Time for a new stream

I really enjoy fishing.  There is nothing like being out on the water going after the elusive lake trout, hard-hitting smallmouth bass, or the good old bucket-mouth.  Fishing is one of my favourite hobbies. 

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to the vision in Ezekiel 47.  Where else can you find divine references to fishermen and an abundance of fish!  It truly is a spectacular vision. 

Ezekiel almost seems to be caught up in a stream that could remind him of Yahweh’s good beginnings for Creation.  We know that there was a river that went out from Eden to feed the garden (Gen. 2:10).  Ezekiel also could have been reminded of a river whose streams make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4).  Regardless of what Ezekiel may have thought, this river was doing some new things.   

For us today, we can look back upon the Scriptures and see that another river shows up in Revelation 21.  We know that John’s vision ultimately points to the promised New Creation yet to come.  However, like Ezekiel, we are still in this middle period of time, or in stage two of a three stage story.  Also like Ezekiel, I believe that God wants to bring us into some new waters.

In my most previous blog I wrote about some of the current pastoral challenges and realities that congregations face.

You can read that blog by clicking here:

https://joelholtz.com/2020/06/17/hey-pastor-are-you-open/

There are major challenges coming for congregations and church leaders in the wake of COVID-19.  We are facing many uncertainties, upsetting circumstances, and unsettling conditions.  Like Ezekiel, we feel as though we’ve had the rug pulled out from underneath us.  But perhaps this is exactly where we need to be in order to discern what God is doing. 

Here are some thoughts that might help you get into God’s new stream:

1.  Am I willing to follow:  

Leadership is a big industry in the Church world and millions of dollars continue to flow towards this subject area.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some great leadership principles that I adhere to and many books have been good for me to read.  However, at times it feels completely exhausting and overwhelming to implement all the relevant, timeless, essential and foundational characteristics that are needed for success.  And of course every good leader knows that everything rises and falls on leadership! 

Sometimes I need to remind myself that Jesus made a promise to ‘make’ His disciples as they ‘followed’ Him.  So perhaps we need to re-align ourselves to be a follower once again and trust in the One we are following.

There is no doubt that God is doing something new within our midst.  My worldview lens and understanding of God’s Sovereignty allows for me to make such a statement.  Can yours?  Regardless, I am convinced that God is always accomplishing His plans and purposes in the world, period.  This means that I am not in the ultimate drivers seat, and must relinquish ultimate control to One who knows better.  My role is to remain faithful and follow.  Ezekiel did, and he was able to experience the richness of God’s life-giving river. 

So, may we too follow and step out into areas where He leads us.  After all, does He not lead us into green pastures?    

2. Am I willing to adjust my theology:

As a new testament believer, it is clear to me that Holy Spirit is now acting as God’s representative here on earth.  That statement alone can often send people into panic mode as they search for a Bible to thump me.  But seriously ask the question, did Jesus not say that it was better for us that He leave?  If so, then I assume most Bible-believing followers actually affirm those words of Jesus recorded in Scripture.  Let’s not forget that the reason we even have a Bible is because Jesus Christ died, rose again, ascended and promised to come back.  In other words, the Bible is not God, but Holy Spirit is.   

As a new testament believer I find myself often reading through the book of Acts.  It makes sense to read a detailed record of Jesus’ followers in the first-century.  Luke’s second volume is a powerful narrative describing the believers journey to implement the teachings of Jesus in His absence.  The book of Acts is a testimony to the disciples ongoing tension and struggle to map out a new way of living, acting, demonstrating, worshipping and following Jesus together.  After all, this had never been done before, and perhaps Luke is writing for this very purpose.  David Bosch believes that Acts was written specifically to let the believers know that the risen Lord was still with them, particularly through the Spirit who was continually guiding them into new adventures.

Ed Silvosa, in his book Ekklesia, comments that perhaps Antioch became the focus (and model) for the new testament church because of the firm grasp that the Temple had on the believers living Jerusalem.  Consider the immense pressure that Temple leadership and the centuries of tradition would have had on the people of God at that time.  There were no doubt many Jesus followers who slipped back into the routine and rhythm of Temple worship after Pentecost.  Needless to say, perhaps this is why an outpouring took place in Samaria when Philip began to proclaim the good news of Jesus coupled with the Spirit’s embodying presence (8:4-7).  Luke tells us the result: there was great joy in the city (8:8).

I recently participated in a leadership webinar from Frank Damazio (I know, another leadership thing).  However, I find Frank’s approach to ministry and leadership material very refreshing because of his confidence and trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit.  In this leadership webinar Frank commented that churches today would need to find ‘their way of being the church’.  The pandemic has essentially tossed a lot of things out of the proverbial church window.  This means that many congregations and pastors are needing to re-think, re-envision and dare I say, even re-launch church. 

I like the sounds of a re-launch.  Besides, who simply wants to re-open after we’ve been given this opportunity to do things different.  I also like this because there is no official formal structure laid in Scripture for ‘the church’ to follow.  Early believers needed to find their way with the Spirit’s help.  Which leads me to my final point.

3. Am I willing to find a new centre:

Eugene Peterson once said that ‘we understand nothing if we don’t have a centre.’  He was speaking about John’s revelation of God’s Throne in Revelation chapter 4.  However, his words extend beyond that chapter to give relevance to our current church context.

You may disagree with me, but from where I stand, the church has often confessed that Jesus is our centre, but has failed to grasp all of what that entails.  Here’s how. 

I have been in full-time ministry since graduating in the year 2000.  For the past fourteen years I have been in the position of lead pastor.  I am currently leading my second church.  I say those things to only give you context into what I am about to say. 

In my experience, whether on staff or leading, the general consensus from the avid church goer is this: Pastor, remember that you are here for me, and you had better do what we have always done or else there will be trouble! 

I say that because oftentimes the very thing that becomes the churches centre is themselves.  And to be truly ‘Christ centred’ would mean physically demonstrating the complete opposite in every single way. 

In his book “Gaining by losing: Why The Future Belongs to Churches That Send”, J.D. Greear says:

“Churches that want to penetrate their world with the gospel think less about the Sunday morning bang and more about equipping their members to blast a hole in the mountain of lostness.”

Greear believes that the church needs to completely re-orient itself around the concept of sending believers into the commuting so that they can make visible the invisible Christ.  The hope is that unbelievers desire to find the very reason why Christians live as they do. Greear believes that this allows the Spirit of God to work through the ordinary follower in a greater way than if Jesus Himself stayed on earth to lead the mission.  In this way the church begins to operate as ordinary, Spirit-filled believers turning the world upside down in the Spirit’s power by bringing ‘great joy’ to their city.  This is done through church demonstrations of love, generosity and blessing others who may never step foot inside the walls of the church building.

So, here we go.  It’s time to get into a new stream and begin to paint Jesus in our communities with all the vibrant colours of the Spirit.  

I admit that I am not following a five-step plan, or ten ways to transform a church.  I am simply licking my finger and sending it upward so that I can feel which way the wind is blowing.  Once determined and confirmed with the leadership team that I have, we set our sail and hitch up our plows so that we can work with the wind of the Spirit at our back.  By doing this we may actually begin to capture God’s heart for lost things.  

Moving forward, I continue to allow Ezekiel’s vision to feed my spirit.  I find myself wanting to continually go deeper into God’s abundant waters and moving forward with Him while still holding onto the structured banks.  Moving away from the comfort zone of the Temple is often easier said than done.  It is comforting to know that Ezekiel was ultimately led back to the river bank, but only after he saw what God was doing. 

I completely admit that most of my pastoral life has been spent ‘centre-ing’ on the wrong thing.  For decades I have tried to keep people happy, be a good little pastor and not intentionally rock the boat for the sake of rocking it.  Those days are over.  Now more than ever I feel the pulse and pull of the Spirit to bring His abundant life-flow to the dry, low-lying areas of our community.  My city needs to have an authentic encounter with God’s Spirit.  I want the lost to say that there is great joy in my city.      

