Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Marriage as a Lifelong Building Project

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 11/29/2021 - 11:00

On December 20, Kathleen and I will have been married 74 years. And as we have from our wedding day onward, we both still look upon our relationship as a lifelong building project.

What exactly do married couples build into a marriage? After our decades together, here are some of our thoughts.

TRUST

We knew each other very well when, at age twenty-one on December 20, 1947, we made lifetime pledges of love and loyalty. Mutual trust was real from the outset. But after our simple wedding, trust had to be applied to many new experiences. Putting that initial trust to the test enriched it.

SHARED FAITH

From our first days in our one-room apartment, each morning after breakfast we would read a portion of Scripture, and then we both prayed, among other things, committing our precious union to the Lord. We still do this every morning at age ninety-five.  

FAMILY

Our daughter, Carolyn, arrived ten days before our first anniversary. We were young and declared that we would incorporate her into a youthful lifestyle that we thought needn’t change that much. But reality dictated otherwise. So we adapted joyfully to build a family.  

Eventually there were four children — Carolyn, Donald, Robert, and our youngest, John David, our special needs child. For John David, we weathered deep grief together as we were forced into special adaptations and eventually had to give him up to institutional care. Still, we would not let our heartache adversely affect the three older children.

We continued to build a family with the children God had given us — enlarged over time to include our children’s spouses, then grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren.

REPUTATION

Every marriage has an “inside” and “outside” reputation. What do growing children see from the inside? Do they see the same character and behavior in their parents at home and in public? What do onlookers see from the outside? Do they see the mutual respect and deference of a durable love, even at times of stress?

Marriage is about more than personal happiness. It is also about building a reputation that models Christian marriage to children, and that can encourage couples nearby who may still struggle.

AN ESTATE

“Estate” doesn’t necessarily mean a fortune. It means whatever joint possessions have come into being through the shared work and careful accumulations of husband and wife together. Estate may be only a bungalow and a modest bank account. Or it may be additional possessions, savings, and investments.

In this area, Kathleen and I built our estate with three purposes in mind: personal security for the closing years of our lives; gifts of love to leave the children; and something to bequeath to Christian causes we have supported in life and wish to continue to support after we have gone to be with the Lord.

To think of marriage as a lifetime building project gives a long-range perspective. It puts the present moment into a grander framework. And it keeps us thinking of how, even at 95, we can continue to build mutual trust, faith, family, reputation, and with our estate, the Kingdom.    

Photo credit: Holger Zscheyge (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Living the Fulfilled Life: A Formula for Elder Years

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 11/22/2021 - 11:00

Years ago, I saw a description of the three ingredients for personal fulfillment: (1) someone to love; (2) something to do; and (3) something to look forward to.

Someone to love

At 95, Kathleen and I are aware more than ever of love for family. It goes both directions. And in our retirement community, we continue to try to love and affirm our neighbors from nearby apartments. 

For Christians, love has another dimension, for “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). We don’t deserve this love; it is a gift to us to be shared with others. 

If we lack a sense of joy and fulfillment, we might consider how we might more intentionally love our family, neighbors, and God himself.  

Something to do

A passion for this or that hobby can be rewarding. And we can find a service niche to help family or community. Decades ago the late Lila Morgan, a life-long teacher, asked me, her pastor, for the names of a few shut-in seniors to whom she could deliver Sunday school papers each Monday. She took that short list, enlarged it, and made it into a weekly ministry. She not only visited seniors but she also drove some, who were without cars or driving privileges, to and from the grocery store each week. 

If we are discontented, we can ask, am I lacking something to do, especially for others?  

Something to look forward to

Many things we look forward to on our horizons may be in the realm of the ordinary: an upcoming vacation, the visit of distant family members, or even the blossoming of the first daffodil in the spring. 

But much beyond such things, Christians can look forward to the day when Jesus comes and all hurts are healed and all wrongs righted. Something thrilling to anticipate!

It is clear that we are all responsible to some degree for finding fulfillment by actively choosing to love, to do, and to anticipate.

Photo credit: Stannah International (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: The Call to Preach — Then, Now, and Forever

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 11/15/2021 - 11:00

As a boy in Saskatchewan I heard the following uttered from the pulpit several times: “Don’t preach unless you can’t get to heaven any other way.” It may have been a bit old. But as a boy I understood the implication: to go into ministry only if you are sure you are called.  

During the 1930s, when I heard such advice, the preacher’s life in the West was hard. In smaller denominations preachers were largely self-taught, by studying such sources as Thomas N. Ralston’s Elements of Divinity, with its sections on Doctrines, Evidences, and Morals of Christianity. Such preachers often did this kind of study after a hard day’s manual work.  

Pay for preachers was meager. It was routine for their appointment to be changed every two or three years. And preaching about sin, repentance, salvation through Christ alone, and the need for holy living often brought them resistance if not persecution.

Today, college and seminary provide better education for the task; a parsonage family is usually settled in a community for several if not many years; in most cases pastors are given the option of living in a parsonage or receiving a housing allowance to permit them to gather equity in their own home; as well, incomes are not so near the edge as they were.

But for today’s pastor who takes the calling seriously, responding to the call to preach still leads to a demanding life that tests and stretches. Preaching credible sermons that are the product of one’s own study, not provided by our internet- and DVD-saturated age, requires rigorous discipline. Warm-overs from the internet help a preacher to go through the actions but will not bring spiritual refreshment and depth to a congregation. 

Parishioner expectations regarding sermons, pastoral care, and church administration are sometimes expressed harshly. And serving the Lord, whether on the Canadian prairie during economic depression or in our current day, involves spiritual warfare. As Paul wrote long ago, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). 

In other words, struggle in the pastoral life is often not so much with people as with powerful spiritual influences that create resistance to the gospel. To carry out this warfare successfully requires the daily discipline of prayer.

The need for more promising and gifted pastoral prospects than are available today is, in my opinion, related to the materialism of our times. I recall one young man who showed all the signs of being called to the ministry. He even showed a personal tug in that direction, but he turned aside to another path, influenced, it seemed to me, by a family that could not see adequate material rewards and prestige in the pastoral life.

The rewards of pastoring are not usually “material,” but they are surprisingly great in other ways. Jesus said to his disciples: anyone who leaves all for me and the gospel “will receive a hundred times as much in this present age” (with persecutions) “and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).

