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A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 20 hours 42 min ago

How Tomato Soup and Psalm 23 Fill out the Menu at Our House Daily

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 11:00

When we sit down for a bowl of our favorite tomato soup we know we are in for a moment of pleasure. We never tire of tomato soup at our house.

Kathleen’s friend, Betty Johnston, from Tennessee gave her the original recipe more than 20 years ago.

We’ve gone back to this soup on occasion through the years but recently, along with a suitable side dish, it fills out the need almost daily for one of three healthful meals.

This morning it was time to make a fresh two-or-three-day supply, and I was pressed into service as a greenhorn chef. All my family and friends know that cooking has never been my thing.

I was not totally new to the procedure, however, because for some time I have chopped up the cabbage out of consideration for Kathleen’s right shoulder. Replacement surgery a few years ago helped her greatly, but she has to be careful.

This morning’s activity was nevertheless a huge step forward for me. It was my first time to make the soup from start to finish. That is, to wash, chop, assemble, cook and store.

Kathleen supervised every step closely and here is the sequence I followed:

1. Get out the big pot that holds several quarts of liquid.

2. Lay out on the counter the chopping board, then the freshly washed cabbage, several stalks of celery and three or four onions. Also have at hand two cans of Aylmers tomatoes (labeled no salt, and prepared with Italian spices). And don’t forget the hot sauce to add the zing

3. With Kay looking on I chopped the cabbage until the results nearly filled the cooking pot. I then chopped and added the celery and tear-jerking onions.

4. After adding several cups of water I carried the pot to the stove and cooked the vegetables until the cabbage was limp. Then I added the two cans of tomatoes and several squirts of the hot sauce and mixed it all well and let it cook.

5. The final step was to let the mixture cool and then puree the results about half a quart at a time in the blender, pouring the results into containers to store in the refrigerator.

Here’s how this delicious soup fits into our daily menu: After a nutritious smoothie for breakfast and a noon meal of meat, vegetables, salad, and dessert, for our evening repast this soup comes into play. We usually add a protein, like a cheese sandwich or poached egg.

In troubled times such as ours you may ask who should care about matters so mundane as recipes and food cooking procedures? Especially about so modest a dish as tomato soup.

My mind turns toward the end of the 23rd Psalm where  the author addresses this line to the Divine Shepherd: “You prepare a table before me …”  even when my life may be in danger.

Every repast reminds us that this Shepherd God we serve is all-provident and deserves our heart’s gratitude even for a humble dish of tomato soup.


Photo credit: Erik Forsberg (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-Post: Keeping Daily Prayers Alive and Fresh

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 11:00

Prayer is a discipline that enriches our awareness of the Living God and his care for us. Prayer is therefore bedrock for living adequately as believers.

Through the years I have kept distraction at bay, and centered my prayer using the five classic elements of prayer as follows.

1. ADORATION. The Virgin Mary began, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46, 47). That’s adoration. Taking our lead from the Psalmist we may say, “O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty,” and then let the reality sink in (Psalm 104:1).

Words of adoration, when thoughtfully offered to God, take us into the inner sanctuary of worship. This exercise can concentrate the mind and bring under control our scattered thoughts. The Book of Psalms gives many examples: (Psalm 108:5; 104:33; 145:1; 138:1,2; 111:1; 104:1; 103;1; Psalm 66:1,2).

2. CONFESSION. In a collection of prayers that John Wesley published before he was 30 years of age, he gave this helpful pattern: “Heal, O Father of mercies, all my infirmities (_____), strengthen me against all my follies (____), forgive me all my sins (_____). Wesley left the blanks so that anyone using this prayer could personalize it. However we fill in the blanks, confession must be a part of every honest prayer.

3. PETITION. To petition means to implore or to beseech. Often our prayers of confession lead naturally to petitions for mercy, grace, forgiveness, or strength to obey. Petitions may also have to do with our infirmities, follies, or sins. Or they may arise out of daily needs, however large or small.

Keeping current in this way makes for soul health. George Buttrick wrote, “No situation remains the same when prayer is made about it.”

4. INTERCESSION. This means praying for others — family, friends, associates, neighbors, distant ministries, civic leaders. The efficacy of intercession is one of the profoundest mysteries of the spiritual life. Its effects are often imperceptible but in God’s time come home to us as real.

Intercession saves our prayers from becoming merely “want” lists. It stretches our horizons. James Hastings wrote, “It would not be unfair to estimate a person’s religion by the earnestness by which he longs for the welfare of others.”

5.THANKSGIVING. This aligns with adoration as follows: In adoration, we worship God for who he is; in thanksgiving we praise him for all his benefits. It is good to let our spirits soar in daily thanksgiving.

During this part of our prayer, it is good to remember the smallest mercies alongside the great and grand ones.  And when we pray we give thanks above all else for the gift of redemption through Jesus Christ, the greatest blessing of all!  He is our salvation and we walk with him as Lord!

