1 09 2014

4021506641_7e282960b7_mKathleen and I didn’t know Moka well; we only saw her three or four times a year for many years. But even though we were no more than “good acquaintances,” when we visited her home, or she visited ours, her pleasure at seeing us was pronounced. It was as though we had been friends forever.

Moka was the Welsh Terrier of our son’s family. She was diminutive by this breed’s standards, but she had the typical whiskered squarish face, the slightly elevated front shoulders, the brown lively eyes, and the coarse tan and black coat of her breed. To Robert and Jan, Zachary and Charis, she was one of a kind.

Moka loved fun and begged for it. Her zest for life was contagious. The request for fun wasn’t always disciplined because as pleasant as she was to be around she preferred to set the agenda for herself — as terriers tend to do. But she was never intentionally boisterous or destructive, just eager and tireless.

After being a much-loved family pet for nearly 17 years she became gravely ill for only a week recently and had to be put down.

The news has brought great sadness to the whole family but it has also caused me to reflect on the place of family pets in our fast-paced and often impersonal world.

The biblical story of creation makes it clear that the sixth day of creation was, like the five prior days, typically full of God’s creative energy. That day’s work included the speaking into being of the animal kingdom and, last of all, Adam and Eve.

It was on that day, “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25).

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion (meaning stewardship or governance, not mere dominance) over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26).

And in the intervening ages (Who knows how long that period was?) humankind in their discretion have singled out certain animals for a closer association, to work together with them, and to live with them as their pets. We can think of such pets, as we certainly do of Moka, as one of numberless gifts from God.

When I see on television the healing effect of a trained dog on a wounded or handicapped veteran, or the way children in hospital brighten when someone’s puppy is brought to see them, I realize in God’s economy there is a possible therapeutic value in that sort of human/pet interaction.

It seems to me also that the the service of trustworthy pets is made all the more valuable in light of the growing coarseness of our society: Children bullying children mercilessly on the Internet; televisions spewing into family rooms intimate details of life that belong in the doctor’s office; families breaking up too easily leaving children sometimes on their own to sort out their conflicted feelings or grieve their losses alone.

In this tattered society, a pet can give a measure of security and comfort needed by growing children facing these kinds of traumas, but it can also add a special quality to those with more normal childhoods.

Zach and Charis grew from childhood to adulthood with responsibilities to care for Moka. They made sure she was fed, walked, played with, and even at times given her medicines. They did this with commendable care and this was a great training experience for the other routine duties of life. All the while they experienced the joys of special animal companionship.

Moka will not be forgotten. She has left behind an acute sadness, but also a great store of memories. Her quickness of movement, her unquenchable appetite for play, the welcome she always extended to anyone who wanted to be a friend, and her special attachment to those who gave her care – these features cannot be forgotten.

And when we visualize her, it will be her whiskered face inviting interaction, her bright eyes asking for fun, and her beautiful black and tan coat that will frame our memories.

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Can Secular Work be Sacred Too?

25 08 2014

38637594_141a1c401a_mIn evangelical circles Christians sometimes seem to believe that ordained or otherwise specially assigned Christians (for example, pastors, Bible scholars or missionaries) are more honorable or deeply Christian than those living and serving the Lord in the secular world. Some might not even be aware they entertain such thoughts.

Personally, here is how I understand the matter. By the grace of God, I am an ordained minister. In my youth I responded to what I believe was a call from God. The church affirmed that call, trained and ordained me, thus “setting me apart” to carry out special tasks like preaching and teaching the Scriptures, proclaiming the Gospel, and giving order and leadership to a congregation.

However, I have three children who do not feel called in this special way. A daughter, until her recent retirement, taught in the public school system; a son is a publisher in the secular marketplace of ideas; and another son is a laryngologist.

From high school days forward our daughter was set on becoming a teacher. Our publisher son while in college listened for a divine call but did not hear it; he felt he didn’t have the temperament or gifts for such a life. My doctor son’s response to the question was essentially the same. Yet none of them resisted the possibility.

A divine call to full time ministry is known by a persistent inner sense of calling, mediated to the person’s consciousness directly or indirectly. 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 living out professions to which they were providently led. They are content that their assignment is to serve the Lord and shine for him in the secular world.

All three (and their spouses) give significant service to the Lord’s work, whether in the church or through some other Christian enterprise. I’m inclined to say I have a calling; theirs is a career lived out as Christians.

I believe a calling to full-time Christian ministry has in it this central element of divine summons, whether given forcefully or gently, whether at a particular moment or over time. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). His call on the Damascus Road was forceful and precisely given in a brief span of time (Acts 9:1-9).

A career, by contrast, can appear to be self-chosen, even when chosen prayerfully. Or it can even be pursued with a similar degree of certainty as that of pastors and others living under a call. Christians who are motor mechanics, optometrists, farmers, or who pursue any of 100 other livelihoods, can work with a similar degree of conviction.

I call it a career because it does not ordinarily have the sense of summons or the same binding continuity that a call to full-time Christian ministry should have.

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 treat their occupation as a calling – a vocation – and seek to exercise it as such.

It’s true the Scriptures give special attention to the work and importance of “set apart” Christian workers (Hebrews 13:7,17,24; Acts 13:1-3). This work has in it that sense of divine summons (Mark 3:13-15; 1 Timothy 2:7; 4:11-13).

So, respect for these “called” workers is commended, and the congregation that looks up to its faithful leader is blessed.

Even so, lay persons are not thereby rendered second rate. Nor is the work they do in the secular realm less significant. Whether laboring in a bicycle factory or an insurance office, they labor as in the sight of the Lord and that makes their work a vocation. They might rightly consider their career as divinely appointed (Romans 14:12).

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).

So, secular work may in several respects be different from work to which one is divinely called, but for Christians self-chosen secular work can be sacred too. In either role God is to be glorified and glorifying God is what we’re all in the world to do.

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Work: Our First Line of Christian Witness

18 08 2014

6388137639_efaf640569_mWhen I was 17, I finished my first year of Bible School and went from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, to Regina, 40 miles to the east, seeking work for the summer.

I got a job in a high-class men’s clothing store – Fred Barber’s on Hamilton Street. I have forgotten how I went about it. I probably walked in off the street and asked for a job and by the providence of God 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 employee; and Pat, the Irish tailor, had his workplace in the back room, open to the store by an archway.

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

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 over to the suit racks and got a suit jacket on their backs before I was discovered and Gordon took over.

These men knew I was attending Bible School and this seemed a curiosity to them. They took opportunity to rib 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 little above a whisper the first line of “O come, all ye faithful,” beating time with his two index fingers. I think that was all the church music he knew.

Once when four of us were in the tailor’s quarters they got a bet under way. Each produced a one dollar bill and before I knew it they thrust the three bills into my hands saying someone had to hold the bet. I had neither the readiness nor the courage to refuse on the spot. They then teased me, noting that normally a Christian wouldn’t be involved in betting.

But they were not mean. Their playfulness showed they liked me. And they respected me, though to them I was just a 17-year-old kid.

They trusted me increasingly with the cash register and their customers. I sold a good number of Stetson or Biltmore hats that summer. In the forties men weren’t even properly dressed if they didn’t wear a quality felt hat, neatly creased on the crown and the crease steamed in place. That was part of the sale.

In that work situation, I believe the example of my immigrant parents, the severity of the times, and especially the benevolent promptings of the Gospel all worked in my favor.

In September I told Gordon I would be leaving soon to go back to school. To my surprise he eagerly began 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. The Scriptures say, “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). Could that exhortation apply even to the workaday world and one’s secular job?

In the beginning, God worked — creating the universe (Genesis 2:2). Then he made a garden in Eden and put “Man” to work in it (Genesis 2:15). Adam and Eve’s two sons were identified first by their work – “Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil” (Genesis 4:2). The Apostle Paul was not only a trained Rabbi but also a tent maker. 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 annul it as a duty. Paul set this rule for the early church: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Thinking back more than 70 years, although I was a typical teenager still growing up, I believe I left a good influence behind with those men. It wasn’t that I had any opportunity to present the gospel to them or even enter into prolonged discussion on Christian topics.

But they saw I could be trusted, I was eager to work, and did as I was told. By my enthusiasm for the work and my willingness to put out for the customers I commended myself to them and many customers I served.

In the secular world, the quality of our work is our first line of Christian witness.

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Do Christians Today Really Live in Two Worlds?

11 08 2014

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 the fifties of the last century the late Mary Alice Tenney, head of the English Department of Greenville College, wrote a little book called, Living in Two Worlds: How a Christian Does It.

It was really made up of elements from her doctoral work on John Wesley and the Methodist Revival in Eighteenth Century England, and was written to appeal to lay readers. In an introductory note she writes, “This book is written first of all to people who want to be really Christian.”

In North America, we readily acknowledge that our culture has been in a moral decline over the last sixty or so years. Yet Dr. Tenney explains that the state of affairs in England was gravely worse at the time of the Methodist Revival.

Life there was almost unimaginably coarse and dehumanized. Here are some of my gleanings from her book:

“As for family life in England, divorce, of course, could not be obtained. But a double standard of morality wrecked full as many homes as divorce would have. 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.”

Dr. Tenney’s book subsequently focuses on the lifestyle practices of the early Methodists, so she says little about Wesley’s theology. I dub in here a thought about that: Wesley’s preaching was in line with the English Reformation – Justification by Faith Alone; The Witness of the Spirit; Good Works flowing from faith and as evidence of that faith; Salvation by Grace through Faith; etc.

To Wesley and his converts, the unseen world was real.

Dr. Tenney writes:

“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 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:

“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.”

Methodism was a Heaven-sent awakening. It was God’s doing. John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and others were only God’s instruments, making themselves available to him. Would anyone question that it is time for another such awakening on this continent to bring both moral sanity and joy back to many lives?

It could start with us who are already Christ followers: more daily attention to the Book; greater time commitment and intensity for that daily prayer time; rebuilt family altars; increased devotion to the ministries of the church; cleared up unfinished business with family or fellow believers; partnership with other  believers concerned for renewal.

Of course renewal is God’s work. It always begins with Him. But there is an interesting 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)


Re-post: One of Life’s Neglected Words

4 08 2014

Photo credit: AlexWitherspoon (via

My wife recently had a cataract removed from her left eye. As planned, a week after the surgery, she went back to the surgeon’s office. He examined the eye and told her that everything was as it should be. She then said to him, “It’s wonderful what you doctors can do these days. I want to thank you very much for this service.” There was a moment of awkward silence, she says, as if he didn’t quite know what to say, and then with a smile he replied, “Well, that’s what we are here to do.” He held the smile but there were no more words. My wife reported that this seemed awkward for both of them, as if he wasn’t used to handling generous words of appreciation. When she told me about this exchange I remembered that a few weeks earlier I had had a complicated problem with my computer.

It was a matter of getting the modem and router to talk to one another and relay their message to the computer. Three different companies were involved. I spent the equivalent of one whole day working with technicians by telephone. One of the technicians worked faithfully for a long period of time before admitting defeat and referring me on to another service. I acknowledged his patient effort and thanked him, which brought a reply I wasn’t expecting. He said, “I can answer a thousand calls and not hear a word like that.”

Is it possible that in our high-tech culture the wonders of modern technology that bless us in all sorts of ways, at the same time make us less thankful for these blessings? The Bible has a great deal more to say to us about thanking God than it does about thanking our fellows. Unless, that is, the idea is subsumed in the Second Commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, or in Jesus’ instruction to treat others as we want to be treated.

Who does not appreciate a simple word of thanks? And who can forget St. Luke’s story of ten lepers who cried out to Jesus from a distance for healing. He sent them to the priests, ostensibly to be cleared for entrance back into society. In this case, Luke tells us, “… as they went, they were cleansed.” Luke is also quick to report Jesus’ perplexity that of the ten, only one returned and “…threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked him.” And he was a foreigner to God’s chosen people (Luke 17:11-20).

Little words of thankfulness dropped here and there add color and warmth to life. When they are withheld or neglected life can be grey or even painful. Shakespeare’s King Lear laments about the ingratitude of his daughters in these words: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is / to have a thankless child.” Which reminds me that it’s good to express thanks to a surgeon or computer technician but the best place to release long overdue words of appreciation first of all is in the home where primary family connections are either oiled by such words or left to creak painfully through the days.

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What’s it Like Being Retired for 21 Years?

28 07 2014

7657182218_45cf7aea93_mIt seems almost impossible that 21 years ago this August I retired after filling the office of Bishop for 19 years. I was 68 at the time.

People retire with different goals in mind. For some it’s a life at the beach, or a life of travel, a succession of golf rounds, or even long, leisurely hours with a favorite hobby.

But some of us need to continue our sense of vocation even after retirement. I’m in that group, and have carried on an active ministry of preaching, teaching, and writing. It may be that, for that reason, adapting to retirement was less stressful for me than for some who retire abruptly and completely.

But I did face one crisis at the outset. During most of my active ministry I had a secretary. Typing had not been taught as a general subject in high school, and later when computers came along they scared me just as they did many others of my generation.

Should I hire a secretary to come to my home once a week? Or should I just languish in idleness? My children came to my rescue. I learned later that they had discussed hiring a part-time secretary for me but as a first step they urged: get a computer; get an Apple; they’re quick to get onto and lots of people type using only the index finger on each hand.

It seemed like a wild idea. But after delaying for six months, fearing that I would buy a computer but never learn to use it, I gave in.

Courageously I got a desktop Apple, a printer, and a typing program, and I learned to use the proper QWERTY fingers (most of the time). And the computer didn’t explode nor did my curtains catch fire. I am now on my fourth Apple.

During these retirement years, besides publishing many devotionals and preparing various studies or historical summaries, I’ve also managed to write and publish two books.

For the two books, much credit is due my publisher son, Donald, my namesake. He guided me through the process and put the copy in its final form. The other children participated too with their gentle but persistent urging: Dad, you can do it!

The results: God’s House Rules published in 2007 (a Scripture-based book on family life, and The Pastor’s First Love published in 2013, (a book to help seminarians or under-trained or inexperienced pastors).

For several years I have written a weekly blog on many subjects, drawing particularly on pastoral memories ( It continues to bring interesting responses from near and far.

These 21 years have included some of the stresses of living in a broken world, and a few health diversions, but on balance, dramatically more highlights. And mostly due to the merciful slowing of life’s pace, they’ve included opportunity to pray more and to reflect more on the faith of Christ that sustains.

We spend the cold winter months at Light and Life Park in Florida where I teach a weekly Bible class of between 250 and 350. I find retired people’s interest strong in being led deeper into the Scriptures.

Other highlights of these years have included a once-a-semester meeting with a class at Northeastern Seminary in North Chili, New York. I consider together with them some practical aspects of the pastoral life. Kathleen has insights into this subject too, and we look forward together to the visit!

We also recall with joy a six-week-long stay we had with a church in distress. We were there by the invitation of a superintendent and moved among the people. Hurting churches, eager for help, respond to love and firm but gentle guidance.

Here in our home in Brampton, Ontario, 10 miles north of the Toronto International Airport, the highlight of our day comes each morning. We rise early, prepare ourselves for the day and carry out the household tasks. I usually take my 30 minute walk, and Kathleen and I enjoy our breakfast together. Then at 8:30 we have “church”.

That is, we take time to read from the Scriptures without hurry, one chapter a morning. I have no appointments to keep, no phone calls to return, no urgent e-mails to send. Daily, the Word of God commands our full attention.

We have time for discussion, seeking deeper insight, and we take time to pray together for a vast array of needs.

Across 21 years we have shared in many more activities too numerous to write into this blog – attending family gatherings, conducting family weddings or funerals, teaching or preaching at camp meetings, supplying vacant or needy pulpits, and so forth.

It makes me think of the health-giving activities Christians who are able could plan for their retirement years — volunteer work at their church or in a faith-based service agency, serving a Christian cause abroad for a period, cultivating a hobby that is creative but useful or possibly even service-oriented. Christian service has no cut-off age.

What we have done has been done because Our Lord in his goodness has given us these years as a bonus, has preserved our minds and bodies and, through Christ, has continued to make his love known to us and through us in undeserved ways. To Him be all the glory!

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For Christians – Why Daily Bible Reading Really Matters

21 07 2014

6884716134_1801f163b3_mLast week I wrote about the need many Christians have to make daily Bible reading a higher priority in their lives. Since then, in further research I discovered the neglect of this daily discipline by many believers might be more serious than it first appears.

It would therefore be easy for me to exhort with energy: “Grit your teeth and make daily Bible reading happen!” But responding to mere obligation often doesn’t work. So, Instead I’m going to come at the issue indirectly by laying out my thought in three parts.

First, we are made in the image of God.

That’s the climaxing point the story of creation makes in the first chapter of the Bible. After the fundamentals of the creation account were carefully laid out we read, “Then God said, let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26).  The account adds, “So God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27).

So what does it mean that we are created in God’s image?

An image is a duplicate, a derived likeness, that which has a similarity of appearance. In Psalm 8 the psalmist praises God in wonderment at his elevation of mankind. He sings: “Yet you have made them a little lower than God” (Psalm 8:5 NRSV). The Scriptures tell us that when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, God came searching for them in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). He had created them for fellowship with him, but fellowship requires some fundamental commonality — thus, God’s image in  mankind,

Second, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, this image of God in man was damaged but not destroyed.

Like our fallen first parents, we are afflicted with the sinful biases passed on from them. Our bent is to run from the very God who created us and who seeks our fellowship. In man’s fall we were first deprived of God’s holiness and as a result, then depraved in our inclinations.

The pictures the New Testament paints of pagan society amply illustrates where man’s disobedience has taken him (Ephesians 4:18,19; 1 Corinthians 6:9,10; Romans 1:18-32). We are all in that picture in some way — alienated from God, dead in trespasses and sins, prodigal.

Third, when we become Christians the process is put in place to restore the image of God and in doing so to restore our desire for communion with Him.

It is good to recall that with the launch of the Christian life remarkable things happen . Our sins are forgiven through faith in Christ (Romans 5:1-3). The life giving presence of the Spirit gives us a new quality of life (Titus 3:4-7). We are adopted into God’s family — we belong (Romans 8:15-17). In summary, we are “converted” – turning radically from self and sin to God.

Yet, in spite of all those beginning blessings conferred as a gift of God’s grace, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to seek the renewal of the Image of God. He calls the Colossian church to a fully amended life, as illustrated when he writes: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).

A dramatic conversion is in itself not enough. As we walk in obedience, the Spirit-energized self “is being renewed in knowledge.” So, we ask, from whence must this renewing knowledge come?

The Bible, God’s Holy Book, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, must be its primary source. Read the Epistles carefully and you’ll see how incessantly and urgently Paul exhorts believers to be rid of every aspect of the old life and, in the Spirit’s energy, to surge toward a full renewal.

If that’s the urgency of God’s call upward, what light does it cast on the large percentage of church-going Christians who admittedly have little to do with the Bible on a daily basis? Have they settled for a quasi-experience of God without any provision for regular fellowship through his gift of Holy Scripture?

The full answer will only be given in that final day when, Paul urges, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

(For excellent daily Bible reading guides, the American Bible Society, 212-407-1200; or the Canadian Bible Society, 416-757-4171)

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