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A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 3 hours 50 min ago

When Unbelief Becomes Belief: Zechariah’s Story

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 11:00

The first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke introduces us to Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, both of whom were descendants of the priestly line of Aaron.

They were clearly a godly couple. They kept the Commandments and were careful to seek divine favor. But in spite of all this, they were now advanced in years, perhaps 80 or so, and had remained childless throughout their long life together.

The numbers of Aaron’s descendants had increased across many generations, so all priests could not be on duty at the same time. So they were divided into groups, each with its assigned time of service.

On this occasion, Zechariah’s task was to burn incense at the altar in the temple room adjoining the Holy of Holies, the latter room believed to be where God dwelt among his people.

To the worshipers outside the temple, Zechariah appeared to take much longer than usual and this made them uneasy. The holiness of God was a mystery not to be lightly regarded.

Luke, a doctor known to research and report meticulously, must have learned the details of Zechariah’s experience of that day: An angel had appeared to him. He was startled and shook with fear. The angel calmed him before delivering his special message.

The message was that their decades of prayer about childlessness had been heard. (We might assume they had long since ceased praying for a child. In the world of prayer inexplicable divine delays are not uncommon and are tests to faith.)

The angel went on to tell Zechariah: Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son. His name will be John. He will be a delight to you; he will bring rejoicing to many beyond his parents; the Lord’s blessing will be on him in abundance; he will never drink wine or other fermented drinks (Luke 1:13b-15a).

This amazing news was followed by a more astounding prophecy in three parts. (1) This child will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. (2) He will be God’s instrument to bring a great revival of faith to Israel. And (3) His ministry will be as though Elijah had reappeared (1:15b-17).

Just as in Elijah’s sweeping ministry, Zechariah’s child was promised to bring healing to the broken relationships between parents and children or children and parents all across the nation. There was to be a great revival of family unity and strength. This promised likeness of miraculous events spanning four hundred years between the Testaments was uncanny.

Zechariah responded in unbelief. He cited his and his wife’s advanced age as a ground for his not believing. Given the long delay of unanswered prayers and the natural impossibility of a pregnancy at their ages, the reader might at first sympathize with his unbelief. But a second look makes it harder to let Zechariah off.

Consider that it was an angel who addressed him. The angel had introduced himself: I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God. I have been sent (1:19). Gabriel is named explicitly only four times in the Bible. He is one of God’s most elevated servants.

Moreover, Zechariah, the Aaronic priest, must have known about the promise of the miraculous return of a prophet in the form of Elijah as given in the last lines of the Old Testament.

In addition to all the above, Zechariah received the announcement while he was burning incense in the Holy Place. Where would one get a more convincing revelation of some miraculous and hoped-for event? Where would it be easier to believe? Despite the long-practiced faith and piety of Zechariah, he is caught in the clutch of unbelief.

All of this explains why Gabriel pronounces a temporary judgment on him. Zechariah is told he will be speechless until the promised event is realized. In this way, God would both chastise his doubting servant and at the same time promise to be gracious.

Doctor Luke tells how all this came out (1:59 – 66). After the birth of John the Baptist there was general disagreement in the community over the baby’s name. Asked to weigh in on the controversy, and remembering Gabriel’s words, Zechariah took a tablet and wrote on it: His name is John!

Zechariah’s unbelief had been grave but its penalty was erased by this moment of obedience: Immediately his powers of speech were restored and he began to sing: Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them (1:68).

Photo credit: Dr. Partha Sarathi Sahana (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Advent Calls to Deepen Our Faith

Mon, 12/03/2018 - 11:00

You’ve heard some say that key narratives in the Bible are based on myths — stories that serve to explain issues otherwise beyond human explanation. This claim can be used to dismiss portions of the Bible and eventually the Bible as a whole.

It is true that the Bible is a library with literature of many kinds — parables, proverbs, history, poetry, letters, apocalypses, etc. — and that each of these genres may convey truth in a different way. But in the light of this variety, is the Gospel narrative in particular a made-up story intended to brighten the reader’s spirit? Or is it truth to nurture saving faith?

The Advent season of the church year is a good time to face the question afresh: Are the historical claims of the Gospel account to be trusted? Was Jesus miraculously born? Did he really heal the blind? Did he die to grant forgiveness of sins? Is he the only way to God in this life or the next?

One faith-prompting passage for me and many other believers is the opening paragraph of the Gospel as Luke presents it (Luke 1:1-4). Luke was an educated man. The Apostle Paul refers to him as “our dear friend Luke, the doctor” (Colossians 4:14). That is significant. He would have the scientific training of that era. His first paragraph is like an introduction to a medical treatise.

It is also significant that Luke’s introductory statement (verses 1-4) is one complete sentence in the original language (though divided into more than one in our English versions). It is written in beautifully crafted Greek without punctuation or spaces. It is the longest sentence in the Bible and shows a style and content any qualified first-century scholar would use to introduce a serious historical document.

Without taking anything from the beauty and thoroughness of the sentence, I break it down to show its several elements, with an editorial touch, perhaps, to aid clarity. Luke writes as follows:

Something wonderful has actually happened among us and this has prompted a number of witnesses to try to capture its essence in writing.

The witnesses I speak of were eyewitnesses to these wonderful events and were already testifying to them and telling their meaning when they passed the truth on to us first hand.

I take the information I’ve received seriously but at the same time I have investigated every detail for myself from the very beginning. I’ve left no detail unexamined.

I’m doing this for you, Most Excellent Theophilus. I decided that I too would write a carefully researched and ordered account for your benefit. I write to reinforce your faith in the truths you already have been taught.

We don’t know who this Theophilus was. His name means God Lover. He may have been a convert from paganism to the faith who needed further guidance and grounding. The way Luke addresses him he may have been an elevated officer of the Roman government. It is even possible, though not likely, that Theophilus was a fictitious name that Luke used as a foil to tell his story.

