Even in difficult times, and perhaps especially in difficult times it is important to find ways to incarnate the Good News of God’s love. This is our challenge. In the manger God demonstrated the lengths to which He is willing to go. No one could have predicted His demonstration. It was the ultimate in creative solutions. When we creatively address questions of how to incarnate this message during covid, we are imitating Him!
From its founding Church Army, called Threshold Ministries in Canada, has been focussed on ministry to the marginalised. I have tried to walk in this tradition. In 20 20 ministry took an unexpected turn. My ministry became marginalised by covid 19! The year began with grand plans. We were going to continue our Drop In and Bible Study ministry in the inner-city and expand to the creation of a Christian Community designed to disciple recovered men to become ‘Bringers of Hope’ to the wider community.
All of this has been placed, with a thud, on the shelf. God though has had a plan. This pandemic did not take him by surprise. I have had to learn how to serve Him from the margins. In laughable ways I have sought to use digital means to do my Bible Study. My phone has become my means of contact and counsel. These are instruments I do not particularly care for. I have learned to dive deeper in the word of God. I have become more disciplined in prayer. I have learned to use creativity where the old ways are impossible.
Each year our small inner-city house church gathers for a Christmas Feast. This year we were on “Orange” and could not meet. I arranged delivery of a Swiss Chalet Festive Dinner to each of us and we celebrated together while apart. The feedback has been wonderful. My friends loved the ‘gravy’ (dipping sauce), and none had ever tasted quality chocolates like the Lindt ones that arrived. It was not the same, but it was wonderful in very real sense.
Street Hope has started a tradition of holding a Christmas Banquet. This too was endangered by covid. I began to think about having a ‘Take Out’ banquet, but health questions made this a difficult needle to thread. I approached my wife’s genius brother-in-law Russel Dobbelsteyn of the Chefs Table with the idea of a Banquet in a Box. He created a savory charcuterie feast.
Marketing the Banquet in a Box was the next challenge. Church bulletins, church bulletin Boards, and Church announcements were not as readily available. Personal appeal opportunities were limited. Again, I took to Social Media. Slowly we began to sell boxes. I took a chance and ordered 100 from Chef Rus not knowing if I could reach that number. Soon people began to ask if they could buy one and donate it to someone who needed it more. My usual sources are not readily available to me, so this took more prayer and creativity than in years past. I called a friend from church to inquire about how many people attended the weekly Community Dinner that local churches sponsor on the East Side of Saint John. He informed me that during covid the numbers had doubled from 20 to 40 people coming each Saturday. Again, in faith I agreed that we would supply a box for each individual that came the day of our Banquet. I am happy to report that Chef Rus created a delicious box and Linda’s sister Betty decorated each box beautifully. We had enough boxes donated to give one to each individual that came to the Community (take out supper).The folks from our church were serving that day and they relayed how blessed people were by this gift. I had some wonderful conversations in the parking lot of Threshold House, as I delivered boxes to car doors. The feedback has been extraordinary!
My daughter came home from school. It was a day like any other. I asked how her day had gone and she went on to describe it. They had had an assembly that day with a motivational speaker. Afterwards the speaker’s representative stopped my daughter in the hall and asked if she would like to meet that day’s presenter. She was busy with those concerns that consume teenage girls (still a mystery to me) and relied “No thank you.” and hurried on. I prodded a bit and discovered that the speaker was “some guy named Paul Henderson.” I was aghast!
There are certain “Where were you?” moments in our lives. Where were you when you heard John Kennedy had been assassinated? Where were you when the planes crashed into the towers? These moments are few and far between. They are memorable markers we carry throughout our lives. Such a moment for many Canadians of the Boomer generation is “the goal” scored by Paul Henderson. Canada and Russia had engaged in the ultimate contest for world supremacy and Canada looked very much like it was coming up short when an unlikely hero stepped onto the stage of history. In 1972 Paul Henderson who had a decent but hardly stellar NHL career popped in winner after winner in this high-stake contest. In the final seconds of the final match, he scored the tying and winning goals. Canada’s superiority remained intact. This was a moment of national pride such that we had never had before or since. It was much more than a game! Our identity itself hinged on the outcome and Paul Henderson saved the day.
It was this Canadian icon that my daughter blithely brushed off that day! I had no words. She had passed on an opportunity that most red-blooded Canadian Boomers would have leapt at! There was something wrong here! I realized that it was my fault. I had not communicated the extraordinary impact of that goal and that series. How was she to know the opportunity presented to her if I had never told her. I remained chagrinned at the epic parental communications failure which was on exhibit that day.
We laugh about this today, but communications failure has a tremendous impact still today. At this Christmas Season people are invited to come and meet the Christ Child. The invitation is everywhere and cannot be missed but too many brush it off because they have no sense of who it is they are being invited to meet. It is not their fault anymore than it was my daughter’s fault that she did not know Paul Henderson. We need to be better at communicating the story. We need to be better at communicating how important Jesus is to us. Otherwise, the invitation inherent in Christmas is wasted. What a shame that will be. It does not take particular skill to communicate those things with which we are passionate. Let us take opportunity to share the impact that first Christmas has had on us and our lives so others will have some sense of who they are invited to meet.
This has been a difficult time for many of my friends. We get several calls and texts each day from people who are anxious, lonely, and depressed. We chat and pray with these folks and they seem somewhat comforted. We have a friend who because of her mental health finds herself in ‘care’ she is not allowed out and visitors have not been allowed during this stage in the pandemic. She texts often in very real anguish. We are so grateful that last night the most stringent measures have been lifted and perhaps our prayers that our friend may see family and friends over Christmas may be answered.
Personally, I have much to be thankful for. Linda and I have enjoyed good physical health. We welcomed a new arrival to our family. Our daughter and her husband have longed for another little one for a long time. We had joined them in desperate prayer and just yesterday I rocked little Ronan in the chair I had bought specially to do that same thing with his big brother.
We have been taking part in an Alpha at our Church and two of the people we invited are enjoying it and finding it helpful. We have not had many opportunities to be used in this way and it feels good!
Despite the obvious blessing on my life, I find great sympathy for David in Psalm 42:5 when he engages in some ‘self-talk’. “Why so downcast , o my soul…?” Over the months this depression has swollen. It has creeped stealthily but insistently. I can easily beat myself up for feeling this way when I know I am so blessed, and I am aware that others suffer so much more. I have discovered though, that ‘beating myself up’ does others no good, and it does not aide me in the least.
I return to Psalm 42 for help. In verse 6 reads “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember…” The psalmist stops asking the question “Why?” and instead turns to the “Who?”. He turns his thoughts to the study of the character and nature of the God, from whom all blessings flow. In his weakness he realizes that he cannot rest on his own strength but on that of the Lord. Later Paul was to write in a similar vein “My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. “
I have often battled with melancholy as the days got dark but covid has magnified the effect. I am grateful for a friend who passed along her special lamp which helps address this very thing. As I type it shines on my face and I feel that is making a distinct difference!
I have picked up an old companion. Years ago, I used to read C.H. Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible. It has been over 20 years since I last held it but as an extra disciple (which these times require) I picked it up and I have been thoroughly enjoying it. Spurgeon himself battled melancholy. He called it “the black dog” and I have chosen to find inspiration in a fellow battler. There could be a lot worse role model!
We all need to take care of ourselves. We are fragile, each one. Yet God is good! I am a blessed man with a God who loves me and will even use me for his glory!
I heard a new, to me, phrase this week “waiting forward”. I quite like it. It expresses a ‘foot forward’ anticipatory waiting which includes activity designed to prepare for the awaited outcome. Waiting in this way does not descend into idleness and fruitlessness.
When I was a kid we would post a lookout when the teacher left the room. The idea was that when she returned we could all be ‘caught’ studiously doing our assigned tasks. Later it became “Look busy! The boss is coming.” These are examples of fruitless waiting!
Other times when promises were slow in being fulfilled, I would get caught up in other things and neglect waiting or anticipating the promise. When the promise came I was not ready, and the moment was lost.
Simeon was an example of ‘waiting forward’. He had been promised that he would see the Messiah. He was now an old man. He had waited a long time, but he had not wasted his time. He had a well-earned reputation as a righteous follower. When he got the inner nudge to go to the Temple he was in a receptive state to both notice and heed that nudge. He had been waiting a long time, but he was waiting forward. He was anticipating and he was receptive, and he held his Messiah in his arms. He knew God was faithful and he did his best to model that faithfulness.
The Season of Advent reminds us that we are waiting. It should prompt us to examine whether we are waiting forward. Are we occupied with being ready and as much as lies within our power to be preparing the World for his coming? Are we waiting forward? Anyone can idly wait, but followers of Jesus are called to much more than that. Anyone can light a candle and make a wish but to truly follow Him is to actively occupy until he comes!
As I write I am really saddened with news from Shamattawa Mb. I learned today that this tiny community has 167 active cases of covid and a 68% positivity rate! Many years ago, I began my ministry in this isolated community. Some of the Elders would be people from my youth group. In a community like this where almost everyone is related, and multi-generations live under one roof this virus is insidious! I hope we can wait forward for a vaccine, and I pray for a distribution to communities like this that so desperately need it.
On a happier note, we are looking forward to our Christmas celebration Banquet in a Box. We have decided to expand the idea to include an outreach as well. The church I belong to participates in a weekly Saturday supper. During Covid the numbers coming for meals (now take-out meals) have doubled. We will be giving each person that comes on December 19th an additional Banquet in a Box to merry up their Christmas Season. If you wish to help us by purchasing a box to give away that day contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will arrange it.