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“I’m a Big Man”


“I’m a big man”, he used to say, and I agree. He was big in a number of ways. My friend and a very real partner in ministry Big Donnie died this past week. Anyone who visits our Street Hope Saint John Facebook page will see Donnie there in almost every montage.

I first met Donnie 17 years ago. He took a course I was teaching at Taylor College, on Romans. Over the years we discussed Romans often and Don would remark that while I liked Romans with all its density and depth, he loved James with its simplicity and practicality. Donnie believed in being “a doer of the word not just a hearer.”

About 6 years ago Donnie needed some housing and I was able to get him into an apartment in our college residence. He and three other guys in similar circumstances became their own little religious community.

Donnie had a big heart. Probably his most often used phrase was “I love you.” He said it all the time to almost everyone he met, and you always felt he meant it! Though he had little he was always generous with what he had. His days were filled with helping people.

He had the biggest laugh. When Big Donnie entered a room it wasn’t long before everyone knew it as peals of his laughter would reverberate.

He had a big faith. I remember a time when I was moaning that we had lost a sponsor for our trip to Deer Island. Donnie piped up “You don’t have a money problem. You have a faith problem!” With that he dug in his wallet and gave me what was probably his last twenty dollars. “Here this will get you started!”

We spent hours with me leaning in his driver’s window and him parked in the driveway or on a street. We talked mostly about Jesus. Don saved his biggest love for Jesus.

We did many things together but I especially remember when we went to Crandall University to teach a class on Mission. He was so tickled to be Professor Big Donnie.

This post is a bit shorter than usual. Linda and I are wending our way home from the funeral of my dear sister-in-law and I am banging this out before we hop in the car to begin our trek home. We have experienced a lot of death lately and I admit to feeling pretty sad, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope. I can hear Big Donnie telling me “You don’t have a death problem you have a faith problem!”

I’ll miss my friend.

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Prayer & the Golden Rule


`”Why does it end like that?” We were reading Matthew 6:7-12. It is a familiar passage about prayer; “Ask”, “Seek”, and “Knock”. We have often heard it taught as being persistent in prayer but the question about why this passage ends with “The Golden Rule” seems alien to this usual interpretation.

I never ask inanimate objects for help or for answers. I want to ask a person! I get frustrated when a telephone inquiry winds up in looped conversation with an answering machine. When I want to look for help or answers I seek out a person. When I knock on a door I am hoping a person answers (except for my days doing ‘cold calls’ when I always hoped that no one was home).

The passage isn’t really about prayer but about its object. The person we are asking, seeking, and knocking for is the Good, Good, Father. That’s who he is. He does not withhold those good things from his children.

The ending with the ‘Golden Rule” is a reminder that we are to become like the one we worship. We are to become people who dole out to others the grace, mercy, and kindness we expect from our Father. When we enter his presence through asking, seeking and knocking we are to be transformed into his likeness and so treat others as we have been treated. In his epistle John puts it this way, “We love because he first loved us.”

I got a call this morning from a Street Hope friend. He has long been a part of our circle but fallen away several times. He called to tell me that he had prayed with a friend and asked Jesus to be his Lord and manager. I rejoiced with him! He has real hope that things will be different for him this time. I am so glad that he wanted to let me know of his decision.

Hope is our business and it is a joy to see embers of hope fanned into flame. We need most of all to be rescued from our seemingly hopeless state.

Last Saturday we had our Shalom Saturday. It was not as well attended as others but it was marked by the depth and intimacy of the sharing. One member commented afterward that it was the best one so far.

No two weeks are the same but we see the Good, Good, Father at work in our midst each day. We are loved by him, that’s who we are. So let’s share the love. That’s why the passage ends with the Golden Rule!

 

 

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Which Kingdom?


“What chance do we have, then?” This was an apt question I was asked. My friend had just been to a worship service where folks recited the 95th Psalm.  The psalm ends with God stating that the people who constantly grumbled in the wilderness wanderings would not enter into God’s rest. My friend was self-aware enough to identify himself and our culture as grumbling. If God could exclude these people of biblical history from his rest then what were our chances?

I don’t think God excludes anyone from his rest or any of his blessings. John 3:16 tells us God loves the whole world. This is the revealed character of God and we need to read the scriptures in the light that the scriptures, and particularly the Gospels, provide. So if God does not exclude people how do they wind up outside his rest? The answer would seem to be that we exclude ourselves.

Jesus came to declare that the Kingdom was here and invite us to participate and abide in that Kingdom. Through the cross he made a way for all who are weary and heavy laden to enter into his rest. The choice remains mine and yours to accept and participate. Moses set before the people a choice of life and death, and recommended life. Jesus the one Hebrews reminds us is greater than Moses makes a similar yet greater offer.

There is something about grumbling that indicates a poor choice. The marks of Kingdom citizenship are “love of God” and “love of neighbour”. Grumbling is a blatant symbol of self-involvement. The Fruit of the Spirit are: peace, joy, love patience …. Grumbling exhibits none of these! Thankfulness and worship are the natural posture of the Kingdom and grumbling is the exact opposite!

When we enter the ‘Kingdom of Grumble’ we may be assured that we are leaving behind the Kingdom of God. God takes this kind of departure very seriously and so we have dire warnings against opting to abide in the ‘Kingdom of Grumble’.

This does not mean that we ought to always be comfortable with the way things are. Until the time that God’s will is done on Earth as it is in Heaven, we chafe. Injustice in any form fills us with a ‘holy discontent’ which expresses itself not in grumbling but in prayer and loving action.

My friend, though, is right. We too often and too easily slip into the Kingdom of Grumble. This is a serious thing and we ought to deal with it ruthlessly when we notice. The antidote is repentance and thankfulness. Ignoring our disloyalty is not a good option. Ignorance is not bliss! The things that God seriously warns about need to be taken seriously.

This effort leaves me humbled, as I realize my frailty. It leaves me dependent on the Holy Spirit to keep me sensitive and on Christ to forgive. Grumbling will wear me out, but God alone invites me to abide in his rest.

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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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