Spirit Truth and Reconciliation

When I was a boy I went to kids camp at Ottawa Valley Pentecostal Camp (OVPC).  Now, I am originally from ‘the Valley’, and attending the various camps and services at OVPC was a staple experience for our family.  My siblings and I would attend the week long children’s camp and also enjoy the children’s programs and services during family camp.  I mention this because I’m fairly certain that I learned my first ‘kingdom’ song at kids camp.  It went like this:

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you, Hallelu, Hallelujah”

Time and time again we would sing this song at chapel services and children’s church.  We would even practice it so that we could perform it for the adults in the main service.  There were even actions that went with the words too!  It was really cutting edge for its time.  However, I am not sure that I sung this song for the right reasons.

Here’s what I mean.

While singing this song, I believed that as long as I was a good little boy and sought after God’s kingdom first, then ‘all these things’ would be ‘added to me’. This meant that I could expect a new bike, lots of money, and all of the deserts known to humanity as long as I sought after ‘the kingdom’… Hallelujah! The problem is that I was singing this song while thinking about ‘all these things’. I knew that I should not be thinking about all the things that I wanted, but there seemed to be a premise and even a promise made that if I would seek the kingdom first, then a whole bunch of stuff was going to be coming my way. No wonder we say Hallelujah at the end!

Here’s the point.  

When presented this way, seeking the ‘kingdom’ can become sort of a means to an end, and we can be tempted to think that God’s Kingdom is quid quo pro for riches. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s why.

It was Matthew who remembered Jesus saying these words about ‘seeking first the kingdom’. We can see it for ourselves in his gospel (6:33). If you decide to read some of what Matthew wrote, you will notice that the context of Jesus’ words and ‘seeking the kingdom’ has more to do with the provision of basic clothing, shelter and food than riches. Jesus seems to make the point that Father God will provide our basic needs when one follows through on seeking His kingdom. In other words, seeking the kingdom is more about the divine presence of daily bread rather than diabolical loaves magically appearing.

In my previous blog I wrote about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and the associated problems with the ‘systems’ of this world.  

Here’s the gist.

I am convinced that the Bible helps me understand that there are hostile forces at work here in this world. Furthermore, these same ‘powers’ operate in a progeny-like fashion revealing their true source. The New Testament writers also seem to pick on this and characterize these powers similarly; Jesus is depicted as One who reflects the behaviour of Father God (Yahweh) here on earth, and others who represent and reflect the nature of someone else. The temptation scene in Luke helps me understand who the other ‘parent power’ is.

In Luke’s cosmic showdown in the wilderness, the devil now steps out from behind the curtain for a direct confrontation with the only One who is able to perfectly manifest the good purposes of Yahweh and implement His kingdom for humanity. It is Jesus, the Nazarene. Remember Him? But now Luke overemphasizes the point that behind Jesus isn’t just a stable, some animals or angels; we see that behind Jesus stands the Holy Spirit!

So after Jesus successfully resisted the diabolical will of Satan, Luke tells us that He then began to demonstrate what God’s kingdom looked like. In other words, Jesus demonstrated what Spirit-empowered living is all about: healing a broken world.

Here’s the idea.

The Bible teaches that God’s Spirit is present everywhere, and that the entire universe is His field of operations so that the redemptive purposes of God are completed in all of creation. There was no doubt in Jewish thinking, that the world and all creatures are dependent upon God for life and strength.  When the New Testament speaks of resurrection and new creation, the creative power of the Spirit is always assumed.  This means that it is the Spirit who brought life to the world in the first place, and it is only the Spirit who can bring new life to it.  

If that is true, then a proper kingdom longing then, is for God’s Creator Spirit to come and make everything new.  Could it be that simple?  

One Old Testament prophet says that creation will be desolate ‘until the Spirit from on high is poured out on us, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field’ (Is. 32:15).  Clark Pinnock says that “these OT prophets can speak of the Spirit this way because He is the power of Creation.” 

If the Spirit is all of those things, then perhaps Luke is correct in emphasizing the Spirit’s empowering (anointing) upon Jesus.  For Luke, it seems that the Spirit is now on Jesus because God’s ‘energizing life’ is now available and here to bring about God’s newness of life to a hurting and broken world.  

When reading the Gospels, it is apparent that God is for those who suffer and is always on the side of healing, restoration and redemption.  There are those who believe that God’s Spirit ought to extend towards and effect the systems of humanity itself.  This means that they very ‘systems’ of the world could reflect a power that is liberating and transformative rather than dominating and punitive.  

Perhaps it is as simple as this.  I guess it all depends on which song you are singing.   

In our nation there is major reckoning concerning the injustices committed against First Nations people and the attempted genocide of their culture by those claiming to represent Jesus and His Father.  If the Bible portrays the kingdom of God to be ‘good news’ because it signifies a new world order that embraces those who hurting, broken, and living on the margins of society, then perhaps we really do need the power of Yahweh’s Spirit now more than ever.  

I will end with this.  

According to NT Wright, the followers of Jesus are commissioned and empowered by the Spirit to announce to the world that there is a different way of being human.  If this is true, then followers of Jesus who orient themselves to this type of living demonstrate a counter-cultural character that is more aligned with God’s Kingdom than the ‘systems’ of this world.  In other words, a genuine Spirit empowered witness seeks to bring God’s ‘newness’ into any and all situations via the life of the Kingdom Spirit. 

Maranatha!

The system is broken

We live in a world of systems.  From government, healthcare and education to technology, groceries and minor sports, it seems like our entire world is based upon and functions within some sort of system.  In fact it does.

Whether we like it or not, our morning routines, work, recreational and social lives employ and align with micro and macro systems that are based on a set of specific rules, criteria and information that we have either embraced or deemed to be positive and beneficial to our lives.  We often don’t eve give it a second thought.  We just go with the flow and accept what status quo says is status quo.    

Now this is not a negative thing, and in fact it is probably impossible for human beings to not operate within a social system or a connected network of some sort.  As social beings we rely on accepted practices and norms to help us establish culture and function within in.  But what if the very ‘systems’ that operate in the world and are used as foundational aspects to society and culture are broken?  Worse, what if the system itself is actually evil?  

Ok, now allow me to say right from the beginning that I can feel and sense your nervousness and tension about a statement suggesting that ‘the system is evil’.  Statements like can unfortunately lead people into thinking that there needs to be a demonstration on Parliament Hill or a fist shaken at the powers that be.  I am not suggesting anything of the sorts, nor have I ever participated in such a thing.  But I am suggesting that the Bible helps me understand that we need to discern the economic, political and religious systems that are operating in the world today. 

Here’s why.

One of the fascinating scenes from the New Testament is the cosmic showdown between Jesus and the Devil in the wilderness.  From Luke’s gospel we are told that Jesus (led by the Spirit), enters the wilderness for a period of forty days.  But this is not some sort of rugged overland trip or adventurous journey into the outback.  Jesus is going there without any supplies in order to be tested from the very source of all things diabolical: the devil.

