Becoming Whelmed!

“I wish I had a heart like that!” I found myself thinking these words as I read Nehemiah’s response to the news. He did not have access to 24-hour cable news or the all-pervasive internet. He got his news slowly from a traveller from Judah. During their conversation (an interactive relational activity) he inquired about Jerusalem. This was his ancestral home, though Nehemiah probably had never set foot there. The response was that it was in ruins and the remnant of Israel who had returned were in a bad way. Nehemiah’s response was to weep.

I see tragedy play out on my various screens every day and I remain ‘dry eyed’. I found Nehemiah’s reaction an inditement of my own attitudes and practises. At first I tried to excuse myself. I get so much tragic news I would be bawling all the time if I reacted in like fashion. Life would be too overwhelming! Though that might be true, I am responsible for my intake. Should getting news really be like drinking from a fire hose? Could I be more selective about my viewing? Should I be sensitive to God asking for help in knowing what my response ought to be?

Nehemiah gives me some examples of how to approach situations in a way that is sensitive to the prompting of God’s Spirit. On hearing the news, he is moved with empathy. He prays for days. He fasts. He takes a serious chunk of time and devotes it to seeking God. He claims the promises of a covenant keeping God. He prays for God’s will to be done.

Later when faced by a question on the topic, from the king, he prays again. This prayer is not recorded, but seems to have taken mere seconds, as the conversation with the king continues seamlessly. This a different sort of prayer. It is what I call an ‘arrow’ prayer, a “Help!” shot heavenward in the midst of life.

It seems to me that our response to the tragedies that fill our screens ought to be one or the other of these. I ought to be careful not to get overwhelmed but in the face of much of the news I ought to be whelmed (is that even a word?). Too often my response is underwhelming! I may not be able to respond after the first of Nehemiah’s responses, but I can respond by his second!

Nehemiah had another response. He rolled up his sleeves and did what he could with what he had. If as a Christian I am not somehow actively involved in the mission of ‘bringing His Kingdom’ of justice and peace more and more, then I am not living a life worthy of the Name.

Yes the tragic news can be overwhelming but I believe God wants me to develop the discipline of listening to Him in order to discern which of Nehemiah’s responses is appropriate for me. Having heard, then, it is mine to obey! 

Tomorrow, weather permitting we will hold our Barbecue for the neighbourhood, local church, and Street Hope friends. We are praying for meaningful conversations and deepening relationships.

Our renovations are going slowly but the pace will soon pick up. The costs have risen significantly this year and even the availability of supplies is becoming a challenge. Your prayers for our building project are appreciated. I do not have King Artaxerxes to go to, but I have better than that, I have access to the King of Kings!

Hope & Hopelessness

I have been dwelling on some memories these past days. I have been recalling my first ministry placement. I flew into the isolated community of Shamattawa. This aboriginal community had been displaced from their territory and plunked in the midst of another band’s ancestral territory. The few who wanted to remain connected to the land had to travel two- or three-days journey to hunt and trap. Disconnected, disheartened, and despairing  the community sank into a malaise. Suicide, gas-sniffing, and violence became the hallmark. My white middle class worldview was shaken! I had no ‘pat’ answers but learned to listen. This was over forty years ago and still this community suffers.

I also remember my tour with Malcolm Harding as we visited community after community on the northern section of the Diocese of Brandon. In one community we were asked to visit each site of violence and death and to offer ‘cleansing prayer’. People felt ‘haunted’ by these deaths. We spent a long, long day being ushered from place to place. In each one we heard a story of horrible violence and loss. We heard of despair and addiction. Most of these communities were ‘relocated’ in order that lands could be flooded, and hydro electricity produced. For years afterward, as I turn on a light switch, I think of the toll that my hydro has cost so many First Nation communities.

Forty years later I still have no pat answers. I do believe that one of our resolutions ought to be to do no further harm! Economic development ought not ever be done at the expense of First Peoples. We hear the word reconciliation bandied about and reconciliation is sorely needed. Reconciliation though, like the Tango, takes two, and it takes work. Folks can apologise and apologies can even be accepted but reconciliation does not happen with forgiveness (though that is a mammoth step!). I have worked with alcoholics for years and they have no trouble feeling sorry. It is easy to feel sorry! But ‘sorry’ does not change anything! A decision followed by action is the only thing that changes things. Like drunks awaking to be confronted by the damage we have caused we easily slip into an abject sorrow and feel as if we are righting wrongs. We are not! That sorrow cannot be sustained unless it is turned into some positive action.

Years ago, I learned that the best I could do in the face of the pain and loss, was to sit in the dust like Job’s friends at their best. I learned to live my life in a way that was winsome and when my friends asked about my hope, then I would share my story.

Our ultimate hope is that Jesus plans to make all things right. In the meantime, we are his agents, loving the world and offering his healing presence in each and every situation, doing so with gentleness and respect.

An Unencumbered Gospel

Paul strenuously advocated for an unencumbered Gospel. Any other ‘gospel’ was anathema! He opposed the ‘Judiazers’ who would insist on the legal requirements of Judaism. This ‘addition’ to the simple Good News was not to be the last. In our day there are fresher encumbrances. These are mostly cultural, one of the over riding ones is Patriotism. A strange mixture of ‘God and Country’ grips the landscape. It is but a fresher form of the harmful Judiazers. This is important to remember as July 1st and July 4th loom.

This year is a particularly painful one as Canada faces the historic abuses of the past. The voices of hundreds of children seem to cry out from the grave, “Look at what you have done!” An oxymoron comes to mind. This was a benign genocide! Perpetrators were imposing a language, a culture, a religion that they held as superior. The horrific abuse was carried out by Church and State in lockstep. Both had a ‘good’ in mind, never thinking that their ‘good’ could be so evil. The Church had added culture, language, to the Good News and it became very bad news indeed!

The answer lies not in orange ribbons but in repentant hearts. I belief God would invite us to a place of lament for this sinful anti-biblical attitude. This lament is to include an examination not just of past wrong but current wrong attitudes. What am I adding to the simple Gospel?  

The early Church did not use coercive tactics or additions to the Good News but simply proclaimed and lived out the Lordship of Jesus. The unadulterated Gospel proved attractive, while our version is so often repugnant.

True repentance does not stop at lament but in changed hearts. While there may be corporate actions to make amends, our individual response can be about never again adding to the invitation to believe and receive the simple Good News of Jesus love.

Perhaps patriotism has a place but if it does it must be in its proper place in submission to our primary allegiance the Jesus as Lord and to His Kingdom.

Happy Canada Day!

Dogs & Defaults

The story is told of a small boy explaining to his mother, “It is like there are two dogs inside me. One is pulling me to do bad things and the other pulls me to do good.” “Which one wins, dear?” “The one I feed most.”

This is very much in line with what Paul describes as our struggle with sin. We may want to do good, but sin is right at hand! It is a never-ending struggle in this current expression of life. We are faced with many decisions each day and our inner dogs do battle!

The boy’s story does reveal hope, to us, in these situations, though. The bigger, better fed dog pulls harder and so wins the day. I would suggest, as a twist on this thought, that a different pair of dogs enter this critical tug of war for each changing situation. I may have a Malamute sized puller in one situation. It is muscular and well fed and temptation is easily overcome. The tug might be so short that I am not even conscious of a struggle. In other arenas I have a Chihuahua sized champion on the side of good and I quickly am overcome. This dog needs feeding if I am to change the outcome.

To do this I first must admit that my Chihuahua sized strength is powerless to stand against a given temptation. I require empowerment from a source outside myself. Put simply, I need God. As I pray and read  my ‘inner dog’ supernaturally grows. As I live in grateful reliance on Him my Chihuahua grows. I never get beyond the need of God without him my malnourished Malamute becomes no more advantageous than my Chihuahua was. As the old song goes “I need Thee every hour.”

A prescription for victory over temptation is daily: daily prayer (morning and evening), reading and meditation on the Word, and thankfully serving Him throughout the day. This feeds us and sets us up for the myriad of ‘tug of wars’ that day. We can not survive on ‘yesterday’s’ manna but must seek fresh food each day.

Adding to this thought (and bringing further hope), is the idea of default systems. My computer has certain default systems including type fonts. If I want to type in a different font I must consciously change it, but over time I have established my preferred font and other preferences as defaults. I no longer have to even think about these issues. They are programmed in.

As I develop a default system of devotion and grateful living I can overcome much temptation without stress or strain. In the areas where I still too easily fall, such as pride, I need to consciously go to God. I do so in the hope that by habitually doing this I will develop humility as my default system. After which I will certainly have to engage temptation on yet another front. There is no cessation in the conflict with: sin, the flesh, and the Devil.

So today I encourage myself with thoughts of Dogs and Defaults.

I had a couple of really good meetings, this week, with a gentleman who may be the answer to our prayers in search of a “Night-time Pastor” for our Threshold House ministry. We continue to seek God’s will in this.

I also met with a local Youth Pastor this week as we planned a community barbecue at Threshold House July 10th. We are inviting our Street Hope friends, making a point of personally inviting people from a low income housing area near Threshold House, and church members. We pray for good weather, as there is no possibility for a rain date (the young people are a part of a regional gathering “Under Current”) and meaningful conversations. If you could add this to your prayers I would be grateful.

Mastered

“Now I know my ‘ABCs’ tell me what you think of me!”. I was three when I mastered the alphabet. I was so pleased with myself, and yet there was so much more to learn. Those twenty-six letters are the sole building blocks for the English language, but I was to learn that they could be grouped in myriad of ways and that those grouping of letters (words) could be arranged in an even greater variety of ways. My rudimentary knowledge of the alphabet was not exceeded by William Shakespeare himself, but he could arrange those same twenty-six letters in ways that captured imaginations, told epic tales, made us laugh or cry at his whim, and generally thrilled readers.

At the same age I attained yet another academic feat. I learned to count to ten. I learned these numbers and could count my chubby wee fingers. These ten numbers make up the whole of our system of mathematics and I had mastered them by the age of four! My rudimentary knowledge of these ten numbers was not exceeded by Albert Einstein himself, yet he used them in groups and pattern, inexplicable to me, to create his ‘Theory of Relativity. He used numbers imaginatively and creatively and his brilliance with those ten numbers is held in awe to this day.

I was a bit older when I learned the musical scale. These notes make up all of the music we enjoy and at an early age I was taught them. Wolfgang Mozart used those same notes in an intricate creative way to compose some of the most complex and beautiful music ear has ever heard. He took my rudimentary knowledge to heights of genius unsurpassed before or since.

At an early age I learned my colours. (Are you catching a pattern here?) I could name all the colours of the rainbow and my Crayola pack. I was a master of colour. Vincent Van Gogh had no more colours than I when He painted the starry night sky or irises, yet still today his works of brilliance inspire and amaze!

I am glad that I was taught the rudiments of: the alphabet, numbers, musical notes, and colour but I have come to learn that none of these are ever truly ‘mastered’. This kind of knowledge is not a world to be conquered but a ladder to be climbed. Each rung is an achievement and another one lays ahead.

All of this occurred to me this week as I was reading the Beatitudes. My Grandmother gave me my first Bible and on the fly leaf was beautifully scrolled rendition of the Beatitudes. I memorised them shortly after, because they must be most important, to hold such a prominent place. Soon I had mastered them! I was treating them as a world to be conquered. Now I realise that like the alphabet, numbers, musical notes and colours, the Beatitudes are a ladder I can climb. As I progress in learning and creatively living these out in my life, another rung lays in front of me.

Too often we Christians can feel like we have mastered the Word of God. We may be able to name the books in order and know New from Old but this rudimentary knowledge, though important, ought not to be the end. Rudimentary knowledge is but a means and no end. It is meant to become a tool in our hands as we get on with the great goal of life.

Paul articulates this great goal of life in Philippians 3:10 “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings by becoming like Him in his death if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Knowing Christ is the goal. The Beatitudes are like the rest of the Bible a means or rung by which we may attain. Knowing Jesus is very different from knowing of him just as knowing the alphabet falls short of great literature.

I have been spurred by these thoughts to a renewed commitment to ‘knowing’ Jesus in a deeper and deeper way. Rather than mastering a subject I would rather resemble the Master

The Highly Resistible Church

Jesus seemed to be pretty well liked. The crowds were drawn to him. The sick and the sinner alike flocked to him. The only ones who did not ‘take a shine’ to him were those of the “temple” and the “empire”. The religious world had a vested interest in the status quo. The ruling powers of the world did not want their ‘apple cart’ upset.

The early church was much the same. Daily it grew, as the Lord added to its numbers, but there was opposition. Those of the ‘temple’ and the ‘empire’ resisted. Despite such opposition the Church grew from a handful to an ever-increasing movement! In the face of hostility from the two most powerful forces of the day irresistibly the church thrived.

As I reread the above paragraphs I am struck with the question, “What in the world happened?”. In a day when the powers of ‘empire’ do not persecute the church. I say this despite the oft heard whining of people about “cancel culture” and other attacks on long-held values. Comparing these experiences to the out and out opposition of the empire of old is beneath us! The religious world in the west (the temple) is dominated by the church. In such friendly circumstances rather than thriving the church is withering.

This withering may be the result of a most tenuous relationship with “the Vine”. Where Jesus (the True Vine) identified with the least and the lost, and resisted temporal means to accomplish spiritual ends. The temptations in the wilderness are a testament to this. The church like Judah before exile is looking to make an alliance with Egypt. The Church has become so cosey with the empire in the west that we have adopted the world’s values and the world’s methods.

Jesus was well-liked and his Body is disliked or seen as irrelevant. This is the saddest of all ironies! The way back is a radical realignment of our allegiances. We can not give first place to the ‘empire’, nor to the ‘temple’. The first Commandment is still in force. “Thou shall have no other gods before Me.” If power, either religious or secular society is our prime focus we will remain unattractive to the least and the lost. But as we regain vigour through our radical identification and emulation of Jesus, we may again become the irresistible Church of the first few centuries.

Lately things have begun to move with our Threshold House project. Out of the blue I got a call from a gentleman who is in leadership with a large local ‘Celebrate recovery’ program, and he would like to volunteer with us. Another leader of a ‘Celebrate Recovery’ group from the inner-city called and we met for coffee to plan ways we might work together. I am meeting Monday with another person who may be a key piece of our project going forward. Expenses are about to escalate significantly but God is supplying, through the generosity of his saints.

Next month we are holding a barbecue on the grounds of Threshold House. An area-wide youth outreach program will be helping with this venture. Our hope is this will bring energy and awareness of of our mission.

God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!

Already …. but Not Yet!

Often in theological conversation we hear the phrase “already but not yet”, to describe our current ‘age’. The King has come! Christ is risen! A new day has dawned and is still dawning. The end is inevitable we await but the epilogue. It will be the longest epilogue ever, for it will last eternity.

From the cross come the words “It is finished.” Satan’s seeming victory is dramatically snatched away and his death throes begin.

We live in that in between space where the work is indeed finished, and things have not yet been fully ‘put right’ under the Dominion of Christ. We continue in our struggle against; sin, the flesh and the devil and we do so in full knowledge that Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again. The struggle is real and the ultimate victory is realer as we live by faith.

I have been thinking about this “already but not yet” state lately. I am reminded of it during this pandemic. Today I get my second vaccination. It has been a strange and grace filled journey! I was not expecting to be ‘fully’ vaccinated so soon. Late in March our province had a supply of vaccine designated for teachers. I was really happy about this because our son is one of these ‘front line’ workers and both he and his wife are immune deficient. However just before the teachers were to get ‘jabbed’ questions arose about reactions occurring in those under 55. The teachers’ vaccinations were halted and the province briefly opened up the possibility to the general public over 65. Our disappointed son called me to tell me this and within the two hours before all the appointments were booked we got on the list and were inoculated on April Fools day. The other day we heard on the radio that there were doses of our vaccine (Astrazenica) which had to be used very soon before they expired. I called in and made an appointment for today. This will mean that two weeks from now we will have effective protection from the ravishes of covid! Practically speaking, though, not much will change for us until the province around us ‘catches up’ but our hearts and minds are at rest, as we wait in the “already but not yet” phase.

There is a hope for victory over covid but an even more wonderful hope for the Lord’s return and the putting right of all things.

“Boldly Go…”

Talk about no good deed going unpunished, Peter and John spent the night in the pokey for healing a lame man, in the name of Jesus. They sit through a stern lecture and return home and join in the ongoing ‘Prayer Meeting’. Rather than praying “Whew, that was close!” they pray “Sovereign God … grant your servants to speak your word with boldness.”

I have been challenged to add this brief prayer to my daily devotions. ‘Boldness’ does not mean rudeness or loudness, but rather fearlessness. Too often through fear I resist speaking of Jesus and all that he means to me. The fear can be that I will not have adequate words, or that I may be asked a question I cannot satisfactorily answer or that I will strain a relationship.

Let me address this latter fear. My fear might come because I misunderstand boldness for inappropriate and careless speech. The same Peter from our story elsewhere advises that we speak “with gentleness and respect”. He sees no contradiction between the two ideas. As I share my beliefs and experience with those who may not share them, I give them an opportunity they might not have had to consider Jesus, and he is certainly worthy of consideration. If my friend does not immediately and gladly receive Jesus, they have not rejected me. Fear of this kind of rejection is simply based on wrong thinking!

I am finding that adding this simply prayer to my routine does several things. It makes me sensitive to opportunities. I sometimes realize in the moment and silently re-pray the prayer and ‘step up’, or I recognize my failure in retrospect and repent. It also gives me a sense of anticipation each day, as I wonder what encounters lay before me each day. It shakes me from a complacency in my faith life.

It amazes me at the dividends a five second investment prayer can bring!

I have also been challenges to intentionally add my proximate neighbours into the neighbours I am to love. I take a few minutes each day to lift them to God in prayer including any specific needs I might be aware of, but also praying that I might be able to be a ‘good neighbour’ and ambassador.

These two small additions add so much value to my day! I highly recommend them. A couple of small additions to your prayer can have an outsized impact on your life. Give it a try.

Bring Hope

I find myself recalling witnessing a fire being ‘fanned into flame’. The fire had all but gone out and the embers were beginning to cool but a fresh breeze brought it back to life.

After over a year of covid I was beginning to wonder if my zeal for the vision of Threshold House had waned, like a fire going out. The venture has been so bogged down due to this pandemic and early momentum lost, that the ‘embers’ seemed to be cooling.

Recently I felt constrained to “lift up my head”, to make a firm decision and set a fixed date to begin. We will be opening our doors September 6th. We will be proclaiming  “the Year of the Lord’s Favour” for up to 4 residents at Threshold House. We are currently accepting applications for acceptance into our Christian Community.

The goal is to accept men who have come to find their hope in Jesus and by creating a unique network of support around each, and by living in a Christian community for 1 year, help them become people who can effectively bring hope to others. In this way our small ministry can multiple our reach and have ;an outsized’ affect on our wider community, bringing fresh hope to our streets.

After a year we will do it again, and again, flooding our community with ‘hope bringers’. We also plan to increase our housing capacity and release more ‘hope bringers’ in coming years.

In Lamentations 2:19, the ‘Weeping Prophet’ call us to cry out in the night for the children that are dying at the head of every street. In his day, the deaths were due to starvation because Jerusalem was under siege. In our day, the obituary pages are replete with deaths due to addiction. Every week our community is losing people because people are losing their battle with addiction. We believe the only way to stem that life loss is through the hope that is found in God alone.

This is a time of urgency! In 1 Corinthians 16:9 Paul says, “for a door for effective service has opened to me”. This is a time of great opportunity, but he continues “there are many adversaries.”  This is not an easy path and if we are to make the difference which I believe we can, we must do it together.

You have opportunity to be involved. We need: prayer support, volunteers (no special skills are needed but a heart that cares for people), finances (all donations are tax deductible), and donations of bedroom furnishings.

The Lord loves a cheerful giver. What is that? Someone who gives what the Lord asks not a penny more (or you may be proud) and not a penny less (or you may feel guilty).The road has been long, but we must not falter now. Please take this appeal to prayer and ask God how you can assist. Then cheerfully follow his will.

Every blessing.

Reed

Neighbours and Neighbourliness

A rudimentary scan of scripture will soon tell us that God is interested in our neighbour. He is also vitally interested in our neighbourliness! His interests ought to be ours as well.

The latter portion of Jesus’ summary of the “Law” calls for love of neighbour. Seeking clarification, or more likely limitation, the young man asks, “Who is my neighbour?” Like so many wrongly motivated questions, Jesus does not directly answer. Instead, he goes on to give an expansive view of what it is to be a ‘neighbour’. He answers in this way because any objective reading of scripture will reveal who God considers to be our neighbour. The list is both succinct and sprawling. It is all those we meet, those created, like us, in His image. The scriptures also highlight a subset for special neighbourly attention. Time and time again we read reminders of our neighbourly responsibility to: widows, the poor, and orphans. Jesus is less concerned with again enumerating this list. Malachi reminds us that we know what God requires! Jesus seems more intent on our obedience than on a vain repetition of that which has already been made clear.

I suggest that the great challenge for Christians and the Christian Church is the challenge of neighbourliness. We cannot claim to be fulfilling the first part of the summary, that is “Love the LORD your God” if we falter at the latter portion. “Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of God, but the one that does the will of my Father.”

‘Church Growth’ has become an industry in the West. Many churches are shrinking and turn to extra biblical experts for advice. I would propose that a better use of time, treasure and talent would be to seek ways to increase in neighbourliness. If members individually and corporately concentrated on this the influence of the Gospel would grow and so would the Kingdom.

Perhaps we need to examine our priorities. Such examination might well lead to repentance. Neighbourliness is not beyond us. We have it in us. We only need to work it out. To do this effectively we will need to partner with God the Holy Spirit, asking help to see and serve our neighbour, knowing that as we serve the least of these we serve Him.

One of my personal frustrations, this past year, has been that I rarely interact with my neighbours. We isolate to protect our neighbour that we seldom see. I find I need to rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to show me how I might love my neighbour who I do not see. In prayer, recently, I was reminded that I love God though I have not seen him. This illustrates that physical sight is unnecessary for love. I can find creative and prayerful ways to bless my neighbour.