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Like the Emperor


 

During the Olympics many of us are watching runners in a variety of events. I am old enough to remember the fad of streaking. Streakers stripped off all clothing and raced through university quads. This combination of exhibitionism and prank, fortunately, did not last long, but a spiritual version has continued in the Christian community.

Many Christians have plunked on the “helmet of salvation” and begun “the race set before us” as spiritual streakers! In Ephesians 6 Paul reminds us that there are other necessary elements to Christian apparel. Righteousness is vital. Christ’s righteousness imputed to us is the virtue that allows us standing as children of God. In other places we read injunctions to “put on Christ”. We are to live out this righteousness in our lives if we are going to truly be clad with Christ! This means while trusting in his perfect righteousness, I imperfectly live a life which imitates his in love, justice, and mercy, otherwise I am streaking.

Paul speaks about peace. Through Jesus we have peace with God, though we were once enemies. It is crucial that we know this peace which passes all understanding, but if we do not live as agents of peace in the world we streak!

On the passage goes to speak of truth and faith. These are necessary to us personally and need to be expressed in our lives or we streak! Like the Emperor of fable, the Church (the Bride) parades before the wondering eyes of lost, unaware that she is “poor, wretched, naked and blind”. This would be funny if it weren’t so sad!

I spend time with those on the outside of the Church and they often point these comic/tragic flaws. I readily admit to my own imperfect attire. I love to point at those areas where I see the Bride clothed in beauty. I tell my friends of Christ who stands at the door ready to feed and clothe us spiritually so that we can imitate him in this world.

I spend time with ex-offenders. Several times when I first met a guy he would rant and rave at the “system”. They often thundered and threatened. These initial encounters always took me aback. I would wonder “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” In each case as I have hung in with my raging friend they have changed. Over time I saw their tempers cool and I witnessed them begin to care for others and their feelings. This miracle has been repeated so often that I have begun to ask guys what has made the difference. They tell me that it is the acceptance they find in our little community. They enjoy this and begin to imitate the ethic until it becomes their own.

Our righteousness is imperfect and perhaps rag like but as we seek to imitate Christ, something of his beauty shines through.

We will be most beautiful if we are dressed in the Christ at the door, rather than by Christian Dior!

 

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Don’t Run Fast! Stand Fast!


I was sitting on my newly renewed deck listening to the cardinal singing from my neighbour’s treetop. I gazed with deep satisfaction at the spirea bush we had transplanted several years ago. It was festooned with the most beautiful blossoms. Then I eyed our lilac tree. It now stands over six feet. I recalled planting it with my son as a Mothers’ Day gift almost a decade ago. It was a mere twig and for years we despaired that it would survive. For years I felt foolish as I carefully mowed around this twig stuck in the middle of the yard but eventually it decided to grow and now I gawp in wonder.

These are the pleasures I can enjoy because we have remained! We are experiencing the gift of stability. Throughout our married life we have often moved and each move brought with it a sense of excitement but excitement is overrated. I am finally learning that this ‘race’ we are in; goes not to those who run fast but to those who stand fast.

We have been blessed with this same kind of stability in our ministry. Rather than having a ‘call’ to a project we are called to a community. This stability is a call to “a long obedience in one direction”, as Eugene Petersen calls it. I do not mean that there is anything boring about stability.  There is great variety in every day. The calling is to a certain place and a certain people. As we have spent the past number of years with the same community (people) in the same community (neighbourhood) we have seen much change. Like my spirea bush, we have witnessed some blossom into beauty. Others we nurture like my lilac, it may seem like wasted effort but we live in hope that like my lilac it will one day decide to grow. In faith we look forward. We look to the power of the cross which seems foolish to the world and we gawp in wonder! No transient mission, no microwave ministry, no short-term stints will be blessed with the deep, deep satisfaction of a stable, loyal, and grounded (quite literally) service.

There are, to be sure, some serious disappointments. People we love fall more often and further than we could have imagined but over time we see others rise to heights we could never have predicted. The disappointment is reminiscent of my early feelings about my lilac twig. Each harsh maritime winter portended its doom but today those fears are almost forgotten.

I am convinced that those in ministry move too often and too quickly. Stability, of place and people, is a blessed gift. Too few of us enjoy it!

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Renovation of the Heart


reno

It all started this spring when I discovered that squirrels had chewed a hole in the roof of our shed. I asked my friend Kris if he could fix it for me. I had no idea where this simple request would lead. It soon became clear that the whole roof needed fixing not just the obvious hole and while we were at it we may as well move the door to the side rather than the front wall. It would be much more efficient and I wouldn’t hit my head every time I went in and out. We may as well put in a window so I could see better. We obviously must ‘clean out’ the space taking a couple of truckloads of stuff away. Then there was landscaping to be done and grass seed to be sown and regularly watered. The newly renovated shed obviously needed a fresh coat of paint. All this made my deck look as shabby as it actually was. (It didn’t look that bad before in comparison to the shed.) So demolition began and plans made to not only improve the look but to make it safe for our grandson. A whole new round of sawing, and pounding and painting began. The work is almost done. The labour and most of the materials have not cost me a cent!

In the course of the demolition of part of the deck structure I did re-injure my back though! I made an appointment to get it fixed. I have been successfully treated for this in the past. The appointment was over a week away so I asked to be put on a “cancellation” list. It does not appear that people who are experiencing this kind of pain, cancel appointments, so I am waiting. In the meantime I have been unable to help with the renovations. They probably went faster as a result. I was incapable (even more incapable than usual) of accomplishing my own renovation.

I am glad that I realize my own inability to fix the problem. I probably would have put a patch on a rotting roof and felt I had succeeded. Greater problems would certainly loom to surprise me in the future.

All this reminds me of Dallas Willard’s a great book “Renovation of the Heart”. Left to my own efforts I would add a haphazard patch to a rotting structure. I am really incapable of any better! God wants permission to renovate my life, to transform it into the image of Jesus. Like my decision to trust my pal Kris, I can never know the extent of this renovation but when I trust God I know it will be good, for He is good!

Monday I will get my interior renovation. My maladjusted sacrum will be disciplined. I am looking forward to this. I trust my chiropractor. He has done great things in the past and I believe he can help me be pain free! I want a deeper ‘interior’ renovation which requires the same kind of trust and the same knowledge that “I can’t do this myself”. I may start off thinking I have an idea of what this renovation of my heart might entail but once these things start only God knows where it will end. That is alright with me!

I am looking forward to being well for Tuesday which is our anniversary. Between Linda and me, we have been married 70 years! We are making a short holiday visit to St. Andrews where we honeymooned all those (35) years ago.

 

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“Any Dead Fish Can Float Downstream”


Fish Out of Water

“Any dead fish can float downstream!” These were my father’s words when I pleaded that all the other kids were doing something. I admit that I found it a frustrating reply then but is amazing how much smarter my father has become over the years.

I have often thought of these sage words. They remind me to chart my course by what I know is right rather than to be caught up with the shifting tides of the times, but they also taught me the importance of intentionality. If I am not to “float’ through life I need to have a purpose and steer my life by that purpose. I cannot live accidentally!

I have tried, with varying degrees of success to live these lessons in my life. This message was a big part of the ‘hidden’ curriculum when I taught. Evangelism is “those sets of activities governed by the intention of: inviting, ushering, and settling others into the Kingdom of God.” The goal of all evangelism is to see people find their unique place in the Kingdom of God. Evangelists then govern their lives with this intent! There is a variety of ministries and each has its own intent but this: inviting, ushering and settling is the intent of the Evangelist. If we lose sight of this intent we become like my father’s proverbial dead fish, good only for the fertiliser produced.

Our Street Hope community has just begun to study the book “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman. Long ago I read this little book and I used to carry it in my back pocket and refer to it often. In this classic Coleman illumines Jesus’ intent and practice for: inviting, ushering, and settling people into his Kingdom. It has been really gratifying to see our little band “get” this material. More than one has commented that they see the things of this book reflected in the ways we do things and are as a community. The truths of the Master’s plan can be identified in the way we live! I find this gratifying because my goal is always to ‘incarnate’ (put flesh on) truth. This is my intent and I am pleased that my friends have recognized this pattern. We are getting to the point where we can see the people of our community begin to live with this same intent. When this begins to happen we will have followed, admittedly imperfectly, the pattern of the Master.

I am really pleased that one of our community has felt a call to apply to Threshold School of Ministry in the Masters of Ministry Engagement program and to be joined to the Threshold Missional Community. Kris already has a great ministry, particularly amongst the 12 Step Community. We have partnered over the last several years in our program “Recovering Hope” and our Recovery Workshops. The future for ministry together is truly exciting!

Please pray for Kris and his boys as they make this transition. Pray for his finances. Pray for his transition to the world of academics. Pray for his future service.

No dead fish here!

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Keep Us from Just Singing


We were out last night to a wonderful time of worship at a local church. The singing was wonderful and the presence of God was manifest. It was a great time. I really enjoy such times though I find the attendant feelings quite fleeting. I love to sing and worship. One of my favourite songs is one by Tim Hughes “God of Justice” one of the lines is “keep us from just singing, move us into action”. Matt Redmond alludes to the same thing in “The Heart of Worship” when he says “I’ll bring you more than a song…”

I recently had a conversation with a group of clergy in Edmonton and I shared with them that many of my friends of Street Hope hold the book of James as their favourite Bible book. These clergy were a bit surprised and we explored a bit why that would be. One key reason is James’ insistence on equality before God but the really important element is his emphasis on the practical activity of following Jesus. Singing is not enough for James. He insists on visible incarnation of faith. His gospel is that because of Jesus we can now be outward and visible signs of the invisible Kingdom of God. We are transformed from sinners to sacraments!

My favourite book for years has been Romans. I love to dig in and find ever deeper depths of theological understanding but in the last number of years I believe I have discovered a new key to this deep, rich book. Romans 1:5 gives us this key calling readers to “an obedience that comes from faith”. This theological treatise is not meant to lead us solely to wonder and worship but to obedience, which comes from the faith that so thoroughly justifies us.

It is not just in the moments of singing that I experience God’s manifest presence but even more profoundly in my day by day experiences. Even through my absent minded mistakes he shows up. I forgot to bring my “Master Plan of evangelism” book to our study this Wednesday. Everyone else had theirs. I suggested we read from the Bible and chat about that and the folks were very gracious. We looked at 1 John chapter 2 and had a great discussion of John’s advice not to sin. We had a fulsome conversation about the consequences and scars left because of our wrong choices and behaviours. Then we talked about the pardon we can find because we have an “advocate” or lawyer, Jesus the only righteous one. As he pleads on our behalf we are cleansed and made right with God. What a relief this pardon brings us.

We do not want to sin! We know the consequences in the here and now, perhaps better than most, but we are grateful for the peace we can have with God. This causes us to want to sing his praises but more to be obedient in our activities!

This week a guy who has been experiencing the bitter consequences of a lot of bad choices may have begun his journey back. He prayed for the first time in a long time this week. He asked God to bless someone he was having real difficulty with. Linda and I were so touched and encouraged by this small step. It was better than a “Hallelujah” any day. We are praying that we will see more ‘turn around’ activities in this difficult friend’s life.

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Form The Bucket Brigade


love matters

 

I generally try to steer around ‘political’ issues. I have friends with a wide variety of political leanings and opinions. But I could not help myself this week. The conversation, like many table conversations this week, turned to events in the States. At the mention of “Black Lives Matter” someone suggested “Yeah but don’t all lives matter?”

At this point I felt compelled to intervene. I don’t purport to know the folks of “Black Lives Matter” or to blindly support some of their stances yet I perceive at the heart of the issue is the appeal “Stop the killing of young black men!” It seems to me the very height of insensitivity to answer such a plea with a “but”. There can be no “but” because a “but” negates the previous premise. Certainly all lives matter and no killing is justified but the reply “All lives matter” ignores the urgent matter at hand.

A fire truck pulls up to a burning building and begins to pour water on the blaze but the neighbours protest “Why are you paying attention to his house? Don’t all houses matter?” “Of course all houses matter, but this house is on fire! The situation calls for us to use these extraordinary methods on this house.” It isn’t fair all houses aren’t being treated equally, but it is justice.

My father used to reply to my complaints about unfairness, “The last thing you want in life is to be treated like you deserve!” We want and need favour. This is the way God treats us. He does not treat as we deserve or with a methodical sameness. He knows us and treats us with love. This is his nature!

Perpetuating a system that takes the lives of young black men is not loving. Diminishing the issue by chanting “all lives matter” is not loving. A house is on fire and a bucket brigade ought to be forming.

Lest my Canadian friends think this is not our issue, ask young black men in our inner-cities. Or visit a prison in western Canada with a 75% population of Native Canadians. South Africa came to study how Canada developed its Reserve System as they developed Apartheid. Our system is on fire and we need a bucket brigade!

Scripture refers to this ‘evil’ systems as “principalities and powers” and the weapons of our warfare against them are not fleshly. May I suggest that love is our chief weapon? As we seek to respond to these enormous challenges the call to “the bucket brigade” is a call to actively love. The famous quote from “Love Story” is “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” The Bible instead calls us to lives of active repentance, turning from carnal responses to those of love. The way is long and the road hard but Paul gives us a glimpse into the future as he writes “love never fail.”

 

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View From Mountain Top


IMG_20160620_105205

 

My ‘sea level’ lungs screamed as I clamoured up Whistlers Mountain. I remember thinking between rasping pants “this had better be worth it!” It was! The view was spectacular. While I have had a number of spiritual “mountain top experiences”, here in my 63rd year I had my first physical one.

Over a decade ago my ministry was much more about experiencing and leading others to experience the ‘mountain top’. As a leader in the charismatic movement this was a big part of my life. I spent my life teaching a right understanding (orthodoxy) of the person of the Holy Spirit and encouraging people to experience a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. The mountain was where I sought to live!

I consciously set aside this emphasis and sought rather to concentrate on an orthopraxy or right practise. The ‘street level’ became my milieu and, for the most part, I eschewed the mountaintop.

My recent physical mountain has caused me to rethink this. The climb up reminded me of my frailty. The view from the heavenlies gave a perspective that can never be achieved at street level. From “lofty mountain grandeur’ we see how great is our God and we are reminded “What is man that Thou art mindful of him.”

I have long been convinced that humility is the key to kenotic Christ-like incarnational ministry. I am now persuaded that humility requires periodic trips to the ‘mountain top’. My hero Francis was a most practical servant and a fervent mystic! The ‘little way’ requires a reminder of the vastness of God and his love.

Back on the ‘street’ we experienced a hearty welcome back from our Street Hope Community. They had continued to meet Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings for prayer and study. In fact they added Thursday to their schedule. A group took care of the weeding and watering of our Street Hope Community Garden. While we were missed much of our community’s life continued on! This demonstrates the strides we are making together.

We have been inundated with phone calls “Are you having Drop In Friday?” I am glad we can answer “Yes.”

We have taken on a new challenge. On July 18th our Street Hope Community will be cooking and serving at St. Luke’s Churches “Loaves and Fishes” luncheon. If this goes well we may make this a regular part of our life together.

We have been blessed to visit supporters and see sights and eat wonderfully on a holiday. The Lord is good! I live at ‘street level’ and I know God invites me to take my place and be seated with Christ in the heavenliest.

Please pray for our finances as we may experience a lock out at Canada Post. There is a “donate” button at the top of this page if you’d like to use an alternative to the mail.

Thanks.

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