Ode to Blessing

The other day I found myself humming and then meditating on the Hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” Henry Van Dyke penned this poem to be sung to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” I sat with the first bit of verse three “Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing ever blessed.” I pondered God’s nature particularly as a ‘blesser.’ It strikes me that this is an essential quality of God. God is a blessing God!

I went on a bit of a word search and arrived at a definition of the word ‘bless’ which scratched my itch. To bless is to invoke God’s very presence and power inviting that presence into a given situation for the good of those being so blessed. God’s very presence is the ultimate blessing because God is Love and by nature the Divine Blesser.

Such an invocation is a powerful thing! Indeed, it is the hope of the world.

All this crashed powerfully on the shores of my mind because I have been a part of a study and a group that has determined to be ‘blessers,’ after the character of God as revealed in Christ. If an act designed to bless someone actually invokes God’s presence in a life or situation, then there is nothing small or trivial about blessing others. A simple kindness done in Christ’s name becomes a means of invoking God’s Kingdom.

Time and again in scripture we read of God’s loving kindness. We of the Church often want to be involved in ‘grander’ schemes when the powerful and simple example of loving kindness shines from page after page!

I recall to mind the mandate we had for Up Town Church during its hey days, that we all were being called to a ministry of kindness. It seems we never graduate from this for it is God’s means of invoking his presence i.e.. Ushering in the Kingdom of God.

Patrick in his famous ‘Breast Plate’ demonstrates the power of invocation! Like Elijah before the prophets of Baal we invite God and his Kingdom tangibly to be evident. Nothing I can do or say could rival that in its bower to change circumstances.

In advocating for a life of ‘blessing’ do not hear what I am not saying. We still bless with our words! The Good News is the greatest blessing we can share. What I do suggest is that acts of kindness, both big and small, create openings to the Kingdom of God.

Peter in his Epistle fully expects that when we align with God’s heart, that we will be asked. When by our lifestyle of kindness in Jesus’ Name we invoke such opportunities we are to prepare to point to the Ultimate Blesser.

I want to tread carefully here, but I want to say that ‘social justice’ done for any other reason than in Jesus Name, however good it may be, does not invoke God’s Kingdom. Equally words proclaimed with no evidence of blessing lack Kingdom power.

We of the Church make ‘ministry’ seem beyond many but God in His Kindness has made powerful ministry available to all! Kindness is our chief tool to help our friends and neighbours. Loving kindness is a chief weapon against forces of this present age which would keep people blind and enslaved.

How can we neglect so great an instrument when it is easily used by all!

On another note.

We are going through  a time of difficult time at Threshold House. Such times are not unexpected in a community of recovery, but they are challenging, nevertheless.

In October we will begin a workshop on Tuesdays on the Foundations of Recovery.

Next week we hold our first Breakfast & a Message of Hope. We hope for a nice turn out with a view to making this a monthly event.

The wound in my back is healing nicely but remains very itchy and uncomfortable which makes sleep difficult. I find myself dragging through the days and with heavy eye lids in the evenings.

Please pray for Steve, our new Night Assistant as he settles in. Pray for God to supply all his needs, and for our partnership.

Chuckle At The Palace

The strange story of “The Chuckle In The Palace” had an unlikely beginning. Though we lived in a tiny prairie town near the Manitoba Saskatchewan border, I was somehow picked to travel to London and meet the Queen! It was a major anniversary for the Church Army and the Canadian branch was sending a delegation to an International Gathering. The Queen had a long-standing role as ‘Patron’ of the Church Army and a visit to Buckingham Palace to meet her was on the schedule.

The strangeness of the tale does not end there. My son, David, was reading “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader” and there discovered that the Queen like crossword puzzles. When the whole family drove me to the Winnipeg airport, David disappeared for a time and came back brandishing a Crossword magazine. “Give this to the Queen for me!”  I shoved it into my carry-on luggage.

The day came and our bus pulled up in front of the Palace. We were ushered through the throng of tourists and through the iron gates into Buckingham Palace itself. We were arranged in a horseshoe greeting line and told that the Queen would walk the horseshoe and greet each of us. I was told by the Church Army fellow who was in charge of protocol not to give the Queen my son’s gift. It was inappropriate apparently! As the Queen entered and began to make her way around, I was deciding whether to heed those directions or honour my son’s wishes. I finally decided that I was unlikely to ever meet this protocol guy ever again, but I would have to face David and explain why I did not pass along his gift.

Finally, it was my turn to be introduced. As we shook hands I reached inside my suit pocket and presented her with the magazine. She was very gracious (just like the song we used to sing affirms). She passed it to her Lady-in -waiting and said, “I hope it is not too difficult.” The protocol people had told us we must not quote anything the Queen said privately to us, but I feel freed by her passing to share. In answer to her question, I broke yet another norm as I, touched her shoulder and replied, “The answers are in back.” We both chuckled. It gladdened my heart to bring a bit of laughter to her lips that day.

After the Gathering was over I flew the miles back to Manitoba and our humble Prairie existence, then one day another extraordinary event happened! Two letters from Buckingham Palace were in my mailbox at the Post Office. The post office employees had noticed and there was a bit of a buzz in the community.

One letter was addressed to me, and I ripped it open. It was from some Palace staff informing me that the Queen “commanded” to thank me for the thoughtful gift and that she would indeed enjoy the puzzles. The other was a letter to David informing the Queen “wished” her to thank him for his gift. I have often since joked with David that “his wish was my command.”

Today I ponder this unlikely tale and think fondly of the kind and gracious Queen who made a prairie tween feel so honoured. I admit that I am not a Monarchist, but I will always have a special place in my heart for this particular Royal.

Godly Contentment & Great Gain

We read in our devotions today about ‘contentment.’ The author took particular pains to advocate for contented submission even when falsely accused. I admit to being an abject failure at this. There was a time, some years ago, when I was (in my humble but entirely accurate opinion) unfairly maligned. At the time it seemed that my reputation was in ruins. I was far from content with the situation though I had little or no influence. I seemingly had no venue or process to address these costly claims. If I had learned submissive contentment I could have saved myself a ‘ton’ of energy which I put into worry and complaining. I waited months for a hearing of some sort, but none ever occurred. The rest of the world just moved on and I continued to bear the ‘stink’ of false accusation. Eventually  even my ministry resumed. I found no peace until I could forgive my accuser and those who denied me a chance to rebut these, but life would have gone so much better if instead I would have exercised a settled contentment that God was my vindicator. This was a hard lesson and a hard lesson to put into practise, but discontent and sin are two sides of the same coin. Contentment is a gift from God not a product of circumstances. I can accept God’s gift no matter what life may occasion.

There is too much anger, which is a product of the world and too little contentment, which is a divine gift. I do not think we are to blithely accept injustice but a ‘fight for justice’ need not rob me of the content with an all-sufficient God! It seems to me that this is a grace we ought to seek and a gift we ought to exercise. When I manage this my life is so much better! I highly recommend this while admitting I am in kindergarten of God’s School of Contentment.

We are praying for two new residents at Threshold House.

Our new Night Assistant Steve arrives today after a safe drive all the way from British Columbia.

On the 24th of this month, at 9 AM, we will hold our first Breakfast & a Message of Hope. Pastor Rob England of the local Salvation Army will be our first speaker.

We are planning a big awareness and fundraising event this May. We hope to bring Christian author and comedian Phil Callaway to Saint John for the event. We are looking to find partners to share the expenses. Talks are underway with a group in Moncton. We will also be seeking individuals and churches that will help underwrite the travel costs for Phil and his wife Ramona. Please pray. If you feel moved to help us with this please be in touch with me a  reed.fleming@thresholdministries.ca .

On our Monday through Wednesday Bible Study, we are looking at the Book of Hebrews “The Supreme and Unique Jesus.”

Drop In is a low-key social event which is helping the ministry and the residents expand our network. If you are in the Saint John area please know you are invited to ‘drop in’ at Threshold House any Friday 7 – 9 PM.

The Fine Art of Missing the Point

I realised this week, afresh, how easily I can miss the point. I was teaching on Galatians 6 and came to the familiar passage “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. You reap that which you sow.” I have often used this passage to comfort myself when I saw “the wicked prospering.” My take on this passage was that judgement is unavoidable and that a kind of Christian karma exists that will recompense evil doers justly. This time I asked myself if the same was true of actions that sprang from “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.” Do these activities contain the same ‘seed’ which ultimately bring about harvest? Does every small act of Christian kindness contain the dynamic power to result in multiplied yield? Paul goes on to admonish us “not to weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap, if we do not faint.”

Too often I consider feeble efforts at Kingdom kindness, as small. Paul makes clear that God sees them as powerful seeds through which He will bring about an abundant harvest. Like a gardener who plants seed and sees nothing for a season, we sow tiny goodnesses, though we see no immediate result. God’s first command was to “Go and multiply.” This has not been rescinded. Paul makes clear that sowing and multiplying continues to this day. What we sow and what multiplies is our choice. One of the key factors keeping us as poor Kingdom multipliers, is a sense of our puniness and ineffectualness. We easily are duped into complacency, but Paul wants to activate us to lives of daily sowing. We then leave the harvest to God who promises that kindness, love etc. will indeed bear fruit.

This view of the God of the harvest, using the smallest kindness as seed ought to thrill us and constrain us knowing we can indeed have a consequential impact, not by our own efforts but by God’s almighty power working in our weakest efforts. A cup of cold water becomes a dynamic weapon for the Kingdom of God. I dare not withhold that cup or that cheery smile, or helping hand or word of encouragement, because each missed opportunity is one less seed sown for the Kingdom of God and one lost chance to partner, in a small way, with God in Harvest.

On a personal note, I am slowly getting back to active life. My back remains relatively pain free. The wound on my back from the removal of a growth is slow in healing. It has been three weeks and I still wait (a bit impatiently) for it to heal completely.

We are experiencing some of the challenges of community living at Threshold House, as quite different personalities learn to live with one another. This is not easy, and we covet your prayers for this, especially at this time.

We are starting “Breakfast & a Message” Saturday September 24th and plan to make this a monthly event. We will be offering a hot breakfast and inviting a guest speaker to share a message of hope.

Our Friday Night Drop In continues. We had a really good group last week when we had a barbecue. We hope to continue to build our network out.

New Heroes

When I was young I had some heroes. Some of these were sports figures like Frank Mahovolich or Russ Jackson but many were biblical heroes I learned about in Sunday School. David and his slingshot, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Samson before his hair cut, young Samuel in the Temple, these and many others filled my head with the glories of following God! Now I still find biblical role models, but they are apt to be nameless and faceless characters in the biblical narrative.

This week I read about just such ‘heroes. The main cast of characters are identified: Jesus, Mary, Martha, and dead Lazarus, but the folks that drew my admiration and I hope emulation had no name. Most of us do not leave a huge historical footprint but that does not mean we cannot play a meaningful role in the drama of the in coming Kingdom of God. These nameless faceless people in the story become then a moral template for us.

Jesus says, “Roll away the stone!” The Gospel writer does not tell us who obeyed this command but soon the stone is indeed rolled away. How might the rest of the story have unfolded but for the instant obedience and energy of these nameless heroes? The story can continue because of them, and Jesus goes on to call Lazarus to life. Jesus gives one more command to the nameless ones. “Take the grave clothes off him!” It is not recorded who jumped to obey but it is taken for granted that it was done.

I believe that my role, and probably yours, in ushering in the Kingdom is to do the nameless tasks. To see where and how I can be a part of “rolling the stone away” so that people can clearly hear the Lord call their name. I must avoid putting obstacles in people’s way but instead be removing those obstacles. As one of the countless nameless ones I am called to love and serve!

Another role is to help people out of their grave clothes. We are all called from death to life, and we bring baggage from our pasts. We come into this “new birth” with a variety of hurts, habits and hang ups from which we need to be freed. It is my task then to be involved in helping in this endeavour, all the time being aware that I am entangled as well!

The key, I think is that neither of these tasks is an individualistic endeavour. These are team sports! You may very well be able to worship God in nature (I do) or on the golf course, but you can not rid yourself of the ‘grave clothes’ that so entangle all of us. This is the work of a community of faith. Together we pitch in and the task that is impossible for the individual becomes entirely do-able in community.

The one work, stone rolling, is evangelistic in nature. The other is discipleship. A wholesome exercise of both is key. This is our emphasis at Threshold House. We work with men and connect them to Christian community so they can find freedom from their grave clothes. We also seek to offer teaching, modelling, and opportunity to engage in rolling away stones so others can hear the Lord call them to new life. For us this is the heartbeat of the Gospel.

On a personal note, this has been a consequential few weeks. Through treatment and prayer my back is so much better than it was. If I can avoid “doing something silly” I should be able to go about life as normal. A couple of weeks ago I also had a cancerous growth removed from my back. The doctor dug especially deep in hopes of getting it all. He suspected it was a non-life-threatening type but sent a biopsy off to confirm that. Just this week I received a call to say that his estimate of it was correct and that since he took so much surrounding tissue there would be no need for further treatment. I am thankful to God for these answers to prayer.

Here is a picture of our van Gough experience

An Odd Beach Head!

When preachers or teachers explain the “already but not yet” aspect of our experience of the Kingdom of God, they often use the ‘D Day’ analogy. D Day of course was the determinative day of World War Two. The Allied forces landed at Normandy and formed a “beach head”. Once these forces were ensconced on that blood-soaked beach, the course of the war in Europe was set. The forces of Nazism were on the wane and its doom was inevitable. The teachers use this to illustrate the victory of the blood-soaked cross of Christ that makes inevitable His return to reign!

I was reading the other day about another ‘beach head’. This beach head was established by a singularly odd character!

Jesus crossed from his familiar territory to the Gadarenes. This was a gentile enclave known for its secular society. Galilee across the lake prided itself on being a ‘God-centred’ society but on the far side was a society that prided itself on being free of religious constraints. It was in this way a Godless society. Legion was its most extreme citizen. Rather than freedom though Legion found only bondage. Rather than self-satisfaction he found only torment. Finally, he shed the last vestiges of civilization along with his clothes and indeed his sanity. His life was one of torment at the hands of unbridled demonic forces.

Jesus no sooner steps ashore than he is confronted by secularism which had hit rock bottom. With compassion, and unheard of authority Jesus set Legion free. His new-found freedom did not resemble the freedom the secular world view offered. Soon he was clothed and in his right mind.

The many demons fled at the word of Jesus and entered a nearby herd of pigs. The pigs ran squealing and shrieking to their doom as a stark symbol of the end which Godlessness brings.

Jesus is soon shown ‘the left foot of fellowship’ as he is asked to leave their shores. It seems the Kingdom Beach Head is to be lost but God has another and better plan. Legion now wonderfully free wants to accompany Jesus to holier ground but Jesus forbids this. Instead, he instructs him to return to family and friends and tell them about the ‘Son Who Sets Us Free’. Where Jesus is not welcome has become Legion’s mission field. He is the beach head Jesus has established on the Gadarene shores. He has not been through seminary or even an Alpha Course. He is to simply tell: his former life, his current hope, and his wonder-filled personal encounter with Jesus.

I believe I, like Legion, have a beach head ministry. In fact,I believe all Christians have such a calling. In our neighbourhood, in our family, in the areas where Jesus is not yet welcome, we have the opportunity of sharing our story. The power of a changed life opens doors which are firmly shut to Jesus. Unlike Legion we live on this side of Pentecost. God’s Spirit enables the willing and softens hearts.

The key question then is “Am I willing?”  

On a personal note, my back which has been so painful is vastly improved. Thank you to all who have prayed!

We just got back from a short visit in PEI. We experienced an immersive Vincent Van Gough exhibit, visited the aboriginal community of Lennox Island and visited a 98 year old family friend. David and Victoria were able to join us for the exhibit. PTL

God Send

Life has had a few disappoints of late. Our Night Pastor shared that, for personal reasons, he would be leaving his position. This role is vital to our ministry and this news was a major blow! People gifted for this are not in abundance. I felt so blessed when Mo came. It was quite literally a God send. Without him we could not have begun the work.

Shortly after that I suffered some physical challenges which makes me reliant on others for so many of the activities I routinely have done myself. This hindered the pace of many things and was a bit of a blow to my pride.

In Psalm 86 David offered me some valuable insight and advice. The psalm makes clear who is and is not God! In verse 6 David writes “When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.” God is in control! This is especially important to recall when we feel that we are losing our grip. When we are losing our grip God has things in hand, and from his hand we receive blessings.

In his song Matt Redman sings of blessing God’s Name in the “wilderness” and the “desert place.” It is easier to do this “when the sun’s shining down on me” when all “is as it should be,” but faith limited to good times is no real faith at all.

This week we completed an interview process, and I have offered the position Night Assistant to Steve MacDonald. He will arrive in Saint John to take up the work early this fall. I am so grateful that Mo is willing to stay until we fill this position. This is an amazing answer to prayer and yet another God Send.

I remain quite limited in what I can physically do though I continue to look for further healing. In the meantime, our residents, and volunteers pitch in to keep things moving.

Tonight, we hold our first Drop In. I expect it will be small, but I also expect it will be a happy joy filled time.

This week a group of volunteers erected our new signage. I posed for a picture as if I took part, but I mostly tried to stay out of the way.

This Thursday the Men’s Bible Study group from my church will be gathering in our rec room area for a Summer Social gathering.

It has been good to see the building full of life.

Walking On Son Shine

I have known Sean for many years. He and Donnie and I were “the Three Amigos” before Donnie’s death. We meet almost every week for coffee and a ‘catch up.’ Sean was involved in some childhood accidents that leave him with a lot of physical challenges. When I first met him I could not understand a word he said because of a significant speech impediment. We were patient with one another and eventually I could make out most of what he said. What Sean loves to talk about is Jesus, and how the Lord blesses everyday. Though he could sit back and collect his disability cheque he insists on working. He is a cleaner at the University. He was one of the heroes that braved covid to disinfect the communal areas of the campus. He also cleans the apartment building. He is an industrious worker who puts up with a lot of bias and abuse while living his quite exemplary life!

Sean inspires me with his simple and profound faith. When I am down he challenges me to trust Jesus. There is no hollowness to his challenge because he lives out that trust every day.

Last Saturday Linda and I were honoured to be invited to Sean’s wedding to Christine. They have been engaged for some time while Sean saved for the wedding. It was a wonderfully celebratory event. Christine processed down the aisle to “I’m Walking On Sunshine (Son Shine).” The service was what you would expect from Sean, it was Christ centred!

Sean and I have had thousands of coffees together over the years and shared in hundreds of Bible Studies. Once he asked me to take pictures of him with all his medals. I did not realize how many he had. He might be the most decorated Special Olympian in New Brunswick. We spent over an hour as he told me the story behind each. He looks forward to the time he can cast all his trophies at Jesus’ feet. He is a different kind of athlete these days as he seeks to ‘run the race’ and ‘finish the course.’

He has told me, on occasion, how lonely and difficult the race is for him. He often prayed that God would send him a partner in running the race. God has answered this prayer, like he has so many of Sean’s requests. I am thankful to God for my friend Sean and his Bride!

Things are proceeding slowly at Threshold House. I have not been able to begin our Drop In yet but still hope to do that in the coming months. I see great progress in the lives of our residents. At the same time there is ‘push back.’ The World, the flesh and the devil do not seem content to passively watch their growth. There are difficulties which I see as ‘growing pains.’

I have two preaching opportunities in August. Linda, our son, and daughter-in-law are going to PEI in August to experience an immersive exhibit of the art of Vincent van Gough. This will be our second outing with them this summer. Last Friday we went at their invitation, to Minister’s Island. It was great to be with them. God is good!

Please continue to pray for us and Threshold House.

Prayer Fodder

In conversation with my bride, I said it might be difficult to write this blog because I had not done much this week. She said, “It is not what you do that you should write but what you think!” While I have spent most of my time ‘babying’ my back and resting, I have had an inordinate amount of time to think.

I have been thinking about the shortness and fragility of life. I have a stark reminder of my body’s decline but each week I learn of yet another friend or relative who has passed away, some way too early! The time is short. The hour of Christ’s Return or my departure is closer than ever. This causes me to pray more fervently. It focusses me on the task of sharing the glorious Good News. It sharpens my desire to forgive. I sometimes have kidded that I suffer from ‘Irish Alzheimer’s’ I forget everything but grudges. The time is too short and too precious to hold on to unforgiveness.

All this has caused me to concentrate thought and prayer on succession. Currently I am unable to physically do what I would like. I am closing in quickly on 70 and I know that at some point I will have to step back from leadership of Threshold House. I have settled on the idea of a young person coming alongside me. While I could provide some mentorship that person could complete the Envoy training program developed by the Church Army in the United Kingdom and to be offered in Canada as method of forming Evangelists for 21st Century mission. This course is an online one with a practical local component. Threshold House would provide the context for this practical experience as well as the housing for a student. Upon successful completion of  Envoy  the newly minted Evangelist could work alongside me as a partner in ministry and eventually be prepared to assume leadership as I step back.

It would be wonderful if you would join me in prayer for this. I am open to the possibility that we may be able to provide this experience for more than one (younger  than me) person. Here is the link to the UK Envoy program website https://www.envoy.website  Again the plan is that this would be conducted here in Canada through Threshold Ministries and directed by one of our Evangelists Deb Moyo.

This week I was asked to do the teaching at the Wednesday Night Worship at our church. I really enjoyed it and was reminded what a charge I get out of teaching. Paul writes in Romans 12 that those with a gift for teaching “ought to teach”. As I was in prayer thanking God for this fun time I was reminded of this verse along with the admonition to seek more opportunities. I am in prayer about how I can best be an answer to my own prayer.

I have started a new series for our Monday – Wednesday Morning Bible Studies. We are looking at Galatians. The theme is the awesome simplicity of the Gospel. The Galatians found it so simple that it was hard for them to believe! Their efforts to complicate the Good News led them away from the truth that had been proclaimed and through which they had found hope and life. Their efforts led them into bondage of works of the flesh rather than the freedom and fruitfulness of grace filled lives. I think it will be fun journey. If you are a Face Book user you can follow along and even catch up on these studies. Each one is about 10 minutes long.

As I said earlier, I have been nursing my back. I took it out for a test run yesterday as I mowed my lawn. I have a self propelled mower with an electric starter so I was not abusing my back with those tasks. I seem to have come out of it okay! It was quite stiff and a bit sore this morning but the heat I am applying has eased that significantly. While I am not ready to run a marathon like our Director Jonathan Clarke I am a tad more optimistic about activities in the coming week. Please keep praying!

Some ‘Careful’ Thoughts

Like so many in Canada I had a bit of a forced fast from social media on Friday, so this post is a bit later than usual. I missed the week before as my back pain kept me otherwise occupied. It has literally been a slow period for me. There has been no frenetic activity as I didn’t venture far from my backrest or heating pad.

I did start and today finished a Bible Study series on the book of Haggai. I have never led a study of this prophet before and thought it might be fun to dive into this relatively obscure book. My instincts were not wrong! I found Haggai speaking directly to me in my time.

In chapter one he writes twice “Give careful thought to your ways!” He talks of people ‘feathering their own nest’ while neglecting the habitation of God. Two times he calls hearers to carefully examine their ways. Repetition is made in scripture to emphasize a point. My mother used this method and then would add “Do not make me say that again!” She meant business! God really does desire that I look carefully at my ways. Jesus had harsh words for hypocrites. These are folks who say one thing and do another. The prophet here is calling us to integrity. Are my actions lining up with my values and if not which should change?

If I agree that the first and great commandment is to love God and then in my life ‘love of self’ rules my time, talent, and treasure, I make myself that most dreaded of creatures, a hypocrite. This repeated reminder from the prophet calls me to a reflective mode of living, where I make my valued priorities actual priorities in my life.

Haggai came to me at the right time. I had fallen into a ‘pity party.’ My discomfort had become my priority rather than God’s glory. I need not just an adjustment by my chiropractor but need an adjustment of my attitude and priorities. How can I wallow when nothing can separate me from the love of God found in Christ Jesus? I am sure God does not want me ignoring the pain receptors he himself designed, but he does want my life to glorify him. From the outside that may look different but the heart ought to remain fixed on God and God’s glory.

My only other activity was to host a barbecue at Threshold House. I was severally limited in what I could do but we were flooded with good helpers. One of our residents did all the grilling. We had a little over fifty people which seemed about all we could safely manage as it became an indoor event. Lots of wonderful conversations took place and it was wonderful to see such life in the building. One fellow shared with us that that very week he had asked Jesus into his heart after a Celebrate Recovery evening.

It was a great night that I have been ‘paying’ for since but well worth a bit of discomfort.