We had just finished our study in the Gospel of Matthew and rather than start a new book study in Holy Week I opted to look at some of the prophetic writings concerning the events of the week. We spent some time in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 but the liveliest conversation happened as we looked at Jeremiah 25. In this chapter we come across the phrase “the cup of God’s wrath”. One of the guys said “I know I get angry but I don’t think God gets angry like I do.” I both agreed and disagreed with that sentiment. God certainly does not get angry in the capricious way that I do but in other ways our anger is the same. I asked my friends how they felt when they were waiting in line (a common experience for folks at street level) and someone butts into line. They all would, and have got angry at such an occurrence. When we examined why we get angry it became clear that our anger comes from outrage at the injustice of it. As shattered as the image of God is in us, because of our fallen nature, we still are created in that image. In our example we do indeed reflect the anger of God.
King David was angry as Nathan described an injustice only to find that he “was the man.” His was the injustice! His anger was justified and the object was himself. This is where we drastically differ from Jesus. Literally or metaphorically we have all “butted into line”. Paul rightly avers in Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus alone is both just and justifier.
At Gethsemane he agrees to drink the cup describe by Jeremiah. On the cross he drains the cup to the dregs. Isaiah reminds us that the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. In that garden Jesus irrevocably agreed to drain this cup just hours after offering the cup representing a New Covenant to his followers.
These days speaking about the wrath of God is not in fashion in many circles. The love of God is the only permitted topic. I agree that we cannot exaggerate the love of God or limit any of its power. Yet we cannot remake God in our image. We cannot impose our limited understanding of the depths of love so as to preclude the wrath that is so often and so clearly expressed in scripture. We can ultimately rest in the assurance that in Christ mercy triumphs over justice.
We are looking forward to a wonderful celebration of Easter with our Street Hope friends. We are gathering in my newly renovated basement to celebrate resurrection. We will eat our ham and scalloped potatoes together. We sing and worship and pray. In our own shattered way we will reflect the wonder of God knowing that the same power that raised Jesus from the grave lives in us.
It is Sunday and we gather for our House Church. V. welcomes us into her government subsidized apartment. It is kept immaculately and she is genuinely thrilled to host us. We are a small group just seven of us. The folks are happy that my computer is fixed. I have a number of videos saved on it. Tonight we will be doing everyone’s favourites. S. loves a twangy country song “I Can’t Even Walk Without You”. B. loves an Anne Murray rendition of “How Great Thou Art” . I play one of my favourites Matt Redman singing “The Father’s Song”. Of course we have to play V.’s favourite, Lauren Daigle’s “Dry Bones”. For a few of us it has been a very stressful week. V.’s anxieties are triggered by the impending snow storm. Nothing upsets her more than the thought of snow! While she is happy to host us she keeps a box of Kleenex handy because tears are very near at all time. She has not slept and I fear she is near a breaking point. B. is a bit uncomfortable around so many people. She lives a reclusive life only seeing her son on most days. G. has had a bad last few weeks. Her body is breaking down and her mental illness is heightened by her increased pain and isolation. Linda and I picked her up for church. We are breaking our own rule in doing so. We are glad to give people rides home but try our best to arrive as serenely as possible so we avoid the bustle of giving folks rides, but it seems important to get G. here tonight. We know she has not been doing well.
We listen to the “Father’s Love Letter” and now it is time to pray. V. pours out her heart for about 10 minutes. She is not the only one crying as she shares her hurting heart. G. picks up where V. leaves off and in beautiful simplicity describes her need and dependence on God. We are a fragile crowd tonight!
After all the eyes have been wiped and noses blown. We sing all the favourites. There is still a heaviness in the air as I open the Bible and read of the prophet Ezekiel in the Valley of the Dry Bones. V. is keenly interested because this is the genesis of her favourite song. We discuss how hopeless ‘dry bones’ are. Dead and dried, surely these bones cannot live. These bones are in even more dire circumstances than our little community! Yet “nothing is impossible with God.” God is with us in our valleys. Though our difficulties may last a lifetime they will not last a long time!
We gain perspective in the valley of the dry bones. Here we catch the rays of dawning hope. V. thanks us as we leave and assures us she is feeling so much better. G. echoes her words. We make plans to get together Easter for dinner and a time of worship and we each go our separate ways knowing we have been together in His presence.
This week, I was thinking about my grandfather. He was a horse trader among his other entrepreneurial enterprises. The phrase “getting long in the tooth” comes from the business of horse trading. The horse’s gums recede with age, making it appear that their teeth were getting longer. One of the first things a respectable horse trader did was check the teeth to see the age of the animal. From this we also get the expression about “looking a gift horse in the mouth”, which would be a rude way to accept such a boon.
I realize I am getting long in the tooth, though my gums are not receding. I often find myself in the position of ‘Threshold Historian’. Over time many things have changed. We no longer dress in military style uniforms. Females are no longer addressed as Sister. Evangelists are no longer addressed as Captain. The name was changed from the Church Army to Threshold Ministries. We moved our headquarters from Toronto to Saint John. Our training has gone through a variety of changes. We are no longer solely Anglican. We recently decided that ‘Missional Community’ best describes our happy band. Yes there have been a lot of changes!
One thing has never changed and that is our commitment to the Lordship of Jesus and the declaration of the Good News of his love. I am so pleased to belong to a community that holds to this core mandate in an ever changing culture. One of the changes I have noted in the culture is that the uncompromising proclamation of the ‘love of Jesus’ is often not fashionable in the church but gets a fair hearing on the streets and in the coffee shops.
Over the years this long in the tooth evangelist finds himself better welcomed and more at home at street level than in the pulpit where I once longed to stand. So often we hear what Paul described as “another gospel” preached. This other gospel maybe an attractive universalist one, or a prosperity one, or salvation through some sort of works. 500 years into the Reformation the simple Gospel (too simple for some) remain “In Christ Alone” by “Faith Alone”. This is Good News to the poor!
We have been walking the old paths. Linda and I, in our daily devotions, have been exploring “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” It is much longer and more intricate than I thought. I had only really known it from a hymn in Common Praise. I have found his bedrock devotion to the Trinity, the Three in One and One in Three, to be inspiring. My experience is that evangelicals, like myself, devote themselves more completely to Jesus Christ, as Lord. Others find their devotion more skewed to the Father, and Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians emphasize the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Patrick calls me back to view of God the Trinity.
This view of the Trinity is by no means benign. That we view God as Trinity affects everything. Some will say that monotheistic views of God and the Trinitarian God are essentially the same but they are drastically wrong. God in a relationship of love, mutual preference, and utter self-sufficiency creates out of an over flow of that love. The monotheistic god would have to create from an entirely different motive. These are not equivalent views of God and Patrick well knew it!
Another thing about Patrick which inspires me is his powerful evangelistic witness. He inhabits a geographical space dominated by paganism and he loves the people and shares the “good news” to great effect. The overflow of love which proceeds from the Trinity flows to and through Patrick. This love expressed in word and witness impacts the people. Hearts yearning for love, because they were created by and for such love, respond gladly.
The proclamation of the Gospel and the invocation of the Trinity drove out the darkness of paganism, but this was not easy. Kings and magicians opposed Patrick’s Gospel and tried to kill him. Their very opposition occasioned the opportunity to demonstrate the Powerful Name.
Our time is quite different but much the same. The prevailing worldview is not supplied by Druids. The power of the overflowing love of the Trinity remains the antidote to the self-centred 21st Century paganism.
Our call, like Patrick’s, is to inhabit this culture. We are to incarnate the love which overflows to and through us from the Trinity so that our proclamation might have the authority that only comes from integrity.
The ancient path becomes exceedingly new when I truly “bind unto myself TODAY the strong name of the Trinity.” I am finding this path a good one for these old evangelical feet of mine.
Last week I joked about “giving up giving up things” for Lent. I have a reputation for tenacity. I don’t find giving up an easy thing. Giving up on dreams is an horribly difficult task.
Often, though, we are called by God to give up our dreams. We are asked to give them up not because they are too grandiose but because they are too small.
As a young person in ministry I wanted to preach to crowds. I wanted to preach in beautiful oratory. I aspired to be like C. H. Surgeon. I read his sermons and tried to emulate them . I had dreams of soaring sermons and enraptured congregations. When I graduated no one wanted a ‘green’ preacher in their pulpit. Ironically though they did offer their ‘most precious’ children to a fledgling evangelist, so I learned puppetry and pedagogy. Over those years I had the opportunity to share the story of Jesus’ love with thousands.
Years later I was finally welcomed into the pulpit of churches. My last year of itinerant ministry I preached over 300 times. Even in this I had to lay aside dreams of crowds. I spoke in little church after little church. I had meaningful conversations with anyone who would engage. I did not get to use the flowery prose I had aspire to, instead I shared the simple Gospel in simple ways to the ordinary people.
Then I ‘heard’ God’s call to mentor budding evangelists at Taylor College. I gave up the hundreds of preaching invitations to invest my time with 10 – 12 individuals. My world of influence was shrinking and I was further from my dream than ever.
After a number of years even this small group had dwindled down to … well nothing. I shut out the lights as Taylor College closed and I gave up another dream.
Since then I have been investing time with a small group with no influence and few resources. Thank God my dreams have been shattered! My dreams were too small. God’s ways are higher than mine! The Street Hope Community with all its messiness is beautiful beyond telling.
I longed for a ministry that would be ‘miles wide’ and God gave me a ministry that allows me to go deep. I longed for the masses and God has given me an eclectic group of spiritual friends.
I wonder if there are more dreams I should give up? Is holding on to them preventing me from realizing something better and more beautiful? I may have a five year plan but God has a trillion year, no eternal plan.
I know what I should do: “Give up!” and surrender all. It goes against my nature and I should give that up as well.