Luke tells us that Satan indeed shows up and begins to tempt with a series of probing questions.  Much has been made of this encounter over the years and many words have been inked in commentaries telling us the meanings associated with this trio of temptations.  In a sense, I too am adding to the plethora of comments and opinions.  But here is where I am going with this.  When looking at the three temptations that Jesus faced, we are seeing a clash of two kingdoms: one that is potentially based upon the socio-economic, political and religious systems of the world, and another that is based on the Kingdom of God. 

Here’s how.

  1. The Bread of Economy: “If you are the Son of God tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3)

Biblical commentators over the years have pointed out that the gospel writers emphasize the fact that Jesus seems to overturn the socially defined constructs of the first-century world and culture.  It is true that the gospel writers show Jesus not aligning with the commonly understood cultural code and social norms, but Luke however highlights Jesus’ association and time spent with the poor, marginalized and outcasts of society more than what Matthew and Mark do. You could say that Luke pays more attention to the Mediterranean socially constructed social system more than others.

In that system, ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ were ancient socially constructed terms used to classify humanity based upon their economic situation in society.  The ‘poor’ had become accustomed to living on the fringes of society because the ‘rich’ have used their resources to solidify their upper position.  In the dog-eat-dog world of the Roman Empire, the rich and powerful were all that mattered.

If that is true, then Jesus’ rejection to make magic food in the wilderness could be seen as a commitment to remain in a lifestyle of poverty and continuing to keep Himself aligned with the poor.  Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee after-all.  If Jesus did make delicious bread from those dusty rocks, His actions could have been understood socially.   

If Jesus did miraculously provide bread in the desert, He would have used His divinity to elevate His social status from the majority of those living within the poverty stricken region of Nazareth.  Seriously, who else is able to turn rocks into wilderness wonder-bread when hunger pains hit?  In other words, Jesus would have been using the power of the Spirit to potentially not only meet His physical needs, but to also adjust and possibly elevate His social status among the poor.  

2.  The Power of Politics: “I will give You their splendour and all this authority; because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want.  If You, then will worship me, all will be Yours” (4:6-7)

Contrasting the mundane offer of bread, Jesus is instantly given a vision of promised absolute, earthly power.  The devil instantly is able to show Jesus all of the inhabited kingdoms of the earth and claims to have the ability to offer them to Jesus.  

Much has been made of the fact that Jesus did not dispute the devil’s claim to offer up the kingdoms of the world. Some people believe that the devil had the right to make this claim and that Jesus has specifically come to win back all those kingdoms.  However, it can also be noted that Jesus did not affirm the devil’s offer either.  It could be argued that such a claim was not even worthy of an answer.  In addition, the devil is Biblically portrayed to be a liar. Regardless, the central issue here is the devil’s attempt to displace God as Jesus’ benefactor.

Notice in this back and forth conversation that the devil makes five references to himself, three to Jesus and none to God.  It all seems to point to and highlight that the devil is seeking to extract a great price from Jesus: His allegiance.  This matters big time.  In other words, who will Jesus trust or look to in order to receive His kingdom?  

It was well known in the Ancient world that Caesar was proclaimed as ‘god’ and was deemed to have an everlasting empire.  Luke seems to pick on this and suggest that an absolute, earthly power looks like a diabolical claim and quest.  If this is true, then perhaps the good news of God’s Kingdom is aimed at the poor for a reason.  Also, the promise of God’s Kingdom seems to be given to those who are aware that their righteousness, consolation, reward and honor are found only in the love of God and the inclusive fabric of His Kingdom.  In other words, the devil claims to have the ability to give Jesus total political authority and a powerful political kingdom.  However, Jesus does not grasp the opportunity to gain this position of power by way of idolatrous worship since Father God is His benefactor.    

3. The Spectacle of Religion: “So he took Him to Jerusalem, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.” (4:9)

In this third and final temptation, the devil brings Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple where He is asked to make a spectacle of Himself in order to prove His divinity.  If Jesus would fall to the ground, surely the angels of heaven would intervene and preserve His life.  The devil is essentially asking Jesus to perform a self-centered act and use God’s power for His own ends.  Had Jesus jumped, the sin would have been pride.

It’s been noted that temple worship was at an all-time low when the Son of God came to earth.  In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people were being extorted by the temple and its High Priest by forcing people to purchase sacrifices and not allowing them to bring their own.  Jews who traveled from afar to Jerusalem to worship and offer sacrifices had to purchase their animals from the Temple in order to offer sacrifices within the Temple.  It was a system of corruption.  The priestly aristocracy had taken over and were charging exorbitant, monopolistic prices for these sacrificial animals.  It was literally double duty exploitation of the greatest insult.  

However, even worse was the fact that there were two High Priests in the Temple when there was only to be one.  In the eyes of many people, the whole Temple system had become something opposite of its intended purpose, and essentially made it illegitimate because of its hierarchy.  The temple had become a place of self-service to the religious leaders.  

Jesus would have been following along the lines of other temple leaders who were using the building and system to selfishly serve their hierarchical needs and perverted purposes if He had thrown Himself down from its peak.  Jesus will have no part of this spectacle.  

In summary then, we could say that Jesus seems to resist these triple temptations and show a reluctance to use His power to elevate Himself socially, to gain power via diabolical authority, or to draw prideful attention to Himself via religion.  In other words, it seems that Jesus holds fast to another way or alternate mode that seemingly dispenses with the economic, political and religious methods of this world.    

So what is catch?  

If the systems of the world are broken and maybe even diabolical, how then are we to live here on earth?  

I guess that will be the subject matter of my next blog.  

But perhaps you could ask yourself and consider what Jesus does seem to embrace, embody and enunciate for life here on earth.  

Until then,

Maranatha!    

Lambpower: Part 2

Is anyone getting tired of hearing about the continuous and ongoing corruption across levels of government or the seemingly lack of a moral compass from those in leadership?  

Does there also seem to be a continual covering-up and blatant denial of organizational abuse of power and the errors of systematic oppression?  

Why is there an addictive need to control, dominate and oppress people?  

Surely there must be another way …

In my previous blog I began to share from War Ewing’s The Power of the Lamb: Revelation’s Theology of Liberation for You.  To read that blog click here.

In this week’s blog I will share what is needed so that humanity is able to not only confront these ‘beastly’ oppressive powers in the world, but what is also needed if there is to be any hope for unity and healing.  Ward calls it ‘Lambpower’

In the book of Revelation, John gives the world a startling picture of what is needed so that transformation and healing is able to come to the world and all human relationships.  But here’s a warning, the imagery and solution might not be what you would expect or want to see.  But it should be a familiar image if you are somewhat familiar with the nursery rhyme involving a little girl named Mary. 

In the languages of the ancient Mediterranean world, there were many words for sheep and lambs that were used in common Greek and Hebrew.  John could have used any number of them in the book of Revelation.  However, when it came to describing the Lamb of God throughout Revelation, John uses a very special world that is shocking. 

In the fifth chapter of Revelation John says this:

“Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw One like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne …

Did you catch that?  

The Lion of the tribe of Judah, which was to destroy the enemy, turns out to be a little, young lamb.  Remember what is was that followed Mary to school that day?  Yes, that’s right.  It was a little lamb.

Now, it’s one thing to say that a lion has now become a lamb, but John also says that this lamb also bears the marks of being slaughtered or slain.  So, in the vision given to John (while being in the Spirit), John sees, describes and emphasizes that God’s power and victory is achieved via a meek, helpless and vulnerable little lamb.  

For Ward, ‘John has carefully chosen an image that conveys unprotected and perilous existence’.  In other words, it seems that God’s understanding of true victory and power looks like vulnerability and surrender.

Now, for the ancient followers of Jesus and congregations of Asia Minor, the parallels were seemingly obvious.  We need to remember that it was John who told them about Jesus’ non-violent surrendering to the Jewish leaders and Pilate in his gospel.  John who witnessed and wrote about Jesus’ vulnerability and strength when He accepted the undeserved suffering and injustice heaped upon Him that lead up to His death on the cross.  We also need to remember that it was John who told us that there is no greater love than to suffer and give one’s life for others.  

So now, the same John says that the same love of God is operating and needed in the world now.  

Stop and think about that impact of John’s message in a world of Roman domination and power.  What is able to stop this evil power of the beast?  What will ultimately destroy and do away with these oppressive and violent powers? 

Ward says that the messaging in Revelation indicates that the love of God as witnessed and demonstrated in Jesus is the very love that will win the world.  

In his words, ‘the beast was unable to destroy or stop that love, and it was that love which triumphed.  The cross remains to this day as the symbol of the supreme act of love, consciously and willingly accepted by an innocent man.  No act of love this deep, this strong, this pure, this giving, can ever be seen as defeat.  The ruler was more controlled than controlling; the power was revealed as malevolent and impotent.  The Lamb faced the beast and conquered.  The victim is the victor.’

So let me ask you this question: how does this concept of power clash with our culturally conditioned one?  

Think about all of the ‘people power’ marches and demonstrations that we have seen here in the West over the past few decades.  What seems to be the ethos and messaging from the leaders of those movements, and the very movement itself?  Think about the recent ‘freedom convoy’ in our Nations Capital.  

For Ward, it seems that Lambpower is characterized by love, acceptance and supporting other people’s freedom and giving without demanding results.  It seems that Lambpower is more about vulnerability and surrender than non-violence and protest; and more about acceptance and yieldedness than about resignation and passivity.  In other words, true power ought to align itself with the very life and way of Jesus the Nazarene. 

Today, we need to think about the ramifications of what John is saying.  What would happen if we began to think this way and apply the way of the Lamb in our everyday relationships, marriages and parenting?    

What would happen if we decided to let go of our need to compete and need to climb the corporate ladder?  What would happen if we realized that our personal worth does not depend on winning?  What would happen if we left behind our need for control and selfish desire to always be in charge and have the final say?

Ward believes that this is exactly what humanity and the world needs.  This is the kind of self-giving and vulnerable love needed to bring God’s healing and unity to our broken and fragmented world. This is the kind of love that brings God’s newness and freedom to our hurting and wounded spirit.  In other words, we all need to embrace and receive the life changing love of God in Jesus.

This is the message, mission and model of God’s victorious Lamb, Jesus Christ. 

So in our current apocalyptic age and present day world, John continues to give each of us a choice: the way of the beast or the way of the Lamb.  

I pray that we will choose the way of Jesus and either begin to follow or continue to follow this ‘little’ Lamb wherever He may lead.

Maranatha!

Lambpower: my review of Ward Ewing’s book – ‘The Power of the Lamb: Revelations Theology of Liberation for You’

How do you define power?  What does experiencing powerless mean?  Are there powers at work in the systems of the world today?  Does the Bible speak about power?  

Ward Ewing is an Episcopal priest and also serves as Dean and President of The General Theological Seminary in New York City.  He is also the author of Job: A Vision of God.  I recently picked up a copy of ‘The Power of the Lamb’ due to my ongoing interest in the book of Revelation.  I was very intrigued by the title of the book and wanted to see his take on Revelation.  I was not disappointed and am writing this blog to also propel his message about the concept of power and its effect on humanity and culture.  Ward believes that ‘a key issue of spirituality for our time is empowerment’.   

Let’s see what he means. 

For Ward, ‘Revelation is about power’ because John uses the words ‘power’ (dunamis) and ‘authority’ (exousia) more than any other book in Scripture. You may have heard those words before if you are familiar with or have been exposed to the Pentecostal tradition of Christianity. Pentecostals have been known to focus on the ‘power’ of God’s Spirit. Perhaps this is why John was writing to the seven churches after-all. Maybe he was speaking an empowered word or testimony to others via God’s Spirit. In some circles we call that prophesying.

Regardless, Ward insists that John was writing to these congregations because they would have been small, poor, and struggling to survive. They would have been divided by internal squabbles and even suffering from external discrimination. Rome and Jews were targeting this new group of Jesus fanatics in ways that are not understood today. Christians were seemingly being harassed in ways similar to what Luke describes in the book of Acts. But John’s reason for writing appears to take on a different goal. He seems to be very concerned about the internal life of God’s people and congregations to which he is writing.

Why would John need to do this?    

Ward believes that it is because these early believers were now dangerously drifting in beastly waters and were in need of a wake up call.  When you read the letters to the churches you get a sense that complacency was setting in to the point that false teachers were being tolerated and followed.  It seems that some congregations had even lost their commitment to the way of Jesus and perhaps even losing hope for a better today and tomorrow.  Maybe a bleak outlook and mindset was beginning to set in as Rome powerfully continued to dominate, conquer and control the narrative and landscape. 

 In short, maybe John wrote to help these early Christians understand and live according to a new power that was present and already at work in the world.  Ward calls it the power of the Lamb, or Lambpower.

I understand that looking at the book of Revelation this way maybe new for some and not the accepted norm for others.  But if John was truly seeing something ‘in the Spirit’ on Patmost island, then maybe the day of Pentecost really did initiate Spirit-filled dreams and visions for those who believe.  Maybe John does know a thing or two about Spirit empowerment after-all. 

If so, then God’s Spirit did allow John to see and talk about the oppressive nature of power and its evil desire to control, manipulate and have dominion. Appropriately then, we see that ‘the beast’ in Revelation (a multi-headed conglomerate monster) is depicted as desiring to overpower people and force them to worship at its altar. John even uses other symbols of oppressive power (the four horseman, plagues, warrior locusts, little horn etc) to help convey understanding that the ‘beast’ symbolically represents the oppressive, overwhelming, unrestrained and controlling powers of evil that operate in the world.

This is where Ward’s work and book can help us discern and understand our world today.  You may be asking yourself that very question: How does the imagery of Revelation and its message play out in the world today?  

Well, it may depend on how you view and understand community, social structures and happiness.

Ward says that oftentimes we can tend to see human community in terms of a hierarchy of power. At the top of ‘the ladder’ are those who wield great power and have great influence. Conversely, at the bottom of the ladder are those who do not have power or influence; they are powerless. Our social structure then, is made up of complex micro-systems of pyramids that form other pyramids so that very few powerful people are actually at the top. For Ward, although this quest to ‘climb to ladder’ is generally embraced and endorsed in Western culture, it is actually a delusion.