Photo credit: Stephen Platt (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Aging Takes You By Surprise

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 11:00

I was a college pastor, 37 years old, when a student from the campus across the street came for an appointment. She talked out her problem and we had prayer.

As she got up to leave, she said with a warm smile, “Thanks very much for seeing me; I thought it would be good for me to talk to someone middle-aged.”

Me? Middle-aged? It was a brand new and entirely unexpected thought. I pondered it for some time after she left.

I’m not middle-aged, I thought. I am young. Not that much different from the hundreds of students I preach to every Sunday.

But the truth slowly sank in and from that time to the present, people here and there have managed to keep me conscious that the aging process is real.

For example, I was holding a church conference in Western Canada when I was in my early 60s.  Crossing the conference grounds from the lodge to the meeting place, singing to myself, I saw Maurice coming toward me.

He stopped, put his hand on my forearm, and in a most solicitous voice said something like, “At your age, you shouldn’t be walking and singing at the same time.”

On another occasion some time later my wife, Kathleen, and I were driving across Michigan on I-94. It was late afternoon and time to quit for the day, so I pulled into a motel and went inside.

I asked the usual questions: Do you have a nonsmoking room for two — preferably on the main floor? The desk clerk studied his charts and then, smiling as if he had found the right match said, “I can give you a handicapped room. Fully equipped.”

It was another jarring moment. I wondered, Do I look that infirmed?

But the coup de grace came later that summer, from the boss of a roofing crew replacing the shingles on the house next door. I asked him to look at the roof of my house and give me his opinion.

We walked together to my driveway and he stood for a few moments looking up. Then, he said pleasantly, “You won’t be around to replace those shingles.”

Many observant seniors are aware of the subtle social changes that begin to manifest themselves as age creeps on: Sales clerks seem to show diminished interest in giving service; con artists treat the aged as easy prey for their schemes; people in a group may ignore the comments of the elderly.

Growing old is not for the humorless. I’ve been collecting funny stories about aging and loss of memory for some time now. This is not politically incorrect because my stories are about me and my own age group.

One story my wife and I both enjoy is about the elderly couple driving out to meet friends for a social evening. She says to him, “Honey, you try to remember where we’re going and I’ll try to remember who we are.”

Admittedly, there is a less pleasant side to growing old. Strength begins to wane, degenerative diseases show up, creaks and aches become regular companions.

Perhaps worst of all is the subtle anxiety, always just under the surface, about what the future will hold in this high speed new world.

The Psalmist’s prayer takes on new meaning for us: “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (Ps. 71:9).

In my experience, that sort of response is the right one. We can allow faith to take us by one arm and hope by the other as we walk, perhaps a little less briskly than before, down this pilgrim path.

Faith says in one ear, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11).

That verse doesn’t need to apply only to our future resurrection. It can also mean that even the closing years of this life can be infused with special energy from God’s Spirit.

And hope says in the other ear, “Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory” (Rom. 5:2, NLT).

In the meantime, the people of God — the church — can do a wonderful thing for those in their midst who are of advanced years. It can counter today’s tendency to diminish and devalue the aged.

I think of this when I read one of my at-present favorite chapters in the Old Testament, Leviticus 19. It sets forth a summary of how God’s chosen people were to live out His holiness in community.

One verse says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32).

(A version of this piece was first published in Christianity Today)


Photo credit: Garry Knight (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Boys Must Become Good Men

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 11:00

Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, has been in the news for several weeks. It appears that he used his powerful position in the entertainment industry to abuse in unspeakable ways women striving to rise to stardom.

Close associates of Weinstein claim complete ignorance of his offenses, but a large number of women believe his abuse was widely known by them but was protected, not rebuked.

Similar scandals have erupted at Amazon, Fidelity, and NBC News, but we don’t have final information on any of these.

As the stories unfold, however, we are likely to hear counselors explain rightly that the evil conduct of these men is driven not by sexual desire but by an excessive need to dominate women in cruel and humiliating ways.

If charged, these men are likely to experience long days, even months, in court leading in some cases to jail time or other punishments.

For the offended, it will take years to achieve justice and some measure of healing. The expertise not only of lawyers, but also psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation centers, therapy groups, ministers, priests, and rabbis will be called upon. Such wounds go deep.

It seems to me that parallel to all this two questions deserve the attention of large numbers of citizens: First, when do grown men take their first steps towards character-grounded respect for womanhood? Second, What are the resources Judeo-Christian understanding provides?

First, the training for respectful conduct toward women begins unconsciously with what boys learn in early childhood — particularly what they learn from how their dad treats their mother.

But the boys’ learning is cumulative over time from a great variety of sources such as: the strength of family cohesion, what goes on at the playground; the influence of a kindergarten teacher; what their friends laugh at; what they learn in Sunday School; the friendships they develop: print media; endless television; and pornography. The influences are numerous.

