Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Cheap, Easy, and Healthy-ish Handout for Panhandlers

Photos by JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  Peter Dunn (top) agrees aggressive panhandlers can pose a problem. He says he never runs up to cars.  Kevin Leblanc (above) holds a sign that says Òeverybody hurts sometimesÓ at the intersection of Osborne Street and Broadway.

Kevin Leblanc. Photo by Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press

Like most larger cities, Winnipeg has its share of panhandlers that stand on boulevards asking for money from stopped cars with cardboard signs. Many people don’t like that and would love to see that changed, and in fact it is technically illegal. But those people, it seems to me, don’t really care how the panhandlers are gone or where they go – as long as they’re not personally bothered any more (the issue came up during our last civic elections, and many were quite vocal about their opinions).

While there are good solutions to this issue and homelessness in general (and other North American cities are paving the way there), it’s not a simple fix, and the reasons people end up on the street are both numerous and diverse.

So, what can one guy like me do? Probably more than I realize. In any case, I know that I don’t want to give money. So what my wife and I are doing is giving out lunch bags every time we’re asked for money instead.


The idea initially came from a good friend of mine, who kept juice boxes and granola bars in his car for that very purpose. When I told my wife about the idea, and how I’d like to do it, she suggested we could do better than that. So we went to Dollarama and got supplies.

Each ziplock bag contains a juice box (unfortunate in most Winnipeg seasons – hot in the summer, frozen in the winter), a chicken salad and cracker pre-made package, and a snack of some sort. Our current bags have Welch’s fruit gummies, but in the past we’ve had cookies, graham crackers, and granola bars. Finally, we started adding Worther’s hard candies to the bags.


Each bag costs less than $3.00 (seriously), and we keep a few of them in the console of our car for easy access, and about 10 in the trunk to replenish it as needed. It’s simple. It’s cheap. We give the panhandlers dignity instead of ignoring them (or worse), and show them that we care – even if it’s not a lot.

Now, I’m not saying all this to brag. Realistically we’re not doing much to help the overall problem, although we see we’re making a small difference in people’s lives when they smile in surprise and thankfulness when we hand them a bag.

No, the reason I’m writing about this is because I wonder why more people don’t do it, and I wish they did.

So what do you do, if anything? Will you consider doing this too, or something like it? And if you have ideas on how could we make our bags better, yet still easy & cost-effective, please share them in the comments!

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Praying with One Another

When was the last time you prayed for someone in their presence? Maybe it was at a church service or prayer meeting, or a small group. Maybe it was at home with your spouse or children.

This past Sunday my church prayed for one of our members going into surgery this week. He came and sat in a chair at the front of the church, and the deacons gathered around him and laid their hands on him and prayed. It was beautiful, and it was the first time our church had ever done anything like that. I hope it’s not the last.


When was the last time you prayed with someone at a social get-together?

Sounds weird, right? And definitely awkward. But I wonder why, as Christians, we don’t that often? We seem to have a pretty clear separation between “spiritual” times and other times, like dinners or coffees, or work, or sporting events.

But if, as Paul says, we are members of one body and need each other (1 Cor. 12:12-27), and if we’re to build one another up and encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), wouldn’t it make sense to pray with each other more often than we do?

This is a result of our individualistic & materialistic (separating the spiritual from the rest of life) culture, though certainly there are always exceptions to be found (I think about my time in charismatic churches, where it seemed a lot more common to pray for each other any time. That’s one of the things I miss from that stream of Christianity).

The truth is, though, that I need prayer. And so do you, if you’re honest with yourself.

So my wife and I have determined to pray for people when we get together socially. Sometimes I forget if the conversation is really good, or my wife will remind me, but before they or we leave, I’ll ask “how can we pray for you?” and then right there we will pray. It’s not a super-religious moment, and we don’t do it to look good in front of our friends, but we do it because we care about them. It’s a simple yet powerful way we can “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Also, Jesus has been with us the whole time we were hanging out or doing whatever anyway, and he also wants to be included.

I encourage you to try it. It won’t feel natural at first and that’s okay. But when we pray with & for each other, more and more we become a people that is characterized by our love for one another (John 13:34-35).

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Five Ways Not to Pray

Leaders of Judah: Jeremiah, please pray to God and ask his will for us! We promise we will do whatever it is, whether it’s good or bad. Like, seriously, we will. We promise.

Jeremiah: Okay I’ll ask and tell you what he says.

(ten days later)

Jeremiah: Hey, God says stay here in Judah. If you do, God will show mercy on you and deliver you from the king of Babylon. But, if you go to Egypt you are dead. Anyone who goes there will die by the sword, plague, and famine.

Leaders of Judah: Liar! You are lying! God didn’t say that! We’re going to Egypt.

Not Jeremiah.

A bullfrog. Not Jeremiah.

When I recently read this episode in Jeremiah 42-43, I think I actually laughed out loud. The leaders of Judah were so ridiculous. But after thinking about it more, I realized that I can do the same thing. And really, people today are not all that different from the leaders of Judah back then sometimes.

See, the people of Judah had already decided to flee to Egypt from the oncoming Babylonians, and in fact were in the process of doing that, when they stopped on the way to visit Jeremiah the prophet and ask him to inquire from God. In the same way, we can often decide our course of action, or the answer we want, in spite of praying for God’s guidance. This is not intentional, I’d argue, and I think there’s at least 5 reasons we do it:

1. We pray after we have thought through the issue/choice/desire instead of before, and have already decided what the right/rational/best course of action is.

2.  We pray before we have thought things through, but then proceed to decide the best answer ourselves instead of allowing God to speak. Doing this, we assume God will guide us through our decision-making process (and often he will), but often we don’t give him room to actually speak.

3. We don’t really believe God will give us guidance (again, subconsciously), and so take the task upon ourselves.

4. We have forgotten that God is both here and already working in or through whatever it is we’re praying about.

5. The prayer is mere ritual, done in a perfunctory manner before we get down to the “real business” ourselves.

When we do this, we treat God at worst like a vending machine, and at best like a benevolent bureaucrat waiting to rubber stamp all our plans and desires.


What this type of praying tells me is that our spirituality is more religion than it is relationship. Or that it’s one-sided, at least, and we don’t really want to hear what God has to say. But if he is who he says he is and has our best interest always in mind (even if we don’t always recognize it as such); if Jesus is “the best and smartest man ever” as Dallas Willard says, and was God-in-flesh on earth; shouldn’t we listen to him? Shouldn’t we wait in prayer until we’ve heard his voice?

For God does speak–now one way, now another– though no one perceives it.” Job 33:14

May you and I be people who wait in listening prayer until we perceive his voice.


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Achan Brings Trouble into the Israelite Camp…

Achan Brings Trouble

Then Joshua said to Achan, “Why have you brought trouble on us? The Lord will now bring trouble on you.” (Josh. 7:25)

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Of Quakers and Their Ways: A Brief Review of “Quaker Faith & Practice”

I’ve always been interested in reading how different “streams” of Christianity practice their faith, and last year read the “Hutterite Confession of Faith” (see my review here) which was great. So when I saw “Quaker Faith and Practice” on Amazon, I wanted to pick it up. Unfortunately, the Canadian version was unavailable, but I picked up the British fifth edition (and I’m curious what the differences in content are, if much. The Canadian one seems paired down in comparison though).


Subtitled “The Book of Christian Discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain”

One thing I found surprising right off the bat was a lack of the history of the Quakers; how they came to be called that, when and by who they were founded, etc. The introduction was a history of the manual itself only. In that way, this book really is a manual for Quakers themselves who (presumably) know this history already. This information is readily available on Wikipedia of course, but reading it from a Quaker perspective would have been insightful. Because of that I won’t say much more about their beginnings here beyond to say that the term “Quaker” began as a derogatory term, but over time gained acceptance amongst their practitioners (who also call themselves “The Society of Friends”).

Listening as Essential to Worship

As a non-Quaker, I found the parts on the necessity of listening in silence until God speaks, especially in community, to be fascinating. I knew of the Quaker practice in their worship gatherings already, but reading the ideas behind it (especially the emphasis on doing it in community – not as individuals in the same room but doing it together) encouraged me to continue trying to practice it in my own life, both on my own and to now include others when I can.

Photo: Stephen Coles

Photo: Stephen Coles

True silence… is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” William Penn (2.14)

Worship is our response to an awareness of God. We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence.” Advices and Queries (1.02/8)

The sections “Meeting for Worship” (2.35 ff), “The Sense of the Meeting” (3.02 ff), and “Our Community” (10.01 ff) were also worthwhile readings.

I skipped past all the business regulation items, of course, it having no relation to me; however, the fact that they aim to conduct business meetings as they do their times of worship is great – and one day if I’m in a church business meeting (and am able to) will introduce this idea to the participants.

