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That Would Be a Poem, My Son


This week I was reminded of an old joke. “Two English majors were chatting. “Do you like Kipling?” one asked. “I don’t know I’ve never kippled.” The other replied.”

I was reminded of Kipling as we examined an important word during our study time this week. This important word was the subject of a famous Kipling poem “If”. In this poem the author starts each line with that word. “If you can fill each minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.” “If you can keep your head when those around are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” He ends explaining that “if” all these criteria are met then “You will be a man my son.” As a young boy reading this I was both inspired and disheartened. Kipling set the ideal and in doing so doomed me to a life of falling short. His “If” helped form and deform me!

As we were studying the story of Jesus’ temptations in the Gospel of Matthew we noted that “If” is a small but powerful word. The devil knows this. He used it each time in addressing Jesus. “If you are the Son of God…” This opening sets up a premise that tilts the conversation in a particular direction. If Jesus bought into the misleading premise, if he started from a place of doubt about his identity, then disaster might be the outcome. He refuses to begin the encounter on the ground laid by the adversary, the Liar and Father of Lies!

Adam and Eve were not as keenly aware of the subtlety of this “if” proposition (preposition). They allowed their minds to entertain this “if”.

Many of the martial arts rely on using the opponent’s momentum. If an opponent is caught leaning forward that momentum can be redirected. The much bigger opponent can take a great fall by providing just such momentum! When we entertain the “if” we open ourselves by subtly leaning into an untruth or area of doubt. This can result in our becoming unbalanced and uncertain of our identity. We much more easily tumble. Entertaining the “if” in settled circumstances such as my identity in Christ or the love of God. Put us in a precarious position.

Being open to the “if” in other areas is necessary, though. If we are to grow, if we are to improve, if we are to learn, then we must embrace the “if”. Of course we take the risk of our world or world view being shaken but that is a risk worth taking, especially if we entertain these ifs in company of the Holy Spirit who promises to guide us into truth.

As an Evangelist I believe that helping people entertain some “if” questions is important. Peoples’ questions often allow me to direct their intellectual or emotional momentum toward the God who so loves the World. This takes simple listening, with an ear toward those things that create momentum.

Kipling’s ideal of manhood did not include love. If only he could have included this aspect that would be a poem, my son!

 

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Inside Out!


 

We started a “Spoiler alert!” Bible study during our morning Study and Prayer times. We are reading Matthew ‘inside out’. We started with the last verses. In the gospel of John we read “if all the things Jesus said and did were written down all the books in the world could not contain them” so we know that each gospel writer selects what he includes and excludes. He does this in order to tell the story from a particular viewpoint with a particular conclusion in mind. This is much like a writer knowing the plot outline and where the story goes from the prologue on.

Matthew ends with: 1) a commission to “go into all the world” and as they go to make disciples everywhere from among all people and 2) a promise of God’s partnership in this endeavour.

Matthew is known as the most ‘Jewish’ of the Gospels. His choices of inclusion demonstrate the fulfillment of the promises of God to the People Israel. He makes clear Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. His knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures is clearly on display, but at the same time he has in view that the Messiah of Israel is also the Saviour of the Gentiles (the whole world).

After a genealogy that establishes Jesus’ bona fides as Messiah; a son of Abraham, a son of David and Son of God. He introduces the magi and so the good news is truly for the whole world. God’s promises to Abraham of a blessing to all nations is being fulfilled before Matthew’s very eyes.

Reading things in this inside out way can be helpful in many areas, not just in reading scripture. We have all heard the old saw “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” First appearances or initial superficial impressions can be very misleading. When I first naively began ministry in the inner-city, I thought I would be involved in much ‘primary evangelism’. I assumed people didn’t know God. I was mistaken! There is a keen awareness of God in our community. People have heard and many believe! As these folks were patient with me I learned that the need was not for primary evangelism but for a type of discipleship which would allow people to ‘live out their faith’ in the context of poverty, mental health issues and inner-city culture.

Getting past ‘the cover’ and reading from the inside out has shown me the depth of simple faith in my friends. Though I have sung “I’m desperate for you” I did not know of true desperation until my friends illustrated it for me. I have knowledge and communication skills which can bless these folks but they have profoundly blessed me. I am a blessed man!

I wish more people, like me, from privileged backgrounds, would engage with the poor, not by donating money (though I’ll never refuse this) but by investing themselves. It might seem at first to be a costly adventure but in fact you will be enriched. This has been my experience.

 

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A Wonderful Time!


There was a change a sudden and discernible change in the atmosphere. The professional servers in their crisp white blouses and sharp ebony vests began to offer trays of appetizers. Folks that had only witnessed such scenes on the television found themselves catered to in this stylish way. A sense of delight and wonder fell on our gathering.

Last Friday we held our Fandango. It was a lavish dinner party for 100+ of our friends in the wider community. People were amazed to be treated so specially. It was a joy to inform them that the whole idea was to remind them that they are indeed special! The theme of the evening was “Jesus loves you and thinks you are special and he likes to ‘party’ with his friends. This simple message was delivered time and time again to individuals and loudly and clearly through our “Word from Our Sponsor” but even more distinctly through; the décor, the elegant cuisine, and the expert service.

While I was clear in my ‘fund raising that we were going to give out electric fans to our friends, many of whom live in airless rooms, I had managed to keep this a relative secret to our guests. At the end of the evening when these parting gifts were being distributed, many folks were overcome with gratitude. I hope we sufficiently redirected this gratitude toward God who as the Word made flesh often partied with his friends and was himself God’s great gift to the world.

Hours of preparation went into this event. Volunteers decorated and set up. Chef Russell put obvious skill and time into the execution of our South Western themed menu. Our friends at Home Hardware gave us a wonderful deal on the fans and over 100 folks supported the endeavour financially.  Our final accounting has not been completed but we already know that this was a tremendous success. We feel we (all of us) achieved our goal of prophetically declaring the good news that God loves us and has invited us to the greatest banquet we can imagine.

My back still aches and my hands hurt but my heart remains full. I got to be a part of sharing this wonderful news and I got to see the wonder in my friends’ eyes as they experienced it. I am grateful to God for the opportunity and grateful for all the wonderful partners along the way. Thank you for praying!

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Seeing God


I love seeing God at work. Sometimes like Elisha’s servant, I need my eyes opened to see, but I do see him at work among my friends.

A widow for several years. She retreated into isolation and became reclusive. Over time the isolation shifted into agoraphobia. She never ventured out at all. Fear trapped her inside her apartment. Conway Twitty seemed her only friend. A quiet gentle friend of ours began to draw her out. Soon they were having tea together and listening to old country songs. This gentle woman began to host our Sunday gatherings and invited her friend to join our little group. There seated in her familiar chair with her familiar mug of tea she took a chance on us. As time went on she began to take more and more part in our conversations. When we invited her to join us for our celebration of Canada Day we did not really expect her to come, but our gentle friend was not so easily deterred. She quietly persisted and our new friend did venture out. She met a whole new circle and really seemed to enjoy herself. We are so privileged to witness this slow and miraculous change. It is less visible than the healing of a “withered hand” but just as dramatic and astounding.

A woman joined us last Friday night and after I shared “A Word from Our Sponsor”, she asked if she could sing. She sang sweetly and powerfully about God’s faithfulness through the storms of life. Everyone there knew that she was intimately familiar with ‘storms’ and this lent a credibility and authority to her words. It was a beautifully Spirit filled moment.

Another young woman joined us for worship. She had just been discharged from the hospital. She admitted that she had been making some poor choices and was hoping that God would help her to make better ones.

As I write this I am really grateful for this past week and I am excited about the week ahead. Tonight is our “Fandango”. We are hosting a lavish dinner party for the community and as parting gifts we will give each person an electric fan. God is meeting all of our needs in doing this. We are blessed with the support of ‘The Chef’s Table’. Chef Russell and Betty Dobblesteyn will be providing a South Western flavoured 5 course dinner. Event planner Karen Cooney and family are decorating the tables and the venue. Home Hardware and our long-time supporter John Cudmore gave us a good deal on 100 fans. The folks at Threshold Ministry have been invaluable in advertising and accounting and Stone Church is providing an ideal venue for our party. Lots of people are helping with the set up and the ultimate tear down and restoration of the space. It is truly a team effort.

We pray that Jesus’ will be glorified throughout this event and people will be encouraged to know Jesus who loves his friends and likes to party with them.

If you would like to help with us financially we still have a slight short fall. More next week …….

 

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Creating Community


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One of my favourite little puns is, “I was wondering why the Frisbee was getting bigger and bigger … then it hit me!” For a long time I have been looking for a handbook on “How to Build Community”. We recently stated looking at Nehemiah in our Study and Prayer times and it struck me that this might be the guidebook I have been looking for.

I know the subject of building walls is a tender one these days but Nehemiah was about so much more than building walls. He was building a ‘community’. This though was a peculiar community. It was to be a community with God as their King. As I realised this the book took on new relevance.

Nehemiah was utterly unqualified. His formal training was as a ‘house slave’ not as an engineer or even a site foreman. The thing that distinguished him was that at a Kairos moment, a crucially determinative time in the history of the people of God, he willingly (if reluctantly) stepped up to obey God’s call.

Once in Jerusalem he was faced with a daunting task. The walls were in ruins like the Iraqi or Syrian towns we see on the television. Where to start? How does one begin such a mammoth undertaking? I am reminded of the old saw “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” Nehemiah prayed, and then started to work. I think James the writer of the Epistle would have liked Nehemiah. He was not a hearer only but was doer. He prayed and then he acted.

He mobilised his little community and each started ‘right where they were’. Just as Jesus bids us shine, each started in their own small corner. There did not seem to be a master plan other than to follow the Master’s plan.

Soon though they met opposition. Nobody likes opposition but such resistance is essential for our growth. Like Joseph’s brothers, Sanballat and Tobiah et al meant it for harm but God intended it for good. The bullying and taunting and threatening and distraction were thought to stop the construction but the people learned a valuable lesson and developed a valuable skill. They learned to be people of the sword and the trowel. The sword to engage in spiritual battle, for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in the spiritual realm. The people learned that there was opposition and they learned to realistically face it. As people of the trowel they were engaged in practical demonstration of their faith, in obedience to God.

By use of the ‘sword’ and the ‘trowel’ Nehemiah was  not only to successfully construct walls but to build a people. Moses had demonstrated that it was much easier to take people out slavery than to take slavery out of a people. Through Nehemiah God successfully rehabilitated both the city walls and the people.

I am convinced, more than ever, that we of Street Hope Saint John, in our little corner are on the right track. We are to keep in balance the ‘sword’ and the ‘trowel’. Worship and study in combination with practical expression of our faith will be our means of growing a community following our King.

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Poverty & Prayer


We were talking about prayer this week. Many of my friends have been exposed to a kind of “name it and claim it” kind of theological rhetoric. They hear the ‘prosperity’ gospel expounded by radio and television evangelists. It always surprises me that they are not angrier at God than they are, for my friends are intimately familiar with poverty, at least poverty as we know it in the West. No amount of ‘claiming it’ will change their financial circumstances. The wealth and prosperity Gospel may work for the world’s 1% but it does not ‘preach’ in our community.

These friends of mine are from the world of mental health. They are unable to function in the world of commerce. These folks who are empirically unable to deal with the world of finance are given a monthly cheque that would require brilliant home economist skills to manage. It is no surprise that there is generally more month than money. Their needs are basic and their needs are many. If financial ‘blessing’ is a measure of God’s care they have reason to feel ignored.

This is why we talk about prayer so often. How we pray is a reflection of how we see or experience God. If my experience of God is as a cosmic ATM then my prayer life reflects that. My bank account may be rich but my prayer life and relationship with God will be poor indeed. If though I see God as a very present help, if I see him indispensable to my daily living then my prayer life becomes very rich. There is no virtue in involuntary poverty but it has certain advantages.

I love to hear the plain and plaintive prayers of my friends. I have had visitors such as the Lieutenant Governor of the province and visiting clergy who have commented on the touching prayers of my simple friends.

Last Sunday we had a wonderfully odd assortment of us gathered for prayer and worship in a friend’s apartment. One of the newest members suffers from agoraphobia, she started venturing out to our host’s home for tea just this year and now her circle has grown to include our Street Hope gang as we gather in her trusted friend’s home. The prayers for ‘help’ last Sunday moved me but more importantly I believe they move God as he witnesses the desperate trust his gathered children put in him. “Dear God, I’m about to lose it with my worker. Please give me patience. You know I struggle. Amen”

Elsewhere people may join in the prayer of Janis Joplin “Lordy won’t you give me a Mercedes Benz ….” But my friends choose to: ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking and knock and keep on knocking. We often talk about ‘praying in Jesus name’ and remind ourselves that this means that we ought to pray for those things and only those things which line up with the person, Jesus, that we have come to know. We ask ourselves “does my prayer reflect love toward God?” and “Does it reflect love for my neighbour, as myself?”

When it comes to richness of prayer life I have experienced part of what Jesus meant when he said “Blessed are the poor”

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Freedom


I met with a friend this week and he poured out his frustration with his employers and how difficult they made it for him to do his job as he knew it needed to be done. I was properly sympathetic but inside there was a giddiness that I no longer shared those same frustrations.

I had just arrived back from a stress-free vacation (other than a couple of traffic related frustrations) but my inner elation was not entirely due to my relaxed state as it was to my new found freedom.

I am free to follow Jesus! Ironically this freedom finds expression in service to Him. This freedom is described in scripture as “the narrow way”. The world often portrays freedom as a boundary-less space in which I do what I want. The Bible describes that as bondage to self. Freedom from self comes only as we intentionally and actively serve Jesus.

I still am accountable to people. I am accountable to my Community and its Director. I am accountable to my supporters and my wife. But unlike my friend I no longer have the frustration of heeding those who do not share my sense of mission.

I often tell my Street Hope friends “Love God and love your neighbour … and then do whatever you want!” This is the freedom that we can enjoy in obedient relationship with our Lord God. The Book of Common Prayer puts it like this “Whose service is perfect freedom.”

I remember the ‘Freedom 55” commercials that set the ideal of freedom as a perpetual golf game. I cannot think of anything less attractive. I plan to enjoy my freedom by partnering with Jesus in extending his Kingdom of justice and peace. Of all the yokes to wear his sits easiest!

I start back to the Drop In tonight with a Breakfast on Saturday and our “Purposeful” worship time on Sunday. We will begin again ‘full out”.

The Fandango is coming together nicely. We are beginning stage two of our advertising aimed at inviting our guests. We have 100 fans ordered and waiting at Lochlomond Home Hardware. Karen Cooney is busy organizing decorations. The Chef’s Table is engaged to provide a wonderful full course meal. The worship team from Christ Church Penfield is ready to provide the festive music. Things are looking good! We still require some financial help but we are trusting that it will come.

This is fun! This is freedom! This is stress-free activity (a taste of Heaven).

 

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