Not What I Planned


“This is not what I planned!”  This is a recurring thought for me. Life just doesn’t turn out as I had hoped. When I was younger this was a source of disappointment but now I must admit I am grateful that ‘my will’ does not rule the day.

This summer I planned to take people to Hopewell Rocks. Our friends were excited about the prospect but just as the time drew nigh, we experienced an unexpected and expensive car malfunction. With fear and trembling I approached our friends with the disappointing news that I just couldn’t arrange the trip, at this time. They were universally gracious about it! I was very blessed by the response.

I began to pray about a ‘Plan B’ and thought about St. Martins. It is a lovely seaside community which is much closer to us. Last week I mentioned this in my blog and a long-time friend and supporter from that area, offered to meet us and arrange a tour of the sights and a visit to the local museum. Linda and I took our grandson down on Saturday to scout things out. I arranged with the local restraunt for lunch for the whole crew, so that we could experience their “World Famous Seafood Chowder”.

Our new friend, Shawn, offered to drive us in the River Cross Church Bus and we headed off. Some of the more agile of us visited the caves which have been formed by the Fundy Tides. We managed this just before the tides made it impossible to get there and back. Some of us got our feet wet but had a wonderful explore. We soon found out why the chowder was world famous. I have never had a chowder with more lobster and shrimp!

We headed off to visit our first lighthouse and the iconic covered bridge. Fern gave us a tour of the harbour and we visited the shops being set up for the cruise ship tourists who were a few hours behind us.  We then travelled on to see another light house. This is a working one, and we got to explore inside and climb right to the top. The views were spectacular!

We also saw some ‘flower pot’ rocks which would be similar to the ones we missed at Hopewell. Folks were more than happy with the day. Plan B was probably a much better one than my Plan A.

That famous theologian, Garth Brooks, wrote “Thank God for unanswered prayers!” We are grateful that no matter what our personal disappointments God is sovereign and while His ways are not our ways they are good ways.

Tomorrow we will gather for one final celebration of our Roamin’ Holiday. We are holding a Thanksgiving Barbecue and each of us will have the opportunity to share about our experiences this summer. I shouldn’t be surprised, it went much better than I had planned!

What’s in that nest?

Jesus talks about the birds of the air gobbling up the seed sown and says they represent the enemy and then in the next parable talks about the Kingdom being like a mustard seed which grows into a big plant and the birds roosting in its branches.

The church is like that plant. We can look and see the evil that sometimes ‘roosts’ in her branches, the residential schools and sexual predators being prime examples. Many are repulsed by the hypocrisy and spiritual abuse. Sometimes I despair, but I am reminded about Jesus’ question to Peter, “Will you also go?” to which Peter replies “Where can I go you have the words of eternal life?” The church is flawed. Evil too often is allowed to roost in her branches. She fails to fully incarnate the beauty of Jesus, in whom there is no sin.

I can get critical of the church, and there is certainly need for a critical appraisal of the organized church, but if I only look for the birds roosting I miss Christ who stands in our midst.

Last Sunday I was in church thinking “I wish we could sing something from this millennium” and “I miss expository preaching.” Beside me sat a friend who has just begun to attend this church. For years she has attended services I have done in evenings and she decided she would like to add morning worship to her routine. My friend suffers from terrible bouts of anxiety. After the service she turned to me and shared how helpful this service was to her mental health. She had experienced the healing Lord in the context of the meeting that had mostly frustrated me. It seems it is mostly a matter of attitude which puts us in the place to be blessed or the place of frustration.

I am not advocating that we ignore the evil that nests yet I think I need to point more to the beauty of Jesus. Those nests hold no hope! Hope is found in Jesus alone and flawed and fallible as she may be, the church (you and me and all who believe) is Christ’s chosen vehicle.

We had some disappointment last week. Our car seriously broke down and we had to postpone our scheduled Roamin’ Holiday. I was a bit worried about how my friends would react but they were wonderful about it. I am hoping that early next week we can make up the trip, though we will probably go to St. Martins rather than Hopewell Rocks. I plan to treat everyone to a bowl of the famous St. Martins Seafood Chowder and explore the cave and the beach.

While our car was out of a commission a friend loaned us her almost brand new car. We were very blessed. When we got our vehicle back we were flagged down by the police and told our inspection sticker had expired in June. The ticket is over $170 but we were given the opportunity to get this fixed right away. Our mechanic friend saw the vehicle that afternoon and we are now perfectly legal. I’m hoping not to see a mechanic for quite a while!

We have a song we often sing at our Home church “God is good! All the time!” Even when evil is right at hand God is good. I’m going to try not to lose perspective.


The Power of Personal Discipleship

It may seem counter intuitive but the mega-church movement and the ‘consumer driven’ church which affects so much of the Church in the West, are a hindrance to real growth! Neil Cole in his book “Rising Tides” avers that the church is addicted to what he terms ‘addition’. This obsession with adding to numbers actually prevents the church from multiplication. Addition is easier in many ways but much less productive. Addition through attraction or transfer is the ‘coin’ of the church realm.

Jesus offers a much different model. He avoids the crowd in order to concentrate on a few. It is counter-intuitive but the way to exponential growth is most probably through smallness rather than largeness. Discipleship is the key. The Church must be made up of disciples rather than attendees. But the thing we measure is attendance “How many?” is the question and it misses the point altogether.

I’ve learned a lot through my association with the world of Alcoholics Anonymous. In our workshops the first thing that is told participants is, “You need to: join a group, get active in it, and find a sponsor who has a sponsor.” This idea is that a mentorship rather than a leadership is necessary for people to mature. Discipling is not a mass production activity but a small individual exercise.  Slow and small wins the race!

The Gospel is individually received and individually passed on. “Each one reach one!” is the foundation of multiplying. It seems glacially slow but in the long run it proves a more effective means than any kind of addition efforts. This is the way of the Church of Acts and the Church of the first few centuries.

At a certain point this slow discipling movement like a lumbering air plane, takes off. Paul lays this out to Timothy. He suggests that it take four discipled generations to attain exponential growth. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people (third generation) who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Timothy 2:2

We don’t have the patience to follow this Biblical method and so we reap a meagre harvest and settle for and celebrate paltry additions.

My greatest satisfaction comes from seeing people I have poured into now pouring themselves into others and in some cases seeing those folks discipling yet another generation of Christians. This discipling flows against the current of big and instant, yet I am convinced that this is the way forward. We plod forward but eventually if we persist a momentum is created. Like a kernel of corn which dies a solitary death, our patient discipleship holds all the potential for a crop 100 fold!

I’m grateful for partners who are patient with me and support me in the littleness. As we remain faithful in this littleness God is at work. We cannot make things grow, we can but plant and water and look to God for the increase.

Gifts to the Bride

We have been married so long we are on our third bottle of Worcestershire Sauce! We just had our 37th anniversary and returned to the site of our honey-moon. On that occasion I had bought my bride a delicate necklace with a butterfly ornament. Often since I have given her butterflies of varying types and this particular trip I found another. I think men should give gifts to their bride.

Jesus sets us an example of this. As he ascended he gave gifts to the Church, his Bride. He gave “some to be Apostles, some Prophets, some Evangelists and some Pastors and Teachers.” He adorned his Bride with these gifts so she would beautifully reflect the glory of Christ himself.

Sometimes, though, it is difficult to discern these gifts. The “Pastor” has become the favourite, of these gifts, and other gifts seem to languish. This is a tragedy of the modern church. We have exalted one gift and eschewed the others. The result is that Bride is not fully adorned and unable to fully reflect his glory.

Organizationally the church has made pastoral ministry the preeminent recognized ministry. This ignores the gifts that Christ himself gave to his bride. Alan Hirsch advocates for a return to an ‘ APEST’ model of church leadership which recognizes: Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic, Shepherding and Teaching gifts. It is difficult for a church that has over many years developed a polity that is biased toward the pastoral, to adapt. Our church is never very nimble at change let alone change this radical (radical meaning back to the root).

Threshold is a community of Evangelists. We are used to ‘plugging away’ with only the most tepid of partnership with the church at large. I am certain that those with gifts other than the Shepherding gifts also feel the ennui of the Church. The lack of enthusiasm or encouragement is a mark of an unhealthy reliance on one gift over and above the rest.

The real problem is that only those with sway within the polity of the church can bring about any change and these folks are the pastors. Shepherds by nature are cautious folk. A competent shepherd’s primary concern is the safety and care of the sheep. Entrepreneurs propose risks. Advocates for justice make us uncomfortable. Concern for those outside the fold distracts from concern for those ‘inside.’

Hirsch suggests a leadership that represents each gift. A proposed activity would be debated from each perspective. The shepherd would often be the much needed voice of caution. The welfare of the sheep is a priority concern but the voice of caution ought not to drown out the voices of those with a view to extending the rule and reign of the Kingdom.

Over the years I have come to discover I even read the Bible differently than my pastoral friends. As we share ‘what we got out of’ a certain passage, I often share a perspective that is outward focussed, toward a lost and hurting world, while my friends are moved in an entirely different direction. Neither is right or wrong but together we get a more wholesome understanding of what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

The temptation has been for those who express other than pastoral gifts, to move into parachurch roles. I am not convinced this is healthy but it is better than being silent. A better way would be to move in partnership with the shepherds. The old saying goes “It takes two to tango.” A call to APEST leadership demands cooperation from both, the venturesome APEs and the more cautious Shepherds and Teachers.


Cascading Self-giving Grace



It had been a long and hot trek to the bottom of the falls. As I stood looking at the cool water cascading over the rocks and felt the air cooled by the presence of the animated stream, and heard the previous babble turn to a roar, I thought about grace. Grace is invisible and often creeps stealthily and unnoticed into our lives. It seldom makes a grand entrance with sound and fury, but it does cascade!

That morning I could not gauge or measure how much water flowed down that falls. It seemed an inexhaustible supply, but a scientist or mathematician (neither of which am I) could calculate the volume. It is far from measureless, though I cannot do so. God’s grace, his unmerited favour, is immeasurable. It is vast and eternal.

I stood in awe, reminded of my weeness and God’s immensity. How could I live in this constant flow of grace and be so ignorant of it?

This is the power of nature. It reminds us of the creator. It points us to the power and the divine attributes of an all gracious God. I am blessed that I can experience this and I am grateful for the opportunity to share this kind of experience with my inner-city friends of Street Hope.  But I was also troubled by the thought of other hikers who saw such falls and left impressed with the measurable. I thought of all those who were stirred by beauty. They were perhaps grateful for the experience but without knowing who to be grateful to.

In that moment I renewed my resolve to, as Paul admonished young Timothy, “Do the work of the evangelist.” People need to know of the God of grace. The God who constantly gives. The great examples of this self-giving is seen in the; incarnation, in the cross and at Pentecost. How sad it is to go through life as recipients of God’s grace and be unaware and unresponsive.

The organized church is not good at helping people discover this grace. I am glad to belong to a society that has at its core the mandate to “help people from all walks of life” discover for themselves the God of grace. Threshold is my home and my fellow Evangelists are my sisters and brothers.

At the base of that falls I rededicated myself to this life of pointing people toward Jesus. I was pleased when I returned home to find a letter from our new Director, Jonathan Clarke, expressing the goal that Threshold would seed 5 new evangelistic ministries, with a vision of launching young Evangelists into this vital work. I’d invite you to join us of Threshold in praying for a growing ministry of evangelism and ask that you consider how you might support such a unique ministry.

I pray to that you might knowingly experience the exceeding abundant flow of grace from our self-giving God.