Here’s what he means.  

“The more power we have, the more we fear losing it, the higher we climb on the ladder, the greater is the danger of tumbling down.  Striving for financial security has the curious effect of leading not to security but to more striving.  Striving to succeed produces the competition that keeps us driving ahead with all our energy until we collapse.”

In essence then, the very ‘systems’ of this world that promise us a sense of self-worth are actually based on social status and overall material wealth.  Think about it.  How does most advertising and messaging from the worlds media make us feel?  We feel prodded to devote our energies towards our ‘wants’ by getting a fancier car, having that larger house or owning that cottage by the lake.  The warning from Ward is that by working for this ‘success’,  we can actually surrender our conscience and become blind to the very ‘systems’ that threaten to destroy our world and take our freedom.    

What?  Really?  How, and especially how do you get that from the book of Revelation?  For Ward, these beastly powers can be seen via the four horseman and the imagery of Babylon.  

Consider this.  Businesses often enter the marketplace seeking to contribute and provide something that is positive and beneficial.  However, in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world, the same business needs to conquer their corner of the market so that profits are made and revenues gained.  It is here that the commendable goals of business soon give way to conquering attitudes.  The white horseman emerges.  

Then, if the same business fails to gain enough security and control, the original goal of providing a needed product or service can be replace by a desire to be number one and beat all competitors.  There now can be no peace in the marketplace.  The red rider has arrived.  

Next comes increasing pressure to maximize growth and preserve the company at all costs through leverage strategies and other means of control. This is all done so that the market will swing in the company’s favour. The scales of the green horseman and its abuse of the economic system seem to be manifesting.

Finally, ongoing domination now becomes the main goal and desire of the company.  Individual needs no longer matter and human injustices seem to go unnoticed.  A militant mind-set now seems to run the board room so that any and all opposition to the company is annihilated.  The fourth horseman is now one the scene and is running the show.  

Ward believes that the incarnation of this evil is also seen in the imagery of Babylon.  For Ward, ‘Babylon’ is the ‘embodiment of the beast in the world of political and economic power’.  John portrays Babylon to be beautiful and rich, but her nature and relationships are impure and lack commitment.  We can see that her main objective seems to be the pursuit of personal satisfaction and individual gain.  She seductively attracts and moves those who participate with her towards domination and destruction.  Finally, her single most characteristic is her need to control.  

Ward believes that ‘Babylon’ is recognizable today through her continued insatiable appetite for growth and shows up institutionally when goals are served rather than people.  In other words, the systems of Babylon manifest whenever they move from servant to master.  This means that the institutional glory of ‘Babylon’ is now more important that the individual people who are its members.  Ward believes that ‘to place institutional glory above human integrity is the blasphemy for which the beast is known.’

Perhaps this is why John is writing after-all.  Perhaps there are textile workers in Laodicea and Thyatira or money changers, merchants and traders in Sardis, Ephesus and Smyrna that were on the bottom of the social and economic ladder and trying desperately hard to make a living.  Maybe they needed help to discern the powers that are at work in the world after all.  

But how?

This perhaps is the cruz of John’s message and a big reason why Ward wrote his book.  He says that in the world today there are ‘two spiritualities (that) strive for a person’s allegiance: the beast and the Lamb.  One cannot belong to both.’

So if John has outlined what evil beastly power looks like, then he also surely indicated what good and true power looks like as well.  Thankfully John did!  This is what Ward refers to as ‘Lambpower’.

Stay tuned for my next blog and the conclusion to my review of Ward Ewing’s book.

Maranatha! 

Does God still love the world?

An often quoted verse from the Bible is John 3:16.  It has been referenced and quoted countless time from church pulpits, Sunday school rooms, street corners and even football games.  I used to say that this was the “Touchdown” Bible verse back in the day due to the likelihood that somebody would be holding up a “John 3:16” for the NFL Sunday afternoon cameras to see.  

The verse goes like this: For God so loved the world, that He gave His One and only Son, so that anyone who believes in Him will never die but will have eternal life.  

But here’s the thing, is this verse still accurately representing God today? 

In Barbara R Rossing’s ‘The Rapture Exposed: The Message and Hope in the Book of Revelation’, this very notion surfaces as she dives into the complicated world of end-times theology, evangelical fundamentalism, Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind novel series and a popular event known as the ‘Rapture’.  

Rossing, who teaches New Testament at the Luther School of Theology in Chicago, believes that there is danger and deception lurking behind the modern day predictive script and politics of fundamentalisms escapist end-times storyline.  Her arguments are very convincing and speak for themselves.  

Here’s why.

Rossing notes that it all began in 1830, when fifteen-year-old Margaret MacDonald attended a healing service in Port Glasgow, Scotland.  During the service, she was said to have seen a vision of a ‘two-stage’ return of Jesus Christ.  This story was immediately adopted and amplified by John Nelson Darby, a British evangelical preacher and founder of the Plymouth Brethren movement.

This new teaching insisted that Jesus was now going to return twice, rather than just once.  According to Darby, Jesus’ first return would be ‘in secret’ in order to ‘Rapture’ his followers out of the world and up to heaven.  Then, Jesus would return a second time to establish His kingdom here on earth after seven years of world-wide wars and global tribulation.

Sound familiar?

Maybe the name ‘Darby’ and ‘Rapture’ are unfamiliar to you, but if you have ever heard people talk about Armageddon,  Antichrist, a one-world government, or being left behind, then you’ve probably been exposed to the theological system invented by Darby and his followers.   It’s called ‘dispensationalism’.

According to Darby, God divided all of human history into seven distinct dispensations, or specific times when God dealt with humanity differently and specific to that dispensation of age.  Darby’s best-selling Scofield Reference Bible helped to establish this teaching and was a popular tool in spreading this new system of thought.  Prominent institutions like Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute began to adopt Darby’s teaching, timetable and end-times system.  

Rossing states that many people were attracted to Darby’s dispensationalist system and its Rapture theology because it offered a comprehensive and rational (science-like) presentation of the Bible and end-time events.  This was especially appealing due to the sweeping scientific claims of Darwin in the early 1900’s.  It seemed that Christians were given a system that could finally compete with science and its rational approach to history.  Furthermore, this ‘system’ offered an explanation of the very challenging and contradictory book of Revelation.  

But was Darby’s system correct?  

Rossing does an excellent job at systematically debunking Darby’s dispensational theological system and eventually proclaims it to be a “fabrication of Darby” that was unfortunately invented less that 200 years ago, shipped to America and exported to the world.  In other words, Rossing is convinced that ‘dispensationalism’ has been duping minds and hearts for centuries.

At the crux of it all is the notion of Jesus returning twice, or in ‘two distinct stages’ separated by a period of seven years, as dispensationalists claim.  For Rossing, this violates all early Christian creeds and the actual Bible itself!  Nowhere do the creeds or the Bible describe Jesus as doing such a thing.  In fact, Rossing believes that such a notion has given rise to a ‘beam me up’ escapist attitude and an unbiblical mindset that has turned God into a capricious body snatcher and orchestrator of mass mayhem and world violence.  

With their ‘war-like’ end-times script, Rossing states that dispensationalists have supported a militant, and triumphalistic vision of the future that stands in direct opposition of Revelations vision of Jesus and God’s heart for the world.  In other words, John’s vision of Jesus conquering as a ‘slaughtered Lamb’ has been replaced with LaHaye’s contemporary Left Behind Jesus who comes to conquer the world as a roaring lion.  

Rossing says that ‘we cannot afford to give in to those violent stands in our biblical tradition.  We must say ‘No’ to the dispensationalists’ distorted claims that the book of Revelation is God’s battle plan for the end.’  

I couldn’t agree more. 

For years I was taught the dispensationalists lens and system in my church and Pentecostal tradition.  From Sunday school and youth class to sermons and Sunday night alter calls, I struggled to understand the charts and its view of the end of days.  But as long as I was a ‘good little boy’, I wouldn’t get ‘left behind.’ 

Rossing says that many (like me) were ‘raised on a daily diet of fear, (and) their view of God resembled the song about Santa Claus coming to town: “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry”.  Only it was Jesus, not Santa’

Here is where I will end.

Rossing asks a poignant question:  Does the Bible really teach that Jesus will come to snatch Christians off the earth, causing ‘lots of death’, before inaugurating a seven-year period of tribulation?  

Good question.  

But before you answer that question, perhaps you should ask yourself this one: Does God really still love this world?

Maranatha!

Remembering Daryl: The stuff that legends are made of

It’s been said that the value of a man is not measured by what he does for himself, but measured by what he does in the lives of others.  During the past number of days, thousands of people are remembering the impact of such a man.  His name was Daryl, and I called him uncle. 

On this earth Daryl Faught was known and loved by countless people who were privileged to cross his path.  In the wake of his passing, memories are surfacing and stories are being shared.  Daryl had a way about him that left a lasting impression.  He was a ‘once you met him, you would never forget him’ kind of guy.  That’s because legends never die, and Daryl Faught was a legend.  And like other legends, it began with the game of hockey and an outdoor rink.

As a young boy Daryl took to the game of hockey naturally and began to dominate at the local Snake River rink. In 1964, with Daryl, the Snake River Allstars won it all. At sixteen Daryl was invited to go north and try out for the Espanola Junior A’s. Red Sullivan was the coach at the time and took a shining to Daryl’s offensive ability. As a natural sniper, Daryl seemed to be able to find the net and score with ease. However, after making the team Daryl decided to come back to the family farm. Not too long afterwards, Red Sullivan personally called the Faught farm trying to find a way for Daryl to come back. But Daryl did not return.

Later in life, Daryl found hockey again, but this time it was behind the bench as a coach.  He was a natural and had instant success at the local level.  I was fortunate enough to play for Daryl during his inaugural 1989-90 season when we won the local league.  Setting his sights beyond the local league play, Daryl continued to win at all levels and mould players into winning teams.  

In 1994 he won the Upper Ottawa Valley Midget championship.  In 1996 he won with the Muskrat Midget Voyageurs.  In 1998 he won the Triple A Summer ETA title.

He was coach of the year in 2001 and 2002 with his championship team, the Muskrat Midget Voyageurs. 

In 2005 he won the Eastern Ontario Valley Division title with the Shawville Junior B’s.  

In 2009-2010 he won with the Upper Ottawa Valley Aces.

In 2010 he announced his retirement.  

In 2012 he returned.

In 2013-14, Daryl coached the Upper Ottawa Valley Major Midgets, the Aces, to win it all one last time.   

Wow.  What a record.

All in all, you could say that hundreds of players in the Ottawa Valley were impacted by Daryl’s hockey knowledge and demand for effort.  I am sure that Daryl’s players were told multiple times that his ‘mother could skate faster’ than they were going, and that his ‘two sisters could shoot the puck harder’ than they could.  I remember hearing those words during some on-ice drills and thinking the exact opposite, but never dreamed to voice that my grandmother, aunt and mother probably never shot a puck or skated in a hockey practice their entire lives.  I simply put my head down and attempted to skate faster and shoot harder.  So did hundreds more.  This was coach Daryl’s way, and he made good players become great ones.   

Daryl was also a celebrated ‘cattle man’, and took over the farm that I knew as Grandpa’s.  It was originally known as the old Ready farm on Durack line (near Osceola), but was now the place where Daryl would flourish in the beef industry.  I admit that all beef cows look like BBQ to me, but Daryl could see and value the quality of steers like no other.  His beloved herd was dear to him because he built it himself from the ground up.  With hard work, determination and a committed drive to succeed, Daryl made extraordinary things happen on that ranch.  That’s because Daryl was an extraordinary man, and became so by accomplishing extraordinary things.  

Beginning with Charlais, but switching to Black Angus, Daryl’s herd grew to become renowned in the Valley and beyond.  By initialling buying and bringing in small herds from the west, Daryl eventually started to mould his herd into prized cattle.  Generations of cattle were now being registered as D&K Angus.  This was Daryl’s brand.  

Having an eye for cattle, Daryl’s keen breeding insight soon generated an entire herd that was admired for its consistency and quality.  Among the Canadian Angus Association, Daryl received high praise for the superlative qualities of his cattle.  His herd became a benchmark for other aspiring breeders and was living proof of Daryl’s exceptional breeding.  Even now, D&K Angus will continue producing quality bovines for years to come.  It’s as if Daryl is still living and impacting farms today via his cattle creation. 

This leads me to another aspect of Daryl’s life: carbon.  Daryl was an ironworker, and spent many years together with his brother (my uncle Jack) in the wild west of Canada and beyond working and walking the ‘high-steel’.  Daryl sparked and riveted his way to the top of the ranks and became one of the best metal workers in the industry.  As a foreman, he and his gangs completed countless structures, projects and buildings in the Province of Ontario, but especially within Renfrew County, base Petawawa and Atomic Energy (AECL).  Think about it.  There would literally be thousands upon thousands of welds, rivets and beams that Daryl would personally have had his hand on.  His skill and professionalism in the guild was felt across the nation.  Daryl was simply one of the best.  

During his final days leading up to his passing, the president of the local Steel workers union called and told him that he was a ‘legend in the industry’.  That kind gesture reinforced something that we all knew:  Daryl’s life was an epic saga and worthy of folklore. 

Finally, there was also a deep side to Daryl’s life that I will refer to as conviction.  Daryl was a man of faith and deep conviction.  You didn’t have to be around him long to know that there was something solid in and about his life.  You could tell that he had a connection that went beyond this world.  He did.  

Daryl was not a church-goer, but was committed to serving God nonetheless.  As a follower of Jesus, Daryl embodied the gospel or lived it outside the walls of a building by doing good deeds.  Daryl was no softy, but underneath the rugged cowboy exterior was a tender heart of unconditional love.  Living by the Golden Rule, Daryl sought to treat others better than himself.  Whether it was purchasing airfare for a friend, or delivering food to a neighbour, Daryl was always going the extra mile and was always willing to lend his helping hand.  In this way Daryl resembled the One who said, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.  This was Daryl, and this was his way of expressing the love of God.  

