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A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 3 weeks 1 day ago

Some Counsel Regarding Covid-19

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 11:00

Our doctor son, Robert, has written an email to us about the novel Corona virus (Covid-19). It contains some good counsel, and, with his permission, I pass it along to you. I send it with prayers for all who suffer from this crisis, whether from anxiety, actual illness, or the stress of taking care of those who are ill.

Dear Mom and Dad (and family),

First of all, please don’t think me panicked or crazy.” We are in the Lord’s hands, and the hope is that, in a few weeks, the rate of new cases will have slowed. Still, the future is unknowable, and so discretion is the better part of valor… With this in mind, permit me a comment or two encouraging a bit of wisdom and hypervigilance. After all, many of us are older,” and we have some health conditions to boot.

As you know, the first thing for a people group to try when a threatening virus is identified is containment. In other words, identify those infected and all of their contacts and quarantine them, hoping to keep the disease from becoming widespread.

Containment is no longer possible here. This is because there are so many unexplained cases without recent travel or exposure to someone who is ill that the virus must be considered to have escaped” into the general population. And there is no herd immunity” to this virus since it is new.”  

The next strategy therefore is mitigation. That is, trying to avoid a dramatic spike of cases that overwhelms the medical system, causing shortages, for example, of ventilators for the gravely ill. Mitigation not only aims to reduce the height of the spike but also to spread the cases of infection across a longer time span so that needed resources can be cycled into use across time rather than all at once.

Possibly the most powerful means of mitigation is exaggerated hand hygiene. Another is self-imposed social distancing. That means actually staying six feet or more away from others when appropriate, but also avoiding crowds. The incidence curve in a population is really flattened and broadened if the population practices these things. And it is important for young people to practice this even if they feel no personal threat because the disease is routinely so mild for them. Young people who feel fine can spread the virus to their community, parents, and grandparents.

I’m not thinking the situation is all that urgent (at least for the moment) for us who don’t live near a cluster of cases. Don’t let me make you crazy… But it is projected that the number of clusters will increase quickly in the next few weeks. Consider that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife now has the virus. So do Tom Hanks and his wife in Australia. Apparently, there were exchange students who jumped” / disobeyed quarantine restrictions and spread the virus into the Australian population. And President Trump and Vice-President Pence had dinner a few days ago with a man who has fallen ill. He was sitting right next to President Trump. (The president did get tested, and does not have the virus.)

My point only is that the fewer people we come into contact with, the less likely we are to contract this illness. Obvious measures (which we are already taking, particularly meticulous hand-washing and avoiding touching your face) include:

  1. No handshaking. Elbow bumps at most.
  2. Stay six feet or more away from people when possible when out in public.
  3. Stay away from anyone you see blowing their nose (even though this is not a major symptom of Covid-19) or especially if they are coughing.
  4. Sanitize carts at stores (if you must go there) and be extremely aware of your hands and where they have been. Sanitize hands very frequently especially when out and about. Probably six times during/after any necessary shopping visit.
  5. Consider having on hand a week’s worth of canned or frozen food. And, yes, you can easily live on buttered pasta or oatmeal and canned peaches for a few days so no need to empty out the supermarket.
  6. Consider just staying away from any group activities. That actually includes church! And hospitals and primary care doctor’s offices. How about we ALL move to the basement!
  7. Humor has a role, even if the gallows variety.

Again, we of all people should not panic, because, to paraphrase the song slightly,We know who holds the future, and we know who holds our hand.”  

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The Power of Prayer

Sat, 03/07/2020 - 21:35
I am sorry not to have a new blog post for you this week. I have just been discharged from Brampton Civic Hospital, where I was treated for a virus and pneumonia. I am glad to be home and expect to make a full recovery. Lord willing, I will have a full post for you next week, but, in the meantime, you might want to think about these words from three great thinkers and church leaders: “God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.” — John Wesley “Pray, and let God worry.” — Martin Luther “The desire is thy prayers; and if thy desire is without ceasing, thy prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.” — Saint Augustine
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John Wesley’s Adversity Training

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 11:00

Some years ago I was thinking about how adversity can produce character, and particularly “grit.” One example, though couched in a larger passage about judgment, comes from Isaiah 30:20: Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 

My mind jumps here to John Wesley, 1703-1791, a man of extraordinary strength and persistence I had been reading and writing about at that time.

I began to review what prepared him to lead with such perseverance and conscientiousness in the widespread ministry he was thrust into later in his life.

Consider first his education. There were the five years of excellent home schooling under the watchful eye of his mother, Susannah. Then there were six years at Charterhouse school. Finally there were about five years at Oxford University.

The grim experiences he had at Charterhouse may be one key to Wesley’s future competence and capability. Charterhouse was a well-regarded school for boys in London. One hundred years earlier a man of great wealth had established the school so that select boys could get the best possible education there in preparation for university.

There was no money in the Wesley household to pay the tuition for such instruction, but Samuel Wesley, John’s father, managed to persuade the Duke of Buckingham to nominate John. So, before he was eleven, Wesley left the well-regulated and prayerful environment of the Epworth rectory (parsonage) to enter the tumult of a public boarding school. W. H. Fitchett writes that “the Charterhouse of that day was a school with great traditions and a decent standard of scholarship.”

However, there was one feature of this institution that leaves modern students of its history perplexed: the practice of high-handed student-on-student food theft. When the rations were given out at the cook house, the older and stronger boys took the meaty portions from the smaller boys. It was a daily experience. During those years Wesley practically lived on bread.

Fitchett writes: “A boy trained in the severities of Epworth parsonage, however, could easily survive even the raided meals of the Charterhouse School.” But what were the officials of this great school thinking in not stopping the thefts? It is hinted that such treatment developed humility or self-restraint. More likely, if one responded to it nobly, and without descending into thievery oneself, it developed a toughness of character, the ability to make do with what was available and to fend for oneself without the benefit of warm and nurturing guardians.

Wesley himself mentions another potential benefit of his time at Charterhouse. When his father sent him to the school he gave him instructions to run around the school’s large playing field or garden three times each morning. In other words, to stay strong and active. Wesley obeyed and later wrote that he believed (and we might at least in part disagree) that this exercise and limited diet contributed to his sturdy constitution as an adult.

Many years later, when Wesley was deeply involved as leader of the Methodist movement, he experienced all sorts of adversity. He faced mobs, endured storms, traveled tirelessly mostly by horseback, wrote copiously in defense of the Gospel and for the instruction of new converts, and often preached as many as three times a day.

His own opinion was that the ruggedness and deprivations of his early years — including Charterhouse — had made him equal to such a demanding life.

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Re-post: An Exchange of Smiles at Walmart

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 02:09

It was mid-afternoon and I was pushing my grocery cart toward the exit of Walmart when a middle-aged woman entering the store flashed me a big smile. I suddenly realized that I had been smiling at some pleasant thought and she must have thought I was smiling at her. Or perhaps she was just saying she was happy, too.

My observation is that not much smiling goes on in grocery stores. After all, there’s a lot to think about while shopping, like comparing the costs of two brands of paper towels or two different grades of eggs, or checking the calorie count of whole-grain Cheerios. And while you are doing all this, you have to make sure your grocery cart doesn’t get in the way of other shoppers.

(Someone should do a study about smiles in a grocery store. What percentage of shoppers smile at fellow shoppers in any one afternoon? What is most likely to prompt smiles? Do people who smile spend more or less money on average? Some pollster could figure out how to frame the questions. Anyhow, news reports citing such statistics would be a welcome relief from the poll results for presidential hopefuls we are treated to daily.)

Maybe an additional reason I don’t smile enough when I work my way down a shopping list in the grocery store is that grocery shopping is a relatively new experience for me. I’m still awkward at it. I’ve taken it up only since retiring and I’m not as patient and discriminating about it as Kathleen is. I sometimes bring the wrong thing home (like apple juice instead of apple cider vinegar).

Back when I was an assigned pastor I had a self-imposed rule that I would not run errands like grocery shopping during working hours. Some of my pastor friends thought this was too rigorous but I had a reason. During working hours I was on duty. I knew that the high-school principal couldn’t take time off during the day to slip away to a grocery store for a couple of items she forgot the night before. And the vice-president of the bank couldn’t slip out for half an hour to get a dozen eggs. These people were on duty. Why shouldn’t working pastors consider themselves on duty also?

It is true that a pastor’s work sometimes beckons during hours when others are finished for the day. Even so, it may not appear professional to parishioners that their pastor is pushing a shopping cart at 10 a.m.

The context of my self-imposed regulation during pastoral days was my strong work ethic — not a slavish one, not a compulsive one, but one exercised with a robust joy in making time count and in letting my people know that I took my assignment seriously.

That same thought brings me joy in setting myself a working schedule during retirement years — though one not so rigorous — and that may well be why I was smiling as I headed out of Walmart.

Photo credit: Rupert Taylor-Price (via flickr.com)

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Re-post: Everybody Talkin’ ‘Bout Heaven Ain’t Goin’ There

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 11:00

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch

In the flow of daily life we take seriously many behavioral restrictions: stop signs, red lights, legal notices, restricted crosswalks. It’s in our interest to do so. But do we pay attention to words of warning such as the ones Jesus spoke near the end of the Sermon on the Mount? He says:

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 in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers.’’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Attention to that warning is more important to us than stopping at a million stop signs, for we neglect Jesus’ words to our eternal peril. When Jesus speaks of “that day” in the passage quoted above he means the day of final judgment. In the New Testament this is also called “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8; see also Philippians 1:6, 10).

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the young prophet and proclaimer of eternal truths, tells us that at the end of history and at the time of this final judgment he will know the hearts of all men and will have power to forever banish some from the heavenly kingdom, saying to them: I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers (Matthew 7:23).

Jesus proclaims here that there will be some who will be rejected even though they claim to have done great, even miraculous, ministries in his name. They will say in surprise, and maybe with reproach: Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? (7:22)

Instead of accepting all, including this group of false religious achievers, Jesus makes clear there will be only one category of believers who will be received into the kingdom of heaven. It will be those who have paused to pay careful attention to the will of my Father who is in heaven (7:21b).

Heart obedience, it seems, is the key. That is, the heart’s obedience to the Father’s will, rather than general and especially self-directed service or accomplishment. That heart obedience will be the fundamental criterion for anyone’s acceptance into heaven.

To explain why that first group with apparent claims to heaven will be rejected, Jesus makes clear that in “that day,” even dramatic religious performance like the casting out of demons in the Lord’s name will not be enough.

This issue of heart obedience is addressed repeatedly in Scripture. Isaiah said of a very religious generation: The Lord says: “These people come near me with their mouth / and honor me with their lips, / but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13a). And in the closing hours of his earthly life, Jesus said to his closest followers: Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching (John 14:23a).

One needs to stop and ponder. In both Testaments, the obedience of the heart is the big issue. Even attempting wonders in Christ’s name will not count if the heart has not been open in submission and obedience to the Father.

There’s a line in a well-known spiritual that likely was inspired by these words of Jesus about the judgment: “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven that ain’t goin’ there — O my Lord.” This should awaken us to examine ourselves for both inward and outward obedience to the Father. Only those who do the will of my Father in Heaven, Jesus says, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

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How the Apostle John Guided the Church in Truth

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 11:00

By the time the New Testament church had grown partly from a likely influx of second-generation believers, the integrity of the gospel had begun to fade in some quarters, and heretical elements were seeping into the ranks

The early Apostles were deeply concerned. They had governing authority over the church as given by Jesus.

When the beloved Apostle John wrote his first of three letters he exercised that authority. He was keenly aware of deviations from the truth of the gospel and he adroitly addressed them and called for repentance.

His first epistle reflects these facts. He opens his letter with a beautiful tribute to the wonder of the incarnated Lord.

I regard this manner of his address as a key element in his style of governance. The first paragraph is often called a prologue but I refer to it here as an anchor point. It was a call to first look beyond the present troubling issues that clouded the church’s faith and begin with a time of reflection to worship the incarnate Lord.

Thus, John’s anchor point: The Lord is from the beginning. He is forever. He enters fully into humanity. It was a miraculous manner of entering. Though he is eternal, the Apostles actually saw him. They even touched him. Both his deity and his humanity were celebrated.

As you will see, the Apostle proclaimed the Incarnation at the outset of his address. This proclamation was for one purpose, he says: to identify the sin in their midst leading to repentance and in so doing to renew the joys that come with genuine faith — this was his first leadership step (1 John 1:1-4).

As a second aspect of his leadership John addresses his readers with warm terms of endearment: My dear children (2:1), dear friends (2:7), dear brothers (3:13), and so forth. He was not coming to them as the sheriff. He addressed them with deep affection. Fifteen times in his first letter he identifies believers affirmatively in this fashion.

One might think that such gentleness of address to a group of faltering believers would show the Apostle as soft, shallow, easy to resist.

Not so. In fact, the third aspect of his leadership was his clarity with the truth and his directness in stating issues of life and death. In fact, in this third aspect, John continues his communication with a candor that is solemn:

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. (John 2:4-6)

He reveals his commitment to eternal truth as of issue above all else. In spite of his good will toward those who heard or read him, he was not there to bargain on truth itself.

What could he state more clearly than the following:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth (1 John 1:5-6).

This must be called loving candor.

This gem of a letter is filled with such measured but penetrating words. But there is one more element in the Apostle’s directness that must be factored into his address in large measure. This measure was likely effective in facing the perilous disorder in the church.

The Apostle repeatedly reminds them of their status in faith: they are “born again.” That is, they are regenerated; they have received the gift of the Spirit; they have inner experience enabled by new life. All of this is implicit in the term born again. By this reality they are bound to the Lord and to one another. This puts them under obligation. Seven times he refers to their new birth (2:29; 3:10; 3:19; 4:8: 5:1; 5:14; 5:18). That emphasis cannot be without purpose.

He writes, for example: … for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith (1 John 5:4). Because of their “regeneration,” their flirting with the manners and inducements of the fallen world had to be repented of and had to cease. He identifies those inducements one after another in his letter and reminds them they are born again. 

The church in every age is tempted to drift from purity of heart and life. Heresy so readily reveals its deviant ways. This epistle is given to Christ’s church in all generations to identify and to correct its wanderings.

Photo credit: Paul VanDerWerf (via flickr.com)

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Repost: Resisting the Peril of Narcissism

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 11:00

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissus was a mythological figure known for his beauty, who, it is said, looked into a pool and fell in love with his own reflection.

Drawn from this story, narcissism is the term used to describe people who are excessively self-absorbed and preoccupied with their own imagined superiority. They may come across as strong and self-assured, but when their self-satisfaction and high self-regard are not honored as they expect, they are likely to react in a surge of punishing anger, insults, or even violence. The so-called big ego turns out to be amazingly fragile. (For those interested, there is a quieter covert, or vulnerable, form of narcissism, too.)

Narcissism has been on the rise in recent years. It often is manifested by a strong sense of entitlement. “I’m special and I deserve special treatment.” “I’ll not take just any job.”

So why is this in the news in growing measure these days?

Brad Bushman of Ohio State University and others have conducted various studies to understand the cause of narcissism. My takeaway understanding is that narcissism doesn’t come, as previously thought, from lack of parental warmth but instead can be traced to parents who “overvalue” their children during the developmental stage of their lives. Children between six and eight are especially sensitive to this kind of unwise parental influence.

If during those years children are continually told they are superior, are more special than others, do things better than others and in these ways are put on a pedestal, they may internalize an unrealistic view of themselves. Other people begin not to matter.

One might assume from the findings of such studies that the condition is planted by parents who have a need to reach some personal achievement of their own vicariously through their children. They believe their child can do no wrong; their child is unusual in every respect; their child deserves special attention from kindergarten on.

The need to foster healthy self-esteem in children is an entirely different matter. Self-esteem develops when children are helped to internalize the sense that they are valuable individuals but not that they can do no wrong. As they grow up, such children will get the appropriate amount of teaching, nurture, and encouragement but equally importantly, correction, discipline, and such otherwise character-shaping treatment as needed, all within the context of warm adult parental love. It is “overvaluing” that does the damage.

Christian parents are in danger of unwittingly fostering narcissism in their children by absorbing the culture around them. Thankfully, however, they can instead take their teaching from the Scriptures and Judeo-Christian understandings of fallen human nature.

Such parents know from Scripture that children are not a possession; they are a trust from God and must be raised with that in mind. Valuable as we are to God and one another we are all flawed and that fact should be kept in sight as we raise children.

Christian parents will not therefore be surprised when they catch a child in the first lie, or see the first tantrum. Dealing with these both with love and firmness is very important.

Christian parents will affirm their children’s achievements to a degree appropriate to their ages and commensurate with the actual achievement. When a four-year-old makes his bed or a seven-year-old sets the table he or she is thanked, but not raved over as if that was the most amazing thing anyone had ever done. And when they do wrong, the call to account should be real.

Christian parents pray daily with their children, and in this setting the Christian view of human nature may be shared at an age-appropriate level. Children can be helped to face and accept their failures as well as their successes. The early teaching of a developing child to worship God who is majestic and holy and far above them, and to say I’m sorry when appropriate, is a first line against the development of narcissism.

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A Brief Midwinter Break

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 04:13
It’s almost February, and, here in Brampton, Ontario, the weather may be aptly described in the words of King Lear, “Blow winds and crack your cheeks.” So it seems appropriate to take a midwinter break from blog writing — but just for a week. I am very grateful to you for your ongoing interest in my blog. — Donald N. Bastian
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The Changes New Life in Christ Will Bring

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 11:00

When we come to Christ in faith, confessing our sins and declaring ourselves his followers, we begin a new life. As the Apostle Paul exhorts: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Let us consider several ways in which this newness in Christ expresses itself for every Christian — though not always in the same way, and not always at the same rate of development. I hope this will help you or that you will pass it on to new Christians.

1. We have a new Lord. Before the change we were largely our own lord, seeking our own pleasures, captive to our own sometimes empty interests. Now, we bow before the lordship of the one who gave up his life for our salvation. His lordship brings us to a surprisingly enlightened state of mind! Understanding deepens! We are able to say with Paul: … no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God … can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).

2. The Holy Spirit becomes our new spiritual guide: He guides us, leading us in a righteous life. As Jesus said to Nicodemus: Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Spirit here refers to the third person of the Trinity. He is a personal, spiritual presence. How personal? The Apostle Paul exhorted reverently: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).

3. We have a new Guide Book. When we were dead in our sins and alienated from God we had little thought of the Bible, unless it was to speak of it casually or with disdain. But the new life in Christ awakens in us commitment to the Bible as the primary source of saving truth and also the guide for righteous living.

The Christian Scriptures are inspired by God as the source of his truth. It’s the book describing God’s redemptive purpose for our lives. The Apostle Paul had this practical goal in mind when he wrote:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

New Christians not yet well instructed in Bible truth may begin acquainting themselves with the Bible by first reading through one or more of the four gospels, preferably beginning with Mark, the shortest of the four.

4. As we live the new life some old relationships may fade and new ones take their place. When we experience Christ in a saving way friends will either show keen interest in our story, asking sincere questions, or they will appear skeptical, disinterested, or even hostile. Friendship may become difficult. The prophet Amos asks: How can two walk together unless they be agreed? (Amos 3:3) In such situations, the Holy Spirit will lead and comfort.

5. With the blooming of the new life, we find ourselves drawn toward a new community. Call it the local church. Most often, when we read the word church in the New Testament it is a translation of the Greek word for called out. That is, it is an assembly of believers who are called to gather regularly to understand and deepen their faith in Christ. We may also find new friends in such an assembly of Christians.

In looking for a good church in which to worship and to serve the Lord, look for one where pastors and other leaders carry on ministries rooted in Scripture and who themselves are alive to Jesus Christ; where church life is well ordered, love among members is evident, and Bible teaching makes clear what we are to believe and how we are to live. It should also be a gathering where fellowship looks inward to nurture the Christ-centered life, and outward to find opportunities to serve others.

As you ponder these suggestions keep in mind that the life God calls us to follow is a life that includes warfare, not against people but against the evil one who is the archenemy of God. Consider the Apostle Paul’s word about conflict and temptation to the church in Corinth:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

6. The end result of these life changes will be the natural development of Christian character. It’s what Paul had in mind when he set before the Galatian Christians the wonder of Christian growth, comparing it to a beautiful collection of developing fruit thus: … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It was in our Lord’s thoughts when he prayed for his disciples when he was soon to leave them: Sanctify them [make them holy] by the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17).

If you are challenged and encouraged in your faith by these six points of change prompted by the new life in Christ, I wish you God’s rich blessings as you ponder and receive ongoing Christian guidance from them.

Photo credit: wsilver (via flickr.com)

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Spending January in the Psalms

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 11:00

My resolution for the first part of this New Year has been to read for reflection five psalms from the Book of Psalms each morning. At that pace it will take me one month to ponder prayerfully all 150 of them, even though they may not all speak to my need on the day I read them.

If my pledge strikes you as old-fashioned, please recall that the Bible is still the most read book in the world and the psalms are the most often read portions of the Bible. This has been so for generations.

Having started a few days after January 1, recently Psalm 34 was included in my assignment. As background, this psalm was apparently written after King David had a narrow escape from death. The heading to the psalm refers to an incident when he was running hard from King Saul who wanted to kill him (1 Samuel 21:10-15).

To escape, he sought refuge by offering himself in the service of a Philistine competitor of King Saul, Achish king of Gath, only to learn that his life was in danger there, too. So, he feigned insanity. By this ruse and divine providence David escaped.

This psalm itself teaches the reader how to pray during times of special struggle. It teaches us how to praise God in the times of his blessings, and to be at all times attentive to his mercies.

That’s what caught my attention in the very first sentence of the psalm. Its opening resolution is to extol the Lord — that is praise him highly — at all times.

We might call that a 24/7 pledge — to give God praise during both day and night, good times and bad.

Is that kind of devotion possible in our kind of world? Our world is fast-paced, and many distractions and issues come at us from all directions. To add to those challenges our present era is not a particularly religious one. If we don’t worship the God who rules the universe we may say it is because God doesn’t matter (secularism) or that he doesn’t exist (atheism). Even some who say these things have their superstitions, rabbit feet or hidden idols to fall back on and lend a little dash of spirituality.

Psalm 34 is a wonderful alternative, written for believers.

Here’s the psalmist’s testimony toward the end of his prayer: The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken (verses 19, 20).

Or here is his further word of witness: I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears (verse 4). Or this: The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit (verse 18).

I will admit, after reading Psalm 34 several times, that its Hebraic style is different from modern poetry. But reading it can be like panning for gold. Both activities take time and some sifting and careful inspection, but when gold appears in the words of the Psalms, the search proves well worth the while.

Photo credit: News of Peace (via flickr.com)

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A Mistake or Providence?

Mon, 01/06/2020 - 11:00

Although the word “providence” is itself not a word in the Bible, we use the term generally to reflect God’s loving care of the universe he has created and which he continues to sustain.

But as laypersons we also use the term in specific and personal ways. We use it to speak of God’s extraordinary gracious interventions in our lives.

Take, for example, the story of Ruth in the Old Testament, told in the book named after her. She was a Moabite, widowed from her Israelite husband. She insisted on relocating to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi.

As a result of her decision, she eventually married Boaz, and the two of them became the grandparents of David, king of Israel. Her story shows that bad things may happen (Ruth’s widowhood and alienation), but providentially they may also lead to good consequences.

A story I heard a while ago reflects events that were alarming yet turned out to bless wondrously.

As the story goes, on a certain Saturday night a pastor was working late at his church. He decided to call his wife before leaving for home. It was about 10 p.m., but his wife didn’t answer the phone.

The pastor let the phone ring many times. He thought it was odd that she didn’t answer, but decided to wrap up a few details and then try to phone again a few minutes later.

When he tried again, his wife answered after the first ring. He asked why she had failed to answer earlier. She said that the phone had been quiet all evening. They agreed that it must have been a fluke.

The following Monday the pastor received a phone call at the church office. It came in on the phone he had used the previous Saturday night. The call was from a stranger who wanted to know why the pastor had called on Saturday night.

The pastor was puzzled until the caller said, “My phone rang and rang Saturday night but I didn’t answer it.” The pastor remembered calling his wife and realized he must have called the wrong number.

The man interrupted the pastor’s explanation, “That’s okay,” he said. “Let me tell you my story. You see, I was planning to commit suicide on Saturday night, but before I did I prayed, ‘God, if you’re there, and you don’t want me to do this, give me a sign now.’” At that point my phone started to ring. I looked at the caller ID, and it said, ‘Almighty God.’ I was afraid to answer!”

The reason it showed “Almighty God” on the man’s caller ID was that the church the pastor was serving was called Almighty God Tabernacle.

Was that “wrong number call” just a coincidence or a providential interruption to show grace to the caller? My readers can ponder and decide…

Photo credit: Dejan Krsmanovic (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How to Feed the Fires of Faith

Mon, 12/30/2019 - 11:00

I’m told that in a grassland area in Africa, people may walk long distances to Sunday worship with scraps of wood in hand. The people conclude a full service of worship by lighting a large bonfire to symbolize their fellowship.

A visitor from North America witnessed the event and asked villagers how they could create such a fire week after week when there was very little wood in their area. Their reply was that every worshiper, from youngest to oldest, was on the lookout the prior week for scraps of wood to take for the church in anticipation of the weekly bonfire.

Bonfires wouldn’t work in our part of the world. Imagine the fire department’s response! But the concept of coming supplied still has merit for enlivening worship. What each individual brings to corporate worship has a large bearing on how vital the gathering together will be.

And what we bring in North America can be something invisible, reverent, and of the heart.

As an example, in my childhood eight decades ago my parents, younger sister, and I walked to church nearby in a small town. We were usually among the first to arrive. My sister and I followed our parents into a row of seats and before they took their seats they knelt to pray. It was a worship custom for that congregation. My sister and I took our seats and sat in silence waiting for the service to begin.

There was no music to fill the air. As the worshipers gathered there was no talking. None of this was enforced, and it seemed natural at the time. In fact the reverence and silence were what the worshipers brought to contribute to the sense of awe they would share.

Gathering wood for the bonfire can also in a sense be what we are doing in our times when we put our houses in order on Saturday to avoid haste and stress on Sunday morning. Or when we arrive at church early in order to sit quietly in prayerful reflection on a Psalm or hymn.

I realize that some who come to worship are like wounded warriors limping in from a hard-fought week. They may arrive depleted with hardly the energy to lift their eyes to heaven. Others whose faith is little more than an inherited tradition may not have much to bring. After all, a congregation is made up of people in all stages of Christian development.

At the same time, every congregation likely has a core of believers who are inwardly energized daily by meditation, prayer, and praise, who invoke the energy of the Spirit when they come to worship. Such believers might bring an extra piece of wood to build the fire for those who come empty-handed, and all for the glory of God!

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Photo credit: Ian Carroll (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Light Is Shining, the Memories Are Bright

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 11:00

December 19, 2019

Dear Family and Friends Near and Far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bastians, Don and Kay

Categories: Churchie Feeds

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

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 11:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: hickory hardscrabble (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Love That Is Still Fresh … 73 Years and Counting

Mon, 12/09/2019 - 11:00

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

Found

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: RichardBH (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

My Father’s Heavenly Tenor Voice

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 11:00

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

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

Children sang simple songs, still meaningful to this day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Rory (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds