Just Call Me Pastor

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A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 1 week 2 days ago

Re-post: When Love Is Not Returned

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 11:00

Is there any pain that stings more sharply than the pain of unrequited love? Is there any emotional experience more gut-wrenching, relentless, and unrelieved? Even in the dark of a sleepless night hot tears flow. The impulse is to scream to muted walls. It is pain without relief.

Unrequited love is love that is due -– but withheld.

A mother devotes two decades to doing every selfless thing a mother’s heart is moved to do –- endure labor in giving birth, feed, bathe, launder soiled clothes, soothe fevered forehead, instruct, correct, teach life-lessons, and all this, year after year, right into young adulthood.

But the kind of reciprocal love all this should engender in the growing child either does not seem to form or quickly disappears. With the coming of adulthood, the relationship becomes merely formal, devoid of warmth, coldly proper. Mother-love goes unrequited.

Or, a wife serves her husband out of a great reservoir of covenanted love. She is there for him, tries within her limits to meet his needs, washes his clothes, makes his meals, even blesses him with children. But without explanation he walks out and she is left with a searing sense of loneliness and betrayal. Inexplicably, her heart continues to love him, but her love goes unrequited.

Pictures like these formed as Kathleen and I read from Micah 6 and 7 this morning. The Old Testament is in one sense the the story of unrequited love on a grand scale.

By miracles, the Lord had shown the ancestors of this people covenant love in times of severe hardship in the wilderness. And over and over again he had reminded them of his gracious blessings poured upon them. He shepherded, disciplined, comforted, protected -– all for loving reasons.

Then comes Micah 6 carrying that grand Old Testament declaration of what the Lord wanted: “He has showed you, O man, what is good./ And what does the Lord require of you?/ To act justly and to love mercy/ and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

But these were precisely Israel’s failures. She had not acted justly, cheating and extorting as opportunities presented themselves. She had not loved mercy, leaving poor neighbors to struggle in their destitution. And her people had long since ceased worshiping God in true humility of heart.

They had been reminded often, but this generation refused to remember. They were now settled long after wilderness wanderings and many had become wealthy. They should have remembered with reciprocal love, but they did not. Instead, they had gone their own way, leaving their Lord’s love unrequited.

The result of this neglectful amnesia was that the community of the Lord’s chosen had become a place of moral degeneration. Their society had lost almost all social cohesion (Micah 7: 4-6). Even blood relations were severed: “For a son dishonors his father,/ a daughter rises up against her mother … a man’s enemies are the members of his own household” (Micah 7:6).

This kind of social breakdown is still with us. I saw a woman weeping bitter tears after a church service. I approached her. “My three children have divorced me,” she said through her tears. Christmas was approaching but there would be no Christmas greetings or gifts for her, only a punishing silence, an experience of unrequited love.

Not many come as far as midlife without experiencing in some fashion this kind of unanswered love. It is devastating. How can it be endured? How do we stave off bitterness?

Our model is Jesus. “He came unto his own but his own people did not receive him” (Jn 1:11). Can we imagine his pain? After three years of faithful ministry to his disciples, it was said of them, “Then everyone deserted him and fled” (Mk 14:50). What was his response to such unrequited love? He committed his soul and its suffering to a loving and faithful father and carried on.

Photo credit: THOR (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Few Words From My Wife, Kathleen (By Invitation)

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 11:00

When I married Don, I knew that he was heading toward some form of ministry as a life vocation, but I didn’t know for sure the specific form it would take. I knew only that he was a ministerial student and would have several years of education to finish.

I also knew from the start that I should support him in whatever work he felt called to do. That was the way most wives felt back in the forties of the last century.

I was a primary school teacher when we were married and he was a student and staff member at Lorne Park College west of Toronto, Ontario. After we lived there three-and-a-half years, we moved on to Greenville College in Illinois with our two-year-old daughter, Carolyn, so Don could finish his final two years of college. From there, we moved to attend Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, for another three years of education.

By then it was clear that the focus of his ministry was to be the pastorate. In fact, for his three years of seminary he was assigned to be pastor of the Free Methodist church in Lexington, nearby, and that’s when I got my first taste of what it meant to stand with him in that sort of ministry.

Besides caring for the three little children we had by then and taking as much of the burden of the household as I could to free him to study, I made myself available to teach Sunday School and often entertained seminary students on Sundays so they could canvass the community in the afternoon with my husband.

When we went to our second church, the Free Methodist church in New Westminster, British Columbia, I discovered what standing by my pastor husband really meant. He led the church in a growth spurt that meant new prospects most every Sunday, new programs to meet the needs of a growing congregation, and lots of social entertaining in our parsonage to get to know newcomers and otherwise promote fellowship and community.

One aspect of our experience stands out in my mind. We both worked hard at our assignment and my husband did lots of evening calling to follow up on new prospects and care for other pastoral duties. This usually involved two or three nights a week. During these times, I was at home alone with our four little children.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have time together. He was home for the noon and evening meals most days. We had simple, inexpensive, but good tenting vacations together with the children. We certainly were in touch with each other in the social life of the church.

But one night when my husband was out calling and I had put the children to bed and the house was quiet, I found myself wondering, “What is this all about anyway? I don’t like being alone so much in the evenings. There’s got to be more to life than this.” Television hadn’t yet arrived at our house.

After musing about this for some time I suddenly said to myself, “When I free my husband to be out doing the Lord’s work like this, I am really a part of that call he’s making. It is my ministry too.” That set my heart at rest. I never after that had the same feeling of personal deprivation about releasing him to work in the harvest field of the Lord.

And such mutual service has enriched our nearly 71 years together. The latter of them since our retirement have been progressively less public but still committed to service as opportunities have come.

Recently, after going through a file of thank you notes gathered across the years, I felt grateful to God for the privilege of ministering in this way.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Using “Amen!” in the Practice of Our Faith

Mon, 09/24/2018 - 11:00

Jesus often introduced his eternal truths with the the Greek word for “Amen.” That may surprise you, because the word is buried in his frequent formula, “Verily, verily I say to you.” Or, as the NIV puts it, “Very truly.”

