Some Epiphany Thoughts

Epiphany triggers some powerful memories for me. It was on the Day of Epiphany in 1967 that a bishop placed his hands on my head, at the behest of my local church, and set me apart for ministry. I have often looked back to that moment when life and ministry were challenging, and I would find encouragement to continue. In the darkest moments I would recall his irrevocable call on my life and that remembrance would ‘light the way.’

I remember another Epiphany, which I decided to spend in the Arctic. January 6th in Aklavik was among the shortest of days. It was then that I came to first realize my body’s need for light. While I went North to be an encouragement I found myself battling sadness in that dark. Even gloomy Toronto in January was a welcome relief upon my return. Today I take regular doses of vitamin D and type before a special lamp to fend off the effects of a dark winter. Through this experience I have developed a deep appreciation for light.

In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate that ‘Light’ has broken into a dark world. It is a ‘Light’ to lighten the gentiles! The ‘Light’ has a name. His name is Jesus!

I am as sensitive as a canary in a coal mine, to light deprivation, but I cannot imagine the spiritual consequences of living apart from the Light. This dark world needs the Light of the World.

I am reminded that Jesus says to his followers “You are the of the World.” Because we have the Light of Christ within us we are now to bear that Light to the world. “Let your light so shine before people that … they may glorify My father in Heaven.”

We have an opportunity in a world full of rage, darkness, and discouragement, to bear light. We have the opportunity to shine as the stars which stand out all the brighter because of the dark background.

So rather than bemoaning the darkness and its curse, I can decide to seize the opportunity rather than feel a victim of the dark.

We have a stark choice between partnering with the darkness or obediently shining for Jesus. The great news of the Gospel is that Light has come, and darkness can never conquer it!

These are some of my Epiphany thoughts.

A Most Cool Company!

This week we returned to in person Bible Study for the first time in over two years. With the opening of Threshold House, we wanted to make these studies an anchor in the discipleship/fellowship routine. The challenge was that after so many months of online studies we had grown a wide listenership. I did not want to abandon these folks or this ministry opportunity, so we simply record a 10–12-minute study talk with our in person gathering. After I say goodbye to the online people we continue in discussion and prayer in person. It has only been a week, but this seems to work well for all of us. I had so missed these interactions and the wonderful insights and questions of real people!

This week ended with  a look at Jesus teaching about prayer. The question arose because he was sharing his life with his disciples. Jesus did not broach the topic through a sermon series, but the question popped up because his disciples saw him praying and wanted to know about it. Community life provided the opportunity and down through the ages we are blessed because of that! This reminded me that it is important that I share life with our Threshold House folks and live in a way that stirs such holy curiosity.

Jesus picked up the opportunity and taught the model for prayer. I have often been approached by people, telling me they had problems with prayer. Further inquiry often reveals that the problem they have is that they do not pray! This is couched in phrases like “I find prayer hard.” Or “I have difficulty finding time to pray.” These are not obstacles to prayer but are rather excuses. I feel like saying “You do not have a prayer problem! You have an obedience problem” Not having an easy facility with prayer ought to be a subject of prayer not an excuse. If I do not know when to fit prayer into my life, it is a tremendous opportunity to ask God. James tells us that if we lack wisdom we should ask.

I may not be like David and have the tongue of a ready writer. I may not be a wordsmith like Shakespeare but that does not stop me from having conversations with my family. Eloquence is only eloquence because it is rare. God does not demand that of us.

After each study we spend time in prayer. We have begun to ask our online participants to share requests for which we can pray. The prayers that ascend are not lofty or profound. Our homely prayers are honest pleas that try to express our hearts desires. They are expressed in humble and ordinary words, and we feel the Lord’s delight in them. Through them we include the Trinity in our little community and our community swells from three to one that fills the universe. That is a very cool company!

Drop That Crutch!

He stood on the dusty pathway. In his hand his only possession. It was a hand carved crutch, fashioned years ago by his father. Besides, it being his lone property it held fond memories. Over the long years of constant use, it had worn smooth and fit his calloused hand perfectly. There in the ever-growing distance went the strange and wonderful man and his entourage. The words of the peculiar man with the loving eyes and compassionate touch, still rang in his ears  “Throw aside your crutch and walk in newness!” There he stood, frozen in a dilemma. All that was familiar and comfortable was at stake. Could he really toss it all aside for a ‘walk in newness’?

As I leave behind my story of the man on the dusty pathway, I realise that he is me, and perhaps you. Here on the final day of the year, I feel the Messiah’s call to lay aside my crutches. These things may even have served me in the past. They are familiar but they are now impediments to a ‘walk in newness.’

I am not overly fond of resolutions, but I have come to see the immense value of repentance. Repentance and renunciation are the necessary response to be prepared for newness. All too often I crave the newness that Jesus alone can give but while I long for that, I do not want change. This silly oxymoronic attitude leaves me stuck!

What may have once served a purpose for us needs to be examined afresh. Does my habit or attitude serve God’s purposes today? When my honest answer is no, I then must ask the Lord’s help to let it go, in order that I might take hold of the fresh blessings he offers.

Like a child whose hand is stuck in a cookie jar, I need to let go in order to go forward with God! Such is my determination this New Year.

I pray you too will know what it is to ‘walk in newness’ this year. Happy New Year!

We are beginning 2022 by moving Monday – Wednesday Bible Study to Threshold House. Over the last two years this study has been online, and I do not want to lose all the loyal participants who have been taking part. Our solution is that I will record the first 10 minutes or so of the study and say goodbye to that audience, then we will engage in ‘in person’ conversation and prayer with the residents of Threshold House. As you know we have two residents, and we have another application in process. It is a delight to once again be involved in face-to-face discipleship.

Lessons From a Fictional Uncle

Sometimes the best lessons are those learned at the School of Hard Knocks. Of those hard lessons our favourites are the ones we learn second hand. Such are the examples of my fictional Great Uncle Floyd.

Through his hard experiences I have come to appreciate the value of patient persistence. He is known by the title “Great Uncle Floyd the Almost Inventor.” If he had only persisted Great Uncle Floyd would be world renowned. He had many ‘almost inventions’ but stopped before success. He created WD- 1 through 39 before he left the lab to his now wealthy assistant. He invented cleansers Formula 1 through 408 and stopped. Formula 409 went on to make millions. He wrote a script for “100 Dalmatians”.

You get the idea. Great Uncle Floyd stopped just short of success. Each failure brought him that much closer to his goal had he only persisted.

Too often we can be tempted like Floyd to look at our failures solely as failures and not the pathway to the ultimate achievement.

The scriptures are replete with examples of colossal failures. The shorn Sampson, Peter weeping outside while Jesus was scourged or Peter sinking beneath the storm-tossed waves, Moses as he struck down the Egyptian, slippery Jacob as he conned his way through life, Abraham as he lied about his marriage to Sarah, Noah in his drunkenness, these all were pictures of humiliating failure. Yet each  persisted! Each failed forward. Though each failed they were not failures like Uncle Floyd.

I am determined to follow their example and avoid the fate of Uncle Floyd. Patience is a Fruit of the Spirit. God produces this fruit in the lives of the willing. We each have a bit of Floyd in us but through faith we can persist and become more than conquerors through Him who loves us.

There have been many times over the last few years when I was ready to ‘admit defeat.’ Had I done so we would not be celebrating our first Christmas as Christian Community at Threshold House. Persistence and patience combined with much prayer works. God is Good!

Thank you to all who walk this journey with me. Better days lie ahead for those who endure.

A blessed and merry Christmas to you all.

By the Word of Testimony

Over  years ministry, I have learned one thing “Keep doing the next thing and trust God.” Sometimes it feels like a slog and other times a head-long race downhill. Sometimes it feels like exhilarating success and others humbling failure. Yet all I can do is ‘the next thing.’

In Romans 8 Paul writes that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Most times I do not so much feel this but instead know it. In Revelation we read of those who “overcome” (conqueror) and are given the secret of their success. They overcome “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” The secret is a trust in the overcoming power of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He has accomplished all necessary for us to live lives of overcoming.

Our part is actually quite small. It is by our ‘testimony.’ Too often we think of testimony as a verbal recitation of our story of salvation, but if you were called in court to be a character witness for a friend you would need to say more than simply how you met! You would need to share your friend’s attributes and how you have experienced them. To be a good witness though you would need more. Your testimony would have to stand up against cross examination. Your whole relationship would have tremendous bearing on your testimony.

It is important to remember who the testimony is about. While it might be my story to tell it is about Jesus and His faithfulness. I think it is a good disciple to sit down periodically and craft a testimony. If I have difficulty it will point to a coolness in my relationship and afford me the opportunity to correct the course of this vital relationship.

But if the “word” of my testimony is to be effectual it must ring true to those who hear. My life and choices are as much a part of my ‘word of testimony’ as my words by themselves.

We live in difficult times. Overcoming is most challenging. If I rely on the dint of my own effort I will certainly fail. Trusting God and living for him are my ticket! It may not feel like ‘over coming’ but God’s ways are not our ways. So, through slog or head-long rush I want to choose the next thing and do it with all my heart, soul, and strength.

On another note, our first resident moved into Threshold House last Saturday and on Sunday our Night-time Pastor, moved in. We are thrilled that the long slog toward this day has ended. Already we are realizing that the impact of this “Year of the Lord’s Favour” is on families and not just individuals. We are already seeing some lovely developments in family lives. We look forward to welcoming more men in the months ahead. We had some sizable bills come in this month and we are trusting God to supply all our needs. Please pray for us.

Scars & Homelessness

I have been thinking of home a lot lately. What got me started, oddly enough, was a conversation about scars. I have more than a few scars. The visible ones dot my body from head to toe. I bear several on my face, the biggest of which is a puckered scat forming an arc from the corner of my lip to the middle of my chin. Visible scars are but a fraction of the scars we carry. Childhood taunts and disappointment leave invisible scars, as do adult betrayals and failures. No one gets out of life unscarred!

In the midst of the “scar” conversation, I had a thought. “There will only be one set of scars in Heaven.!” All my painfully earned stripes will be forever gone, only “those wounds yet visible above” as the hymn say will remain. These scars become a badge of honour adorning our glorified Saviour. Those of us who have come to believe on His Name, will be totally and finally healed by those stripes. This thought made me yearn for home, the home He has prepared for me!

During his earthly sojourn, Jesus though He ‘pitched his tent’ or ‘tabernacled with us’ or ‘dwelt among us’, seldom had a home here. His first bed was borrowed from cattle. His early years He lived as refugee in Egypt. His earthly remains rested in a borrowed tomb. Between the manger and the grave, he said “Foxes have their holes, birds have their nest, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

The other night, at our Prayer Meeting, we were discussing the plague of homelessness we are seeing in Saint John. We were able to take our concerns to the One who knew homelessness so well.

This type of homelessness ought to move us to action as well as prayer, not just at this time of year but throughout the year.

I find myself sometimes languishing with ‘home sickness’ for Heaven. One day my scars, both those inside as well as out, will be gone and I will be truly home for Christmas. The love of Christ constrains us to share the Good News to the poor and homeless that this, though unfair, is a temporary state and a home is being prepared for all who call on the Name of the Lord. This season provides us with a cultural opportunity to do just that. Let us take the challenge and the opportunity to share the Good News, “By His stripes you are healed.”

What a Strange Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st 2nd & 3rd Comings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help is on the Way!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us sow love! Help is on the way!