In my upcoming blogs I will continue to talk about how we (Calvary church) have structured ourselves in ways that have helped us obtain this outward focus.  I will also share with you some of the ongoing tension and struggle that this outward direction yields.  It’s not always sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere.  It is also definitely not for the faint of heart or those who are easily wounded.  However, our belief and conviction is that we have a bright future in Lindsay and the City of Kawartha Lakes, because we passionately believe that the future belongs to churches that send

Maranatha!

Hey pastor, are you open?

Like thousands of fellow pastors in the regions of Ontario entering into Phase 2, the question is being asked: are we going to open?

For the past 12 weeks, places of worship were closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.  For many congregations this was a shock that generated a mixed bag of varying opinions.

Since then, hundreds of pastors have had to re-adjust to life on the fly if their employer was able to keep them on the payroll.  I have blogged about some of this weeks ago, and I won’t repeat myself here.  I will however, use a previous blog to launch me into this weeks thoughts.

In an earlier post, I shared some thoughts about Ezekiel.  You can read that post by clicking here. 

https://joelholtz.com/2020/05/07/with-a-rainbow-in-a-cloud-on-a-rainy-day/

Needless to say, Ezekiel was having a bad day.  Life was not lining up the way he expected, desired or prayed for.  However, we all at times need God to shake us up in order to settle us down.  This past week I found myself reading and meditating upon the vision of the life-giving river.

So, with this vision in mind, allow me to ask a few questions of my own pertaining to being open.

Are we open to being led: In this vision Ezekiel is being led by God to continue journeying away from the Temple.  It seems that the Lord is intent on leading Ezekiel to areas that He has measured off in the distance.  In a third of a mile increments, Ezekiel follows the One measuring.  The act of measuring in the Bible can mean God’s protection, identification with and purpose for the thing being measured (See Zechariah 2 and Revelation 11).  Here we see that God is measuring off new territory for His life-giving stream to impact.  In the vision, the river grows in volume as it flows further from the temple. 

Section by section, an area is measured.  Section by section the river deepens.  Section by section, the temple building is smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror.  Here’s the point, every time God moves, Ezekiel follows.

Needless the say, these last number of weeks we all have been ‘measured’ of sorts.  Many have had to repurpose themselves, reflect upon life and the world, reset priorities, rethink careers, readjust lifestyles, and even realign values.  Some have simply taken a recess.  But have we considered the possibility that God is leading us into something new? 

As a pastor, I realized long ago that a new score card was needed when it came to how I measured success.  In times past the church valued the external measures of ‘three Bs’: bodies, budget and buildings.  North American culture likes to count and so does the church.  However, in recent years churches and leaders have had to develop a new way to measure success.  The vision given to Ezekiel seems to suggest that God desires to establish a life-giving flow from His temple outward.  So, perhaps it is time for a new score card that measures missional impact.

Are we open to new things: I am thankful and proud of the many pastors who caught the passion to reach outside the walls of the building and become focused on the people who do not attend.  Seriously, even if we wanted to keep the focus internally, people were not allowed to enter.  Talk about a hit to the attendance numbers.  But our continued focus on the ninety-nine could be going against the very flow of God.  Here’s why. 

The river in Ezekiel’s vision is said to be flowing towards the Arabah (47:8).  Arabah literally means ‘the depression’.  This ‘depressed’ area is said to be the region surrounding the Dead Sea.  Not much life in there.  I guess that’s why God decides to go in that direction. 

It should not be stunning to us that God seems to passionately desire to bring His river of abundant life to the dead areas of the world.  You and I were not worthy to receive His abundant life, but it was offered because of God’s merciful compassion and grace.  He is always on the lookout to bring His people home.  In that regard, we are like that little fish called Nemo that has a Father searching the world in order to bring us back to Himself.

Here’s the point, perhaps the Lord is using this time to lead us towards new expressions of His abundant life to the surrounding community.  We all have a neighbour don’t we?  Furthermore, perhaps ‘the church’ in many aspects is being re-tooled to better reach the areas of deadness around us.  Maybe that is the whole point.  Maybe we are being led to discover new ways to reach the world.  Maybe this is what Jesus died for. 

Are we open to healing the world:  Sometimes we are all guilty of focusing too much on our own tribe.  We all are guilty of this.  The fact that so many pastors and evangelists preach this passage and vision as a personal revival message is proof of such.  Here’s how.       

We must remember that this vision was given to Ezekiel in context of land distribution.  The land that God measured was to be given equally to all the tribes of Israel (47:14, 21).  No tribe was to receive more than the other.  But God takes it even further.  Yahweh commands for all the aliens and foreigners living within the tribes to also receive an equal share (47:22-23).  That means that all the non-Israelites living among the tribes were to receive the same promised inheritance equally.  In other words, God’s river of life was to always impact and include others into His tribe.  Perhaps this is why God is measuring off distance from the temple.  Maybe He wants to enlarge the area, and impact for people with His healing river flow.

So let me ask another question: Do you see what the Lord sees? 

Ezekiel is asked this very question (47:6).  This question reminds me that this vision seems to emphasize what God is doing rather than what Ezekiel and the Temple are able to do.  Also, this question is helpful because it seems to invites us to experience and participate in whatever God is doing.  For some unknown reason He desires to work through people like you and me.  So a question could be: what is God doing right now to bring His healing presence to the depressed regions that surround us? 

Maybe that is a better question to ask.  So again, hey pastor, are you open?

Maranatha!

Hey, who pushed me?

There’s a story about a rich millionaire who threw a massive party for his fiftieth birthday.  During this party, he grabs the microphone and announces to his guests that down in the garden of his mansion he has a swimming pool with two sharks in it.

I will give anything of mine to the person who swims across that pool’.

So the party continues with no events in the pool until SUDDENLY there’s a great splash and all the guests of the party run to the pool to see what happened. 

In the pool a man is swimming as hard as he can … fins come out of the water and jaws are snapping and this guy keeps in going.  The sharks are gaining on him, but the guy finally reaches to the end and gets out of the pool, tired and soaked.

The millionaire grabs the microphone and says, ‘I am a man of my word.  Anything of mine I will give, my Ferraris, my house, absolutely anything, for you are the bravest man I have ever seen.  So sir, what will it be?’

Breathless, the guy grabs the microphone and says, ‘Why don’t we start with the name of the jerk who pushed me in!’

We may not be able to physically relate to that exact pool experience, but does it not seem as though there are times in our lives when we are thrust into situations beyond our control, which create extreme confusion, panic and chaos to the point where we feel as though we need to swim for our very lives?

For the past eleven weeks or more this has been the case for many.  Millions of people globally have been pushed into unfamiliar waters during this COVID-19 pandemic.  My previous blog mentioned some of those things as it pertains to my current occupation.  And then during that same week, we are thrust into the the midst of a cultural shaking. 

The events of the past two weeks instigated an onslaught of feelings, emotions, and actions.  I feel that there is reshaping in the wind.

For me, this past season has truly been a positive experience.  Being a true introvert, the ‘stay at home’ request was received with joy and thanksgiving!  I believe that I may have done the happy dance once or twice.  It was as if God was preparing me for this pandemic thing all along.  Hunkering down and being with family was music to my ears.  It is always a good thing for me. 

I am also very thankful that my employment as a pastor has continued.  The church that I pastor has been extremely kind and generous during this pandemic.  We are very thankful.  The church has also been extremely generous to our response to COVID-19.  We have raised over six thousand dollars!  All of the money has been spent locally to purchase food items to be given away at local food banks.  We have one that operates in our church building.  Our church is practicing self-giving love and generosity in completely new ways. 

It is this ‘new thing’ that our church is doing that continues to cause me to reflect upon the nature and function of God’s people.  I mentioned before that I believe there is definitely a link between the Spirit and the Church.  Furthermore, I believe that God’s people are to operate as Spirit-empowered people here in earth. 

As one writer says, ‘the event of Pentecost ushers on the stage of salvation history the community of faith as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic ecclesia – the anointed and empowers Body of Christ representing, in its mystical union with the Redeemer, the eschatological fusion of of heaven and earth.  This is the Body that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, continues the ministry of the resurrected Christ in the world as the living extension of His character and mission.’ (Daniela Augustine)

Now that is quite the definition of the Church!  But consider what Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:

This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. (5:32)

The word ‘ecclesia’ is often used to refer to ‘the Church’.  In the Hellenistic world, it was used to describe a political gathering, an official meeting of an assembly of citizens.  This usage is found in Acts 19:29, where the town clerk cautioned the crowd that any official action toward Paul and his associates would have to be settled in the regular ‘assembly’ (ecclesia).

