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!

Kingdom Embodiment

Last Sunday morning at Calvary church I talked about speaking your Kingdom word.  This was an attempt to unlock the believer’s ability to communicate to others what God has done within them.  I believe that I said something like this: the best word from you is about what God has done in you.   

Have you ever noticed that when Jesus sent out the 12 and the 70, He gave them the ability and authority to essentially preach the kingdom and heal the sick.  Jesus seems to combine and establish the element of speaking and doing (words and deeds) in the lives of the disciples.  The disciples were not to only speak the message of the Kingdom, they were to also sent to embody it.

Oftentimes within the gospels we see that the disciples heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and drive out demons.  These four things are mentioned time and time again throughout the gospel narratives.  I believe that these four acts symbolize and serve as demonstrative elements of Kingdom speech.  There seems to be a restorative function associated with the physical act of speaking.  As the Kingdom is preached, fallen humanity is restored.  The gospel writers seem to convey their understanding that the breaking in of God’s Kingdom yields powerful results.  They document that the gospel of Jesus has a liberating and victorious effect on the hearer that not only reaches into their physical make-up but also addresses their spirit-being too.  The results are nothing short of a supernatural makeover and a transformation of lives.  People are re-born.  Think about those who were raised from the dead.  That event would change pretty much anyone’s day and perspective about this Jesus of Nazareth and His followers.  Jesus seems to be demonstrating His Kingship over the physical and spiritual worlds.  In fact He is.

Why do I say all of this?  Simply to illustrate that I believe that the Gospel of Jesus is something truly remarkable.  Furthermore, speaking and embodiment the Gospel was to always go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly.  A peanut butter sandwich is OK, and a jam sandwich is OK, but a peanut butter and jam sandwich is utterly divine!

There is no hiding the fact that I am a big fan of Luke.  It also helps that I enjoy Star Wars and every time I think of Luke’s name it sounds as though Darth Vader is speaking.  It is kinda cool.  John and Paul just don’t sound nearly as good in Darth Vader tongue.  “Luke …” it just takes the cake.  I digress.  Let me get back on track.

Here’s my continued point of emphasis.  As followers of Jesus, the Church has the ability and power to speak and embody God’s Kingdom here on earth as in heaven.  I personally believe and affirm that the book Acts testifies how the Spirit empowers and enables the believer to function in the world today.  This function, or purpose is demonstrated through words and deeds that align with the nature and mission of God’s Kingdom: it is good news to the poor.  

Jesus demonstrated the nature and mission of God’s Kingdom when He read from the prophet Isaiah.  Luke reminds us:

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (4:18-19)

Within the same chapter, Luke places Jesus saying this: “I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.” (4:43)

  Let me conclude this by commenting on last week’s post. 

Perhaps a reason why we are seeing so many turn away from Christianity in Canada is because ‘we’ (the Church) have drifted away from our essential call, purpose and function in the world.  Perhaps we have been guilty of caring more about human behavioural reform than demonstrating the nature and effectiveness of God’s Kingdom in the communities that we live in.  Perhaps we have cared more about an individuals righteous standing and position than the restoration of others around us.  Perhaps it has been more about us than others.  Maybe we have lost the heartbeat of God’s Spirit to manifest the Kingdom of Jesus.  In fact, God’s Spirit may have been specifically given at Pentecost to accomplish this purpose.  Imagine a world where the Spirit fills all things to the point where it is equal to Christ’s fullness.  Maybe that is exactly the Biblical point, the Spirit’s purpose and the believers profession.  Maybe this is what being a follower of Jesus is really all about.     

In the church that I pastor we are asking and wrestling with these questions.  We are also making some fundamental shifts backwards.  We are returning and re-focusing our message and identity to be aligned with God’s Kingdom.  In other words, we are seeking His Kingdom first.  Radical isn’t it?  But this goes beyond talk, this must be embodied.  

As a church, we have partnered with a community organization that exists to address hunger and support those who feed the hungry.  In 2019 we formalized an agreement with the Kawartha Lakes Food Source (KLFS) to host their new shopping style food bank in our building.  Ten months ago the Lindsay Community Food Market (LCFM) opened its doors, and the results were immediate and immense.  Last month, over 320 guests were helped via the LCFM.  Together we are helping the hungry in our community. 

