Just Call Me Pastor

Subscribe to Just Call Me Pastor feed Just Call Me Pastor
A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 3 weeks 4 days ago

The Light Is Shining, the Memories Are Bright

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 11:00

December 19, 2019

Dear Family and Friends Near and Far:

Christmas greetings in the name of God’s Incarnate Son. He came to bring the light of salvation to this sin-darkened world. He is the focus of our Christmas celebrations!

Five days earlier than Christmas Day Kathleen and I will celebrate our 72nd wedding anniversary. It is not our custom to celebrate lavishly, but we will recall together the providence by which the Lord has guided and protected us over this long stretch.

We are still in our own home in Brampton, Ontario. Doug and Carolyn live two blocks away and are wonderfully attentive, Don and June are across the huge metropolis of Greater Toronto and they keep in touch with us by phone, email, and their visits. Whenever I request it June makes a long drive to pick me up to convey me to Wesley Chapel Free Methodist Church in Toronto for Sunday service.

Bob and Jan are in Downers Grove, Illinois, working hard at Bastian Voice Institute. They and their two married children, Zach (wife Lisa) and Charis (husband Ben) call regularly and send us pictures of three thriving little ones. Beside our seven grandchildren we now have thirteen great-grandchildren.

Our son John David is well cared for in a group home in Surrey, BC.

Why do I go to church alone? In recent months Kathleen has not been making the trip because of spinal problems. This makes walking any distance difficult. She gets around our home with a stair lift plus a rollator on the main floor and a second one upstairs.

But she is still the lovely lady I have lived with and loved for more than 72 years. The high point of our days is our morning worship together after breakfast. Sometimes it’s almost like going to church, but we would prefer to go to church together and we hope that day will come again.

To give Kathleen a break, I’m able to produce a simple, healthful breakfast for us, and often a similar evening meal. Kathleen, true master of the kitchen, prepares our primary noon meal. Daughter Carolyn often sends up enticing food.

For ten years I have been writing a weekly blog published on Monday mornings. On its way it goes for a check-up to insightful sons Robert and Don. Here’s the address: justcallmepastor.wordpress.com. It’s a small effort to spread the light of Christ and it keeps my mind active. I am thankful for the help of a large computer screen, large print Bible, and magnifying lights.

In October we went with Doug and Carolyn to Robert and Jan’s home in Downers Grove. It was intended to be a five-day visit counting travel time. Sensing something wasn’t quite right, Lisa (cardiology nurse practitioner) arranged for me to see two different cardiologists.

The result was a near-emergency and very high-tech replacement of my aortic valve. What a difference in my energy and movement! Robert also took me to a hearing specialist and I came away days later with much better hearing aids that have reconnected me to society. The visit of five days in Downers Grove turned out to last three weeks.

It seems unbelievable that I’ve been retired from active ministry in the church for 26 years. But I’ve kept busy. Until the last few years I had preaching invitations. I have also written two books. Until about three years ago I had the privilege of teaching a large Bible class at Light and Life Park, in Florida. What wonderful memories Kathleen and I have of our many winters in Lakeland!

We are deeply grateful to God for all of the days of our lives. Christmas brings the memories to the fore. Anniversaries do also. God’s mercies to us are countless! And each day we review the Gospel, listening to it afresh and sharing it as opportunity permits.

And for our friends we also give warm thanks. The light of this life is fading but we are not walking in darkness; we have the light of life — the Risen Christ!

The Bastians, Don and Kay

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Have You Taken the Course “The Holy Spirit 101”?

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 11:00

I preached a sermon on the Holy Spirit when I was a beginning pastor. I called the sermon “The Holy Spirit 101.” My first point was that the Holy Spirit is a personal presence — the third person of the Godhead, which includes Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit.

After the service, a visitor approached me warmly. She said she had never before understood the Holy Spirit as personal — able to communicate, listen, correct, enlighten, but always in accordance with the Christian Scriptures.

She said that she had always assumed that the Holy Spirit was just a feeling, an influence or impulse that came upon people in different ways. The scriptural teaching I had presented — that the Holy Spirit was a “person” especially present in the lives of believers and in the living church — seemed to awaken her to a new reality.

How many professed Christians think accordingly? I have seen a survey that said 50 percent.

What would Jesus say about this? Only hours before his crucifixion, he prepared his frightened followers for his departure by laying before them deep truths about the Holy Spirit (John 14-16). At the core of this teaching he gave this assurance: the Holy Spirit would come to them as an Advocate, or Counselor. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16).

An advocate would have to be much more than merely a feeling, however sensational. An advocate would have personal attributes to come to their aid, speak on their behalf, give them guidance and wisdom well beyond their own. This advocate, Jesus promised, would be mysteriously present among them as the essence of truth, and would live in them as Jesus had lived with them.

But the world is full of spirits. How would the Holy Spirit be unique among them? Jesus’ answer to this perplexity resides in the word “another.” The Holy Spirit would be another advocate. The Greek word here means someone else who would be the same as, not different from, Jesus. That is, the one he promised to send would fill the spiritual role of the one who had been with them for three years — Jesus himself!

This promise was so important to Jesus that near the eve of his departure this promise to send an advocate, or spiritual guide, was repeated four times: John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7b. He would be a universal presence in the world, dwell within his followers, purify and energize them and guide them in all truth. That is infinitely superior to a mere feeling.

