Year of the Lord’s Favour

Several years ago, as I was the last out to turn out the lights at Taylor College, I was faced with a new and daunting challenge. I was moving from the classroom and college administration into a new mission field. I have long been a believer in Jesus words “My sheep hear my voice”, and I try and take time to listen for him. At that time as I launched out into fulltime inner-city and correctional chaplaincy the Lord ‘spoke’ to me through Luke 4:18 – 19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” This of course is an excerpt from Jesus first recorded sermon after his baptism and temptations. It defined his ministry from that point onward! I ‘heard’ Jesus’ call to follow him and an affirmation that this new venture was the right place for me.

A short time after this we founded Street Hope Saint John and adopted 1 Peter 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  For the past number of years this verse has informed our ministry.

Recently I was in prayerful conversation with a dear friend who is designing a logo for our new “Threshold House” project. As we talked about the thrust of the ministry she asked me what was the key Bible passage that informed the vision for our project. In our local groups brain storming sessions, we had referenced several, too many for inclusion in a logo’s design. She said that in her experience sometimes an earlier such verse might be helpful to revisit. In a flash Luke 4:18-19 came crashing back to mind. The words “year of the Lord’s favour” seemed especially on point!

Threshold House is designed to be a 12-month experience in Christian community for men who have solidly discovered “new birth into a living hope”. During this “year of the Lord’s favour” they are to grow into people who can effectively follow Jesus in the proclamation of Luke 4:18-19.

As they take up this new calling and venture out as agents of proclamation and transformation, we ready ourselves to usher a new cohort into the year of the Lord’s favour. Together we hope to see change that can only come by the power and anointing of that same Spirit that anointed our Saviour and Exemplar back then.

When I was commissioned some 40 years ago I was given a verse by a saintly mentor “a great door for effective work is open before me, and there are many who oppose me.” 1Cor.16:9 There is still much opposition not flesh and blood so much as spiritual and circumstantial. Our awareness raising has been severely hampered by covid. My skill sets lean toward public presentation and verbal persuasion and these times require more tech savvy approaches. Our profile lags and our support raising drags, but we are not deterred. We are living in the year of the Lord’s favour. We move forward in faith!

Unsettled … but Assured!

It has become my habit to pause and ask myself, what I am feeling at a given moment. I admire people who clearly know what they are feeling at all time, but I cannot count myself in that number.

The other day I was in conversation with myself, and God about this very question and I arrived at the conclusion I was feeling “unsettled”.  This word conveys a lot of nuance. It is not that I am anxious or worried but rather that I feel I am journeying in novel and unfamiliar territory. I find myself pining, like so many of us, for a return to ‘normal’.

We are all journeying in strange and unfamiliar territory with the onslaught of a novel corona virus and so feeling unsettled is pretty normal (at least one thing is normal!).

But I began to think back. Was I settled before the pandemic? Is it a good thing to be settled?

I started to think about the ‘settlers’ those who homesteaded this land. They only became settlers as they stopped moving. Before that they were sojourners.

I admire those early settlers. When I lived through bitterly cold prairie winters I thought about those hardy folks, in their soddies weathering their first such winter season. They clung tenaciously to the land and built! What amazing settlers they were!

In the world of temporal things being a tenacious settler is most admirable, but in the Kingdom of God I feel more called to be a missionary, someone in motion sent by Jesus Great Commission to “Go!”. This means that being ‘unsettled’ is the natural state of one following Jesus.

He is constantly “making all things new”. His love is “new every morning”. Moses and his people were to pick new manna each day.

I feel that I ought not to settle, for settling may mean living off wormy manna. Like the early Israelites I find myself wanting to go back though God’s promises lay forward.

Now all this does not mean that I do not miss things like in person gatherings, handshakes, and perhaps even hugs, but I believe God has a better and brighter future for me. He calls me to be unsettled but assured. He calls me not to obsess about losses but rather trust in my Provider.

I think I have come to understand that there is a positive ‘unsettled’ and a negative one. The call of Christ means holding the present, with all its bane and blessing, lightly and be prepared for the next stage in the journey and what glories await.

Jesus invites me to abundant life. I do not want to settle for less. As Captain T. used to say, “It gets gooderer and gooderer!”

An Admired Man

Last night I received word that Terry Buckle had died. Terry was the most admired Church Army/Threshold member during my tenure with the society.

He was admired for his longevity. He started as a young man as a Church Army Evangelist and continued to exercise his ministry of evangelism through years as: deacon, priest, bishop, and archbishop. You could draw a ‘Good News’ line through all his ministry, as he consistently lifted and lived for his Saviour.

He was admired for his holiness. There was nothing ‘holier than thou’ about Terry, but when you were in his presence you knew that you were with someone who spent so much time with Jesus that he carried the very aroma of his Lord.

He was admired because he was a man’s man. His holiness was not that of the sanctuary alone. Terry loved to be out on the land with his many friends in his beloved north country. His early days were influenced by the pioneer spirit and he never lost the love for outdoors and outdoorsmen.

He was admired for his temperament. I recall trying to engage him in railing against those I perceived as opponents to orthodoxy. He would not be baited into unkindness. He was a man of the firmest convictions but full of compassion for those who held other views, even when they were /unkind to him.

He was admired for his mischievous humour. He was a kind-hearted tease. He enjoyed pranks and loved to laugh. His sense of humour and self-deprecation opened up doors for him and brought opportunities to share the love of God.

He was admired because he had a knack of making each person that he was engaging with feel as if they were important to him. This feeling, I think came naturally, because in the moment that person was important to him.

He was admired because in sickness and death he continued to point toward the One Who Saves. He insisted he was not saying “Goodbye!” but rather “See you later!”

How could you not admire a man like that? How could you not want to be a bit more like him?

On another note, today is the anniversary of 9 – 11. It was an event that changed my life. It was used of God to get my attention. I had been pouring a lot of energy into ‘churchy’ activities. I was then Chair of Anglican Renewal Ministry. On Sept. 11, I felt God call me back to my first love of evangelism. I quit all activities that were not associated with the pursuit of evangelism. This for me was the road less travelled by… and it has made all the difference.

The Quality of Mercy

There was a long line of socially distanced and masked people between me and the door to Threshold House. They were there to vote while I was there to work. As I passed each I mumbled through my own mask “Excuse me.” I felt like they were all silently judging me as a ‘cutter’ (a phrase from my elementary school days that means a person cutting into line). I recalled how angry I could get at such injustice and I wanted to explain that I was not jumping ahead of anyone, I had legitimate reason for bypassing the queue.

In a flash I began to contemplate how often I might have been unreasonably irked as I projected wrong motives on other ‘seeming cutters. It seems I have a high sense of justice for others while hoping for a high quotient of mercy from others. What a hypocrite I can be!

Surely I am not alone in holding, so easily, these opposing double standards. This is why Jesus adjures us to love others as we love our selves. Judgement seizes me when I perceive a slight, but I give a lot of grace to myself because I understand my circumstances.

The other day at a Bible Study some one asked about this commandment “What if you don’t love yourself?” This may indeed be a problem for many, yet we all crave to be understood. At the very least this command exhorts us to strive to understand others. Even when we cannot know what someone  is going through or what their motivation might be we owe it to Jesus to impute the best of intentions. This allows peace to continue to reign in my life and allows God to judge the hearts and motives. It keeps me from the sin of pridefully and illegitimately sitting in judgement, and avoids harming a fellow sojourner.

I never want to lose my sense of justice, but I do not want to cheapen this gift from God, by misusing it! My hearts cry, in regard to my own sin-filled life, is “Let mercy triumph over justice!” This then ought to be my predisposition toward others. It is a most Christ-like characteristic and ought then to be a distinctive in his Church.  

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7)

In these Beatitudes Jesus sets out the distinctives of the Kingdom of God. He invites, encourages and exhorts us to join him in living these values out in our lives. He does this not to lay a greater burden on us but instead to free us up to live happy and blessed lives as free citizens of the imperishable beautiful Kingdom of God.

Mercy is difficult to offer sometimes but it is always a wonderful thing to receive. Saint Francis (a hero of mine) calls us to ‘seek to understand rather than be understood’. I think that attitude may be the most freeing of all!