The book of Acts tells us that those whom the Spirit had formed into the ‘church’ were first known as members of ‘the Way’ (9:2).  Eventually this new community of believers came to be called the ‘ecclesia’, which means ‘a called-out assembly’.   

So what is this ‘called-out assembly’ supposed to represent and actively demonstrate in the world?

For Paul, it may look like this:

for the administration of the days of fulfillment —to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him. (1:10)

So what does all this have to do with COVID-19 and the time we live in?  Allow me to suggest that as Spirit-empowered people, this ‘push’ or being thrust into a pandemic has produced some very positive results for many believing communities. 

Push #1 – Pushing past self-serving tendencies:  This continues to be an ongoing battle, however, the recent pandemic has allowed me the opportunity to eliminate and walk way from aspects of self-serving religion.  For decades in many traditions, the church building has unfortunately been the centre point and focus of all ministry.  From weekly programs, to Bible studies, prayer groups and discipleship curriculums, everything needed to happen inside the walls.  Who else would we be trying to impact?

Postmodernity had supposedly shifted the focus away from buildings and institutions, but somebody forget to tell a lot of congregations about this.  However, the recent pandemic has definitely sealed the deal.  In a matter of weeks, pastors from around the globe became tele-evangelists, movie producers, sound technicians and social media experts overnight!  The transformation was truly inspiring.  Way to go pastors!  But now what?

All the experts are telling us that online numbers are dropping and people are engaging less because the novelty is wearing off.  This may be true, but pastors are seeing the benefits of reaching and engaging people outside of the building.  In other words, you don’t need a building to be building. 

Push #2 – Pushing past a self-focused vision:  Since the days of Moses, the people of God have always had one ultimate concern:  What’s the best for me!  Along with self-serving tendencies comes a self-focused vision.  You mean that there is more to life than me?  Exactly.

One of the blessings (and curses) of being a follower of Jesus in the West is the plethora of options for worshipping.  Seriously, there is anything from Southern Gospel to ‘cutting edge’ and everything in between in spades.  The options can be endless.  I am convinced that this has not really helped ‘the church’ maintain a Kingdom focus to win the world. 

Jesus died so that dead people can live.  He didn’t die so that we could have organ music, electric guitar, smoke machine, no smoke machine or choirs in robes.  He died so that the entire world could be made new.  He gave His love as an expression of self-sacrificial love so that the world could receive God’s love.  The mission of God is to heal the world.  How does that mission fit into our vision?  Or better yet, how does God’s mission to heal the world affect what we do in our everyday?   

The pandemic has essentially streamlined many things in terms of ‘church’.  It has given pastors and church leaders time to reflect, re-assess and potentially re-adjust the focus.  If so, then may we continue to strive towards what really matters: to bring everything together in the Messiah, or in other words, build His Kingdom.  If we are not building the Kingdom, then we are not building the Kingdom.  Much of what we have done in the past has not helped us achieve this desired result.  Perhaps we need a different vision.

Push #3 – Pushing past self-gratifying expressions:  Along with the above mentioned ‘self’s’ comes the physical expression of selfish living: selfish expressions.  Have you ever watched toddlers play together?  Sometimes they play great and all is well until you try and take their favourite toy!  In times like that .. watch out.  The physical expression indicates their utter displeasure.  Church can be like that.  Sing the right song and all is well.  Sing ‘that other music’ and the scowls come out like the dandelions … they’re everywhere. 

From songs to styles to messages that make me feel good, the church has long been accustomed to expressing itself in ways that bring satisfaction to those within.  We can even have really good church without God being there.  And at times I am afraid that some gatherings have not even noticed that His Spirit has left the building. 

During this pandemic, the Church has had to actually ‘leave the building’ too.  The Church was never really closed, it was simply repositioned into a better location: the community. 

Here’s the thing: having church is easier than being the church.  Trust me, this is coming from someone who get’s paid to ‘have church’.  So, what have I been doing these last ten weeks?  Well, confession time.  I have not being ‘having church’.  I have been ‘the church’.  I have been ‘the church’ by connecting with the needs of my community.  I have been ‘the church’ by purchasing food items from local businesses.  I have been ‘the church’ when delivering food goods to food banks, shelters and others in need.  I have been ‘the church’ by talking and listening to my neighbour express their emotions and confusion about the days we are living in (staying six-feet apart of course).  I have been ‘the church’ when I text, chat and call fellow believers and pray with them.  I have been ‘the church’ by spending time talking to my kids about what’s going in the world.  Oh, and yes, I have been ‘the church’ by putting together weekly teaching videos so that the body may be equipped to do the work of the ministry.  At least that is my desire … for the body to do ministry.  But I digress. 

Plain and simple, Jesus modelled a life that was anything but self-gratifying.  In fact it was the completely the opposite.  He came to serve.  The last time I checked, He also said something about picking up ones cross and dying daily.  Not a lot of time for self-gratification if you’re always dying to self.  I guess that’s the point.

So, now that COVID has potentially ‘pushed’ us in some of these areas (positively), it is up to ‘the church’ to continue this journey.  We haven’t come this far, to only come this far.  There is more to be about and more to address for the Kingdom’s sake. 

I am committed to the transformation journey with the group of believers that call Calvary their home ‘church’.  The continuing desire is for this group of believers to not simply be a group of believers, but to become a transformed and transforming community. 

This is my journey. 

Maranatha!

P.S. I just got word this week that places of worship can return to their buildings … I feel another push coming … I pray that it is not simply a push from those who simply want to return so that we can ‘have church’ again … but a push forward … ‘in the power of the Holy Spirit to continue the ministry of the resurrected Christ in the world as the living extension of His character and mission.’

What now Holy Spirit?

It’s been 10 weeks, or 75 days, or 1800 hours or 108,000 minutes since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO on March 19, 2020. 

Since then … a lot of things have happened and just as many questions have gone unanswered.  I have my own list of unanswered questions to add to the growing list and I am sure that you do as well.  For the time being, and the context of this blog post, allow me to share with you some thoughts that pertain to my role and function as a lead pastor in a Pentecostal church that is navigating the challenges of COVID-19. 

Last week was Pentecost Sunday.  Depending on your Christian tradition, you may or may not have heard much about it.  Within my Pentecostal tradition, it is oftentimes an emphasized Sunday where different aspects and functions of the Holy Spirit are mentioned and discussed. 

Pentecost Sunday is often the bread and butter of Pentecostal churches.  This is something that I have become accustomed to. 

As long as I can remember, every Sunday meant going to church at Pembroke Pentecostal Tabernacle.  I can remember the building on Renfrew Street before the expansion and move to the current location near the intersection of Hwy 17 and 41.  For three generations previously on my mothers side, the Faught’s were Pentecostal church goers.  My children represent the fifth generation of Pentecostal church attenders.  I mention those things to highlight the fact that Pentecostal roots run deep within my family, person and spirit.  Moreover, who else can say that they encountered God’s Spirit, was called to ministry and met their spouse at three different Pentecostal Camps within Ontario?  That’s right, Ottawa Valley Pentecostal Camp, Lakeshore Pentecostal Camp and Braeside Pentecostal Camp were all prominent and pivotal locations in my life and journey with God.  My life experience alone is a testimony to the fact that God moves at camp!  Sadly, for the first time in decades, many church camps will not open this summer.  Which leads me to the main thrust of this blog. 

As a fourth-generation Pentecostal, now pastoring within the same Christian tradition, I have had to wrestle my way through the realities and implications of COVID-19.  I have blogged about some of these things previously.  The question that I am asking now is … what now?  And this is a question that I am asking the Holy Spirit.

Without getting into a whole lot of Pentecostal history, it is sufficient to say that Pentecostalism is mainly a revival movement.  Much is made about the 1906 Azusa street revival in Los Angeles.  The fellowship of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada is a direct by-product of the Los Angeles meetings.  Millions of people have been impacted by that revival and others around the globe.  But here’s the rub, revivals involve gatherings of people. 

