Churchie Feeds

My Beloved First Car (with a Bullet Hole in the Back)

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 08/15/2022 - 11:00

Word came to me this week that a woman from southern Missouri who reads this blog was also enjoying my new book From Kitchen Chair to Pulpit. One of her comments was about the hardships Kathleen and I faced along the way as we prepared for a life of ministry.

In thinking about hardships I remembered my first car. At age twenty-one, in the summer of 1947, just months before Kathleen and I married, I bought an old 1934 Ford.

During World War II (1940-45), the auto industry had been retooled to make tanks, airplanes, military trucks, and other war materiel. Virtually no cars were produced during that time. And so in 1947, even used cars were scarce. Not to mention that I had very little money. A friend of mine, Frank, told me of a relative living north of Toronto who had a car he had quit driving for health reasons.

I went to his farm and bought the car for $300.

This car had a remanufactured V8 engine. At that time, Ford held the patent, and these engines were exciting: quick on the take-off and peppy on the road.  

This Ford with a replaced V8 engine was therefore a treasure to me, though it had some issues. Cars made in 1934 became undependable more quickly than those of 1947 and often needed repairs.  

And its two doors opened from the front. They were sometimes called suicide doors because if they ever became unlatched and opened while traveling at any significant speed, they would catch the wind, potentially wrenching the door off or hitting something along the side of the road. Seatbelts were unknown in 1934, and even the driver could be at risk.  

The bottom of both doors had rusted away quite badly so driving in a cross-wind during winter provided extreme “air conditioning.” The driver got the worst of it because he had to keep his feet on or near the pedals, no matter how cold they became.

Another minus was that the gas gauge was useless. I tried to keep track of the level but on more than one occasion I ran out of on the highway and had to cross a field to the nearest farm to get a small container of gas. Back then that trek could turn out to be a neighborly experience.

The speedometer didn’t work either. You had to figure out how fast to go by matching the speed of other cars on the road. 

Kathleen and I were married in late December a little less than five months after I bought the car. Soon afterward we had to drive to Watertown, New York, from Toronto — a little over 200 miles. I was to speak there for the weekend. On that trip rain pelted the car and revealed another frailty: the cowl above the driver’s feet leaked water badly. My bride diminished the problem by unwrapping sandwiches she had made and placing the wax paper (there were no plastic wrappings yet) over my feet.

On occasion people referred to that vintage car as a puddle jumper or bucket of bolts. When my friend, Herald, rode in the back seat he teased that the car was equipped with buggy springs. That 1934 Ford provided a curious combination of pleasure, hardship, and good-natured quips.

In the spring of 1948, I saw an advertisement for a car paint that could be applied with an included powder puff. The gray paint on the car had become dull. On a Saturday morning Kathleen and I washed the car and applied paint with the powder puffs. It was a small act of love towards that old car. The results were a much improved shiny black body, but the doors were still rusted at the bottom.

My first car had one unique distinguishing feature: a bullet hole through the back wall (there were no trunks back then). More than once people who noticed it quipped that I must have outrun the police. I insist to this day that the bullet hole was there when I bought the car.

First published Sept 19, 2016; revised August 15, 2022

Photo credit: carsguide.com

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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In Your Anger Do Not Sin (Part 2 of 2)

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 08/08/2022 - 11:00

What many understand insufficiently is that anger can be “good” or “bad.” The anger that moves a person to intervene when witnessing bullying is good anger. Road rage is bad anger.

When Moses descended from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments, he saw that the people had returned to pagan practices of worship and celebration. This of course made the Lord angry, and Moses, too, as God’s representative. As Moses neared the camp, he smashed the tablets as an object lesson to the people.

In that account (Exodus 32:7-20) God’s anger is mentioned three times, and therefore Moses’ anger is clearly appropriate. The Lord does not rebuke him. We can call this good anger.

In two accounts of the wilderness journey from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land, the Israelites were without water. In the first instance, God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff, after which water gushed out. In the second instance (Numbers 20:2-11), God told him to “speak to that rock” in the people’s sight. Tired of their complaining, Moses instead in both anger and disobedience again struck the rock with his staff. He was in effect taking God’s glory to himself by striking rather than speaking to the rock. God’s punishment for Moses’ “bad anger” outburst was that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land with his people ​​(Deuteronomy 32:51-52).

Anger is like fire: under control in a furnace it can keep our houses comfortable in winter; unmanaged, it can burn down the house and the neighborhood, too.

All this is why the Apostle Paul warns against the danger anger poses. Borrowing from Psalm 4:4 he writes, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).

If destructive anger is damaging our witness for Christ, God’s mighty Spirit who dwells in believers enables a better way. Here are three steps we can take to cooperate with the Spirit.

First, we tell ourselves the truth. I know of an angry woman who used the word “perturbed” in place of admitting to herself that she was harboring bad anger that was disrupting her workplace. This mild word was not sufficient to activate her conscience and summon change. Attaching the precise word to our emotions can be the first step toward appropriating the Spirit’s help. 

Second, we tell God the truth. He of course already knows our hearts and minds, but confession opens the way for God to work in us when we speak of our sins to Him. The psalmist prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).

Third, tell someone else the truth. Sometimes we need the support and coaching of another human being, like a pastor or counselor, to face up to sinful anger. That person can be a conduit of the Lord’s grace, helping us to recognize our anger and to learn new ways to deal with this emotion.

It is not God’s will that we abolish our ability to be angry. Even Jesus was appropriately angry with hard-hearted Pharisees who had no compassion for a man with a withered hand who needed healing (Mark 3:5). Or when he cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers (11:15-19).

