And HOW!

How

“How?” that is the oft asked question. Seldom do I meet someone, through Street Hope, that does not know that they have difficulties and issues. They are in search of a solution. Addictions themselves are signs of an unsuccessful search for a solution. In our ministry we suggest that the dis-ease that people are experiencing is a spiritual problem and that a spiritual solution is required. It is here that we encounter the greatest resistance.

We had a good conversation about this during our study this week. We were comparing and contrasting (are my teacher roots showing here?) the reception Paul and Silas got at Thessalonica and that of the Bereans. A resistant group in Thessalonica had a emotional response to the Good News. Out of defensive anger and jealousy they drove Paul and Silas out of town. The Bereans had a different reaction. They were ready to honestly consider whether this message rang true. They were open to the possibility of a new life. They were willing to take receive this new possibility and act accordingly.

These are the three prerequisites to a spiritual solution. Together they spell HOW. Honesty: looking at our own state and realising that all of our solutions fail us. Openness: to the possibility that a loving God can and would restore us to wholeness, and Willingness: to let go of our failed solutions and allow God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

One of the things I have come to recommend is, that for 30 days in row, people pray “God if you are real show yourself real in my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen.” I ask people to be open to the possibility that God will answer that prayer and to end each day looking for traces of God’ answers. At the end of the thirty day dare someone who meets our prerequisites will have had a profound experience.

If a person lacks any of the prerequisites, they will seldom find the spiritual solution, but this is not the final answer. Where there is life there is hope. Over the years I have seen those who were initially resistant find new hope and joy on subsequent occasions.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born from above.” Spiritual revival is the only hope for a lost and hurting soul. We who have Jesus have the solution to sin’s ills. We too have a prerequisite, we must love! How can a hurting person become honest, open, and trusting with us if we are not first seen as trustworthy? The Church carries a lot of unfortunate baggage and we must overcome it as surely as our friends must overcome their spiritual state. This is a cause worth our best efforts.

On another note, I went to see my chiropractor this week. I told him about my experience of healing. He checked me out and said I had a full range of motion and marvelled with me at God’s power to heal.

Be Encouraged!

The word for the week is “Encouragement”!

A small group of us have been wending our way through Acts. When we came to the place where John Mark (the Gospel writer Mark) left the mission team and went home. We had a long chat about times each of us has failed and disappointed others. Some (most) of our folks have struggles with addiction and they clearly identified with Mark.

This week we studied the two reactions of the mission leaders. Paul was adamant that he required only people he could trust. The journey was fraught with danger and opposition and he did not want to worry about being deserted again. This is an understandable position.

Barnabas was first introduced to us as someone who stood up for the new convert Saul and encouraged the Apostles to give him a fair hearing. Now he sticks up for his nephew Mark. He is equally adamant that Mark get another chance. At the end of the day these two great missionaries disagreed but did not become disagreeable. We can learn a real lesson from this. The solution was to divide into two teams. The Gospel would go further and faster. Paul and his new partner Silas could embark on their difficult and dangerous trek. The young failed missionary, Mark, would get another chance. He would ultimately prove himself and become accepted by Paul as a valued fellow workman.

Each of us had so identified with Mark in his humiliating failure. I am reminded of my quip when I was trying to quit smoking, “Quitting smoking is easy! I’ve done it hundreds of times!” Dealing with addiction means we fail more than we succeed, but the beauty is that we only need to really succeed once. We all know the sting of failure, the pain of letting others and ourselves down. Mark is not a hero we aspire to in his failure, but he is our representative!

Barnabas is our hero! At risk to himself and his reputation he offers another chance.

We spent some time looking at our lives and identifying the people that gave us a chance. In gratitude we name folks who had been a Barnabas to us. In humility we thought about those we had ‘let down’, our Pauls in effect. We acknowledged our need to mend those relationships where we could and to, with God’s help, demonstrate a new heart and attitude and life and become exhibits of God’s grace.

On a personal note, I received a lot of encouragement this week. Linda and I visited St. James the Less. This is the church that sent us to the inner-city as missionaries about 15 years ago and we like to return on occasion. One gentleman was sharing a prophetic word he had received about our city and then to my astonishment said that they should pray for Linda and I and our ministry. He had no idea that we were considering a new and exciting new stage of ministry. Folks gathered around a prayed for us. It seemed like real confirmation that this is the path we should be on, right now. Afterward I shared our idea of developing a Recovery Centre and he shared that this had long been on his heart. He shared about a model that he had experience with. I look forward to sitting down with him and picking his brain about that. I have no desire to reinvent the wheel.

Please keep this vision for ministry in your prayers. I sense we will be stretched beyond what we can currently imagine but if God is in it, we want to say “Yes!”

Pondering Puddles and the Meaning of Life

I tried not to laugh. I had witnessed someone step off the curb into a deep puddle of water and soak his pants up to his mid calf. I do not normally find these kinds of misfortunes amusing but the person did this because he was checking his phone and not looking where he was going.

Texting and driving has become such a problem that there has been a ban. People everywhere are consumed by the pings and bongs of these phones. “Who is texting me?” “Did someone just like my comment?”

All this evidences a profound need people have for connection. There seems to be a universal urge for relationship but many of us are looking in the wrong places to meet this irresistible impulse. It reminds me of young Samuel who heard a call and ran three times to connect with Eli. Eli realized that the ‘call’ was from God and instructed the lad to communicate to God that he was listening.

I believe two things are abundantly clear: we are created with the need for meaningful connection with our creator, and our creator has a reciprocal longing for us. These two truths shape my evangelism. My early training taught me to bludgeon by dint of apologetics and force of oratory, into the Kingdom. I have come to see this as folly! Instead I see that people are, for the most part, already looking for this connection with the Creator. This natural desire has become perverted. It is on display through our smart phones, our addictions, our human relations etcetera, etcetera.

Folks do not need to be kidnapped against their will. My task instead is to help folks discover that the ‘thing’ they seek in their own unique search, is the Kingdom of God and relationship with their creator. Redirecting someone’s passion is a much less daunting a task than persuading them against their will.

That fellows pant leg became a sign for me of his search for a meaningful and affirming connection. I would have done better to swallow my snigger and instead commiserate and acknowledge my own thirst for connection. Perhaps I missed a real opportunity.

The amazing good news is that God wants that personal relationship that we crave. He created us with the craving and invites us to find abundant satisfaction in Him. It is wonderful that his love is so persistent. As with young Samuel, he continues to call and woo us until we respond.

Next Friday we are hosting our annual Good Friday movie. This year we will be presenting “The Ultimate Gift”. We pray that hearts will be touched. We are also planning a gathering of our House Church family for an Easter dinner. One of our members flies off to Montreal the next day for surgery so this will be an important gathering.

I hope you take time and effort this coming week to ‘walk with Jesus through Holy week’ and celebrate a glorious resurrection Sunday!

Bicycling Through the Louvre

Louvre

This week I had a picture of riding a ten speed through the halls of the Louvre Museum. This unsolicited image popped into my head as I had two different conversations around our Bible Study table. One fellow was very excited about a magazine type book, he had read, which gave a sweeping picture of the whole of Scripture. Another fellow had committed to reading the Bible in a year and was explaining to me how many chapters he was reading a day.

Do you see the origins of my mental image? I understand the value of a scriptural overview. In fact, I have often taught a course “See Through the Scriptures” and I find value in reading a quantity of scripture (and here is where the “but” comes in). A diet that solely consists of either overview or speed reading is not spiritually nutritious.

A cycle through the Louvre might be advantageous if it leads to circling back to the points where we can sit with the art and absorb its beauty and meaning.

We do not often move speedily in our daily studies. We pause often to sit with a passage or verse. We do not move on quickly but chew on a morsel getting as much of the nutrients as we can absorb. Often this will include putting the verses in the context of the ‘big picture’, placing it in the gallery so to speak, but I advocate a depth rather than a breadth survey of the Scriptures.

This past week Linda and I went to a symposium in Halifax. The topic was helping those released from prison find a welcome. I was in touch with the organizers before hand because I was concerned that the chairs would be supportive for my back. A recent ‘church’ conference had left me in substantial discomfort a few weeks ago and I was hoping to avoid a repeat, at all costs.

I arrived with my back rest and sat quite comfortably through the time. The next day we went to join friends of Linda at their church. This church meets in a school. When I walked into the sanctuary my heart sank! The chairs were of the flimsiest variety. I raced out to the car and brought in my back rest, but it did not work. I thought to myself “This service better be good, because I will be paying for it for weeks!”  Before he started preaching the pastor relayed that he felt that we should be praying for people with back problems that morning. He asked folks with back problems to raise their hands and then had folks around pray for them. Immediately I felt relief, but I thought I should give it some time before I suggested a healing. I have not had any pain since and have managed to sleep through the night without being awakened my pain, for the first time in a long time. My kind of back trouble involves things slipping out of alignment, so I am not ready to proclaim that it won’t ‘slip’ again, but I do exult in the freedom from pain I now sense.

Before I said “Yes” to the idea of a new challenge involving a home for a Street Hope recovery Centre I was concerned about my physical health to carry it out. I wondered if my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. I decided that I could trust God for all the resources. For now, at least, I have greater measure of those resources and I believe this is a token of God’s faithfulness and favour.

Renovation as a Prophetic Action

 

The scriptures are replete with prophetic action. These are actions in the physical plane that exemplify what God is doing on the spiritual plane. This week I think I felt a definite nudge in this direction. Last week I mentioned that we were praying about the possibility of finding a new permanent home for Street Hope. We have this in mind to particularly grow our outreach to those suffering with addictions.

This week we visited a building which is right across from the welfare offices and down the street from: both the women’s and men’s shelters, the St. Vincent de Paul clothing ministry, and the needle exchange. The building doesn’t look like much from the outside but when we walked in my heart fell! It looked like a disaster zone. It has suffered some major water damage and the ceilings and walls were littered across the damp floor. I couldn’t see beyond the mess. During the entire time the smoke detector was blaring as if to say, “Run for it!”. After a polite conversation with the realtor we retreated to our house where we had a conversation with my friend who knows way more about buildings and construction than I do.

“It has good bones!” he said. He began to tell me how I was missing all the potential. We began to talk about all the work necessary and again what I first thought of as a major obstacle began to seem like an opportunity. The project of renovation, itself, would be a major part of the ministry as we engaged volunteers.

The building became a picture of the renovation we desire to seek in the lives of our friends struggling with addictions. Many see these lives as disaster zones but God knows the potential. The most addicted has “Good bones!”

I don’t know if we will buy this building. I am not the final arbiter on that. Jonathan the Threshold Director will be down in May and we will look at it. I don’t think anyone will snatch it up in the mean time. We will be stretched financially as never before! But all this is not too difficult for God.

A few weeks ago, I asked myself if I had one more challenging project in me. I have decided the answer is yes! I invite you along on the journey.

On another note, Linda and I are off to Halifax to take in a seminar on helping ex-offenders adjust to society and welcoming them into our church community. I no longer officially work in this ministry but I see the same group of people week in and out and I volunteer alongside Chaplain Rob. It should be a nice get away for the weekend, as well.

It’s a Question of Questions

question

I’ve been learning a lesson lately. (I know I have been slow getting this). Questions are important. My grandson and I took a long walk this week and jumped in hundreds of puddles along the way. He asked a torrent of questions many of which I had no clue of the answer. I’ll have to remember to google “Why is the sky blue?” He was perfectly content to learn the extent of his grandfather’s ignorance and I managed to avoid the reply “Because I said so!”. Sometimes I diverted by turning the question around “What do you think?” or “Why do you ask?”. Together we learned a lot because we asked and listened to each other.

Jesus asks and answers many questions, in the gospels and we stand to learn a lot if we answer and listen. Questions like “Who is my neighbour?”, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” or “When did we see you hungry, naked, or in prison?” These are great questions all.

Lately I have been posing questions to myself, God and my community. “What does the next chapter of my life look like?” Do I simply wind down into retirement or do I have another active chapter yet to write? One of the folks I look to most for guidance encouraged me to ‘dream big’ and God has laid the issue of addictions on my heart. Addictions seem, to me, to be at the heart of many of the social ills that plague our community, whether crime, violence, family disfunction, homelessness, or poverty. I have often felt that efforts to alleviate the above list would be much enhanced by concentrated efforts toward ‘Recovery’.

A friend posed a few questions that cemented my thinking. He asked “When was the last time you heard of someone freezing to death in Saint John? Or Someone starving to death?” Then he pointed out that almost daily you can read obituaries of those who lost their lives to over dose or suicide because of addictions.

Bill Wilson and many others have discovered that recovery is an issue of spiritual revival. It is within the Church that the true answer for addiction lies and so we bear a special burden of responsibility on this front.

All these questions led me to the conclusion that this is too big a challenge to ignore and so I am praying about Street Hope’s response. One of the key items for prayer is the idea of having a storefront in Waterloo Village where we would concentrate our Spiritual/Recovery work and expanding our staff to include someone with specialised addictions counselling expertise.

I will be writing further on this subject, no doubt, in weeks ahead, but I invite you to join me in prayer and to consider if there are ways you might be a part of the answer to this great challenge. Asking the question is important and I pray that you might ‘hear’ a clear answer.

 

Not Consumed!

bush

I have been doing some meditating on “the burning bush” of late. It was probably just an ordinary bramble bush which is common in that climate. In its ordinariness it was highly combustible yet despite its tinder dryness the bush was not “consumed”. The flame was of God not the bush. Here we see, symbolically, the transcendence of God. The writer of Hebrews says that God is “an all-consuming fire” in his holiness. Normally a fire would make short shrift of an arid desert bramble bush. This is what any of us would expect and it would be the natural result according to all scientific explanation, but the transcendent holy God is also the God who draws near to us. Paradoxically he is both far above us in his might and holiness and at the same time as close as our thought or breath. This immanence (nearness) is a wonderful mercy!

Lent calls us again and again to the desert, where we follow Jesus in his temptations, and it is here that we become aware of our ‘fallenness’ and God’s holiness. We become keenly aware of our shortcomings and that we continually ‘miss the mark’. Like Isaiah in the temple we realize in the presence of God’s holiness that we “are undone!”

The unburning “burning bush” symbolizes our great hope. In Christ God has drawn near. While we were still at enmity with God, Christ: took on flesh, moved into our neighbourhood, and died for us. Through the radical nearness of the incarnation and the cross, we are not consumed. The God who once walked with humans in the cool of the garden, walks again with those who draw near to him. James sagely invites us to “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

In this Lenten desert we recognize our sinfulness in the stark light of his burning holiness, yet we are not bereft for God in his mercy does not abandon us to our fate but rather draws near and draws us to him.

The desert is a great place to take a Lenten sojourn, but we can be thankful that we don’t live there. Even as I make my jaunt into the desert, I know I can and will return to the lush place of still waters purchased for me through the cross and Resurrection!

On another note: it has been gratifying to see more friends coming to our morning Study and Prayer times. There have been times in past where I was the only one and sometimes only two of us but recently others are coming or returning. It was a bit of a slog, but perseverance is paying off. I’m not terribly interested in numbers, but I am interested in people, so it is good to gather with a handful to look at the Word. Lately we’ve been studying Acts. The questions have been challenging and we are all learning a lot. Thanks for your prayers.

Consolation No More

seed

I began my ministry in remote communities in Canada’s north where the most quoted Bible verse was “Where two or three are gathered …” We used the verse to console ourselves when the numbers were not great. Later I worked as ‘Field Secretary’ (Personnel Officer) and visited our Evangelists in many remote locations and the same verse cropped up on those occasions. When I came to Saint John in 2000 to teach at Taylor College our classes sizes reminded us of this verse and we used it again to console ourselves that, at least God was with us!

Later as I began to work in the Inner-city and began Uptown Church, I had an epiphany! I thought, “What if God really means what He says? What if his power and presence are most manifest in smallness rather than in vastness?” I began to look at smallness quite differently.

God had the great mission of rescuing a lost humanity and he began with a seed in a virgin’s womb. The power is in the seed! The presence of God is magnified in the small thing!

Influenced by this world we had come to measure ministry by worldly measure. We counted only nickels and noses. Success was in largeness and busyness. The Kingdom principles instead are about stillness and smallness.

Since that epiphany I have tried to joyfully practise small group ministry, not by default but on purpose. Others may be called to ‘mega’ ministry, but I feel a vocation to ‘micro’ ministry. Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with small numbers intentionally. The seed that he nurtured in these few followers bore fruit that continues today.

I recall a children’s talk my friend Al Knight gave, one time. He had an apple and he asked the children, “How many seeds do you think are in this apple?” The guesses ranged in the area of 5 or 6. Al cut the apple and they counted them. He then took one seed and said, “How many apples are inside this one seed?” The answer is that there are limitless numbers of apples potentially in that seed, as it becomes a tree that produces more apples each season with more seeds in each apple. The power is not in the big red apple, as big and delicious as it might be, the power is in the relatively tiny seed!

Jesus has given us one template for ministry and the secular world has given us another very different numbers and success driven template. The question for his faithful followers is, “Which model will we adopt?”

It can be a real blow to our pride when we report the micro nature of our ministry to a mega obsessed world and the temptation is to at least want to be a bit ‘mega’, but the power of the seed is in its dying, and this temptation is to be eschewed.

So, I continue to walk with the few who gather under the Street Hope banner. It is a joy to see seeds planted take root, and over the course of time see fruit develop in my friends lives. I know that this fruit carries in it seeds that bespeak a glorious harvest in the future.

I no longer use that Bible verse to console myself because I feel like a failure but rather, I reflect on it knowing that God is powerfully present in our ‘smallness’. It may not be sexy or saleable but there is no place I’d rather be, and I highly recommend it!

When I in Awesome Wonder

whale

Like me, you have probably sung the words, “When I in awesome wonder…”, from the song “How Great Thou Art”. These times of awesome wonder are infrequent. I can recall a few: the first time I held my infant children and most recently my grandson, watching a whale dancing on its tail from my camp chair, and standing atop a mountain in Jasper National Park. I hope we have all had these occasions where we sensed the overwhelming majesty and mercy of God.

I got to see this ‘awesome wonder’ from a different vantage point this week. I heard that a young friend of ours had just got his drivers licence and I approached him, at our Drop In, to congratulate him. He was sitting shaking his head, as if in disbelief. “How can this be?” he kept repeating. He went on to tell me that two years ago he was living in a care home. He was expected to live out his life in such institutions. Now, though, he lived on his own! In the past two years he had successfully graduated from a Mechanic’s course at the Community College and now after weeks of Driver’s Training he had again succeeded by getting his drivers’ licence. He was now ready to get a job and move into a new and unexpected future.

He kept answering his own question “It is God. It has to be God!” He was truly amazed at the goodness and mercy of God. His awe made me want to take off my shoes, for it was definitely ‘Holy Ground’. I had experienced my own moments of awe, but it was thrilling in a whole new way to see the wonder in my young friend’s eyes.

He has a powerful testimony and he is not at all shy about sharing it. People may find other reasons for his achievements, and he has worked exceedingly hard, but he knows and gives God the glory!

Lately I have been reading a book about “The Parables of Jesus” and I was struck again by how often Jesus corrects people who are asking the wrong question. He is asked who is my neighbour?, and after the story of The Good Samaritan, he reposes the question “Who was the neighbour to the man?” As I reread the parable, I came back to the thought that I am the neighbour and that I am to be the good neighbour to whoever I encounter. Kindness and mercy are the callings of all who would follow Jesus. If our lives are not marked by these Christlike attributes we are following Him at a distance, at best.