NEWS FLASH: It’s not about the planet!

My mother once said that she’d like to see a bumper sticker:

That came back to mind, reading an interview with former astronaut Marc Garneau — Canada’s first man in space and now Federal Minister of Transport. He said that if more people could see Earth the way he has seen it — from the International Space Station — people would appreciate what we have. He believes more people would thus be inspired to do more to preserve the planet.

That appears to be a popular line from NASA: that the creation of the Earth was a total fluke and that the future of the Earth lies in space exploration. I talked about that in June, after seeing the documentary “One Strange Rock”. Certainly, you get a different perspective from space, and there are a lot of things you can’t see from 400 kilometres (240 miles), to wit:

  • poor people
  • oppressed people
  • homeless people
  • drug-addicted people
  • people

The inconvenient truth is, when you look at the way the Bible describes it, God created Earth as the manifestation of His glory and power, and also as the home for His creations — with people as the crowning achievement. Witness the fact that He put us in charge of caring for the entire “garden”.

Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

— Genesis 1:28

But it’s important to remember that He does not command us to fix things if we mess up with that assignment. Instead, He tells us that if we see natural catastrophes, we need to turn to Him and let Him take care of it.

And how do we turn to God? Very simple: we place other people’s needs ahead of our own. We reach out to the poor, the homeless, the drug-addicted, those living in poverty, and we help them. We do it in the name of Jesus Christ, and keep doing it, even when we don’t feel like it, don’t particularly like the people we’re helping and certainly without expecting even a “thanks” — not in this world, anyway.

By doing that, we draw closer to God (Matthew 25:40), and as we do that, God promises to heal the land.

Oh, yeah: and it’s not very costly. Consider that Dennis Tito became the first “space tourist” by forking out US $20million to take a ride. In 1965, satirist Tom Lehrer referred to “$200 million of your money to put some clown on the moon.” Loving your neighbour doesn’t cost anywhere near that much — and what it does cost, guess Who supplies the resources?

So, M’sieur le ministre, it’s not about appreciating and saving our planet. People do appreciate it and have been trying everything they can think of to repair the damage done, and more and more we’re seeing that those efforts have been fruitless. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about doing what God intended us to do: take care of one another. It’s an important sidebar to the theme of my book, God at Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty*: that there’s a mission field in our own backyard that needs workers.

We take care of the people – He takes care of the Earth.


*On sale now at online booksellers or by clicking on the link.

My way … or His way?

It’s been easy, when talking about my new book, God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, to focus on the stories from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Part the Second, “Postcards from Samaria”, is important for breaking down inhibitions people might have about bringing their ministry gifts to Skid Row — any Skid Row, in fact.

But an equally important reason for writing was to bear witness to the way in which, when God ordains a project to go ahead, it will go ahead, sometimes in spite of the best-laid plans of the people He’s called to make it happen.

Consider, for example, the question of funding. Building The Lord’s Rain started with no funding. We had the vision — to build a facility that provided showers for people on the DTES — and the right space had come available — one of the ground-floor units in the building that housed the Mission — but no money.

But we had an approach that we figured would be a slam-dunk*.

We estimated the showers would cost $14,000.00 to build; then we would need to cover the cost of rent, electricity and everything else. There was a wealthy Christian businessman who was noted for his generosity: we figured he would jump at the chance to fund it.

“Besides,” Barry said, “I’ve been told he used to play his trumpet here at the Mission when he was a kid.”

It seemed like an easy proposition. I drafted a letter and sent it via snail-mail, to show we were sincere. I imagined the scenario: I get invited to lunch at the Vancouver Club, and we spend time breaking bread together, the wealthy ruler and the humble Man of God eating with gladness in sweet fellowship in Christ. Then, just as the tiramisu is about to arrive and almost as an after-thought, he reaches into the inside pocket of his understated-but-elegant sport jacket and brings out an envelope, which he hands to me.

When the phone rang and his assistant identified herself, my heart leapt into my mouth.

“No,” she said, in substance. My heart leapt back.

I don’t remember much of the conversation that followed, except that she said the Board had prayerfully considered our request and decided to decline. She explained how many millions of dollars the corporation’s foundation donated to charities, asked for God’s blessing on this work and rang off.

Barry was dumbfounded. “How could he turn this down?”

“Well, it’s his money,” I said.

“I guess we have to find Plan B.”

Through my job in media relations – and the previous twenty-five years in radio – I had made quite a few friends in radio, TV and newspapers. I also knew how to write a news release. I pounded out one that described the project and the fund-raising drive.

I also wrote up an email, which Jon Boyd, one of the co-pastors at Westpointe, forwarded to the congregation. A similar letter was circulated to the ACOP churches in the Lower Mainland. Some media outlets picked up the story.

Two days before the deadline, we had … nothing.

Then the phone rang.

During the dark period when I was repenting for the sins that had ruined my life and damaged those around me, Gerry Wall, the pastor at The Oasis in Duncan, about 45 minutes north of Victoria, spent time praying with me and for me, trying to counsel me. He was the one who turned me on to the concept of floating axe-heads.

When I left Victoria, I heard from Gerry a couple of times, mainly as the supervisor for visits with my daughter; but I had no idea that The Oasis was a long-time supporter of Gospel Mission until Barry mentioned it casually at one of the Bible studies.

The phone call came from Gerry. He pledged a special donation of $1,000, promised to increase the church’s monthly contribution and to send a work party over to build it.

Time and time again, we have been astonished at the way God sets His plan into motion before any of us on earth have an idea what He’s up to. Consider the story of the Hebrews “plundering” the Egyptians – asking for and taking their gold, silver and jewelry just before they leave Egypt. We learn later that God intended for that gold, silver and jewelry to form part of the Tabernacle.

So it was with the Oasis. Gerry and his sons are carpenters by trade and are general contractors: the year before we started this journey, Gerry encouraged many to pursue trades and gave opportunities to learn on projects around the camp, “in case people needed a trade to fall back on”. Now, a year later, many of those people were ready to help build the project.

The second call that day was from Don Low. We met him and his wife, Joyce, at Westpointe: an elderly couple, they were Pentecostal and he had sung with a Gospel quartet while in the Air Force in World War II. “The other three were all Baptists,” he said, “and they were always kidding me about being Pentecostal!”

“I read your letter,” Don said on his voice-mail message. “Put me down for three thousand now, and more to come.”

Two phone calls in one day. Four thousand dollars. I told Barry.

“Let’s take that as a ‘yes’,” we said. 

One way or another, people, supplies, donations came on the scene to help get the project built, and they arrived just when they were needed. Barry was fond of saying, “God comes through in the 11th hour, 59th minute.”

Of course, that’s the 11th hour, 59th minute on our timetable. His timing is always bang-on, as far as He’s concerned.

It was evident God had no intention of having one person foot the bill for the entire project. That led to another intriguing aspect of The Lord’s Rain, which I’ll tell you about on Monday.


God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty is now available at online booksellers, in any e-book format (US $4.99). Or, you can click on the link above and order a copy.


*I don’t know why I used that silly expression, which is supposed to suggest something dead-easy. Have you ever tried a slam-dunk? I did in high school, all 5’8″ (at the time) of me. I needed a gymnastics springboard to get that high: missed, sending the ball rocketing down the court, bruised my forearm, and bent the rim of the basket when I chickened out about the return to earth and hung on. I spent the summer hoping nobody at the school would notice.

“Judge not …” another good reason

An excerpt from God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty.

Every so often, I’m gobsmacked by someone saying the people on the Downtown East Side “brought it on themselves” or that “they made a choice to be there”, or that people choose to be drug addicts.

And every so often, we need a refresher course in not judging.

That includes me.

Mike is a fellow I met on pretty much my first day at Gospel Mission in 2007. Nice-looking, pleasant, polite, 40-something, he would sit at or near the back and sing lustily during Worship. He loved singing, and had been in his school’s choir in Prince Rupert, which won awards in festivals.

But as the years went by, you could see him change. He’d be prone to outbursts of anger — not directed at us, but he would come in and talk to us, sometimes in what seemed like some kind of intellectual “code” that we had a hard time deciphering. Often, his complaint would be about the way advocacy groups he was involved with, like VANDU (the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users) would treat him. For example, he was angry that he would be told to leave meetings for being disruptive. How he was disruptive was never clear.

Certainly, Mike could be candid and maybe less than judicious in the things he said. When supporters of InSite — the supervised injection facility — turned out en masse for a court ruling regarding federal health-care funding, Mike was a no-show. “I missed out on thirty-five bucks,” he said, explaining that organizers had promised that to people who came for the demonstration. He then told me that he and others were given box lunches and a trip to Victoria for a demonstration at the Legislature.

Aside from exacerbating Mike’s anger issues, the drug use has savaged his physical state, with ghastly open sores appearing on his face. I found it very easy to judge him, saying to myself, “so how are those ‘drug users’ rights’ working out for you?”

One day in 2015, he shared a piece of information.

He had a way of being quiet and contemplative, and this was one of those mornings. Finally, he spoke.

“My mother died thirty-five years ago this month,” he said. “She, my auntie, my grandma, my sister and brother — all killed in a car accident. It was just outside Edmonton on Highway 16 and they hit a tanker truck.”

That was a jolt. I remembered that crash well. It was one of a number of fatal crashes in 1980 along what the papers were calling “Death Highway”. Shortly after that, I had to drive that highway en route to my first radio job, in Lloydminster, on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

And now, here was someone directly affected by that string of disasters.

He went on. “My grandpa said, ‘I got a bad feeling about Mikey going with you.’ He didn’t want me to go. ‘I got a bad feeling,’ he said.”

“Wow,” I said. “So you stayed home.”

“Oh, no,” Mike replied. “I went. I was the only survivor.”

Suddenly, a lot of things fell into place.

So now, it becomes understandable that Mike would turn to drugs as the solution to his pain and his lingering grief (“survivor’s remorse”, perhaps?). Personally, I’m no more in favor of people doing drugs for any reason — and certainly not in favor of making them “safer” to take. But Mike’s experience reminds me that there are so many deep-seated issues that need to be dealt with.

As you read about the addicts and hookers and pushers and other people society has pushed to the side, think about Mike. His story is unique to him, but common in the area because people have their own stories. As fellow children of God, our responsibility is to stop their death spiral. How? How well has our “human intellect” approach been working?

Frankly, only God can reveal and only Jesus can heal.


My new book, God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, is now on sale — US $4.99 online. To order, just click on the link — or visit any online bookseller.

An appeal from Gospel Mission

In the interview I did last week with John Fischer, he asked an important question: is The Lord’s Rain still operating? When I hesitated, he said, “Oh …”, and I explained that the building housing Gospel Mission and The Lord’s Rain was being demolished to make way for a new mixed-use development.

The Mission itself found temporary digs fairly quickly — in a space called The Door Is Open, which is run by the Catholic church. It’s next to Oppenheimer Park, about six blocks away from Pigeon Park, and, as Danilo observed years ago, it might as well be on another planet.

The move has meant not just a change in clientele, but a loss of volunteers, and on Tuesday, Russell Chadwick, chaplain at Gospel Mission, issued an appeal on the Mission’s Facebook page.

One of the barriers to people volunteering on the Downtown East Side is fear — fear of the area, the possibility of violence, and especially the people. One of the aims of my book is to break through that fear by showing the people in the area as not much different — undifferent, as John, Marti and I have put it — from anyone else. Just, as Murray Scott says in the book, “normal people in a bad space”.

SO … I’m offering a free download of the book to the first five people who step up to volunteer and who haven’t ministered on the Downtown East Side before. (Contact Russell through the Facebook group: Gospel Mission Society / Carrall St Church.)

Remember: some call the DTES “Canada’s Worst Postal Code”, but in reality, it’s the whitest fields for harvest.

Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.

— Luke 10:2

My new book, God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, is now on sale — US $4.99 online. To order, just click on the link — or visit any online bookseller.

“Choice”. Really?

We gotta get out of this place

If it’s the last thing we ever do.

We gotta get outta this place

‘Cause girl, there’s a better life for me and you.

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, 1965

This is an excerpt from my new book, God at Work: a Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty.

Let’s get something straight. I mentioned earlier about the canard that people in places like the Downtown East Side are there by choice. You can shake that off. That might be true in some cases; but many people there, like Shannon and Brannen, want to get as far away as possible.

Choice, eh?

There’s something Biblical about those lyrics. The Bible is full of accounts of people whose lives moved forward when they moved on. Abram (as he was then called) was commanded by God to leave his home in Ur near what was later Babylon and go to a different and potentially hostile place. “Arise, Joseph,” Gabriel told the carpenter, “take Mary and the Babe to Egypt and stay there until those who seek His life have died.” The other Joseph, he of the coat of many colors, was forcibly removed from his comfortable place as Jacob’s favorite son: sold to some passing merchants and later in Egypt was traded for purple, incense, and a eunuch to be named later.

I ran into Albert this past Sunday. With his slightly misshapen head and speech impediment caused by having no teeth, he could easily be written off as a “typical” Downtown East Sider, possibly with a lower-than-average IQ.

He’s not. Trust me.

He used to be a regular at The Lord’s Rain. Polite, kindly, unassuming; he would come in and shower and shave and hang about to chat with us. Then one day, he announced proudly that he had a new place and was moving in.

The new place is in a condo project at 1st Avenue and Main Street, a few blocks beyond what I would call the outside edge of the Downtown East Side. As I understand it, the project got the goahead, in part, because of the “social housing” component. Albert has a small, self-contained studio apartment – and so we don’t see him in the neighbourhood much anymore.

I was waiting for a bus to go to church and Albert was en route to First Baptist Church, where they lay on a big breakfast for the poor on Sundays (not sure if it’s every Sunday or certain ones, like just before Welfare Wednesday). We chatted a bit about where we were going and what the breakfast was like, and then I asked him, “So how’s the new place working out?”

“It’s great,” he said. “I got my own kitchen and bathroom and it’s really clean.”

I mentioned that another chap I knew also had a place in the same building but there had been problems with drug addicts and dealers.

“Maybe on his floor,” Albert replied. “Our (electronic key) cards only get us onto our floor. Mine’s great.”

The other fellow had pointed out that the dealers had managed to disable some of the locking functions and were able to move about.

“I’ve complained [to the people in charge of screening the residents] about the situation,” Albert went on, “but they tell us, ‘addicts need a place to live, too’.”

“So do you,” I pointed out.

Albert gave a sort of “it is what it is” shrug, and, with my bus arriving, we said our goodbyes.

Probably the biggest advantage to Albert’s place is that IT’S NOT ON THE DOWNTOWN EAST SIDE. Many of the people I meet there would like nothing better than to get the heck out of there. Marty, a former teacher whose life was destroyed by drugs, summed it up by saying it’s too easy to fall back, when all it takes is a phone call and maybe a half-block walk from your front door. Why would we want to keep people in such proximity to the very things that landed them in the state they’re in? Life’s troubles are only temporary, but in that environment, the “temporary” and “permanent” seem the same.

The paradox is that there are so many dedicated services on the Downtown East Side for the mentally ill, addicted and chronically sick — people whose personal stories include workplace injuries from which they’ve never recovered, diabetes or the effects of long-term alcohol use. Moving away can make those safety nets seem out of reach. But surely there’s a way to make those nets mobile and give at least some of the people who need them a better chance at breathing free.

Some years ago at the old Rainbow Mission, I preached a message called “If you don’t go — you won’t grow!” One fellow piped up, “What if the only place where you feel like you’re accepted is the place you’re in?”

He had me there, although from a pure “faith perspective”, if God sends you to a place (and that’s one of the keys to Abram’s experience), then it doesn’t matter if people in the area “accept” you or not. Scripture tells us that Abram/Abraham gradually earned the respect of the Canaanites. In this day and age, we’re expected to be more accepting of people, so that question should be our problem — not his.


God at Work: a Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty is now available at any online bookseller; or click on the link to order direct from Smashwords.

“I could never …”

do what you do!”

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

— Jonah 1:1-3

When people learned that I was ministering on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, they would often say, “I could never do what you do!”

Response: “How do you know?”

In my new book, God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, I describe how my friend (and landlady at the time), Laura-Lynn, made the fateful suggestion that I visit Rainbow Mission and see if they needed help. My initial thought was half-hearted, at best, because I had thought God had other things for me, and “helping out” at a skid row mission didn’t seem to fit into that vision.

But I went anyway, and the book describes what happened as a result.

The fact is, I didn’t know what I was capable of — or, more correctly, I didn’t know what I was capable of doing in concert with the Holy Spirit. He motivates and gives the strength, insights and words that we need to carry out what He wants; it’s up to us to say “yes”, or “no”. God always gives us that choice.

That’s how it was with Jonah. God called him to do something he didn’t want to do — namely, take His message to the Ninevites. But for whatever reason — maybe he was terrified of going anywhere near Nineveh, maybe he felt overwhelmed by the idea of taking that kind of message to anybody; maybe both — he tried to run the other way, attempting to shut out the voice of God.

In other words, Jonah said, “I could never do that!” But God had decided he was the one to do the job. So Jonah was, in fact, wrongly judging himself, wrongly judging God, AND walking in disobedience by doing the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and singing “LALALALALA!”

You might feel a call to do something. The “something” might be big, like committing to volunteer at a skid row mission, or relatively small, like stopping to chat with a street person, rather than fob them off with some spare change. Maybe God is trying to tell you, “enough with the compromises! Do it My way!”

The “call” might be a sudden thought; it could be a series of strangely connected circumstances, like coming in contact with the same people — or type of people — in different conditions; or it could be a Voice so loud and clear you look around to see if anyone else heard It. But whatever it is and however you hear it, understand that God has picked you for the job He wants done, and He knows what you’re capable of better than you do.

You might not think you’re capable of doing what God has called you to do, but working with the Holy Spirit, there’s nothing you can’t do.

“… lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

— Matthew 28:20b

Amen.


God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, launches July 24 at online booksellers; through July 31, it’s also part of the Smashwords Spring and Summer sale. Click on the link to order!

The great doubt-slayer

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.”

— Matthew 21:21

Do not doubt. If there is anything that can destroy faith and block God’s blessings, it’s even the slightest reservation that maybe your faith is misplaced, that you’re on the wrong track by “giving it (or leaving it) to the Lord”.

Being human, we all doubt, in one way or another. We consider things with our five natural senses, and even when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, we tend to say, “Really?”, to things we hear or see from Him.

Praise God, He is not a bully, who will coerce us into believing Him. He can withstand doubt, because, having made us, He knows who we are; and while faith is the requirement for pleasing Him (Hebrews 11:6), He backs it up with the physical evidence we want.

And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”

When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ ”

And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

— Luke 7:22-29

In other words, look at the works, and decide.

When we have our doubts, it’s good to pause and reflect on the ways God has carried you through difficult situations. Even when you think you winkled yourself out of a tough spot with your own brilliance and talent, take another look at what happened. Was it really all you? Was it only luck? Who gave you that talent in the first place? Could it be that Someone watching over you arranged for the “chance” meeting or the “accidental” discovery?

In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses recaps the previous forty years of wandering in the wilderness for the Israelites, focusing on the ways God stood by them, kept them alive and fed, and led them to where they had to go. When we have doubts, it’s good to go through our own “Deuteronomy” to help erase them.

OR … look at someone else’s testimony. My new book, God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty, tells a story that can kill any doubt about the existence of God. It’s about the way He gave a vision for a way to help the poorest in our cities, by providing a Basic Human Need — physical cleanliness with a shower — and going beyond that with a way to connect with Him through the people who worked there. When the project kicked off, all we had was the vision and an empty space in our building. No money. No supplies.

But everything we needed was provided, and in ways we could never have imagined. Sometimes, plans we thought were the right ones — even with the right motives — were not the plans God had for the project. But because the motives were right, and it was clear the plan was God’s to begin with, when we “gave it to Him”, He made it all work.

Doubt about Him? Not anymore.


God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty is now available at any online bookstore, or by clicking on the link to place your order.

Undifferent?

In Tuesday’s interview on John Fischer’s The Catch, John talked about his wife, Marti, who ministers to homeless women in Orange County. He said one of the biggest challenges Marti faces is telling wealthy women that the homeless women are “undifferent”.

How true. Murray Scott, a building contractor who donated his time, energy and expertise to the building of The Lord’s Rain described his feelings (in God At Work) as he approached the project:

At first, I was scared. I had worked on Carrall Street before, on the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. building (a resource organization for Chinese people in Vancouver) and I had worked on Pender Street, on the Native Indian housing, and there was a lot of theft.

As I sat outside the Mission in my truck, waiting for people to arrive, I observed the neighborhood. These people were no different from myself: they were talking, sharing, playing football in the street; they weren’t so much having fun, but they were normal – normal people, except they were in a bad place.

If there was one thing I learned from ministering on the Downtown East Side, it’s that anyone of us on the “outside” is just one mis-step away from touching off the cascade of events that eventually leads to that same “bad place”. They and we are un-different.

That’s a reality people like to avoid, when considering the poor people in their own backyard. People come up with excuses, like, “they brought it on themselves”, “they choose to be homeless”, “if they wanted to beat drug addiction, they would”, and “I pay my taxes for social services.”

“Are there no prisons? … and the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation? … I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

— from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

Many of the people I met there caught a bad break and handled it differently than someone else who had a similar setback. Person 1 bounced back and was stronger; Person 2 didn’t and wound up on Skid Row. Are we in any position to judge that they’re unworthy of help?

And of course, there’s the big one: “It’s someone else’s ministry!”

“‘… for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;

“‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’

“Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”

— Matthew 25:42-45

Jesus doesn’t call us to make our determination as to how the “least of these” came to be hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or in prison. It’s simple: you see it – you do something.

Usually, all you need to do is show up.

But to return to today’s main theme, the more I served on the DTES, the more I looked at the people there and said to myself, “she could be my daughter, he could be my son … ” or “he could be my dad” … and especially, “he could be me.” What would I do in his situation? What would Jesus do in my situation?

Undifferent. People tend to be scared of venturing into Skid Row. Maybe “undifferent” is the biggest reason of all.


God At Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty is available through all online booksellers.

Do the job – and don’t expect …

What can I say except you’re welcome

For the tides, the sun, the sky

Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay

You’re welcome

I’m just an ordinary demi-guy

— from “You’re Welcome” by Lin-Manuel Miranda

I referred to that song from Moana last year, as an example of using pop culture to teach children about God. The Disney idea of an egomaniacal demi-god, listing his great works as though we should be thanking him translates perfectly into our relationship with God. The main difference, of course, is that God leaves it to us to figure out that He created all and to thank Him for it.

And the sad truth is, we don’t thank Him nearly enough. We blithely toss off references to “Mother Nature” and “the universe” as though they were living, sentient beings (a Seattle radio host was fond of prefacing the local weather capsule by saying, “Let’s see what ‘mom’ has for us today …”), but saying, “Thank God” or “praise the Lord” outside of a church setting is social blasphemy.

Oddly enough, God is used to it, it appears. Recall our story yesterday: let’s look at what happens next:

Jesus commands the demons to come out of the man, and the demons beg Jesus not to send them away, but to let them go into a herd of pigs nearby. Jesus says, “Go ahead”. The demonized pigs suddenly run down a cliff into the sea and are drowned.

The swineherders see this and rush into the town to tell everyone what happened. People come to the scene: they see the drowned pigs, they see the demoniac fully clothed and in his right mind, and they fall at Jesus’ feet and thank Him for the miracle.

No. I just wanted to see if you were still following.

They see the scene, and beg Jesus to leave, which is what He did.

Did Jesus expect gratitude for healing the demoniac? Of course not.

Did we expect gratitude, when we built The Lord’s Rain? No. When you’re serving God, you’re not doing it to be thanked: that’s pride, a suggestion that you want to be recognized and have someone humble themself by expressing gratitude.

One thing we noticed, though — and which I mention often in God At Workis that the people we ministered to on the Downtown East Side said “Thank you” a lot. Anyone who was disrespectful or ungrateful got sorted out quickly — by the other guys.

I would suggest that seeing the fellow clothed and in his right mind was, for Jesus, thanks enough. He had done His job — having been literally blown ashore by God’s exquisite timing with that storm — and it didn’t matter what anyone on earth said: Jesus had done His Father’s bidding.

When we do that ourselves, that’s all the thanks we get — and all the thanks we need.


God At Work is now available through online booksellers, and Smashwords is holding its annual Spring-Summer special, with prices marked down. Listen to an interview on John Fischer’s The Catch podcast.

A man with(out) a plan

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Man plans, God laughs”.

The converse is also true, come to think of it, but a more positive way of looking at the situation is, “Man plans – God plans better”.

We really learned that in the building of The Lord’s Rain — the showers facility for people on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side.

To show you what I mean, let’s take a telescoped look at a Familiar Passage (from Mark 4:35 – 5:15).

Jesus gets into a boat at Capernaum and tells the disciples, “Let’s go to the other side.”

They set out in the evening onto the Sea of Galilee, and in the night, a storm comes up unexpectedly. The disciples fear for their lives. They see Jesus, asleep on a pillow in the stern of the boat and rouse Him, saying, “Master! Don’t You care that we’re perishing?”

Jesus gets up, tells the storm “Peace! Be still!” and the storm subsides. Jesus then rebukes the disciples for having “little faith”.

When morning comes, they find they’ve landed at Gadara.

Let’s hit “pause” here.

Thing One to note is that Jesus doesn’t say where they are going when they all get into the boat. He simply says, “Let’s go to the other side.”

Setting out from Capernaum, “other side” has a lot of different meanings. But off they go. What’s more, they leave at night, and speaking for myself, night-time on the water — with no lights or navigational system — would be one of the scariest times one can think of.

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the disciples probably thought they knew where they were supposed to go, but we also know that the disciples could be a pretty fractious bunch, so it’s possible that there were twelve disciples (assuming He only took the apostles with Him) and twelve different ideas of where they were going.

But whatever their “plan” might have been, the storm comes up, and they suddenly have more serious concerns. It’s funny, but most of the disciples were fishermen, so they should have known their way around a boat. But this storm was so bad — and at night, too — that they gave way to blind panic.

Anyway, by the time Jesus saves them from the storm’s wrath, they’ve been blown completely off-course.

Or were they?

Hit “play” now.

The instant they land, they are met by a madman. He’s known as a demon-possessed person, living naked among tombs, crying horribly and hurting himself. The demons are so strong, that any time anyone wants to restrain him, he breaks the chains and no one can hold him.

Jesus rebukes the demons, and the man is returned to his right mind.

Hit “pause”.

They arrived in the area where the madman was living and healed him. I doubt that any of the disciples were thinking of going to Gadara because, well, there was this madman in the area …

But God knew the madman had to meet Jesus to be healed, and that the disciples had to see Jesus at work.

Do you see that the madman met them the “instant” they landed? Any earlier, or any later, and they would have missed him. Blown off course? Hardly.

With their act of faith in getting into the boat with Jesus and setting out at night to who-knows-where, any plans they might have had were subsumed by the plans God had for them. The storm forced them to place their trust in Jesus, and at the end of it, they were deposited exactly where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there.

One of the recurring themes in my new book, God at Work: A Testimony of Prophecy, Provision and People Amid Poverty (order it here, or at online bookstores) is that plans we thought we had often went by the boards, but it would turn out that God had something better. Of course, you have to take the first step, by getting into the boat and pushing off, but if you have Jesus in the boat with you — that is, you put your trust in Him right from the beginning — regardless of the storms you encounter and the blind alleys you may have to face, God will put you exactly where you’re supposed to be, when you’re supposed to be there.

One more thing: when you’ve done God’s work – don’t expect to be thanked. More on that, tomorrow.