“Amen” is a word used to underline a certainty. Even today, you might notice this underlining effect when someone at the office says, “I’ll say Amen to that” — another way of saying, “Yes! I heartily agree!”

I write about this word because it is much-used in the Bible and I believe it deserves more exercise than we give it. At a time when Christian convictions seem to lack vigor, it is a word to be used resolutely.

There are 52 Amens in the Synoptic Gospels and 25 in the Gospel according to John. However, even when used as doubled (verily, verily … or truly, truly), the emphasis in the original is not clearly evident.

In John’s Gospel especially, Jesus uses “Amen, Amen” repeatedly to introduce the truths he spoke to his hearers. He wanted it to be understood that absolute truth was always his issue.

Amen is also used in the Old Testament. When the children of Israel were about to complete their long trek through the wilderness to the promised land Moses notified them of a twelve-part pledge they would be required to make when they were well into the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 27).

The 12 tribes would be given a series of evils they must avoid at all times and they were to reply in agreement to each prohibition with a hearty “Amen.”

For example, here is the first prohibition and the response:

Cursed is anyone who makes an idol — a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands — and sets it up in secret.

Then all the people shall say, “Amen.”

Amen is a word for pledging formally and emphatically. The people of Israel would be tempted to follow the strange, even grotesque Canaanite gods. Their Amen said thunderously and in unison was to be their pledge to reject the false gods around them and worship only Jehovah.

If by that time the numbers of Israel had reached two million, an affirming and resounding Amen would echo between the mountains. By the end, they would raise a solid Amen to affirm each of the 12 evils.

The advancing of secularism in our times sets before us also idols that are detestable and we too should pledge to resist them as the Israelites were called to do.

To respond, we should utter a robust Amen to the following: the Scriptures we read, the creeds we affirm, the hymns we sing, the sermons we hear, the prayers we offer. When we hear statements such as, I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, a limp okay — a kind of verbal nod — is not enough. The Apostles’ Creed deserves a hearty Amen in both heart and voice.

The Apostle Paul seizes the word Amen and connects it firmly with the Gospel of Christ. He writes to the Corinthians: For no matter how many promises God has made they are “yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Christ is the “Yes” to every promise God has ever made. Think of the reach of that certainty. Will we respond with a firm Amen, thus glorifying Christ through whom all grace is given? Amen and Amen!

Photo credit: Erich Ferdinand (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Tale of Two Houses

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 11:00

Here’s the story Jesus told about two houses (Matthew 7:15-21). As both the adopted son of a carpenter (Joseph) and one who was referred to as a carpenter in his own right, he knew about building (Mark 6:3).

Here’s the story as I imagine it.

There were two men each of whom decided to build a house. The first man had a sandy property a few hundred feet from a beautiful body of water. A little sweeping and leveling, he thought, and he could lay down heavy beams as a perimeter foundation and very shortly start framing up the house.

The second man saw his task as more complicated. His plot was similar, but he apparently didn’t trust the sand as a foundation. Instead he dug until he came to the rock below. That took several days but it gave a firmer grounding for his project.

By the time this man’s foundation was firmly anchored to the rock, the first man had his walls erected, roof installed, and windows and doors in place. He would be moving in, it appeared, while his neighbor was still working in the hot sun to frame up his walls.

Eventually both houses were completed. They were strikingly similar to all appearances. The extra digging done by the second builder may have been a waste of time. The sun was shining brightly on both.

As the season advanced, however, nature began to test both houses: heavy rains pelted the roofs, a blustery hurricane tore at the walls, and rising water softened and washed away the sand. The first house collapsed, while the second house remained firm.

This story concludes Jesus’ timeless Sermon on the Mount, which is sometimes called the Manifesto of the Kingdom of God — the kingdom he came to establish. As such we must ask what Jesus intended by the story.

First, consider a sampling of the orders he issues in this manifesto: his followers by their good deeds are to shine as lights in a fallen world’s darkness (7:14-16); they are to honor the sanctity of marriage by faithfulness even at high cost (5:17-32); to be private about their charitable giving to the needy (6:1-4); to practice simplicity when they pray (6:5-9); and, to beware of false prophets (7:15-21).

Consider now the issue raised by Jesus’ story of the two builders. What must one do to survive the storms of life? What’s this about digging down to the rock? Is the story a call to love the King of this kingdom? Strangely, it is not a call to love. Then, is the expected response to affirm in writing his teachings? Strangely it is not a call to affirm his teachings. It is not even a call to have faith in what he was saying though all three responses are vital in living life well.

The expectation Jesus himself identifies is this: Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (7:24). Our Lord’s call is a call for radical obedience. It’s the obedience a king has a right to expect from his subjects.

His point is that his followers who practice radical obedience to these teachings will have endurance to survive the worst storms of this life and find protection when facing the final judgment.

Photo credit: iRubén (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

We Can Become Wise and Avoid Folly

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 11:00

Whereas the Gospel points us toward the life to come, the Proverbs instruct us about the life we are now living. These sayings were addressed especially to young men who stood on the threshold of adulthood because success in this life matters to God. The sayings have 3000 years of history on them so they are time-tested.

The issue of wisdom for God’s people is so important that his holy word contains five books that are called wisdom literature plus numerous references elsewhere to wisdom for life in both Testaments. Most popular among the five books is the Proverbs, many of them attributed to King Solomon.

The collection of proverbs was not unique to Israel. Surrounding nations had proverbs too. But the Hebrew proverbs are different in that they are grounded in “the fear of the Lord.” We regard the Old Testament as divinely inspired so these proverbs are sacred scriptures for the church of all ages.

As such, we do not view the wisdom of the proverbs as merely man-made; through human agency they are given to those who fear God. To fear God means more than to respect God in a general sense or to be terrified of God in a time of crisis. John W. Wevers writes that fearing God “is a technical term for those who live a godly life.” Wisdom calls us to embrace godly living.

The Book of Proverbs begins with an urgent seven-verse entreaty that ends with the summary statement: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).