Advent may not at first seem to be the time for the pondering of this wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to live within us. But a quick glance across our world in its distress and despair might revise that opinion. Jesus is not physically here with us. But his Spirit is!

In the visible church today there is much need for us not only to understand the personhood of the Holy Spirit but also to invite his work, as we open ourselves to his abiding presence. It is astonishing that the very Spirit of Christ our Lord wills to live in us as our Advocate. Hallelujah!

Photo credit: hickory hardscrabble (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Love That Is Still Fresh … 73 Years and Counting

Mon, 12/09/2019 - 11:00

While sorting through some of my papers recently I came across this poem celebrating young love. I wrote it several years ago. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I still feel this way about Kathleen after 73 years of marriage.

Found

You found me.
Or was it I found you?
Whatever.
We are found.

It was gradual, it was instant,
Enticing, teasing, surprising.
Our finding overtook us, came upon us
Slyly, gently, with a rush.

But was it luck? freakish? odd?
Mere nature acting out?
No, more, much more.

The hand that guides us,
God’s hand, touched us,
Nudged us gently in sleep-robbed night,
Shed light on eyes deeper than sight,
And said found!

And now we stand side by side,
Hearts pounding, eyes aglow from candles near,
Hand touching hand gently,
And say with awe:
God be praised!
We have found each other!

Photo credit: RichardBH (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

My Father’s Heavenly Tenor Voice

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 11:00

Music figured prominently in the worship of the small congregation where I grew up, even though all singing was a cappella — without musical accompaniment.

Visualize a white clapboard Norman Rockwell sort of building in Saskatchewan back in the 1930s and 40s.

Children sang simple songs, still meaningful to this day:

Jesus loves me! this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.

On Sunday mornings, the congregation used hymn books without printed music. In spite of this limitation, traces of bass or alto might be heard rising here and there, and the singing was full-throated.

To begin Sunday-morning worship the pastor might call the congregation to stand and sing and they would respond with conviction.

Holy, Holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

On Sunday evenings we sang gospel songs from a book entitled Worship in Song. It had a variety from simple choruses to the more complex gospel song that I remember began:

Wonderful grace of Jesus,
Greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it,
Where shall its praise begin?

Lines from some of these Christian songs remain with me even at age 94. They linger in my memory and may come forth spontaneously at any moment of the day.

One song, along with the circumstance in which I heard it, is etched indelibly in my mind. It was a song I heard my father sing.

My father attended morning and evening Sunday services with my mother and younger sister and me although he was not at the time a full-fledged believer. He honored Gospel values although at times he struggled to give himself fully to a faith in the Lord Jesus that brings deliverance.

Still, by the grace of God, one Sunday evening his hunger to belong to the Lord compelled him to “go forward” to the altar. It was his turning point.

The next morning I awakened very early to the sound of his stirring up the coal-fired cook stove in the kitchen. I slept in the adjoining room. As he fed the fire, I heard him singing in a lovely tenor voice that I don’t think I was aware of before that time.

It was a new song on the market with a line about Jesus calling a blind man to him and delivering him of his blindness. My father’s singing was beautiful to hear.

It was a simple song that I believe rose up like a tendril of worship from a humble kitchen until it was heard at the Throne and became part of the music of the spheres.

Photo credit: Rory (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Let Us Pray for Moral Clarity

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 11:00

Several decades ago a distraught father arrived unscheduled at my study, dropped heavily into a chair, and announced without preliminaries, “We’ve got a pregnant girl at our house.”

The pregnancy was the result of one passionate indiscretion not of a covert lifestyle she and her boyfriend had adopted. Nevertheless, their plans for further education were suddenly jeopardized, and additional unanticipated consequences were beginning to unfold.

The parents were crushed by the news, but wise in their responses. There was no talk of spiriting the daughter out of town to have the baby in anonymity, no toying with the thought of an abortion, no counseling about a possible adoption. They judged that the relationship of the two young people had the marks of real love and they seemed to them a good match. For these reasons, everyone — parents and the couple — agreed to a private wedding in their home.

The news spread quickly to the youth group of the church and they were filled with empathy. They immediately began to talk among themselves about giving the whole of their church youth fund, a significant amount, to the couple. The impulse solidified quickly.

Upon learning of this, I spoke to the group’s leaders, saying theirs was not an appropriate response to the crisis. We don’t reward a serious moral lapse generously. At first the teens saw me as cold and lacking in compassion. Their anger was strong but restrained.

But this became a teaching moment. I explained that the couple’s conduct had grievously broken God’s law, brought grief to parents, and in major ways set a hurtful example to peers. I urged them to understand that their generous plan would create moral confusion.

It would be more appropriate, I explained, to pool their own personal resources and give a wedding gift such as they might give to others from their youth group who were getting married. Emotions cooled and my suggestion seemed to take.

That was many years ago. Things settled back quite quickly then because in that social environment there were more substantial moral norms to work from in making moral decisions. Today a Christian community is likely to find even within its own ranks a confusion of opinions regarding what would be right and what would be wrong in responding to the young couple’s moral lapse.

The couple themselves responded to their new situation courageously and with purpose and they went on to raise a family and live exemplary Christian lives. And the church community, compassionate in its general responses, settled quickly. It bore testimony to something deeper than mere sentimentality — to the redemptive love of a Christian group held together by moral unity.