But in our fallenness an emotion that must be available to us is tainted by sin and needs redemption. So, while we rejoice in the grace God has already given us, if our anger is corroding our spirits or proving hurtful to others we implore for added grace to make us whole, remembering the promise given the Apostle Paul: “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a).

First published July 25, 2016; revised August 8, 2022

Image info: “Moses Striking the Rock.” A print from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations.

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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On Managing, Not Necessarily Abolishing, Anger (Part 1 of 2)

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 08/01/2022 - 15:22

The Scriptures give us instances of God’s righteous anger with his people. One major example is in Exodus 32:9-14, when they began to worship an idol, the golden calf.  

Our anger, by contrast, often falls far short of God’s standard. As members of a fallen race, our natures are tainted by sin, and our anger can be inappropriately explosive, hurtful, even punitive.

Such expressions of anger may make us sorrowful, if we are self-aware and thirst after righteousness. And thanks be to God, as Christians we need not feel defeated. There is help in the Gospel, not so much to abolish, as to manage, anger.

To explain: The Apostle Paul teaches us that some conduct is never acceptable. He writes to the Ephesian church, “Put away all falsehood (Ephesians 4:25a, NLT). And, “If you are a thief, stop stealing” (4:28a, NLT). These practices were sinful and were to have absolutely no place in the Christian life.

But he spoke differently about anger: “And don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you” (4:26, NLT).

Apparently anger was not forbidden in the way lying and stealing were. It was nevertheless identified as a human emotion that, if not managed, could be the source of grievous sin.

I can see a variety of types or facets of anger.

Sullen anger. There may be no slamming of doors or yelling. But this type of anger puts a dark cloud into relationships and is sometimes a means of controlling others. Nothing is said, but much is felt. Sulking, tense silence, or seething beneath the surface may be sullen anger’s expressions.  

Sanitized, nice guy” anger. As tourists in California, Kay and I boarded a narrow-gauge train to ride up a mountainside to the site of an early mining effort. A couple with two children got on and took much more space than necessary. The next family of four had to shoehorn into the meager space remaining, and the first couple made no effort to sit closer together as a courtesy.

There were a few tense words. Then one of the women turned with her back to the other with a frozen smile on her face for the rest of the ride. I believe her message to those who saw the exchange was, “See, I’m too nice to be angry.”

Displaced anger. I once saw a cartoon divided into four frames. In the first frame a boss chewed out his employee. In the second the employee arrived home and spoke to his wife in large bold type. In the third frame, the wife scolded her little girl harshly. In the fourth, the little girl held her rag doll by one arm, spanking it with her free hand.

Violent, abusive anger. This may be marked by shouting, even screaming. Or it can be quiet but psychologically violent. It’s out-of-control anger – like road rage or air rage.

Finally, there’s unrecognized anger. This might be smoldering under the surface in dysfunctional families. In children of alcoholic parents. In persons locked in relationship with a narcissist. Or in those experiencing injustice they cannot correct. 

What can we do so that anger does not dominate us in sinful ways? A story from Dr. Ben Carson’s life leads us to the Gospel. When he was a teenager, in a burst of anger he tried to stab another boy, and only the boy’s big belt buckle stopped the knife blade. Carson went to a nearby secluded room and spent a long time calling on God to deliver him from such anger. He reports that God answered that prayer.

Just as for Dr. Carson, the Gospel in its various expressions (the Holy Spirit, and Spirit-directed help from others) holds before us the means for curbing or directing our anger for Jesus’ sake, and enables us to live in freedom as redeemed men and women. 

Photo credit: Indi Samarajiva (via flickr.com)

First published July 18, 2016

Revised July 30, 2022

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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How to Evaluate Sermons 

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 07/25/2022 - 11:00

Both of us now having reached 96 years of age, Kay and I live in a retirement community across the busy city of Toronto from our primary church. At our age, making the trip to church would be a major production.

While we believe passionately in attending church in person, this is just not possible given current circumstances.

As second best, we hear several sermons each week on television — which has led me to write this blog, for pastors and laity alike, on evaluating sermons, however heard.

To be critical is not the idea; to critique is. That simply means to be aware and evaluate.  

Preachers, to avoid falling short of their potential, need a method for critiquing their own sermons. And those in the pew can benefit from an evaluative structure.

The prime directive is that sermons be biblical. That is, that they derive in a serious way from the biblical texts that underpin them. 

The definition of biblical can be complex, but here are its basic elements in question form:

  • Is the main idea of the sermon — that is, the thesis — in harmony with the mainline of biblical truth as  established across the centuries? Is it free of “novelty”?
  • Does the sermon show evidence that the setting of the passage has been studied?
  • Has the grammar of the passage been studied? That is, sentence structure, word meanings, etc.
  • Does the preacher show an awareness of the literary category the passage belongs to — prophecy, or poetry, or parable, etc.?
  • Has the passage made its impact on the preacher first? (It was critical for me personally for a passage to sink deep into my own life before I presented it to my congregation.)
  • Finally, will the hearers get the message? Is the application clear and carefully pressed home?

The above list of criteria for biblical preaching can be profitably revisited and pondered in the days of every sermon’s preparation, and at the time of its hearing.

If preachers neglect the arduous background work described above, their sermons likely will be confined to surface issues and the listener will not be fed.

And the issue of biblical preaching is not fully addressed until one further question is asked of it: Is the sermon Christ-centered? As Paul wrote to Timothy, “… from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15, NRSV).