How can such pointed insights as are found in the Proverbs be made to stick? Not by lectures or lengthy exhortations or even drama.

A proverb is instead a short and memorable sentence to tell us something important about living the wise and ordered life and avoiding folly. They express simple truths in simple words. For example, practice makes perfect.

Our English language is rich in proverbs. Some we know well: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Actions speak louder than words. Beggars can’t be choosers. Birds of a feather flock together; and on and on.

Solomon’s proverbs are a bit different in that they are written in the form of Hebrew poetry in which a thought is presented and then repeated in different words that agree, or add to, or state a contrast, completing the thought. For example: The prospect of the righteous is joy, / but the hope of the wicked comes to nothing (Proverbs 10:28).

Solomon’s first proverb after his introductory entreaty is: Listen my son to your father’s instruction / and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. He adds, They are a garland to grace your head / and a chain to adorn your neck (Proverbs 1:8,9). In other words, listening to parents, with respect, will add beauty to your life.

If Solomon were alive in our conflicted and even chaotic society, he might start by saying: Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12). Even to the present there is a connection between domestic order in society and civic stability.

Solomon’s second proverb begins, My son, if sinful men entice you do not give in to them (Proverbs 1:10). Few decisions have greater bearing on a young person’s future than the companions chosen in the early years. This advice is so important that it is followed by a brief essay telling what entreaties to be aware of and the consequences of ignoring them (Proverbs 1:11-19).

A teenager I befriended half a century ago wrote to me from the penitentiary a few months back. I had been a father figure to him when his own father abandoned his  large family. David explained that his bad end had originated from bad choices and wrong companions with whom he went astray after his time in the armed forces. To all of us, wisdom says: Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm (Proverbs 13:20).

And so the 31 chapters of Proverbs move from one counsel to the next always in the form of a proverb: The Lord detests dishonest scales, / but accurate weights find favor with him (Proverbs 11:1). Or, Laziness brings on deep sleep, / and the shiftless go hungry. (Proverbs 19:15) Or, Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).

It is worth repeating that we treat these proverbs as God’s holy word. To the young of today living centuries after they were written, they continue to point the way to wisdom and to caution against folly. They say, Listen for I have trustworthy things to say; / I open my lips to speak what is right (Proverbs 8:6). To all of us they cry out: Seek wisdom and live.

Photo credit: Janes Gallerie (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

I’ve Had A Lot Of Experience With Alcohol In My Lifetime

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 11:00

What’s wrong with a glass of wine on Christmas Eve? I am never much impressed with that sort of question when posed as an argument in debating whether Christians should abstain from alcohol or be free to drink in moderation.

I know of course that Jesus made water into wine, and that Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake. I know also that the question of abstaining from alcohol is not by itself a salvation issue. And I know at the same time the profound damage alcohol can cause both young and old who are attempting to serve the Lord.

I know because I’ve had a lot of experience with alcohol in my lifetime. Here are only a few examples:

When I was assigned to pastor my first church, a parishioner suggested I visit a man named Guy. I was surprised to find him in bed trembling and hallucinating from delirium tremens as he struggled to arrest his heavy drinking. For me it was a startling introduction to see the distant end of the road he had entered with the likely intention to drink moderately.

Later, when our family arrived at our second church appointment, I learned that my predecessor’s twenty-something son was still in the city, but out of reach during his drinking  binges. We became friends and I learned that he was in his mid-teens when he plummeted swiftly into alcoholism.

I saw him only once after we moved away from that city. I was taking a course at the university 20 miles away and he took pains to look me up. He wanted me to know that finally the Salvation Army had helped him to shake the addiction. It was a gracious mercy but he later died in his thirties due to liver disease.

I remember a second young man, a believer and the elected song leader of the congregation, who had been introduced to alcohol while working on a road crew during his summer vacation from university. He was intellectually gifted, and a star basketball player. He became profoundly alcoholic within three months of his first drink.

I met this man again several years later. After a wrenching effort, he had finally won the battle over alcohol, received divine assistance, and was teaching Sunday School. I rejoiced with him, but was saddened that his mind and body had lingering damage from those misdirected years.

At a third church appointment I had close contact with two young people who were easy to love.  I grieve even yet as I mention them. She was a quiet teenager, intelligent and shy, but friendly when I gained her trust. One drink at a party had unexpectedly started her on a steep downward slide and she eventually died much too young, wasted by alcohol and alone.

The young man of these two was tall and slender with the bloom of youth upon him. He later joined the army and fought in Vietnam. Forty years yet later, I learned that he was doing life in the penitentiary. His sister, whom I did not initially know, connected us, prompting a good letter exchange with him. He reminded me that when his father abandoned the large family, I became as a father to him.

He confessed that he had made many bad choices in life. I didn’t ask him what his crime was but it was serious enough to bring down a life sentence, and alcohol was a foremost contributor to his condition. His sister wrote me not long ago that he had died but had renounced his bitterness against his father and had died in faith.

The needs these parishioners and many others presented were enormous. To add to my ministerial training I sought understanding from every source imaginable, the Alcoholism Foundation and the Salvation Army to name two. I preached the gospel regularly but I also brought an expert on the science of alcohol and alcoholism to speak to our young people. I remember one person asking him how might one know in advance who was particularly susceptible to alcoholism. The expert’s answer? “You can’t know; it’s Russian roulette.” Half a century later one of those erstwhile young people wrote me that the church’s ministry had prompted her and friends to live morally upright lives.

What has brought all of this back to my mind at age 92? For one thing, a worldwide study reported in Lancet dated Friday, March 24, 2018. It states the following: alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49. Alcohol was involved across the world in nearly one in ten deaths in 2016. That same year it was associated with 2.8 million deaths worldwide.

When I hear the argument for a glass of wine now and then I always hear it as disconnected from and perhaps even insensitive to a large segment of a world where alcohol damages and destroys by the thousands.

