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A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 2 weeks 1 day ago

No Helicopter Lifts to the Mountains of God

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 11:00

You’re in mountain country. You have little protection from squalls. Nights get cold and wild animals lurk.

Your guide points across a wide valley to a majestic range in the distance. “There,” he tells you,” the sun always shines; you breathe crystal-clear air; mountain gales do not batter; and wild beasts are unknown.

“Best of all,” he says, still pointing at the towering range, “one dwells there who is glorious beyond words, and he receives warmly those who respond humbly to him.”

You feel a sudden sense of longing while the image of a helicopter forms in your head. “I want to go,” you say.

No helicopter appears. Your guide beckons you to follow and he starts in the direction of the valley that must be crossed. The path descends, narrows and at points becomes difficult. At times it threads through a darkening canyon and the sense that predatory animals may be near chills the blood.

You feel like turning back but a moment later the path opens to a wider place, as it does by times. After a brief rest to catch your breath and with the encouragement of your guide you say, “Let’s go on.”

This is a story, of course. It pictures two of many experiences in the Christian life reflected in Romans 5:1-5. They are hope and hardship.

Hope is the expectation that someday we will be in “the land that is fairer than day,” as Sanford G. Bennett portrays it in his song, The Sweet By and By. There we shall see God face-to-face in his radiant presence! (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

In our mortality we can scarcely imagine the glory of God although across history there have been moments when he has drawn especially near. Moses returned from Sinai after being in the Presence and his countenance shone with God’s reflected glory. The tabernacle in the wilderness was marked by visible manifestations (Shekinah) of God’s presence. And the disciples experienced this too:  ‘We beheld his glory,” the Apostle John wrote.

All of this, and so much more, is the focus of the Christian hope. The majestic mountain range can only hint at God’s splendor.

Yet as marvelous as the hope of God’s glory is, there is a valley to cross and that  means hardship. There are no helicopter rides to the Mountain of God.

That’s why Paul speaks also of unpleasant times along the way. The King James Version uses the word tribulations to describe this reality. J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, trials and troubles. The Revised Standard Version reads, sufferings.

Whichever of these expressions we choose, none speaks of an experience we want, but each reflects an aspect of life every believer will have. Although life is also filled with times of great fulfillment and accomplishment, trials and troubles are a part of everyone’s experience in the valley of our mortality. They confront us all in the valley of our mortality.

Yet, the hope on our horizon makes the menacing shadows and storms of life endurable — even worthwhile. Note Paul’s progression of thought in Romans 5:3,4: Hardships produce endurance. That is, they develop grit as we learn to hold up under them. And, endurance produces character. Character is who we really are in intention and commitment. And character produces (more) hope.

To the new believer, hope may begin as little more than a doctrine. But the successful meeting of adversity nourishes it into a sustaining conviction. And even while still in the valley we may be granted fresh glimpses of the mountains of God, heightening our anticipation of seeing his glory as our journey progresses.

If the Christian life is an intertwining of hope and hardship shall we then resolve to bear this world’s suffering with resignation? Possibly, at times, but Paul has something even loftier in mind. Resignation is only one aspect of the Christian response. The other aspect is rejoicing.

“We rejoice in our hope,” the Apostle writes. The mountains are there; the valley must be crossed; the perils may be stark; but the Almighty God is bigger than them all.

The life of faith for Annie Johnson Flint was no helicopter ride to heaven. She lost both parents early in life and spent most of her years as an invalid. Yet she could write:

The danger that his love allows

Is safer than our fears may know,

The peril that his care permits

Is our defense wher’er we go.

 

Adapted from Along The Way

by Donald N Bastian

Photo credit: r chelseth (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: When the Church is Grounded in Truth

Mon, 07/23/2018 - 11:00

Kathleen and I read and discuss a chapter from the Scriptures together every morning. I wish you could have been with us for that exercise today.

The passage was Acts 6, telling how the young church resolved a social problem. The church at that time was made up of Jews, but some of them spoke Hebrew and others spoke Greek. Among both groups there were widows who were being supported by the benevolence of the church. But the Greek-speakers complained that their widows were being overlooked when the food was distributed.

The early church was a vigorous movement, not shackled with the complexities of today’s more institutionalized church. Nevertheless, they showed focus in the church’s primary duty — to proclaim — and administrative savvy — to respond — when an internal problem arose that needed addressing.

Here’s how the Apostles engaged the whole body of new Christians:

They themselves clearly held primary authority, but they did not rule autocratically. Instead they called the believers together to seek their assistance. This displayed a wonderful example of openness and shared responsibility.

First, the Apostles cast the problem in terms of right and wrong: “It would not be right for us,” they said, “to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.”

They asked the large body of believers to choose seven men who would be assigned to deal with this disturbing problem. They were to be men full of the Holy Spirit (foremost) and wisdom (God-anointed common sense).

The seven were consecrated by the laying on of hands and put to the task of caring for the apparent inequity among the widows. At the same time, the Apostles underlined that their own first priority was to “give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Proclamation and teaching must dominate.

How the young church went about this choosing is not known since the number of converts had swelled into the thousands. Interestingly, the seven who were chosen all have Greek names and they are likely Greek-speakers. Stephen, the first-named, stands out as “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”

Although set apart to serve in administrative ways, Stephen is singled out as a miracle worker and a strong proclaimer of the word. This got him into trouble. First, some members of a Greek-speaking synagogue began to argue with him, but they were no match for his wisdom and the energy of the Spirit he possessed.

So they went a step further and rounded up some false witnesses, plying them with lies. This stirred up the masses and irritated the city elders and teachers of the law. Stephen was dragged before the Sanhedrin – the most influential court of the Jews.

Fearlessly he spoke to this body, and his speech cost him his life. But as they stoned him a man named Saul of Tarsus was looking on.

Here’s what appears to stand out for us today. To be effective in our world, the church must be committed to the truth of the Gospel in all aspects of its life — in preaching, administration, facing of opposition, and seizing its opportunities.

