What a Strange Way

A Christmas song I make a point to listen to each year is written from Joseph’s point of view. The most memorable line is “What a strange way to save the world!” Indeed, what mind would have ever conceived such a plan? The eternal Word enters time, beginning as a single cell in a virgin teen’s womb. In humility which outshines all other humilities, he comes to the world he made. Helplessness marks his advent. Life begins for Christ entirely dependent on his mother and stepfather and it ends with the same kind of helplessness as he surrendered to cruel nails! The omnipotent God choses helplessness in order to fill the role ‘Suffering Servant.’ He became ‘The Ruler Who Serves’ and now is the ‘Servant Who Rules.’ What a strange way to save the world. Such a plan could only be conceived by deity! His thoughts prove themselves once more, higher than ours.

Yet even as we marvel and celebrate this wondrous humility, we hardly imitate it! Despite the command to have such a mind as Christ, in his humility, we neither admire nor emulate humility in the church.

At an early age I felt a call to Christian ministry. This was confirmed by my local church, then the diocese and finally by the national church. I did not properly understand this as a call to humility but rather sought prominence, first in my organization where early on I became Field Secretary and was later named Regional Director. I became the chairperson of a national organization within my then denomination. Some congratulated me at each move up the ladder, but I came to see that I was climbing entirely the wrong way on the ladder. Where Jesus set the example of a ministry of descent I had spent energy in going exactly the other direction!

Titles and job descriptions are not the mark of Christlikeness. The character of Christ is best seen in our humble service to God and to others.

I do not ‘beat myself up’ for past  attitudes. I have learned better and now I must live better. We can spend a lot of Advents missing the point but having grasped the point we are now responsible for living accordingly! We are called to enter our world as Jesus did in his advent, in humility and love. In this way we not only bear the Good News in our words but in our lives as well. It is only in humility that we tap into the real power of Christmas to transform and save the world. It is a strange and wonderful way and Christ beckons us to walk in it!

On another note, Threshold House has received a huge boost. An older gentleman who has recently survived cancer, is patching the remaining holes in our walls. This  has been a wonderful gift.

The latest episode of what I call “moving goal posts” is that I need to purchase and have new hinges installed in six of our doors. These are doors provide ‘fire breaks’ and so need new hinges which will make them self-closing. This is the last known hurdle to occupancy, so we are getting near, indeed.

Please keep praying for us. God continues to use strange means for his Kingdom purposes.

1st 2nd & 3rd Comings

This Advent I have decided to spend time meditating (thinking) on the three ‘comings’ of Christ.

The first coming is describe in John chapter one “The Word,” the pre-existing Second Person of the Godhead, “became flesh.” Hands which flung stars into space, now tiny, reached to grasp a virgin mother. The mind-blowing descent of Christ exemplified in the Incarnation deserves much thought and awe inspired worship. Each year I feel that we too quickly pass over the enormity of this event. The Creator of the Cosmos taking up residence in a creche. The condescending love of God, ought to fill us with a joy inexpressible and full of glory.

The second, and often overlooked coming, is less cosmic and more personal. At some point the Saviour comes to each individual. We come to know him as Saviour and acknowledge Him as Lord in our personal life. In the words of the Carol “Where needy will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.” Jesus comes to each of us with his wonderous gift of love and life, and though he never departs (nothing can separate us from the love of God) we stray, and we experience his ‘coming’ again and again! It is this ‘coming’ that is often ignored, but without this second personal coming and persistent staying where would we be? This ‘coming’ make effectual the first ‘coming.’ In his original birth announcement Jesus is proclaimed “Saviour and Lord” and in this second personal experience this coming makes it so, for each of us. As an Evangelist my calling is to draw people to an awareness of the possibility of this ‘coming’ and to persuade people to co-operate with this ‘coming.’

This second ‘coming’ is also the coming by which Jesus comes to his Church (those who have experienced his personal second ‘coming’) and through and in partnership with the Church He engages in putting right that which has gone so wrong. He is active in this mode to bring love and justice as his Bride the Church moves in concert with him.

The third ‘coming’ is often referred to as “The Second Coming.” This is an event in the future in which the Ascended Christ returns not meek and mild but in majesty and glory! He will come to finally and completely put things right. This future coming fills his Bride with hope and purpose. During the time of his incarnation Jesus asked about this return “Will he find faith?” The Church actively waits and works so that corporately we can answer in the affirmative.

In our darkest moments we take comfort in this ‘coming.’ Though we experience injustice and pain it is transitory. As we meditate (think) on these things we are inspired to worship and work and witness.

Advent gives us a season to ponder these very things so that we can engage in these three great tasks.

Help is on the Way!

One of the extraordinary wonders of Jesus is that he was the “Suffering Servant.” When I think of this sobriquet, my mind is first drawn to the suffering self-sacrificial love displayed on the cross, but there is much more to the suffering of our Saviour. 1 John gives us brief but accurate description of God “God is love.” This week as I studied 1 Peter, I realized that to love is to suffer. If I truly love, I set aside certain of my: wants, desires, comforts, rights etc. in order to do good for those who I love. There is often real joy in the effort to love. We gladly forego gratifying ourselves in order to do good for our loved ones. Such is the love of a parent for a child or a husband or wife for their spouse. The joy can so outweigh the cost that we hardly notice but there is a cost!

Simple empathy has a cost. We have to ‘feel’ for another. We have to experience in our imaginations the pain of others. To pray effectively is to suffer. When we merely spout words like “God bless Mommy and Daddy.,” we are not being fervent or effectual in our prayers. When we are ‘moved’ by people’s circumstances and pain, when we ‘feel’ for them, when we suffer in prayer, then we are praying effectively!

The most famous Bible verse is John 3:16. It tells us that, God “loved,” and that God “gave.” Divine love is giving. God’s ‘giving’ is costly and self-sacrificial! True love follows this example. 1 Peter tells us “Christ also suffered for us leaving us an example, that we should walk in his way.”

Too often I give without cost. I pray perfunctory prayers without real empathy. I look for personal blessing rather than first “seeking the Kingdom of God.” I am won over to the truth that this must change. My calling is to spend myself, spend my life in loving God and others. I believe that in doing so I will not be poorer, though I suffer, but will be greatly enriched as more and more of the character of Christ is developed in me.

We are created after the image of God. We are designed to give love. Here we are God’s instruments to love. He does not just give but gives his best, “His only begotten Son.” As Francis wrote “It is in giving that we receive.”

This week we have thought about sacrifice as war. God calls us to a higher and holier sacrifice. He calls us to love! He calls us to love at a cost.

If you are like me this kind of sacrificial suffering love is beyond us. I have a selfish rather than a self-sacrificing nature. The Good News is there is help! By his Holy Spirit God provides the resources needed for us to live the Christ-like life. God alone can help us crucify ‘self’ and empower sacrificial suffering love. When I recognize my insufficiency, I imagine a trumpet sounding signalling ‘help is on the way!’ In my weakness God can and will make me strong.

Let us sow love! Help is on the way!

Old Friends

I have been thinking about two old friends. I met Henk when I entered training at the Church Army Training Centre. He and his wife Sue would have students over to their home once a week. It was a welcome refuge from the pressures of training and felt like home for the evening. Henk was the first to expand my view of what an Evangelist could be. He worked faithfully at the Scott Mission (an inner-city outreach) and modeled a compassionate humble service to the marginalized. Before he caused me to reconsider I thought of Evangelists as primarily people of the Word. Years later I returned to the Headquarters to work. Henk befriended me. I am not at all handy and Henk helped me more often than I could count. Over the years we were posted to different areas of Canada and his sweet Sue passed away after a valiant battle with cancer. Henk continued to serve an elderly congregation in Northern Ontario until he died just recently. He is mourned by his wife Beth and children Jenny and Joe.

I learned about real evangelism and persistent humble service from this gentle giant of a man. He has left his mark on me and many others over his long years of service.

‘Big’ Dave Lajuenesse was my room mate and close friend during my training. I used to love to hear Dave spin tales of his time as a bodyguard for Katherine Kuhlman or some wrestling villain. Dave could be bombastic but also was a careful listener. I recall one year at our National Conference at Elim Lodge. Dave and I were teasing one another, just like old times. We were playing baseball and he was the first baseman. I hit the ball quite well and he tried to block my passage to the base. I threw ‘Big’ Dave over my shoulder and carried him around the bases. His 250 + pounds seemed light in those days but my back aches now with the very thought. We named our son David and Dave as his Godfather.

Recently Dave was diagnosed with ALS. There is currently no cure for this degenerative disease and over time Dave has become weaker and weaker and has had to move into a special care home apart from his wife Yvonne. I have not seen ‘Big’ Dave in this condition and still think of him in all his bodyguard glory. I grieve with him and his family and commend him to his loving Father’s care.

Things have certainly changed but these two larger than life characters have made a lasting impact on me. I hope that, in some small way, I can pass on these wonderful learnings to others through my ministry.

On another note, this has been another week of progress at Threshold House. Our National Director Jonathan Clarke has come down to lend his talents and strong back. Morris and our first resident are anxious to finally get settled. We are processing some other applications as we continue to pray for our first cohort.

Henk and Dave have both illustrated that God is faithful so we will continue to trust Him.