Further to that point, this past year we have given away over fifty back-to-school backpacks, hundreds of toys at Christmas and fed over 300 people from the community at a special Christmas dinner.  The generosity of local businesses (Giant Tiger, Crayola Canada and Kawartha Bakery) has been incredible.  Together we are helping hundreds of people who are in need.  It reminds me of someone who once said that the Spirit of the Lord was on them to preach good news to the poor.  

I admit that we are early in our journey to become a church that embodies the message of the Kingdom.  I also admit that the initial results have not grown the Sunday morning worship attendance.  In fact, it may even have an adverse affect.  However, I am convinced that we are finally getting back on mission and becoming a group of Christ followers who are connecting with the hurting and the broken.  In short, we are on a mission to figure out what the Kingdom of God looks like through us. 

Perhaps this will help ensure that future generations of Christ followers at our church will continue to operate in the mission of Jesus and do the work of His Kingdom here.  Perhaps then our church will clearly be demonstrating the power of what God has done in us to those around us.  Perhaps then we will not only preach the gospel, but will also embody it.   

This is our journey to be the Church.

 

Maranatha!

Where have all the Christians gone?

In a recent article in Faith Today, some alarming and confirming statistics were shared about the current state of Christianity in Canada.  Alarming due to the staggering percentage losses in weekly church attendance, and confirming because of what many leaders have been stating about the current condition of the church in Canada.  According to the Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Canada (EFC), only 6% of Canadians attend Evangelical churches weekly.  That number is down from 9% (2015) and 12% (1996).  Also according to the survey, it is not the younger generations that are absent.  The EFC estimates that the biggest loss in attendance is from the Silent Generation (1925-1945), and the Boomers (1946-1964).  They report that approximately 57.5% of Boomers and the Silent ones (Silencers?) attended church when they were 12 years old.  Today, only 15% attend weekly.  That is a 42.5% decline in weekly attendance among that demographic.  Narrowing the field to the Boomers only, whose weekly attendance was 53% (at age 12), to now only 11% today, shows a similar percentage loss (42%).  What does all this mean?  Perhaps most staggering is the fact that 50% of Canadians today report no religious affiliation whatsoever.  The question begs to be asked: how has the Evangelical tradition failed so many?

I often hear today that the ‘younger’ people need to step up and take over.  Oftentimes that comes from the lips of senior saints who still attend weekly worship services.  In a church context that often translates to mean that the younger generation better come and do church exactly the same way that we have been doing church.  Well, the numbers seem to suggest that Generations X,Y,Z never really got plugged into the church to begin with.  EFC shows that at age 12, weekly attendance for Gen-X (1965-1981) was 33%, Gen-Y (1982-1996) was 26%, and Gen-Z was 22%.  Today those numbers are 10% (Gen-X), 11% (Gen-Y), and 9% (Gen-Z).  Those numbers suggest only 10% decline along those demographic, compared to the 42% decline in the older generations.  So the question could be asked: where have all the boomers gone?

EFC suggests that the church hasn’t paid enough attention to areas that receive attention.  Our world is a digital, device driven culture.  I would agree that the church in general needs to be using a platform to truly addresses the crowds.  The church definitely needs to rethink how to engage the crowds.  One time some radical even used a fishing boat as a teaching platform instead of the tradition synagogue.  Go figure!  However, for me this problem goes beyond technology to the heart of something bigger: the message of the church has not been Jesus. 

I come from a tradition where church attendance was … well, not an option.  I often say that I had a severe drug problem growing up.  I was drug to church every Sunday.  My parents modelled faithful attendance, as their parents did, and as their parents did.  Yes, I come from a very long line of weekly church attenders.  I also am employed by people who weekly attend church now.  For close to the  past twenty years, my livelihood has been generated by those who weekly attend church.  The recent survey would suggest that future full-time employment at the church may not be all the feasible!  However, that is not the essence of what I want to say.

I mention my heritage and occupation to suggest that my observation is gained from first-hand experience (literally), and that my heart is not negative, cynical or judgmental towards the Church or any particular tradition within her.  I am very thankful for my upbringing and for the positive example my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents modelled.  Perhaps this is why I am writing this article.  I feel a motivation and compelling to call people to experiencing something bigger and greater than weekly services.  I desire for people to encounter the supernatural dimension of God’s Kingdom.

