The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 39: Grace in the Wilderness

Podcast 39: Grace in the Wilderness
Episode 39: Mark 1:9-15

This week, we turn to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. After his baptism, Jesus is driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. This story reminds us that, while the wilderness is an important place of purification and spiritual growth, it can also be a place of grace. For this reason, people have long retreated to literal and figurative deserts to pray, wrestle with sin, let go of unholy attachments, and encounter God.

The 40 days of Lent that began with Ash Wednesday call us into a kind of wilderness. There, the stuff of everyday life is stripped away and we are invited to meet God honestly. It is important to note that we do not enter the wilderness alone; like Jesus, we go with the Spirit of God, and with God’s words of love ringing in our ears.

How has God met you in the deserts of your life? What stark landscapes of the heart is God inviting you to explore this Lent? How are you discovering the love and grace of God in the wilderness?

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 37: A Touch of Heaven

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 37: A Touch of Heaven
Episode 37: Mark 1:29-39

This week, we continue to follow Jesus’ early ministry through the first chapter of Mark. Jesus begins to expand his ministry beyond his home town. He also reaches out to touch Peter’s mother-in-law and heal her of a fever. This leads us into a conversation on the importance of touch in Jesus’ ministry and our lives, particularly in a time of physical distancing.

How do you experience the touch of Heaven? How do you find space with God in desert-like seasons of your life? Join us around the virtual table and feel free to add your comments below.

Heaven and the Kingdom of God

Mark 1:15

In this coming Sunday’s gospel reading, we see the heart of Jesus’ message. What is he telling us? What is Jesus’ spiritual message for us and for the world? This is important to know because it is at the center of what Christianity is all about. So what was the message? In Mark chapter 1, we hear Jesus preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The kingdom of God is at the heart of his message. Jesus assumed that his contemporaries would hear this as the best news ever! He believed that they would be excited at this proclamation.

However, as modern readers, we don’t hear it the same way. The idea of the kingdom of God probably doesn’t mean as much to us. Or if it does, we often think that it means heaven after we die. But Jesus meant it to be much bigger than that.

Heaven isn’t the whole story

What we call Heaven is only one tiny part of what Jesus is talking about: that all of the promises and prophesies in the Old Testament are all now coming true. People in ancient Israel had been waiting and praying for this moment for centuries. God had promised to come himself and be the king. The Creator would come and set things right, rescue Israel from all her enemies, and finally create a kingdom of righteousness marked by peace, justice and love. In fact, at the time of Jesus, there was a revolutionary slogan that said, “No King but God.”

Jesus says the time is fulfilled. All of these ancient prophesies are coming true. But as he continues to preach and heal and teach, it becomes clear that Jesus is doing something different. The heart of the Gospel is that God is becoming king and setting the world to rights in and through Jesus. And the way to enter the Kingdom of God is to commit to Jesus, believing and trusting in him as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus also taught that the Kingdom would come in stages. His public ministry was the first stage, then there was his death and resurrection, then the era of the church proclaiming the good news throughout the world. And at last, there will be a final consummation of all things.

The Vision of the Kingdom of God

This is important to each of us because, as believers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are a part of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus taught, this kingdom is not a political reality, but a spiritual reality and a vision of transformed hearts and relationships.

No one is forgotten in the Kingdom of God. All are beloved and have dignity. It is a relationship with God that lasts long into eternity. It is about the world as it was always created to be, and you get to be a part of that. The Kingdom of God is as large as the whole universe, yet fully present within your own heart. In the Gospel on Sunday, we read about Jesus proclaiming the good news and issuing an invitation. Every day is a day to say yes.

Advent Arrivals

Getting Ready for Christmas: Advent Arrivals

As we travel deeper into the season of Advent, it is worth noting what the word means. Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “Approach or Arrival or Coming.” But this is not an ordinary arrival; it describes the ceremonial entry of an emperor, the king, or some other high official. When we use this particular word, Advent, we remind ourselves that this is the season of waiting and preparation for the King of Kings.

Three Different Advent Arrivals

In Advent, we are waiting for three different arrivals, and these give the season its unique texture. First, we look back to the Old Testament hope for the coming of the Messiah. This is why we read the book of Isaiah during Advent. Isaiah, more than any other Old Testament prophet, describes this hope to us. From centuries before the birth of Christ, Isaiah’s words remind us for whom we are waiting:

A child is born to us! A son is given to us!

And he will be our ruler.

He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,”

“Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,” “Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6 (Good News Translation)

The second arrival is the second coming of Christ at the end of time. This is why we read the poetic gospel vision of Christ coming in glory. We have images of the sun being darkened and the stars falling. This reminds us that in the great renewal, there will also be great upheaval.

The third coming is entirely personal. Christ is not just an historic person. He is the son of God who loves you, and is continually being born again in your heart. This heart preparation is the main spiritual work of Advent, calling us to be ready to receive the note of great joy and wonder that comes with the birth of Christ.

Cultivating Advent

The paradox of the phrase ‘spiritual work’ is that it is not work at all in the normal sense. Rather, it is more the cultivation of a state of openness and trust in what God is doing. It is expectancy. To describe this expectancy, let me share with you a gift that was given to me by my friend Scott. He is the person in our Diocese (regional church) charged with Ecumenical and Interfaith conversations. He is always looking to build bridges with other groups and people. In this time of Covid, he mentioned that so much of his work slowed down. Those connections seem to be harder and harder to make. It can be discouraging. But he has found comfort in a song released back in 2017 called Your Labour is Not in Vain by The Porter’s Gate. The lyrics speak to this:

Your labor is not in vain

Though the ground underneath you is cursed and stained

Your planting and reaping are never the same

Your labor is not in vain

Your labor is not unknown

Though the rocks they cry out and the sea it may groan

The place of your toil may not seem like a home

But Your labor is not unknown

I am with you, I am with you

I am with you, I am with you

This song was a gift to me as well. Sometimes it seems like we are going nowhere, doing a lot of work for little growth. Do you ever feel that? And yet, Advent calls us to look bigger. The promise of the song and the season is that while there is struggle, it is not wasted. The seeds that we plant will bloom in the Kingdom of God. Learn to live in openness, trust and expectation. Advent gives us a profound message that Christ has already come, is going to come again, and is continually coming into your life day by day. Your labour is not in vain.

If you want to hear the song, you can find it here:

Book Study: Surprise the World! — Eating Together

Surprise the World -- EAT

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In our last reflection, we looked at the first letter, which stands for BLESS. Today, we are looking at the second habit, EAT.

Frost challenges his readers to try to eat with three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of the church. Of course, this is much harder in the time of Covid. It might have to be a coffee or a walk outside. Even if we have to wait for Covid to end, it is still worth pondering why eating with someone is so important.

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Frost reminds us that eating and hospitality have a special place in Christian practice. Eating together was the one thing that Jesus told us to do when we meet. We are familiar with the Eucharist, but Christians also celebrated love-feasts, a time of eating and being together. The table with food is the central symbol of Christian gathering. Frost writes, “It represents hospitality, inclusivity, generosity and grace.” It may not seem like much, but in the ancient world, the Emperor Julian the Apostate complained that meals of hospitality were one of the central ways that Christians were ‘perverting’ the empire! There is power in gathering.

Eating Together to Change the World

When Frost encourages us to eat with other, he is not talking about the sacrament. He means a meal and hospitality. Why? Because there is something special about sharing a meal together. It has deep meaning in every culture. He writes, “The table is the great equalizer in relationships. When we eat together we discover the inherent humanity of all people. We share stories. And hopes. And fears. And disappointments. People open up to each other.”

His friend Alan Hirsch goes further: “Missional hospitality is a tremendous opportunity to extend the kingdom of God. We can literally eat our way into the kingdom of God! If every Christian household regularly invited a stranger or a poor person into their home for a meal once a week, we would literally change the world by eating!”

Eating Together as a Sign of Grace

As with blessing, we don’t invite people into our homes because we expect them to become Christians or come to our church. We invite them because we want to get to know them at a human level. But the act of inviting people in and showing them the love of hospitality is a sign of the kingdom of God.

Whether or not it leads to a conversation about faith, we leave that to God. In having fellowship, we don’t judge people’s lifestyles or eating (or drinking) habits. It is an act of grace to prepare food for another person and get to know them around a table. And who knows, you may learn something new and grow a new friendship. God can do lots of great things over a simple dish of food.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — BLESS

Surprise the World: Bless

In this series on Michael Frost’s book Surprise the World!, we are looking at missional habits. What is wonderful about this book is that Frost gives us an easily understandable way to faithfully live out the Christian life. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S., which stands for Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent. The idea is that while we are not each called to be Evangelists, we are called to bless the world through our life.

God calls us to point people to the Kingdom of God through our actions, and if needed, our words. We do this by living surprising lives, lives that make people notice that something is different in the way that we live. What are these habits that people notice?

Living Blessing

The first one is BLESS. Frost challenges every Christian intentionally to bless three people every week. One person should be from within the church; one person should be outside the church, and the third person could be either.

To bless someone is one of the simplest things we can do. The word ‘bless’ originally meant a few different things. It meant to speak well of someone or to praise them. It also meant conferring material or spiritual well-being upon someone. As the word has evolved, we now use it in the sense of building people up, filling them with encouragement so that they can increase in strength and prosperity.

Frost puts it like this: To bless someone else is “anything that relieves their burden in life. Anything that helps them breathe more easily. Anything that lifts their spirit or alleviates their distress. It can be a small thing or large.” Blessing can take a number of different forms. Frost gives us three common examples to start us off.

Bless with Words of Affirmation

This is the simplest way to bless someone. It is as simple as sending someone a note letting them know that you have noticed something about them or appreciated something that they did. You can pick up the phone, or just say something in passing. People really appreciate words of encouragement. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” To affirm something about someone is to connect with them beyond the superficial.