Biblical preaching thus involves the convergence of the written word of Scripture, the living Word, Christ Jesus, and the carefully-fashioned proclaimed word in the language of our own day. 

First published July 27, 2009

Revised July 24, 2020

Image info: Ryk Neethling (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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John Calvin on Prayer

Just Call Me Pastor - Tue, 07/19/2022 - 16:59

John Calvin was one of the great Reformation theologians and all his life a pastor. In his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in Latin in 1536 and in French in 1541, and revised and augmented in the years thereafter, Calvin makes many deep theological points about prayer – points well within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and worth considering carefully. Some of them are included below.

The background for prayer is of course (1) our acknowledgment of God’s holiness and transcendence and (2) an overall posture before Him of reverence, repentance, and supplication.    

We should cultivate a habit of coming to Him with every need and in every circumstance. This can be consciously and mindfully practiced until approaching Him becomes reflexive throughout our day.  

We should pray that nothing we would be ashamed of, if seen by Him, should enter our minds or hearts. This calls for dependence on the Holy Spirit and His aid in our discipline.

Our prayers will include a review of what He has provided and done and will express deep gratitude. Gratitude can be consciously practiced.

When we perceive that God has answered a recent request, we should meditate on His kindness. We can do this not only in the prayer chamber but throughout the day.  

And, just as we begin with a focus on God’s holiness and our need to repent and ask for His mercy, we end with a meditation – on God’s promise to never fail us, on His invitation to call upon Him, and on the reality that he is actively extending His help to us right now.

First Published 7-11-16

Updated 7-18-22

Photo credit: Thanh Hùng Nguyễn (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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“For This Is Right”

Just Call Me Pastor - Wed, 07/13/2022 - 18:05

Earlier than you might expect, little children begin to understand the do’s and don’ts of a developing life: “Give Mommy a kiss”; Don’t touch the hot stove”; “Put your toys in the basket”; “Don’t throw your Cheerios on the floor,” etc.

And on and on as the months pass into year, then into a decade, and methods shift from one expectation to another, and everything is internalized toward a growing healthy adulthood.

I seemed to note through years of pastoring that any promotion of obedience as a common expectation was met with the objection from some that this would damage the psyches of growing children. But with love as a fundamental element and pastoral care and interesting Sunday-school activities the odds are strong and God is attendant in both home and church. It is worth the effort, for example, to maintain the practice of family devotions. This exercise can be powerful. I know from experience.

We are living in a troubled age when resources are tested. But the battle for families is worth fighting for. And the Apostle Paul’s words are fundamental: ”Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).

Note, not “helpful,” or “pleasant,” or even “wise” (though it may be all three in some such situations) but “right.”

First posted March 2015
Revised and re-posted July 13, 2022

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Do You Have Dual Citizenship?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 07/04/2022 - 17:22

On this celebratory weekend  – July 1, Canada Day for Canada (commemorating its confederation as a country) and July 4, Independence Day for the USA – the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship are on many minds in North America.

Many benefits of our citizenship, such as freedom of movement, thought, and speech, contrast sharply with an experience Kathleen and I had in Estonia before its independence from the then USSR.    

Readers may remember that the former Soviet Union was composed of 15 “republics” that had come under Russian dominance after the Communist Revolution of 1917. The USSR dissolved officially in late 1991, heralded by the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier, in November 1989.  

Several years earlier than that, still at the height of the Cold War, Kathleen and I traveled by ship from Finland to Estonia, then one of the Soviet socialist republics, where I had been invited to preach. Landing there, we immediately felt the fear-generating policies of a repressive Communist government.

It was their law that we would be taken from the dock to our hotel by a government-run taxi and would stay in an Soviet Intel-run hotel. We were given no other option and expected this loss of personal freedom.

Similarly, we learned we had to surrender our passports at the front desk of this hotel for the duration of our stay. That news quickened the pulse a bit. Our little dark blue document said we were Canadians and were guaranteed Canadian government protection. We felt deprived of something that provided identity and safety.  

The Apostle Paul uses this civic blessing – citizenship – as an analogy. To the young church in Philippi he wrote:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. –Philippians 3:20, 21

That is, if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls and trusted his atoning sacrifice to wash away our sins, we have a citizenship in heaven. We have one foot there now, and certainly that’s where we belong in the ultimate sense.

You will see that this wonderful passage includes allusions to the widely promised second coming of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies, plus the positive results here and now of those coming events. Citizenship in heaven! Incorruptible bodies! The passage is one of the gems of the New Testament.

At the same time, during a weekend of celebration of our earthly citizenships, we are now in a world that is fallen. So in one sense our heavenly citizenship is not yet to be claimed. That is, we must continue for now to live where every aspect of human existence is potentially stained with evil that regularly shows its ugly face. It invades our businesses, corrupts our institutions, and shatters family relationships.

The words of Jesus and writers of the epistles of the New Testament exhort us, as citizens of heaven, to avoid these evils.  For example, Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians: “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Ephesians 4:17).

Freedom from permanent evil and futility of thought are some of the present benefits of our  citizenship in heaven. We listen when the Apostle Paul exhorts: “Reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We stand for Christ at each opportunity. We take our citizenship in this life seriously. But all the while we remember that what we really have is a dual citizenship – and our everlasting citizenship is in heaven.

Image info: Ritu Ashrafi (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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The Future of Abortion

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/27/2022 - 18:36

In 1973, Roe v. Wade became the law of the United States. The Supreme Court of that country ruled that abortion was a new “right” purportedly guaranteed by the Constitution to women federally.

There was a mighty stir after this, with many saying the Supreme Court had produced much deserved liberation for women, and others saying that the ruling had created “a license to kill the unborn.” This topic is uppermost in the news today because, forty-nine years later, the Supreme Court has finally admitted that abortion laws were not theirs to create or adjudicate; accordingly, the court has indicated that such matters are for the state legislatures and “the people.”  

Immediately following the 1973 decision, our congregation in Southern Illinois was ready to hear the subject addressed from the pulpit.

My sermon was titled The Sanctity of Life, based on the words of Psalm 139, “For you (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (v. 13).

This psalm was written centuries before the age of science. It is therefore written in poetic, not scientific, language.

Psalm 139 eloquently reflects the Judeo-Christian view of humankind – that we are creatures from God’s hand, that we bear his image, so human life is to be regarded as sacred before as well as after birth.

The day after I preached that sermon a high school student from the congregation came to my study. She had recently encouraged a fellow student to solve the problem of an unwanted pregnancy by getting an abortion. The word of God had spoken to her heart and mind, and she was troubled about what she had done. 

It is shocking to think that since that Supreme Court decision in January 1973, more than 64 million unborn children have been dismembered or poisoned. That is to say nothing of the number of women who have been damaged whether emotionally, physically, or both by the procedure.

The issue of the sanctity of life is deeply rooted in the moral nature of things. When the people’s voices through the political process were taken away via judicial legislation, it was commendable that churches would rise up. The Roman Catholic Church has worked unceasingly to protect unborn babies. Individuals who narrowly missed being aborted or even survived it have spoken out. And pro-life organizations sprang up: Live Action, the Life Legal Defense Fund, National Right to Life, the March for Life, the Susan B. Anthony List, Let Them Live, and many others.

And now, after nearly fifty years, the court has again spoken, this time to nullify Roe v Wade and to return the matter of abortion to the states, giving the people back their voices and restoring the democratic process.  

Still, many have pointed out that abortion remains legal according to individual state decisions. And we have heard comments to the effect that this is just the end of the beginning of the nation’s abortion controversy. Many states will enact laws making abortion legal up to full term, and even while the process of natural birth has begun. Others will permit it through fifteen weeks; others will ban it outright.

And so Christians everywhere still have a moral question to answer, setting the mothers’ freedom and in some cases threat to her life against a baby’s life, seen in the light of Psalm 139. 

Who can estimate the impact should a sermon opposing unrestricted abortion be preached for each baby currently aborted? That would be one million such sermons per year in the United States alone.  

Originally posted February 1, 2010; revised June 27, 2022.

Image info: Glenn Beltz (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Breath in James 2:26

The Idol Babbler - Sat, 06/25/2022 - 19:25

If you are a regular reader of my blogs, you might recall a blog that I wrote entitled What Happens When We Die? This topic of what death can be very controversial amongst Christians. Even the nature of death itself is debated. Everything from purgatory, to flying away to heaven in a disembodied/spirit like existence, to soul sleep, (none of which compel me from what I see in the Bible), are fiercely defended. The thing is, none of us who are reading this have actually come back from the dust ourselves, nor have we ever even met anyone in person who has returned from the dust. Therefore, dividing over opinions of what happens after we die (prior to judgement) is really senseless…

Psalms 104:29 (HCSB)When You hide Your face, they are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.

In the blog that I mentioned above, I listed a series of common questions at the end, which come up from detractors as a result of wrestling with the position that I defended in it from Scripture. Some questions I have answered already and some I have not yet answered. In this article, I continue to chip away at answering the ones that are leftover unanswered by addressing what James might be describing in chapter 2 verse 26 of his epistle. Here is the verse…

James 2:26 (HCSB)For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Context

Now, before I offer what I believe what “the body without the spirit is dead” means, it is important to understand the context of this verse. James is encouraging the reader by simile to be more deliberate about doing the right thing in order to prove or authenticate the faith that he/she claims to have. James does this by saying that both the body and faith are dead when they are each missing spirit and works respectively.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with how I understand what James means by “the body without the spirit is dead,” we all must walk away from this reference by understanding that at the very least our “faith without works is dead.” In other words, we all need to get out there and intentionally represent Christ in all that we say and do, no excuses.

Pneuma

The Greek word for “spirit” in James 2:26 is “pneuma.” Here below, I have added the Strong’s number if you wanted to look it up yourself for further reference and usage in the New Testament…

James 2:26 (HCSB)For just as the body without the spirit (pneuma, g4151) is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Pneuma can refer to different things. It is the Greek word most often used to render the Hebrew word “ruach” (h7307) in the Septuagint, which is an Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Septuagint was also the version of the Old Testament that was available at the time of the New Testament’s writing. Therefore, to better understand what a word like pneuma might mean, it might be wise to first understand what ruach meant to the Ancient Hebrew’s ears.

Ruach

The word “ruach” is found at the very beginning of the Old Testament in verse 2…

Genesis 1:2 (HCSB)Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit (ruach, h7307) of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Here is the same verse in the Septuagint…

Genesis 1:2 (Septuagint)Yet the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss, and a divine wind (pneuma, g4151) was being carried along over the water.

Did you notice the difference in how God is described in these two examples of Genesis 1:2?

Spirit of God = divine wind

Both ruach and pneuma have a range of meaning and both can describe either spirit or wind, as depicted in these two examples.

The Ancient Hebrew Mind

In the Ancient Hebrew mind, the entire range of meaning that a word has contributes to what is being said whenever the word is used. This allows for a deeper and more complex understanding without the need for extra to be expressed. This is not the same in English. Yes, English words also have a range of meaning. However, when English words are used they do not usually have in mind their full range of meaning, but only a single aspect of it.

