S.O.S: Stretch Or Starve

I learned a hard lesson. (In retrospect I have learned many hard lessons but let us concentrate on this one at the moment.) In my early fifties I decided to join a baseball team. Once upon a time I had played a lot of baseball, and this seemed like fun. In my youth I never found the need for stretching. Young muscles seemed to be instantly available for use. However, my aged muscles were significantly less adaptable. The first time I asked them for a burst of speed my hamstring ‘snapped’! I was in a lot of discomfort for a number of weeks! After a long lay-off from sport I had failed to prepare properly. I had not warmed up. I had not stretched. I was unprepared.

I think this hard lesson is applicable to us as a Church. After a long season of covid, when church ‘activity’ mostly involved sitting in front of a screen, we feel the stirrings to arise and shake off our slumber! We long to be a relational rather than sedentary church. We hear afresh the great “Go!” of the gospel. We are awakening to the call of God to actively be blessing the world and vocally sharing the Good News. I suggest though that our we take some time to ‘warm up.’ To leap into active relational/missional life without preparation may have painful unforeseen consequences. Like me playing baseball we need to stretch! We are not ready to burst into the activities as we did before. These activities may not be the right ones for us now.

Romans 13:10-11 gives us wisdom for this very issue. “Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The context involves Paul’s exhortation to the church to actively be loving the world. He calls the Church to ‘wake up’ from slumber. This has a powerful meaning for us as we emerge from our forced time of hibernation/fallowness these past two years. Now is a time to love the lost world like no time before, for the time is nearer than ever before. But we cannot just simply spring from slumber into service. We need to stretch. We need to prepare!

My wife always seems to know when I have decided to get up in the morning. I thought at first it was a ‘woman’s intuition’ thing, but I have come to learn that I tip off my intentions. I always stretch just before I roll out of bed. I unconsciously stretch in preparation for a day of activity.

Before we race out to engage an unsuspecting world we need to prepare. We need to pray so that we are engaged with the only true evangelist, God. Without God’s work in us and in our neighbour we labour in vain. We pray, not to enlist God in our endeavour, but to enlist ourselves in God’s endeavour. We ask for opportunities to intentionally connect with neighbours. We ask for opportunities to ‘hear’ the cares and concerns of our neighbours. We ask for opportunities to serve or bless our neighbours. We ask for opportunities to invite our neighbours to shared activities especially eating or drinking together.

Having asked God’s company on this mission to be a blessing we look with anticipation for answers to our prayers. As our relationship grows we will hear our neighbour’s story and we will gain relational reciprocity, and we can share our story. People often object to speaking because of a lack of confidence but we are all experts of our own story! Our story of God’s grace and mercy is irrefutable evidence to our friend.

All along we have been bathing this intentional/missional friendship in prayer and now we seek God for ways to connect not just with our story but with the Gospel story. If we remain prayerful and spiritually fit we can expect opportunities to do just that.

A dear friend of mine used to say “There are three things that are wonderful! People are wonderful! Jesus is wonderful! And introducing the two is WONDERFUL!”

Before buffet meals Capt. T. used to holler out “It’s S-O-S, stretch or starve!” It is the same with our missional activity! Let us stretch in preparation for a time of rich fellowship around the Banqueting Table of the King of Kings.

A Wonderful Week in Review

It was a real honour to be invited to the celebration last night. The ‘Solution Group’ was celebrating the fourth anniversary of their founding. These folks meet each week at Threshold House, and it has been a joy to know each one and watch them over the passage of years. I have witnessed miracle after miracle as folks who began in a “seemingly hopeless state” have become healthier and more and more useful both in their group but also in the wider community. I cannot claim any responsibility for this ongoing transformation, but that we open our doors for this vital ministry and pray for them regularly.

Last night everyone had an opportunity to share what the group has meant to them. Each in turn expressed thanks to God! This spiritual program has had a positive effect and now group members know the importance of humble service. The secret of success is humility and service. These traits replace the self-centredness and selfishness of previous ‘living’ and provides the means for discovering new and meaningful life. I was a bit surprised when I was asked to share. My usual contributions are to read something or to pray. I was able to thank God for the opportunity to be ‘a fly on the wall’ as I witness the transforming work of God in the lives of those who surrender to His will.

This week Linda and I also had the joy of hosting our small House Church for an Easter Dinner. Afterwards we watched a wonderful message from Max Lucado, who spoke so plainly and clearly, and we sang and prayed together. It was a wonderful end to a beautiful day.

The day began with a ‘Sun Rise Service.’ We had to trust the sun had indeed risen. We did not see the physical sun because it was hidden behind clouds and drizzle, but the evidence of its rising was unmistakable as the dark world turned grey and birds began to hail the dawn. A dozen or so of us gathered under a picnic shelter and welcomed that ‘Happy Morning’ as people from age to age have done! After a snack by the lakeside of salmon we all went home to warm up before our next celebration. This was a Church Breakfast! Eighty plus gathered for breakfast and an Easter celebration

After breakfast Linda and I met with and prayed with a friend who was being baptised that Easter morning. It was a joy to pray with her and to hold her towel and to get a ‘close up’ experience of her rapturous emergence from the water.

The church was the fullest I have seen it in over two years. Most people remain masked but there was a joy in the air. We were joined in our pew by our daughter and her family. It was great to bounce our little grandson as we sang with Easter joy.

Life can be difficult, but Easter joy can sustain us. We have seen a lot of death lately. A wonderful lady and one of the most encouraging people I know died after a valiant struggle with Covid. This is a reminder that there are still vulnerable people among us, and that this type of death is not an easy one! One of my former students also died recently leaving a young family. The suddenness and shock of this is pervasive.

My friend J. remains in the psych ward at the hospital while her various workers make decisions about her future. She is quite distressed by the options they are considering. We are much in prayer for her. I find myself haunted by the lyrics of James Taylor’s song “Fire and Rain,” “the plans they made put an end to you…” It is my fervent prayer that the absolute best decisions might be made for her and that a fresh start might lie in her future.

We were disappointed when the staff from Teen Challenge could not come to Threshold House. They have Covid in their centre and so we are looking to reschedule once they are clear of that.

This week we are planning a visit to a farm that was donated to Out Flow. We are wondering whether there might be ways that the residents of Threshold House might be useful to the development of this property and its potential for ministry.

Renovations of our East Wing will soon be under way. We survived the winter with its snow removal and heating costs, and we are still ‘in the black.’ Praise God! We are trusting the Lord for our future as well!

Blessed Easter!

The Glory of the Cross

The cross offers hope! It offers hope for those who are trapped in the terrible grip of addictions and is the hope for this sin steeped world. At the cross the overwhelming impossibly colossal barrier of sin met the infinite power of love, There Jesus “bore in his body” the sin of the World, past, present, and future! There justice and mercy met and there as the sky turned black the veil (symbolising the separation of sinful humanity from a Holy God) was torn from the top to bottom. This was God’s initiative! Reconciliation is available because of the cross. It is God’s doing and not our own. “All we like sheep  have gone astray; …. And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) At the cross Christ did what we were powerless to do.

This powerlessness is at the heart of addiction and every other sin that plagues humanity. We have fallen and we cannot get up by our own power. Try as we might, we cannot lift ourselves from the miry clay. We have few options. 1) Spend our lives in futile struggle failing time and time again to do what we cannot. 2) Give up and wallow in muck and mire as we sink lower and lower. 3) Cry out to the Lord for help. This help is offered free and fully through the cross!

At Threshold House we firmly espouse this third way, the way of the cross. What is impossible for us alone can be done through the victory won at the cross.

This week we are hosting a visit from the Director of the New Brunswick Teen Challenge and the Addictions Counsellor from that centre. We hope that soon we can become a landing spot for graduates of their program, and we look forward to strengthening out ties with them and the men who live there. In the near future Morris, the pastor of our church, and I are planning to make a trip down to the centre in Memrancook to visit with all the residents offering our support for their ‘next steps.’

We are taking a break over the easter weekend from our Men’s Breakfast. Next week will be the final week of our five-week series “Finding Your Way Back to God.” It has been nice to get back to this type of event.

I am hoping that the weather permits us to go ahead with our Sunrise Service this Sunday. I have the opportunity to share as the dawn breaks symbolising the dawning of New Life through the Resurrection!

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach “The Cross” to a gathering at Edith Avenue  Church. This is a message I never tire of sharing. “In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering o’er the wrecks of time.”

After the Fall

The last few years and even weeks have amply demonstrated the Church’s folly of investing our hopes in ambitious and talented leaders. Like Humpty Dumpty these men were all set up high. Their moral failures were overlooked or not looked upon at all. Like Humpty their fall has been great and the damage severe. It is easy to point and blame hypocritical leaders and these men are not without blame, but the fault lies not only in these stars but in the Church that exalted them. I am convinced we get the leaders we are looking for. As long as the Church looks to ambition and charm rather than meekness and humility we are doomed to a repetition of these ‘great falls.

Jesus certainly disappointed his followers who sought a leader who would provide facile answers to the current Roman oppression. He was welcomed into Jerusalem and hailed as King. Probably folks in that throng pictured a powerful assertive leader. They were to be disappointed as “like a lamb before its shearers He was silent.” In humble submission He agreed to the cross. In meekness He bore sins not his own! Should we not seek to have and to be leaders after this example?

While some seek the latest ‘Flash in the Pan” others humbly toil, recognized by few in contented service to God and his Church. These are the heroes! These are the Christ-like leaders! These folks are rarely exalted or celebrated but we remember “The meek shall inherit the Earth.” And “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who humbled himself… wherefore God has highly exalted Him.” In the economy of God, the way to exaltation runs through humility and meek obedience.

The acknowledgement of this world is fleeting. Think of Alexander the Great. When I was a boy I was impressed that Alexander filled nearly two pages in the Encyclopedia. Years later I notice his glory filled less. More and more had happened in the world and his legacy had shrunk. It continues to shrink and pale over time. If “The Conqueror of the Known World” has such a fading legacy, how long will my paltry achievements last? If I live to satisfy my ambitions I am doomed to irrelevance!

Jesus tells us that where our treasure is that our heart will be there also. Temporal treasure leads to temporary rewards but what is done in humble service to the Kingdom of God and in meek submission to the lordship of Jesus our King, will bring lasting rewards and satisfaction.

Perhaps all these ‘fallen men’ point us to a better way. I think I ought to aspire to humility and meekness. I pray the Church might commit to these virtues afresh.

Logjam Released (?)

It finally feels like a logjam has been released!

Last week we were able to have a few face-to-face gatherings and it was a very encouraging time. Phil Appleby, who is one of the leaders of the ministry Out Flow, which operates a homeless shelter, provides meals, supports housing, and operates a few social enterprise operations, came by to lead our morning Bible Study and chat about the future. We have some interest in partnering with them in the development of some farm property they were given. The idea of having a project like that for the men in our residence to participate in, is intriguing. One venture is to establish a small sawmill on site. This is the very thing that has long been a dream for our Night Pastor Mo. We had a tremendous time of fellowship around the Word, a powerful prayer time and an agreement to keep the discussions going. We hope to visit the farm sometime in the next few weeks!

On Sunday we had a team from Teen Challenge visit Threshold House. There were four residents of Teen Challenge on the team. They showed great interest and even enthusiasm in applying to Threshold House after their appointed year with Teen Challenge. Since then, we have been invited to visit them in Memramcook. We hope to arrange something this month. Their visit and the enthusiasm have spurred me to hasten phase two of our plan. I have been in touch with the folks who will install necessary smoke detectors and fire alarms in the East Wing. This will enable us to accommodate more residents.

Later this month my pal, Kris, will begin a ten-week workshop teaching the spiritual principles that undergird the Big Book. Even long-time members of AA are often not clear about the true intent of the Big Book and this workshop is designed to help this.

We currently have a ‘Life’s Healing Choices’ study going. The honest discussions are quite inspiring.

We are in the third week of our five-week Men’s Breakfasts. We have developed a wonderful team of guys to prepare and serve this meal, and the were a couple of new guys in attendance this last week. Both seemed like they could really use a healthy meal!

Plans are in the works for some future events. We have no timetable, but these events include: a Grand Opening, a series of ‘Spaghetti and a Message’ dinners, a lunch time “Soup for Souls,” and guest speakers at our Bible Studies. Our Friday Fellowship Night will begin as soon as we have delivery of our new maroon pool table. We have not forgotten ‘Shalom Saturday,’ but it remains in the payer stage.

I have the opportunity to preach on April 10th. This message will be centred on the cross which is my favourite topic of all! On April 17th  I will be preaching at the Sun Rise service at 6:30 at the Reservoir. It will be a privilege to share the message of hope as the day dawns. There is no message more relevant to this sick and war-torn world than the cross and resurrection!

We have much to keep in prayer! The more active we become the greater our expenses so please pray for that as well.