Churchie Feeds

The Origins of Just Call Me Pastor

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/12/2022 - 11:00

From my “retirement village” in Mississauga, Ontario, I am remembering the very beginning of this “Just Call Me Pastor” blog.  

At the time of its launching, in 2009, I explained why I called it by that name. It came from the following story: In 1962, I was new to the Greenville, Illinois, congregation of the Free Methodist Church. When I began there, Sunday morning attendance ran at about 600, half of them students from the Christian college across the street. Culture-wise, society was at the beginning of what we now might call the sixties revolution, an upheaval that brought into question traditional understandings of roles, relationships, titles, behavior, and even morality.

And so during announcement time one Sunday morning, likely in response to a question from a congregant in the past week about what to call me, I asked the congregation to “just call me pastor.”  Then I explained:

  • Call me pastor for my sake — I need to be reminded of the special reason I’m here.  
  • Call me pastor for your sake, so that you will be aware of the special relationship we have.
  • And call me pastor for your children’s sake, so they are aware of a person who, at their option, might help them through the sometimes difficult years of youth into a purposeful Christian adulthood.

“Pastor” is an honorable biblical title, meaning shepherd — a title that Jesus himself took when he said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Back then, the increase of secularism had not yet taken the edge off the term.

One feature of the sixties revolution was the jettisoning of titles. It was an authority issue. One had to be careful about any display of authority. When youth sat on the floor to rap, I sat on the floor with them. At that time, use of first names became common regardless of the situation. Some children even called parents and other relatives by first names, rather than honoring them with Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle. 

The sense was that if young people might view you as an authority figure, you should keep your head down.   

During that period the word “share” became prominent. Even if a renowned authority was to give an address at the college across the street in an area of her proven expertise, she was introduced as having come to “share.” Privately, the word became tiresome to many who understood the underlying intention to diminish authority, but the word largely went unchallenged and was used constantly.  

Although sixty years have passed since then, I have never regretted making that invitation to “just call me pastor.” That one word defined both for me and the congregation what I was there to do. It described a primary relationship. And on occasion it tended to appropriately restrain both me and members of the congregation if disagreements arose, as in every church setting they often do.

At that time, some argued that titles, even “pastor,” get in the way of authentic relationships. I could not agree, and I still do not. I could at one time laugh heartily with congregants and at another pastor them through life’s stresses and strains. 

Even years after my service to that congregation, I have received communications from those in my congregation at Greenville. Just a few weeks ago, an email arrived from a woman who was a teenager during that time. She still considers me her pastor, she said.  

And so my advice to Christians today is to call your own pastor by that title: for his or her sake, your sake, and your children’s sake.  

First published April 9, 2009; revised September 12, 2022

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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Why Do We Exist?

The Idol Babbler - Mon, 09/05/2022 - 16:48

Acts 17:26-27 (HCSB)“From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

This portion of Paul’s address to the citizens of Athens offers them insight about the meaning of their existence. In other words, he answers one of the biggest and most important questions which we all ask at one point or another during our lives…

Why do we exist?

So, why do we exist? We exist so that we all “might seek God.” That’s the simple answer to this very big question. The fact of the matter is, God has “determined” each of our “appointed times and the boundaries of where” we all “live,” so that “perhaps” we individually “might reach out and find Him.” That is how much God cares about everyone and this is possible because, “…He is not far from each one of us.”

James encouraged the same idea…

James 4:8 (HCSB)“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

Unless one understands this beautiful truth, one will never have the answer to the question: “Why do we exist?”

Here is what Paul later encouraged to those in Rome (which would not be possible if God was not already within earshot of everyone)…

Romans 10:8-13 (HCSB)“This is the message of faith that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. Now the Scripture says, ‘everyone who believes on Him will not be put to shame,’ for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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The Sabbath Principle, Joyfully Embraced – John 5:1-15

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 09/05/2022 - 13:48

The Genesis account tells us that, after six days of creation, God rested on the seventh. The Sabbath principle today echoes in the lives of God’s people, calling for the setting aside of one day of each week to desist from the labors of the week to gather with God’s people for worship.

In Jesus’ time, the Sabbath was Saturday. Jesus’ resurrection after his crucifixion occurred on Sunday, explaining why Christians shifted their day of worship and rest to the first day of the week.  

While strongly affirming the Sabbath (Sunday) principle, I would not want to reestablish a sabbatarian rigidity such as many of the Pharisees of New Testament times promoted, with long lists of what you could and could not do on that day.

At the same time, I would note that the risk today is at the other end of the continuum, leading to an overly casual approach to our special day, allowing all sorts of unnecessary activities to crowd out and diminish God’s merciful intent.

Jesus himself illustrated the kind of balance we should seek.  The Apostle John reports in his gospel that Jesus came upon a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. He was lying helplessly beside the Pool of Bethesda among a great number of other ill or disabled persons. Each believed that, from time to time, the waters of the pool would be mysteriously stirred and the first among them to get into the water would be healed.

On this Sabbath day, Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to get well?” The man answered with overtones of despair, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. When I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 

Jesus’ response was direct and firm: “Get up! Pick up your bed and walk.” At once the helpless man was on his feet, his mat rolled up under his arm, and he was walking about for the first time in nearly four decades.

Imagine how profoundly life-changing it would be for this man. Still, this healing occurred on the Sabbath. And, as a result,  the man was about to carry the mat he had been lying on.  Horror of horrors! After all, one rabbinic law said anything weighing more than two figs was regarded as a burden and should not be carried on the Sabbath.

What was intended as a day of worship and physical refreshment had been made into a straight jacket of laws by generations of rabbis. An extreme example: A woman was forbidden to look into a well on the Sabbath lest she see in her reflection a white hair and be tempted to pluck it. That would be work! Only emergency care for a wound or illness was allowed on the Sabbath. 

