Change and Changelessness

The World longs for change.

The World turned the calendar… but like a beggar’s pocket… No Change!

The World pins its highest hope on vaccines… still no sign of change.

Thousands die… no change.

In three short weeks devout resolutions fall to dust.

Humanities best efforts to reform bring …

Wait for it…

No change!

Vanity of vanities. There is nothing new beneath the Sun.

Change like quicksilver eludes our grasp.

Hope arises only to fail, as hopes before too often have.

The outlook for reformation is gloomy.

The forecast for human evolution is dismal.

Until something changes, nothing will.

The onus falls on me and you!

Change begins with contrite hearts.

With humble spirits.

Change relies not on the dint of our labours.

It lies in repentance!

A true turning away from selfish ways

An honest turning toward the Light

An honest turning toward the Right

An honest turning to the Good

Knowing, “There is none good but God.”

From our knees  we may see the cracking of a new Dawn

Light aroused from an empty tomb

A Light that makes the darkness tremble

A Right that lifts the broken and the fallen

A Good poured out like water on a dry and weary World.

Bright Hope can be known

There may be change

Hope has a Name

Newness has a Way

The Name, the Way, is Jesus.

That’s the Truth!

Genuine Delight

I think in these dark days of ‘covid winter’ we have to take care to savour joy when it finds us. In the past I was a bit more cavalier about the good things that came my way. I thought “That was nice, there will be plenty more moments like that!” I now repent of this attitude that takes grace and mercy for granted. Like taking a small bite of dark chocolate and letting it slowly melt on my tongue, I want to deeply relish the grace-filled moments of beauty and joy. I want to genuinely enjoy them and take time to thank the giver of all good gifts. Such savouring, I think, will give us insight and perspective enabling us to live well.

Yesterday we had a wonderful visit from our grandchildren. While Linda played floor hockey with Declan in the basement, I walked the floor with little Ronan. He is just shy of two months old. He would not settle for me if I were seated, so I held him tight and paced all the time gently bouncing him up and down. I enjoyed the down like fuzz of his little head beneath my chin. I shooshed and hummed and rocked until that wonderous moment when he dropped off in a peaceful sleep in my arms. There is no feeling like this!

I carefully laid him down in the middle of our big bed and lay down beside him. There we spent the next hour together. I did nothing but enjoy those moments. I watched his little rib cage go up and down as he breathed. I admired the complex beauty of his wee hands as they twitched this way and that. I listened intently to the little inarticulate baby sounds. I inhaled that lovely ‘new baby’ smell. Mostly though I smiled and delighted in this miraculous little life. Ronan did not have to do anything or perform to bring such delight. I wondered if God does not delight in us in a similar fashion.

What if his affections are not earned by our behaviour?

What if there was nothing we need do to earn his delight?

What if there were no conditions to His love?

The answer to all these questions is that they all are true. “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph. 3:17

Just as I was enraptured with quiet joy for that hour, so I am captured by the notion that my Heavenly Father is eternally delighted in ways that I can only haltingly reflect. This is a thought to take us through the darkest that ‘covid winter’ has to offer!

The Challenge of Epiphany

It is a bit ironic that many call January 6th a dark day when Christians around celebrate the Epiphany, when “the Light to lighten the Gentiles” is celebrated.  In January, as the days slowly lengthen, we recall the dawning of the Light of the World, long foretold, the hope for both Jew and Gentile. This Epiphany was long expected from the time of God’s covenant with Abraham that “all the world would be blessed.”

Back in the Centennial Year, in a ‘Coronation Church’ (founded in the year Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne) on the Day of Epiphany, I was first commissioned for ministry. It was my Confirmation, which is an Anglican rite wherein the candidate takes the promises of infant baptism as their own. Afterward the minister asked the presiding Bishop to pray a ‘special’ blessing on me and the call to ministry the entire congregation affirmed. The Bishop lay hands on me a second time and prayed as requested. I mark that day as having particular influence and one that ‘launched’ me into the place I find myself so many years later.

My heart has consistently been moved to encourage people to experience their own Epiphany. Though the Light has shone in the darkness He has not been universally received. The promise to those who receive him is the “power to become children of God.” This epiphany is vital!

It is a shame and a stain to see people purporting to be Christian acting out in violence and lawlessness. Darkness and Light cannot co-exist. We, as children of Epiphany, are called to “walk in the light even as He is in the light.” When we do not, we must repent! We can all make mistakes, but we ought not to persist in them.

Epiphany calls us to live in the light, to walk in the light, to spread the light of Christ.  Epiphany calls me, calls us, to tell of his light and to (imperfectly to be sure) live in His light that the world may see us and “Glorify your Father in Heaven.”

Epiphany remains a challenge and a reminder to me. I no longer belong to the church of my childhood, but I am who I am because of her and for that I remain eternally grateful.

It is also a joy to see the ‘light’ coming on for friends who are taking Alpha with us. It is a wonderful thing to see people come in pain and confusion and find answers and find Jesus. It is a simple thing to pray for our friends and invite them to join in a inquiry into the faith and it is a glorious thing to see God at work in lives!

Occupying in a Fallow Time

I have been wondering what the ancient farmer did while the land lay fallow during a sabbatical year. God had ordained that the land was to ‘rest’. The benefits of this are obvious for the land. It had a year to replenish nutrients used up in the six previous years of crop production. It took preparation during those years for the farmer to be able to continue to eat during this time, but what, I wonder, did the farmer do during that year?

The land may have been at rest as far as crop growing was concerned but it was engaged in replenishing itself in order to be at its best in the years to follow.

Surely this was the work of the farmer during those years. He was not idle! (I have never met an idle farmer) He must have been engaged in equipment repair and infrastructure replacement. He was engaged in home repair and personal study in how to grow better crops next year. He thought more and deeper than when his every moment was consumed in the business of agriculture.

The land was better after the sabbatical and so was the farmer!

Few farmers ever actually practised this in the biblical way, though land is sometimes left fallow and crops are rotated. In recent times fertilizers have seemingly replaced the need for sabbatical.

I believe the same is true for us. As a culture we fail to observe sabbaths. In our busyness we miss the benefits of replenishment that are intended for us in God’s design. We continue to “work harder not smarter” no matter what we think.

2020 has been a time of forced fallowness. It is not as if we should laze during this time, though the therapeutic benefits of naps have become clearer. We are still called to “occupy” until he comes. But this is a time for tending our ‘supporting infrastructure’ to repair our lives and relationships in preparation for a fruitful time ahead.

I wonder if many of us are not squandering a crisis. We have busied ourselves in finding creative ways to continue in our old paths when we have a glorious opportunity to walk an entirely different path for this time, so that we can be all the more prepared for the seasons to come.

Now when we are making resolutions can I suggest that we resolve to find the fullness of God’s blessing during these strange days. Let us not let a good crisis go to waste!

The Incarnation as an Example of Creativity

Even in difficult times, and perhaps especially in difficult times it is important to find ways to incarnate the Good News of God’s love. This is our challenge. In the manger God demonstrated the lengths to which He is willing to go. No one could have predicted His demonstration. It was the ultimate in creative solutions. When we creatively address questions of how to incarnate this message during covid, we are imitating Him!

From its founding Church Army, called Threshold Ministries in Canada, has been focussed on ministry to the marginalised. I have tried to walk in this tradition. In 20 20 ministry took an unexpected turn. My ministry became marginalised by covid 19! The year began with grand plans. We were going to continue our Drop In and Bible Study ministry in the inner-city and expand to the creation of a Christian Community designed to disciple recovered men to become ‘Bringers of Hope’ to the wider community.

All of this has been placed, with a thud, on the shelf. God though has had a plan. This pandemic did not take him by surprise. I have had to learn how to serve Him from the margins. In laughable ways I have sought to use digital means to do my Bible Study. My phone has become my means of contact and counsel. These are instruments I do not particularly care for. I have learned to dive deeper in the word of God. I have become more disciplined in prayer. I have learned to use creativity where the old ways are impossible.

Each year our small inner-city house church gathers for a Christmas Feast. This year we were on “Orange” and could not meet. I arranged delivery of a Swiss Chalet Festive Dinner to each of us and we celebrated together while apart. The feedback has been wonderful. My friends loved the ‘gravy’ (dipping sauce), and none had ever tasted quality chocolates like the Lindt ones that arrived. It was not the same, but it was wonderful in very real sense.