Bless with Acts of Kindness

This is the simple action of doing someone a favour with no desire for acknowledgement or reward. There is an old Alcoholics Anonymous card which contains nine daily promises. One of them is “I will do somebody a good turn and will not get found out.” Obviously, it doesn’t matter if you ‘get found out,’ but the idea is to just do something nice as a principle. Is there a neighbour you can help? Someone in your family who is struggling? Is there somewhere you can volunteer? Everyone appreciates someone who gives.

Bless with Gifts

We all like to get gifts on a birthday or at Christmas. But Frost challenges to go one step further. How about random gift giving? At the heart of love is the act of giving. Giving a gift is a symbol of love; that is why they are special. A gift doesn’t have to be big, but it requires us to be on the lookout for what others need. Is there a struggling family who could use a casserole? Is there a book that someone has been talking about? Maybe just a balloon for a small child? Whatever it is, it will be a blessing.

Bless with No Ulterior Motives

Frost is encouraging us to lead surprising lives. But he also adds a small word of caution here. While we bless people as a way of living surprising lives, we have to be clear that we are doing this for no other reason than to be a blessing. There is no agenda. There is no expectation. For instance, if someone takes your gift and never thanks you and throws it in the garbage, that is not your issue. We only want to be a blessing because we have been blessed so richly in Jesus.

How have you been blessed yourself? How have you blessed others? Add your thoughts in the comments.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. You can order it here:

This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 25: Moses and the Glory of God

Moses and the Glory of God
Episode 25: Moses and the Glory of God

This week, we pick up the story of Moses in Exodus 33:12-23. After the people have turned from God to worship a golden calf, Moses and God talk about how to move forward, and how intimacy with God will look as they settle in the Promised Land.

Join us around the virtual table as we reflect on the Glory of God and how it informs our relationship with God. Please join the conversation! Add your insights in the comments below.

Building a Prayer Life (How to Pray – Series Summary)

Building a Prayer Life

We have spent several weeks looking at the life of prayer. We have covered a lot of material, so in this final reflection I thought it might be helpful to highlight what I believe are the four most important points in the life of prayer.

1. Above all else, a prayer life is an intimate relationship with God.

From one perspective, a life of prayer can be complicated. As we have seen, there are many different approaches to prayer and all kinds of techniques for praying deeply. There are lots of different tools, books and apps that one can use. Before we get caught up with all of that, it is essential to remember that above all else, prayer is an intimate relationship with God. At its heart, prayer is utterly simple: God wants to be in relationship with you. And prayer is our side of that relationship. All of the techniques and tools are only supposed to help with that simple goal. If they help, by all means use them! But if they don’t, then don’t use them. It is that simple.

2. Lifting up your heart is the foundation of prayer

Prayer is based on a simple, essential movement. In the Eucharist, we call this ‘lifting up your heart.’ This is a way of putting aside the thoughts and activities of the world and giving your attention to God. The beauty of prayer as lifting up your heart is that you can do this anywhere: at home, at church, in the grocery store, at work… you get the idea. Every method and aid to prayer is only meant to facilitate and enhance this simple truth.

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

3. Have a routine and a place for prayer

Consider having a special time and place where you pray every day. In the modern world, we sometimes forget the importance of ritual to structure our days and weeks. Without it, life can often seem chaotic and busy. Daily rituals of prayer help us to recenter and recapture what it is that we are all about. It is also helpful to have a prayer space, even if it is just a favourite chair. Over time, you come to look forward to praying in your space. Obviously, you do not need all of this to pray.

People often point to the Oswald Chambers quotation: “There is no need to get to a place to pray; pray wherever you are.” And I strongly agree with that. But Chambers was speaking to a different question. He was trying to encourage people that you don’t need to go to a church to pray with professional clergy. Prayer is available to anyone at any time. Of course, we can pray anywhere. But if we are going to create a habit, it is essential to have structures in place that will help us to do so.

4. Commit to a prayer life

This is the hardest part. I believe that if we wait until we have time to develop a prayer life, then we probably won’t do it. It is hard to find time to add something new to our lives. What we need to do is to understand how important prayer is, and we always find time for things that we believe are important.

It is not hard to see that prayer is important. I would suggest that this is the single most important activity that we do every day. Think about it… if we really believe that there is a God, and that this God wants to be in relationship with us, and that we were created specifically for this purpose, then spending time in prayer (daily communion with God) is the most important thing we can do. This is merely the law of relationships. For relationships to thrive, we need to put in the time. There is no other way.

Prayer is a special activity. It is clearly an ancient and universal impulse:

From primitive cave paintings to the whitewashed walls of the Royal Academy, the universal impulse to pray permeates and pulsates through human anthropology and archaeology, sociology and psychology. It is no exaggeration to say that to be human is to pray. The question, therefore, is not so much why we pray, but rather how and to whom. For billions of people today, the answer to such questions is to be found in the revolutionary life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Pete Greig

I pray that your prayer life will grow and be a blessing to you. Though it will have its ups and downs, you will find the rhythm that works for you. Just remember:

Keep it simple,

Keep it real,

Keep it up.

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