On Daily Devotions 

Lightly edited from a 2007 email I sent to our grandchildren after a few days the extended Bastian family had spent together.    

Dear Grandchildren,

I mentioned in the final devotional of our days together the benefits of daily Bible reading and prayer at all stages of the Christian life, but didn’t get a chance to develop my thoughts. Here are some additional ideas for you.

1.  Daily devotions are an essential part of being disciples of our Lord. And discipleship contains within it the idea of discipline. The practice of daily devotions for most people begins as a discipline and only later becomes a joy. 

2.  Along with discipline, daily devotions include a kind of romance. The Scriptures contain love letters from God to us. And they contain words of adoration and praise of humans toward God, especially in the Psalms. We read the Bible avidly daily because we want to be reminded of God’s love for us, and to have our love for him stirred in return.

3.  The Bible is the only source of trustworthy and detailed information about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  We read it to glean that information. All four gospel accounts of the life of Our Lord are fascinating reading.

4.  Workers order their days by a job description, policy manual, or directions from superiors. We get our daily directives for the Christian life from the Scriptures. They come from God, our commander-in-chief.  

5.  Children don’t approach parents only with requests or when an emergency strikes. Neither should we come to our Heavenly Father only in times of dire need. How much healthier to cultivate a relationship in daily communion through Scripture and prayer.  

Grandma and I have a time after breakfast every day when we give ourselves in devotion to our Lord.  Grandma reads aloud each day due to my poor eyesight, and we comment together on what we have read. We take turns praying, and as part of our prayers we bring each of you before the heavenly throne every day. And we pray that each of you will also adopt a practice of coming before the Throne of Grace every day via Scripture reading and prayer. You’ll never be sorry if you do.

Love,

Grandpa  

Image info: Jona Park (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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Justice in Society and the Church

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The Prophet Isaiah, Gustave Doré

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image info: Jay Erickson (via flickr.com)

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

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Witness to Watchers

Mandarin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Thoughts about Revival In a Morally Desperate Age

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Gin Lane, a print issued in 1751 by English artist William Hogarth — depicting the misery caused by widespread consumption of gin among England’s poor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Three Crosses of Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image info: Kimber Shaw (via flickr.com)

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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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Unexpected Goings-on at a Dinner Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus also halted the clamor by saying, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” This seemed to be an acknowledgment that her perception of trouble ahead was accurate. 

When Matthew and Mark tell this story they add these words of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Mary made a gesture of extravagant devotion at a time when the world was set to reject Jesus, his disciples to forsake him, and Roman soldiers to torture and kill him. Her devotion must have spoken to his lonely soul.

Jesus said to those at table with him, “She has done what she could.” And, “She has done a beautiful thing.” The account gives us occasion to measure our own love for the Lord Jesus Christ as Easter approaches.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Re-post: Can Secular Work Be Sacred Too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

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

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Photo credit: Eric Chan (via flickr.com)

Re-post: Crime and Punishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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