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A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 19 hours 11 min ago

What Two Children Learned About Sunday

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 11:00

At our house one Sunday recently a family gathering included two of our great-grandchildren, Jesse, 9, and Rebekah, 8.

I decided to begin our mealtime with a brief question for the children:

What makes Sunday, such a special day for Christians? And why do we call Sunday the Lord’s Day?

Jesse quickly cited the creation story of Genesis 1 explaining that God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested from his labors and that is what we are to do also.

Rebekah agreed — both of them reflecting teaching they had received in their home and at Sunday School.

Both children were engaged so I decided to add some building blocks to the foundation their parents and teachers had already laid down.

I noted that Saturday, the seventh day of the week, is still the Holy Day observed by devout Jews, but we Christians set aside for special observance Sunday instead, the first day of the week.

Interest around the table even for the adults was keen so I reviewed for all of us that a day of rest from our labors is still required for Christians in the Ten Commandments: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

But, I went on: for us Christians Sunday is not only a day of rest from our labors; it is also a special day to gather for the worship of our Living Lord. He rose from the grave on a Sunday! That’s why we gather and we call it the Lord’s Day.

For most Christians that is how Saturday, the original Sabbath Day of Rest, became Sunday — both a day of rest and the Lord’s Day. There are hints in the Scriptures that this shift of days was beginning even when the New Testament was coming into being (Acts 20: 6-12; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; Revelation 1:10).

The interlude with the children around our table was a memorable moment for our family gathering. We then followed the brief exchange by giving thanks for the food and enjoying lively family fellowship over our Lord’s Day evening meal.

Photo credit: Jason Lander (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: The Mother of Methodism

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 11:19

Susanna Wesley is sometimes referred to as the Mother of Methodism. She played no active part in the movement but raised the sons, John and Charles, who led it. She was an unusually intelligent, gifted, and attractive woman. There is ample historical evidence to bear this out. While still in her teens she knew Latin, Greek and French. As a youth she had steeped herself in theology. She was also a deeply involved mother. She stands high among the women of the Eighteenth Century.

She gave birth to 19 children in 21 years, although only ten of them lived to adulthood, seven girls and three boys. Along with her husband, she raised this family in an impoverished parish in the county of Lincolnshire, on the eastern side of the England north of London. It was the Fen Country, an area that had to be repeatedly drained because it was surrounded on three sides by rivers that periodically flooded. Most people of the area were rude and illiterate and did not take well to “intruders.” Some of them were vicious in their attacks on the Wesley household, both verbally and physically. This was the environment in which the Wesley children were raised.

Susanna’s husband, Samuel, was brilliant, a serious scholar and a faithful vicar, but a man who was not skilled in avoiding conflict. Nor did he handle the family’s sparse income well. And he did not seem to have strong child rearing instincts. She herself confessed to son John that, “’tis an unhappiness peculiar to our family that your father and I seldom think alike.”

So what were Susanna’s rules for raising the ten children who lived? John asked her for them and she complied in a long letter. Years later, July 24, 1732, he incorporated the letter into his journal. Her rules are detailed and fascinating.

For example, in raising children she notes that “the first thing to be done is to conquer their will, and bring them to an obedient temper.” (Two centuries later James Dobson qualified the idea by saying children’s wills must be conquered without wounding their spirits.) Her rationale for this first principle? She writes, “religion is nothing else than doing the will of God, and not our own” and explains that “As self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever cherishes this in children insures their after-wretchedness and irreligion.” That is why she was determined at the outset to insist on obedience as a first principle.

She also explains that she taught the children to be courteous in speech, to cry softly, and, at the same time, she enforced the rule that they would never get anything they cried for. She taught them to pray, and to distinguish the Sabbath from other days. (Remember that she came from devout Puritan stock). She explains that she created her own schoolroom in which the children were taught to read. She insisted that “no girl be taught to work (sewing, scrubbing, etc.) till she can read very well.” Illiteracy was widespread in the community but not in the rectory. Later the girls were taught to work with the same application and thoroughness.

