Just Call Me Pastor

Subscribe to Just Call Me Pastor feed Just Call Me Pastor
A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 2 hours 13 min ago

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

The Fruit of Our Faith May Live on Past Our Lifetime

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 11:00

Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli, ca. 1665. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Public Domain

Elkanah, a man in ancient Israel, had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had sons and daughters, but Hannah, Elkanah’s favorite, lived with the intense emotional pain of childlessness.

Back then, married women were expected to produce children. Otherwise, people wondered what they might have done to invite God’s disfavor. Childlessness brought anguish and humiliation.

Peninnah, the second wife, was particularly cruel to Hannah. She scorned her to her face and made snide comments and stinging verbal jabs at every opportunity.

Elkanah tried to console Hannah. He asked her, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” This reassurance did not ease her sadness.

Each year, Elkanah, Hannah, Peninnah, and her children would travel to a place called Shiloh, to worship. At one of their visits Peninnah’s abuse was particularly disturbing. During one mealtime Hannah wept, left her food uneaten, and went to the tabernacle nearby to pray. She would pour out her distress to Jehovah.

“Jehovah,” she prayed, “if you will look with mercy upon me and give me a son, I’ll return him to you for all the days of his life . . .”

The aged priest, Eli, sitting nearby, saw her lips moving but heard no audible voice as she prayed. He rebuked her, thinking she was drunk. She corrected him, and he blessed her.

Returning to the table she had left, she ate and her spirits lifted. She believed that the Almighty God of Israel had heard her prayers and that he would answer them.

In time, the special son, Samuel, was born. And so, in keeping with her promise, soon after little Samuel was weaned she surrendered him to the care and training of Eli for temple service “all the days of his life.”

Every Sunday School child has heard the outcome of Hannah’s vow to Jehovah: Samuel grew up and became a prophet and Israel’s last and finest judge. He served the nation with integrity and two books of the Old Testament carry his name. His long life of service was exceptional.

Hannah, on the other hand, is named in only two chapters of the Old Testament. But her story will never be forgotten. In a way that may have been little-noticed at the time, the fruit of her faith made a great contribution to the unfolding story of redemption, and for that we honor her memory. To this day, many women carry her name.


Categories: Churchie Feeds

What Makes Sunday A Special Day for Christians?

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 11:00

The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zünd, 1877

Last week I explained to two of my great-grandchildren why the day of rest and worship shifted from Saturday for the Jews to Sunday for Christians: Sunday was the day our Lord rose from the dead.

I then reviewed for them, and other family members around the table the following Christian certainties under-girding the Lord’s Day:

On Friday of Holy Week our Lord’s brutalized body was hastily placed in a tomb because the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, and the work of his burial was forbidden from then until after sundown on Saturday.

Thus for a part of three days: Friday, all of Saturday and the early part of Sunday, our Lord had been entombed.

At daybreak Sunday morning the Jewish Sabbath was over and several deeply grieving and devoted women, all followers of Jesus, went to the tomb with spices, in order to finish the burial rites.

Adding to their grief and distress, they found the tomb open and empty. Two of the women rushed back to Jerusalem to report this to the disciples.

Mary Magdalene stayed behind. As she stood weeping beside the tomb, she was addressed by ‘someone’ standing near the tomb. She rebuked him, thinking he was the gardener and that perhaps he had moved the body elsewhere.

But when the Lord Himself answered back, “Mary,” she fell at his feet and cried out, “Rabboni” — Teacher!

This is why Mary was the first witness to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

After that first early morning appearance to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appeared in the afternoon to two disconsolate men walking the Emmaus road leading away from Jerusalem. At nightfall he appeared for the third time that day, this time to frightened disciples huddled within a locked room in fear for their lives.

Of course he subsequently appeared to many more before his ascension into heaven. But that first Sunday was Resurrection Day, a day unmatched by any other in history.

Our Lord’s resurrection from death on Sunday makes that day, rather than Saturday, the Lord’s Day of rest and corporate worship.

Whether in cathedrals, storefronts, sod huts, or even secret hiding places, Christians raise their voices together in song and prayer to celebrate Jesus’ living presence with his people.

That conversation with family was short but memorable. The children learned about the special reason for the Lord’s Day, perhaps for the first time, and the adults reviewed the conviction together with them.

Sunday is a day to rest from our labors, to gather for worship with a company of his people, and to say again with conviction, “The Lord is risen indeed!”


Categories: Churchie Feeds

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