For most of my growing up years in the church, the gospel message seemed to centre on ‘being a good little Christian’.  The old saying was ‘don’t, drink, smoke or chew, or go with girls that do’.  I could also add onto that by saying that there was driven into me a fear of being in certain places, like the billiards halls, movie theatres, and any local pub.  A ‘good’ Christian would not be in those places, and you better not get caught in those places when Jesus returns because you will miss that rapture and go to hell.  That seemed to be the message from the pulpits, books, end-times guests and dramas.  Anyone remember heaven’s gates and hell’s flames?  The message of Christianity seemed to be more about conduct than Kingdom.  Perhaps it is because most, if not all of our Evangelical traditions come from the Protestant tree where many of our church fathers were monks.  The Monastic movement gave birth to much of our mainline thinking and doing (orthodoxy and orthopraxy).  In other words, much of what we have come to embrace about who God is and what living for Him looks like in the world, has come from those who embraced a model of isolation from ‘the world’.  To put this very plainly, perhaps the gospel in the West has been a gospel of moral conformity and behavioural conduct living under an angry God who seeks to punish those who don’t get in line.  Simply stated, perhaps the Western church at large has not been preaching what Jesus preached. 

I am convinced that Jesus only ever preached and embodied one gospel: the gospel of the Kingdom.  In fact, Luke stunningly records Jesus’ following words: 

“I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.” (4:43)

I believe that Luke seems to capture the very essence of why Jesus came.  Think about that statement.  The cooperative union between the Logos, Eternal Father and Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary gave birth to the Christ-child (Jesus of Nazareth) in order for the good news of Gods’s Kingdom be manifested here on earth.  When was the last time you heard that from a pulpit? 

The preaching of ‘good news’ for Jesus was directly linked to a vocal proclamation and visual demonstration of God’s tangible Kingdom.  As you read the Gospels, it seems that everywhere Jesus went, the Kingdom of God was taught and people’s lives were changed.  People were welcomed, healed, set free, transformed and loved.  There are over 162 references to the ‘kingdom’ in the New Testament alone, and the majority of them come from the gospel writers.  You would almost think that Jesus was intentionally modelling a distinct message and practice (orthodoxy and orthopraxy).  Perhaps His words and deeds do matter.  Perhaps Jesus was doing more than simply coming to earth in order for us to go to heaven when we die.  Perhaps Jesus was doing more than simply taking my place and getting me off the hook from an angry God.  Perhaps Jesus was positively fulfilling God’s mission to redeem humanity and the fallen world we live in.  Perhaps Jesus was ushering in a new revolution for humanity.

When reading the Gospels (John, Luke, Matthew and Mark) you can almost envision being in the same room, hillside or table with Jesus.  These are first-hand accounts.  When reading His words, you could almost believe that Jesus was indeed teaching and modelling God’s heart for humanity and creation.  When looking at what He did, you can almost see the breaking in of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven.  When experiencing His love and hearing His call to ‘follow me’, you can almost see yourself saying ‘yes’.

Perhaps this is why the numbers are what the numbers are today.  Perhaps we (the Evangelical church) have not modelled or taught the message of God’s Kingdom.  Perhaps we have simply become a gospel of the Reformation.  Perhaps another protest is needed.  Perhaps more reform should come.    

It’s been said that when a church asks what the Kingdom of God is and then further asks how the Kingdom should drive what we do, and even determine what we pray, that church is asking the right questions.  I find myself asking those questions.  I find myself attempting to implement them where I work.  Regardless, perhaps we all can ask ourselves this question: how am I fulfilling the mission of Jesus here on earth? 

Perhaps that question will motivate and engage people across all demographics to align with Jesus’ way of Life and message of Truth.  Perhaps then the church will be saying and doing what Jesus said and did.  Perhaps then, we will see people choose to follow and fulfill His mission in the world.  Perhaps then we will be the Church instead of attending church.

Maranatha!

 

To read the Faith Today article click the link below:

http://www.faithtoday.ca/Magazines/2020-Jan-Feb/Not-Christian-anymore?fbclid=IwAR0AueVrg-lK8w8tFCUcYCYWv3f3Uu2RoqjpfWU3PUQWXojiorMdE_BSx6Y

Spirit session

I have just come back from a one-week intensive seminary course on Luke-Acts.  I am tired.  I feel that for the past five days my mind and spirit have been working out in the arena of discovery, challenge and learning.  It has been a great week among colleagues and friends.  It has been a great week of growing.