In Ontario, churches have not been able to physically gather together for the past 10 weeks and counting.  Many church-goers are left wondering about the nature of the church now that we can’t have services.  But for Pentecostals, it can be even more troublesome. 

If there is no cooperate assembly, or physical gatherings of the saints, how can the Holy Spirit operate and manifest Himself via signs and wonders?  Furthermore, what vocal gifts of the Holy Spirit can operate if there is no-one to hear?  In other words, what does a Pentecostal church do when people cannot come together to seek the Lord?  Our history and tradition seems to thrive on such gatherings.  The revival-service has long been the pinnacle of the Pentecostal tradition.  What are Pentecostals to ‘do’ now that we ‘cannot do’ what we’ve always done?  Herein lies my ecclesiological question: what now Holy Spirit?

Ralph Del Colle said, ‘The church exists in the outpouring if the Holy Spirit’.  Referencing Del Colle’s work, Frank Macchia expands upon this and says that ‘the life and mission of the Church is constituted by this divine outpouring of the Spirit.’ 

The outpouring they speak of is referenced in Acts 2: the Day of Pentecost. 

So here is something to ponder: if the Church is somehow intricately (and ontologically) connected with the Holy Spirit, then what does the Spirit truly desire the Church to be? 

If the church is a product of the Holy Spirit, then perhaps it is the Holy Spirit that we need to hear from.  You may have a different approach or angle to defining ‘what’ the church is, but I tend to agree that the Church itself is something created by the Spirit of God to fulfill a specific calling.

Welcome to my arena, wrestling mat and ground zero.  The current pandemic has allowed me to significantly ask these questions openly with our church leadership team and congregation without being labeled as a non-traditionalist and troublemaker.  Although I may be that way naturally, I would like to think that there is a supernatural force guiding those questioning thoughts.  Regardless, allow me to offer a glimpse into the past that might be relevant today. 

During the 1918 influenza epidemic, it’s been noted that Pentecostals struggled with the meaning of the onslaught of disease and death.  Many questions were being asked by those who were caring for those that were stricken by the deadly virus in their community.  Many Pentecostals understood the epidemic to be a test of fidelity to Jesus the Healer.  The epidemic was also referred to as a furnace of the ‘seven-fold heat’ sent by God to judge the world.   

Through this trial and testing however, it is also noted that the Pentecostal Church was caring for those in need as they waited for their Exodus.  Kimberly Alexander highlights the actions of some Pentecostal’s during the 1918 epidemic: ‘not only did they pray for the sick, but the homes of the Pentecostal saints became infirmaries … the sick received physical, emotional and spiritual care.  Pentecostals became caregivers going into quarantined homes, providing the needed services as well as offering prayer for the sick.’

According to Alexander, the Pentecostal church became a pronounced wholistic, healing community during this grim period in its history. 

Could this be what the Spirit is saying to Pentecostals today? 

Join me as I continue to seek the Spirit’s voice by asking Him about the Pentecostal church’s role and responsibility during this pandemic.  Surely our tradition has something to say about the working of the Spirit in the world today.  If not, then why have a Pentecostal tradition within Christendom?

But there is hope.  In the words of Gregory of Nyssa: Christ is King and the Spirit is the Kingdom. 

 

Marantha!

 

*** The above mentioned scholars and quotes are from a monograph edited by Chris Thomas entitled “Towards a Pentecostal Ecclesiology:The Church and the Fivefold Gospel”.

#Lambstrong

Within hours of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, the slogan “Boston Strong” appeared on social media and rapidly began to spread around the world.  The slogan gave rise to a T-shirt movement, other products and even appeared on the “Green Monster” at Boston’s Fenway Park. This slogan was a public expression of the people of Boston’s unity after a significant tragedy.  It was a demonstration of non-violent love. 

Sports history tells us that the Boston Bruins displayed the slogan on their helmets within two days of the bombings, and at the first Red Sox game the stadium announcer told the crowd: “We are one. We are strong. We are Boston. We are Boston strong.” 

Since the original ‘Boston Strong’ movement, several cities have adopted the ‘Strong’ slogan as a way to unite communities in the wake of disaster, tragedy and evil.  These ‘strong’ movements of love, peace and unity remind me of a similar Way. 

History also tells us another person who demonstrated a radical non-violent way of being human.  Christianity is the commitment to this way of living.  To be a follower of Jesus means that we affirm this ‘hypostatic union’ of God and humanity coming together in the womb of Mary to produce the Christ child.  It is a complete mystery and marvel to our fallen minds.  We will never fully understand the supernatural cooperation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit combining within the womb of Mary to birth the Son of God.  It truly is a wonderful thing.  However, one thing we do know is that as the Living Word of God (Logos), Jesus came to earth in order to fulfill and demonstrate the Way of Yahweh.  Jesus is the Way.

As God’s Word now sent into the world to accomplish a purpose, Jesus would not return to the Father void of fulfilling the mission.  Isaiah prophesied about such a time (55:11).  The word of the Lord will accomplish its mission, but in God’s way: the way of the Lamb. 

At our church, we are looking at seven words to help us understand God’s Kingdom and our role within in.  I am convinced that the Kingdom of God brings a clarity to our purpose, identity and mission in the world today.  Jesus, the rightful King, has established His followers to be a kingdom who now act on His behalf.  Our Kingdom Now journey is to help us remain faithful to Him and His ways.  This is where the book of Revelation helps. 

We are getting these seven words from the book of Revelation (5:12). “The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power, and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

These seven words are offered to Jesus in a chorus of praise and worship.  They are significant.  For me, the visions and prophecy that John receives is perhaps the most relevant word for followers of Jesus today.  The book of Revelation contains these prophetic images and instructions for believers who are committed to the way of Jesus who is the Lamb of God.  Revelation then, is call to be a faithful witness to the way of the Lamb.  Jesus, as the Lamb of God, shows us a better way of being human; a way to be Lamb strong.

First, in His faithful and suffering death, Jesus has already demonstrated how God  notably deals with the evil, but also how God’s people are to deal with evil.  The good news of the gospel is a testimony to the death of Jesus giving the final blow to evil and death itself.  The gospel writers (Mark, Luke, Matthew and John) vividly re-count how the evil beastly powers of Satan could not bring Jesus to respond violently to their diabolical scheme.  Jesus humbly submitted Himself to the crowds, chiefs and courts that shouted crucify Him!  Jesus’ subversive act of not confronting evil is profound.  He will not be like any other ruler or Messiah figure known to the world.  His ways are higher.  This divine demonstration of non-violence on its own terms established a new way for all who follow Him.  His death liberates from evil, death and violence all those who embrace Him.  His self-sacrificial love is the divine revelation of God in the world.  The follows of Jesus today are called to operate similarly in response to the evil, violent, beastly powers.  The way of the Lamb is liberating, sacrificial love.     

Second, as His faithful followers, we are called to battle the cosmic forces of darkness and chaos.  It could be said that true spiritual existence in the world today means warfare.  We are spirit-beings constantly searching for significance and meaning beyond our natural world.  In our search for meaning and significance we constantly embrace, love and cherish things within ourselves.  We have given things a throne.  Whether we realize it or not, we have come to love, value and adore a plethora of created items.  Vehicles, phones, ear pods and peanut butter can all find a way to control and dictate our appetites.  We crave what we desire and we desire what we crave.  In other words, we all have a heart problem that leads us into idolatry.  We worship what we love, and the powers of darkness constantly try to lead us towards embracing created things over the Creator of all things.  This is our battle, and it involves our mind, heart, and spirit.  Jesus knows that true spiritual existence is warfare.  Consider the times He spent overcoming temptation, false accusations and alternate routes presented before Him.  His temptation in the wilderness alone demonstrates the diabolical nature of spiritual warfare.  However, neither the Lamb nor His followers are to fight in any other way than faithfulness, even to the point of suffering and death.  The strength of the Lamb was being faithful to His Father.  The strength of the Lamb’s people is to remain faithful to the Lamb. 

