All In How You Look At It

 

blogI guess it is all how you look at it! I was thinking about all my losses and began to enumerate them in my mind. Death and failure and drastic change. I found myself wanting to dive for a ball my grandson had hit toward me as I realized that I was well past the ‘diving’ stage of my life. There are an awful lot of losses in life, if you live long enough. But then I began to recount the gains: lives that had been touched and transformed by God through our ministry, a grandson to play ball with, and another on the way. I so enjoy seeing our children as fine adults. I have new appreciation for God’s nature and love to photograph it!

These are tremendous gains that I would never want to give up even in exchange for those things I have lost.

I do not enjoy being ‘fragile’. It is a big adjustment, but I realise I (in fact all of us) have always been fragile and my ‘invincibility’ was but a sad illusion.

If then, it is all in how you look at it, the battle for satisfying life is in the transformation of our minds, just like Romans 12 suggests.

As I dwell on the feelings of loss what I am doing is forgetting that God is good. He empties my life of childish things in order to make room for the grander things of his design. This is not to say that certain losses like deaths are not to be properly grieved, but rather that even as we mourn we can experience comfort in God’s goodness.

I find myself saying to myself (sometimes you need an intelligent conversation) “This growing old is not for the faint of heart!” Life is full of losses up to the final loss of this mortal life, but mortality makes way for immortality!

Losses are not all temporary though many are. Losses make room for a grander plan.

I have decided to try and look at things differently. Rather than just bemoan my losses (I am realistic enough to know I am unlikely to stop that completely) I will see that God is making room in my life for more not less. I know that one day even death will be swallowed up in victory. The whole trajectory of life and history is to the fullness of the coming Kingdom. I have decided that I am better off contemplating that Kingdom than lamenting the fading of this one.

Confessions of a Slow Learner

 

I did not know it at the time, but I grew up in a golden age of oratory. Soaring speeches filled with eloquence and soaring poetic imagery were regular. I recall John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Junior and their speeches full of grand images and inspiring cadence. I took it for granted that this was the norm, but alas it is not. This time was an aberration! Nevertheless, they affected me greatly. I grew to love language. I grew to appreciate a well-turned phrase. I admired the ability to move people and call them to be greater and do better.

As a young Christian I admired great preachers who fell into this same category. I was drawn to the sermons of Charles Spurgeon “The Prince of Preachers” who could strike a theme and paint a picture and draw huge crowds and move them to respond to his Kingdom call. I discovered other preachers to admire. One such was Stephen Olford. I took my family to Memphis to study under him. We camped in a KOA during tornado season (Our tent was blown down in such a tempest.) He was, to me, a poet, and a preacher whose oratory drew and inspired people. I longed to be like him!

I never became a Spurgeon or an Olford, though I learned much from both. I realise, in my seventh decade, that I was not created or gifted to be them but to simply be me.

For the past few months, I have been unable to do my usual Bible Studies and have instead posted three such studies a week, on Facebook. This has given me a chance to listen to myself and to get feedback from others. One comment from someone I do not know to someone I barely know said “ He is so quiet and laid back letting the scriptures speak for themselves.” I was at once inordinately flattered and taken aback. My lifelong goal had not been to be a ‘laid back’ Perry Como of preachers! Somewhere along the way God had sidetracked me. My imagined soaring pulpit pounding rhetoric had been replaced and replaced by a quiet hemming and hawing simplicity.

Unlike my heroes I will never be held up as a ‘master’ preacher, but I feel quite comfortable in my shoes. I confess to being a slow learner but now I want to be authentic much more than soaring. I want to let the Holy Spirit do the task of inspiring, for that is the very function of the Spirit.

The moral of the story is this: God cares less about our ability, than our authentic availability. Perhaps others can be less slow to learn this valuable lesson

 

Waken, Wonder, and Witness

Apparently God’s awesome wonder was on full display last night, in the skies outside our bedroom window.  I say apparently because I snoozed (my wife would say snored) through the whole thing. While I enjoyed blessed slumber, she stayed awake to admire the amazing flashes of lightening and the deep resonating rumble of thunder. She tells me you could see the lightening through closed eye lids.

There in the heavens, on full display, for those who had eyes to see, was evidence of God’s “eternal power and divine nature”. Some who saw it, no doubt, missed really seeing it, every bit as much as I did.

I woke this morning perhaps more refreshed than my bride but less filled with wonder. My slumber did me no lasting harm   but for those who are spiritually asleep, for those who ‘see’ but do not comprehend the majesty of God, their slumber is indeed a dangerous state.

The phrase “woke” has become in vogue in our culture. Being “woke” is a parody of being “awakened” (as in the Great Awakening) but being “woke” is the palest of comparisons to being “awakened”. Only God can awaken an individual, but in his last command before returning to his rightful place on Heaven’s Throne, Jesus charged his followers to be his witnesses.

This morning I heard a compelling and irrefutable witness to the glories on display outside our widow. I heard the admiration of the divine display. I know now what I had not as I blissfully slept (snored). I have also seen the testimony of others via Facebook. I am totally convinced of the raw power of God on display. I have transitioned from ignorance to being convinced through the simply witness of others that I trust.

This type of witness is what Jesus commanded of us! As we walk with him and experience his goodness we are not to remain silent while a world wallows in ignorance, blissful or otherwise, of him and his love.

I think we often do not do this because we do not take the time to “see”. We do not notice or meditate on the greatness of God in which we live and move and have our being. If we do not see, if we don’t notice, if we don’t stop in wonder, how can we ever be witnesses to his love. If we fail to savour the love he lavishes on us we fail at our primary task, to be his disciples.

Next, after noticing and wondering, we use our words, as inadequate as they may be. Too often the church is like the mighty Mackenzie River, it is frozen at the mouth! There is a lot of chatter this morning about last night’s storm. There is much chatter about sports teams or engagements or new births. We love to tell good news! Let us be as intentionally in ‘using our words’ to tell of our experience with God through Jesus. My wife could not likely tell me all the physics behind the heavenly spectacle, but she did not need to. She told me of her experience. You cannot argue or refute someone’s experiences.

God, by his Spirit may awaken someone through your faithful witness. Others will be encouraged and perhaps re-awakened to his wonder. We ourselves will be strengthened through faithful witness and our lives shown to be fruitful. Let us stir ourselves and shake off our stupor! Let us find fruitfulness and satisfaction in faithful witness. We do not argue people awake but through our wonder and witness God works yet more wonder!

Facing Fears in a Time of Fear

Lately I’ve been reading passages in the scriptures that tell me “Do not fear.” Fear can be a constant nagging companion these days. I have a son and daughter-in-law who have compromised immune systems. I have a daughter who is expecting a child. I have many friends who live in rooming houses where a ravaging virus could do its worst. I recall a cold/flu I had last year at this time that took me weeks and weeks to get over. I never worried that I would die but some nights I worried that I wouldn’t! All these concerns (read fear) mount one on top of the other. I am not paralysed by these concerns (read fear). They seem to me sensible in many ways, and so I puzzle over how I should ‘fear not’.

To not fear seems a call to be less, or perhaps more, than human. This fear drives me to social distance. It reminds me to wear a mask. It keeps me inside, all very sensible activities, or inactivities.

So, what am I to make of all the biblical injunctions not to fear?

In my study I have come to realize that the command to ‘not fear’ is accompanied, either explicitly or implicitly, with an alternative. Scripture invites me to ‘take courage’. This signifies that the ‘courage’ resides in a source outside of me. I take courage by following the admonition “Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you.” I take my concerns (read fears) to God and leave them with him and receive from him a supply of courage to face the moment.

I give him my doubts that God can see me through and instead I exercise trust that no matter what God is good and his love toward me endures forever.

These days have led me to a place of new appreciation for the benchmark Paul sets when he writes “Pray without ceasing.” I cast my fear and take the courage I need for the moment, only to soon return and rely on God yet again. Rinse and repeat!

I don’t know what this virus would do if let loose in my son’s home. I don’t know what the effects would be on an expectant mother or on my unborn grandson. I don’t know how my inner-city friends would fare if the virus came to their doors. There is much I do not know.

Certain things I do know. God is good! These things haven’t happened yet. I ought to do my level best to see that I never contribute to them happening!

The things I need to ask myself are: “Is this fear reasonable?” and “Have I taken it to God?” Then knowing his grace is sufficient for me and that his power can be evident through my weakness, I take courage, for the moment.

I have other things to occupy me, as well. This week I meet with a videographer to discuss developing promotional material for our Threshold House project. The next week a team of plumbers will descend on the building and rip out all the old pipes and replace them all, and rough in our new shower room. Volunteers have been doing the lawn care, but we will soon have to purchase a dual-purpose lawn/snowblower tractor and buy or build a baby-barn to store equipment in.

All this strains our budget while our income is not where we hoped it would be. We cast this too on God knowing He cares about it as well.

Hidden Struggles

Yesterday I found myself complaining to my daughter. The conversation began with me inquiring about how she was doing. She is expecting a baby boy next fall and has begun to return to work, and I wanted to know how she was doing. She reported she was doing well and asked about how I was doing. I replied, “I’m a bit bored.” She offered some suggestions on things I could do, much like I used to when she was young. I realised I wasn’t bored because of a lack of potential activities, if I had the motivation there were many things I could be doing. I was letting myself slip into a funk!

This brought, afresh, an awareness of how these extraordinary (the new normal?) times effect issues of mental health. All it takes is a couple of overcast days in a row and I become as gloomy as the skies. I have family and friends and activities that stimulate me, to snap me back, but too many have much less support yet ever greater need.

Every day we get several telephone calls, and text messages, from friends who struggle at the best of times. They are doing so now without their regular social network. We listen, joke, and pray with these folks. As the phone rings we guess which friend it will be on the other end. Sometimes, I confess, I answer reluctantly because I know the difficult conversation that is about to take place and I know the toll it will take on me. This toll is nothing though compared to the anxious agony my friends are enduring.

This struggle is now even more hidden than it normally is, and it is mostly hidden even then. People who suffer like this know they are not entirely welcome in society but now they are shuttered from view and thought, almost entirely.

I feel chagrined that I complained when, these dear gentle folk have to struggle with much greater issues. Their calls are at times exhausting but I admire them for their creativity in finding help in these days of isolation. They exhibit a genius in reaching out that we could all emulate.

So, I answer each call with a cheery “Hi, how are you?” knowing the answer is unlikely to be as cheery. I offer hope and at my best I receive a dose of my own medicine. I love to think about the coming Kingdom and wonder what my friends will be like when they are fully free from their illnesses and anxieties. I then begin to think of what I will be like and it leaves me with a longing for that day. I want all my friends to experience that ‘Happy Day’, and so I will continue to share the Good News of the Saviour’s love and of his coming Kingdom.

On another topic, we have a new roof on Threshold House and work to replace the entire water system will soon be underway. After that a plan for patching drywall and ceilings will go into effect as well as a renovation of classrooms into bedrooms and the creation of a shower room. We hope to start work on a promotional video soon. We ask you prayer and support for these efforts. The pandemic has hindered our plans but we are trusting God.

Forgiveness: Finding Freedom

Before the pandemic and its pandemonium, I had planned to do a series of workshops on “Finding Freedom”. I believe this is a vitally important subject. Sometimes we hear about people being caught in cycles of poverty or cycles of addiction. I would propose that a cycle of unforgiveness undergirds these other horrible cycles!

We have all been hurt but those raised in dysfunction, poverty and addiction have experienced a disproportionate amount of hurt. Circumstances have placed a heavier burden on these folks. Often they have much to forgive, and their current lives are drastically impacted by a variety of wounds.

Some of those who have been so hurt go on to hurt others. The burden of unforgiveness grows through our own need of forgiveness.

I remember a conversation with a friend who had committed unspeakable crimes in his past. He was discovering new life in Jesus and asked me, “How can I forgive myself?” After a beat I answered, “Forgiving yourself is not your job. Your job is to recall that you have been forgiven by Jesus!” Too many of carry the heavy load of guilt and self-condemnation and we need to remind ourselves that we are forgiven through Christ. “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” There are many occasions when our past rises to accuse us and our task in the present is to remember the cross and thank God that we are freed from the burden of guilt and shame.

Having discovered forgiveness through Jesus and beginning to practise living in that freedom we are now charged with the ministry of reconciliation. If we would truly be free we must forgive! Sometimes I am asked “How can I forgive after the horrible thing that person did?” In a very real sense forgiveness is not something we can either give or withhold. Our role is to simply turn people and circumstances over to Jesus for either vengeance or pardon. When we cling to the role of ‘judge, jury, and executioner’ we are rebelling against the One True Judge.

Once having turned a situation over to Jesus the hard work begins. We will be reminded again and again of our grief and grievance and each time we are to recall that we have given this over to Jesus to adjudicate. After awhile the frequency of these painful reminders will diminish. This can sometimes be shortened through ‘healing of memories’.

Life will not get easier for us as long as we hold on to resentments, no matter how aggrieved we have been. Unforgiveness does nothing to its object but only harms us.

Lately I have taken to posting tidbits of my “Finding Freedom” workshop on the Street Hope Saint John Facebook page. They have created a lot of comment and subsequent conversation, confirming the timeliness of this subject.

I hope that this fall I can finally begin these workshops. I am anxious to see what God can do through these simple biblical teachings accompanied by practical application.

We are about to begin production of a promotional video for our Threshold House project. Lately our network of people interested in this project has grown and we hope that we might soon regain momentum for this ministry which had faded a bit the last few months.

Please keep us in your prayers.

“Aah!”

For years I thought that I was not big on rituals, but I have come to realize we all have rituals. I may not have the same ones as you, but we all have rites that mean so much to us! Lately my grandson and I have formed our own little ritual. We come in from playing outside and I pour him a glass of apple juice and get a glass of water for myself. We sit at the table and take a big gulp, set down our glasses, gaze at one another and let out an “Aah!” at the same time. We had worked up a thirst and that first gulp brought us a wonderful satisfaction made all the better by sharing the moment!

We had been out in the sun playing together until our bodies told us that we needed hydration. Our first gulp did not rehydrate us. It was though deeply satisfying. It would take some time for the fluids to be restored in our bodies, but that gulp brought satisfaction. Our thirst was quenched, though the full restoration was yet in the future.

In our study of the Gospel of John we had looked at the story of the ‘Woman at the Well’. She is promised living water that would truly, lastingly, satisfy. Time and again in this Gospel we are reminded that God intends an eternal (in quantity and quality) life. This is a life of deep lasting soul satisfaction!

John urges us to believe in Jesus and receive the gift of this deeply satisfying life. When we think of this gift, it is much like the ritual the Laddybuck and I share. We express a great “Aah!” of satisfaction, though the full measure of satisfaction is yet to be fully realized. We celebrate the wonderful ‘already’ and anticipate an even more glorious ‘not yet’!

God is surely at work in us just as the gulp of water is finding its way to the dehydrated cells. We are experiencing an unfelt sanctification and one day God will welcome us fully into His fully satisfying presence. Until then together we celebrate with a great “Aah! Men Lord come quickly!”

My grandson and I both know that we will get thirsty again,(In fact if he has his way we will be thirsty again soon!) but each time we enjoy our personal rite. It is a celebration of companionship and celebration. I enjoy these times and I wonder if my Father finds as much joy when I find satisfaction for my thirsty sin sick soul as I return to Jesus who offers these waters of life. I suspect He does.

Our Street Hope ministry is not what it once was and may never be again, but I trust in the God who alone brings satisfying and abundant life. This is the source of our sure and certain hope.

God bless. <><

Announcement

In his song “It’s A Jungle Out There” Randy Newman sings “I might be wrong … but I don’t think so.” I have been thinking a lot about this because I have had an uneasy relationship with the denomination I have been raised and nurtured in for many years. That ‘unease’ has grown over the years until very recently my wife and I decided we no longer could comfortably remain. I have unwavering respect for those who feel differently. People of good will can disagree. We have decided to leave the denomination that we have long belonged to and have begun attending a Baptist church in our neighbourhood. We were drawn to this church because it is deeply embedded in our neighbourhood and has a history of reaching out in love with the clear Gospel of Jesus.

I was tempted to begin this announcement with the words “it is with a heavy heart…” but as I saw these words displayed I realised that they were not true. I rather have a sense of relief after years of agonising over differences we had with our former denomination.

I say all this to announce that in the coming weeks Linda and I look forward to being baptized. One of our several areas of tension with the Anglican Church has been around ‘believers’ baptism’. Again, I have no quarrel with those who believe otherwise, but we believe this is important.

Our various ministries will be unaffected by this decision. They are though, deeply affected by the pandemic! We do not know when or how our Drop In will start again. Playing board and card games in close proximity will not be ‘on’ for the foreseeable future. We could rejig our Drop In showing videos and having discussions, but this would be so radical a change as to be a completely different ministry.

We look to have an outdoor event at Threshold House to mark the launch of that aspect of our ministry. We have resumed some of our recovery meetings and I hope to add some more workshops and studies in the Fall.

We are now responsible for Street Hope’s share of the expenses of upkeep, maintenance, and renovations of the building. Our opportunities for fundraising have been particularly hampered by covid but we are trusting God and his people.

I have been doing Bible Studies three times a week on Facebook, and where I used to get one or two guys out to my studies I now have a range of 50 – 80 viewers of the online study. These are just those who see it on the sites I control I know of several others who share or repost them. This has been a positive and surprising result of the pandemic. If and when things return to ‘normal’ I may continue these and add in person studies.

Many were praying for me when I was appointed Interim Director and I am happy to report that I am no longer needed in that capacity. I had asked people to pray that it would be a brief and uneventful tenure and it was, for the most part. Thank you.

A Humble Man on a Mission

Many of us have had extra time to: reflect, recall, and ponder, during these last few months. I have spent some time thinking about those who have influenced me for good. This is a deliberate activity to counteract my natural bent to thinking about those who may have harmed me.

One of the most positive of influences was a most humble man. I met Jake when I first was asked to preach at the Gospel Church in our new community of Elkhorn, Manitoba. This was the first of many preaching engagements there as I preached once or twice a month for years! Jake was from a Mennonite background and though he was affiliated with this Gospel Church was still a ‘cultural’ Mennonite, holding all the values and most of the traditions of that historic community of Jesus followers.

Jake was like his friend Jesus, a carpenter but he was like Jesus in many more ways than that! Not long after our first encounter Jake invited me to join him in an outreach to the men of the Brandon Correctional Centre. For years Jake had been taking a team there each month. He was careful who to invite, his standards were high. For some reason I passed the test and soon I was privileged to be a regular member of the team. This team included Jake’s wife Nettie, a gospel band (usually a bluegrass band) and a preacher. Through Jake I met more than a few Christian Bands and with Jake made our own attempt to start our own Gospel Jamboree at our Centre in Elkhorn.

Jake was not a preacher nor was he a musician or singer. He was a humble man on a mission. He was energetic for the Gospel and had a deep passion to see people find faith and hope in his friend, Jesus. In Jake I saw an example of what God could and would do through someone who was committed to Jesus and who was not looking for credit. Jake never ‘blew his own horn’ but always encouraged others to step out in ministry. In my own halting way, I have tried to follow his example.

I was thinking of Jake and our times at the Brandon Correctional Centre, and my visits to jails and prisons right across this country, because the topic of “systemic racism” is in the forefront these days. When we would visit that centre upwards to 75% of the imprisoned were First Nation’s people while the population on the streets of Brandon would be more like 10%. I have done enough work in corrections to have a realistic view, so I know most if not all of these people committed crimes. I do not believe for a minute that racist judges or police were the reason for the disproportionate incarceration. I do believe that the larger picture demonstrates that there is something seriously wrong with the system.

I believe the answer is not so simple. How does a nation repent? What is the fruit of such repentance? If we scapegoat police we miss the point. If we dig in and blindly “support” Law and Order we miss the point. The answer is not in denial nor is it in tinkering but the messy business of recognizing and humbly addressing a justice “system” whose fruit seems unjust.

I usual try to avoid political controversy. People of all political stripes need Jesus and that is my primary concern, but some topics stir me, and I cannot help but share.

Walk for Life

Last week was a rare miss for me, as it relates to posting something in this space. I was with Linda, my grandson and members of Linda’s family, as we took part in the Saint John Pregnancy Centre’s “Walk for Life.” Other years this walk takes place as a mass gathering and people walk together but this year each ‘bubble’ walks by itself. We chose to ‘walk for life’ by hiking the Bluff overlooking the farm where Linda grew up and the valley where many of her family still live and work. This family venture seemed to honour the family values of the Pregnancy Centre where Linda has long volunteered.

bluff

As I have been reflecting on this I have realised that my entire life and ministry is motivated by my ‘pro’ life values. These days we hear the refrain “Black Lives Matter” and I totally agree. Too often this refrain is met with a response “All lives Matter” which while true is unhelpful as not all lives are endangered in the same way.

Unlike many of my evangelical brethren I believe that pro life must mean pro the born as well as the unborn. It seems the height of inconsistency to advocate the rights of the unborn and then be indifferent to their plight thereafter.

My pro-life stand goes beyond the temporal though. I read that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son so that we might have life, eternal life! Jesus said he came to that we might have life, life to the full! I feel it would be inconsistent of me to advocate for life and rights only on this temporal and temporary plane, when it is ever more vital that people find eternal and abundant life promised in the Gospel.

“Lost lives matter!” ought to be our cry as we take to the streets to effectively share the Good News of the love of God for lost and wayward humanity. When I find myself pining for the days when I could blithely attend a church service and sing at the top of my lungs, I remind myself that my satisfaction is not the goal of the Church. As I turn my nostalgic eyes off myself I can begin to imagine how I can use this time and the opportunities it brings, to share the Good News with those who have not yet responded to the message of God’s great love.

Solomon writes “To everything there is a season…” and this is certainly a season to aver that ‘Black and Indigenous Lives Matter’. Paul writes to Timothy that he is to share the Good News “in season and out of season”. Gospel sharing is always in season because it is vital.

As we launched this month into a new stage of our “Threshold House” project we are mindful that at its heart this is all about equipping people with ‘a Good News story’ to effectively share the hope that they have experienced so that others may find new and abundant life.