It truly is a pleasure to be part of a creative atmosphere where thoughts and ideas flow from teacher to student and back again.  Our gifted professor taught with passion and purpose.  He poured into our hearts immeasurably more than what we could hope to reciprocate.  The teaching was rich, deep, and rewarding.  You could feel God’s pleasure and presence with us in the room.  We were touching the heart of God as we meditated upon Truth and navigated the material.

Walking through the Lukan narratives (Luke-Acts) allowed us to digest close to twenty-five percent of the entire New Testament (NT) canon.  As a NT writer, Luke is the largest contributor and weaves a very interesting, pneumatic narrative.  In other words, he creates a compelling Spirit story.  His work is a carefully constructed selection of history.  Luke is intentionally telling us important details pertaining to Jesus in order to influence his audience (the reader).  In short, Luke is constructing a selective re-telling of Jesus and the important of being a follower.  He is telling us how to live an empowered, accomplished life here on earth.  He is telling us how to live with the dynamic breath of God, the Holy Spirit.    

In Luke’s narrative it is the Spirit who empowers and enables God’s people to live and function as difference makers here in the world.  It is God’s Spirit who desires to fill, shroud, come upon and overflow from within the life of the believer.  In other words, anyone who believes can receive the empowering presence of the Spirit of Jesus.  It is the Holy Spirit who is the source of all things powerful, rich and real in this world.  It is God’s Spirit who inspires, enables, speaks, reveals, instructs, guides, comforts, constrains, gifts, sends and affirms things in our lives.  The Holy Spirit is the One is able to bring God’s abundant overflow for you and others.  The Spirit is the One who gives life. 

At the end of our class today we had a special time of waiting, praying, seeking and allowing God to speak to the group.  It was special, deep and real.  Classmates raised their voices in prophetic prayer, encouragement and intercession.  The Spirit was speaking, comforting, communicating and transforming us.  My eyes welled with tears.  The Spirit was empowering once again. 

On the drive back home my mind replayed many of the moments, conversations and discussion points that occurred in that classroom.  I return home feeling challenged, encouraged, and somewhat overwhelmed with the upcoming schedule, tasks, duties and responsibilities that await me at work, home and school.  However, I will forever remember the day we stood in God’s Presence as ‘one’ class and allowed the Spirit to speak.  My prayer is that God’s people around the world would experience the same. 

We need God’s Spirit to speak, enable and empower His people everywhere so that we can be His voice and vehicle of blessing here on earth.  In other words, as Jesus followers, we are to be His prophetic witness in world through word and deed to those around us.  This is what I take to heart.  This is what I desire to be.  Holy Spirit come and make me a conduit for Your Presence and Power.  Enable me to speak Your Truth and express Your character.  Empower me to be a witness for Jesus in all that I say and do.  Let the wind of Your presence continue to blow upon my life, family, church and community.

May Your Kingdom come and Will be done on earth as in heaven.

Maranatha.

Kingdom Joy

Growing up I have fond memories associated with Christmas.  I know that this is not always the case, and Christmas can oftentimes be the most depressing time of the year for many.  I am very thankful that my childhood memories of Christmas were positive. 

One of my memories at Christmas was the SEARS catalogue.  We would always get one in the mail it seemed, and every year the three Holtz kids were able to circle some potential gifts that we would want for Christmas.  There were sometimes tense moments between us siblings due to the fact that three pens were ready to mark up the one household catalogue!  Nonetheless, we were all able to make our mark or circle a few gifts ideas that our parents would potentially purchase on one of our annual trips to Ottawa or Peterborough for the Christmas shopping event. 

It is funny how we remember certain things and not others.  There is a running joke in my family that I often do not remember much of my child-hood, and oftentimes am not able to join in on the walk down memory lane.  However, looking back I can most definitely remember sitting and looking through those catalogues and circling with hope and anticipation that some of these highlighted items would be wrapped and placed under the tree for me. 

In our Advent journey as a church family, the upcoming Sunday celebration is about Jesus, our light and joy!

So let me ask this question:  What is joy? OR What brings you joy? 

The answer to that question is obviously vastly different in the mind of a child compared to an adult.  Children may associate joy with a feeling and emotions that are associated with objects and things.  Playing and having fun can be expressions of joy much like receiving a new toy, game or clothing.  The same could also be said for adults who also associate joy with feelings of emotional pleasure or the absence of physical pain and suffering. 

