Balancing the Books

inventory

I was asked this week how I got so involved in the world of recovery since I was never alcoholic or a drug abuser. I started using the 12 Steps when I was first diagnosed as having PTSD some twenty years ago. In most of that time I had little understanding of how these steps worked or how to work them These last few years I have learned so much more and am grateful to all my transparent teachers and guides.

One of the most helpful things about these steps is the prominent place self examination has in it. Early on I was introduced to the concept of a “fearless moral inventory”. The way I ‘learned’ and applied this was; I looked at my past, and present and itemised my character flaws and personal failings, I looked at those I had harmed. This came pretty naturally to me, for I am an introspective person. Like most things we learn and apply, though, I had more to learn and I did just in the past few weeks!

I sometimes find myself free on a Tuesday night and go to the Celebrate Recovery Program in our area. A little over a week ago they were focused on the concept of this inventory. The speaker shared about the need for a balanced inventory. This may well have been said in my presence before, but I heard it that night. The penny dropped! (I decided to use this phrase while there is still a collective memory of pennies) My fearless moral inventory had, rightly,  been on my defects but God’s promise is not limited to victory over these but of a new and abundant life. My new inventory will include: the gifts God has given me, the things for which I am thankful, and my reasons for hope.

After worship and a teaching or testimony, people break off into supportive groups. Usually I go to the A – Z group which is a catchall kind of group. But last week I noticed there was a group for PTSD folks, and I decided to venture into that group. It had been much easier to fade into the background with the bigger group but in this gathering of 5 of us there was no fading. The sharing was raw and intense. It was a wonderful experience to be with men who understood the issues of PTSD. I have had much healing in this area but in many social situations I can still battle a rush of adrenaline with the accompanying ‘fight or flight’ reflex. Most people do not understand this battle, but these guys got it! I don’t know what practical difference that makes but I feel a bit lighter as a result.

We are looking to establish a firm date at which Threshold House will become the permanent home for Street Hope (we plan to continue our Drop In at Stone Church). Upon that date our ministry will be assuming our share of related costs of the building and full unfettered access to its precincts. It is my hope to then have a Grand Opening this year of our Street Hope home with another event the following year as we launch our Threshold House project. All this requires continuing prayer and financial support.

An Epiphany … of sorts

After a bit of a whirlwind Christmas season, I had an Epiphany! True satisfaction in life is found in striving… but this “striving” is “Let us therefore strive to enter his rest…”(Hebrews 4:11).

Striving and resting seem polar opposites. Eugene Peterson in the Message cites Jesus as saying “Come to me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28 – 30).

When we begin to understand the freedom from worldly burdens that Jesus invites us to experience, we should be incentivised to strive.

You sometimes hear of people taking to something “like a duck to water” but I don’t think I have ever learned anything of value without effort. I have picked up bad habits with ease, but value comes at a price! If I am going to learn the “unforced rhythms of grace”, I will need to unlearn the forced rhythms which have become natural to me! I love to learn things. I relish reading and learning. Even though it takes efforts I enjoy it. However, unlearning is a difficult process! Yet if I don’t strive to eliminate the unproductive ways I leave no room in my life for the new Kingdom oriented ways.

I am about the fastest ‘one finger’ typers I know. I have tried to learn to type properly but I get frustrated because I can type so much faster ‘my way’ than Mavis Beacon’s way. I know, intellectually, that if I stick at it the final outcome will likely be a faster process but my short term need to accomplish tasks causes me to revert to my trusted one finger. I excuse myself with the old saw about “old dogs and new tricks”.

This is not a vitally important element of my life, but it is too easily applicable to spiritual areas of my life. It takes so much effort to change (repent) and truly follow Jesus in simple unforced rhythms. I need to become like a child (I think Jesus said that!) and learn as I did when I was child and began to walk and talk and care for myself and others. This slows me down and is initially filled with effort. The payoff promised makes any  struggle pale in comparison! Yet like my typing skills I have learned coping skills. Coping is so much less than Kingdom living, but I settle!

Learning these unforced rhythms makes me think of eating soup with my other hand. It is not a skill that comes naturally to me. It takes concentration, patience, and good humour. I will undoubtedly make a mess of it! In the end, though, I can get it!

I can live a contented life without ever eating soup with my ‘wrong hand’ but I can apply the image and as the writer of Hebrews says, “strive to enter his rest”.

2020 appears to be a year of change for Street Hope. We have a class of 6 of us who will be taking a 10 week course on evangelism. I believe this will mark a new phase for the ministry when people who have been in our orbit for some time are equipped to make a greater impact on our community. After that we will be offering a Finding Freedom workshop. We will also be preparing Threshold House for its next purpose as home for our Christian Community. I am going to be letting some things go in order to concentrate on these things and I am seeking prayer and counsel as I undertake this. It is an exciting time and a time, above all, when I need to strive to be in his rest, yoked with him in this labour.

 

It is About Time!

Janus

Janus, the god whose name inspired this month’s moniker, was literally two-faced. He looked backward and forward at the same time. During this month of January, we often do likewise.

Though God stands outside of time itself, the Scriptures speak a lot about time and how we should look at it.

Much of scripture invites us to look back. We are invited to recall the actions of God in history, actions of vindication and deliverance. The chief things we are prompted to recall is the Exodus from slavery and our redemption at the cross. Looking back at these divine activities is intended to strengthen us and correct us in the present.

Too often, though, we look back at hurts and harbour resentments, or we look back at some ‘golden age’ when things were better. We look back not just in nostalgia but in regret that those days are gone. This is a poor practice of looking back. Churches can fall prey to this. We remember days when the Church was full. We remember that no minister was as good as the last one. We pine for days that never really were and will never come again. This type of recollection leads to a deep dissatisfaction which is antithetical to the “abundant life” Jesus promised.

Another great theme of the Bible is the future. Much of the writing of the prophets concerns the future. Paul in Romans reminds us that all creation is anticipating the future in which all things will be made right. The Church looks and longs for the ‘Soon Coming King’. We live in hope of restoration. We are a very future oriented people!

Many churches have become obsessed with the future. The major sport is that of ‘casting vision’ for the future. Goals are set and members roll up their sleeves to pursue this preferred future. If by grace they achieve the goal they set another to work on. This can be good and can accomplish much, however it can create an unholy discontentment. Paul writes to Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)

There is another time that Janus does not seem to note. It is the present! Today is the day! Today is the day in which we can remember. Today is the day in which we can work and plan. Today in fact is the only day we have! And yet we too often imperil today by trying to live in the past (as if we could) or living solely for the future.

I am reminded of the old Harry Chapin song “Cats in the Cradle” in which the singer squandered the present while working tirelessly for the future.

I have been giving this a lot of thought because I could easily become distracted by the future that I would miss the abundant living which can only take place ‘today’. Balance would seem to be the key. We hear most Sundays “Recalling His death (past) we proclaim His resurrection (present) and look for His coming (future).” As in so many areas of our life if we don’t get the balance right our best intentions pave our way to …..

It is about time we got the balance right.

 

The Gift of Disappointment

disappointment

Disappointment is not something any of us want to experience, but it is inevitable. Things do not turn out as we expect or hope. For this we should be truly grateful. Disappointment often come as unwelcome guests but can be unexpected blessings.

I was 9 or 10 one Christmas Eve when I experienced a crushing disappointment. Each Christmas Eve after we returned from church, we were allowed to open one present before going to bed. I had my eye on one particular present. It had a distinct shape, different from all the others. I had imagined that it contained a little pin ball machine that I had seen in the Eaton’s catalogue. I chose it to open, though my mother tried to steer me to others. I ripped off the wrapping paper with enthusiasm and ….. it was a desk lamp. I was more than disappointed, I was devastated.  I had that lamp for some 15 years! I read late into the night and at early hours. Under its glow I visited The Shire, Narnia, the Jungles of Africa, the High Seas, the Purple Sage and thousands of other enchanting locales. What was initially a disappointment blessed me and I became the person I am, at least in part, due to that lamp.

Over the years I have experience the “gift” of disappointment on many more occasions. When our first child died, I thought my dreams of fatherhood were dashed. I did lose a precious gift and in return I was given an empathy for the hurting that was not mine before.

When I was “let go” as principal of Taylor College. I was devastated. I had never failed on this scale before! Through this experience I learned a humility that was absent before, and that loss led me, eventually, to Street Hope.

We had just finished renovations to our Street Hope home and had great dreams for growing the ministry in that facility when we were told the building itself was to be torn down. For many of us this was a difficult time, but we learned to trust God even as we became nomads. The loss of our building certainly stunted our ministry’s growth in some ways but in others we grew. These were ways we might not have otherwise progressed. On the horizon is a new home for Street Hope as we look to move to Threshold House as a base for most of our ministry (We still hope to have our Drop In at Stone Church). We may not have been open to this exciting new venture apart from the painful loss of our previous home.

Disappointment is painful (there is no sugar coating that), but under the management of God disappointment becomes a pathway forward. The Apostles were bitterly disappointed that their Messianic hopes were dashed on Good Friday. It became Good News that their dreams were smashed. Their hopes were too small. God had a better plan.

