Inspiration From Strange Sources


In strange times we may find inspiration in strange places. I have recently found great inspiration in a very strange place indeed. My inspiration during this time is …. (wait for it),,,. Pontius Pilate!

He would be inspiration as the most memorable ‘hand washer’ in history but it is his question “What is truth?” which I feel I must ponder most these days.

This is a time fraught with inordinate fear. I have learned a helpful acrostic for fear “False Evidence Appearing Real”. F.D.R. once famously said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Those were perilous times and there were real dangers, but he was warning the populous not to be overcome by their fear. A sober honest look at our challenges will allow us to make wise decisions in order to face the challenges of today.

We need a healthy dose of truth to settle and combat our fears. Pilate’s question is an apt one for me. My dad used to accuse me of “flying off the handle” when I overreacted in an irrational manner. Too many are “flying off the handle” today. Some of this is based on wrong information which has led to weird hoarding on the one hand and others glibly avoiding ‘social distancing’ because of their perceived invulnerability! We need a heaping dose of truth!

When it comes to our health it is best to listen to health professionals rather than Facebook posts or pundits. But there is a greater need for truth than these rational voices can provide, and our inspiration, Pilate, shows us the way.

My point is not just that he asked the question “What is truth?” but to whom he asked it. Pilate didn’t realise it, but he asked the question to the only human that could ever truly answer it. James encourages us when we lack wisdom to ask God and this is the example of Pilate.

Facts only arm us so far, the real battle with fear is in our hearts and minds. I am following Pilate’s example and asking God what is true. What are my feelings and are they based on faith or fear? Am I living in trust or disbelief?  As I examine these questions God helps me realise that many of my feelings around fear are based on things appearing real to me which are patently false.

I read in Psalm 23 that though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.  Recently I heard the story of a pastor driving his children home from the funeral of their mother. He was grappling with a way to encourage them when a semi passed them and for a moment they were in the shadow of that huge truck. He asked his children if they would rather be ‘run over’ by the shadow or the actual truck? Jesus was ‘run over’ by the actual semi as “He became sin that knew no sin” so that we need only pass through its shadow. “Death where is thy sting? O’ Grave where is thy victory”

Let’s follow Pilate’s example of washing hands and let us honestly seek God’s truth in our every situation.

I was in on an online meeting, this week, with the Director of threshold and the Board members to whom I am accountable. We discussed the idea that the economic consequences of this time might have real impact on our ministry. This is especially challenging for Street Hope Saint John as we are on the verge of expanding our ministry by opening Threshold House as early as this fall. We are trusting God and advising our supporters of this need for continued and growing support.

The truth is “God is good, all the time!”


What’s in that Tube?


I remember finding a mysterious tube on my dad’s old workbench in the basement. I asked him what was in it? There was no label at all, and he didn’t know, or claimed not to know. He invited me to squeeze it and find out. My hands were soon covered in a black lubricant of some kind. That is when I learned that if you want to see what is inside “apply pressure”. Whatever is inside comes out when squeezed!

We are all feeling the pressure of the current health crisis and it is revealing for good or ill what is inside our shiny facades. The results are mixed. On the one hand we see panic and selfishness evidencing an inner distrust and self-centredness. On the other hand, we find thoughtfulness and creative encouragement. Both are ‘coming out’ under pressure and they reveal the things we should affirm and the things for which we ought to repent.

To make this personal, let me illustrate. ‘Social distancing’ is a good and necessary thing but my original embracing of this new lifestyle was not to protect others. My motivation was out selfishness and fear! Last summer I suffered through a flu. In recent years my lungs seem to be susceptible to these things, with each being worse than the last. The thought of another potentially more serious virus frightened me. I do not like to admit to fear, even to myself, but this fear was dominating my thinking.

Under pressure fear came gushing out! I had to face the facts, my actions might be good, but my heart was wrong! Outwardly that is making little difference. I continue to social distance. I feel I have been training all my introverted life for living in such times. I now admit to myself and God, my fear. I think about the vulnerable people like my son and daughter-in-law and I purpose to love them through social distancing. As I allow love into the equation fear abates. “Perfect love casts out fear.”

Having the hidden things revealed, under this pressure is a blessing rather than a curse. It gives us a chance of self-examination like no Lenten season ever could! It may not be pretty, but it can be purifying if we ask “Search me, God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts” Psalm139:23

Speaking of Psalms, I have rediscovered the power and scope of Psalm 23 through this time as I have been watching a video series “Travelling Light” by Max Lucado. It is a series of 18 half hour sessions all based on the 23rd Psalm. This master wordsmith takes me deep into a psalm I had thought I knew. I had memorised this psalm before I was 10. I have read it thousands of times since but all too often I race through it. Max has me travelling lighter but also slower as I appreciate the unplumbed depths of these seven powerful verses!