The shift in society across intervening decades makes clear that moral clarity has become blurred even in the minds of many Christians. Fuzzy thinking about right and wrong replaces a clear settled commitment to seeking the righteousness of God.

In this environment of moral confusion, I pray for moral clarity in my own understanding as well as in the church around the world. I pray for it in the pulpits of the land, in church board decisions, in every Sunday school class, in Christian grade schools, in Christian colleges and universities everywhere. And perhaps most of all, I pray that in Christian families healthy consciences will be formed in the crucible of family living and family altars.

In a world filled with moral ambiguities and confusion, do you believe moral integrity is worth fighting for in family circles, within the church, and in society at large? If so, please join me in prayer for the strengthening of Christian consciences everywhere.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: A Pastor’s Wife Tells Her Story

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 11:00

By Kathleen G. Bastian

When I married Don, I knew that he was moving toward Christian ministry as a life vocation, but I didn’t know for sure the specific form it would take. I only knew that he was a ministerial student and would have several years of education to complete. I also knew from the start that I would support him in whatever work he believed he was called to do. That was the way most wives felt back in the 1940s.

I was a primary school teacher when we were married; he was a student and staff member at Lorne Park College west of Toronto, Ontario. After three-and-a-half years, we went on to Greenville College (now University) in Illinois with our two-year-old daughter, Carolyn, so Don could finish his final two years of college. From there, we went to Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, for another three years of training.

By the time he had completed his studies at Asbury it was clear that the focus of his ministry was to be the pastorate. In fact, for those three years of seminary he was assigned to be pastor of the Free Methodist church in nearby Lexington, and that is when I got my first taste of what it meant to stand with him in that sort of ministry.

Besides caring for the three little children we had by then and taking as much of the burden of the household as I could while he pursued his studies, I made myself available to teach Sunday school and often entertained seminary students on Sundays so they could remain in the city and canvass the community with my husband.

When we went to our second church, the Free Methodist church in New Westminster, British Columbia, I discovered what it really meant to stand by my pastor husband in ministry. He led the church in a growth spurt that meant new prospects nearly every Sunday, new programs to meet the needs of a growing congregation, and lots of social events in our parsonage to get to know newcomers and otherwise promote fellowship and community.

One aspect of our experience stands out in my mind. We both worked hard at our assignment and my husband did lots of evening calling to follow up on new prospects and care for other pastoral duties. This usually involved two or three nights a week. During these times, I was at home alone with our four little children.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have time together. He was home for the noon and evening meals most days. Also, we had simple and inexpensive but good vacations together. As well, we certainly were in touch with each other in the social life of the church.

But one night when my husband was out calling and I had put the children to bed and the house was quiet, I found myself wondering, “What is this all about anyway? I don’t like being alone so much in the evenings. There’s got to be more to life than this.”

After musing about this for some time I suddenly said to myself, “When I free my husband to be out doing the Lord’s work like this, I am really a part of that call he’s making. It is my ministry too.” That set my heart at rest. I never after that had the same feeling of personal deprivation about releasing him to work in the harvest field of the Lord. And standing together in mutual service has enriched our nearly 72 years together.

In it all, I learned that when working in the Lord’s service one must leave the results with him.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: A Love Story with Depth

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 11:00

In the 1730s there lived in England a man named Charles Wesley, brother to the better-known John Wesley, both of them founders of Methodism. They were ordained Anglican clergymen and ardent in observing the practices of the faith.

As an example of their serious intent to devote themselves completely to God, while studying at Oxford they and some of their companions vowed not to marry, and agreed if any of them should change their mind they would consult one another about their plans.

Years later, when Charles was approaching middle age, he began to have second thoughts about this resolution. By then, the Methodist movement had become large and he, the gifted hymn-writer, was busy traveling, preaching, and composing hymns to be sung.

At thirty-nine years of age he preached briefly in South Wales along the western coast of England. While there, a Methodist convert named Marmaduke Gwynne came to see him, and then took him to his estate — a large property named Garth, complete with a mansion, nine children, and 20 servants.

During six days of preaching in the area Charles found himself drawn back to Garth several times. Sarah Gwynne (Miss Sally) was the attraction. She was 21, he nearly 40.

After six days he crossed the waters to Ireland where there was a rapidly developing Methodist movement in the region of Dublin. He preached there for six months, sometimes several times a day. It was a tumultuous time: there were riots, Methodist homes were ransacked, and brutal murders were committed. Amidst it all, Charles was consoled and strengthened by letters from Sally.

The trip back to Garth in South Wales was rugged — first by ship, then by a coastal ferry. But the last leg of his journey was 120 miles on horseback in the face of a driving rain. When he arrived at Garth he was ill, but, nursed back to health, he was able to preach and administer communion.

Charles began to think about marriage, but two matters had to be attended to first. His foremost question: Had Sally personally experienced redeeming grace? This was the life-changing message at the heart of the Methodist renewal. That is, it was the Methodist restoration of the Gospel message of “new birth” or “the inner transformation” to new life in Christ. Charles evidently needed to know that Sally’s Gospel experience and understanding were more than piety and formalized devotion.

Both Charles and brother John would not compromise on this question. They themselves had been transformed from several years of a rigorous but unsatisfying faith by a powerful awakening of the Holy Spirit. Happily, in due time, Charles’ question about Sally’s faith was answered to his satisfaction.

