Brief Update

We postponed our last Roamin’ Holiday because I have come down with “The Mother of  All Colds!” After a week of sleepless hacking I went to the hospital where (thankfully?) I learned that it was ‘just a virus’.

I am not going to make it to the Drop In tonight but Linda, with whom I generously shared this malady, has  plans to carry on with the help of at least one of our volunteers.

For a bit of comic relief, (the Three Stooges’ variety) as my son-in-law Mike was helping me carry an old couch out to the road for pick up, I dropped my end on my toe. The toe is now swollen and most painful.

I am drinking lots of water and pitifully limping around our home but I am not writing a further blog today.

Please keep us and our Roamin’ Holiday in prayer and if anyone drops by with chicken soup you would be very welcome.

Roamin’ Holiday Part 1

deer island 1

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so this is likely my longest post ever! We had our first ‘Roamin’ Holiday’ this week, to a park on Deer Island the home of the “Old Sow” a natural whirlpool in the Bay of Fundy. We cobbled together enough cars and drivers that we all were able to go, 20 of us in total.

We dined on pulled pork sandwiches and explored the unique beauties of this locale. We had a Word From Our Sponsor reminding us of Romans 1:20 (which is our theme verse for these trips) reminding ourselves of the universal witness to God’s nature and power. We then considered Jude 24 & 25 reminding ourselves of the person interest God takes in each of us as individuals. The God who created all this, loves me!

We enjoyed another beautiful ferry ride and all arrived home safe and satisfied/

deer island 5

We enjoyed our open air dinning

deer island 4

deer island 3

We explored the park.

deer island 6

Enjoyed the ferry ride home. All 5 cars in the convoy made it on the same ferry in both directions. It was a marvelous day and we are looking forward to part 2 on Monday.

Please keep us in prayer.

Gone Fishing ?

relaxed

Sometimes I think I would really enjoy fishing, especially fishing as depicted above. I picture a warm summer day. I sit under the shade of a weeping willow as I listen to birds singing and the babble of the nearby brook as I dangle my line and occasionally my toes on the cool waters. I read my book and pause occasionally to just enjoy the peace around me, and to let that peace sink into my inmost being. I unconsciously exult in the God who created all this and bask in his goodness. Fishing would not be a task but an excuse for experiencing and savouring all this. The last thing I would really want is a strike on my line. Such would interrupt my idyll peace!

This would be both an unproductive and a productive exercise, but it would be entirely self-focussed. This is not the picture that would have ‘sprung to mind’ for the first disciples when they thought about fishing. Their vision would involve callouses and sore muscles. It would conjure up images of big seas and a little boat; of swelling waves and mending nets, of hauling and casting, of life and death. To these folks fishing was not an idle pastime it was a vocation. It was a task, and much depended on productivity. Rather than being self-focussed the exercise was fish focussed. It was about launching into the deep, beyond a comfort zone. It was about boldly facing stormy seas. It was work! It was work that required the best of those who plied the trade.

hard

When Jesus called these 1st Century fishermen to ‘fish for men and women and boys and girls’ they understood it as a call to challenging, indeed daunting, labour. With no illusions about what fishing meant, they followed Jesus.

Too many of us, who claim to follow Jesus in the 21st Century,  hold  more closely to my version of fishing. We do not labour in prayer or witness as our vocation would call for. We have traded in the utilitarian fishing boat for a cruise ship, centering life on contemplation and worship. We have neglected the task of evangelism and as we have sought self-satisfaction people are dying without having heard the Good News.

Such biblical fishing calls us to action rather than inaction. It calls us to deeper waters away from couch and willow shaded shore into the hurly burly of life, where we engage with a frightening world. As people in a little boat on a great big sea we rely on the power of God to quell the storms within and without. Like the fishermen of old we must realise that such fishing is not a solo sport but a labour in fellowship with others.

Years ago, the Church was described as the only organization that exists for those who are not yet members. It seems to me that it is high time to make ‘fish’ the focus as we endeavour to follow Jesus as his fisher folk.

SQUEEZE!

bert

I spray painted a white sheet. I painted a tree with a blue-sky background. I created a pocket on a tree limb from which would emerge my puppet Solomon the owl. I created a hollow in the bole of the tree from which Rueben the raccoon would appear. This with the addition of two thumb tacks became my highly portable puppet theatre as I ventured into children’s ministry in Northern Manitoba. This ‘theatre’ would easily hang in any doorway and had the added advantage of taking next to no room to pack as I travelled to ‘fly in’ communities.

Solomon was a wise old bird. He would supply the wisdom that was required to solve the problems of Rueben, the silly raccoon. Their personalities made them endlessly versatile to tackle almost any Bible story I decided to highlight. Kids warmed to these characters. They related to Rueben and the messes he would get into and listened attentively to the solutions-oriented Solomon. I found that First Nation’s children also took to the idea of learning from wildlife creatures. To the advantage of the Gospel

Later as I moved ‘South’ these two characters morphed into Bert (the wise owl character) and Ernie (the silly messy raccoon character). I have always had a knack at mimicking voices so I could do a more than passable Bert and Ernie. They simply picked up the threads of their predecessors and children responded warmly.

I had learned, early, to use what was at hand to the advantage of the Gospel and this has stood me in good stead. I have learned to look for opportunities as life changes. The tools of the past sometimes (almost certainly) need to be set aside in favour of newer ones. The message remains the same, but the vehicle alters to carry it in a new situation.

Often this feels like “taking the lemons life hands you and making lemonade”, and this is an indispensable asset in any evangelistic ministry. In my day to day life with our little community of Street Hope Friends, I try to encourage and exemplify this. Often my friends will name and complain about the latest indignity or injustice they experience. Dwelling on the hurt can often lead to a spiral of anger and despondency, so I encourage folks to take their eyes off that, at least for a moment and instead think about a recent blessing, or thing to be thankful for. We are living proof that despondency and thankfulness cannot co-exist. Thankfulness has the power to lift us, emotionally and intellectually, above our circumstances. Like Paul and Silas, we can ‘sing in our prison cells’.

God is the Creator and as his image bearers we are called to creatively build hope and health into even or especially, the most trying circumstances. To make lemonade!

I have only just learned that the bus we were counting on for our Roamin’ Holiday will not be available to us. This felt like a crushing last-minute blow … but I believe it provides the opportunity to widen the circle and enlist the help of other drivers to join us creating a ‘Convoy of Hope’. This hasn’t yet come to fruition, but I am squeezing this lemon for all its worth. I’ll let you know in a future blog how it goes. In the meantime, pray for our Roamin’ Holiday.

 

Selah!

selah

It started with a phone call. I’m not a great conversationalist on the phone (that explains why the kids usually ask for their mother if I answer). I learned the phone as a business tool rather than a social one. I like to get my objective accomplished and then get off. I called one of my friends from Street Hope in order to invite him to a barbecue. He gladly accepted, as I knew he would. He loves barbecues and often asks me if we are planning one. I was ready to close off the conversation when he asked if I’d like to meet him for a coffee. This is an invitation I rarely refuse and so we set a time and place to meet.

Usually when someone asks me for coffee, it means they have something on their mind, and so I arrived at the coffee shop wondering what his issue might be and if I could help.

Well, it turns out that he just wanted to spend time with me. He asked about my life and I asked about his. We talked about his bicycle and about bike locks. We talked about my children and his job. All the time we sat on a ‘patio’ overlooking an asphalt parking lot! My friend really enjoyed coffee-ing el fresco. He doesn’t have a deck or lawn, and this was a virtual Eden to him. He was obviously delighting in our time together. We eventually parted lighter than when we met. We had experienced a fellowship without expectation.

Later, as I was praying, I felt the Father say to me “Reed, I love it when you approach me like that: without lists, without agenda, simply to meet together in warm fellowship.”

This was reinforced as I was reading the Psalms in the Passion Translation. The translator conveyed the meaning of the mysterious word ‘Selah’ a “Pause in His presence.”

Recently I was reading about how it is the silence between notes or chords that distinguish music from cacophony. Pausing in his presence may be the difference between a life of chaos or a symphony conducted by a master composer.

Just this morning in our devotions we read anew the story of Martha and her sister Mary. I’m ready to say to God “Okay! I get it”

Summer provides that time of pause for many of us. Let’s pause in His presence. Selah!

Let’s set aside our task oriented prayer lists and sit with Father and see where the conversation might take us!

Make it Right

kingdom

 

Every week I see people in difficult circumstances because of inequities and injustices in the world system. They are undervalued and disadvantaged because of their physical handicaps and or mental illnesses. They often display a kind of dogged genius in surviving week to week, month to month, but with no real hope of thriving. When I think of this, when I think of my friends, I feel angry and I long for the time that God “makes it right”. In the meantime, God calls me, not to privately fume about a system gone so wrong but to actively be a part of his answer. When it works right, my God given anger moves me to, as far as lies within me, co-labour with Him in correcting wrongs.

Most of us can relate to this anger at injustice. The earliest cries from our children (and likely from us though we can’t recall) is “That’s not fair!” Our natural bent is to justice as a reflection of the image of God. We long for things to be put right.

But do we really? I want the racism and greed of this world to be corrected. I long for the white heat of God’s wrath to burn up the straw and stubble of this fallen world. All these ‘isms’ must be banished for God’s Kingdom to fully come, but I am not ready for him to ‘burn up’ the pride and selfishness in me. My longing for justice is always in the abstract or about the other guy.

I remember singing, glibly, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me”. I want to experience peace, peace of mind peace of heart, but am I ready to have the rebellious “me” seared and purified. I want to be pure gold but even as I sing “Refiner’s Fire” I want someone else to feel the heat.

I have little influence over those big systematic wrongs, but I can repent of those same things in me. Most of all I can pray. I was reminded recently that prayer is more than mere words thought or spoken. When I offer practical help or dignity to those affected by injustice it is a deep groan. It is a prayer, a heart felt prayer. It is a prayer that is heard.

One of my early mentors, Capt. T., used to enjoin us to “put legs on our prayers”. In doing so he was saying that having prayed we now were to go out in service of those same prayers. I am coming to a fuller understanding now. We don’t stop praying and begin to act, as if prayer were not action. Action is a continuation of prayer! Could this be what Paul means when he tells us “Pray without ceasing”.   This is God’s will for us.

The nice thing about this concept of continuing in prayer through service is that it keeps me in the place where God can continue the necessary refining work on me, which is as much needed as correcting the ills of the sin sick world.

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”

 

Recalling a Call

We have been on a ‘road trip’. We drove to Ontario and visited friends and family and experienced our first bit of summer for this year. It was a really nice break. One of the most memorable events was our visit to the Mirvish Theatre production of “Come From Away”. A generous friend sent us to see this production for our birthdays (which are in December and January respectively).  The musical is set in Gander Newfoundland during the September of 2001. Hundreds of passengers from all around the world were stranded there during the after math of 9/11. The musical was a wonderful reminder of the power of love and hospitality, especially during the darkest days.

Many lives were changed on 9/11 and mine was one of them. Before those events I was energetically engaged in the politics and culture wars within the church. I was chair of a national organization advocating ‘renewal’ in the church. After 9/11 I quit. I quit not because I had become convinced that renewal was not necessary but because my calling was to a much narrower focus. 9/11 called me back to my roots. My calling was to evangelism. Others would have to deal with the important matters of politics and renewal while I recommitted myself to evangelism. I purposely stepped from the limelight into relative obscurity.

Many died that day and I don’t know how many had heard, really heard, the Good News. I realize that there have been even greater tragedies in other parts of the world, and I was not moved in this same way but the scope of the tragedy in my ‘neck of the woods’ woke me afresh to the urgency of evangelism.

Recently I found myself saying (I sometimes surprise myself and even learn something during my own sermons) that I only have one message. I do not constantly repeat myself. but the message is always the same. There is a story of a young man who travelled with John Wesley one day. Wesley began early in a town and preached from John 3:3 “You must be born again”. He moved to the next community and preached on the same text and so it continued as he travelled that day. After the last meeting of the day, the young man asked Wesley “Why do you always preach “You must be born again?” to which Wesley replied, “Because… You must be born again.” Jesus preached using a lot of different metaphors and examples, but the gospel writers could summarise all his preaching in the phrase “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

I do not preach exactly the same sermon nor constantly share the same examples but especially since 9/11 I have consistently shared the Good News so that people have a chance to hear, really hear, the love of Christ.

In many ways, I have come to enjoy my obscurity. It gives me the opportunity to consistently communicate in word and deed the love of our crucified and risen Saviour so that people have the opportunity to repent, believe, and receive him as Lord.

I will conclude with this ‘little’ tease. In coming weeks, we will be making an exciting announcement about next steps for Street Hope Saint John. Keep us in prayer!

A Step Back in Time

We took a step back in time this week (maybe that’s why I’m a day later than usual with the blog.) We were in Toronto and visited Linda’s niece. She lives a couple of blocks from the old Church Army complex that we just had to stroll by. It looks quite different now. It has the same façade but has been developed as condominiums. We both had spent two memorable years there during our training period and then several years later moved back as I came on staff as Field Secretary. I worked in personnel and was Captain T.’s personal assistant for seven years.

The training period was wonderfully formative and I remember those times with a warm nostalgia. The community life with the rhythms of prayer, study and service is responsible for making me the person I am today. It wasn’t all fun, formation never is, but our memories are filled with joy. From early morning chapel services to singing before meals to a regular Thursday Night Prayer Meeting featuring a missionary home from some exotic mission field, these were the occasions where we ‘caught’ the zeal for the Gospel.

When I first entered the training, I knew the Gospel narrative and I knew many of the stories of the Old testament and the Acts of the Apostles but it was here that I began to grasp the connected and overarching story of God and his people. It was here that I began to formulate a theology that would sustain me through the years. The training though was as much about practise as it was about theoretical learning. Each student had a challenging practical placement outside the academic studies.

Community life is never easy, but in hindsight it was the very best feature of those days. Solomon writes about iron sharpening iron and that was certainly the case! We learned that we were inadequate to the task and to trust in God. The way to personal growth often lay in the shade of humility fostered in failure. We were thrown in over our heads and were to sink or swim. More often folks sank and I realise this may not be the most proficient discipling model, but it worked for me. I will be eternally grateful for those days. I find myself sorry that the students of today will never know this kind of formation. Time has marched on, as it inevitably does, and different methods are adopted for a different time.

Real formative discipleship remains essential, though. Education alone does not suffice. Our church in the west may be the most educated and simultaneously in steep decline. The answer is not in the head alone but in heart and in the hands. Zeal is sometimes scorned in our education dominated church culture, but it remains indispensable to the carrying out of the commission of the Church. The hands too need to be engaged. Our words without our action become meaningless to hurting world. My training reinforced the lesson I learned in elementary school. It is all about “Show and Tell!”

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Hope that does not disappoint!

Liza first came into our circle several years ago. We met her through our friend Catherine who had an amazingly fruitful ministry among the women on the streets of Saint John. Liza was homeless and Catherine literally took her in. They became more than room mates. They became good friends. Liza went on first to employment with the Y and later as sexton at Stone Church. She would come to our Bible Study on her breaks and she was an energetic volunteer in the days when we put on community meals. She used to bring a box of doughnuts to our Sunday evening services. She would make sure no one took the apple fritter which was designated for me nor the Boston Cream which was for her. She could be gruff but despite herself she revealed a heart of gold. We shared innumerable meals together. She loved to share her cheesecakes with us.

About two years ago she was given a diagnosis that shook us all! She had only a year to live! Through these last two years she suffered much pain all the while continuing her two physically taxing jobs. She became so thin that you could probably circle he calf between thumb and forefinger.

During this time, I often thought about the passage from Romans “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, he has given us.”  Liza suffered and she persevered valiantly and by doing so evidenced Christ-like character. She knew a hope that sustained her, because she experienced the love of God. This is a hope that does not disappoint!

I imagine her now swapping cheesecake recipes with our Street Hope friend Larry, who went before her. They both loved cooking and sharing their efforts. Liza has realized her hope! To be absent from the body is to be with the Lord!

We already miss her terribly, but we are rejoicing that the suffering is over and that she no longer has to persevere. God’s final refining of her character is complete, and she is at rest.

We laughed and cried together, and we shared a hope that never disappoints!

Last night we celebrated another example of hope at a friend’s 14th anniversary of sobriety. While we congratulate our friend, it is the hope that this same ‘miracle’ is available to any who turn in submission to God and walk in obedience to his way. It is, again, a hope that does not disappoint!

 

And the award goes to …

Often in conversations the topic “Who was the greatest?” crops up. Who is the greatest hockey player? (Gordie Howe). Who is the greatest hockey goalie? (Terry Sawchuk) Who is the greatest actor (Meryl Streep) etc.

This week a new question arose. Who is the Old Testament character who is most like Christ?

One nominee is Moses. He was instrumental in the deliverance of his people. He taught them a new way of living. He interceded with God on behalf of his people. He had an intimate relationship with God. He too, had a miraculous birth story. On the flip side he had a temper that caused him to: murder, shatter tablets, and strike a rock he was told to speak to.

Another nominee might be Joseph, who bore injustice and remained faithful. He became the instrument for saving the people of Israel. He is the very picture of mercy and forgiveness in the face of egregious treatment at the hands of those he loved. In all things he resisted the worship of Mammon and stayed true to God. Adversity made him better rather than bitter.

King David might be another. He is described as the “apple of God’s eye”. His kingdom is looked upon as the Golden Age for the nation of Israel. He is a worshipper who points others to God. He is a conquering warrior. In so many ways he demonstrates a heart for God but at the same time he demonstrates so many flaws that he better represents you and me than he does Christ.

My nominee though is perhaps a little ‘off the board’. I suggest that Hosea is likely the most Christ-like of all the Old testament characters. In obedience to God Hosea sets his affections on an unworthy object. Gomer is a faithless idolatrous and adulterous woman. Hosea commits himself unconditionally to her. Time and again she turns from the purity of his love for her to the pursuit of trinkets and short-term pleasures. Finally, when she has hit ‘rock bottom’ and carnal pleasures have faded and failed, Hosea, at great personal expense buys her back. He literally redeems her! She has done nothing to earn or deserve this. It seems to me that it is in offering unconditional love that Hosea is most Christ-like.

This is a reminder to us as Christians (people who are called to be like Jesus) that we are most like him when we actively love the unlovely. The love of Christ ought to constrain us to love in kind with a Saviour, who lavishes that love on unworthy recipients like you and like me. Like Hosea I want to be obedient to God in loving and not letting love be contingent on reciprocation.