Today, when we read something like “spirit,” our minds do not immediately (if ever) include wind. We hear spirit and we think about some ethereal/non-physical/ghost-like expression of a reality that we do not quite understand or are sometimes uncomfortable with. But, the Ancient Hebrew mind didn’t work the way that our modern Christian minds do. In order to better understand the Bible, we need to better understand how the Ancient Hebrew used words. When they heard “ruach,” not only did they hear “spirit,” but they also heard “wind,” and both concepts were in view at the same time. There was also one additional concept that came into the Hebrew mind when they used the word ruach… “breath.” Check out how one of the most accomplished Old Testament scholars, John Goldingay renders ruach in Genesis 1:2 in his interpretation of the entire Old Testament entitled The First Testament

Genesis 1:2“…when the earth was an empty void, with darkness over the face of the deep, and God’s breath sweeping over the face of the water…”

Breath

I said all this because when we read verses like James 2:26, it is helpful to start thinking as the Ancient Hebrew does in order to get a better handle on what is being offered when we read the Bible. I once heard Old Testament scholar, Tim Mackie say this about the New Testament writers (I’m paraphrasing)…

“Even though they wrote in Greek, they thought in Hebrew.”

This poses a question…

Do any English translations offer any different English words for “spirit” in James 2:26?

There are in fact many versions which render pneuma as “breath” instead of spirit. Here are some examples…

James 2:26 (NLT)Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

James 2:26 (CEV)Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead!

James 2:26 (GWT)A body that doesn’t breathe is dead. In the same way faith that does nothing is dead.

James 2:26 (HNT)For as the body without breath is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

James 2:26 (EHV)For just as the body without breath is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

James 2:26 (VOICE)Removing action from faith is like removing breath from a body. All you have left is a corpse.

James 2:26 (WE)A body is dead if it does not breathe. In the same way, believing is dead if it does not do anything good.

Soul

To be fair, there are also some Bible versions which use yet another word for pneuma, because those interpreters assume that something else is being expressed in James 2:26 that is akin to the non-physical aspect of a person which can exist apart from the body. “Soul” is the word that they have chosen to render pneuma in this verse…

James 2:26 (MNT)…as the body then without the soul is a meer carcase, so faith without its effects is lifeless.

James 2:26 (PHILLIPS)Yes, faith without action is as dead as a body without a soul.

But, I think that this us really way off considering that the Greek word here is “pneuma” and not “psuche.” If psuche was in this verse instead if pneuma, then rendering it as “soul” would be a reasonable option. However, that’s not what James wrote. He wrote “pneuma.” Plus, if he had in his Hebrew mind spirit/breath (which is consistent with the Old Testament), then soul doesn’t really work in this instance in order to properly understand what is being said in English.

Spirit

Most Bible versions do use “spirit” (as does the HCSB that I referenced at the start), and some versions go even a step further capitalizing spirit in order to suggest that it’s the Holy Spirit specifically which is in view…

James 2:26 (BRG)For as the body without the Spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Other Versions

This is an interesting rendering…

James 2:26 (CEB)As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.

The Orthodox Jewish Bible also assumes that “breath” is in view in James 2:26, because it renders pneuma as “neshamah” (h5397) which almost always means just breath in the Hebrew…

Yaakov 2:26 (OJB)For just as the guf (body) without the neshamah is niftar (deceased, dead), so also is Emunah without Ma’asim.

Something to noodle on…

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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Father’s Day at the Kitchen Door

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/20/2022 - 17:57

This Father’s Day I was reminded of a memory from more than seventy years ago.

In 1956 I was pastoring a growing church near Vancouver. Our children were ages eight, five, three, and one. Kathleen was home with the two younger children during the day and ready to greet the two older ones when they arrived home from school. 

At the end of my afternoon calls to shut-ins, those in hospital, or recent visitors to the church, I would use the nearest phone to tell Kathleen my approximate time of arrival.

She would then turn from the phone and say to the children with excitement, “Daddy’s coming home! Daddy’s coming home!” 

When they heard the car in the driveway a few minutes later, they would run to the door to greet me excitedly. What fun! 

Kathleen’s ritual nourished our young children’s respect and appreciation for their father. After all, children get their first prompts on how they should feel about one parent from the other parent. 

I know that life is much more complicated now than during the 1950s. Both parents may be working and arrive home frazzled after collecting children from daycare or school, and under pressure. Or a single parent may have to carry the entire load of child-rearing. 

But I recall that we too had our frazzled moments. Four young children are a handful in any home. And our youngest had special needs that demanded constant attention. Not to mention that Kathleen put countless hours into the life of the church next door to the parsonage.

Kathleen and I still think that her homecoming ritual is one of the many things that strengthened parent-child bonds in our family into adulthood.

The central idea for all times is for parents to find methods like Kathleen’s to engender respect in children for their parents. Kathleen’s specific technique might be good for others. A small gift or carefully chosen card can also be good. And for parents to speak with one voice — not contradicting each other — when managing children’s behavior is crucial.

The weeks following Father’s Day would be a good time to review the rituals we incorporate into family life to enrich relationships in all directions. 

Originally published June 13, 2016; revised June 20, 2022.

Image info: Donnie Ray Jones (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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A Father’s Day Meditation on the Authority of God the Father

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/13/2022 - 11:00

The main floor of the sanctuary in the last church I served seated 700, so the balcony was normally not used.   

One Sunday morning, as I started my sermon, I saw a young man enter the balcony and noisily make his way to the front row carrying a big book. He sat down with a flourish and began to turn its pages with exaggerated motions.

