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What’s In Your Hand?


“What do you have in your hand?” Answering a question with a question seems to be one of God’s favourite ‘go to’ responses. Moses was trying to figure out his mission. What was he to do? and How was he to do it?

I am often asked to tell the story of the beginning of ‘Stone Washed Laundry’ and the founding of Up Town Church. It is a story of discovering my mission.

It all began with a good pair of walking shoes. I began to walk the neighbourhood around Stone Church and try to notice things. I would give each stroll a new theme. I had a walk where I took note of baby strollers and children’s toys. I noted area stores. I counted hydro meters on the side of buildings. I noticed all sorts of things in my walks that I would never have seen otherwise. One day I counted the number of dryer vents. There were frustratingly few! I began to ask folks where they did their laundry. Many told tales of wearing clothes until they could not stand them and then going to the ‘clothing bank’ for new ones. Investigations showed me that these clothing banks did not offer under garments and very few socks. I was impressed with how little dignity there was in this. Was this need like Moses’ rod? Was this the answer to my questions about mission?

Not long after this I heard the father of one of my colleagues complain about all the perfectly good washers and dryers which were going into the local landfill. The government was then offering grants to people for purchase of higher efficiency machines and folks were getting rid of older ones. I soon arranged to intercept some on the way to the dump. At the time I had access to the muscle power of some of our students at Taylor College and we carried them into the basement of Stone Church. The old unused downstairs kitchen was renovated cheaply to accommodate the new Stone washed Laundry. Ten years ago it began to be operated every Wednesday by one of our students who was assigned to the task. We had the 1 ½ it took to do a load to build relationships and from that core developed our Up Town Church which has its latest iteration as Street Hope.

This story need not be a ‘one off’ but illustrates some basic principles of mission. More recently through a friend I came into contact with the AA community in our area. I realised that this might be an opportunity for mission, and so our evangelism to this community began. We have just begun our 12th workshop for AA members in which we share using AA materials that alcoholism is a spiritual problem which requires a spiritual answer. Many of our friends from the workshop have become active in our Street Hope Community. This October we will be offering our first workshop to ‘church leaders’ to equip them better to participate in the 5th Step with our friends who are seeking spiritual help. We have also developed ‘Shalom Saturday’ which is a Christ centred healing circle. We meet every 6 weeks.

All of this grew from noticing what was ‘at hand’ and seeking and praying to build Christ centred relational value onto the opportunity. I believe each of us have these types of opportunities. Yours may not look like mine but they are there! The missional trick is take time to notice and then begin to ‘tease out’ the opportunity which is right there.

Evangelism is too often like an overtime period in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On the ice are 12 people who are in dire need of some rest and in the crowd and in the audience are folks who could really use some exercise! God has provided us each with our own unique mission in our own unique mission-field. Ask the Lord of the Harvest to show you the mission field in your orbit and ask him to send you!

 

 

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Just Like The First Christians


This must have been how the first Christians spent their summer. We held the last in a series of Street Hope Barbecues. We had celebrated each summer holiday dining el fresco. Earlier this summer the sister of one of our core members gave us a barbecue for just such occasions and then John our helpful Home Hardware man gave us bags of charcoal.  Others brought hamburgers, chips, pop and together we feasted on food and friendship, and just like the books says “when two or three are gathered in my name …” we had an honoured guest at the festivities. We changed the original time of 1 PM to 5 Pm and just as we began the gloomy sky cleared and we enjoyed the last rays of summer sunshine. Big d. said an eloquent and informal blessing. K. took over the grill and chaotic conversation ensued. It was wonderful. It was a foretaste of the festivities to come and a lovely way to end our summer and begin a new chapter.

We also had a wonderful time in our ‘house gathering’. V. expressed how little sleep she had got the night before. Her anxieties were particularly acute. She got up several times to make warm milk which often helps. Finally she did sleep for a few brief hours. When she awoke she found her Bible open to the Psalms, on the kitchen table. She had no remembrance of opening it but attributed the rest she had received to reading it. I asked the folks sitting next to her to touch her shoulders and pray for her to have a good night’s sleep that night. I was very pleasantly surprised when S. shot across the room to pray for her friend as well. The next day at the barbecue V. excitedly reported that she had got the best night’s sleep in a long time! We are all encouraged to see God working in our midst!

Another fellow S. has been regularly attending our Study & Prayer times. He has been unemployed due to so some surgery he had to repair his shoulder. We have been praying with him to find a new job. He has been disappointed in the past but the other night he called me praising the Lord. He got a new job! He was so excited and bursting to tell someone. I was touched and gratified that I was one of the people he would share this news with. Together we rejoiced.

Personally I have been enjoying the freedom that comes from no longer working for Corrections Canada but I have been able to keep ‘my hand in’ by volunteering with the new chaplain Rob Pittman. I continue to see guys from the half-way houses and I continue in relationship with the friends I have made over the years.

I won’t be writing next week. We will be travelling to Ontario to celebrate my mother’s life. But as I sit behind this keyboard today, I feel like a very blessed man.

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My Dia- Tribe


I asked the question “Do you know the only place salt is absolutely useless?”  The answer of course was, “In the salt shaker!”  Jesus says of his followers, the ones with the beatitude attitude, that they are the “salt of the earth”. Salt does a lot of things. It preserves, it melts (important to us in Canada), it adds flavour. In short wherever salt is, it makes a difference!

Years ago my soul was stirred by the book “Out of the Salt Shaker” by Rebecca Pippert. She cogently urged the Church to ‘get out’ and engage the world. She exegeted the “Great Commission” for me and her other readers. She urged us out of our stained-glass shakers and into the world.

We are created to be difference makers. Some have the opportunity to make a difference on a grand scale but all share this same vocation. I was very touched as I saw a church gathering after the events in Charlottesville. Where earlier men raised burning torches and spewed venomous chants, this group’s members held tiny candles and sang sweetly “This Little Light of Mine”. They were distinctively salty!

Each of us has a little light. Each of us has a small corner. If we are not making a difference there is something wrong. Have we lost our saltiness? That is a dire but not hopeless position. The call then is to repent and return. We return to the acknowledgement of the lordship of Jesus. We return to the character of Christ described in those Beatitudes. In doing so we return to ‘saltiness’.

Without our distinctive saltiness we cannot be ‘Kingdom difference makers’. If salt loses its saltiness what is it good for? Only to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

I’m afraid the saltiness is quickly leeching from the “evangelical” church in North America. I say this as a long time tribe member. The endorsement and continuing defense of a serial philanderer and misogynist left this group without the moral standing to make any declarations about the right expression of sexuality in our culture. Through a type of moral gymnastics this group has twisted itself beyond recognition. It is fast losing saltiness and the consequence is that it is also losing its power to make a difference.

How ironic that moves designed to empower the ‘party’ to make positive changes disempowers it. This grab for earthly control is un-Christ-like. It does not fit the Sermon on the Mount, and ultimately will prove counterproductive.

For ‘my tribe’ to regain its saltiness and again make a distinctive difference in the world, we must return to Christ taught values and repent of wayward grab for worldly power. It is not too late and the consequences of continuing down this road are dire indeed!

 

 

 

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Charmed, I’m Sure!


I don’t know how normal this is but I often wake up with a song in my head. This morning I awoke with the lyric “All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to thy blood.” These are words from the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. I spent some time examining what “vain” things I have found alluring, but soon turned my thoughts to the really charming and dear ‘things’ I have encountered this past week. These ‘things’ were in fact people, very charming people!

K is a Bible School graduate. When she had her first bi-polar episode her church thought she had a demon. She carries the sting of that rejection. She is a stylish dresser with a variety of hats and dresses not usually seen in our circles. She has long been on the fringe of our Street Hope gatherings but lately has decided to more fully engage. Recently, after our regular “Word from Our Sponsor” she asked if she could sing something. She began to sing not one song but a medley. They were strung together but had one unifying theme. This theme was the very one contained in my message. Week after week she continues to sing. She does so with a humour and grace that endears her to our little community.

J calls me each week. I ask her how she is doing and she usual answers “I’m surviving.” She then asks me the same question she asks every week. “When are your Bible Study times?” I tell her, yet again and then we chat for a while. She always ends with the words “I love you.” And I assure her that Linda and I love her too. This conversation repeats and repeats itself. I might find it exasperating except for the wonderful innocent charm. If she misses a week I begin to worry about her. Her guilelessness is so winning!

V also suffers with mental illness. Her anxieties are often overwhelming. Her mind gets whirring 100 miles per hour and she cannot sleep. Only two things help: reading the Psalms and prayer. She has difficulty remembering things so she has begun to write out her prayer requests. She begins, “God I brought my prayer list today” She says God is “a good listener”. As she proceeds through her exhaustive list she does a running commentary so God will know how they are progressing. “Just a few more …. Almost done …. This is the last one.” When Jesus spoke about coming as a little child he might have had V. in mind. Her childlike dependence and her innocent faith are beguiling.

These folks are the very opposite of “vain things”. I find them endearing and most charming. I hope to be like them when I grow up!

 

 

 

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Looking For an Attaboy


The timing couldn’t have be better! This week we were studying and discussing “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” The week has been filled with all sorts of fears and rage and hate so this was very timely for us.

The reward here is very appealing. I remember a conversation I had with an older pastor who was looking forward to the day when he heard the words “Well done thou good and faithful servant…” He was striving to be a workman who was approved of by his Master and Lord. In this passage though Jesus invites us beyond the servant-Lord relationship to that of: a child, a joint heir, and friend.

But how can we be “peace makers”? We recall our total dependence on God, our spiritual poverty. This is not something that comes naturally to us and it is not in our power. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood.” “The weapons of our warfare are not fleshly.” We honestly mourn and repent of our bent toward hatred and violence and we lament for the consequence of man’s fallen nature. We seek God’s aide to seek gentleness as we look for ways to address evil doers. This again is not the way of the world. Our tendency is to throw more fuel on a conflagration rather than to seek ways to douse it! We ask how my response might contribute toward restoring evil doers while steadfastly resisting evil.

We do not satisfy ourselves with ‘online’ or virtual acts of standing against evil but we ruthlessly check our own eyes for ‘beams’ and we take action in our homes, neighbourhoods, and communities. We act justly! We hunger and thirst for God’s Kingdom to be revealed more and more in our lives and communities.

We recognize the vastness of the mercy we have received from God’s hand and we try to emulate that. When we were actively enemies of God He sent his Son to reconcile us. I must not ask if people deserve mercy for I do not deserve mercy. If it were deserved it would not be mercy. The strange and wonderful justice of God calculates the unfairness of mercy into the calculation. We ought to do the same.

With these tools in our kit we can be peacemakers. Not as people who paper over injustice but as people; of love, of gentleness, of conviction, with hearts to see people reconciled. This is a daunting task that calls us time and time to a recognition of our spiritual dependence.

This is what Christ-likeness looks like in the world! And when we are Christ-like then God looks at us and says “That’s my child!” As children isn’t that what we long for the most?

 

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I Don’t Feel Like Writing


I don’t feel like writing today! I have decided that that in itself, is a good reason to write. I remember years ago when Capt. T. gave me an assignment, I said “I don’t feel like it.” To which he replied “If you did feel like it, what would you do?” and the continued “Do that!”

Emotions can be a tricky thing and right now I don’t know exactly how I feel. My 94 year old mother got her wish. She had outlived: my Dad by a quarter of a century, outlived all her siblings and most of her friends. She is likely to have a small funeral because the crowds that might have attended years ago are no longer here. My brother joked (sort of) that she didn’t want to live in a world that had Trump in the Whitehouse and her Blue Jays in last place.

She died with her mind intact and quite quickly. One part of me is very happy for her! Other parts are a bit more shrouded in mystery right now. I had the thought that now I am an orphan. That thought made me sad for me. It seems like a kind of ridiculous thought, but it is emotionally real to me.

I haven’t sorted out just how I feel. I just know I’m feeling a bit tender right now.

My mother was, like all of us, a contradiction. She was at once a woman of very real faith and she was the Worry Champion of the World. She worried about all of us and our families. Today she is a peace. Her days of worry are behind her.

Over the last 40 years or so there have always been many miles between us. I did not see her for months on end, though we often chatted on the phone. Today is not unusual, I won’t see her today, but I didn’t expect to see her. Life will go on pretty much as usual except when I get that impulse “I should call Mom.” I’m sure life will soon return to normal but I shall miss her.

How do I feel today? The best I can figure right now is: I’m happy for her and sad for me. Life goes on!

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Slowly Crossing the ‘Red Sea’


We are marvellously bogged down. We were making good progress in our study of Matthew and have come to a construction zone. We were zooming along the highway of the Gospel. We were slowed a bit during the Temptations like tourists we slowed to take in the scenery but traffic ground to a snail’s pace as we entered chapter 5.

We were suddenly confronted with a dense patch of ‘red letters’. At first glance it looked like poetry, and it is, but it is much more. The ‘red sea’ of letters brought our cruise through scripture to a near standstill. How many times had we read this passage? How many “Beatitude’ bookmarks have we seen? This dense passage is at once, familiar and foreign!

As members of the Kingdom and as followers of the King we knew we had to pay closer attention to his words. Here in the familiar scenery of the oft visited ‘Sermon on the Mount’ lay: the practical, the ethical, and deeply theological teaching of Jesus.

We have all probably had the experience of showing guests the sights around our home community.  We are used to these sights but when we see them afresh in our friends’ eyes we appreciate them anew. I have this experience regularly when friends marvel at the rugged coastline and the enormous tides of my home area. I see this every day and often remark “The tide is high right now.” Or “Look at the low tide right now.” After such a comment I may stifle a yawn or adjust my radio. But my friends experience it more deeply and haul me along in their wake. Such was my experience as we began the Beatitudes.

We read verses 3 – 12 in one shot and then began to look at each one. During the conversation it became clear that the attributes or attitudes which are declared as ‘blessed’ are not Pollyanna or pie-in-the-sky, but were perfectly expressed in the life of Jesus. These 10 verse paint as clear a portrait of Jesus as is available to us in scripture! If you want to know what Jesus is like this is the passage to begin with. John writes “We beheld his glory …” Jesus glory is revealed here in these verses. This is not just a prescription for a blessed life, though it is that, it is a description of a blessed life, the life of our Saviour!

We started to ask, “How is this quality expressed in the life of Jesus?” We began at the beginning. Blessed are the poor in spirit though our translation said “God blesses those who depend only on him.” Jesus says “I do nothing except the Father tell me.” As he begins his ministry it is with the anointing and empowering of the Holy Spirit. That wonderful Christological Hymn in Philippians 2 reminds us of the kenotic or self-emptying character of Christ’s life. No one more clearly displays this dependence on the Father! It is his perfect adherence to ‘spiritual poverty’ (not my will but thine) that qualifies him as our Saviour and gives him that name which is blessed beyond all other names.

This dependence, while ideal is also our practical example. As his followers we desire to live as Jesus did. We are to also have this mind which was in Christ Jesus. Of course we often fall short of the ideal but the moment we stop following our Exemplar we necessarily stop being his followers. We cannot at one and the same time follow and not follow him. Either we are followers or we are not. This passage reminds us that when we truly follow Jesus, we will experience blessing.

For many of my friends dependence only on God is easier than it is for me. Life circumstances put them in the precarious position of utter reliance. Mental and physical health, poverty, struggles with addiction all force this dependence to be crucial. I ‘enjoy’ the luxury of the illusion of independence. In this illusion filled world of mine I do not “need thee every hour”. I can coast along with limited dependence concentrated on those times when life throws me a curve. This state of affairs stirs me to a constant vigilance. I need to remind myself of my own poverty and fortunately my friends help me with this my area of great need.

 

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