A New Journey: Hop On the Bus

There are some very exciting things percolating at Street Hope Saint John. We are actively pursuing an expanded ministry on a number of fronts.

We are planning a new basic discipleship training program in order to identify and equip people for ministry under our banner. In doing this we are seeking to return to our roots, the organizing principle for Wilson Carlisle, the founder of Church Army (now Threshold here in Canada), was for lay (non-professional/non-ordained) evangelists to share the desperately needed Good News with their fellows. We hope to minimally equip those God might call and give internship opportunity, through our shared ministry. I find this personally exhilarating. It may be a part of the answer to the question of succession. I have wondered what would happen to the ministry when I could no longer do it. The program we are looking at will involve a cohort doing an online course and meeting together to discuss and practise.

We are in an active search for a new ‘home’ for an expanded Street Hope ministry. This has been an exciting journey already. We began with the idea of finding a home for our current ministries and an expanded outreach into the realm of addictions. As we talked and prayed the thinking expanded to the concept of a home which would accomplish these purposes but also have a residential space. Such a space would be a ‘launching pad’ for those who are recovering from addiction, a place to live in supportive Christian community while pursuing, health, education, or re-entering the workforce. This ‘launching pad’ would be a temporary home while men became firmly established in the Kingdom of God and contributing citizens in the community. I hope in weeks ahead to give more details of this, but we have identified a place that would be ideal for this and things are moving apace.

A Roamin Holiday (4)

Last summer we offered a “Roamin’ Holiday” to our friends of the inner-city. This involved a series of day trips around our “Picture Province” for folks who seldom travel more than a few blocks. For several months I have been asked if we were doing it again. I am pleased to tell folks that with God’s help we will be doing it again! This week I will begin the initial planning and begin the necessary fund-raising campaign. Last summer was a fantastic time for folks and we are hoping to build on that this year. I will be adding a “Word from Our Sponsor” to each trip. this time, tailoring the ‘word’ to the context of our trip. I also plan to foster conversations about the ‘word’ and the trip on the bus ride home. I think these additions will add value to this summer ministry.

I ask that the above ‘fronts’ might animate your prayers. The need is great! The fields are white! Let us pray to the Lord of the Harvest. We will also require growing financial support in support of a growing mission. Thank you.

Hop on the bus! All aboard!

Be Like … Jack?

We got into a discussion of names this week. It started with Harry and Megan naming their boy Archie. Folks began questioning the choice. Now I am not a royalist my family was more republican, in nature, but I think people ought to be free to give names that are meaningful to them.

My dad called me ‘Jack’ in fact he called each of my brothers ‘Jack’! He used the moniker when he felt he had a task that one of his male heirs should do. ‘Jack’ take out the garbage. ‘Jack’ mow the lawn. ‘Jack’ meant that one of us needed to jump up and get to work. I think he liked the title because he wasn’t concerned about who got the glory of accomplishing a particular task, so much as that the task be successfully accomplished. Out of a mix of respect and fear, someone (me in my recollections but I’m sure my brothers remember it differently) would ‘hop to it’.

My Heavenly Father has names for us: ‘Beloved’, ‘My child’, saved, redeemed etc., and in scripture he says his own “Hey Jack!” “Love one another as I have loved you” “In everything give thanks” “Walk justly” the list goes on. Out of a mixture of respect and awe we are to respond. Ours is not seek or receive glory but to, strengthened by God himself, accomplish the task set before us.  Seeking credit is attempted theft of God’s rightful glory! Our great biblical examples are: the four folks who lower their friend through the roof, or the people who rush to unbind Lazarus from his grave clothes. We are never given their names. They are God’s ‘Jacks’. A ‘Jack’ is someone who tackles a task and labours happily in obscurity. Humility is the chief attribute of a faithful ‘Jack’.

When I was young, I looked forward to the day I would have a ‘Jack’ of my own. I thought I’d finally got one 37 years ago but within the year I’d be holding his lifeless body. A few years later we had another potential ‘Jack’ but psoriatic arthritis made him ineligible to jump to ‘Jack’-like tasks. I do not feel sorry for myself for over the years many ‘Jacks’ have appeared in my life to help with tasks I could not do, and God has given me the health to do so many of them myself.

My dad is long since gone and I am no longer one of his Jacks, but I remain one for my Heavenly Father. He gives me tasks I am built for. He assigns me to things that bring both challenge and joy. Life as a Jack is the abundant life! I highly recommend it. There is so much to be done and so much can be accomplished if we don’t care that we don’t get the credit.

An old commercial advised us to “Be like Mike” (Michael Jordan) but I advise “Be a Jack”. There is no life like it!

 

 

Introduction & Re-introduction

intro

At one of our studies this week we can a couple of newcomers and I made a round of introductions so everyone would know and be known, around the table. Introducing people is a relatively easy social function. When someone encounters, for the first time, someone we know, we simply introduce them to one another. Sometimes we get to introduce someone anew. “Did you know that, Rus worked in the Arctic or Peter is a photographer or Trevor is a long-haul trucker?” After folks acknowledge that they were unaware of these facts whole new conversations grow and relationships deepen.

A great joy in my vocation as an evangelist is that I get to introduce people to Jesus, and I get to introduce them anew!

The post-resurrection biblical encounters with Jesus illustrate this opportunity for me. Mary in the garden, of course, knows Jesus, but her knowledge is limited. When Jesus calls her name and re-introduces himself, she has a fuller knowledge of him. Likewise, the two sojourners on the Emmaus Road knew Jesus. They were despondent because of what they knew of him but as Jesus introduced himself in the breaking of bread, they came to more fully know him. Peter and Thomas and the other disciples knew Jesus but came to know him more fully. Saul certainly thought he knew about Jesus until he was introduced to him on the Damascus Road.

Years ago, Phillip Yancey wrote “The Jesus You Never Knew” in an effort to give us a fuller knowledge of Jesus. The Jesus I know, and love today is considerably different from the Jesus I first came to know. Make no mistake Jesus is unchanging “He is the same yesterday today and tomorrow”, yet my grasp of him grows.

Each new day provides me the chance to meet Jesus afresh. The thing that prevents me is an unwillingness to consider that I do not know it all, or know Jesus completely. I need not, and in fact have not, abandoned my initial understanding of him but I continue to learn of him. This draws me ever deeper in love.

It was this idea of always being on the verge of an encounter with Jesus, this idea of a constant re-introduction, that attracted me to the word threshold. The word liminal which describes this ‘in between’ time when we are on the cusp of a new experience, is best expressed in English as threshold. It is a kind of perpetual introduction. Threshold is the place of encounter and change. It is the place where all evangelism takes place. It describes the space (the only space) where we encounter the Godhead.

Threshold is an exciting place to be. Paul talks about this as “going on from glory to glory.” There is nothing dull about this! I long for Jesus to re-introduce himself to me today, and I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce him to others, for the first time or anew!

 

Yahweh is Higher than Mine

I got a message from one of my classmates and Commissioning Class yesterday to remind me that 39 years ago we had been commissioned as Evangelist. I remember the service well! That afternoon I had a meeting with the commissioning bishop and was offered a placement in his diocese. I was to go to a remote First Nation’s community and build relationships with the youth. At the service that evening he spoke about what a brave group the Church Army (now Threshold) was to go to such places that others would not. I remember being concerned that my mother would stop the whole service as he described the challenges of such a ministry.

I did not just survive that first posting I thrived. I had been ‘thrown in over my head’ and I had learned to trust God. These were formative times for me. Ever since then I have always felt that I was in over my head, but it became my norm. To this day I grow restive if I begin to feel too secure.

This week I was asked two questions, which cause me to reflect on this calling. Firstly, I was asked, “What would you be if you were not a Threshold Evangelist?”  I have only entertained two other vocations. I thought about being in advertising. Inspired by Darrin, on the television show Bewitched, I wanted to spend my life crafting clever logos and ad campaigns. I’m not sure that outside fantasy television that such a potion really exists. My investigations led me to believe that some sort of ‘artistic’ skill in the visual arts was needed and I am a bust in that department. Secondly, I thought about being a stand-up comic or writing comedy. Though I never actively pursued this I have incorporated it into my ministry in a number of ways. There are many ways to read scripture and wholesome Christianity calls on us to use a variety of them. One way I have learned to read scripture is to look for the inside joke. Many a truth is spoke in jest, and God’s Word is no different. This has led me to a kind of comedic devotional life. I appreciate the wonderful humour of the Lord and in prayer we ‘share laughs’. I realize this is not typical piety, but for me it is a most intimate form of relating with my Father. Of course, it is not the only arrow in my holy quiver, but it is a well used mode of devotion. I have found God a wonderful audience. People can be much more difficult. Everyone is a critic. People can laugh and in the same breath groan and mock, but I feel God’s smile.

In my ministry I have found ways to proclaim the Good News ala Darrin from Bewitched and instead of ‘stand up’ I have developed a kind of ‘kneel up’ devotion. Following God’s way for me, the way of evangelism, has enabled me to incorporate all these God given yearnings into one lifetime.

The other question I was asked was “Why do we study scripture all the time?” The short answer is that we don’t! Scripture is a priority in the ministry of Street Hope but ‘living it out’ is vital. But to elaborate, we study scripture to know who God is, what he is like, and what we are and should be in light of that. A friend recently posted a quote from Adrian Plass, “God is nice, and He likes you!” This is the Good News we find in studying his word.

And HOW!

How

“How?” that is the oft asked question. Seldom do I meet someone, through Street Hope, that does not know that they have difficulties and issues. They are in search of a solution. Addictions themselves are signs of an unsuccessful search for a solution. In our ministry we suggest that the dis-ease that people are experiencing is a spiritual problem and that a spiritual solution is required. It is here that we encounter the greatest resistance.

We had a good conversation about this during our study this week. We were comparing and contrasting (are my teacher roots showing here?) the reception Paul and Silas got at Thessalonica and that of the Bereans. A resistant group in Thessalonica had a emotional response to the Good News. Out of defensive anger and jealousy they drove Paul and Silas out of town. The Bereans had a different reaction. They were ready to honestly consider whether this message rang true. They were open to the possibility of a new life. They were willing to take receive this new possibility and act accordingly.

These are the three prerequisites to a spiritual solution. Together they spell HOW. Honesty: looking at our own state and realising that all of our solutions fail us. Openness: to the possibility that a loving God can and would restore us to wholeness, and Willingness: to let go of our failed solutions and allow God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

One of the things I have come to recommend is, that for 30 days in row, people pray “God if you are real show yourself real in my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen.” I ask people to be open to the possibility that God will answer that prayer and to end each day looking for traces of God’ answers. At the end of the thirty day dare someone who meets our prerequisites will have had a profound experience.

If a person lacks any of the prerequisites, they will seldom find the spiritual solution, but this is not the final answer. Where there is life there is hope. Over the years I have seen those who were initially resistant find new hope and joy on subsequent occasions.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born from above.” Spiritual revival is the only hope for a lost and hurting soul. We who have Jesus have the solution to sin’s ills. We too have a prerequisite, we must love! How can a hurting person become honest, open, and trusting with us if we are not first seen as trustworthy? The Church carries a lot of unfortunate baggage and we must overcome it as surely as our friends must overcome their spiritual state. This is a cause worth our best efforts.

On another note, I went to see my chiropractor this week. I told him about my experience of healing. He checked me out and said I had a full range of motion and marvelled with me at God’s power to heal.

Be Encouraged!

The word for the week is “Encouragement”!

A small group of us have been wending our way through Acts. When we came to the place where John Mark (the Gospel writer Mark) left the mission team and went home. We had a long chat about times each of us has failed and disappointed others. Some (most) of our folks have struggles with addiction and they clearly identified with Mark.

This week we studied the two reactions of the mission leaders. Paul was adamant that he required only people he could trust. The journey was fraught with danger and opposition and he did not want to worry about being deserted again. This is an understandable position.

Barnabas was first introduced to us as someone who stood up for the new convert Saul and encouraged the Apostles to give him a fair hearing. Now he sticks up for his nephew Mark. He is equally adamant that Mark get another chance. At the end of the day these two great missionaries disagreed but did not become disagreeable. We can learn a real lesson from this. The solution was to divide into two teams. The Gospel would go further and faster. Paul and his new partner Silas could embark on their difficult and dangerous trek. The young failed missionary, Mark, would get another chance. He would ultimately prove himself and become accepted by Paul as a valued fellow workman.

Each of us had so identified with Mark in his humiliating failure. I am reminded of my quip when I was trying to quit smoking, “Quitting smoking is easy! I’ve done it hundreds of times!” Dealing with addiction means we fail more than we succeed, but the beauty is that we only need to really succeed once. We all know the sting of failure, the pain of letting others and ourselves down. Mark is not a hero we aspire to in his failure, but he is our representative!

Barnabas is our hero! At risk to himself and his reputation he offers another chance.

We spent some time looking at our lives and identifying the people that gave us a chance. In gratitude we name folks who had been a Barnabas to us. In humility we thought about those we had ‘let down’, our Pauls in effect. We acknowledged our need to mend those relationships where we could and to, with God’s help, demonstrate a new heart and attitude and life and become exhibits of God’s grace.

On a personal note, I received a lot of encouragement this week. Linda and I visited St. James the Less. This is the church that sent us to the inner-city as missionaries about 15 years ago and we like to return on occasion. One gentleman was sharing a prophetic word he had received about our city and then to my astonishment said that they should pray for Linda and I and our ministry. He had no idea that we were considering a new and exciting new stage of ministry. Folks gathered around a prayed for us. It seemed like real confirmation that this is the path we should be on, right now. Afterward I shared our idea of developing a Recovery Centre and he shared that this had long been on his heart. He shared about a model that he had experience with. I look forward to sitting down with him and picking his brain about that. I have no desire to reinvent the wheel.

Please keep this vision for ministry in your prayers. I sense we will be stretched beyond what we can currently imagine but if God is in it, we want to say “Yes!”

Pondering Puddles and the Meaning of Life

I tried not to laugh. I had witnessed someone step off the curb into a deep puddle of water and soak his pants up to his mid calf. I do not normally find these kinds of misfortunes amusing but the person did this because he was checking his phone and not looking where he was going.

Texting and driving has become such a problem that there has been a ban. People everywhere are consumed by the pings and bongs of these phones. “Who is texting me?” “Did someone just like my comment?”

All this evidences a profound need people have for connection. There seems to be a universal urge for relationship but many of us are looking in the wrong places to meet this irresistible impulse. It reminds me of young Samuel who heard a call and ran three times to connect with Eli. Eli realized that the ‘call’ was from God and instructed the lad to communicate to God that he was listening.

I believe two things are abundantly clear: we are created with the need for meaningful connection with our creator, and our creator has a reciprocal longing for us. These two truths shape my evangelism. My early training taught me to bludgeon by dint of apologetics and force of oratory, into the Kingdom. I have come to see this as folly! Instead I see that people are, for the most part, already looking for this connection with the Creator. This natural desire has become perverted. It is on display through our smart phones, our addictions, our human relations etcetera, etcetera.

Folks do not need to be kidnapped against their will. My task instead is to help folks discover that the ‘thing’ they seek in their own unique search, is the Kingdom of God and relationship with their creator. Redirecting someone’s passion is a much less daunting a task than persuading them against their will.

That fellows pant leg became a sign for me of his search for a meaningful and affirming connection. I would have done better to swallow my snigger and instead commiserate and acknowledge my own thirst for connection. Perhaps I missed a real opportunity.

The amazing good news is that God wants that personal relationship that we crave. He created us with the craving and invites us to find abundant satisfaction in Him. It is wonderful that his love is so persistent. As with young Samuel, he continues to call and woo us until we respond.

Next Friday we are hosting our annual Good Friday movie. This year we will be presenting “The Ultimate Gift”. We pray that hearts will be touched. We are also planning a gathering of our House Church family for an Easter dinner. One of our members flies off to Montreal the next day for surgery so this will be an important gathering.

I hope you take time and effort this coming week to ‘walk with Jesus through Holy week’ and celebrate a glorious resurrection Sunday!

Bicycling Through the Louvre

Louvre

This week I had a picture of riding a ten speed through the halls of the Louvre Museum. This unsolicited image popped into my head as I had two different conversations around our Bible Study table. One fellow was very excited about a magazine type book, he had read, which gave a sweeping picture of the whole of Scripture. Another fellow had committed to reading the Bible in a year and was explaining to me how many chapters he was reading a day.

Do you see the origins of my mental image? I understand the value of a scriptural overview. In fact, I have often taught a course “See Through the Scriptures” and I find value in reading a quantity of scripture (and here is where the “but” comes in). A diet that solely consists of either overview or speed reading is not spiritually nutritious.

A cycle through the Louvre might be advantageous if it leads to circling back to the points where we can sit with the art and absorb its beauty and meaning.

We do not often move speedily in our daily studies. We pause often to sit with a passage or verse. We do not move on quickly but chew on a morsel getting as much of the nutrients as we can absorb. Often this will include putting the verses in the context of the ‘big picture’, placing it in the gallery so to speak, but I advocate a depth rather than a breadth survey of the Scriptures.

This past week Linda and I went to a symposium in Halifax. The topic was helping those released from prison find a welcome. I was in touch with the organizers before hand because I was concerned that the chairs would be supportive for my back. A recent ‘church’ conference had left me in substantial discomfort a few weeks ago and I was hoping to avoid a repeat, at all costs.

I arrived with my back rest and sat quite comfortably through the time. The next day we went to join friends of Linda at their church. This church meets in a school. When I walked into the sanctuary my heart sank! The chairs were of the flimsiest variety. I raced out to the car and brought in my back rest, but it did not work. I thought to myself “This service better be good, because I will be paying for it for weeks!”  Before he started preaching the pastor relayed that he felt that we should be praying for people with back problems that morning. He asked folks with back problems to raise their hands and then had folks around pray for them. Immediately I felt relief, but I thought I should give it some time before I suggested a healing. I have not had any pain since and have managed to sleep through the night without being awakened my pain, for the first time in a long time. My kind of back trouble involves things slipping out of alignment, so I am not ready to proclaim that it won’t ‘slip’ again, but I do exult in the freedom from pain I now sense.

Before I said “Yes” to the idea of a new challenge involving a home for a Street Hope recovery Centre I was concerned about my physical health to carry it out. I wondered if my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. I decided that I could trust God for all the resources. For now, at least, I have greater measure of those resources and I believe this is a token of God’s faithfulness and favour.

Renovation as a Prophetic Action

 

The scriptures are replete with prophetic action. These are actions in the physical plane that exemplify what God is doing on the spiritual plane. This week I think I felt a definite nudge in this direction. Last week I mentioned that we were praying about the possibility of finding a new permanent home for Street Hope. We have this in mind to particularly grow our outreach to those suffering with addictions.

This week we visited a building which is right across from the welfare offices and down the street from: both the women’s and men’s shelters, the St. Vincent de Paul clothing ministry, and the needle exchange. The building doesn’t look like much from the outside but when we walked in my heart fell! It looked like a disaster zone. It has suffered some major water damage and the ceilings and walls were littered across the damp floor. I couldn’t see beyond the mess. During the entire time the smoke detector was blaring as if to say, “Run for it!”. After a polite conversation with the realtor we retreated to our house where we had a conversation with my friend who knows way more about buildings and construction than I do.

“It has good bones!” he said. He began to tell me how I was missing all the potential. We began to talk about all the work necessary and again what I first thought of as a major obstacle began to seem like an opportunity. The project of renovation, itself, would be a major part of the ministry as we engaged volunteers.

The building became a picture of the renovation we desire to seek in the lives of our friends struggling with addictions. Many see these lives as disaster zones but God knows the potential. The most addicted has “Good bones!”

I don’t know if we will buy this building. I am not the final arbiter on that. Jonathan the Threshold Director will be down in May and we will look at it. I don’t think anyone will snatch it up in the mean time. We will be stretched financially as never before! But all this is not too difficult for God.

A few weeks ago, I asked myself if I had one more challenging project in me. I have decided the answer is yes! I invite you along on the journey.

On another note, Linda and I are off to Halifax to take in a seminar on helping ex-offenders adjust to society and welcoming them into our church community. I no longer officially work in this ministry but I see the same group of people week in and out and I volunteer alongside Chaplain Rob. It should be a nice get away for the weekend, as well.