My doctor son, while doing emergency room service, commented to me that a remarkably high percentage of the profound trouble and social disorder he saw in inner city emergency rooms (violence, abuse, accidents, shootings, etc.) was related to alcohol, and that this stiffened his resolve not to drink. He later noted also that a shocking percentage of resources devoted to medical care revolve around alcohol.

My other son reminded me that across a career in publishing when alcohol seemed a part of every business luncheon he was sometimes asked why he didn’t drink. His simple answer, “I’ve taken a vow.” It was always enough with no further questions or comments and nothing taken from the pleasure of the occasion.

It didn’t seem enough to either son just to decide not to drink. They needed also to know how to navigate in situations where drinking seems to be expected.

In the light of all these memories, recent publications, and family experiences, I affirm the Bible’s wisdom when it says Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise (Proverbs 20:1). Other Christians may disagree, yet it seems to me a matter of wisdom to abstain — for oneself and as an example to family and friends of a serious and yes even Christian view of life.

 

Photo credit: Evan Wood (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is Purity of Heart Possible?

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 01:35

I went to the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Theater in downtown Vancouver because a number of churches of the region were sponsoring united services in an outreach campaign.

The audience probably had among it Baptists, Lutherans, Independents, Nazarenes, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Free Methodists and maybe several other Christian groups. But on that day a song seemed to bond us as one people.

Early in the service a man stepped to the stage, the pianist played a simple introduction, and in a rich baritone voice the man began to sing:

One thing I of the Lord desire
For all my paths have miry been,
Be it by water, or by fire,
O make me clean, O make me clean.

That was as many as 60 years ago. The song’s effect seemed to fall on the gathered body like an invisible mist. It was arresting in a spiritual way. We listened with awe.

I can think of several reasons why that simple song would register so deeply with a company of people from different communions who didn’t even know one another.

Mainly, because all Christians believe the song’s central message that God is pure.  God is presented as pure in both Old and New Testaments. Not so the gods of Israel’s neighbors — the Philistines to the west or the Moabites to the east. Their gods were vile and loathsome. At the same time, the prophet, Habakkuk, in that dark environment addressed Israel’s God saying, Your eyes are too pure to look on evil (Hab 1:13). The purity of our God is our heritage.

The Apostle John sees God’s purity even more clearly. He writes, This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). John had been with Jesus and in doing so had seen the glorious light.

And the Apostle Paul’s great salvation passage says we must believe with the heart in order to exercise saving faith (Romans 10:9,10). At every stage of our journey purity of the heart is a goal.

But the requirement for purity of heart does not end when faith first blossoms. We are challenged to engage continually. Paul exhorts believing Christians: Since we have these promises (to be made sons and daughters of God) Let us cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

There is much moral and spiritual darkness in our world despite the brilliance of our street lights and business districts. It is a darkness of the heart. Jesus is the light of the world and he assures us that only when our hearts are pure will we see God.

The need for inner purification is universal. One young man presented his need to me in street language: I need to be rid of this crud inside, he confessed.

Being cleansed of all darkness and wrongdoing is a glorious possibility. After nearly 60 years the soloist of long ago goes on singing in my memory, and I with him:

So wash me Thou, without, within
Or purge with fire, if that must be.
No matter how, if only sin
Die out in me, die out in me.

Photo credit: Jeff Hitchcock (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is There Hope for Spiritual Renewal in Our Times?

Mon, 08/20/2018 - 11:00

In our era, the news can be dark and shocking. Consider: the intentional shooting of policemen viewed by some as a new means of protest! As recently as two decades ago, who would have thought such lawless conduct would be part of the evening news?

And a recent headline reports that street drugs and prescription opioids used illicitly kill more people than the sum of those killed by auto accidents, gun violence, unexpected falls.  As well, at the interpersonal level, simple differences of opinion appear to easily elicit contempt and even biting hatred.

Lifelong friendships can be dissolved in a moment, and family relationships made to suffer. And then there is our “abortion Holocaust.” Sometimes it seems that our society groans with all of this misery.

The answer to it all? Nothing less than a genuine movement of God’s Holy Spirit to trigger spiritual renewal. Without question, in other times of similar great need, such moral renewals have been sent by God.

And it is our privilege and task as Christians to hope and pray that God will work today as he has in the past. I’m thinking of the Methodist Revival in England led by John and Charles Wesley in the Eighteenth Century.

Some historians say that at that time, England was near the point of moral collapse. There was widespread drunkenness, and depravity of every sort.  Conditions were ripe for massive social upheaval.

English society had fallen so deeply that it needed more than a bit of tidying up.  Politics was corrupt, the drunkenness just mentioned was hugely destructive, and public behavior had sunk into vulgarity and depravity.

Back then, response of the law was both harsh and futile: Children of both sexes could be hanged for 160 different violations of the law. Pick a pocket, snare a rabbit on a gentleman’s estate, shoplift, or steal a sheep – and even a child could go to the gallows.

Charles Wesley, brother to John, records that in one jail he preached to 52 felons waiting to be hanged — among them a ten year-old child. Public hangings were attended much like carnivals. And in cities and on highways corpses were often left rotting in chains from the gallows where they had been hanged.

Instead of societal collapse and even revolution, a divinely-appointed revival of the Christian faith swept the British Isles. God’s chosen leader for that unexpected movement was an English clergyman named John Wesley. A slight man who stood only 5 feet 3 inches tall, he ministered as a clergyman and had also taught logic at Oxford University.

From his initial ministry, nobody would have seen this coming: After more than a decade of earnest but ineffective ministry as a clergyman Wesley was ushered into an experience of God that energized and commissioned him and a corps of associates to guide this powerful revival. England came back from the precipice!

Where, in our disturbed times, is the reservoir of talent and spiritual will to first experience the cleansing and renewal of God’s Holy Spirit and then say “Here am I, send me”?

I think of the human resources for revival gathered in a great spread of Christian colleges, universities and seminaries across this continent in both Canada and the United States.

If a significant number of people in training were to equip themselves with serious intent and were moved by God’s sovereign Spirit to be anointed with power and righteousness, who can guess how God might use them as he did the Wesley brothers and their associates?

