of Zion

Only living stones can strengthen the walls of Zion.
Other stones do not bond and will be pushed out of place.
A block of wood, a bale of hay or straw, will fill a gap in the wall,
They do not bond, they offer a route for vermin to enter Zion.
When the fiery darts of the enemy strike them they go up in flames.

Sunlight shows flashes of gold, silver and jewels in some living stones.
Others are plain granite, all help bear the loads of brothers and sisters
And form bonds that make the walls a sure defence against the enemy.
There is safety within for little ones, not yet spiritually living stones,
And a place where the weak and wounded heal and renew their strength.

Spiritual sacrifices are daily offered within these walls,
Sacrifices of selfish will and pride, of personal desires and ambition.
Sacrifices that arise as sweet incense to the courts of heaven.
Peace, joy and love here are tested, are strengthened and endure ,
Pleasing God and making glad the hearts of the citizens of Zion.

A pillar of fire by night and of cloud by day is seen upon these walls,
The Shekinah glory of God, invisible to unbelieving eyes,
Yet seen and feared by demonic beings that love darkness.
Weary seekers of the city of God catch glimpses of light from afar
Angels of light watch over them, help them find their way home.

Worship styles – what is essential?

I was reading articles about the history of church pews and it seems most writers feel that pews became important at the time of the Reformation. In Roman Catholic worship the focus was on the communion and provisions for congregational seating were not of major importance. With the Reformation, the focus switched to the sermon where the congregation remained seated for a lengthy period of time and where and how they sat became more important.

That may be true, but I was raised in the Anglican tradition which did not fit neatly into either category. There were two Bible readings in every service, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. In addition there were a few significant passages of Scripture that were spoken aloud, either in unison or as responsive readings. There was a sermon, usually not lengthy, and often there was communion, but the real emphasis seemed to be on the Bible.

Contemporary worship music seems to have come front and centre in most evangelical churches today. Thus the worship leader who leads and directs this aspect of the worship service seems to be as important as the preacher.

Early Christian worship took place in places like private homes, forests, or the catacombs of Rome. This type of worship did not require a special church building, nor did it require pews or musical instruments. This was worship stripped to its bare essentials: Bible reading, prayer, and exhortation to faithfulness. And people risked their lives to be at these worship services.

Anabaptists retained that simple style of worship throughout most of their history. One could question whether the many persecutions they suffered made that the only feasible style of worship, or whether they were persecuted because they chose to avoid the worship style of the official churches. Both were probably factors.

Today, we of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite consider ourselves to be linear descendants of the Anabaptists. Bible reading, prayer, hymns and a sermon all have a place in our worship services. The sermon usually consists of some combination of exposition of a Bible passage, teaching, testimony and exhortation to faithfulness. It is not a prepared, scholarly discourse, but flows from a heart inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We sing both old and new hymns, without musical accompaniment. The message of a song remains with us much longer when we all sing together, rather than just listening. Many have testified of times of difficulty or crisis when part of a song has popped into their mind with words that brought comfort and direction.

Worship then and now

Then was sixty years ago when I was a teenager and member of the Anglican Church of Canada. Services would begin with this exhortation:

Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.

The service would continue with words of like eloquence, interspersed with a reading from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, the reciting of some poetic passages of Scripture, either in unison or as a responsive reading. There would be a few hymns mixed in plus a sermon. All followed the familiar pattern of the Book of Common Prayer, which was little changed since it was formulated by Thomas Cranmer 400 years earlier.

It didn’t take long until you had the services memorized and didn’t need to follow in the book any longer. This was the great danger: the words were beautiful, meaningful and true, but one could recite them with nary a thought as to what one was saying. I have no doubt that many Anglicans were born-again people, but many, probably the majority, just droned along with their mind somewhere else altogether.

I remain very thankful for all the Scriptures read and recited in the Anglican services. I suppose this began in the day when most attendees were unable to read and this was the only exposure they had to the Word of God.  It was still good for those who were readers.

Now, in the Mennonite church to which I belong today, the services might seem a little tohu-bohu (the Hebrew words translated without form and void in Genesis 1:2). There is a certain order to the services, but they are informal and unstructured compared the church of my youth. Still, just as in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God is present.

Most congregations have more than one minister. None of them are professionals, they do not derive their income from the church but earn their living much as other members of the congregation. The hymns we sing are not chosen in advance but are chosen in a seemingly random manner by members of the congregation as the service progresses.  Lay brethren are often invited to volunteer to present some thoughts and a prayer to open the service. It may take some time for one to get up from his seat to do so. The sermons are extemporaneous, not written out beforehand. Sometimes there are no ministers present and the whole service is conducted by lay brethren. 

It works. We are fed, encouraged, reproved, inspired. We trust that everything, the hymns that are chosen, the words that are spoken, is prompted by the Holy Spirit.

This type of service goes back to long before Archbishop Cranmer. The apostle Paul wrote:

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. . . Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

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.

Who is our Lord?

We are told in 1 Kings chapter 17 that the people of Samaria “feared the LORD, and served their own gods.” In reading the whole account, we find that the people understood that they needed to reverence Yahweh to save their lives from the lions. But when it came to the mundane affairs of life, they sacrificed to other gods for the fertility of their fields, their flocks and their homes.