Whatever the case, Luke’s first paragraph radiates seriousness and substance. And God’s Spirit uses his thoroughness to testify to the truth that follows. When we feel the power of Luke’s first paragraph, we are like someone standing at the entrance of a beautiful cathedral — The Gospel According to Luke. We hesitate momentarily before entering his report.

Pausing there, we are filled with wonder and awe. We kneel instinctively to absorb this ancient man’s forceful account as inspired by God Himself. And once we enter Luke’s narrative, we are open to the possibility that it is indeed a cathedral of God’s truth and love and no myths could renew us as these sacred words stand ready to do.

Photo credit: le vent le cri (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Why Pay Attention to the Children?

Mon, 11/26/2018 - 11:00

I was seven years old when my first nephew, Barry, was born. Perhaps I was a bit giddy about my new status in life. After all, at such a young age I was Uncle Don.

As other children came along to enlarge my parents’ family – nephews, nieces, my own children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren – God put a love for them into my heart, a love that has never left me.

Our most recent addition is Baby Isabel, eight months old, the daughter of Zach and Lisa. Our love for her is nourished by means of pictures sent electronically to update us on her development through her first year of life. We will see her at Christmas.

And we have the promise that, come spring, by the mercy of God new love will come yet again, this time for the child of Ben and Charis.

My love never made me an expert in bathing or changing diapers or otherwise caring for the little ones’ intricate and earthy needs. In that category my best grade would be “awkward.”

But I loved to talk to them and rock them, and to get down on the floor with them and “communicate” with special sounds. Insofar as possible, I have followed closely the development of each of my children and grandchildren right into their adulthood.

This love for children seems to have been part of my calling in life. Back when I myself was approaching young manhood and my mother could see I was preparing seriously for the Christian ministry she offered me one word of advice.

In less than one minute she said, and never repeated it a second time: “Don, when you are a pastor do be sure to pay attention to the children.”

Even now her words remind me of Our Lord’s parting assignment to Simon Peter after the resurrection; Simon’s first task was to feed my lambs (John 21:15b).

Earlier, when his disciples thought Jesus too busy to pay attention to children, he rebuked them. He saw in the little ones what the disciples at the moment did not see: eternal worth and the need for love given wisely.

He said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). He then took time to gather the little ones in his arms and bless them.

Not long ago I had a conversation with a public school teacher with advanced training in early childhood development. She was recognized in the public system for her skill as a teacher and had exercised her gift with children in the church as well.

Speaking in the context of the church we noted the need of children to be recognized among the congregation – to be greeted and assured of a place – and their need to be protected. In today’s church, especially, well-planned systems of oversight must be put in place and followed.

But the comment that registered most deeply was that people who work in children’s ministries should be aware of the capacity of children under five years of age to learn.

Two-year-olds, she said, can be taught to sing a simple chorus. And three- and four-year-olds can take in well-told Bible stories. They can memorize short pieces of Scripture too.

Sunday school for the little ones can be much more than a nursery or a place for them to be entertained. To teach them Christian things at that age sets a good base for spiritual development later on and lays the groundwork for their personal response to the Gospel.

It is nearly 90 years since I was taken to my first Sunday school class. The few of us little ones were gathered around a dark oak sand table in the corner near the pulpit of the little church. The mirror facing upward in the sand became the Sea of Galilee. The teacher’s name was Elva Tisdale. She was loving and feeding Christ’s lambs.

Photo credit: Roger Davies (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is Our Greatest Need God’s Presence?

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 11:00

As recorded in the book of Exodus, God gave Moses the demanding task of leading two million or more Hebrew slaves from captivity in Egypt to God’s Promised Land.

His first task was to get the wicked Pharaoh to let them go. Moses exercised the power of God that softened Pharaoh’s will. He watched that same power save his people by the drowning of Pharaoh’s pursuing army in the Red Sea. God later provided water for his people in the arid desert.

After they escaped from Egypt, Moses then led the throng down the Sinai Peninsula to the base of Mount Sinai where they struck camp for a period of time. They were free. God had delivered them every step of the way.

During this time, Moses and his young assistant Joshua ascended for some time to the mountain heights, in order to receive the tablets of the law inscribed on stone by God’s hand. Moses’ brother Aaron was in charge of the camp below.

During this absence the people in the camp became restless. They rejected the authority of Moses and demanded that Aaron make gods for them that they could see.

From the gold jewelry the people turned over to him Aaron fashioned a golden calf. Soon a full-fledged pagan celebration was underway. That explained the wild shouting that Moses and Joshua heard as they descended the mountain.

The Lord was angry. His people had embraced idolatrous ways. He threatened to withdraw his Presence from the people of Israel for the long trek to the Promised Land.

In distress, Moses entered a period of deep engagement with God. In his intercessions, what would he ask for? A fresh release of the power that had overwhelmed Pharaoh? Or that provided water in the desert?

No, his intercessions were to ask God not to remove his Presence from his disobedient children. In the intimacy of the moment, Moses said: If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here (Exodus 33:15). God’s presence was precious to Moses.

The Lord relented and replied: I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name (Exodus 33:17). For Moses, God’s presence was also more precious than a release of his destructive power.

It was not God’s omnipresence that was at issue here (that God is everywhere at all times); it was his manifest presence (that the living God demonstrates his presence at specific times and in particular places).

For Isaiah God manifested his presence in the temple (Isaiah 6); for Saul of Tarsus it was on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). On the Day of Pentecost it was in the upper room (Acts 2:2).

Wherever it occurred it could awaken joy: In your presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). His presence supports even when fear attacks: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 23:4).

Recently our daughter-in-law, Jan, spent time in the hospital. She reported to us afterwards that she awoke in the middle of one night with a manifestation of the Presence: the words of a Fanny Crosby gospel song brought to her mind. It was the last line of the first stanza that assured her that she was in God’s care and his presence was with her. The words? For I know what’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.

Photo credit: kishjar? (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Is the God of Christianity “Three-In-One”?

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 11:00

The doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is three Persons in one Being – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This doctrine faces us with a measure of mystery.