In one of Zechariah’s, divine revelations the angel said to him: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). It’s not  just a cliché. It’s a key to spiritual renewal in any age and it is the word God would speak to us today.

Photo credit: Phil Smith (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Does Aging Scare You? Learn to Laugh

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 11:00

photo credit: deepblue66 (via flickr.com)

I first became aware of the relentless process of aging in an unexpected way. I was a college pastor, 37 years old, and a student from the campus across the street came for an appointment.

She talked out her problem and we had prayer. As she got up to leave, she said with a warm smile, “Thanks very much for seeing me; I thought it would be good for me to talk to someone middle aged.”

It was an entirely unexpected thought. Me, middle aged? I pondered it after she left. I’m not middle aged, I said to myself. I am not that much different from the hundreds of students I preach to every Sunday.

But the truth slowly sank in, and since then, people here and there have managed to keep me conscious of the aging process.

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

Maurice stopped, put his hand on my forearm gently, and with understanding in his voice, said something like, “At your age, you shouldn’t be walking and singing at the same time.”

Some time later, my wife Kathleen and I were driving across Michigan on I-94. It was late afternoon and time to quit for the day, so I pulled into a motel and went inside. I asked the usual questions: Do you have a non-smoking room for two — preferably on the main floor?

The man at the desk studied his charts and then, breaking out in a smile as if he was going to be helpful, said, “I can give you a handicapped room. Fully equipped.” I showed no shock but it was another jarring moment. Did I look that decrepit, I wondered.

But the coup de grace came closer to home, administered by the boss of a roofing crew replacing the shingles on the house next door. I asked him to look at the roof of my house and give me his opinion. We walked together to my driveway and he stood for a few moments looking up. Then, he said pleasantly, “You won’t be around to replace those shingles.”

I’m not alone with such experiences. I was standing with the late Bishop Paul N. Ellis once when a young man asked him what it was like to be old (he was then in his 60s). He replied, “At least I’ve got there, while you aren’t sure you will.”

It was a humorous exchange, but his question did not surprise either of us. Observant seniors aplenty can tell about the subtle social changes that begin to manifest themselves as age creeps on: sales clerks may show lack of intere; con artists look on the aging as easy prey for their scams; people in a group may ignore their comments.

Growing old is not for the humorless. I’ve been collecting funny stories about aging and loss of memory for some time now. To do so is not politically incorrect because I’m telling stories on myself.

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

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

Perhaps worst of all is the subtle uncertainty, always just under the surface, about what the future will hold in this brave new world. The Psalmist’s prayer takes on new meaning for us: Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone (Ps. 71:9).

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

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

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

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

If faith brings the future into the present, giving substance to our hopes (Heb.11:1 NEB), then hope gives the present the assurance of a glorious future.

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

I think of this when I read one of my favorite chapters in the Old Testament at the present, Leviticus 19. It sets forth a summary of how God’s chosen people were to live out his holiness in community, and one verse says, Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord (Lev.19:32).

First published in Christianity Today

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Can We Be Christians and Secular at the Same Time?

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 16:50

Recently the Barna Groups’ annual report on the “State of the Bible” reported that half of Americans are Bible users and about six out of ten say Bible reading has changed their lives. This is good.

At the same time, however, the report showed a growth in the percentage of Americans with secular and non-traditional  views on such matters as: divorce, sex outside of marriage, same-sex marriage, having a baby out of wedlock, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography, polygamy …., etc. I suspect the Canadian picture would be little different.

Do these findings suggest that secularism is eroding the Christian faith to any serious degree? I propose three questions to ponder.

First, in the simplest words possible what is secularism? The word is from a Latin root that means this world or age. The emphasis of secularism is on human self-sufficiency and the concerns of this world only. Secularism tends to be anti-religious and has no place for the eternal or transcendent.

Secularism insists that religion is a private matter and should be kept within one’s own head or at most, within the walls of the church. We might ask ourselves: Am I buying into this, and subtly devaluing  Christian faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus  Christ, favoring instead what is secular only?

Second, in processing the flow of questions that repeatedly crop up in today’s social  discourse, what is my primary source of authority in matters of life and death? Do I seek answers from the Scriptures, and do I rest my beliefs in what the Bible makes clear? Recall that the Bible stood as a beacon on all of life long before we moderns came on the scene and it will continue to do so long after we are gone. It has proven to be timeless.

For example, when the Bible makes clear that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman for life, as is beautifully described in Scripture and sanctioned by Jesus, do I lodge my faith there and seek to be obedient regardless of national trends? (Genesis 1:27; 2:20-25; Matthew 19:1-12; Hebrews 13:4)

Third, do I join weekly with a company of Christians to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, and to enrich my understanding and practice of the Christian faith? It is in neglecting this historic practice that secularism may erode faith and make inroads into my values, moral understandings, and lifestyle  commitments.

The New Testament’s most used word for church is ecclesia which means the “called out.” It appeared first in common Greek and was adopted by the apostles and church fathers. It means to assemble or to be called out to meet in a central place. A church is a gathering of God’s people whether in a store front or a cathedral, whether a dozen in numbers or a thousand.

Jesus was speaking of the church in its simplest form when he promised: Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them (Matthew 18:20). Churches have their human weaknesses, for sure, but they are God’s way of gathering his flocks together for nurture and challenge. Our scorning or even neglecting such gatherings may reflect the drift of secularism.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews exhorts: Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all  the more as you see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).

If we stay alert to the creeping inroads of secularism, assent to the authority of God’s holy word, reading from it daily, and join our energies regularly with a company of God’s people we will avoid the world’s secularity and live joyfully with eternal life in view.

 

Photo credit: Chris Yarzab (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

No Helicopter Lifts to the Mountains of God

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 11:00

You’re in mountain country. You have little protection from squalls. Nights get cold and wild animals lurk.

Your guide points across a wide valley to a majestic range in the distance. “There,” he tells you,” the sun always shines; you breathe crystal-clear air; mountain gales do not batter; and wild beasts are unknown.