So, I have the opportunity to save others’ lives by resting with my Shepherd as he restores and nourishes my soul. I often challenge people to find the ‘missional’ opportunity in whatever the times may bring. This Lenten season provides us with a bountiful opportunity. If I don’t like what I see (and I don’t) when I am squeezed, what better time to be quietly renewed from the inside out.

Fat Lip & the Image of God

fat lip

I gave myself a ‘fat lip’ this week, and I didn’t even realise it! I sensed that something was up and then I looked in a mirror and saw what looked like a chocolate streak below my lip. I went to wash it off only to discover it was bruised and my lip itself was swollen.  This may seem odd to you, but it is not out of the realm of my experience. Due to a fall I had years ago I have no feeling in my lip or lower face. I can, and have injured myself without knowing it, though this was my first ‘fat lip’. I have often accidently bitten my lip, only to realise I am bleeding because of the taste of blood. I take precautions by regularly rinsing with a non-alcoholic mouthwash to avoid infections.

One of my tests for the health of my lip is to say the name “Jesus”. Try saying his name when you get out of the dentist’s chair and you’ll soon realise what I mean. What I am unaware of is dangerous to me and so I have to make it a habit to check my oral health and take care of problems before they become unmanageable.  I’m not complaining, in fact I have learned a lot about spiritual life through this time!

Knowing is always better than not knowing! Awareness of my physical health can help me avoid catastrophe. The same is true on a spiritual level.

I have often wondered at the description of King David as the “apple of God’s eye” a cursory look at his sordid and bloody history indicates that this sobriquet was not given on merit. Rather it was David’s willingness to look at his spiritual state and take remedial steps. His writing in Psalms illustrates his awareness of God’s standards of holiness and his absolute failure to measure up to them. He cries out time and again for mercy.

Confession, after the manner of David, cannot be solely a corporate rhyming off of a General Confession, but must include a personal look in the mirror, and recognition of the flaws we then see. Only then can we take the remedial steps of asking for a cleansing (crying for mercy) and receiving by faith the gracious gift of God.

So many of us are occupied with the Corona Virus and we ought to take all necessary precautions, but the deadliest virus is sin. Like injuries to my mouth and lip, sin is an inevitability. We are fallen people living in a fallen world. A daily examination accompanied by confession and reception of forgiveness is the only way to avoid sin taking hold causing serious consequences that later require more drastic action. I so far have avoided serious infection through a diligent regimen of inspection and remediation. Lent is a good time to develop this same habit in our spiritual lives. This habit will produce life and health in us.

If we say we have no sin, scripture says we are lying and making a mockery of the cross (calling God a liar). Let us purpose to check in our spiritual mirror to ensure that we see the Father’s image there!


Good Monotony?


Sameness is often wearisome to me. I have some routines that anchor my day and life but even in these routines I demand a kind of variety. It is, after all, the spice of life. Monotony is to be avoided.

This week I had a revelation! God is quite unlike me, or more correctly I am unlike God. God it seems delights in monotony. He continues to create daisies as daisies. He has the sun set day after day and rise again in the morning. God seems to delight in doing the same creative thing over and over. There is of course endless variety in creation but there is a distinct element of repetition.

This occurred to me as I prayed this week. I found myself saying “God you must tire of forgiving me for the same sin, over and over again!”  But I felt God say “I never tire of forgiving and restoring. It is for this very reason I sent my Son.” It was in that moment that my heart was gladdened to be in relationship with a God who can make monotony a creative force.

G.K. Chesterton tells us this is an aspect of God we best witness in little children. They might have an experience like being pushed high on a swing, and say with a giggle, “Do it again!” only to giggle again and make the same request. The fun only stops as the ‘adult’ tires of the monotony and the fun halts. Chesterton suggests that God is like that child. He does something wonderful and delights in it “Good, Good, Very good.” Only to do it again.

So, God delights in forgiving me, that is good news, but what does it say about how I should live? I think I might become ‘weary in well doing’ not because of exhaustion but because of a malaise of boredom. I too easily lose my wonder at the everyday miracles I see God do in people’s lives, even when God does so through me. As a ‘jaded’ adult, I have abandoned the child-like wonder which was once mine. It is to this wonder Jesus is calling me when he exhorts me to become “as a little child”.

God is wonderful! God is wonderful not just because of the delights he creates but God is wonderful because of his unchanging stability. He can be counted on to “Do it again!” God is “the  same yesterday, today, and tomorrow”.

Stability is not something I appreciate as I should. I am thankful for God’s unchanging nature. I am grateful for a stable marriage. I’m glad to live in a country of relative political stability. I believe God has called me to a creative stability as part of my ministry. I have been a part of the same community of Evangelists for over 40 years now. I continue to walk with my Street Hope friends for about 17 years now. There is something wonderful about stability, but monotony and boredom can easily rob us of our perspective, and wonder slips away, replaced by rote joyless duty.

Can I “Do it again!” with recaptured wonder and joy? With the Lords help, I believe the answer can be “Yes”. I find true hope in that.