A dear friend of mine is an inspiration. She deals with a terrible cocktail of mental illnesses. She endures ordeals that I cannot even imagine. Over the years of our friendship she has bounced from ‘care home’ to ‘care home’. She has been in and out of the hospital. She has been mistreated by cruel people. Through it all she has continued to love frogs. She has frogs on her pajamas and stuffed frogs festoon her room. She has frogs on her notebook and frogs on her pencil. She says “I’m crazy for frogs!” Early in our friendship I asked her about her obvious attraction to frogs and learned that her frogs remind her to “Fully Rely On God” (F.R.O.G.) through the trials and through the storms she clings to this motto. She has learned that people may let her down and sometimes she cannot even trust her own thoughts but she can rely on God.
I think of my hero sometimes when I am uncertain or afraid. I thought about her frogs when I was preparing for our recent Shalom Saturday. The one circle I had ever been a part of had been led by a gifted counsellor with obvious training in psychology. These are not qualities that I possess. Any gifts inventory I have taken indicates that I am motivated by evangelistic rather than pastoral aims. I was seized by feelings of inadequacy. As I approached God with these feelings I recalled my friend’s frogs. I remembered “My strength is made perfect in your weakness.” Of course I was inadequate! So what?
I cannot share much about the content of our circle. The sharing was personal and often deep. People shared their pains and sometimes their joys. We did not try to fix one another but in the centre of our circle was a candle reminding us that God was here in the midst of our mess.
Afterwards several of the participants thanked me. Each thank you made me grateful for my hero and her example and motto “Fully rely on God.”
I was again reminded of these frogs this week. I had spent the day in meetings pertaining to the part-time job which ends for me at the end of this May. It felt like a wasted day. I missed my friends from Street Hope. Then at 4 pm I got a call asking if I was planning to attend the Wednesday Night Worship & Communion Service at the Men’s Shelter. I replied yes and then I was asked if I could fill in as preacher. I replied yes and thought about frogs. My day was not wasted I got to do what I love. I got to talk about Jesus! Over the next hours I considered and rejected text after text for this message. It is so much easier to belong to a liturgical tradition where the text is prescribed! All the time I thought about frogs. Finally I settled on Jesus’ call to Levi (Matthew) to follow him. Levi had fallen so short of his priestly name. He was a betrayer of his people and profited from oppression, yet Jesus seems to say to him “You are just the kind of person I am looking for.” For Levi this was a call not just to forgiveness and reconciliation but to a new life of active following. Following can never be passive. Once we stop we are no longer following. So often like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration we want to pitch our tent and make camp in the lush pasture of forgiveness and reconciliation but the call is to follow Jesus. He promises that such obedience leads to abundance. Forgiveness and reconciliation are found at the gateway to the Kingdom abundance is found in following the King.
I am grateful to my hero and dear friend but I am eternally grateful to the faithful God on whom we can fully rely!
I find myself in a unique position. I am a ‘friar’ in two different communities. One is the Threshold Missional Community and the other Street Hope. This week I spent a couple of days with my Threshold sisters and brothers as those of us in the Maritimes cloistered. It was a powerful time where we were honoured to hear one another’s story. Story after story told of; heart break and hurt, pain and suffering. Each has experienced devastating brokenness and found hope and healing. All discovered that this hope has a name, Jesus. United we spend our lives to share the hope! We were altogether beautiful in our brokenness! Evangelists as wounded healers in a hurting world!
My Street Hope Community is also a community of people who are familiar with suffering and brokenness. I am privileged to hear stories of my friends’ pain filled lives. I am pleased to share stories of my own. No one need pretend and no one need feel judged. We have become a safe place. Like my fellows of Threshold we cloister and like my Threshold Community we scatter for the ministry of ‘comforting with the comfort we have been comforted with’.
At a Steve Bell concert recently I heard him tell the story of his dad, who seemed on his death bed. Steve’s dad said that he was not “scandalized by suffering” and that Steve needed to “make peace with powerlessness.” Suffering is not something we enjoy! It is though inevitable. It is not pleasant but it is not unproductive either. If those in my communities had not suffered could they be the good news bearers to the wider community? If we had not been broken could we point people to the Saviour who offers wholeness?
In Romans chapter 5 Paul says “we rejoice in suffering because we know suffering produces …” Christ redeems and uses the worst this world throws our way and creates something. Suffering in the mysterious economy of God is productive! Paul goes on to say that suffering sets off a dynamic chain reaction. It produces perseverance. Adversity trains us to keep on! We have come through so we know we can go through, in company with the One who redeems. This in turn produces character! This character becomes evident in our lives and becomes evidence in our community. Character lived out in this way creates a hope set on that Redeemer. We grow in confidence in his ability to take us through whatever we may face. Finally Paul gives us a glimpse past this world’s suffering as he tells us that the hope produced in this fashion will never disappoint.
I was honoured to hear and see of God’s mighty activity of turning suffering into a sign post of his Kingdom. As I spent time with this precious community I witnessed the great exchange; the ashes of our broken lives for his beauty! I am one grateful friar.
In recent days my attention has been on a couple of bigger projects I am working on. I have been organizing our Fandango. Taking care of the meal, the gift fans, the music and the decorations. I have had to pay some attention to raising support for the party. It is a big project. I have also spent considerable energy on our ‘Shalom Saturday’ which launches May 20th.
It is good sometimes to have bigger challenging projects but it would be unwise to miss the smaller things along the way. These smaller happenings are the stuff of life! These every day encounters with people are what life is really all about.
I had a conversation with a friend this week where she said “You ruined my week!” I could tell she wasn’t really angry so inquired asking just how I had managed that. “Last week in Bible Study when we looked at David’s response to Nathan when he was confronted about his sin. Do you remember what you said?” “Yes” I replied, “He owned it without excuse. He said “I have sinned”” She went on “All week, every time I got angry I heard those words and I had to ‘own’ my part in it! I couldn’t make excuses or indulge in fury.” We had a laugh and she expressed gratitude to God for this new found sensitivity to her own sin.
A fellow I have been ‘working with’ from the half-way house has begun to ask about baptism. He has made significant strides over the last few months. This progress was made through a long series of mostly innocuous chats during which time he saw my faith. There was no preaching. I mostly answered his questions but slowly, over time through a series of small encounters some important thoughts dawned for him.
I asked Val if she would open her government subsidized apartment to host our ‘Hopeful’ and ‘Purposeful’ Sunday evening programs. She enthusiastically said yes and her gift in evangelism has been unleashed as she invites friends and neighbours to join us. Our circle is growing because of her sense of excitement and hospitality.
Sean has just moved. He is so happy in his new place where he has his very own bathroom. He is anxious for us to come and bless his new place. It is so ‘cute’ to see the gleeful excitement in him. I have long had my own bathroom but only now am I appreciating it as I see my friend’s joy.
I sat and had coffee with an inmate who was out on a temporary pass. He didn’t want me to fix anything. He didn’t want me to even agree with him. He just wanted me to listen to him. He feels like no one ever does. I did listen and though I did reflect back to him a few things he was saying I ‘just listened’. Afterwards he was almost teary as he thanked me. He knows he can pour all this out to God but found it so helpful to have a flesh and blood human to vent to, as well.
These are the everyday things of ministry for me and though from time to time I may get involved in ‘bigger’ projects, nothing is really bigger than this. If I lose this perspective I do so at my own peril!
“Some of the most prophetically charged world-changing movements throughout history were catalyzed, not by charismatic leaders taking the world by force, but by small groups of faithful people on the fringe of society who chose to embody an alternative story to that of the prevailing culture around them” This quote from “To Alter Your World” by Michael Frost and Christiana Rice stays with me. I underlined it and keep returning to it as I meditate on ministry.
Street Hope, tiny community, seeks to live differently than before when survival consumed all energies. Survival mode is the most self-centred way of living there is. The culture around us is very much in ‘survival mode’. The thought of living a life of self-giving love after the example of Jesus is counter cultural to the extreme.
I believe that the wider community does see differences in those of our fellowship. People are seeing uncharacteristic behaviours. They are not saying this but I believe it is true. Self-giving love stands out! The neighbours are watching. They are wondering if it is real. They perhaps remain miles away from the idea of following this example but they notice. They are looking for stumbles and unfortunately we all stumble but they see people pick themselves up again and move on with forgiveness and hope. We hope that eventually this humble community (which has lots to be humble about) can have an impact on the destructive self-seeking of the prevailing culture.
On May 20th we will be hosting our first Shalom Saturday. The goal is that together we will move toward a wholeness that is exemplified in fulfilled lives of self-giving. The intention is to have a Shalom Saturday every 6 weeks and we are asking that participants commit to staying with us for a minimum of six sessions. We will spend the day together in Jesus’ presence in commitment to honest dialogue. Through listening, dialogue and worship we expect make progress in moving from lives of unhealthy self-seeking to fulfilled self-giving lives. We hope to have 12 people in our circle. 12 is both a small and a significant number. 12 was once a world changing number. We are not seeking to change the world for that is God’s job but we are seeking to be changed. We do live in hope that as God changes us he can use our change to nudge the prevailing culture around us toward his Kingdom and its value of self-giving love.
Refirement plans are developing nicely. We are beginning two new projects.
The first is Fandango. In years past we had hosted a lavish Christmas Breakfast where we distributed gifts to our guests. We tried to give gifts that would make a difference in people’s lives. One year we gave out 100 electric blankets to folks, many of whom lived in cold rooms. Christmas became a crowded time, with many ministries and organizations extending wonderful caring service, so we step back. Since then we have been praying and searching for our niche. Recently we were thinking about “Christmas in July”. The idea of giving electric fans to people living in airless rooms excited us. This led to a change in name. We decided to throw a Fandango! We decided to throw a gala party and invite the neighbourhood. Soon the good folks of “The Chef’s Table” offered to partner with us in serving an elegant ‘South West’ themed dinner. We hope to soon be able to announce the live music which we will enjoy. We plan to do all this for a total of $55/guest (5 course meal plus electric fan)! Monies have already begun to come in and we are expecting that God will provide for this ‘jubilee’ party.
Secondly, this week we will be meeting to settle the final details for “Shalom Saturday”. Our goal is to hold a Shalom Saturday every six weeks. During this all day event, in a ‘healing circle’ setting, through respectful dialogue and worship we will seek to help participants achieve new perspectives on life and move toward the “fullness of life” promised in scriptures. Our theme verse is “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” John 10:10
Shalom while often translated as meaning peace, actually means much more than that. It speaks of wholeness and of restoration! Moses found that taking Israel out of slavery in Egypt was actually only part of the task. The second and perhaps greater job was taking the slavery out of the people. They needed to learn how to live the full life their delivering God desired for them. In our dealings over the years with people who have struggled with addictions we have seen people attain sobriety without actually discovering a new life. Our great hope is that God will use Shalom Saturdays to help people find a new way of living.
I have a song stuck in my head “Greater things are yet to come, greater things have yet to be done, in this city.”
There is something wonderfully subversive about smallness! Jesus compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed, an exceedingly small seed indeed. A mustard plant does not grow up like an oak to tower over society and cast its shadow over the culture. The mustard plant is equal parts above and below the ground. It is one of the most difficult plants to uproot because of its tenacious root system which stubbornly stay rooted. If we were looking for a more impressive metaphor we might try “The Kingdom is like a towering Redwood or like an Amazon Jungle” but these are not the picture Jesus paints.
I jokingly said I was giving up grandiosity for Lent and I was doing really well. I wish, though that I really could so easily give up striving for bigness in this world. God, who is almighty after all, chooses a rag-tag nation to be his people. He chooses a young virgin to bear the seed which becomes the only begotten Son. He chooses the foolish to confound the wise. He chooses the small mustard plant rather than grander vegetation for his metaphor. He continually chooses smallness over grandness and yet we so often want to change his way to the way of this fallen world.
I was reminded of the power of smallness this week. One day this week only one person came to our Study and Prayer time. I was initially disappointed and wondered why my friends had abandoned me, but I was later to rejoice. The fellow who came wanted to talk! He had just hit what he called ‘rock bottom’. He wanted to stop ‘fooling around’ with God and completely surrender. In that exceedingly small group something wonderful happened. We had a candid conversation about sin and shame and surrender. At the start I was lamenting that we were so small but soon I realised the dynamic power of simply being open to God moving through smallness.
I had another lesson in smallness. Wednesday nights after a community supper Out Flow Ministry has begun to have a communion service. Most of the people bolt out after eating. Linda and I, like salmon going upstream, enter as most leave and we join with a small group who gather to worship and celebrate together. There is real power in the smallness of this diverse group. Together we are a picture of the Church. We experience the manifest presence of God in ways that elude me in the larger assemblies I find myself in.
On Easter a small group of us got together for dinner. An eclectic little group of us gathered and I marvelled that a group which would not otherwise have met had become friends. We laughed and joked and sang and prayed. This unlikely little group partied and worshipped. We were small and without worldly influence but no mega event experienced God more deeply!
In our desire to be people of influence we may sometimes despise the small but it is the small rudder that turns the big ship. No amount of brute force will have the impact that effective smallness will. I was reminded this week of the mustard seed call of God to a smallness which relies solely on the dynamic power only God provides. Mega may only give the illusion of dynamism.
“I desire obedience rather than sacrifice” These are words of challenge to us this Good Friday when we pause to contemplate the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
No one takes Jesus’ life he lays it down. In Gethsemane he chooses and continually affirms that choice. As the hymn asserts he is both priest and victim in the Eucharistic Feast. The whole drama of Good Friday is played out against the background of Passover. The idea of sacrifice is inescapable and yet it is the supreme obedience which is empowers the sacrifice.
The Christological hymn in Philippians chapter 2 tells of his obedience “even unto death” as the reason that God has raised him to the highest place. Obedience is little contemplated but oh so important in the Gospel story. The remedy for a disobedient humanity was the obedience of the one man Jesus, the Second Adam accomplishing what the first did not! In his opening to the Letter to the Romans Paul introduces the thought that he was writing to call them “to an obedience that comes from faith.”
In our culture we see obedience as doing what we don’t want to do. We even see it as punitive in a way. But obedience to One who supremely loves us cannot be to our harm. Obedience to God is not sacrifice but is much more likely to be a blessing! Christ was not obedient unto death solely to punch our ticket to Heaven but he was obedient so that we might be enabled to pick up our cross of obedience and follow him.
I am eternally grateful that on the cross Jesus has vanquished sin and death, that he has disarmed the powers and rescued us. He deserves my worship. He is the rightful object of my faith! James writes so clearly, echoing Paul’s thought, “Faith without works is dead.”
The world needs to hear of Sacrifice of Jesus but to really hear it they need to see the obedience of his Church. This will mean a faithfulness in proclamation, a proclamation that is given integrity by our active obedience. What does obedience look like? What does the Lord require? “To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
So I will ponder the sacrifice of Christ today and I will rededicate myself to following in obedience knowing that it is the good and blessed way.