Joy can also be associated with a spiritual element where joy is found in ones ability to walk according to their giftings, abilities and choices in life.  Joy can be a lifestyle of choice and living intentionally so that inward needs are being met through career, vocation and behaviour.

Not matter how you look at it, we can probably all agree that joy is more that simply circling toys in a SEARS catalogue.  It is something much more.

As a follower of Jesus, I believe that joy is indeed something more than feelings, emotions and a sense of fulfillment.  For me, joy is only found in the presence of the living God. 

The Apostle Paul writes that joy is a naturally-supernatural byproduct of the Holy Spirit living inside the follower of Christ.  He says that joy is to be like a fruit growing inside believers, and is also a present spiritual reality associated with God’s very Kingdom (Gal. 5:22, Romans 14:17).  Paul clearly believes that joy is rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

As a New Testament believer, it is paramount for me to believe that the pouring out of God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost forever changed our world and humanity’s ability to currently have a dynamic relationship with our Creator that is instantaneous, progressive and eternal. 

Without getting into too deep of a theological subject, simply consider the Incarnation event itself.  Gabriel’s words to Mary are recorded as this:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

This is the only record of Gabriels announcement to Mary.  Thankfully Luke wrote about it!  Where would we be without Luke’s account of the Nativity.  Or better yet, where would Hallmark be?  Regardless, Luke intentionally writes about the Incarnation, and tells us some incredible details pertaining to the birthing of the Immanuel, “God with us”:  the Incarnation was a Spirit event. 

Notice that the Spirit seems to play a vital role in all of this and brings a divine anointing upon the birthing of the Christ child.  There is no doubt a mysterious thing happening here with the eternal Logos and Spirit coming together in Mary’s womb, but the Spirit is definitely at work here.  In other words, the Incarnation itself is a pneumatological (Spirit) event. 

For the New Testament believer this is crucial because the Bible testifies time and time again that it is the Holy Spirit who brings life.  In fact, Jesus Himself testified that the Spirit is the One who gives life (John 6:63).      

Ok, enough theology talk.  However, having this perspective is very important to living a joy-filled life because I am convinced that real joy is only available through the power of God’s  Spirit.

Consider also what Paul says this in Romans 15:

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

   

Did you catch that?  Paul refers to God as the One who ‘fills’ any believer with joy, hope and peace.  Paul  believes that God not only ‘fills’ the believers with all joy and peace, but there is also an ‘overflow’ that comes via the Spirit!  In other words, divine joy is available because of God’s Spirit, the living ‘God with us’ now.    

What does this mean for your definition or experience of joy?  It means that all other sources or experiences of joy are only temporary and fleeting.  They will not last.  They will fade away and become a distant memory.  Those old SEARS catalogues are long gone and so are the toys that were purchased from it.  The memory is real, but that’s all.  There is no lasting joy from it.    

The only real, genuine, life-giving joy comes from the God of the Israel; the God Hebrews; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of the Bible; Yahweh, the Great I AM. 

The Bible is a testimony to the Who and What real joy is and looks like.  The Bible is a written witness about the loving God who came to bring humanity back to Himself and change our minds about Him in the process.  The Incarnation is living proof of this.  The announcement is clear.  The purpose is stated:  good news of great joy. 

You see, Yahweh is a God of love, compassion and mercy.  His goal is to bring peace on earth and blessed favour amidst the chaos and darkness of night.  His light shines and brings seeking humanity to it.  His anthem is good news of great joy for all people because His Messiah, Jesus Christ has been given to all people.  Through Jesus, Yahweh has provided the only Way, Truth and Life so that all people, everywhere would be able to experience His abundant life here and forevermore. 

Simply stated, joy is found in Jesus.  He is light and joy.  This means three things for me. 

This means that the source of my joy is not in things, but in the presence of the living God.  This is good news.  God’s ability and awesomeness goes way beyond my limited, natural comprehension.  God dwells in eternity and His energy is infinite and inexhaustible.  He is the well that never runs dry.    

