Renovation as a Prophetic Action


The scriptures are replete with prophetic action. These are actions in the physical plane that exemplify what God is doing on the spiritual plane. This week I think I felt a definite nudge in this direction. Last week I mentioned that we were praying about the possibility of finding a new permanent home for Street Hope. We have this in mind to particularly grow our outreach to those suffering with addictions.

This week we visited a building which is right across from the welfare offices and down the street from: both the women’s and men’s shelters, the St. Vincent de Paul clothing ministry, and the needle exchange. The building doesn’t look like much from the outside but when we walked in my heart fell! It looked like a disaster zone. It has suffered some major water damage and the ceilings and walls were littered across the damp floor. I couldn’t see beyond the mess. During the entire time the smoke detector was blaring as if to say, “Run for it!”. After a polite conversation with the realtor we retreated to our house where we had a conversation with my friend who knows way more about buildings and construction than I do.

“It has good bones!” he said. He began to tell me how I was missing all the potential. We began to talk about all the work necessary and again what I first thought of as a major obstacle began to seem like an opportunity. The project of renovation, itself, would be a major part of the ministry as we engaged volunteers.

The building became a picture of the renovation we desire to seek in the lives of our friends struggling with addictions. Many see these lives as disaster zones but God knows the potential. The most addicted has “Good bones!”

I don’t know if we will buy this building. I am not the final arbiter on that. Jonathan the Threshold Director will be down in May and we will look at it. I don’t think anyone will snatch it up in the mean time. We will be stretched financially as never before! But all this is not too difficult for God.

A few weeks ago, I asked myself if I had one more challenging project in me. I have decided the answer is yes! I invite you along on the journey.

On another note, Linda and I are off to Halifax to take in a seminar on helping ex-offenders adjust to society and welcoming them into our church community. I no longer officially work in this ministry but I see the same group of people week in and out and I volunteer alongside Chaplain Rob. It should be a nice get away for the weekend, as well.

It’s a Question of Questions


I’ve been learning a lesson lately. (I know I have been slow getting this). Questions are important. My grandson and I took a long walk this week and jumped in hundreds of puddles along the way. He asked a torrent of questions many of which I had no clue of the answer. I’ll have to remember to google “Why is the sky blue?” He was perfectly content to learn the extent of his grandfather’s ignorance and I managed to avoid the reply “Because I said so!”. Sometimes I diverted by turning the question around “What do you think?” or “Why do you ask?”. Together we learned a lot because we asked and listened to each other.

Jesus asks and answers many questions, in the gospels and we stand to learn a lot if we answer and listen. Questions like “Who is my neighbour?”, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” or “When did we see you hungry, naked, or in prison?” These are great questions all.

Lately I have been posing questions to myself, God and my community. “What does the next chapter of my life look like?” Do I simply wind down into retirement or do I have another active chapter yet to write? One of the folks I look to most for guidance encouraged me to ‘dream big’ and God has laid the issue of addictions on my heart. Addictions seem, to me, to be at the heart of many of the social ills that plague our community, whether crime, violence, family disfunction, homelessness, or poverty. I have often felt that efforts to alleviate the above list would be much enhanced by concentrated efforts toward ‘Recovery’.

A friend posed a few questions that cemented my thinking. He asked “When was the last time you heard of someone freezing to death in Saint John? Or Someone starving to death?” Then he pointed out that almost daily you can read obituaries of those who lost their lives to over dose or suicide because of addictions.

Bill Wilson and many others have discovered that recovery is an issue of spiritual revival. It is within the Church that the true answer for addiction lies and so we bear a special burden of responsibility on this front.

All these questions led me to the conclusion that this is too big a challenge to ignore and so I am praying about Street Hope’s response. One of the key items for prayer is the idea of having a storefront in Waterloo Village where we would concentrate our Spiritual/Recovery work and expanding our staff to include someone with specialised addictions counselling expertise.

I will be writing further on this subject, no doubt, in weeks ahead, but I invite you to join me in prayer and to consider if there are ways you might be a part of the answer to this great challenge. Asking the question is important and I pray that you might ‘hear’ a clear answer.


Not Consumed!


I have been doing some meditating on “the burning bush” of late. It was probably just an ordinary bramble bush which is common in that climate. In its ordinariness it was highly combustible yet despite its tinder dryness the bush was not “consumed”. The flame was of God not the bush. Here we see, symbolically, the transcendence of God. The writer of Hebrews says that God is “an all-consuming fire” in his holiness. Normally a fire would make short shrift of an arid desert bramble bush. This is what any of us would expect and it would be the natural result according to all scientific explanation, but the transcendent holy God is also the God who draws near to us. Paradoxically he is both far above us in his might and holiness and at the same time as close as our thought or breath. This immanence (nearness) is a wonderful mercy!

Lent calls us again and again to the desert, where we follow Jesus in his temptations, and it is here that we become aware of our ‘fallenness’ and God’s holiness. We become keenly aware of our shortcomings and that we continually ‘miss the mark’. Like Isaiah in the temple we realize in the presence of God’s holiness that we “are undone!”

The unburning “burning bush” symbolizes our great hope. In Christ God has drawn near. While we were still at enmity with God, Christ: took on flesh, moved into our neighbourhood, and died for us. Through the radical nearness of the incarnation and the cross, we are not consumed. The God who once walked with humans in the cool of the garden, walks again with those who draw near to him. James sagely invites us to “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

In this Lenten desert we recognize our sinfulness in the stark light of his burning holiness, yet we are not bereft for God in his mercy does not abandon us to our fate but rather draws near and draws us to him.

The desert is a great place to take a Lenten sojourn, but we can be thankful that we don’t live there. Even as I make my jaunt into the desert, I know I can and will return to the lush place of still waters purchased for me through the cross and Resurrection!

On another note: it has been gratifying to see more friends coming to our morning Study and Prayer times. There have been times in past where I was the only one and sometimes only two of us but recently others are coming or returning. It was a bit of a slog, but perseverance is paying off. I’m not terribly interested in numbers, but I am interested in people, so it is good to gather with a handful to look at the Word. Lately we’ve been studying Acts. The questions have been challenging and we are all learning a lot. Thanks for your prayers.

Consolation No More


I began my ministry in remote communities in Canada’s north where the most quoted Bible verse was “Where two or three are gathered …” We used the verse to console ourselves when the numbers were not great. Later I worked as ‘Field Secretary’ (Personnel Officer) and visited our Evangelists in many remote locations and the same verse cropped up on those occasions. When I came to Saint John in 2000 to teach at Taylor College our classes sizes reminded us of this verse and we used it again to console ourselves that, at least God was with us!

Later as I began to work in the Inner-city and began Uptown Church, I had an epiphany! I thought, “What if God really means what He says? What if his power and presence are most manifest in smallness rather than in vastness?” I began to look at smallness quite differently.

God had the great mission of rescuing a lost humanity and he began with a seed in a virgin’s womb. The power is in the seed! The presence of God is magnified in the small thing!

Influenced by this world we had come to measure ministry by worldly measure. We counted only nickels and noses. Success was in largeness and busyness. The Kingdom principles instead are about stillness and smallness.

Since that epiphany I have tried to joyfully practise small group ministry, not by default but on purpose. Others may be called to ‘mega’ ministry, but I feel a vocation to ‘micro’ ministry. Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with small numbers intentionally. The seed that he nurtured in these few followers bore fruit that continues today.

I recall a children’s talk my friend Al Knight gave, one time. He had an apple and he asked the children, “How many seeds do you think are in this apple?” The guesses ranged in the area of 5 or 6. Al cut the apple and they counted them. He then took one seed and said, “How many apples are inside this one seed?” The answer is that there are limitless numbers of apples potentially in that seed, as it becomes a tree that produces more apples each season with more seeds in each apple. The power is not in the big red apple, as big and delicious as it might be, the power is in the relatively tiny seed!

Jesus has given us one template for ministry and the secular world has given us another very different numbers and success driven template. The question for his faithful followers is, “Which model will we adopt?”

It can be a real blow to our pride when we report the micro nature of our ministry to a mega obsessed world and the temptation is to at least want to be a bit ‘mega’, but the power of the seed is in its dying, and this temptation is to be eschewed.

So, I continue to walk with the few who gather under the Street Hope banner. It is a joy to see seeds planted take root, and over the course of time see fruit develop in my friends lives. I know that this fruit carries in it seeds that bespeak a glorious harvest in the future.

I no longer use that Bible verse to console myself because I feel like a failure but rather, I reflect on it knowing that God is powerfully present in our ‘smallness’. It may not be sexy or saleable but there is no place I’d rather be, and I highly recommend it!