“Hey Jack …”

My dad used to say, “Hey Jack, the lawn needs mowing!” or “Hey Jack, the lane needs shovelling!” There was no one in our family named Jack, but this was a cue for one of the boys (in my biased remembrance it was mostly me) to hop to it and do the assigned chore. As a young father I looked forward to the time when I could say to my son, “Jack, the lawn needs mowing!” My son who is also not named Jack ,has rarely heard these words. He was stricken with crippling psoriatic arthritis and I have always been more able to handle these chores than has he. To tell the truth, I really don’t mind these tasks and sometimes quite enjoy them but I wish, for his sake, that he had been better able to “hop to it” like I did as a youth.

Beyond his own health problems which include passing scads of kidney stones, his bride’s health took a nasty turn shortly after their marriage. Through agonizing migraines, heart issues and a rare form of vasculitis which cost her one leg, they have spent hours in hospitals. Both love the Lord and want to live to please him. Their urgent prayers for relief from these health issues have, so far, gone unanswered. Doggedly they continue to believe and to pray.

This Sunday David will be preaching at his church on the topic “Disappointment with God”. He began thinking about how we as Christians ought to respond when “life sucks”. I am really looking forward to this. I know he has valuable insights into this thorny topic. I am one proud father! I feel like saying, “Hey Jack, there is a sermon that needs preaching!”

We had our second day trip in our Roamin’ Holiday series. On our first trip 24 of us went to New River Beach. 15 of us set off on a foggy weekday morning for St. Andrews. We arrived at the Block House as the fog was still lifting. This is a part of the National Parks system and was built to defend against American invasion in the War of 1812. We have similar spots right here in Saint John but most of our entourage had never seen anything like it. The fog firmly lifted as we went to the park across the road for a picnic lunch. We had a veritable feast! After lunch many changed from long pants into shorts and we went across town to Kingsbrae Garden. Here we were awed by the floral beauty. We saw butterflies and birds and ladybugs. We sat in the shade when we could find it. We basked and then baked in the summer sun before returning safely to Saint John and its fog.

We have had a safe and fun filled Roamin’ Holiday, so far. I am grateful to all who have financially and prayerfully supported this summer adventure. We have had many opportunities to have spiritual discussions along the way. We hope we are planting seeds that our Father the Gardener will nurture into fruitfulness, to his glory.

Humiliation & Glory

Yesterday we had a visitor, all the way from a church in Edmonton. St. Margaret’s has been a great supporter of Street Hope Saint John since its beginnings. Morgan, who is a Deputy Warden of St. Margaret’s, wanted to get a flavour of our ministry. I found myself wishing that there was something ‘going on’ instead of it being a sleepy warm Thursday. I felt a wish that we were bigger and doing bigger things. A ‘mega’ ministry would be so much easier to show off. Instead of ‘mega’ ministry we practise ‘micro’ ministry. We are intentionally small in spite of the urges toward bigness that is ingrained in our culture, especially in our church world. Years ago as we were starting our church plant “Up Town” I struggled to see it grow. We would reach the exalted number of 32 and then fall back. After a while I realized that because we were a group with lots of issues: mental health, addictions, etc., that our cumulative issues created a ceiling. Folks were not comfortable in bigger groups and self-selected out. I had to come to grips with the concept of smallness which was to be our only viable way to effectiveness. It was an humbling admission.

God does his greatest works through humility. Today I want to look at what I call the “Three Great Humiliations” of God.

  • The first is the incarnation. God the Son humbled himself, as we read in Philippians chapter two and as is evidenced clearly in the gospels of Luke and John. The Word that spoke creation into being “humbled” himself. Because of this humiliation John tells us “We beheld his glory…” God’s glory is revealed through humility.
  • The second great humiliation is the cross. Nailed naked to a cross at a busy intersection, he was mocked and abandoned. The “Triumphal Entry” is a forgotten vestige of the past. It has been lost in this great self-imposed humiliation, unto death. Through this great humiliation comes God’s greatest glory. We sing today “In the Cross of Christ I glory, Towering o’er the wrecks of time.” Again God’s glory comes to us in utter humiliation.
  • The third great humiliation is less noticed. It begins at Pentecost and continues to this day. God the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh. The plan of God is now entrusted to people. God deigns to work in and through his Church! Any quick study of Church history or an examination of the contemporary Church will reveal that we often cause shame to be brought to his Name. Yet God glories in his Church, the Bride of Christ! God is glorified by means of humans filled with his Spirit: carrying his message, and acting as agents for his Kingdom.

I fully believe God delights in the ‘micro’. I believe God takes the small things and brings himself great glory.

I resolved my struggle, to demonstrate the big things we do, by introducing her to one of our inner circle S. who has experienced a tremendous life change, which goes unnoticed in the world of the ‘macro.’  Of course I have to struggle with the impulses of my ‘fleshly’ nature for the big thing but in my quiet moments with my Father I feel his smile over the small thing.

Hope for Today

Today is the day! We’ve been planning and praying and today is our first day trip of our Roamin’ Holiday. About 20 of us will descend on New River Beach and the home of our friend Cathy. We’ve been scrambling the last few days to arrange transport as more people call each day to sign up. The numbers are higher than I expected but it looks like a really nice group will venture out on our first trip.

We will walk on the beach, sit around and chat and maybe some of us will take a dip in the cool (an example of Canadian understatement) waters of Fundy. For others a heated pool awaits back at Cathy’s along with a barbecue. I expect the whole trip to be full of laughter and I am looking forward to some good and holy conversations.

I grew up with summer holidays on the shores of Lake Huron and at the time I didn’t know how blessed I was. I sometimes spent the entire summer sleeping outdoors and enjoying a relationship with creation. It is my hope to give some of these folks a taste of the banquet I grew up on.

This is our last summer at our community garden. The land will be used to build new affordable housing units, next year. It has been a tremendous learning experience for us over the past several years. My chiropractor may be sad to see this chapter end because the last few years my back has loudly complained about the garden work. It is perhaps time to move on to other things. Our unofficial motto at Threshold is “Be ready to: preach, pray, or die on a moment’s notice.” I think we might add “and change”. Ministry must always happen in the present. Many Churches lose their mission focus because they continue with “yesterday” ministry in today’s world. At Street Hope we are small and so we can ‘turn on a dime’. This is the real advantage of what I think of as ‘intimate group’ ministry. Being small we scramble for resources and sometimes for attention but our very smallness enables us to sense the ‘winds of God’ and make changes. I don’t know what might replace the garden, if anything, but I am confident that there is no lack of creative opportunity. The needs are great and the Gospel is so vital and we will never lack challenge on this earthly plain.

Over the years, first at Up Town and then in our Home Church, we have been praying with one of our group for her father. While our friend struggles with some very real issues of her own she has a simple and beautiful relationship with Jesus. For years her chief prayer concern has been for her dad. It was with great joy that we heard that he had recently been baptised! I know our friend is ‘over the moon’ about this, even as she struggles with her own serious difficulties. An answer like this encourages all of us to keep praying and not give up.

God is at work! He is at work in our community and in our lives.

P.S. I decided on the fiction.

Holy Conversations

I recently had a great chat with our new National Director, Jonathan Clarke. Over a cup of Tim Hortons we talked about the current state of Threshold and dreamed of its future. We talked for hours and I came away extremely grateful for the time, and hopeful for the future.

I realized that I have had the privilege of having similar conversations with, now, five National Directors.

I remember innumerable meetings with Captain Ray Taylor (Capt. T) as we dreamed and planned for an expanded impact on prison chaplaincy. Over that time we grew this aspect of our ministry to include: Ottawa, Fort Saskatchewan, Edmonton, and Lethbridge. It began with a conversation based on passion and what followed was sometimes tedious nose to the grind stone kind of stuff. We kept knocking on doors until they opened for us.

I remember many such talks with Walter Marshall. He tasked me to head up the Church Army response to “The Decade of Evangelism” which had been declared for the closing years of the 20th Century. We talked and prayed and imagined and the result was an outreach package “Ready, Willing, and Able”. As a part of this we developed a relational evangelism workshop “Gentle Persuasion”. Various Church Army personal led well over 100 workshops all across Canada.

I remember such chats with Bruce Smith first in my role as Prairie Regional Director and later after I became (through a tortured and convoluted path) Principal of Taylor College. Through these chats we first envisioned an outreach in the Pas and expanded our ‘foot print in Manitoba. We also began “Seasoning” which was a regular three week intense discipleship program out of our Elkhorn Ministry Centre.

Holy conversations with Shawn Branch led to the creation of Street Hope Saint John. Which can trace its roots back to impassioned conversations in Shawn’s office. Today Street Hope continues to develop on the foundations built in those chat and prayer times.

Over these years much has changed but the basics remain the same. The idea of introducing people from all walks of life into a growing living relationship with the Lord Jesus is central. Jonathan shares this same vision. Another thing we count on is God’s unchanging heart of love. We are assured that it is not His will that any should perish, and so it is that I look forward to where these recent conversations may lead.

On another note I am feeling that perhaps the time is right this summer for me to begin to write. I pen this here as a means of accountability. While not exactly a procrastinator I do find that I do better with deadlines and other external motivations. I am also trying to decide what kind of thing I might write. Here are some of the ideas I have had over the years:

  • A look at Romans through the lens of the key verse Romans 1: 5b “…to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”
  • A fictional comedy based on family life in my childhood.
  • An examination of the place of imagination/spirituality in discerning mission activity for the Church using numerous personal examples
  • A collection of poetry.

Let me know if you agree this might be a good idea and which of the above you would advise I attempt, or perhaps you have another suggestion?