Jesus’ healing of a man on the Sabbath broke their list of rigorous prohibitions for that day.Their authority/power was threatened. The undercurrent of their reaction to this was murderous.

Scholars of the times note that not all Jews observed a rigid, Pharisaical Sabbath. The day was for many a healthful and faith-renewing rhythm to life, joyfully embraced, as follows.

On Friday evening the trumpet was taken to the tallest building of the community and blown three separate times: the first signaled workers in the field to start for their homes; the second was for merchants to close up shop; and, with people home and shops closed, the third marked the lighting of Sabbath candles all over the village.

On Sabbath morning people went to the synagogue. The noon meal that followed had been prepared the day before, and was in every way special except that it was eaten cold because fires were not lit on the Sabbath. In the afternoon, if the village had a school attached to the synagogue, people gathered and local community scholars addressed some of the religious questions of the day. How unifying and comforting!

The religious rulers who complained against Jesus’ healing of the man crippled for thirty-eight years seemed to know nothing of this good side of Sabbath – its rhythms and rest and spiritual focus. And their religion lacked the compassion Jesus demonstrated in the story above.

In today’s secular, frantically busy, distracted times, Christians are in danger of going too far in making the day available for anything and everything they might easily do on other days of the week. How about rediscovering a worship and restoration rhythm for Sunday? We can ask: What, besides attending church, makes this the Lord’s Day?  

First published August 15, 2016; revised September 5, 2022

Photo credit: Ricardo Camacho (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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On Picking Chokecherries, and Providence

Just Call Me Pastor - Wed, 08/31/2022 - 14:10

I was six and my sister Eunice three-and-a-half. It was late August 1931. Our parents had told us that we would go that morning to pick chokecherries, a wild sour fruit used for jam or jelly. We would do so on our former farm, three miles south of our town of Estevan, Saskatchewan. We danced and rushed about with glee, in anticipation. 

But mid-morning I looked out the window into the back yard. Dad’s Model A Ford truck had disappeared. At the same time there seemed to be absolute silence throughout the house. My instant conclusion was that they had left without us, and that we would have to get there ourselves.  

In retrospect, I suspect Dad had gone to gas up the truck, and mother just happened to be quiet upstairs.

Like two waifs, we made our way down the town hill to the flats below. We saw a one-horse cart that was moving just slightly faster than standing still and asked the driver for a ride. He put us on the tailgate. 

Our way veered to the southwest, rounded the base of a large treeless hill, and swung straight west, crossing a bridge that spanned a narrow river. At this point we were one mile from our home.

During our silent ride under the prairie big sky the only sound we heard came from the continuous crunch of the gravel under the metal wheels of the wagon. The driver said nothing to us; it was as though we weren’t there, but I knew we were on the right course.

After he let us off at the road leading to the farm, we had to walk the last mile or so through the Pawsons’ market garden. A further part of his lane was the scariest part of our venture because the trees on both sides had grown to meet overhead. 

Finally we came to a clearing and the old farmhouse. To my surprise, our parents weren’t there. I knocked on the door of the new owners of the farm. I remember they seemed shocked that we had reached there on our own from town. We gave them our names and told them we were there to pick chokecherries. They gave us a brown paper grocery sack and showed us a bush near the house where we could busy ourselves.

As a young child I had no idea why they would be uneasy. I now know why they rushed back indoors: it must have been to phone my parents, who were still in Estevan. 

Soon the Model A Ford truck came chugging out of the shaded lane. Our parents were half frantic about our disappearance and half joyful to have found us.

Every one of us who has reached adulthood has come through childhood episodes that were potentially perilous — due to silly decisions, daredevil stunts, close calls, serious illnesses, life-threatening accidents, or escape from danger that we may not have perceived then or remember now.  

When we review such memories there’s a word we should use: Providence. It means that “God governs and guides in all the affairs of our lives.” At these moments of recollection of peril escaped, let us give Him thanks for His gracious protection.

First published October 31, 2016; revised August 29, 2022

Photo credit: Sharon Mollerus (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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When Life Crumbles – Psalm 11

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 08/22/2022 - 11:00

You’ve spent decades making a house your castle. But a few days before holiday time approaches, a string of mishaps seem to set in. You wonder if it will ever end.

The psalmist David knew that life brings lesser and greater crises. Trouble can be merely annoying, or can shake the very foundation of life.

David’s life crumbled in the worst sort of way. Though loyal to King Saul, his reputation was attacked unfairly, his integrity questioned, his place of trust lost, and crucial relationships shattered.

Imagine David’s distress as he was made a fugitive in the wilderness for long periods by the king’s murderous rages. Much later, after being established as legitimate king, David’s son Absalom nearly accomplished a coup against him.

David could have thrown up his hands in despair several times during his life, saying, “I quit.” In Psalm 11 a timid counselor appears to have offered that very solution to disaster, by asking, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

David responds first with the overarching reality from which all else follows: “In the Lord I take refuge.”

Carrying this thought forward, he begins his rebuke to the defeatist counselor by reviewing his bad counsel.

How then can you say to me:

“Flee like a bird to your mountain. 

For look, the wicked bend their bows;

They set their arrows against the strings

To shoot from the shadows

At the upright in heart.

In brief, David’s implication is: Shame on you! And his following answer to the question “What can the righteous do?” Is a humble, faith-based answer: 

The Lord is in his holy temple; 

the Lord is on his heavenly throne.

In other words, God reigns! In this world one’s foundations may seem to be shaken, but the house built on faith will not collapse, because God is sovereign over all.

He goes on:

He observes the sons of men;

he examines the righteous

but the wicked, those who love violence,

He hates with a passion.

In other words, God sees to the finest detail what’s really going on when one of his own is under evil attack; he is on the side of the righteous even though he may not give instant deliverance. The implication? Move up close to him. Hold on.

Then comes David’s summary assurance:

For the Lord is righteous,

he loves justice;

the upright will see his face.

For upright men and women today whose foundations are being shaken, this promise may not be satisfied immediately. We live in a fallen world, and much will not be settled in this world. Think of the believers driven from their demolished homes in Ukraine.

Yet in all of these scenarios, God’s promise will be fulfilled for people of faith. Whether sooner or later, God’s faithfulness will be revealed. Hence the closing words of Psalm 11, in which the believer is promised “to see God’s face.” This means in Hebrew thinking that the true believer will have intimate communion with God and will sense his approval and his ultimate protection.

First published August 29, 2016; revised August 22, 2022

Photo credit: manhhai / AP Photo/Felipe Dana (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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My Beloved First Car (with a Bullet Hole in the Back)

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 08/15/2022 - 11:00

Word came to me this week that a woman from southern Missouri who reads this blog was also enjoying my new book From Kitchen Chair to Pulpit. One of her comments was about the hardships Kathleen and I faced along the way as we prepared for a life of ministry.

In thinking about hardships I remembered my first car. At age twenty-one, in the summer of 1947, just months before Kathleen and I married, I bought an old 1934 Ford.

During World War II (1940-45), the auto industry had been retooled to make tanks, airplanes, military trucks, and other war materiel. Virtually no cars were produced during that time. And so in 1947, even used cars were scarce. Not to mention that I had very little money. A friend of mine, Frank, told me of a relative living north of Toronto who had a car he had quit driving for health reasons.

I went to his farm and bought the car for $300.

This car had a remanufactured V8 engine. At that time, Ford held the patent, and these engines were exciting: quick on the take-off and peppy on the road.  

This Ford with a replaced V8 engine was therefore a treasure to me, though it had some issues. Cars made in 1934 became undependable more quickly than those of 1947 and often needed repairs.  

And its two doors opened from the front. They were sometimes called suicide doors because if they ever became unlatched and opened while traveling at any significant speed, they would catch the wind, potentially wrenching the door off or hitting something along the side of the road. Seatbelts were unknown in 1934, and even the driver could be at risk.  

The bottom of both doors had rusted away quite badly so driving in a cross-wind during winter provided extreme “air conditioning.” The driver got the worst of it because he had to keep his feet on or near the pedals, no matter how cold they became.

Another minus was that the gas gauge was useless. I tried to keep track of the level but on more than one occasion I ran out of on the highway and had to cross a field to the nearest farm to get a small container of gas. Back then that trek could turn out to be a neighborly experience.

The speedometer didn’t work either. You had to figure out how fast to go by matching the speed of other cars on the road. 

Kathleen and I were married in late December a little less than five months after I bought the car. Soon afterward we had to drive to Watertown, New York, from Toronto — a little over 200 miles. I was to speak there for the weekend. On that trip rain pelted the car and revealed another frailty: the cowl above the driver’s feet leaked water badly. My bride diminished the problem by unwrapping sandwiches she had made and placing the wax paper (there were no plastic wrappings yet) over my feet.

On occasion people referred to that vintage car as a puddle jumper or bucket of bolts. When my friend, Herald, rode in the back seat he teased that the car was equipped with buggy springs. That 1934 Ford provided a curious combination of pleasure, hardship, and good-natured quips.

In the spring of 1948, I saw an advertisement for a car paint that could be applied with an included powder puff. The gray paint on the car had become dull. On a Saturday morning Kathleen and I washed the car and applied paint with the powder puffs. It was a small act of love towards that old car. The results were a much improved shiny black body, but the doors were still rusted at the bottom.

My first car had one unique distinguishing feature: a bullet hole through the back wall (there were no trunks back then). More than once people who noticed it quipped that I must have outrun the police. I insist to this day that the bullet hole was there when I bought the car.

First published Sept 19, 2016; revised August 15, 2022

Photo credit: carsguide.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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In Your Anger Do Not Sin (Part 2 of 2)

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 08/08/2022 - 11:00

What many understand insufficiently is that anger can be “good” or “bad.” The anger that moves a person to intervene when witnessing bullying is good anger. Road rage is bad anger.

When Moses descended from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments, he saw that the people had returned to pagan practices of worship and celebration. This of course made the Lord angry, and Moses, too, as God’s representative. As Moses neared the camp, he smashed the tablets as an object lesson to the people.

In that account (Exodus 32:7-20) God’s anger is mentioned three times, and therefore Moses’ anger is clearly appropriate. The Lord does not rebuke him. We can call this good anger.

In two accounts of the wilderness journey from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land, the Israelites were without water. In the first instance, God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff, after which water gushed out. In the second instance (Numbers 20:2-11), God told him to “speak to that rock” in the people’s sight. Tired of their complaining, Moses instead in both anger and disobedience again struck the rock with his staff. He was in effect taking God’s glory to himself by striking rather than speaking to the rock. God’s punishment for Moses’ “bad anger” outburst was that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land with his people ​​(Deuteronomy 32:51-52).

Anger is like fire: under control in a furnace it can keep our houses comfortable in winter; unmanaged, it can burn down the house and the neighborhood, too.

All this is why the Apostle Paul warns against the danger anger poses. Borrowing from Psalm 4:4 he writes, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).

If destructive anger is damaging our witness for Christ, God’s mighty Spirit who dwells in believers enables a better way. Here are three steps we can take to cooperate with the Spirit.

First, we tell ourselves the truth. I know of an angry woman who used the word “perturbed” in place of admitting to herself that she was harboring bad anger that was disrupting her workplace. This mild word was not sufficient to activate her conscience and summon change. Attaching the precise word to our emotions can be the first step toward appropriating the Spirit’s help. 

Second, we tell God the truth. He of course already knows our hearts and minds, but confession opens the way for God to work in us when we speak of our sins to Him. The psalmist prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).

Third, tell someone else the truth. Sometimes we need the support and coaching of another human being, like a pastor or counselor, to face up to sinful anger. That person can be a conduit of the Lord’s grace, helping us to recognize our anger and to learn new ways to deal with this emotion.

It is not God’s will that we abolish our ability to be angry. Even Jesus was appropriately angry with hard-hearted Pharisees who had no compassion for a man with a withered hand who needed healing (Mark 3:5). Or when he cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers (11:15-19).

But in our fallenness an emotion that must be available to us is tainted by sin and needs redemption. So, while we rejoice in the grace God has already given us, if our anger is corroding our spirits or proving hurtful to others we implore for added grace to make us whole, remembering the promise given the Apostle Paul: “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a).

First published July 25, 2016; revised August 8, 2022

Image info: “Moses Striking the Rock.” A print from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations.

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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On Managing, Not Necessarily Abolishing, Anger (Part 1 of 2)

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 08/01/2022 - 15:22

The Scriptures give us instances of God’s righteous anger with his people. One major example is in Exodus 32:9-14, when they began to worship an idol, the golden calf.  

Our anger, by contrast, often falls far short of God’s standard. As members of a fallen race, our natures are tainted by sin, and our anger can be inappropriately explosive, hurtful, even punitive.

Such expressions of anger may make us sorrowful, if we are self-aware and thirst after righteousness. And thanks be to God, as Christians we need not feel defeated. There is help in the Gospel, not so much to abolish, as to manage, anger.

To explain: The Apostle Paul teaches us that some conduct is never acceptable. He writes to the Ephesian church, “Put away all falsehood (Ephesians 4:25a, NLT). And, “If you are a thief, stop stealing” (4:28a, NLT). These practices were sinful and were to have absolutely no place in the Christian life.

But he spoke differently about anger: “And don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you” (4:26, NLT).

Apparently anger was not forbidden in the way lying and stealing were. It was nevertheless identified as a human emotion that, if not managed, could be the source of grievous sin.

I can see a variety of types or facets of anger.

Sullen anger. There may be no slamming of doors or yelling. But this type of anger puts a dark cloud into relationships and is sometimes a means of controlling others. Nothing is said, but much is felt. Sulking, tense silence, or seething beneath the surface may be sullen anger’s expressions.  

Sanitized, nice guy” anger. As tourists in California, Kay and I boarded a narrow-gauge train to ride up a mountainside to the site of an early mining effort. A couple with two children got on and took much more space than necessary. The next family of four had to shoehorn into the meager space remaining, and the first couple made no effort to sit closer together as a courtesy.

There were a few tense words. Then one of the women turned with her back to the other with a frozen smile on her face for the rest of the ride. I believe her message to those who saw the exchange was, “See, I’m too nice to be angry.”

Displaced anger. I once saw a cartoon divided into four frames. In the first frame a boss chewed out his employee. In the second the employee arrived home and spoke to his wife in large bold type. In the third frame, the wife scolded her little girl harshly. In the fourth, the little girl held her rag doll by one arm, spanking it with her free hand.

Violent, abusive anger. This may be marked by shouting, even screaming. Or it can be quiet but psychologically violent. It’s out-of-control anger – like road rage or air rage.

Finally, there’s unrecognized anger. This might be smoldering under the surface in dysfunctional families. In children of alcoholic parents. In persons locked in relationship with a narcissist. Or in those experiencing injustice they cannot correct. 

What can we do so that anger does not dominate us in sinful ways? A story from Dr. Ben Carson’s life leads us to the Gospel. When he was a teenager, in a burst of anger he tried to stab another boy, and only the boy’s big belt buckle stopped the knife blade. Carson went to a nearby secluded room and spent a long time calling on God to deliver him from such anger. He reports that God answered that prayer.

Just as for Dr. Carson, the Gospel in its various expressions (the Holy Spirit, and Spirit-directed help from others) holds before us the means for curbing or directing our anger for Jesus’ sake, and enables us to live in freedom as redeemed men and women. 

Photo credit: Indi Samarajiva (via flickr.com)

First published July 18, 2016

Revised July 30, 2022

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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How to Evaluate Sermons 

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 07/25/2022 - 11:00

Both of us now having reached 96 years of age, Kay and I live in a retirement community across the busy city of Toronto from our primary church. At our age, making the trip to church would be a major production.

While we believe passionately in attending church in person, this is just not possible given current circumstances.

As second best, we hear several sermons each week on television — which has led me to write this blog, for pastors and laity alike, on evaluating sermons, however heard.

To be critical is not the idea; to critique is. That simply means to be aware and evaluate.  

Preachers, to avoid falling short of their potential, need a method for critiquing their own sermons. And those in the pew can benefit from an evaluative structure.

The prime directive is that sermons be biblical. That is, that they derive in a serious way from the biblical texts that underpin them. 

The definition of biblical can be complex, but here are its basic elements in question form:

  • Is the main idea of the sermon — that is, the thesis — in harmony with the mainline of biblical truth as  established across the centuries? Is it free of “novelty”?
  • Does the sermon show evidence that the setting of the passage has been studied?
  • Has the grammar of the passage been studied? That is, sentence structure, word meanings, etc.
  • Does the preacher show an awareness of the literary category the passage belongs to — prophecy, or poetry, or parable, etc.?
  • Has the passage made its impact on the preacher first? (It was critical for me personally for a passage to sink deep into my own life before I presented it to my congregation.)
  • Finally, will the hearers get the message? Is the application clear and carefully pressed home?

The above list of criteria for biblical preaching can be profitably revisited and pondered in the days of every sermon’s preparation, and at the time of its hearing.

