Good Monotony?

swing

Sameness is often wearisome to me. I have some routines that anchor my day and life but even in these routines I demand a kind of variety. It is, after all, the spice of life. Monotony is to be avoided.

This week I had a revelation! God is quite unlike me, or more correctly I am unlike God. God it seems delights in monotony. He continues to create daisies as daisies. He has the sun set day after day and rise again in the morning. God seems to delight in doing the same creative thing over and over. There is of course endless variety in creation but there is a distinct element of repetition.

This occurred to me as I prayed this week. I found myself saying “God you must tire of forgiving me for the same sin, over and over again!”  But I felt God say “I never tire of forgiving and restoring. It is for this very reason I sent my Son.” It was in that moment that my heart was gladdened to be in relationship with a God who can make monotony a creative force.

G.K. Chesterton tells us this is an aspect of God we best witness in little children. They might have an experience like being pushed high on a swing, and say with a giggle, “Do it again!” only to giggle again and make the same request. The fun only stops as the ‘adult’ tires of the monotony and the fun halts. Chesterton suggests that God is like that child. He does something wonderful and delights in it “Good, Good, Very good.” Only to do it again.

So, God delights in forgiving me, that is good news, but what does it say about how I should live? I think I might become ‘weary in well doing’ not because of exhaustion but because of a malaise of boredom. I too easily lose my wonder at the everyday miracles I see God do in people’s lives, even when God does so through me. As a ‘jaded’ adult, I have abandoned the child-like wonder which was once mine. It is to this wonder Jesus is calling me when he exhorts me to become “as a little child”.

God is wonderful! God is wonderful not just because of the delights he creates but God is wonderful because of his unchanging stability. He can be counted on to “Do it again!” God is “the  same yesterday, today, and tomorrow”.

Stability is not something I appreciate as I should. I am thankful for God’s unchanging nature. I am grateful for a stable marriage. I’m glad to live in a country of relative political stability. I believe God has called me to a creative stability as part of my ministry. I have been a part of the same community of Evangelists for over 40 years now. I continue to walk with my Street Hope friends for about 17 years now. There is something wonderful about stability, but monotony and boredom can easily rob us of our perspective, and wonder slips away, replaced by rote joyless duty.

Can I “Do it again!” with recaptured wonder and joy? With the Lords help, I believe the answer can be “Yes”. I find true hope in that.

In His Footsteps

footsteps

I found the video very affirming. It was titled “God Speed” and in it, N.T. Wright spoke about the 3 mile/hour speed of God. This is the pace that Jesus and his disciples might have walked.

As someone who has done a lot of walking I could appreciate this. In fact, my current ministry began with leisurely walks. I stopped and chatted with people on their stoops. I invited folks for coffee. I listened. I listened to people and I listened to God. Over time (too long for my impatient liking) I got to know people and their hopes and needs. I discovered avenues of ministry that would prove useful for the Kingdom. Slowly, ever so slowly, despite my reticence, folks got to know me. I was not seen as a ‘do-gooder’ who parachuted into the community, I was known as the flawed person I really am. The surprising thing was that the more people came to know me the better I was accepted! The more people knew me the opportunities to share Jesus grew exponentially!

It is funny (not funny ha ha, but ironic) that we instinctively believe a lie that if people really knew us they wouldn’t like us. The One who knows us best, loves us most! This isn’t just true of our relationship with God but also our dearest human relationships. Spouses know each other with all the flaws and ‘warts’ and love each other. Children, well know their parents flaws and mistakes, many of them were made raising them, and they love their moms and dads. Our fear is based on a lie! Only when we take the opportunity to really know and be known, can true love flourish.

Too often, though, we live in a ‘drive through’ culture. We race about in busy-ness and nominally know and are known. Our Kingdom impact is blunted through this broad way of superficiality. We think the more people we can communicate the Gospel with, the greater our impact but the reverse is probably closer to the truth.

I found it hard at first to raise enough support for my vision of a ‘micro’ ministry in the midst of a mega-church culture, but enough sweet souls have come alongside me on this 3 mph. journey that we are able to continue.

I was asked recently if the addition of Threshold House to the ministry might deflect from this 3mph. ministry and my answer is “I don’t think so.” In fact, we are looking to ‘walk’ alongside our residents in the same sort of way.

When I started this aspect of ministry I was at first also involved in College life, and then I was engaged with Corrections Canada. Now I will be involved with Threshold House alongside and as a part of my continuing 3 mile per hour ministry. Things change and they remain the same.

I am won over to the idea that if 3 miles per hour suited Jesus ministry then I will try and walk in his footsteps.

Your Super Power!

Romans 12.2

This last week I have heard or read several people as they have encouraged folks to get ready for Lent. My first and unbidden, thought was “Isn’t Lent a time of preparation and now they want me to prepare for that? Is this Baden Powell gone amok?” Sober second thought tells me that one can never be too prepared, but this incident may open a glimpse of my typical inner conversation.

I was asked once “What would you do if you were not in ministry?” I answered before I thought. If answering before thinking was a super-power I might rule the earth. (It is probably just as well that it isn’t!) My quick answer was “Stand up comedy!”

I have always thought I was funny. I amuse myself! This is one reason I am seldom lonely. Since childhood I just see things from a different angle than most people. Some say a glass is half full. Some say the glass is half empty. I think “Why is that glass so big?” Such thinking combined with a penchant for unthinking, made for an adventurous childhood. Parents and teachers and peers did not always appreciate my observations! Amusing myself with off the wall thoughts helped pass the time through hours of detentions, in school. Adults despaired that I would ever grow out of this ‘smart Alec’ phase, and I never have.

But like most misfits in school the very thing that made life difficult turned out to be the attribute that makes me useful now. Seeing things from a different angle or through a different lens has enabled me to see ‘missional’ opportunities where others have not.

In my first placement as a student I found myself sitting with a toddler watching Sesame Street. I decided to amuse her by imitating Kermit. To my surprise, I sounded much like him. I tried Bert and then Ernie. Soon I had a full-blown children’s ministry using Sesame Street puppets. While other young evangelists used their guitars, I used my quirky voices and comic bent for script writing. These characters took me all across Canada until I was finally invited out from behind the puppet theatre into pulpits.

I listened to Elders in northern communities as they told tales of life and wild life in their environs and began to use stories like Aesop did his Fables, to tell stories with a Gospel truth as ‘the moral of the story’, and by doing so earned a very respectful hearing.

I saw the opportunities to share in prison and learned to tell the good news in plain language that spoke to their needs. Prison is not a lot of laughs, so I discovered that I could earn a hearing by making them laugh, mostly through self-deprecating humour.

When I began inner-city ministry, it was through seeing life through a different lens that brought me to the ideas for: a laundry ministry, or vacation from the city ministry, or to a lavish banquet ‘Fiesta’. The list goes on, but the up shot is that seeing things differently is a useful skill.

God gives each of us unique ‘gifts’ to be used to his glory. I wonder how often adults have left behind their superpower and been conformed to this world. Instead God would like to transform that gift and renew us in the process and make us useful to his Kingdom. If he can use my silly skewed view think how he might use you! I urge you therefore sisters and brothers, to throw off the shackles of conformity and search out once more that unique gift that has been yours, and offer it to him to be renewed to his glory!

Doing Valentines Right

heart

I purposed that I would not let another Valentines Day opportunity slip by. I would make a plan!

My first creative thought was to send my bride a telegram. “No one sends telegrams any more, so this endeavour would stand out by its specialness.” Was my thought. It turns out no one sends telegrams for a reason! I’d need to come up with another way to gain my rightful acclaim for ‘doing Valentines Day up right’.

I could use money from our joint account to buy flowers. Each time I sneezed for the next week or so, before they died, would be a testament to my martyr-like affection. The fact that we might be reduced to Kraft Dinner for the last days of the month persuaded me that there was a better way to gain proper recognition for my regard.

Perhaps chocolates would be the answer, though neither of us needs the calories. Maybe I could get the milk chocolate ones I like so much (I’m sure she would share).

Then I thought about writing a Facebook post! She might not read it for hours or days, but I could get all sorts of ‘likes’ from my ‘friends’. I would look very good, indeed. At last I would get acknowledgment that I had done Valentines Day well.

I am glad God is not like me, and I bet you are too! He didn’t send his love by sending flowers or chocolate. He demonstrated his love in self-sacrifice! He quite simply gave himself through the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, and continues to give himself through the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Not through carnations but through incarnation, does God demonstrate his love.

“We love because he first loved us.” He asks us to follow his example and love him and others in like manner, not in word but in self-sacrifice.

I may not get the acclaim I yearn for, but I love best when I follow the template set by Christ. Such love has no calories and does not drain our meagre bank account, but it is a costly love.

I still have the chance to do Valentines right. Maybe I can give this a try. Care to join me?

Formative Community

Over forty years ago a group of us were sitting around the living room of the Church Army National Office/Training Centre, when the then Director of Training asked us where we would “see ourselves 10 years from now?” When my turn came I pointed back at him and said, “I want your job.” I thought he might be taken aback but he seemed quite pleased and encouraging.

I guess I  must be a slow learner because it was over 25 years later that I was asked to fill that role and I became Director of Formation at Taylor College of Mission and Evangelism. The mandate was to help “form missionaries for the 21st Century West”. I had become convinced that education/training had severe limits in the formation of such missionaries and that Christian community living was an indispensable element. I recalled my formation as being nurtured in the ‘hot house’ of Christians living together.

When my ‘experiment’ with Taylor College abruptly ended I was quite literally bitterly disappointed. I went to talk to a friend and Christian counsellor about my feelings. After listening and probing carefully he posed the question, “Do you believe that God is good?” I realised that I had begun to feel/believe that ‘it’ was all so unfair, and by ‘it’ I really meant God. This recognition brought me to repentance, and I began to be purposely thankful and just as purposely to recognize the theology behind my bitterness and avoid dwelling there.

I transferred my enthusiasm for Christian community to my work with Up Town, Community Chaplaincy, and finally Street Hope, all with varying degrees of success and heart ache. Experience teaches that glorious or ‘ecstatic’ moments in Christian community are few and fleeting, and if we spend our efforts chasing those ‘high’ moments we miss the entire point.

This was all reinforced to me as I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “Living Together”. He teaches that in chasing these moments we idealise them and make them idols. Life with Christ is the point of all Christian community, which means it is lived out in humble service to one another in the very mess of life. It is easy to love my sister or brother when we are ‘caught up’ in a moment of praise and worship but that is about a feeling rather than seeing love as a verb with a thousand and one practical applications. Love is practised in the mess of life rather than in a pristine chapel. I relish the opportunities to pour coffee and listen carefully as my friends ‘pour out their hearts’. I welcome the opportunity to stoop and tie a shoelace or wipe up a spill. More and more I see this ‘love in action’ become contagious. People have begun to serve me. Folks bring bags of chips or tins of coffee. They set up tables and chairs and put out the games. They tear it all down again and sweep and smile! Together we are being fashioned in the image of our Servant King.

I look forward to many more, and perhaps more intense, experiences of Christian Community, when we open Threshold House for residential and non-residential Christian Community.

In our Home Church we have been looking at the story of Joseph. He had a dream that took a long, long time to fulfill. There were some terrible and unexpected turns along the way, finally his dreams did come to pass. Mayhap this is true in my case.

 

Demands of Citizenship

I have been reading the story of the Exodus. On its face it is a marvellous story of deliverance from enslavement to freedom. It is that and much more. As I read it today I see how the miraculous deliverance was the prelude to a more daunting task.

The people were saved from the oppressor and God’s plan did not stop there. His purposes included making a ‘peculiar’ people. People whose citizenship would no longer be in the Kingdom of Pharaoh, but in the Kingdom of God. I say that this is the more daunting task because the prior deliverance required only miracle after miracle as God intervened, in history, to bring about the salvation of the people. This next task requires the willing participation of the ‘saved’. God alone could save but true citizenship would need to be the choice of frail humanity!

God provides evidence of his faithfulness and ushers in the new ethic of the Kingdom of God. The people enjoyed the manna. They ate up the quail. They stood in awe of the Shekinah glory. They witnessed the transfiguration of Moses’ face. Still they longed for the savour of the leeks of captivity!

Later Christ (the greater Moses) brought deliverance and salvation. He taught the ethic of the Kingdom, that was to be marked by love. He showed what citizenship really looks like in the Red Letters especially what we call “The Sermon on the Mount”. He sends the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to help us live into this Kingdom.

Perhaps our deliverance was, like the Exodus, the easier miracle! Here in the West the Church of Jesus is all too often indistinguishable from the Kingdom of this World. We resemble Pharaoh more than Christ. Even in the pursuit of perhaps laudable goals, the Church takes up carnal weapons. Any victories are likely to be empty. No where in God’s rule do the ends justify the means.

It has always been unpopular to call people away from popular values of the culture, yet this is our collective calling. This is the task for which we have the Paraclete! If we only invite people to ‘get saved’ we shortchange both them and the Gospel. We call people out of darkness and we call them into Light.

To be about this task we must live our lives under Christ’s Reign as citizens of his Kingdom. We will certainly do this imperfectly and we ought to admit our failures and go ahead in assurance of his pardon. Only in this way are we truly ‘peculiar people’. It is through this peculiarity that we become attractive to those ensnared in this present darkness. As visible citizens we point to our King.

Our King is entirely capable, and he looks only for our frail cooperation.

On June 1st Threshold House will become the permanent home of Street Hope Saint John. We are excited and daunted by the challenges ahead. Would you stand with us in prayer and if you are able help us in our growing financial responsibilities.

Stories in Serial

story telling

Like an old-fashioned serial, that is how I have approached our weekly “Word From Our Sponsor” these past few weeks. We have been taking a peek at a variety of episodes in the life of Gideon, complete with cliff hangers!

We began by meeting Gideon, who from all appearances was less than heroic. He was cowering in a winepress threshing his bit of wheat, hiding from marauding Midianites. We can relate to his fear and the measures he took to protect what little was his own, but he is no role model for bravery. At this very juncture the Lord appears to him and addresses him. How does the Lord address him? “Frightened?”, or “Timid”? No! He is described as “A mighty man of valour”! At this point in the story we stop and chat about the verse from 1 Samuel 16:7 “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” People and things are not as they appear to be. God sees past the immediate and sees what can be under his hand. As we gather for our Friday Night Drop In, there are few less impressive crowds. The ‘world’ does not esteem us. God however sees us quite differently, both because he knows our intrinsic value to Him, but also he knows who we are in potential. He is changing us! We are being “transformed from glory to glory”.

I see the changes in my friends over the years. The folks from the Parole Office have noted the difference in people who chose to ‘hang out with us’ and those who don’t! Folks who hang with Jesus experience change.

I used to travel the Prairies preaching and teaching. Often I took people along with me to share their stories of change. One woman used to say, “ I know I am not what I ought to be, but I thank God I am not what I was.” If any of us take time to look ‘in the rear-view mirror’ we will be able to note the change. We may rightly be frustrated at the slow pace of change, at times, but God is transforming his people.

C.S. Lewis writes that if we could be transported and see what we will one day be, that the being we would encounter would be so glorious that we would be tempted to worship it. If in the space of the few years we have been meeting, first as Up Town and then as Street Hope, we have witnessed such amazing change, can you imagine what we will be after ten thousand years of basking in his glory! Hymn writer John Newton says, “When we’ve been there 10 thousand years, … we’ve no less days to sing his praise than when we’d first begun.”

There is a glorious future in store for our friend Gideon and there is an equally glorious future in store for all who give their lives to God.

Over the course of our Gideon Serial we have seen him take baby steps, and halting steps. He moves from hiding in a winepress to a sneaky obedience in the dark of night, and then to cower behind his father who confronts an angry mob. We see him testing God and growing slowly in his prayer life.

We are in the mid point of our serial and folks are so curious that they are reading ahead. They cannot wait for the next installment. I think we may have hit on a really effective means of group discipleship! I too, am enjoying it, because I love to tell a good story and the Gospel remains “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

Balancing the Books

inventory

I was asked this week how I got so involved in the world of recovery since I was never alcoholic or a drug abuser. I started using the 12 Steps when I was first diagnosed as having PTSD some twenty years ago. In most of that time I had little understanding of how these steps worked or how to work them These last few years I have learned so much more and am grateful to all my transparent teachers and guides.

One of the most helpful things about these steps is the prominent place self examination has in it. Early on I was introduced to the concept of a “fearless moral inventory”. The way I ‘learned’ and applied this was; I looked at my past, and present and itemised my character flaws and personal failings, I looked at those I had harmed. This came pretty naturally to me, for I am an introspective person. Like most things we learn and apply, though, I had more to learn and I did just in the past few weeks!

I sometimes find myself free on a Tuesday night and go to the Celebrate Recovery Program in our area. A little over a week ago they were focused on the concept of this inventory. The speaker shared about the need for a balanced inventory. This may well have been said in my presence before, but I heard it that night. The penny dropped! (I decided to use this phrase while there is still a collective memory of pennies) My fearless moral inventory had, rightly,  been on my defects but God’s promise is not limited to victory over these but of a new and abundant life. My new inventory will include: the gifts God has given me, the things for which I am thankful, and my reasons for hope.

After worship and a teaching or testimony, people break off into supportive groups. Usually I go to the A – Z group which is a catchall kind of group. But last week I noticed there was a group for PTSD folks, and I decided to venture into that group. It had been much easier to fade into the background with the bigger group but in this gathering of 5 of us there was no fading. The sharing was raw and intense. It was a wonderful experience to be with men who understood the issues of PTSD. I have had much healing in this area but in many social situations I can still battle a rush of adrenaline with the accompanying ‘fight or flight’ reflex. Most people do not understand this battle, but these guys got it! I don’t know what practical difference that makes but I feel a bit lighter as a result.

We are looking to establish a firm date at which Threshold House will become the permanent home for Street Hope (we plan to continue our Drop In at Stone Church). Upon that date our ministry will be assuming our share of related costs of the building and full unfettered access to its precincts. It is my hope to then have a Grand Opening this year of our Street Hope home with another event the following year as we launch our Threshold House project. All this requires continuing prayer and financial support.

An Epiphany … of sorts

After a bit of a whirlwind Christmas season, I had an Epiphany! True satisfaction in life is found in striving… but this “striving” is “Let us therefore strive to enter his rest…”(Hebrews 4:11).

Striving and resting seem polar opposites. Eugene Peterson in the Message cites Jesus as saying “Come to me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28 – 30).

When we begin to understand the freedom from worldly burdens that Jesus invites us to experience, we should be incentivised to strive.

You sometimes hear of people taking to something “like a duck to water” but I don’t think I have ever learned anything of value without effort. I have picked up bad habits with ease, but value comes at a price! If I am going to learn the “unforced rhythms of grace”, I will need to unlearn the forced rhythms which have become natural to me! I love to learn things. I relish reading and learning. Even though it takes efforts I enjoy it. However, unlearning is a difficult process! Yet if I don’t strive to eliminate the unproductive ways I leave no room in my life for the new Kingdom oriented ways.

I am about the fastest ‘one finger’ typers I know. I have tried to learn to type properly but I get frustrated because I can type so much faster ‘my way’ than Mavis Beacon’s way. I know, intellectually, that if I stick at it the final outcome will likely be a faster process but my short term need to accomplish tasks causes me to revert to my trusted one finger. I excuse myself with the old saw about “old dogs and new tricks”.

This is not a vitally important element of my life, but it is too easily applicable to spiritual areas of my life. It takes so much effort to change (repent) and truly follow Jesus in simple unforced rhythms. I need to become like a child (I think Jesus said that!) and learn as I did when I was child and began to walk and talk and care for myself and others. This slows me down and is initially filled with effort. The payoff promised makes any  struggle pale in comparison! Yet like my typing skills I have learned coping skills. Coping is so much less than Kingdom living, but I settle!

Learning these unforced rhythms makes me think of eating soup with my other hand. It is not a skill that comes naturally to me. It takes concentration, patience, and good humour. I will undoubtedly make a mess of it! In the end, though, I can get it!

I can live a contented life without ever eating soup with my ‘wrong hand’ but I can apply the image and as the writer of Hebrews says, “strive to enter his rest”.

2020 appears to be a year of change for Street Hope. We have a class of 6 of us who will be taking a 10 week course on evangelism. I believe this will mark a new phase for the ministry when people who have been in our orbit for some time are equipped to make a greater impact on our community. After that we will be offering a Finding Freedom workshop. We will also be preparing Threshold House for its next purpose as home for our Christian Community. I am going to be letting some things go in order to concentrate on these things and I am seeking prayer and counsel as I undertake this. It is an exciting time and a time, above all, when I need to strive to be in his rest, yoked with him in this labour.

 

It is About Time!

Janus

Janus, the god whose name inspired this month’s moniker, was literally two-faced. He looked backward and forward at the same time. During this month of January, we often do likewise.

Though God stands outside of time itself, the Scriptures speak a lot about time and how we should look at it.

Much of scripture invites us to look back. We are invited to recall the actions of God in history, actions of vindication and deliverance. The chief things we are prompted to recall is the Exodus from slavery and our redemption at the cross. Looking back at these divine activities is intended to strengthen us and correct us in the present.

Too often, though, we look back at hurts and harbour resentments, or we look back at some ‘golden age’ when things were better. We look back not just in nostalgia but in regret that those days are gone. This is a poor practice of looking back. Churches can fall prey to this. We remember days when the Church was full. We remember that no minister was as good as the last one. We pine for days that never really were and will never come again. This type of recollection leads to a deep dissatisfaction which is antithetical to the “abundant life” Jesus promised.

Another great theme of the Bible is the future. Much of the writing of the prophets concerns the future. Paul in Romans reminds us that all creation is anticipating the future in which all things will be made right. The Church looks and longs for the ‘Soon Coming King’. We live in hope of restoration. We are a very future oriented people!

Many churches have become obsessed with the future. The major sport is that of ‘casting vision’ for the future. Goals are set and members roll up their sleeves to pursue this preferred future. If by grace they achieve the goal they set another to work on. This can be good and can accomplish much, however it can create an unholy discontentment. Paul writes to Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)

There is another time that Janus does not seem to note. It is the present! Today is the day! Today is the day in which we can remember. Today is the day in which we can work and plan. Today in fact is the only day we have! And yet we too often imperil today by trying to live in the past (as if we could) or living solely for the future.

I am reminded of the old Harry Chapin song “Cats in the Cradle” in which the singer squandered the present while working tirelessly for the future.

I have been giving this a lot of thought because I could easily become distracted by the future that I would miss the abundant living which can only take place ‘today’. Balance would seem to be the key. We hear most Sundays “Recalling His death (past) we proclaim His resurrection (present) and look for His coming (future).” As in so many areas of our life if we don’t get the balance right our best intentions pave our way to …..

It is about time we got the balance right.