THINKING BACK

Our church’s senior pastor covered the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our summer series this past weekend and prompted me to do some thinking back with one of his suggested applications.

In the greeting to what many call his “favorite church” Paul writes in verse 3, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (NIV). Another rendering “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God” (NLT). Underscoring Paul’s example, our pastor encouraged us to “remember the people who have given you joyful memories.”

Last night and today I have spent some time thinking back with joy about the many people who impacted me in terms of my Christian life and over 45 years of vocational ministry. There’s no way I can remember and list all of them, but I would like to list several whom God used to make a significant impact upon me.

Charles Carter, a young minister of a small church who welcomed my brother and me and baptized us into Christ.

John Russell, our first and only youth minister at that same church until I graduated from high school. No one has had a greater impact on me than John.

Most of the elders at Forest Dale Church of Christ during my junior high and senior high years; and Harvey Bream who was a member at our church and later president of Cincinnati Christian University.

Royce Cheeseman and Paul Lowry, elders at Northeast Christian Church in Columbus, Ohio, where I served as a youth minister intern the summer of 1970.

Jim Irby, minister, and the elders of Bridgetown Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I served for almost five years as youth minister.

Jim Smith and Jack Cottrell, professors at Cincinnati Christian Seminary.

Charly Williams, Jerry Finnie, and Jim Tyler who served as elders during my nine years as minister of Delaware Valley Church of Christ in the Philadelphia area, and Hugh Thomson who was a great friend and father figure to me.

Bruce Metzger, who was Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary and one of the smartest and kindest teachers I ever sat under.

Floyd Strater, Ralph Dornette, LeRoy Lawson, Ben Merold, Larry Winger, and Joe Grana – all area leaders in Southern California who welcomed me and encouraged me during my 30 years there.

Max Whiteman, Don Funkhouser, Greg Miller, Joe Anderson, Joe Bunker, Greg Flannery, Dave Hahn and other Vision Planning Team Members and elders who served in leadership with me during my 30 years at Discovery Christian Church.

As I continue to think back I know others will come to mind, but this list is a good beginning point of those who made a difference in my life and ministry and whom I remember today with great joy and gratitude.

As I review this list I am aware that I have not included any women. It isn’t because I don’t remember any women with joy or that I am a chauvinist. My life and ministry would not have been as joyful, productive, and enriched as it has been without the support of and care from many wonderful Christian women who made a difference in my life. I thank God for them, the men I have listed, and many others God has used to bless my life.

Following Paul’s example, and taking our pastor’s challenge, as I think about these and remember them with joy I thank God. Maybe this will encourage you to do some reflecting as well.

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IT HURTS!

If you’re reading this post I’m confident you have experienced and endured pain many times. I’m in one of those times myself this week and thought it might be therapeutic for me to write about it.

Pain has many faces with multiple levels resulting from a variety of causes. Our first thought when we think about pain is physical pain, but as common as it is, physical pain is not the only kind of pain or always the most hurtful.

In addition to physical pain, there is also emotional pain. And while there are other kinds of emotional pain, today I’m thinking about the emotional pain that accompanies grief. The basic definition of grief is “deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” I’m confident all of us have grieved the death of someone we loved and cared about.

The pain I am dealing with this week is not due to the passing of someone, but the death of our dog, Macy. In the same way that readers have grieved the loss of someone they love, most readers have also grieved the loss of a beloved pet.

A couple of quotes from an article I read Monday evening after Jan took her to the vet to be put to sleep helped me accept the deep pain I felt and the tears I shed. This observation was certainly true of Macy: “For many of us, a pet is not ‘just a dog’ or ‘just a cat,’ but rather a beloved member of our family, bringing companionship, fun, and joy to our lives.” And then the author described my response to our loss, “Most of us share an intense love and bond with our animal companions, so it’s natural to feel devastated by feelings of grief and sadness when a cherished pet dies.”

I didn’t need the advice of another writer, but appreciated the thought, “you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend.” A third writer’s insight is not especially encouraging, but may prove to be helpful: “The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving.”

This post may seem odd as the description of my blog is “Considering the Christian Life, the Bible, and the Church.” The death of a loved pet is not necessarily about the Bible or the Church; but it is part of the Christian life. I needed to write this and I hope you got something from it. Macy was a cherished part of our family the last 11 years and it hurts that she is gone.

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THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS: A BOOK REPORT

I’m not exactly sure what grade I was in when I wrote my first book report, but I know it was in grade school. After that we wrote book reports in junior high as well as in high school. Although we did a lot of reading in college and graduate school, and sometimes we wrote about what we read, they were not called book reports.

Until a couple of weeks ago I had never read John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress. Leading up to Easter this past year I received emails almost daily about Revelation Media’s movie of the story. I wanted to see it, but it was only shown on two days – Thursday and Saturday before Easter and I couldn’t go either day.

Interested because of all the promotions about the movie, I thought about getting the book and reading it. My interest was confirmed when I visited a bookstore in town that was going out of business and I found The Pilgrim’s Progress marked down 60%. I couldn’t pass up such a deal so I bought it (at such a discount I knew it had to be God’s will!); and I’m glad I did.

Here’s a short book review of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The flap on the cover on my copy reports that “John Bunyan was a seventeenth-century Baptist preacher and writer. He became imprisoned for his Christian beliefs, and it was at that time he began work on The Pilgrim’s Progress.” He wrote the book in 1688 and it “is an allegory on the Christian life.”

The framework of the book is the account of a storyteller’s dream he had of a Christian’s journey to the Celestial City. Reflecting the time in which it was written, there are sentences that seem awkward that I needed to read a couple of times to get the meaning.

The storyteller’s report of his dream is filled with designations and titles that enhance the “allegory on the Christian life.” In addition to Christian, other characters include Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Patience, Apollyon, Faithful, Talkative, Hopeful, Ignorance, and Little-faith. In addition to the Celestial City, other places are the Slough of Dispond [sic], Vanity Fair, Graceless, Honesty, Giant Despair, and Doubting Castle.

Readers familiar with the Bible will note lots of references and allusions to verses and passages in the Bible. But readers do not have to know the Bible to engage the story. The flap on my copy notes the book “is regarded by many as one of the most significant religious works ever written.”

If this report sparks your interest I hope you will get and read the book. I think you will not only enjoy it, but also be challenged and encouraged. I think Revelation Media’s film will be available in the future. Having read the book, I look forward to seeing the movie.

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