Street Hope has started a tradition of holding a Christmas Banquet. This too was endangered by covid. I began to think about having a ‘Take Out’ banquet, but health questions made this a difficult needle to thread. I approached my wife’s genius brother-in-law Russel Dobbelsteyn of the Chefs Table with the idea of a Banquet in a Box. He created a savory charcuterie feast.

Marketing the Banquet in a Box was the next challenge. Church bulletins, church bulletin Boards, and Church announcements were not as readily available. Personal appeal opportunities were limited. Again, I took to Social Media. Slowly we began to sell boxes. I took a chance and ordered 100 from Chef Rus not knowing if I could reach that number. Soon people began to ask if they could buy one and donate it to someone who needed it more. My usual sources are not readily available to me, so this took more prayer and creativity than in years past. I called a friend from church to inquire about how many people attended the weekly Community Dinner that local churches sponsor on the East Side of Saint John. He informed me that during covid the numbers had doubled from 20 to 40 people coming each Saturday. Again, in faith I agreed that we would supply a box for each individual that came the day of our Banquet. I am happy to report that Chef Rus created a delicious box and Linda’s sister Betty decorated each box beautifully. We had enough boxes donated to give one to each individual that came to the Community (take out supper).The folks from our church were serving that day and they relayed how blessed people were by this gift. I had some wonderful conversations in the parking lot of Threshold House, as I delivered boxes to car doors. The feedback has been extraordinary!

Communication & Invitation

My daughter came home from school. It was a day like any other. I asked how her day had gone and she went on to describe it. They had had an assembly that day with a motivational speaker. Afterwards the speaker’s representative stopped my daughter in the hall and asked if she would like to meet that day’s presenter. She was busy with those concerns that consume teenage girls (still a mystery to me) and relied “No thank you.” and hurried on. I prodded a bit and discovered that the speaker was “some guy named Paul Henderson.” I was aghast!

There are certain “Where were you?” moments in our lives. Where were you when you heard John Kennedy had been assassinated? Where were you when the planes crashed into the towers? These moments are few and far between. They are memorable markers we carry throughout our lives. Such a moment for many Canadians of the Boomer generation is “the goal” scored by Paul Henderson. Canada and Russia had engaged in the ultimate contest for world supremacy and Canada looked very much like it was coming up short when an unlikely hero stepped onto the stage of history. In 1972 Paul Henderson who had a decent but hardly stellar NHL career popped in winner after winner in this high-stake contest. In the final seconds of the final match, he scored the tying and winning goals. Canada’s superiority remained intact. This was a moment of national pride such that we had never had before or since. It was much more than a game! Our identity itself hinged on the outcome and Paul Henderson saved the day.

It was this Canadian icon that my daughter blithely brushed off that day! I had no words. She had passed on an opportunity that most red-blooded Canadian Boomers would have leapt at! There was something wrong here! I realized that it was my fault. I had not communicated the extraordinary impact of that goal and that series. How was she to know the opportunity presented to her if I had never told her. I remained chagrinned at the epic parental communications failure which was on exhibit that day.

We laugh about this today, but communications failure has a tremendous impact still today. At this Christmas Season people are invited to come and meet the Christ Child. The invitation is everywhere and cannot be missed but too many brush it off because they have no sense of who it is they are being invited to meet. It is not their fault anymore than it was my daughter’s fault that she did not know Paul Henderson. We need to be better at communicating the story. We need to be better at communicating how important Jesus is to us. Otherwise, the invitation inherent in Christmas is wasted. What a shame that will be. It does not take particular skill to communicate those things with which we are passionate. Let us take opportunity to share the impact that first Christmas has had on us and our lives so others will have some sense of who they are invited to meet.

Self-talk & Remembrance

This has been a difficult time for many of my friends. We get several calls and texts each day from people who are anxious, lonely, and depressed. We chat and pray with these folks and they seem somewhat comforted. We have a friend who because of her mental health finds herself in ‘care’ she is not allowed out and visitors have not been allowed during this stage in the pandemic. She texts often in very real anguish. We are so grateful that last night the most stringent measures have been lifted and perhaps our prayers that our friend may see family and friends over Christmas may be answered.

Personally, I have much to be thankful for. Linda and I have enjoyed good physical health. We welcomed a new arrival to our family. Our daughter and her husband have longed for another little one for a long time. We had joined them in desperate prayer and just yesterday I rocked little Ronan in the chair I had bought specially to do that same thing with his big brother.

We have been taking part in an Alpha at our Church and two of the people we invited are enjoying it and finding it helpful. We have not had many opportunities to be used in this way and it feels good!

Despite the obvious blessing on my life, I find great sympathy for David in Psalm 42:5 when he engages in some ‘self-talk’. “Why so downcast , o my soul…?” Over the months this depression has swollen. It has creeped stealthily but insistently. I can easily beat myself up for feeling this way when I know I am so blessed, and I am aware that others suffer so much more. I have discovered though, that ‘beating myself up’ does others no good, and it does not aide me in the least.

I return to Psalm 42 for help. In verse 6 reads “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember…” The psalmist stops asking the question “Why?” and instead turns to the “Who?”. He turns his thoughts to the study of the character and nature of the God, from whom all blessings flow. In his weakness he realizes that he cannot rest on his own strength but on that of the Lord. Later Paul was to write in a similar vein “My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. “

I have often battled with melancholy as the days got dark but covid has magnified the effect. I am grateful for a friend who passed along her special lamp which helps address this very thing. As I type it shines on my face and I feel that is making a distinct difference!

I have picked up an old companion. Years ago, I used to read C.H. Spurgeon’s Devotional Bible. It has been over 20 years since I last held it but as an extra disciple (which these times require) I picked it up and I have been thoroughly enjoying it. Spurgeon himself battled melancholy. He called it “the black dog” and I have chosen to find inspiration in a fellow battler. There could be a lot worse role model!

We all need to take care of ourselves. We are fragile, each one. Yet God is good! I am a blessed man with a God who loves me and will even use me for his glory!

Waiting Forward

I heard a new, to me, phrase this week “waiting forward”. I quite like it. It expresses a ‘foot forward’ anticipatory waiting which includes activity designed to prepare for the awaited outcome. Waiting in this way does not descend into idleness and fruitlessness.

When I was a kid we would post a lookout when the teacher left the room. The idea was that when she returned we could all be ‘caught’ studiously doing our assigned tasks. Later it became “Look busy! The boss is coming.” These are examples of fruitless waiting!

Other times when promises were slow in being fulfilled, I would get caught up in other things and neglect waiting or anticipating the promise. When the promise came I was not ready, and the moment was lost.

Simeon was an example of ‘waiting forward’. He had been promised that he would see the Messiah. He was now an old man. He had waited a long time, but he had not wasted his time. He had a well-earned reputation as a righteous follower. When he got the inner nudge to go to the Temple he was in a receptive state to both notice and heed that nudge. He had been waiting a long time, but he was waiting forward. He was anticipating and he was receptive, and he held his Messiah in  his arms. He knew God was faithful and he did his best to model that faithfulness.

The Season of Advent reminds us that we are waiting. It should prompt us to examine whether we are waiting forward. Are we occupied with being ready and as much as lies within our power to be preparing the World for his coming? Are we waiting forward? Anyone can idly wait, but followers of Jesus are called to much more than that. Anyone can light a candle and make a wish but to truly follow Him is to actively occupy until he comes!

As I write I am really saddened with news from Shamattawa Mb. I learned today that this tiny community has 167 active cases of covid and a 68% positivity rate! Many years ago, I began my ministry in this isolated community. Some of the Elders would be people from my youth group. In a community like this where almost everyone is related, and multi-generations live under one roof this virus is insidious! I hope we can wait forward for a vaccine, and I pray for a distribution to communities like this that so desperately need it.

On a happier note, we are looking forward to our Christmas celebration Banquet in a Box. We have decided to expand the idea to include an outreach as well. The church I belong to participates in a weekly Saturday supper. During Covid the numbers coming for meals (now take-out meals) have doubled. We will be giving each person that comes on December 19th an additional Banquet in a Box to merry up their Christmas Season. If you wish to help us by purchasing a box to give away that day contact me at streethopesj@gmail.com and we will arrange it.

In the meantime, let’s wait forward.

Advent Has New Meaning in 2020

Advent has taken on new meaning this year, as the world waits in hope and anticipation for a vaccine that will return us to normal. The whole Earth is participating in Advent’s ritual of waiting in hope. We wait for the coming or advent of Christ. This coming will not be like his first when He came in humility with the birth announcement “A Saviour is born!”. It will be a coming of a different sort. He will come as the omnipotent LORD here to put all things right and establish his reign of justice and peace.

While the world awaits a ‘return to normal’  scriptures tell us that no vaccine can return us to ‘normal’. Even if the pandemic suddenly vanished the world would be a sick one plagued by selfishness and sin. Scripture  informs us that God has grander plans. God’s plan is to restore mankind and indeed the whole Earth to before the original plague of sin.

This Advent as we await the vaccine we are told that vaccines do not save us. We are told instead that it is vaccinations that will save us. Not until people choose to be vaccinated, not until they submit to vaccination, will the benefits be truly experienced. There is a personal element that needs to be activated to claim the healing.

The waiting in hope and the personal acceptance of the vaccine are ready parallels to the saving and restoring work of Christ, that we long for. We do not hope as if salvation were not just over the horizon. We hope in certainty resting on the utter faithfulness of our faithful God.

In the meantime, just like during the pandemic, there are mitigating efforts we ought to be engaged in. We ought to be heralds of Jesus soon coming. The Church ought to be a mitigating force in the world rescuing people from ‘the worst of the curse’. Just as wearing masks, social distancing, and hand washing mitigate the pandemics effects so our efforts in evangelism and social justice mitigate the toll of sin on our world.

It is a shameful thing when those who name Christ as Lord demand the world’s idea of freedom rather than to embrace the high calling to servant leadership. Philippians 2 tells us Jesus set aside his rights in order to serve and save us. Even if we have freedom to exert (I do not concede this) Paul in Romans 14 admonishes those who feel like this to be careful not to use their freedom to cause others to stumble. Christians demanding rights at others’ expense are not closely following their Lord. Such practises are harmful and ought to be rethought.

So let us fix our eyes on a vaccine but more importantly on the coming Reign of Christ, and let us occupy the time in mitigating activities, and as the Hypocratic Oath expresses “First of all, Do no harm!”

“Patience Pandemic”

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I get a very real sense that we are experiencing a ‘patience pandemic’, or better said ‘an impatience pandemic. People are wearying with the covid restrictions on their lives. We long to return to “normal” and we seem on the verge of acting on this impulse, to the harm of ourselves and others. Could there be anything more counter to gospel living than that?

I find myself asking for patience and thinking a lot about it these days. I often think of myself as an impatient person. I hate to wait in line. I chaff while I wait. Then it occurred to me that my patience threshold is much like my pain threshold. A paper cut will cause me to fuss and fume. A slight bump on my head will cause me to howl and complain. Small pains cause inordinate responses, but the larger ones are a different story! I have plugged uncomplainingly through some serious injury and pain. I can be long suffering through years of difficult service in challenging circumstances. I am capable of long-term patience while my short-term patience is soon to disappear.

Pandemic patience calls me to the latter persevering kind. This pandemic is more than an annoyance, and so my impatient temper at annoyance is totally inappropriate. God is calling me to a steadfastness rather than a temporary restraint. I must not waver if I am to follow Jesus by loving my neighbour! Now more than ever I need the Fruit of the Spirit, especially of love, patience, and long suffering.

Covid provides me an opportunity to develop just such fruit. In doing so I will become more like Jesus! This is an occasion for God to refine me. If I treat it as an annoyance and chafe in frustration, I will miss a glorious chance! This time calls for another kind of patience; another level of patience all together.

This is no ‘paper cut’ or ‘slight head bump’ this is an opportunity like I have never had before. Fruit of the Spirit cannot be forced but it does naturally, or better supernaturally, occur when I sink my roots deeply into God and his Word. It seems this is an opportunity to resist being conformed by circumstances but instead to be transformed as God renews my mind and attitude.

Joseph testimony rings true that what was intended for evil purpose God intends for our good, and his glory. I want to cooperate in that! How about you?