The word Trinity (tri-unity) itself does not occur in the Bible but the teaching of the Trinity is founded upon a rich array of Holy Scripture and is, in fact, held as a benchmark of orthodoxy across the sweep of Christendom. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism along with all other major Protestant denominations hold Trinity to be revealed truth.

My purpose is to construct a simple overview of this doctrine, and to affirm that the mystery and reality of the Trinity can be experienced even when not fully understood.

We begin with the introductory sentence of the Shema of the Old Testament: Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deuteronomy 6:4).

God’s chosen people were to pray this prayer twice a day. It is in phase with the first Commandment: You shall have no other gods beside me (Exodus 20:3). The Lord God of Israel was One and unrivaled in the religions of pagan neighbors.

But if God is One, how then can Jesus also be God? And how can the Holy Spirit be God? For four centuries, the developing ancient church grappled with these questions.

At the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) the conflict was strong. It was the heresy of Arius (Jesus was great but not quite God) against the orthodoxy of Athanasius (Jesus was in every respect God). For the most part, orthodoxy won the day.

But not until the Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.) were the Godhood of Jesus and the Godhood of the Holy Spirit established in the doctrine of the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of the Trinity is well supported in the Scriptures. The introduction to the Gospel according to John, for example, gives strong grounding to the full deity of Jesus. He entitles him “the Word.”

When creation was formed, he writes, Jesus already “was.” He was not only with God; he was God. He was the agent of all creation, and he was the light who would give light to all humankind.

In the words of the Nicene Creed, he was “very God of very God”! But can the same be said of the Holy Spirit?

After Jesus ascended into Heaven and the Spirit was poured out with the sound of a mighty wind and the falling of what appeared to be tongues of fire, the newborn church moved forward in the supernatural energy given by the Spirit.

Although the phenomena of Pentecost (wind, fire, speaking in other languages) were powerful to the senses, the young church quickly learned that the Holy Spirit given in power that day was much more than a mere sensation or influence or feeling.

For example, Ananias and his wife Sapphira decided they would try a little deception on church leaders (Acts 5). The Apostle Peter saw through their deception. You have lied to the Holy Spirit, he said. The consequences were dire first for Ananias and then for Sapphira.

Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit? It was clear that the Holy Spirit who was given to guide the church was personal. One cannot lie to a feeling, nor to an idea. Lying and deception are what goes on between persons.

Throughout the Acts of the Apostles and on into the epistles, the Holy Spirit is regarded as a person (the third person of the Godhead) to indwell believers, illuminate and bring to life the Scriptures, and give divine guidance to the church. He teaches, guides, corrects, consoles.

So, how can we say God is one and at the same time three? One way to do so is as follows: God is one in being or essence or Godhead and at the same time three in persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

At Jesus’ baptism the Son was present, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16,17). Not three Gods but One, yet three persons.

The issue is to affirm the unity of God — “The LORD our God is one” – without confusing the Persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are distinct persons but united as one in the Godhead.

For a summary statement, note the first article of religion for the Free Methodist Church, of which I am a part: There is but one living and true God, the maker and preserver of all things. And in the unity of this Godhead there are three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three are one in eternity, deity and purpose; everlasting, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness.



Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is Jesus God?

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 11:00

Whether the answer to these three words is yes or no is hugely important. If we say yes, our answer is orthodox (widely held by the church universal to be true). If we say no, then the flow of church history judges us as heretical (that is, opposed to Christian teaching).

Recently Ligonier Ministries, a Reformed Christian organization, partnered with LifeWay Research to conduct a survey of what Americans believe, theologically.

The survey asked 3000 people a series of questions that included this one about whether Jesus is God. Of the 3000 people, 581, or 32%, were identified as evangelicals by a standard definition.

Here’s how the question referenced above was presented in the survey: “Either Jesus is God or Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. Which is it?”

Seventyeight percent of the evangelicals chose the latter of the two answers.

Christianity Today then asked 10 evangelical scholars to comment on the responses of these 581. All four were surprised, because 78% of evangelicals had supported what has been widely held for two thousand years of church history as an heretical view.

The struggle between the options can be traced as far back as the third and fourth centuries A.D., having been settled with the answer “Jesus is God” from that time to the present, 1700 years later.

In 325 A.D. the Emperor Constantine called church leaders to gather at Nicaea in what is today the country of Turkey. He was concerned that division on this question between different groups of Christians would be harmful to the Empire. It was an enormous gathering. Some say there were as many as 600 bishops in attendance.

For many years after the Council of Nicaea, with the divinity of Jesus upheld, the heresy that he was a created being continued to surface here and there. It is called Arianism after Arius, a scholar from Alexandria, Egypt. His was a strong voice in the debate. He argued that Jesus was like God but not really God; Jesus was exceedingly great but nevertheless a created being. His major opponent in the struggle was Athanasius, also from Alexandria. He argued that Jesus was in every respect God.

Arius lost at Nicaea but the heresy of Arianism went on broadly debated and the question was not fully resolved until a further church council was called to meet in Constantinople in 381 A.D.

At that council the issue was again resolved and the answer recognized as proceeding from Holy Scripture and the witness of the Apostles and other early church leaders. The affirmation that Jesus is God is also codified in statements of faith such as the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. All statements attempt to say what orthodox believers must hold to be true about Jesus, Son of God, our Lord and only Savior.

It is surprising that the question was not more quickly dealt with back then by referring to such passages as the introductory paragraph to John’s Gospel account. John says of Jesus, the Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

In John’s introduction he tells us that Jesus is the Eternal Word of God, that he existed before creation, that he is one with God and at the same time in his person distinct from God as a member of the Trinity. John also tells us that Jesus is the very agent of creation, and that he is the light that shines in the darkness of our fallen world for all humankind to see.

Yes! Jesus is God! And Jesus is Lord!

Photo credit: (Alberto G. via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Dealing with the Pride That Blinds

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 11:00

A neighbor may be proud of his vegetable garden, a mother of her son’s achievements, both giving thanks to God. Such expressions of human pride may be harmless pleasantries.