The pastoral life is not a job, it is a “calling.” A job is a limited, defined task (like clerking in a store eight hours a day, or mowing lawns) that may be completed so one can turn elsewhere. A calling is a divine summons given in a variety of ways that should be answered and is lifted only when the Master himself lifts it. A minister I know who called his work a “career” did not understand this.

Pastors with a strong work ethic who have given a lifetime to this calling can report the numerous rewards with joy: the trust reflected in the church’s ordination; the challenge to deliver the word of God regularly through preaching and teaching; the privilege of sharing deeply in the lives of parishioners and adherents; close involvement in the rites of passage with all ages — birth, conversion, marriage, anniversaries, retirement, and death.

Who can measure the deep spiritual satisfaction of celebrating a quiet anniversary dinner with a couple whom one had married a half century earlier? Or of talking by long distance with a man whom the pastor had led to the Lord at his dining room table forty years before? Or the e-mails, notes, and calls that come from Christians (and even former unbelievers) who say they were influenced to put their faith in the Lord even though the pastor did not know it at the time?

Kathleen and I continue to experience in memory the quiet joy of having heard the call we heard 74 years ago and responding wholeheartedly.

Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

What I Treasure Above All

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 11/08/2021 - 11:00

Those who know me understand that pastoring is never far from my mind. In my ninety-five years, I have been a farm laborer (thankfully for just one summer), menswear salesman, student, gospel singer, pastor, teacher of pastors, and bishop. As bishop, I pastored pastors and served as an overseer, and was deeply honored to do so.

But it is my twenty-one years as a pastor that in some ways I treasure above all. To preach the Word and care for God’s people is in my mind the highest privilege. That’s why, eight years ago, I published The Pastor’s First Love, a book that summarized much of what I learned as a pastor, beginning with the conviction that Christ is “the chief shepherd” over his church, and He is to be the pastor’s first love.

As well, in this book I talk about why ordination is important; why a pastoral prayer ought to be carefully prepared rather than off-the-cuff; how to conduct a wedding rehearsal; and many other topics.

More recently, Kathleen and I have been privileged, along with others who have given generously, to help fund the Free Methodist Church’s new Center for Pastoral Formation, housed at Greenville University, in Illinois. This is a resource for the American branch, but who knows, maybe eventually for the entire denomination worldwide.  

And this week, in connection with this center, there will be a pastors’ meeting of sixty newly ordained pastors. How I would love to be there! When this word came to us, Kathleen and I pledged to pray daily for the blessing of the Spirit upon that gathering.  

In keeping with a life in ministry, this is the bright spot of our week, to know that pastors are meeting together to learn and fellowship. Will you join us in our prayers for a special blessing upon these pastors?

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Repost: Our Chief Work: Prayer

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 11/01/2021 - 11:00

Our son Robert and daughter-in-law, Janice, often call Kathleen and me on Sunday afternoon, as well as other times during the week. On occasion they tell us as they are saying goodbye that they are about to join a Zoom prayer call with other members of the Board of Trustees of Greenville University.

This particular effort is an initiative of longtime friends, Doug and Margie Newton, whose ministry for many years has focused on prayer. Robert tells me that this group of trustees has been praying faithfully together every week for well over a year. Many others both on and off-campus are praying, too.

This reminds me of various occasions across my lifetime when the people of God prayed in a sustained way together.  

I remember a gathering of twenty or thirty people every morning during the week of a Bible Conference at Light and Life Park in Lakeland, Florida. 

Or another time when the people gathered to pray thirty minutes before the evening services during a spiritual awakening week at a midwestern church.   

We have the example of Jesus to guide us. He interspersed his great miracles with retreats to pray and to renew his own spiritual resources. He taught us to pray.

For Christians, prayer begins and ends to some degree in mystery. We pray not because we completely understand the dynamics of this spiritual exercise but because God has revealed himself to us as a mighty, caring Father and our hearts are moved to respond in praise, petition, and intercession.

And when God’s Spirit moves his people to pray, He sometimes responds quickly. As a result of the prayer services in that midwestern church mentioned above, a man came to me privately to confess that eleven years earlier he had been a church treasurer and on one occasion had taken $25 from the offering, intending to pay it back. But he never did. Meeting with others for prayer had awakened his conscience. He wanted to pay back what he had taken with interest. Who can put a value on the awakening of conscience in just one human heart?

In the case of the Bible conference, who can know fully how God heard those prayers and responded?  

And at Greenville University, Robert and Janice tell us, God appears to be on the move in strengthening the institution and by working in the hearts of faculty, staff, community, and above all, students.  Who can know the eternal consequences that might go out from Greenville University in all directions?

Thomas Hooker was an English Puritan of the early seventeenth century. He was called the father of Connecticut.

He was a clergyman of great influence and achievement. Yet he wrote, “Prayer is my chief work, and it is by means of it that I carry on the rest.”

Photo credit: home thods (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Grace, Law, and the Solid Ground of the Gospel 

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 10/25/2021 - 11:00

I wish that my room had a floor;
I don’t care so much for a door.
But this walking around
with both feet off the ground
Is getting to be quite a bore.

Gelett Burgess, c. 1901

This could be a description of where relativism leads, as compared with living with a solid moral base for life. Relativism is living life, “floating.”

Is this a fair description of Christians who embrace Christianity but say that because Christ lives in them, they no longer have any obligation to God’s moral law? To the “thou shalts… and thou shalt nots…”?

Randy L. Maddox, in his book Responsible Grace, notes that during the Reformation, Martin Luther “increasingly restricted the law to a negative role of demonstrating our total inability and driving us (in despair) to accept the Gospel of unmerited justification.”

That is true. Paul says, “it is the straightedge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are” (Romans 3:20; 7:7 J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase).

But later, according to Maddox, the Reformed tradition as a whole was uncomfortable in setting the law against the Gospel in such a negative way. He writes, “While agreeing that one function of the law was the negative task of convincing us of our sin and our need for grace, [the Reformers] identified two further positive functions of the law: to restrain wickedness so that fallen humanity won’t self-destruct; and to teach believers a Christ-like way of life.”

And similarly, John Wesley summarized the three functions of the moral law as follows: (1) to awaken a conviction of sin; (2) to drive us to Christ for our pardon and conversion; (3) to set a standard to keep Christians alive and growing in the renewal of their nature.

The New Testament does not cancel law in favor of grace. Paul’s letter to the Romans says, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (7:12). And, by implication, what is “holy, righteous and good” must not be cast lightly aside. 

For sure, salvation is not earned by keeping the law perfectly. Salvation is by sheer grace – God’s undeserved generosity fully revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

By grace we are saved. This salvation is a gift received by faith. We can do nothing by law-keeping that adds merit. All merit is in Christ, and grace is God’s free gift. Good works neither achieve salvation nor sustain it.

But the law makes us aware of our need for salvation (Romans 7:7) and leads us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

Moreover, Jesus said, concerning the moral law, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19b).

When Christians across two millennia have become confused about the interaction of grace and law, they have either slid into the ditch of legalism on the one side or antinomianism (freedom from law) on the other.

Legalists depend on keeping God’s law as the ground for their salvation; antinomians stand against the law saying the moral law is no longer binding on Christians who trust in Christ.

When Christians embrace Christ in faith as the only ground of their salvation and at the same time are awakened to the Father’s law which Christ so devoutly loved, they will know that they have solid ground on which to stand.

No more “walking around with both feet off the ground.”

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Ruminations on Conscience

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 10/18/2021 - 11:00

In recent decades we have seen from time to time the reporting of corruption in various organizations. I remember hearing maybe ten years ago that someone in the Vatican had leaked documents revealing corruption hidden in the upper ranks. And that’s not to mention Bernie Madoff. Enron. The IRS scandal during a prior presidency. And more recently, we’ve seen charges of corruption in Canadian and American government departments.  

In each case the charges will have to be tested. Due process is messy and long.

Religious organizations are not immune to wrongdoing. And it seems that whenever corruption infiltrates the highest levels of a parachurch body, a local church or a denomination, corruption is hard to root out and deal with in godly ways.

The temptation is to diffuse the corruption to the organization as a whole, but in a document I have been preparing in another context, I have noted that it has been said that organizations don’t have a conscience, only individuals do.

I think of how much trouble could be saved in the investigation of corruption in an organization if the individuals would come forward and confess their wrongdoing. In this way the public could come to see that it is individuals who can lead an entire organization astray.

In our Lord’s cause, just dealings should bring strength to a body, and cover-ups of wrongdoing are always ungodly.

That is why it seems to me that leaders in every Christian body, however small or large, should ask from time to time: Are we genuinely open to properly registered complaints? And are we truly striving — as God enables us — to be just in all our dealings? And am I as an individual radically committed to honesty in all my dealings? Am I willing to confess, whatever the cost, anything wrong I have done?

Photo credit: Ged Carroll (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Building on a Strong Foundation

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 14:16

On the western bank of the mighty Mississippi River, at the edge of downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, stands the gleaming, stainless steel-cladded Gateway Arch. At 623 feet high it is America’s tallest monument, about as tall as two football fields standing end on end. The two legs of this massive monument are also 623 feet apart at ground level, increasing the sense of hugeness.

From its observation deck, you can see for thirty miles. It has now been standing unshaken by wind, storm, and even earthquake tremors, for fifty-four years.

I lived fifty miles to the east of St. Louis during the 1960s when it was being built. When I drove to the city to visit parishioners in hospitals there, I passed nearby and saw this remarkable structure rising stage by stage.

But it did not begin to rise into view from the first day of construction. What I could not see for the first year-and-a-half was the labor invested to burrow deep into the bedrock to establish a substructure. Workers poured 23,570 tons of concrete into that foundation before any signs of the monument appeared above ground.

The Gateway Arch stood as a metaphor in my mind as I prepared for a visit to Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York, several years ago. There I spent part of an evening with a class of seminarians who were preparing for a life of ministry.  

The paper I presented there was on nurturing the inner life of the minister. 

I selected that subject for a simple reason: Ministry succeeds in the long haul only when one’s visible ministry, carried out day after day and from year to year, gains unseen support from a devotional life not open to the public. The seminarians and I talked above all about daily reading of Scripture and vital prayer, but also about some classics of Christian devotional literature.

Attention to the devotional foundation of Christian life and ministry is not only for ordained men and women. Every Christian life that succeeds in service to God will have a visible life of witness, standing as a monument to God’s grace. And it will also have an out-of-sight life of daily devotion and worship that stabilizes and reinforces that witness.

Photo credit: Sam valadi (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Building on a Strong Foundation

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 14:16

On the western bank of the mighty Mississippi River, at the edge of downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, stands the gleaming, stainless steel-cladded Gateway Arch. At 623 feet high it is America’s tallest monument, about as tall as two football fields standing end on end. The two legs of this massive monument are also 623 feet apart at ground level, increasing the sense of hugeness.

From its observation deck, you can see for thirty miles. It has now been standing unshaken by wind, storm, and even earthquake tremors, for fifty-four years.

I lived fifty miles to the east of St. Louis during the 1960s when it was being built. When I drove to the city to visit parishioners in hospitals there, I passed nearby and saw this remarkable structure rising stage by stage.

But it did not begin to rise into view from the first day of construction. What I could not see for the first year-and-a-half was the labor invested to burrow deep into the bedrock to establish a substructure. Workers poured 23,570 tons of concrete into that foundation before any signs of the monument appeared above ground.

The Gateway Arch stood as a metaphor in my mind as I prepared for a visit to Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York, several years ago. There I spent part of an evening with a class of seminarians who were preparing for a life of ministry.  

The paper I presented there was on nurturing the inner life of the minister. 

I selected that subject for a simple reason: Ministry succeeds in the long haul only when one’s visible ministry, carried out day after day and from year to year, gains unseen support from a devotional life not open to the public. The seminarians and I talked above all about daily reading of Scripture and vital prayer, but also about some classics of Christian devotional literature.

Attention to the devotional foundation of Christian life and ministry is not only for ordained men and women. Every Christian life that succeeds in service to God will have a visible life of witness, standing as a monument to God’s grace. And it will also have an out-of-sight life of daily devotion and worship that stabilizes and reinforces that witness.

Photo credit: Sam valadi (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Qualifications for the Pastoral Task: Godliness and Competence

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 10/04/2021 - 11:00

After serving 21 years as a pastor, I spent 19 years as a general administrator of the Free Methodist Church. During those latter years I was regularly involved with annual conference committees that evaluated and developed persons who wished to become pastors.  

In the Free Methodist church it is the annual conference that ordains pastors and to whom they are accountable. An annual conference’s selection process leading to ordination is long, prayerful, and complex. It involves interviews, supervised summer assignments, questionnaires, recommendations, a check on educational achievement, psychological tests, and more.

What are the qualifications an ordination committee should look for? Here’s a simple list:

  1. Does the candidate manifest a clear sense of God’s call? That is primary. 
  2. Is the person’s life marked by impeccable character and suitable personality? That is, is he or she honest, intelligent, personable, hard-working, with a good sense of humor? The expectations are high.
  3. Does he or she have a good grasp of the Scriptures?
  4. Is there evidence of a solid work ethic? Does motivation come from within?  
  5. Can he or she speak / communicate well?

Three decades ago, while preparing the Staley Lectures which I gave at Roberts Wesleyan College, I was able to simplify these diverse criteria to my own satisfaction under two headings: godliness and competence. This insight came from a careful reading of Paul’s first letter to the young pastor Timothy.

Godliness is a personal attitude of respect for and devotion to God. A godly person lives in moment-to-moment accountability to God, whether alone or with others. We might say that the godly person is marked by “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Godliness shows in a piety that is genuine, not affected.

Godliness is not, however, a once-and-forever gift. That’s why the Apostle Paul exhorts the young Timothy to “train yourself to be godly” (4:7b) and “pursue godliness” (6:11). Godliness is a dominant word in the pastoral epistles, representing a never-ending goal.

But godliness alone is not enough. To it must be added competence. Competence begins with a broad and deep understanding of the pastoral task. And skill in carrying out this diverse task must be developed continually.  

A godly pastor without competence might be ineffective and clumsy with his or her people. On the other hand, a pastor who is competent but lacks godliness might be efficient but lacking in authentic piety.

I saw while I was pondering I Timothy in preparation for the lectures that the core of competence is sound doctrine. In fact, Paul’s first issue in his letter is competence in countering those who teach false doctrine (1:3b).

Paul reminds Timothy that he himself had been appointed by God to be a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles (2:7). He exhorts Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (4:13). The proclamation of and accountability to truth and sound doctrine are at the core of competent pastoral ministry.

Competence also includes skill in relating to parishioners. ”Do not rebuke an older man harshly … Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (5:1, 2).

And it includes caring for administrative matters such as seeing to it that God’s people function well in community, and that believers’ special needs in the family of God are met (5:9-17).

Those who select and develop pastors who are godly and competent — in preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and skillful administration — understand that the essence of the pastoral task is to bless God’s people for all time.

Photo credit: Chris Miuccio (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Qualifications for the Pastoral Task: Godliness and Competence

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 10/04/2021 - 11:00

After serving 21 years as a pastor, I spent 19 years as a general administrator of the Free Methodist Church. During those latter years I was regularly involved with annual conference committees that evaluated and developed persons who wished to become pastors.  

In the Free Methodist church it is the annual conference that ordains pastors and to whom they are accountable. An annual conference’s selection process leading to ordination is long, prayerful, and complex. It involves interviews, supervised summer assignments, questionnaires, recommendations, a check on educational achievement, psychological tests, and more.

What are the qualifications an ordination committee should look for? Here’s a simple list:

  1. Does the candidate manifest a clear sense of God’s call? That is primary. 
  2. Is the person’s life marked by impeccable character and suitable personality? That is, is he or she honest, intelligent, personable, hard-working, with a good sense of humor? The expectations are high.
  3. Does he or she have a good grasp of the Scriptures?
  4. Is there evidence of a solid work ethic? Does motivation come from within?  
  5. Can he or she speak / communicate well?

Three decades ago, while preparing the Staley Lectures which I gave at Roberts Wesleyan College, I was able to simplify these diverse criteria to my own satisfaction under two headings: godliness and competence. This insight came from a careful reading of Paul’s first letter to the young pastor Timothy.

Godliness is a personal attitude of respect for and devotion to God. A godly person lives in moment-to-moment accountability to God, whether alone or with others. We might say that the godly person is marked by “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Godliness shows in a piety that is genuine, not affected.

Godliness is not, however, a once-and-forever gift. That’s why the Apostle Paul exhorts the young Timothy to “train yourself to be godly” (4:7b) and “pursue godliness” (6:11). Godliness is a dominant word in the pastoral epistles, representing a never-ending goal.

But godliness alone is not enough. To it must be added competence. Competence begins with a broad and deep understanding of the pastoral task. And skill in carrying out this diverse task must be developed continually.  

A godly pastor without competence might be ineffective and clumsy with his or her people. On the other hand, a pastor who is competent but lacks godliness might be efficient but lacking in authentic piety.

I saw while I was pondering I Timothy in preparation for the lectures that the core of competence is sound doctrine. In fact, Paul’s first issue in his letter is competence in countering those who teach false doctrine (1:3b).

Paul reminds Timothy that he himself had been appointed by God to be a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles (2:7). He exhorts Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (4:13). The proclamation of and accountability to truth and sound doctrine are at the core of competent pastoral ministry.

Competence also includes skill in relating to parishioners. ”Do not rebuke an older man harshly … Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (5:1, 2).

And it includes caring for administrative matters such as seeing to it that God’s people function well in community, and that believers’ special needs in the family of God are met (5:9-17).

Those who select and develop pastors who are godly and competent — in preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and skillful administration — understand that the essence of the pastoral task is to bless God’s people for all time.

Photo credit: Chris Miuccio (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: You Can’t Avoid Worshiping

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 11:00

As created beings — “creatures” — humans are hardwired to acknowledge — to worship — the source of our existence; something bigger than ourselves. That is, we either act out our trust in God, our Creator, or we bow down to something or someone of the also-created world.  

The word, “worship” is from an anglo-saxon root: weorthscipe — which means “to show the shape of our worths.” 

The misdirection of our impulse to worship is a fundamental issue in the Bible. Look at the idols so dramatically portrayed throughout the Old Testament and into the New. And observe today’s worship of cheap substitutes rather than the All Glorious God.

Consider the ardor of thousands of patrons calling on Lady Luck as they hunch over slot machines in the casinos spotted across the land. Or the search for deeper reality from mind-altering drugs.  

