Announcement

In his song “It’s A Jungle Out There” Randy Newman sings “I might be wrong … but I don’t think so.” I have been thinking a lot about this because I have had an uneasy relationship with the denomination I have been raised and nurtured in for many years. That ‘unease’ has grown over the years until very recently my wife and I decided we no longer could comfortably remain. I have unwavering respect for those who feel differently. People of good will can disagree. We have decided to leave the denomination that we have long belonged to and have begun attending a Baptist church in our neighbourhood. We were drawn to this church because it is deeply embedded in our neighbourhood and has a history of reaching out in love with the clear Gospel of Jesus.

I was tempted to begin this announcement with the words “it is with a heavy heart…” but as I saw these words displayed I realised that they were not true. I rather have a sense of relief after years of agonising over differences we had with our former denomination.

I say all this to announce that in the coming weeks Linda and I look forward to being baptized. One of our several areas of tension with the Anglican Church has been around ‘believers’ baptism’. Again, I have no quarrel with those who believe otherwise, but we believe this is important.

Our various ministries will be unaffected by this decision. They are though, deeply affected by the pandemic! We do not know when or how our Drop In will start again. Playing board and card games in close proximity will not be ‘on’ for the foreseeable future. We could rejig our Drop In showing videos and having discussions, but this would be so radical a change as to be a completely different ministry.

We look to have an outdoor event at Threshold House to mark the launch of that aspect of our ministry. We have resumed some of our recovery meetings and I hope to add some more workshops and studies in the Fall.

We are now responsible for Street Hope’s share of the expenses of upkeep, maintenance, and renovations of the building. Our opportunities for fundraising have been particularly hampered by covid but we are trusting God and his people.

I have been doing Bible Studies three times a week on Facebook, and where I used to get one or two guys out to my studies I now have a range of 50 – 80 viewers of the online study. These are just those who see it on the sites I control I know of several others who share or repost them. This has been a positive and surprising result of the pandemic. If and when things return to ‘normal’ I may continue these and add in person studies.

Many were praying for me when I was appointed Interim Director and I am happy to report that I am no longer needed in that capacity. I had asked people to pray that it would be a brief and uneventful tenure and it was, for the most part. Thank you.

A Humble Man on a Mission

Many of us have had extra time to: reflect, recall, and ponder, during these last few months. I have spent some time thinking about those who have influenced me for good. This is a deliberate activity to counteract my natural bent to thinking about those who may have harmed me.

One of the most positive of influences was a most humble man. I met Jake when I first was asked to preach at the Gospel Church in our new community of Elkhorn, Manitoba. This was the first of many preaching engagements there as I preached once or twice a month for years! Jake was from a Mennonite background and though he was affiliated with this Gospel Church was still a ‘cultural’ Mennonite, holding all the values and most of the traditions of that historic community of Jesus followers.

Jake was like his friend Jesus, a carpenter but he was like Jesus in many more ways than that! Not long after our first encounter Jake invited me to join him in an outreach to the men of the Brandon Correctional Centre. For years Jake had been taking a team there each month. He was careful who to invite, his standards were high. For some reason I passed the test and soon I was privileged to be a regular member of the team. This team included Jake’s wife Nettie, a gospel band (usually a bluegrass band) and a preacher. Through Jake I met more than a few Christian Bands and with Jake made our own attempt to start our own Gospel Jamboree at our Centre in Elkhorn.

Jake was not a preacher nor was he a musician or singer. He was a humble man on a mission. He was energetic for the Gospel and had a deep passion to see people find faith and hope in his friend, Jesus. In Jake I saw an example of what God could and would do through someone who was committed to Jesus and who was not looking for credit. Jake never ‘blew his own horn’ but always encouraged others to step out in ministry. In my own halting way, I have tried to follow his example.

I was thinking of Jake and our times at the Brandon Correctional Centre, and my visits to jails and prisons right across this country, because the topic of “systemic racism” is in the forefront these days. When we would visit that centre upwards to 75% of the imprisoned were First Nation’s people while the population on the streets of Brandon would be more like 10%. I have done enough work in corrections to have a realistic view, so I know most if not all of these people committed crimes. I do not believe for a minute that racist judges or police were the reason for the disproportionate incarceration. I do believe that the larger picture demonstrates that there is something seriously wrong with the system.

I believe the answer is not so simple. How does a nation repent? What is the fruit of such repentance? If we scapegoat police we miss the point. If we dig in and blindly “support” Law and Order we miss the point. The answer is not in denial nor is it in tinkering but the messy business of recognizing and humbly addressing a justice “system” whose fruit seems unjust.

I usual try to avoid political controversy. People of all political stripes need Jesus and that is my primary concern, but some topics stir me, and I cannot help but share.

Walk for Life

Last week was a rare miss for me, as it relates to posting something in this space. I was with Linda, my grandson and members of Linda’s family, as we took part in the Saint John Pregnancy Centre’s “Walk for Life.” Other years this walk takes place as a mass gathering and people walk together but this year each ‘bubble’ walks by itself. We chose to ‘walk for life’ by hiking the Bluff overlooking the farm where Linda grew up and the valley where many of her family still live and work. This family venture seemed to honour the family values of the Pregnancy Centre where Linda has long volunteered.

bluff

As I have been reflecting on this I have realised that my entire life and ministry is motivated by my ‘pro’ life values. These days we hear the refrain “Black Lives Matter” and I totally agree. Too often this refrain is met with a response “All lives Matter” which while true is unhelpful as not all lives are endangered in the same way.

Unlike many of my evangelical brethren I believe that pro life must mean pro the born as well as the unborn. It seems the height of inconsistency to advocate the rights of the unborn and then be indifferent to their plight thereafter.

My pro-life stand goes beyond the temporal though. I read that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son so that we might have life, eternal life! Jesus said he came to that we might have life, life to the full! I feel it would be inconsistent of me to advocate for life and rights only on this temporal and temporary plane, when it is ever more vital that people find eternal and abundant life promised in the Gospel.

“Lost lives matter!” ought to be our cry as we take to the streets to effectively share the Good News of the love of God for lost and wayward humanity. When I find myself pining for the days when I could blithely attend a church service and sing at the top of my lungs, I remind myself that my satisfaction is not the goal of the Church. As I turn my nostalgic eyes off myself I can begin to imagine how I can use this time and the opportunities it brings, to share the Good News with those who have not yet responded to the message of God’s great love.

Solomon writes “To everything there is a season…” and this is certainly a season to aver that ‘Black and Indigenous Lives Matter’. Paul writes to Timothy that he is to share the Good News “in season and out of season”. Gospel sharing is always in season because it is vital.

As we launched this month into a new stage of our “Threshold House” project we are mindful that at its heart this is all about equipping people with ‘a Good News story’ to effectively share the hope that they have experienced so that others may find new and abundant life.

 

In the Storm

storm

These days we often hear, “We are all in the same boat.”, in reference to these vastly different and difficult times. I must say that I do not agree. I believe that we are all in the same storm but in a whole variety of different boats. Each of us have our unique circumstances. We have our own storms within the storms. The boats of the well and the well off are in quite different condition from the boats of those not so well or well off. Some ride out the storm secure in watertight even luxurious vessels while others bail furiously in storm tossed coracles.

In the midst of the storm questions arise. One such question I have been pondering is “What is Jesus doing in while some of us bail?” Scripture, as always, helps me as I seek an answer to this query.

Jesus has just sent the disciples off in a tiny fishing boat when they find themselves in the midst of a gale. The are rowing across the storm-tossed lake in obedience to his orders. As they pulled on the oars making little or no headway while others probably bailed furiously, they must have asked my question. “What was Jesus doing while they suffered in the storm?” Was he oblivious to their peril? Was he uncaring in the face of their need? Why didn’t he do something? In their ignorance they may have asked all these things as I would have and in fact have! I say ignorance because though they may not have been aware of it, Jesus was doing something. He had ascended a mountaintop to pray!

Today in our storm and in all the individual storms within that blast, Jesus prays. He has ascended to the very right hand of God where he “ever lives to make intercession for us.” We read in Hebrews that Jesus having shared our human experience can sympathise with us and pray for us. James tells us that the prayer of the righteous “availeth much”.  Though Paul in Romans reminds us there is “none righteous no not one” John in his epistle gives Jesus the title “Jesus Christ the Righteous”. Knowing that the fervent prayer of the righteous has such power I cannot think of anything I need more than for Jesus to be praying for me in the storm.

Jesus warned us of the storms “In this world you will have trouble” and then he invokes peace “I have overcome the world.”

I cannot be sure of much in this turbulent world, but I can be sure that sink or swim “I am my beloved’s and he is mine.” He may speak “Peace!” to the storm but knowing that he continues to pray for me He has spoken “Peace!” to my heart.

I have friends in much smaller and leakier boats and perhaps I help best when I join Jesus in prayer for them.

On another note, this week Street Hope Saint John moves into our new home. We had planned to do this with a bang. We had hoped to have a Grand Opening accompanied with a support raising campaign. None of that has happened but we are going forward, nevertheless. This will stretch us beyond anything we have yet experienced. We will be assuming expenses of operation of the building and renovations necessary at what may seem the worst time to be doing so. Please pray for us, and if you can help us financially we would much appreciate it.

Let us keep praying, after all it is what Jesus is doing!

Black Dots & Thankfulness

This week the big thrill was getting together with our small house church group. There are only 5 of us most nights. We meet share our week, pray, and look at the Word. Our gracious hostess suffers from anxiety and the isolation has not been good for her. She had not been included in anyone’s bubble and meeting with us brought her great relief.

We spent some time looking a Psalm 100 noting especially that the means of entering into the Lord’s presence was thanksgiving. We saw that thankfulness is both the opposite of anxiety but also its antidote! We began to list things for which we were thankful, and those things began to multiply as we continued the exercise.

Scripture tells us to be thankful because our natural fleshly tendency is to look at the negative. I remember a preacher holding up a white sheet of paper and asking what we saw. “A white paper!” was our reply. He then took a marker and put a small dot on the page and asked again what we saw. “A black dot!” we cried. Though it remained a white piece of paper all we focussed on was the dot. Such is our nature, but God calls us to live by his Spirit rather than our nature. We begin to do this when we choose to be thankful.

This little exercise did wonders for our hostess, but it also was most helpful to me. There are several ‘black dots’ in our lives these days. Staring at them makes them seem bigger! As I instead choose to look on those things which are good and pure and lovely, the ‘dots’ fade. The old chorus advises that we “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” with the result being that “the things of this world will grow strangely dim…”

We meet together because we need to remind each other and be reminded that we can chose his Spirit or we can wallow with the ‘black dots’, and we encourage people to thanksgiving and lives of hope instead.

Some readers may know that our National Director Jonathan Clarke has contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome and is quite ill right now. While he recovers I have been asked to fill his rather large shoes. Please join me in praying this will be a short and uneventful experience. Pray for his recovery and rehabilitation. So much for my sabbatical!

I have been doing a Bible Study Monday – Wednesday mornings and my audience has grown considerably from the 1 – 2 folks I used to get at the Men’s Shelter. I just finished a study on James, and I am thinking of starting a new study on the Gospel of John this week. Feel free to drop by my Facebook page or the Street Hope Saint John page it is made public on both.

Litany of Excuses

I have decided the easiest thing to write about this week is my litany of excuses for not having much to write about.

A couple of weeks ago I decided that I would continue my Bible Studies even without an audience. I can not meet with my friends from Street Hope, so I began to just video a study and post it on Facebook. Where I used to do the study with ones and two now there are many people who at view at least some of the study. These studies used to provide regular fodder for musings in this space but now that they are already ‘out there’ they feel unavailable for blogging.

I have sporadically nursed a grievance with God as friends enjoyed sabbaticals to pursue special study or projects. I have never been in a position to do this and secretly (not so secretly with the God who knows all my thoughts) envied those who did. During the enforced isolation I felt God say “Now is your time! Stop your whining and get on with it!” So unbeknownst to the rest of the world, until now, I am taking this pandemic as a sabbatical. I have always has had the perhaps narcissistic idea that I could write a book and have decided to use this time toward that end. I am writing about maturing as a follower of Jesus using the story of Gideon as vehicle. Obviously, this kind of project requires a bit of cogitating and it would be premature to be blogging those thoughts before finishing the project. I might be wrong on this it might help refine the work but still I hesitate.

I spent two days on a Threshold Zoom meeting. It was great to see the huge “Brady Bunch” like group of Evangelists from across the country. We studied together, shared with each other,  prayed and worshipped together. It was fun and uplifting!

My final excuse is that I have not been well this week. I am happy to report that I am much better today!

All this to say I have little to share with you on this blog. You would think that might give me pause but I have decided to plunge on despite the paucity of material.

God is at work in our hearts as He is at work in the world. I found myself sharing over Zoom that God is not taken aback or taken by surprise at Covid. We can look to him and trust him for today and for the future. I was just reading a wonderful couplet from Max Lucado.

“Evil will have its day to have sway,

But God will have his say and ultimately win the day.”

A Little Hope

T.S. Eliot penned the line “April is the cruelest month of all.” I have a different experience though. I often find May most difficult. In May I recall the birth of our son, Jamie, and I often succumb to a blue, blue funk as I miss him, and all the might have beens. I also think a lot about my mother. I am glad that she is not around for this virus. She was a very anxious person and these times might have unhinged her. As I spend time in isolation though, the thought still comes “I should call, Mom.” It is just a fleeting thought that flickers and passes but like a jet over head it leaves a vapor trail of sadness.

I have a lot of time lately to nurse these thoughts! It would be easy to let the melancholy overwhelm me. My usual tools for staving them off involve busily engaging with those who are in need, and I can’t do that as I used to. Instead the chief and only effective tool for battling despair is “hope”. I have a plentiful supply of that! The scriptures are replete with promises of God and perhaps the dearest is that He is with me in and through it all! Hope has a name, and his name is Jesus!

Hope though, is not plentiful in the world today. The things people had put their trust in are failing or have failed them. In this world things gain value primarily through their scarcity. The hope I have in abundance is in short supply. The hope you have in Jesus is in short supply! It is desperately needed by our friends and neighbours.

Peter writes “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason  for hope you have. But do so with gentleness and respect.”

In my experience people rarely explicitly ask about my reason for hoping but they are curious and open, especially in these days. People are easy to engage (even from 6 feet away) on the scary topics of today and it is natural, like never before, to share our reason for hope. This testimony to our reason for having hope can easily be accompanied by an inquiry into what our friend or neighbour hopes in or how they cope.

I often read or hear people rail against the 1% who hoard the wealth in our world, but we Christians are now the rich! We are the ones in possession of the scarce and valuable resource. We are the ones who have “been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.” Let us not be hoarders. Let us share the hope with those God brings across our path.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRQ2jHxt-JM

 

Intuition & Inspiration

In writing about ‘practising the present’ I mentioned listening as being important. Some, if not all of us, have difficulty with this, so I thought I might explore this topic a bit more.

First we believe that God reveals himself: He does so in the Scriptures, He does so in nature, He does so in our circumstances, and He does so through our intuitive inner dialogue! To access these communications, take practice and the honing of skills.

There are parts of scripture which are easily accessible at the most rudimentary level but with continued diligent study more and more is revealed. There is a correlation between how much ‘revelation’ one receives and the earnest commitment to seeking it.

The same is true in nature. There are some apparent truths that Paul in Romans says evidences God’s nature and power but a study of space or ecology or microbiology all continue the ‘revelation’ for the true student. Looking out the picture window at nature tells us something of God but standing on the mountain top in the Rockies tells us something more, as does holding our own newborn. The  depth of our ‘revelation’ depends on our immersion in life and nature.

Our circumstances point us to God and his will and ways, but experience is necessary to pick out the cues. Sometimes this can be the experience of others, but it might also be my own experience which helps me interpret the circumstances and  guide my life in God’s will and ways.

None of the above is very ‘revelatory’. We all know this stuff and are governed accordingly but, I would suggest we begin to fall down on this ‘inner dialogue’ component. It is a bit less concrete than the other means of revelation. We all have intuitions. We say to ourselves “I haven’t talked to (so and so) for a while I must give them a call.” Either we pay attention to this thought or not. If we do we might have a very consequential conversation, or we may not. We might live to regret ignoring the intuition or we might never think of it again. I believe God often speaks to me in this realm. I also believe that there is a lot of static like chatter that I need to sift through to ‘hear’ God. Jesus says ,“My sheep know my voice.” I believe He talks, and I need to practise, really practise, listening. Sometimes I will ‘hear’ wrongly, but with practise ‘seeking’ his voice amidst the noise I can and do ‘hear’.

I was reminded of one example this week as a memory popped up on Facebook of our Fandango of a few years ago. I distinctly recall the idea of throwing a party for the community popping into my head. I began to play with the idea. Several years before we had given out electric blankets to people, I recalled saying at the time “Folks live in rooms where heat and light are included but most of the heat comes in the summer!” With the idea of throwing a party in the summer I naturally thought about giving fans this time. As I pondered this idea (I had no budget for any of this) I thought I should call it a Fandango (I love a play on words). Soon we were planning a gourmet South Western meal for the entire community with electric fans for all in attendance.

All of this began with a ‘crazy’ intuition, but I have learned to pay attention. Not all my ideas are good. I need to use the other means to check my revelations. Many are discarded early. Some are total flops! But others bring joy and bring me closer to my Lord!

I encourage you today to heed your intuition and see if it might be “God breathed”. My life and minister is fuller because I occasionally get this right!

 

A New Occupation

Like many people, I have a lot of time to think and I’ve been mulling over my preoccupation with the past and the future at the expense of the present. The present is a bit boring and unattractive and I look backward at all the people and activities I am missing. I look forward to things returning to ‘normal’ (though my friend, who suffers with a whole cocktail of mental illnesses, says, “Normal is just a setting on a dryer!”) whatever the new ‘normal’ might look like.

It is natural, I guess, to spend time being nostalgic, looking back in melancholy at past activity or gazing into the foggy future imagining those activities. Past and future are vitally important to us and to the story of God in history.

In Revelation we have the reference to Jesus as Alpha, the first, and Omega, the last. These reference a past and future but the key to this reference is the “I am” part, which speaks of his eternal position in the present. When God first introduces himself to Moses he does so using the title “I am”. Jesus throughout the Gospel of John refers to himself as “I am”!

I do a disservice to myself when I live solely in the past or in the future. We are called to “occupy” (in the present) until “He comes” (the future). Today certainly does not hold the familiar opportunities but surely it holds opportunities. I have created ruts in which my life runs and when ‘normality’ is disrupted, as it surely is, then rather than bemoan the loss of the familiar I ought to creatively seek my new occupation.

How do I practise the present? I take the opportunity to “know Him”. God is eternal. God is infinite. This means that there is no end of ‘knowing him’. This week I was reminded of the Psalm where David pens “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.” This is not just a cute way to phrase something. It describes a thirst which must be satisfied! This thirst is obviously the chief preoccupation of the psalmist. We often sing this but now in this time I have the opportunity to be occupied with slaking just this kind of thirst.

I could waste a unique opportunity by pining for the past or yearning only for a redeemed future or mindlessly entertaining myself. These would be the easy things. But can I choose the hard thing and spend a pandemic on pursuing Jesus.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of this world will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

There Is A Cure!

If we could only see the true infection rate, if we would only acknowledge the staggering scope of the disease, if we noted that that the mortality rate is 100%, would we mobilize!

Scripture tells us that through the one man, Adam, all became infected and that death reigned through that one man. The resulting disease and death are universal. The rich, beautiful, the poor and forgotten all succumb to this death. The toll on humanity is horrible, and complete! The carnage is beyond imagination!

The cry goes up “Who can rescue me from this body of death?” and the answer comes “Thanks be to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through the first man, Adam, came the universal infection, but through the man Jesus came the cure.

The best religion could do was try to isolate: Don’t touch. Don’t eat. Don’t associate. Touch and taste and association brought contamination.  All these efforts though were to no effect because the virus inhabited every human heart and the death that results was inevitable no matter the human effort.

Jesus alone became the host for this deadly virus and overcame it! The empty tomb speaks of this triumph. In him death has lost its iron grip on the infected populous.

We have a cure. The cure has a name. His name is Jesus.

Can you imagine having such a cure and keeping it to ourselves! If we had a cure for covid 19 we would surely shout it from the rooftops! Yet so often those of us who have experienced salvation through Jesus merely meet together and talk about it amongst ourselves! We should never neglect this meeting together but can we in good conscience do this almost exclusively?

This current pandemic, as horrible as it is, is but a pale comparison to the spiritual pandemic which though invisible takes a much greater toll. As we take extraordinary measure to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this virus, surely we ought also to be vitally concerned with this spiritual pandemic.

While we throw our energy and ingenuity at saving life on the physical plain let us purpose to pour energy and ingenuity into pointing toward the cross, the cure, to our universal need, so that others will experience the abundant and eternal life which we enjoy, through our Saviour Jesus.