Concerning Direction

I was very saddened to read of all the more liberal theological & moral ideas that has seeped into Quakerism; They mentioned it was introduced at the Manchester Conference in 1895 (19.60), and not as a bad thing. And so God is sometimes referred to in terms like “whatever he is to us,” or as a non-personal seeming “inward Light.” The Bible was seen as a non-authoritative book by some sections (which, when compared to Jesus/The Holy Spirit I agree it is subservient. George Fox is quoted saying “If we did not have the Scriptures… Jesus is enough” which I like), and personal experience of the Light as superseding it. My own thought on this is that, while God is bigger than the Bible and will still speak to us outside of the Bible today (as Quakers teach), he will never contradict the Bible (which some sections in this document disagree with).

While this book is meant to be a manual, there are a lot of personal testimonies and anecdotes included in each section from Quakers throughout history; the writers were careful to include both men and women and non-Europeans when they could. These were fascinating, but because of what I found in my previous comment, I tended to skip many of them that were post-1700’s.

Of course, like in every denomination, not all Friends are theologically liberal and not all of them are conservative, but either way they are a part of the global Body of Christ and their voice is worth listening to and engaging with and learning from.

Recommended Quaker Authors

On the plus side, reading this document has inspired me to seek out other Quaker writings, such as those by George Fox (the founder), Thomas Kelly (his “Testament of Devotion” being on my to-read list for some time already) and William Penn. Interestingly, as I was writing this review I learned that Dallas Willard was a Quaker (I’m reading his “Divine Conspiracy” right now & recommend it). I’ve also loved Richard Foster’s works, another Quaker, especially “Streams of Living Water” and the more famous “Celebration of Discipline,” both of which I highly recommend.

Obligatory Quaker Oats Pic.

Obligatory Quaker Oats Pic.

It turns out that there is a Winnipeg Quaker fellowship. I’ve wanted to check it out in the past, and after reading “Quaker Faith and Practice” I’m honestly not sure if I want to anymore (and after snooping around on their website). Besides, if I did, I’d have to get over my feeling of intimidation in going too!

So, in conclusion there are some valuable ideas in “Quaker Faith and Practice” that I will refer back to and continue to learn from and practice in my life, but as a non-Quaker I wouldn’t recommend it overall, and especially not to an immature believer.

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The Role of Forgiving & “Forgetting” in Unity

One of the greatest killers of community is unforgiveness.

There can be a myriad of reasons we may harbour unforgiveness against someone, from minor things like “he didn’t put the toilet seat down again,” to the horrific like the continued Boko Haram atrocities, the Charleston church shooting, or Guido Amsel sending bombs to his ex-wife and their lawyers here in Winnipeg .

In church settings the effects of unforgiveness always lead to disunity; fellowship is broken, and I’ve heard of people going to the same church for decades and never speaking to each other. This is very sad, and extremely contrary to the way of Jesus, who at the end of His life prayed for our unity (John 17).


And while forgiveness doesn’t negate consequences (a forgiven murderer still goes to jail, a forgiven slanderer still needs to recant their words), we know that repentance or the lack thereof is not dependent on us forgiving. This makes it one of the hardest things we can do; and also, one of the most Christ-like. As I know only too well, the act of  ‘dying to self’ is greatly needed in order to forgive sometimes.

But because we have been forgiven by God, God expects us to in turn give that same grace to others. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15 sound harsh to our ears: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” but there’s really no way to understand these words except at face-value (this is not to say that we earn God’s forgiveness by works of our own forgiveness of others, but shows the seriousness with which God expects us to love others the way He loves us (see Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18)).


Often forgiving someone is not enough to restore unity, however. At least not the way we practice forgiveness today (a shallow, un-christ-like type of forgiveness which says the perpetrator is forgiven, but will never be trusted/spoken to/loved again). This is why Miroslav Volf, in his “Exclusion & Embrace“, talks about the need to forget, or “nonremembering,” in order to forgive in such a way that unity and relationship can be fully restored. This nonremembering properly takes place after “perpetrators have been named, judged, and (hopefully) transformed” (131), and after the victims are safe and have healed/mourned. For without it “as long as it is remembered, the past is not just the past; it remains an aspect of the present. A remembered wound is an experienced wound” (133). This forgetting is not a complete obliteration of the memories, which is frankly impossible, but a sort of “backgrounding” of the memory that allows us to move beyond the offense and pain of it. Volf says that this is the final, and most difficult part, of reconciliation (131).

This week, before next Sunday, examine your heart and see if you are holding any unforgiveness or bitterness towards anyone in your community; and if you are determine to forgive them in the strength of God’s forgiveness given to you. And keep forgiving them for as long as you need to in order to “forget.” It will be difficult, but it will be more worth it than you can imagine beforehand.

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