The Highly Resistible Church

Jesus seemed to be pretty well liked. The crowds were drawn to him. The sick and the sinner alike flocked to him. The only ones who did not ‘take a shine’ to him were those of the “temple” and the “empire”. The religious world had a vested interest in the status quo. The ruling powers of the world did not want their ‘apple cart’ upset.

The early church was much the same. Daily it grew, as the Lord added to its numbers, but there was opposition. Those of the ‘temple’ and the ‘empire’ resisted. Despite such opposition the Church grew from a handful to an ever-increasing movement! In the face of hostility from the two most powerful forces of the day irresistibly the church thrived.

As I reread the above paragraphs I am struck with the question, “What in the world happened?”. In a day when the powers of ‘empire’ do not persecute the church. I say this despite the oft heard whining of people about “cancel culture” and other attacks on long-held values. Comparing these experiences to the out and out opposition of the empire of old is beneath us! The religious world in the west (the temple) is dominated by the church. In such friendly circumstances rather than thriving the church is withering.

This withering may be the result of a most tenuous relationship with “the Vine”. Where Jesus (the True Vine) identified with the least and the lost, and resisted temporal means to accomplish spiritual ends. The temptations in the wilderness are a testament to this. The church like Judah before exile is looking to make an alliance with Egypt. The Church has become so cosey with the empire in the west that we have adopted the world’s values and the world’s methods.

Jesus was well-liked and his Body is disliked or seen as irrelevant. This is the saddest of all ironies! The way back is a radical realignment of our allegiances. We can not give first place to the ‘empire’, nor to the ‘temple’. The first Commandment is still in force. “Thou shall have no other gods before Me.” If power, either religious or secular society is our prime focus we will remain unattractive to the least and the lost. But as we regain vigour through our radical identification and emulation of Jesus, we may again become the irresistible Church of the first few centuries.

Lately things have begun to move with our Threshold House project. Out of the blue I got a call from a gentleman who is in leadership with a large local ‘Celebrate recovery’ program, and he would like to volunteer with us. Another leader of a ‘Celebrate Recovery’ group from the inner-city called and we met for coffee to plan ways we might work together. I am meeting Monday with another person who may be a key piece of our project going forward. Expenses are about to escalate significantly but God is supplying, through the generosity of his saints.

Next month we are holding a barbecue on the grounds of Threshold House. An area-wide youth outreach program will be helping with this venture. Our hope is this will bring energy and awareness of of our mission.

God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!

Already …. but Not Yet!

Often in theological conversation we hear the phrase “already but not yet”, to describe our current ‘age’. The King has come! Christ is risen! A new day has dawned and is still dawning. The end is inevitable we await but the epilogue. It will be the longest epilogue ever, for it will last eternity.

From the cross come the words “It is finished.” Satan’s seeming victory is dramatically snatched away and his death throes begin.

We live in that in between space where the work is indeed finished, and things have not yet been fully ‘put right’ under the Dominion of Christ. We continue in our struggle against; sin, the flesh and the devil and we do so in full knowledge that Christ has died, Christ is Risen, and Christ will come again. The struggle is real and the ultimate victory is realer as we live by faith.

I have been thinking about this “already but not yet” state lately. I am reminded of it during this pandemic. Today I get my second vaccination. It has been a strange and grace filled journey! I was not expecting to be ‘fully’ vaccinated so soon. Late in March our province had a supply of vaccine designated for teachers. I was really happy about this because our son is one of these ‘front line’ workers and both he and his wife are immune deficient. However just before the teachers were to get ‘jabbed’ questions arose about reactions occurring in those under 55. The teachers’ vaccinations were halted and the province briefly opened up the possibility to the general public over 65. Our disappointed son called me to tell me this and within the two hours before all the appointments were booked we got on the list and were inoculated on April Fools day. The other day we heard on the radio that there were doses of our vaccine (Astrazenica) which had to be used very soon before they expired. I called in and made an appointment for today. This will mean that two weeks from now we will have effective protection from the ravishes of covid! Practically speaking, though, not much will change for us until the province around us ‘catches up’ but our hearts and minds are at rest, as we wait in the “already but not yet” phase.

There is a hope for victory over covid but an even more wonderful hope for the Lord’s return and the putting right of all things.

“Boldly Go…”

Talk about no good deed going unpunished, Peter and John spent the night in the pokey for healing a lame man, in the name of Jesus. They sit through a stern lecture and return home and join in the ongoing ‘Prayer Meeting’. Rather than praying “Whew, that was close!” they pray “Sovereign God … grant your servants to speak your word with boldness.”

I have been challenged to add this brief prayer to my daily devotions. ‘Boldness’ does not mean rudeness or loudness, but rather fearlessness. Too often through fear I resist speaking of Jesus and all that he means to me. The fear can be that I will not have adequate words, or that I may be asked a question I cannot satisfactorily answer or that I will strain a relationship.

Let me address this latter fear. My fear might come because I misunderstand boldness for inappropriate and careless speech. The same Peter from our story elsewhere advises that we speak “with gentleness and respect”. He sees no contradiction between the two ideas. As I share my beliefs and experience with those who may not share them, I give them an opportunity they might not have had to consider Jesus, and he is certainly worthy of consideration. If my friend does not immediately and gladly receive Jesus, they have not rejected me. Fear of this kind of rejection is simply based on wrong thinking!

I am finding that adding this simply prayer to my routine does several things. It makes me sensitive to opportunities. I sometimes realize in the moment and silently re-pray the prayer and ‘step up’, or I recognize my failure in retrospect and repent. It also gives me a sense of anticipation each day, as I wonder what encounters lay before me each day. It shakes me from a complacency in my faith life.

It amazes me at the dividends a five second investment prayer can bring!

I have also been challenges to intentionally add my proximate neighbours into the neighbours I am to love. I take a few minutes each day to lift them to God in prayer including any specific needs I might be aware of, but also praying that I might be able to be a ‘good neighbour’ and ambassador.

These two small additions add so much value to my day! I highly recommend them. A couple of small additions to your prayer can have an outsized impact on your life. Give it a try.

Bring Hope

I find myself recalling witnessing a fire being ‘fanned into flame’. The fire had all but gone out and the embers were beginning to cool but a fresh breeze brought it back to life.

After over a year of covid I was beginning to wonder if my zeal for the vision of Threshold House had waned, like a fire going out. The venture has been so bogged down due to this pandemic and early momentum lost, that the ‘embers’ seemed to be cooling.

Recently I felt constrained to “lift up my head”, to make a firm decision and set a fixed date to begin. We will be opening our doors September 6th. We will be proclaiming  “the Year of the Lord’s Favour” for up to 4 residents at Threshold House. We are currently accepting applications for acceptance into our Christian Community.

The goal is to accept men who have come to find their hope in Jesus and by creating a unique network of support around each, and by living in a Christian community for 1 year, help them become people who can effectively bring hope to others. In this way our small ministry can multiple our reach and have ;an outsized’ affect on our wider community, bringing fresh hope to our streets.

After a year we will do it again, and again, flooding our community with ‘hope bringers’. We also plan to increase our housing capacity and release more ‘hope bringers’ in coming years.

In Lamentations 2:19, the ‘Weeping Prophet’ call us to cry out in the night for the children that are dying at the head of every street. In his day, the deaths were due to starvation because Jerusalem was under siege. In our day, the obituary pages are replete with deaths due to addiction. Every week our community is losing people because people are losing their battle with addiction. We believe the only way to stem that life loss is through the hope that is found in God alone.

This is a time of urgency! In 1 Corinthians 16:9 Paul says, “for a door for effective service has opened to me”. This is a time of great opportunity, but he continues “there are many adversaries.”  This is not an easy path and if we are to make the difference which I believe we can, we must do it together.

You have opportunity to be involved. We need: prayer support, volunteers (no special skills are needed but a heart that cares for people), finances (all donations are tax deductible), and donations of bedroom furnishings.

The Lord loves a cheerful giver. What is that? Someone who gives what the Lord asks not a penny more (or you may be proud) and not a penny less (or you may feel guilty).The road has been long, but we must not falter now. Please take this appeal to prayer and ask God how you can assist. Then cheerfully follow his will.

Every blessing.

Reed

Neighbours and Neighbourliness

A rudimentary scan of scripture will soon tell us that God is interested in our neighbour. He is also vitally interested in our neighbourliness! His interests ought to be ours as well.

The latter portion of Jesus’ summary of the “Law” calls for love of neighbour. Seeking clarification, or more likely limitation, the young man asks, “Who is my neighbour?” Like so many wrongly motivated questions, Jesus does not directly answer. Instead, he goes on to give an expansive view of what it is to be a ‘neighbour’. He answers in this way because any objective reading of scripture will reveal who God considers to be our neighbour. The list is both succinct and sprawling. It is all those we meet, those created, like us, in His image. The scriptures also highlight a subset for special neighbourly attention. Time and time again we read reminders of our neighbourly responsibility to: widows, the poor, and orphans. Jesus is less concerned with again enumerating this list. Malachi reminds us that we know what God requires! Jesus seems more intent on our obedience than on a vain repetition of that which has already been made clear.

I suggest that the great challenge for Christians and the Christian Church is the challenge of neighbourliness. We cannot claim to be fulfilling the first part of the summary, that is “Love the LORD your God” if we falter at the latter portion. “Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of God, but the one that does the will of my Father.”

‘Church Growth’ has become an industry in the West. Many churches are shrinking and turn to extra biblical experts for advice. I would propose that a better use of time, treasure and talent would be to seek ways to increase in neighbourliness. If members individually and corporately concentrated on this the influence of the Gospel would grow and so would the Kingdom.

Perhaps we need to examine our priorities. Such examination might well lead to repentance. Neighbourliness is not beyond us. We have it in us. We only need to work it out. To do this effectively we will need to partner with God the Holy Spirit, asking help to see and serve our neighbour, knowing that as we serve the least of these we serve Him.

One of my personal frustrations, this past year, has been that I rarely interact with my neighbours. We isolate to protect our neighbour that we seldom see. I find I need to rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to show me how I might love my neighbour who I do not see. In prayer, recently, I was reminded that I love God though I have not seen him. This illustrates that physical sight is unnecessary for love. I can find creative and prayerful ways to bless my neighbour.

Room for You Too

Over the last year we have become very familiar with the rooms in our homes. Many have spent the entire 525,600 minutes within these familiar rooms. So long has it been that it may seem like an eternity. We grow weary of these walls and long for a more expansive land.

In times of such longing, I visit some rooms beyond my room. In my imaginings I visit the rooms that Jesus has gone before to prepare. I do not think I shall ever tire of these rooms though eternity becomes real.

I marvel in the Court Room. It is here that divine justice is meted out firmly and finally. It is here where all things are made ‘Right’. Before the majestic Judgement Seat, I stand as the gavel bangs like Thor’s hammer and the verdict rings out, “Not Guilty”. It is here in the Courtroom that I dance the dance of the ‘foul made free’. Filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory, I am eternally grateful to the one who became sin so that I might be made right with God and His Kingdom. With the hosts of Heaven, I too could sing of His love forever. The wonder of it all is too marvellous for me. I could gladly camp in this room and never venture beyond.

But God’s lavish love calls me on to other equally majestic and wonderful rooms. Love constrains me into the Family Room. I have been adopted into the very family of God! It may have seemed, to me, enough to be rescued, but God has more and more in store. He invites me to intimate familial relationship. Though I may count it a joy to be a doorkeeper in the House of the Lord, he calls me his child. Now in a relationship unfettered from my selfishness and sin our relationship soars to heights beyond all that I could ask or imagine.   

There are other rooms to visit. There are depths of love yet unplumbed! Eternity may not be long enough to  explore them all.

Here and now though, I sit in my sick room. I have had a bad chest cold for almost a fortnight. For some reason (perhaps exposure to asbestos years ago) my lungs are susceptible to such cold. The last time I had such a cold it knocked me for about a month. This is one reason I have been particularly careful of covid 19. I do not think I would do well if I got it. I was pleased last week when my covid test came back negative. I knew that I would probably survive!

While I may have an extended visit in this world’s sick room I can escape to visit these other rooms knowing that one day it will not be for a social call but for ever.

There is room in his heart for you!

More Like Him

This week I had opportunity to spend time with two guys I do not see often during this pandemic. They have some interesting things in common. I am blessed to know them both and honoured to have them think of me as a friend.

C. suffered a life altering brain injury when he was a child. His father beat him so badly that his brain was damaged leaving him quite simple. He has suffered a lifetime of rejection and ridicule but somehow has managed to be a loving and caring human. He has been in lots of trouble in his life, mostly because he is easily led into activities he would not naturally choose. A few years ago, when his dad had a stroke he moved in with him and fed and cared for him, while other family members did not. He loves God and says that it is God’s love that helps him.

He called me because he was distressed that someone had been particularly cruel to him. He knew that his “peace” was shattered, and he wanted me to pray with him that he would forgive and move forward in the “peace of Jesus”. We chatted for a while and we prayed over the phone. By the time he said “Amen” his voice and demeanor changed. That quickly he was restored to his usual attitude of simple benevolence for all those around him.

I want to be more like him!

Another fellow had suffered a life changing brain injury through a traffic accident when he was a toddler. Besides his cognition problems he has some physical issues including speech difficulties. Conversations with him are painful both for him and his listener. I often have to ask him to repeat what he says. As soon as our province allowed coffee shops to reopen the phone rang and I knew who it was. We met and had a grand time together! My friend is one of the ‘essential workers’ everyone appreciates with words of praise. He holds two jobs cleaning so people in his apartment building are safe and so university students can return to safe classrooms. Outside the generic praise for ‘essential workers’ as a group, there is little tangible appreciation for my friend. He is more likely to be ridiculed than encouraged. He too loves Jesus and looks to him for ‘peace’.

I want to be more like him!

Our society too often has upside down values. We fail to recognize the wonderful and rich virtues of these simple and heroic gentle men. Jesus was “despised and rejected by men”. We continue this poor track record!

On another note, I had an unique opportunity this week. I was invited to preach to a congregation in Edmonton. Since last March I have only preached once (at my own baptism) and so this was a treat. I recorded a message and sent it off. A year ago I would never have thought of doing such a thing nor would I have the tools or ability to do so. God is good!

Growing in a Pandemic

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

I was in conversation with someone recently about the topic we all chat about, the pandemic. My friend said something that caught my attention. “I think the Church will survive this.” I was a bit taken aback because the Word of God tells us that very “gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church. The end, for us, is not in question but the means certainly are. Rather than bemoan the changes that have been forced on the church, and impatiently waiting for things to get back to normal, we would do well to ask, “What are the lessons we can learn?”, and “How can we apply new learning to our future?”

There are certainly things we miss, during these times. We are not able to physically gather and so miss many of the best experiences of corporate worship. I too look forward to the time we are together to practise our faith corporately in these familiar and biblical ways, but I do want to suggest that we can learn and grow thrivingly during these times!

The western church often seems rife with consumerism. People hop from church to church looking for the brand that will best ‘feed their souls’. Often I have heard people exit a church with the phrase “I was not being fed.” This tells much about our mindset and the mindset of many ‘attraction modeled’ churches.

As a lay person, I want to say that a pastor who is the sole source of spiritual nutrition does that church a disservice and individuals who rely only on pastoral teaching are bound to be anemic.  Amy Grant used to sing about “Fat Baby” Christians. These Christians drank only the milk fed to them and never fed themselves.

Psalm 1 describes a flourishing Christian as a tree planted by the water. The tree is placed in a location that makes growth possible and all but inevitable. The tree only has to sink its roots! Sometimes a horticulturist ‘forces’ the plant by drastically changing the environment. I believe we are in a time where God is forcing us to sink our roots.

Sinking roots is an individual exercise to which corporate worship is a complement. Jesus calls us and we respond personally, and this is how we grow. It is an individual sport!

During this time of Covid we have the supreme opportunity to sink our roots. When we do so we will be richer and better able to encourage one another when we can resume corporate meetings.

There are many ways of sinking our roots, but I want to suggest three.

Reading scripture meditatively.

Praying conversationally.

Obeying consistently.

These practises do not need a lot of explanation. Part of feeding yourself may be in figuring this out for yourself. I do want to emphasize obeying though! If we read God’s Word and converse with him but do not incarnate what we have come to know and experience, we remain ‘fat baby Christians’. When we intentionally sink our roots in this way we can count on God to do His work. If we work on the roots He will take care of the fruits.

Eyes To See

Today the Christian Church looks to the cross. The world gazes on and wonders.https://www.livescience.com/63645-optical-illusion-young-old-woman.html

I am reminded of Elisha’s prayer for his servant “Open his eyes!” The world it seems have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear. Like Elisha we should pray “Lord, please open their eyes” By a miracle of grace my eyes were opened, and I see the awful beauty of the cross. The hymn writer pens “Did ever such love and sorrow meet?”

I am reminded of a variety of op art pieces. There is a surface image, but the mysterious other image is not discernible to us. We stare and stare but until our eyes ‘are opened’ we do not see beyond our initial view. Then suddenly and mysteriously our eyes are opened, and we see through the mystery which is hidden in plain sight. After seeing it we wonder how we or anyone else could miss it. Now that we see it we can never look at the image the same again. We glance away and the glance back and the once hidden image is clearly apprehended.

To the world the cross is but jewellery or a foolish instrument of death akin a gallows or electric chair. But to those whose eyes have been opened the cross holds so much more. When our eyes are opened it resembles clicking on an icon on our desktop. We find so much more behind the icon when our eyes are opened.

We see the place where life begins for us. We ‘click’ on the cross and we understand scripture itself. We find life and health and healing. All this waits beyond the icon that is the cross and we need eyes to see.

The opening of eyes is a specialty of the Lord. In fact, only He can. On this Good Friday and going forward let us pray this simple prayer that God would open the eyes of those we love. Let us pray with thanksgiving because he and he alone, has opened our eyes to the marvellous beauty of the cross!

“How Do They ‘Hear’ Without Someone to Proclaim?”

Can I impress you that guilt is the poorest of motivators for people to seek the help and healing Jesus offers? Too often this is the message that those ‘outside’ the four walls of our church building ‘hear’. It may not even be what the church is communicating or trying to communicate but it is what is ‘heard’.

Jesus says he does not come to condemn but to save (John 3:17). The Adversary is the one who condemns, and he needs no help! The Gospel is the good news of God’s love and invitation to a lost and hurting humanity. It is this love and invitation that marks a fruitful presentation of the Gospel.

I see people who draw near because of their pain. They are all too aware of the wreckage that has become their life. They often hesitate from true repentance because they fear facing this wreckage and reliving the pain! They cannot bear to look at it one more time. Life has become an exercise in avoiding or numbing these events and feelings.

If we have not communicated by word and deed, the love of God, our friends will not feel safe enough. The idea of bringing all that hides in the darkness into the light is beyond daunting if there is no hope of acceptance and forgiveness.

Such ‘word and deed communication’ is vital if we are to succeed in fruitful Christian life. We spend too little time examining what we are communicating. I think we need to pause often and ask, “What are we saying to the world around?” Perhaps we could even ask folks outside our church family what they are ‘hearing’ from us.

Is our energy geared toward this declaration and demonstration of God’s love, in Christ? Do our services and programs tell the good news and equip people to live it out?

Too often I see people come with all their painful baggage. It is hidden away in darkness. They come looking for relief, but the proper groundwork has not yet been done. Like the hard packed soil in Jesus’ parable, they are resistant from real hope and change. Much work needs to be done to prepare this ‘soil’. This is not the work of the desperate person in pain. It is the groundbreaking work of the Church as it demonstrates tangibly the love of God in Christ.

I think I know, a bit, what Jesus felt as he saw the rich young ruler walk away. I see people come only to go. They go back to the darkness rather than bring those actions and feeling into the light. They do not yet feel safe enough to revisit that vile past. Who could blame them? Until we effectively demonstrate God’s inviting love, only the bravest will come.

I do not think we can be satisfied with that ‘harvest’. I believe that the world is still ‘white unto harvest’ if together we can share and show the love of God in Christ to the world. This may require considerable repentance but we of the Church can safely do so because we have received the love of God through faith in Jesus.

My $0.02 worth!