If preachers neglect the arduous background work described above, their sermons likely will be confined to surface issues and the listener will not be fed.

And the issue of biblical preaching is not fully addressed until one further question is asked of it: Is the sermon Christ-centered? As Paul wrote to Timothy, “… from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15, NRSV).

Biblical preaching thus involves the convergence of the written word of Scripture, the living Word, Christ Jesus, and the carefully-fashioned proclaimed word in the language of our own day. 

First published July 27, 2009

Revised July 24, 2020

Image info: Ryk Neethling (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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John Calvin on Prayer

Just Call Me Pastor - Tue, 07/19/2022 - 16:59

John Calvin was one of the great Reformation theologians and all his life a pastor. In his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in Latin in 1536 and in French in 1541, and revised and augmented in the years thereafter, Calvin makes many deep theological points about prayer – points well within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and worth considering carefully. Some of them are included below.

The background for prayer is of course (1) our acknowledgment of God’s holiness and transcendence and (2) an overall posture before Him of reverence, repentance, and supplication.    

We should cultivate a habit of coming to Him with every need and in every circumstance. This can be consciously and mindfully practiced until approaching Him becomes reflexive throughout our day.  

We should pray that nothing we would be ashamed of, if seen by Him, should enter our minds or hearts. This calls for dependence on the Holy Spirit and His aid in our discipline.

Our prayers will include a review of what He has provided and done and will express deep gratitude. Gratitude can be consciously practiced.

When we perceive that God has answered a recent request, we should meditate on His kindness. We can do this not only in the prayer chamber but throughout the day.  

And, just as we begin with a focus on God’s holiness and our need to repent and ask for His mercy, we end with a meditation – on God’s promise to never fail us, on His invitation to call upon Him, and on the reality that he is actively extending His help to us right now.

First Published 7-11-16

Updated 7-18-22

Photo credit: Thanh Hùng Nguyễn (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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“For This Is Right”

Just Call Me Pastor - Wed, 07/13/2022 - 18:05

Earlier than you might expect, little children begin to understand the do’s and don’ts of a developing life: “Give Mommy a kiss”; Don’t touch the hot stove”; “Put your toys in the basket”; “Don’t throw your Cheerios on the floor,” etc.

And on and on as the months pass into year, then into a decade, and methods shift from one expectation to another, and everything is internalized toward a growing healthy adulthood.

I seemed to note through years of pastoring that any promotion of obedience as a common expectation was met with the objection from some that this would damage the psyches of growing children. But with love as a fundamental element and pastoral care and interesting Sunday-school activities the odds are strong and God is attendant in both home and church. It is worth the effort, for example, to maintain the practice of family devotions. This exercise can be powerful. I know from experience.

We are living in a troubled age when resources are tested. But the battle for families is worth fighting for. And the Apostle Paul’s words are fundamental: ”Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).

Note, not “helpful,” or “pleasant,” or even “wise” (though it may be all three in some such situations) but “right.”

First posted March 2015
Revised and re-posted July 13, 2022

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks (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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Do You Have Dual Citizenship?

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 07/04/2022 - 17:22

On this celebratory weekend  – July 1, Canada Day for Canada (commemorating its confederation as a country) and July 4, Independence Day for the USA – the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship are on many minds in North America.

Many benefits of our citizenship, such as freedom of movement, thought, and speech, contrast sharply with an experience Kathleen and I had in Estonia before its independence from the then USSR.    

Readers may remember that the former Soviet Union was composed of 15 “republics” that had come under Russian dominance after the Communist Revolution of 1917. The USSR dissolved officially in late 1991, heralded by the fall of the Berlin Wall two years earlier, in November 1989.  

Several years earlier than that, still at the height of the Cold War, Kathleen and I traveled by ship from Finland to Estonia, then one of the Soviet socialist republics, where I had been invited to preach. Landing there, we immediately felt the fear-generating policies of a repressive Communist government.

It was their law that we would be taken from the dock to our hotel by a government-run taxi and would stay in an Soviet Intel-run hotel. We were given no other option and expected this loss of personal freedom.

Similarly, we learned we had to surrender our passports at the front desk of this hotel for the duration of our stay. That news quickened the pulse a bit. Our little dark blue document said we were Canadians and were guaranteed Canadian government protection. We felt deprived of something that provided identity and safety.  

The Apostle Paul uses this civic blessing – citizenship – as an analogy. To the young church in Philippi he wrote:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. –Philippians 3:20, 21

That is, if we have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls and trusted his atoning sacrifice to wash away our sins, we have a citizenship in heaven. We have one foot there now, and certainly that’s where we belong in the ultimate sense.

You will see that this wonderful passage includes allusions to the widely promised second coming of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies, plus the positive results here and now of those coming events. Citizenship in heaven! Incorruptible bodies! The passage is one of the gems of the New Testament.

At the same time, during a weekend of celebration of our earthly citizenships, we are now in a world that is fallen. So in one sense our heavenly citizenship is not yet to be claimed. That is, we must continue for now to live where every aspect of human existence is potentially stained with evil that regularly shows its ugly face. It invades our businesses, corrupts our institutions, and shatters family relationships.

The words of Jesus and writers of the epistles of the New Testament exhort us, as citizens of heaven, to avoid these evils.  For example, Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians: “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Ephesians 4:17).

Freedom from permanent evil and futility of thought are some of the present benefits of our  citizenship in heaven. We listen when the Apostle Paul exhorts: “Reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We stand for Christ at each opportunity. We take our citizenship in this life seriously. But all the while we remember that what we really have is a dual citizenship – and our everlasting citizenship is in heaven.

Image info: Ritu Ashrafi (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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The Future of Abortion

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/27/2022 - 18:36

In 1973, Roe v. Wade became the law of the United States. The Supreme Court of that country ruled that abortion was a new “right” purportedly guaranteed by the Constitution to women federally.

There was a mighty stir after this, with many saying the Supreme Court had produced much deserved liberation for women, and others saying that the ruling had created “a license to kill the unborn.” This topic is uppermost in the news today because, forty-nine years later, the Supreme Court has finally admitted that abortion laws were not theirs to create or adjudicate; accordingly, the court has indicated that such matters are for the state legislatures and “the people.”  

Immediately following the 1973 decision, our congregation in Southern Illinois was ready to hear the subject addressed from the pulpit.

My sermon was titled The Sanctity of Life, based on the words of Psalm 139, “For you (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (v. 13).

This psalm was written centuries before the age of science. It is therefore written in poetic, not scientific, language.

Psalm 139 eloquently reflects the Judeo-Christian view of humankind – that we are creatures from God’s hand, that we bear his image, so human life is to be regarded as sacred before as well as after birth.

The day after I preached that sermon a high school student from the congregation came to my study. She had recently encouraged a fellow student to solve the problem of an unwanted pregnancy by getting an abortion. The word of God had spoken to her heart and mind, and she was troubled about what she had done. 

It is shocking to think that since that Supreme Court decision in January 1973, more than 64 million unborn children have been dismembered or poisoned. That is to say nothing of the number of women who have been damaged whether emotionally, physically, or both by the procedure.

The issue of the sanctity of life is deeply rooted in the moral nature of things. When the people’s voices through the political process were taken away via judicial legislation, it was commendable that churches would rise up. The Roman Catholic Church has worked unceasingly to protect unborn babies. Individuals who narrowly missed being aborted or even survived it have spoken out. And pro-life organizations sprang up: Live Action, the Life Legal Defense Fund, National Right to Life, the March for Life, the Susan B. Anthony List, Let Them Live, and many others.

And now, after nearly fifty years, the court has again spoken, this time to nullify Roe v Wade and to return the matter of abortion to the states, giving the people back their voices and restoring the democratic process.  

Still, many have pointed out that abortion remains legal according to individual state decisions. And we have heard comments to the effect that this is just the end of the beginning of the nation’s abortion controversy. Many states will enact laws making abortion legal up to full term, and even while the process of natural birth has begun. Others will permit it through fifteen weeks; others will ban it outright.

And so Christians everywhere still have a moral question to answer, setting the mothers’ freedom and in some cases threat to her life against a baby’s life, seen in the light of Psalm 139. 

Who can estimate the impact should a sermon opposing unrestricted abortion be preached for each baby currently aborted? That would be one million such sermons per year in the United States alone.  

Originally posted February 1, 2010; revised June 27, 2022.

Image info: Glenn Beltz (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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Breath in James 2:26

The Idol Babbler - Sat, 06/25/2022 - 19:25

If you are a regular reader of my blogs, you might recall a blog that I wrote entitled What Happens When We Die? This topic of what death can be very controversial amongst Christians. Even the nature of death itself is debated. Everything from purgatory, to flying away to heaven in a disembodied/spirit like existence, to soul sleep, (none of which compel me from what I see in the Bible), are fiercely defended. The thing is, none of us who are reading this have actually come back from the dust ourselves, nor have we ever even met anyone in person who has returned from the dust. Therefore, dividing over opinions of what happens after we die (prior to judgement) is really senseless…

Psalms 104:29 (HCSB)When You hide Your face, they are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.

In the blog that I mentioned above, I listed a series of common questions at the end, which come up from detractors as a result of wrestling with the position that I defended in it from Scripture. Some questions I have answered already and some I have not yet answered. In this article, I continue to chip away at answering the ones that are leftover unanswered by addressing what James might be describing in chapter 2 verse 26 of his epistle. Here is the verse…

James 2:26 (HCSB)For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Context

Now, before I offer what I believe what “the body without the spirit is dead” means, it is important to understand the context of this verse. James is encouraging the reader by simile to be more deliberate about doing the right thing in order to prove or authenticate the faith that he/she claims to have. James does this by saying that both the body and faith are dead when they are each missing spirit and works respectively.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with how I understand what James means by “the body without the spirit is dead,” we all must walk away from this reference by understanding that at the very least our “faith without works is dead.” In other words, we all need to get out there and intentionally represent Christ in all that we say and do, no excuses.

Pneuma

The Greek word for “spirit” in James 2:26 is “pneuma.” Here below, I have added the Strong’s number if you wanted to look it up yourself for further reference and usage in the New Testament…

James 2:26 (HCSB)For just as the body without the spirit (pneuma, g4151) is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Pneuma can refer to different things. It is the Greek word most often used to render the Hebrew word “ruach” (h7307) in the Septuagint, which is an Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Septuagint was also the version of the Old Testament that was available at the time of the New Testament’s writing. Therefore, to better understand what a word like pneuma might mean, it might be wise to first understand what ruach meant to the Ancient Hebrew’s ears.

Ruach

The word “ruach” is found at the very beginning of the Old Testament in verse 2…

Genesis 1:2 (HCSB)Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit (ruach, h7307) of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Here is the same verse in the Septuagint…

Genesis 1:2 (Septuagint)Yet the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss, and a divine wind (pneuma, g4151) was being carried along over the water.

Did you notice the difference in how God is described in these two examples of Genesis 1:2?

Spirit of God = divine wind

Both ruach and pneuma have a range of meaning and both can describe either spirit or wind, as depicted in these two examples.

The Ancient Hebrew Mind

In the Ancient Hebrew mind, the entire range of meaning that a word has contributes to what is being said whenever the word is used. This allows for a deeper and more complex understanding without the need for extra to be expressed. This is not the same in English. Yes, English words also have a range of meaning. However, when English words are used they do not usually have in mind their full range of meaning, but only a single aspect of it.

Today, when we read something like “spirit,” our minds do not immediately (if ever) include wind. We hear spirit and we think about some ethereal/non-physical/ghost-like expression of a reality that we do not quite understand or are sometimes uncomfortable with. But, the Ancient Hebrew mind didn’t work the way that our modern Christian minds do. In order to better understand the Bible, we need to better understand how the Ancient Hebrew used words. When they heard “ruach,” not only did they hear “spirit,” but they also heard “wind,” and both concepts were in view at the same time. There was also one additional concept that came into the Hebrew mind when they used the word ruach… “breath.” Check out how one of the most accomplished Old Testament scholars, John Goldingay renders ruach in Genesis 1:2 in his interpretation of the entire Old Testament entitled The First Testament

Genesis 1:2“…when the earth was an empty void, with darkness over the face of the deep, and God’s breath sweeping over the face of the water…”

Breath

I said all this because when we read verses like James 2:26, it is helpful to start thinking as the Ancient Hebrew does in order to get a better handle on what is being offered when we read the Bible. I once heard Old Testament scholar, Tim Mackie say this about the New Testament writers (I’m paraphrasing)…

“Even though they wrote in Greek, they thought in Hebrew.”

This poses a question…

Do any English translations offer any different English words for “spirit” in James 2:26?

There are in fact many versions which render pneuma as “breath” instead of spirit. Here are some examples…

James 2:26 (NLT)Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

James 2:26 (CEV)Anyone who doesn’t breathe is dead, and faith that doesn’t do anything is just as dead!

James 2:26 (GWT)A body that doesn’t breathe is dead. In the same way faith that does nothing is dead.

James 2:26 (HNT)For as the body without breath is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

James 2:26 (EHV)For just as the body without breath is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

James 2:26 (VOICE)Removing action from faith is like removing breath from a body. All you have left is a corpse.

James 2:26 (WE)A body is dead if it does not breathe. In the same way, believing is dead if it does not do anything good.

Soul

To be fair, there are also some Bible versions which use yet another word for pneuma, because those interpreters assume that something else is being expressed in James 2:26 that is akin to the non-physical aspect of a person which can exist apart from the body. “Soul” is the word that they have chosen to render pneuma in this verse…

James 2:26 (MNT)…as the body then without the soul is a meer carcase, so faith without its effects is lifeless.

James 2:26 (PHILLIPS)Yes, faith without action is as dead as a body without a soul.

But, I think that this us really way off considering that the Greek word here is “pneuma” and not “psuche.” If psuche was in this verse instead if pneuma, then rendering it as “soul” would be a reasonable option. However, that’s not what James wrote. He wrote “pneuma.” Plus, if he had in his Hebrew mind spirit/breath (which is consistent with the Old Testament), then soul doesn’t really work in this instance in order to properly understand what is being said in English.

Spirit

Most Bible versions do use “spirit” (as does the HCSB that I referenced at the start), and some versions go even a step further capitalizing spirit in order to suggest that it’s the Holy Spirit specifically which is in view…

James 2:26 (BRG)For as the body without the Spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Other Versions

This is an interesting rendering…

James 2:26 (CEB)As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.

The Orthodox Jewish Bible also assumes that “breath” is in view in James 2:26, because it renders pneuma as “neshamah” (h5397) which almost always means just breath in the Hebrew…

Yaakov 2:26 (OJB)For just as the guf (body) without the neshamah is niftar (deceased, dead), so also is Emunah without Ma’asim.

Something to noodle on…

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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Father’s Day at the Kitchen Door

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/20/2022 - 17:57

This Father’s Day I was reminded of a memory from more than seventy years ago.

In 1956 I was pastoring a growing church near Vancouver. Our children were ages eight, five, three, and one. Kathleen was home with the two younger children during the day and ready to greet the two older ones when they arrived home from school. 

At the end of my afternoon calls to shut-ins, those in hospital, or recent visitors to the church, I would use the nearest phone to tell Kathleen my approximate time of arrival.

She would then turn from the phone and say to the children with excitement, “Daddy’s coming home! Daddy’s coming home!” 

When they heard the car in the driveway a few minutes later, they would run to the door to greet me excitedly. What fun! 

Kathleen’s ritual nourished our young children’s respect and appreciation for their father. After all, children get their first prompts on how they should feel about one parent from the other parent. 

I know that life is much more complicated now than during the 1950s. Both parents may be working and arrive home frazzled after collecting children from daycare or school, and under pressure. Or a single parent may have to carry the entire load of child-rearing. 

But I recall that we too had our frazzled moments. Four young children are a handful in any home. And our youngest had special needs that demanded constant attention. Not to mention that Kathleen put countless hours into the life of the church next door to the parsonage.

Kathleen and I still think that her homecoming ritual is one of the many things that strengthened parent-child bonds in our family into adulthood.

The central idea for all times is for parents to find methods like Kathleen’s to engender respect in children for their parents. Kathleen’s specific technique might be good for others. A small gift or carefully chosen card can also be good. And for parents to speak with one voice — not contradicting each other — when managing children’s behavior is crucial.

The weeks following Father’s Day would be a good time to review the rituals we incorporate into family life to enrich relationships in all directions. 

Originally published June 13, 2016; revised June 20, 2022.

Image info: Donnie Ray Jones (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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A Father’s Day Meditation on the Authority of God the Father

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/13/2022 - 11:00

The main floor of the sanctuary in the last church I served seated 700, so the balcony was normally not used.   

One Sunday morning, as I started my sermon, I saw a young man enter the balcony and noisily make his way to the front row carrying a big book. He sat down with a flourish and began to turn its pages with exaggerated motions.

I was sure that he was sending me a message. I knew that if I allowed my eyes to be drawn there again I would lose focus on my message.  

The following week a young man whom I did not initially recognize arrived for an appointment. I invited him into my study and immediately felt the crackle of conflict, like electricity in the air.

He was there to argue and critique what I did as a pastor. At one point he said that he believed he could deliver a much better sermon than I (although he had never preached a sermon).

Eventually he asked, “Didn’t you see me in the balcony on Sunday?” 

The mystery of the prior Sunday was solved.

I learned that he was in serious conflict with his father. I suspected that I must have become something of a surrogate — an authority figure he felt the need to conquer. Still, our visit ended peaceably and he left.

No doubt we can all relate, if in some small way, to this young man. Because sin has damaged us, the struggle to live under authority is universal. I saw the battle in my own children as they were growing up, and then in my grandchildren. I can already see it in its early stages in my great-grandchildren.

And in society, we see in places the struggle against law, constitution, police officers who are doing their jobs, and even the authority of truth.

In fact, none of us comes to full adulthood until we have learned three things about authority: to accept its legitimate expressions, to question it with appropriate respect, and to stand against it peaceably when it degenerates into illegitimate power.  

When it comes to the struggle with societal authority, the Bible does not leave us without guidance. Perhaps its most pointed, and some might say difficult instructions for Christians on this matter is given in Romans 13. Here’s a portion of the chapter as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.  –Romans 13:1-3a.

The irony is that at the time of this writing, the emperor was the infamous Nero. He had caused the cruel torture and slaying of many Christians.

Yet Paul’s concern was that believers — insofar as possible — treat even Nero’s authority with respect because all authority is ultimately from God. His foremost concern was for the church’s clear, unsullied witness to the living Christ.

We read Paul’s words today as citizens of a society that is deeply divided about many things, yet with remarkable freedoms, historically speaking. And our freedoms notwithstanding, we live under various kinds of authority — those laws and principles that regulate family life, campus behavior for students, civic life, and, not least, laws by which the church is governed.

If we ignore or sidestep legitimate authority systems, our rebellion may not be as visible as that of the young man in the balcony, but God will see it. And eventually so will those around us.  

First published Sept 8, 2014

Reworked for June 13, 2022

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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On Chocolates and Hard Times

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 06/06/2022 - 17:24

A little over ten years ago, in preparation for downsizing, Kathleen began sorting through the accumulation of a lifetime.

She spent a few days consolidating favorite recipes into two notebooks. In the midst of this, she showed me a tattered piece of paper from 1948, with faded handwriting. It was a recipe for chocolates she had made during the first three months of our marriage.

Back when she made them, we were living in a one-room apartment above a garage, eleven miles west of Toronto. I was a student and part-time staff at Lorne Park College, across the Queen Elizabeth Highway from our little home. We had married on a shoestring, as brave souls often did after World War II.  

To survive, we had to squeeze every nickel. We strained to meet our monthly rent of $45, and the weekly grocery budget could not exceed seven dollars. And so, Kathleen’s chocolates were not a luxury for us.  

Having made chocolates that were a hit for a special occasion, we saw this candy as a possible source of income. So Kathleen produced batches to sell for 50 cents a pound at my school. She made coconut, maple, vanilla, and even nut centers, and all encased in a coat of dark chocolate. Though delicious, they were no runaway success, in large part because so many at the school couldn’t afford them, but times were hard and we thought it worth a try.

Times are also hard in North America for many in 2022, but typically in a different way. For most, the struggle is not so much for basic survival like it was for us seventy-four years ago. It is more often a nagging anxiety that the comfortable lifestyle to which we have become accustomed may have to be trimmed severely.

We are thankful for financial security after seventy-five years of careful money management. Still, in the face of remarkable inflation, and the other worries of life, we find it helpful to remember, during these turbulent times for the economy, those homemade chocolates. And with both of us ninety-six years old, we reaffirm daily our deep faith in God and his care for us. 

And occasionally a package of Coffee Crisp candy bars mysteriously appear in our apartment, courtesy of our children.

Image info: Seth Baur (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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The Danger of Pastoral Favoritism

Just Call Me Pastor - Mon, 05/30/2022 - 11:00

Just as parents are wise to avoid making one of their children special, so pastors must love and serve every person in the congregation equally.  

In some churches, the pastor and spouse may unthinkingly single out a couple or subgroup of the congregation for greater time and attention. They may share meals in one another’s homes, or even go camping together. 

Some members left out of this elite circle may not care, but this fraternization won’t sit well with other members of the congregation, for a crucial pastoral principle is violated by such selective closeness – the principle that, while some members may be more likable or share more interests than others, all members are equally deserving of the pastor’s love and care.

The rule doesn’t mean pastors must dole out attention with precision, like a pharmacist counting out pills. A member of the congregation who comes down with a serious illness will naturally receive amplified pastoral attention to see them through their crisis.

The pastor may even focus attention for a time on newcomers to the congregation or to new converts. Mature members will understand.

Social closeness with a subgroup in the church is dangerous. One fine church I know of became divided and eventually failed due in part to the pastor’s focus on a group of younger members to the neglect of everyone else.

Still, you may say, this kind of constraint is unfair because pastors need close friendships, just like anyone else.

Here’s one response: Many years ago I heard a speaker at a ministers’ conference propose that pastoral couples develop friendship with another denomination’s pastoral couple in the community. Or with another pastoral couple in a nearby church of the same denomination. 

Even then, however, the association should be discreet, not time consuming. It is a pastor’s sacrificial gift to project love and interest toward the whole flock, and to sense and serve needs equally across the congregation.

A measuring stick any pastor can use is to ask: “Am I equally the pastor to all of the people, all of the time?” If the answer is yes, love for the Lord and wisdom in caring for the whole flock will take it from there.

Image info: Marco Verch Professional Photographer (via flickr.com)

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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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