Some students of the Eighteenth Century complain that children were treated as though they were no more than little adults. There may be some truth to that. Thus, they argue that Susanna’s rules are unacceptable for us today. But that is not always the response of those in our day who become acquainted with them.

Some years ago I was invited to be the speaker at a Baptist Parent-Teacher meeting. I decided I would introduce the audience to Susanna Wesley’s rules for child rearing, so I made copies as handouts. Even so, I was apprehensive that modern parents might react negatively because present ideas and practices for child-rearing are much more permissive. So I decided that I would distribute the Wesley rules, use them as the basis for my talk, and then gather them up afterwards.

The parents, mostly mothers, were fascinated and would not hear of it. They were avid about keeping their copies. My apprehension dissolved. It was as though Susanna’s words spoke to a felt need in the midst of today’s uncertainties about child-rearing.

Good child rearing practices are not a guarantee that children will make the wisest of decisions when they reach adulthood. And environment does have a bearing on how children come to their maturity. There were disappointments in the Wesley family especially among the girls. But these cannot diminish the mark Susanna Wesley left on the world through her devout and careful child-rearing practices. Her three clergymen sons, Samuel, John, and Charles, bear witness.


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is God Everywhere?

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 11:00

Five-year-old Charlie sat on his father’s knee peppering him with questions. The toughest of them: How can God be at our house and at Grandma and Grandpa’s a Long drive away at the same time?

Touching Charlie’s shoulder gently his father asked, “Are you here?” “Yes,” the boy answered.

Then he touched his son’s knee, asking the same question: “Are you here?” Again, Charlie answered, “Yes.”

“If you can be everywhere in your body at the same time,” his father continued, “why can’t God be everywhere in his world at the same time?” Charlie seemed satisfied and went on to something else.

But this five year-old’s question is more challenging than at first appears. That is, in this almost immeasurably vast universe can God be where the Northern Lights shine brightly and at the same time in the semi-darkness of the rainforests in Brazil?

It’s an issue that stretches our faith, yet our Scriptures bear witness repeatedly to this “everywhereness” of God. The theological term is “omnipresence.”

For example, the Psalmist, David, prayed: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there. (Psalm 139:7,8).

From the wisdom literature of the Old Testament comes another assurance: The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3).

Jeremiah speaks God’s words as his prophet: “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth? (Jeremiah 23:24).

Eighty years ago in Sunday School back in Saskatchewan we children were taught a little chorus that went like this:

“Be careful little hands what you do; be careful little hands what you do. There’s a Father up above, and he’s looking down in love, so be careful little hands what you do.” (also mouth what you say; etc.).

The conviction that God is everywhere is reassuring for those of us who live under the Lordship of Jesus. The Proverbs declare: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).

Our God is everywhere! There is nowhere he is not. So, we are never out of the range of his watchful eye and his loving care.

Believing this truth does us good in two ways: it sharpens our consciences to resist evil and enriches our faith to trust in his care wherever we may be.

Photo credit: Eduard V. Kurganov (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Children May Tell Bible Stories with a Fresh Twist

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 11:00

A great way to check our effectiveness as communicators is to ask children what they heard after we tell them Bible stories.

Ten years ago our friend, Pastor Ken Kennedy, then an active pastor in Ontario, sent me samples of what some children had remembered after one year of Bible stories in junior church.

About Creation, one child wrote, In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness and some gas.

Another wrote: The Bible says ‘The Lord thy God is one,’ But I think he must be a lot older than that. Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did. Then God made the world.

How about the following child’s imaginative retelling of the story of Adam and Eve?

God split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though because they didn’t have cars.

Or how about this child’s mixing up of words that sound the same but have different meanings: Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.

And here’s a thoughtful boy’s reflection: After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about three hundred wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise but that doesn’t sound very wise to me.

I chuckle, as you do. Little children so often give us a fresh view of the sacred and an unexpected surprise over how what we say has come through to them.

But I see promise in the efforts of these congregations to teach children the Bible and the effort these children put forth to understand and retell what they learned.