“Best of all,” he says, still pointing at the towering range, “one dwells there who is glorious beyond words, and he receives warmly those who respond humbly to him.”

You feel a sudden sense of longing while the image of a helicopter forms in your head. “I want to go,” you say.

No helicopter appears. Your guide beckons you to follow and he starts in the direction of the valley that must be crossed. The path descends, narrows and at points becomes difficult. At times it threads through a darkening canyon and the sense that predatory animals may be near chills the blood.

You feel like turning back but a moment later the path opens to a wider place, as it does by times. After a brief rest to catch your breath and with the encouragement of your guide you say, “Let’s go on.”

This is a story, of course. It pictures two of many experiences in the Christian life reflected in Romans 5:1-5. They are hope and hardship.

Hope is the expectation that someday we will be in “the land that is fairer than day,” as Sanford G. Bennett portrays it in his song, The Sweet By and By. There we shall see God face-to-face in his radiant presence! (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

In our mortality we can scarcely imagine the glory of God although across history there have been moments when he has drawn especially near. Moses returned from Sinai after being in the Presence and his countenance shone with God’s reflected glory. The tabernacle in the wilderness was marked by visible manifestations (Shekinah) of God’s presence. And the disciples experienced this too:  ‘We beheld his glory,” the Apostle John wrote.

All of this, and so much more, is the focus of the Christian hope. The majestic mountain range can only hint at God’s splendor.

Yet as marvelous as the hope of God’s glory is, there is a valley to cross and that  means hardship. There are no helicopter rides to the Mountain of God.

That’s why Paul speaks also of unpleasant times along the way. The King James Version uses the word tribulations to describe this reality. J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, trials and troubles. The Revised Standard Version reads, sufferings.

Whichever of these expressions we choose, none speaks of an experience we want, but each reflects an aspect of life every believer will have. Although life is also filled with times of great fulfillment and accomplishment, trials and troubles are a part of everyone’s experience in the valley of our mortality. They confront us all in the valley of our mortality.

Yet, the hope on our horizon makes the menacing shadows and storms of life endurable — even worthwhile. Note Paul’s progression of thought in Romans 5:3,4: Hardships produce endurance. That is, they develop grit as we learn to hold up under them. And, endurance produces character. Character is who we really are in intention and commitment. And character produces (more) hope.

To the new believer, hope may begin as little more than a doctrine. But the successful meeting of adversity nourishes it into a sustaining conviction. And even while still in the valley we may be granted fresh glimpses of the mountains of God, heightening our anticipation of seeing his glory as our journey progresses.

If the Christian life is an intertwining of hope and hardship shall we then resolve to bear this world’s suffering with resignation? Possibly, at times, but Paul has something even loftier in mind. Resignation is only one aspect of the Christian response. The other aspect is rejoicing.

“We rejoice in our hope,” the Apostle writes. The mountains are there; the valley must be crossed; the perils may be stark; but the Almighty God is bigger than them all.

The life of faith for Annie Johnson Flint was no helicopter ride to heaven. She lost both parents early in life and spent most of her years as an invalid. Yet she could write:

The danger that his love allows

Is safer than our fears may know,

The peril that his care permits

Is our defense wher’er we go.

 

Adapted from Along The Way

by Donald N Bastian

Photo credit: r chelseth (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: When the Church is Grounded in Truth

Mon, 07/23/2018 - 11:00

Kathleen and I read and discuss a chapter from the Scriptures together every morning. I wish you could have been with us for that exercise today.

The passage was Acts 6, telling how the young church resolved a social problem. The church at that time was made up of Jews, but some of them spoke Hebrew and others spoke Greek. Among both groups there were widows who were being supported by the benevolence of the church. But the Greek-speakers complained that their widows were being overlooked when the food was distributed.

The early church was a vigorous movement, not shackled with the complexities of today’s more institutionalized church. Nevertheless, they showed focus in the church’s primary duty — to proclaim — and administrative savvy — to respond — when an internal problem arose that needed addressing.

Here’s how the Apostles engaged the whole body of new Christians:

They themselves clearly held primary authority, but they did not rule autocratically. Instead they called the believers together to seek their assistance. This displayed a wonderful example of openness and shared responsibility.

First, the Apostles cast the problem in terms of right and wrong: “It would not be right for us,” they said, “to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.”

They asked the large body of believers to choose seven men who would be assigned to deal with this disturbing problem. They were to be men full of the Holy Spirit (foremost) and wisdom (God-anointed common sense).

The seven were consecrated by the laying on of hands and put to the task of caring for the apparent inequity among the widows. At the same time, the Apostles underlined that their own first priority was to “give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Proclamation and teaching must dominate.

How the young church went about this choosing is not known since the number of converts had swelled into the thousands. Interestingly, the seven who were chosen all have Greek names and they are likely Greek-speakers. Stephen, the first-named, stands out as “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”

Although set apart to serve in administrative ways, Stephen is singled out as a miracle worker and a strong proclaimer of the word. This got him into trouble. First, some members of a Greek-speaking synagogue began to argue with him, but they were no match for his wisdom and the energy of the Spirit he possessed.

So they went a step further and rounded up some false witnesses, plying them with lies. This stirred up the masses and irritated the city elders and teachers of the law. Stephen was dragged before the Sanhedrin – the most influential court of the Jews.

Fearlessly he spoke to this body, and his speech cost him his life. But as they stoned him a man named Saul of Tarsus was looking on.

Here’s what appears to stand out for us today. To be effective in our world, the church must be committed to the truth of the Gospel in all aspects of its life — in preaching, administration, facing of opposition, and seizing its opportunities.

The Apostles had a keen sense of their primary duty to preach the word of God, so they could speak about that duty in terms of right and wrong. Not better or worse. Not preferred or unsuitable. What they were to do was right and to neglect it would have been wrong.

There is the same sense of “oughtness” with regard to the needs of the Greek-speaking widows. The Apostles acknowledged the need, set the number at seven, and called the community to assist in the choices. It was done cleanly, openly. In reading the account one gets a sense of clarity and truth.

The issue of truth is critical today because truth — as the Scriptures see truth — is under attack. The Psalmist prays: “Surely you desire truth in the inward parts.” Jesus said, “I am the truth.” He also said repeatedly, “I tell you the truth.” John writes that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Apostle Paul encouraged the Galatian Christians to “speak the truth in love.” When we read the story of Stephen we feel like we’re reading about the embodiment of truth.

The relativism regarding truth is so wide-spread in our times that it makes it harder, sometimes even for Christians, to face many issues of life as either right or wrong. This episode from the functioning of the early church challenges us to give ourselves to God’s truth in the proclamation of his word and in the administration of his church.

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Photo credit: Jon Hurd (via flickr.com)

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Revised Re-post: How a Little Boy’s Cries for Justice Were Answered and Why

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 11:00

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

They run excitedly to their mother for help in dividing their treasure.

She empties the bag on the kitchen table. The boys watch intently. Then toward each of them she slides one portion.

Suddenly the four-year-old lets out a mighty yelp. “That’s not fair!” he cries. He’s sure the older brother has more big pieces of candy than he. The older brother contends: “I’m older than you.”

The pleasure of the moment disappears. To settle claims and counterclaims the mother repeats the process. To them, she is the arbiter of fairness, and this time, the younger brother is satisfied.

Where would a four-year-old boy get such a distinct and insistent sense of fairness? He doesn’t even read yet.

Here’s the Christian answer: We humans are made in God’s image and fairness is inherent to the nature of God. The recurrent call for fairness is common to our humanity.

Speaking formally, when we call for fairness we are calling for justice. Justice means having a thorough review of details so as to give each party in a quarrel their dues.

Isaiah writes: For the Lord is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18,19). He is in his very nature just, and he is the source of all true justice.

Because we are made in God’s image, both the impulse to be fair and our strong expectation to be treated fairly are inborn in us. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones (Psalm 32:27-29)

In Old Testament times God sent prophets to his people to awaken them to their offenses. If, for example, the rich were cheating their neighbors in business deals and the poor were being impoverished at their hands, the prophets called them to repent before God and be just in their dealings.

Likewise, in New Testament times Jesus rebuked the Pharisees on this matter of fairness: You give a tenth of your spices – mint dill and cumin, he said, But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

He insisted that both their religious practices and their interpersonal behaviors be above board and just!

Children get their first lessons on justice in their childhood homes if what they count their own is respected there — whether a small toy or a special keepsake.

Susanna Wesley, the mother of John Wesley, knew this. Among her rules in raising her large family, she insisted that no child be allowed to take the possessions of another, be it as little as a pin, without the owner’s permission. That’s how the experience of justice is awakened.

The mother who divided candy carefully between her two boys had an instinct for the importance of what she was doing; she was modeling to them the importance of fair play.

Fair play — justice — should also be practiced in the church — whether in a local congregation or a global denomination. Consider the application of justice in the early church, as recounted in the book Acts chapter 6:

In the early days of the church the Greek-speaking widows were not getting fair treatment in the distribution of relief for the poor. The Apostles did not brush the complaint off.

Rather, they wisely set apart seven men (with Greek names) to see that relief was distributed fairly. This ensured both fairness and the perception of fairness.

Blessed is that Christian body that conducts its business with meticulous attention to justice, honesty, and transparency.

When Uncle Carl gave two little boys a bag of candy, he didn’t know this would cause a disturbance; a four year-old boy set the stage by his unexpected urgent call for a recount; and his mother seized the opportunity to teach them a basic lesson about life.

Photo credit: James Cridland (via flickr.com)

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How Kathleen First Experienced God’s Holiness

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 11:00

My wife was seven years old and known as Kathleen Swallow, when her father died from complications after surgery. This left her widowed mother with six children, the seventh two months from birth, and the now-destitute family on a mortgaged farm in the dustbowl of Saskatchewan. It was 1933.

Her mother’s unmarried brother, Uncle Ossie, an engineer on the New York Railroad, wrote that if she would bring the family to Niagara Falls, Ontario, he would move from across the river in New York State and provide a home for them.

So, after going through the hectic details of auctioning off the farm while caring for an infant and six other children, this forlorn mother and children boarded a train for Ontario.

On that long and tedious trip a United Church missionary on board befriended the family. She was also traveling to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and volunteered that when the family was settled she would make sure they got to church.

Church had played no great role in the Swallow family on the prairies although occasionally in their rural community farmers arranged for the use of a one-room schoolhouse in order to attempt a simple service – a reading from the Bible and a few thoughts about that Scripture given by one of the men.

The missionary kept her word. When the family had settled in the dwelling provided by Uncle Ossie she came and took the five oldest of the seven children to the St. Andrews United Church where she herself attended.

Kathleen describes the experience as follows: After Sunday School all five were gathered up and led to the sanctuary where they sat quietly side-by-side waiting as the congregation formed.

To them, the church was a place of wonder, the large and beautiful sanctuary a new experience, so they waited in expectation.

The organist played softly as the congregation gathered. Worshipers entered and sat without conversation, waiting for the choir to appear in the the chancel.

The robed choir processed in and remained standing in the choir loft. The minister then entered, going directly to the central pulpit. Then the organ swelled, the congregation stood, and choir and congregation sang together,

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.

Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

She recalls that the service always followed this same sequence. And her response, she remembers, was the same each time -– she, by that time an eight-year-old — was awestruck and reverent as she was aware of God’s holy presence.

Kathleen recounted all of this to me one morning recently after breakfast when we read Psalm 99 together. That psalm brought back to her the never-to-be-forgotten sense of holy awe she felt at eight years of age in that Niagara Falls church.

Psalm 99 is about the kingship of God. He is king over all the earth so let the nations tremble, the psalmist proclaims (verse 1). Also, He extols, the king is mighty and he loves justice, (verse 4).

But what caught Kathleen’s and my attention as we read that morning was that amidst these elevated affirmations about God, the great king, the psalmist proclaims one particular attribute of our God and then repeats himself twice.

Of God, the eternal king, he declares: he is holy (verses 3, 5 and 9).

The word for holy or holiness occurs more than 830 times in the Old Testament. At core it means to be separate, or set apart. Applied to God, it signifies that he is separate from and transcendent over all his creation. To reflect this, some speak of the “otherness” of God.

Holiness is God’s quintessential attribute. He is all-knowing and merciful and all-powerful, for sure, but undergirding all God’s other attributes is his holiness.

When the Niagara Falls congregation sang, Holy, holy, Holy. Lord God Almighty the holiness of our God is what the hymn invoked in an eight year old. And that is what the eight year old experienced — though in an elementary way — but cannot forget 85 years later.

Photo credit: David (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Christian Meditation Makes For Healthy Christian Living

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 11:00

Say to someone, “A penny for your thoughts” and that person may surprise you with a flow of content being pondered even as you speak.

Our minds are never blank. They are either thinking, pondering, worrying, rehearsing, plotting, or aimlessly drifting. Our minds host a rapid flow of thoughts and sensations we are not always aware of.

Imagine your mind as a television set left to play all day long. During the day your inner set may drift from your upcoming doctor’s appointment, to your problem with a stubborn child, to getting the car serviced, to an argument with a fellow employee.

As for the TV you suddenly remember that the “remote” is within your reach. This analogy between TV and our minds can point out to Christians that what is in our heads is sometimes good, sometimes not so good, and always there because we allow it.

For example:  One man in love may rehearse in his mind every detail of an intended  proposal for marriage while someone across town may be strategizing every detail of a bank robbery. For both, all begins in the mind.

J.I. Packer, in calling for our disciplined use of the Christian mind, signals us to engage more in meditation. He says meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of Christian truth.

The ingredients for meditation can be diverse: Portions from the Gospel accounts are always at hand. Or one may call up the rich lines of a favorite hymn, or a timeless psalm like Psalms 23 or 91, or the central point of a recent sermon.

Consider the testimony of an elderly man in Scotland. On Sunday mornings he walked the most direct route to church but after service he took the longest way home because he wanted to be alone to meditate on the sermon he had just heard.

Or consider the example of Jesus. Nowhere does the Gospel say he meditated as a separate aspect of his communion with the Father, but it is clear that his mind was actively attuned to the Father even when the devil was tempting him to take shortcuts to the fulfilling of his life’s mission (Matthew 4:1-11).

It’s a Christian practice. The Psalms call us to meditate at least 11 times. For example, the very first Psalm describes the person who is blessed of God as follows:

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. “The law of the Lord”; there’s a cue for the content of our self-directed thinking. That divine law tells us what God is like and what he wants of us. We are to meditate by turning the truth of his law over in our minds, saying it to ourselves, rehearsing it, for example, either in the quietness of our room first thing in the morning or on the way to school or work.

The Bible gives us other rich resources. The Apostle Paul wrote the Philippian Christians a broad menu for meditation that could serve our purposes well. He wrote, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

Excellent or praiseworthy! This is an exhortation to set the standards of our thought life intentionally. Here the Apostle Paul gives us a bead on abundant material for the life of the Christian mind. If we take his cue seriously we will enrich both our minds and in doing so, our relationships too.

Photo credit: Thomas Leuthard (via flickr.com)

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Life’s Greatest Disappointment

Mon, 06/25/2018 - 11:00

Imagine that an extended family has planned a Caribbean cruise. They have looked at brochures and talked animatedly for months about ports on their itinerary. There are 31 people involved. Even the younger children have caught the excitement.

The family gathers at the port in Tampa two hours before the ship is set to sail. Imagine that one grandson is coming separately by air and his flight has been delayed. When he arrives everyone has boarded without incident and family members are either settling in their quarters or watching with concern for his arrival from the rail high on the ship.

He is the last of the family to arrive and present his papers to the boarding officer. After some searching and head scratching, the official notifies the grandson that his name is not on the manifest and there are no spare accommodations because the ship is completely booked.

Word of his plight is sent to the family on board. The ship is about to move. Disconsolately, the grandson watches this majestic ship slip its moorings and glide quietly into deeper waters. Soon the family members are little more than dots at the rails and he stands alone at the vacant quay.

It’s hard to imagine a deeper disappointment: large dreams shattered in a moment of time; cavernous loneliness suddenly collecting. But that separation would be temporary. Rationality would tell those on board and the one left behind that in time the ship will return to dock and the family will be together again.

It’s just a story. Life’s disappointments come in all shapes and sizes. We usually recover from them. But there’s one disappointment we are warned of that cannot be matched for seriousness. Jesus spoke of it in graphic language.

In his own words he said: Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in  your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers!’ (Matthew 7: 21-23).

The kingdom of heaven stands for God’s unchallenged Domain, both here and hereafter. Jesus is its Lord. The kingdom is where Jesus is. The persons in our Lord’s illustration entreat for entrance, professing that they have done all sorts of wonderful things in his name — they’ve prophesied, performed miracles, driven out demons. But their names are nevertheless not on the manifest of heaven.

What have they missed? Why is their entrance not scheduled and why instead are they turned away? Their deficiency is clear: They have never surrendered to God the Father in utter and complete obedience. That’s where kingdom entrance begins and in spite of all their wondrous miracles their hearts are not yielded. Jesus says they are without the key to this kingdom. Such a moment can turn out to be life’s greatest disappointment.

In our preoccupation with the dazzlements of this life we risk ignoring preparations for the world to come with its two vastly different destinations — the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, Heaven and Hell.

Jesus speaks of life’s greatest disappointment when he utters his warning. It’s not a disappointment over a missed family cruise on the Caribbean that he has in mind.

But he refers to a possible eternal disappointment arising from neglect of membership in his kingdom. That membership comes from yielding our wills to the Father’s will and from following his Son with a whole heart. It involves avoiding Adam’s mistake — a colossal refusal to obey.

So, whenever we want to do a check-up on the reality of our faith we start with the question: Am I living in obedience to the Father’s will? Is that yieldedness a settled issue of the heart?

Photo credit: Sid Mosdell (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds