Usually I like to have a very background role in our “Recovery Workshop”. I arrange for a space. I make the coffee. I set up tables and chairs, and at the end I undo all the above. In between I try and fade into the background as others, with personal experience, lead. I enjoy the fact that it often takes a few weeks before participants to even realize I am the ‘minister’. I really enjoy not being in the spot light and watching others use their tremendous gifts.
This week though I decided to step up and do the teaching. The topic was “Any life run on self-will can hardly be a success.” In the world of recovery, as in the rest of the world, this is where the rubber meets the road. First we take stock and see the mess that our self-directed life had become. We are currently in the season where unsuccessful hockey teams are firing their managers. If our life was a hockey team we would certainly have to admit it was time to do likewise. Even as we honestly view the wreckage of the self-directed life we hesitate to make a change. We tell ourselves the lie “It will be different this time.” But it never is different! In the ministry of Street Hope I often hear people resist this call to a change in management and I ask a familiar question “How is that working for you?”
Now I cannot turn management of my life over to the direction of someone else who is just as fallible as I am. I must look for better management. The scriptures advise us “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are they who trust in Him.”
This week we were at the step of giving over the management of our lives to the care of God. It was such fun to discuss this with a group of keenly engaged participants. This is the kind of moment I live for! I love just this kind of opportunity, and so I stepped into the forefront last night and challenged the group to seriously and sincerely take this step. Each person will take some time this week to find a ‘sacred’ spot and pray a prayer submitting their lives to management of a loving God. They will share with at least one other person what they did and we will all gather next week to share our experiences. I look forward to those conversations.
This message of the management of God is not confined to the “recovery Workshop” but is central to the ministry of Street Hope. I meet individuals, all the time with terrible stories of abuse and bad decisions. I try to listen with real sympathy but our ministry is not “Street Sympathy” but Street Hope. We offer a chance for a different life; a life worth living, through the management, or lordship, of Jesus. To those who find this difficult I ask “How is that working for you?”
We start two new initiatives.
Friday nights we will be using the “Nua” program put out by Scripture Union as our “Word From Our Sponsor” This will mean showing a 5 minute video each Friday for the next 15 weeks to explore issues of faith and provoke discussion.
On Tuesday we begin our 5 week “Finding Your way Back to God” series, from 12:15 – 1 PM. We will be providing a soup lunch, showing a video based on the Parable of the Loving father, and hold a brief discussion.
I was puzzling over how to begin. I was planning for our first series of studies during the new outreach through a Chapel time at Out Flow as the shelter closed for the day. As I mulled over what to start with for this ‘new beginning’, I was struck with a novel thought, “Why not do what Jesus did?” Maybe I was on to something here. How did Jesus teach? What could I glean from how he interacted with the uninitiated? He taught using parables. So I purposed to begin a series looking at some of the parables of Jesus.
We began with a look at the parable of “The Loving Father” or “Prodigal Son. In it we see exemplified the whole story of scripture. It is a story of rebellion and of the Father’s relentless love. It is a story of redemption and forgiveness. In the telling of this short story Jesus lays out unmistakably the way to a restored relationship with the Father. In it he paints a glowing picture of the Father who will go to great lengths to be reconciled. John 3:16 makes perfect sense in light of this parable.
Next we began to look at the Parable of “The Good Samaritan”. In it we discover that there is much more that God wants for us than just relationship, as deep and wonderful as a relationship with God is! He desires not just friendship, through reconciliation but fellowship as well. In John 15 Jesus speaks about “abiding’ in him as a branch abides in the vine. He goes on to say that there is an expectation that as we abide in him we will bear fruit. He ends with the command to “Love each other.”
In our parable a scholar of the scriptures approaches Jesus with the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” As is so often the case, Jesus does not answer that question but instead asks a question of his own. “What is written in the law?” The man answers with the familiar words “Love the Lord …. And love your neighbour.” Jesus replies “Okay. Do that!” Things are not going as the scholar had hoped. Perhaps he was hoping for an academic debate but Jesus challenged him beyond his intellect to activity. For Jesus the good news is not solely about changed thinking it is about transformed lives.
In what seems like a frustrated attempt to bring the question back to the theoretical the scholar asks “Who is my neighbour?” Again Jesus does not answer but instead tells the familiar story of the man left bleeding and dying on the Jericho Road. In the end Jesus again poses rather than answers a question. “Who was the neighbour?” Notice the original question was “Who is my neighbour?”, but Jesus changes it to “Who was the neighbour to the man?” The scholar has little choice but to admit that the despised Samaritan was the good neighbour. Again the man shows he knows the answer and Jesus challenges him once more “Go and do that!”