I was sure that he was sending me a message. I knew that if I allowed my eyes to be drawn there again I would lose focus on my message.  

The following week a young man whom I did not initially recognize arrived for an appointment. I invited him into my study and immediately felt the crackle of conflict, like electricity in the air.

He was there to argue and critique what I did as a pastor. At one point he said that he believed he could deliver a much better sermon than I (although he had never preached a sermon).

Eventually he asked, “Didn’t you see me in the balcony on Sunday?” 

The mystery of the prior Sunday was solved.

I learned that he was in serious conflict with his father. I suspected that I must have become something of a surrogate — an authority figure he felt the need to conquer. Still, our visit ended peaceably and he left.

No doubt we can all relate, if in some small way, to this young man. Because sin has damaged us, the struggle to live under authority is universal. I saw the battle in my own children as they were growing up, and then in my grandchildren. I can already see it in its early stages in my great-grandchildren.

And in society, we see in places the struggle against law, constitution, police officers who are doing their jobs, and even the authority of truth.

In fact, none of us comes to full adulthood until we have learned three things about authority: to accept its legitimate expressions, to question it with appropriate respect, and to stand against it peaceably when it degenerates into illegitimate power.  

When it comes to the struggle with societal authority, the Bible does not leave us without guidance. Perhaps its most pointed, and some might say difficult instructions for Christians on this matter is given in Romans 13. Here’s a portion of the chapter as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.  –Romans 13:1-3a.

The irony is that at the time of this writing, the emperor was the infamous Nero. He had caused the cruel torture and slaying of many Christians.

Yet Paul’s concern was that believers — insofar as possible — treat even Nero’s authority with respect because all authority is ultimately from God. His foremost concern was for the church’s clear, unsullied witness to the living Christ.

We read Paul’s words today as citizens of a society that is deeply divided about many things, yet with remarkable freedoms, historically speaking. And our freedoms notwithstanding, we live under various kinds of authority — those laws and principles that regulate family life, campus behavior for students, civic life, and, not least, laws by which the church is governed.

If we ignore or sidestep legitimate authority systems, our rebellion may not be as visible as that of the young man in the balcony, but God will see it. And eventually so will those around us.  

First published Sept 8, 2014

Reworked for June 13, 2022

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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On Chocolates and Hard Times

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/06/2022 - 17:24

A little over ten years ago, in preparation for downsizing, Kathleen began sorting through the accumulation of a lifetime.

She spent a few days consolidating favorite recipes into two notebooks. In the midst of this, she showed me a tattered piece of paper from 1948, with faded handwriting. It was a recipe for chocolates she had made during the first three months of our marriage.

Back when she made them, we were living in a one-room apartment above a garage, eleven miles west of Toronto. I was a student and part-time staff at Lorne Park College, across the Queen Elizabeth Highway from our little home. We had married on a shoestring, as brave souls often did after World War II.  

To survive, we had to squeeze every nickel. We strained to meet our monthly rent of $45, and the weekly grocery budget could not exceed seven dollars. And so, Kathleen’s chocolates were not a luxury for us.  

Having made chocolates that were a hit for a special occasion, we saw this candy as a possible source of income. So Kathleen produced batches to sell for 50 cents a pound at my school. She made coconut, maple, vanilla, and even nut centers, and all encased in a coat of dark chocolate. Though delicious, they were no runaway success, in large part because so many at the school couldn’t afford them, but times were hard and we thought it worth a try.

Times are also hard in North America for many in 2022, but typically in a different way. For most, the struggle is not so much for basic survival like it was for us seventy-four years ago. It is more often a nagging anxiety that the comfortable lifestyle to which we have become accustomed may have to be trimmed severely.

We are thankful for financial security after seventy-five years of careful money management. Still, in the face of remarkable inflation, and the other worries of life, we find it helpful to remember, during these turbulent times for the economy, those homemade chocolates. And with both of us ninety-six years old, we reaffirm daily our deep faith in God and his care for us. 

And occasionally a package of Coffee Crisp candy bars mysteriously appear in our apartment, courtesy of our children.

Image info: Seth Baur (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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The Danger of Pastoral Favoritism

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/30/2022 - 11:00

Just as parents are wise to avoid making one of their children special, so pastors must love and serve every person in the congregation equally.  

In some churches, the pastor and spouse may unthinkingly single out a couple or subgroup of the congregation for greater time and attention. They may share meals in one another’s homes, or even go camping together. 

Some members left out of this elite circle may not care, but this fraternization won’t sit well with other members of the congregation, for a crucial pastoral principle is violated by such selective closeness – the principle that, while some members may be more likable or share more interests than others, all members are equally deserving of the pastor’s love and care.

The rule doesn’t mean pastors must dole out attention with precision, like a pharmacist counting out pills. A member of the congregation who comes down with a serious illness will naturally receive amplified pastoral attention to see them through their crisis.

The pastor may even focus attention for a time on newcomers to the congregation or to new converts. Mature members will understand.

Social closeness with a subgroup in the church is dangerous. One fine church I know of became divided and eventually failed due in part to the pastor’s focus on a group of younger members to the neglect of everyone else.

Still, you may say, this kind of constraint is unfair because pastors need close friendships, just like anyone else.

Here’s one response: Many years ago I heard a speaker at a ministers’ conference propose that pastoral couples develop friendship with another denomination’s pastoral couple in the community. Or with another pastoral couple in a nearby church of the same denomination. 

