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Not On My Account




“How did I wind up here?” This is a question that pops into my mind occasionally. It leaped to mind again this week. It was a Charles Dickens kind of week “It was the best of times it was the worst of times.”

The week started with the opportunity to be the Bible Teacher at Cornerstone Baptist Church’s Mission Conference. I really enjoyed this. I do not get the chance to preach often lately. During my last year in Manitoba I preached over 300 times in a year but life on the streets of Saint John does not offer the same openings. In the morning I got to share about the doctrine of the Incarnation, the enfleshing of the Word! This wonderful truth is both a motivator and an example of mission activity.  In the evening I unpacked 1 Peter 3:15 and shared the practise of leading intentional and missional lives. It was a great time. When I preach I feel the ‘winds of God’ and it is a delight!

The week also started with the surgeon’s knife hanging , like the sword of Damocles, over my daughter-in-law. She had had her leg amputated below the knee but infection had set in. If it did not clear more radical surgery would be needed. This second operation was necessary and she lost more of her leg. It seems that she is beginning to heal alright but it has been a terribly rough road.

We experienced a rough road of our own this week. The notorious roads of Saint John struck our car. A hole was ripped in our oil pan and the car soon sputtered to a halt. Replacing the engine with a used one was the best prescription we received. We sadly said good bye to our little Street Hope Mobile and purchased a used and much higher sitting Jeep Compass. From now on despite rough roads we will be ‘riding high’.

The car salesman asked me about financing. I said that I could get financing easily. I went on “Credit is not my problem, cash is.”   Banks seem to love me. I am inundated with offers to borrow more money. I have resisted taking them up on these wonderful offers because I know that they will want it back plus interest.

How does one survive a time of disappointment and pain like this? Like my monetary situation I do not have the reserves to meet these challenges but as I trust in Christ these resources are credited to me and the true wonder is that this extension of credit comes without cost to me. Jesus has paid for it all. The words “It is finished” shouted from the cross are words right out of the world of commerce. Today we would say “Paid in full!”

Life does not go as I would have it. I find myself pleasantly surprised sometimes and knocked for a loop other times. I lack the resources to meet life’s challenges let alone thrive but by faith I find, in Him what I so desperately lack. I am a mess and He is the Messiah.

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An Evening of Wistfulness


Linda and I attended a Celtic music concert this week. It was a very nostalgic event, not because of the music, though it was wonderful, but because of the setting. It was the Sanctuary Theatre which was formerly Germain Street Baptist Church. During my last years at Taylor College this church became our laboratory. It was there students did practical placements. It was there that we shared our chapel services with whatever neighbours wanted to drop by. Right after chapel students, staff and guests would sit down to lunch together.

I remember Roger who used to join us. He was a very picky eater but loved Boston Cream Donuts. George Eves would bring Roger’s favourite for him and Roger knew that someone thought he was special!

I remember Chris who used to come to chapel and lunch. He began to really admire the faith of some of our students. It was after a Christmas Party that he asked two of our students how he could have what they had. They spoke with him and prayed with him and he became an excited follower of Jesus. Later he was to move into our residence space with three other friends we had made during our time at this sanctuary. They lived with us for several years!

I remember when Linda would volunteer with The Pregnancy Resource Centre as it had one of its early homes here. It was here they hosted their first “Home With a Heart” equipping young mothers for the challenges of parenthood.

It was here in the south end of Saint John that students learned compassion. It was here that I met many of the folks who remain a part of my life to this day.

I remember the last time I was in that sanctuary. We were having a Memorial Service for Carolyn. Carolyn had lost a valiant battle with cancer. During the battle she had managed to graduate from our College and conquer the hearts of those she encountered. We had the memorial at Germain St. because so many of our friends had grown to love Carolyn and were drawn to Jesus by her life. Together we celebrated her life as person after person spoke of how she had touched their lives. I was privileged to bring the message that day and tell of the Saviour Carolyn had lived for.

I enjoyed the; harp, whistle, accordion, fiddle, and step dancing, but my strongest impression was nostalgia and gratitude. The flood of memories made for a special evening indeed!


Making Sense of Suffering

This week I have had a great number of conversations about suffering. Suffering is never far from any of us and it has been an intimate of my daughter-in-law for years now. She has suffered from migraines which have robbed her life of so much quality. Almost every time we meet for our Street Hope ‘Study and Prayer’ someone prays for her. Day after day, year after year we have prayed and there has been no improvement! Recently our prayers intensified as she experienced circulation problems and amputation loomed. We prayed! We urgently enlisted others in prayer but our prayers did not hold back the surgeon’s knife!

It is difficult to make sense of suffering but it remains a chief conversational pass time.  I have come to the conclusion that it is not helpful to try and make sense of someone else’s suffering but it can be very helpful to ponder our own. I remember when our son died and people tried to help us with their Romans 8:28 versions of comfort. These platitudes angered me and their triteness robbed Romans 8:28 of its therapeutic balm which heals only when self-administered.

My dad had an expression “No one gets out of this life alive!” We all suffer! It is unavoidable. I remember when I lay in a hospital bed with a shattered mandible studying a book on ventriloquism. I was trying to make some sense out of suffering. I was trying to make lemonade from a very sour lemon.

My son and his wife have been given a bitter lemon indeed. I don’t know all of the lessons that suffering may bring them but I believe that in honest communion, ala the psalmists, they can begin to discover their own answers.

In the short term we have been given a taste of this. The very rare form of vasculitis which apparently caused most of her health issues is finally diagnosed. It seems to be treatable and we have hope that she will now experience a quality of life, so long denied her. We are saddened beyond words that this promise of relief comes at such a cost and we are hopeful for a future in which they can discover more and more the answers to the questions we all pose.

We at Street Hope persevered, though weary of no immediate answer to our prayers. We are heartened as we believe God is at work. There remains much to pray about. We believe that we have a God who knows our suffering and is intimately acquainted with our grief. He is working for our good!

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Amusing God



As I was reading Psalm two I had a funny picture. This is one way I amuse myself. The psalmist imagines the rebellious telling God, “Cast away the cords from us!”  These folks want their autonomy. They reject the chords of dependence which they feel constrain them, keeping them from unfettered independence. I suddenly pictured a marionette with a pair of scissors setting himself free from the bonds connecting him to his animator! The picture is funny until the truth strikes. Like most humour the joke contains an element of truth. I want freedom from the things that bring me life! Isn’t that foolish?

Recently my daughter brought our grandson in from playing outdoors. He did not want to come in and “threw” his first tantrum. She works with children all the time and this was not her first tantrum so she had to turn her head so Declan would not see her laughing. The psalmist say God laughs at our pitiful rebellion. I suspect he laughs at the sheer silliness of wanting to cut the ties that bind us to the one who gives us life. The irony of self-destructive independence is not lost on God!

We are, of course not puppets on strings. We are instead held by the bonds of love. We are created for dependence. We are created for community. In dependence on God and in meaningful connection with the community of ‘God Followers’ we find life. These are life lines that bring us abundant life.

I was reminded this week of my reliance on such bonds. It came home with a thud as I crashed to the cold floor of my basement. A clatter of flying roasters accompanied my crash to the floor. I lay there trying to compose myself, thinking that I had broken my leg. After a few minutes I decided to try getting to my feet. I managed. It became clear nothing was broken but that did not ease the throb. How was I      going to cook and serve the stew supper we had planned for that evening? Linda loaded the car and I hobbled out. I was able to ‘push through’ to an extent but I relied on a great deal of help. The community around me stepped up and the evening was a wonderful celebration of the goodness of God. Tables were put away and dishes washed along with gales of laughter. I needed a community that night and I experienced it.

I am slowly getting over the deep bruise on my thigh. I am confident that it won’t have a lasting effect but I hope the reminder of my need for community will have a life impact. I will try to amuse God in other ways.


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Like a Sword Swallower



Recently I was asked for a tip on “how to do evangelism”. I chafe a bit at such questions because they presuppose that evangelism is an event and are asking me for a gimmick short cut. I have been considering the question though and decided that my best tip is to get people to talk about themselves. This is often their favourite topic and as they warm to the conversation, I can learn much about their experiences and what they are passionate about.

It is difficult, sometimes, to get people to talk freely about themselves. It often takes time and repeated encounters. 90% of evangelism is ‘just showing up’ consistently, earning the opportunity to hear someone’s story. The other 10% is the ability to hear the heart’s deep cry and recommend Jesus as the answer to that need, based on our own personal experience.

In my circle many people have tats (tattoos) and I have found these as a great opportunity to hear peoples’ hearts. I have discovered that people seldom frivolously ink stain themselves. Their tats are meaningful! After having ‘shown up’ for a while in someone’s life for a time I can ask about a tat. I ask what it is and what it means. As people tell their ‘tat’ stories a light comes to their eyes. They speak about: mothers, sweet hearts, children, places, and times. Sometimes they speak with regret because the relationships evidenced in ink are no longer active. It is easy then to talk about important things! I discover what they care about and often I can be sure that God cares deeply about these things as well.

These tats illustrate brokenness too. One friend has a list of the names of his children. He doesn’t see or interact with them or their mothers. He wears their names and it reminds him of all that he has lost. He knows he has “really blown it” and his tat honours those children and reminds him of his regrets. Jesus has much to say about dealing with such regret! I may never have had that conversation except for our ‘tat’ chat.

I admit to being tat-less, I tell my life story in scars rather than ink! I am often asked if I have a tat, or what I would have if I had one. After much thought I have decided that if I were ever to get one (and I won’t be getting one unless senility sets in) I would get a semicolon A semicolon is used by a writer when he could finish a sentence but instead choses to write on. A semicolon tells us the story is not finished yet. A semicolon is a symbol of hope! I am grateful that I can passionately share about my imaginary tat and share my heart for my friend with regrets. I can tell him that his story isn’t finished yet. The Author is not finished writing. Past mistakes do not dictate the end of the story!

Did you ever hear about the sword swallower with hiccups? He had a semicolon!

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Good For Nothing

I have often taught “The good can be the enemy of the best!” and I believe that is true. We can fill our lives with all sorts of ‘good’ things that we miss the ‘best’ or most important things. We can spend so much time climbing our own version of the ‘ladder to success’ that we don’t realize it is leaning against the wrong wall! Good can keep us from experiencing the best.

While admitting that this is true I also must concede it is also untrue! I was chatting with someone, recently, who had ceased being involved in a particular ministry. I had witnessed that this person had really enjoyed this service and I was surprised that he had stopped. As our conversation progressed he shared that he had seen so many people who were ‘better’ at it than he, that he decided to “leave the field” to others who did it better. We reminisced a bit about his times of service in this field and I noticed a joy in the memories and a melancholy at the same time. Because he could not be ‘the best’ he had decided to “leave the field” and in doing so he was the sadder.

I reminded him that God did not call us to be the best. He is aware of our makeup and limitations. He does call us “to follow him” faithfully. Success is never the measure of obedience and is often seems not to be even a consequence of obedience. Too many are frozen in inactivity because we do not feel we measure up to others, and we may not, but this is an inadequate excuse for abandoning the field. In his incarnation Jesus did not call ‘the best’ to follow him. He delights in calling the “foolish” to confound the wise.

I love the story of the “man born blind”. Without a day of theological training or even Sunday school, he is called to testify to the Pharisees. There is much he doesn’t know but he shares what he does “I was blind and now I see!” He probably wouldn’t get a great mark in a homiletics class; he seems not be a gifted orator, but he simply tells what he knows.

The best can be the enemy of the good you and I can do! Acts 10:39 tells us “Jesus went around doing good…” Our call to follow him means that we must also do good. There may be those with more gifts or more education who can do better but there is no excuse for us not to be doing good! Some may be professionals who are paid to do good but the vast majority of Christ’s followers are to be “good for nothing.”

My friend realized that he was letting feelings of inadequacy keep him from the service he enjoyed. His contribution is needed. Jesus’ followers, every one, are called to “go around doing good” This is how the Kingdom comes on Earth as it is in Heaven. This is the answer to our own prayers.

To paraphrase the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews “let us spur one another on to be good for nothing!”



Epic Fail



This week I engaged in a conversation “What makes a church a success?” This question generated a lot of thought and a variety of opinions. This week I also read about a Church conference I had never heard of before. It is the “Epic Fail Church Conference”. At this conference church leaders get together and share stories of failure. They empathize and encourage one another.

I must admit that I am drawn by the “Epic Fail” theme because I have a closet full of “Epic Fail” stories. I feel like the last thing I need is another conference by some mega-church leader that sells the ‘successful’ strategies of victorious Christian Leadership.

I believe that a failure can be a success if we fail (fall) forward.

A dozen years ago 12 leaders gathered to start a new ‘church’. The vision was to reach out to the folks in the neighbourhood that were not attracted to liturgical and literate Sunday worship. I approached a very gifted intercessor to pray for us. She recommended that we emphasize “the love of the Father” to our friends. She gave me a copy of “The Father’s Love Letter” and suggested I use it in worship. Initially I thought that we would use this cd for a few weeks. I did not know that folks would so enjoy bathing in the love of the Father each week that we would continue with this for years to come!

We were so influenced by the love of the Father that when we did the work of describing ourselves, at our best, we wrote “Up Town is an honest accepting community of broken people who are: experiencing the love of the Father….”

We certainly were broken people! And we were honest and accepting too. Some of the prayers remain fixed in my memory: “Dear Jesus, I love you”, “Thank you that …. Was there when I cut myself last night. Help me to never do that again. I want to live for you.” “I’m so sorry. Last night I spent my whole cheque on prostitutes. I am so lonely!” Such prayers were not unusual at Up Town. At our best we were honest and at our best we were accepting. People gathered around the hurting knowing that they too hurt. They comforted with the same comfort they had received on other numerous occasions. I remember thinking “Where else could these things happen?”

Up Town had a good run! At our best we were brilliantly flawed! But we did not remain at our best. After approximately 10 years troubles started to loom large on the horizon. Broken people were not always so accepting of one another. Bitterness and unforgiveness and eventually violence erupted. The gentle innocent folk were being hurt. What had been a place of safety and acceptance became a place of lurking danger.

No amount of teaching or private chats with the angry seemed to make any difference and so Up Town closed. Epic Fail!

After some time passed we have tried to restart something for the folks who miss those ‘golden’ days. Street Hope’s emphasis on discipleship is in part a reaction to this “Epic Fail”. We have not and may never recapture the days when Up Town was at its best. What is left to us is to remember and to grieve. We also move on to what ‘new thing’ lies ahead.

I used to brag about what God was doing in Up Town and now I seldom speak of it. I don’t even think of it without a wince of pain. I do hope though that in some way we have “Failed Forward”.

What stories of Epic Failure do you have to share? I know you have some.


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