The second matter was his ability to care for wife. Sally’s mother was favorable to Charles as a husband for Sally but asked what assurance he could give that an itinerant preacher without a settled income could support her. Charles consulted his publisher. He and his brother talked to a banker. The answer: royalties from his books would be more than enough to provide the 100 pounds a year that Mrs. Gwynne required. When brother John gave written assurance on behalf of brother Charles of adequate resources, Mrs. Gwynne approved.

A spiritual question and then a practical one had been thoroughly addressed. Then, on April 9, 1749, Charles and Sally were married at Garth. It was a day filled with sunshine and joy. Charles wrote that his brother John seemed the happiest of all those present.

Was it a great and durable love? In her mid-twenties Sally’s beauty was scarred horribly by life-threatening smallpox. This disfigurement in no way diminished Charles’s love for her. She went with him on his preaching circuit and the Methodist people loved her dearly. Years into the marriage his tender notes to her might begin, “My ever dearest Sally”.

Charles and Sally had eight children but only three survived childhood: two boys, Charles and Samuel, and one girl, Sarah (also called Sally). The two sons were musical child prodigies and both became well-known organists. Sally had the poetic gift of her father. Parents Charles and Sally were happily married 39 years until his death in 1788.

What do we glean from this story? A determined 120-mile ride through a pelting rain speaks of the enlivening and motivating effects of genuine love. Mrs. Gwynne’s insistence that Charles show evidence of adequate support for her daughter speaks of the parental responsibility of a mother’s heart, especially in a day when there was no significant social safety net. Charles’ tender notes addressed to Sally across decades of marriage speak of the durability of genuine love through all circumstances.

And Charles’ foremost question, above, bore witness that, above all, it was a living shared faith in Christ our Lord that bound their marriage together.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Thoughts About Serving Holy Communion

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 11:00

Young pastors sometimes struggle to see the value of liturgy, especially the service of Holy Communion. It may seem “unspiritual” to them because the words spoken are prescribed in advance. Consequently, they may feel the need to “reformat” this ancient rite of the Church.

I once heard of a young pastor’s novel come-and-go Communion service. The elements were laid out on the Communion table and people were invited to come anytime Sunday afternoon and serve themselves, without benefit of explanation, pastor, or possibly even fellow believers.

Or there was the pastor so opposed to rituals of any kind that he simply “announced” Communion and passed the elements around without invitation, consecration, explanation, or prayer. Any unchurched person would be sure to go away asking, “What was that about?”

Whatever the cause for disinterest or aversion, here are some simple suggestions to help pastors conducting a Communion service. They may also be useful for laypersons who feel the need for fuller engagement with this sacrament.

1. During the week prior to the service, live in the four brief New Testament passages that report the first Lord’s Supper, attended and hosted by Jesus Himself:

Matthew 26:17-30
Mark 14:22-26
Luke 22:19-23
1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Let the scene set itself in your imagination and let the words sink in. If the truths expressed in “this is my body … this is my blood (broken/shed for you)” seem wrapped in mystery, remember that in the early days of the Christian era the Greek branch of the church often referred to the Lord’s Supper as just that — “the Mystery.”

2. The day before the Lord’s Supper is served, spend time with the ritual itself. Read it aloud. Personalize its opening invitation for yourself. Think afresh what the sacrificial death of Jesus meant and turn that understanding into prayer. It is sometimes the savoring of words — “putting them under your tongue and sucking them like a sweetie,” as one Scottish divine advised — that releases their power.

3. Practice reading the service out loud slowly and thoughtfully. In doing so you may hear fresh truth for your own need. One teacher of pastors offered this advice to those called upon to read the Bible in public services: “Read it as if you are listening to it yourself, not as though you wrote it.” The same advice fits reading the ritual of Holy Communion.

4. If you have any impulse in your mind to diminish or neglect the serving of the Lord’s Supper, remember that, throughout history, it has often been called the central act of Christian worship. Let that understanding refashion your thinking.

5. Finally, whether you are a pastor or layperson, resist the tendency to seek innovation. Sometimes in our youth we are inclined to diminish the value of repetition in favor of new ways of saying or doing things. Innovation certainly has its place, but not with a fundamental practice of our faith such as the Lord’s Supper. Repetition is intended to fix its truths in believers’ minds.

After one communion service at which I had served believers of all ages, an elderly woman, the widow of a minister, spoke to me. She had heard the ritual all her life. She said to me with feeling, “The longer I live, the more meaningful the Lord’s Supper becomes to me.”

Photo credit: Kathy (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Why Do We Pray in Jesus’ Name?

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 03:00

Jesus spoke often to his disciples about prayer, an activity fundamental to his ministry and theirs. Early in his teaching he taught them what we today call the Lord’s Prayer.  Later, he told them that whatever they ask of God should be asked in my (Jesus’) name.  

Across the centuries his followers have complied, repeating the Lord’s Prayer, and offering their petitions in Jesus’ name. Around ten years before the USSR broke up in 1989, at the height of Soviet domination of Estonia, Kay and I heard the Lord’s Prayer offered devoutly by believers there.

To repeat: the larger pattern for prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer was given early in Jesus’ teaching, but in the privacy of his final conversation with the eleven disciples he very specifically added the direction to pray in his name.

Jesus says in John 14:13, I am going to the Father and I will do whatever you ask in my name. He also said: Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete (John 16:23, 24). The other references are John 14:13,14 and John 15:16.

This is not intended to be a mantra for believers to recite without careful thought. Nor is it given as a ritual to fill up space in the worship practices of believers.

It is rather a key to worship that opens heaven’s doors so that prayers reach the ears of the Father. As Jesus declares, No one comes to the Father but by me (John 14:6). That is, there is no other faith entrance to the Holy God. Thus, people of Christian faith, whenever they pray, are called to pray in Jesus’ name.  

This element of Christian faith is sometimes better understood by those who are opposed or indifferent to the Gospel. For example, some years ago a community faced a common crisis.  An auditorium was engaged and a meeting called. Some who would attend would be Christians but there would of course be some of other faiths, and still others of no faith at all.

Someone on the planning committee thought it a good idea to invite a local pastor to offer an opening prayer. When word of this intent got out a few persons protested vigorously. Their issue was not opposition against a prayer to God. That word unqualified could mean a god of any faith. Their issue was to block any prayer offered in the name of Jesus. They refused that fiercely.

For Christians, Jesus’ instruction to make all prayer requests in his name is lodged firmly in the gospels, as noted above. Was this meant for just that time 2000 years ago? That is, has the practice faded in history?

Attend a Christian gathering today, whether Episcopalian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist or interdenominational; listen carefully to prayers when offered and you are almost certain to hear the prayer closed with words like the following: These petitions we offer in Jesus name. Or, We pray this in the name of Christ, our Lord. 

There is power in that name and Jesus’ promises as recorded by the Apostle John tell us this.  We must pray in Jesus’ name and teach this practice to our children.

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

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Dealing with Our Doubts

Mon, 10/21/2019 - 11:00

It’s one thing to be racked by our doubts, wondering if God exists, if He cares, if He can do anything for us in our times of uncertainty. But to feel that our doubts are sinful and that we must keep them hidden compounds our distress.

The truth is that doubt is the not infrequent experience of aspiring saints. Smug, narcissistic, or spiritually complacent Bible characters like Samson, Absalom and the wicked Herodias give little evidence of wrestling with doubts. They were all supremely self-confident.

But the godly prophet Elijah is a different case. So are Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and John the Baptist. Even Jesus had his times of doubt. No one ever trusted the Father more implicitly than he, yet from his cross he cried, “My God, My God, Why…?”

In the psalms there are many doubter’s laments. At least 40 of the 150 are called psalms of lament, and some are from people wrestling with doubt.

Psalm 77 is one of them.

The psalmist is in such distress that he cannot sleep at night. He holds God responsible for even this, since for the Hebrew mind God is ultimately involved in every human situation.

The psalmist cries out in his anguish, Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in his anger shut up his compassion? (Psalm 77:9 RSV)

This psalm must have been written as the solitary cry of one believer. But when the psalms were collected, eventually to become the Old Testament hymn book, this one was seen as a cry common to many devout hearts. Thus it was made a part of the Old Testament worship literature. Today all readers, New Testament doubters too, may use it.

Doubters want to believe that God is there for them. But they struggle to see how things could be as they are, if God really cared. Doubters have faith but it is under assault, conflicted, strained.

Frederick Robertson, great preacher of an earlier generation, was sometimes subject to profound, sometimes overwhelming, doubts. His advice?

“Obedience! Leave those thoughts [of doubt] for the present … Force yourselves to abound in little services; try to do good to others; be true to the duty that you know …”

Good advice, but there is an even deeper word in this psalm. The psalmist says: I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yea, I will remember thy wonders of old (Psalm 77:11 RSV).

This psalmist avoided the peril of self-absorption by meditating, principally on the mighty acts of God at the Red Sea.

We can go one better. We also call the mighty acts of Jesus to mind — his perfect life, his love for the oppressed, his healings — and particularly his deliverance from death at Joseph’s tomb. The Holy Spirit, by such meditations, can renew our faith.

When trying to overcome oppressive doubts, in addition to personal meditation, it is also good to go where a company of believers is worshiping the living God. Attempt to share in their faith as they sing and pray. Join with them and listen to the word of God preached.

You will be among friends. And, of course, on any given Sunday, there will surely be others there who also need to activate Psalm 77.

Photo credit: Ashley Campbell (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

New Blog Post Coming Soon

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 11:00

Greetings to all —

I had hoped to have a new blog post for this week but find myself tired from our trip back to Toronto. (Daughter Carolyn and her husband, Doug, graciously ferried Kathleen and me to Canada in their Honda Odyssey.) I am recovering well from the unexpected surgical procedure I received in Chicago … in fact, I’m feeling much better. That and a wonderful visit with members of my family living in the western suburbs of that city have served to buoy my spirits, and, as I hope to prove next week, my creativity.

In the meantime, here are some quotes from John Wesley that are well worth thinking about, whether you are a pastor or part of a pastoral support team:

I saw that giving even all my life to God (supposing it possible to do this and go no further) would profit me nothing unless I gave my heart, yea, all my heart, to Him.

I build on Christ, the rock of ages; on his sure mercies described in his word, and on his promises, all which I know are yea and amen.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Renewed Heart, Full of Thanksgiving

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 11:00

Last week I shared that I was scheduled for a high-tech, trans-arterial replacement of a critically malfunctioning heart valve. The doctors threaded a delivery catheter through my blood vessels to deploy a new valve inside the top of my heart.