This made Daryl a delight to be around and fun to be with.  There was an attractive quality about him that won the hearts of many.  Even in his final months, many medical doctors, nurses, and hospital staff admired his positive outlook and upbeat style.  ‘It’s all in the Lord’s hands’ Daryl would often say.  After receiving the initial bad news that he would only have a few months to live, Daryl determined that he would ‘make it to my birthday’, and then maybe ‘I’ll make to Christmas’.  Months went by, and then a whole year.  Daryl had surpassed all medical timelines that were given.  That was his way.  He kept on keeping on day after day.    

Yes, Daryl did eventually succumb to cancer, and on January 14, 2022, seventeen months after the initial diagnosis, Daryl Faught went home to heaven.  But his story did not end that day.

In the twinkling of an eye, or in the flash of light, Daryl was escorted from the farmhouse in Osceola to the fields of heaven.  As his lungs exhaled here on earth, they inhaled heaven’s fresh air in eternity.  As his eyes closed here on earth, they were reopened in paradise.  Daryl had passed through the Valley of Death.

As Daryl opened his eyes, his first sight was the face of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene.  Daryl’s hands that once gripped wire and metal now extended towards the Hand of the Master who bid him welcome.  His ears now heard the voice of angels and cheers from others who gathered to welcome him home.  In an instant Daryl was surrounded and re-united with his mother Laura and father Elmer who lovingly embraced their son and welcomed him home.  

I can almost see it myself and feel the reality of it in my soul.  That’s because Daryl and I share the same faith and have trusted the same Person with our very lives.  His name is Jesus and Daryl knew Him well. 

Today, I know that Daryl is truly home with God.  But for those of us left behind, we must continue our journey on this side of eternity.  I realize that losing loved ones is never easy and can bring a certain shadow or valley-like feel.  Grief is like that, and journeying through any loss event takes time. 

For Aunt Kathy and others, the memory of Daryl will continue to generate a full scale range of emotions that is rooted in rich memory.  I pray that we will all embrace the genuiness of his life, and allow ourselves to be changed because of it.  For me, I will remember my uncle Daryl as simply the best hockey coach, cattle-man, and man of carbon-steel that I ever knew.  I will also reflect upon and be thankful for how he demonstrated his commitment to the way of Jesus. 

Uncle Daryl, I will fondly remember our final talks together on the farm and look over our text message thread often.  I will also look forward to playing shinny on one of the many rinks in eternity with you some day.  I’ll bet that you’re already teaching some of the OT saints the art of the game and how to rip it top shelf where they keep the peanut butter.  I also know that there are still some moves up your sleeve that you didn’t get around to showing all your pupils yet.  

I guess that leaves all of us with some time to hone up our hockey skills here on earth.

Until we lace up in eternity uncle … 

Maranatha!

** Special thanks to my cousin ,Tara Faught, for all the hockey info, and for being Daryl’s hockey travel companion and greatest fan.

Catching your 22

The phrase ‘catch-22’ is used to convey or mean a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.  At least that’s what Oxford dictionary says.  

But I prefer to say that being in a ‘catch-22’ is kind of like being caught between a rock and a hard place.  It seems that no matter what you do, there is always some sort of ‘catch’ or negative consequence.  That’s what being in a ‘catch-22’ is like.

I bet that many of us have had experiences like that.  Maybe you even feel that the past two years have constantly been like this.  Maybe you feel that the continuing pandemic has generated many ‘catch-22’ situations for you and your family.  Perhaps you have even had a nagging and annoying feeling for months that no matter what you do, there always seems to be a ‘catch’.

So what are we to do?  Is it possible to break free of this?

Well, as we head into 2022, I believe that it is possible to not just break free of it, but to actually catch your 22!

Here’s how.  

In a different time, and in a different place, the Bible tells about a group of people that had to overcome a bit of a catch-22 challenge.     

In the Old Testament we are told that the Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great, after conquering Babylon passed a decree in the very first year of his reign allowing all of Babylon’s captives to return home. Furthermore, he has even encouraged nations to rebuild their temples and restore their gods.  No returning group of exile could have been more delighted with their new-found political and religious freedom than the Jews. This meant that they could return to their beloved homeland (Jerusalem) and begin to rebuild their lives.  

Zerubbabel, the living heir of David, has led the return, and his passion and desire was to see the Jewish Temple restored.  But, for some reason, the foundational work of building the temple had come to a standstill.  For some reason things began to stall.  

Perhaps they stopped because they faced opposition from their neighbours.  Houses were being attacked and families were being targeted while the rebuilding work was being done.  This meant that choosing to be at the rebuilding site left your personal home and loved ones unprotected.  That’s a bit of a ‘catch’. 

Perhaps they also stopped because they realized that what they were rebuilding would never be what it once was.  In other words, the current temple they were rebuilding would never be as glorious and would never compare to the one from Solomon’s day.  So why bother?   

This may have generated some thoughts like: Why are we doing this? Is anything really going to change?  Things will never go back to what they were?  What is the point and purpose of it all?

Ever been there?

But this is why we have reason to hope:  God speaks to us in the midst of our ‘catch-22’s’ 

We probably don’t know all the reasons why the Jews stopped moving forward with their role in rebuilding the temple, but what we do know is in the midst of it, God sent a message.  

Zechariah (whose name litterally means “Yahweh remembers”) was commissioned by God to speak a message of hope in the midst of their catch-22.  

In a nutshell, scholars tells us that by way of a series of dreams and visions, God was reminding Israel that He is aware of their immediate context and need, and yet still actively working to accomplish His etermal purposes for them and the world.  

Through Zechariah the people of God were reminded that when opposition, evil, calamity and chaos have done their worst, and when the forces of indifference and nostalgia have done all they can to suck the life right out of you … remember that the Lord, your God, Yahweh and His Messiah, always has and always will remain King of the Cosmos … no catch!

Now you may be asking, just how does a vision like that help someone find their way out of a tough situation?

The answer is simple: It help us to see things via new lens

Here’s where I will end. 

In the recent movie Dune (2021), an opening statement is broadcasted onto the screen.  It says that ‘Dreams are messages from the deep’.  I think that Zechariah and the Psalms would agree.

Psalm 42:7 says that ‘Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls’.  This poetic language reflectsthat the psalmist had found himself in a place where where his soul was in deep need of God.  In response, the psalmist calls out from his place of profound need for the unfathomable greatness of God.  A deep need calls for a deep remedy.    

I believe that the God of Israel is such a remedy, and He is able to answer and meet you no matter where you are or what you are facing, even if it looks like a train-wreck.  

A friend of mine said that he saw an image online of a picture depicting what the year 2022 was going to be like.  It was a picture of a train on fire coming down the tracks.  If 2022 is going to be like that, then perhaps we really need to call out to a deep source even more!

So, together let’s look into 2022 with hope and faith believing that God still sees your needs and is working on your behalf to accomplish His eternal purposes in the world.  Let’s choose to look towards Him in the midst of whatever ‘catch- 22’ situations we face and believe that He has a good plan that will work for you right here and right now.