Even then, however, the association should be discreet, not time consuming. It is a pastor’s sacrificial gift to project love and interest toward the whole flock, and to sense and serve needs equally across the congregation.

A measuring stick any pastor can use is to ask: “Am I equally the pastor to all of the people, all of the time?” If the answer is yes, love for the Lord and wisdom in caring for the whole flock will take it from there.

Image info: Marco Verch Professional Photographer (via flickr.com)

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My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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On Daily Devotions 

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/23/2022 - 13:14

Lightly edited from a 2007 email I sent to our grandchildren after a few days the extended Bastian family had spent together.    

Dear Grandchildren,

I mentioned in the final devotional of our days together the benefits of daily Bible reading and prayer at all stages of the Christian life, but didn’t get a chance to develop my thoughts. Here are some additional ideas for you.

1.  Daily devotions are an essential part of being disciples of our Lord. And discipleship contains within it the idea of discipline. The practice of daily devotions for most people begins as a discipline and only later becomes a joy. 

2.  Along with discipline, daily devotions include a kind of romance. The Scriptures contain love letters from God to us. And they contain words of adoration and praise of humans toward God, especially in the Psalms. We read the Bible avidly daily because we want to be reminded of God’s love for us, and to have our love for him stirred in return.

3.  The Bible is the only source of trustworthy and detailed information about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  We read it to glean that information. All four gospel accounts of the life of Our Lord are fascinating reading.

4.  Workers order their days by a job description, policy manual, or directions from superiors. We get our daily directives for the Christian life from the Scriptures. They come from God, our commander-in-chief.  

5.  Children don’t approach parents only with requests or when an emergency strikes. Neither should we come to our Heavenly Father only in times of dire need. How much healthier to cultivate a relationship in daily communion through Scripture and prayer.  

Grandma and I have a time after breakfast every day when we give ourselves in devotion to our Lord.  Grandma reads aloud each day due to my poor eyesight, and we comment together on what we have read. We take turns praying, and as part of our prayers we bring each of you before the heavenly throne every day. And we pray that each of you will also adopt a practice of coming before the Throne of Grace every day via Scripture reading and prayer. You’ll never be sorry if you do.

Love,

Grandpa  

Image info: Jona Park (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Justice in Society and the Church

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/16/2022 - 11:00
The Prophet Isaiah, Gustave Doré

The prophets of the eighth-century B.C. — Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and Micah — are less familiar than other parts of the Bible. My friend the late Pastor John Hendricks referred to them as “the clean part of the Bible,” meaning the part without smudges or pencil marks in their margins.

Admittedly the prophets can be hard to read, and they often do not seem warm and “evangelical.” But they are filled with passages waiting patiently to speak to us today. We should listen to them more than we do.

The second half of the eighth century (the 700s B.C.) was a time of great prosperity for the nations of Israel and Judah. The problem: abundance tempts us to self-willed and unaccountable behavior. Amos pinpointed the resulting breakdown of justice in the northern kingdom of Israel: 

You oppress the righteous and take bribes, and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. (Amos 5:12,13) 

During the same period Hosea, speaking for God, describes breakdown of moral order, saying,

They practice deceit,  thieves break into houses,  bandits rob in the streets; but they do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds. (Hosea 7:1b,2). 

But in spite of all this secular decay these prophets noted that, curiously, there was no letup in the showy practices of religion that were an insult to the Lord when offered with soiled hands and from deceitful hearts. 

“The multitude of your sacrifices what are they to me?” says the Lord…. “When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?” (Isaiah 1:11a,12)

You would think prophets of such courage and candor would sway the people. Instead, these prophets were lonely men, irritants to those who heard them. Their calls to repentance and righteousness  were scoffed at and rejected.  

Consider Amos. When he prophesied to the northern kingdom, a man named Amaziah said: “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there” (Amos 7:12). In other words, he was saying, our ears are closed to your words.

Are these prophets messengers to the church today? It seems to me that the ancient prophets would caution believers in every age, to be alert to leaders who operate from power rather than authority, who are morally soft and stubborn in the face of rebuke.  

We can think of examples of fallen evangelical leaders in our time. The common factor seems to be a failure of leaders to treat the authority granted to them as a sacred trust that constrains them from acting from power, thus allowing corruption to creep into their organizations.  

The health of a company of God’s people, whether a local church, a parachurch body, or a denomination of believers spread across the land, must be measured not only by its evangelistic zeal but also by the clarity and firmness of its commitments to be righteous and accountable.  

Originally published May 11, 2015.  Revised May 16, 2022.

Image credit: The Prophet Isaiah, Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Mother’s Day 2022: Reflections on a Long Journey Together

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/09/2022 - 17:25

The journey Kathleen and I have shared is long and packed with memories. The most recent episode is battling Covid-19 together in our little apartment. We have made it through.    

Our journey began in a modest bungalow on North Street in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the home of Muriel and Wesley Smith, Kathleen’s sister and brother-in-law, where we exchanged our wedding vows. 

For that event, I had bought a bundle of plastering laths to erect an arch the bride and groom could stand under while we exchanged those vows. What I produced was so unstable that my capable best man, the late Mel Prior, took it apart and rebuilt it.

After a night and day in Toronto we boarded a Canadian Pacific train to Estevan, Saskatchewan, 1600 miles to the West, where Kathleen would meet my parents, younger sister, and two older sisters and one older brother and their spouses.  

Kay managed this initially overwhelming introduction to the family in her usual gracious way, and when newness wore off and curiosity was satisfied, we had pleasant family celebrations for Christmas week.