Or consider that one person worships nature; another a companion’s beauty; yet another, material possessions. We worship that which preoccupies us, commands our allegiance, or comes to dominate our wills.

Christians avoid the lure of these idolatries by worshiping diligently the true God revealed in Jesus Christ.

George S. Gunn in his little book on the Psalms, Singers of Israel, identifies five goals of divine worship. I offer them in adapted form.

1. We declare openly our adoration and thanksgiving. We may do it with words, like saying the Lord’s Prayer. Or by gestures, like closing our eyes, kneeling, raising our hands, or pausing in silence. Whatever the method, it is worship that is visible or audible.

2. We acknowledge and confess our sins. The Christian life is overwhelmingly a life of joy. But whenever we come before God in worship there should be occasion to examine our lives for anything that displeases Him. Jesus said, “When you pray, say … forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Matthew 6:9a, 12).

3. We nourish our personal faith amid all the problems, fears, and doubts in life. Job acknowledged, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). But worship of the Living God is a wonderful antidote to despair because in true worship we remind ourselves potently of an all-sufficient God who comes alongside us in our troubles (Psalm 46:1).

4. We give open witness to others and especially to the oncoming generations. A Christian who was diligent in attending public worship rain or shine was asked by a not-so-diligent fellow believer why she attended so faithfully. She replied, “I always want my neighbors to know which side I’m on.”

5. We crown and complete our worship by “service, gifts and sacrifice.” When King David wanted to build an altar and worship God, Araunah offered to give him the land and sacrificial animal free of charge. King David insisted on paying him. He said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24a). The grace of God is free but we give of ourselves generously in the face of human need.

For help to worship, listen to the recommendation of James Gilmour, fearless missionary to Mongolia. He wrote: 

When I find I cannot make headway in devotion, I open the Bible at the Psalms and push out in my canoe, and let myself be carried along in the stream of devotion which flows through the whole book; the current always sets toward God and in most places is strong and deep.

Photo credit: mac mitchell (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: You Can’t Avoid Worshiping

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 11:00

As created beings — “creatures” — humans are hardwired to acknowledge — to worship — the source of our existence; something bigger than ourselves. That is, we either act out our trust in God, our Creator, or we bow down to something or someone of the also-created world.  

The word, “worship” is from an anglo-saxon root: weorthscipe — which means “to show the shape of our worths.” 

The misdirection of our impulse to worship is a fundamental issue in the Bible. Look at the idols so dramatically portrayed throughout the Old Testament and into the New. And observe today’s worship of cheap substitutes rather than the All Glorious God.

Consider the ardor of thousands of patrons calling on Lady Luck as they hunch over slot machines in the casinos spotted across the land. Or the search for deeper reality from mind-altering drugs.  

Or consider that one person worships nature; another a companion’s beauty; yet another, material possessions. We worship that which preoccupies us, commands our allegiance, or comes to dominate our wills.

Christians avoid the lure of these idolatries by worshiping diligently the true God revealed in Jesus Christ.

George S. Gunn in his little book on the Psalms, Singers of Israel, identifies five goals of divine worship. I offer them in adapted form.

1. We declare openly our adoration and thanksgiving. We may do it with words, like saying the Lord’s Prayer. Or by gestures, like closing our eyes, kneeling, raising our hands, or pausing in silence. Whatever the method, it is worship that is visible or audible.

2. We acknowledge and confess our sins. The Christian life is overwhelmingly a life of joy. But whenever we come before God in worship there should be occasion to examine our lives for anything that displeases Him. Jesus said, “When you pray, say … forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Matthew 6:9a, 12).

3. We nourish our personal faith amid all the problems, fears, and doubts in life. Job acknowledged, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). But worship of the Living God is a wonderful antidote to despair because in true worship we remind ourselves potently of an all-sufficient God who comes alongside us in our troubles (Psalm 46:1).

4. We give open witness to others and especially to the oncoming generations. A Christian who was diligent in attending public worship rain or shine was asked by a not-so-diligent fellow believer why she attended so faithfully. She replied, “I always want my neighbors to know which side I’m on.”

5. We crown and complete our worship by “service, gifts and sacrifice.” When King David wanted to build an altar and worship God, Araunah offered to give him the land and sacrificial animal free of charge. King David insisted on paying him. He said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24a). The grace of God is free but we give of ourselves generously in the face of human need.

For help to worship, listen to the recommendation of James Gilmour, fearless missionary to Mongolia. He wrote: 

When I find I cannot make headway in devotion, I open the Bible at the Psalms and push out in my canoe, and let myself be carried along in the stream of devotion which flows through the whole book; the current always sets toward God and in most places is strong and deep.

Photo credit: mac mitchell (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Reading Scripture in Church

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/20/2021 - 11:00

The best advice I know for those called upon to read Scripture in public worship is this: Read the Bible as though you are listening to it, not as though you wrote it.

I would also say: Read clearly, with confidence and conviction. Read so the people will want to listen.

Too often, only a few verses are read as the text for the minister’s sermon. That is commendable, but historically, Christian Scriptures have also been read as a separate, stand-alone act of worship.

That’s also how it was in the ancient Jewish synagogue. The scrolls were kept in a sacred chest and removed reverently to be read to the gathered worshipers.

Early Christian assemblies continued this practice. The Apostle Paul, who was well trained as a rabbi when Christ called him, wrote to the young pastor Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of the Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Notice that the reading of the Scripture is spoken of here as separate from preaching and teaching.

It is ironic that public worship in so-called “liberal” congregations include in their order of worship a Bible reading from both Old and New Testaments and from the Psalms, while many congregations we call “evangelical” include no scripture other than the aforementioned sermon text.  

I was teaching a seminary class of fifteen or so who came from many church traditions. I asked: “How many of you attend or lead a congregation that includes Bible reading as a separate act of worship?” Fewer than half raised their hands.

In the early decades of my denomination — and indeed of many evangelical denominations — it was different. On the first page of the Free Methodist Church’s 1910 hymn book I find an “order of worship” printed on the first page. It includes Scripture lessons from both the Old and New Testaments. Our forebears apparently wanted to be sure that Scripture would be central in worship and also that worship would be uniform from congregation to congregation.

To recover this practice, here are suggested “rules” to consider.

1. Well in advance of Sunday let the pastor choose a portion from each Testament, usually between 10 and 25 verses in length, giving special attention to the Psalms and the Gospels.

2. Choose lay readers carefully. Reading the Scriptures in worship is an assignment for those who are good readers, who articulate clearly and project their voices so as to be heard by all.

3. Give readers the passages before the Lord’s Day and encourage them to acquaint themselves well with them so that there will be no stumbling over words during public reading.

4. If young people are chosen, explain to them the importance of the assignment. I have noted at times that young people tend to read too fast, not being aware that many worshipers need a slower pace. I suggest you model for them the pace, or have them read for you and coach them. Also, advise readers to dress modestly for the assignment and with respect for a holy God and a worshiping congregation. If this advice is properly given it will win a response.

5. Ask readers to sit near the microphone at least until they have carried out their assignment. They share leadership for that service and the congregation should not need to wait while readers come from a distant place in the sanctuary.

Many years ago in a class with Carl Bangs, an outstanding scholar and seminary professor, we students discussed the drift of some churches from historical beliefs. He noted, however, that such congregations often continue to give a place to the public reading of the Scriptures. Then he added these words: “So long as the Scriptures continue to be read there is hope.”

Photo credit: ⊙ ︎♙₪୬⋀ℵ⊃△ ⊙ (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Reading Scripture in Church

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/20/2021 - 11:00

The best advice I know for those called upon to read Scripture in public worship is this: Read the Bible as though you are listening to it, not as though you wrote it.

I would also say: Read clearly, with confidence and conviction. Read so the people will want to listen.

Too often, only a few verses are read as the text for the minister’s sermon. That is commendable, but historically, Christian Scriptures have also been read as a separate, stand-alone act of worship.

That’s also how it was in the ancient Jewish synagogue. The scrolls were kept in a sacred chest and removed reverently to be read to the gathered worshipers.

Early Christian assemblies continued this practice. The Apostle Paul, who was well trained as a rabbi when Christ called him, wrote to the young pastor Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of the Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Notice that the reading of the Scripture is spoken of here as separate from preaching and teaching.

It is ironic that public worship in so-called “liberal” congregations include in their order of worship a Bible reading from both Old and New Testaments and from the Psalms, while many congregations we call “evangelical” include no scripture other than the aforementioned sermon text.  

I was teaching a seminary class of fifteen or so who came from many church traditions. I asked: “How many of you attend or lead a congregation that includes Bible reading as a separate act of worship?” Fewer than half raised their hands.

In the early decades of my denomination — and indeed of many evangelical denominations — it was different. On the first page of the Free Methodist Church’s 1910 hymn book I find an “order of worship” printed on the first page. It includes Scripture lessons from both the Old and New Testaments. Our forebears apparently wanted to be sure that Scripture would be central in worship and also that worship would be uniform from congregation to congregation.

To recover this practice, here are suggested “rules” to consider.

1. Well in advance of Sunday let the pastor choose a portion from each Testament, usually between 10 and 25 verses in length, giving special attention to the Psalms and the Gospels.

2. Choose lay readers carefully. Reading the Scriptures in worship is an assignment for those who are good readers, who articulate clearly and project their voices so as to be heard by all.

3. Give readers the passages before the Lord’s Day and encourage them to acquaint themselves well with them so that there will be no stumbling over words during public reading.

4. If young people are chosen, explain to them the importance of the assignment. I have noted at times that young people tend to read too fast, not being aware that many worshipers need a slower pace. I suggest you model for them the pace, or have them read for you and coach them. Also, advise readers to dress modestly for the assignment and with respect for a holy God and a worshiping congregation. If this advice is properly given it will win a response.

5. Ask readers to sit near the microphone at least until they have carried out their assignment. They share leadership for that service and the congregation should not need to wait while readers come from a distant place in the sanctuary.

Many years ago in a class with Carl Bangs, an outstanding scholar and seminary professor, we students discussed the drift of some churches from historical beliefs. He noted, however, that such congregations often continue to give a place to the public reading of the Scriptures. Then he added these words: “So long as the Scriptures continue to be read there is hope.”

Photo credit: ⊙ ︎♙₪୬⋀ℵ⊃△ ⊙ (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Update: How Earthly Prayers Enhance Heavenly Worship

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/13/2021 - 11:00

Yesterday I wrote to our children and spouses suggesting that we all pray regularly for a special need in the family, thereby joining our individual prayers into a choir of intercession to God.   

This made me reflect more generally on the place of prayer in the Christian’s life.  In that some prayers seem to go unanswered, it is not surprising that Christians might be tempted to ask from time to time: Do my daily prayers make any difference? Is God aware of them?

In the closing book of the Bible — the Revelation of John — there is an encouraging answer. John recounts his mystical vision of heaven there. In chapter 5:8 we are in the throne room of God and worship is about to begin. 

A lamb is there that appears to have been slain but is yet fully alive. We know who this lamb represents – the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Around him are “four living creatures” and twenty-four elders. Some Bible scholars believe that, taken together, they represent all of creation.

The lamb takes a scroll from the hand of the Majesty (God the Father), and suddenly the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the lamb. It is time for worship in the heavenly realms.

All have harps in their hands, heavenly instruments of worship. They also hold bowls full of incense. John tells us that this incense represents “the prayers of the saints.”

This imagery makes a powerful connection between two spheres of existence: on the one hand, that heavenly realm unseen by us now, where our God reigns and harmony and order prevail; on the other hand, our visible world, so clouded by conflict and struggle. 

The connection between these two worlds appears to be the collective prayers of God’s people. Imagine: while we are yet on earth, our prayers contribute the aroma of incense to worship before the throne of God.  

It encourages me to learn from this passage that our prayers matter to God. However ineffectual they may seem to us in our limited earthly existence, God receives them as a fragrance in his throne room. 

They must gladden the heart of the Father. They are apparently more than merely a list of our needs; they pour out all the possibilities of adoration, homage, praise, and awe.

It also encourages me to know that without the “incense” of the prayers of the saints, the very atmosphere of the throne room would lack something important. Our prayers apparently fill that place with a lovely fragrance, thus enhancing heavenly worship.

This larger view of prayer can infuse our prayers with renewed faith and fresh ardor. We will still have petitions to offer and unanswered prayers will still perplex us. 

Yet in those moments when we are “lost in wonder, love and praise,” and even when we are perplexed or afraid, we will know that in that glorious throne room our prayers are being mingled with the prayers of saints from all times and places.  

Image info: Dave Gough (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Update: How Earthly Prayers Enhance Heavenly Worship

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/13/2021 - 11:00

Yesterday I wrote to our children and spouses suggesting that we all pray regularly for a special need in the family, thereby joining our individual prayers into a choir of intercession to God.   

This made me reflect more generally on the place of prayer in the Christian’s life.  In that some prayers seem to go unanswered, it is not surprising that Christians might be tempted to ask from time to time: Do my daily prayers make any difference? Is God aware of them?

In the closing book of the Bible — the Revelation of John — there is an encouraging answer. John recounts his mystical vision of heaven there. In chapter 5:8 we are in the throne room of God and worship is about to begin. 

A lamb is there that appears to have been slain but is yet fully alive. We know who this lamb represents – the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Around him are “four living creatures” and twenty-four elders. Some Bible scholars believe that, taken together, they represent all of creation.

The lamb takes a scroll from the hand of the Majesty (God the Father), and suddenly the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the lamb. It is time for worship in the heavenly realms.

All have harps in their hands, heavenly instruments of worship. They also hold bowls full of incense. John tells us that this incense represents “the prayers of the saints.”

This imagery makes a powerful connection between two spheres of existence: on the one hand, that heavenly realm unseen by us now, where our God reigns and harmony and order prevail; on the other hand, our visible world, so clouded by conflict and struggle. 

The connection between these two worlds appears to be the collective prayers of God’s people. Imagine: while we are yet on earth, our prayers contribute the aroma of incense to worship before the throne of God.  

It encourages me to learn from this passage that our prayers matter to God. However ineffectual they may seem to us in our limited earthly existence, God receives them as a fragrance in his throne room. 

They must gladden the heart of the Father. They are apparently more than merely a list of our needs; they pour out all the possibilities of adoration, homage, praise, and awe.

It also encourages me to know that without the “incense” of the prayers of the saints, the very atmosphere of the throne room would lack something important. Our prayers apparently fill that place with a lovely fragrance, thus enhancing heavenly worship.

This larger view of prayer can infuse our prayers with renewed faith and fresh ardor. We will still have petitions to offer and unanswered prayers will still perplex us. 

Yet in those moments when we are “lost in wonder, love and praise,” and even when we are perplexed or afraid, we will know that in that glorious throne room our prayers are being mingled with the prayers of saints from all times and places.  

Image info: Dave Gough (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Update: Why, at 95, We Still Think Church Attendance Is Important

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 12:34

From infancy onward, my younger sister Eunice and I were taken to church. At sixteen, I declared I was old enough to choose when I would and would not attend. My little English mother quickly punctured my trial balloon. She put one finger on the dinner table and said, “Young man, so long as your feet are under this table you’ll go to church when church is on.”

Later, when Kathleen and I were first married we lived across the Queen Elizabeth Way at Lorne Park College, west of Toronto. On Sundays we walked the long gravel lane to the main building morning and evening to join faculty and students in Christian worship. On Wednesday nights we made the same trek to attend vespers.

Having lived since that time in Southern Illinois, Kentucky, Western Canada, Southern Illinois a second time, and the northwest suburbs of Toronto, we are now in an independent living arrangement of a lovely retirement village called Walden Circle, located very near where Lorne Park College once stood decades ago.

Now, given the constraints caused by Covid-19 and some physical infirmities, we “attend” church each Sunday by listening to (usually) three different televised services that provide substance and scriptural teaching. And we have attended an interdenominational meditation onsite at Walden Circle when offered.  

You might conclude that, after our seventy-four years of marriage, we attend church in these ways by sheer habit, and there’s some truth to that. But we have additional reasons.

We attend church because we are Christians, and the Christian Scriptures tell us to do so. In the Old Testament there was the weekly Sabbath in commemoration of creation (Exodus 20:8-11) and as a reminder of the people’s release from captivity (Deuteronomy. 5:12-15). There were also the special occasions when throngs gathered in Jerusalem to worship in remembrance of certain great events of Israel’s history — Passover, for example.

Much later, if there were as many as ten families the dispersed Jews built synagogues where they could meet on the Sabbath and listen to the reading of the Law. It was a weekly practice, and Isaiah had even declared earlier that the keeping of the Sabbath gave assurance that God would give his people a special blessing (Isaiah 58:13,14).

On the evening of the day of our Lord’s resurrection, the disciples gathered for what became the first Lord’s Day celebration (Luke 2418-36). But as a second generation of believers came along, the commitment to attend worship to some seemed less important. So believers were exhorted: “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 [of Christ’s return] approaching” (Hebrews 10:27).

Another compelling reason why we maintain the church-going habit is that Scriptures are to be expounded for our profit (1 Timothy 4:13). Some assert that we could read them for ourselves or hear their exposition by means of television, as Kay and I are often doing at present. But there’s something about being in the company of God’s people for this exercise that can’t be matched. We share a common agreement and respond with a common “Amen.”

We also experience that attending church — or making sure that we observe carefully each Lord’s Day — gives a divine order to life, and this plays back on the way the whole week is lived. Turning up to worship is like resetting life’s priorities and focusing on the joy of the Lord. That may be one reason why the Psalmist said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1).

Finally, we attend church because in doing so we join forces with a company of God’s people who are committed to certain ministries that help to keep a Christian witness alive in our secularized world. For example, we support pastoral ministry to those bereaved, hospitalized, or shut-in, or to parents to whom a baby has just been born. We are instructed on how moral issues in society should engage us. We support gospel, educational, and medical ministries for the needs of people in other lands. Local churches are often the unsung heroes of the Christian mandate to go into all the world with the gospel.

What goes on in church, we admit, can here and there become lacking in the excitement of active faith. But, as Carl Bangs once said, “So long as the Bible continues to be read in church, there is hope.”

So, as we were taught in early childhood that attending church regularly is crucially important for Christians, so now we pass on that counsel to our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and friends. We say: Know the Lord; experience him in a personal way; then find a church where you can be loyal and make regular attendance and participation a key feature of your lives.

Image info: James Mann (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Update: Why, at 95, We Still Think Church Attendance Is Important

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 12:34

From infancy onward, my younger sister Eunice and I were taken to church. At sixteen, I declared I was old enough to choose when I would and would not attend. My little English mother quickly punctured my trial balloon. She put one finger on the dinner table and said, “Young man, so long as your feet are under this table you’ll go to church when church is on.”

Later, when Kathleen and I were first married we lived across the Queen Elizabeth Way at Lorne Park College, west of Toronto. On Sundays we walked the long gravel lane to the main building morning and evening to join faculty and students in Christian worship. On Wednesday nights we made the same trek to attend vespers.

Having lived since that time in Southern Illinois, Kentucky, Western Canada, Southern Illinois a second time, and the northwest suburbs of Toronto, we are now in an independent living arrangement of a lovely retirement village called Walden Circle, located very near where Lorne Park College once stood decades ago.

Now, given the constraints caused by Covid-19 and some physical infirmities, we “attend” church each Sunday by listening to (usually) three different televised services that provide substance and scriptural teaching. And we have attended an interdenominational meditation onsite at Walden Circle when offered.  

You might conclude that, after our seventy-four years of marriage, we attend church in these ways by sheer habit, and there’s some truth to that. But we have additional reasons.

We attend church because we are Christians, and the Christian Scriptures tell us to do so. In the Old Testament there was the weekly Sabbath in commemoration of creation (Exodus 20:8-11) and as a reminder of the people’s release from captivity (Deuteronomy. 5:12-15). There were also the special occasions when throngs gathered in Jerusalem to worship in remembrance of certain great events of Israel’s history — Passover, for example.

Much later, if there were as many as ten families the dispersed Jews built synagogues where they could meet on the Sabbath and listen to the reading of the Law. It was a weekly practice, and Isaiah had even declared earlier that the keeping of the Sabbath gave assurance that God would give his people a special blessing (Isaiah 58:13,14).

On the evening of the day of our Lord’s resurrection, the disciples gathered for what became the first Lord’s Day celebration (Luke 2418-36). But as a second generation of believers came along, the commitment to attend worship to some seemed less important. So believers were exhorted: “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 [of Christ’s return] approaching” (Hebrews 10:27).

Another compelling reason why we maintain the church-going habit is that Scriptures are to be expounded for our profit (1 Timothy 4:13). Some assert that we could read them for ourselves or hear their exposition by means of television, as Kay and I are often doing at present. But there’s something about being in the company of God’s people for this exercise that can’t be matched. We share a common agreement and respond with a common “Amen.”

We also experience that attending church — or making sure that we observe carefully each Lord’s Day — gives a divine order to life, and this plays back on the way the whole week is lived. Turning up to worship is like resetting life’s priorities and focusing on the joy of the Lord. That may be one reason why the Psalmist said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1).

Finally, we attend church because in doing so we join forces with a company of God’s people who are committed to certain ministries that help to keep a Christian witness alive in our secularized world. For example, we support pastoral ministry to those bereaved, hospitalized, or shut-in, or to parents to whom a baby has just been born. We are instructed on how moral issues in society should engage us. We support gospel, educational, and medical ministries for the needs of people in other lands. Local churches are often the unsung heroes of the Christian mandate to go into all the world with the gospel.

What goes on in church, we admit, can here and there become lacking in the excitement of active faith. But, as Carl Bangs once said, “So long as the Bible continues to be read in church, there is hope.”

So, as we were taught in early childhood that attending church regularly is crucially important for Christians, so now we pass on that counsel to our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and friends. We say: Know the Lord; experience him in a personal way; then find a church where you can be loyal and make regular attendance and participation a key feature of your lives.

Image info: James Mann (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: About Telling the Truth

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 08/30/2021 - 11:00

A church member offered to teach Sunday school. For orientation, he sat in a boy’s class to help keep order as the teacher taught.

The first Sunday he was startled to hear the teacher say to the boys, “We all lie.” Then, shooting his own hand into the air as if to include himself, the teacher asked, “How many of you told a lie this past week?” 

The boys glanced at one another hesitantly and a few hands were raised guardedly.

For a Sunday school teacher to tell a class of growing boys that he lies, that he admits it, and that he knowingly told a lie during the past week must have been quite troubling. It would sound to them as if lying was nothing out of the ordinary for Christians.

Christians do believe that because all humans are “born in sin” (Psalm 51:5) we are all by nature disposed to lie. We do this very early in our lives, even as toddlers, and before we know clearly what we’re doing or have a conscience about it.

Children don’t have to be taught to lie; to always tell the truth is what they have to be taught.

Lying, according to a well-worn definition, is “a misrepresentation of the truth with the intent to deceive.” We can lie in many ways, not only by words but also by silence or a gesture. Representing part of the truth as the whole truth, intending to deceive, is also a lie.

When, by the grace of God, the Gospel penetrates our defenses it reveals to us our dishonest ways. That’s why the Gospel calls us to repent. That is, to renounce all dishonesty and turn from deceptive practices.

Opening ourselves to the Gospel brings a great assurance of forgiveness. Our sins are blotted out. And at the same time the Holy Spirit enters our lives in renewing power and begins to construct a new life. It is called regeneration (Titus 3:5-7). In this new life there is no place for deceptiveness, manipulation, or hypocrisy. These sins have to be confronted, and truth must become our new badge.

This commitment to truth is a necessary mark of Christian conversion, for when we are saved, Jesus — who is very truth itself — lives in us (John 14:6). Moreover, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, whom he promised to send into the world, is “the Spirit of truth” (John 15:26). Therefore, his call to truthfulness is serious, and the Spirit is patient but firm about it.

In our weakness or fallibility we may slip. We may be overtaken by a “sin of surprise.” We dare not forget that for Christians in whom the Spirit of Christ lives sin is never necessary but always possible.

Here’s the prescription written for Christians who lie or deceive in such a moment: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1John:1:9). 

This does not mean we are casual about a moment of dishonesty that overtakes us. In fact, we should grieve sincerely when we fail. But we are quick to confess and throw ourselves on God’s forgiving mercy.  

Here are some reinforcing scriptures we can hide in our hearts:  

  • Zechariah 8:16,17:  “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord.
  • Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one another.”
  • Psalm 51:6: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

This is what we should be teaching boys in a Sunday school class.

Image info: Orin Zebest (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

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