Second, the primary Christian resource is the Bible and the primary classroom is the home. Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything that exists.

It is God’s world, and he is everywhere present and all-knowing. Little boys can grasp early that he sees our every thought and action. Thus, conscience is reinforced and respect for others engendered.

The recent news has been dark, and impresses upon us that we have an oncoming generation of little boys to train to show respect across gender lines.

The oft-repeated saying, Boys will be boys usually used to excuse some mischief — needs to be changed to Boys will be men — fine men — because that’s where we should be leading them.


Photo credit: Frank Boston (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Learning to Fire the Bright Spots

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 11:00

When I was just out of seminary and beginning to lead my first church as a full-time pastor, a retired minister, the Rev. C. P. Stewart, told me a story I have carried with me throughout my life. Here it is:

Back in the days when steam-driven locomotives pulled 100-car freight trains across this continent, a westward bound train was laboring up a pass in the Rocky Mountains.

Its pace gradually slowed until finally it came to a standstill. The fireman in the engine cab was young and found himself defeated and helpless.

Riding the caboose at the end of the train was a retired fireman. He walked the length of the long string of boxcars, climbed into the locomotive’s cab, and offered his help.

The young fireman was glad to let him take over.

The retired fireman started methodically shoveling coal into the firebox. The steam gauge began to rise and when it registered that pressure was adequate he signaled the engineer to open the throttle.

After a couple of sharp tugs the train began to move again and this time made it up the grade of the mountain pass.

Amazed, the young fireman asked his senior what he had done differently, noting that he himself had been shoveling just as hard.

As the train moved forward, gradually gaining speed, the older man opened the door of the firebox. First he pointed out a couple of clinkers — residue of burned coal — lying dead in the ashes, then pointed to places in the bed where the fire was burning brightly.

Pointing out this contrast with his long poker, he said, “If you want the train to move you have to fire the bright spots.”

Rev. Stewart was giving a young pastor a tip on how to go about leading a congregation without becoming a casualty of stalled initiatives.

Local churches are complex and lots of activities are going on at the same time – children’s programs, choir practices, committee meetings, some of which can at times be stalled by a variety of conflicting opinions.

While helping a church grow, gaining momentum and depth in ministry, Rev. Stewart intimated, one must take courage from the programs that are thriving, reporting this good news to the congregation whenever possible.

But the story fits many situations: the highly energized family, the public school classroom, the student striving to work her way through college, to name a few.

Things in life go better when one learns to fire the bright spots.

Photo credit: Thomas’s Pics (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Consider Jesus at Twelve

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 11:00

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple by WIlliam Holman Hunt, 1860. Public Domain.

In our culture we don’t make much of the age twelve.

Sixteen is important because at that age a person becomes eligible to learn and be licensed to drive a car.

In Canada and the United States eighteen brings the right to vote. And twenty-one has long been considered the age of maturity.

Each is an important year, but not twelve. However, it was different in Jesus’ Jewish culture.

St. Luke tells us in detail about the birth of Jesus including the wonders that attended it. Then he skips to age 30, when Jesus’ public ministry began.

The years between Jesus’ infancy and the beginning of his ministry are sometimes called the silent years.

St. Luke breaks into that silence to report one important event in Jesus’ life when he was only twelve.

For background, Jesus’ earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, were serious practitioners of the faith of Israel. For example, they brought the baby Jesus to the temple to be circumcised on the eighth day of his life, as prescribed by Jewish law.

As well, they were apparently competent and committed parents since Luke tells us in passing that Jesus was obedient not only to his Heavenly Father but also to his earthly parents.

Also, during Jesus’ times a Jewish boy became known as a “son of the commandment” at the age of twelve. That is, a boy’s primary accountability was now to God through obedience to the Torah.

At that ceremony the lad would begin his speech saying, “Today I am a man.” — old enough to take part in religious services, to form binding contracts, and to testify before religious courts.

In Jesus’ times, a twelve-year-old could also attend his first Passover in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph took pains to make this happen, and Luke reports the event.

When Jesus’ first Passover was over and his parents had begun the long trek north to Nazareth he lingered behind, in Jerusalem, talking to the teachers in the temple.

His distressed parents had to turn from their journey and go back to search for him. When they found him in the temple and expressed their distress he responded, “Didn’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”

Was this Jesus’ first awareness of his purpose on earth? His surprising response makes it seem so — “my Father’s business.”

The consciousness of his divine assignment must have grown for in the later full stride of his ministry he was accepting of titles such as Savior, Redeemer, Master, Lord, and the very God incarnate — “he who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Think of it: all this was possible at twelve years of age — a rich knowledge of God’s law and an awakening awareness of God as his Father in a unique way!