But there is a pride that displeases God and brings judgment. It is characterized by the human heart’s perverse inclination to compete with the Almighty, and in effect to be godlike.

Alan Richardson writes: “According to the Bible (and to classical Christian moral teaching) pride is the very root and essence of sin. Sinfulness consists essentially in the rebellious pride which attributes to itself the honor and glory that are due to God.” (A Theological Word Book of the Bible.)

To recognize this pride we start where the Bible starts. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). This opening sentence divides all existence into two distinct realities: the Creator and the created — God, who exists eternally and rules over all, and all else he has created to exist in time, utterly dependent upon his favor.

Adam and Eve were in the second category. They were his creatures, settled in the beautiful Garden of Eden with a large freedom in God’s creation, but with one restriction: they were forbidden to eat fruit from a certain tree. Eve’s conversation with the talking serpent, Satan, and Adam’s willing participation led the couple to yield to the Evil One’s enticement: Disobey your Creator, he pressed; eat of the forbidden fruit and “You will be like God.”

From then on the Old Testament shows that pride — this impulse to be God’s competitors and to make false gods that were more easily controlled — caused the repeated downfall of God’s chosen people. They rejected God; turned again and again to idols, and committed the sins their idolatry encouraged. This brought judgment leading eventually to exile in foreign lands.

For example in a time of great peril for Judah, under succeeding attacks from neighboring states, the prophet Isaiah said to wicked king Ahaz: Ask the Lord for a sign. In spite of the devastation, Ahaz would not humble himself before Almighty God. He replied, I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test (Isaiah 7:10-12). Although this left Judah wasted Ahaz was unyielding.

For us, pride may be found to exert itself hiddenly in a score of situations — in family conflicts, workplace tensions, human authority issues, self-preoccupation, congregational conflicts, even divisive theological differences, and these may each be traceable to a prideful reach by us to be on top, even godlike.

For Christians, this is the pride which, if not addressed at Christ’s cross often, will infect our effectiveness and diminish our service to the Kingdom. St. Paul knew this to be so. He wrote, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). In this way, Paul and other New Testament writers address the remnants of human pride in two ways — first in repeatedly calling our attention to the example of our Lord himself, and second, in exhorting all believers to seek humility.

Jesus, our Messiah, humbled himself. He was born in a cattle stall, of a young virgin, and a surrogate father, a carpenter. As a growing child he was obedient to these parents (Luke 2:51); although he was sinless, at the outset of his ministry he insisted on being baptized, taking the position of a sinner to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-17); he washed his disciples’ feet when the disciples appeared to place themselves above such a task (John 13:4-10); above it all he yielded himself to an excruciating crucifixion — for others (Matthew 27:32-50). And rightly he said of himself, I am meek and lowly in spirit (Matthew 11:29).

So with all this in mind, St. Peter wrote to Christians scattered by persecution: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand that he may lift you up in due time (1 Peter 5:6). To Jewish Christians, St. James quoted wisdom from the proverbs: God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6,10).

And St. Paul offered the young congregation at Philippi this exhortation: In your relationship with one another have this same mindset as Christ Jesus: And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by being obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6).

For Christians, in every part of our lives, pride is the sin that blinds and tends to open us to sinful attitudes and conduct. Pride must therefore be radically confronted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit awakens us to this reality we are moved to meditate on the example of our Lord, to repent and deepen our faith in Him, and to pray for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to make us victors over the pride that blinds.

Photo credit: (Michael via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: What Really Grows the Church?

Mon, 10/22/2018 - 11:00

I have believed for many years that the local church grows — when its growth is genuine — from the pulpit outward.

That does not mean that all a church needs is good preaching and the rest will take care of itself. A local church is a complex body and there are a score of other tasks that must be done to meet a basic standard for the church to increase both in spiritual depth and number.

Nor does it mean that the whole burden for the growth of a church is upon the pastors. The growing church must also have lay workers who share the spiritual burden for pastoral ministry and outreach with the pastor.

It does not even mean that preaching must be brilliant for the church to grow. As G. Campbell Morgan so clearly summarized, real preaching must meet only three basic criteria: it must be true, clear and anointed.

What it does mean is that the primary spiritual nourishment and guidance of the congregation flows from the pulpit to the people, their Bible study classes, family prayer times and evangelistic outreach. If the pulpit lacks authenticity in content, clarity or spiritual genuineness, even an increase in numbers of people will not equal genuine congregational growth.

We have all seen hummingbirds hover in air, wings blurring, while they sip from feeders filled with a red liquid — sugar and water with food coloring to attract them.   I’m told that if the mixture is instead made up of saccharin and water they will continue to come and feed with equal thirst but gradually will become weak and unable to fly. The taste of saccharin is sweet enough to fool them, but it lacks the calories to nourish.

In a similar way, what is delivered from the pulpit must not only appeal to the ear of listeners; it must nourish believers and challenge the unawakened. That is, it must speak the word of God to the deep need for soul-food that God puts in his people.

What can move pastors everywhere to come before their people with a well- formed word from the Lord? I know of nothing but obedience to the commands of the Scriptures, and the best place to seek such prompting is in the Pastoral Epistles — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These were first-century pastors who were assigned to oversee young congregations. And what did the Apostle Paul write to them?

“Command and teach these things” (1 Tim. 4:11). “…the overseer must be…able to teach (3:2)” “Until I come, devote yourself…to preaching and teaching. Do not neglect your gift” (4:13,14). “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (4:16).

Also in Paul’s second letter to Timothy he writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). And, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2:15). We take such exhortations as Spirit-inspired for us today.

We may fail on occasion to meet the scriptural standards of the pulpit, but God is merciful. If our commitments are clear he will forgive and keep our hearts warm to our calling. And he will help us keep the pastoral passion alive, enabling messages that are true, genuine, and delivered in the energy of the Spirit.

So, as a pastor long retired I encourage an oncoming generation of pastors to manage the stresses, pressures, and diverse responsibilities that are part of the pastoral task, and in it all and above all else, keep the passion of the pulpit alive.

Photo credit: Adam Selwood (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Picture on Our Dresser and the Memories It Awakens

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 11:00

On the dresser in our bedroom stands the only professional picture Kathleen and I have from our wedding 71 years ago this coming December 20. In this black and white photo, we stand before the photographer’s backdrop, Kathleen’s gloved hand firmly clasping my arm. Often, when I’m in the bedroom I pick the picture up and ponder it with gratitude and amazement.

Imagine: two 21-year-olds launching a lifetime enterprise on shoestring resources but strong in their love for each other and confident God would lead them. At that time, easy divorce, living together unmarried and same-sex marriage, had not yet complicated the matrimonial landscape.

Our special day was in no way lavish. If in color the picture would show Kathleen in a brown satin dress, half-calf in length, with a corsage of eight talisman roses. I wear a dark blue suit with a white boutonniere at the lapel.

The wedding was in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in the home of Muriel, Kathleen’s sister. For the simple ceremony we stood under an arch that Mel, my best man, had tacked together from lathe I purchased at the lumberyard. The arch was brightened by colored streamers.

The simple ceremony was followed by a chicken dinner for the twelve who were present. Afterwards there was some merriment and teasing over the whereabouts of our suitcases. We had hidden them the day before in a locker at the railroad station. (Kathleen’s younger sister coaxed my best man to deliver up our secret and the key.) After we retrieved our sabotaged luggage from the locker we started for Toronto.

The 70 miles to Toronto was to be followed by a two-day train ride to Saskatchewan where I would introduce my bride to my parents, my younger sister and my older brother and his wife.

Unknown to us, however, additional family — two older sisters, their husbands and children — had decided to make the trip from British Columbia by car to meet the bride. This created a housefull. The number almost overwhelmed Kathleen but after a few minutes of family decorum mingled with ill-concealed curiosity, warm welcomes and affirmations were extended.

Imagine: a “honeymoon” composed of a two-day train ride there and back, plus a bride’s first introduction to a family, and this all set in a week of bone-chilling winter weather. But Kathleen and I had each other; we were together in a thrilling new bond. The Bible says, we were “one flesh,” a new unit in society. As I gaze at the photograph the whole event comes flooding back.

It was universally thought back then that marriage would mean children and of that we were aware. But in those winter days that thought was remote because we were enthralled with our union pledged to be ours for keeps. That was as it should be.

Ten days before our first anniversary we welcomed our first child, Carolyn. Then in time came Donald and Robert and John David. During John David’s first year we learned bit by bit from a gentle pediatrician that our baby had serious brain damage, likely from oxygen deficiency during a long delivery. He would need institutional care.

There followed three stressful years for the family and especially for Kathleen whose motherly commitment to be sure John David got loving care was boundless to the point of exhaustion. Even feeding him three times a day was an ordeal. By his third birthday we surrendered him to the care of an institution suited to his needs, and we grieved.

Our other three children grew up and married. Then, in time, seven of their children grew up and six of them married. And by this coming spring, the grandchildren in turn will be at different stages of raising 12 great grandchildren.

Including children gained by marriage as well as by birth the two 21-year-olds pictured alone on our dresser will have become a small branch of humanity numbering 32 — three teachers, two editors, two engineers, two doctors, a pastor, a nurse practitioner, financial researcher, advertising clerk, financial consultant, nurse, artist, computer specialist, and social worker — each adding their own tone to the mix making family events colorful and pleasant.

I put this snapshot together hoping that it will come to the attention of some young man today who feels badgered by the pervasive anti-male and anti-marriage sentiments afloat in our culture. He may feel badgered even to the point of avoiding serious female companionship with a possible future in mind and in doing so he may be limiting the enrichment of his own destiny.

Consider a Christian perspective. Masculinity is much more than a social construct. It and fatherhood are gifts from God. As the Bible says, God created them “male and female.” We believe the gift is given to be directed, nourished and mastered and — if God wills — to be invested in a marriage and family filled with imagination and hope.

Photo credit: Ted Rabbitts (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: When Love Is Not Returned

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 11:00

Is there any pain that stings more sharply than the pain of unrequited love? Is there any emotional experience more gut-wrenching, relentless, and unrelieved? Even in the dark of a sleepless night hot tears flow. The impulse is to scream to muted walls. It is pain without relief.

Unrequited love is love that is due -– but withheld.

A mother devotes two decades to doing every selfless thing a mother’s heart is moved to do –- endure labor in giving birth, feed, bathe, launder soiled clothes, soothe fevered forehead, instruct, correct, teach life-lessons, and all this, year after year, right into young adulthood.

But the kind of reciprocal love all this should engender in the growing child either does not seem to form or quickly disappears. With the coming of adulthood, the relationship becomes merely formal, devoid of warmth, coldly proper. Mother-love goes unrequited.

Or, a wife serves her husband out of a great reservoir of covenanted love. She is there for him, tries within her limits to meet his needs, washes his clothes, makes his meals, even blesses him with children. But without explanation he walks out and she is left with a searing sense of loneliness and betrayal. Inexplicably, her heart continues to love him, but her love goes unrequited.

Pictures like these formed as Kathleen and I read from Micah 6 and 7 this morning. The Old Testament is in one sense the the story of unrequited love on a grand scale.

By miracles, the Lord had shown the ancestors of this people covenant love in times of severe hardship in the wilderness. And over and over again he had reminded them of his gracious blessings poured upon them. He shepherded, disciplined, comforted, protected -– all for loving reasons.

Then comes Micah 6 carrying that grand Old Testament declaration of what the Lord wanted: “He has showed you, O man, what is good./ And what does the Lord require of you?/ To act justly and to love mercy/ and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

But these were precisely Israel’s failures. She had not acted justly, cheating and extorting as opportunities presented themselves. She had not loved mercy, leaving poor neighbors to struggle in their destitution. And her people had long since ceased worshiping God in true humility of heart.

They had been reminded often, but this generation refused to remember. They were now settled long after wilderness wanderings and many had become wealthy. They should have remembered with reciprocal love, but they did not. Instead, they had gone their own way, leaving their Lord’s love unrequited.

The result of this neglectful amnesia was that the community of the Lord’s chosen had become a place of moral degeneration. Their society had lost almost all social cohesion (Micah 7: 4-6). Even blood relations were severed: “For a son dishonors his father,/ a daughter rises up against her mother … a man’s enemies are the members of his own household” (Micah 7:6).

This kind of social breakdown is still with us. I saw a woman weeping bitter tears after a church service. I approached her. “My three children have divorced me,” she said through her tears. Christmas was approaching but there would be no Christmas greetings or gifts for her, only a punishing silence, an experience of unrequited love.

Not many come as far as midlife without experiencing in some fashion this kind of unanswered love. It is devastating. How can it be endured? How do we stave off bitterness?

Our model is Jesus. “He came unto his own but his own people did not receive him” (Jn 1:11). Can we imagine his pain? After three years of faithful ministry to his disciples, it was said of them, “Then everyone deserted him and fled” (Mk 14:50). What was his response to such unrequited love? He committed his soul and its suffering to a loving and faithful father and carried on.

Photo credit: THOR (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Few Words From My Wife, Kathleen (By Invitation)

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 11:00

When I married Don, I knew that he was heading toward some form of ministry as a life vocation, but I didn’t know for sure the specific form it would take. I knew only that he was a ministerial student and would have several years of education to finish.

I also knew from the start that I should support him in whatever work he felt called to do. That was the way most wives felt back in the forties of the last century.

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

By then it was clear that the focus of his ministry was to be the pastorate. In fact, for his three years of seminary he was assigned to be pastor of the Free Methodist church in Lexington, nearby, and that’s 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 to free him to study, I made myself available to teach Sunday School and often entertained seminary students on Sundays so they could canvass the community in the afternoon with my husband.

When we went to our second church, the Free Methodist church in New Westminster, British Columbia, I discovered what standing by my pastor husband really meant. He led the church in a growth spurt that meant new prospects most every Sunday, new programs to meet the needs of a growing congregation, and lots of social entertaining 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. We had simple, inexpensive, but good tenting vacations together with the children. 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.” Television hadn’t yet arrived at our house.

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 such mutual service has enriched our nearly 71 years together. The latter of them since our retirement have been progressively less public but still committed to service as opportunities have come.

Recently, after going through a file of thank you notes gathered across the years, I felt grateful to God for the privilege of ministering in this way.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Using “Amen!” in the Practice of Our Faith

Mon, 09/24/2018 - 11:00

Jesus often introduced his eternal truths with the the Greek word for “Amen.” That may surprise you, because the word is buried in his frequent formula, “Verily, verily I say to you.” Or, as the NIV puts it, “Very truly.”

“Amen” is a word used to underline a certainty. Even today, you might notice this underlining effect when someone at the office says, “I’ll say Amen to that” — another way of saying, “Yes! I heartily agree!”

I write about this word because it is much-used in the Bible and I believe it deserves more exercise than we give it. At a time when Christian convictions seem to lack vigor, it is a word to be used resolutely.

There are 52 Amens in the Synoptic Gospels and 25 in the Gospel according to John. However, even when used as doubled (verily, verily … or truly, truly), the emphasis in the original is not clearly evident.

In John’s Gospel especially, Jesus uses “Amen, Amen” repeatedly to introduce the truths he spoke to his hearers. He wanted it to be understood that absolute truth was always his issue.

Amen is also used in the Old Testament. When the children of Israel were about to complete their long trek through the wilderness to the promised land Moses notified them of a twelve-part pledge they would be required to make when they were well into the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 27).

The 12 tribes would be given a series of evils they must avoid at all times and they were to reply in agreement to each prohibition with a hearty “Amen.”

For example, here is the first prohibition and the response:

Cursed is anyone who makes an idol — a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands — and sets it up in secret.

Then all the people shall say, “Amen.”

Amen is a word for pledging formally and emphatically. The people of Israel would be tempted to follow the strange, even grotesque Canaanite gods. Their Amen said thunderously and in unison was to be their pledge to reject the false gods around them and worship only Jehovah.

If by that time the numbers of Israel had reached two million, an affirming and resounding Amen would echo between the mountains. By the end, they would raise a solid Amen to affirm each of the 12 evils.

The advancing of secularism in our times sets before us also idols that are detestable and we too should pledge to resist them as the Israelites were called to do.

To respond, we should utter a robust Amen to the following: the Scriptures we read, the creeds we affirm, the hymns we sing, the sermons we hear, the prayers we offer. When we hear statements such as, I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, a limp okay — a kind of verbal nod — is not enough. The Apostles’ Creed deserves a hearty Amen in both heart and voice.

The Apostle Paul seizes the word Amen and connects it firmly with the Gospel of Christ. He writes to the Corinthians: For no matter how many promises God has made they are “yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Christ is the “Yes” to every promise God has ever made. Think of the reach of that certainty. Will we respond with a firm Amen, thus glorifying Christ through whom all grace is given? Amen and Amen!

Photo credit: Erich Ferdinand (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Tale of Two Houses

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 11:00

Here’s the story Jesus told about two houses (Matthew 7:15-21). As both the adopted son of a carpenter (Joseph) and one who was referred to as a carpenter in his own right, he knew about building (Mark 6:3).

Here’s the story as I imagine it.

There were two men each of whom decided to build a house. The first man had a sandy property a few hundred feet from a beautiful body of water. A little sweeping and leveling, he thought, and he could lay down heavy beams as a perimeter foundation and very shortly start framing up the house.

The second man saw his task as more complicated. His plot was similar, but he apparently didn’t trust the sand as a foundation. Instead he dug until he came to the rock below. That took several days but it gave a firmer grounding for his project.

By the time this man’s foundation was firmly anchored to the rock, the first man had his walls erected, roof installed, and windows and doors in place. He would be moving in, it appeared, while his neighbor was still working in the hot sun to frame up his walls.

Eventually both houses were completed. They were strikingly similar to all appearances. The extra digging done by the second builder may have been a waste of time. The sun was shining brightly on both.

As the season advanced, however, nature began to test both houses: heavy rains pelted the roofs, a blustery hurricane tore at the walls, and rising water softened and washed away the sand. The first house collapsed, while the second house remained firm.

This story concludes Jesus’ timeless Sermon on the Mount, which is sometimes called the Manifesto of the Kingdom of God — the kingdom he came to establish. As such we must ask what Jesus intended by the story.

First, consider a sampling of the orders he issues in this manifesto: his followers by their good deeds are to shine as lights in a fallen world’s darkness (7:14-16); they are to honor the sanctity of marriage by faithfulness even at high cost (5:17-32); to be private about their charitable giving to the needy (6:1-4); to practice simplicity when they pray (6:5-9); and, to beware of false prophets (7:15-21).

Consider now the issue raised by Jesus’ story of the two builders. What must one do to survive the storms of life? What’s this about digging down to the rock? Is the story a call to love the King of this kingdom? Strangely, it is not a call to love. Then, is the expected response to affirm in writing his teachings? Strangely it is not a call to affirm his teachings. It is not even a call to have faith in what he was saying though all three responses are vital in living life well.

The expectation Jesus himself identifies is this: Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (7:24). Our Lord’s call is a call for radical obedience. It’s the obedience a king has a right to expect from his subjects.

His point is that his followers who practice radical obedience to these teachings will have endurance to survive the worst storms of this life and find protection when facing the final judgment.

Photo credit: iRubén (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

We Can Become Wise and Avoid Folly

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 11:00

Whereas the Gospel points us toward the life to come, the Proverbs instruct us about the life we are now living. These sayings were addressed especially to young men who stood on the threshold of adulthood because success in this life matters to God. The sayings have 3000 years of history on them so they are time-tested.

The issue of wisdom for God’s people is so important that his holy word contains five books that are called wisdom literature plus numerous references elsewhere to wisdom for life in both Testaments. Most popular among the five books is the Proverbs, many of them attributed to King Solomon.

The collection of proverbs was not unique to Israel. Surrounding nations had proverbs too. But the Hebrew proverbs are different in that they are grounded in “the fear of the Lord.” We regard the Old Testament as divinely inspired so these proverbs are sacred scriptures for the church of all ages.

As such, we do not view the wisdom of the proverbs as merely man-made; through human agency they are given to those who fear God. To fear God means more than to respect God in a general sense or to be terrified of God in a time of crisis. John W. Wevers writes that fearing God “is a technical term for those who live a godly life.” Wisdom calls us to embrace godly living.

The Book of Proverbs begins with an urgent seven-verse entreaty that ends with the summary statement: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).

How can such pointed insights as are found in the Proverbs be made to stick? Not by lectures or lengthy exhortations or even drama.

A proverb is instead a short and memorable sentence to tell us something important about living the wise and ordered life and avoiding folly. They express simple truths in simple words. For example, practice makes perfect.

Our English language is rich in proverbs. Some we know well: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Actions speak louder than words. Beggars can’t be choosers. Birds of a feather flock together; and on and on.

Solomon’s proverbs are a bit different in that they are written in the form of Hebrew poetry in which a thought is presented and then repeated in different words that agree, or add to, or state a contrast, completing the thought. For example: The prospect of the righteous is joy, / but the hope of the wicked comes to nothing (Proverbs 10:28).

Solomon’s first proverb after his introductory entreaty is: Listen my son to your father’s instruction / and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. He adds, They are a garland to grace your head / and a chain to adorn your neck (Proverbs 1:8,9). In other words, listening to parents, with respect, will add beauty to your life.

If Solomon were alive in our conflicted and even chaotic society, he might start by saying: Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12). Even to the present there is a connection between domestic order in society and civic stability.

Solomon’s second proverb begins, My son, if sinful men entice you do not give in to them (Proverbs 1:10). Few decisions have greater bearing on a young person’s future than the companions chosen in the early years. This advice is so important that it is followed by a brief essay telling what entreaties to be aware of and the consequences of ignoring them (Proverbs 1:11-19).

A teenager I befriended half a century ago wrote to me from the penitentiary a few months back. I had been a father figure to him when his own father abandoned his  large family. David explained that his bad end had originated from bad choices and wrong companions with whom he went astray after his time in the armed forces. To all of us, wisdom says: Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm (Proverbs 13:20).

And so the 31 chapters of Proverbs move from one counsel to the next always in the form of a proverb: The Lord detests dishonest scales, / but accurate weights find favor with him (Proverbs 11:1). Or, Laziness brings on deep sleep, / and the shiftless go hungry. (Proverbs 19:15) Or, Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).

It is worth repeating that we treat these proverbs as God’s holy word. To the young of today living centuries after they were written, they continue to point the way to wisdom and to caution against folly. They say, Listen for I have trustworthy things to say; / I open my lips to speak what is right (Proverbs 8:6). To all of us they cry out: Seek wisdom and live.

Photo credit: Janes Gallerie (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

I’ve Had A Lot Of Experience With Alcohol In My Lifetime

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 11:00

What’s wrong with a glass of wine on Christmas Eve? I am never much impressed with that sort of question when posed as an argument in debating whether Christians should abstain from alcohol or be free to drink in moderation.

I know of course that Jesus made water into wine, and that Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake. I know also that the question of abstaining from alcohol is not by itself a salvation issue. And I know at the same time the profound damage alcohol can cause both young and old who are attempting to serve the Lord.

I know because I’ve had a lot of experience with alcohol in my lifetime. Here are only a few examples:

When I was assigned to pastor my first church, a parishioner suggested I visit a man named Guy. I was surprised to find him in bed trembling and hallucinating from delirium tremens as he struggled to arrest his heavy drinking. For me it was a startling introduction to see the distant end of the road he had entered with the likely intention to drink moderately.

Later, when our family arrived at our second church appointment, I learned that my predecessor’s twenty-something son was still in the city, but out of reach during his drinking  binges. We became friends and I learned that he was in his mid-teens when he plummeted swiftly into alcoholism.

I saw him only once after we moved away from that city. I was taking a course at the university 20 miles away and he took pains to look me up. He wanted me to know that finally the Salvation Army had helped him to shake the addiction. It was a gracious mercy but he later died in his thirties due to liver disease.

I remember a second young man, a believer and the elected song leader of the congregation, who had been introduced to alcohol while working on a road crew during his summer vacation from university. He was intellectually gifted, and a star basketball player. He became profoundly alcoholic within three months of his first drink.

I met this man again several years later. After a wrenching effort, he had finally won the battle over alcohol, received divine assistance, and was teaching Sunday School. I rejoiced with him, but was saddened that his mind and body had lingering damage from those misdirected years.

At a third church appointment I had close contact with two young people who were easy to love.  I grieve even yet as I mention them. She was a quiet teenager, intelligent and shy, but friendly when I gained her trust. One drink at a party had unexpectedly started her on a steep downward slide and she eventually died much too young, wasted by alcohol and alone.

The young man of these two was tall and slender with the bloom of youth upon him. He later joined the army and fought in Vietnam. Forty years yet later, I learned that he was doing life in the penitentiary. His sister, whom I did not initially know, connected us, prompting a good letter exchange with him. He reminded me that when his father abandoned the large family, I became as a father to him.

He confessed that he had made many bad choices in life. I didn’t ask him what his crime was but it was serious enough to bring down a life sentence, and alcohol was a foremost contributor to his condition. His sister wrote me not long ago that he had died but had renounced his bitterness against his father and had died in faith.

The needs these parishioners and many others presented were enormous. To add to my ministerial training I sought understanding from every source imaginable, the Alcoholism Foundation and the Salvation Army to name two. I preached the gospel regularly but I also brought an expert on the science of alcohol and alcoholism to speak to our young people. I remember one person asking him how might one know in advance who was particularly susceptible to alcoholism. The expert’s answer? “You can’t know; it’s Russian roulette.” Half a century later one of those erstwhile young people wrote me that the church’s ministry had prompted her and friends to live morally upright lives.

What has brought all of this back to my mind at age 92? For one thing, a worldwide study reported in Lancet dated Friday, March 24, 2018. It states the following: alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49. Alcohol was involved across the world in nearly one in ten deaths in 2016. That same year it was associated with 2.8 million deaths worldwide.

When I hear the argument for a glass of wine now and then I always hear it as disconnected from and perhaps even insensitive to a large segment of a world where alcohol damages and destroys by the thousands.

My doctor son, while doing emergency room service, commented to me that a remarkably high percentage of the profound trouble and social disorder he saw in inner city emergency rooms (violence, abuse, accidents, shootings, etc.) was related to alcohol, and that this stiffened his resolve not to drink. He later noted also that a shocking percentage of resources devoted to medical care revolve around alcohol.

My other son reminded me that across a career in publishing when alcohol seemed a part of every business luncheon he was sometimes asked why he didn’t drink. His simple answer, “I’ve taken a vow.” It was always enough with no further questions or comments and nothing taken from the pleasure of the occasion.

It didn’t seem enough to either son just to decide not to drink. They needed also to know how to navigate in situations where drinking seems to be expected.

In the light of all these memories, recent publications, and family experiences, I affirm the Bible’s wisdom when it says Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise (Proverbs 20:1). Other Christians may disagree, yet it seems to me a matter of wisdom to abstain — for oneself and as an example to family and friends of a serious and yes even Christian view of life.


Photo credit: Evan Wood (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is Purity of Heart Possible?

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 01:35

I went to the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Theater in downtown Vancouver because a number of churches of the region were sponsoring united services in an outreach campaign.

The audience probably had among it Baptists, Lutherans, Independents, Nazarenes, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Free Methodists and maybe several other Christian groups. But on that day a song seemed to bond us as one people.

Early in the service a man stepped to the stage, the pianist played a simple introduction, and in a rich baritone voice the man began to sing:

One thing I of the Lord desire
For all my paths have miry been,
Be it by water, or by fire,
O make me clean, O make me clean.

That was as many as 60 years ago. The song’s effect seemed to fall on the gathered body like an invisible mist. It was arresting in a spiritual way. We listened with awe.

I can think of several reasons why that simple song would register so deeply with a company of people from different communions who didn’t even know one another.

Mainly, because all Christians believe the song’s central message that God is pure.  God is presented as pure in both Old and New Testaments. Not so the gods of Israel’s neighbors — the Philistines to the west or the Moabites to the east. Their gods were vile and loathsome. At the same time, the prophet, Habakkuk, in that dark environment addressed Israel’s God saying, Your eyes are too pure to look on evil (Hab 1:13). The purity of our God is our heritage.

The Apostle John sees God’s purity even more clearly. He writes, This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). John had been with Jesus and in doing so had seen the glorious light.

And the Apostle Paul’s great salvation passage says we must believe with the heart in order to exercise saving faith (Romans 10:9,10). At every stage of our journey purity of the heart is a goal.

But the requirement for purity of heart does not end when faith first blossoms. We are challenged to engage continually. Paul exhorts believing Christians: Since we have these promises (to be made sons and daughters of God) Let us cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

There is much moral and spiritual darkness in our world despite the brilliance of our street lights and business districts. It is a darkness of the heart. Jesus is the light of the world and he assures us that only when our hearts are pure will we see God.

The need for inner purification is universal. One young man presented his need to me in street language: I need to be rid of this crud inside, he confessed.

Being cleansed of all darkness and wrongdoing is a glorious possibility. After nearly 60 years the soloist of long ago goes on singing in my memory, and I with him:

So wash me Thou, without, within
Or purge with fire, if that must be.
No matter how, if only sin
Die out in me, die out in me.

Photo credit: Jeff Hitchcock (via flickr.com)

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