An Odd Beach Head!

When preachers or teachers explain the “already but not yet” aspect of our experience of the Kingdom of God, they often use the ‘D Day’ analogy. D Day of course was the determinative day of World War Two. The Allied forces landed at Normandy and formed a “beach head”. Once these forces were ensconced on that blood-soaked beach, the course of the war in Europe was set. The forces of Nazism were on the wane and its doom was inevitable. The teachers use this to illustrate the victory of the blood-soaked cross of Christ that makes inevitable His return to reign!

I was reading the other day about another ‘beach head’. This beach head was established by a singularly odd character!

Jesus crossed from his familiar territory to the Gadarenes. This was a gentile enclave known for its secular society. Galilee across the lake prided itself on being a ‘God-centred’ society but on the far side was a society that prided itself on being free of religious constraints. It was in this way a Godless society. Legion was its most extreme citizen. Rather than freedom though Legion found only bondage. Rather than self-satisfaction he found only torment. Finally, he shed the last vestiges of civilization along with his clothes and indeed his sanity. His life was one of torment at the hands of unbridled demonic forces.

Jesus no sooner steps ashore than he is confronted by secularism which had hit rock bottom. With compassion, and unheard of authority Jesus set Legion free. His new-found freedom did not resemble the freedom the secular world view offered. Soon he was clothed and in his right mind.

The many demons fled at the word of Jesus and entered a nearby herd of pigs. The pigs ran squealing and shrieking to their doom as a stark symbol of the end which Godlessness brings.

Jesus is soon shown ‘the left foot of fellowship’ as he is asked to leave their shores. It seems the Kingdom Beach Head is to be lost but God has another and better plan. Legion now wonderfully free wants to accompany Jesus to holier ground but Jesus forbids this. Instead, he instructs him to return to family and friends and tell them about the ‘Son Who Sets Us Free’. Where Jesus is not welcome has become Legion’s mission field. He is the beach head Jesus has established on the Gadarene shores. He has not been through seminary or even an Alpha Course. He is to simply tell: his former life, his current hope, and his wonder-filled personal encounter with Jesus.

I believe I, like Legion, have a beach head ministry. In fact,I believe all Christians have such a calling. In our neighbourhood, in our family, in the areas where Jesus is not yet welcome, we have the opportunity of sharing our story. The power of a changed life opens doors which are firmly shut to Jesus. Unlike Legion we live on this side of Pentecost. God’s Spirit enables the willing and softens hearts.

The key question then is “Am I willing?”  

On a personal note, my back which has been so painful is vastly improved. Thank you to all who have prayed!

We just got back from a short visit in PEI. We experienced an immersive Vincent Van Gough exhibit, visited the aboriginal community of Lennox Island and visited a 98 year old family friend. David and Victoria were able to join us for the exhibit. PTL

God Send

Life has had a few disappoints of late. Our Night Pastor shared that, for personal reasons, he would be leaving his position. This role is vital to our ministry and this news was a major blow! People gifted for this are not in abundance. I felt so blessed when Mo came. It was quite literally a God send. Without him we could not have begun the work.

Shortly after that I suffered some physical challenges which makes me reliant on others for so many of the activities I routinely have done myself. This hindered the pace of many things and was a bit of a blow to my pride.

In Psalm 86 David offered me some valuable insight and advice. The psalm makes clear who is and is not God! In verse 6 David writes “When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.” God is in control! This is especially important to recall when we feel that we are losing our grip. When we are losing our grip God has things in hand, and from his hand we receive blessings.

In his song Matt Redman sings of blessing God’s Name in the “wilderness” and the “desert place.” It is easier to do this “when the sun’s shining down on me” when all “is as it should be,” but faith limited to good times is no real faith at all.

This week we completed an interview process, and I have offered the position Night Assistant to Steve MacDonald. He will arrive in Saint John to take up the work early this fall. I am so grateful that Mo is willing to stay until we fill this position. This is an amazing answer to prayer and yet another God Send.

I remain quite limited in what I can physically do though I continue to look for further healing. In the meantime, our residents, and volunteers pitch in to keep things moving.

Tonight, we hold our first Drop In. I expect it will be small, but I also expect it will be a happy joy filled time.

This week a group of volunteers erected our new signage. I posed for a picture as if I took part, but I mostly tried to stay out of the way.

This Thursday the Men’s Bible Study group from my church will be gathering in our rec room area for a Summer Social gathering.

It has been good to see the building full of life.

Walking On Son Shine

I have known Sean for many years. He and Donnie and I were “the Three Amigos” before Donnie’s death. We meet almost every week for coffee and a ‘catch up.’ Sean was involved in some childhood accidents that leave him with a lot of physical challenges. When I first met him I could not understand a word he said because of a significant speech impediment. We were patient with one another and eventually I could make out most of what he said. What Sean loves to talk about is Jesus, and how the Lord blesses everyday. Though he could sit back and collect his disability cheque he insists on working. He is a cleaner at the University. He was one of the heroes that braved covid to disinfect the communal areas of the campus. He also cleans the apartment building. He is an industrious worker who puts up with a lot of bias and abuse while living his quite exemplary life!

Sean inspires me with his simple and profound faith. When I am down he challenges me to trust Jesus. There is no hollowness to his challenge because he lives out that trust every day.

Last Saturday Linda and I were honoured to be invited to Sean’s wedding to Christine. They have been engaged for some time while Sean saved for the wedding. It was a wonderfully celebratory event. Christine processed down the aisle to “I’m Walking On Sunshine (Son Shine).” The service was what you would expect from Sean, it was Christ centred!

Sean and I have had thousands of coffees together over the years and shared in hundreds of Bible Studies. Once he asked me to take pictures of him with all his medals. I did not realize how many he had. He might be the most decorated Special Olympian in New Brunswick. We spent over an hour as he told me the story behind each. He looks forward to the time he can cast all his trophies at Jesus’ feet. He is a different kind of athlete these days as he seeks to ‘run the race’ and ‘finish the course.’

He has told me, on occasion, how lonely and difficult the race is for him. He often prayed that God would send him a partner in running the race. God has answered this prayer, like he has so many of Sean’s requests. I am thankful to God for my friend Sean and his Bride!

Things are proceeding slowly at Threshold House. I have not been able to begin our Drop In yet but still hope to do that in the coming months. I see great progress in the lives of our residents. At the same time there is ‘push back.’ The World, the flesh and the devil do not seem content to passively watch their growth. There are difficulties which I see as ‘growing pains.’

I have two preaching opportunities in August. Linda, our son, and daughter-in-law are going to PEI in August to experience an immersive exhibit of the art of Vincent van Gough. This will be our second outing with them this summer. Last Friday we went at their invitation, to Minister’s Island. It was great to be with them. God is good!

Please continue to pray for us and Threshold House.

Prayer Fodder

In conversation with my bride, I said it might be difficult to write this blog because I had not done much this week. She said, “It is not what you do that you should write but what you think!” While I have spent most of my time ‘babying’ my back and resting, I have had an inordinate amount of time to think.

I have been thinking about the shortness and fragility of life. I have a stark reminder of my body’s decline but each week I learn of yet another friend or relative who has passed away, some way too early! The time is short. The hour of Christ’s Return or my departure is closer than ever. This causes me to pray more fervently. It focusses me on the task of sharing the glorious Good News. It sharpens my desire to forgive. I sometimes have kidded that I suffer from ‘Irish Alzheimer’s’ I forget everything but grudges. The time is too short and too precious to hold on to unforgiveness.

All this has caused me to concentrate thought and prayer on succession. Currently I am unable to physically do what I would like. I am closing in quickly on 70 and I know that at some point I will have to step back from leadership of Threshold House. I have settled on the idea of a young person coming alongside me. While I could provide some mentorship that person could complete the Envoy training program developed by the Church Army in the United Kingdom and to be offered in Canada as method of forming Evangelists for 21st Century mission. This course is an online one with a practical local component. Threshold House would provide the context for this practical experience as well as the housing for a student. Upon successful completion of  Envoy  the newly minted Evangelist could work alongside me as a partner in ministry and eventually be prepared to assume leadership as I step back.

It would be wonderful if you would join me in prayer for this. I am open to the possibility that we may be able to provide this experience for more than one (younger  than me) person. Here is the link to the UK Envoy program website https://www.envoy.website  Again the plan is that this would be conducted here in Canada through Threshold Ministries and directed by one of our Evangelists Deb Moyo.

This week I was asked to do the teaching at the Wednesday Night Worship at our church. I really enjoyed it and was reminded what a charge I get out of teaching. Paul writes in Romans 12 that those with a gift for teaching “ought to teach”. As I was in prayer thanking God for this fun time I was reminded of this verse along with the admonition to seek more opportunities. I am in prayer about how I can best be an answer to my own prayer.

I have started a new series for our Monday – Wednesday Morning Bible Studies. We are looking at Galatians. The theme is the awesome simplicity of the Gospel. The Galatians found it so simple that it was hard for them to believe! Their efforts to complicate the Good News led them away from the truth that had been proclaimed and through which they had found hope and life. Their efforts led them into bondage of works of the flesh rather than the freedom and fruitfulness of grace filled lives. I think it will be fun journey. If you are a Face Book user you can follow along and even catch up on these studies. Each one is about 10 minutes long.

As I said earlier, I have been nursing my back. I took it out for a test run yesterday as I mowed my lawn. I have a self propelled mower with an electric starter so I was not abusing my back with those tasks. I seem to have come out of it okay! It was quite stiff and a bit sore this morning but the heat I am applying has eased that significantly. While I am not ready to run a marathon like our Director Jonathan Clarke I am a tad more optimistic about activities in the coming week. Please keep praying!

Some ‘Careful’ Thoughts

Like so many in Canada I had a bit of a forced fast from social media on Friday, so this post is a bit later than usual. I missed the week before as my back pain kept me otherwise occupied. It has literally been a slow period for me. There has been no frenetic activity as I didn’t venture far from my backrest or heating pad.

I did start and today finished a Bible Study series on the book of Haggai. I have never led a study of this prophet before and thought it might be fun to dive into this relatively obscure book. My instincts were not wrong! I found Haggai speaking directly to me in my time.

In chapter one he writes twice “Give careful thought to your ways!” He talks of people ‘feathering their own nest’ while neglecting the habitation of God. Two times he calls hearers to carefully examine their ways. Repetition is made in scripture to emphasize a point. My mother used this method and then would add “Do not make me say that again!” She meant business! God really does desire that I look carefully at my ways. Jesus had harsh words for hypocrites. These are folks who say one thing and do another. The prophet here is calling us to integrity. Are my actions lining up with my values and if not which should change?

If I agree that the first and great commandment is to love God and then in my life ‘love of self’ rules my time, talent, and treasure, I make myself that most dreaded of creatures, a hypocrite. This repeated reminder from the prophet calls me to a reflective mode of living, where I make my valued priorities actual priorities in my life.

Haggai came to me at the right time. I had fallen into a ‘pity party.’ My discomfort had become my priority rather than God’s glory. I need not just an adjustment by my chiropractor but need an adjustment of my attitude and priorities. How can I wallow when nothing can separate me from the love of God found in Christ Jesus? I am sure God does not want me ignoring the pain receptors he himself designed, but he does want my life to glorify him. From the outside that may look different but the heart ought to remain fixed on God and God’s glory.

My only other activity was to host a barbecue at Threshold House. I was severally limited in what I could do but we were flooded with good helpers. One of our residents did all the grilling. We had a little over fifty people which seemed about all we could safely manage as it became an indoor event. Lots of wonderful conversations took place and it was wonderful to see such life in the building. One fellow shared with us that that very week he had asked Jesus into his heart after a Celebrate Recovery evening.

It was a great night that I have been ‘paying’ for since but well worth a bit of discomfort.

Flash Back!

This was a ‘flash back’ kind of week. We had a visit from an old friend. Agnes and I used to travel all around Southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan together. She led worship and led the children while I preached and led workshop events. It was an ‘old home week.’ She was taking a break from her ministry in Northern Quebec on the East Coast of James Bay. We did a lot of catching up!

The other ‘flash back’ was not nearly as much fun! Four years ago, I was suffering chronically a very sore back. I was intently pondering retiring from ministry. At this time, I was pleasantly surprised when at a church service while visiting friends, in Halifax, I was healed! I took that as a sign not to retire and began my current project at Threshold House. This week as I bent to pick something off the floor my back ‘gave out.’ The stab of pain and accompanying inability to straighten was all too familiar. Since then, I have been in a lot of pain but even more seriously I have been battling thoughts of despair. This morning I returned to my chiropractor, who I had not seen in over four years. He did his ministrations, and I am grateful that I have a real measure of relief. I have another appointment early next month. I am grateful too that we have a medical plan that covers most of these costs. This week I have slowed down considerably but I hope to resume most of my activities next week.

Often, over the years my blogs have focussed on the faithfulness of God, and this is a wonderful opportunity to recall that fact and walk in trust. By nature, I could get despondent, but I want to chose to walk in hope. God is as much enthroned in my times of pain as in times of joy.

Plans are coming together for our barbecue on July 6th. The folks from our church’s Wednesday Night Study are bringing dishes and inviting friends. This will be by far our largest gathering in over two years. We hope it is the first of many. If you are in the Saint John area you are invited to join us 5:30 July 6 at Threshold House. You can let me know at streethopesj@gmail.com.

Our Saturday morning studies are proving really helpful to those attending. One guy says, “My spirit has changed since we started.” The conversations each week demonstrate the level of engagement.

We will soon wrap up our morning study of the Gospel of Luke. I am praying about doing Haggai, as a change of pace.

The fellow who is applying for the Night Assistant position will arrive in Saint John in mid August and after we meet we will make a decision.

Please do keep all these things in your prayers. I love hearing your words of encouragement and what God may be saying to you. You can comment here on this page or email at the address above.

Thanks. Blessings.

A Good Week

This week I went to Teen Challenge for a visit. My friend and pastor Roger Graham was invited along, and the fellowship made a long drive go by quickly. Roger’s church supports Teen Challenge and has sponsored several individuals for the program. During our visit he tool every opportunity to share how he and the church were supportive of Threshold House. We had a great reception and left knowing that Threshold House would be held up in prayer at this Centre. On one occasion as we were chatting with the Spiritual Director, I noticed he had a copy of the latest Faith Today on his shelf. I took it down and opened it to an article about Threshold House. You can read it at https://www.pressreader.com/canada/faith-today/20220506/282149294850393

This article was well timed to add weight to our case as ‘a next step’ for graduates.

There are other hopeful signs. There are wires in the East Wing of our residents awaiting the alarm bells which are on back order. I got word that these will be installed next week. This will allow us to furnish those rooms in preparation for more residents.

I returned to Stone Church last Sunday, at the invitation of the Mission Committee. I had not been there since Linda and I decided we could no longer be a part of the Anglican Church in Canada, some two and a half years ago. I was a bit concerned about how I might address that issue, but I felt it went quite well. Linda and I received a warm welcome. I am really grateful for this church’s continued support in finances and prayer.

We received our first serious inquiry about the position of Night Assistant, and we are in the process of discerning God’s leading. In the meantime, our current fellow, Mo, has agreed to stay until we find someone.

We are planning a barbecue July 6th. Folks who have been attending our study of the book Bless are preparing to invite friends to join us for an evening of food and fellowship. Threshold House will provide the meat while other members fill out the other portions of the barbecue. This joint venture is exciting, and we hope it will be fruitful.

Last night I attended a celebration for someone who has been 17 years sober. It was indeed a celebration of the Lord and his work in the lives of those who turn to God for help. It is an amazing privilege to witness this redemptive work in those who once were in a ‘seemingly hopeless state.’

On a personal note, Linda and I travelled to Nova Scotia to visit my sister. My brother was travelling through, so we had a mini family reunion. I had not seen my brother since covid, so it was a real treat.

We got home in time for me to attend the celebration last night and today a dear friend, Agnes, is arriving for a visit. Whenever we meet it is like old times!

Please continue to pray for Threshold House that we find the right Night Assistant and for the installation of alarms to be quickly completed.

Part ll “The Accidental Ventriloquist”

Linda reminded me that I had more I should say about my time as a puppeteer. Last week I wrote about how I accidently became a puppeteer and how that has shaped my life. To say I accidently stumbled into ventriloquism would be both true and a groaner (a pun).

I was with a few of my Up Town friends when I had my great fall. Having a great fall in October is wonderful but mine was in August and of a painful variety. The result was a shattered jaw accompanied by tremendous damage to my teeth. It was a memorable experience!

My jaw was wired shut for a little over 6 weeks. On her first visit to me in my hospital room Linda brought a book on ventriloquism. I had long thought about trying my ‘hand’ at this, but it requires a lot of practise. Now I had the opportunity to give this art my full attention. I learned how to speak and project without moving my jaw or lips.

Early on in this exercise I told our Director, Bruce Smith, that I wanted to preform somewhere before the end of the year. He booked me right away to debut at the Church Army Christmas Banquet, where 100+ of our friend and supporters would be.

I found a dummy (another dummy) and continued practising toward this deadline. I wrote a script in my now familiar format. I played the wise patient character and my puppet Andrew, played a zanier type character. We did a bit about the best kept commandment. If you do not know it is the admonition Jesus gives to some He had healed, to not tell anyone. It seemed to Andrew that this was indeed the best kept command. The Church was very much like the mighty Mackenzie River, which was often ‘frozen at the mouth.’

It was a daunting preparation time for me, but I fulfilled my goal of preforming ventriloquism! Since Covid hit I have, with the help of my masks, perfected the art!

This is yet another example of God’s faithfulness. He uses the most difficult circumstances. If we but look beyond our pain He can accomplish immeasurably beyond all we could ask or imagine.

Three mornings a week I do a Bible Study and post it online. For the past, several months we have been wending our way through Luke and the end is in sight. Next week we will be zeroing in on the crucifixion of Jesus. I want to slow down a bit so as not to hurry through this act of love which is so central to our Faith.

After recording the short study, those of us in the room of our chapel at Threshold House spend time in prayer and conversation. You could participate by letting us know of any prayer requests you might have, and we will join you in intercessions. If you live in the Saint John Area and would like to drop by at 9 AM Monday – Wednesday we would be happy for you to join us.

For Prayer

We are planning some ‘Meals with a Message’ some will be lunch hours with soup or chowder, others will be evening spaghetti dinners, and still others will be the occasional breakfast.

We continue to look for a Night Assistant. Please pray for the right person.

The Tale of the Accidental Puppeteer

I was pondering this week “How did I get here?” I never intended to be involved in the world of recovery, but I ‘accidently’ fell into it. As I pondered this I realized that most of the developments in my ministry over the years were ones that I ‘fell’ into rather than planned.

Many years ago, I found myself involved in children’s ministry not because I was gifted but because there was little that a young evangelist was allowed to do. Adults would not allow me in pulpits but instead they happily entrusted their “most precious” little ones to my fumbling ministrations. Things began to come in focus as I was praying and seeking God about this dilemma. I saw others who could hide behind their guitars and musical talents to dazzle children, but I had none of these gifts. Yet I found myself plunked down in the midst of Children’s Ministry with the expectation that I would walk in the footsteps of these talented folks! I knew I was a fraud and desperately prayed God would bail me out somehow.

One morning I was baby sitting the toddler of my billet hosts. We were watching Sesame Street together when, ‘just for fun,’ I decided to try imitating Kermit, then Ernie, and then Bert. The toddler loved it! I could not dazzle with guitar licks, but I could make voices. This became my lifeline! I became a reluctant puppeteer. I found a rhythm with Bert and Ernie and together we taught children basics of the Gospel. My new partners were naturals at this. Ernie fell into the ‘good hearted but foolish’ role and Bert became the ‘patient and wise’ one. Ernie got into messes and Bert showed him the way.

The next year I was again doing children’s ministry but this time in a remote Northern community. At this time there was little electricity and no televisions in the community, so my pals Bert and Ernie were unknown. I turned to new friends Rueben (the racoon) and Solomon (the owl). They played the exact same roles as Ernie and Bert, and I continued my career as the reluctant puppeteer.

It turned out that remote regions were easily impressed, and I soon took my puppet friends on the road and was invited to one community after another. Soon some of the churches would open their pulpits and I had finally earned the opportunity to do things I had felt called to do! I had come to realise that if I could explain the Gospel to children then perhaps I could share the same Good News with their elders. I had learned the essentials of the Gospel through writing puppet scripts and now I got to apply it to adults. I had originally thought I would be an eloquent communicator like some of my preaching heroes, but I had learned the effectiveness of homely and understandable communication seasoned with humour. Again I ‘fell’ into a style I had never considered.

Later this varied experience equipped me to teach evangelism at Taylor College, but I was restless with the sole role of teacher and began an inner-city ministry that lasted for years. I would not have chosen this path but ‘fell’ into the opportunity. My experience of communicating the Gospel in an accessible fashion suited my new Up Town friends.

It was these friendships that caused be to become concerned with recovery. Through my inner-city years I have been inspired by friends who have recovered and are living wonderfully productive lives serving God and their community.

In all this I trace the fragrance and fingerprints of God. Where I say I ‘fell’ into something I see that I was led! When things are difficult and dark I rest in the knowledge that God leads in wonderful and mysterious ways. I believe we can trust Him!

For Prayer:

On the 12th, I have been invited by the Mission Committee to return to Stone Church to share about Threshold House. This group has been a consistent support via finances and prayer over the years and I am grateful for this partnership.

On the 13th, the pastor of Forest Hills Baptist and I are trekking to Teen Challenge for a visit there. We hope that soon we will be able to announce residents coming from that program.

The Topic Is Anger!

Anger is everywhere these days. It is in the air, and it lives and feeds and grows, on-line and in our political discourse. There is a lot to be angry about, like injustice and war and our own impotence to affect change or control our circumstances.

Over the years I have spent a lot of time dwelling on this subject. It has been a consuming topic for me because for a long time (too long) it was my chief identifying emotion. As I realised I had a problem, I began to cast about in search of a role model. While there were innumerable people who handled anger better than me, I failed to find a role model I could imitate! There were people who never seemed to get really angry. I knew I could not do that! There were people who swallowed their anger and bitter experience taught me this would not work for me. Some were passive aggressive, and I did not admire that as a method. Many, many were better than me with anger, but I could not find a wholesome or workable model.

The scriptures not only give me permission to be angry, but actually encourage anger. It seems this is a God given emotion. It is a tool which we wield most clumsily. When I first looked to Jesus, I saw only ‘Jesus Meek and Mild,’ and I allowed this one-dimensional caricature to dominate. Apparently Jesus was not in all ways tempted like me and was incapable of anger. Sure, he got “righteously” angry at money changers, but “righteous” anger was not my problem.

Now I see Jesus quite differently. When Judas betrayed him with a kiss, the Jesus who was indeed tempted in all ways, felt anger. He looked Judas in the eyes, not letting him off the hook and thereby confronted him with his awful betrayal. After Peter’s denial again we see him looking Peter in the eye and the terrible weight of Peter’s denial crashes upon him.

Jesus had taught about turning the cheek. This was not solely to offer the abuser another opportunity, but more so to look that person in the eyes and force them to see your humanity in the face of their inhumanity.

Jesus followed his own model as he dealt with inhumanity and abuse. He was angry and yet did not sin. No one was ever just ‘let off the hook.’ Everyone is confronted with their behaviour and the horrendous consequences that flow from them.

It is not only okay to be angry, but it also seems a Gospel imperative! Like sex we have perverted the gift of anger. We abuse and misuse anger to justify our own inhumanity!

Being angry well is really difficult. I have come to believe though that God does not ask of us that which we can not do through Him. He says, “Be angry and not sin.,” and this is one of the many things we can do “through Christ who strengthens us.”

In this life and times, there is a lot to be angry about. The chore for me is to choose my anger well and to feel and act on it in a way that honours God. I fail often at this. I fall well short of this ‘mark,’ but it remains the ‘mark’ nevertheless! I fail and I repent and reset. I think I am getting better. I think I sometimes hit the mark, or nearly so. My goal is progress rather than perfection for I find that solely striving for perfection frustrates me to the point of abandonment.

We had our first “Finding Freedom” Bible Study last Saturday and it was a really enjoyable time. We hope to see a couple of more people this week.

Linda and I believe we have turned a corner health-wise. Thank you for your prayers.