You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Folks flocked out to see him, a seeming wild man, with grasshoppers caught in his teeth, his uncut and unkempt beard flying as he railed against injustice and Herod. He was a “can’t miss” spectacle in the wilderness, a magnetic attraction. After years of prophetic silence God seemed to be thundering once again through an Elijah-like voice.

Inevitably he was questioned “Are you the promised Messiah?” and he has a most startling reply, “If you think I am wild and radical, you haven’t seen anything yet! There is one coming that I do not compare to! I baptize with ordinary old water, but he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire!” (I think he always talked with exclamation points) It was moment like the one where David danced before the Lord and his first ex-wife Michael complained that he was embarrassing her, and he replied “If you are embarrassed by this wait until you see what I will yet do! I will be more undignified than this!”

I remember movies of the life and ministry of Jesus. John was always portrayed as a wild undomesticated prophet boldly proclaiming the imminent activity of God. Jesus in comparison was much more acceptable a character. He was tamer somehow. He was ‘Jesus meek and mild’, but John himself knew better than these film directors. He knew that Jesus, like Aslan, is no tame lion. Here at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry he is introduced in comparison to John.

One of the books I revisit often is “Mere Discipleship” by Lee Camp. It reminds me of the radical person that Jesus is and the radical person he is calling me to be. It seems to me that I so often ‘domesticate’ my Christianity, so as to tame the Lion of Judah. Jesus becomes so identified with me and my concerns that his wild nature gets lost in the process. My concentration on me and mine, by which I blend seamlessly with my culture, prevents me from a wild radical life like unto his.

Even evil men love those who love them, but Jesus calls me to love my enemy. He calls me not to love riches but rather love the unlovely. He calls me out of a life of ‘self-protection’ into one of radical self-giving.

John was a wild man, a man of exclamation points, but Jesus makes John’s wildness pale by comparison and I am absolutely blanched! I much more identify with Peter outside the judgement hall, denying that I even know him. This is why it so important that this wild radical Saviour baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Without this co-equally untame Spirit I can but despair of my natural meekness. There is an ancient prayer that says “as much as without Thee we are unable to please Thee”. I need the immediate presence of God in order to attempt the radical life of discipleship but as James reminds me “You have not because you ask not”.

Daily dependence and  everyday commitment to God’s will and God’s way are necessary if I am to be freed from the restraints of conformity to this world and experience the transformation necessary to walk with my wild  Redeemer.


In Good Company

On Sunday I was reminded that 52 years ago on the day of Epiphany I was confirmed by an Anglican bishop. At the time our rector (pastor) asked the bishop to also pray for me setting me aside for ministry in the Church. It was this moment, more than the confirmation itself, that I remember. While I was not a stellar student in school, I excelled in Sunday School! I seemed to have an aptitude for it and Bible knowledge stuck like Velcro to my mind. I remember frustrating others in my classes. The teacher would have what he called “Sword Drill”. He would name a Scripture reference and students would race to be the first to find it and quote it out loud. Without even cracking my book I would spout out the desired text. An assistant minister gave me a copy of “Principles of Theology” when I was 12 and I devoured it.

It was apparent then to my home church that God was calling me. We all assumed that this calling would be to ordained ministry, but such was not the case. The route to my commissioning as an Evangelist was a long and winding one. Many of my fellow Evangelists have wrestled with the question of ordination but for me it has been a long-settled question. There is no doubt in my mind that I would be an unhappy priest and that I would lead an equally unhappy congregation. I delight rather in the mission field as an Evangelist.

I am grateful for the mentoring I received from Threshold Ministries (then called Church Army) and for the companionship of my fellow Evangelists. The word companion holds the image of ‘eating bread together along the way’ and so is a fitting word for this company of Evangelists.

I was reminded of the wonderful nature of this ‘company’ as I called some of our Evangelists this week. I am helping with the Threshold Prayer Calendar and have been speaking to our folks to catch up on their lives and ministries.

It was a joy to hear of the ‘Back Pack Ministry’ Erin is involved with as she leads the Inner-city Youth Ministry in Saint John. The idea is that each week the ministry will fill a back pack for over 30 families in the South End of the city. Each pack will contain reading for parents and children to share as well as ingredients, a recipe for a simple nutritious home cooked meal, and some tasty healthy snacks. She is also planning to take children to Christian Camp this summer.

Eden shared about the folks he serves in Moncton. He opines that up to 80% of those getting out of prison are suffering from mental health issues and or addictions. These are the areas that he and Carolyn are vitally concerned with.

Darren celebrates 30 years of ministry with undiminished joy. He loves to see people come to faith. He shared a concerned for those who leave the correctional setting, in poor health. He spoke passionately about a few examples. It was great to share with him and to hear his infectious laugh.

Winnie is praying over some new opportunities that have been recently presented to her. The conversation was full of scripture references, the chief one being Psalm 32:8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” It was great to chat with someone who was so trusting and open to God’s leadership.

Rob is preparing to begin a new ministry at St. Margaret’s in Fredericton. It was good to hear his confident faith as he looks forward to all God has for him and this parish in the days ahead.

It is humbling to be in such company! It is a joy! I thought that taking on this extra responsibility might be taxing (I really don’t usually enjoy talking on the phone), but it has been an energizing and inspiring task. I look for to sharing more on this adventure in future blogs.

The Passing of Missionary and Mentor

I first heard of Kathy at our Thursday Night Fellowship meetings. Each week we would pray for missionaries and she was always prominent on the list. When she returned to Canada while on furlough from her mission in Pakistan, she visited us, a group of impressionable students. It was thrilling to get to know someone who lived out the Gospel in the most difficult of all mission fields. She inspired me then, but little did I know the impact she would have in my little orbit.

We were living in the little prairie community of Elkhorn Manitoba, when Kathy came to stay with us for a few days at our Conference and Retreat Centre. It was during that time that I experienced her keen sense of humour and true humility. She saw me as a fellow missionary. Years later when I created the ‘tag line’ “Forming Missionaries for the 21st Century” for Taylor College, I did so with Kathy’s influence very much in mind.

She was to have another moment of real influence on me and Threshold Ministry. For years the Church Army International had been discussing the idea of a name change. The International body hired a consulting firm to come up with a new name. After much travel and discussion, they proposed a Swahili word meaning “Good News” (I cannot remember now what that word was). Each National Society would need to ratify the change. You have probably already guessed that this proposal met no such approval.

At that time many in Church Army were seeking a new name with the idea of keeping the same initials so we could keep the iconic CA. One day the Director of CA in UK and titular head of CA International, asked me what I thought we should be called. I blurted out “Threshold”. I quite liked the imagery of a liminal space, a threshold, in which people made decisions. I also felt it was a welcoming relational word.

Later the Church Army in Canada was impressed with a sense of necessity to change our name. We worked long and hard to find a name. At first, we almost settled on “Street Hope” the name of a flag ship ministry begun in Victoria but finally felt it did not encompass the wider range of Church Army activities. After many tries, we arrived at what we thought was a ‘winner’. We arranged to meet with our Board of Directors, who were by this time warm to the idea of a name change. We proposed to them the name “Martyreo” which is the biblical Greek word for “Witness”.

As I was proposing this, before I even got warmed to the subject, Kathy piped up “That makes me think of suicide bombers!”. Such ‘martyrs’ were common in her home area, in Pakistan. The air went out of the room and we knew the idea was dead on arrival. Those of us who were felt strongly that an update to our name was going to be a key for our long-term viability, were devastated!

The chairman recognized that “Martyreo” was not going to work and asked if we had any other suggestion. Like I had several years before I blurted out “I have always liked Threshold”. After a brief discussion the new name was proposed and passed. Kathy had played a vital role.

Over the years I would get little notes of encouragement from Kathy. I had long ago learned to trust her judgement and so I always took her encouragement very seriously. I have friends who always ‘gush’ encouragement and it is my habit to slough it off, but I always paid attention to Kathy.

This week my friend passed away. I have wonderful memories and look forward to sharing them with her again.