Who knows, just maybe He has a message for you in the midst of it all.

In fact, I know He does.

Maranatha!

Angelic words for Omicron days

OK … Christmas is just over one week away!  

Hearing an announcement like that can often stir and trigger a flood of emotions from deep inside the hearts of humanity.

From among the masses, the message of Christmas brings excitement and joy as well as loneliness and sorrow. Christmas is cheery for some and blue for others.

Why is that?  

Perhaps it is because the Christmas announcement has been generating an emotional response since the day of Jesus’ birth.

Luke tells us that part of the original birth announcement of Jesus addressed the emotions of the original audience.  The angel said to the shepherds,

“Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Saviour, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.

Did you catch that?  The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid’.  

Now, we can well imagine ‘why’ these hillbilly shepherds would probably be afraid.  Can you imagine the glory of God literally appearing to you out of the blue one day?  But that’s exactly what happened.

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Yes, there it is.  These local country bumpkin peasants were shaking in their sandals because of the sudden appearance of an angel and the glory of God as company.  They were most likely fearful because the glory of God was normally associated with the Temple, not the pasture.

But the thing that stands out me today is this: while the shepherds were an emotional mess, the angel said ‘look’.  

“Don’t be afraid, for look … God has done something great!”

OK, I paraphrased that verse just a tad.  But that’s the point of the announcement.  God has done something so remarkably wonderful there was only one way to phrase it: good news! And it’s so good that you just gotta see it.

I know that ‘good news’ seems like an oxymoron in today’s culture, and we can be tempted to roll our eyes at the thought of news that is positive, but a proclamation of ‘good news’ was not lost on the ancient listener.  

You see, Rome often made similar announcements or proclamations about the conquering actions of the Emperor that added to the might of the growing Empire.  For Rome, Caesar was the ‘saviour of the world’ on a mission to bring about ‘peace to the world’ by conquering the nations.  

However, this angelic announcement on the Judean hillside had nothing to do with Rome or Caesar, but everything to do with mighty action.

Here’s how.

In the previous chapter, Luke recorded an inspirational song by Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She is truly a gem of a lady for not only agreeing to having her wedding day wrecked by God, but actually celebrating and praising God for doing it!  

One of the remarkable things about Mary’s song are the powerful verbs used to describe the wonderful action and deeds of God (see Luke 1:46-55).  In other words, Mary – whose life has just literally been ruined in one sense – looks to God, and sings a Spirit-inspired song that focuses and celebrates the mighty action of the God of Israel.

Here’s the point.

In our time of emotional challenges, in our present moment of mess, and in our current situation where our lives seem to altered forever … look to God.

The angels said ‘look’.  Mary sings ‘look’. Today we can look.

Why?  

Because God has done great things; He has done a mighty deed; He has provided the way, truth and life; He has brought a light for all the nations; He has given us Jesus – the Saviour of the world!

Now that’s truly good news.

So let’s try this.  

Have you ever had to do an assignment that required you to fill in the blank?  I am sure you have.  So let’s all fill in the blank when it comes to applying the words of the angel to us.  

To the shepherds, the angel said:  “Don’t be afraid”.  

Try replacing ‘afraid’ with another word that describes your present life and situation.  What will that word be?   

Maybe it is afraid, but maybe it’s something else like worry, doubt, anger, frustration, weariness, numbness or even hopelessness.  Whatever it is, place your emotion and word in the sentence and read the whole verse back to yourself as if the angel was speaking the good news to you.

“Don’t be ____________, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Saviour, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.”

Say it again.  

Repeat it one more time.

You are telling yourself the good news. Allow the Truth of God to be mediated into your very soul.  Allow yourself to be aligned with the greatest news story of the century: God has come for you.  

I am not attempting to belittle your emotions or try and pacify you with some sort of Christianeese cliche.  Lord only knows we have too much of that floating around as it is.  But the good news is still the good news.  It was good news then and it is good news now, and in the midst of Omicron days, we all could use some good news. 

So today, be reminded of God’s good news even in the midst of an ongoing mess: Today, God is here and He is here for you.

Maranatha!

Navigating the vaccination divide

Perhaps no other topic is as emotionally charged or divisive right now as this.  It seems that every newscast in Canada is broadcasting and reporting the ongoing vaccination divide in our nation. 

From restaurant owners and health care professionals, to government leaders and concerned public citizens, everyone has an opinion regarding the implementation of vaccine passports and restrictions for those who are unvaccinated. 

This has become a massive issue, and both ‘camps’ seem to be settling into their foxhole snuggly and are sticking to their decision.  

With each passing day individuals are seemingly doubling-down on their rightful action to be vaccinated or not, and are bunkering into the same reasons that has led them to make this decision.

At times I scratch my head and wonder, what in the world is going on in the minds of people?

In attempting to gain understanding, a few things have become very clear when talking with people about this issue.

Here are some things that seem to matter in this ongoing debate:

  1. Social media matters:

Not long into conversations with people (regardless of ‘camp’) there is generally a reference to ‘something’ that ‘somebody’ said or posted on social media.  Oftentimes it does not seem to matter ‘who’ or ‘where’ the post came from, but what matters is that ‘this’ was said and shared on social media.  

For many people, this is all they need to make up their mind.  Someone said it and shared it, and it’s good enough.  

2. Individual rights matter:

A person’s freedom to choose also seems to be an important issue.  I believe that most Canadians are appreciative of our Governments policies on Human Rights and Freedoms, and are thankful for it.  I am not an expert, nor have I read the letter of the law as it is written.  

What I do know, is that individual ‘rights’ seem to be at the top of this vaccination discussion and sometimes even trump the social media influence.

3. Conspiracy theories matter:

Finally, yes, in the back of peoples minds there seems to be a feeling of distrust towards those in authority or from specific countries.  Again, generally referring to social media links and statements found online, people are convinced that there is a shadow agenda lurking behind the scenes and an evil narrative being implemented via governmental decisions.  

It seems that only a select few enlightened people are truly able to see what is ‘really’ going on, while the rest of the masses blindly follow whoever is in charge. 

Here’s the thing.  Whether you agree with me or not, these ‘matters’ really seem to matter when it comes to making a decision concerning the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Again, it is not my intention to pass judgement on either camp or individuals residing inside of them.  I have friends and loved one on both sides.  I am simply attempting to highlight the things that seem to matter to the minds of many.  

So, whose voice is correct?

Before answering that question, let me share with you three more things that should also matter:

  1. Living mentors should matter:

The Bible says that, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Or Proverbs 15:22, which states, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  

The Bible seems to acknowledge that humanity is prone to going astray. Like you, I have succumbed to this a time or two in my life experience. OK, maybe it’s far more than one or two, but the point is that ‘we’ are all prone to following a faulty path if we do not listen to people we value.

How many of us wish that we could go back in time and change some bad decisions? We all would if we could. The point is that we all have examples where we wished we had acted on a trusted word of advice or listened to that certain someone in a moment of decision.

A good question to always ask, regardless of the decision is: what are my mentors saying?, and what are my mentors doing?  