Then I grow solemn. I honor this grand Book – centuries old, the world’s best seller for generation after generation, a collection of divinely revealed laws, gathered human wisdom and ancient history.

Particularly in this beloved book we have the story of God’s self-revelation, unveiled in the coming to earth of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

The Bible must be central to our understanding of what we teach about God and about human life, whether we are children or adults. The quirks children may add in early stages can be corrected as the children grow older.

Let us breathe a prayer for the saving influence of the Christian Scriptures on children our lives touch, whether at church on a Sunday morning, in our homes during the week, or even when we pass little children on the street.


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: The Scourge of Injustice

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:31

During our prayers this morning Kathleen and I discussed the subject of injustice — what happens when the lawful rights of a person or a group are violated by those in power who have unlawful goals. Injustice can deaden a marriage, divide a home, rend a state, or even taint a church.

Christians around the world these days are reading about injustice — the story of a whole series of towering legal offenses committed against our Lord which led to his brutal death on a Roman cross.

The Gospels tell the story.

The religious authorities — the chief priests, elders and other religious leaders — agreed among themselves that Jesus had to be arrested. The high priest, Caiaphas, went a step further: he suggested he must die. But it all had to be planned and carried out by stealth, without stirring up the crowds streaming into Jerusalem for Passover.

From that point on, the religious leaders ignored their laws because their intentions were sinister. Even Pilate, the Roman governor, saw through their plots. He knew that justice was not their issue; he knew they were motivated by sheer “envy.”

Judas, the traitor, helped them, and the temple guards arrested and bound Jesus in Gethsemane, outside the city. They and their accomplices had come armed with weapons in case they had to subdue him, or torches if he should hide and they had to search for him. They marched him to the high priest’s palace and there the nation’s highest religious leaders began breaking Jewish laws with abandon.

William Barclay lists some of the laws they broke — laws which should have protected an innocent man.

1. Criminal cases had to be tried during daylight hours and on the final day must be completed before darkness fell.

2. Criminal cases may not be tried during Passover.

3. Only if the verdict is “not guilty” may a case be completed during the same day it begins. Otherwise, a night must elapse before the verdict is decided, to give mercy time to arise.

4. A judgment by the Sanhedrin, the ruling court of Jerusalem, must not be rendered unless the body is convened in its normal place of meeting – the Hall of Hewn Stone in the precincts of the temple. (There was to be no “offhand curbside justice.”)

5. All evidence must be given by at least two witnesses who are permitted no contact with each other and who are examined separately.

6. In capital cases, the giving of false witness may be punishable by death.

Between the middle of that night before the high Priest and Sanhedrin and the forenoon of the next day when Jesus was nailed to his cross, every one of these laws was broken. Our Lord not only was falsely accused, he was then struck and spit upon by members of the court.

These hasty and lawless procedures amounted to one of the most glaring abuses of law on human record. It was a travesty of justice and it all led to the brutal killing of an innocent man — the world’s Redeemer.

Jesus subjected himself to this injustice for a reason. When Peter attempted to protect him with a clumsy swing of his sword, Jesus said to Peter, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26:53). But he did not call. He made himself vulnerable to the worst injustice in order to fulfill the Scriptures.

We have to immerse ourselves in the story again and again, detail after detail, to awaken our dull hearts to the price paid for our salvation. The undeserved physical abuse was horrific at the hands of evil men. And the spiritual anguish even worse which made him cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1). He was indeed “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7b).

As the truth sinks in and our sense of gratitude is awakened afresh, we also ask that God make us alert to injustice in our world or even in our marriages or families or church, helping us to avoid the indifference to injustice that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day showed.


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Renewing Fatherhood on Father’s Day

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 11:00

As both a calling and a developed skill, has fatherhood lost its nobility in society generally? Or is fatherhood doing reasonably well and complaints to the contrary are contradicted by the facts? The answer is somewhere between, but leaning toward the gloomier side.

Consider this prophetic statement by David Blankenhorn, in his book Fatherless America (1995): “The good news, largely ignored in today’s script, is that married fatherhood is a man’s most important pathway to happiness.” Blankenhorn makes this claim even though in his book he portrays an American culture in which fatherhood is not seen as a widespread blessing.

He writes that over the past two hundred years, fatherhood has lost, in full or in part, each of its four traditional roles:

1. Irreplaceable caregiver. 2. Moral educator. 3. Head of family, and, 4. Family breadwinner (with the understanding that sometimes this role has to be shared or reversed).

Blankenhorn writes, “In 1990 more than 30 percent of all children [in the United States] were living apart from their fathers – more than double the rate of 1960.” He goes on to say, “Scholars estimate that before they reach age eighteen, more than half of all children in the nation will live apart from their fathers for at least a significant portion of their childhood.”

But that is only one side of the picture. The late esteemed newsman, Tim Russert, wrote a warm, affirming book about his father. It so moved his readership that it brought Russert nearly 60,000 letters and e-mails. Day after day he read them to the very last one and out of them came his second book, Wisdom Of Our Fathers, Lessons and Letters From Daughters and Sons.

The missives he received were overwhelmingly, though not entirely, positive. They described fathers who had been there for their children, had taken time for a bedside story, turned up at a spelling bee, played catch with them in the yard, and at times of need had given them good counsel.

They were not super-dads. The letters from grown children, according to Russert, admit there were flaws. But the commitment of which the children wrote was such that it has left an enduring imprint on their children’s memories.

Now a new e-book, The Demise of Guys, available on Amazon.com, addresses the picture more darkly. It speaks with insight of the malaise among the general population of young men today. The book notes quite broadly a lack of energy among young men to make full preparation for a full life, the lack of interest in developing long-term relationships with women, certainly lack of motivation to get out on their own and make their own way in life. This phenomenon is obvious enough that it keeps coming up in other social opinions spoken or printed.

The author of The Demise of Guys traces the causes that he believes have contributed to this state of affairs – such as excessive time spent during developing days on the internet, video games and especially the hurtful, pervasive influence of pornography. He explains the effect these addictions have on the brain to deaden the pleasure zones and motivations for a fulfilling life.

The celebration of Father’s Day this June 17 brings this conflicted issue of fatherhood back into focus. It would be a good Sunday on which to look at the two contrasted above pictures of fatherhood.

It would be a good Sunday for Christians everywhere to gather and pray unitedly for the fathers in their connections. And it could be made a time for fathers themselves to ask their HEAVENLY FATHER to father them afresh, giving grace to embrace their four assignments — Irreplaceable caregiver, moral educator, head of family, and family breadwinner (noting that this role must sometimes be shared or reversed) — with divinely endowed courage.

Photo credit: JeffS (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Is Our Problem Pride or Low Self-Esteem?

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 11:00

This month a teacher told her students that if they planned to give out Valentine cards, the cards must meet these rules: every card must be the same; every classmate must get one; and nothing must be written on them. She wanted to save any child from damaged self-esteem.

But recently Professor Baumeister at Florida State University studied levels of self-esteem among different groups of adults. He found the highest levels in … prison inmates! And the violent offenders had the highest perceived levels of them all.

Self-esteem is critically important. We are God’s creatures, bearing his image. Therefore it is right that we should carry ourselves with dignity and should be careful to honor the dignity and worth of our fellows.

But the Scriptures make clear that damaged self-esteem is not our greatest problem. According to the Bible we are the offspring of Adam and, although we bear the image of God, that image is marred; we are by nature sinners.

One consequence of that sin is that we have a proud desire to be independent from God — on our own in his universe. That was the error of the builders of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

The Genesis passage says the people moving eastward found a beautiful plain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and decided to settle there, build a city, and erect a tower that would reach to the heavens. The up-reaching tower was a symbol of man’s thrust for autonomy.

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, and he discerned the people’s intent to seek complete autonomy rather than living under his mandate to settle the earth he had given them. So he confused their language and “scattered them over all the earth” (Genesis 11:8).

