Jillian Waving Goodbye

Some twenty years ago a group of us began a church plant, Up Town. One of the critical first comers was a dapper gentleman who would become key to the church taking root. Doug though living in the same poverty as others in the community was always ‘dressed to the nines’. This gentle man who suffered from a unique cocktail of mental illnesses would soon become our chief evangelist. He brought friend after friend to our little community and most remained for years and became core members themselves.

Doug passed away several years ago but his legacy lives on in those who found hope through his simple invitation. One of Doug’s early introductions was to Jillian. Jillian came to a deep and simple faith. It was a joy to listen to her earnest prayers. She was baptised in a borrowed tank one evening. She invited her mom and aunt to the service. Her testimony lived out before them brought them to faith. Soon her father joined her in living for Jesus. No one would see Jillian as influential in this world but in the Kingdom of God this often troubled soul was instrumental in salvation coming to her household. Jill was a fixture at our Sunday Café services. She was a regular at the Up Town Bible Study and at the Friday Night Drop In. She joined us for many of our holidays on Deer Island and our Roamin’ Holidays. She considered Linda and I as part of her family and though our café church ended and a few of us continued to meet in a house church setting, Jillian has always stayed in touch. Sometimes so often it would be exasperating, but that was a part of her illness and struggle.

This week while I was away at a conference in St. Andrews, I got word that Jillian had taken a bad turn and was in the ICU. A few days later I heard that she had passed into the arms of her Saviour. I will miss my sweet friend. I know she suffered terribly in this life. Mental illness crashed on her in her early years, but she was a kind, gentle and prayerful friend. She was my hero in many ways. I always hoped to be a bit like Jillian when I grow up.

I am reminded that our inner-city friends do not have the same life span as we seem to have. Doug, Donnie, and Jillian are just three of the many who have died younger than me. It is a tough life! I so admire those who do not lose hope or faith. It is heartening to know my friends no longer suffer.  I am sad though that few of us got to know and be blessed by these folks of whom this world was not worthy.

I Hear Dry Bones Rattling!

Some six years ago my dear friend ‘Big Donnie’ and I were praying about where ministry would take us. Our imaginations were captured by the song “Dry Bones” sung by Lauren Daigle.  The idea of God calling out to the prodigal sons and daughters struck us powerfully. The idea of invoking the Holy Spirit to breath life into dry bones stirred within us. We claimed the song as our anthem and dedicated ourselves to living this theme out.

It has been five years since Donnie died, but this anthem has continuously played in my thoughts and prayers. Life was very much like the Valley of Dry Bones. The newly renovated chapel succumbed to the wrecking ball and hope was on life-support.

Threshold House seemed to be a part of this dream. I imagined it as a place where prodigals could be restored and where God could raise up an ‘Army of Hope’. For a few years though it felt more like the barren valley of dry bones. Renovating an old college and staffing it seemed more foolishness than it felt like ‘prophesying’ to dry bones.

Today though I was listening to a new song, Zach Williams was singing “I hear the sound of rattling bones” and I realized that this described ministry life for me today. I hear the Spirit of God at work. I see the dry bones coming to life. I sense the reviving power of God stirring in the lives of the men of Threshold House. I hear the rattling of bones! This rattle signifies the work that only God can do!

I have begun to witness transformation in men’s lives. Unfortunately, not this work does not mean men live ‘happily ever after’ the valley leaves scars on each and does not loose its dry bones easily. The ‘rattle’ is not just of life stirring in restoration but is also of real struggle in coming to grips with this new life. All struggle and some fail, at least for a time. This new season of the stirring of God is not without challenge and even setbacks. It comes with new and perplexing problems, but they are the problems of life in all its messiness.

We held the first of our two-part workshop “Sharing Our Story: Glorifying God” last night. We were joined by several members of the wider community. We looked at the idea of making God the ‘star’ of our story by highlighting a characteristic of God that we have experienced through God’s work in our lives. We do this in such a way that we can recommend God to others in like circumstances. I think the evening went quite well. Next week we will gather to hear some of the participants share their story in this way and I will try to help folks hone their skills. We are hoping that the men of Threshold House will have many opportunities both in their private conversations and in public testimony, to share the Good News in this way.

Job’s Comforter

I have been studying the Book of Job recently. In fact, on Monday, I plan to start a study of this book in my Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday studies. My usual method is a verse-by-verse expository look at a book or a theme, but Job calls for a whole other approach. I have never done a study like this before. It is interesting that after all these years of ministry that I find myself in unfamiliar territory, but that is what scripture does! It is always new and deeper and richer each time. This is what makes the Bible endlessly fascinating.

Much of Job is filled with the counsel of his ‘friends.’ Many banal words and phrases come from their lips. The term “Job’s Comforter” is a term of derision evoking the image of someone who is not just unhelpful but kind of hurtful. In one aspect though these “Comforters” are maligned. When they first come on the scene Job is devastated in grief and pain. Upon seeing him they wept and sat with him in silence for seven days and nights. It strikes me that this is a beautiful example of how to share in someone’s sorrow. They ruined their ministry when they opened their mouths just to put their sandaled feet in them!

I recall some forty years ago sitting with a grief struck family in a remote Cree community. The whole community was gathered in silence around the family. Someone got up from their seat next to the family so the young preacher could sit. We sat in silence for what seemed like the longest of times (it was probably no more than a half an hour) and I decided to break the silence. I read some scripture in English (though few could understand) and prayed (again in English). After which I shook hands with the family members and left. The rest of the community remained after I like Job’s Comforters had opened my mouth. Ever since that day, I look back with a mixture of shame and regret that I was unable to join the community in grieving. Long ago I repented of my ways of that day and my kinship with Job’s unhelpful slightly hurtful friends. Just a few years earlier as we buried my own son I had appreciated those who sat with me and was a bit hurt by some of the trite ‘counsel’ of others. I should have known better, but I did not! I no longer beat myself up for my failure. God forgives my rookie mistakes (and I made many of them,)

Lately I have witnessed those who have effectively ministered to my son in his grief, and I have noted the ones who have and continue to ‘sit with him’ in his hurt, loneliness, and grief. I want to be like Job’s Comforters began not how they ended up.

I am drawn to the drama and the poetry of Job. It reminds me of Homeric poems and Ancient Greek plays. I am also drawn to the glimpses Job gives us of the unseen realm. We only get fleeting glances in other places in scripture like the story of Elisha and his servant in 2Kings 6:17 and following, or Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. We get an apocalyptic view from John in his Revelation, but Job gives us real insight into this realm. C.S. Lewis wrote that every square inch is claimed by Satan and counter-claimed by God. We are in the midst of the emergence of the Kingdom of God. We struggle and suffer in that context until the moment comes when God in Christ Jesu puts all things right.

Job is the story of humankind, and it is my story. The pages are filled with pathos and with hope. If we press on through the pain and yes the mystery we arrive at a glorious end where our biggest questions pale in the glory of the Lord.

On another note:

  • renovations on the last two bedrooms will be completed next week
  • people continue to respond to our “Meat the Men of Threshold” appeal
  • two new residents will be moving in Tuesday with another one ‘in the pipeline’

Seeing Through Others’ Eyes

Seeing things through others’ eyes can be really helpful. This week I had this experience. We held our first Annual General Meeting and three of the men of Threshold House told their stories and Steve explained what goes on in and through the house. I am familiar with all this, and I see God wonderfully at work but visitors who heard these stories for the first time were visibly moved! More than one came to me afterwards to express just how amazed and encouraged they are to see God doing these ‘miraculous’ things. I knew from my own experience but after witnessing these, sometimes emotional, response, I realized I was not understanding the magnitude of what God is doing.

D. spoke of belonging. He spoke about become a ‘Jesus Freak’ and sensing a calling to ministry in the future. He shared the good news that he had found a job and will be starting this Monday.

C. listed his long and inglorious history with drugs but stated the change that God is working in his life. He marvelled at an awesome God who was now giving him opportunity to serve people who are in the same condition he was not long ago.

J. talked about the new life he is experiencing since he “surrendered his life to Christ. Nothing else had ever worked for him but now he is experiencing the blessings of a sober walk with God. He talked about his job and how God is restoring and reconciling relationships.

Steve talked about: daily ‘Check In’ and ‘Check Outs,’ gym times, Step Work, community life, and service to the wider community of inner-city Saint John.

Besides this Marilyn gave a financial accounting which gave God glory for his provision through some challenging times.

Afterward we continued fellowship with cake and cookies our modern-day equivalent to Capt. T.’s “Please do stay for tea and tarts.”

I have attended a lot of AGMs over the years, but this was, by far, the most inspiring!

On another note, I will be doing some a workshop on Thursday May 11 and Thursday May 18 at 7 PM, “Sharing My Story Glorifying God”. This will be open to the public at no charge. This will be designed to help people share the story of God’s good activity in our lives in a way that recommends this same God to others.

Meat the Men of Threshold House

Out of the blue I got a message yesterday, “Could you use a couple of freezers?” I t only took a moment’s thought before I replied “Sure!”. Since then I have scrabbled to get ‘some muscle’ to help with this. I remember the days when I would have done it myself but those days are far distant ones.

Threshold House already has two freezers which are often filled with pizza from Little Caesar’s, but man does not live on pizza alone! I was thinking that we might make some bulk purchases of meat when it goes on sale but then this morning an idea struck, like a lightening bolt. The idea is summed up in the phrase “Meat the Men of Threshold House”.  We will be asking for opportunities to ‘meet’ with churches, organizations and groups. By advertising in the previous weeks the attendees will know it is a “Meat the Men of Threshold House” event and will come with packages of hamburger, chicken etc. which will go into coolers brought by the Threshold Guys. These proteins will augment the meals and allow us to be hospitable in inviting others to dine with us.

Now that the warmer weather has arrived (hopefully) our greatest expense becomes the food bill and “Meat the Men of Threshold” will be of enormous practical help for us. It is amazing how much a group of men can eat! These events will also give our men the opportunity to meet and share their lives and stories with others, which is a considerable side benefit.

We would also welcome any other donations to our pantry. Pasta, rice, soups, cereal etc. is also a great addition to our larder.

On another note, I recently spoke to our National Director and told him that I would be retiring May first 2024. He is coming down for a visit in the next few weeks and we will begin to pray and prepare for succession.  

I am pleased that by then we will have a well-established viable ministry. There were times over the last few years that I doubted that we would get to where we are but God is faithful. It is not that life does not have its challenges. Our men struggle to fully find freedom, and financial challenges change from those of renovation to those of operation.

This Wednesday we hold our first Threshold House Annual General Meeting. We will do a financial report and outline our budget going forward. We are beginning to feel like a real grown up organization! Steve, our Program Director will describe a ‘day in the life of the house’ and a couple of guys will share their stories. A few weeks ago I am not sure I’d say this but I am looking forward to this. If you are in the local area please know you are most welcome to drop by Threshold House at 7 PM on Wednesday April 19. I promise it will not be long or boring. You could even “Meat the Men of Threshold House.”

Guilty Silence, Awestruck Silence

The disciples who seemed to fill every silence with questions about building tabernacles or wondering who is greater, become struck dumb. Never at a loss for words they are now left speechless. A quick slash of a sword and then silence drops. Not a word said at arrest or trials. Not a phrase uttered at Golgotha’s horrific scene. This was a “guilty” silence, and it reflected a guilty truth. Braggadocio fled replaced by consciousness of cravenness.

Jesus died accompanied alone by two unwilling cross-mates and a cluster of heart broken women, and a silence fell over the world. The sky turned as black as man’s heart until the rending cry “It is finished!”

Thousands of years later this tableau calls us to silence. Yes a guilty silence akin to that of those early followers. It is our debt that He paid! It is my death He died! This Holy week calls us to silence: a meditative quiet, in which we recognize our guilt. But it also calls us to another kind of silence, an awe struck silence! “Did e’er such love and sorrow meet?” The enormity of the truth of John 3:16 hits home. God is Love, and we are the objects of that love. His love held Jesus on the cross as much as any nail. We gaze awestruck in wonder at the self-sacrificial love on display at Calvary. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

By allowing this pall of silence to fall on us this week we prepare our hearts for the elation of the Resurrection. Wonder continues but guilt vanishes from the empty tomb! Without a trudge through the sorrowful winter walk of this Holy Week we fail to experience the joyful spring of Easter. Let us purpose, this week to sit silent before the scriptures which depict how Jesus silent before his accusers went willingly to the cross in order to bear our guilt and our shame, so that we can now find that abundant eternal life.

On another note, the guys of Threshold House are growing in service through volunteering more and more. Just last night we talked about the last of ‘Life’s Healing Choices’, the sharing choice. We talked about the importance of being useful where once we were users, and the importance of offering a life-line by sharing the hope we have found in Jesus.

We have accepted another two men. One will come next week and another the first of May. We have some further renovations to do in preparation for this, including the purchase of more furniture. We also need to by another refrigerator. Very soon we will also need to install another shower. These are all signs of growth. We believe that God will provide as He has done so far.

On April 19th we are holding our first Annual General Meeting. We will outline our financial picture and share some stories of the Threshold House ministry.

Please keep us in prayer.

Moving Past Potential

I attended the Threshold Ministries Annual General Meeting this week. I cannot begin to count the number of Threshold/Church Army AGMs I have attended over the years. The last few I have been ‘reporting’ about plans for Threshold House. I did so with real hope and enthusiasm, but this year things were very different! I was not sharing a vision or talking about potential. I was not proposing and persuading. Instead of potential I got to speak about people! It was thrilling to move from concepts and planning to shar about the actual changes God is making in actual men’s lives!

J. & K. are engaged in fulltime work and are rebuilding relationships with their respective children and creating positive relationships toward a future filled with hope.

Another J. is engaged in fulltime study to det his GED. He also often chairs a N.A. meeting hosted at Threshold House.

Another guy A. just got the news that he has been accepted for a job here in Saint John. This job is in the field he has trained for and provides an opportunity to continue in his personal growth as he gets re-established in the workforce.

One other guy D. has applied for work but in the meantime is working out regularly in the gym. He has hopes to spend his life in ministry. It is a joy to be a part of his story.

Yet another J. is working diligently at his recovery. He uses his gifts as a volunteer with the Salvation Army in some of their regular outreaches.

F. works periodically and continues with his artistic efforts in sculpting.

All these guys attend Celebrate Recovery Programs and attend other Recovery based meeting. The live and play together. They enjoy the family they have found at Threshold House. They pray together, celebrate together and struggle together. Some tell of the “life long friendship” they have found here.

The greatest and longest-lasting friendship though is the relationship each has found in Jesus.

It is wonderful to see the result of years of planning and praying. God proves Himself Faithful once again!

We are preparing for our own Annual General Meeting. On April 19th we will meet and give a financial report and share stories of Threshold House. Please pray for us and join us if you are in the are. We will meet April 19 at 7 PM at Threshold House 105 Mountain View Dr. Refreshments will be provided.

No Fishing ?

Have you ever been asked, “What are you giving up for Lent?”? This year I am advocating that we ‘take up’ a Lenten practise. In fact I am encouraging one particular and seemingly long forgotten practise, that goes back to the very formation of our Faith Movement.

Jesus initial call to discipleship was a call follow after Him and be made “fishers of men”. Now we might have preferred that Jesus called us to be better humans or holy people, but his primitive call is to ‘fish’! Please do not hear what I am not saying, Jesus is keenly interested in  making us better and holier people but the first call is to ‘fish’. Our Christ-like character is developed somewhere between those two markers, birth and death. Finally, we are raised incorruptible and that work will be completed as we are made like Him. Our battle against: sin, the flesh and the devil, will be swallowed up in Christ’s final victory. So this sanctifying work of God in our lives is bounded by the limits of our time on this earth.

Fishing on the other hand allows us to partner in an activity affecting eternity.

When the disciples respond to this call to follow and be made fishers they have little idea of what that means, and they surrender to Jesus Lordship and vocation for their lives. It becomes clear from this initial encounter that following will necessarily involve fishing.

I do not intend to ‘lay a guilt trip’ on anyone or prescribe how you ought to fish, but I do want to encourage you in the knowledge that God is taking all you’re your experiences good and bad to ‘make you a fisher’. You have opportunity in your circle to live a life of following before your friends and neighbours that a religious professional never will. God has prepared a particular pool for you. He has given you a particular story, of failure and success, of suffering and joy, glorious and messy! All the elements are in place!

Cast your mind back. Think about the individual who influenced your journey to God or your return to God. That person had a particular place in your life and when the time and circumstances were right they were used to ‘fish’ you. We were all once fish but following means fishing! God has a plan for us to be useful for eternity through the ancient spiritual practice of  being ‘made a fisher.’

I joked recently that the things we do in Lent are actually things we ought to do all the time. Here is a Lenten practice I encourage us to add to our repertoire. Let us follow in such a way that Christ makes us fishers with eternal purpose and impact.

Tomorrow we are hosting our St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast. Three of the guys of Threshold House will be sharing their stories. They will be fishing!

Some of the guys have expressed a passion for smoking meat and making jerky. We have the idea of purchasing some equipment for this and selling it at a variety of venues. This will allow the guys to make some money and raise some funds for Threshold House at the same time.

We will be interviewing a new applicant to Threshold House this week and we are praying for discernment about this.

Two of our guys have had several interviews for prospective jobs and we are praying that they will find meaningful employment in a spot where they can ‘fish’.

We had to purchase a new washer and dryer. This was not an expected expense but a very necessary one. Please pray for our finances. We trust God will supply!

Thank you.

Not Struggling? Not Following!

Sometimes I surprise myself. When I am teaching or preaching or sharing I occasionally say something that makes me think “That’s pretty good!” In moments like that I know that the Holy Spirit is speaking to my soul.

I had just such a happening this week as I was reviewing Romans chapters seven and eight. I think that chapter seven, where Paul describes the battle within, describes an everyday occurrence. Our carnal (fleshly) nature leaves us in a struggle. We know what is right and good. We agree that that is the thing we ought to do or pursue, yet we often lose the struggle and wind up doing the very thing we do not want to do. Whether this is speaking harshly to my children, eating too much of the wrong thing, dealing with addiction of some kind or a myriad of other human tussles, so often we do the very thing we do not want to do. Into this terrible human dilemma steps God’s one true answer. Paul ask the question “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” and then answers “Jesus Christ.”

Chapter seven feels very familiar but the Good News is that there is another chapter to be written. We are a people of hope because our story has another chapter to be written.

Chapter eight begins with a definitive declaration, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul moves on to describe both the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, and Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity as interceding for us. I imagine an old fashion tag team wrestling (wrassling) match, in which our protagonist is battered and beaten but reaches out and tags in a partner. This partner leaps over the ropes and soon dispatches the antagonist and snatches victory from the very verge of defeat!

If chapter seven describes our life of struggle then chapter eight offers us the recipe to be more than conquerors. We simply admit our inherent weakness and ‘tag in’ the power of God! If the former chapter’s experience is normative for all humans then chapter eight can be normative for all Christ followers.  A few obstacles keep us from this though. We can settle for losing our battle and excuse ourselves. We settle for justification, that is being saved from the penalty of sin and so never experience the transformation promised in sanctification, that is being saved more and more from the power of sin in our life. This settling is not the following that Christ calls us to! We can also battle our chapter seven struggle in our own paltry strength and live lives of continuous loss. We wait patiently for Heaven and the glorification, that is being finally saved from the very presence of sin, that that moment provides.

If we long to be “more than conquerors” then we must be engaged in the battle. Denial or deferment do not cut it! If we are not fighting then we are not following. I have different struggles today than decades ago, but I have them. I live in the nexus between chapters seven and eight and my daily decisions make all the difference. “If God be for me who can stand against me?”

This week K. one of our residents, shared his testimony at church. The entire Threshold gang showed up to support him. He was very nervous but did a marvellous job! After he was done his buddies stood and cheered for him, the whole congregation joined in. It was beautiful!

On March 18 we are hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast and three of our guys will get to walk in the example of K. as they share their stories.

Mondays some of guys help cook and serve a meal at the Salvation Army.

Tuesday some guys pick up boxes of surplus pizzas from the local Little Caesar and these are directed toward the hungry of the city.

Saturday they help with an East Side Community dinner served at the local Anglican Church.

Two of our guys have found meaningful employment and others are actively looking.

Please keep Threshold House in your prayers.

Deja Vu (all over again)

I was feeling nostalgic this week. I was ‘looking back’ at my time caring for Up Town Church. We had planted a café style church peopled by a wonderful collection of neighbourhood characters. We came to describe ourselves (at our best) as: “An honest accepting community of broken people, who were experiencing the Father’s love, finding wholeness in Christ Jesus, and performing acts of kindness in the power of the Holy Spirit.” I would not have traded that church for the biggest mega church in Christendom. I felt that it could not get better than Up Town! I did not envy anyone their religious gig! There is a saying “All good things must come to an end.” And after over a decade of enjoyment Up Town ceased to be. I have grieved the loss of that wonderful experience and I came to believe such would never again be mine.

This week as I was revelling in the exciting growth of community at Threshold House it dawned on me, “This was that same kind of community.” It is quite different in many respects, but it seems to me that God is developing us as: An honest accepting community of broken people, who are experiencing the Father’s love, finding wholeness in Christ Jesus, and performing acts of kindness in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was a ‘deja vu’ moment for me. Here I was finding the very kind of community I had given up seeking.

God knows my heart and is giving me the desire of my heart. God birthed this desire in me long ago when I got a taste for this variety of community and now by God’s hand this  God-given desire is coming to fruition. I am amazed! I am gob smacked!

I don’t mean to idealize either the Up Town Community or the Threshold House Community, both are exceedingly messy! They are very raw and real. Our ‘brokenness’ leaves us messy indeed. We deal with real life issues. We apply, imperfectly, new skills to old besetting problems. Yet there is beauty in the raw honest reliance on God. For us there is no hope aside from that of God’s love, healing and empowering.

As admitted ‘broken people’ we are given access to speak into the lives of other broken people, sharing the hope we are discovering. As a community we reach out helping with food based ministries in the Uptown of Saint John and in our neighbourhood of Saint John East. C.H. Spurgeon talked about evangelism as “One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” I believe Mr. Spurgeon would be pleased with the ministry in deed and in word of our ‘band of the broken.’