Third, since the defeat of evil is already in principle accomplished by the death of the Lamb as a non-violent act of faithfulness, His followers are called to the same level of faithful resistance.  We live in a world that is addicted to violence and war.  It is Cain’s story and ours. Throughout the centuries humanity has turned to clubs and weapons in order to establish dominance and strength.  We have believed that strength is something physical.  Webster’s tells us so.  Such violent, vengeful thinking and behaviour is misaligned with God and leads one into the power of sin and the actions of the fallen beastly powers.  Consider the warning to Cain back in Genesis.  What was crouching at the door desiring to pounce? 

The book Revelation and much of the NT remind us and testifies to the Lamb’s non-violent speech-act of faithful resistance.  This incredible and astounding act of self-sacrificial love has initiated the defeat of evil that will fully and finally be accomplished and the end of the age.  The cross began the process of destroying evil, so also will the Word of God, the eternal gospel, finally kill death and do away with evil when the same Christ returns.  Until then, the followers of the Lamb are to carry on and engage in warfare via the same way.  Our warfare is not carried out with weapons.  We battle via words and deeds that are aligned with the Lamb of God who operated self-sacrificially and demonstrated a way that wins the world.

In the midst of COVID-19, we are reminded again of the beastly powers agenda to conquer and dominate the world.  Whether you believe COVID was manufactured or naturally occurring, we can all agree that COVID is an evil in the world that is wreaking havoc, adding hurt and compiling brokenness to our already broken world.

I am thankful to be leading a church that is responding correctly.  We are leading a movement in our community that is rooted in sacrificial love and faithfulness.  We are acting as one in the strength of the Lamb. 

In response to COVID-19 in our community, our church began to give.  As of right now, more than five thousand dollars has been donated within these past six weeks.  With those funds we have been able to purchase food items and gift cards to bless and support those who have been economically impacted by the evils of COVID-19.  Further to this, we have recently designated more space in our church building so that the Lindsay Community Food Market (LCFM) operations can expand.  The LCFM is a community operated food bank that serves over 350 guests monthly.  All in all, our church is committed to respond and demonstrate a unified strength that exemplifies the nature of the One we serve.  He is a God of love after all. 

I believe that this is an exciting time to be a follower of the Lamb.  Now more than ever followers of Jesus need to remain faithful to His way of being human.  Christianity is a living thing and is to be a force in the world which works to demonstrate the fabric of God’s Kingdom here on earth.  The people of the Lamb are to be a unified movement demonstrating the essence of God’s strength.  Jesus alone is worthy to receive strength because He is the only One who demonstrated God’s merciful compassion, loving faithfulness, and sacrificial love here on earth. He truly is a Wonderful Lord.  He is the original strong movement.  May we follow in His ways: #Lambstrong

Maranatha!

  

 

1. Dubois, Lou (April 21, 2013). “‘Boston Strong’ emerges as rallying cry, from stadiums to tweets”. NBC News.

2. Gorman, Michael J. Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation

 

With a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day

Sometimes it’s nice to just go and sit beside a river bank.  The flow of water combined with all the sounds of nature can bring a soothing to the troubled soul.  Perhaps this is why Ezekiel found himself there. 

The Bible tells us that Ezekiel was thirty years old when he sat along the bank of the Chebar Canal.  This canal is believed to be a tributary of the great Euphrates river that ran along the regions of northern ancient Babylon or near present day Baghdad.  It was here that Ezekiel sat as a thirty-year old refugee in exile.

What had gone wrong?  This was not supposed to happen.  His entire life was preparing him for a certain path that now seemed to be eroded and gone.  You see, Ezekiel was of the priestly age, thirty, which meant that should be serving as a priest.  He had fully pledged himself to the priestly order of Israel and was set to continue this honoured tradition.  His entire life was aimed and groomed for such a purpose.  Ezekiel was to be a servant in Yahweh’s Temple and perform the ritual duties of worship and sacrifice within Israel.  But now he sits exiled and alone in a pagan nation.  How could this happen?

History tells us that Israel had been conquered and sacked by the Babylonians as part of their quest to dominate the ancient Near Eastern landscape.  Under King Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonians had successfully de-throned the dreaded Assyrian Empire that was dominating most of middle earth.  Employing Babylon’s strength and military greatness, King Nebuchadnezzar now ruled over many nations with power.  Ezekiel, like other captives, were exported from their native lands to begin their assimilation into the Babylonian way of life.  It was a drastic and abrupt change. 

This was especially troublesome for Ezekiel, and other Hebrews who potentially held onto a view that Yahweh would never let this happen.  Many Psalms (songs of the Hebrew people) were written and penned with confident expressions that God would make an eternal house and home for His people (Israel) here on earth.  The hope of the nation was in Yahweh’s desire to establish a ‘city’ within their land.  Jerusalem (the city of God, Zion) was this place where God would dwell.  This confidence birthed an understanding that God would protect His people from any and all harm that would come their way.  In other words, God would never allow His beloved city to fall into the hands of pagan nations or allow His people to lose their territory to neighbouring overlords.  This simply could not be. 

That type of thinking is referred to as ‘Zion theology’.  It was a perspective or worldview that understood that the Ark of the Covenant would provide covenantal power and act as God’s secret weapon against Israel’s enemies.  This led to comfortable prophets and prophecies which led many to believe that God would never allow Jerusalem to fall.  God, as their divine warrior, would fight for His people. 

Thrown into the mix of all this thinking was the understanding that ancient deities were also aligned with geographic territories.  Each nation had a patron god whose power was demonstrated within their region or land.  In other words, if Yahweh truly was more powerful that other gods, then no harm would come to His people within their nations borders.  However, Ezekiel now sat in a conquered state within a foreign country that had just demonstrated its power over Israel.  What did all of this mean for Yahweh’s power, promises and prophecies?  What was Ezekiel to understand now that everything he had ever been taught, believed in and worshipped seemed to all come crashing down?  Where do we go from here?

I do not know if you are asking any of those questions due to recent events.  Perhaps or perhaps not.  However, allow me to encourage you with a few thoughts from the God of the whirlwind. 

The Bible tells us that even in exile, the hand of God found Ezekiel.  In a spectacular vision, Ezekiel sees, feels, hears, and even tastes the supernatural wonders of Yahweh.  This vivid encounter with the living God of the universe ultimately left Ezekiel overwhelmed for seven days!  This truly was a powerful experience.

Ezekiel tells us that he encountered a form of the LORD’s glory that day.  It was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day (1:28).  Prior to this, Ezekiel had witnessed wheels of motion, angelic beings, creatures of earth and God’s Spirit  working and empowering it all.  The heavens have opened for Ezekiel and he was able to see the power of Almighty God.  From Creation to the Cosmos, all things were moving according to the Spirit of Yahweh.  It seemed that Yahweh is not bound to physical space, aspects of time, or theologies of man.  He is simply bigger and beyond it all.  He is the Most High God.

For Ezekiel and us, there are three things that I would like to highlight:

Yahweh is Sovereign:  The Bible is an affirmation that the God of Israel is indeed the God of the Universe.  He made the Cosmos and Creation with determination, design and destiny.  There is also a point, purpose and plan to everything He does.  He has a goal and mission that involves the cosmic powers and created beings of both realms.  It is all moving as planned. 

Yahweh is Transcendent:  Yahweh is completely and wholly ‘other’.  He stands beyond our time, space and matter.  He is altogether completely different from anything created.  He is from eternity to eternity.  He is Spirit.  His realm is beyond ours.  He stands over and above this middle earth.  He sees all things and is not surprised by any of it.  History is His Story.   

Yahweh is Immanent:  Yahweh is everywhere all the time.  He does not just stand afar off on top some mount peering down from the clouds.  No.  Even though He stands above and beyond all that we can comprehend, He is able to draw near and be present in the world that He made.  His arm is never short of reaching in and touching our lives.

From this experience with Yahweh, Ezekiel modelled three responses that transcend space, time and matter.  In other words, may we consider responding similarly today:

Be a worshipper:  Ezekiel falls face down (prostrate) six times throughout his book (1:28, 3:23, 9:8, 11:13, 43:3, 44:4).  Every time he encounters God, Ezekiels worships.  No one does it more in all of Scripture.    

Be a person of the word: Ezekiel ingests the words of God (2:8-3:3).  A scroll was presented to Ezekiel containing words of lamentation and woe.  However, when Ezekiel ate of it, it was a sweet as honey in his mouth.  The word of God filled Ezekiels stomach.   

Be a Spirit-empowered witness:  Ezekiel heard God’s voice commission him to speak to the nation of Israel.  As God spoke, the Spirit entered Ezekiel and set him on this new pathway towards a prophetic ministry.  The priest was now a God’s prophetic voice. 

During these COVID days of unexpectedness and uncertainty, please know that there is One who still stands beyond all of this and saw it coming.  God was not caught off guard or is pacing up in heaven trying to figure out what to do.  No.  He has everything aligning towards His climactic end.    

Also, please know that He is able to meet with you and bring about life change amidst the confusion, chaos and commotion.  Yahweh still rules the universe and His reign is demonstrated via His Spirit here on earth.  The Spirit is in the world today working to bring all things under the Lordship of Jesus.  That includes you and me.  The Spirit has a mission.  That also includes you and me.   

You can read about the mission, nature, character and personality of God via the Gospel testimony about Jesus Christ, the Nazarene.  Jesus is the only perfect icon of God who came to show us the Way.  Jesus is the living Word who spoke and communicated eternal Truth to us.  He also demonstrated the Life of God’s Kingdom and the mission for all who follow.  Jesus truly is Yahweh’s Way, Truth and Life.

Let me ask you this.  If you have yet to turn and embrace Jesus within your mind, heart and lifestyle, please do.  Allow Him to be Lord of all that you are and all that you do.  Allow Him to bring His newness into your spirit, heart and mind.  He died so that you can live.  His life is abundantly different than anything you have experienced to date.  It’s a supernatural transformation that brings love, refreshing, change and transformation.  It is like being born again for the very first time. 

For those who have already committed their walk to Jesus, I pray that in these days you will continue to respond to His Sovereignty in appropriate ways.  May we all continue to lower ourselves in worshipful postures, feed on His faithful and true words, and continue to be filled with His Spirit so that we can function as His prophetic voice in the world.    

May we continue to embrace His Spirit of motion, destiny and direction in all that we do.  May we yearn for the heavens to open once again for our King to return.  Middle earth needs her King, and so do we.    

Come Lord Jesus Come! 

Maranatha!

Essentials of life

7-10 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.  (1 John 4:7-8 MSG)

The days that we are living in has definitely allowed us to think about essentials.  Much has changed, and there is an uncertainty about what will remain.  Aspects of society and culture have been shaken.  Our worldview have been challenged.  It feels like we are being called to a great unknown.   

The Bible tells us that Abraham was an individual who has an experience with God.  Thankfully, Abraham was listening and began his journey with Yahweh.  It is interesting to notice that in Abraham’s journey God seemed to separate him from the known foundation of the day.

Abraham was part of a vibrant culture life.  Ancient Mesopotamia was a hotbed of civilization and human culture.  It was vibrant, artistic, and systematic.  Mesopotamian culture had legal, economic, social systems and religious structure.  The Biblical account of Job also highlights some of the philosophical understandings and worldview pertaining to this time period.  Archaeology tells us that the Ur-Nammu Law Code is considered the oldest known written code of laws pertaining to humanity.  I am not an expert by any means when it comes to Mesopotamian culture, but I do know that it was indeed a structured and established society that had foundations.

Like Mesopotamian, every human culture has a ‘way of doing life’ that has been handed down from generation to generation.  Fundamental to any culture is a set of beliefs, experiences and practices that seek to grasp and express the ultimate nature of all things.  This set of belief’s, experiences and practices often establish a worldview that shapes and gives meaning to life.  Oftentimes, this same worldview claims final authority pertaining ‘the ways of life’.

Much could be said about how COVID-19 is challenging and changing foundational elements of present day culture and society.  Like you, I have been able to re-evaluate many things during these days.  We all have had ‘time’ to think, act, and evaluate the ways of North American life.  I pray that you have been able to handle all the needed adjustments.  I also pray that you have had some time to evaluate and examine beliefs, experiences and practices concerning your cultural worldview.

We all have a culture, and we are all impacted by culture.  In fact the ‘gospel’ itself is never culture-free.  The Bible was written within a specific cultural worldview.  Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a first-century Palestinian Jew.  Jesus communicated in concepts and language known to the receptor culture of the time.  He did so in order to bring about a radical contradiction (revelation) that would call into question everything pertaining to the Greco-Roman ‘way of life’.  This ‘upside down gospel’ of Jesus was not simply a message addressed to leaders in society, government and religion.  Jesus seems to walk away from the pulpit spot-light when such occasions arose.  The ‘way of life’ for Jesus was much more than talk.  It was a revolutionary way of being human.

The recent response by millions of front-line workers has been a testament to humanity’s drive to combat the evils of COVID-19.  Our church recently thanked a group of those workers by sending them gift-cards.  It was a small token expressing our appreciation for their committed stance against the darkness of the disease.    

Similarly, Jesus and His new community of disciples challenged evil whoever they found it, and it wasn’t merely an inward spiritual challenge.  Yes, Jesus regularly denounced hypocrisy and blasted the religious leadership.  But He also challenged the economic establishment, overturned social values and specifically addressed customs related to women.  The Way of Jesus was a radical confrontation to the fallen systems and cultural powers of the world.  His call to ‘repent’ and do a U-turn meant that individuals needed to centre their existence and ‘way of life’ around His.  This ‘gospel’ of Jesus specifically refers to a series of events that have its center and foundation upon Him.  His story is what we call the gospel, and His gospel was all about the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus spoke much about the Kingdom of God.  Perhaps this was because Jesus knew how good the Creator intends culture and civilization to be.  Who better to tell us about the Way of God than God Himself.  Who better to show us the Way of God than God Himself.  Who better to kick start a revolution against the fallen systems of this world than God Himself.  Who better to call people to a new way of being human than the One who Created all things. 

I am convinced that the mission of Jesus seems to centre on all areas of society and culture where sin had introduced brokenness.  We continue to see the fall-out of humanity’s idolatrous choice to walk away from the One who gives us life.  In the wake of turning away from God, we have embraced transgression.  Our broken world continues to remind us about this cosmic wrong-doing.  However, all is not lost in the battle against the chaotic darkness that surrounds us.  Hope breaks through every time someone combats the evils of the world.  Hope walks in the room through acts of self-sacrificial love. 

We need to thank the millions of front-line workers who are daily operating amidst the evils of COVID-19.  Their dedication and commitment to love’s self-sacrificial way is inspiring and significant.  This self-emptying is reminiscent of another who operated similarly.  For God so love the world, He gave, and continues to give. 

The evils of the world and darkness of disease is a problem that is to be addressed and overcome by God’s powerful love.  In fact, I believe that His Spirit is seeking to and fro throughout the earth to find people who will operate in this capacity.  I believe we are seeing it within the many who operate according to the Divine Way of self-sacrifice.

At the end of the age, millions may ask, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:37-40 MSG).

This the way of love.  This is the way of Jesus.  May His Way be our foundation now, and forevermore. 

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

11-12 My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!  (1 John 4:9-12 MSG) 

 

Maranatha!

The pain is not the product

I remember the day when my life changed forever. It was a summer day in August. The year was 2004. We had just welcomed our first born child into the world. I will never forget that experience, and neither will my wife! I admit, that my role was not as involved and ‘felt’ as my wife’s (or any other mother for that matter). But from my perspective, the journey towards new life seems to involve moments of pain.

Again, I want to make it known that I am not attempting to say that I ‘know’ what it is like to give birth. That would be unnatural. I am simply alluding to the reality that during the stages of giving birth, there are definite moments and cycles of pain.

My sister-in-law is a mid-wife and she would be able to identity the many stages and phases that women go through while giving birth. I admittedly acknowledge that I have completely forgotten all of what I learned in our pre-natal classes, other than this one simple command … breathe!