In John 14:15 we read “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” The evidence or ‘fruit’ of our relationship is in our changed lives. Selfishness says “who is my neighbour” Christlikeness says “Father help me to be a good neighbour”
Another great lesson we learned was to ask people “What do you understand?” Scriptures tell us the heavens declare the glory of the Lord. People have seen and heard. We do well to ask what they understand and begin to build from there. We can even challenge or demonstrate that people are not living by the amount of knowledge that they do possess. Careful listening and the posing of pertinent questions are so much more effective than rebuilding a foundation which has already been laid. So, I highly recommend doing what Jesus did as a way to advance the Kingdom.
Years ago we lived in a small town when we experienced tragedy, our son died. We were devastated, of course, but the whole community was affected by our loss. Folks cried with us. Folks rallied around us. A hat was passed and we received money to help with the unexpected expenses. We experienced grief in a small town where we had no family but the community was our family. This gives me a tiny insight into the mixture of sorrow and support that is emblemized by Humboldt, these days.
As I write I am wearing my Dog River hockey jersey. (Apparently it is the gift that you give a father who has everything.) Our family loves Corner Gas. I often think that it could just as easily been filmed at Bick’s Esso in our little community of Elkhorn. The folks in our town loved their hockey teams. The players were more than just a local team they were “our boys” or “our girls”. Octogenarians and tweens together cheered every shift. The arena was the only place of commonality for the diverse crowd. My days in that community and times at that rink give me a peek inside the devastation that happens when “our boys’ or “our girls” are suddenly snatched from us.
Years ago I believe God spoke to me in an arena of cheering fans. It was not audible but we do have these conversations. I was in The Pas. I had long believed that we should start a ministry to this town with a long racial history. I was visiting to ‘scout out the possibilities’. During the visit I found myself at the arena with hundreds of fans filling the space. The crowd was diverse and yet each person was cheering or groaning in unison. There was a coming together that I had not seen. I thought wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create a ministry with this kind of ‘buy in’ from each community.
A few years later Threshold (then called Church Army) forged a partnership between: itself, the town of The Pas, the Municipality of Wallace and the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. Each partner put in a certain amount of money to begin a new street level ministry Northern Gateway Community Chaplaincy. In many ways the genesis of this ministry was in that arena.
Physical lives have been saved. Spiritual lives have been restored. We witnessed what can happen when diverse communities ‘buy in’. It was my hope to replicate this model in other northern communities but alas this was not to be my lot. Shortly after Northern Gateway launched I was called to Saint John and I have been on to other adventures.
Today I am aware of the profound nature of the impact of the tragic deaths of those on the Bronco’s bus; “Thoughts and prayers” has become a trite phrase in our social media culture. I really wonder how many real prayers accompany this trope. I can only know that my prayers are with that community and the families.
“I’ve blown it too many times!” I have heard this many times over my years with Street Hope. People have falls, big and small, and they count them instead of sheep. They feel they have failed at life, and indeed some have. The good news we share though is there is an offer of a new beginning. Past failure does not need to define us! Some say “God is the God of the second chance.” I like to say “God is the God of another chance.” No matter our history or circumstances God offers a new beginning. In the midst of the tearful account of one of the darkest periods of Israel’s history, Jeremiah writes “His mercy is new every morning.” The idea of a ‘fresh start’ is integral to the message of forgiveness and welcome, of the gospel.
I have been thinking a lot about new beginnings. In my personal studies I have just begun to look at 1 John. Right at the beginning he writes about beginnings. John seems to love beginnings (probably something he picked up from Jesus). In his Gospel he says of Jesus “in the beginning was the Word…” This is a different beginning than the one he speaks about in 1 John. The John chapter 1 beginning refers to the beginning which is in the eternal past, that is, forever ago. In Genesis 1 we read “In the beginning…” and this refers to another beginning. This is the beginning of the creation when the Eternal Word spoke everything into being. This is not the beginning of 1 John. In 1 John he writes of the beginning of a relationship with Jesus. Add in Jeremiah’s idea of new beginnings every day and you soon see God as the God of fresh starts.
Another beginning for me was the moving of our Street Hope ‘Study & Prayer” to Out Flow, the men’s shelter. The shelter, like many, is an 8 to 8 shelter. This means it opens at 8 PM and the men must leave at 8 AM. After talks with the spiritual director of the centre and prayer, we decided to move our study there and move the time to 8 o’clock in the morning. This gives the guys an opportunity to stay indoors longer because few things are open at 8. Most of our regulars thought they could join this and so this week we made the move. Like many new beginnings it was not an instant success but we are in this for the long haul. It has meant a new schedule for me but I like the possibilities.
Another new beginning occurred with the start of our Recovery Workshop. The key leader in this has just recovered from a scary heart attack and this is his first venture back. We have done this a dozen or more times over the years but it is new each time. We had a group of 13 start and there was a real sense of anticipation in the air. The goal is for each person to discover a new way to live, as spiritual people. It was a great beginning!
This last week marked my 38th year as a commissioned evangelist. I have been at this for a while but I still love these new beginnings!