Thanks be to God, that procedure went very well, last Monday morning. After two days, I was released from hospital to be with Kathleen at Robert and Janice’s home, along with daughter Carolyn and grandchildren Zachary (Lisa) and Charis (Ben).

Recovery has been rapid and I feel tremendously better than I have for a very, very long time. I feel “repaired” and renewed. Energy I had not had for a year or two is returning, and my family tell me I look better than I have in several years.

My “spiritual heart” is overflowing with thanksgiving for a return to health. Equally… I am profoundly moved by the many expressions of support and the prayers on my behalf. My extended family and many friends in Toronto, Greenville (Illinois), Florida, and in the Free Methodist Church more broadly have been extraordinarily generous to me during this time.

After routine postoperative visits this week, we are planning to return to Canada next weekend. And I plan to resume my weekly blog the week after that.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Blog Statement: September 29, 2019

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 01:19

To the readers of my blog:

I had planned to have a new blog piece for you this week, but events have overtaken me, making that impossible, and I think a personal explanation would be ​in order instead.

During what was meant to be a short visit with son Robert’s family in Chicago (including Robert and Jan; grandchildren Zachary (Lisa) and Charis (Ben) and great-grandchildren Isabel, Nora, and Julia, I was discovered to have an urgent heart problem. My son, Robert, a laryngologist, his doctor son Zachary, an anesthesiologist, and ​above all Zachary’s wife, Lisa, a cardiology nurse practitioner, quickly got me in the hands of ​a cardiology and cardiac surgery team. ​The initial cardiologist promptly diagnosed the problem — a severe lack of flow through a heart valve — and put me on-stream to a high-tech replacement of that valve just ​10 days later — early tomorrow morning, Monday, September 30.

I am told that my recovery is likely to be rapid with an increase in energy evident shortly thereafter.

I am “heartened” by the many expressions of love and prayers I have received from my family, former colleagues, the Greenville University community, and parishioners and friends in Canada and the United States. Daughter Carolyn, who with Doug drove us to Chicago, ​has also read Kay and me numerous expressions of well-wishes and prayer from a Free Methodist Facebook page. Kay’s and my appreciation knows no bounds.

I feel that I am in the hands of very good doctors and above all, in the care of the Great Physician, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. By his grace I plan ​to resume filing regular weekly blogs soon.

Thank you for your interest in my blog. I am pleased to have this space in which to share insights with you from the ​life of a pastor. My ​dear wife ​and ministry partner Kathleen and I consider it an honor beyond our deserving and understanding to have had the opportunity to serve Our Lord in local churches and as bishop, both during our active phase and now in retirement.

In Christ,

Rev. Donald N. Bastian

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Do Christians Worship Three Gods?

Mon, 09/23/2019 - 11:00

Do Christians worship three gods? Skeptics insist they do. Religious organizations like Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses lay the same charge. The word Trinity is baffling to them.

At the same time some Christians are vague about what Trinity means because it seems mysterious. Mysterious indeed: God reveals himself first as one God, and, at the same time, as three Persons in one Godhead.

Nearly all bodies of Christendom subscribe to this doctrine of the Trinity — Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, United Methodists, Assemblies of God, and on and on. One source says 47 of 50 major denominations identified do so.

How is the claim supported in Scripture?

Moses was living in a world that reeked with many gods when God addressed him at the burning bush (Exodus 3). But Moses did not ask, “Which god of the many is this now?” From the beginning, God revealed to him that there was only one true God.

Listen to the Shema, the Jewish statement of faith found in the Old Testament that is recited at morning and evening prayer every day: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In that ancient world, teeming with gods, the Old Testament names Jehovah as “the Sovereign LORD” (Habakkuk 3:19).

The New Testament continues the claim. During Jesus’ forty-day fast, Satan tried to entice him to bow down and worship him. Jesus’ response: “It is written, ‘Worship the LORD your God and serve him only’” (Luke 4:8). God is one.

At the same time, the Scriptures show that the One God manifests himself in three persons, and this reality is repeatedly set forth.

After the resurrection, Thomas worshiped Jesus as the risen Savior, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” If this exclamation had been false, but Jesus had accepted it anyway, Jesus would have committed blasphemy.

Later the Apostle John reinforces the declaration of Thomas. In the prologue to his gospel he testifies of Jesus as follows: “the Word (Jesus) was God” (John 1:1).

But what about the Holy Spirit? In the New Testament Church, when a couple named Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive Peter over a money gift, Peter saw through their ruse. He said to Ananias, “you have lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). Then he added, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).

It is impossible to lie to a mere feeling or sensation. The Holy Spirit is instead a person. He is a “person” of the Godhead. He is God the Spirit. Jesus helps us understand the Holy Spirit’s purpose by calling Him the Paraclete (counselor).

At his baptism, Jesus “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove” and heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my Son whom I love” (Matthew 3:16, 17). In that moment recorded in Scripture, we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all in one revelation.

During the first four hundred years of the early church, the church fathers wrestled with these affirmations. To give them order, they formulated this profound truth about God under the title of the Trinity (tri-unity, three-in-one).

They said, God is one in “being” and, at the same time, three in “persons.” We say God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The three persons are God — coeternal, coequal and indivisible — and one in being.

We are to worship the one true God seeing at the same time both the unity of His being and His three persons. God the Father rules over all; God the Son is our incarnate Redeemer; God the Spirit is our Sanctifier. More broadly, the Holy Spirit is the executor of the Godhead in the world.

The hymn our congregation sang to conclude worship on a recent Sunday morning included the following words:

Laud and honor to the Father,
Laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit,
Ever Three and Ever One.

The historic church sings this 700-year-old hymn in praise to the one and only God who in three persons creates, redeems and sanctifies.

If this truth still mystifies, remember that it is in our worship of the God who is three-in-one that we come closest to grasping the reality of this great mystery of the Christian faith.

When we pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven” we are worshiping the one and only God. When we say of Jesus, “He is Lord and Savior,” we acknowledge the one and only God. When we entreat the Holy Spirit to empower us or intercede for us, we also appeal to the one and only God. One Godhead in three persons! Three persons in one Godhead!

All praise to the Eternal God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Checking on Our Intangibles

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 11:00

As a young pastor sixty years ago in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, I began writing a weekly guest editorial, “Religiously Speaking,” for the local newspaper, The British Columbian.

Back then, I had to deliver my column as a paper copy. One day as I went through the newsroom a man named Bill called out to me, “Hi, Reverend –- how’s everything in the world of the intangibles?” That became his usual greeting.

Bill was a tough newsman, a recovering alcoholic, a man who knew his business. He was always friendly, not at all scornful or contemptuous. He just understood that “reverends” deal with an aspect of life that often can’t be physically touched or seen with physical eyes — the intangibles.

How right he was! This point was driven home to me by analogy one day. I started on my intangibles — which were to include time studying Scripture for my next sermon, visiting in homes or hospital, listening to people’s stories and offering prayer or counsel.

That particular morning I glanced across the street from our home and church. A wide lot had been cleared, a foundation poured, and the men were arriving to frame up the first level of a two-story apartment building.

Later that day, I pulled into our driveway from an afternoon of pastoral calling, and, after getting out of the car, looked across the street. There stood the framework for the first floor of that building. The workmen had gone home, leaving behind tangible results of their day’s work.

This sight set me back temporarily. It was such a sharp contrast to my kind of work. I found myself reflecting on some intangible work I had done that day — not only sermon preparation but also prayer with a parishioner facing surgery, a visit with a distraught wife whose husband was about to desert her and calling on a family new to the community and our church.

Within this review of my day’’s work, Bill’s question came to mind. After all, I had put in the time and had reckoned each stage carefully but had done nothing as visible as the workers across the street. The work of carpenters, electricians and dentists is in a sense concrete; a pastor’s work is much more subtle, sometimes seen in substance only after a long interval of time.

Come to think of it, so much of what all Christians are called on to do is at first spiritual, mental, intangible: Honor your father and your mother; Be merciful to those who doubt; Abstain from sinful desires; Pray for one another; Preach the gospel; Pray without ceasing.

Most of us would like vocations that produce immediate, tangible results. Who doesn’t like to see the kitchen back in perfect order after a family meal? Or the Christian education center filled with children for after-school Bible lessons?

In large part, Bill was right: for those of us called to the pastoral life, so much we are assigned to do has its roots in the intangibles. But this only means we must be aware in our vocation that our activities are real and crucial though at the same time their results cannot be immediately seen. Understanding this deepens our dependence on prayer to do our work for the Lord, and sharpens our awareness of what we attempt for Him, leaving the results to Him.

Photo credit: Concrete Forms (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

When Life’s Foundations Seem to Be Crumbling: A Meditation on Psalm 11

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 11:00

Psalm 11 is one of the many chapters of the Psalter that David, King of Israel, is believed to have written.

He was a man after God’s own heart and, in one lifetime, rose from lowly shepherd boy to king over the nation.

Samuel the prophet anointed him to replace Saul son of Kish. Saul, who as Israel’s first king preceded David, seemed unable to follow a prophet’s orders and stay within the righteous boundaries of his kingship. Because of his disobedience his reign was shorter than necessary.

David first appeared on Israel’s national scene when he delivered supplies to his brothers who were serving in Saul’s army. While there, he saw Goliath, the Philistine giant, who was terrorizing Saul’s soldiers, challenging any one of them to fight him.

No one would accept the challenge. The war was at a stalemate. So David came forward, declaring that, in the name of the LORD, he would fight Goliath. It was a strange match — a young stripling fresh from the care of a few sheep going against a seasoned warrior who at a little more than nine feet tall towered above him.

Disregarding Goliath’s taunts, David ran toward him, swung his sling above his head several times and released a stone from its pocket. The stone struck the giant in the forehead. Stunned, he collapsed on the ground. David took the giant’s sword from its scabbard and made the victory complete.

The Philistines ran away terrified, with Saul’s soldiers in pursuit. It was a great victory for Israel.

This achievement and David’s general giftedness brought him fame and later a position as the royal musician in the palace. Later still it brought him a leadership position in Saul’s army.

His popularity made King Saul jealous and afraid, filled with hatred. His moods became dark and his impulse to kill David grew out of control. Twice he flung his spear at him to pin him to the wall. David nimbly jumped aside. All this took place although David in all circumstances was faithful to Saul, and had no designs on the throne.