The Apostles had a keen sense of their primary duty to preach the word of God, so they could speak about that duty in terms of right and wrong. Not better or worse. Not preferred or unsuitable. What they were to do was right and to neglect it would have been wrong.

There is the same sense of “oughtness” with regard to the needs of the Greek-speaking widows. The Apostles acknowledged the need, set the number at seven, and called the community to assist in the choices. It was done cleanly, openly. In reading the account one gets a sense of clarity and truth.

The issue of truth is critical today because truth — as the Scriptures see truth — is under attack. The Psalmist prays: “Surely you desire truth in the inward parts.” Jesus said, “I am the truth.” He also said repeatedly, “I tell you the truth.” John writes that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Apostle Paul encouraged the Galatian Christians to “speak the truth in love.” When we read the story of Stephen we feel like we’re reading about the embodiment of truth.

The relativism regarding truth is so wide-spread in our times that it makes it harder, sometimes even for Christians, to face many issues of life as either right or wrong. This episode from the functioning of the early church challenges us to give ourselves to God’s truth in the proclamation of his word and in the administration of his church.

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Photo credit: Jon Hurd (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Revised Re-post: How a Little Boy’s Cries for Justice Were Answered and Why

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 11:00

Imagine two brothers four and six. Their Uncle Carl gives them a bag of candies of all shapes and sizes.

They run excitedly to their mother for help in dividing their treasure.

She empties the bag on the kitchen table. The boys watch intently. Then toward each of them she slides one portion.

Suddenly the four-year-old lets out a mighty yelp. “That’s not fair!” he cries. He’s sure the older brother has more big pieces of candy than he. The older brother contends: “I’m older than you.”

The pleasure of the moment disappears. To settle claims and counterclaims the mother repeats the process. To them, she is the arbiter of fairness, and this time, the younger brother is satisfied.

Where would a four-year-old boy get such a distinct and insistent sense of fairness? He doesn’t even read yet.

Here’s the Christian answer: We humans are made in God’s image and fairness is inherent to the nature of God. The recurrent call for fairness is common to our humanity.

Speaking formally, when we call for fairness we are calling for justice. Justice means having a thorough review of details so as to give each party in a quarrel their dues.

Isaiah writes: For the Lord is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18,19). He is in his very nature just, and he is the source of all true justice.

Because we are made in God’s image, both the impulse to be fair and our strong expectation to be treated fairly are inborn in us. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones (Psalm 32:27-29)

In Old Testament times God sent prophets to his people to awaken them to their offenses. If, for example, the rich were cheating their neighbors in business deals and the poor were being impoverished at their hands, the prophets called them to repent before God and be just in their dealings.

Likewise, in New Testament times Jesus rebuked the Pharisees on this matter of fairness: You give a tenth of your spices – mint dill and cumin, he said, But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

He insisted that both their religious practices and their interpersonal behaviors be above board and just!

Children get their first lessons on justice in their childhood homes if what they count their own is respected there — whether a small toy or a special keepsake.

Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley, knew this. Among her rules in raising her large family, she insisted that no child be allowed to take the possessions of another, be it as little as a pin, without the owner’s permission. That’s how the experience of justice is awakened.

The mother who divided candy carefully between her two boys had an instinct for the importance of what she was doing; she was modeling to them the importance of fair play.

Fair play — justice — should also be practiced in the church — whether in a local congregation or a global denomination. Consider the application of justice in the early church, as recounted in the book Acts chapter 6:

In the early days of the church the Greek-speaking widows were not getting fair treatment in the distribution of relief for the poor. The Apostles did not brush the complaint off.

Rather, they wisely set apart seven men (with Greek names) to see that relief was distributed fairly. This ensured both fairness and the perception of fairness.

Blessed is that Christian body that conducts its business with meticulous attention to justice, honesty, and transparency.

When Uncle Carl gave two little boys a bag of candy, he didn’t know this would cause a disturbance; a four year-old boy set the stage by his unexpected urgent call for a recount; and his mother seized the opportunity to teach them a basic lesson about life.

Photo credit: James Cridland (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Kathleen First Experienced God’s Holiness

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 11:00

My wife was seven years old and known as Kathleen Swallow, when her father died from complications after surgery. This left her widowed mother with six children, the seventh two months from birth, and the now-destitute family on a mortgaged farm in the dustbowl of Saskatchewan. It was 1933.

Her mother’s unmarried brother, Uncle Ossie, an engineer on the New York Railroad, wrote that if she would bring the family to Niagara Falls, Ontario, he would move from across the river in New York State and provide a home for them.

So, after going through the hectic details of auctioning off the farm while caring for an infant and six other children, this forlorn mother and children boarded a train for Ontario.

On that long and tedious trip a United Church missionary on board befriended the family. She was also traveling to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and volunteered that when the family was settled she would make sure they got to church.

Church had played no great role in the Swallow family on the prairies although occasionally in their rural community farmers arranged for the use of a one-room schoolhouse in order to attempt a simple service – a reading from the Bible and a few thoughts about that Scripture given by one of the men.

The missionary kept her word. When the family had settled in the dwelling provided by Uncle Ossie she came and took the five oldest of the seven children to the St. Andrews United Church where she herself attended.

Kathleen describes the experience as follows: After Sunday School all five were gathered up and led to the sanctuary where they sat quietly side-by-side waiting as the congregation formed.

To them, the church was a place of wonder, the large and beautiful sanctuary a new experience, so they waited in expectation.

The organist played softly as the congregation gathered. Worshipers entered and sat without conversation, waiting for the choir to appear in the the chancel.

The robed choir processed in and remained standing in the choir loft. The minister then entered, going directly to the central pulpit. Then the organ swelled, the congregation stood, and choir and congregation sang together,

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.

She recalls that the service always followed this same sequence. And her response, she remembers, was the same each time -– she, by that time an eight-year-old — was awestruck and reverent as she was aware of God’s holy presence.

Kathleen recounted all of this to me one morning recently after breakfast when we read Psalm 99 together. That psalm brought back to her the never-to-be-forgotten sense of holy awe she felt at eight years of age in that Niagara Falls church.

Psalm 99 is about the kingship of God. He is king over all the earth so let the nations tremble, the psalmist proclaims (verse 1). Also, He extols, the king is mighty and he loves justice, (verse 4).

But what caught Kathleen’s and my attention as we read that morning was that amidst these elevated affirmations about God, the great king, the psalmist proclaims one particular attribute of our God and then repeats himself twice.

Of God, the eternal king, he declares: he is holy (verses 3, 5 and 9).

The word for holy or holiness occurs more than 830 times in the Old Testament. At core it means to be separate, or set apart. Applied to God, it signifies that he is separate from and transcendent over all his creation. To reflect this, some speak of the “otherness” of God.

Holiness is God’s quintessential attribute. He is all-knowing and merciful and all-powerful, for sure, but undergirding all God’s other attributes is his holiness.

When the Niagara Falls congregation sang, Holy, holy, Holy. Lord God Almighty the holiness of our God is what the hymn invoked in an eight year old. And that is what the eight year old experienced — though in an elementary way — but cannot forget 85 years later.

Photo credit: David (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Christian Meditation Makes For Healthy Christian Living

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 11:00

Say to someone, “A penny for your thoughts” and that person may surprise you with a flow of content being pondered even as you speak.

Our minds are never blank. They are either thinking, pondering, worrying, rehearsing, plotting, or aimlessly drifting. Our minds host a rapid flow of thoughts and sensations we are not always aware of.

Imagine your mind as a television set left to play all day long. During the day your inner set may drift from your upcoming doctor’s appointment, to your problem with a stubborn child, to getting the car serviced, to an argument with a fellow employee.

As for the TV you suddenly remember that the “remote” is within your reach. This analogy between TV and our minds can point out to Christians that what is in our heads is sometimes good, sometimes not so good, and always there because we allow it.

For example:  One man in love may rehearse in his mind every detail of an intended  proposal for marriage while someone across town may be strategizing every detail of a bank robbery. For both, all begins in the mind.

J.I. Packer, in calling for our disciplined use of the Christian mind, signals us to engage more in meditation. He says meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of Christian truth.

The ingredients for meditation can be diverse: Portions from the Gospel accounts are always at hand. Or one may call up the rich lines of a favorite hymn, or a timeless psalm like Psalms 23 or 91, or the central point of a recent sermon.

Consider the testimony of an elderly man in Scotland. On Sunday mornings he walked the most direct route to church but after service he took the longest way home because he wanted to be alone to meditate on the sermon he had just heard.

Or consider the example of Jesus. Nowhere does the Gospel say he meditated as a separate aspect of his communion with the Father, but it is clear that his mind was actively attuned to the Father even when the devil was tempting him to take shortcuts to the fulfilling of his life’s mission (Matthew 4:1-11).

It’s a Christian practice. The Psalms call us to meditate at least 11 times. For example, the very first Psalm describes the person who is blessed of God as follows:

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. “The law of the Lord”; there’s a cue for the content of our self-directed thinking. That divine law tells us what God is like and what he wants of us. We are to meditate by turning the truth of his law over in our minds, saying it to ourselves, rehearsing it, for example, either in the quietness of our room first thing in the morning or on the way to school or work.

The Bible gives us other rich resources. The Apostle Paul wrote the Philippian Christians a broad menu for meditation that could serve our purposes well. He wrote, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

Excellent or praiseworthy! This is an exhortation to set the standards of our thought life intentionally. Here the Apostle Paul gives us a bead on abundant material for the life of the Christian mind. If we take his cue seriously we will enrich both our minds and in doing so, our relationships too.

Photo credit: Thomas Leuthard (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Life’s Greatest Disappointment

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 11:00

Imagine that an extended family has planned a Caribbean cruise. They have looked at brochures and talked animatedly for months about ports on their itinerary. There are 31 people involved. Even the younger children have caught the excitement.

The family gathers at the port in Tampa two hours before the ship is set to sail. Imagine that one grandson is coming separately by air and his flight has been delayed. When he arrives everyone has boarded without incident and family members are either settling in their quarters or watching with concern for his arrival from the rail high on the ship.

He is the last of the family to arrive and present his papers to the boarding officer. After some searching and head scratching, the official notifies the grandson that his name is not on the manifest and there are no spare accommodations because the ship is completely booked.

Word of his plight is sent to the family on board. The ship is about to move. Disconsolately, the grandson watches this majestic ship slip its moorings and glide quietly into deeper waters. Soon the family members are little more than dots at the rails and he stands alone at the vacant quay.

It’s hard to imagine a deeper disappointment: large dreams shattered in a moment of time; cavernous loneliness suddenly collecting. But that separation would be temporary. Rationality would tell those on board and the one left behind that in time the ship will return to dock and the family will be together again.

It’s just a story. Life’s disappointments come in all shapes and sizes. We usually recover from them. But there’s one disappointment we are warned of that cannot be matched for seriousness. Jesus spoke of it in graphic language.

In his own words he said: Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in  your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers!’ (Matthew 7: 21-23).

The kingdom of heaven stands for God’s unchallenged Domain, both here and hereafter. Jesus is its Lord. The kingdom is where Jesus is. The persons in our Lord’s illustration entreat for entrance, professing that they have done all sorts of wonderful things in his name — they’ve prophesied, performed miracles, driven out demons. But their names are nevertheless not on the manifest of heaven.

What have they missed? Why is their entrance not scheduled and why instead are they turned away? Their deficiency is clear: They have never surrendered to God the Father in utter and complete obedience. That’s where kingdom entrance begins and in spite of all their wondrous miracles their hearts are not yielded. Jesus says they are without the key to this kingdom. Such a moment can turn out to be life’s greatest disappointment.

In our preoccupation with the dazzlements of this life we risk ignoring preparations for the world to come with its two vastly different destinations — the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, Heaven and Hell.

Jesus speaks of life’s greatest disappointment when he utters his warning. It’s not a disappointment over a missed family cruise on the Caribbean that he has in mind.

But he refers to a possible eternal disappointment arising from neglect of membership in his kingdom. That membership comes from yielding our wills to the Father’s will and from following his Son with a whole heart. It involves avoiding Adam’s mistake — a colossal refusal to obey.

So, whenever we want to do a check-up on the reality of our faith we start with the question: Am I living in obedience to the Father’s will? Is that yieldedness a settled issue of the heart?

Photo credit: Sid Mosdell (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Reflections on Fatherhood

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 13:00

On Father’s Day, June 21, 2009, I preached at Wesley Chapel in Toronto. In the sermon I included a tribute to my father as follows:

It is now 42 years since my father died, but I still think of him every day. Sometimes when I’m shaving, I see a likeness to him in the mirror. Or in the flow of the day I’m reminded of some ways in which I’m like him by temperament.

What a potent force fatherhood is if a father’s influence can remain active in a son’s memory and make-up for nearly half a century after his death!

My father was a small man, 5’4” tall and no more than 125 pounds even into his old age. But he was every bit a man, physically strong, agile, and one who faced life as a warrior.

He was not refined or cultured and for good reasons. At 13 years of age back in Lancashire, England, his father took him into the coal mines to mine coal. Imagine, at that age having to get up early, walk a great distance above ground to the mine entrance, and then walk a further distance under ground to the active section of the mine, there to put in a full day’s work. In the winter months he saw daylight only on Sundays.

He didn’t fare much better in formal schooling. At five years of age he was sent to school, but after six weeks he contracted scarlet fever and was taken out. He was never sent back. The family does not know how he was taught to read and write but I remember that he could write an adequate letter with no more misspellings than an average high school student’s, and he was an avid reader of the editorial section of the daily paper — in spite of his educational deprivations.

In the first decade of the Twentieth Century he brought his young bride, my mother, to the sparsely settled prairies of southeastern Saskatchewan. He started work there as a coal miner in a place called Roche Percy, Saskatchewan, because coal mining was all he knew.

He soon had a government-awarded homestead three miles south of Estevan and began market gardening. Then, while continuing that, he also sold Watkins Products in the area and, as a third job, continued to take coal from a mine in the side of the hill on his property. He eventually built a small bakery in Estevan which later, under the management of my older brother, Wilfrid, became a Red and White grocery store on the main street, owned by my father. Later still he established a second-hand furniture store—what was then called a furniture exchange.

He obviously was ambitious and entrepreneurial and I think he passed a portion of those traits on to me. He also worked very hard right to the end of his life and I think I gained from his example. Most importantly, although he was not an active believer until late in his life, he went to church regularly with the family. This reflected a value he held and it was because of that value I was kept under the influence of the gospel while I was growing up. To this day I am a beneficiary of his decisions.

My father was obviously limited in certain ways because of the poverty and dearth of social niceties in his upbringing. But he also had admirable natural qualities that were God-given, and from those I have gained immeasurably. I know that what he had he gave me without reservation and for that I salute his memory.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

What Asaph Learned When He Went to Church

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 11:00

Asaph was a true worshiper of Israel’s God. He was likely a singer in the ancient temple and 12 psalms in the Psalter are attributed to him.

Once, in a creative moment he began writing as follows: Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart (Psalm 73:1). Call that his topic sentence.

But, in spite of this noble burst of faith, he has a problem that nearly sweeps him off his feet. He is envious over the successes of the wicked, and the wicked appeared to him to be everywhere.

They have no struggles, their bodies are healthy and strong (verse 4). (Yet) they are violent and prideful (verse 6); malicious (verse 8). And, in spite of it all, he says, They scoff and speak with malice (verse 8).

He says: They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by common ills (verse 5).

Add that Asaph’s own condition seems quite opposite to theirs. He says: Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued, I have been punished every morning (verse 13).

He complains of pain he has to endure every morning (verse 14). Was he suffering the aches and pains of the aged?

Suddenly the light goes on. When I tried to understand all this, he writes, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny (verses 16, 17).

We might say, Asaph went to church. It was where the law of God was read, psalms were sung, where God made himself known to the hearts of worshipers. Good things can happen when the tempted go to church.

There, in the light of the eternal he saw how unstable the life of the wicked really is, even when it seems indestructible. Surely you place them on slippery ground, you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! (verse 18).

It is not that God is presented as vengeful or vindictive; rather it is that any chosen style of life is judged by its end. Wickedness has consequences, not always at the moment, but sooner or later.

Truth about the nature of life is revealed in worship. And with it often comes insight. Here, Asaph acknowledges his folly: When my heart was grieved / and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Call it not only insight but also repentance — a drastic change of mind.

He can find peace of mind and an action plan now: Those who are far from you will perish, you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. / But as for me, it is good to be near God. / I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge; / I will tell of all your deeds (verses 27, 28).

And his destructive envy evaporates. It is cleansed. He is free to renew the joy of his faith: But as for me, it is good to be near God. / I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds (verse 26).

Photo credit: eflon (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: How to Keep Focus When Praying

Mon, 06/04/2018 - 11:00

When you pray, do recent conversations intrude, insisting on being reviewed?  When you attempt to commune with God are you distracted by duties that demand attention?

Wandering thoughts – how exasperating! Most praying people are at times distracted by them.

And, because of the intense nature of modern life, we seem to function in a super-saturated environment with too much happening all the time.  Not to mention that the secularism of our times may seem to push God further to the margins of life.

Against all of this, we remember, however, that prayer is one of the most important things we can do with our time.

That is why I suggest you use the five elements of well-rounded prayer to help you remain focused.

ADORATION. Jesus said when you pray say, Our Father … Repeat until the vision is clear — Our Father; In other words, don’t rush into the heart of prayer. In adoration, we come before God with a keen sense of his majesty, his holiness, his infinite greatness – and his fatherly love.

Take a lesson from sacred history. The Virgin Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord/ and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” What a way to start a prayer.

We may say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” Or, “Hallowed be thy name.” Adoration gives us time to focus on God Himself.

CONFESSION. In a collection of prayers John Wesley published before he was 30 years of age he gave this helpful pattern for confession: “Heal, O Father of mercies, all my infirmities (_____), strengthen me against all my follies (_____), forgive me all my sins (_____).

Wesley left the blanks so that anyone using this prayer could personalize it.

Prayer should always have a place for self-examination, but examination must be made with full confidence in God’s forgiving and sustaining mercy.

PETITION. In petition we bring personal needs before our Father. This may develop naturally out of our confession. The Apostle John spoke to Christians when he said, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Our prayers of petition may naturally follow the confession of our infirmities, follies, or sins. Or they may arise out of daily needs, however large or small. George Buttrick wrote, “No situation remains the same when prayer is made about it.” But don’t let prayers bog down in petition.

INTERCESSION. This means “a coming between” or “to pray on behalf of others.” Intercession can be wide-ranging, including family, friends, enemies, associates, neighbors, church ministries, civic leaders. To intercede means we care beyond ourselves.

The efficacy of intercession is one of the profoundest mysteries of the spiritual life. God’s response to our prayers are sometimes nearly out of sight and sometimes can be perceived and understood only much later. Or, answers on occasion may be immediate and startlingly obvious.

Intercession saves our prayers from becoming merely “want” lists.

James Hastings wrote, “It would not be unfair to estimate a person’s religion by the earnestness by which he longs for the welfare of others.”

THANKSGIVING. This matches our beginning with adoration. That is, in adoration, we worship God for who he is; in thanksgiving we praise him for all his blessings.

Sometimes our prayers break forth in a burst of thanksgiving and, when they do it is good to let our spirits soar.

In our daily prayers we remember the smallest mercies, and give thanks. We recall the most incredible blessings, and give thanks. We give thanks especially for the gift of redemption through Jesus Christ — the greatest blessing of all — our salvation!

Our prayers, once ordered, may both begin and end, lingering at the cross of our Lord.

Photo credit: Steve Evans (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Do Adults Sometimes Get Stuck in Early Childhood?

Mon, 05/28/2018 - 11:00

Yesterday, a 30-year-old man, large and sturdy of build, bearded and with a shock of dark hair falling to his shoulders, was featured several times on TV News sources.

On one channel, he was with his parents, on another sitting on a recliner in the basement apartment of their home, and on yet another he appeared in a courtroom to receive  a ruling from a judge.

The issue was this: his parents wanted him to move out of their basement and get his own apartment, but they couldn’t dislodge him. Earlier he had lived away from them for more than a year-and-a-half, during which time he fathered a child. He had come back home to live, having been denied custody of the child.

His parents offered him $1100 to help him relocate and settle but he refused the offer.

As a last resort, the parents were asking for help from the law. The judge, while allowing a reasonable amount of time to make arrangements, ordered him: Move out!

I hold the dynamic view of human development — that life has stages. Nature itself decrees that each normal person must move through these stages. We are newborns, then infants, toddlers, and so forth, all the way to old age.  We develop in each stage for a time, and then must develop forward to the next. No stage is a stopping place.

And when we reach adulthood, as mature sailors on the sea of life we must pull our own oars even when it would be easier to lay back and depend on someone else’s energies. Taking responsibility for oneself is required in order to have meaning and joy in adulthood.

On yesterday’s television there was no obvious evidence of animosity between parents and son. In fact, one commentator spoke of the son’s love for his mother though it was not evident in the story. But one-sided conflict did appear evident in the man’s refusal to move out at her request.

It makes me reflect on Kathleen’s and my parental involvement at varying levels with three generations numbering 21 offspring. First it was four children, then seven grandchildren and now ten great-grandchildren.

Before they can talk or walk, little ones show on their faces and by their responses their typical reactions to people and their likes and dislikes. And if observed carefully from infancy onward, it has appeared to me that those traits tend to carry over to some degree when they arrive in adulthood.

Examples: One child has a sunny disposition from the start and this remains his or her nature growing up; another is unusually shy around all but close relatives. He or she learns excellent social skills yet remains an introvert.

One child is full of self-confidence; another takes considerable encouragement to embrace new challenges. One tends to be somewhat “contrary;” another is easier to convince to go along.

Whatever their other traits, they all seem to share to one degree or another the ability to manipulate, to deceive, even that nasty impulse to punish parents when their wishes are denied.

Likewise, they all, at a minimum, have flashes of warmth and generosity toward parents. In a word, their range of responses is wide. If development by the time of their arrival at young adulthood is as hoped, their loyalty to family should be firm.

These diverse elements seen in every child are manifestations of both the image of God in them, and the damage of the Fall of mankind.

Good parenting includes helping children to recognize and express their image-of-God traits but at the same time to recognize, acknowledge and restrain their traits bequeathed by the Fall.

Noting and coaching on the latter is sometimes quite neglected or overlooked — with consequences. God’s grace, however, when acknowledged and asked for, can harness good traits and mitigate the damage of the Fall.

One might guess that the apparent narcissism manifested by the thirty-year-old bearded man might have been in evidence early in childhood and through the teen years but was not adequately confronted by community and family, and worked with. Or that narcissism may have been so resistant that all efforts made to teach him to give others in his company their dignity had failed.

As for our growing family of 21 offspring, from infancy onward we have not only wanted them to be honest, respectful, obedient, and accountable. Even more, we wanted them all to know Christ as we have known him. We pray to this end every day.

None of this simply happens. Quality of character must be trained into children, and of course they must be introduced to the Lord Jesus and reminded of his call on their life to salvation and discipleship.

Let’s hope the thirty-year-old man being interviewed on television makes the move to his own apartment uneventfully and learns even yet how to work and otherwise navigate the rapids of life while giving others their dues — all as a mature adult.

Hope springs eternal and a loving God wants all humans to move through the seasons of life and in doing so properly to love themselves, and also to love others and contribute to their wellbeing.

On the horizontal plane it would appear this young man’s first step in that breakthrough might be a proper love and respect for his parents.



Photo credit: Martyn Fletcher (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Are We in an “Epidemic of Untruthfulness”?

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 11:00

In a commencement address at Rice University in Texas on May 8, 2018, the former NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, told a graduating class that his nation is experiencing an “epidemic of untruthfulness.” He characterized what is happening in Washington and the countless evasions as “an endless barrage of lies.”

He reminded the graduates that they signed an honesty code when they enrolled in Rice University and had affirmed that code many times since. His concern was that they take the code with them into the workaday world.

He was concerned with good reason. When the moral standards of society sag, truthfulness sags too. It was in such a perilous time that the prophet Isaiah said to Judah, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20). His warning was that the nation’s moral compass was damaged.

Honesty is not required just randomly here and there, from time to time. Whatever our function in society, whether we are parents, administrators, salesmen, teachers, or ministers, the call for honesty confronts us daily. Honesty is a critical requirement woven into the warp and woof of human existence.

If a secular voice like Mayor Bloomberg’s acknowledges the low state of honesty in society and calls for an upgrade should the issue not be of special concern to Christians?

After all, we are followers of Jesus who is the embodiment of truth. Again and again he introduced his sayings with the declaration, “I tell you the truth.” He both was, and he spoke truth. Furthermore, our Scriptures call us incessantly to the practice of truth. Paul exhorts, You must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to (your) neighbor (Ephesians 4:25).

Truth is not always spoken in the same tone. It is sometimes spoken gently, as in the reporting of a death; sometimes firmly when checking a lad’s homework; and sometimes painfully when speaking of a child’s waywardness. But truth must be spoken. Untruthfulness breaks God’s law and eventually exacts its toll.

Moreover, the concept of truthfulness does not exist in isolation. A host of related words bring home to us both the force and the reach of this word — words like integrity, virtue, reliability, righteousness, uprightness.

Even if we are not dispensers of what Mayor Bloomberg called “an endless barrage of lies” there are many ways we might fall short of truthfulness — by remaining silent when we should speak up, by spinning half truths, by exaggerating for effect, by omission of nuance. We speak glibly of white lies and polite lies and evasive lies but in using them we play with fire.

Who of us will ponder deeply our truthfulness and the above companion words and with unblinking confidence say, “In every situation, that’s me”? Only when we commit ourselves seriously to truthfulness do we learn how difficult it is always to tell the truth. Even when we tell the truth we do so by the grace of God.

Mayor Bloomberg made a sorely needed point: we are living in times when honesty is not cherished and dishonesty is easily excused. The Scriptures alert us to this even among believers when they say, Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Proverbs 12:22)

I offer this further comment to the mayor’s excellent address: one can be committed to truthfulness without being Christian, but one cannot be Christian without cherishing truthfulness. The psalmist prayed, Lead me in your truth and teach me. (Psalm 25:5)



Photo credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies, Public Domain (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

What to Do When We Feel Under Assault

Mon, 05/14/2018 - 11:00

In Psalm 42 a psalmist describes what it feels like to be robbed of the sense that God loves him.

This psalmist is running for his life. He captures in a word picture what that feels like: Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole soul craves you, God” (Psalm 42:1 Common English Bible).

A deer, after a long run to escape a mortal threat, and with flanks heaving, must above all find water. Only a person fleeing from peril and hiding in the wilds of nature, would come up with this analogy for his plight.

We can guess that King David wrote the psalm when his own son, Absalom, was driving him out of his palace in Jerusalem with murderous intent. Or was it from much earlier in David’s life when he was running from King Saul?

Whichever it was, it addresses the question: how do we talk to ourselves when life visits upon us such a swarm of perils? What if we felt deprived of the sense of God’s presence, isolated from our worshipping community, and wordlessly taunted by wrongdoers who might exult to know of our distress?

If a similar plight should burst upon us, this psalmist can help us regain perspective. The psalmist’s first strategy is to call up memory as an aid: These things I remember as I pour out my soul (verse 4)

That is, he reminds himself: I recall that in better days I went to the tabernacle where there were throngs of God’s people. I led the procession. I participated in the shouts of joy and thanksgiving. What memories! (Psalm 42:4).

The memories give his faith a momentary boost and he says to himself: Don’t be downcast; hope in God. He is my Savior and my God. In his time, again I will worship at the tabernacle as I long to do (Verse 5).

When he says I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, from the heights of Hermon — from Mount Mizar (verse 6), we can imagine that he may be at the northern part of Israel, with Mount Herman nearby.  Even though so far from his worshipping community, he acknowledges that the omnipresent God is even there. How steadying to his faith!

But it does not remove the turbulence he feels. He still feels its buffeting effects, remarking that, just as they break at the base of thundering waterfalls, waves and breakers have swept over me (verse 7b)

Yet his faith again bursts forth momentarily and he sings: By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life (verse 8). In those special times when faith is a struggle of the soul, for us too there can be a surging back and forth between hope and dejection.

Just as he feels the back-and-forth of his feelings, so to the end of this psalm his question persists: I say to God my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?’ (Verse 9). And yet again he addresses himself, Why are you downcast , O my soul? (verse 11).

But this backwards-and-forwards can’t go on forever in believers. So he brings his psalm to a close by exhorting himself to trust even though at the moment he can’t understand God’s ways: Put your hope in God, he prompts, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

In the life of authentic faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whatever the situation today, and whatever surprises may come tomorrow, we have David’s example. For us as well, authentic faith prompts us to say — whatever our feelings of the moment — “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him (Verse 11).



Photo credit: Jereme Rauckman (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Reflections on God’s Marvelous City

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 11:00

The following is a refreshed version of a piece I published in October 2009.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2 RSV).

The holy city referred to here is neither gleaming office towers nor decayed inner city. It doesn’t belong to the ancient world buried beneath sand dunes or to the modern world often clouded by the haze of pollution.

It isn’t marked by human genius nor scarred by human depravity. Its splendor owes nothing to man; it is The City of God.

Humans, wherever they have gone, have organized into communities. Their building and organizational skills have come to a peak in the building of modern cities.

Ancient Petra and Babylon, and modern San Francisco, Toronto, London, Atlanta — these highly developed communities proclaim across history the genius of their creators.

Yet ancient cities have fallen one-by-one, sacked by enemies, corrupted by inhabitants, or emptied by the vagaries of history. It is possible the same will happen to modern cities.

The Bible has a complex or complicated attitude toward cities. Jesus loved Jerusalem and also wept over it in great tenderness, then pronounced destruction upon it.

It was his city, the place of the patriarchs and prophets, and it had known great moments. But it was known as well for its stoning of the prophets.

Then this city that God had uniquely honoured, Jerusalem, had demonstrated the peak of human pride in rejecting his Son.

While the Bible begins its story of man in a garden, it ends in a city, “the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2).

The vision of this special holy city, given to John on the Isle of Patmos, is rapturous, and the Book of Revelation speaks of its splendor.

This last book of the Bible communicates in what some have called cartoon language. For example, in our times a cartoonist, to represent tensions between Russia and China, might simply sketch out a picture of a bear being threatened by a red dragon.

The Book of Revelation is filled with verbal pictures – four-headed beasts, angels with vials, and cities like the New Jerusalem.

The message we are intended to get is that in his time, God will provide the perfect community for those who belong to him. Paul calls it “the Jerusalem which is above” (Gal. 4:26), and “our commonwealth . . . in heaven” (Php. 3:20) RSV).

It is the city toward which Abraham was ultimately heading, “the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10 NEB). It represents the eternal dwelling place of God and His people.

Today, many cities of man are under a cloud, if not a cloud heavy with sulphur dioxide as in some cases, then a threatening cloud from a dirty bomb or even the death of throngs by a murderous truck driver.

To many “lost” people it’s a place of physical decay and human despair, or even a kind of hell without flames. Yet, many leaders keep a proud silence about God and grope only on the horizontal plane for solutions to their troubles.

Even so, Christ wept over a city ruled by such attitudes, and he healed people in its dirty streets. Will he do less for God’s people?  And they, in turn for others?

Everywhere there are needs that compassionate Christians can meet, despair they can work to relieve, boredom they can help to replace with meaning. In many decaying cities, small corps of Christians help relieve such problems.

But, here’s the paradox. Christians serve best with compassion in the city of man when we are convinced at every level of our beings that our true destination is the New Jerusalem, the eternal city of God.



Categories: Churchie Feeds

Reflections on the Funeral for Barbara Bush

Mon, 04/30/2018 - 11:00

The funeral for Barbara Bush was held on April 21st of this year in Houston, Texas. Wife for 73 years to George H. W. Bush, a former president of The United States, Mrs. Bush died at 92 years of age.

Days later I located the funeral service on the Internet and watched it throughout in my study here in Canada. Fifteen hundred by-invitation-only worshipers packed the sanctuary of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.

Only a day or so before her death Mrs. Bush had decided there were to be no more ambulance rides to the hospital. She was 92 and said, I’m not afraid of death, adding, I know there’s a great God who will care for me.

The sanctuary of St. Martins appeared simple and beautiful; the tones of the pipe organ were mellow; the choir richly resonant; and the ordained personnel wore white clerical robes.

The Episcopalian liturgy was more fully prescribed than I am used to but that is partly a matter of training and taste.

I was interested in the content of the service — what was said and sung — because in the last fifty years funerals have changed fundamentally on this continent. Thomas G. Long writes about this change in his highly researched book: Accompany Them With Singing —The Christian Funeral. 

These days, the words “funeral service” are less often used than in the past. Now, the event is  more commonly called, “A Celebration of Life.”

Observing a death with a “celebration of life” may mean some or all of the following: that the body of the deceased is not present, having been interred or cremated a day or so before; the time between death and the celebratory service may be more extended than usual; and tributes to the deceased may be the main feature of the service. These gatherings are intended to be positive events, often punctuated by moments of laughter as memories are reviewed.

In a service for the “celebration of life” the Christian content may not be lacking. There may be singing and Scripture readings and even a brief homily but these are subordinated to the many and various tributes. The reason put forward for this change is that it is better to rejoice over the life of the departed than to grieve over the departed’s death.

As I watched and vicariously participated in the St. Martin’s service I was moved by the dominant place the Bible was given. The passages as read actually bound the service together and grounded the whole event in the Sacred Scriptures.

As the casket was brought slowly down the aisle, the Pastor read from a medley of Bible passages:

He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die we belong to the Lord. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.

Later in the service a layperson read the passage from Ecclesiastes beginning, There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die… Another read a portion of 2 Corinthians 5.

At a later point in this traditional funeral service, a group of young women, whom I took to be Barbara Bush’s daughters and/or granddaughters, gathered around a microphone and read in succession from Proverbs 31, which describes “a wife of noble character.

Interspersed among these several readings, a soloist sang the Gospel song, I Come To The Garden Alone, and the choir filled the sanctuary with the jubilant measures of The Holy City.

There were tributes, one from President Bush’s historian, John Beacham, one by a special friend of Mrs. Bush, Susan Garrett Baker, and one by her son, Jed. The remarks in each case were carefully prepared.

The pastor told of Barbara Bush’s request back in 2015 to be confirmed: that is, to formally affirm her Christian faith during a rite of the church and be made a church member. She said, “I’m a Christian and I want to be confirmed.” Her son Jed, speaking on behalf of the family, told of her recent comment: “I believe in Jesus and he is my Savior; I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.”

Near the end of this funeral service, the congregation was called upon to recite together The Apostles’ Creed — a corporate statement of orthodox Christian truth

It was not just Scripture and Creed that made the Gospel dominant in this service. At the outset the congregation sang, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the God of Creation, and toward the end, at Barbara’s prior request, the congregation sang, Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee, God of Glory, God of Love — both lyrical confessions of faith worshiping the Majesty of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the book previously mentioned, Accompany Them With Singing — The Christian Funeral, Thomas G. Long writes that a good funeral draws private grief and personal loss so fully into the Gospel that mourning becomes not only consoled but transformed.

In essence, a good funeral combines acknowledgement of a great loss, the good news of the Gospel, and for believers, the celebration of a life in Christ, all in proper proportion.

Photo credit: U.S. National Archives (Image in Public Domain, via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Two Weddings Compared: That of a Queen’s Grandson and That of the Son of a King

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 11:00

On May 19, 2018, Prince Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth, will exchange wedding vows with Meghan Markle, an American actress whose most recent home has been in Toronto, Canada.

Their vows will be exchanged in a chapel within Windsor Castle, west of London. It promises to be a simple wedding as royal events go, but grand if not sumptuous in any commoner’s eyes.

For weeks now pundits have speculated: who will be invited and who passed over? Will the father of the bride be there? How about former President and Mrs. Obama, longtime friends of the prince? Or for that matter, should President Trump be invited? Speculation shifts from day-to-day.

The news of this upcoming event makes me think of one of Jesus’ parables.

In it, a king was planning a lavish wedding banquet for his son and his bride. It would be his kingdom’s star event of the season. According to custom, invitations were sent long before the date was set.

When the actual day of the event arrived guests received urgent notice that they were to come quickly; everything was ready.

The first guests receiving the summons ignored the invitation. The second group shrugged and turned back to their preoccupations — one had an interest in planting a field, another in managing a business.

A third group on receiving the call ruthlessly beat up the messengers and even killed some of them.

The king was infuriated at their refusals. Such an indignity to his beloved son! He sent out an army to burn their cities and kill the murderers.

Then, determined that the banquet would not fail and that his son would be duly honored, the king sent servants in all directions to invite anyone they found available — even persons lounging at street corners.

The call was urgent and the strategy worked. The banquet hall was full (Matthew 22:8-10).

Then Jesus’ story takes a strange turn. The feast was underway. The king, moving among the guests, found one man in slovenly attire even though wedding clothes had been provided when the guests entered.

The king asked the man how he got in. The man had no answer. The king had him bound and thrown out of the brightly lit hall into the blinding darkness.

The first invited guests were absent because of their disrespect for the king and his son and their preoccupations. The guest who had come, though inappropriately dressed, was thrown out because of his contempt for the occasion.

Some who listened to Jesus’ story recognized themselves in it. They rejected Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, or they grudgingly accepted it but would consider entering only on their terms.

Jesus’ story ends with the words: For many are invited, but few are chosen.

That is, many are called to faith in Jesus as Lord and King with promise of a place in the kingdom to be celebrated like a great, joyful banquet. But earthly attractions hold sway. Others will be passed over because of their foolish insistence on their own terms.

A few weeks from now, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be stars of a sumptuous wedding banquet in their honor. ­­Then the public interest will fade and other world events will gather attention.

Jesus’ parable, on the other hand, will stand for all of history to remind us that, although many are called to have a place in God’s eternal kingdom, the number of those who respond on kingdom terms will be few.

The chosen will be those who are seriously responsive to the Father’s call to kingdom citizenship as provided by the earthly life, ministry, and death of His dear Son, the Lord Jesus.

Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Why Does Historic Methodism Teach the Doctrine of Prevenient Grace?

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 11:00

The Bible quickly introduces us to the story of Adam and Eve — created by God, placed in a perfect setting, and given a task to perform. They were forbidden only one thing; they were not to eat the fruit of a particular tree; but many others were accessible in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 1,2)

They violated the one prohibition, and in doing so they placed themselves in rebellion against the Ruler of the universe, the God to whom they owed their existence and their ideal surroundings.

Where should the story go from there?

We can imagine two possibilities. First: In response to such disobedience the Lord God might have struck with fire all he had created, wiping it out. The second possibility: The Lord God might have turned his back on the couple, leaving them forever estranged from Him.

But possibility three is what actually happened: The Lord God came walking in the garden searching. He confronted the pair with their offense and then clothed them with animal skins. Thus begins a wondrous story of salvation.

In essence, God initiates by making himself known to sinful mankind and seeking them out.  This is called prevenient grace.

A Seventeenth Century Dutch scholar named Arminius was foremost among those who brought the term forward, and later Eighteenth Century Oxford scholar, John Wesley, and his followers embraced this understanding during a great outpouring of God’s saving mercy on the British Isles.

John Wesley wrote: “It is God who takes the initiative first to provide for our salvation in Jesus Christ and then to enable us to respond through prevenient grace.” The Apostle John writes that Jesus was “the true light that gives light to everyone” and that “We love (God) because he first loved us” (John 1:9 and 1 John 4:19).

“Prevenient” comes from a Latin word that means preceding in time or order; coming before, or anticipating. In Christian thought it is used to speak of the manifestations of God’s grace that precede repentance and spiritual awakening. Wesley presented it as “all the ‘drawings’ of ‘the Father’, the desires after God which, if we yield to them, increase more and more.”

Thus, prevenient grace is the grace that initiates our salvation. It is the grace that prompts a little child’s first sense that there is a God above, and gives that child its earliest awakening to moral responsibility.

That is, God initiates the search for sinners whom Jesus died to save and He offers them hope. As one doctrinal statement has it, “This [prevenient] grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God’s will, and our first transient understanding of having sinned against God.”

Luke tells us about Zacchaeus, a man rich but of apparently shady character, motivated by greed as a tax collector. He attempted, out of curiosity, to see Jesus close-up and to do so he climbed into the branches of a Sycamore tree. But Jesus saw him and called him to come down.

Jesus then went to his home as a guest and the crowds responded by muttering that Jesus had gone to be a guest in the home of a sinner. But Luke reported the move more positively.

After being with Jesus for some time that day Zacchaeus, in a great burst of generosity, pledged half of his wealth to the poor and also stated his intention to return fourfold to any he had cheated.

Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus at the end of that day were as follows: Today salvation has come to this house…. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

We cannot come to God on our own initiative because as simmers we are dead in trespasses and sins. It is by prevenient grace that we are first awakened and called.

As the Apostle Paul writes: but because of his great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —  it is by grace you have been saved: (Ephesians 2:4,5).

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear,

The hour I first believed.

Photo credit: Kasia (via flickr.com)

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