It makes one think more seriously of the capacity a twelve-year-old can have for religious knowledge, spiritual understanding, and the experience of the living God!

And, as well, like Mary and Joseph, think of the accountability of today’s parents to the demanding spiritual task of laying a Christian foundation for their children’s lives.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Let’s Give Thanks for Life’s Imperishables

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 11:00

On Monday of this week, October 9, Canadians will slow their pace to count their blessings and offer thanks. Whether or not you reside in Canada, please join in!

In Canadian gatherings, words of thanksgiving will flow — for food in abundance, family, safety, health, the beauty of nature, and many other things. The list must be long for we are greatly blessed.

But, these are the perishables of life. In recent weeks, shocking devastation by hurricanes, terror attacks, and a profoundly evil massacre have snatched life’s most precious relationships and possessions away from great numbers of people in the United States and Canada.

While we pray for the thousands directly impacted and in deep grief, and for others recovering from grievous injury, I suggest especially for the rest of us this Thanksgiving that we remember in particular three blessings that are imperishable.

First, the Bible.

Twenty eight hundred years ago, before our Bible existed as we have it today, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). This was a prophecy spoken in antiquity, fulfilled in history, and true to this day.

The Bible is not merely a great book; it is a unique book, a book that has remained strong and communicative against all critics. It has been a bestseller from the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in the 15th century to the present.

It is really a library of Spirit-inspired truth — estimated to be the work of 40 authors written across a span of 1500 years. Yet its many voices and varied styles are bound together by a central theme – God’s redemption of his fallen world. We give thanks.

Second, the Cross.

The cross of Christ too is one of history’s imperishables.

Whether it is symbolized on top of the golden dome of historic St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, or displayed in rustic fashion on the face of the pulpit of a wayside church in rural Manitoba, the symbol of the cross appears wherever Christ is proclaimed.

All this is no accident. As the late John R. W. Stott wrote, “Jesus’ death was central to his mission,” and that substitutionary death on a cruel Roman cross provides the way for us to be saved from death and punishment. All four gospels lead through the cross to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection and in turn to the assurance that believers will live eternally too.

Stott also wrote: “The cross sets forth three truths: first our sins must be extremely horrible; second, God’s grace must be wonderful beyond comprehension; third, salvation must be a free gift.” For the cross we give thanks.

Third, our hope.

When we talk about the Christian hope we mean more than our exclamation that “we hope” it won’t rain tomorrow. The Christian’s hope is called the anchor of the soul to keep us steady even in stormy times (Hebrews 6:19).

It was this hope that kept the Apostle Paul confident and joyful when he wrote to the church in Philippi, even though his letter came to them from a jail in Rome.

If he were allowed to live after his trial, he wrote, that would open to him further ministry; if he should be executed, and his earthly life taken from him, he would depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:21-26). Either possibility was ground for rejoicing.

Life as we live it in this world cannot be lived to the fullest until we have the assurance that there is life beyond the grave and for Christians it is life with Christ. We give thanks for this Christian hope.

The Holy Scriptures; the Sacred Cross; the anchor of a Hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). What a trio of imperishable gifts! Let us not neglect to give hearty thanks this week for perishable blessings but even more for the imperishable ones!

Photo credit: Faith Goble (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Should We Respect Even Difficult Leaders?

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 11:00

David is a major figure of the Old Testament. His kingship followed that of King Saul who was anointed by the prophet Samuel as Israel’s first king.

King Saul was insanely jealous of David in spite of David’s sworn allegiance. The king and his army of 3000 were hunting David to kill him.

David had gathered around him a ragtag band of 600 men and whipped them into an effective fighting force simply to survive.

On one occasion, the two forces came dangerously near to one another. One night, Saul’s army was bedded down in a valley at the base of a hill and David was surveilling Saul’s sleeping soldiers from above.

In the dead of the night David and a brave soldier eased their way down into Saul’s camp, creeping to where Saul lay sleeping.

There, David’s soldier whispered, “Here’s our chance; let me run him through with my sword.” David rebuked him. “It’s not my right to kill the Lord’s anointed,” he said.

Instead, David instructed his soldier to take Saul’s spear, which was stuck into the ground near his head, and his water supply, as proof that the two had been there without harming him. The two escaped safely.

Why would David pass up such an opportunity? After all, if he had taken Saul’s life he would no longer be hunted like a wild animal. Was his decision simply eccentric?

Or, had David learned as a child from a godly mother the wisdom of showing respect for properly assigned authority, as elsewhere may be suggested (Psalm 86:16; 116:16)?

Showing regard for constituted authority as David did does not match the moods of our times. In growing numbers, voices against authority are becoming more raucous and even violent.

Those in authority are not always right, but the wholesale rejection and disrespect of authority is also very hurtful. Teachers may be endangered in unruly classrooms, parents are silenced by disrespectful children, policemen may be taunted and threatened for their lives, leaders are insulted vulgarly, and public property is wantonly destroyed.

The Bible has much to say about respect for authority. For example, at the core of the Ten Commandments is the divine law: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

This word is more than a suggestion. It is a law left to parents to administer, and if enforced nationally promises national health and longevity.

Widening the scope of that commandment to respect parents, the Apostle Peter instructs the members of the church scattered by persecution, “Show proper respect to everyone: love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).

The holiness code of Leviticus commands: “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32). No one is left out when respect is involved.

In our unsettled environment, it is time for Christians to shine by taking a grace-directed approach to authority and respecting it! Taking our lead from David’s wisdom we can say all human relationships are to feature respect, making them relationally health-giving and life-restoring.

That is not to commend silence in the presence of evil. We should always speak up clearly, forcefully, even directly when authorities do wrong, standing for truth in the presence of falsehood — but always from a foundation of grace and respect.

Photo credit: Thomas Haynie (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Am I Staying in Spiritual Health?

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 11:00

Every day we get messages from the media about what we must do to be in good health.

We must (1) feed our bodies a proper diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and modest portions of carbohydrates; and (2) exercise vigorously for 30 to 60 minutes each day.

There seems to be, in theory at least, a culture-wide consensus on this, so at our house we try to eat healthfully and exercise, though the latter is hard to do “vigorously” at 91 years of age.

But what about spiritual health? After all, we are not only physical creatures. As the Scriptures say, mankind was formed by our Creator from the dust of the earth as were the other animals.

But God also breathed into mankind’s physical bodies the breath of life and “man became a living soul” – spiritual, immortal, deathless.

So, how is that soul to be kept in health? I must (1) nourish it and (2) exercise it daily just as I do for my body.

The food we need is Christian doctrine, which means organized Christian thought. J. I. Packer writes in his book, Knowing God: There can be no spiritual health without good doctrine.

This is in a sense the “food” for the soul and we must therefore regularly seek to nourish our understanding of the Christian faith. We look seriously into the Bible daily.

But, what about spiritual exercise? Along with ingestion of spiritual “food” the exercise side of this formula calls for prayer, service, church attendance — but also for meditation, an easily neglected element in the formula.

Meditation, Packer writes, is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.

Meditation, like pleasant dining, takes time. It’s often suggested that it’s ideal to set apart 30 minutes in the morning for the feeding and exercise of the soul.

If that’s not feasible a lesser time can be set – even as little as 10 minutes — rather than just leaving this spiritual exercise to happen when convenient.

Morning is the best time. Just as the orchestra tunes its instruments before the concert begins, so it is better for us to take time for meditation at the outset of the day, rather than after the day’s concert has been played.

A college student once complained to me that she couldn’t make the early morning hour work because she still felt too groggy from sleep.

She was a very sociable person and I learned she usually took an-hour-and-a-half for lunch. I suggested she cut that time in half and use half for meditation in a quiet corner.

On this matter, as the adapted saying goes, for all of us, “Where there’s a will, there are twenty ways.”

Meditation usually works best when it is used to refocus on God, not on our problems. This can be done helpfully when we set ourselves to reflect on Scripture, such as a portion from the Gospels, a Psalm, The Philippian Letter, etc., holding ours thoughts to the passage.

In our fast-moving culture stopping to meditate may strike us as wasting time. We just want to plunge into the business of whatever we are doing – including even our meditations.

But there’s no getting around it — spiritual health means the daily feeding of soul and body with Christian truth. And it also means the exercising of the soul by taking time to reflect, digest and apply that truth.

Photo credit: ExtensivelyReviewed (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Advice about Prayer from Great Men and Women of the Past

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 11:00

Recently, a simple brochure fell out from the pages of a book I wrote many years ago on church membership. This little brochure was intended to help ministers I was mentoring in their practices of prayer.

I had begun and ended my recommendations by quoting some things great Christian leaders of earlier times have said about prayer. I offer some of them here because they may encourage you, too. 

We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties. Oswald Chambers

Prayer is where the action is. John Wesley

Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work. Oswald Chambers.

A golden thread of heart-prayer must run through the web of the whole Christian life; we must be frequently addressing ourselves to God in short and sudden utterances, by which we must keep our communion with him… Matthew Henry

 Accustom yourself gradually to carry prayer into all your daily occupation. Speak, move, work in peace, as if you were in prayer. Fenelon

Prayer is for Jesus not nearly so much connected with resignation as it is with rebellion… Practically all that is said in the New Testament about prayer is said not in the interest of being reconciled to things as they are but in the interest of getting things changed. John Baillie

Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. [Christians] are powerful on their knees. Corrie Ten Boom

Prayer is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings. Chrysostom

You may find among these promptings one or two that especially strengthen your resolve to pray more regularly and intentionally in the days ahead. If so, consider writing one or more of them on the fly leaf of your Bible to encourage you!

Photo credit: Jon Genius (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How to Make Our Prayers Seem More Real

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 11:00

Several times I have heard fellow Christians say: I pray, but my prayers seem to lack a sense of reality.

They say: I start with good intentions, but my thoughts are interrupted by something I have to do or they just wander off subject.

Having had the same experience myself, I have a strategy that helps greatly. It is biblical and is in fact taught to us by Jesus, our Lord. I begin by taking time to reflect on who God is.

This is what Jesus intended when he said to his disciples, “This is how you should pray: Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name’” (Matthew 6:9). It’s a very short prayer but it begins by sharpening our awareness that God is our Father. And this is how our prayers are to begin.

The Gospel of John uses this title for God at least 111 times. It is often used by Jesus in address to his Father, and is to be used by us, although in a different way, when in prayer we address God as our Heavenly Father (John 20:17).

Even if your earthly father has not set before you a good model (an all too common complaint), don’t let that rob you of the reality that God is in every respect an unflawed Almighty Father and he can be fully trusted. Jesus is our authority on that.

After Jesus establishes that God is our Father, he adds, our Father in heaven. This means the God we address dwells in the unseen world that has a reality as great or greater than the world we experience with our human senses.

Our Father is above us as our Sovereign at the same time as he is a caring Father right with us, although unseen. When we give time to this exercise of focusing on God as our Father in heaven, we will experience God’s Holy Spirit intensifying a sense of who God is to us.

Jesus also teaches us to attribute to God, “Hallowed be your name.” John Wesley comments on this, May you be truly honored, loved, feared by all in heaven and in earth, by all angels and all men.” It matters that we take the time to address our Heavenly Father as holy, pure, loving and majestic.

We too easily skip over reflection on the holiness of our God. As a result, we rush into prayer with only a vague sense of God’s holy Fatherhood; thus we fail to identify ourselves as profoundly loved by him. So in reflecting on our God’s holiness and majestic rule we thus see our creaturehood as we should.

You may say: It takes time for such thoughts to sink in. True. So that is why it’s good at the outset of our daily prayers to get in mind the greatness, grandeur and goodness of God, our Father, and to consciously address him as such.

This title for God focuses our attention, clarifies our perspective, and the earthly plane on which we live becomes quiet. It was Jesus Christ, our Messiah, who said, When you pray, first say “Our Father.” That is advice from the highest source, and if we take time to follow it, rewards will be abundant.

Photo credit: Alexander Baxevanis (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Do You Recognize Five Faces of Anger?

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 11:00

Someone has said a baby’s first cry is an expression of anger. Whether or not that is true, anger is a feature of our humanness. None of us is born without the capacity to be angry.

This is important to know because in our fallenness every aspect of our beings is marred by sin, and this powerful emotion can be legitimate and appropriate but when misused, is often destructive.

Upon returning to the Israelite camp after being absent for many days, Moses found the people indulging in pagan practices. In a show of legitimate anger, he smashed the sacred tablets upon which were written God’s law — the very law that they were breaking.

As recorded by Mark, when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees arrogantly condemned him for “breaking” the Sabbath. Jesus saw their great lack of compassion and he looked around upon them “with anger” — but with complete and holy control.

His anger was the right emotion for the situation, but is probably the emotion hardest to manage well. Sadly, it can wrongfully destroy property or human relationships. In the extreme, for example, consider the terrible consequences of road rage, air rage, or domestic abuse.

Consider five faces of anger.

Sullen Anger. This anger is kept below the boiling point; face muscles are taut; the air seems charged. It’s better than an explosion but not as good as words that could convey meaning or a good walk to dissipate the emotion and regain perspective.

Nice Guy Anger. Some call it frozen smile anger. Kathleen and I took a short trip into the mountains in California on a narrow gauge railroad. The car was open on all sides, and seating was arranged around the edges. A couple with a child boarded at one of the stops and took more spaces than needed.

At the next stop another couple with several children boarded and chose to sit next to the first couple. Seating was tight and the first couple made no effort to give up space for the family. After the exchange of a few unpleasant words, the second woman sat with her back to the other couple. On her face was a fixed smile that appeared to say, “I’m too nice to be angry.”

Misdirected Anger. A cartoon in four frames first showed a boss talking harshly to his employee. The next frame showed the employee at home chewing out his wife. The third frame showed the wife talking harshly to her little girl. The fourth frame showed the little girl angrily scolding her rag doll. To pass on the emotion of anger to an innocent party rather than owning it and dissipating it is unfair and hurtful.

Anger Used to Punish. Insults, loud talk, swearing, or slamming doors do the work here. The abuser may walk away relieved by a kind of catharsis but his or her victim must deal with the aftermath. Anger used to punish that is not acknowledged can make ongoing relationships cautious and superficial.

Denied Anger. Children who, for example, grow up in the home of an alcoholic parent may be left with unrecognized anger that never goes away. This sort of anger is smothered in an unhealthy way, sometimes denied by practicing a three part mantra — “don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t trust.” I have met adults who were surprised when counseling helped them to discover they were living out this mantra and were encouraged to seek professional help.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Ephesus: “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Anger is clearly acknowledged. Indeed anger is a strong and sometimes necessary emotion but tainted by sin needs to be managed in the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s why the Apostle goes on to say, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). By God’s grace, destructive anger does not need to be a feature of the Christian life.

Photo credit: Muneef HameedPhoto/Nashad Abdu (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Did the Eclipse Prompt You to Reflect?

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 11:00

Recently, the moon totally eclipsed the sun even though the far more distant sun is 1000 times larger than the moon. It was a rare spectacle.

Advance notice of this phenomenon brought people from far and near — tens of thousands of them — to be under the total eclipse’s charted path all across America, and to witness the phenomenon.

How could it be known almost to the second where the total eclipse would manifest itself at any particular time of that day? And that the total eclipse in every case would last for two minutes?

The moon performed magnificently.

One telecaster, microphone in hand, moved among a crowd of viewers sprawled across a large area in Oregon, asking: What word describes it for you?” One after another said with enthusiasm, “Awesome.” “Awesome.” Awesome.” Awesome was the only word that seemed adequate.

Awesome: “Causing feelings of fear, or wonder, or awe.” Or “causing overwhelming feelings of reverence.”

For Christians, our awe at the mystery and magnificence of the heavenly bodies is amplified dramatically by the opening words of the Scriptures: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).

God exists, and the universe he spoke into splendid order exists. Both sun and moon are his doing. Verse one of Genesis 1 is like the topic sentence of the Bible.

The Bible quickly takes us beyond the heavenly bodies themselves to insist that a Divine Mind creates and sustains the order of Nature and He, maker of sun and moon and everything else, is to be worshiped.

The prophet Jeremiah prays, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17). Think of that!

Or turning to the hymnbook of the ancient church, the Psalter, we come across these words to guide us in our reflection: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).

We cross into the New Testament and find the call to reflection on God’s creation becomes even more revealing. Consider, for example, a portion of the Apostle Paul’s hymn to the supremacy of Christ:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:15,16).

The crowds that gathered all across America on August 21 of this year with their special glasses and picture-taking devices dispersed as quickly as they gathered. I assume some will reflect again and again on what they viewed. It was spectacular. Others will perhaps soon forget the wonder of the moment and go on to other things.

May those who enjoy the wonders of nature also treasure their Creator and his revelation to humankind through the coming of our Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, recalling with awe that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3)

Photo credit: Bernd Thaller (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions – How We Make Good Ones

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 11:00

A two-month-old infant tastes the first spoonful of baby food. His tongue touches the tip of the spoon and his face reports his decision. A one-year-old child meets a grandfather for the first time and again, facial expression and body language show she is deciding whether or not to trust herself to his arms.

Decision-making begins early in life.

All the way from infancy to the end of life, we are daily faced with scores of decisions. Shall I study or surf the web? Is there time to stop for the yellow light or shall I continue through the intersection? Shall I go on with the relationship or ease out of it? Do I blow a whistle or just quietly leave this organization?

Our grandson, Zachary, told me about a talk he heard on this subject at a Christian Medical Fellowship meeting. The speaker’s outline was simple enough: To make good decisions there are two reference points that should always be reckoned with.

The two reference points are righteousness and wisdom.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). If we are true believers we want to honor God by making our decisions demonstrate moral uprightness. We are tested every day.

God actually “guides us in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake” the psalmist tells us (Psalm 23:3). But we must be concerned that our life-shaping decisions grow out of our openness to and awareness of his directions.

So, where do we discover this core of the righteousness to which God calls us? We visit the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-17). Commandments one through four tell us how we are to relate to God, and six to ten, how we are to relate in our social settings — family, church, and state.

But we are often confronted by a dilemma that may not have one explicit answer or a particular verse of scripture to hold onto, such as shall I speak my mind on a certain issue or shall I remain quiet?

That calls into play the other reference point: wisdom.

According to the speaker Zach heard, we must depend on the application of common sense in concert with our understanding of righteousness. That is, we apply the two together to the specific decision we must make.

This wisdom may be given to us by God through his Word, or in the form of our prior life experience, or the insights of others, or our own instincts. This righteousness + wisdom formula helps us to choose our friends wisely, to avoid reality-distorting drugs and other harmful activities, to make good vocational decisions, and yes, even to speak or not to speak.

Wisdom helps us to maintain our commitment to righteousness as we wrestle with the uncertainties and perplexities of life. When we face life’s decisions with righteousness and wisdom guiding us to the best of our ability, always asking for God’s blessing, we are saved from the paralysis of second-guessing ourselves.

We believe that the Lord God can take our decisions and bless their outcomes because we have used the best resources at our disposal — righteous standards to which we are clearly committed with the help of his Spirit, and wisdom for which we earnestly pray (James 1:5).

Photo credit: Dennis Hill (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is Regular Church Attendance Good for My Health?

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 11:06

An article on the internet this week makes reference to “hundreds if not thousands” of studies that have been done to explore connections between church attendance and health and longevity.

The findings are positive. For example, one study indicated that people who attend church regularly show lower stress in their lives and tend to live longer.

From infancy onward I was in church twice on Sunday with parents and sister. At 16 years of age, I tried to win freedom to make up my own mind about church attendance but my disciplinarian mother insisted that attending church was non-negotiable as long as I was at home.

Even after leaving home to work in another community I continued the practice into my late teens and young adulthood and then, of course, also during my years as a pastor and overseer. Throughout these years, gathering with God’s people on Sundays has been a joy.

Seven months ago, at age 91, I found myself in the hospital diagnosed with a smouldering form of leukemia. It took a few months to get back on my feet, and two setbacks interrupted my regular church attendance.

In those months I missed more Sundays than I attended. But the love to meet with God’s people in the worship of God in Christ remains unabated.

Last week, and again this week, we have reinstated our regular attendance. When our pastor begins the service with, “Let us stand for the call to worship,” I hear that call with greater intensity. I hear it as a summons to believers of diverse backgrounds, occupations, ages and ethnicities, to worship the Almighty — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — as one people.

We sang hymns and spiritual songs with fresh awareness. The prayers of the people were led by a layperson. Announcements were made to bring the congregation up to date on activities and interests; the children sang for us jubilantly; we presented our offerings, and the pastor gave a message from God on the power of Pentecost.

She had obviously spent significant time preparing it. As a pastor I had prepared fresh Sunday morning messages for many years. I knew the cost of preparation. I knew of the pastoral heart behind it. Her message was biblical. It was Christ-honoring.

There was something in it for me and I assume for others who had come to the gathering with their joys, perplexities or even sorrows. Anyone present who needed salvation would sense the call of the Spirit.

By the time the service was over, I felt in fresh touch with God my Creator and Sustainer of 91 years. The service was dismissed and there were handshakes and hugs. Worshipers showed evidence of joy as they dispersed.

Was this all really health-giving for me? For others in attendance? It appears that statisticians would say yes, and I would agree drawing on my own experience.

Jesus spoke to all people of all ages when he said, “For where two or three come together in my name there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). How inviting! How could public worship weekly giving thanks to God and shared with a company of his followers mean anything but health to both body and soul?

Photo credit: John Twohig (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Our Worries Are to Give Way to Peace

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 11:00

We grieve in the night over a relationship broken irretrievably decades ago. We imagine a long-range missile flying from North Korea towards Los Angeles. We also stress about looming mortgage payment deadlines, the threat of unemployment, street shootings in a nearby city, the meaning of campus unrest, and even political corruption. Such worries rob us of the peace of God.

There is a formula in the New Testament that addresses such debilitating fretfulness and offers an assurance of God’s care and protection. It is written by a man who is in jail. He knows that even as he writes the authorities may be deciding whether he should be released — or executed. His name is Paul.

Here’s his formula and its promised result as found in the New Living Translation: 

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace which is far more wonderful than the human mind can fathom. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Consider a breakdown of his advice.

First, we take inventory of the issues that hold our minds hostage. The operative word in Paul’s instruction is “anything.” We must leave nothing out lest what we omit becomes like “rust” that keeps the prayer wheels from turning freely.

Second, turn every worry into a prayer. Tell God what is on your mind, and what you need. This can be in a quiet, worshipful way, or it can be intense as you cry out from a heart in anguish.

We can do this in our times of devotional prayer, during a bout of insomnia, or as we drive the highway to work. The more constant our prayers, the greater our reliance on God and his response to us.

Third, make sure that thanksgiving is the unifying attitude. Giving thanks tempers our anxieties. We give thanks even as we present our petitions. Thanksgiving is to be like a prayer rug that underlays all our prayers from beginning to end.

And now for the result: Paul assures us that our prayers will be followed by the peace of God, beyond our comprehension!

However, he does not promise that this peace of God will necessarily obliterate or remove what assails us. When we open our eyes the threats may still be there. But he does promise God’s peace will post a guard around us, like an army of angels. This peace will at the same time clear our thinking and calm our hearts.

Paul offers this gift of peace to us in Christ Jesus who is our Savior and Lord. It is from our blessed position in Christ that we inventory our worries, pray them out to God, and receive his peace.

Photo credit: Jason Lander (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds