What a Strange Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st 2nd & 3rd Comings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help is on the Way!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us sow love! Help is on the way!

Old Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Good & Pleasant Place

This week something happened that never seems to happen. Our plumber, electrician, contractor, and alarm specialist, all showed up, and we made giant progress on our renovation project. Next week the Director of Threshold is coming down for a week to help ‘push’ this project toward the finish line! I even began to do some painting which reminded me how I do not like painting ceilings!

The state of the project is hopeful!

Our first resident is patiently waiting in our “Threshold House Annex” (my home) until we get the ‘all clear’ to move in. Maurice, our Night-time Pastor continues to ‘couch surf’ as we wait, but finally it looks like there is an end to this waiting period.

As I was thinking about the many twists and turns of this journey I could not help thinking back even further.

I was commissioned as an Evangelist in 1980. I was zealous then and I hope I have not lost my zeal, but it was raw and untamed. I was more interested in being ‘clever’ for God than being useful. I plunged headlong into the ministry of evangelism unheeding of the consequences. I began ministry like we all do, immaturely. I knew little of patience and even less about humility. The coming years would be an enduring classroom. I am wonderfully surprised that God used me with all my immaturity.

Today I often feel frail and rarely clever. I know I can do somethings and I know I can not do all things! Humility is less a lesson for me now but is a reality that faces me in the mirror. I continue to lose hair and muscle mass but like Paul, when I am weak then I am strong.

When I think of this Threshold House project, I am faced with the abundance of things for which I need others, and it is ‘coming together.’ My biggest role is trusting God to provide! Over all the years this one thing I know, God is faithful! It seems like a small thing to trust him, and that small thing is my one big task. I would not be able to do even this little thing apart from God’s extreme patience with me over the years.

The mistakes and meanderings of the past have led me here. It seems a good and pleasant place!

“Make me!”

I never liked being told what to do. I recall that when my older brothers would tell me to do or not do something I would often retort “Make me!” All too often they would proceed to do just that. I would be pummelled into submission having to call out “Uncle!” as a sign of my capitulation.

When I read the word “submit” in scripture these experiences colour my understanding of the word. Submission equates to force and humiliation to my inner child/tyrant. I have found that I have to do some adult thinking to properly address such words when I encounter them in scripture.

Paul encourages me to submit to civil authority. In his days, such authorities were not as kindly as they are in our day, but even so he called for submission, in those things which did not explicitly contradict God’s own reign. Our chief allegiance (read submission) is after all to God, and he calls us to a civic submission, even with unfair and godless rulers. While there is room for civil disobedience ala Gandhi or Martin Luther King this exercise ought to be undertaken prayerfully and in full compliance to the Word of God. It ought also to be undertaken with the expectation that the ‘sword’ is not given the state for no reason, and we cannot expect to disobey without consequence.

This week I read Jesus’ call to his disciples for the umpteenth time. “I will make you fishers of men (women boys and girls).” I realized that this too is a call to submission. Jesus’ invites us to an action. That action is, primarily following not fishing. He invites us to walk closely with him, to learn of him. In journeying with Jesus in this submissive relationship of disciple and rabbi we will be changed! In the process of life lived with Jesus, and submission to his lordship, he promises he will do something. He promises us that he will “make” me. The image of a potter springs to mind. He is actively forming the clay and we as the clay are passively being formed or made, in this case into fishers! None of this happens apart from an intimate relationship of yieldedness to Him.

Now 1Peter 3:15 makes more sense. As I set apart Jesus in my heart as Lord I will be ‘made’ into a person who attracts people to ask “What is different about your life?” At this point I have become a fisher! Through intimate obedient communion with him, he has made me a fisher. That these occasions are infrequent is more likely due to my aversion to submission than to any inadequacy on Christ’s part.

So to those who are uncomfortable with a call to be “fishers of men”, take heart. We are called firt and foremost to follow hard after Jesus. He does the ‘making’.

Threshold House Is Operational

The Thanksgiving Weekend was a more contemplative one than usual for many of us. It exerted its gravitational pull on my attitudes. I had been plagued with frustration. I found myself recalling my renewed zeal for ministry with the healing of my back. I remember the excited planning for a new vision “Threshold House.” I felt that 65 I had one more project for God in me. It was a warm and wonderful time for me, but I was sinking into a funk. I will be sixty-eight soon and the vision for Threshold House remains unfulfilled. I began to despair that I would get there and began to think of who might assume the reins. There have been any number of delays and impediments but like Peter on the surface of Galilee’s Lake I was looking at the storm and not the Saviour.

I determined to look to Jesus in thanksgiving. I began to count my blessings and they are many! One of the things I thanked God for is our home. Our house is little more than a cottage but for the two of us it suits beautifully. Since repairs after a flood a few years ago we have a refinished guest space and with a three-piece bathroom. As I was thinking of this space I was again tugged to lament that we have not had guests since Covid. Then a thought occurred to me, “Why do you have to wait until Threshold House is completed?”

We already had our first resident selected. He has been waiting for a few months to move in, but delays have held him off. He left his room in the South End and found other short-term accommodation, as we fully expected to welcome him soon to Threshold House. The days turned into weeks and then months. The time came where his short-term situation was no longer sustainable, and he was truly homeless. After conversation with Linda, we decided to open our guest space as an Annex of Threshold House. It has only been a few days, but It is a relief to finally be fulfilling a part of our dream!

Things are still slowed down as our contractor has not yet returned from covid related isolation. We had electricians in to ‘rough in’ the wiring for our new smoke alarm system. These alarms were supposed to be installed this very morning but like so many in the world today we are faced with “supply chain” issues. The alarm company does not have the detectors and bells in inventory, so we are again stalled.

In order to share responsibility, we are forming a group to vet application. We have two other gentlemen who are applying so we need this in place very soon.

It is so incredibly good though to be able to say that Threshold House is now operational! We are not what we hope to be, but we are not what we were (stalled mired etc.). Is that not like the ‘Pilgrim Life’ of each follower of Jesus?

I Choose to Sing!

“I choose to sing!” This is my determination right now.

I have reason not to feel like singing. The days are shortening, and the darkness always seems to creep into my soul. The season of depression is descending. This always brings melancholy. This fall a combination of covid and ‘rage’ on social media also tend me toward sadness.

This week I learned that a contractor who worked on our Threshold House renovations has tested positive for covid. I went for a test and must wait for up to 5 days for results. In the meantime, we live in isolation which is deeper than our regular covid isolation! All this occurs over the Thanksgiving weekend upsetting all our plans both for feasting and worshipping. Together it feels like I have sufficient reason not to sing.

Two things have caused me to determine to sing.

 The first is a memory. I fondly recall my mentor/boss Capt. T. straightening me out a few times. Once he invited me to pray about something and I dared reply “I don’t feel like praying!” His immediate reply was “Well pray until you feel like it!.” Another time he asked me to write a kind letter to someone who had sent us a nasty epistle of their own. Again, I said, “I don’t feel like it!” and he replied, “What would you write if you did feel like it?” and he waited a beat before adding “Write that!”

The second thing is my Scripture reading this morning. I read of the Last Supper, of Judas’ predicted betrayal and departure from the twelve (certainly a downer)., of Jesus detailed prediction of his pending ordeal, and the disciples’ child-like squabbling. Jesus before his final journey to Gethsemane did one last thing at that commemorative meal. He sang a hymn! Jesus might not have ‘felt’ like singing. He chose to sing!

The times we live in offer us all sorts of reasons for not wanting to sing but God has given us more reason to sing his praise! We do not walk through this dark valley alone! He is greater than the darkness. He has given us a glimpse of the future he holds securely for us. A part of my song today is the word “Maranatha” (Lord Jesus come quickly). I ask him to come to my aid. I ask him to soon establish his rule and reign. We wait and we sing. Even in the times of despair He comes when we sing.

I chose to sing.

What’s New?

Have you ever had someone ask you “What’s new?”? Sometimes I really have to stop and search for an honest answer. Sometimes  I may resort to “Not much!” This is probably close to the answer Solomon might have given at his most depressed and depressing! I think though it is a question we ought to ask ourselves, and it is a question we ought to diligently answer.

It amazes me that one of the wonderful attributes of our unchanging and unchangeable God, is that he is always doing something new! “His mercies are new every morning”, “He makes all things new” he invites us to “Behold, I am doing a new thing”. Time winds down with us in a “New Heaven and Earth”, bearing “new names”. He invites us to “Sing a new song”. The scriptures are replete with  God’s fondness for new things.

The Ancient of Days seems to be constantly changing things. “He is the potter, and we are the clay!” The divine plan for our sanctification hinges on this process of change and renewal.

So, when I am asked what is new? or when I ask this of myself, it really deserves my best thought. This is a diagnostic question for my soul. If I am stumped by the question it  points to problem in me which ought to be quickly addressed. Most often though after careful meditation on the question and with the indispensable help of the Paraclete, I notice God’s sanctifying and renewing activity. This causes me to do two things; praise God for his creative work in my life and seek ways to cooperate with God in this activity.

Jesus says, “My sheep know my voice”, and this is an exercise in tuning into that ‘voice’.

Sometimes the “new” is obvious. These can be times of change for us, either for obvious blessing or for challenge. The “new” is not always (or even often) comfortable. Refining is seldom comfortable!

The question invites me to step away from passivity to partnership. It blows my fragile mind that the God of the universe continues to condescend to collaborate with me in achieving his purposes in and through me! Too often though like those in the parable of the banqueting feast, I miss the invitation, and I do so to my own harm!

I want to encourage everyone to take the glib question “What’s new?” and pay serious spiritual attention, and I am preaching firstly to myself.

What’s new?

A Faith Problem

Several years ago, I was chatting with my friend Big Donnie. He asked me if I was going to be taking a group on a vacation to Deer Island that summer. At the time I had no idea of where the finances would come from to do this again. I shared my concerns and got no sympathy at all! I still can picture Donnie poking his huge forefinger at me and proclaiming definitively, “You don’t have a money problem! You have a faith problem!”. He reached in his pocket and took out his sole twenty-dollar bill and handed to me telling me this would get me started.

About a dozen of us went on a vacation together that summer and God supplied all our needs! I believe I learned something that summer and through Donnie, that continues to stand me in good stead today. I have been asked how I plan to pay for renovations and maintenance of our Threshold House project. I have been asked if I lose sleep over the rising tide of costs. Usually I say “I sleep like a baby. Two hours at a time and I wake up crying!” but that is not true. I can toss and turn about other issues, but I do not worry about money. I have experienced the truth of Donnie’s rebuke. It stung at the time, but I came to repent. I now believe that what God orders He will pay for! My big task is to make sure that the expense is at God’s prompting. When I am confident about that then I do two things: I do my best, and I trust in God.

Plumber, contractors, alarm companies, materials all pile up the bills. Fire Marshalls edicts bring further unexpected requests. A poorly constructed building has additional maintenance issues. There have been any number of issues to slow down our launch. Even with all this we look to God and His people to meet the challenges of the day.

I believe we received real confirmation about our project when we were able to fill the role of Night-time Pastor. Maurice Legere comes with a wealth of experience in working with those struggling with addiction. He also comes to us after a stint with Operation Mobilization and its evangelistic ministry around the globe. We can not imagine a better qualified candidate. This is an answer to our prayers! This is evidence, to me. That God is at work! I continue to recall Philippians 1:6 “I am confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in you will bring it to conclusion, in the day of Christ Jesus.”

If you are ‘stirred’ to help you can make an e-transfer to financial@thresholdministries.ca adding “Threshold House” in the memo, or send a cheque to Threshold Ministries at 105 Mountain View Dr. Saint John NB E2J 5B5 adding “Threshold House” in the memo, or using Canada Helps.