Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Showers Saga - 30: An Old Friend Comes to Call

One of the interesting things about Gospel Mission is the connection with Rainbow Mission. (No, I'm not about to burst into a rendition of "Rainbow Connection".) That mission, kitty-corner from Oppenheimer Park, started in the 40s and was run by Rev. Robert Brown and his wife, Joyce, for over 40 years before it closed in January 2007. In 2004, Pastor Bob took a "flyer" with this total newcomer, letting me do the Saturday night sermons before I eventually took on the Wednesday night services. Klasina van Weert, along with Don and Roberta Fraser, took charge of Thursdays. Many years before, Barry Babcook and Daniel Vallieres cut their ministerial teeth at Rainbow.

When Rainbow closed, Klasina, along with Sandy Benn, went over to Gospel Mission to do Tuesday nights. When she learned Saturdays were open, she called me, and so my little ministerial "team" -- John Sharp, Danilo Estrada and Amelia Shaw -- and I migrated to Pigeon Park. Klasina has moved on; Sandy is now part of our Saturday night team, along with Brad Bell, who had also helped out at Rainbow from time to time.

Now, there's one more "member" of the Rainbow crew at Gospel Mission -- and The Lord's Rain, in particular.

This painting -- on a slab of wood -- was a particular favorite of mine. There were a number of "home-made" paintings hung around Rainbow, but this one always struck home with me and I referred to it in a number of messages there. Last week, Brad mentioned that he had rescued it from Rainbow Mission when it was closed, and it had been sitting in his apartment ever since, so he decided it needed to be shared. He brought it down on Sunday and Barry nailed it to the wall.

You probably recognize the Scripture on which the painting is based "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." (Revelation 3:20 KJV)
Along with 2 Corinthians 5:17*, this was and remains a pivotal Scripture in my own "walk" and one of my favorite sermon topics. Imagine: Jesus, the Anointed One, the Son of God, actually knocking on my door, wanting to come in and share time with me -- not because I'm anything special, but because that's His will for everyone! The two-way street that "to sup" connotes ... and the fact that, if you look at the picture (hard to see in the photo), there's no doorknob visible. That's because the doorknob is on the inside: it's up to us to open it!

As we come close to finishing our sixth month of operation, we're about to log the 300th shower, which is pretty good attendance, considering our relatively limited opening times so far. But we now are also open from Noon till 5 on Mondays and Fridays, as well as Tuesdays 7-8:30 am, Friday Ladies' Night 7-9 pm and Saturdays, 7-10am. Also, thanks to the hard work by the volunteers from KMPG and Brad's agreeing to take on the job of overseeing it, we are now able to start our clothing exchange during the Tuesday and Saturday openings. We have a washer-dryer now, thanks to Bruce and Sharon Nelson (as mentioned before), but we don't provide a laundry service: any clothing left behind is considered donated (if it's still wearable).

Add to this the fact that we're seeing more people upstairs at Gospel Mission, whom we had originally met through The Lord's Rain, and you can see that the showers project is reaching people in ways we couldn't have thought of when we first started. Accomplishing this has truly been a partnership of all of us here: one of the great blessings has been the ways in which a wide variety of people have been involved in a wide variety of ways -- with their gifts, time, prayer and finances. Essentially, God has carried this project from the day it was conceived almost a year ago now, working through all of you to achieve His purpose. "Many members - one body." Ain't that the truth!

There's no graceful segue to this: we are facing financial need right now. The presentations I give to churches end with a "pitch", but not for money: rather, it's encouragement for people to seek the Lord as to what He wants them to do to serve Him and serve others. If I gave a heavy pitch for people to send us money, it might not be what God wants, and I won't get into that area. So we trust that the Lord will tap people on the shoulder -- as He has done for Gospel Mission since 1929 -- and work through them to provide.

That being said, would you please take some quiet time and seek the Lord about making a contribution to Gospel Mission and The Lord's Rain? Simply send a cheque or money order to Gospel Mission Society PO Box 57151 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V5K 1Z1. Or ... you could bring it around to 331 Carrall Street (1/2 block north of Hastings) when we're open in the evening (7pm Monday-Saturday, 1pm Sunday) or come to The Lord's Rain during the Tuesday or Saturday morning openings. The contributions are tax-deductible; last year a couple of friends gave donations in the name of a friend or relative as a Christmas gift.
*"Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Election thought(s)

I think it was in 1972 that Zonker Harris, the character in Doonesbury, spent election day submerged in Walden Puddle with a thought balloon over his head: "go away. Politics gives me migraines". In the past five or six years, I've grown more and more to agree with him.

I used to be an intensely political animal: grabbed hold of all the left-wing political causes I could think of and promoted them as much as possible (while still maintaining a patina of balance, being a broadcast journalist at the same time) (THINKS: "balanced journalism" -- there's an oxymoron for you!) even as the still, small voice was screaming "IT'S WRONG!" Now, though, I just submerge myself in my own puddle -- prayer -- and ask God to have His way on the elections.

So we are currently in triple-migraine season in Metro Vancouver. We've just had the federal election, the US election is coming up and right after that, we get to vote for mayor and council and school board and probably park board too, if I remember correctly.

Federal election is behind us, and I'm bemused at the response from the boffins to the result. To a person, they seem to believe that Stephen Harper "blew it" by not getting a majority government. CBC had two experts on their election night coverage: one had advised Jean Chretien, and I believe the other was an advisor to Brian Mulroney. Cool. Certainly the people I'd turn to for sage political wisdom. They pontificated about the fact that it was an election that didn't really have an issue and that no one knew why it was called in the first place.

But here's where the boffins miss the point. Usually, if a government calls an election without an apparent reason, they get punished, big-time. They lose seats, lose their majority or lose the election. They don't come away with more seats than they had before.

Indeed, there was a purpose to the election: force the opposition parties to show their true colors. By and large, the Liberals, NDP and Greens come across as would-be social engineers, declaring they know better than anyone else what people should be doing and intending to bring in measures to ensure that and fund them from tax dollars. Canadians, by and large showed their true colors, too, and to a great degree, it ain't green. A lot of the Conservatives' success in this election -- gaining seats -- can be seen as a repudiation of the Green Frenzy. Much of the Green Frenzy is based in guilt and one group of people dictating what everybody should do. Neither of those is a correct motivator because neither of those is "of God". People get concerned when they hear about the environmental situation, but it's apparent that many are still looking for another way to deal with that situation.

There is another way, although it's very much the "elephant in the living room" that nobody wants to talk about.

If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sins ...
and will heal their land.

-- 2 Chr. 7:14

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shooting (up) the messenger

You can tell when someone is on shaky ground in a discussion. They'll take full aim at the messenger and shoot, rather than address the message. That's the case with the latest fuss over inSite, the "safe" injection site experiment on the Downtown East Side.

It's now come out that the RCMP paid for -- or contributed funding for -- a study that claims the site is not accomplishing even what its advocates say it will do, namely reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis. And what's the story in the Vancouver Sun? Nothing to refute or confirm the findings of the study, but the fact that the RCMP paid for it while asking for their names to be kept out of it.

See, if the DTES were all nice and clean now, with people not swarming through alleys and doorways at all hours of the day or night, shooting their heroin or smoking their crack, I'd be right behind the concept. But I'm one of these people who says, "look at the fruits": what is the result? If the result is still a bad situation, then the proposed solution DOESN'T WORK!

Whatever the supporters -- even if they do include Mayor Sam Sullivan and Premier Gordon Campbell -- think, I walk past the stark evidence of inSite's total failure every day. People do stick needles in their arms in broad daylight, and do their deals out in the open and smoke their crack; they lurch, zombie-like, around Pigeon Park and across Hastings and Carrall Streets, totally oblivious to the oncoming motor vehicles, and probably calloused to the idea they might get killed doing that. Once beautiful women are now toothless and ravaged by the effects of the drugs; achingly pretty girls, still in or barely out of their teens, turn up in the area, headed for a similar fate.

I don't blame the police for wanting to discredit inSite: they're in a worse position than I am in having to clean up its mess. I hang about the Mission and preach the Gospel and pray over people and try to encourage them to turn to Jesus rather than the needle or the pipe. They have to break up the fights and keep the dealers off-balance and see courts cut loose the people they've just arrested and in the eyes of many -- especially in the media, witness the biased tone of the Vancouver Sun article (nice to include the Pivot Society brief, but where's the actual discussion of the issues?) -- are always in the wrong. They have to deal with the fact that, as I've written before in this space, the DTES has taken on a spirit of lawlessness, turning the place into Dodge City.

(Perhaps the inSite supporters could explain why one of my friends at the Mission told me, the day after another pro-inSite demonstration in the summer, that he'd missed going to the demonstration and "it cost me 35 bucks". He then explained that that was the going rate to get people to show up. A free ferry ride to Victoria and a box lunch were, he told me, the compensation for attending a "spontaneous" demonstration at the Legislature prior to that. He did get in on that one.)

The solution is not to give them a clean place to do their drugs (and I note a subtle alteration in language: "safe injection site" has now become "supervised injection site"; things that make you go "hmmm"). The solution is to get them off drugs. Reverse-engineering that, we need to give them a reason to get off drugs, because (a) so many people are disabled in the area that it's very hard for them to see that any kind of turnaround is possible, and (b) no amount of programs and rehab and detox will work unless the person him- or herself actually wants it to work. What makes a person want something to work? A renewing of the mind. And what brings a renewing of the mind?

Jesus Christ.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)

Of course, you can't get government funding for the Holy Spirit. Scientists spend so much time ignoring the elephant in the living room because the Holy Spirit is not for sale, but a good theory, well presented to health boffins in government and properly spun to the media, can be worth millions.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wall Street, Bay Street and Revelation

I'm neither a macroeconomist nor an alarmist. I wouldn't know a derivative if it walked up and shook my hand. I still believe Asset-Backed Commercial Paper is something you stick to the wall if you're too lazy to wash, prime and paint. I'm relieved that I was too fiscally irresponsible to have any money to invest because I'd be shirtless now. And I grieve for anyone who's losing in the current market collapse -- from the rich dudes with offshore accounts and homes in The Hamptons to the faces, bodies and families represented by that phrase tossed off so blithely by commentators: "mortgage foreclosures are up".

But the clouds I see are not the storm clouds of world economic turmoil. They're distant clouds, with Jesus mounting up, ready to ride in and claim His bride. And that means we need to be extra wary of how we respond to events, because a lot will happen in the mean time that will try our faith.

See, there are two factors we need to be aware of. First is that it may well be that the world financial system is about to come apart at the seams. That means anyone who steps up with The Answer To All Our Troubles will be given a lot of clout. Dare I say that he or she will be worshipped?

The second is that the current President of the United States, while being aligned closely with the "religious right", is the son of the man who, when he was President during the Persian Gulf Misunderstanding of 1990, kept talking about the "New World Order".

"New World Order" is a phrase that's closely associated with the Satanic forces predicted to rise up in the Last Days. And while I'm not one to blather on about shadowy conspiracies and the Illuminati and so forth (focusing on such things takes one's mind off God), we need to be sufficiently aware of the signs and the prophecies so that we're not sucked in.

The collapse of the financial system is a perfect door-opener to the events described in Rev. 13:16-18:

And [the beast] causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Beware, in other words, of any "conditions" or requirements imposed by banks, governments or even innocuous-seeming agencies "all in the name of convenience". Look with extreme prejudice on any requirement to carry a certain kind of card or indelible identifier in order to do simple business transactions like buy groceries or withdraw money from a bank account.

Simply put, we're heading into a time when the temptation will become great to sell out, to abandon faith in God for the sake of putting food on the table or keeping a roof over one's head. Those who don't "take the mark" will be frozen out of the standard economic system, and will need to rely on Jehovah Jireh -- the Lord God Who provides -- to meet their needs. False Christs will arise, as Jesus predicted, appearing to have the Answer and to work miracles: but they're counterfeits and we need to be aware of that.

I write this not to scare anybody, but to remind people of what's in the Word of God. Read it and strengthen your faith (especially if you read the King James Version: there are many "faith-charged" passages in KJV, which are altered in versions published since around 1950 -- more on that in a later posting), and be prepared to change your whole way of thinking -- even if that means "doing without" and relying on God.

Here's something to remember: any demonic forces taking over the financial system are only shadows, wispy wimps, compared to the awesome power of Christ. They're like the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus. All it took was for Him to take a single step towards them and they fell over like tenpins. We can do that too. Remember: "greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world". This is nothing to fear if we're prayed-up, with our faith in God intact and strengthened. If we find ourselves confronted with a set of rules that prevents us from doing business as we've known it, fine: declare that The Lord Will Provide and resist the devil.

But for God's sake -- and the sake of your family and yourself -- do not lose sight of Jesus, the Cross and the Lord. He will be with you, until the end of time.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Showers Saga 29: Volunteer Day

No doubt about it: The Lord's Rain has provided countless opportunities for people to get involved. When we first started work on the project last December, we approached a rather wealthy Christian businessman to underwrite the whole thing. We were turned down flat. But as it's turned out, that was probably the best thing that could have happened to the project.

Why? Because it forced us to rely on God, and He brought together the various people and groups we have needed to make it happen, giving them an opportunity to share in the work -- and to share in the blessing.

There have been the churches, which have donated clothing, sent in money and -- in the case of The Oasis -- organized a work party to build the sub-floor and frames; individuals who have given small, one-off donations or regular contributions or the occasional major cash donation; people who live on the DTES, who have become reliable volunteers, helping oversee the operation, make coffee, clean up and spend time chatting with the people who come in (an important component of this ministry); reporters who have been touched by the effort and done stories, which have, in turn, touched their readers, viewers or listeners; and there are many other ways that God has brought these people and groups into the project, so they can all call it "their own". But the bottom line is, they may all have missed out on the blessing had that businessman whipped out his checkbook and covered the whole cost.

His organization did tell us that they were praying for us. As I've written before, prayer is the most effective weapon we have, so even in that regard, he and his organization own a piece of The Lord's Rain.

Yesterday -- Wednesday -- we welcomed the latest group to grab a piece of the action: a group of volunteers from the accounting firm of KPMG. Every year (if I understand this correctly), they hold a "Community Matters" week, where employees may sign up to volunteer in teams with community activities. I had already made contact with one of their number, Jim Bennett, who goes to First Baptist and had heard of us. Initially, he and a group of friends from the church were looking for a way to help and had been kicking around ideas, but nothing got started. He did, however, start gathering underwear and socks (always in great demand) and other items and then, contacted me to see if we could use some help during their volunteer week.

Let me think ...

Over the past several months, we have been blessed by many people and organizations with used clothing. We don't have a clothing program yet, but about two months ago, as I stuffed my car** with a second load of clothing from Garden Village Apostolic Church (the second-oldest ACOP church in Vancouver, after Gospel Mission!), I realized the Lord was dragging us, kicking and screaming, up to The Next Level. It was time to organize the clothes and start handing them out. By the end of September, donated clothing had taken over my living room (to the point where Peaches had a hard time getting to her tree), my home office and my office at the church.

Or, to have the correct attitude in this, I am GRATEFUL TO GOD for providing me with a second bedroom (home office), large-enough living room and an office at the church, where I could store these donations! When I took the apartment 2-1/2 years ago, I had no idea it would be needed for that, but He knew what was coming down the pike!*

Anyway, to make a long story short***, a team of KPMG volunteers descended on The Lord's Rain yesterday morning. Job One was to get the clothes organized. We got a lot of Rubbermaid-style storage bins -- some were donated by a friend of mine at work, others were purchased -- and a group of the volunteers, plus Sandy, Janet, Danilo and Brad from The Lord's Rain, went to work sorting the clothes and loading them up.
"There's some really good stuff here," Janet said at one point. Praise God! I've never understood the "Junk For Jesus - Crap For Christ" mentality, and neither has God:

Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible.

And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if ye offer the ame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts.

-- Malachi 1:7-8

So receiving "really good stuff" is a blessing all around: for those who receive it, for those who give it, and for us, who are the distributors.

"Look, Drew," Sandy said just before lunch time. "You can see the floor in your office!"

Downstairs, another group of volunteers painted the place. Painting has been a bete noire with us. The job was started, with the primer applied and a first coat; but the first coat never really did get all the way up to the ceiling (the walls are a good 15' high) and for one reason or another, painting "dates" had to be postponed. By the time the day was over, there were three coats of paint and they'd laid down primer on the wooden steps to the showers area.

And the kitchen was cleaned! Personally, I wouldn't know a clean kitchen if someone pointed at it and said, "That is a clean kitchen!" So I let Janet instruct them. Her instructons were beautiful. "You're all women: you know what to do!"

Oh, yeah: there was also a bag lunch, provided by KPMG**** and brought in by A Catered Affair.

And so the Lord's Rain and Gospel Mission and the people we serve benefit from this very intense day. I can't see the floor in my office again, but this time, it's because it's covered by neatly organized plastic bins. It's another example of God's timing and His plan at work: the right people came in to do the job, right at a time when we needed the job to be done. Any earlier, and we wouldn't have had anything for them to do -- any later, and it would have been so deep into the cold and rainy season that passes for a Vancouver winter that we would have been telling people, "No -- sorry", when they asked for clothes; people probably would have given up asking.

And now, just in God's time (which is always on time), let the clothing exchange begin!

*Another reason why the idea "think globally - act locally" is a non-starter: we can only see the impact of things we do at the time and within the filter of our current needs; God knows globally, so when we're obedient, it sometimes looks like we're doing something odd or illogical, but He reveals to us eventually what His plan is.

**The story of How I Got My Car is well chronicled in my book, A Very Convenient Truth - real hope in the face of environmental fears, as an illustration of what happens when you let the Lord determine, and then provide for, your needs according to His riches in glory.

***Too late!

****Intriguing side-story: KMPG is the accounting firm that audits TransLink, and some of the volunteers work seven floors above me at Metrotower II in Burnaby. The fellow who is in charge of TransLink's books is Archie Johnston, with whom I played basketball and football and road hockey (outside of high school) and against whom I played basketball in high school (I was at Hillside - he went to West Van). Archie also introduced me to The Alternative, which was a Saturday night youth group at West Van United. It was my first exposure to Christians of my age and social circle. One of the songs we sang was "I Been Redeemed (By The Blood O' The Lamb)" -- a song I now sing with the congregation at Gospel Mission on Saturday nights. What goes around - comes around.