Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ahead of the curve

NB - since I initially posted this on Oct. 3, 2013, I delivered a sermon on the theme of God providing the solution before the problem had manifested. Moving ahead of the curve, in fact.

A brother from my church, Westpointe Christian Church, called me yesterday to discuss something I'd said during a sermon a couple of weeks ago. It had been a message about the "Ten Talents", in which a master leaves each of his servants in charge of a sum of money with the instructions, "occupy till I return." Two of the servants invest properly and get a large return: fivefold in one instance, tenfold in the other. The third servant simply buries the money and hands it back to the boss when he returns with no increase.

My friend was struck by the idea that the third servant was "wicked" because he had judged his boss for what he thought were unsavory dealings, while the other two simply followed the boss' example and did as they were told. "You've helped me more than you know," he said.

"Praise God," I replied -- and as I rang off, I realized just how much He was to be praised and not me; because I remembered how close I came to not preaching that message.

See, I only preach occasionally at Westpointe, so when sermon ideas come to me, I write them down and bank them for the times when I'm called on to speak. The week before, I had preached on Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego, in which the theme was, "Stand!" I mentioned the full armor of God, and as I did that, I thought, "maybe I should preach on that next week, instead of the '10 Talents'."

In fact, as Friday approached, I had two other options in mind rather than the 10 Talents. But on praying about it, I heard, "go with the 10 Talents". And so I did.

This is another instance of what I've come to learn is God providing the solution and then saying, "now, stand by for the problem." As humans, we tend to get into a jam and try to figure out what to do about it. Alternatively, we'll have a problem, realize we have the solution nearby, and then say, "lucky thing I had that handy." Nope. Not "luck" at all, but God, subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) making sure we're ready to deal with it.

300 block Carrall Street
Take, for example, Gospel Mission. It was established on Vancouver's Downtown East Side in 1929. At the time, the DTES was the commercial and entertainment centre of Vancouver. But not long afterwards, the Great Depression hit, and a "rescue mission" became more and more of a necessity. Sometime in the 40s, the Mission moved to its current location, next to Pigeon Park. This came just before the end of World War II, when many newly-de-mobbed soldiers came home to find they couldn't cope with the return to civilian life. It was around that time that the area's descent into "Skid Road" became more pronounced.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2007, when the Lord put it on our hearts to build a facility to provide showers for people in the area. He moved in miraculous ways to bring together the people, supplies and finances to make it happen, and when He told senior pastor Barry Babcook that the place had to open by the end of April, 2008, we had no way of knowing just why there was a time crunch.

Pigeon Park - the blue partial oval on the right
is the corner of the Gospel Mission building
But there was: the world economic situation started coming unravelled not long after The Lord's Rain opened. People started holding onto their money; corporations and foundations started dialing back their charitable contributions. Had it not opened on April 30, 2008, The Lord's Rain might have remained some roughed-in shower stalled and bare-bones sinks -- and in danger of being evicted.

(In fact, The Lord's Rain actually benefited from the worldwide economic crisis. The W. Garfield Weston Foundation -- set up by the family that owns Loblaw's and Superstore -- set up a special fund to deliver one-time grants to organizations to help them get through the tighter times and to encourage other philanthropic institutions to loosen their purse strings. The Foundation remembered Gospel Mission and donated $15,000.00, practically unannounced. So not only did the Lord have the facility set up before the tough times hit, He ensured there would be funding that went against the trend.)

The Lord's Rain was built and up and running
just before the worldwide economic crisis caused
people to sit on their wallets
It's taken nearly six years, but The Lord's Rain not only has the showers going steadily during its opening times, but people are finding respite from the street, rest, encouragement, fellowship and quite often a place to turn in an emergency. I also foresee that it will play a role in helping people to keep a cool head in the face of the current bogeyman called "Gentrification," which is a source of great fear for many people around the neighborhood.

Here again, God has provided the solution long before the problems started to manifest.

Sometimes, it's not so spectacular as a donation coming in before it's needed or people we've met in the past proving to have gifts that are suddenly sorely needed. Sometimes, it's subtle things, like the time I found that someone had donated a one-piece set of full-body Stanfield's woolen winter under-alls. Two days later, a woman came in who had spent the night on the street and was cold and tired. She lay down on a bench but was shivering badly. I remembered the Stanfield's, got it and wrapped her in it. She was asleep within minutes -- and yes, she kept the woolies.
Open for showers, coffee, respite from "the street".
The TV shows the evening services from the Mission
upstairs, so people with disabilities can take part.

"Lucky we had those"? No - just God's timing.

It's something worth keeping in mind: when we run into difficulty, God has probably already placed the solution within our reach: we just have to seek Him for it. We don't have to re-invent the wheel or look for some new approach. Like the two good and faithful servants, we have to be obedient, diligent and vigilant.

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