Breathe in … breathe out … breathe in … breathe out … breathe in … pass out! Oh wait, I can’t. I’m supposed to help get my wife through this part of the journey. I need to understand that the pain will come, and it will pass. I need to understand that pain is part of the process in order to bring forth new life. I need to know that the pain will end, and that new life will come.

With all the recent activity amidst the COVID-19 crisis, I am sure that you have had many opportunities to form your opinion pertaining to ‘why’ things happen, and if there ‘is a reason’ for any of this?

Speaking as a parent, here is what I have come to understand.

The pain is not the product.

Never once did I consider the pain that my wife was going through to be the ‘essence’ of my unseen child. In other words, the pain was not part of my child’s essential character or quintessential make-up. In fact, we named our children specifically because we believe that a child’s ‘name’ speaks about their life and character. We see this in Scripture. Moses means ‘drew him out’; Abraham means ‘father of many nations’; Eve means ‘living or to give life’ etc. Names speak about character.

In the Bible, God reveals Himself as the “Yahweh”. In the book of Exodus it says that the LORD passed in front of Moses and said:

Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin.

The Bible affirms that God is merciful and compassionate in over thirty-eight other verses. It seems that the Bible testifies loudly to the merciful character of God. I say this because of the temptation to turn the events of the world into a doom and gloom stick used by ‘Christians’ to improperly match negative events with the essence of God’s character.

I realize that God cannot be divorced from tragedy. However, God’s character is also not vindictive, judgemental or condemning. He is good, merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He desires mercy over sacrifice (Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13) and closed the book on vengeance permanently. Jesus specifically announced that God’s favour and jubilee was here (Luke 4:18-19, c.f. Isaiah 61:1-2).

It saddens me to hear those who only speak gloom, doom, judgement and fire. I refer to these lost people as the ‘turn or burn’ folks. If you are a ‘repent, hell, fire and brimstone’ type of person, I challenge you to read the gospels and notice how Jesus spoke, acted and demonstrated God’s character in the world. Please do.

Furthermore, it pains me to hear supposed ‘prophets’ claim that God is more aligned with any one political government over the other. I recently heard one such ‘voice’ declare that ‘God is angry’ with ‘country-x’ and is going to bring ‘devastation’ and ‘judgement’ upon them because of their ‘ungodly ways’ and ‘persecution’ of the Church, and that God is tired of their ‘arrogance’ and how they have snubbed their nose at Him. If I am not mistaken, the Spirit seems to have spoken already about this, and the Bible affirms that God is for all the nations, not just one nation from the West. But I digress.

In a previous blog, I spoke about the context of plagues and being shaken. Please feel free to read that blog to see where I am coming from in terms of my understanding of world events. We are witnessing ‘birth pains’ that Jesus said ‘must’ take place (Matthew 24:3-8, Rev. 1:1, 22:6).

It is my opinion that in the context of God ‘delivering’ His people, pain can be understood as part of the birthing process. The movement from ‘no life’ to ‘new life’ involves pain. Children cannot come into the world without it, and even when they arrive the pain does not end! But most parents would not identify the pain with the product. In other words, the essence of the product is not to be understood synonymously with the pain.

The pain is not the product, but it is part of the process.

The pain is part of the process.

The Genesis narrative is pretty clear regarding the cause of the rift between God, humanity and creation. God’s shalom was broken and it was our fault. By turning away from the source of life, humanity embraced the voice of the deceiver and ate from the forbidden tree. The result of such produced a journey of pain.

He said to the woman: I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children in anguish …  And He said to Adam, … The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:16, 17)

The process of life here on earth involves painful labour. It resulted from our turning away from God and embracing a false one. Humanity’s idolatry has marred God’s good work and corrupted His perfect shalom. Creation itself longs to be set free from this futility and despair (Rom. 8:18-25).

Thankfully, God is not some cosmic kill-joy or grumpy brow-beater looking to install hardship, toil and sorrow. Remember, we brought this on ourselves. However, God has provided a Way. The pain is part of the process, but with God, the process can produce a new product.

The product is new life.

I’ve spoken about being made new, or being born again recently at Calvary church. This ‘newness’ of God is offered exclusively through Jesus Christ of Nazareth. God’s new creation is available for anyone who believes. As Paul would say: if anyone is in Christ, new creation. I love how The Message translation phrases it:

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start …. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Does that not sound good! Is this not what Easter is all about? In fact, it is. But Jesus is not done just yet. He continually makes all things new up until His Return (Rev. 21:5).

Yes, that’s right, Jesus is coming back. And when He returns, everything will be made right once again for eternity. We will experience the shalom of God forever and ever. That’s a good plan.

I realize that we are still in the ‘midst’ of COVID-19. I realize that we are in the middle of God’s three-day story. The second day in any three day story is challenging and normally involves difficulty and pain. It does. But God’s third day is on the horizon. Pain is part of our process, but it is not the final product. The final product is new creation.

God’s final product is coming … breathe … there is still pain during the process … breathe … you will make it through … breathe … He is with you through it … breathe … He is coming …
Maranatha!

Shaken

Habakkuk 3:5  Plague goes before Him

Recent events have brought many Biblical passages and scenarios to my mind.  Admittedly, it has been a challenge for me to discern exactly what needs to be said and when it’s time to say it.  The challenge is real because tensions are high. 

For those who have been following me now on our church page via Facebook and YouTube (Calvary Pentecostal Church Lindsay), you may know that my family recently returned from Florida.  We thankfully were able to head down the week before March break and enjoy Disney before it was closed.  We truly had a great time. 

While south of the border, we were given a unique perspective of the unfolding crisis.  We were able to watch the local news, as well as tune in to CTV News online.  The scene in Canada was very different from what we were witnessing in Florida and much of the United States. 

Upon returning to Canada, we were relieved that we were not ‘going to be sent to Trenton’ and that we did not receive any ‘date stamp’ indicating our quarantine release date.  Such were some of the fears portrayed to us from loved ones in the north.  I honestly did not give it much attention.  However, it did illustrate to me the atmosphere that I would be returning to.  We were not just dealing with COVID-19, we were also dealing with a plague of fear. 

In the Bible plagues and pestilences are often associated and linked with a particular event in Israel’s history: the exodus.  To put it very simply, the exodus event is a major thing for the people of God.  It was a classic showdown down between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt.  Some even believe that the specific plagues mentioned in the Bible resembled the pagan deities of Egypt.  Regardless, it was indeed a Cosmic clash between the deities of Egypt and the God of the Hebrews.  Which deity ruled the known universe and beyond? 

I believe that the Bible rightly proclaims that Yahweh is indeed the God of all gods, and that He (Yahweh) has delivered His people from the hands of those who oppose Him. Moses also seemed to have this view.  He wrote, ‘For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe.’ (Deuteronomy 10:17).  

Psalm 97:9 also says, ‘For You, LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; You are exalted above all the gods.’

The Hebrew people believed that YWH (Yahweh) was indeed God Almighty, and had demonstrated His power over the existing powerhouse of the known world: Egypt.  God was delivering His people from the clutches of Pharaoh.  

Psalm 77, 78, 95, 105, 106, 114, 135 and 136 all recount and contain explicit references to the exodus saga.  Furthermore, the Prophets also mix in Sinai and wilderness imagery into their writings.  The result is an array of OT passages, prophecies and poetry that contain vivid imagery pertaining to the earth being shaken, days being darkened, and wonders in the heavens.  What else would you expect when the Almighty intervenes into the affairs of the world?

These echos of the exodus and the Sinai encounter are noteworthy and help us better understand the imagery associated with plagues of the Bible.  Biblically speaking then, it could be said that plagues are framed with Israel’s exodus, Sinai and wilderness narrative.  It could also be said that plagues were understood as a must that accompanied Yahweh’s return.

As in Habakkuk, plagues were often associated as things that would proceed the Yahweh’s return.  Similarly, Jesus too alludes to events that also must take place. 

‘the disciples approached Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”4 Then Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you … You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars … See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines[a] and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these events are the beginning of birth pains.  (Matthew 24)

I mention all of this for a couple of reasons.  Events ‘like’ COVID-19 helps me:

Understand that ‘these things must take place’. Correct me if I am wrong, but Jesus did say that we ought to expect such events.  And did He also not send out and commission the 12 and 70 to a journey of hardship, strive and opposition?  In other words, Jesus seems to indicate that our starting point would involve tribulation.

Understand that Jesus has overcome ‘these things’.  In John 16, Jesus encourages His followers with the following words:

Look: An hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

Do you feel encouraged?  Perhaps not.  However, the NT testifies that Jesus Himself has overcome everything that humanity and the powers of darkness threw at Him.  He and He alone stands in the both realms as King.  He and He alone is able to bring perfect shalom (peace) with God, others, within ourselves and the created order.  Jesus has conquered everything that opposes God. 

Understand my role in ‘these things’. I believes that God desires to partner with all humanity via His Spirit so that we can accomplish His mission and build His Kingdom in the midst of suffering and trials.  This perspective helps me understand not only what God is doing in the world today, but my role amidst the chaos, opposition and evil. 

Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia,  Jesus is on the move to bring an end to everything that is wrong in the world and within me.  We live in a broken world that is in need of His shalom (peace).  Until He comes, there is much to do. 

C.S Lewis said that “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

Acts 10:38 says that ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power’, and that Jesus ‘went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him.’  

Friends, God is still with us.  His Spirit is here to accomplish the same plan and Mission of Jesus.  Much is broken.  Much is wrong.  Much is misaligned.  However, the Bible seems to indicate that Yahweh’s plan will not be shaken.

Wherever you are, and whatever situation you find yourself in, my prayer for you will be this verse:  Though the mountains move and the hills shake, My love will not be removed from you and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,” says your compassionate Lord. (Isaiah 54:10)

These days are challenging, and we do not have all the answers, nor do we see all things.  There is only One who can. 

I pray that we would all come to place our hope, trust and faith in Yahweh, His Messiah (Jesus Christ of Nazareth) and His good plan for humanity and Creation. 

I pray that we all would look upon His face and see the love of Jesus. 

I will be praying for you.  Please also pray for me. 

 

Maranatha!

This is the way

God’s New Creation

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. 2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:[a]

Look! God’s dwelling[b] is with humanity,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them
and be their God.[c]

4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things[d] have passed away.

5 Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.”

Revelation 21:1-5a

I have enjoyed watching Disney’s Mandalorian series.  I eagerly await the next season to come.   At a funeral service this week I was given the ability to share about the next season to come.  To me, this is the hope of Christianity.  The Bible talks about a hope that is found beyond this world; a hope that is not tied to anything natural or temporal; a hope that is rooted in a Person.     

The book of Revelation is perhaps my favourite letter.  The challenge in presenting it to the Western church is that many have already been told what to think and believe about its context and content.  Much of our thinking has been impacted by Dispensational theology.  Whatever lens you use to view Scripture, may we always be encouraged by the reading of this prophetic book.  The words are faithful and true. 

Within the book of Revelation John sees many things.  In fact a good reading of the letter would follow that pattern, rather than a chronological one.  We see what John sees.  In this passage, John sees an opened heavens. 

In the OT, Isaiah prophesied a prayer that contained an intercessory cry for God to ‘tear the heavens and come down’ (64:1).  Jesus is physical proof of that happening, and so is the coming of the Spirit.  However, on the Island of Patmos John experiences a vision of a final opened heavens.  This wonderful vision contains promises that can give us hope amidst our post-modern world today.

In God’s new creation there is hope for new beginnings free from chaos and the enemies of God.  John notes that ‘the sea existed no longer’.  Biblically speaking, the ‘sea’ can be viewed as an image of chaos, anarchy and opposition to God (see Psalm 74:12-14, Is. 51:9, Psalm 89:9-10).  The OT affirms that YHWH rules the heavens and the earth (Psalm 24:1-2, Isaiah 40:21-22) by His Spirit, which demonstrates His Power (Gen. 1:1-2).  Perhaps this is why John says that death will exist not longer too.  All of God’s enemies are finally absent.

In God’s new creation there are new beginnings that are real and rewarding.  I love how John describes what he sees.  The vision of this new heaven is ‘like’ a beautiful bride!  All married couples reading this will remember the day when the love of your life came walking down the aisle.  Your eyes locked and the cosmos stood still for the briefest of moments: it is breathtaking glory.  This is what John sees.  He describes the vision in terms of an intimate love relationship.  God Himself is dwelling with us once again!  It seems that God’s new creation is primarily about our loving God being united perfectly with humanity once again.  It is a relationship that is real and rewarding. 

In God’s new creation there are new beginnings that allow us to find our true end.  John also describes this vision to be ‘like’ a city (Holy City, new Jerusalem).  Within cities there are people, citizens, society, employment and culture.  It would seem that this vision expresses humanity’s ability to operate and function in perfect harmony with each other and with God.  This is vision of God’s new creation depicts His perfect rule operating in and through the lives of His people.    

In our culture today we often hear two words that define humanity.  Those two words are freedom and equality.  Our postmodern world believes that we need to be ‘freed’ from any restrictions that limit ones ability to achieve their ultimate fulfillment.  Capitalism can be viewed as the vision of this freedom.  Similarly the goal of socialism is to bring ‘equality’ of rights to every autonomous individual so that they can pursue their self-chosen ends without limits.  Each ideology (capitalism and socialism / freedom and equality) offer a vision of human life, purpose and existence.  However, each of these options fail to account for one major element: the breakdown of relationships.

I believe that neither freedom nor equality are words that can take us to the heart of what it means to be human.  In other words, the fundamental aspect of being human is not found in our pursuit of freedom or equality.  Our humanness is rooted in our relatedness.  As human beings, we are meant to live in relationship with other living beings.  In fact, it could be said that our true end is found only in these bonds of mutual love.  If so, then the breakdown of these loving relationships will ultimately destroy any ideology not built upon such.  In other words, at humanity’s fundamental core is the need to love and be loved.    

Lesslie Newbigin writes that “human beings find fulfillment not in the attempt to develop themselves, not in the effort to better their own condition, not in the untrammelled exercise of unlimited covetousness, but in the experience of mutual relatedness and responsibility in serving a shared goal.”  (Foolishness to the Greeks ,122)

The context of Newbigin’s comments are rooted in his belief that humanity (male and female) is made for God in such a way that being in the image of God means being bound together in the most profound of all mutual relations: God binds Himself in a covenant relationship with men and women to which He remains faithful at whatever cost and however unfaithful His covenant partner is.  If this is true, then all of humanity is called to live in these binding covenant relationships of brotherhood.  Then, according to Newbigin, humanity’s true end is found in the bonds of mutual love and obedience which can only be found in the Triune God of love.  In other words, the quest for what it means to be human can only be found and fulfilled in the bonds of this mutual love relationship with our loving Creator God (Yahweh).  From this loving relationship we are able to reach out and love others around us.  This sounds very similar to the words of Jesus:  love God and love others.    

I don’t know about you, but oftentimes I long for a better tomorrow, and a brighter future.  I long for all situations to be free from strife, conflict and chaos.  I long for all relationships to be real and always rewarding.  I long for perfect fulfillment and purpose in my everyday.  This is my heart’s longing.  This is also my heart’s hope.    

I fully realize that God’s ultimate newness for creation is yet to come.  We live in this ‘already, but not yet’ dynamic tension of God’s Kingdom.  However, I fully believe that God’s newness is available now, on earth as in heaven.  Why else would Jesus pray such: Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven“; and why else would Paul say: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So let me ask you this: What are you looking for today?  What are you seeking to find?  What are you asking for?  What is the longing of your heart?

If you long to be free from some of the ‘waters’ of chaos that keep circling around you that threaten to swallow your joy, peace, love and happiness; if you are searching for a love that is real, rewarding, non-judgemental, accepting and true; if you are desiring to find fulfillment and purpose in life’s pursuit, then perhaps it is time to look to God and receive His newness via His bonds of love. 

Simply call out to Jesus Christ of Nazareth and ask His Spirit to make you new.  This is the desire and decree from the very heart of God.    

Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.”  (Revelation 21:5)

This is the way. 

 

Maranatha!