Repetitive Prayer: Vain or Meaning-full?

Several years ago, during a worship service, I heard a retired man stand to tell his congregation how God had healed him from cancer. The man’s prognosis for recovery had been dismal. Alone in his hospital bed one night, he felt completely overwhelmed. In response, he spent the entire night repeating the name “Jesus.” From that point on, the man reported, he was healed. Years had now past, and he was delighted to tell the congregation this story about God’s goodness to him.

I’ve had questions about this man’s story ever since I heard it. Did the act of repeating Jesus’ name Continue reading

Does praying include listening?

In the late 1970s I was inspired by Keith Green’s song “Make my  life a prayer to you / I wanna do what you want me to / no empty words and no  white lies / no token prayers, no compromise” (as sung by Matthew Ward of the band 2nd Chapter of Acts).  Even today, these lyrics bring to mind the attractive image of living for God in such a way that my whole life would be like incense rising up to God (Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 8:4). (My family and I once experienced the all-embracing presence of incense when we were guests at  the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Surrey during its 3-hour Sunday morning worship service.) Continue reading

How Old Must a Theologian Be? (or: Staying Young by Studying the Bible)

A few years ago, two acquaintances of mine each wrote a theology: one wrote a theology of the Old Testament, one wrote a theology of the New Testament. A friend who knew one of the authors said to me, “I didn’t think that author was old enough to write a theology.”

I was puzzled. What does age have to do with theology? Isn’t  everyone who organizes their thoughts and words about God a theologian? Continue reading

Others care. Do Christians?

In 1996, when my family moved into our newly built house in Abbotsford, we threw a thank you party for the people who had graciously helped construct our house. Many of the builders were in the congregation where I had just begun pastoring, and shared my Dutch-German-Russian (DGR) ethnicity.

(In North America, many people wrongly name DGR ethnicity “Mennonite.” I say ‘wrongly’ because the vast majority of the world’s Mennonites have never lived in or had any ancestors from Europe.)

One of our guests was my next-door neighbour; he had volunteered as Continue reading

Ditch the Powerpoint, or…

I admit it: I’ve enjoyed computer technology for a long time. I purchased my first Mac (an LCii) in 1993. I’ve read (and kept on file) a score of manuals for computers, apps, cameras, and more. Managing a smartboard, DVD player, PowerPoint and 2 computers during a lecture is invigorating (as long as they all work properly).

But I’m slowly falling behind digitally—based on the age of my cell phone, and on my absence in the Twitterverse. Furthermore, I recognize that the digital highway is pockmarked with potholes.

This article, therefore, Continue reading

Showing Up

Tuesday evening, my wife and I were delighted when one of our sons stopped by our house. He was returning our pickup after borrowing it for some errands. We invited him to sit and visit awhile. We talked about work, families, studies—the regular things of our lives. We were delighted that he showed up.

Some years ago, a mentor and friend of mine said, “When you pray, the most important thing is to show up.” You don’t need Continue reading

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John Bell, guest minister at the Church of Scotland inside Amsterdam's Begijnhof

John Bell, guest minister at the Church of Scotland inside Amsterdam’s Begijnhof

A Pastor’s Friendships: Transitions and Social Media,

Pastoral friendships are a unique, special and sometimes confusing experience. As a young man, I was deeply influenced by my pastors. I remember numerous wonderful conversations with my youth pastor—he encouraged my developing abilities to play piano by ear; we enjoyed a Saturday chopping wood; he listened as I confided personal struggles; and he planted the seeds that would eventually sprout into my own pastoral vocation. But I also remember youth events when he was busy with Continue reading