The great sage, Garth Brooks, was right as he crooned “Some of God’s greatest blessings are unanswered prayers.”

Perhaps you are experiencing some level of disappointment. Our personal Christmases seldom match the Hallmark ideal! Let me assure you, from my own painful experience, that “hope does not disappoint” God is in the redemption business. He can redeem our experience and bring good to and through the most disappointing experiences. We look forward to that Great Day when He will wipe away all our tears and make all things right. Even so come quickly, Lord.

Hardly Silent!

heavenly host

I love Christmas Carols. I grew up with “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger”. Both these songs evoke the silent awe that the first Christmas inspired, however I do not think the actual events were silent or without crying. The little town of Bethlehem was bustling as evidenced by the packed inn. A great Davidic family reunion was going on. Anyone who has attended a reunion knows that ‘silent’ is a seldom used descriptor of such occasions. Raucous and full of revelry would better modify the event. My limited experience with birth also suggests to me that silence is an errant description. I recall the baby’s first cry as a moment of great relief. The maternity ward nurse assured me that the baby had a good set of lungs and I heaved a sigh of relief. Meanwhile outside of town there was little silence as a whole host of angelic choir members broke into song. The skies were rent by the glorious sight and the ether was filled with songs commemorating the momentous birth. Silent, that night was not!

When I think of silence, I think of the great silence between Malachi and Matthew. The world waited wearily for redemption and silence seemed the lone answer. I think of the silence of grief and dashed hope between the crucifixion and the resurrection. These were deep and poignant silences! They were silences of pregnant expectation. The world seemed as if on tip toe in expectation and hope. It was a silence filled with longing for a brighter future and dismay at the current state.

Here in the last week of Advent, we wait in silence. We mourn in lonely exile here and await with an eager anticipation, the One who will make things right. We are not looking for a Baby King but to a glorious Conquering King. We wait in anticipatory silence but when He comes with the last loud trumpet call, the wonderful glorious song of Heaven will once again be heard abroad in the land.

That is the reason for hope. That is a future well worth waiting for! Enjoy a silent advent, and have a Merry Christmas.

There’s a Whole Lot of Eating Going On!

 

eating

There’s a whole lot of eating going on!

This month when people ask me what I’m up to when I reply, I understand if they think I’ve gone into the catering business. Tomorrow begins a series of events centred around food, with the kickoff of our Street Hope Christmas Festivities.  We are hosting a free breakfast for the uptown community. Next Friday we are hosting a Turkey Dinner for the community. Both these meals are being cooked and served by local youth basketball teams. It is such a privilege to be able to offer these caring young people a venue to share their care for those who have less than they themselves have. It is a joy to see them interact with folks they might otherwise never meet. On the 28th we will be hosting a lunch for the community. This is being put on by a well-known local businessman and some of his friends from his Coffee Group. These folks enjoy putting on a lavish meal for our friends from the community. My main task for these three meals is to unlock the building and hopefully supply a crowd. These tasks seem easy enough. Besides these two duties I also undertake to see that these events are girded in prayer.

On the 21st we will be taking part as Threshold Ministries sponsors a Christmas Banquet.  A group of local Threshold Evangelists and our wider circle will be having a fun time of fellowship as we ready the food and room for this fund-raising dinner. Money raised will go toward our new Threshold House project and besides hearing an update on the state of Threshold across the country we will be sharing something of the vision and progress of this new project.

There is indeed a whole lot of eating going on! Perhaps we should recall all the times Jesus was found eating and the part food played in his ministry. One of the accusations hurled at him was, “He is a friend of sinners and eats with them!” There is something wonderfully levelling about sitting down at the table. I think of poor lame Mephibosheth who was invited to tuck his broken limbs beneath the King’s table and be a full participant in the royal banquets. The table rather than being a place of judgement is a place of acceptance and belonging.

Christmas Festivities offer us the opportunity to “build a longer table”, and to go into the highways and bi-ways and convincingly invite people to find a welcome at the table as we sinners celebrate the wonderful gift of salvation, full and free!

I am also mindful of those who are in grief and mourning at this ‘joyful’ time of year. The table is open to them as well and space is offered for them to bring their authentic sadness with them. Together we will look forward to the Return of the King, when sorrow and sighing will be no more. For we all need to eat!

“Breaking Free”

We just finished our 13th, or maybe 14th, Recovery Workshop. I do very little at these. I open the door. I usually remember to put on coffee. I open and close with prayer. Otherwise I only add the very occasional observation as my friend who has much more authority on the subject shares his hard-won wisdom. The key to becoming sober and recovering or discovering a new life, that is both worth living and useful, is a spiritual awakening and a new spiritual walk. Each workshop begins with greater numbers than we see by the end. Not everyone is ready and open to this experience, but the ones who are begin a journey of wonderful transformation.

I write all this to say that I believe it is time I took a bigger role in fostering this transformation. I will be starting a phase 2 series. There are issues that led people to turn to substances as a solution. Theses substances turned out not to be an adequate solution and now that our friends realise this, they become open to spiritual help. During their career of abusing they may also (probably have) experienced additional trauma. All of this leaves wounds that need healing and past behaviours that need recognition and repentance.

I plan to offer an opportunity to “Break Free”. We will do this through a wholesome look at truth, for substance abuse is a disease of misperceptions and delusions. We will examine scriptures that tell us about our Creator God and about who we are, in Christ. I will teach about God’s power to forgive and free us. I will share scriptures of deliverance from those things we have opened ourselves to, in the past. We will pray for forgiveness and freedom and we will declare it for ourselves and others in the group.

I share this because deciding to do something is not the same as doing it! The Epistle of James teaches that action (being a doer) is where faith is really lived out. I do not have dates or even a venue for this, but in the New Year I will be putting on our first “Breaking Free” workshop. I’ll keep you up to date. I believe this will require a good deal of prayer cover; St. Paul says it well “There is a door open for effective service but there are many adversaries.” (1Cor. 16:9)

This last week I spoke at Christ Church in Pennfield. Lately I have read a lot about dismal Church growth prospects, but this church is growing significantly. I do not think it is about programing, but it is more like what was said of the Early Church as quoted by Tertullian, “See how they love one another”. The affection and acceptance in this little country church are entirely evident. Laughter peals early and often. These are, I believe key ingredients to growth. They do not come from a video series, or even a teaching series. It comes through hearts that are open to the gentle work of the Holy Spirit, people who are obedient to the Spirit of Love’s prompting. It is no small thing to be in the presence of such love! I look forward to returning again.

Things are moving ahead on our Threshold House Project. I have been knocking on doors of potential partners in this. Jesus advises “Knock and keep on knocking”. This requires patience. December is not the time for meeting with busy people in the religious world, but the New year will provide lots of opportunity. Please pray that this project meets with favour.

 

Resembling the Father this Advent

advent

 

Something I do not always do well, is wait. At my age, I’ve had lots of practice, so you’d think I’d be better at it … but alas I am not. Waiting is something we all must do. The other day my grandson repeated a line I have often heard from his mother and from my own lips “I can’t wait…” I replied to him “What else are you going to do?” Waiting for things that are out of our control is an inevitable eventuality and our impatience brings it no closer.

The season of Advent reminds me of the important place waiting has in our life of faith and I propose that, how we wait (and wait we must), demonstrates our very resemblance to God. If Christlikeness is our goal, then waiting in anticipation is a skill we should hone.

In saying this I have the Parable of the Lost Son in mind. While the son wanders in prodigality the Father (the God figure) waits! I picture him gazing toward the horizon each day, patiently waiting, eagerly anticipating the return of his erring son. As we read the parable, we may be in suspense about the willful son’s homecoming, but the Father faithfully and hopefully awaits his return. When the boy does come home, he finds the house ready for him, and a party is quickly put together, probably according to a well thought out plan.

We wait not for a capricious errant child but for a faithful promised King. Our waiting is not laden with the risk that the Father takes in waiting for his wandering children. The outcome is not in doubt and so the comparison between the ‘waiting’ of the Father and ours pales drastically.

I can imitate my Father by faithfully waiting, scanning the horizon in eager expectation all the while preparing for the return of the King. Such waiting is spiritually anticipatory and practically pro-active. So many of the other parables illustrate the active waiting of good stewards who upon the return of their master are commended. Such servants are “found faithful” upon his return. The servant not ‘found faithful’ has given up hope for the master’s return and has given over to living solely for this day rather than for ‘that day’. This deceived attitude is too readily my default and so the reminder of Advent, to wait well, to wait actively, is so very necessary for me. I believe I am not alone in this.

I am seldom more like my Heavenly Father than when I am involved in just such a holy wait. Care to join me?

This latest project, Threshold House, tests my waiting skills. I am used to having a project where I can put my shoulder to the wheel and bring to a result in a relatively short time frame. This one is an 18-month project and so much relies on others rather than me. While some of the outside work on the physical plant ‘Threshold House’ is imminent, I remain in an information and promotional phase. We will only progress as we have funds and other support and it is this base that must grow. All the while we have an end result in mind and we keep actively pursuing the Kingdom in the here and now, as best we can. It is a time of active waiting. Care to join me?

Counter Cultural Role Model?

beautiful day

In a very literal sense, I must confess that I never liked or appreciated Mr. Rogers. When my children were small, I would quickly turn the channel. I could not stand his sweetness. His gentleness and his soft-spoken-ness grated on me. We turned to something faster paced, funnier, more violent! I suppose (now in hindsight) that I resented Mr. Rogers because he was much of what I wasn’t and should have been.

In my professional life I have often advocated that the Christian Church ought to be more counter cultural. That we are missing our vocation to be a “peculiar people”. I espoused that we live more radically, more in line with the teachings of scripture.

Last night I had my eyes opened to see a truly counter cultural character. Linda and I went to see “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” and I met Fred Rogers! In the movie Mr. Rogers demonstrated amazing courage. He was not the namby pamby I had thought him. He could face any topic with a faith and humility that bespoke iron that, like Joseph, had entered his soul. In the face of hostility and ridicule he continued to love. In the teeth of fame and adulation he humbly continued to love. In the movie his love was especially evident towards the ‘unlovely’.

I realize now the things that repulsed me so many years ago are the very characteristics I so admire about Jesus. It shames me to think that as a Jesus follower, I was so antagonistic to these Christ-like attributes. Last night I had an epiphany (Isn’t it wonderful that at any stage or age God can reveal new truth?), that persistent gentle love is the best tool in our evangelistic tool kit.

Eloquence, bombast, and dramatic presentation pale in effectiveness compared to the unrelenting gentleness of love.

I have no intention of making Mr. Rogers an idol. I do want to follow him, though, as I see him following Christ. I’m glad for the chance to sit with my grandson and watch Daniel Tiger (Mr. Rogers for this generation) and know that I’m making some progress.

I do recommend this movie. Please know I have not given the story away in this writing. In Mr. Rogers we recognize someone who is truly counter cultural, while I have been merely counter cultural-ish.

The call to live out the Sermon on the Mount is ours, as Christ followers, and we need more clear examples of how we might do this. I would like to be but Fred Rogers surely was!

 

 

 

Completing the 3rd Story

Threshold pc

When I was relaying the story of the founding of the Church Army, now called Threshold Ministries (in Canada), I wrote about the determination that spiritual revival was the indispensable ingredient in any hope for recovery. As I wrap up this “Three Story” account of the vision for Threshold House I want to circle back to this vital element. As I address myself to the program and groups facet of the vision, the spiritual solution is paramount.

At the heart of Threshold House will be our chapel. Here we will have regular times of prayer and study. I will be transferring my time from the Men’s shelter to Threshold House, once we are operational. I also hope that other church leaders and teachers might occasionally lead these times. Prayers will be centred on the residents and their needs, the programs and needs of Threshold House, and prayer requests from the wider community. While we expect that residents will be the core for these times, Prayer and Study will be open to anyone (male or female). It is also our hope to host a monthly (perhaps more often than that) worship and fellowship time, with speakers coming from the wider community and a time for any to share about what God is doing in their lives.

The chapel is also important as a place set aside for quiet contemplation. All successful Christian living begins with an openness to God’s will and a willingness to submit. The challenge in the midst of the busyness of life, is to discern what God’s will might be in our individual lives, and to check with Him our motivations. Confession first to God and often to another human is essential and the chapel will provide a space for these sacred activities.

Besides the chapel we will have space for meeting, both for the residents and the wider community. Only ‘House Keeping’ meetings will be restricted to residents, all other meeting will be for the wider community. We plan to open the facilities to a variety of groups who broadly share our goals, at no cost. We hope to see the building used well and often, by like minded groups.

In addition, we hope to host interns for Threshold Ministries, and offer practical and spiritual training to them. We hope that others, either from our group of residents or from the wider community might like to take part in this equipping. Right now, the idea is to do an online discipleship course “Zume”, which would involve watching the videos doing some ‘homework’ and participating in group discussion. The beauty of this is that there is no set classroom time and we could even hold some discussion on a dedicated Facebook page if not all of us could get together. We might even be able to include people ‘at a distance’ in this training.

So, you see the multiple layers of our vision for Threshold House. It is a big vision, far beyond me. We believe God is in this and invite any who read this to ask God how you might be involved.

December 21st we will be hosting our first fund raising event, a Christmas Banquet. Tickets are $20. If you would like tickets let me know streethopesj@gmail.com or if you would like to donate so others of our Street Hope friends can attend, such a gift would be tax deductible.

Please keep us in prayer. <><