There Is A Cure!

If we could only see the true infection rate, if we would only acknowledge the staggering scope of the disease, if we noted that that the mortality rate is 100%, would we mobilize!

Scripture tells us that through the one man, Adam, all became infected and that death reigned through that one man. The resulting disease and death are universal. The rich, beautiful, the poor and forgotten all succumb to this death. The toll on humanity is horrible, and complete! The carnage is beyond imagination!

The cry goes up “Who can rescue me from this body of death?” and the answer comes “Thanks be to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through the first man, Adam, came the universal infection, but through the man Jesus came the cure.

The best religion could do was try to isolate: Don’t touch. Don’t eat. Don’t associate. Touch and taste and association brought contamination.  All these efforts though were to no effect because the virus inhabited every human heart and the death that results was inevitable no matter the human effort.

Jesus alone became the host for this deadly virus and overcame it! The empty tomb speaks of this triumph. In him death has lost its iron grip on the infected populous.

We have a cure. The cure has a name. His name is Jesus.

Can you imagine having such a cure and keeping it to ourselves! If we had a cure for covid 19 we would surely shout it from the rooftops! Yet so often those of us who have experienced salvation through Jesus merely meet together and talk about it amongst ourselves! We should never neglect this meeting together but can we in good conscience do this almost exclusively?

This current pandemic, as horrible as it is, is but a pale comparison to the spiritual pandemic which though invisible takes a much greater toll. As we take extraordinary measure to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this virus, surely we ought also to be vitally concerned with this spiritual pandemic.

While we throw our energy and ingenuity at saving life on the physical plain let us purpose to pour energy and ingenuity into pointing toward the cross, the cure, to our universal need, so that others will experience the abundant and eternal life which we enjoy, through our Saviour Jesus.

 

Spiritual Personal Protective Equipment

cross

The joke goes “ They told me all I needed was a mask and gloves to go shopping. Boy was I embarrassed when everyone else had pants on as well!”

PPE (personal protective equipment) is much on our minds and in the news these days when we need more than pants to go out shopping. In Ephesians 6 Paul lays out our spiritual PPE. I am coming to the conclusion that it is as vital as the physical type, and that too many of us ‘streak’ through life without it in all, or part.

This time of the virus reminds us that what we touch can contaminate us and indeed if we have the virus, what we touch becomes contaminated. In his earthly walk Jesus demonstrated that “He alone could fix this.” His touch of the most contaminated brought wholeness. Rather than having a touch that brought profane contamination, his brought holiness and healing. “One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man (Jesus) said yes to God and put many in the right.” (Romans 5:17 the Message)

At the cross Jesus like the snake in the wilderness was raised up high and through that cross draws men and women, boys and girls back into a relationship with God.

He did not count the cure as being worse than the disease. Indeed, he counted it a joy to be poured out for us. Through his sacrifice we have not just been inoculated against the ravages of sin we have been given new life.

It is this new life we are to treasure and protect and the Armour of Ephesians 6 is the spiritual PPE we require in this mortal life.

Let’s give thanks for the cure that flows from the cross to those who will receive it and as grateful people let us guard and protect ourselves by consciously putting on our full personal protective equipment, in order that we might stand and even stand out in these times.

ppe

As people of hope we have the opportunity to be a distinctive people. Arise! Stand in the full Armour of God, and keep prayerful.

2 Questions for a Challenging Time

question mark

I have two questions I like to ask myself each day: What is important? And What is next?

These two questions help me order my day. One is a question that looks at the ‘big picture’ and the other identifies the next step toward that. As an example, I might answer that  helping people find Jesus and the abundant life He promises is important. This drives the desire to open Threshold House as means of loosing empathetic evangelists in our addiction riddled community. The next step might be making a phone call or writing an email or setting up a meeting. The next step is a ‘bite sized’ action that moves me toward that important goal. Daily life, then, is made up of a series of small steps toward that important thing and involves ‘keeping one’s eyes on the prize’. This is the life I am used to living. This is my ‘purpose driven’ life!

My current challenge is that so much of that agenda is ‘on pause’ and has taken a back seat to other more immediately important subjects. The question remains “What is important?”, and  my old answers are no longer totally adequate. This has required much reflection, but I certainly have time for that, and so I pray and seek God. These are my answers so far to the ‘big picture question’

  • I am to love God. I have an abundance of time to act on this “first and great commandment”. This means time in prayer, but not just with my ‘shopping list’ but in a quiet listening time. It includes a conversational relationship and the cultivation of a truly thankful heart. I am such a blessed man! I read the Bible and I study the Bible. Loving God is important.
  • I am to love my neighbour. This second and great commandment is challenging in a time of ‘physical distancing’. It involves praying for people I can’t touch. It means intentionally calling to check up on people. It means sending encouraging notes. It means not ‘panic buying’. I love my neighbour by staying in! I have the opportunity to save lives by simply staying home! I get to use my superpower of introversion to guilt free excess! I do it by washing hands and avoiding contact. I do it by putting a Teddy Bear in my window for tots and their parents to spy on their ‘Bear Hunt’ walks in our neighbourhood. I do it by trying to mourn with those experiencing grief and loss when our rituals around loss are impossible. I do it by trying to celebrate with those who have joyous news but cannot celebrate in normal ways. Loving my neighbour is important.
  • I am to take care of myself. The second and great commandment assumes self-care. I need to wash my hands and isolate for myself as well. God is not finished with me yet! When we emerge in our own ‘rebirth’ Easter experience I will have important things to do and I want to be prepared. I want to be prepared physically. I cannot get to the gym, but I can walk (thank God) and I can sleep, and I can eat well. I want to prepare spiritually. It would be a shame if I emerged from this cocoon still a caterpillar. This is the ‘lentiest’ Lent I will likely ever experience, and God doesn’t want me to waste this critical time. John the Baptist’ advice is good for me today “He must increase, and I must decrease.” I want to prepare emotionally. I need to be aware of the early onset of any depression and take immediate remedial action. This is important if I am to emerge prepared at the end of this. Loving myself is important.

 

Isolation need not result in atrophy, but it can if we are not careful. I encourage us to ask the big picture question and then take the next small step and the one after that! Occupying the time until our long, long, Lent ends in a glorious and inevitable Easter!

Inspiration From Strange Sources

pilate

In strange times we may find inspiration in strange places. I have recently found great inspiration in a very strange place indeed. My inspiration during this time is …. (wait for it),,,. Pontius Pilate!

He would be inspiration as the most memorable ‘hand washer’ in history but it is his question “What is truth?” which I feel I must ponder most these days.

This is a time fraught with inordinate fear. I have learned a helpful acrostic for fear “False Evidence Appearing Real”. F.D.R. once famously said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Those were perilous times and there were real dangers, but he was warning the populous not to be overcome by their fear. A sober honest look at our challenges will allow us to make wise decisions in order to face the challenges of today.

We need a healthy dose of truth to settle and combat our fears. Pilate’s question is an apt one for me. My dad used to accuse me of “flying off the handle” when I overreacted in an irrational manner. Too many are “flying off the handle” today. Some of this is based on wrong information which has led to weird hoarding on the one hand and others glibly avoiding ‘social distancing’ because of their perceived invulnerability! We need a heaping dose of truth!

When it comes to our health it is best to listen to health professionals rather than Facebook posts or pundits. But there is a greater need for truth than these rational voices can provide, and our inspiration, Pilate, shows us the way.

My point is not just that he asked the question “What is truth?” but to whom he asked it. Pilate didn’t realise it, but he asked the question to the only human that could ever truly answer it. James encourages us when we lack wisdom to ask God and this is the example of Pilate.

Facts only arm us so far, the real battle with fear is in our hearts and minds. I am following Pilate’s example and asking God what is true. What are my feelings and are they based on faith or fear? Am I living in trust or disbelief?  As I examine these questions God helps me realise that many of my feelings around fear are based on things appearing real to me which are patently false.

I read in Psalm 23 that though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.  Recently I heard the story of a pastor driving his children home from the funeral of their mother. He was grappling with a way to encourage them when a semi passed them and for a moment they were in the shadow of that huge truck. He asked his children if they would rather be ‘run over’ by the shadow or the actual truck? Jesus was ‘run over’ by the actual semi as “He became sin that knew no sin” so that we need only pass through its shadow. “Death where is thy sting? O’ Grave where is thy victory”

Let’s follow Pilate’s example of washing hands and let us honestly seek God’s truth in our every situation.

I was in on an online meeting, this week, with the Director of threshold and the Board members to whom I am accountable. We discussed the idea that the economic consequences of this time might have real impact on our ministry. This is especially challenging for Street Hope Saint John as we are on the verge of expanding our ministry by opening Threshold House as early as this fall. We are trusting God and advising our supporters of this need for continued and growing support.

The truth is “God is good, all the time!”

 

What’s in that Tube?

tube

I remember finding a mysterious tube on my dad’s old workbench in the basement. I asked him what was in it? There was no label at all, and he didn’t know, or claimed not to know. He invited me to squeeze it and find out. My hands were soon covered in a black lubricant of some kind. That is when I learned that if you want to see what is inside “apply pressure”. Whatever is inside comes out when squeezed!

We are all feeling the pressure of the current health crisis and it is revealing for good or ill what is inside our shiny facades. The results are mixed. On the one hand we see panic and selfishness evidencing an inner distrust and self-centredness. On the other hand, we find thoughtfulness and creative encouragement. Both are ‘coming out’ under pressure and they reveal the things we should affirm and the things for which we ought to repent.

To make this personal, let me illustrate. ‘Social distancing’ is a good and necessary thing but my original embracing of this new lifestyle was not to protect others. My motivation was out selfishness and fear! Last summer I suffered through a flu. In recent years my lungs seem to be susceptible to these things, with each being worse than the last. The thought of another potentially more serious virus frightened me. I do not like to admit to fear, even to myself, but this fear was dominating my thinking.

Under pressure fear came gushing out! I had to face the facts, my actions might be good, but my heart was wrong! Outwardly that is making little difference. I continue to social distance. I feel I have been training all my introverted life for living in such times. I now admit to myself and God, my fear. I think about the vulnerable people like my son and daughter-in-law and I purpose to love them through social distancing. As I allow love into the equation fear abates. “Perfect love casts out fear.”

Having the hidden things revealed, under this pressure is a blessing rather than a curse. It gives us a chance of self-examination like no Lenten season ever could! It may not be pretty, but it can be purifying if we ask “Search me, God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts” Psalm139:23

Speaking of Psalms, I have rediscovered the power and scope of Psalm 23 through this time as I have been watching a video series “Travelling Light” by Max Lucado. It is a series of 18 half hour sessions all based on the 23rd Psalm. This master wordsmith takes me deep into a psalm I had thought I knew. I had memorised this psalm before I was 10. I have read it thousands of times since but all too often I race through it. Max has me travelling lighter but also slower as I appreciate the unplumbed depths of these seven powerful verses!

So, I have the opportunity to save others’ lives by resting with my Shepherd as he restores and nourishes my soul. I often challenge people to find the ‘missional’ opportunity in whatever the times may bring. This Lenten season provides us with a bountiful opportunity. If I don’t like what I see (and I don’t) when I am squeezed, what better time to be quietly renewed from the inside out.

Fat Lip & the Image of God

fat lip

I gave myself a ‘fat lip’ this week, and I didn’t even realise it! I sensed that something was up and then I looked in a mirror and saw what looked like a chocolate streak below my lip. I went to wash it off only to discover it was bruised and my lip itself was swollen.  This may seem odd to you, but it is not out of the realm of my experience. Due to a fall I had years ago I have no feeling in my lip or lower face. I can, and have injured myself without knowing it, though this was my first ‘fat lip’. I have often accidently bitten my lip, only to realise I am bleeding because of the taste of blood. I take precautions by regularly rinsing with a non-alcoholic mouthwash to avoid infections.

One of my tests for the health of my lip is to say the name “Jesus”. Try saying his name when you get out of the dentist’s chair and you’ll soon realise what I mean. What I am unaware of is dangerous to me and so I have to make it a habit to check my oral health and take care of problems before they become unmanageable.  I’m not complaining, in fact I have learned a lot about spiritual life through this time!

Knowing is always better than not knowing! Awareness of my physical health can help me avoid catastrophe. The same is true on a spiritual level.

I have often wondered at the description of King David as the “apple of God’s eye” a cursory look at his sordid and bloody history indicates that this sobriquet was not given on merit. Rather it was David’s willingness to look at his spiritual state and take remedial steps. His writing in Psalms illustrates his awareness of God’s standards of holiness and his absolute failure to measure up to them. He cries out time and again for mercy.

Confession, after the manner of David, cannot be solely a corporate rhyming off of a General Confession, but must include a personal look in the mirror, and recognition of the flaws we then see. Only then can we take the remedial steps of asking for a cleansing (crying for mercy) and receiving by faith the gracious gift of God.

So many of us are occupied with the Corona Virus and we ought to take all necessary precautions, but the deadliest virus is sin. Like injuries to my mouth and lip, sin is an inevitability. We are fallen people living in a fallen world. A daily examination accompanied by confession and reception of forgiveness is the only way to avoid sin taking hold causing serious consequences that later require more drastic action. I so far have avoided serious infection through a diligent regimen of inspection and remediation. Lent is a good time to develop this same habit in our spiritual lives. This habit will produce life and health in us.

If we say we have no sin, scripture says we are lying and making a mockery of the cross (calling God a liar). Let us purpose to check in our spiritual mirror to ensure that we see the Father’s image there!

 

Good Monotony?

swing

Sameness is often wearisome to me. I have some routines that anchor my day and life but even in these routines I demand a kind of variety. It is, after all, the spice of life. Monotony is to be avoided.

This week I had a revelation! God is quite unlike me, or more correctly I am unlike God. God it seems delights in monotony. He continues to create daisies as daisies. He has the sun set day after day and rise again in the morning. God seems to delight in doing the same creative thing over and over. There is of course endless variety in creation but there is a distinct element of repetition.

This occurred to me as I prayed this week. I found myself saying “God you must tire of forgiving me for the same sin, over and over again!”  But I felt God say “I never tire of forgiving and restoring. It is for this very reason I sent my Son.” It was in that moment that my heart was gladdened to be in relationship with a God who can make monotony a creative force.

G.K. Chesterton tells us this is an aspect of God we best witness in little children. They might have an experience like being pushed high on a swing, and say with a giggle, “Do it again!” only to giggle again and make the same request. The fun only stops as the ‘adult’ tires of the monotony and the fun halts. Chesterton suggests that God is like that child. He does something wonderful and delights in it “Good, Good, Very good.” Only to do it again.

So, God delights in forgiving me, that is good news, but what does it say about how I should live? I think I might become ‘weary in well doing’ not because of exhaustion but because of a malaise of boredom. I too easily lose my wonder at the everyday miracles I see God do in people’s lives, even when God does so through me. As a ‘jaded’ adult, I have abandoned the child-like wonder which was once mine. It is to this wonder Jesus is calling me when he exhorts me to become “as a little child”.

God is wonderful! God is wonderful not just because of the delights he creates but God is wonderful because of his unchanging stability. He can be counted on to “Do it again!” God is “the  same yesterday, today, and tomorrow”.

Stability is not something I appreciate as I should. I am thankful for God’s unchanging nature. I am grateful for a stable marriage. I’m glad to live in a country of relative political stability. I believe God has called me to a creative stability as part of my ministry. I have been a part of the same community of Evangelists for over 40 years now. I continue to walk with my Street Hope friends for about 17 years now. There is something wonderful about stability, but monotony and boredom can easily rob us of our perspective, and wonder slips away, replaced by rote joyless duty.

Can I “Do it again!” with recaptured wonder and joy? With the Lords help, I believe the answer can be “Yes”. I find true hope in that.

In His Footsteps

footsteps

I found the video very affirming. It was titled “God Speed” and in it, N.T. Wright spoke about the 3 mile/hour speed of God. This is the pace that Jesus and his disciples might have walked.

As someone who has done a lot of walking I could appreciate this. In fact, my current ministry began with leisurely walks. I stopped and chatted with people on their stoops. I invited folks for coffee. I listened. I listened to people and I listened to God. Over time (too long for my impatient liking) I got to know people and their hopes and needs. I discovered avenues of ministry that would prove useful for the Kingdom. Slowly, ever so slowly, despite my reticence, folks got to know me. I was not seen as a ‘do-gooder’ who parachuted into the community, I was known as the flawed person I really am. The surprising thing was that the more people came to know me the better I was accepted! The more people knew me the opportunities to share Jesus grew exponentially!

It is funny (not funny ha ha, but ironic) that we instinctively believe a lie that if people really knew us they wouldn’t like us. The One who knows us best, loves us most! This isn’t just true of our relationship with God but also our dearest human relationships. Spouses know each other with all the flaws and ‘warts’ and love each other. Children, well know their parents flaws and mistakes, many of them were made raising them, and they love their moms and dads. Our fear is based on a lie! Only when we take the opportunity to really know and be known, can true love flourish.

Too often, though, we live in a ‘drive through’ culture. We race about in busy-ness and nominally know and are known. Our Kingdom impact is blunted through this broad way of superficiality. We think the more people we can communicate the Gospel with, the greater our impact but the reverse is probably closer to the truth.

I found it hard at first to raise enough support for my vision of a ‘micro’ ministry in the midst of a mega-church culture, but enough sweet souls have come alongside me on this 3 mph. journey that we are able to continue.

I was asked recently if the addition of Threshold House to the ministry might deflect from this 3mph. ministry and my answer is “I don’t think so.” In fact, we are looking to ‘walk’ alongside our residents in the same sort of way.

When I started this aspect of ministry I was at first also involved in College life, and then I was engaged with Corrections Canada. Now I will be involved with Threshold House alongside and as a part of my continuing 3 mile per hour ministry. Things change and they remain the same.

I am won over to the idea that if 3 miles per hour suited Jesus ministry then I will try and walk in his footsteps.

Your Super Power!

Romans 12.2

This last week I have heard or read several people as they have encouraged folks to get ready for Lent. My first and unbidden, thought was “Isn’t Lent a time of preparation and now they want me to prepare for that? Is this Baden Powell gone amok?” Sober second thought tells me that one can never be too prepared, but this incident may open a glimpse of my typical inner conversation.

I was asked once “What would you do if you were not in ministry?” I answered before I thought. If answering before thinking was a super-power I might rule the earth. (It is probably just as well that it isn’t!) My quick answer was “Stand up comedy!”

I have always thought I was funny. I amuse myself! This is one reason I am seldom lonely. Since childhood I just see things from a different angle than most people. Some say a glass is half full. Some say the glass is half empty. I think “Why is that glass so big?” Such thinking combined with a penchant for unthinking, made for an adventurous childhood. Parents and teachers and peers did not always appreciate my observations! Amusing myself with off the wall thoughts helped pass the time through hours of detentions, in school. Adults despaired that I would ever grow out of this ‘smart Alec’ phase, and I never have.

But like most misfits in school the very thing that made life difficult turned out to be the attribute that makes me useful now. Seeing things from a different angle or through a different lens has enabled me to see ‘missional’ opportunities where others have not.

In my first placement as a student I found myself sitting with a toddler watching Sesame Street. I decided to amuse her by imitating Kermit. To my surprise, I sounded much like him. I tried Bert and then Ernie. Soon I had a full-blown children’s ministry using Sesame Street puppets. While other young evangelists used their guitars, I used my quirky voices and comic bent for script writing. These characters took me all across Canada until I was finally invited out from behind the puppet theatre into pulpits.

I listened to Elders in northern communities as they told tales of life and wild life in their environs and began to use stories like Aesop did his Fables, to tell stories with a Gospel truth as ‘the moral of the story’, and by doing so earned a very respectful hearing.

I saw the opportunities to share in prison and learned to tell the good news in plain language that spoke to their needs. Prison is not a lot of laughs, so I discovered that I could earn a hearing by making them laugh, mostly through self-deprecating humour.

When I began inner-city ministry, it was through seeing life through a different lens that brought me to the ideas for: a laundry ministry, or vacation from the city ministry, or to a lavish banquet ‘Fiesta’. The list goes on, but the up shot is that seeing things differently is a useful skill.

God gives each of us unique ‘gifts’ to be used to his glory. I wonder how often adults have left behind their superpower and been conformed to this world. Instead God would like to transform that gift and renew us in the process and make us useful to his Kingdom. If he can use my silly skewed view think how he might use you! I urge you therefore sisters and brothers, to throw off the shackles of conformity and search out once more that unique gift that has been yours, and offer it to him to be renewed to his glory!

Doing Valentines Right

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I purposed that I would not let another Valentines Day opportunity slip by. I would make a plan!

My first creative thought was to send my bride a telegram. “No one sends telegrams any more, so this endeavour would stand out by its specialness.” Was my thought. It turns out no one sends telegrams for a reason! I’d need to come up with another way to gain my rightful acclaim for ‘doing Valentines Day up right’.

I could use money from our joint account to buy flowers. Each time I sneezed for the next week or so, before they died, would be a testament to my martyr-like affection. The fact that we might be reduced to Kraft Dinner for the last days of the month persuaded me that there was a better way to gain proper recognition for my regard.

Perhaps chocolates would be the answer, though neither of us needs the calories. Maybe I could get the milk chocolate ones I like so much (I’m sure she would share).

Then I thought about writing a Facebook post! She might not read it for hours or days, but I could get all sorts of ‘likes’ from my ‘friends’. I would look very good, indeed. At last I would get acknowledgment that I had done Valentines Day well.

I am glad God is not like me, and I bet you are too! He didn’t send his love by sending flowers or chocolate. He demonstrated his love in self-sacrifice! He quite simply gave himself through the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, and continues to give himself through the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Not through carnations but through incarnation, does God demonstrate his love.

“We love because he first loved us.” He asks us to follow his example and love him and others in like manner, not in word but in self-sacrifice.

I may not get the acclaim I yearn for, but I love best when I follow the template set by Christ. Such love has no calories and does not drain our meagre bank account, but it is a costly love.

I still have the chance to do Valentines right. Maybe I can give this a try. Care to join me?