Well, we may say, that was a long time ago, and maybe those people didn’t really know any better. What’s my excuse? and yours?

Jesus said “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Of course not, we wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. We are very punctilious in our worship of Yahweh. But what influences our choices in clothing, vehicles, homes, lifestyles? I don’t believe that we have to deliberately strive to be different, but what motivates our choices from the many options available to us? Some Christians seem to be trying to prove that a Christian can live and party just like anybody else. What motivates that desire? Jesus said:  “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

The Apostle Paul wrote: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Who, or what, has power over our choices?

Unless we allow Yahweh to be Lord over every aspect and every activity of our life, we are going to be very much like those people back in Samaria.

Grace for daily life

We have gone hurtling through the sky in a series of hollow metal tubes and are now safely home. We left a week ago today, flying by WestJet from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Montréal and came home two days ago by the same airline, flying Montréal to Toronto and Toronto to Saskatoon. We were seven or eight miles up in the sky and saw nothing but fluffy white stuff below us, except over Saskatchewan. Both going and returning we could see the ground beneath us as we flew over our home province. It was nice to watch the ground below, but worrisome, too. Clouds would be welcome here; we need rain. There have been a couple of little showers since we got home, but serious rain is needed. Québec, on the other hand, is a lush, dark, green. We had forgotten how beautiful it is.

This trip, the planning and the trip itself, was a whole series of grace moments. I was invited to come to a meeting in Quebec of the Publication Board of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the French Editing and Proofreading Committee, of which I am a member. It had been many years since we had visited Quebec and I was enthused, but I wanted my wife to come, too. She was unwilling at first, fearing it would be too tiring (she is coping with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). After a few days, Chris said she would come.

Then it was announced that there would be revival meetings in our congregation during the days we planned to be gone. The day before we left, it was announced that one of the ministers who planned to come to our congregation couldn’t make it and the meetings were postponed until further notice.

So we left, feeling the Lord was blessing our trip already. The meeting on Friday was a pleasant surprise, we found the Publication Board to be more enthusiastic about our work than we had expected. They are pushing for more books to be translated and prepared for publication. Perhaps pushing is too strong a word, we did not feel that they were being pushy, but they certainly weren’t wanting to apply the brakes. They see the need and said there was money available for more publications.

Then the visiting began. We had no definite plans before leaving home, but everything fell into place once we were there. There are congregations in Montréal and Roxton Falls. We last visited Roxton Falls 10 years ago and hadn’t been in Montreal for 18 years. We lived in Québec for five years and many of the members are old friends. Others we knew only by name. I had never met two of the members of our committee. Their voices were familiar from conference calls, and I had formed pictures of them in my mind. They didn’t look anything like I had imagined.

I considered it a special grace that this was the weekend when the Montreal congregation had an evening service and that we received an invitation to ride along with one of the Roxton Falls ministers and his family to that service. Thus we were in church at Roxton Falls in the morning and in Montréal in the evening and got to meet practically all the members. One couple is in the process of moving from Montréal to Roxton Falls and we missed seeing them.

Chris enjoyed the trip as much as I did and was no more tired than I was when we got home. It was altogether a blessed time, possibly more of a revival than if we had stayed home and the planned revivals had happened.

Little men

Two little men attended our worship service last Sunday.  Kirk and Gary have Down Syndrome and their “handicap” was apparently too much for their birth parents to cope with, so they became foster sons of a couple who used to live here. Here they were loved, cared for and taught responsibility. They were also taught to love and worship God.

“Mom and Dad” eventually grew old and moved off the farm. They found supervised living accommodation for Kirk and Gary in a nearby town. Here they work in a sheltered workshop, serve as school crossing guards and generally live a peaceable and useful life. They are short in stature and somewhat short in intellectual capacity but they are coping quite well with life. Kirk speaks clearly, but most people understand little of what Gary says.

Yet Gary has always been the preacher. I remember a  time when the family was visiting in Ontario, about 25 years ago, and came to our home for dinner. After dinner Gary walked up to the landing on the stairs and for 15 minutes or more his fervent preaching served as a backdrop to our conversation in the living room.

They are in their fifties now. “Dad” died several years ago, “Mom” lives in Alberta. They still keep in touch with her. Sometimes, when there is something special up at church, someone will think of Kirk and Gary and offer them a ride out. Last Sunday the special event was a potluck dinner and Kirk and Gary were in church.

At the beginning of the service, Gary asked for hymn number 350, What a Friend we have in Jesus, his favourite. When it was announced that it was open for someone to come up and have introductory remarks and prayer, Gary popped out of his seat, marched up to the rostrum and spoke to us and then prayed. All I understood was a couple of mentions of Jesus and the Amen at the end of his prayer. No doubt some people understood a little more.

The presiding minister thanked Gary and we carried on. No one suggested that we should now have a “real” introduction, this was sufficient. Whatever Gary said, it came from his heart and without a doubt touched the heart of God. I think even the little children recognized it as a sacred moment — there were no smiles or snickers.

“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).

%d bloggers like this: