Churchie Feeds

Justice in Society and the Church

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/16/2022 - 11:00
The Prophet Isaiah, Gustave Doré

The prophets of the eighth-century B.C. — Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and Micah — are less familiar than other parts of the Bible. My friend the late Pastor John Hendricks referred to them as “the clean part of the Bible,” meaning the part without smudges or pencil marks in their margins.

Admittedly the prophets can be hard to read, and they often do not seem warm and “evangelical.” But they are filled with passages waiting patiently to speak to us today. We should listen to them more than we do.

The second half of the eighth century (the 700s B.C.) was a time of great prosperity for the nations of Israel and Judah. The problem: abundance tempts us to self-willed and unaccountable behavior. Amos pinpointed the resulting breakdown of justice in the northern kingdom of Israel: 

You oppress the righteous and take bribes, and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. (Amos 5:12,13) 

During the same period Hosea, speaking for God, describes breakdown of moral order, saying,

They practice deceit,  thieves break into houses,  bandits rob in the streets; but they do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds. (Hosea 7:1b,2). 

But in spite of all this secular decay these prophets noted that, curiously, there was no letup in the showy practices of religion that were an insult to the Lord when offered with soiled hands and from deceitful hearts. 

“The multitude of your sacrifices what are they to me?” says the Lord…. “When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?” (Isaiah 1:11a,12)

You would think prophets of such courage and candor would sway the people. Instead, these prophets were lonely men, irritants to those who heard them. Their calls to repentance and righteousness  were scoffed at and rejected.  

Consider Amos. When he prophesied to the northern kingdom, a man named Amaziah said: “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there” (Amos 7:12). In other words, he was saying, our ears are closed to your words.

Are these prophets messengers to the church today? It seems to me that the ancient prophets would caution believers in every age, to be alert to leaders who operate from power rather than authority, who are morally soft and stubborn in the face of rebuke.  

We can think of examples of fallen evangelical leaders in our time. The common factor seems to be a failure of leaders to treat the authority granted to them as a sacred trust that constrains them from acting from power, thus allowing corruption to creep into their organizations.  

The health of a company of God’s people, whether a local church, a parachurch body, or a denomination of believers spread across the land, must be measured not only by its evangelistic zeal but also by the clarity and firmness of its commitments to be righteous and accountable.  

Originally published May 11, 2015.  Revised May 16, 2022.

Image credit: The Prophet Isaiah, Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Mother’s Day 2022: Reflections on a Long Journey Together

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/09/2022 - 17:25

The journey Kathleen and I have shared is long and packed with memories. The most recent episode is battling Covid-19 together in our little apartment. We have made it through.    

Our journey began in a modest bungalow on North Street in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the home of Muriel and Wesley Smith, Kathleen’s sister and brother-in-law, where we exchanged our wedding vows. 

For that event, I had bought a bundle of plastering laths to erect an arch the bride and groom could stand under while we exchanged those vows. What I produced was so unstable that my capable best man, the late Mel Prior, took it apart and rebuilt it.

After a night and day in Toronto we boarded a Canadian Pacific train to Estevan, Saskatchewan, 1600 miles to the West, where Kathleen would meet my parents, younger sister, and two older sisters and one older brother and their spouses.  

Kay managed this initially overwhelming introduction to the family in her usual gracious way, and when newness wore off and curiosity was satisfied, we had pleasant family celebrations for Christmas week.

Then it was back on the train to Toronto. There we caught a Greyhound bus for the fifteen miles to Port Credit, where we took occupancy of our one-room apartment above a garage and across the Queen Elizabeth highway from Lorne Park College.

That tiny apartment was a charming place from which to launch our life together. I went back to my studies and other work duties at the college. Kathleen had left her teaching position to settle into a new life. We traveled together on weekends to speak and sing in churches in Southern Ontario and nearby States.

Our first ten years were packed with activity and movement. With Kathleen’s invaluable support and her uncomplaining oversight of domestic matters, I plowed through two academic degrees; we moved seven times; we accepted our first pastoral assignment; and we welcomed into our union four children — one born in Ontario, two in Illinois, and one in Kentucky.

After three years of seminary training in Wilmore, Kentucky, we loaded four little children, one a five-month- old infant, into our Plymouth, and, towing a big springless trailer, we joggled across the continent to New Westminster, B.C., outside Vancouver, to serve our second church.

It was in New Westminster, while serving a loving congregation, that we learned we would not have the privilege of raising our disabled fourth child, John David. Kathleen had worked tirelessly to help him gain weight despite his weak swallowing mechanism and constant choking. After three years of Kathleen’s dedicated mothering and a detailed evaluation confirming his profound disability at the pediatric hospital, we surrendered him broken-heartedly to the care of professionals, where he is to the present.

The journey has been bright and yet dotted with some times of struggle and disappointment, not with each other, but with unexpected circumstances. Early on, for example, we endured major financial stresses. There have been a string of surgeries, and our experience with John David leaves us with a sadness in our hearts that has never gone away. We’ve wept together, suffered sleepless nights together, and endured the anxieties and fears that go with raising a family.

Much more than all of this, however, we have relished the joy of each other’s company, and the pleasures of seeing our children and grandchildren launched into stable, successful lives of their own. Looking back, we declare the life God gave and continues to give is a life predominantly of  joy.

We can identify three constants of our marriage: from the start, we have prayed together daily; we tithed to the Lord’s work the first money we owned jointly even in our initial penury; and through all those years Kathleen has been my adviser and behind-the-scenes consultant in matters of Christian ministry. To God be the glory.

And the memory of that simple but life-changing event on North Street in Niagara Falls continues in a special way to undergird us now at our age of ninety-six. I help Kathleen with her mobility; she helps me with my hearing and in many other ways. Together, and with the help of our children, we manage, including most recently with Covid-19. 

I would pay special tribute to Kathleen this Mother’s Day: marvelous wife, mother, and matchless companion.  

Long years ago a young man and woman, each twenty-one years of age, stood under a ribboned arch. An older man, their pastor, faced them. He read timeless words of the marriage ceremony and asked the couple some questions. They responded in the affirmative, without reservation. He declared them husband and wife. It all took about twenty minutes, but more than seventy-three years later we still live under the wonder of that enduring covenant made before God and to each other.

Originally published November 3, 2014. Updated May 8, 2022.

Image info: Jay Erickson (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Witness to Watchers

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/02/2022 - 11:00

Eight years ago, Kathleen and I had lunch together at the Mandarin, an acclaimed Chinese restaurant in Brampton, Ontario. It is the teaching site for all of the many Mandarin restaurants across Canada.  

Its five large dining rooms can together accommodate 500 patrons, and at lunchtime (from 11:30 am until 2 pm) all five are in full use.  

We were graciously seated in the bird room, where a large glassed-in bird enclosure, large enough for a human keeper to enter and maintain, frames one wall. In it were several pairs of love birds patrons could watch while eating.

Once seated, servers introduce themselves and offer steaming hot cloths for  hands. Then, diners make in turn three trips to a large central area where a vast array of salads, then entrees, and finally desserts, await.  

Our table was set for four but Kathleen and I sat on two adjoining sides so we could be close enough to chat as we ate.

We were enjoying our entrees when a woman came from another table of four who were eating nearby and spoke to us. “It’s such a delight,” she said pleasantly, “to see two elderly people relishing a meal together and appearing to enjoy one another’s company.”

Then 88, Kathleen and I were not yet fully adjusted to the adjective, “elderly” but we smiled and agreed that this was a pleasant experience for both of us. (We are now 96.)

She asked the secret of our apparent serenity and pleasure. I offered in a few words that we pray together regularly, and we enjoy our life together.

“Oh.” she said, “That’s precious; you’re believers; I’m a believer too; I have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ to be my Savior.” She later added that she was a Baptist from Northern Alberta. The buzz of many conversations going on at the same time in the large room kept our talk easy but private.

She was much younger, with stylish glasses, and she exuded a sense of inward joy herself. She left us briefly and then returned to ask permission to take our picture. We accommodated, moving close together so she could get a close-up.

Later Kathleen and I agreed in our conversation alone that we never know when someone nearby is watching. Nor what a quiet, well-chosen word might draw from total strangers.

With the increasing secularization of our society and the growing hostility toward Christianity, it’s going to become more and more important for serious Christians to “let our lights shine” in whatever ways are possible and appropriate.

Sometimes we might have occasion to let it shine like a spotlight, focused and declaring unabashedly the Lordship of Jesus Christ; at other times it might shine by a mere gesture such as bowing our heads in a public place to offer thanks over a meal; or it may be merely a gracious word dropped to a waitress when paying the bill; at other times it could be no more than a quiet: “God bless you.”

And at the least our witness must be reflected merely in a general demeanor — personal and Christ-honoring — that carries a wordless message, realizing that wjte seldom know who’s watching.

First posted September 29, 2014. Revised May 2, 2022.

Image info: waymarking.com (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Division in the Church

The Idol Babbler - Mon, 04/25/2022 - 20:42

If you have been a Christian for any considerable length of time, you have probably experienced “Division in the Church.” Such has been an issue as long has there has been a church. Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians is among the first 7 books ever to be penned, and in it Paul directly addresses the problem of church division. It shows how long this problem has been around…

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 & *3:4 (HCSB)For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by members of Chloe’s household, that there is rivalry among you. What I am saying is this: Each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name? *For whenever someone says, “I’m with Paul,” and another, “I’m with Apollos,” are you not unspiritual people?

Paul is very clear about how to label such divisive behavior. He does so by describing those who participate in it as “unspiritual people.”

Galatians and Ephesians

What the church in Corinth went through, though, was not the first time that believers had experienced division. In other New Testament letters, Paul had addressed divisions in additional congregations as well (but for unrelated reasons). In Galatia for instance, Jewish believers had felt the need to impose Old Covenant regulations upon non-Jewish, New Covenant members, sparking this encouragement to help them to recognize that all of God’s people (regardless of ethnic background or pedigree) are all one…

Galatians 3:28 (HCSB) There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

(For some more details regarding this Jewish/Greek divide, check out Acts 15.)

The church in Ephesus also needed to be encouraged in a similar fashion…

Ephesians 2:11-22 (HCSB)So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh — called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

Acts, Mark, and Numbers

Divisions in the church, however, did not begin in what is now known as modern day Turkey. Luke describes how there were problems within the church right from the very start back in Jerusalem…

Acts 6:1 (HCSB)In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.

We even have an account of division amongst those who have given their allegiance to Christ during the three year ministry of Jesus…

Mark 9:38-40 (HCSB)John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” “Don’t stop him,” said Jesus, “because there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name who can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

Apparently, something similar to this had even happened at the time of Moses…

Numbers 11:26-30 (HCSB)Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the other Medad; the Spirit rested on them — they were among those listed, but had not gone out to the tent — and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the LORD’S people were prophets and the LORD would place His Spirit on them!” Then Moses returned to the camp along with the elders of Israel.

A Common Theme

Throughout the Bible, the unity of God’s people is regularly promoted because we collectively are so susceptible to division. It is why we constantly find references to this common theme to love each other and to be united as one…

Psalms 133:1 (NIV)How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

2 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Romans 15:5-6 (NIV)May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 4:8-9 (NIV)Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Is it any wonder that Jesus prayed this prayer for us believers (to help us while we are still here together, living in this age)…

John 17:11 (NIV)I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

Back to 1 Corinthians

Here is Paul, summing up his thoughts and also warning about the division happening in the church in Corinth because of who they are collectively…

1 Corinthians 3:5-17 (HCSB)What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. Now the one planting and the one watering are one in purpose, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.

Conclusion

It is hard enough trying to be the church in a fallen world. We (believers) should never add to that challenge for any reason. I want to conclude by referencing what Paul had told the church in Rome due to their divisions about food and special days which hampered their gatherings around the fellowship table. It’s principle (I think) offers us a universal precept that goes beyond dietary traditions and also convictions regarding the observance of special days…

Romans 14:8-13 (HCSB) If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living. But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way.

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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Thoughts about Revival In a Morally Desperate Age

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/25/2022 - 16:29
Gin Lane, a print issued in 1751 by English artist William Hogarth — depicting the misery caused by widespread consumption of gin among England’s poor.

In January of 1958 a little book by Doctor Mary Alice Tenney, appeared on the scene. At the time,  she was head of the English Department of Greenville College (now University). The book was called Living in Two Worlds: How a Christian Does It.

It was written for a lay audience, even though it derived from her doctoral work.  Its subject: ”john Wesley and the Methodist Revival in Eighteenth Century England..”  In her introduction she says”“This book is written first of all to people who want to be really Christian.”To set up the reader’s understanding of the profound need for revival in England of Wesley’s time, Tenney explains that life there in the early 1700’s was almost unimaginably coarse and dehumanized.  :

She writes,”As for family life in England, divorce of  course, could not be obtained”. But a double standard of morality wrecked as many homes as divorce would have in any agee. Prostitution was an accepted, and even protected, institution among all classes, a subject of humor in the literature and art of the intellectuals and the aristocratic, and a heavy contributor to the beastliness of the lower classes.”

“Hanging was the punishment for 160 different sorts of offenses. Many a day saw ten or fifteen hangings – spectacles attended by mobs of sensation–mad men and women. Grandstand seats were provided; hawkers peddled broadsheets recording Dying Speeches. Gin was sold at stands; pickpockets and prostitutes circulated freely.”

Into this time of drunkenness and debauchery Wesley preached the Christian Gospel:  Justification with God by Faith alone in Jesus Christ; the witness of the Spirit; good works as evidence of that faith; salvation by Grace through Faith.  All of these are consistent with other Reformation thinkers.

Wesley also taught converts that, in the words of Dr. Tenney:  

“The surest evidence that God is what the Bible claims him to be, the One and only God, the All-Wise, the All-Powerful and the All-Loving, is the moral transformation which he works in a sinner. The revolution that occurs in a human being who believes God so fully as to give Him complete control over his life constitutes a supernatural event. Christianity is the only religion which carries with it any such moral empowerment. It performs the miracles promised by the Bible.”

Dr. Tenney also pinpoints the a major aspects of Wesley’s life and teaching that we would be wise to adopt in this present materialistic world of ours, saying:

“Four attainments clearly distinguish the early Methodists from the modern professing Christian. First he seems to have found the secret of soul serenity. Second, he gave convincing witness to his business and social world. Thirdly, he contributed amazing amounts to the work of his church. Fourthly, he lived a life of such appealing simplicity that the concept of ‘plain living and high thinking’ finally penetrated the thought of the whole nation.”

The Methodist Revival was God’s doing. John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and others were God’s instruments, as they made themselves available to him. 

Would anyone question that it is time for another such spiritual awakening on this continent to bring both moral clarity and joy back to many lives?

Revival could start among those who are already Christ followers: with more discipline for daily Bible reading and prayer; rebuilt family devotions for children; increased attention to the ministries of the church; humility and reconciliation between family or fellow believers; partnership with other  believers concerned for renewal. These things might make each of us ready to be his instruments today.

Just as in the 1700’s, renewal always begins with a stirring of God’s Spirit. And there is a challenge in the Scriptures which is repeated often and speaks to us of our part: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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The Three Crosses of Easter

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/18/2022 - 13:57

As an instrument of Roman justice, the purpose of crucifixion was not only to carry out a death sentence. It was also to cause the most suffering possible. The victim often took days to die in public view, as a deterrent to the masses.

With Easter celebration just passed, here’s a brief look back at the conversation between Jesus and two unnamed criminals who were being crucified on either side of him. Remarkably, in a few gasping sentences the talk turned to the afterlife.  

One criminal seethed with bitterness. He hurled sarcasm and insults at Jesus. “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). This man was hard and unrepentant to the end.

The other criminal, suffering equally on the opposite cross, rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God…?” he asked. “We are punished justly since we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man [referring to Jesus] has done nothing wrong” (23:40,41). Then, addressing Jesus in painful gasps, he asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (23:42).

How did he know Jesus’ name? And where did this wicked man get this hope to live in an eternal kingdom? Had he listened from the fringes of a crowd, earlier, when Jesus was teaching about the way to heaven? Luke’s account doesn’t say.

We should not be surprised that the dying man’s interest was about life after death.That’s because God plants an instinctive awareness in all of us of a next world. As a pastor I have been with a number of dying people. Those remaining conscious were usually interested in the Gospel’s message about what was ahead.

I don’t recall one of them ever saying, “Well, my end has come. When I stop breathing I will cease to exist.” Rather, they wanted to hear what the Scriptures say about “the other side.”

In his last moments of life, the penitent criminal heard Jesus say, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Wondrously, he encountered the ever-ready, always-offered mercy of God.

But he experienced this mercy on what we are told elsewhere in Scripture are God’s conditions — “repentance and faith” (Acts 17:30). That meant taking responsibility for and turning from the sins of his past, and putting his faith in Jesus, whom he must have vaguely understood was King and Savior.

In saying to his fellow criminal with fading breath, “We are getting what our deeds deserve,” he was owning his sins in the presence of the only one who could forgive them. Jesus was in that very moment in the process of dying — “the just for the unjust” — and paying the repentant criminal’s sin debt, and, at the same time, once for all for the sins of the world. And the dying man humbly expressed faith by his request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Words spoken by two different criminals from their crosses represent humankind’s optional responses to the good news of Easter. At one end of the spectrum, some respond with unyielding hostility to the Gospel, sometimes expressed as indifference. On the other hand, many respond in humble penitence, asking for a place in the eternal kingdom, and receiving the promise of God’s mercy. 

And with Easter just passed, we remain in wonder of what is true for all penitent believers at our passing: that there is a Savior, Jesus our Lord, who will keep for us a place with Him in heaven. In our last moments in this life, we can hear with the repentant criminal, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

First posted April 21, 2014. Revised April 18, 2022.

Image info: Kimber Shaw (via flickr.com)

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Thoughts on Matthew 17:11

The Idol Babbler - Tue, 04/12/2022 - 23:56

Matthew 17:1-13 (ESV)And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

Why would Jesus say that Elijah “will restore all things,” when it is Jesus who is the Messiah?

I think we get some insight in the very last verses of the Old Testament…

Malachi 4:5-6 (HCSB)“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Restoration came through Elijah (John the Baptist) because he is the one who announced the arrival of the long awaited Messiah. It is by that announcement that, “he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”

What It Means For Us…

No one by default is a Christian. One must turn to Christ and trust in Him to be called a Christian. The proclamation of such was to be the ministry of John the Baptist (as prophesied by an angel to his father Zechariah, before John was even conceived)…

Luke 1:16-19 (ESV)And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.

Do you believe in the restoration power of the “good news” (the gospel)?

The power of that announcement is what motivated Paul to later share this with the believers in Rome…

Romans 1:16-17 (ESV) For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

…and it should motivate us to share it as well.

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

Unexpected Goings-on at a Dinner Party

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/11/2022 - 15:31

At a dinner two miles from Jerusalem, Jesus was the guest of honor. The sisters Martha and Mary and their brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the tomb, were there. The group was completed by Jesus’ twelve disciples.

The meal was being served six days before Passover when crowds would flood Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Passover was the main Jewish feast of the year and the city was already beginning to stir in expectation.

The table posture of the guests would not fit our style today – they reclined on low-lying couches, resting on their left elbow and receiving and eating with their right hand.

Into the room Mary carried a pint of very special ointment imported from India, worth nearly a year’s wages. Before the guests realized what was happening, she broke its seal and, as the Gospel of John says, poured its content lavishly on Jesus’ feet. She then used her hair to wipe up the excess, filling the room with a pleasing fragrance.

Judas, the disciple who would betray Jesus just days later, erupted in indignation, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” On the surface this sounded like a good question. But we know today that Judas’ interest was the money itself: he was a thief. 

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.”

They must have all wondered, “my burial”? Though he had tried to forewarn his disciples of his coming death, none of them was thinking of funerals. After all, he was a young man, about thirty-three, and in good health.

Although Jesus likely entered fully into the social exchanges at the table, he knew that he was marked for a very cruel death, and unspeakable anguish as the world’s sin-bearer.

One can suppose that, however vaguely, Mary may have sensed that the time for displays of devotion were coming to an end, prompting her to seize the moment to pour out her devotion in this extravagant way.

Jesus also 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 perception of trouble ahead was accurate. 

When Matthew and Mark tell this 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.”

Mary made a gesture of extravagant devotion at a time when the world was set to reject Jesus, his disciples to forsake him, and Roman soldiers to torture and kill him. Her devotion must have spoken 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 account gives us occasion to measure our own love for the Lord Jesus Christ as Easter approaches.  

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

First published March 22, 2010; revised April 9, 2022.

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

My new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

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Re-post: Work Is Our First Line of Christian Witness

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 04/04/2022 - 13:00

I finished my first year of Bible School in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan at seventeen, and went to Regina, forty miles to the east, seeking work for the summer.

I forget how I got a job in a high-class men’s clothing store – Fred Barber’s on Hamilton Street. I probably walked in, and simply asked for a job. I believe it was by the providence of God that they hired me.

The boss, Mr. Barber, was a short, watery-eyed man who had a cigar in his mouth most of the time. His son, Gordon, managed the store; Jerry was a longtime sales employee; and Pat, the Irish tailor, altered clothing in the back room, open to the store by an archway.

I believe I learned fast, partly because I had already worked in my hometown as a clerk in my brother’s grocery store.

I wasn’t expected to do “serious” selling, but mainly to direct people to what they were looking for or to ring up simple sales. Yet on occasion, when the other men were busy, I was able to sell several items of apparel to customers. I even got one or two men into a suit jacket before Gordon took over.

These men knew I was attending Bible school and this seemed a curiosity to them. They good-naturedly ribbed me about Christian things. On occasion, when I was selling a customer a shirt and tie, Jerry would stand behind a clothing rack where only I could see him and sing in a whisper the first line of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” wagging his two index fingers as though keeping the beat. I think that was the only church music he knew.

Once when four of us were in the tailor’s back room they got a bet under way. Each produced a one dollar bill, and before I could react, they thrust the three bills into my hands saying someone had to hold the bet. Having set me up, they teased me, saying that a Christian wouldn’t be involved in betting.

This wasn’t mean. Their playfulness showed they liked me. And they seemed to respect me, though I was just a seventeen-year-old kid.

They trusted me increasingly with the cash register and their customers. I sold many Stetson and Biltmore hats that summer. In the 1940s men weren’t  properly dressed without a quality felt hat, with a crease I would steam into the crown as part of the sale.

In that work situation, I believe the work ethic of my immigrant parents, the severity of the times, and especially the benevolent promptings of the Gospel all made me a good worker.  

In September I told Gordon I would be leaving soon to go back to school. To my surprise he eagerly tried to persuade me to change my mind. He offered to double my salary (from $13.52 a week after taxes). Then he promised to teach me window dressing. I remained resolute.

Being a Christian had been an asset and a challenge in that situation. I was teased, but I was also bolstered by Scripture, such as “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). 

As a pastor, I tried to teach my congregation about work from a Christian perspective. In the beginning, God worked — creating the universe (Genesis 2:2). Then he made a garden in Eden and put mankind to work in it (2:15). Adam and Eve’s two sons were identified first by their work – “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil” (4:2b). The Apostle Paul was not only a trained rabbi but also a tentmaker. Even our Lord was known in his community as a carpenter (Mark 6:3).

The entrance of sin into the world made work more difficult (Genesis 3:17-19) but did not remove it as a duty. Paul set this rule for the early church: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Thinking back to nearly eighty years ago, although I was a teenager still growing up, I believe I left a good influence for the Gospel with those men, even without an opportunity to present the good news to them or even enter into prolonged discussions on Christian topics.

But they saw I could be trusted, was eager to work, and did as I was told. By my willingness to serve customers with energy and integrity, I commended myself and indirectly my Christian faith to them and their customers. And now, at ninety-six, I continue to believe that the quality of our work is our first line of Christian witness.

PS:  Incidents like this are included in my recently published memoir From Kitchen Chair to Pulpit: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, available on Amazon and other book-selling sites.

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Photo credit: Ciara McDonnell (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Can Secular Work Be Sacred Too?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/28/2022 - 11:00

Some Christians believe that the work of pastors, Bible scholars, and missionaries is more deeply Christian than that of those living and serving the Lord in the secular world. 

Here is how I understand the matter. By God’s grace, I responded to what I believe was the call of God to become a minister. The church affirmed that call, trained and ordained me, thus “setting me apart” to carry out special tasks like preaching and teaching the Scriptures, and giving order and leadership to a congregation.

On the other hand, I have three children who do not feel called as I was. A daughter taught elementary school; a son has worked in book publishing; and another son is a laryngologist.

A call from the Lord to full-time ministry is known by a persistent inner sense, mediated to the person’s consciousness. It may come through Scripture or the godly counsel of other believers. The church recognizes and certifies the call, and the Lord in some measure blesses it when it is exercised.

So I live with the sense that I am called while none of my three children profess such a calling. Even so, they are earnest Christians who believe they are working in professions to which they were providently led to serve the Lord and shine for him in the secular world.

And all three (and their spouses) also participate deeply in the Lord’s work, whether in the church or through some other Christian enterprise. 

During the middle ages monks and priests were elevated and considered more spiritual than the lowly laity. But Reformers like Luther and Calvin introduced into the understanding of the church that, while the ordained have a special assignment which is critical to the soundness and effectiveness of the church, all believers should exercise their occupation as a calling – a vocation.  

So while the Scriptures give special attention and commend respect for those called to Christian ministry (Hebrews 13:7,17; Acts 13:1-3), lay persons are not thereby rendered second rate. Whether laboring in a bicycle factory or an insurance office, it is labor as in the sight of the Lord that makes their work a vocation. They might also rightly consider their career as divinely appointed.

It was to all believers, lay persons and the ordained together, that the Apostle Paul addressed the words, “And, whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Both the specific and direct Christian ministry and the secular work of Christians can be offered as to the Lord. In either role God is to be glorified, and glorifying God is what we’re all in the world to do.

~

I am excited to let you know that my new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

Purchase in Canada

Purchase in the US

Photo credit: Eric Chan (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Crime and Punishment

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/21/2022 - 14:58

The doctor’s waiting room was filled with patients. A three-year-old child’s loud and petulant behavior disturbed the peace. She was at war with her mother. I watched several others waiting for their appointments glance in her direction and then away.

The embarrassed mother eventually picked up the child. Predictably, this led to a struggle of huge proportions. 

The three-year-old protested loudly and writhed and fought resolutely, knowing instinctively that she had a secret weapon: an audience to suppress the mother’s willingness to escalate and win the battle.  

Finally, the mother released the child. It didn’t seem to occur to her to take her into the hall or to the car for a cooling-off period. Rob the little girl of her audience and the balance of power would have changed quickly.

Having won was not enough for the child, however. She took a few steps away, turned back toward her mother and began to berate her in a loud voice.

“You’re a bad mommy! You’re bad!” Her little face contorted with anger as she spit out the words. The poor mother sat looking straight ahead. It was as though she had been thrown to the mat in a wrestling match.

Some others in the room must have blanched as I did at the unchecked punishment the child was handing out. They may have thought to themselves, if such behavior is not arrested, this three-year-old may be on her way to becoming a lifetime punisher.

If so, siblings will be punished; so will school or work associates. Perhaps many years hence her spouse will slowly wilt under her sophisticated skills of punishing, such as:

Anger, a primary weapon. It can lie below the surface and then explode like a bomb, knocking others off balance.

Silence and sullenness can be effective in delivering a passive but hostile and aggressive message that is difficult to engage or counter. 

Sarcasm can slip little underhanded cuts in here and there, left to create internal pain and confusion.

Bad-mouthing falsehoods. False complaints and rumors can damage the victim’s reputation and cripple relationships of those who fall under the spell of untruths. Punishers seem to have no conscience about the hurt they cause in this way.  

All this potential for damage in adulthood makes it necessary for parents to respond firmly to budding punishing skills like the three-year-old’s in the doctor’s waiting room.   

On one occasion my wife and I saw an example of effective parenting close up. We were invited to dine with a young family in a fine restaurant. The younger child, also a three-year-old and a lovely child in our prior experience, had apparently already been inclined on several prior occasions to make a self-willed fuss in public places. Her parents had developed a strategy that they said was gradually curbing this behavior. Here is what we saw.

Before entering the restaurant, I heard her father rehearse the ground rules. He told her quietly as we walked from the car that there would be many other people around us and, for their sakes, she must not cause a stir; she must do as she was told while inside.

And then I heard him say quietly but clearly, “If you cry or make noise, or if you don’t do what Daddy tells you, I will take you outside until the storm passes and you tell me you are ready to do what Daddy says.”

Soon after we were seated there was a slight stir where she sat. The father apparently detected the early signs of a battle. Saying nothing, he got up quietly and carried the three-year-old out. Fellow diners heard only seconds of her protests.

We later learned that all he did was to stand outside the door to the restaurant, holding her in his arms while she struggled and cried, repeating lovingly that the storm must pass and that she must be ready to do what he told her before he would take her back into her dinner. Sometime later they returned. Her cheeks were wet with tears. She took her place and the meal went forward happily without further conflict.  

As we were leaving the restaurant, the patrons around us, not knowing the meaning of the father’s earlier departure with the child, spoke warmly to the parents about how amazed they were by the fine conduct of their young children. Kay and I knew it was not an accident.  

Photo credit: G. Westfall (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: The Church Today Needs Prophetic Voices

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/14/2022 - 11:00
The Prophet Amos
by Gustave Doré

Several decades ago a Bible teacher told me that if you instruct a congregation from the New Testament epistles, you will develop a body characterized by spiritual warmth and devotion. But if you wish them to also have a clear sense of biblical morality, and to be ready to take a fearless stand in the face of wrong, teach them from the Old Testament prophets.

As a retired, ninety-six-year-old pastor/overseer, I agree. My first three assignments were over local churches. Then for nineteen years I was a general overseer who attempted to continue to work affirmingly and pastorally, largely in a warm New Testament way.

At the same time, I realized that the church needs an Old Testament prophetic influence, speaking clearly to the moral disorder in the world, the consequences of crossing moral boundaries, always with a word of redemption. These prophets were greatly needed in Old Testament times, and they are needed today.

Consider the Old Testament prophet Amos. He was a shepherd who lived in Judah south of Bethlehem (Amos 7:14,15). He traveled into Israel, the northern kingdom, where he saw unrestrained affluence – choice food, ivory inlaid beds, finely-made musical instruments (6:4,5). Self-indulgence was being openly flaunted.

God called Amos to speak prophetically to this state of affairs.

In response to excessive self-indulgence he cried out: “You trample on the poor” (2:7). They had lost compassion for the needy. They had also lost a commitment to justice: “You hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth” (5:10). They scorned the call to distinguish right from wrong.

The words of Amos were strong, but he spoke them with compassion, also praying earnestly to God to spare the people from judgment. He cried out, “Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” (7:2).

The need for prophets like Amos comes to mind when I watch the news. It is saturated with reports of the abuse of power, unanswered complaints of injustice against the powerless, an epidemic of lying in high places, and cover-ups.

Political systems, and society as a whole, surely need the voice of the prophets. And the church today does, too. Even as Christians we are at risk of going too readily with opinions brought to us in the form of pollsters’ statistics rather than in the strength of God’s timeless laws.

The rigor of the prophets does not belong only to a bygone Old Testament era. The Lord Jesus was deeply versed in the words of the prophets and is himself referred to as a prophet. He was speaking to the disciples of his time and ours when he said:

“You are the light of the world; a city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). It’s as though he was saying to us, as a company of believers, that you must live my message, give my message, and you must shine light into the world’s moral darkness.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: The Church Today Needs Prophetic Voices

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/14/2022 - 11:00
The Prophet Amos
by Gustave Doré

Several decades ago a Bible teacher told me that if you instruct a congregation from the New Testament epistles, you will develop a body characterized by spiritual warmth and devotion. But if you wish them to also have a clear sense of biblical morality, and to be ready to take a fearless stand in the face of wrong, teach them from the Old Testament prophets.

As a retired, ninety-six-year-old pastor/overseer, I agree. My first three assignments were over local churches. Then for nineteen years I was a general overseer who attempted to continue to work affirmingly and pastorally, largely in a warm New Testament way.

At the same time, I realized that the church needs an Old Testament prophetic influence, speaking clearly to the moral disorder in the world, the consequences of crossing moral boundaries, always with a word of redemption. These prophets were greatly needed in Old Testament times, and they are needed today.

Consider the Old Testament prophet Amos. He was a shepherd who lived in Judah south of Bethlehem (Amos 7:14,15). He traveled into Israel, the northern kingdom, where he saw unrestrained affluence – choice food, ivory inlaid beds, finely-made musical instruments (6:4,5). Self-indulgence was being openly flaunted.

God called Amos to speak prophetically to this state of affairs.

In response to excessive self-indulgence he cried out: “You trample on the poor” (2:7). They had lost compassion for the needy. They had also lost a commitment to justice: “You hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth” (5:10). They scorned the call to distinguish right from wrong.

The words of Amos were strong, but he spoke them with compassion, also praying earnestly to God to spare the people from judgment. He cried out, “Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” (7:2).

The need for prophets like Amos comes to mind when I watch the news. It is saturated with reports of the abuse of power, unanswered complaints of injustice against the powerless, an epidemic of lying in high places, and cover-ups.

Political systems, and society as a whole, surely need the voice of the prophets. And the church today does, too. Even as Christians we are at risk of going too readily with opinions brought to us in the form of pollsters’ statistics rather than in the strength of God’s timeless laws.

The rigor of the prophets does not belong only to a bygone Old Testament era. The Lord Jesus was deeply versed in the words of the prophets and is himself referred to as a prophet. He was speaking to the disciples of his time and ours when he said:

“You are the light of the world; a city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). It’s as though he was saying to us, as a company of believers, that you must live my message, give my message, and you must shine light into the world’s moral darkness.

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Believeth?

The Idol Babbler - Sat, 03/12/2022 - 17:25

John 3:16 (KJV)For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 

I typically do not read the KJV. To many, the Old English is quite beautiful sounding and poetic. But to me, it’s clunky. Plus, it’s just not how we speak today. However, I stumbled upon an interview from Theological Dark Web on YouTube where Rich Colburn was interviewing Christopher Geer. At the end of their long discussion, this most famous verse from the Gospel of John was brought up due to the “eth” ending of the word “believe” (which is also found at the end many other verbs in the Old English), and it caused me to gain an appreciation of this style of language that I hadn’t had before. According to Collins Dictionary, an eth ending or suffix is…

“an ending of the third person singular present indicative of verbs.”

In other words, the eth indicates the present tense of the third person singular of an action word. That means that the he, she or it in view is doing something now.

 

Not making sense yet?

 

Here’s how Geer put it…

 

“The New Testament is written pretty straightforwardly. Even in versions like the King James. But, you have to understand ‘Elizabethin English’ to understand the King James …things like ‘eth’ on the end of words. If you are classically trained in theater you understand it. But ‘eth’ on the end of words means something that is happening right now, that needs to continue happening, for it to be true. So, ‘Whosoever ever believeth on the Son,’ well that’s something you are doing right now. But, it’s something that you have to continue doing… until you see Him again. It’s stuff like that, that people are reading these things, in English, but they don’t know even what the English words mean.” – Christopher Geer

 

Obviously, no form of the English language is found in Scripture. English did not yet exist. The Bible’s original languages are Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Therefore, we cannot rely on non-Biblical languages like English or any historical form of them to give us theological insight as to what the Bible might be saying. However, the concept of “believeth” is consistent with warning passages such as…

 

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (KJV) – Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

 

With that in mind, I have an important question to consider…

 

Have “ye believed in vain”?

 

Whatever your answer, this truth still stands…

“…ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you…”

In other words, as long as you believeth (continue to believe “until you see Him again”), then “ye are saved.”

John 11:20-27 (KJV)Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

Godspeed to the brethren!

 

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Categories: Churchie Feeds

Righteousness Is Not an Option

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/07/2022 - 15:04

Christians believe that we are not saved by “being good” but by faith, and faith alone, in Christ Jesus. This means we repent of our sin and trust him by his substitutionary death to admit us to heaven’s holy realm. And yet, in response to his gracious gift, we are called to live lives on earth that are upright, holy, righteous. 

Despite declining vision at ninety-six, which makes reading difficult, I have worked my way through parts of the Bible to locate passages that highlight this theme of righteous living. 

The sweep of the Old Testament recounts the Fall of humanity into sin and the terrible plight we all face, living for now east of Eden. Yet the theme of righteousness is there, too: for example, Genesis 6:9 tells us “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”

I move to the worship book of the Bible, the Psalms. The very first psalm in the collection speaks of the contrast between the righteous and the ungodly, finishing in verse 6 with: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” 

Next, the Proverbs, which tell us how to live wisely. In chapter 10 (New International Version) I count the word “righteous” fourteen times, and a single use of the related word “integrity” as well as references to “the fear of the Lord” and “the way of the Lord.” 

Then I looked at what some call the high-water mark of the call to morality in the Old Testament, Micah 6:8. The prophet asks a rhetorical question: “And what does the Lord require of you?” And replies: “To act justly [righteously] and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

In Matthew 5:6, Jesus gathers the people on a hillside and teaches them what we now call the Beatitudes. The fourth reads: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” 

And St. Paul tells the Roman church, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (14:17).

In my long ministry across more than seventy-five years, I have valued Christian teaching that is grace-oriented. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  

Grace is the mystery of the Gospel – that God, in his mercy, would provide a way we don’t deserve to be made right with him.  

And we welcome the additional teaching found in Scripture that true faith will lead to righteousness. Thus, 1 Peter 1:16, regarding God’s requirement of us: “Be holy, as I am holy.”

Photo credit: Tito & Eva Marie Balangue (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Righteousness Is Not an Option

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 03/07/2022 - 15:04

Christians believe that we are not saved by “being good” but by faith, and faith alone, in Christ Jesus. This means we repent of our sin and trust him by his substitutionary death to admit us to heaven’s holy realm. And yet, in response to his gracious gift, we are called to live lives on earth that are upright, holy, righteous. 

Despite declining vision at ninety-six, which makes reading difficult, I have worked my way through parts of the Bible to locate passages that highlight this theme of righteous living. 

The sweep of the Old Testament recounts the Fall of humanity into sin and the terrible plight we all face, living for now east of Eden. Yet the theme of righteousness is there, too: for example, Genesis 6:9 tells us “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”

I move to the worship book of the Bible, the Psalms. The very first psalm in the collection speaks of the contrast between the righteous and the ungodly, finishing in verse 6 with: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” 

Next, the Proverbs, which tell us how to live wisely. In chapter 10 (New International Version) I count the word “righteous” fourteen times, and a single use of the related word “integrity” as well as references to “the fear of the Lord” and “the way of the Lord.” 

Then I looked at what some call the high-water mark of the call to morality in the Old Testament, Micah 6:8. The prophet asks a rhetorical question: “And what does the Lord require of you?” And replies: “To act justly [righteously] and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

In Matthew 5:6, Jesus gathers the people on a hillside and teaches them what we now call the Beatitudes. The fourth reads: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” 

And St. Paul tells the Roman church, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (14:17).

In my long ministry across more than seventy-five years, I have valued Christian teaching that is grace-oriented. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  

Grace is the mystery of the Gospel – that God, in his mercy, would provide a way we don’t deserve to be made right with him.  

And we welcome the additional teaching found in Scripture that true faith will lead to righteousness. Thus, 1 Peter 1:16, regarding God’s requirement of us: “Be holy, as I am holy.”

Photo credit: Tito & Eva Marie Balangue (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Will Jesus Return Again? 

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 02/28/2022 - 11:00

Many of us these days watch with horror Russia’s war against a sovereign nation, Ukraine. In the face of this and other such tragedies, we say, “Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come.” 

It is a deeply held truth among Christians that Jesus Christ dwelt among us as Emmanuel – God with us. He is God’s Son, “very God of very God.” God in human form, having humbled himself to take on a real human body. 

He lived a sinless life among the men and women of ancient Israel, taught timeless truths, performed his matchless miracles. And yet, according to God’s plan of salvation for the fallen human race, he suffered a cruel, unjust, substitutionary death at the hands of evil men. 

But glory! He was resurrected by the power of God and he ascended into heaven in the sight of a number of his followers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Acts 1:9).

Do we believe with the same intensity that he will come again, and feel as joyful about the Second Coming as we do about his first coming to a manger in Bethlehem?  

I have read that the New Testament has 318 references to the Second Coming, which is in fact mentioned in all but four of the twenty-seven New Testament books. For every time the first coming of Christ is mentioned, the Second Coming is mentioned twelve times.

A major example: As St. Luke opens his account of The Acts of the Apostles, he first describes the Lord’s ascension at the close of his earthly ministries. He writes that Jesus was “taken up before their very eyes” (Acts 1:9). Then comes this wonderful announcement:

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11)

For all true believers, that is a precise, unqualified promise that our Lord will come again.  

When would this happen? Some believers in the young church in Thessalonica apparently feared that those who had died would miss out on Christ’s return. Paul wrote them clarifying that those who die in Christ will also see him. In fact, in his first letter to that church Paul ends each of its five chapters with a reference to the Second Coming.

The church then and now cannot be fully healthy without clear understanding and hopeful expectation that Christ will return to gather his own — both the living and the dead. And today, Second Coming preaching, when anointed, clarifies expectations, promotes joy, and stands in anticipatory rebuke of unrighteousness.  

One of the most effective evangelists of the nineteenth century on this continent was Dwight L. Moody. He was a great soul winner. His mark is still evident in the Moody Bible Institute and other ministries. He declared that Second Coming preaching was one of the secrets of his soul-winning ministry. He said, “I preached for years with the thought that before every sermon was finished, the Lord might come.”

What more should we know about what the Second Coming will accomplish? I Thessalonians tells us that at his second coming, Jesus will rescue believers “from the coming wrath” (1:10). And that Paul will rejoice over these Christians “in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes” (2:19, 20). Also Paul urges that they be found “blameless and holy”  when “our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (3:13). And we learn that those who are alive when he comes will “meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (4:17).

And finally, Paul concludes with a benediction: “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:23b).

When the Second Coming is so solidly embedded in the Scriptures and Christian theology, we might ask: Does this belief move me to a passion for holiness? And does such a great expectation energize me with hope and yearning, everywhere I work and live?

Photo credit: Denys Zadorozhnyi (via flickr.com)

~

I am excited to let you know that my new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

Purchase in Canada

Purchase in the US

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: Will Jesus Return Again? 

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 02/28/2022 - 11:00

Many of us these days watch with horror Russia’s war against a sovereign nation, Ukraine. In the face of this and other such tragedies, we say, “Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come.” 

It is a deeply held truth among Christians that Jesus Christ dwelt among us as Emmanuel – God with us. He is God’s Son, “very God of very God.” God in human form, having humbled himself to take on a real human body. 

He lived a sinless life among the men and women of ancient Israel, taught timeless truths, performed his matchless miracles. And yet, according to God’s plan of salvation for the fallen human race, he suffered a cruel, unjust, substitutionary death at the hands of evil men. 

But glory! He was resurrected by the power of God and he ascended into heaven in the sight of a number of his followers (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Acts 1:9).

Do we believe with the same intensity that he will come again, and feel as joyful about the Second Coming as we do about his first coming to a manger in Bethlehem?  

I have read that the New Testament has 318 references to the Second Coming, which is in fact mentioned in all but four of the twenty-seven New Testament books. For every time the first coming of Christ is mentioned, the Second Coming is mentioned twelve times.

A major example: As St. Luke opens his account of The Acts of the Apostles, he first describes the Lord’s ascension at the close of his earthly ministries. He writes that Jesus was “taken up before their very eyes” (Acts 1:9). Then comes this wonderful announcement:

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11)

For all true believers, that is a precise, unqualified promise that our Lord will come again.  

When would this happen? Some believers in the young church in Thessalonica apparently feared that those who had died would miss out on Christ’s return. Paul wrote them clarifying that those who die in Christ will also see him. In fact, in his first letter to that church Paul ends each of its five chapters with a reference to the Second Coming.

The church then and now cannot be fully healthy without clear understanding and hopeful expectation that Christ will return to gather his own — both the living and the dead. And today, Second Coming preaching, when anointed, clarifies expectations, promotes joy, and stands in anticipatory rebuke of unrighteousness.  

One of the most effective evangelists of the nineteenth century on this continent was Dwight L. Moody. He was a great soul winner. His mark is still evident in the Moody Bible Institute and other ministries. He declared that Second Coming preaching was one of the secrets of his soul-winning ministry. He said, “I preached for years with the thought that before every sermon was finished, the Lord might come.”

What more should we know about what the Second Coming will accomplish? I Thessalonians tells us that at his second coming, Jesus will rescue believers “from the coming wrath” (1:10). And that Paul will rejoice over these Christians “in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes” (2:19, 20). Also Paul urges that they be found “blameless and holy”  when “our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (3:13). And we learn that those who are alive when he comes will “meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (4:17).

And finally, Paul concludes with a benediction: “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:23b).

When the Second Coming is so solidly embedded in the Scriptures and Christian theology, we might ask: Does this belief move me to a passion for holiness? And does such a great expectation energize me with hope and yearning, everywhere I work and live?

Photo credit: Denys Zadorozhnyi (via flickr.com)

~

I am excited to let you know that my new memoir, FROM KITCHEN CHAIR TO PULPIT: A Memoir of Family, Faith, and Ministry, has just been published. I hope you will click on one of the links that follow to be taken to the page on these sites that enable you to view and potentially purchase the paperback or ebook. My book shows just how extraordinary the pastoral life can be, describing how I prepared for ministry and ministered to three congregations and then, as a bishop, to pastors as a bishop, with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and the support of our children as they grew up from children to adults.

Purchase in Canada

Purchase in the US

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: How Pastors Can Deal with Electronic Distractions 

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 02/21/2022 - 14:59

A number of years ago, not long after the smartphone revolution, our son Robert demonstrated for us some of the wonders of his iPhone.  

“What is the meaning of life?” he asked Siri, his phone’s “assistant.” Answer: “It’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya.” And, “Siri, What’s the capital of Bolivia?” Answer: “La Paz.”

This entertaining demonstration was only the tip of the iceberg as far as the wonders of handheld devices are concerned. Well beyond being just a phone, a smartphone can be a timepiece, an email receiver-sender, a global positioning device, a datebook, a newspaper, a YouTube portal, a hand-held video game.

If I were an active pastor today, I would ask myself, how might this tool (not to mention my tablet or computer) enhance my ministry? On the other hand, how might it steal time I should be spending in ministry to my flock? Surely pastors everywhere must be asking these questions.

Here is how I think I might deal with it. I would search regularly for Scripture that would charge me afresh with the responsibility to steward my calling. Here’s an example: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

For today’s electronic distractions that portion might be adapted to say, “… whether you text or email or whatever else you do electronically, do it all for the glory of God.”

Here’s another example from one of the Pastoral Epistles: “Do your best to present yourselves to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

This is a stunning challenge to the effective management of time and concentration on biblical study. Meeting the challenge would require careful management of distractions.

I believe I would search for an affirmative mandate from the Bible rather than setting before myself a list of “don’ts.” The reason? I doubt that my will would be strong enough to withstand the enticements of the electronic era without having a sense that the living, seeing Lord of the church was issuing the charge through his holy Scripture.

In addition to seeking a scriptural mandate to protect my time, I would also search for a fellow minister as an accountability partner. We would commit to a disciplined use of the internet and the wise use of time. We would report to each other our performance as careful workmen for the Lord’s sake.

Such a program would surely increase the blessing of the Lord on each of our churches. And to Scripture and accountability, we could count on the presence and assistance of the Holy Spirit. As is written in Romans 8:26, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”

The era of immediate access to digital information and communication is marvelous. Still, the potential of technology to steal time and concentration from ministry would be a grave offense. With the help of Scripture, human accountability, and above all the Spirit, I believe I would give myself to hard work in disciplined ministry, looking forward to that great day when I would hope to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).

Photo credit: Gonzalo Baeza (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-post: How Pastors Can Deal with Electronic Distractions 

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 02/21/2022 - 14:59

A number of years ago, not long after the smartphone revolution, our son Robert demonstrated for us some of the wonders of his iPhone.  

“What is the meaning of life?” he asked Siri, his phone’s “assistant.” Answer: “It’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya.” And, “Siri, What’s the capital of Bolivia?” Answer: “La Paz.”

This entertaining demonstration was only the tip of the iceberg as far as the wonders of handheld devices are concerned. Well beyond being just a phone, a smartphone can be a timepiece, an email receiver-sender, a global positioning device, a datebook, a newspaper, a YouTube portal, a hand-held video game.

If I were an active pastor today, I would ask myself, how might this tool (not to mention my tablet or computer) enhance my ministry? On the other hand, how might it steal time I should be spending in ministry to my flock? Surely pastors everywhere must be asking these questions.

Here is how I think I might deal with it. I would search regularly for Scripture that would charge me afresh with the responsibility to steward my calling. Here’s an example: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

For today’s electronic distractions that portion might be adapted to say, “… whether you text or email or whatever else you do electronically, do it all for the glory of God.”

Here’s another example from one of the Pastoral Epistles: “Do your best to present yourselves to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

This is a stunning challenge to the effective management of time and concentration on biblical study. Meeting the challenge would require careful management of distractions.

I believe I would search for an affirmative mandate from the Bible rather than setting before myself a list of “don’ts.” The reason? I doubt that my will would be strong enough to withstand the enticements of the electronic era without having a sense that the living, seeing Lord of the church was issuing the charge through his holy Scripture.

In addition to seeking a scriptural mandate to protect my time, I would also search for a fellow minister as an accountability partner. We would commit to a disciplined use of the internet and the wise use of time. We would report to each other our performance as careful workmen for the Lord’s sake.

Such a program would surely increase the blessing of the Lord on each of our churches. And to Scripture and accountability, we could count on the presence and assistance of the Holy Spirit. As is written in Romans 8:26, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”

The era of immediate access to digital information and communication is marvelous. Still, the potential of technology to steal time and concentration from ministry would be a grave offense. With the help of Scripture, human accountability, and above all the Spirit, I believe I would give myself to hard work in disciplined ministry, looking forward to that great day when I would hope to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).

Photo credit: Gonzalo Baeza (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

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