The 11th Time is a Charm?

I have written and deleted perhaps 10 blogs this morning. I really ought not to try to write on gloomy days such as this. The sun it seems is my muse, without it I slip into a kind of sadness that squelches creativity. I am determined that in future I will write on other days and then simply post on Fridays.

It is funny (not in a ha! ha! way) that outward gloom so quickly seeps into my inner world, but it does. I suspect I am not alone in this. Normally I cope by getting active, Doing things rather than thinking about things is the ticket for such days.

On days like this I feel stuck in the first part of one of David’s Psalms. I know that by the end the lament will end, and end in praise. The praise itself may be all the sweeter because of this pause in the ‘valley of lament’. Intellectually I know and assert all the same truths I espouse in the sunshine. God does not change but I do. My changeableness is not sin but rather fact. I do not choose to be ‘down’ but I am down. In the past I have been resentful against people who glibly tell me to cheer up as if I chose this. I know though that they intend me well.

Today I peck away at these keys from the mire of this stuckness. I do so not wanting to drag anyone down but simply to acknowledge the truth and say I will yet praise God in the land of the living.

Lament is the very spot where we most need hope. It is here that we hold onto that hope as onto a rope cast to us in a stormy sea. It is because I experience the power of hope in this place that I can confidently recommend it to my friends, many of whom sail much stormier seas.

I just checked and found that I am nearing my 400 word minimum for this post. I’ve decided not delete it, though I have been tempted. I had almost decided to not post anything this week but here I go. In a moment I will press “Publish” and entrust to you these truths. God is faithful! Hope has a name, Jesus! “Weeping may tarry in the night but joy comes in the morning” For a time we may find ourselves in the first stanzas of one of David’s Psalms but as we hang on and hang in we will inevitable find our way to the place of praise.

Self-Portrait of the Artist

Van Gough

It seems one of the favourite activities these days is the taking of “selfies”. This has become the rage, and I began to wonder “Why?”. There is certainly a degree of narcissism involved but it seems to me the desire to be truly known by others may also play a significant part.

Each of us wants to be known! By this I do not mean that we all want to be famous, though this motivation may also creep in. There is an old song “To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him.” Our desire to be known, really known, is revelatory of our desire to be loved.

One of my favourite artists Vincent Van Gough did several “selfies”. They were much harder in his day. They involved layers of paint and swirls of colour. The canvas and brush “selfies” are one of the ways we know Vincent. In them he reveals himself. In them the artists bares himself and we are challenged to respond. He shows his beauty and his madness. He exhibits his seriousness and his sadness. Through his “selvies” I have come to know and love Vincent.

Jesus is God’s “selfie”. In Jesus God chances revealing God’s character: his love, mercy, and justice, in short the very character of God. In Jesus God dares to be known and through Jesus God invites our response. Jesus, the Word made flesh, uses words to create another kind of portrait of himself in the words of the Beatitudes. Henri Nouwen writes “The Beatitudes offer us a self-portrait of Jesus. At first it might seem a most unappealing portrait – who wants to be poor, mourning, and persecuted? Who can be truly gentle, merciful, pure in heart, a peace maker, and always concerned with justice?”  Through his verbal portrait Jesus reveals himself and through this “selfie” invites us to love and follow him. There is no narcissism here only a portrait of the Artist daring to bare himself to view so that we may know God and love God. I am eternally grateful for God’s condescension in making this wonderful and ultimate selfie.

He now invites me and you and his Church to be his latest “selfie”. I am astounded at our risk taking Saviour, who entrust fragile folk like me with representing him in this world. He does not leave us alone in this task but promises to inhabit us, in the task.

I was told of a preacher giving a Children’s talk  about “inviting Jesus into one’s heart”. A little guy looked aghast. He looked at the twenty foot stained glass depiction of Jesus and then at the preacher. “If Jesus was in your heart wouldn’t he stick out all over?” With hardly a hesitation the wise preacher responded “Yes, He certainly should!”

I hope he sticks out all over in your life and mine.

Mercy: Its a Weird Thing

Two thoughts collided like atoms. The first was in regard to one of the books I am reading “Keep Christianity Weird”.  The author, Michael Frost, proposes that Christianity, at its best has always been counter cultural and that we should keep it that way. I was glad to find that he was not proposing that I wear flannel or grow a ‘man bun’. He reminds us that we follow an eccentric Saviour. His values do not align with the world’s and so ours ought not to conform either.

As I pondered the thesis of this book, I realized that I was living a ‘weird’ life. The world would not be comfortable with my friends, nor probably with my income. My life has evolved into a weird one by Frost’s definition and I am glad. I realize I am also weird, strange or peculiar in other ways that probably have little to do with following Jesus, but in this key way I am grateful to be weird after the fashion of Jesus.

The second thought was about mercy. I had a conversation with a ‘minister’ friend who asked me to think of a time I had received mercy. My mind flashed to a song we used to sing at Children’s Clubs “Mercy is Falling” but the question was not about receiving mercy from God but from another human.

I was sixteen or seventeen and making my way through the throng in the high school hallway between classes. I was walking next to “Jim” (not his real name). Jim was a good looking athletic type. He was very popular. As we walked I was teasing and taunting him. I was not as athletic or popular but I had a biting sarcastic wit which I used to ‘level the playing field’. I must have hit a nerve because Jim turn to me and  forcefully swore at me. Before I knew it my fist had impacted his face and he was collapsed on the hall floor with a pool of blood blooming beneath his head. I was soon hustled off to the office as Jim received medical care. The vice Principal and I had long acquaintance due to previous occasions of ‘playing field’ levelling. He informed me that I was to go home and that I was likely to be expelled and that he was going to recommend that I be criminally charged.

That day I had lots of time to think about how quickly things happened and that all the dreams I had for my life seemed to be washed away in an undisciplined moment.

The next day my parents and I were called to the school. There in the vice Principal’s office was Jim and his family. He had stitches above his nose but he had a smile on his lips for me. In my fear I had been expecting the worst because I had earned nothing less but I was greeted with mercy. Jim forgave me before I even saw him that day. He and his parents convinced the school not to expel me and assured me that they had no plans to press charges. The relief was amazing! I deserved punishment which would ‘ruin’ me but instead I got mercy.

This mercy changed my life. That was the last time I ever punched anyone. I also became aware that a rash impulse can lead to dire consequences and I believe this set me on my eventual course of working with ex-offenders. This mercy was integral in making me weird!

I have received so much more mercy from God but the example of mercy I received that day from Jim and his parents, remains as an example of how the mercy of God can be incarnated in a fallen and impulsive world.

The “accuser” rightfully names our offenses but through the mercy of Jesus we do not get what we deserve. Instead we receive a call to join his delightfully weird band of followers.

Pegs and Holes

round peg

I had coffee the other day with a friend who has a very active Christian ministry in our city. As he sat down and we said our hellos I surprised myself as I blurted out the question, “Do you ever feel like a round peg in a square hole?” He quickly admitted that he did and we spent the next while exploring that issue.

I must admit that I often feel like an octagonal peg. I don’t really fit in ‘church world’ nor do I fit in ‘social justice world’. I don’t fit with fundamentalists and I don’t fit with liberals. I don’t fit with intellectuals and I don’t fit with those who may not ask the big questions. I am an evangelical who is increasingly uncomfortable with evangelicals!

Since the early days when ‘I hitched my wagon’ to the Church Army (now Threshold Ministries), I have experienced this “neither fish nor fowl” feeling. We believe that people are lost and need to hear the Gospel of a Saviour who seeks to save them. This is a non-negotiable part of who we are as a Community of Evangelists!

Since the founding of the Church Army (Threshold) there has also been an emphasis on the more ‘’social’ aspects of this lost and fallen world, such as the alleviation of suffering and issues of justice. We believe this lost world is in need of healing, and that is found in the Kingdom of God. Putting the evidence of this just and healing Kingdom on display is a second non-negotiable for our community!

Street Hope reflects this ‘octagonal peg-ness’. The Evangel, the Good News, is at the very heart of what we do and who we are. The person of Jesus is introduced and his love proclaimed, yet we do not press or force decisions. A good farmer does not pick fruit before its time. The process can be agonizingly slow but we can but sow and water. It is God alone who gives the increase. We also believe that evangelism is about much more than making a decision. Our goal is to “make disciples”. Disciples, unlike cookies, cannot be mass produced! Jesus worked with a small number and over 2000 years later they have impacted the entire globe. There is a power inherent in the mini which cannot be replicated in the mega. We stay intentionally small while the world around us measures only bigness. Street Hope cares about people and justice but we are not a shelter or a food bank or soup kitchen. These places meet the need in a mega way but we seek to see individual lives changed.

We are neither fish nor fowl. We are little noticed and less understood and that is alright. The world needs octagonal pegs too. We will muddle on in our small corner content in the knowledge that God has a place in his Kingdom for pegs like ours.

We finished our Roamin’ Holiday last Saturday with a backyard barbecue. At the end of the meal we began to reminisce about our summer travels. Everyone had the opportunity to share and it was a delight to hear of the great experiences people had. One young woman shared that this was her first venture like this and how much she enjoyed it. I first met this young woman several years ago when she was homeless and pushing her belongings around in a grocery cart. She was sullen and silent. Over the years ever so slowly she has begun to open to our friendship. She is a regular Friday Nights and went on the last two of our travels. It was touching to hear her testify about the fun she had. This was not just a highlight of the night but was a highlight of the summer. God has been at work in our oddly shaped little world!