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?

Stirring into Consciousness

The first stirrings of consciousness emerged as through molasses. The sight of damp brown earth came slowly into focus and with this picture dawned the recollection of my stumble and epic face plant! I began to check my extremities and they all seemed to sluggishly respond. I fumbled to find my glasses. They were still in one piece! I remember being thankful for that and then I checked my fragile jaw and it too seemed intact.

The signs of that fall are visible on my face, but other consequences are invisible. Today four days later I feel like my brain is emerging from a deep Saint John fog and the nagging headache and bouts with vertigo are mostly faded.

I have been thinking that the original fall has similar attributes. There are obvious signs of the Fall and we recognize them, especially in others. My outward appearance only bothers me when I take time to look at my reflection. We are sometimes blinded to the results of the Fall in ourselves until we spend time reflecting, but we can more easily see it in our wounded world around us. Still though there are deeper, invisible wounds which impact us and our world. Our ability to think and feel as we were designed have been hampered.

As we find Christ, or perhaps better are found by Him, we experience the awakening to a consciousness we had not experienced. The next phase of sanctification is one of emerging from the consequences of the Fall and slowly learn to think feel and behave as citizens of the Kingdom of God, for which we were created.

While I trust that my journey out of concussion is all but over, I think that our recovery from the trauma of the Fall will not be complete until Jesus finally and fully puts things right. In the meantime, it is our lot to do all that lies within us to prepare ourselves and others for that coming Kingdom. Now we may see as through the mists of fog but then “face to face”, now our thinking may be shrouded but then “we will know as we are known.”

This week we finished work on our introductory video of Threshold House.

We are also planning a Christmas   “Banquet in A Box”  which will be a feast of Charcuterie: a ‘savory’ Charcuterie package; dried meats, cheese, crackers, spiced nuts, fruit, relishes, mustard etc. prepared by well known local chef Russel Dobbelsteyn of Chef’s Table. The “ Banquet in a Box” will be a takeout meal to be picked up a Threshold House December 19th. We are working on the tickets and advertising and should have that out soon. We will set the price of the meal at $25, which is ‘at cost’ and will be asking for donations besides. Our emphasis will be on a regular small monthly gift and we are a creating a system for people to partner with us in this way.

There is lots to look forward to as the Lord lights our way!

Reflecting on Mental Health

Every topic under the sun seems to have its own “Day”. This week there was one designated to mental health issues and I read with interest the many posts referencing it. I had thought about adding my own thoughts and experiences but found myself verklempt. It is too personal an issue to be ‘thrown’ out glibly.

I deal with people who struggle with mental health issues every moment of their lives. I have come to admire these folks as real heroes, people of inspiring courage and tenacity. My friends are lovely people and loving people even though they carry the extra weight of this burden they cannot set down!

My own brushes with mental health issues do not compare to those of my friends, yet they too are real. I have long suffered with PTSD. I have found tremendous relief through EMDR therapy and highly recommend it to others. While not quite at the drop of a hat, though certainly at the drop of a dish, I would be shot through with adrenaline. A primitive ‘fight or flight’ reflex would leap unbidden to the fore. Fight or flight has a proper place in human life but in ‘civilized’ society it is an infrequent place. I would have to struggle mightily to remain within the usual norms of behaviour when these surges came. I found myself removing myself from societal interactions in ‘uncontrolled’ situations. I became increasingly anxious in social settings. Where others could be at ease in social situations I rarely felt comfortable letting my guard down. I know such behaviour gets misinterpreted. Some thought I was aloof. Others thought I was angry or antisocial. My challenge then was doubled. I not only had to deal with the invisible battle within but also with feelings of being judged and misjudged.

Thank God most of the previous paragraph is in the past tense. Like the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ those experiences may rise today to haunt me, but I no longer live with them as constant unwelcome guests in my life. I do still live with the habits and ruts I created for myself during my years in the PTSD wilderness. Like the ancient Hebrews found it is easier to take the Hebrew out of Egypt than to take Egypt out of the Hebrew. I have may behaviours I am trying to unlearn that were handy coping mechanisms in the past. I must still live with the judgements others formed about me in years past.

I do not write this so anyone will feel sorry for me but rather to point out the challenges those with mental health issues face and the complicity of society as whole in making it yet more painful.

Let us be slower to judge people! We have no idea what they are dealing with. Let us make space to really get to know our brothers and sisters so we can support and encourage them.

One of my ‘hobby horse’ issues is the financial support society provides to those with mental health issues much greater than mine. These folks often receive the minimum welfare payment though they might be among the least able to budget. They are too often forced to live in conditions that, rather than contributing to mental wellness, foster sickness.

I know that scripture says that if we do not contribute we should not eat, and I understand (though I do not agree with) conservatives who rail against a welfare state. The scripture also tells us to care for the widow, orphan, and stranger. We have a societal obligation to care for those who suffer!

I admire my friend who survive society’s careless attitude and even find ways to thrive spiritually. We can all learn much from them. I am grateful that my ‘brush’ with mental illness has given me some insight into this. I am grateful to God for the measure of healing I have found. I long for the day when my friends and I will experience the fullness of the Kingdom when illness is banished and wrongs are made right!

All the World’s a Stage: This is a New One

It feels strange and awkward. We are in a new stage with our Threshold House project. Some of the major repairs have happened. We had a new roof put on and replaced the entire water supply system. The election in New Brunswick is over and the government people have left.

 Do not get the wrong idea though, things are far from normal. Covid 19 makes that impossible. We are sharing our space now with the Inner-city Youth Ministry where a great gang of volunteers prepares bag lunches for hungry school children. This group brings a lot of laughter and hustle and bustle to the building. It is nice! It is good to participate in helping this vital ministry continue when their usual venues are not available.

We are increasing our recovery centred meetings, as well. We currently host 4 weekly gatherings, three are noon hour and one is in the evening. We are planning to offer a Saturday workshop on Alcoholism later in the month.

I have begun to create a secondary office (in addition to my home office) to use at Threshold House.

We have a lot of dry wall patching and painting to do before we start our next stage of renovations which includes creating bedrooms out of former classrooms, creating a shower room (the plumbing was done during the water supply redo) and creating a laundry room. We are also planning a work day to groom some wild landscape to create better sight lines for the building.

A new logo is in production. It is being created free of charge by a talented and dear friend.

I just shot a video we hope to have edited and ready for distribution later this month.

We are also planning a Christmas Banquet in a Box (a kind of gourmet take out meal prepared by Chef Russel Dobblestyn. We hope the box will include a thumb drive with the banquet presentations and a special Christmas musical presentation.

These are quite different activities from our previous mode, but all are undertaken either because of or in spite of the pandemic.

One of the chief values of Threshold Ministries (formerly Church Army) is to never undertake more than can be covered in prayer. So, I invite you, dear reader, to pray for these things. In doing this you will be preforming a vital role in the trajectory of this ministry.  

Like so many I am getting weary of Covid and the strain it causes. We receive an ever-growing number of calls from people who are struggling mightily. I have to fight the temptation to be short with some of our frequent callers and texters. In these moments I need to remember how difficult I find the isolation and ‘greyness’ of the covid days which seem longer even as the days grow shorter. I am in a fortunate position with multiple resources to help me, but Linda and I might be one of the few resources our friends have.

Hardly a day goes by when I am not asked “When will we start Drop In again?” I have to sigh (a silent prayer I hope) and reply I do not see them returning in the foreseeable future. Even as I say this I know I will be asked this again and again often by the same people and I wonder “How does God ever deal with my prayers?!”

Mere Reality or Deep Reality ?

It was a morning like any other. The prophet’s servant got up and, like Jack and Jill, went to fetch a pail of water. As he was rubbing the sleep from his eyes he looked around and realized that this was no ordinary day. He and his master were in deep and immediate danger. They were surrounded by ‘the enemy’. All seemed very bleak, as he called Elisha out to see their approaching doom!

Elisha though saw things differently. Yes, he saw the enemy, but he saw beyond that to the Lord’s provision for him. He was not disquieted, but out of concern for his frantic companion he prayed that his eyes too might be opened to see a deeper reality beyond the mere reality.

It seems that it is all a matter of how you look at things.

For those who have citizenship in the Kingdom of God, there is a deeper reality that is truer than the mere reality we see around us! Too often, though we like Elisha’s servant are so alarmed at the mere reality, for it seems anything but mere to us, that we forget and neglect the truer deeper reality of the Kingdom.

Like Peter on the stormy sea we lower our gaze to the swelling waves and soon find ourselves engulfed. Like him we call out in dread for rescue and graciously our God responds.

How much better though if we could see past the mere to the deep reality. Rather than settling for human vision we can trust in God’s provision.

In my experience there is not a circumstance, no matter how terrible, through which God can not and does not work.

Every morning when I look in the mirror I see a face marred and scarred. I see the damage which seems so permanent, yet I know that in the deeper reality I became a humbler and more spiritual person as a result. The phrase we hear these days is “Build back better” and God does that! God does not build back in the mere reality so much as He does in the deep reality.

Paul speaks about being persecuted but not abandoned struck down but not destroyed … so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”. He knows as Elisha knows that mere reality is nothing to compare with the deep reality of the glory of God the King and his Kingdom.

All this leads us to the place where we must confront the question of “which Kingdom captures my heart?” Will I fall (as I so easily can) into captivity of the mere kingdom of this temporal and temporary world, or will I allow myself to be enthralled by the glorious Kingdom God is fitting me for?

My prayer today is “Lord open my eyes.” I long to see the real reality not the mere.

Year of the Lord’s Favour

Several years ago, as I was the last out to turn out the lights at Taylor College, I was faced with a new and daunting challenge. I was moving from the classroom and college administration into a new mission field. I have long been a believer in Jesus words “My sheep hear my voice”, and I try and take time to listen for him. At that time as I launched out into fulltime inner-city and correctional chaplaincy the Lord ‘spoke’ to me through Luke 4:18 – 19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” This of course is an excerpt from Jesus first recorded sermon after his baptism and temptations. It defined his ministry from that point onward! I ‘heard’ Jesus’ call to follow him and an affirmation that this new venture was the right place for me.

A short time after this we founded Street Hope Saint John and adopted 1 Peter 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  For the past number of years this verse has informed our ministry.

Recently I was in prayerful conversation with a dear friend who is designing a logo for our new “Threshold House” project. As we talked about the thrust of the ministry she asked me what was the key Bible passage that informed the vision for our project. In our local groups brain storming sessions, we had referenced several, too many for inclusion in a logo’s design. She said that in her experience sometimes an earlier such verse might be helpful to revisit. In a flash Luke 4:18-19 came crashing back to mind. The words “year of the Lord’s favour” seemed especially on point!

Threshold House is designed to be a 12-month experience in Christian community for men who have solidly discovered “new birth into a living hope”. During this “year of the Lord’s favour” they are to grow into people who can effectively follow Jesus in the proclamation of Luke 4:18-19.

As they take up this new calling and venture out as agents of proclamation and transformation, we ready ourselves to usher a new cohort into the year of the Lord’s favour. Together we hope to see change that can only come by the power and anointing of that same Spirit that anointed our Saviour and Exemplar back then.

When I was commissioned some 40 years ago I was given a verse by a saintly mentor “a great door for effective work is open before me, and there are many who oppose me.” 1Cor.16:9 There is still much opposition not flesh and blood so much as spiritual and circumstantial. Our awareness raising has been severely hampered by covid. My skill sets lean toward public presentation and verbal persuasion and these times require more tech savvy approaches. Our profile lags and our support raising drags, but we are not deterred. We are living in the year of the Lord’s favour. We move forward in faith!