Selah!

selah

It started with a phone call. I’m not a great conversationalist on the phone (that explains why the kids usually ask for their mother if I answer). I learned the phone as a business tool rather than a social one. I like to get my objective accomplished and then get off. I called one of my friends from Street Hope in order to invite him to a barbecue. He gladly accepted, as I knew he would. He loves barbecues and often asks me if we are planning one. I was ready to close off the conversation when he asked if I’d like to meet him for a coffee. This is an invitation I rarely refuse and so we set a time and place to meet.

Usually when someone asks me for coffee, it means they have something on their mind, and so I arrived at the coffee shop wondering what his issue might be and if I could help.

Well, it turns out that he just wanted to spend time with me. He asked about my life and I asked about his. We talked about his bicycle and about bike locks. We talked about my children and his job. All the time we sat on a ‘patio’ overlooking an asphalt parking lot! My friend really enjoyed coffee-ing el fresco. He doesn’t have a deck or lawn, and this was a virtual Eden to him. He was obviously delighting in our time together. We eventually parted lighter than when we met. We had experienced a fellowship without expectation.

Later, as I was praying, I felt the Father say to me “Reed, I love it when you approach me like that: without lists, without agenda, simply to meet together in warm fellowship.”

This was reinforced as I was reading the Psalms in the Passion Translation. The translator conveyed the meaning of the mysterious word ‘Selah’ a “Pause in His presence.”

Recently I was reading about how it is the silence between notes or chords that distinguish music from cacophony. Pausing in his presence may be the difference between a life of chaos or a symphony conducted by a master composer.

Just this morning in our devotions we read anew the story of Martha and her sister Mary. I’m ready to say to God “Okay! I get it”

Summer provides that time of pause for many of us. Let’s pause in His presence. Selah!

Let’s set aside our task oriented prayer lists and sit with Father and see where the conversation might take us!

Make it Right

kingdom

 

Every week I see people in difficult circumstances because of inequities and injustices in the world system. They are undervalued and disadvantaged because of their physical handicaps and or mental illnesses. They often display a kind of dogged genius in surviving week to week, month to month, but with no real hope of thriving. When I think of this, when I think of my friends, I feel angry and I long for the time that God “makes it right”. In the meantime, God calls me, not to privately fume about a system gone so wrong but to actively be a part of his answer. When it works right, my God given anger moves me to, as far as lies within me, co-labour with Him in correcting wrongs.

Most of us can relate to this anger at injustice. The earliest cries from our children (and likely from us though we can’t recall) is “That’s not fair!” Our natural bent is to justice as a reflection of the image of God. We long for things to be put right.

But do we really? I want the racism and greed of this world to be corrected. I long for the white heat of God’s wrath to burn up the straw and stubble of this fallen world. All these ‘isms’ must be banished for God’s Kingdom to fully come, but I am not ready for him to ‘burn up’ the pride and selfishness in me. My longing for justice is always in the abstract or about the other guy.

I remember singing, glibly, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me”. I want to experience peace, peace of mind peace of heart, but am I ready to have the rebellious “me” seared and purified. I want to be pure gold but even as I sing “Refiner’s Fire” I want someone else to feel the heat.

I have little influence over those big systematic wrongs, but I can repent of those same things in me. Most of all I can pray. I was reminded recently that prayer is more than mere words thought or spoken. When I offer practical help or dignity to those affected by injustice it is a deep groan. It is a prayer, a heart felt prayer. It is a prayer that is heard.

One of my early mentors, Capt. T., used to enjoin us to “put legs on our prayers”. In doing so he was saying that having prayed we now were to go out in service of those same prayers. I am coming to a fuller understanding now. We don’t stop praying and begin to act, as if prayer were not action. Action is a continuation of prayer! Could this be what Paul means when he tells us “Pray without ceasing”.   This is God’s will for us.

The nice thing about this concept of continuing in prayer through service is that it keeps me in the place where God can continue the necessary refining work on me, which is as much needed as correcting the ills of the sin sick world.