We see this impulse toward autonomy early in children. One of our grandsons, at the age of only four, said to his mother in a commanding way, “Mommie, I want you and Daddie to let me and my sister do whatever we want to do.” It was given as a first cry of the heart for absolute autonomy — “Don’t fence me in.”

Theologians have followed the Scriptures in noting this impulse to pride which at its center resists the rule of God and his son, Jesus Christ. St. Augustine called human pride, “the love of one’s own excellence.” John Calvin defined it as an “innate self love by which we are all blinded.” John Wesley wrote: “The first advice I would give those who have been saved is to watch continually against pride.”

To be graciously delivered from pride by God is a worthy request because, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Humility is the secret of fellowship, and pride, the secret of division.” It is true that wherever there is unresolved conflict, whether in home, family, community or church, secondary causes might be teased to the surface. But at the base, this pride will be found to lurk.

Heart pride is divisive. It erects barriers. On the other hand, where there is heart humility there is joy and good fellowship among the people whether in family, community, or church.

Which makes the words of the Apostle Paul to the young church in the imperial city of Rome my favorite instruction to any church on this issue: “For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Did You Know Companionship Enriches Love Like Nothing Else?

Mon, 05/29/2017 - 11:00

He was well into his 90s and had a girlfriend. He told me with quiet pleasure about their closeness. He was sure God had brought them together.

The attraction had not been created by youthful beauty, or erotic passion. It was something even more substantial — a shared need to give and receive companionship.

That is, each had a need for someone with whom to share life at the deeper levels. It was a human yearning experienced to a greater or lesser degree by us all.

The word, companionship, comes from a French compound word meaning to partake of bread together. Human companionship is an interpersonal relationship that’s like sitting down together for an intimate exchange of interests, goals or even just long chats. Both parties are enriched thereby.

But intimacy is not enough. Undergirding this kind of sharing there must be trust, honesty, loyalty, and sometimes gentle candor. It can be man-to-woman as with my friend, or woman-to-woman or man-to-man.

Take the case of Jonathan and David in the Bible. Jonathan was King Saul’s son and David was King Saul’s servant. Jonathan and David had a deep, binding friendship, but Jonathan’s father was jealous of David and had impulses to hurt him.

Jonathan saw David’s life as under threat. So why didn’t Jonathan side with his father anyway? Isn’t “blood thicker than water?” For Jonathan, justice for David was a higher value than facilitating his father’s murderous jealousy.

The Book of Proverbs says: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17) Real companionship includes amazing loyalty “at all times,” even when a crisis might threaten a relationship.

The Book of Proverbs also says: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24).

That is, if we embrace all offered friendships without discrimination, we may discover when a special need surfaces that many of those friends are only “fair weather companions.”

But, there is such a thing as enduring, storm-tested companionship, but it must be sought out and nurtured with care. Real companions, the Proverbs seem to caution, are one in a thousand.

The elderly gentleman who told me of his wonderful discovery had certainly found companionship. The two exchanged glances, shared resources at lunch, and participated together deeply in their common faith.

It’s good to ask ourselves from time to time: do I experience the companionship that nurtures health and enriches my life. And does it at the same time add enrichment to the life of someone else, reflecting my capacity to be loyal and truthful?

We should all be working on this because, whether in a friendship or a marriage, companionship undergirds love like nothing else. Without real companionship even marital love may wear a bit ragged.

Photo credit: Jake Guild (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Mending Fences

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 11:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Josh Liba (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

In Secular Times Can Weddings Be Clearly Christian?

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 11:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Categories: Churchie Feeds

What to Do When A Little Boy Cries for Justice

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 11:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: andrea (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

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

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 11:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Beware of Spiritual Hackers!

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 11:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Garrett Coakley (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

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

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 11:00

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

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

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

It all represents a great amount of church exposure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Koshy Koshy (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-Post: Getting Ready for Easter

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 11:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Robin (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

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

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 11:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: David Goehring (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds