Childcare again. Still ministering.

It’s been a number of months since I’ve blogged.  I’ve not posted anything since I finished my job in the overnight shelter, and started a new job working with children on the Downtown Eastside.  It’s been a transition that’s not been easy, not been hard, just fairly neutral.  Here are some things I’ve learned over the last three months at this job:

  • I’m used to working with kids, and sometimes I feel that it comes as second nature to me.  I find it easy to talk to kids, easy to play with them, easy to be them.  My two years working at the Cridge centre prepared me very well for working on Vancouver’s DTES, and that’s a really beautiful thing.
  • It’s easier to address behavioural challenges in kids then systemic challenges.  I can deal with a kid having a temper tantrum, and I can even help bring the kid out of it.  But I have no power over a kid’s poverty.  What I do will not pull them out of poverty anytime soon.  It might have a long term impact, but I doubt I’ll ever see it.
  • Kids are kids.  No matter where you go, kids just want to have fun, and be loved.  Kids in Mongolia and Turkey were nearly indistinguishable from kids in Vancouver and Victoria in how they interacted with the world.  No matter your background, kids share this common wonder and humanity, and that’s a beautiful thing that I long for.
  • Kids on the DTES can be really scared.  They live in an area with rampant drug use, and they know their sharps safety.  But they don’t like what’s going on, and are powerless to stop it.  Some I serve have lived on the streets, and most of my kids live in sub-par housing.  They enjoy life, but they know that they live in a bitter reality.
  • Kids on the DTES are loved.  So many resources are being poured into this community, into their schools, and they have so many mentors leading them along.  They have so many fun educational and social opportunities, that I wish I was one of them!  They are loved and they know it, and that’s a beautiful thing.

My brief time serving the kids has so far confirmed that though messy, Vancouver’s Downtown East Side is the most beautiful place I know,

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Jesus and Cleanliness (Mark 5:21-43) Sermon

This last Sunday I was given the opportunity to preach at the church I currently attend, the Bridge Church in North Vancouver.  I’ve been there for about eight months, and was so honoured to be given this opportunity.  It was well received, and I delivered it with more confidence than I have in a long time.  These last two sermons have given me more of an itch to preach.  And while I’m pleased to do ministry with kids on the downtown East Side, I would welcome any opportunities to preach that come my way.

Reflections on the Shelter

 

It’s my final shift in the Emergency shelter at Union Gospel Mission.  My contract has come to an end, and I will soon be starting a new Job with UGM’s women’s and families ministries, taking care of kids.  These five months in the shelter have been challenging and rewarding, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  As I sit in my office, keeping an eye on these snoring guys for one last time, I want to share a few reflections of what I’ve learned.

  1. Poverty takes many forms.  Some of the guys in shelter are addicted.  Some are not.  Some of these guys have been homeless for years, some are only homeless for a week.  Some are waiting to be approved for a basement suite, some are waiting for pension to kick in, many work full time jobs and make good wages, most do not suffer from extreme cases of mental illness, and some even have families that they visit regularly.  I have learned that homelessness and poverty look wildly different for each person.
  2. A homeless person is a person.  A lot of these guys have become my friends, and I am so excited to see them when they come in.  I have had long conversations, I’ve ridden the bus with some of them, and I’ve really been blessed by them, as they have helped me in my own work, stayed calm under stressful situations, and shared with me their faith, victories, and struggles.  It’s too easy to look at someone who is homeless and see only their homelessness, but they are a person made in the image of God.
  3. Night shifts are bad for you. Full stop.
  4. I’m not as compassionate as I would like to be. It’s easy to become calloused in this line of work.  You deal with really challenging behaviours, abusive language, serious health issues, threats, drug use, and more on a daily basis.  It’s too easy to get short with these guys, it’s too easy to do the wrong thing because it makes it easier for you.  I have never asked for forgiveness from God more than I have during the last five months, and it’s all been because of my lack of compassion.
  5. I have grown to love these men and this ministry.  When the shelter is full, I hate turning away guys.  My biggest stress in this job is when we are understaffed, and have to shut down the 20 Emergency weather beds that I manage so we can still run the 72 beds upstairs.  That has been the most painful thing for me in this job, knowing that there could very well be 20 more men who do not have a place to sleep on a cold, wet night.  I really do care for these guys.
  6. Sleep is a gift.  When I get home after a night shift, sleeping is a joy and a luxury.  It’s shown me the importance of my ministry over the last five months.  I love offering these guys a safe, warm, dry, and caring place to sleep, with the guarantee of breakfast and a hot coffee when they wake up.  The nature of my job has been that it is very quiet.  So while sometimes I wonder where I fit in the ministry at UGM, I am constantly reminded that the sleep of a labouring man is sweet, and one of the greatest ministries I could give these guys that have no place to lay their heads.

I’ll really miss the shelter.  There has never been a place where I have learned more than here.  I’m excited to sleep at night time, and to not be constantly jetlagged, but I’m going to really miss serving these guys.  While I’m moving onto another position at UGM which will prove to be a beautiful and fruitful ministry, the shelter will always have a really special place in my heart.

I write this on Easter Sunday morning, and it’s a nice day to end it.  I serve these men because Christ died for them, and I serve these men because Christ still lives.  I serve these men because when I do, I am serving a living Christ.  I have learned that when I serve the poor, I am serving Kings.

 

Who do you think you are? (Sermon)

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to preach at my friend’s church up in Prince George.  I preached at a nighttime Saturday service, as well as a Sunday morning service.  The sermon went well, and I was well received.

It felt so good to serve at church again.  I’ve been away from church service for about six months, and I am growing weary of being so minimally involved in my church.  It was so refreshing to serve again.

This sermon is about Jesus healing the paralytic.  I hope you enjoy!

 

Self-Frustration

Something that frustrates me about myself is how much my mouth gets me in trouble.  Things that I intend to be jokes aren’t taken that way by others.  I speak without thinking, and people get offended, sometimes feeling like they have to explain me to others who don’t know me well.  I think I’m a pretty pleasant guy, but this seems to bite me in the butt over and over.  From all of this, I have learned how to apologize well, and own up to my mistakes.  I’ve stopped trying to justify myself, and instead accept that I’ve sinned, and try to move forward into reconciliation.  These have proven to be good lessons, but it seems that whenever I learn my lesson to bridle my tongue, the effects only last a few months, appearing again when I get in trouble for it.  It’s come up a few times in the last couple days, and I just would like to learn my lesson once and move on changed rather than falling into the same patterns of sin that I’m used to.

Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.  And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.  In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

James 3:2-5

This bit of scripture is what I always go back to when my tongue gets me in trouble.  It seems like such a small and innocuous thing, but we can see in James the truth that no matter how small the effect of our tongue feels, it guides our lives and the way people see us.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

Luke 6:45

This one I don’t like as much, but it’s from Jesus so I need to hear it.  When I get in trouble for my tongue, it’s a reminder of what is in my heart.  I don’t want snarky ignorance to be in my heart.  I want truth and love.

These things are hard to blow past, and I have to acknowledge that I don’t really know how to do it.

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.  But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.  So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:15-20

I find comfort in knowing that even the “heroes” of scripture struggled with sin, and were still counted as righteous before God by virtue of their faith.  But I want to be righteous now, and Holiness is a difficult pursuit.  This seems like such a simple lesson, but it’s just so hard to learn…

Preaching Again.

It’s been a little while since I last preached.  For the last five months, I’ve had a church that I call my home church, but with my job at the shelter I only make it there every other week at the most.  On weeks that I can’t make it, I go to another church in the evening.  It’s been nice to just be a congregant rather than a leader at church again, but I’m really missing being an active part of church life, apart from sitting in a sermon on Sunday morning and going to a home group sometimes.  Unfortunately, I have not been serving at a church, and my job doesn’t really allow me to serve consistently anywhere.  I promise you that this is not an excuse.

A couple months ago, I was asked to go and preach up in Prince George at my friend Spencer’s church.  They’re starting a church plant and they wanted me to see what was going on, see how I could speak into it, and ask for insight.  I don’t know who he thinks I am or what kind of insight I could give, but I appreciate the opportunity and am excited to preach again.

It’s a really nice excitement.  After being away from church ministry for several months, and serving in a para-church context where I get to do the grunt work of service to the poor, I get to take what I’ve been learning at the shelter and teach it to people somewhere else, and trust that the Lord will use my sermon to spark a change, realization, or a deeper love for Jesus for someone.

I’m preaching on Matthew 9:1-8, which is Jesus healing a paralytic.  It’s a challenging, confusing, exciting, and joyful passage all at once.  I’ll record it and post it here, unless it’s remarkably bad, which my last two sermons have been.

I miss church ministry.  I really do.  I’m so excited to preach again.

 

Pastors Don’t Matter

If there is one thing that I know, it’s that I’m called into ministry.  I’ve been told that if you can imagine yourself doing literally anything other than vocational Christian ministry for your life and livelihood, you should do that instead of ministry.  I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, which has led me to a lot of confusion over the last two and a half years.

Once I graduated Bible College, I came home to Victoria with a lot of arrogance.  I had just completed my degree, I was a good orator, an effective teacher, a careful studier, and felt I was a good minister.  I got to lead the congregation I grew up my whole life in, I got to preach, and lead music at church, I got to teach high school students the Bible every week, and I got to work with children in a faith based context.  Eventually, I started looking for jobs, and I had such a hard time finding one.

Interview after interview went by, and no dice.  I candidated at a big church, as wasn’t selected.  I had two job offers on the table with churches at one point, and the Lord said no to both of them, so I turned them down.  I worked for eight months as a missionary/intern/youth minister hybrid in partnership with a couple churches, but the timing wasn’t right, and that eventually ended.  Through this time, I have been faced with my own arrogance time and time again, and have come to discover how vain, proud, and entitled I am, and I began to hate that in me more and more.  The last two years have not only given me wonderful experience in ministry, but have also made me face my own demon of pride much more than I wanted.

So I’ve had to learn to blow past my arrogance.  And what I’ve been doing at the homeless Shelter has helped me put that to the test.  Have I actually learned my lesson?

The big lesson that I’ve learned is that when you work in ministry, you are, by definition, a nobody.  Pastor’s, by definition, don’t matter.  Now, I’m not saying that pastors are not needed – I think they are – but that is to say when you sign up for vocational ministry, you are signing yourself up to be the lowest of the low.  Serving from below who the rest of the culture thinks are the lowest.

This reality came face to face with me last week at the shelter when a man knocks on my door.  I tell the him to go to reception where we can better help him by getting him connected with what they need for the night.  I tell him over and over again, through a closed glass door, to go out to the East Hastings Street entrance where reception is, and he just isn’t hearing me.  Frustrated, I open the door and tell him again.  He’s looking down at his feet, shivering, and says in a quiet, shaking, and worn out voice, “Can I just sleep on the floor?”  At that moment, I felt I had committed the biggest sin I ever had in my life: I did not have compassion on a homeless person, when all he was asking for was help, and I had the resources to help him.  My frustration with him was unneeded, because he was just looking for a warm place to sleep.

He did go to reception and we got him a bed, but for days after, the words that I said most often in my prayers were “Jesus, forgive me.”  I keep thinking that I’m a minister, but if I’m not willing to serve the lowest in society from below, then I’m not worthy to be called one.  If everyday in the shelter I serve kings, then who am I to think that I am greater than a King?

I hope and pray that I am successfully blowing past my arrogance.  Because I realize now that my arrogance isn’t a problem that effects myself and my attitudes, but it effects those that I serve even more.  My arrogance has no place in the Kingdom of God.

I want God to make me someone who doesn’t matter.  I want to be a nobody.  I want to be a minister.