Then it was back on the train to Toronto. There we caught a Greyhound bus for the fifteen miles to Port Credit, where we took occupancy of our one-room apartment above a garage and across the Queen Elizabeth highway from Lorne Park College.

That tiny apartment was a charming place from which to launch our life together. I went back to my studies and other work duties at the college. Kathleen had left her teaching position to settle into a new life. We traveled together on weekends to speak and sing in churches in Southern Ontario and nearby States.

Our first ten years were packed with activity and movement. With Kathleen’s invaluable support and her uncomplaining oversight of domestic matters, I plowed through two academic degrees; we moved seven times; we accepted our first pastoral assignment; and we welcomed into our union four children — one born in Ontario, two in Illinois, and one in Kentucky.

After three years of seminary training in Wilmore, Kentucky, we loaded four little children, one a five-month- old infant, into our Plymouth, and, towing a big springless trailer, we joggled across the continent to New Westminster, B.C., outside Vancouver, to serve our second church.

It was in New Westminster, while serving a loving congregation, that we learned we would not have the privilege of raising our disabled fourth child, John David. Kathleen had worked tirelessly to help him gain weight despite his weak swallowing mechanism and constant choking. After three years of Kathleen’s dedicated mothering and a detailed evaluation confirming his profound disability at the pediatric hospital, we surrendered him broken-heartedly to the care of professionals, where he is to the present.

The journey has been bright and yet dotted with some times of struggle and disappointment, not with each other, but with unexpected circumstances. Early on, for example, we endured major financial stresses. There have been a string of surgeries, and our experience with John David leaves us with a sadness in our hearts that has never gone away. We’ve wept together, suffered sleepless nights together, and endured the anxieties and fears that go with raising a family.

Much more than all of this, however, we have relished the joy of each other’s company, and the pleasures of seeing our children and grandchildren launched into stable, successful lives of their own. Looking back, we declare the life God gave and continues to give is a life predominantly of  joy.

We can identify three constants of our marriage: from the start, we have prayed together daily; we tithed to the Lord’s work the first money we owned jointly even in our initial penury; and through all those years Kathleen has been my adviser and behind-the-scenes consultant in matters of Christian ministry. To God be the glory.

And the memory of that simple but life-changing event on North Street in Niagara Falls continues in a special way to undergird us now at our age of ninety-six. I help Kathleen with her mobility; she helps me with my hearing and in many other ways. Together, and with the help of our children, we manage, including most recently with Covid-19. 

I would pay special tribute to Kathleen this Mother’s Day: marvelous wife, mother, and matchless companion.  

Long years ago a young man and woman, each twenty-one years of age, stood under a ribboned arch. An older man, their pastor, faced them. He read timeless words of the marriage ceremony and asked the couple some questions. They responded in the affirmative, without reservation. He declared them husband and wife. It all took about twenty minutes, but more than seventy-three years later we still live under the wonder of that enduring covenant made before God and to each other.

Originally published November 3, 2014. Updated May 8, 2022.

Image info: Jay Erickson (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Witness to Watchers

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/02/2022 - 11:00

Eight years ago, Kathleen and I had lunch together at the Mandarin, an acclaimed Chinese restaurant in Brampton, Ontario. It is the teaching site for all of the many Mandarin restaurants across Canada.  

Its five large dining rooms can together accommodate 500 patrons, and at lunchtime (from 11:30 am until 2 pm) all five are in full use.  

We were graciously seated in the bird room, where a large glassed-in bird enclosure, large enough for a human keeper to enter and maintain, frames one wall. In it were several pairs of love birds patrons could watch while eating.

Once seated, servers introduce themselves and offer steaming hot cloths for  hands. Then, diners make in turn three trips to a large central area where a vast array of salads, then entrees, and finally desserts, await.  

Our table was set for four but Kathleen and I sat on two adjoining sides so we could be close enough to chat as we ate.

We were enjoying our entrees when a woman came from another table of four who were eating nearby and spoke to us. “It’s such a delight,” she said pleasantly, “to see two elderly people relishing a meal together and appearing to enjoy one another’s company.”

Then 88, Kathleen and I were not yet fully adjusted to the adjective, “elderly” but we smiled and agreed that this was a pleasant experience for both of us. (We are now 96.)

She asked the secret of our apparent serenity and pleasure. I offered in a few words that we pray together regularly, and we enjoy our life together.

“Oh.” she said, “That’s precious; you’re believers; I’m a believer too; I have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ to be my Savior.” She later added that she was a Baptist from Northern Alberta. The buzz of many conversations going on at the same time in the large room kept our talk easy but private.

She was much younger, with stylish glasses, and she exuded a sense of inward joy herself. She left us briefly and then returned to ask permission to take our picture. We accommodated, moving close together so she could get a close-up.

Later Kathleen and I agreed in our conversation alone that we never know when someone nearby is watching. Nor what a quiet, well-chosen word might draw from total strangers.

With the increasing secularization of our society and the growing hostility toward Christianity, it’s going to become more and more important for serious Christians to “let our lights shine” in whatever ways are possible and appropriate.

Sometimes we might have occasion to let it shine like a spotlight, focused and declaring unabashedly the Lordship of Jesus Christ; at other times it might shine by a mere gesture such as bowing our heads in a public place to offer thanks over a meal; or it may be merely a gracious word dropped to a waitress when paying the bill; at other times it could be no more than a quiet: “God bless you.”

And at the least our witness must be reflected merely in a general demeanor — personal and Christ-honoring — that carries a wordless message, realizing that wjte seldom know who’s watching.

First posted September 29, 2014. Revised May 2, 2022.

Image info: waymarking.com (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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