A Mistake or Providence?

Although the word “providence” is itself not a word in the Bible, we use the term generally to reflect God’s loving care of the universe he has created and which he continues to sustain.

But as laypersons we also use the term in specific and personal ways. We use it to speak of God’s extraordinary gracious interventions in our lives.

Take, for example, the story of Ruth in the Old Testament, told in the book named after her. She was a Moabite, widowed from her Israelite husband. She insisted on relocating to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi.

As a result of her decision, she eventually married Boaz, and the two of them became the grandparents of David, king of Israel. Her story shows that bad things may happen (Ruth’s widowhood and alienation), but providentially they may also lead to good consequences.

A story I heard a while ago reflects events that were alarming yet turned out to bless wondrously.

As the story goes, on a certain Saturday night a pastor was working late at his church. He decided to call his wife before leaving for home. It was about 10 p.m., but his wife didn’t answer the phone.

The pastor let the phone ring many times. He thought it was odd that she didn’t answer, but decided to wrap up a few details and then try to phone again a few minutes later.

When he tried again, his wife answered after the first ring. He asked why she had failed to answer earlier. She said that the phone had been quiet all evening. They agreed that it must have been a fluke.

The following Monday the pastor received a phone call at the church office. It came in on the phone he had used the previous Saturday night. The call was from a stranger who wanted to know why the pastor had called on Saturday night.

The pastor was puzzled until the caller said, “My phone rang and rang Saturday night but I didn’t answer it.” The pastor remembered calling his wife and realized he must have called the wrong number.

The man interrupted the pastor’s explanation, “That’s okay,” he said. “Let me tell you my story. You see, I was planning to commit suicide on Saturday night, but before I did I prayed, ‘God, if you’re there, and you don’t want me to do this, give me a sign now.’” At that point my phone started to ring. I looked at the caller ID, and it said, ‘Almighty God.’ I was afraid to answer!”

The reason it showed “Almighty God” on the man’s caller ID was that the church the pastor was serving was called Almighty God Tabernacle.

Was that “wrong number call” just a coincidence or a providential interruption to show grace to the caller? My readers can ponder and decide…

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Photo credit: Dejan Krsmanovic (via flickr.com)

The Light Is Shining, the Memories Are Bright

December 19, 2019

Dear Family and Friends Near and Far:

Christmas greetings in the name of God’s Incarnate Son. He came to bring the light of salvation to this sin-darkened world. He is the focus of our Christmas celebrations!

Five days earlier than Christmas Day Kathleen and I will celebrate our 72nd wedding anniversary. It is not our custom to celebrate lavishly, but we will recall together the providence by which the Lord has guided and protected us over this long stretch.

We are still in our own home in Brampton, Ontario. Doug and Carolyn live two blocks away and are wonderfully attentive, Don and June are across the huge metropolis of Greater Toronto and they keep in touch with us by phone, email, and their visits. Whenever I request it June makes a long drive to pick me up to convey me to Wesley Chapel Free Methodist Church in Toronto for Sunday service.

Bob and Jan are in Downers Grove, Illinois, working hard at Bastian Voice Institute. They and their two married children, Zach (wife Lisa) and Charis (husband Ben) call regularly and send us pictures of three thriving little ones. Beside our seven grandchildren we now have thirteen great-grandchildren.

Our son John David is well cared for in a group home in Surrey, BC.

Why do I go to church alone? In recent months Kathleen has not been making the trip because of spinal problems. This makes walking any distance difficult. She gets around our home with a stair lift plus a rollator on the main floor and a second one upstairs.

But she is still the lovely lady I have lived with and loved for more than 72 years. The high point of our days is our morning worship together after breakfast. Sometimes it’s almost like going to church, but we would prefer to go to church together and we hope that day will come again.

To give Kathleen a break, I’m able to produce a simple, healthful breakfast for us, and often a similar evening meal. Kathleen, true master of the kitchen, prepares our primary noon meal. Daughter Carolyn often sends up enticing food.

For ten years I have been writing a weekly blog published on Monday mornings. On its way it goes for a check-up to insightful sons Robert and Don. Here’s the address: justcallmepastor.wordpress.com. It’s a small effort to spread the light of Christ and it keeps my mind active. I am thankful for the help of a large computer screen, large print Bible, and magnifying lights.

In October we went with Doug and Carolyn to Robert and Jan’s home in Downers Grove. It was intended to be a five-day visit counting travel time. Sensing something wasn’t quite right, Lisa (cardiology nurse practitioner) arranged for me to see two different cardiologists.

The result was a near-emergency and very high-tech replacement of my aortic valve. What a difference in my energy and movement! Robert also took me to a hearing specialist and I came away days later with much better hearing aids that have reconnected me to society. The visit of five days in Downers Grove turned out to last three weeks.

It seems unbelievable that I’ve been retired from active ministry in the church for 26 years. But I’ve kept busy. Until the last few years I had preaching invitations. I have also written two books. Until about three years ago I had the privilege of teaching a large Bible class at Light and Life Park, in Florida. What wonderful memories Kathleen and I have of our many winters in Lakeland!

We are deeply grateful to God for all of the days of our lives. Christmas brings the memories to the fore. Anniversaries do also. God’s mercies to us are countless! And each day we review the Gospel, listening to it afresh and sharing it as opportunity permits.

And for our friends we also give warm thanks. The light of this life is fading but we are not walking in darkness; we have the light of life — the Risen Christ!

The Bastians, Don and Kay

A Love That Is Still Fresh … 73 Years and Counting

While sorting through some of my papers recently I came across this poem celebrating young love. I wrote it several years ago. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I still feel this way about Kathleen after 73 years of marriage.

Found

You found me.
Or was it I found you?
Whatever.
We are found.

It was gradual, it was instant,
Enticing, teasing, surprising.
Our finding overtook us, came upon us
Slyly, gently, with a rush.

But was it luck? freakish? odd?
Mere nature acting out?
No, more, much more.

The hand that guides us,
God’s hand, touched us,
Nudged us gently in sleep-robbed night,
Shed light on eyes deeper than sight,
And said found!

And now we stand side by side,
Hearts pounding, eyes aglow from candles near,
Hand touching hand gently,
And say with awe:
God be praised!
We have found each other!

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Photo credit: RichardBH (via flickr.com)

My Father’s Heavenly Tenor Voice

Music figured prominently in the worship of the small congregation where I grew up, even though all singing was a cappella — without musical accompaniment.

Visualize a white clapboard Norman Rockwell sort of building in Saskatchewan back in the 1930s and 40s.

Children sang simple songs, still meaningful to this day:

Jesus loves me! this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.

On Sunday mornings, the congregation used hymn books without printed music. In spite of this limitation, traces of bass or alto might be heard rising here and there, and the singing was full-throated.

To begin Sunday-morning worship the pastor might call the congregation to stand and sing and they would respond with conviction.

Holy, Holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

On Sunday evenings we sang gospel songs from a book entitled Worship in Song. It had a variety from simple choruses to the more complex gospel song that I remember began:

Wonderful grace of Jesus,
Greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it,
Where shall its praise begin?

Lines from some of these Christian songs remain with me even at age 94. They linger in my memory and may come forth spontaneously at any moment of the day.

One song, along with the circumstance in which I heard it, is etched indelibly in my mind. It was a song I heard my father sing.

My father attended morning and evening Sunday services with my mother and younger sister and me although he was not at the time a full-fledged believer. He honored Gospel values although at times he struggled to give himself fully to a faith in the Lord Jesus that brings deliverance.

Still, by the grace of God, one Sunday evening his hunger to belong to the Lord compelled him to “go forward” to the altar. It was his turning point.

The next morning I awakened very early to the sound of his stirring up the coal-fired cook stove in the kitchen. I slept in the adjoining room. As he fed the fire, I heard him singing in a lovely tenor voice that I don’t think I was aware of before that time.

It was a new song on the market with a line about Jesus calling a blind man to him and delivering him of his blindness. My father’s singing was beautiful to hear.

It was a simple song that I believe rose up like a tendril of worship from a humble kitchen until it was heard at the Throne and became part of the music of the spheres.

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Photo credit: Rory (via flickr.com)

A Renewed Heart, Full of Thanksgiving

Last week I shared that I was scheduled for a high-tech, trans-arterial replacement of a critically malfunctioning heart valve. The doctors threaded a delivery catheter through my blood vessels to deploy a new valve inside the top of my heart.

Thanks be to God, that procedure went very well, last Monday morning. After two days, I was released from hospital to be with Kathleen at Robert and Janice’s home, along with daughter Carolyn and grandchildren Zachary (Lisa) and Charis (Ben).

Recovery has been rapid and I feel tremendously better than I have for a very, very long time. I feel “repaired” and renewed. Energy I had not had for a year or two is returning, and my family tell me I look better than I have in several years.

My “spiritual heart” is overflowing with thanksgiving for a return to health. Equally… I am profoundly moved by the many expressions of support and the prayers on my behalf. My extended family and many friends in Toronto, Greenville (Illinois), Florida, and in the Free Methodist Church more broadly have been extraordinarily generous to me during this time.

After routine postoperative visits this week, we are planning to return to Canada next weekend. And I plan to resume my weekly blog the week after that.

Blog Statement: September 29, 2019

To the readers of my blog:

I had planned to have a new blog piece for you this week, but events have overtaken me, making that impossible, and I think a personal explanation would be ​in order instead.

During what was meant to be a short visit with son Robert’s family in Chicago (including Robert and Jan; grandchildren Zachary (Lisa) and Charis (Ben) and great-grandchildren Isabel, Nora, and Julia, I was discovered to have an urgent heart problem. My son, Robert, a laryngologist, his doctor son Zachary, an anesthesiologist, and ​above all Zachary’s wife, Lisa, a cardiology nurse practitioner, quickly got me in the hands of ​a cardiology and cardiac surgery team. ​The initial cardiologist promptly diagnosed the problem — a severe lack of flow through a heart valve — and put me on-stream to a high-tech replacement of that valve just ​10 days later — early tomorrow morning, Monday, September 30.

I am told that my recovery is likely to be rapid with an increase in energy evident shortly thereafter.

I am “heartened” by the many expressions of love and prayers I have received from my family, former colleagues, the Greenville University community, and parishioners and friends in Canada and the United States. Daughter Carolyn, who with Doug drove us to Chicago, ​has also read Kay and me numerous expressions of well-wishes and prayer from a Free Methodist Facebook page. Kay’s and my appreciation knows no bounds.

I feel that I am in the hands of very good doctors and above all, in the care of the Great Physician, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. By his grace I plan ​to resume filing regular weekly blogs soon.

Thank you for your interest in my blog. I am pleased to have this space in which to share insights with you from the ​life of a pastor. My ​dear wife ​and ministry partner Kathleen and I consider it an honor beyond our deserving and understanding to have had the opportunity to serve Our Lord in local churches and as bishop, both during our active phase and now in retirement.

In Christ,

Rev. Donald N. Bastian

Where Do Babies Come From?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: R Hicken