In his song “It’s A Jungle Out There” Randy Newman sings “I might be wrong … but I don’t think so.” I have been thinking a lot about this because I have had an uneasy relationship with the denomination I have been raised and nurtured in for many years. That ‘unease’ has grown over the years until very recently my wife and I decided we no longer could comfortably remain. I have unwavering respect for those who feel differently. People of good will can disagree. We have decided to leave the denomination that we have long belonged to and have begun attending a Baptist church in our neighbourhood. We were drawn to this church because it is deeply embedded in our neighbourhood and has a history of reaching out in love with the clear Gospel of Jesus.
I was tempted to begin this announcement with the words “it is with a heavy heart…” but as I saw these words displayed I realised that they were not true. I rather have a sense of relief after years of agonising over differences we had with our former denomination.
I say all this to announce that in the coming weeks Linda and I look forward to being baptized. One of our several areas of tension with the Anglican Church has been around ‘believers’ baptism’. Again, I have no quarrel with those who believe otherwise, but we believe this is important.
Our various ministries will be unaffected by this decision. They are though, deeply affected by the pandemic! We do not know when or how our Drop In will start again. Playing board and card games in close proximity will not be ‘on’ for the foreseeable future. We could rejig our Drop In showing videos and having discussions, but this would be so radical a change as to be a completely different ministry.
We look to have an outdoor event at Threshold House to mark the launch of that aspect of our ministry. We have resumed some of our recovery meetings and I hope to add some more workshops and studies in the Fall.
We are now responsible for Street Hope’s share of the expenses of upkeep, maintenance, and renovations of the building. Our opportunities for fundraising have been particularly hampered by covid but we are trusting God and his people.
I have been doing Bible Studies three times a week on Facebook, and where I used to get one or two guys out to my studies I now have a range of 50 – 80 viewers of the online study. These are just those who see it on the sites I control I know of several others who share or repost them. This has been a positive and surprising result of the pandemic. If and when things return to ‘normal’ I may continue these and add in person studies.
Many were praying for me when I was appointed Interim Director and I am happy to report that I am no longer needed in that capacity. I had asked people to pray that it would be a brief and uneventful tenure and it was, for the most part. Thank you.
Many of us have had extra time to: reflect, recall, and ponder, during these last few months. I have spent some time thinking about those who have influenced me for good. This is a deliberate activity to counteract my natural bent to thinking about those who may have harmed me.
One of the most positive of influences was a most humble man. I met Jake when I first was asked to preach at the Gospel Church in our new community of Elkhorn, Manitoba. This was the first of many preaching engagements there as I preached once or twice a month for years! Jake was from a Mennonite background and though he was affiliated with this Gospel Church was still a ‘cultural’ Mennonite, holding all the values and most of the traditions of that historic community of Jesus followers.
Jake was like his friend Jesus, a carpenter but he was like Jesus in many more ways than that! Not long after our first encounter Jake invited me to join him in an outreach to the men of the Brandon Correctional Centre. For years Jake had been taking a team there each month. He was careful who to invite, his standards were high. For some reason I passed the test and soon I was privileged to be a regular member of the team. This team included Jake’s wife Nettie, a gospel band (usually a bluegrass band) and a preacher. Through Jake I met more than a few Christian Bands and with Jake made our own attempt to start our own Gospel Jamboree at our Centre in Elkhorn.
Jake was not a preacher nor was he a musician or singer. He was a humble man on a mission. He was energetic for the Gospel and had a deep passion to see people find faith and hope in his friend, Jesus. In Jake I saw an example of what God could and would do through someone who was committed to Jesus and who was not looking for credit. Jake never ‘blew his own horn’ but always encouraged others to step out in ministry. In my own halting way, I have tried to follow his example.
I was thinking of Jake and our times at the Brandon Correctional Centre, and my visits to jails and prisons right across this country, because the topic of “systemic racism” is in the forefront these days. When we would visit that centre upwards to 75% of the imprisoned were First Nation’s people while the population on the streets of Brandon would be more like 10%. I have done enough work in corrections to have a realistic view, so I know most if not all of these people committed crimes. I do not believe for a minute that racist judges or police were the reason for the disproportionate incarceration. I do believe that the larger picture demonstrates that there is something seriously wrong with the system.
I believe the answer is not so simple. How does a nation repent? What is the fruit of such repentance? If we scapegoat police we miss the point. If we dig in and blindly “support” Law and Order we miss the point. The answer is not in denial nor is it in tinkering but the messy business of recognizing and humbly addressing a justice “system” whose fruit seems unjust.
I usual try to avoid political controversy. People of all political stripes need Jesus and that is my primary concern, but some topics stir me, and I cannot help but share.
Last week was a rare miss for me, as it relates to posting something in this space. I was with Linda, my grandson and members of Linda’s family, as we took part in the Saint John Pregnancy Centre’s “Walk for Life.” Other years this walk takes place as a mass gathering and people walk together but this year each ‘bubble’ walks by itself. We chose to ‘walk for life’ by hiking the Bluff overlooking the farm where Linda grew up and the valley where many of her family still live and work. This family venture seemed to honour the family values of the Pregnancy Centre where Linda has long volunteered.
As I have been reflecting on this I have realised that my entire life and ministry is motivated by my ‘pro’ life values. These days we hear the refrain “Black Lives Matter” and I totally agree. Too often this refrain is met with a response “All lives Matter” which while true is unhelpful as not all lives are endangered in the same way.
Unlike many of my evangelical brethren I believe that pro life must mean pro the born as well as the unborn. It seems the height of inconsistency to advocate the rights of the unborn and then be indifferent to their plight thereafter.
My pro-life stand goes beyond the temporal though. I read that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son so that we might have life, eternal life! Jesus said he came to that we might have life, life to the full! I feel it would be inconsistent of me to advocate for life and rights only on this temporal and temporary plane, when it is ever more vital that people find eternal and abundant life promised in the Gospel.
“Lost lives matter!” ought to be our cry as we take to the streets to effectively share the Good News of the love of God for lost and wayward humanity. When I find myself pining for the days when I could blithely attend a church service and sing at the top of my lungs, I remind myself that my satisfaction is not the goal of the Church. As I turn my nostalgic eyes off myself I can begin to imagine how I can use this time and the opportunities it brings, to share the Good News with those who have not yet responded to the message of God’s great love.
Solomon writes “To everything there is a season…” and this is certainly a season to aver that ‘Black and Indigenous Lives Matter’. Paul writes to Timothy that he is to share the Good News “in season and out of season”. Gospel sharing is always in season because it is vital.
As we launched this month into a new stage of our “Threshold House” project we are mindful that at its heart this is all about equipping people with ‘a Good News story’ to effectively share the hope that they have experienced so that others may find new and abundant life.