Churchie Feeds

Where Do Babies Come From?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 07/01/2019 - 11:00

When I was growing up back in the thirties and early forties of the last century adults did not talk to little children about where babies come from. Society was still quite Victorian.

If there had been a birth, a tiny infant would just turn up in a mother’s arms at church. Children were of course curious but were discouraged from asking questions, and simple answers were not offered.

If a child did ask where babies come from there was always the story of the stork with a baby wrapped in a diaper suspended from its beak. Storks made the deliveries. We children knew very early that it was just a made-up story.

I recall coming in from play one day when I was seven and finding my much older married sister, Ruby, sitting with my mother in our living room.

Mid-afternoon visits were not common so on the side I asked Mother why she was here. I was told her ankles were swelling and Dr. Creighton was coming to see her. That was all. Not many weeks after that I learned that she had a baby and that, at my young age, I was an uncle. It was all so mysterious.

Like any child I had a natural curiosity about such mysteries so I worked out my own theory. For one thing, I noted that it was usually the mother who carried the infant into our little church on a Sunday.

I learned also by listening guardedly to adult conversations that the baby’s existence was in some way connected to the mother’s recent visit to the little hospital on Fifth Street.

So, here was my theory: When a woman goes to the hospital for any reason, after she gets well and is about to be discharged, the hospital gives her a baby to take with her. I saw it as a going away gift that she could keep. I never went so far as to address the preceding question of where the white-clad nurses got the babies to give away in the first place.

My explanation satisfied me for a while and then it fell apart. Mae Darion was a single woman who worked for our family. At one point she was admitted to the hospital on Fifth Street for an undisclosed reason. Meanwhile, Mrs. Elliott from the west end of town was also admitted.

Both Mae Darion and Mrs. Elliott were discharged about the same time. But as I listened in on adult talk I learned that the hospital gave Mrs. Elliott two babies and Mae Darion none. I didn’t think that was a fair distribution of prizes. My theory collapsed.

I don’t think I was greatly cheated by being kept in the dark about these fundamentals of life in my earlier years. There was plenty of time in growing up to fill in the blanks and get a sensible understanding of reproductive processes.

Yet, unfortunately, children who aren’t instructed by adults near them may be driven by their curiosity to gather information from less trustworthy sources on the playground — sometimes helpful but usually crass.

This whole subject is in my thoughts these days because three days ago two of our grandchildren, Robyn and Richard, journeyed home from a Toronto hospital with a beautiful baby girl — Naomi Grace Junko Hicken. Two older brothers, Joshua (seven) and Alexander (four), had been well prepared and received Naomi joyfully even before parents and baby left the hospital.

In the weeks before Naomi’s arrival, Robyn tells me, there were plenty of questions, especially from the four-year-old. This was one of them:What was I before I was born? Was I air?” Robyn gave age-appropriate answers to this and other questions, but always made the point that all human life is from a God who loves us even before we are born and always will love us.

We have recently welcomed two more great- grandchildren, Isabel Grace Bastian and Eleanor Jane Ellis, and are already eager to welcome another at the end of the summer. In the months that follow, for Joshua, Alexander, and eventually Isabel and Eleanor, there will be many more curious questions for parents to answer.

And while we respond to the flow of down-to-earth questions little children ask about the biological origins of human life we must be sure to help them to ask and receive the fundamental God-is-our-creator answer that undergirds all others.

When the prophet, Jeremiah, announced his call to the prophetic office he began with the word as he had heard it from God: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (Jeremiah 1:5a). What security that assurance gives to young or old who embrace it — God created us, loves us, and knows us altogether!

Photo credit: R Hicken

Categories: Churchie Feeds

How to Give Order and Enrichment to Daily Prayers

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/24/2019 - 11:00

Seventy-three years ago, when I was 20, the main building of the Christian college I attended served many purposes. It held classrooms, dining facilities, the administrators’ offices, library and, on the third floor, a women’s dormitory.

People seemed everywhere.

There was no private corner where I could go right after breakfast with my pocket New Testament for a quiet time, and the men’s dormitory was too distant. So I found a place in the furnace room next to the coal bin, and each morning I sat there on a three-legged stool under a bare 25-watt light bulb and had my prayers.

That is not a boast. After a lifetime of attempting to make prayer a regular and central part of my life I feel I am still a beginner. Prayer is an inexhaustible subject and at 93 I am still a student of it.

But in this blog I share with you — as I have in past years — the format and strategy I often use to guide and enrich me in the practice of daily prayer. Call it the five stages of prayer: A-C-P-I-T.

1. ADORATION. Here’s one thing I’ve learned: prayers should always begin with time to focus on who it is we are addressing. We come before God with a keen sense of his majesty, his holiness, his infinite greatness and power. And we give time for these attributes to sink in.

The Virgin Mary burst forth, My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Her flash of reverence is worth our pondering. We can set our minds to adoration by repeating such Psalm fragments as, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Or, we can use the instruction of our Lord as a starting place. Jesus himself said of the Father: Hallowed be thy name. Hallowed means “greatly revered and honored.”

Adoration as an exercise clears the mind and takes us into the inner sanctuary of worship. It dispels the fog of our earth-bound living and awakens the soul to reality that is much larger than our realm of time and space.

2. CONFESSION. In a collection of prayers that John Wesley published before he was 30 years of age, he gave this helpful pattern for confession: “Heal, O Father of mercies, all my infirmities (_____), strengthen me against all my follies (_____), forgive me all my sins (_____). Wesley put blanks in so anyone using this prayer could personalize it. Our prayer should always have a place for self-examination and confession, sometimes made with tears and shame but always made with full confidence in God’s forgiving and sustaining mercy.

3. PETITION. In petition we bring personal needs before our Heavenly Father. They follow naturally upon confession. Our petitions are likely to grow out of issues we have confessed — our infirmities, our follies, our sins.

But we don’t remain there. We pray for more grace to overcome, more strength to do hard tasks, and a clearer vision to carry out our mission in life. George Buttrick wrote, “No situation remains the same when prayer is made about it.”

4. INTERCESSION. This means going beyond ourselves to pray for others — family, friends, work associates, neighbors, our congregation, enemies, other ministries, civic leaders in government, etc. To intercede thus for others near and far saves us from narrowness in our prayers.

The efficacy of intercession is one of the profoundest mysteries of the spiritual life. Prayer’s effects are often imperceptible. Answers to them on occasion may be immediate, but not always. And our intercessions are never to be viewed like approaching a vending machine, producing instantly what we ask.

Sometimes the answer is contrary to our desires. Isaiah the prophet proclaimed to a forlorn nation: They that wait upon the Lord (remain constant in their faith) shall renew their strength. James Hastings wrote, “It would not be unfair to estimate a person’s religion by the earnestness by which he longs for the welfare of others.”

5. THANKSGIVING. In adoration, where we began, we worship God for who he is; in thanksgiving, where we end, we praise him for all his benefits. For example, salvation through our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, typically springs first to mind. In response to that unprecedented gift it is good to let our spirits soar in thanksgiving.

We might next recall the largest blessings of our lives, and give thanks. And we also remember the smallest mercies, and give thanks. Giving thanks is like priming a pump. It may take a few pumps before the sense of gratitude flows. But even if our thanksgiving is sluggish at first due to fatigue or low mood, it will begin to flow.

After many decades of regular prayer, I commend it to you as a daily practice. Try out the A-C-P-I-T strategy. Find a time and place, if even in a furnace room and under a dim light bulb. And continue along with me to plumb prayer’s depths and joys.

Photo credit: Stephen Platt (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Something Wonderful Happened After a Doctor Phoned a Pastor

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/17/2019 - 11:00

The phone call (several decades ago now) was from a doctor, a member of the congregation I was pastoring. He had just informed his patient, Cedric (not his real name), that there was no treatment — neither surgery nor medications — to arrest his advanced bone cancer metastases.

After breaking the news gently to Cedric the doctor had asked if he would like to see a pastor and Cedric, somewhat shaken, had replied yes, so the doctor was phoning me to make an appointment for him.

But when the time for the appointment came, Cedric did not show up. I was not surprised. I had learned a bit more about him and thought prayer with a pastor was one of the last things he would have been interested in.

He and two other unmarried brothers lived on a farm a few miles from town. The three were reclusive and I learned that they wouldn’t have seen the inside of a church more than a half dozen times in their lives. I asked a church member who knew the area well if I should I go to the farm to look him up. He advised me not to.

But a few weeks later during a visit to another church member in the hospital, I saw Cedric’s name on the patient list near the entrance. He was in room five in the bed nearest the door.

When I introduced myself I could see he recognized who I was. There he lay, the head of his bed raised slightly and a Bible open and face down across his chest.

We conversed briefly about the words he had been reading from John’s Gospel, and before I left him I asked if he would like to open his heart to the Lord Jesus. He nodded in the affirmative, so I prayed a short prayer of repentance and faith, which he repeated after me.

It was my custom, after I had visited with two or three parishioners, to sit in the car in the parking lot for a few moments to review in my mind each visit before driving away.

That day I had mixed feelings about my visit with Cedric. I didn’t even know him, nor he me. Why didn’t I make the first visit just a friendship visit ending with a short prayer? Had I been too hasty? Was he really ready for that new believer’s prayer? I was hard on myself.

But a day or so later when I visited him again I could tell he was waiting for me to come. That began, as I recall, a string of visits across two months, as his body wasted away. First he was moved to a single-occupant room. Then, as his condition advanced, he was placed on a Stryker frame.

It became evident to me that, in that initial prayer weeks before, he had experienced God’s love and forgiveness. Due to his weakness, our visits were short, but they were enriching to both of us.

One day as I approached him I asked, “What are you thinking about these days, Cedric?” He responded matter of factly, “I’m thinking about dying.” That prompted a short but faith-enriching conversation. He obviously had the assurance of eternal life through a living faith in Christ.

The next time I saw him he said, “I would like to be baptized.” I replied that I would come back the next day to do this. There was a reason for one-day delay. In a close-knit community I wanted to be sure I was the main pastor if not the only pastor ministering to him. I didn’t want to invade another pastor’s territory for church services.

On my next visit, I said to a nurse, “Cedric tells me he wants to be baptized.” She understood immediately and provided me with a small basin. Then she offered a white towel, saying, “You may use this to wipe any excess water from his head.”

There the two of us were alone in the room, one strapped to a Stryker frame, the other holding a small basin of water. There was no instrumental music, no congregational singing. After a few words of instruction I raised my voice slightly and said, “Cedric, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” I wiped the excess water from his forehead. After a short prayer I left him.

The next day I made my last visit. As I bent over his bed he said in little more than a dying whisper, “Yesterday was the most wonderful day in my life.” He was referring to his baptism.

I had Cedric’s funeral. His brothers were there. I told his story. I expect to see Cedric again.

Photo credit: nerissa’s ring (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

An Unexpected Question to Those Who Favor Life Over Abortion

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:00

In his May 24 issue of Turning Point, John Stonestreet quotes a recent tweet sent out by Israeli journalist, Sarah Tuttle-Singer, who writes for the Times of Israel.

It reads: “Dear Pro-life Friend: What have you personally done to support lower-income single mothers? I’ll wait.”

Her assumption must be that pro-life advocates in general adamantly campaign against the abortion scourge but are suspected of doing nothing for “saved babies” after they are born.

That is, they crusade with a passion to spare unwanted babies from destruction at the abortionist’s hand but may do nothing to care for the needy little ones and their mothers after they are spared.

Those who stand for abortion on demand point this out and say pro-lifers should stop crusading because they don’t really care about human life after birth.

Tuttle-Singer’s question must have been intended as a ‘gotcha’ challenge, to silence pro-life advocates once and for all. But instead, her question brought an outflow of heart-felt answers — more than 13,000 of them in all.

For example, a Twitter user named Barbara wrote back, “Since I am unable to foster, I often babysit for my friends who do. I donate to a foster closet. We help pay bills for people in crisis situations and my older children help when they are able.”

Here’s another example. A Pastor named Hans replied: “Started a non-profit that gives free clothes etc. to those in need. Fostered a teen mom. Fostered another mother until she got her life back on track. Found them housing. Gave them a church family who helps and supports them.”

One might argue that these testimonials are the cream of a collection. Stonestreet believes to the contrary that the 13,000 plus responses as a whole flow in the same positive direction.

Attached to Stonestreet’s article is a miniaturized list of hundreds of similar replies as evidence that the number of pro-lifers who do care about the mother and baby after birth is large and credible.

And even these numerous responses do not tell the whole story. Stonestreet draws attention as well to the nation’s many pregnancy care centers. They outnumber Planned Parenthood and other abortion venues three to one.

Alabama alone has 70 of these centers dedicated to saving preborn life. Take the individual actions illustrated above together with the large number of crisis intervention centers, and one can see that pro-life advocates obviously care in a very active way. Thirteen thousand is a large number.

The controversial abortion issue appears to have taken on fresh energy in the United States — some say as much as anything due to high resolution ultrasound technology that shows us that what is being aborted is not a “fetus,” but more accurately a preborn baby!

This flow of pro-life responses — individual actions, pregnancy crisis centers, and legislation — shows that support for the unborn is not just rhetorical. It is a movement undergirded by compassion and hard work. Support for the dignity and humanity of the unborn cannot be quelled after more than 40 years of attempts to do so.

Abortion to many may be just a word signifying something about which they never think seriously. Some may turn away with a shrug; others insist it is every woman’s right and at her discretion alone; while Christians see it as a horrific offense against humanity and their opposition and response of mercy will never cease.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Good News/Bad News: It’s No Joke

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/03/2019 - 11:00

Good news/bad news jokes add a touch of humor to our lives. Like this one:

A pastor reports to his congregation on Sunday morning that he has both good news and bad news for them.

He tells them: “The bad news is that last night’s storm blew a hole in the roof and there is a lot of water damage in the choir room.” The people respond with a concerned murmur.

The pastor goes on: “But there’s good news. The good news is that we have all the money we need to repair the damage.” The people brighten.

“However,” the pastor adds, “the bad news is that the money is in your pockets.” Spontaneous laughter erupts but sounds a little nervous.

Stories like this may bring a chuckle, but they also reflect the way life often unfolds. Good and bad news both descend on us, sometimes too close to each other for our liking.

This thought came to me some time back when I read an interview with Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback church in California. You recall that he made news over his runaway bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life. The book had brought him fame and great wealth almost overnight. Great! Wonderful news!

But shortly thereafter he was in the news again, this time because cancer had struck in his family. After much prayer, he and his wife came to terms with what they were facing.

Shortly after receiving the news, in an interview he said, “Life is a series of problems: either you are now in one, or you’re just coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one.”

He also said, “I believe that life is kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and that at all times you have something good and something bad running in your life.”

A decade has passed, but in saying this, Pastor Warren spoke from his own poignant experience. One day had brought surprising news of great wealth to the family; the next brought the threat of great loss. So it is for all of us.

Can we draw lessons from his two-rail metaphor for how we should live? We are enabled to face both good and bad that come so startlingly close together with a measure of equanimity when we see our lives in the context of eternity.

Rick Warren pointed this out when he said, “In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity …This [brief life] is the warm-up act — the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity” — which is to let nothing dim our view of him in all his glory.

This is in complete agreement with what the Apostle Peter teaches Christians who apparently had been ripped from their homes and scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1).

We are born again into a living hope, he writes (1 Peter 1:3). We have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you (1:4). We know that our salvation will be fully revealed in the last time (1:5). All this is a treasure trove of reassurance and will sustain us even while we may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials (1:6).

When the bad news comes, we also have God’s word through the Apostle Paul: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Photo credit: Jon S (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Sex Education in Sexually Confusing Times (Part Two)

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/27/2019 - 11:00

The Garden of Eden by Erastus Salisbury Field, circa 1860.

In the past seventy years our culture has made major social and legal shifts, purportedly to allow greater personal freedom to all. But these changes have created a quagmire that increasingly bogs society down and brings confusion to civic life.

Consider some of the shifts: traditional marriage reduced in priority, easy divorce, living together unmarried, same-sex marriage, casual sex without commitment, addiction to pornography, abortion as a “convenience,” and now transgender experimentation.

Where should Christians start in foundational teaching of our children on this subject?

For starters, we must remember that in the Christian community the Bible continues to be the primary sourcebook on what we must believe and how we must live. It is an ancient book but not scorned by wise people who find its counsel on such matters surprisingly contemporary.

The Bible does not say anything about techniques regarding sex, or the science of conception, or the practice of “safe sex” but it gives a good foundation to believers on the basics of reality and morality in this arena.

Consider how the story of creation is put forward at the threshold of the Scriptures (Genesis 1:1): “In the beginning …” There was a beginning. God was there already and he spoke. He didn’t need a box of tools because by the power of his word creation sprang forth with its unmeasured vastness and wonder. And, at the outset, it was very good.

Think of this introductory passage as a hymn to creation. Here is its climax: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). We are created to be stewards.

It gets even better: Notice that in the verse that comes next the word “create” is used three times. Notice also that God creates two distinct genders — male and female. Neither more, nor fewer: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God created he them, male and female he created them (1:27).

For Christians, this is where sex education begins, in the simple but profound declaration made by the God of creation. That’s why we respect our bodies and give God thanks for his provision of the fundamentals of our beings. These simple foundational points can be taught early in Sunday school, and especially in Sunday-morning services when God is worshiped in truth.

Chapter 2 of Genesis tells the creation story differently from chapter 1 but without contradiction. It begins with God’s creation of Adam and his assignment to care for the Lord’s park-like garden. Then comes a further provision: The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (2:18). This picks up on a theme in chapter 1 cited above: male and female created he them.

The Lord God then created animals and brought them to Adam to see what he would name them. But among them there was no creature suited to be the helper the Lord God had promised. There follows the story of how Adam got his wife so widely known but never boring to repeat with color. And from that ancient presentation there are profound hints about love and sexual attraction today.

This opening of the Bible does not end with a clean, idealistic account of the sanctity of marriage. It is equally candid about fallen man’s misuse and abuse of God’s holy gift. The issues of bigamy, polygamy, adultery, fornication, scandalous unfaithfulness to covenant — all these are addressed but never approved. The Bible gives us Jesus’ word that nothing in succeeding centuries erases God’s intention as addressed in the story of creation (Matthew 19:3-12).

Our Lord calls his followers to purity of heart (Matthew 5:8). The Apostle Paul exhorts believers to purity and fidelity in the strongest of words: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3).

The story of creation twice told ends with these affirming words: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). The Bible has much more to say about our sexuality but it all begins here.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Sex Education in Sexually Confusing Times (Part One)

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/20/2019 - 11:00

The task of sex education is to help growing children, at the level of their understanding, to know that their sexuality undergirds and shapes their view of the world.

Their sexuality is not an aspect of being human that can be separated out and experienced independently. It is integral to the whole of their humanness.

Of course, there is a case to be made for the decisions about sex education to be the purview of the family and faith communities — and by a school only with parental consent.

But leaving that question aside to deal with the general matter of children’s education, the issue is not so much what information is taught as what assumptions and belief system underlies the information.

Society no longer universally holds to the Christian belief that human beings are far more than animals who are socially advanced and intricately developed. Biblical teaching is that all humans are unique creatures among God’s creative order bearing his image and accountable to him for their behavior.

Again in the general case, though with exceptions that prove the rule, a family of mother, father and children, provides the best environment. Wholesome sex education begins in the loving, respectful attitude of parents to one another and the children from infancy onward.

That doesn’t mean family relationships are always free from stress but that love and respect govern or “reign”. And it doesn’t mean that sex education is necessarily substandard in homes limited by the deprivation of one parent.

Christian sex education is based on the revelation that God created humankind to be male and female, each bearing fully his image (Genesis 1:26,27). From birth onward this differentiation of humans into male and female has serious implications. Sex education should help us to understand and rejoice in what God has created us to be.

Sex education can be enhanced in the home by the use of Biblically-based literature, videos and whatever other Christian resources are recommended by a denomination’s resources center. It’s best to let growing children acquaint themselves at times privately with whatever is made available to them, and as well at times in conversation with parents.

The intimate aspects of sexuality may thus be taught in a gradual way according to a growing child’s ability to understand. The Christian faith maintains that there is a mystery and metaphysical and spiritual aspect to sex and this must be respected in growing children.

Modelling is the means by which children are best helped to develop a sense of responsibility concerning their sexuality.

Because the sex act gives intense pleasure, some secular minds tend to treat it as nothing more than the satisfaction of a physical appetite. For such persons, the psychological and spiritual aspects may be ignored or devalued.

Those who promote such a view seem concerned primarily that sex be practiced safely, using the best of modern technology to avoid sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.

Christian wisdom is contrary to such a view. The Scriptures hold that sex within marriage is honorable while sex outside of marriage is labeled adultery or fornication — each regarded as serious sins (Hebrews 13:4). The Bible speaks forthrightly against premarital or extramarital sex as follows:

But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality (promiscuous behavior) or any kind of impurity (the wider range of illicit sexual conduct) or greed (insatiability) because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3).

In this very personal arena of our humanness the grace of God (His undeserved generosity) must be emphasized. It is His grace that enables sexual purity. And for those who have failed or are failing, he offers the grace of  repentance and forgiveness. In Christ, wholesome attitudes toward sex can be recovered and purity restored.

Photo credit: Márcio Binow da Silva (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Sunday School Picnic, Anyone?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/13/2019 - 11:00

When I was a boy, the annual Sunday School picnic was a highlight of the summer for our modest sized church in Saskatchewan. From the day its date was announced in June I lived in expectation.

I recall that one year, I prayed in my boyish way that it wouldn’t rain on that day. The day before the event seemed iffy, but it didn’t rain after all. A rained-out picnic would almost have ruined my summer, so I felt.

Sunday School picnics are probably not enthralling to today’s children like they were to me and my friends eighty years ago. Our church was small and our town’s activities were limited after school was out for the summer.

Today there is so much more to create summer excitement — swimming facilities, little league baseball, camping activities, and sports events, for example. This is to say nothing of personal diversions like television, smart phones, Netflix and other streaming services. Who needs picnics?

It’s not that the thirties of the last century were completely without excitement. Still, the Great Depression and the Dustbowl together generated the nickname of “the dirty thirties,” and our parents were in survival mode to “make ends meet.” In summer months we mostly had to generate our own entertainment.

I remember that one summer, the picnic was held at Woodlawn Park in the wide valley two miles straight south of Estevan. It had swings, and teeter-totters, and a place to swim. The Souris River formed its southern bounds.

On the bank of the river — which I remember as less than two hundred feet wide — there was a diving board and in the middle of the river there was an anchored raft, easily reached by swimmers. On a hot afternoon they splashed and bobbed like corks around this raft, and shouts of excitement filled the air.

The park was set in a large grove of trees, which was not usual for the Prairies, and they made an appealing setting for our picnic. The gathering there was like a large family. Some people who were only slightly connected to the congregation attended and increased the numbers.

There were games (like three-legged, and gunny sack races) and other contests for all ages. And there was pick-up softball for the older kids and young adults.

There were things to laugh at too — like the grunting, sweating, red-faced adult contestants who gave their all in an attempt to win the tug-of-war. Or the girls who fell in a heap while attempting to hop to the goal line with legs confined in a gunny sack. Even sedentary onlookers cheered as racers, each balancing an egg delicately on the bowl of a tablespoon, headed past them for the finish line.

The minister was always called upon to bless the food. During those hard times in the 1930s the food was simple but satisfying and special when served at picnic tables out of doors. Open air and brisk activity awakened hearty appetites.

At the end of the afternoon we had ice cream which almost by itself made the event outstanding. Ice cream back then was not an everyday treat.

It still seems to me that such a picnic can do something for a modest sized church community that more spiritual activities can’t. Bible studies, prayer meetings, and picnics each have their place.

They contribute to bonding between churchgoers. Many quiet people become involved. Children possibly benefit the most, as they make brief connections up and down the age scale, with parents, the middle-aged, and even grandparents of their chums. Everyone mingles under a Summer sky.

Maybe a picnic wouldn’t work today. But plan one like I’ve described here, and I’ll be there! Just don’t ask me at this point in my life to take part in the tug-of-war!

Photo credit: cwwycoff1 (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Do We Need the Old Testament to Practice the Christian Faith?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/06/2019 - 11:00

This week I heard a sermon on YouTube from one of America’s most popular megachurch pastors. He contended that today’s church needs to “unhitch” from the Old Testament and live by the simpler ways of the New Testament. The Old Testament is too old, bloody, and complex for believers, he said.

One can appreciate the passion to bring the Gospel more simply to today’s public, but is completely disconnecting the Old Testament from church life the way to achieve the goal?

The sermon claimed that New Testament writers — Peter, James, Paul and others — had themselves disconnected from the Old Testament in the early days of the Christian church. He said they too wanted to make the faith simpler for those who sought after God.

But did Jesus not say the following? Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:17,18).

Jesus came not to annul or even simplify the Old Testament but to embody its positive truths in living form. He came to save sinners, and the moral law as lodged in the Old Testament had a specific function in this saving ministry.

It was to awaken them to their sinful condition and bring them to the Savior. As Paul wrote to the Galatians: the law was like a strict guardian in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ and learned to be justified by faith in him (Galatians 3:24).

Contrary to the megachurch pastor’s sermon, New Testament writers did not  abandon Old Testament Scriptures. For example, Paul’s letter to the Romans spells out clearly the way to salvation by faith in Christ and is clear about the Old Testament’s function in that process.

He wrote: … I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law (Romans 7:7). The searchings of the law awaken us to our sin and our need for the Gospel.

It is true that the Old Testament is ancient and has content that can shock modern sensibilities. And many of its ceremonial rituals are no longer relevant. But the moral law revealed in these writings and contended for by the prophets is timeless.

Without the Old Testament what would we substitute for the hymn to creation in Genesis chapter 1? Or the story of God’s miraculous deliverance of his chosen people out of slavery in Egypt?

What would we substitute for the warnings and promises of prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah? And how would we replace the treasures of the Psalms as aids to worship?

To abandon the Old Testament would also require major editing of the New Testament. Paul wrote to Timothy: All Scripture is God-breathed and is suitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).

We dare not forget that the Old Testament was the only inspired text at hand when Paul said this. The New Testament had not yet been gathered as a sacred document. If we were we to decouple Old from New Testament, would we not be declaring that the Old Testament is no longer God-breathed?

Luke tells us that when Jesus was a 12-year-old boy, he lingered in the temple courts with the teachers of the law listening and asking questions. Onlookers were astonished at what he grasped and the questions he asked. What more powerful affirmation of that ancient text could we ask for?

With this memorable moment on record, we dare not unhitch law and prophets from their place in the whole sweep of both Testaments. God has given both to the historic church to direct us.

Image info: Travis Wise (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Diet and Exercise for the Soul

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 11:00

Every day, it seems to me, I get messages from the media about what I must do to keep in the best of health. The advice has now been reduced to two points. I must (1) feed my body a proper diet — which means a  diverse selection of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, along with limited sugar and other simple carbohydrates — and (2) exercise vigorously from 30 to 60 minutes each day.

Our whole culture seems to have arrived at consensus on this. The words, “diet and exercise” have become a mantra. So, at our house we have tried to take the recommendation seriously.

But what about that aspect of our beings we call the soul? Mankind is formed by our Creator from the dust of the earth, the Scriptures tell us, but so are the lions and hippos. However, for us the Scriptures add, God breathed into that physical formation the breath of life and “man became a living soul.”

Consequently, we do not accurately say: “I am a body and I have a soul,” as though the body is the more significant aspect of our beings and our soul a  sort of attachment.  Instead, it is better to say: “I am a soul, and that soul inhabits my body.”  In saying this, we acknowledge that, as precious as our bodies are to God and to us, it is our indestructible spiritual natures that deserve our more careful attention if we must make a distinction.

How, then, is that soul to be kept in health? Just as I do for my body, I must (1) nourish it and (2) exercise it daily. With regard to nourishing my soul, here are helpful words written by J. I. Packer in his book, Knowing God: “There can be no spiritual health without doctrine,” he writes. Doctrine means organized Christian teaching. So we must seek to grow continually in Christian understanding.

After speaking to the nourishment side of things, Dr. Packer calls us to the “exercise” side of care of the soul by means of meditation. “Meditation,” he writes, “is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.”

Meditation, like gracious dining, takes time. It is often suggested that 30 minutes first thing in the morning is ideal. Just as the orchestra tunes its instruments before the concert, it is better to take time for meditation at the outset of the day, rather than after the day’s “concert”  has been played.

If we can’t make the early morning work, then we must choose another time. A college student I counseled with years ago complained that she couldn’t make the early morning hour work because she still felt too drugged from sleep. I asked her how long she took for lunches. She was a very sociable person and replied that she usually took an hour-and-a-half. I suggested she cut that time in half and slip away for a daily quiet time of Christian meditation. As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there are twenty ways.”

Meditation usually works best when it is a time for focusing on God, not our problems, and this can be done helpfully when we set our reflections on his attributes — that is, those characteristics or features of God’s being revealed in Scripture. We seek to see Him ever more clearly across our lifetimes.

For today, consider just one of them and take time to meditate on it. Consider the attribute, omnipresence, meaning our God is present everywhere — even where you are at this moment.

What scripture better than Psalm 139 will take us into the wonder of God’s omnipresence? Here, we learn that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is familiar with all my activities (verse 3). He knows what I am about to say before I say it (verse 4). I was not hidden from his all-seeing eye even during my pre-birth existence (Verse 15). All of this moves us to pray to be kept from any hidden wickedness, while at the same time being led in the ancient ways.

Image info: Ninac26 (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Judas Iscariot — Why Did He Fall?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/22/2019 - 11:00

There were many ill-advised characters in the life and ministry of Jesus — corrupt priests, pride-blinded Pharisees, scornful siblings, weak Roman officials, conscienceless soldiers.

But although one person in the passion story had every advantage by his proximity to Jesus, he proved the darkest and most sinister of them all. It was Jesus’ own disciple, Judas Iscariot.

How did Judas become one of Jesus’ apostles? Luke tells us that Jesus spent a whole night in prayer before choosing from among his many followers the twelve whom he would call Apostles (Luke 6:12-16). He then invested three years in their training, and Judas was there the entire time.

Judas had heard Jesus teach the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. He witnessed the healings. He was present when the Master called Lazarus from the tomb. He had heard and seen it all.

Why then was his end so grim?

There are a few passages in the Gospels that shed light on the question. During a time when Jesus’ popularity with the crowds began to fade, John tells us, Jesus addressed a crowd of complainants and made a grave statement: Yet there are some of you who do not believe (John 6:64a).

John becomes even more explicit. He writes: For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him (6:64b). The whole of John’s Gospel is about believing in Jesus.

Only a short time before this crisis moment, some in the crowd had participated in the miraculous feeding of five thousand. They wanted more. They reminded Jesus of the manna in the wilderness; he countered by speaking about the bread of life.

Then he used a metaphor to declare what he meant when he called them to believe in him: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (6:53). Believing involved soul communion, identifying with Jesus in a very personal way, trusting oneself to his Messiahship and his cause.

Judas must have heard Jesus’ words. Judas still traveled with Jesus but obviously did not believe in him for who he really was.

We recall that John was writing his Gospel account many years after the events. Time on occasion sharpens perspective and deepens insight. He recalled the special dinner in Jesus’ honor and the outburst of Judas when Mary poured the expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet.

John knew what was at issue. Judas was a thief. He was the treasurer for the Apostles and he helped himself to the bag at will. His failure to believe with heart and soul had left him open to the devil’s corrupting power.

For those who hear his call there is a cost to believing in this wholehearted way, but there is a greater cost to refusing to believe.

At the end, Judas led a crowd of officials to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he identified Jesus with a traitorous kiss, and addressed him as “Rabbi” — not Master.

How unsettling to realize even today that one can know Jesus through Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s ministrations and yet not fully believe. In reading about Judas, one feels the tragedy again and asks with each of the disciples: Lord, is it I?

Easter is a great season to examine the depth of our faith in our Living Lord and the degree of our commitment to his cause.

Image info: The Conscience – Judas, Nikolaj Nikolajewitsch Ge (Public Domain)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Dinner Party Like None Before or Since

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/15/2019 - 11:00

Jesus and his twelve disciples were guests in the home of sisters Martha and Mary and their brother, Lazarus. Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised to life from his tomb, was at the table.

The home was in Bethany, a village on the far side of the Mount of Olives about two miles from Jerusalem. The meal was being served six days before Passover, the main Jewish observance of the year. Crowds of worshipers would flood Jerusalem, and the city was already stirring in expectation.

The posture of the guests at table would not fit our style today — they “reclined” on low-lying couches, resting on their left elbows and receiving and eating with their right hands.

Into this picture came Mary, sister to Lazarus. She carried a pint of very special ointment imported from India, and worth nearly a year’s wages. Before the guests realized what was happening, she had broken its seal and poured its contents lavishly on Jesus’ feet.

She then used her hair to wipe up the excess, unintentionally perfuming herself in the process and filling the room with a pleasing fragrance.

One person at the table erupted in indignation. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” It was Judas. On the surface this sounded like compassion, but John, the apostle who preserved the story for us, knew at the moment of his explosion what the real issue with Judas was.

Judas, one of the twelve, was a thief. He had been the treasurer for Jesus and his twelve companions and on occasion had filched money from that bag. Greed was eating into his soul.

Jesus came to Mary’s defense. “Leave her alone,” he said. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”
What an unexpected twist!

They must all have wondered, “My burial?” After all, he was a young man, about 33, and in full health. Though he had tried to forewarn his disciples, dropping the hint more than once, none of them at table with him was thinking in terms of funerals and burials.

But that’s what makes this dinner memorable. Jesus knew what was ahead for him and although he must have entered fully into the social exchanges at the table, his mind at the same time must have been playing on what was in his immediate future.

He knew that he was marked for a cruel death, and an ordeal of unspeakable forsakenness. He knew also that this death would make him the world’s sin-bearer.

It appears that Mary’s perceptions were deeper than those of all others at the table, however vague even hers may have been. Perhaps sensing that the time for such displays of love and respect was coming to an end, her womanly intuition and her deep love for the teacher prompted her to seize the moment to pour out her devotion in this extravagant way.

Jesus halted the clamor by saying, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” This seemed to be an acknowledgment that her insight was accurate. She had perceived correctly the trouble ahead.
When Matthew and Mark tell a similar story they add these words of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

To Jesus, Mary made a gesture of extravagant devotion at a time when the world was set to reject their redeemer, and his own followers were likely to forsake him. Her devotion must have spoken light assurance to his lonely soul.

Jesus said to those at table with him, “She has done what she could.” And, “She has done a beautiful thing.” The beauty was in a follower’s devoted and open-handed love.

This account is one to treasure and ponder. It gives us occasion to measure our own love for the Lord Christ at Easter time.

(If you wish to meditate further on this story during this pre-Easter season, here are the references: John 12:1-8; Mark 14:1-9; Matthew 26:6-13.)

Image info: *Kicki* (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Belief That Will Get Us into Heaven

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/08/2019 - 11:00

Point to a saucer of milk you have put down for your kitten and the kitten may simply play with your pointing finger. The kitty doesn’t understand your sign. But point a six-year-old child in the direction of his lost ball and he will run immediately to retrieve it. He takes the pointing finger as a sign.

That’s how John uses the word, sign, when he refers to Jesus’ miracles. They point to something beyond themselves. When, for example, Jesus feeds the 5000 men miraculously from a lad’s five barley loaves and two sardine-sized fish he is pointing to something more.

The crowd experienced the wonder of the miracle but didn’t understand what it pointed to. Their scheme in response to the free meal was to capture and make Jesus their king. They must have thought: free meals for life!

They were so serious about their scheme that his life was in danger. Jesus slipped away to a nearby mountain, and when night came he walked on water and the next morning was with the disciples in Capernaum.

When the crowds discovered that both Jesus and his disciples had disappeared from the northeastern shore of Galilee they took boats to Capernaum on the western shore. They hoped to see more miraculous deeds and perhaps experience another miracle meal.

When they found him, Jesus challenged their motives: I tell you truly, you are looking for me not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill (John 6:26). Then he led the discussion in the direction of a food that  will endure to eternal life.

When the men asked, What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent (John 6:28,29). The rest of the chapter deals with the sign and the conflict his words awakened. They were in no mood to believe.

In this chapter John used the word “to believe” nine times. At the outset, Jesus said to them: The work of God is this: “to believe” in the one he has sent (John 6:29). The word, believe, used in this way was to be taken seriously.

The men suggested that Jesus repeat the miracle of manna given miraculously to their forefathers in the wilderness. Jesus’ corrected them and in doing so moved them one step closer to understanding the sign he intended the feeding of 5000 to be: For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives light to the world (John 6:33)

He was referring to himself, an immeasurably better gift than manna. Their obtuseness in the presence of our Lord was remarkable. They argued back. They asked questions filled with doubt.

He even put his finger directly on their unbelief when he said: But as I have told you, you have seen me and still do not believe (John 6:36).

The picture is enlarged. God the Father was deeply engaged in this gift of eternal life for his creatures. Jesus said: all those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:37). But he added, For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:40). The two promises belong together.

Jesus’ strongest and most arresting statement during this exchange was this: Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you, whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day (John 6:54).

This was Jesus metaphoric way of saying that believing in him involved more than a surface confession — the tipping of a hat or the signing of a pledge. He was the bread of life. Believing in Jesus involved their receiving him, the taking of him into their very beings by faith to live there.

When the gospel is simply given and a small child is asked: Would you like to invite Jesus into your heart, they usually have an instinct for answering. Believing in Jesus at any age involves bidding him to enter and live within us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

On this occasion his teaching proved to be too exacting for the timid and shrunken souls of some of them. They grumbled at his imagery. Even a goodly number of his disciples said his teaching was too hard to accept. The crowds thinned out.

Then Jesus put this question to his twelve disciples: You do not want to leave me too, do you? Peter responded: Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). It was a golden moment for Peter. He momentarily understood what was behind Jesus’ miracles and words. He understood the sign — Jesus, the bread of life for time and eternity.

O for a faith that will not shrink
though pressed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
of poverty or woe.

Lord give me such a faith as this,
and then whate’er may come
I’ll taste e’en here the hallowed bliss
of an eternal home.

William Bathurst, 1831.

 

Image info: TumbleDryLow@Angela (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: God’s Super City

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/01/2019 - 11:00

And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2 RSV).

The city is neither modern New York nor ancient Sodom. It is neither buried beneath centuries of sand nor clouded by the haze of fossil fuel combustion.  It isn’t marked by human genius, nor is it scarred by human depravity.

Its splendor owes nothing to man; it is the city of God. Humans, wherever they have gone, have organized into communities. Their skills in social structures have come to a peak in the building of cities like Tokyo, San Francisco, Toronto, London, and Atlanta. These highly developed communities have witnessed across history to the genius of their creators. Yet cities have fallen one by one: sacked by enemies, corrupted by their inhabitants, or emptied by the vagaries of history.

The Bible has a dual attitude toward cities. Jesus loved Jerusalem and wept over it in great tenderness, then pronounced destruction upon it. It was his city, the place of the patriarchs and prophets, and it had known great moments. But it also distinguished itself for its stoning of the prophets. Then this city that God had uniquely honored had swelled with pride and rejected his Son.

The Bible begins its story of mankind in a garden and ends its story in a city, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:2). The vision of this city, given to John on Patmos, is rapturous, and the Book of Revelation records it with splendor of expression.

This last book of the Bible speaks throughout in what some have called cartoon language. It has been pointed out that a cartoonist today wanting to show tensions between Russia and China, for example, simply pictures a bear being eyed menacingly by a red dragon. We would get the message.

The Revelation is filled with verbal pictures – four-headed beasts, angels with vials, and cities like the New Jerusalem – from all of which we are intended to get a message too.

The message is that in his time, God will provide the perfect community for those who belong to him. Paul calls it the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4:26), and our commonwealth . . . in heaven (Philippians 3:20 RSV). It is the city toward which Abraham was headed, the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10 NEB), the eternal dwelling place of God and His people.

Today, many of the cities of man are under a cloud, if not one heavy with a cloud of sulphur dioxide or a threatening cloud from a dirty bomb. The city is a place of physical decay and human despair to many forgotten people, to them a seeming hell without flames. Yet, their leaders keep a proud silence about God and his Kingdom, and grope only on the horizontal plane for solutions to their troubles.

Even so, Christ wept over a city ruled by such attitudes, and he healed body, mind, and spirit of people in its dirty streets. Can God’s people do less? In every sector there are needs which compassionate Christians can meet, despair they can work to relieve, boredom they can help to replace with meaning. In many decaying cities, small corps of Christians join to help relieve such problems.

But here’s the paradox. We can serve with compassion in the city of man only if we are convinced at every level of our beings that our true destination is the New Jerusalem, the eternal city of God.

Photo credit: blogmulo (via flickr.com)



Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Night Nicodemus Talked with Jesus

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/25/2019 - 11:00

The story of Nicodemus in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John sometimes stops me in my tracks.

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, so he has high moral and religious standards. Besides, he’s a member of the ruling council in Jerusalem, a man greatly respected there. He may have approached Jesus in the nighttime because he wanted a serious, undisturbed discussion.

Like many in Israel, Nicodemus believed in God’s coming kingdom on earth. He believed all enemies would be defeated and the Messiah would rule righteously. He wanted to be welcomed when the day came.

Nicodemus begins by affirming Jesus with the words: Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him (John 3:2). Perhaps Nicodemus and his peers had shared opinions about Jesus.

Jesus engages Nicodemus in a serious discussion of eternal matters. To this specialist in religion and morality, Jesus announces: Very truly I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (John 3:3).

Nicodemus asks Jesus quizzically: “By born again do you mean start the cycle of life all over again in my mother’s womb?” Our Lord follows with a fuller explanation.

Very truly I tell you no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). Water is symbolic of the promised washing away of sins, effected in Jewish thought by the shedding of sacrificial blood. This washing is humankind’s universal need, for all have sinned and do fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Jesus explains that fallen human nature can produce only fallen human nature; that is a fixed reality. But God’s Holy Spirit can and does infuse the seeker with a new quality of life. That’s why it’s called a new birth, or being born again.

The transformation is a mystery, for sure, but so is the wind we feel in our faces but don’t understand its source. Nevertheless, we accept from experience that it exists.

This transformation is often spoken of in Scripture. Ezekiel prophesied to Judah in troubled times: I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean . . . . I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you (Ezekiel 36:25, 26).

All this is of grace — God’s undeserved generosity — and it happens in response to our exercise of the faith God engenders in us as a gift.

The born-again person is not just washed clean; that by itself wouldn’t last very long. But at the same time the Spirit of God indwells him or her. Not infrequently the indwelling Spirit is evident in a believer.

A few days ago a man came to our house to change batteries in a device. He was a total stranger. I sensed somehow that he was a Christian and I asked him. He beamed as he answered that he was a born-again Christian and immediately told me where he worshipped and served.

A new birth brings about change, not all at the same time or in the same way for different people. The change is internal and yet often discernible. Attitudes change. Relationships are corrected. A love to be with God’s people develops. Bad habits are addressed and broken.

So what about Nicodemus? Isn’t he already above reproach? Trying hard? Succeeding in his attempt to “reach upward” to God? Even for Nicodemus, and for people everywhere who are striving to be “good,” the issue remains the new birth — believing in Jesus and inviting him through the indwelling Spirit to exercise lordship over their lives.

That is, the issue is still sin for the “virtuous” like Nicodemus, and spiritual renewal is necessary to gain entrance into the Kingdom now and at the end of the age.

We meet Nicodemus just once more in John’s Gospel: he is helping Joseph, a secret disciple of Jesus, in the burial of our crucified Lord’s body (John 19:38). We can infer that his encounter with Jesus “re-birthed” and changed him for the rest of his life, and for eternity.

Image info: Jesus and Nicodemus, by Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijn (1604-1645)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

A Childless Society is Not the Answer to Today’s Terrifying Fears

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/18/2019 - 11:00

One night recently a large group of women appeared on television to pledge that they will not have children. They represented a developing movement centered in Great Britain.

I have since seen their leader back on screen twice for interviews. An interviewer wanted to know what was behind this group’s drastic intention. In essence, the leader said their resolution was nothing short of an act of despair.

Their particular concern was climate change and the obvious lack of alarm on the part of the public and politicians. In their opinion, all too soon the climate crisis will see the lights of civilization fading.

Indeed, climate change in the minds of many is a grave peril. But there are also other frightening trends in our world that threaten civilization as we know it — the pervasive breakdown of marriage and family, the alarming decline of civility in society, even the threat of massive destruction from determined enemies of Western civilization.

This week I have been comparing this dark view of the future with the bright light of hope found in the prologue to the Gospel according to John (the first eighteen verses of chapter one).

What a contrast! On the one hand a dark pessimism that Western society has no future worth contributing to; on the other, the enduring good news that a Savior has come into the world to give us hope for both this world and the next. Present perils cannot diminish this hope.

I need to summarize again the illuminating and almost transporting highlights of St. John’s prologue because they so profoundly neutralize despair.

  1. We have a Messiah — a Savior! He is the “Word” referred to in verse one. His name is Jesus, and he is coeternal with the Father. That is, whenever the universe began to be he already was. In fact, he always was and always will be.
  2. He is the agent of God’s creation. All things were made by him, declares the prologue. The Apostle Paul agrees: For in him all things were created (Colossians 1:16). But, if it is his world he will not let it be destroyed even though at times it seems ravaged by man’s evil. There is hope.
  3. Jesus our Lord is a light shining upon all mankind that cannot be extinguished. That light now shines on five continents although perceived on each to a greater or lesser degree. In some places it shines amidst persecution and even bloodshed and in many places it is suppressed by governments that threaten and persecute. Nevertheless, as shown repeatedly throughout history, the light of Jesus can be resisted but it cannot be extinguished.
  4. Sadly, the world does not always recognize Jesus for who he really is — at least at the moment of introduction. Even his own people would not, as a whole, receive him. The prologue introduces this sad information prophetically at the outset.
  5. Still, those who do hear his words and believe in him, accepting him as Creator and Lord, are given the right to become children of God! This is an event as radical as a human birth but it is a second birth, deeply spiritual in nature and initiated by God.
  6. When we know Jesus, we know firsthand what God is like. The Word (named Jesus), second person of the Trinity, forever was before time. But in time he became flesh and “pitched his tent” among us. The result? We have seen in Him, firsthand, the glory of the Father. And, like Jesus, God is full of generosity toward his creatures, a generosity that is always linked to truth.

John’s prologue closes with the marvelous statement: No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God, and is in close relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).

Does this holy Word take fear and anxiety out of modern life? Not fully, for we are human, limited, frail. But in God’s inviting love he gives grace for us to endure with joy the acute stresses unleashed by wickedness, peril, and loss; he reveals truth enough to keep us from falling on the rocks of unbelief, and he gives courage enough for us to speak hope into the darkness.

A childless world could do none of these things. It would only further impoverish humanity. But the Grace of the Savior taken as a gift from God given in hard times enriches us!

Image info: Tamaki Sono (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Praying for Our Daily Bread… Abandoning Tomorrow’s Worries

The Idol Babbler - Fri, 07/27/2018 - 20:31

“How great the value which this truth teaches us to attach to each single day! We are so easily led to look at life as a great whole, and to neglect the little to-day, to forget that the single days do indeed make up the whole, and that the value of each single day depends on its influence on the whole. One day lost is a link broken in the chain, which it often takes more than another day to mend. One day lost influences the next, and makes its keeping more difficult. Yea, one day lost may be the loss of what months or years of careful labour had secured. The experience of many a believer could confirm this.”Andrew Murray

A good friend of mine posted this quote on social media. I can relate, because there are days where my goal is to just get through it… rather than slowing down to take in the moments that God has given me.

Praying for Our Daily Bread

This goes along with something which has impacted my prayer life recently… realizing that my prayers (as taught by Christ Himself) ought to focus on today, and not necessarily tomorrow or the next day, but today. Not that it is wrong for me to pray about tomorrow, but maybe it is more proper for me to pray for TODAY, how I am to deal with what I might see on the horizon. The thing is, the horizon may or may not ever come. Therefore, I ought to instead focus on asking the Lord to be with me this day. After all, Jesus did not teach His disciples to pray for tomorrow’s bread, but today’s…

Matthew 6:11 (HCSB)
Give us today our daily bread.

A few verses later, Jesus made this point about putting too much emphasis upon tomorrow, rather than today…

Matthew 6:33-34 (HCSB)
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The half-brother of Jesus would later also touch upon this concept when he wrote to the 12 tribes in the dispersion regarding their materialistic mindset…

James 4:13-15 (HCSB)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.
Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Abandoning Tomorrow’s Worries

It is so tempting to get caught up in what tomorrow might bring.

As James wrote, we must realize that our lives are “like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.” It is why Jesus encouraged that our prayers be rooted in today, instead of tomorrow.

May we (Christians) learn to pray about the moment we are in, abandoning the worry we create when we lose sight of the peace that Christ has provided us….

Philippians 4:4-7 (HCSB)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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Loving His Manner

The Idol Babbler - Mon, 07/02/2018 - 23:46

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A Simple Way to Explain to an Unbeliever Why We Are Guilty Before God

The Idol Babbler - Sun, 06/24/2018 - 23:17

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That Helpful Tension

The Idol Babbler - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 19:46

Matthew 22:34-40 (HCSB)
When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Jesus said that “all the Law and the Prophets” depend on love. They do not depend on anything else. If we take away love, we take away the foundation.

What happens if we take away love, what would all the Law and the Prophets then stand upon?

…Nothing.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he talked about this same theme, mentioning some other things which become meaningless when love is removed from the equation…

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (HCSB)
If I speak human or angelic languages
but do not have love,
I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy
and understand all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith
so that I can move mountains
but do not have love, I am nothing.
And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor,
and if I give my body in order to boast
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Possessing a great acumen for oration, having an incredible wealth of knowledge, or even consistently displaying a sincere religious fervor, none of these things matter if they are not backed by love. Not even an impressive resume of charitable giving carries any weight when love is not in the picture. Take away love, you take away everything. When it comes to God and love, we must remember: when John described who God is, he said that He is love…

1 John 4:8 (HCSB)
The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

If love is what the Law and the Prophets depend upon (as Jesus taught), and if God is love (as John tells us in his epistle), then His commands to us are actually an expression of who He is. They describe His character, His essence. Violate His commands, you then not only violate love, but you also violate who God is.

Does that possibility give you pause?

It should, because we all know that we do not always love. John even warns against ignoring the fact that we fail to love. Look at what he writes…

1 John 1:8 (HCSB)
If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

That Helpful Tension

John goes on though, giving us hope. Yet, he does not release that helpful tension, holding it all together, which keeps us sober in our walk…

1 John 1:9 – 2:11 (HCSB)
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked. Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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