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A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 4 hours 39 min ago

Re-post: Mending Fences

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 11:00

In 1956, when I was a young pastor in the Pacific Northwest Conference, the late Reverend C. W. Burbank was my conference superintendent. I had been appointed to the New Westminster church on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and Kathleen and I had crossed the continent from Kentucky immediately after my graduation from Asbury Seminary. Our personal belongings and four little children were packed into our turquoise colored Plymouth and a large spring-less trailer joggled along behind us every mile of the way.

Before Superintendent Burbank entered the ministry he was a logger. He had an outdoors ruggedness about him. He was not a seminary trained man; back then, seminary training for ministers was less common and more difficult to attain than now. Many pastors of earlier eras got whatever theological training they received by means of serious correspondence courses they were expected to wade through.

But he was an urgent preacher, well respected by his peers, and a man of down-to-earth common sense, something he learned or polished, as I understand, while in the logging business in the Okanagan Valley of Washington State.

During one of my first conversations with him he shared a bit of wisdom. He explained that some ministers are more skilled at mending their fences than others. He meant that when a misunderstanding or even an unintended interpersonal rift developed, such pastors seem to have a knack for restoring trusting relationships.

Others, he went on, leave the gap unaddressed and allow it to take on a certain permanence. If this happens with another family, and then another, Rev. Burbank explained, the misunderstandings accumulate sufficiently to destroy the trust of the congregation as a whole. A wall develops and the minister loses the trust of the congregation and he must move on.

Rev. Burbank didn’t say exactly how to recover healthy relationships. Nor did he mention what to do if a pastor’s efforts to keep fences mended are rejected. That is another aspect of the issue, and there are such situations. To take his counsel a step further, here are a couple more suggestions.

First, the greatest hindrance to correcting wounded relationships is pride – that dangerous quality within us that makes us tend to over-rate our worth or abilities. Pride is a point of vulnerability with all of us, Christian or not. When something is said or done from either side that injures our self esteem the rift is in danger of opening. Before repair can even be attempted pride must be acknowledged and brought to heel.

Second, once a rift happens, anger tends to follow and it invariably only clouds issues. So, no correction should be attempted until anger has been faced and dissipated. Most of us have learned this lesson by unhappy experience. In the face of breakdown of relationship and accompanying anger, only the indwelling Spirit of Christ can save us from further anger-prompted division.

Third, wise pastors will know that once in awhile, a relationship may grow cool or may even seem beyond repair. This may be due to disagreement on a particular issue. Or it may arise when a parishioner seems to have a fixed point of view about some circumstance. In these sorts of cases, when honest efforts have been made to restore relationship and fellowship—without success—ministers should labor on. As all pastors learn, in a busy growing pastorate there will be those who do not agree with the minister on issues. After honest efforts have been made to seek corrected and restored fellowship — without success — ministers should go on with their work diligently, all the while treating objectors with civility and grace. Only humility can keep the door open to the other person permanently. And it can only be hoped that the minister’s continued faithful service to the congregation will bear fruit and that eventually hearts will melt and be reconciled.

Ministers are much more likely to stay afloat in troubled waters and navigate through rocky relationships if they remember that their ultimate accountability for their efforts is to God. Their hope is that God may be pleased, since it is to him they will finally answer. Just remembering this makes them more careful to avoid missteps.

Mending fences is not only a challenge to ministers. Broken relationships are a universal peril in our fallen world. It would be hard to find someone of mature years who does not have a measure of pain over damaged relationships and even unresolved relationship issues at this point. So ministers and laymen alike need strength and grace help in the arduous task of living openly and charitably — insofar as possible — with all. Praying for increased sensitivity to the needs of others for Christ’s sake is the starting point.

Many years after our conversation, Rev. Burbank died in the pulpit while doing what he loved — preaching the gospel. I am just one of many who profited from his ministerial leadership and wise counsel. His insight regarding mending fences was a lifelong gift, not always exercised to the greatest effectiveness, but always treasured.

Photo credit: Josh Liba (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

In Secular Times Can Weddings Be Clearly Christian?

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 11:00

In one sense we can call any wedding “Christian” if it is conducted in a Christian church or guided by Christian ritual: “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

On the other hand, it could be argued that a fully Christian wedding requires that the bride and groom be confessing Christians and the event be witnessed by at least a few believers.

Since the Enlightenment, which began in late 17th or early 18th century, the secular has been invading the precincts of the sacred, creating conflict.

I have seen this trend even in the short span, relatively speaking, of my 91 years. Early in my pastoral work, young people raised in evangelical churches tended to be sympathetic to the idea that their weddings be “Christ-honoring,” and were usually open to help in having their understanding deepened as to what this meant.

However, as the years passed, the desire to honor Christ as a primary focus seemed to fade somewhat for some young people who had grown up in a Christian congregation and sung its choruses and hymns and heard Scripture read. Standards were loosening and thoroughly Christian rituals were not always wanted.

I was on occasion asked to incorporate a song into a wedding that was itself sentimental but had no trace of Christian thought — a song perhaps more suited to the reception to follow. I was on occasion presented with a proposed wedding ritual written by bride or groom, and lacking the theological grasp required for a Christian wedding.

For purposes of guidance, the central feature of a Christian wedding should be its ritual, not its decor or its symbols, though the latter can assist in creating atmosphere. As I see it now, a couple contemplating marriage might benefit by being asked to read the proposed ritual for the service several times before becoming immersed in the complex planning of the event.

Why not sharpen the meaning of the upcoming wedding with such questions as: What does the ritual say about the origin of marriage? What is the extent of the vows it sets forth? What does it say about the irreversibility of our vows? A Christian wedding is not only a “rite of passage;” it is also a distinctly Christian event.

The purpose and content of the reception that follows the wedding are different. But a reception should also be Christ honoring — a time for rejoicing, for sharing good stories about the wedding couple, for speeches that elevate, for words of welcome or words of thanks from family to family, or music to add to the festive spirit. It is an event at which Christ is to be equally present and in that atmosphere family bondings can be strengthened. If the tone is not set in advance, a Christian reception can sometimes be diminished by off-color humor, or even drunkenness.

During increasingly secular times such as ours it is good to be a part of a congregation, whether large or small, that not only sounds the gospel clearly from its pulpit but also whose church board takes the trouble to spell out the implications of that gospel for the weddings it hosts.

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

What to Do When A Little Boy Cries for Justice

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 11:00

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

They run excitedly to their mother. They know they can trust her to divide the candy equally between them.

Each child mounts a chair on either side of her as she empties the bag on the kitchen table. When the content of the bag is divided she slides each portion toward one of the boys.

Suddenly there is a mighty yelp from the four-year-old. “That’s not fair!” he cries, pointing out that the older brother appears to have more big pieces.

The pleasure of sharing the candy disappears. Claims and counterclaims take over. Tears flow. So the mother patiently goes through the process again.

Where would a four-year-old boy come onto “fairness” language? And why does the mother take such care in being fair to both children? Christians would say it all derives from the image of God borne by both mother and children.

That is, Christians believe fairness is intrinsic to the nature of God and because we are made in his image, a basic grasp of fairness is inborn in humans. At our best we can see when wrong has been done, and want it to be corrected.

Of course, our human sense of fairness does not always function well because of the Fall. Selfishness or bias can distort.

We call the administration of fairness by the more formal word, justice. That is what the mother of the two boys was attempting. Whether consciously or not, she was honoring God himself in this apparently minor human transaction.

The Christian family should strive to model fairness not only between children but also between parents and children as well as between parents themselves. Parents need to remember that they are not always right even though they are always parents.

When our two boys were about 14 and 16 I corrected them pointedly for what I thought was an offense. The 14 year old spoke up strongly, “Dad that’s just not fair.” I sat down alone to reflect. I came to see that he was right, so I called the boys together and apologized for my error.

Commitment to fairness should be evident in the church too, whether in a local congregation or a denomination with stations in many countries.

Blessed is that body of Christ which not only preaches love and grace to its people but also strives in all the conduct of its business from local to international, to administer justice in plain view.

When Uncle Carl gave two little nephews a bag of mixed candies he didn’t know that the issue of justice would come to the fore and that an explosion might occur over the issue of fair play.

But fortunately the boys had a mother who knew about the need to promote fairness by practicing it early in the boys’ lives — with patience and understanding. In the name of Jesus and as a witness to the world, may that sense be evident, too, in the church!

Photo credit: andrea (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: What Did the Apostle Paul Look Like?

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 11:00

The Apostle Paul is featured in 15 of the 28 chapters of The Acts of the Apostles. Also, he is the declared author of 13 of the 21 epistles in the New Testament. So what did he look like?

Was he bearded? Tall or short, slight or heavy? Was his complexion light or swarthy, wrinkled or smooth? We are left to wonder.

But a document that appeared around the middle of the second century AD claims to know. It is The Acts of Paul and Thecla which never made it into the New Testament but was read widely in the developing early church.

Thecla, according to the story, was a virgin engaged to be married at a time when Paul was to come to Iconium. And, according to the story, Paul is approaching the city and Titus has given Onesiphorus a description of his appearance. He was to watch for a man who was “small in size, bald-headed, bow-legged, well built, with eyebrows that met, rather long-nosed and full of grace.”

Thecla, it turns out, heard and was fascinated with Paul’s message to the point that she abandoned her engagement and declared lifelong virginity. It was a notion held by some and circulated in the early years of the church that virginity was more holy than marriage.

The description of Paul’s appearance may be accurate and may have been kept alive for a century through oral tradition. Some church fathers believed so, and the story is still alive in the Church of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

But, whether true or not, this ample description of the Apostle can be set over against the larger fact that we don’t know much about the physical features of Bible characters because physical features are not the critical issue. So, details are sparse.

In Genesis we are only told that Rebekah was “very beautiful” and described as nimble of movement (Gen. 24:15-21). We know only that Jezebel, Ahab’s pagan queen “painted her eyes and arranged her hair” (2 Kings 9:30). Absalom was handsome in appearance with an inordinately large mop of hair (2 Sam. 14:25,26). And we’re told that Saul who became King of Israel was a head taller than his fellow Israelites (1 Sam. 9:2).

In the New Testament, we learn of Zachaeus only that he was short in stature (Lk. 19:3); Bartimaeus was blind (Mark 10:46); and we infer that the Apostle John was likely slight of build because he was a good runner (John 20: 3,4).

We have no description of any of the 12 disciples. We are not even given details about the physical features of Jesus, our Lord, even though we have extensive reports of his activities covering three years of ministry.

Apparently what matters most about the Bible characters we encounter is not their physical features but their hearts and their motivations. In the Bible, the heart is the seat of physical, spiritual and mental life. It is that aspect of our beings known fully only to God.

What prayer goes deeper in the Scriptures than the penitential prayer of King David: “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps 51:10).
According to Jesus, the human qualities that bring us the greater and deeper happiness stem from the state of the heart. He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8). For Jesus, the heart counts first and foremost.

None of this is to say that our physical features don’t matter at all. We do the best we can with whatever God has given us through our DNA – we may curl our hair or powder our faces or wear elevator shoes.

But by current beauty standards the Apostle Paul wouldn’t stand a chance. According to The Acts of Paul and Thecla, Paul’s features gave him less than a model’s physique. Except that what radiated out of him giving symmetry to all else, according to the story, was this: he was “full of grace.”

“Full of grace!” That’s what we hope and pray can be said of us. Abundant grace, we dare to believe, will enhance even our less-than-perfect physical features.


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Beware of Spiritual Hackers!

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 11:00

I was on the phone with a banker to change a password. The officer I was speaking with suddenly informed me that my account had just been locked. Apparently an unauthorized party was trying to get into it.

After a few words of advice the call ended. Almost instantly there was a notice on my screen saying I should phone a certain number to obtain protection from a hacking attempt against my computer.

I didn’t suspect the banker. I had initiated the call to him. I also knew that clicking on a link is what you never do at a time like this. I also learned from a person of experience that you may take the risk to phone a number or receive a call so long as you provide the caller with zero information.

So out of curiosity that some might caution against, I phoned the number on the screen. When the voice on the other end of the line informed me that he was calling from “Mac” — I own an Apple — I began to sense I was in touch with the evil intentions of a hacker so I hung up.

That left me curious about the term. Where does it come from? What is its original meaning? I discovered a definition: “A malicious or inquisitive meddler who tries to discover information by poking around.” Our world has more than its share of computer hackers — clever but dishonest people who hone their electronic skills in order to cheat the unwary.

But does it occur to us that there is a Hacker prowling around in the spiritual realm and preying on the unwary, with even greater cunning, especially towards Christians?

I refer to a master spiritual hacker who goes by several names — Lucifer (star of the morning) satan (deceiver), the devil (false accuser). This evil force is known as well by many metaphors — wolves in sheep’s clothing, a (deceitful) angel of light, a roaring lion, a great dragon and a serpent.

Consider the Apostle Paul’s description of the spiritual environment in which believers in the city of Ephesus were to live out their faith: “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

The Scriptures exhort us to beware of these spiritual hackers! They repeatedly caution us that our only eternal defence is to avail ourselves by faith of the grace, peace, and truth lodged in our Lord Jesus Christ. And not only to believe in him, but to surrender our lives to him so as to live under his guidance. In all of this, we are assisted by His Spirit, His Word and Christian friends.

The caution is real. As Saint Peter exhorted the early Christians: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

A loss of the contents of a bank account to a human hacker or valuable content in our computers could be costly–even devastating–in this life. But loss of faith and our very souls to the master of all spiritual hackers will be eternal and irreversible.

Photo credit: Garrett Coakley (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

In My 92nd Year, I Heard the Gospel Afresh This Morning!

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 11:00

Ninety-one years is a long time to be a regular church attender.

When I was only two weeks old, my parents carried me into church in a wicker bassinet. It was the start of a long history. Growing up, I was expected to attend church faithfully so long as I lived in my parents’ home. It was the same when I spent three winter seasons of my teen years in a residential Bible School where regular chapels were just that — regular.

Later, as an ordained minister, evenings or weekends often found me ministering to a gathered congregation. And later, as a church overseer, special needs could draw me toward a congregation of believers during the week.

It all represents a great amount of church exposure.

I’ll admit, however, that across a long life of intensive church involvement there have been times when weariness whispered in my ear to take a pass. And there have also been church events that were without spiritual energy, thus refreshing to neither mind or spirit.

I tell you all this for a reason: I am just home from a Good Friday service at Wesley Chapel Free Methodist Church across Toronto 30 miles to the east of where I live. At least once a year, Wesley Chapel Free Methodist Church joins with the congregation of Briarwood Presbyterian church nearby for a Good Friday service. They alternate locations and participants.

I listened as the two congregations worshiped together, and in every part of the service I heard the gospel ring out afresh. It fed my faith and reminded me why all the evil of that dark and despairing first Friday turned out to be in a special sense Good Friday.

Near the beginning of the service this morning, a woman from Bridlewood read slowly and thoughtfully from Isaiah 53: 1-12. She used the New Living Translation. I recalled that verses 4 and 5 were part of a prophecy about Jesus written nearly 800 years before his birth. Here are those verses:

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped and we were healed.

All week long I had been pondering the doctrine of substitution described here — the idea that Jesus took the punishment for our sins to relieve us of that burden and set us free.

I heard the same assurance when the congregation stood to sing one of my wife Kathleen’s favorite hymns: Hallelujah, What a Savior. Again, the lines filled the sanctuary, igniting faith and warming the soul:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood;
Sealed my pardon with his blood.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

In my place! In my place! I heard that resonant note in the Gospel so clearly today, and rejoiced.

The pastor of the Bridlewood church, Reverend Joseph Choi, preached from John 18. He explained Pilate’s political maneuvering to escape condemning a man he knew to be innocent, but despite his innocence, eventually had Jesus flogged to placate the crowds.

In this flogging, Jesus took my place, which he did again when he dragged his own cross toward Calvary, and when he suffered the harrowing treatment on Calvary’s cross. He was an innocent man and at the same time Creator God of the universe, dying for others.

When he bore the wrath of God for the sins of humanity he suffered so that I — and all other confessed sinners — would not need to suffer endless torment for our sin.

So, with Good Friday fading I face Easter Sunday with a renewed conviction that he who died to bear the burden of my sins lives to assure me of eternal life, bought for Christ-believers and followers at so great a price. This Good News, reiterated this morning, washes over me and I ponder it still.

Photo credit: Koshy Koshy (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-Post: Getting Ready for Easter

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 11:00

[The following piece was first posted March 5, 2012]

On Sunday, April 8 of this year, millions of Christians on all five continents will gather, not only in magnificent cathedrals and traditional churches, but also in worship centers, store front chapels, and even thatched huts.

Some will risk their lives to attend. They will be there to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as they listen with intensity to resurrection Scriptures and sing with joy resurrection hymns.

But individual persons in these throngs will differ from one another in their grasp of resurrection truth and also in the intensity of their faith in Christ. What will make that difference? One possibility will be how well they have prepared heart and mind during the weeks prior to Easter Sunday.

The importance of preparation for Resurrection Sunday has been formalized in church practices since as far back as the fourth century A.D. when the forty days prior to Easter Sunday were set apart for that very purpose. During these forty days of Lent, special observances are encouraged – such as fasting, acts of self-denial, increase in the giving of alms, etc.

My idea is to live devotionally during those days with the Gospel accounts of the last days of our Lord’s life up to his crucifixion. To do this, my heart is drawn to the Gospel according to John. His account has 21 chapters; yet, as early as chapter 12, he introduces his readers to the events of one week — the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. So, chapters 12 to 19 – eight of its 21 chapters — are devoted to the events of that one single week. If a third of John’s gospel covers only one week of Jesus’ 33-year lifespan, that tells us they are very important.

Please note how Chapter 12 begins: Martha serves a dinner in Jesus’ honor. Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, is at table. In an act of extravagant devotion, Mary breaks open a jar of the expensive perfume, nard, and pours the whole content on Jesus’ feet. The fragrance fills the house.

Judas is openly offended and complains that this ointment could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But John, writing much later, tells the truth about Judas: he “… was a thief; as keeper of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).

What a wide range of concerns in that room! Just so in this Easter season: some will love the Lord with the warmth and sincerity of Mary; others may be present but kept from worship by blockages of greed, pride or sensuality. How appropriate to test our love by a verse of an old hymn:

More love to thee, O Christ, more love to thee;
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea, more love, O Christ, to Thee
More love to Thee; more love to Thee.

Photo credit: Robin (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Can One Be “Born Again” and Ignore the Life and Ministry of Christ’s Church?

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 11:00

At a youth camp I fell into conversation with the man hired to set up and manage the public address system. During our chat he suddenly announced: “I’m a born again Christian, but I haven’t been inside a church in years.” There are many thousands in this country, he went on, who would say the same thing.

His statement was assertive but not hostile. It needs to be examined.

In the Bible, expressions like “being born again” or “born from above” stand for an inner transformation God brings about that is indeed radical. It’s the giving of new life by his Spirit. A love for Jesus, the Savior, is born. New habits, new associates, new religious practices begin to form.

Jesus described what new birth involves when he said to Nicodemus, a devout Jew: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5)

To be “born of water” stands for our being cleansed from the moral and spiritual defilement of the old life. John the Baptist called sinners to take their sins seriously when he uttered the command: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (John 3:2) Jesus also began his ministry with the same call. (Matthew 4:17)

But, to Nicodemus Jesus adds, to be born again also implies to be born of the Spirit. This stands for the energy of the new life, the indwelling power of the Spirit of God, enabling the believer to live out the new life in Christ.

With new birth comes an instinct for fellowship with the people of God. Imagine a new convert in China walking to a house where several Christians are meeting secretly for worship. She takes a risk but is inwardly compelled to do so. The same is so for young people in Cuba who meet furtively for prayers.

The church has always been both a gathered and a scattered community. It gathers for worship and scatters to serve. The commonest word for church in the Scriptures means “the called out” or “assembly.” The Apostle Paul presented the church as “the body of Christ” — a living organism of which Christ is the head and director.

In the light of all this it is hard to imagine how the Spirit of God indwelling us would allow us to live in isolation from a company of God’s people. We are called to loyalty to other fellow believers by such words of example as these: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up (as a sacrifice) for her” (Ephesians 5:25b). He calls every believer to be there, sign in, take part, love what Christ loves and imitate him in service to his people.

Photo credit: David Goehring (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Learning to Prime Your Praise Pump

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 11:00

During Winter in the 1930’s the tap water in the Saskatchewan town where I grew up was occasionally undrinkable because it gave off an unpleasant odor. Mother had a solution and she made me a part of it.

In the center of a vacant lot two blocks from our house was a hand-operated pump that sank its pipes into a deep well. During those days of special need my mother would hand me a pail into which she had poured about a quart of hot water. I was to go to the well.

She knew that when I got there, the pump’s handle would likely be limp. It couldn’t create suction to raise water from below because when the pump was not in use a leather gasket that surrounded the piston would have dried out quickly and thus be unable to create a seal.

I would pour hot water into the top of the pump; the water would trickle down and moisten the gasket and cause it gradually to swell.

After I had poured and pumped a few times, up from the depths came a teasing spurt or two, then a slight trickle and finally with every strong thrust on the pump handle a continuous rush of cool pure water would pour forth.

The water was always available but drawing it up and into my pail took time and effort.

I consider that boyhood experience as a metaphor for the way we must sometimes prime the pump to bring forth praises to the Lord when faith seems dry and without lifting power.

All believers have such listless times. Circumstances can beat us down — unresolved family conflict, insufficient sleep, regrets over a missed opportunity, even the pain of an unpleasant relationship. Such reverses pile up, blocking the flow of praises to our Heavenly Father.

If this fits your case here are a couple of ways to prime the pump of praises.

First, concentrate your faith, however feeble, on a selected verse of Scripture. Here’s one of hundreds you could choose: But from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children (Psalm 103:17).

Let your faith take hold of this passage with resolve. Repeat it again and again until it becomes centered in your consciousness. Ponder it. Turn it into a prayer. Say it when retiring at night and rising in the morning. It could make praises automatic.

Here’s a second strategy: Look carefully and you may see that what praises you offer are often offered to the Father in large pre-packaged lumps. You’re thankful for your family and your job and your friends and that’s about it. Instead, try breaking up your prayers into small units and fill them out in detail. Let your faith visit special ministries where your prayers are needed.

It may not be just your family you’re grateful for, it may be your sister and two brothers and a whole raft of cousins. Name them. Name the ministries too. Take time to give thanks. Use your God-given imagination. In all likelihood the praises you raise will prompt other praises. It’s like priming the pump.

You may be surprised at how such initially “mechanical” priming of praises can prompt the further flow of gratitude to the Lord. Outdoor pumps can flow steadily even on cold days after they’re primed, and so, too, can our God-given praise pumps.

Photo credit: Julia Maudlin (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: The Second Coming of Christ — Is it on Your Radar?

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 11:00

It’s been estimated that one out of every 28 verses in the New Testament has to do with the Second Coming of Christ.

I have three favorite verses that keep that hope vibrant and uncluttered in my heart. I call them my anchor verses on the subject.

First, there are the words Jesus spoke to his eleven disciples during their time in the upper room only hours before his crucifixion. He said, “I am going to (my Father’s house) to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-4).

Can such a lavish promise be trusted? In his teachings Jesus constantly pressed the issue of truth. He often introduced his message with the words, “Truly, truly I say to you.” Or, “I tell you the truth.” He even testified, “I am the truth!” Is it not reasonable then to take him seriously when he says, “I will come back.” so that, “you also may be where I am”?

If he made good on the first half of his promise to ascend to the Father to prepare a place for us, then we can count on him to make good on his promise to return for his followers.

Second, two angels spoke to the disciples on the Mount of Olives at the time when Jesus was taken up into heaven. To the astonishment of the “eleven” these heavenly messengers said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

“This same Jesus.” Our Lord was fully human when he ascended. Why should it be hard to believe the promise of angel messengers that he will return “bodily.”

It was apparent that the brutal, disfiguring death Jesus had suffered had not in any sense diminished him. His identity was fully preserved, even though his distraught followers had to clear their vision to see it. In fact, by his resurrection they saw he had obviously been endowed with new qualities of life (Luke 24:30,31,36; 1 Cor. 15:44-49).

The Apostle Paul, taking his cue from these facts, later referred to a resurrected body as a spiritual body with new properties and capabilities. And — good news for us — Christ himself said to his followers, “Because I live, you too will live” (John 14:19).

The third scriptural portion I hold dear on the Second Coming of Christ was written years later by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. He compared living in this mortal body to living in a tent (2 Cor. 5:1). Tents can provide shelter but they are fragile. A sudden wind storm can blow them away. Then what?

By contrast, the Apostle visualized our state of living in heaven as living in “an eternal house, not built by human hands” (1 Cor. 5:1). The difference between living in a tent and living in a house built by God — a resurrection body — is infinitely great.

But what about the interim between “tent” and “house?” My third verse fits here. We are left to wonder about the intricacies of what some call the “intermediate state” — the time between the believer’s death and resurrection when Christ appears in his glory. The Apostle covers the interim adequately with the words, “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:8).

For the true believer that assurance is enough. We may not be told when or where or how, but we have the assurance that during the waiting time, for those who have died in Christ, the situation will be, “absent from the body, (but) present with the Lord.”

Some say it’s all a myth. A fairy tale. A cover for the fear of death.

In response: I believe in the resurrection of the body because our Lord promised it, the apostles proclaimed it, the early martyrs died believing in it, and through the ages the church on earth has born witness to it as an ongoing anchor point for faith.

Photo credit: Mike Vondran (via flickr.com)


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Re-post: A Protestant Equivalent to Lent

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 11:00

[The following was first posted March 28, 2011]

We’re about half way through Lent. This year, Lent is March 8 to April 23. It ends Saturday after Good Friday. It’s an ancient religious practice followed mainly by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Those who observe Lent include the 40 days before Easter Sunday. During that time, Sundays are not counted because they are intended to be days of celebration year-around – Christ is risen!

For the masses, Lenten practices are not usually severe. Observers deprive themselves of something important – meat, fish, television, sweets, coffee, movies, etc.

These self-deprivations are supposed to call believers to additional prayer, meditation, contrition, repentance, financial giving, or service to prepare themselves for the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection on Easter.

The observance of Lent has never in any large way made a place for itself among Protestants. I believe it was Billy Graham speaking on discipleship who once noted that Christ did not say we were to deny ourselves of “something;” he said we were to deny “ourselves.” The denial of self is more than saying no to the Internet or coffee, meat or movies, and so forth, except perhaps in a symbolic way; it is saying no to “self” – the self that keeps wanting to rear its ugly head and resist our full surrender to the life Christ calls us to – a life that bows fully to his Lordship and the joyful service of others.

But Lent has an element that should be of interest, even appealing, to all serious Christians. The self-deprivations, little or great, are supposed to be attended by special times of prayer and meditation, by repentance and self examination. Meditation is biblical. Consider what God’s word says (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2).

There will be an upsurge of attendance at Protestant services on Easter Sunday. It is sort of traditional. Women especially used to appear in new Easter outfits, a custom tracing back to the celebration of new life in Christ. That practice from my observation no longer seems to be the big thing it once was.

But think of the spiritual impact there would be if hordes of Protestant worshipers were to prepare themselves for the day by several weeks of daily meditation. Will you take the challenge?

Meditation for Christians is not humming a sound or turning the mind loose. It is “focused thinking” and it takes serious effort. Whether practiced by sitting quietly in a chair, kneeling by a bed, sitting on a porch, or walking back and forth in seclusion, Christian meditation can be set in four stages: (1) the deliberate reading of a Scripture verse or passage; (2) the pondering of its content; (3) conversation with God asking for understanding; and (4) a resting in His presence.

The three special times of the day marked especially for meditation are (1) with the last thoughts before falling asleep; (2) the first thoughts upon waking; and (3) a special time of the day set aside for quietness with the Scriptures and prayer.

This sort of disciplined pondering can be a time for taking stock on the state of the soul, repenting as necessary, reflecting on the condition of one’s relationships, asking for a renewal in love for Christ and others, and generally resetting the inner dial to tune in on those things that matter most.

If these thoughts prompt you to increase your times of meditation and devotion leading up to Easter, I suggest you choose the Gospel accounts of the closing days of our Lord’s life (Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-16; Luke 22-24; John 17-21).

Take one verse at a time. Set your mind on it. If thoughts wander draw them back. If light breaks forth and you want to carry the verse through the day, write it on piece of paper and keep it near. Meditation is indeed a discipline but when it engages our souls it is even better than nourishment to our bodies.

Image credit: jezobeljones (via flickr.com)


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Why Do Christians Pray in Jesus’ Name?

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 11:00

Have you noticed that Christians regularly close their prayers with such expressions as, “we ask these mercies in Jesus’ name?”

You’ll hear it in church services when pastors offer the pastoral prayer, or in an informal prayer group during the midweek.

It is commonly heard during Christian telecasts. It seems to be a universal feature of Christian prayer.

To understand why, remember first that in John’s Gospel Jesus says of himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6.)

Thus, we already see why Christians might approach the Father “in Jesus’ name.”  We come to God through Christ.

An even more direct explanation comes to us from the account of Jesus’ meeting with his disciples on the night of his betrayal by Judas, just before our Lord’s crucifixion.

How they are to pray is a big part of his instruction that night. He emphasizes that they are to pray: in my name.

In fact, when we read John 14-16 slowly and carefully we hear the throb of that phrase — in my name, in my name, in my name … Six times!

Here’s an example: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13.)

Here’s another: “Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:16b.) There are other examples in John 15:7; John 16:23b; John 16:24; and John 16:26.

Obviously, Jesus makes clear to them that prayer is accessible to the Father only when offered in Jesus’ name. He is the Mediator.

That truth has lodged itself deeply in the Christian consciousness through the ages. All of this is why we regularly hear prayers that close like this:

These mercies we ask in Jesus’ name.

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


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Re-post: Common Sense in “Choosing” a Mate

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 11:00

Last week I wrote about marital love that lasts a lifetime. This begins, I hinted, with the exercise of good judgment in choosing. That, coupled with genuine romance, increases the likelihood that a happy, durable marriage will be launched.

I believe in romance. I know what it is to fall in love. But, this week I share with you what I mean by good judgment, an easily overlooked element, in searching for a life’s mate.

When I was 20, I traveled with a youth evangelist five years older than I named Doug Russell. He preached and I sang. In our spare moments we had serious conversations about “finding the right one.” We were both single.

Back then he had worked up a list of qualities he was looking for in a life’s mate. I recall that list from 65 years ago, and it ran as follows:

A genuine Christian faith.

Good family background.

Dependable character.

A pleasant disposition.

Talents and resources (He was committed to ministry).

Today’s seekers may not be inclined to form such a list. In our overstimulated age, we may expect romance alone to determine outcomes. Lists may seem unimaginative, even stifling.

Back then, good character was regarded as a value to be noted. So we might have asked: is this a person of good character? It was this more settled view of personality that gave Doug ground for the following list.

A genuine faith in Christ. As a committed Christian, he thought he should marry someone who would share that faith fully. In his life, Christ was foremost. How could matrimony thrive if two were not together on this central commitment of life?

Good family background. He seemed to understand that, in a sense, when you marry you not only marry a person, you marry that person’s family. This idea may seem a bit fussy, even judgmental. But isn’t it true that even if, for example, one were choosing, a business partner one would reflect on that partner’s closest connections?

Business partners go home at night. Marriage partners do not. Marriage is not part-time. In seeking a mate, it seemed to Doug wise to consider family connections as important.

Solid character. The word character stands for fixed traits – like honesty, dependability, compassion, empathy, etc. My friend Doug said he wanted to see signs of these qualities before he would give his heart permission to advance.

Disposition. He hoped to find someone who was generally cheerful, forgiving, resilient, steady under pressure, not easily angered, etc. It is easier to paddle the romance canoe through both smooth and troubled waters of life with someone who tends to be pleasant in disposition.

Talents. Because he was looking toward ministry as a life calling he was searching for a mate who would bring gifts of head, heart, and hand to the relationship. But anyone, not only ministers, in seeking a life’s partner should consider what life resources the prospective mate would likely bring to a marriage.

For example, when a man and woman marry, at least one should have good homemaker impulses. A home, however humble, is the operational base for all of life’s activities. A strong work ethic is also a good resource to bring to a marriage. Skilled money management is a gift that will enhance a relationship for a whole lifetime.

At the same time as I point out these idealistic qualities, I offer three cautions.

First, as the saying goes, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Persons drawing up lists must first measure themselves against their list. The list must be a mirror before it can be a window.

Second, Nobody is perfect. There is no perfect mate of either sex. Therefore no prospect will get an A at every point. This, however, does not excuse the seeker from knowing what issues the list brings to the fore. The purpose is to keep the seeker’s mind engaged even while the heart is aflutter, and thus to increase the likelihood that a wise choice will be made.

Third, such a list should be kept in the background. No gallant suitor or hopeful lady would go to a date, for example, checklist in hand. Dating is for fun, for getting acquainted. The list should function more as a mindset, the warp-and-woof of one’s life-values. Call it the exercise of wisdom.

Sixty-four years ago I fell in love with Kathleen. Our love is still fresh, life-enhancing, and durable, having carried us through more than six decades. In my search, Doug’s list helped me. You, your children, or even grandchildren, may find value in his idea too.

Photo credit: hermanturnip (via flickr.com)


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Re-post: Life’s Ultimate Question

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:00

If I were in a mall examining men’s suits when suddenly there was an ear-splitting explosion and the air became heavy with smoke, my instant question, verbalized or not, would be, “What must I do to be saved?” Everyone else within earshot of the blast would be asking the same question.

It’s life’s ultimate question and it has both a temporal and an eternal application. The impulse to survive is ingrained deeply in all of us. The temporal aspect of the question has to do with our instinctual efforts to avoid physical death.

The spiritual aspect has to do with our need to escape from what the Scriptures call the “second death” — the death that separates from God forever those who refuse his mercy offered in Jesus Christ.

Take what happened to Paul and Silas when they were unjustly flogged and thrown into jail in Philippi. During that night a powerful earthquake shook the jail. The prisoners’ cells were wrenched open and their chains shaken loose. The jailor, arriving from his warm bed, leaped tremblingly into the situation with the question to Paul and Silas: “What must I do to be saved?”

The jailer was a Roman officer assigned to Philippi, and a trusted jail keeper. By us, he would generally be regarded as middle class. That is, he had adequate lodgings, a sufficient living and a secure family, and as well he had standing in the community. Life was good.

But suddenly the earthquake made all the assumed security quiver like a dead leaf dangling in the wind. The ultimate question surfaced and it was about salvation. Unhinged by fear, he asked the Apostle in terror, What must I do to be saved?

We can assume it was the ultimate spiritual question that he posed for the following reasons: the earthquake had passed, the prisoners were safe, his position was not jeopardized.

Besides, he knew these two prisoners were religious men of a very high order since despite being flogged earlier in the day, they had been praying and singing praises to God while the other prisoners listened in. They obviously had something the jailer needed.

So, to the jailer’s ultimate question the Apostle Paul gave the ultimate answer. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved – you and your household.” It is brief and simple but every word is freighted with truth.

Who is this Jesus the jailer is called to put his faith in? He is the CHRIST: God’s Anointed One, the Messiah.

At the same time he is JESUS, the Christ — the God/Man who had walked this earth as fully human and laid down his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, only to be raised from death after three days. All this verified his identity as the only one who could deliver from spiritual death.

He is also LORD, the one before whom both heaven and earth must eventually bow. When we believe and bow down, we declare his lordship over us before that day.

Did the jailer’s “believing” actually achieve anything? It was in fact transforming to the jailer and his family. Something changed radically.

For example, this formerly hardened Roman jailer who, only hours before, hadn’t flinched at the thought of having these men flogged is now washing their wounds (Acts 16:33a). The jailer took the two prisoners into his home where, as the night wore on, Paul apparently gave the whole family an extended class in Basic Christianity (Acts 16:32).

After the teaching session the jailer and his family were baptized – apparently in the middle of the night (Acts 16: 33b). Then the jailer set a meal before them (Acts 16:34a).

And best of all this hardened military man “was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.” (Acts 16:34b).

It is good for both believers and unbelievers to review this story. We may not fear the terror of a bomb blast in a mall. But the Lord of mercy will not let us forget his priceless sacrifice for us and the importance of our cry, “What must I do to be saved?”

Nor will he let us forget the gracious offer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

Photo credit: egenerica (via flickr.com)


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Re-post: How to Raise Your Happiness Levels

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 11:00

A lot of material that comes at me from the Internet gets a glance and then I press the delete button, but one recent item caught and held my attention.

It offered five ways to improve one’s happiness. These were not merely some psychologist’s suggestions, or points from some pastor’s “how to” sermon. They were strategies brought to light by recent research. That is, each point was backed up by information gained from studies involving large groupings of people.

Upon reading these five points, I saw immediately how fundamental they are to one’s being a happy Christian. Here they are, with my comments.

1. Be Grateful.

If one person in a wheel chair with crippling arthritis can be grateful for his blessings while another with a million dollars in the bank and a boat at the marina can find things to be grumpy about, that can only mean that gratefulness is a matter of “selective perception.” It has to do with what we choose to highlight in our living.

In one of his moments of worshipful exuberance King David exhorted himself to “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” As an antidote to forgetting, he then listed several — forgiveness, health, rescue from disaster, God’s love and compassion, even the satisfaction of one’s holy desires and the renewal of one’s youth. Lest we forget, we all should make our lists from time to time.

2. Be Optimistic.

Perhaps our genes regulate in some measure how inclined we are to be either optimistic or pessimistic. And for this reason, some may never reach the levels of Browning’s maiden who sang, “God’s in his heavens, all’s right with the world.” Christians with biblical understandings are realists, so we know that all is not right with a fallen world. But faith in God’s sovereignty helps us face every day, saying “God’s in his heavens.” This is the basis for our unforced optimism.

3. Count Your Blessings.

When I was 13 year of age, on Sunday afternoons I sometimes attended a Salvation Army Sunday School a block from our home. The Salvationists sang exuberantly to the accompaniment of horns and tambourines, and sometimes they revised their choruses imaginatively. For example, the chorus, “Count your blessings, name them one by one” became, “Count your blessings, name them ton by ton.” Whether we measure our blessings by the tons or not, it’s good to take time daily to identify blessings that permeate our lives. They are beyond numbering, and reviewing them expands our happiness.

4. Use Your Strengths.

We all have both strengths and weaknesses. It is a simple principle of Christian effectiveness to build on our strengths while at the same time monitoring our weaknesses. I recall Alma, a Sunday School teacher assigned to teach a high school class. Her effort was a disaster. While she attempted to teach, the boys climbed in and out of a first floor classroom window and otherwise disrupted the class.

The wise Sunday School superintendent reassigned her to a small class of nine-year-old girls. It was an immediate fit. The class flourished and grew and Alma was happy with her assignment. She had a strength that matched the needs of those nine-year-olds. We do ourselves no favor if we fail to find and build upon our strengths.

5. Commit Acts of Kindness.

Paul’s advice to the Galatian church during a time of severe conflict can be a tip to us all. He wrote, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). Upon retiring from school teaching, Lila asked me for a list of shut-ins to whom she could take Sunday School papers each Monday. She developed a weekly ministry, even in some cases taking elderly folks to the store to do their grocery shopping. Happiness and service are close cousins.

We Christians know that happiness is not life’s primary goal. But we also know that when our spirits are joyful and our countenances bright our faith tends to be more contagious. So we’ll take all the help we can get to tone up our happiness.


Photo credit: Ivana Jurcic (via flickr.com)


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Re-post: God Knows Everything

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 11:00

When we were little children in Sunday School seventy years or so ago we used to sing a chorus that went like this:

He sees all you do, He hears all you say,
Our God is writing all the time, time, time.

Sometimes, in that simple little one room church in a prairie town in Western Canada, the superintendent would add a few words of earnest counsel. He wanted to be sure we understood. We would gaze up at him wide-eyed. God knows everything. It was a heavy message for little impressionable minds.

Choruses like these formed an early chapter in our moral training. The bottom line issue was that God knows us altogether and we can’t hide anything from him so we should keep this in mind when we go about our daily activities. I thought of those early lessons this morning as I read about the outrageously wicked King Herod the Great, and the innocent little Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

They called him Herod “the Great” for good reasons. He built the seaport at Caesarea and wisely named it after the emperor. He built a theater in Jerusalem and an amphitheater outside the city. He set in motion the rebuilding of the temple which became a magnificent structure for the Jewish people. Herod was an exceptionally skilful administrator and diplomat.

But power was his issue, and he used it ruthlessly. His police were everywhere. Purges were frequent. His own wife, Mariamne, was marched off to execution because he suspected her of plotting against him. Her three sons also, and five others of his children from various unions met the same end. He even had all but two members of the ruling council of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, murdered. Herod’s viciousness was about on a par with the viciousness of a Saddam Hussein.

So, when some mysterious figures called Magi arrived in Jerusalem coming from a land as far away as Persia, the word spread through the city fast. The place must have buzzed. And when Herod learned these Magi claimed to have been divinely guided by a heavenly light to come to the birthplace of a baby born to be King of the Jews, his paranoid tendencies flared.

No matter that the child the Magi sought was a miracle baby sent by God to be the redeemer of the world. How could such an infant be safeguarded against the murderous jealousy of a powerful sovereign who would stop at nothing to keep his shaky throne secure?

Here’s how: God in Heaven knew what was in Herod’s mind. God knows everything. He sent a warning to the baby’s human father, Joseph. He sent it by means of a dream in the night: Get up right away and get out of town; head for Egypt; the murderous Herod intends to find and kill the child. Joseph obeyed and the child’s life was spared.

Today we have a more sophisticated word for the belief that God knows everything. We say he is omniscient. But he can’t be omniscient unless he knows the end from the beginning, and the whole sweep of history down to its minutest detail. The psalmist, David, wrote, “Before a word is on my tongue/ you know it completely, O Lord.” (Ps. 139:4) Jesus said his Father sees the insignificant sparrow fall. He also said that his Father alone knows the future date for the end of human history.

The little choruses sung in Sunday Schools 70 years ago may not fit our present cultural moods. Times have changed. But the truth has not changed. It is still a cornerstone conviction of orthodox Christians that God knows everything. And when we operate on that conviction we handle the crises of life better and our daily walk is more stable.

Image credit: woodleywonderworks (via flickr.com)


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