Finally, David’s only option was to flee the court. For about 20 years he was a hunted man. In time he gathered about him a fighting force of men who were also fugitives in the wilderness.

They slept on the open ground when necessary and sometimes in caves when available. They foraged for food. Their goal was survival, knowing the king and his soldiers were often hot on their trail.

David, was also a poet and at some stages of those twenty years he must have jotted down prayers and snatches of poetic reflection about faith in God or life’s perplexities.

It appears that some of his poetry found its way into the hymn book of the temple, and that Psalm 11 may have been one of them.

It is a poem that reflects two opposite ways of responding when facing imminent danger. David declares his own fixed resolution in its first line: In the LORD I take refuge.

But this robust faith is not shared by some of his advisers. Who can blame them for being exhausted by the constant threat of death? Still, he quotes back to them what may have been their frightened advice:

How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain, for look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings, to shoot from the shadows against the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

It appears that his advisers’ counsel is to take his cue from a little bird that, when threatened by a bird of prey, flies like an arrow across the skies to the safety of the nearby hills. They argue that the very foundations of life are crumbling and flight is their only alternative.

Then comes David’s response. In essence he says: The LORD is on his heavenly throne. For him, everything flows from that conviction. God reigns. He elaborates this certainty in several ways, but he concludes with the following assurance to the beleaguered and fearful:

For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.

David affirms for himself and his companions that however the days seem to be going in the moment, by God’s power they will end well.

For the righteous, in testing times the foundations of life may shake but they will not crumble — and we can rest in the larger perspective that God forever rules and our future prospect is to see his face when perfect justice will prevail.

Photo credit: Jimmy Brown (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Importance of Christian Weddings in Secular Times

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 02:20

I recently heard a news report that, in America, fewer couples are turning to the church for their wedding services; more are planning to write their own script for the whole event; and a still-growing number are moving in together without a wedding service of any kind.

These are not surprising trends as secularism continues to oppose the Judeo-Christian mores and values that have shaped our culture. Moderns may say that no religious institution should prepare rituals for others to follow; after all, every couple will have its own ideas.

But the thought lingers that traditional marriage has had a constancy through the centuries. And that it is a venture so sweeping in its possibilities that it requires some elevated acknowledgment in the form of vows or declarations — if not holy, at least metaphysical. A wedding is one of life’s few rites of passage.

Although the percentage of weddings held in churches may decrease there will always be brides and grooms who want to be married in a Christian context.

I celebrated many weddings across a lifetime of pastoral ministry. I remember with particular warmth couples such as Ken and Judy, Larry and Cheryl, Jim and Fern, David and Faith, John and Sharon.

And I have had the blessed privilege of uniting in marriage eleven couples from my own family circle including children and grandchildren. Those moments were special for me and for them. In each case, every effort was made to reflect the Christian faith in word, symbol and song.

The Christian church broadly has always treated marriage as a rite to be celebrated, one of life’s most important events. It is an adventure in hope, intended as a once-in-a-lifetime pledging.

Across the years I have held that the core of a Christian wedding is not the attire the couple wear, the music they choose or the sanctuary’s decor. All are helpful in creating a beautiful setting and all must be chosen carefully. Nevertheless, the dominant feature of a wedding is the ritual — the words that are spoken, what they affirm and require and how they are delivered.

Thus, here are questions to ask of the words spoken: (1) Are they consistent with biblical truth about marriage? (2) Do they reflect with accuracy and beauty the commitments being made? (3) Do the words  bear the influence of established and time-tested rituals of the past? (4) Are they Christ-honoring? (5) Are they linked to the ages as marriage is?

If a congregation is to be present for the service it is good to remember that there will likely be young, in the gathering, people with eager ears; perhaps an elderly man who with his now-deceased wife repeated similar vows years earlier and now sits alone; a couple in marital conflict who may be privately discussing divorce; and a young man and woman gathering ideas for their own upcoming nuptials.

For a congregation a wedding may be both a resonating chamber for Christian truth and a microcosm of human experiences.

The key to a lovely, moving wedding service is a good rehearsal. Wedding parties for this event usually arrive with a high level of excitement. It is the pastor’s task to take charge and manage the event, making sure that every participant understands his or her part. Rehearsals can be chaotic and overly long if not properly managed.

The reason for such care at the rehearsal is that there are no do-overs for weddings. If a Saturday-night youth gathering goes poorly there will always be another Saturday night. Even if a pastor’s sermon should fail, the next Sunday is only a week away. But the wedding is a singular event with no opportunities to run it through again a day or two later.

Yet, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (go often askew). So wrote Robert Burns, in Scottish dialect. Indeed they do. Things may happen at the best-planned weddings that excite laughter or sometimes the opposite.

On one occasion after all preparations were carefully made and the congregation was gathered I learned that the bride had forgotten her special gloves in a neighboring community and had gone after them. The congregation sweltered for an hour in a sanctuary without air conditioning. The organ played and re-played the music that had been chosen. When the bride returned the wedding proceeded. On a wedding day, guests usually take such a glitch in stride.

The hope is to plan and practice so as to keep anything from happening that distracts from the solemnity and beauty of the event. And beyond that, to provide the couple with a memory that will still be held as sacred decades later.

What serves better as a standard than the advice of the Apostle Paul who wrote, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Photo credit: Ryan Blyth (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds