How to Feed the Fires of Faith

I’m told that in a grassland area in Africa, people may walk long distances to Sunday worship with scraps of wood in hand. The people conclude a full service of worship by lighting a large bonfire to symbolize their fellowship.

A visitor from North America witnessed the event and asked villagers how they could create such a fire week after week when there was very little wood in their area. Their reply was that every worshiper, from youngest to oldest, was on the lookout the prior week for scraps of wood to take for the church in anticipation of the weekly bonfire.

Bonfires wouldn’t work in our part of the world. Imagine the fire department’s response! But the concept of coming supplied still has merit for enlivening worship. What each individual brings to corporate worship has a large bearing on how vital the gathering together will be.

And what we bring in North America can be something invisible, reverent, and of the heart.

As an example, in my childhood eight decades ago my parents, younger sister, and I walked to church nearby in a small town. We were usually among the first to arrive. My sister and I followed our parents into a row of seats and before they took their seats they knelt to pray. It was a worship custom for that congregation. My sister and I took our seats and sat in silence waiting for the service to begin.

There was no music to fill the air. As the worshipers gathered there was no talking. None of this was enforced, and it seemed natural at the time. In fact the reverence and silence were what the worshipers brought to contribute to the sense of awe they would share.

Gathering wood for the bonfire can also in a sense be what we are doing in our times when we put our houses in order on Saturday to avoid haste and stress on Sunday morning. Or when we arrive at church early in order to sit quietly in prayerful reflection on a Psalm or hymn.

I realize that some who come to worship are like wounded warriors limping in from a hard-fought week. They may arrive depleted with hardly the energy to lift their eyes to heaven. Others whose faith is little more than an inherited tradition may not have much to bring. After all, a congregation is made up of people in all stages of Christian development.

At the same time, every congregation likely has a core of believers who are inwardly energized daily by meditation, prayer, and praise, who invoke the energy of the Spirit when they come to worship. Such believers might bring an extra piece of wood to build the fire for those who come empty-handed, and all for the glory of God!

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

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Photo credit: Ian Carroll (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

Have You Taken the Course “The Holy Spirit 101”?

Holy SpiritI preached a sermon on the Holy Spirit when I was a beginning pastor. I called the sermon “The Holy Spirit 101.” My first point was that the Holy Spirit is a personal presence — the third person of the Godhead, which includes Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit.

After the service, a visitor approached me warmly. She said she had never before understood the Holy Spirit as personal — able to communicate, listen, correct, enlighten, but always in accordance with the Christian Scriptures.

She said that she had always assumed that the Holy Spirit was just a feeling, an influence or impulse that came upon people in different ways. The scriptural teaching I had presented — that the Holy Spirit was a “person” especially present in the lives of believers and in the living church — seemed to awaken her to a new reality.

How many professed Christians think accordingly? I have seen a survey that said 50 percent.

What would Jesus say about this? Only hours before his crucifixion, he prepared his frightened followers for his departure by laying before them deep truths about the Holy Spirit (John 14-16). At the core of this teaching he gave this assurance: the Holy Spirit would come to them as an Advocate, or Counselor. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16).

An advocate would have to be much more than merely a feeling, however sensational. An advocate would have personal attributes to come to their aid, speak on their behalf, give them guidance and wisdom well beyond their own. This advocate, Jesus promised, would be mysteriously present among them as the essence of truth, and would live in them as Jesus had lived with them.

But the world is full of spirits. How would the Holy Spirit be unique among them? Jesus’ answer to this perplexity resides in the word “another.” The Holy Spirit would be another advocate. The Greek word here means someone else who would be the same as, not different from, Jesus. That is, the one he promised to send would fill the spiritual role of the one who had been with them for three years — Jesus himself!

This promise was so important to Jesus that near the eve of his departure this promise to send an advocate, or spiritual guide, was repeated four times: John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7b. He would be a universal presence in the world, dwell within his followers, purify and energize them and guide them in all truth. That is infinitely superior to a mere feeling.

Advent may not at first seem to be the time for the pondering of this wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to live within us. But a quick glance across our world in its distress and despair might revise that opinion. Jesus is not physically here with us. But his Spirit is!

In the visible church today there is much need for us not only to understand the personhood of the Holy Spirit but also to invite his work, as we open ourselves to his abiding presence. It is astonishing that the very Spirit of Christ our Lord wills to live in us as our Advocate. Hallelujah!

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Photo credit: hickory hardscrabble (via flickr.com)

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)

Re-post: Let Us Pray for Moral Clarity

Several decades ago a distraught father arrived unscheduled at my study, dropped heavily into a chair, and announced without preliminaries, “We’ve got a pregnant girl at our house.”

The pregnancy was the result of one passionate indiscretion not of a covert lifestyle she and her boyfriend had adopted. Nevertheless, their plans for further education were suddenly jeopardized, and additional unanticipated consequences were beginning to unfold.

The parents were crushed by the news, but wise in their responses. There was no talk of spiriting the daughter out of town to have the baby in anonymity, no toying with the thought of an abortion, no counseling about a possible adoption. They judged that the relationship of the two young people had the marks of real love and they seemed to them a good match. For these reasons, everyone — parents and the couple — agreed to a private wedding in their home.

The news spread quickly to the youth group of the church and they were filled with empathy. They immediately began to talk among themselves about giving the whole of their church youth fund, a significant amount, to the couple. The impulse solidified quickly.

Upon learning of this, I spoke to the group’s leaders, saying theirs was not an appropriate response to the crisis. We don’t reward a serious moral lapse generously. At first the teens saw me as cold and lacking in compassion. Their anger was strong but restrained.

But this became a teaching moment. I explained that the couple’s conduct had grievously broken God’s law, brought grief to parents, and in major ways set a hurtful example to peers. I urged them to understand that their generous plan would create moral confusion.

It would be more appropriate, I explained, to pool their own personal resources and give a wedding gift such as they might give to others from their youth group who were getting married. Emotions cooled and my suggestion seemed to take.

That was many years ago. Things settled back quite quickly then because in that social environment there were more substantial moral norms to work from in making moral decisions. Today a Christian community is likely to find even within its own ranks a confusion of opinions regarding what would be right and what would be wrong in responding to the young couple’s moral lapse.

The couple themselves responded to their new situation courageously and with purpose and they went on to raise a family and live exemplary Christian lives. And the church community, compassionate in its general responses, settled quickly. It bore testimony to something deeper than mere sentimentality — to the redemptive love of a Christian group held together by moral unity.

The shift in society across intervening decades makes clear that moral clarity has become blurred even in the minds of many Christians. Fuzzy thinking about right and wrong replaces a clear settled commitment to seeking the righteousness of God.

In this environment of moral confusion, I pray for moral clarity in my own understanding as well as in the church around the world. I pray for it in the pulpits of the land, in church board decisions, in every Sunday school class, in Christian grade schools, in Christian colleges and universities everywhere. And perhaps most of all, I pray that in Christian families healthy consciences will be formed in the crucible of family living and family altars.

In a world filled with moral ambiguities and confusion, do you believe moral integrity is worth fighting for in family circles, within the church, and in society at large? If so, please join me in prayer for the strengthening of Christian consciences everywhere.

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Re-post: A Pastor’s Wife Tells Her Story

Mr. and Mrs. Donald N. BastianBy Kathleen G. Bastian

When I married Don, I knew that he was moving toward Christian ministry as a life vocation, but I didn’t know for sure the specific form it would take. I only knew that he was a ministerial student and would have several years of education to complete. I also knew from the start that I would support him in whatever work he believed he was called to do. That was the way most wives felt back in the 1940s.

I was a primary school teacher when we were married; he was a student and staff member at Lorne Park College west of Toronto, Ontario. After three-and-a-half years, we went on to Greenville College (now University) in Illinois with our two-year-old daughter, Carolyn, so Don could finish his final two years of college. From there, we went to Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, for another three years of training.

By the time he had completed his studies at Asbury it was clear that the focus of his ministry was to be the pastorate. In fact, for those three years of seminary he was assigned to be pastor of the Free Methodist church in nearby Lexington, and that is when I got my first taste of what it meant to stand with him in that sort of ministry.

Besides caring for the three little children we had by then and taking as much of the burden of the household as I could while he pursued his studies, I made myself available to teach Sunday school and often entertained seminary students on Sundays so they could remain in the city and canvass the community with my husband.

When we went to our second church, the Free Methodist church in New Westminster, British Columbia, I discovered what it really meant to stand by my pastor husband in ministry. He led the church in a growth spurt that meant new prospects nearly every Sunday, new programs to meet the needs of a growing congregation, and lots of social events in our parsonage to get to know newcomers and otherwise promote fellowship and community.

One aspect of our experience stands out in my mind. We both worked hard at our assignment and my husband did lots of evening calling to follow up on new prospects and care for other pastoral duties. This usually involved two or three nights a week. During these times, I was at home alone with our four little children.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have time together. He was home for the noon and evening meals most days. Also, we had simple and inexpensive but good vacations together. As well, we certainly were in touch with each other in the social life of the church.

But one night when my husband was out calling and I had put the children to bed and the house was quiet, I found myself wondering, “What is this all about anyway? I don’t like being alone so much in the evenings. There’s got to be more to life than this.”

After musing about this for some time I suddenly said to myself, “When I free my husband to be out doing the Lord’s work like this, I am really a part of that call he’s making. It is my ministry too.” That set my heart at rest. I never after that had the same feeling of personal deprivation about releasing him to work in the harvest field of the Lord. And standing together in mutual service has enriched our nearly 72 years together.

In it all, I learned that when working in the Lord’s service one must leave the results with him.

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