Whether or not you listen and follow their lead is another thing, but at the very least, what your living mentors say and do should matter. 

2.  Meaningful traditions should matter:

Every single one of us has meaningful traditions in our lives. Just think about your daily routine and all the little things that we do every single day. From morning java to evening jammies, or from grocery shopping to social gatherings, our day is often made up of sequences of events that are based upon an established routine or traditions that have become meaningful for us.

A tradition can be defined as a custom or beliefs that are transmitted from generation to generation.  Essentially traditions can be things that are deemed to be valuable and add value to our lives.  Perhaps due to the fact that somewhere along our generational lines, somebody deemed something or someone to be valuable.  Take vehicles for example.  Brand loyalty runs deep and many conversations can become heated if someone runs down your brand.

When it comes to the current conversation about vaccines, government and healthcare in general, what does your meaningful tradition say?  Have you trusted vaccinations in the past?  Have you listened to medical professionals before?  Does any of your previous experiences and decisions matter for what you face today?

If, for some reason, you find yourself abandoning your meaningful traditions, then maybe it’s time to make an appointment and talk it over with one of your living mentors.

3.  Kingdom responsibilities should matter:

One of the very first things that the Gospel writers emphasize about Jesus, is that He taught about the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it could easily be said that the good news or gospel of Jesus could easily be called the good news or gospel of God’s Kingdom.  

A quick survey will show that there are over 157 ‘kingdom’ references within 148 verses in the New Testament.  I think that it is fair to say that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament talked a lot about the Kingdom!  For them, kingdom matters mattered.

If this is true, then as a follower of Jesus, it would seem that my thinking is to be more aligned with the Kingdom of God than anything else.  This means that followers of Jesus ought to to be more concerned about Kingdom responsibilities than ones individual rights and freedoms. If fact, there is a strong theme in the Bible suggesting that the people of God are to actually conduct themselves as citizens of heaven while living on earth.

I doubt that you will find chapter and verse concerning vaccines, but you will find plenty of verses that deal with attitudes, actions and alignment. Maybe this would be a good topic to chat about with a living mentor over a cup of meaningful java.

So, again I ask, whose voice is correct?

The answer to that question depends on how you rank the above mentioned things that ‘matter’.  

But here’s something to consider when it comes to making decisions in general:  your beliefs will definitely shape your behaviour.

Happy navigating and decision making.

Maranatha! 

My review of Preston Sprinkle’s ‘Embodied: Transgender Identities, The Church & What The Bible Has To Say’ 

If you were to ask me a couple months ago to describe and articulate my thoughts regarding the LGBTQ+ community and the greater transgender conversation, I probably would have focused on the various concepts, issues and positions that are expressed by the many voices within this group.  I would have attempted to elaborate on and explain the beliefs, thoughts, opinions and statements commonly held by transgender people and those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.  I would have tried to speak for them and share from a third-party perspective.  I would have thought that I was doing the right thing.  However, after reading Preston Sprinkle’s book, I have come to realize that by focusing only on the concepts, I would have been guilty of missing people.

Preston Sprinkle (PhD) is a best selling author and president of The Centre for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender.  He also hosts a popular podcast entitle Theology in the Raw.  In his most recent book, Embodied, Preston has set out to help people understand and engage in the conversation about transgender identities.  As a pastor, teacher and follower of Jesus, Preston’s heart is to help and equip Christian leaders, pastors and parents to speak into this difficult area with grace and truth.  In other words, his aim is to help people think more deeply and love more widely through a topic that can sometimes lack both. 

In this easy to read twelve chapter book, Preston dives into these deep topics with ease.  By keeping the focus on people, Preston skillfully informs and discusses hot-button topics and issues with care.  

Some of the topics and issues that Preston addresses are:

  • the issues surrounding incongruence between biology and identity (sex and gender)
  • the psychological, social and culture aspects of being male or female
  • what it means and does not mean when someone says that they are transgender
  • the rapid onset of gender dysphoria
  • gender stereotypes, intersex, and can a person’s brain be sexed differently from their body

Remember that I said Preston literally dives into the deep end with this book!  

As someone unversed in the terminology and array of issues, Preston’s book was very helpful and informative to me.  In other words, I was able to track and understand the complex issues because of Preston’s immense knowledge of the subject matter as well as his commentary from real-world relationships with transgender people.  His transparency and class in handling all of these deep subjects is second-to-none.  All in all, if you are looking for a ‘one-stop’ book to help you understand and engage in this conversation, then please do yourself a favour and order this book.  It is well worth it.

As a like-minded follower of Jesus, I was particularly interested in Preston’s treatment of the Bible and how he navigated the potential mine-field of emotions and opinions that surface when discussing these issues within the Christian tradition.  

In a very clear and caring manner, Preston touched on scripture passages from the Old and New Testaments that talk about human biology, sex and image.  His excellent teaching from Genesis and what it means to be made in God’s image helped me see that the Biblical categories of male and female are describing biological sex, and not gender identity or gender roles.  This means that the Bible affirms that the image of God is found equally in males and females.  As Preston says, ‘To a world where women were often viewed as lesser beings, God declares that his image is borne not only to males but also to females.’  

This has helped me to see that if sex differentiation becomes irrelevant today, then we can potentially miss some important aspects of our created sexed embodiment.

Other great insights from Preston include a unique perspective of Adam’s rib.  We have generally been told that when Adam was sleeping, God took one of his ribs in order to make Eve.  This has led to too many demeaning jokes that have a similar punch-line where Adam says, ‘what can I get for a rib?’ 

However, Preston teaches that we better understand what God is doing in Genesis when we allow the Hebrew word ‘tsela’ to be translated the same as the other forty or more times in the Old Testament when it is NOT translated to mean rib.  

Preston highlights that in almost every other usage of the world ‘tsela’ in the Old Testament, it refers to the side of a sacred piece of architecture like the tabernacle or the temple.  Wow.  That revelation alone is worth the price of the book.

I truly believe that this book is a must read for all Christians today so that we can be better equipped to engage in the topic of gender identity, stereotypes and even what it means to be transgender.  

I also believe that this book will help pastors and churches better understand and address the growing divide between the LGBTQ+ community and the church.  Again, this is where Preston’s work shines.  

Among other profound statements made, these select quotes reveal the heart and nature of his heart and book:

  • Jesus is building an upside-down kingdom where outcasts have their feet washed, the marginalized are welcomed, and dehumanized people feel humanized once again.
  • Christian acceptance is always acceptance into a flawed community seeking holiness and repentance.
  • The Bible’s primary invitation to every Christian is not to act more like a man or to act more like a woman, but to act more like Jesus.

Reflecting upon Preston’s work, I cannot help but feel his Christ-like passion towards people that have unfortunately felt the sting of ‘Christian’ judgement and condemnation.  If there is a mission for the church today, Preston would enthusiastically appeal to the followers of Jesus everywhere to begin embodying God’s kindness towards those the church has shamed and shunned.  In his words, ‘this is an essential part of Christian discipleship.’    

Thank you Preston.  Well done. 

Maranatha!