“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”

 

Recalling a Call

We have been on a ‘road trip’. We drove to Ontario and visited friends and family and experienced our first bit of summer for this year. It was a really nice break. One of the most memorable events was our visit to the Mirvish Theatre production of “Come From Away”. A generous friend sent us to see this production for our birthdays (which are in December and January respectively).  The musical is set in Gander Newfoundland during the September of 2001. Hundreds of passengers from all around the world were stranded there during the after math of 9/11. The musical was a wonderful reminder of the power of love and hospitality, especially during the darkest days.

Many lives were changed on 9/11 and mine was one of them. Before those events I was energetically engaged in the politics and culture wars within the church. I was chair of a national organization advocating ‘renewal’ in the church. After 9/11 I quit. I quit not because I had become convinced that renewal was not necessary but because my calling was to a much narrower focus. 9/11 called me back to my roots. My calling was to evangelism. Others would have to deal with the important matters of politics and renewal while I recommitted myself to evangelism. I purposely stepped from the limelight into relative obscurity.

Many died that day and I don’t know how many had heard, really heard, the Good News. I realize that there have been even greater tragedies in other parts of the world, and I was not moved in this same way but the scope of the tragedy in my ‘neck of the woods’ woke me afresh to the urgency of evangelism.

Recently I found myself saying (I sometimes surprise myself and even learn something during my own sermons) that I only have one message. I do not constantly repeat myself. but the message is always the same. There is a story of a young man who travelled with John Wesley one day. Wesley began early in a town and preached from John 3:3 “You must be born again”. He moved to the next community and preached on the same text and so it continued as he travelled that day. After the last meeting of the day, the young man asked Wesley “Why do you always preach “You must be born again?” to which Wesley replied, “Because… You must be born again.” Jesus preached using a lot of different metaphors and examples, but the gospel writers could summarise all his preaching in the phrase “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

I do not preach exactly the same sermon nor constantly share the same examples but especially since 9/11 I have consistently shared the Good News so that people have a chance to hear, really hear, the love of Christ.

In many ways, I have come to enjoy my obscurity. It gives me the opportunity to consistently communicate in word and deed the love of our crucified and risen Saviour so that people have the opportunity to repent, believe, and receive him as Lord.

I will conclude with this ‘little’ tease. In coming weeks, we will be making an exciting announcement about next steps for Street Hope Saint John. Keep us in prayer!

A Step Back in Time

We took a step back in time this week (maybe that’s why I’m a day later than usual with the blog.) We were in Toronto and visited Linda’s niece. She lives a couple of blocks from the old Church Army complex that we just had to stroll by. It looks quite different now. It has the same façade but has been developed as condominiums. We both had spent two memorable years there during our training period and then several years later moved back as I came on staff as Field Secretary. I worked in personnel and was Captain T.’s personal assistant for seven years.

The training period was wonderfully formative and I remember those times with a warm nostalgia. The community life with the rhythms of prayer, study and service is responsible for making me the person I am today. It wasn’t all fun, formation never is, but our memories are filled with joy. From early morning chapel services to singing before meals to a regular Thursday Night Prayer Meeting featuring a missionary home from some exotic mission field, these were the occasions where we ‘caught’ the zeal for the Gospel.

When I first entered the training, I knew the Gospel narrative and I knew many of the stories of the Old testament and the Acts of the Apostles but it was here that I began to grasp the connected and overarching story of God and his people. It was here that I began to formulate a theology that would sustain me through the years. The training though was as much about practise as it was about theoretical learning. Each student had a challenging practical placement outside the academic studies.

Community life is never easy, but in hindsight it was the very best feature of those days. Solomon writes about iron sharpening iron and that was certainly the case! We learned that we were inadequate to the task and to trust in God. The way to personal growth often lay in the shade of humility fostered in failure. We were thrown in over our heads and were to sink or swim. More often folks sank and I realise this may not be the most proficient discipling model, but it worked for me. I will be eternally grateful for those days. I find myself sorry that the students of today will never know this kind of formation. Time has marched on, as it inevitably does, and different methods are adopted for a different time.

Real formative discipleship remains essential, though. Education alone does not suffice. Our church in the west may be the most educated and simultaneously in steep decline. The answer is not in the head alone but in heart and in the hands. Zeal is sometimes scorned in our education dominated church culture, but it remains indispensable to the carrying out of the commission of the Church. The hands too need to be engaged. Our words without our action become meaningless to hurting world. My training reinforced the lesson I learned in elementary school. It is all about “Show and Tell!”

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Hope that does not disappoint!

Liza first came into our circle several years ago. We met her through our friend Catherine who had an amazingly fruitful ministry among the women on the streets of Saint John. Liza was homeless and Catherine literally took her in. They became more than room mates. They became good friends. Liza went on first to employment with the Y and later as sexton at Stone Church. She would come to our Bible Study on her breaks and she was an energetic volunteer in the days when we put on community meals. She used to bring a box of doughnuts to our Sunday evening services. She would make sure no one took the apple fritter which was designated for me nor the Boston Cream which was for her. She could be gruff but despite herself she revealed a heart of gold. We shared innumerable meals together. She loved to share her cheesecakes with us.

About two years ago she was given a diagnosis that shook us all! She had only a year to live! Through these last two years she suffered much pain all the while continuing her two physically taxing jobs. She became so thin that you could probably circle he calf between thumb and forefinger.

During this time, I often thought about the passage from Romans “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, he has given us.”  Liza suffered and she persevered valiantly and by doing so evidenced Christ-like character. She knew a hope that sustained her, because she experienced the love of God. This is a hope that does not disappoint!

I imagine her now swapping cheesecake recipes with our Street Hope friend Larry, who went before her. They both loved cooking and sharing their efforts. Liza has realized her hope! To be absent from the body is to be with the Lord!

We already miss her terribly, but we are rejoicing that the suffering is over and that she no longer has to persevere. God’s final refining of her character is complete, and she is at rest.

We laughed and cried together, and we shared a hope that never disappoints!

Last night we celebrated another example of hope at a friend’s 14th anniversary of sobriety. While we congratulate our friend, it is the hope that this same ‘miracle’ is available to any who turn in submission to God and walk in obedience to his way. It is, again, a hope that does not disappoint!

 

And the award goes to …

Often in conversations the topic “Who was the greatest?” crops up. Who is the greatest hockey player? (Gordie Howe). Who is the greatest hockey goalie? (Terry Sawchuk) Who is the greatest actor (Meryl Streep) etc.

This week a new question arose. Who is the Old Testament character who is most like Christ?

One nominee is Moses. He was instrumental in the deliverance of his people. He taught them a new way of living. He interceded with God on behalf of his people. He had an intimate relationship with God. He too, had a miraculous birth story. On the flip side he had a temper that caused him to: murder, shatter tablets, and strike a rock he was told to speak to.

Another nominee might be Joseph, who bore injustice and remained faithful. He became the instrument for saving the people of Israel. He is the very picture of mercy and forgiveness in the face of egregious treatment at the hands of those he loved. In all things he resisted the worship of Mammon and stayed true to God. Adversity made him better rather than bitter.

King David might be another. He is described as the “apple of God’s eye”. His kingdom is looked upon as the Golden Age for the nation of Israel. He is a worshipper who points others to God. He is a conquering warrior. In so many ways he demonstrates a heart for God but at the same time he demonstrates so many flaws that he better represents you and me than he does Christ.

My nominee though is perhaps a little ‘off the board’. I suggest that Hosea is likely the most Christ-like of all the Old testament characters. In obedience to God Hosea sets his affections on an unworthy object. Gomer is a faithless idolatrous and adulterous woman. Hosea commits himself unconditionally to her. Time and again she turns from the purity of his love for her to the pursuit of trinkets and short-term pleasures. Finally, when she has hit ‘rock bottom’ and carnal pleasures have faded and failed, Hosea, at great personal expense buys her back. He literally redeems her! She has done nothing to earn or deserve this. It seems to me that it is in offering unconditional love that Hosea is most Christ-like.

This is a reminder to us as Christians (people who are called to be like Jesus) that we are most like him when we actively love the unlovely. The love of Christ ought to constrain us to love in kind with a Saviour, who lavishes that love on unworthy recipients like you and like me. Like Hosea I want to be obedient to God in loving and not letting love be contingent on reciprocation.

 

Why are you standing around?

Years ago, we launched Up Town Church, and these beginnings continue to inform who we are as Street Hope. It was to become a collection of the unlikely with a commitment to become useful within the Kingdom of God.

This week as I read the account of Jesus’ ascension, I pictured a similar unlikely group. As they gazed up into the heavens in theological wonder, God’s message was posed “Why are you standing here looking up…?” They were being challenged to not remain in idle wonder but to get moving! “What are you standing around for? There are things to be done.”

The Ascension stirs us to awe and wonder but it also marks a turning point in the history of God’s activity among people. This unlikely group was being sent to do something. Even if initially the something was to wait in expectation, that in itself is an activity that required discipline and commitment. The angelic message might be best understood “Don’t stand around stuck in your own head but rather be obedient to what you know of God’s will!”

We do not need to know everything. In fact, we will never know everything. But God expects that we will act on what we do know.

In our early days of Up Town, we decided that God had clearly revealed that we were to be kind. We were not an educated or sophisticated bunch but this we did know! We decided to make it our hallmark.

It has been years since those first days but it is wonderful to see that these friends of mine continue in this direction. At our recent House Church meeting we decided to encourage some of the folks we knew were going through tough times. Personalized hand made cards were made for each of the identified individuals with pictures and stickers festooning them. These simple notes of encouragement were received with real joy. It was a pleasure to see how simple and at the same time profound it was.

Often, I am embarrassed by my denomination, and the political Evangelicals cause me to blush, but these humble unlikely friends continue to inspire me by the simplicity of their obedience.

A New Journey: Hop On the Bus

There are some very exciting things percolating at Street Hope Saint John. We are actively pursuing an expanded ministry on a number of fronts.

We are planning a new basic discipleship training program in order to identify and equip people for ministry under our banner. In doing this we are seeking to return to our roots, the organizing principle for Wilson Carlisle, the founder of Church Army (now Threshold here in Canada), was for lay (non-professional/non-ordained) evangelists to share the desperately needed Good News with their fellows. We hope to minimally equip those God might call and give internship opportunity, through our shared ministry. I find this personally exhilarating. It may be a part of the answer to the question of succession. I have wondered what would happen to the ministry when I could no longer do it. The program we are looking at will involve a cohort doing an online course and meeting together to discuss and practise.

We are in an active search for a new ‘home’ for an expanded Street Hope ministry. This has been an exciting journey already. We began with the idea of finding a home for our current ministries and an expanded outreach into the realm of addictions. As we talked and prayed the thinking expanded to the concept of a home which would accomplish these purposes but also have a residential space. Such a space would be a ‘launching pad’ for those who are recovering from addiction, a place to live in supportive Christian community while pursuing, health, education, or re-entering the workforce. This ‘launching pad’ would be a temporary home while men became firmly established in the Kingdom of God and contributing citizens in the community. I hope in weeks ahead to give more details of this, but we have identified a place that would be ideal for this and things are moving apace.

A Roamin Holiday (4)

Last summer we offered a “Roamin’ Holiday” to our friends of the inner-city. This involved a series of day trips around our “Picture Province” for folks who seldom travel more than a few blocks. For several months I have been asked if we were doing it again. I am pleased to tell folks that with God’s help we will be doing it again! This week I will begin the initial planning and begin the necessary fund-raising campaign. Last summer was a fantastic time for folks and we are hoping to build on that this year. I will be adding a “Word from Our Sponsor” to each trip. this time, tailoring the ‘word’ to the context of our trip. I also plan to foster conversations about the ‘word’ and the trip on the bus ride home. I think these additions will add value to this summer ministry.

I ask that the above ‘fronts’ might animate your prayers. The need is great! The fields are white! Let us pray to the Lord of the Harvest. We will also require growing financial support in support of a growing mission. Thank you.

Hop on the bus! All aboard!

Be Like … Jack?

We got into a discussion of names this week. It started with Harry and Megan naming their boy Archie. Folks began questioning the choice. Now I am not a royalist my family was more republican, in nature, but I think people ought to be free to give names that are meaningful to them.

My dad called me ‘Jack’ in fact he called each of my brothers ‘Jack’! He used the moniker when he felt he had a task that one of his male heirs should do. ‘Jack’ take out the garbage. ‘Jack’ mow the lawn. ‘Jack’ meant that one of us needed to jump up and get to work. I think he liked the title because he wasn’t concerned about who got the glory of accomplishing a particular task, so much as that the task be successfully accomplished. Out of a mix of respect and fear, someone (me in my recollections but I’m sure my brothers remember it differently) would ‘hop to it’.

My Heavenly Father has names for us: ‘Beloved’, ‘My child’, saved, redeemed etc., and in scripture he says his own “Hey Jack!” “Love one another as I have loved you” “In everything give thanks” “Walk justly” the list goes on. Out of a mixture of respect and awe we are to respond. Ours is not seek or receive glory but to, strengthened by God himself, accomplish the task set before us.  Seeking credit is attempted theft of God’s rightful glory! Our great biblical examples are: the four folks who lower their friend through the roof, or the people who rush to unbind Lazarus from his grave clothes. We are never given their names. They are God’s ‘Jacks’. A ‘Jack’ is someone who tackles a task and labours happily in obscurity. Humility is the chief attribute of a faithful ‘Jack’.

When I was young, I looked forward to the day I would have a ‘Jack’ of my own. I thought I’d finally got one 37 years ago but within the year I’d be holding his lifeless body. A few years later we had another potential ‘Jack’ but psoriatic arthritis made him ineligible to jump to ‘Jack’-like tasks. I do not feel sorry for myself for over the years many ‘Jacks’ have appeared in my life to help with tasks I could not do, and God has given me the health to do so many of them myself.

My dad is long since gone and I am no longer one of his Jacks, but I remain one for my Heavenly Father. He gives me tasks I am built for. He assigns me to things that bring both challenge and joy. Life as a Jack is the abundant life! I highly recommend it. There is so much to be done and so much can be accomplished if we don’t care that we don’t get the credit.

An old commercial advised us to “Be like Mike” (Michael Jordan) but I advise “Be a Jack”. There is no life like it!

 

 

Introduction & Re-introduction

intro

At one of our studies this week we can a couple of newcomers and I made a round of introductions so everyone would know and be known, around the table. Introducing people is a relatively easy social function. When someone encounters, for the first time, someone we know, we simply introduce them to one another. Sometimes we get to introduce someone anew. “Did you know that, Rus worked in the Arctic or Peter is a photographer or Trevor is a long-haul trucker?” After folks acknowledge that they were unaware of these facts whole new conversations grow and relationships deepen.

A great joy in my vocation as an evangelist is that I get to introduce people to Jesus, and I get to introduce them anew!

The post-resurrection biblical encounters with Jesus illustrate this opportunity for me. Mary in the garden, of course, knows Jesus, but her knowledge is limited. When Jesus calls her name and re-introduces himself, she has a fuller knowledge of him. Likewise, the two sojourners on the Emmaus Road knew Jesus. They were despondent because of what they knew of him but as Jesus introduced himself in the breaking of bread, they came to more fully know him. Peter and Thomas and the other disciples knew Jesus but came to know him more fully. Saul certainly thought he knew about Jesus until he was introduced to him on the Damascus Road.

Years ago, Phillip Yancey wrote “The Jesus You Never Knew” in an effort to give us a fuller knowledge of Jesus. The Jesus I know, and love today is considerably different from the Jesus I first came to know. Make no mistake Jesus is unchanging “He is the same yesterday today and tomorrow”, yet my grasp of him grows.

Each new day provides me the chance to meet Jesus afresh. The thing that prevents me is an unwillingness to consider that I do not know it all, or know Jesus completely. I need not, and in fact have not, abandoned my initial understanding of him but I continue to learn of him. This draws me ever deeper in love.

It was this idea of always being on the verge of an encounter with Jesus, this idea of a constant re-introduction, that attracted me to the word threshold. The word liminal which describes this ‘in between’ time when we are on the cusp of a new experience, is best expressed in English as threshold. It is a kind of perpetual introduction. Threshold is the place of encounter and change. It is the place where all evangelism takes place. It describes the space (the only space) where we encounter the Godhead.

Threshold is an exciting place to be. Paul talks about this as “going on from glory to glory.” There is nothing dull about this! I long for Jesus to re-introduce himself to me today, and I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce him to others, for the first time or anew!