Every Day Flatware

This week a friend spoke of his anxiety about attending a ‘family wake.’ He has put his faith in Jesus and now his values and lifestyle are quite different from his family’s. He dreads the language and the coarseness that he expects. He realises that now that he is ‘in Christ’ he is not the same and he could not participate in the same old ways. His thoughts revolved around being ‘set apart’ and being ‘in the world but not of it.’ He felt a deep sense of separation from those who do not yet share his faith.

Such feelings of differentness or peculiarity are natural but though I want to pay attention to this dynamic, I want to remember that Jesus was incarnate and “a friend of sinners.”  No one was more set apart or holy than Jesus, yet he identified with sinners. He did this in his baptism and in his friendships. In fact, if Jesus had not befriended sinners his life would have been a frightfully lonely one and ineffectual. Sometimes we think of the sinners that Jesus ate with as ‘repentant sinners’ and contrast them with the unrepentant pharisees peeking through the windows. Not all at the party would have been Jesus followers when the came in the door, but these were the very ones he came to ‘seek and to save.’

The tension of being a Jesus follower is the same he met. How do we continue to not only associate but genuinely befriend those who are not yet in the same relationship with him as we are? It is not easy! It requires humility. We lay down our agenda and actually listen to hear our friends. The onus is on us to ‘as far as lies within you be at peace with all people.’ We cannot demand others change especially since they have yet to tap into the power necessary to change. We cannot enter into behaviour that would enmesh us in sin and damage our ‘witness,’ but neither can we isolate!

I advise my friend not to swear or enter into crude behaviour but not to absent himself either. We are not the good silver only brought out in polite company. We are the everyday flatware ready to serve on all occasions. Paul writes “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” In his incarnation Jesus gives us an example to follow and a cross to bear. Crosses are not easy nor are they intended to be. How we navigate these uncomfortable encounters make all the difference.

My prescription is to begin with prayer, long before we meet others. In prayer we ask for help to avoid giving or receiving offence. We ask for hearts set to listen to others and for a guard for our tongue, that we might be quick to listen and slow to speak. We pray to for the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and guard us. Then we risk being uncomfortable for Christ’s sake!

In the world of recovery, we learn of the dangers of isolation. If we Christians retreat and isolate from the world  we endanger or relevance and our friends’ opportunity to witness the difference Jesus is making in our lives!

Meetings especially with family ought not to be thought of as ‘one off events’ but one of many opportunities. We are not under pressure to unload the whole message when our friends have not yet developed a ‘thirst.’ We continue to build friendships and trust that God is at work, even behind the scenes. It is not my business to convert anyone. God makes those who are dead in their trespass and sin, alive! God alone can.

Lessons From a Fish Tank

This week I have been trying to get back to “normal.” I have a friend who struggles with some significant mental health issues who reminds me “Normal is just a setting on a dryer!” It has been an extraordinary rather than ordinary week. I learned some valuable lessons this week and like many of life’s lessons it was learned through challenge difficulty and seeming failure.

Yesterday during a visit to the Christian addictions centre, Village of Hope. I was given an illustration that let me put my learning into perspective. One of the key leaders there spoke of moving fish from one tank or environment to another. He told of the shock to the system that can kill the fish if they are simply removed from one pool of water and plunked into another. This tragic ending is avoided by including water from the previous tank in the transfer. This simple step enables a safer, healthier transition!

The past couple of weeks we have had to deal with the fallout of someone who did not do well with us and relapsed. While I fully acknowledge that individuals make their own choices, I feel a responsibility to provide an environment for people to thrive rather than struggle. This will mean we will have to make some changes. We will have to include ‘some of the water from previous tanks. By this I mean that during the initial period with us (a minimum of three weeks) our residents will have a much more structured environment, similar to that of their previous experience at recovery centres. This will give us the rest of their “Year of the Lord’s Favour” to work toward a transition to recovered life beyond our walls.

To accomplish this, we will need to add a staff position with responsibility for “Recovery Programing.” This will require additional finances and faith, but we trust God is leading!

This week we also had a visitor to Threshold House. Moni currently works at Harvest House in Moncton and has a wealth of experience in both addictions and homelessness. He sees himself as a missionary to Canada from his native Samoa. He has been a wonderful prayer partner over the week and a great source of wisdom. It was a delight to go to Village of Hope with him yesterday. There we met a gentleman that Moni had know while working at a homeless shelter. This gentleman then seemed hopelessly lost in his addiction. It was such a joy to see these two meet and for Moni to witness God’s act of transformation. This was the fourth former client he met during his visit and all four are walking with the Lord in sobriety and service! This is what God does! Moni was encouraged and his encouragement was infectious. We may not always be given the joy of seeing God’s work, yet He is certainly at work. One day we will see if we do not weary in well doing.

On a person note, Victoria’s funeral and visitation turned into a ‘super spreader’ event. Our son, his in-laws, our daughter, and Linda were all recipients of the virus. Somehow I have tested negative through it all and been able to get back to things as “normal.”

We will be processing some new applications in the days ahead. Please pray for us and the prospective residents.

What A Week!

I have a reputation in my family circles as a “Eulogy Poet.” I feel like I fell inadvertently into the role. When my father-in-law died I had my jaw wired shut and my pen was my only real opportunity to express my remembrances. Again, when my mother-in-law passed away I found myself staining paper with ink, as well as tears. Last week my son asked me to write something for the bulletin of his bride’s funeral service. I asked with trepidation, “When do you need it?.” “Not until tomorrow.” came the reply.

That afternoon I sat before the dreaded blank page. I did not want to let him down. I prayed and started and restarted on repeat. The following was the final result.

It has been an emotionally draining week, but it has been wonderful to feel upheld by so much prayer! I was so very proud of our children as Judith stood with her brother throughout the week!

Meanwhile life went on at Threshold House. Steve stepped up so wonderfully while my attention was elsewhere. He had to deal with a resident who relapsed and became difficult to deal with. He finally drove this fellow all the way to Mirimichi to a rehab that had a bed available. Throughout the week of chaos at Threshold House Steve did marvellously. We have learned much through this trial!

We have hopes that very soon we will have several new residents. I will be working at furnishing bedrooms. If any local readers have bedroom furniture or bedding, please let me know. Donation toward this project can be sent to financial@thresholdministries.ca . Please note Threshold House Furniture. You will be given a tax receipt.

On October 22nd we are hosting our second monthly Breakfast & a Message of Hope. Krista Bastarache has kindly agreed to share her story of God’s goodness and Faithfulness. Again, local readers are welcome/encouraged to come. Some thought this was a “Men’s Breakfast.” It is not! All are welcome. There is no charge. We will provide an opportunity for a free will offering. Let me know at reed.fleming@thresholdministries.ca if you can come so I can know the numbers to expect.

Thanksgiving is upon us, and I am aware of how much I have to be thankful for. I hope you have time to reflect on all God’s blessings in your life. A thankful heart is a joy filled heart!

A Sad Day

I wanted to write briefly from a heavy heart.

With every phone call and every email, I find myself in puddles. Many years ago, I buried a child, and I would not wish that on anyone, and now my son is ‘saying so long’ to his bride and his in-laws are laying to rest their daughter.

On her 30th birthday Victoria found herself in hospital fighting a rare infection that resulted in the loss of her leg. Over the last years these same struggles have taken her to hospital time and time again. Now on her 36th birthday her system was so compromised she could fight no longer.

I have this lovely image of her standing before her Saviour as He waltzes her into her new abode. She is pain free for the first time in God knows how long. She is sporting a new ‘heavenly’ body!

We all know that and still it is a loss difficult to bear!

I know there will be a time when tears are dried, but that is not today. I invite your prayers for David, and Victoria’s parents Kim and Bruce, and her sister Kate. These are difficult days.

Below is the prayer Linda and I said daily.

“Father, surround Victoria with your love, in waking and in sleeping, in joy and in pain, in longing and in waiting. Enfold her with your peace. Encircle her with your protection. Embrace her with your compassion, and fill Victoria with your hope.”

God has fully answered our prayer. Now we must put other names (including our own) in this dear prayer.

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