Stirring into Consciousness

The first stirrings of consciousness emerged as through molasses. The sight of damp brown earth came slowly into focus and with this picture dawned the recollection of my stumble and epic face plant! I began to check my extremities and they all seemed to sluggishly respond. I fumbled to find my glasses. They were still in one piece! I remember being thankful for that and then I checked my fragile jaw and it too seemed intact.

The signs of that fall are visible on my face, but other consequences are invisible. Today four days later I feel like my brain is emerging from a deep Saint John fog and the nagging headache and bouts with vertigo are mostly faded.

I have been thinking that the original fall has similar attributes. There are obvious signs of the Fall and we recognize them, especially in others. My outward appearance only bothers me when I take time to look at my reflection. We are sometimes blinded to the results of the Fall in ourselves until we spend time reflecting, but we can more easily see it in our wounded world around us. Still though there are deeper, invisible wounds which impact us and our world. Our ability to think and feel as we were designed have been hampered.

As we find Christ, or perhaps better are found by Him, we experience the awakening to a consciousness we had not experienced. The next phase of sanctification is one of emerging from the consequences of the Fall and slowly learn to think feel and behave as citizens of the Kingdom of God, for which we were created.

While I trust that my journey out of concussion is all but over, I think that our recovery from the trauma of the Fall will not be complete until Jesus finally and fully puts things right. In the meantime, it is our lot to do all that lies within us to prepare ourselves and others for that coming Kingdom. Now we may see as through the mists of fog but then “face to face”, now our thinking may be shrouded but then “we will know as we are known.”

This week we finished work on our introductory video of Threshold House.

We are also planning a Christmas   “Banquet in A Box”  which will be a feast of Charcuterie: a ‘savory’ Charcuterie package; dried meats, cheese, crackers, spiced nuts, fruit, relishes, mustard etc. prepared by well known local chef Russel Dobbelsteyn of Chef’s Table. The “ Banquet in a Box” will be a takeout meal to be picked up a Threshold House December 19th. We are working on the tickets and advertising and should have that out soon. We will set the price of the meal at $25, which is ‘at cost’ and will be asking for donations besides. Our emphasis will be on a regular small monthly gift and we are a creating a system for people to partner with us in this way.

There is lots to look forward to as the Lord lights our way!

Reflecting on Mental Health

Every topic under the sun seems to have its own “Day”. This week there was one designated to mental health issues and I read with interest the many posts referencing it. I had thought about adding my own thoughts and experiences but found myself verklempt. It is too personal an issue to be ‘thrown’ out glibly.

I deal with people who struggle with mental health issues every moment of their lives. I have come to admire these folks as real heroes, people of inspiring courage and tenacity. My friends are lovely people and loving people even though they carry the extra weight of this burden they cannot set down!

My own brushes with mental health issues do not compare to those of my friends, yet they too are real. I have long suffered with PTSD. I have found tremendous relief through EMDR therapy and highly recommend it to others. While not quite at the drop of a hat, though certainly at the drop of a dish, I would be shot through with adrenaline. A primitive ‘fight or flight’ reflex would leap unbidden to the fore. Fight or flight has a proper place in human life but in ‘civilized’ society it is an infrequent place. I would have to struggle mightily to remain within the usual norms of behaviour when these surges came. I found myself removing myself from societal interactions in ‘uncontrolled’ situations. I became increasingly anxious in social settings. Where others could be at ease in social situations I rarely felt comfortable letting my guard down. I know such behaviour gets misinterpreted. Some thought I was aloof. Others thought I was angry or antisocial. My challenge then was doubled. I not only had to deal with the invisible battle within but also with feelings of being judged and misjudged.

Thank God most of the previous paragraph is in the past tense. Like the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ those experiences may rise today to haunt me, but I no longer live with them as constant unwelcome guests in my life. I do still live with the habits and ruts I created for myself during my years in the PTSD wilderness. Like the ancient Hebrews found it is easier to take the Hebrew out of Egypt than to take Egypt out of the Hebrew. I have may behaviours I am trying to unlearn that were handy coping mechanisms in the past. I must still live with the judgements others formed about me in years past.

I do not write this so anyone will feel sorry for me but rather to point out the challenges those with mental health issues face and the complicity of society as whole in making it yet more painful.

Let us be slower to judge people! We have no idea what they are dealing with. Let us make space to really get to know our brothers and sisters so we can support and encourage them.

One of my ‘hobby horse’ issues is the financial support society provides to those with mental health issues much greater than mine. These folks often receive the minimum welfare payment though they might be among the least able to budget. They are too often forced to live in conditions that, rather than contributing to mental wellness, foster sickness.

I know that scripture says that if we do not contribute we should not eat, and I understand (though I do not agree with) conservatives who rail against a welfare state. The scripture also tells us to care for the widow, orphan, and stranger. We have a societal obligation to care for those who suffer!

I admire my friend who survive society’s careless attitude and even find ways to thrive spiritually. We can all learn much from them. I am grateful that my ‘brush’ with mental illness has given me some insight into this. I am grateful to God for the measure of healing I have found. I long for the day when my friends and I will experience the fullness of the Kingdom when illness is banished and wrongs are made right!

All the World’s a Stage: This is a New One

It feels strange and awkward. We are in a new stage with our Threshold House project. Some of the major repairs have happened. We had a new roof put on and replaced the entire water supply system. The election in New Brunswick is over and the government people have left.

 Do not get the wrong idea though, things are far from normal. Covid 19 makes that impossible. We are sharing our space now with the Inner-city Youth Ministry where a great gang of volunteers prepares bag lunches for hungry school children. This group brings a lot of laughter and hustle and bustle to the building. It is nice! It is good to participate in helping this vital ministry continue when their usual venues are not available.

We are increasing our recovery centred meetings, as well. We currently host 4 weekly gatherings, three are noon hour and one is in the evening. We are planning to offer a Saturday workshop on Alcoholism later in the month.

I have begun to create a secondary office (in addition to my home office) to use at Threshold House.

We have a lot of dry wall patching and painting to do before we start our next stage of renovations which includes creating bedrooms out of former classrooms, creating a shower room (the plumbing was done during the water supply redo) and creating a laundry room. We are also planning a work day to groom some wild landscape to create better sight lines for the building.

A new logo is in production. It is being created free of charge by a talented and dear friend.

I just shot a video we hope to have edited and ready for distribution later this month.

We are also planning a Christmas Banquet in a Box (a kind of gourmet take out meal prepared by Chef Russel Dobblestyn. We hope the box will include a thumb drive with the banquet presentations and a special Christmas musical presentation.

These are quite different activities from our previous mode, but all are undertaken either because of or in spite of the pandemic.

One of the chief values of Threshold Ministries (formerly Church Army) is to never undertake more than can be covered in prayer. So, I invite you, dear reader, to pray for these things. In doing this you will be preforming a vital role in the trajectory of this ministry.  

Like so many I am getting weary of Covid and the strain it causes. We receive an ever-growing number of calls from people who are struggling mightily. I have to fight the temptation to be short with some of our frequent callers and texters. In these moments I need to remember how difficult I find the isolation and ‘greyness’ of the covid days which seem longer even as the days grow shorter. I am in a fortunate position with multiple resources to help me, but Linda and I might be one of the few resources our friends have.

Hardly a day goes by when I am not asked “When will we start Drop In again?” I have to sigh (a silent prayer I hope) and reply I do not see them returning in the foreseeable future. Even as I say this I know I will be asked this again and again often by the same people and I wonder “How does God ever deal with my prayers?!”

Mere Reality or Deep Reality ?

It was a morning like any other. The prophet’s servant got up and, like Jack and Jill, went to fetch a pail of water. As he was rubbing the sleep from his eyes he looked around and realized that this was no ordinary day. He and his master were in deep and immediate danger. They were surrounded by ‘the enemy’. All seemed very bleak, as he called Elisha out to see their approaching doom!

Elisha though saw things differently. Yes, he saw the enemy, but he saw beyond that to the Lord’s provision for him. He was not disquieted, but out of concern for his frantic companion he prayed that his eyes too might be opened to see a deeper reality beyond the mere reality.

It seems that it is all a matter of how you look at things.

For those who have citizenship in the Kingdom of God, there is a deeper reality that is truer than the mere reality we see around us! Too often, though we like Elisha’s servant are so alarmed at the mere reality, for it seems anything but mere to us, that we forget and neglect the truer deeper reality of the Kingdom.

Like Peter on the stormy sea we lower our gaze to the swelling waves and soon find ourselves engulfed. Like him we call out in dread for rescue and graciously our God responds.

How much better though if we could see past the mere to the deep reality. Rather than settling for human vision we can trust in God’s provision.

In my experience there is not a circumstance, no matter how terrible, through which God can not and does not work.

Every morning when I look in the mirror I see a face marred and scarred. I see the damage which seems so permanent, yet I know that in the deeper reality I became a humbler and more spiritual person as a result. The phrase we hear these days is “Build back better” and God does that! God does not build back in the mere reality so much as He does in the deep reality.

Paul speaks about being persecuted but not abandoned struck down but not destroyed … so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”. He knows as Elisha knows that mere reality is nothing to compare with the deep reality of the glory of God the King and his Kingdom.

All this leads us to the place where we must confront the question of “which Kingdom captures my heart?” Will I fall (as I so easily can) into captivity of the mere kingdom of this temporal and temporary world, or will I allow myself to be enthralled by the glorious Kingdom God is fitting me for?

My prayer today is “Lord open my eyes.” I long to see the real reality not the mere.

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!

All In How You Look At It

 

blogI guess it is all how you look at it! I was thinking about all my losses and began to enumerate them in my mind. Death and failure and drastic change. I found myself wanting to dive for a ball my grandson had hit toward me as I realized that I was well past the ‘diving’ stage of my life. There are an awful lot of losses in life, if you live long enough. But then I began to recount the gains: lives that had been touched and transformed by God through our ministry, a grandson to play ball with, and another on the way. I so enjoy seeing our children as fine adults. I have new appreciation for God’s nature and love to photograph it!

These are tremendous gains that I would never want to give up even in exchange for those things I have lost.

I do not enjoy being ‘fragile’. It is a big adjustment, but I realise I (in fact all of us) have always been fragile and my ‘invincibility’ was but a sad illusion.

If then, it is all in how you look at it, the battle for satisfying life is in the transformation of our minds, just like Romans 12 suggests.

As I dwell on the feelings of loss what I am doing is forgetting that God is good. He empties my life of childish things in order to make room for the grander things of his design. This is not to say that certain losses like deaths are not to be properly grieved, but rather that even as we mourn we can experience comfort in God’s goodness.

I find myself saying to myself (sometimes you need an intelligent conversation) “This growing old is not for the faint of heart!” Life is full of losses up to the final loss of this mortal life, but mortality makes way for immortality!

Losses are not all temporary though many are. Losses make room for a grander plan.

I have decided to try and look at things differently. Rather than just bemoan my losses (I am realistic enough to know I am unlikely to stop that completely) I will see that God is making room in my life for more not less. I know that one day even death will be swallowed up in victory. The whole trajectory of life and history is to the fullness of the coming Kingdom. I have decided that I am better off contemplating that Kingdom than lamenting the fading of this one.

Confessions of a Slow Learner

 

I did not know it at the time, but I grew up in a golden age of oratory. Soaring speeches filled with eloquence and soaring poetic imagery were regular. I recall John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Junior and their speeches full of grand images and inspiring cadence. I took it for granted that this was the norm, but alas it is not. This time was an aberration! Nevertheless, they affected me greatly. I grew to love language. I grew to appreciate a well-turned phrase. I admired the ability to move people and call them to be greater and do better.

As a young Christian I admired great preachers who fell into this same category. I was drawn to the sermons of Charles Spurgeon “The Prince of Preachers” who could strike a theme and paint a picture and draw huge crowds and move them to respond to his Kingdom call. I discovered other preachers to admire. One such was Stephen Olford. I took my family to Memphis to study under him. We camped in a KOA during tornado season (Our tent was blown down in such a tempest.) He was, to me, a poet, and a preacher whose oratory drew and inspired people. I longed to be like him!

I never became a Spurgeon or an Olford, though I learned much from both. I realise, in my seventh decade, that I was not created or gifted to be them but to simply be me.

For the past few months, I have been unable to do my usual Bible Studies and have instead posted three such studies a week, on Facebook. This has given me a chance to listen to myself and to get feedback from others. One comment from someone I do not know to someone I barely know said “ He is so quiet and laid back letting the scriptures speak for themselves.” I was at once inordinately flattered and taken aback. My lifelong goal had not been to be a ‘laid back’ Perry Como of preachers! Somewhere along the way God had sidetracked me. My imagined soaring pulpit pounding rhetoric had been replaced and replaced by a quiet hemming and hawing simplicity.

Unlike my heroes I will never be held up as a ‘master’ preacher, but I feel quite comfortable in my shoes. I confess to being a slow learner but now I want to be authentic much more than soaring. I want to let the Holy Spirit do the task of inspiring, for that is the very function of the Spirit.

The moral of the story is this: God cares less about our ability, than our authentic availability. Perhaps others can be less slow to learn this valuable lesson