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Gazing …or Polishing ?


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A few years ago I experienced a series of shocks as I looked in the mirror. The first shock was after the initial bandages were removed and I was quite literally faced with a swollen disfigured stitch filled visage. This ogre surely was not me? Weeks later some of the swelling went down and my jaw was unwired and I for the first time in weeks I could brush my teeth. Once again I stood in front of the mirror and watched as my teeth which had been shattered in my fall began to tumble into the sink! A horrid maw gaped back at me in the mirror. I wanted to turn out the light and hide my head. I left the mirror and called the dentist’s office and months of dental surgery began. After a few months more the swelling receded to the point where I thought I could finally shave off my scraggly gray beard. I have been clean shaven most of my life and I was looking forward to returning to that state again. It meant a return to normalcy to me. With oh so careful strokes the whiskers were whisked and once again the mirror revealed a shocking image. An ugly scar slashed from the corner of my lip circling around my chin and ending at the point of my jaw. All hope of a return to normalcy seemed to circle the drain with those whiskers! I had become obsessed with the mirror! The revulsion I felt was the flip side of narcissism. We live in a narcissistic society. I am not alone in this failing.

During this time I learned a valuable lesson. My life is not enhanced at all by gazing in the mirror. Whether I am admiring or judging my looks does nothing to fulfill me. I needed to repent of my obsession with the mirror. I was not created to preen in a mirror. I was created to be a mirror!

I am created in God’s image and rather than look for my reflection I am made to be his reflection. The moon does not emit light. It is beautiful when it reflects a light not of its own creation. My preoccupation with my looks or lack of them was sin! Rather than to preen I am better to polish. My energy is best used in polish the mirror, which is my life, so that it reflects my creator.

After a few years of regular visits to the dentist, and I admit to an irrational fear of dentists and dentistry, I was able to smile again. My scar looks less raw and scary but it remains. All these years later I can smile again. My face bears the marks of my fall but the worst days are long gone.

The long hard work of polishing my mirror to reflect Him continues. Now I look in the mirror and see my drooping lip and scar and it serves to remind me to reflect Jesus. Sometimes as I walk in the community I catch a glimpse of my reflection and I remember that I am a reflection on Christ, a reflection of Christ to the world. This often causes me to repent for my woeful inadequacy but it also strengthens my commitment to my creator as one made in his image!

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Palms Down, Palms UP


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In the face of seemingly endless challenges, my friends turn to prayer. I have the great privilege of praying with them. The prayers are often simple, “Please help!” “Could you stop … from ….” The heart cry for peace is evident and the experience of peace is so fleeting. What is up with that!

I was speaking to some folks this week about just this dilemma. I proposed that perhaps we, as James writes “have not because ye ask not…” Maybe we are victims of our own inadequate prayers. In the ‘world’ when we pray for peace (which we certainly ought to do!) we are asking for a cessation of conflict. This is the world’s definition of peace, but if we see peace only as a negative, like ‘absence of conflict’ for example, we miss the point of Jesus’ declaration that he gives peace in a different way, not at all like the world!

We spoke about developing some exercises that would place us in a better place to receive Jesus’ positive gift of peace. We chatted about the saying “Nature abhors a vacuum.” and his parable of the house swept clean of evil which when left uninhabited became exponentially more evil. Our prayer asking God to take our anxiety or to remove causes of conflict are good and necessary but they are only half the answer, and half answers are really no answer at all!

We talked about a simple exercise of “palms down and palms up” praying. With palms down as if letting something go we pray “letting go” prayers. In these we ask God to take our anxieties and we leave with him our painful circumstances. We honestly cry out for his sovereign help! At the end of “palms down” praying we have poured out to God our cries and expressed our heart. Then we turn over our palms and pray “palms up” as if to receive. We ask him to pour out now and we sit in a receptive “palms up” attitude. We have asked for all conflict to be over ruled and now we ask that we might be filled with the promise of a peace that passes all understanding.

Many of my friends struggle with addictions which are a worldly attempts to fulfill this deep hunger for peace. Paul writes “Be not drunk with wine …. but be filled with the Spirit.” Jesus accompanies his promise of peace by breathing on his disciples and commanding them to receive the Spirit. Receiving may not seem like a very active exercise. The heavy lifting is surely being done by the Giver, but this activity of receiving is our part in the equation. We do so by faith!

It is our goal by this simple practise to unleash the positive power of peace in our lives. Many of the circumstances which pain and perplex us, are beyond our control. We must turn to the sovereign God for help outwardly and peace and transformation inwardly.

This at first seems too simple to many but for my friends, who are in the world’s eyes are powerless, the simplicity of “palms down” and “palms up” praying can make all the difference.

On another note, Street Hope has been falling behind financially the last number of months, but because of a generous gift we are once again “in the black”. We are grateful for God’s provision and pray positively that we might be a channel of His peace.

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Happy Pianoversary


pianoversary

This week Threshold Ministries celebrated what I jokingly call its “Pianoversary”. 88 years ago (the number of keys on a piano) a small band of evangelists began a work here in Canada. This work has continued faithful through those years, generally in obscurity. We celebrate not fame but faithfulness! Faithfulness finds its measure not in obedience but rather obedience over time.  First as the Church Army in Canada and recently as Threshold Ministries, this band of evangelists have continued obedient to the call to share by word and deed the love of the crucified and risen Saviour.

Eugene Petersen calls this “a long obedience in one direction”. A friend of mine just celebrated 17 years serving in the same parish. This kind of tenure is all but unheard of these days! Too often ministry is experienced more like ‘short term missions’ than a stable faithful obedience over a period of time.  To walk with people over a period of time is challenging. At a certain period we will feel that we have used up all our meagre resources and ought to move on, but this realization is less a call to move on than it is to grow, and to find new resources beyond my meagre ones. This is uncomfortable but it puts me in much the same position of the friends I serve. When they ‘hit a wall’ in life they don’t have the option of moving on to greener pastures.

One of my frustrations with my ‘part-time’ job in the world of corrections is that there is an expectation that I drop people once they have ‘graduated’ from the system. I am glad that I am simply able to put on my ‘Street Hope” hat and continue to walk with folks over the long haul.

When I first met one fellow he was angry at the entire world and bent on revenge. Over the years we have developed a friendship and he has marvellously changed. He is one of the best liked member of the community. When he enters our drop in people stop and call out his name. It kind of reminds me of ‘Cheers”. He has established a life for himself. If we had not been able to walk with him these past few years I do not know where he would be.

Another fellow I have known for years called me the other day to ask if I was licenced to do weddings. I said no but I’d be happy to introduce him to someone. After a while he got back to me and asked if he could go to the court and get married and then have me bless them somehow. What he was saying was that it was important to him that I be a part of this big day with him. He values our friendship. I’m sure I can work out something to be a part of his celebration and we will work together to figure out a plan to see their marriage blessed.

I have had the opportunity to walk with another guy through the years. He has done three ‘bits’ (sentences) in the time we have known each other and we have continued our relationship through it all. Each day now he sets another milestone for the longest time ‘outside’. He is solidly on a path of following Jesus.

If I had not enjoyed the stability of walking with folks for a protracted period I don’t think these stories would have unfolded as they have. Celebrating our Pianoversary has reminded me of the significance of “a long obedience in one direction.”

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The Simple Truth


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Perhaps the most attractive quality of the folks I am privileged to hang out with is their simplicity. Often people confuse simplicity with ease or easiness but these folks lead far from easy lives. They do though exhibit a beautiful simplicity which I find quite compelling. Involuntary poverty has stripped my friends of illusions of self-reliance. Folks who habitually experience more month than money become more apt to look simply to their heavenly Father.

The other day there were only three of us at our “Study & Prayer”. At the conclusion of the prayer time I opted not to end with our usual “Our Father…” but instead invoked a blessing on each of us as we went our way. I did this because not everyone remembers all the words and sometime people can feel awkward and in such a small group one cannot hide such a lapse. It seemed like the right thing, at the time, but one of the group brought to my attention that I had forgotten the closing prayer. Rather than to try and justify myself I just conceded that I had indeed omitted it. In the ensuing conversation she explained to me how much the prayer has come to mean to her. She really values the reminder that God is King and that we do best when we seek to do his will.

This was a bit of an eye opener for me. Over the years I think I may have become inoculated to the effects of this powerful prayer. I can rattle it off without a thought! My friend might stumble over a word but to her it is fresh and powerful.

This came home to me again as I was reading a book about the spirituality of St. Francis. The author, Richard Rohr, writes “To pray and actually mean “thy Kingdom come”, we must also be able to say “my Kingdom go””

I do not find such a simple spirituality very easy! It is difficult to voluntarily let go of the things I hold (or better said hold me). My kingdom may be puny and pitiful but it is hard won. I have spent the capital of a life time to purchase it. Paul in Romans suggests that it is only “filthy rags” but they are my rags! Yet my daily prayer is that my Kingdom needs to go and that his must come. His is a more beautiful and everlasting Kingdom. It is a much more worthy investment. It is the rock upon which to build a life of simple significance.

I am, I think, hearing the siren call of voluntary simplicity and to, in Samson like fashion, shake off the bonds of ‘my kingdom’ and simply follow after Jesus and the way of Jesus in my life. This is not easy. Faltering are the footsteps that follow a perfect example. Frail and fallible feet try to tread this path. But follow I must! It is the way of life for me. Each day each moment the questions comes “whose will?”, “whose kingdom?”

My friends set me an example! I am blessed to spend so much time with the involuntary poor so that I can learn the value of voluntary simplicity. I do not want to ever lose sight of the fact that poverty induced simplicity is not God’s plan. His Kingdom is one of justice and equity. To this Kingdom we owe our allegiance!

 

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“On Track” Ministry


halter

I attended a day with author and missionary Hugh Halter. I have read several of his books. I discovered him first when I read the book “And”. At the time I was involved in what we called “forming missionaries for the 21st Century”. I was convinced that the ‘attraction’ model of church was no longer working as it had to reach the culture. As I read authors like Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost I came to see hope in the idea of recovering the idea of a missionary church. This missionary model emphasizes the equipping role of organized church efforts so that all the saints see themselves as missionaries sent to live outside the church walls, living out the good news of God’s Kingdom. “And” while insisting that this missionary emphasis is necessary illustrates that such a movement can be successfully launched from existing churches.

Halter suggest, via a venn diagram, that there are three distinct and indispensable facets of Christian discipleship and that we ought to organize ourselves to accomplish these three things. The goal is movement and particularly movement to the area where the three overlap. The two facets in the lower section of the diagram represent horizontal relationships and the uppermost represents the vertical relationship with God.

People can find their way to belonging by joining  in the mission of demonstrating (making tangible) the Kingdom of God through acts of mercy and kindness. They can find their way into missionary activity through vital relationship with a loving and fun bunch of missionaries. There is no easy ‘one size fits all’ method of entrance into the Kingdom. As the King is exalted and spoke about folks will realise that both the belonging and missionary movements hinge on a relationship with Jesus our King.

I was surprised at this conference that so many were “blown away” by this concept, but I was heartened at the same time. It is this vision which drove us as we set off as Street Hope. So many para-church ministries concentrate on the ‘serving’ aspect and we are not in their league at all. Many churches specialise in the “Godward” aspects and are much better at these program initiatives than are we. We are humble little initiative that seeks to form street level missionaries.

We have a bigger group that occupies some space in the ‘belonging’ circle. We have a group that involves itself in our missionary ‘acts of kindness’, and we have a small group that meets regularly for study, prayer, and worship.

This is not currently a typical ministry but it may become so. If not we will continue to muddle on believing that in our messy midst stands the glorious King.

My day at the Hugh Halter event was very encouraging. I overheard one of my former student telling someone “reed has been teaching this for years!” It is nice to feel, at least for a moment that we are ‘on track’.

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Following Jesus in an “Outrage Culture”


 

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In days gone by canaries were used as an early warning system. In mines where methane or carbon monoxide might lurk as silent and invisible killers, a miner would take a canary below ground with him. The canary was much more sensitive to the toxic environment and would succumb to the deadly affects. The demise of the canary signalled to the miner that he ought to retreat to the surface.

The other day I was struck with the idea that perhaps I am a “canary in a coal mine”! For many years I struggled with an under lying rage. This was a manifestation of PTSD (post traumatic stress disease). In the last few years I have found relief from these symptoms, which for me involved a kind of bubbling anger just below my conscious thoughts which when ‘jarred’ thrust themselves into my uppermost consciousness. The last number of weeks (perhaps months) I have sensed a slide backward into these emotions. As I was pondering this I read an article about this being a “culture of outrage”. This was an eye opening moment for me! I began to consider all the “outrage” I am exposed to every day. I believe it is affecting my mental health.

Have you noticed that there seems to be more outrage today? It is everywhere. Almost everyone I know is outraged about something. People from every stripe share in this deep sense of outrage and it is contagious!

There certainly is lots to be angry about in our fallen world. Jesus himself was angered by injustice. Anger is a benign thing that becomes cancerous when misused. I believe that the “outrage” of our culture is metastasized anger. It is anger turned unkind. Perfectly respectable opinions become expressed in disreputable and unkind ways.

As I: engage in, or listen to, or read, the ventings of this outrage culture I am effected. My past battles make me sensitive to this. I fear that if it is effecting me that it may be effecting you. It may be doing unrealized harm to our children, indeed to all of us.

I have decided that for my own health I will turn away from outrage. I will turn towards kindness. I will be tuning out the angry noise and intentionally tuning into God and his Word. I know that Jesus became indignant and yet I do not think he ever gave himself over to popular outrage.

The folks I deal with every day do not need another angry person in their lives. The first rule of ministry, like medicine, may be “Do no harm!” Instead I want to be a person of peace and kindness. This will mean that I must cultivate that kind of spirituality. I must stop sowing weeds of outrage or putting myself in the place where they are blown on my fields and I must “put on Christ” and put myself in a position where the good seed can take root in my life.

It may not be easy to follow Jesus in a culture of outrage but it has never been easy to follow such a counter-cultural saviour. This ‘canary’ has decided that following Jesus is worth the difficulty.

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Creche, Cross, & Conversation


Conversation is the important element of the ministry of Street Hope. We have several regularly scheduled programs but these are not the essence but instead provide the occasion for conversation. I get to ask and answer innumerable questions over the course of time. These are the times I live for!

With the help of our friends from Penfield we put on a Turkey and fixings supper for folks in our community. As one fellow was being served he asked me “Why do we make such a big deal about Christmas?” I began to explain that I saw the crèche as a launching pad. God had sent his Son (It never hurts to refer to John 3:16 because it is one verse most folks still have heard of.) on a mission to rescue humanity. I recalled to him that the birth announcement included the words “a saviour is born”. Christmas standing alone means little apart from the saving activity of Christ. The whole scope of Jesus’ biography need to be taken into account, from the crèche to the cross! Then he asked me one more question. He had probably heard a thousand ‘soup kitchen’ sermons in his time and remained unconvinced. “Why are you Christians so hung up on the cross?” He hurled the question at me. When I get a question like that two answers always occur to me one for me to keep to myself and one to share. When asked “Why we are hung up on the cross?” I immediately thought “Because Jesus was hung up on a cross! If we want to be like him we should be too.” The one I gave the gentleman more closely resembled Jesus’ conversation with the folks on the Emmaus Road. “And beginning with Moses and the prophets he explained to them what was said in scripture about himself” Luke 24:27. (I have found it is better to follow Jesus’ example than to be clever.) The fellow listened attentively yet sceptically but the other 4 -5 people at the table also listened. Jesus was born to die. He was born to save us. He was born to break the chains of slavery and usher in a final exodus and to establish the Kingdom of our God!

I have never seen those folks in a church service, though they might well attend without me knowing, but I do know that in those few minutes they heard “Good News”. This Good news excites me to no end and it is a thrill to be able to share it. The key for us at Street Hope is to create the conditions under which these conversations can naturally take place.

One of my friends, someone who attends most of our ‘anchor’ events, has begun to have these Good News conversations with people throughout his week. He texted me the other day to pray for him as he chatted with someone. Street Hope is a school of discipleship for him!

We don’t feed hundreds regularly. We do not help people out financially. I often say “I’d rather be your friend than your banker”. There is a whole world of things we do not do. There are a few things we do well. Conversation, especially over coffee is one of them.

We pray that 2017 will be a conversation laden year for Street Hope and that as the Good News is shared that God by his Holy Spirit will work in lives so as to transform them into his image.

Thank you for your support. As my mom used to say “Keep your fork, the best is yet to come!”

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