This means that the substance of my joy is not based upon feelings, emotions or circumstances.  The substance of my joy is found in the Personhood of God.  The Trinity is indeed a mystery to us.  We have formulated and theologized what we think the God-head is over the centuries, and the theory of the Trinity has become orthodox.  Whatever you think about the Godhead, there seems to be a cooperative fellowship within the Trinity that is rooted in divine love.  This divine love exists between Father, Spirit and Son.  This divine love is the substance of my joy.  Knowing that I am loved by God brings me joy.  Knowing that there is nothing I can do to gain more or lose His love for me is a marvel.  All in all, my joy flows from the divine love of God.    

This means the stance of my joy is other people focused.  Within the Incarnation the marvellous mystery of the Godhead came together in cooperative fellowship to birth the God/man Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  We refer to this awe inspiring event as the Immanuel event or the ‘God with us’ advent.  His first coming was based upon the mission to reconcile the world and restore humanity to His goodness and loving mercy.  The Logos became flesh so that humanity would be redeemed from its dark, chaotic existence.  The stance of my joy is likewise positioned.  My joy needs to impact others and flow towards the hurting, broken and wounded.  It is not enough to be happy and joyous within myself alone.  My joy needs to affect others positively.  It needs to be other people focused. 

This time of year can generate many different thoughts and opinions about life, meaning and happiness.  My prayer is that everyone will come to know the joy of the Lord.  He is my strength and He can also be yours. 

Maranatha!

Kingdom Peace

How would you describe an untroubled life?  In the ancient world, philosophers would debate about how a person would achieve a life of serenity against the ‘shattering blows’ and ‘petty pinpricks’ of this world. 

Today, serenity almost seems to be a lost possession.  We are continually inundated with a technologically fast paced society and rat race culture.  There seems to be a plethora of shattering blows and a massive gathering or cushion of pins waiting to jab us.  However, even in a non-digital ancient world, two things were identified in the life of humanity which made it impossible to achieve serenity back then:  inner tension and external worry.  Have things really changed today? 

The Bible tells us about a situation where the disciples were having a moment of inner tension and external worry.  It came after the resurrection and is recorded in Luke’s gospel. 

Luke tells us that Jesus shows up, stood among them and speaks ‘Peace’ (24:36).  Jesus literally speaks ‘peace’ right in the middle of the disciples fear, worries and troubles.  In a nut-shell, you could say that the disciples whole world had just been turned upside down and sideways due to the fact that Jesus was killed.  Roman authorities and Jewish religious leaders would now also be all too eager to put away any people associated with this latest ‘Messiah’ movement.  Rome had a way of dealing with Messiah-type people and all those who followed.  They crucified every one of them.  Jewish leaders would also like to rat out any potential blasphemers too.  You could say that the crucible the disciples were in, could legitimately produce some inner tension and external worry!    

Nonetheless, Jesus shows up and asks them ‘why’ doubts were arising in their hearts that He was alive? 

Before they could respond, Jesus shows them living proof and allows them to physically experience the reality of His presence.  However, Luke still admits that the disciples, even though they were joyous, could still not believe (24:41).  It seemed as though the risen Jesus was almost too good to be true. 

My take on this encounter is that the disciples were all a bit of an emotional mess.  There was worry, doubt, fear, belief, confusion, extreme joy and disbelieve all at once!  Talk about a thoroughly confused group of believers.

Thankfully Jesus does not leave them in this dazed and confused state.  He opens their minds, teaches them, and eventually blesses them (24:45-50).  He also reminds them that He will be sending them the Holy Spirit too! 

So, in this situation filled with inner tension and external worry, Jesus stands, speaks, asks, shows, opens, teaches, and blesses.  It all started with His original pronouncement of peace, and then tangibly impacts their situation by engaging with them.  In other words, real peace is only found in His living Presence. 

Today, we no longer live in only a post-resurrection world.  We live in a post-Pentecost world.  What does that mean?  It means that the Spirit has been sent, and we are now able to experience the very same reality of Jesus’ living Presence through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps this is why Paul says that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).  It is God’s Spirit who makes the living reality of King Jesus available to you today.   

If you are having moments of inner tension and external worry consider inviting Jesus into the middle of it.  He seems to have that ability.  Also, allow Him to speak to you through Spirit and Truth.  Reading Scripture is a great way to accomplish both of those things together.  During this Advent season, consider reflecting upon some passages filled with hope, peace and joy.  I will include a link to an excellent resource below. 

As you read Scripture be prepared for a conversation to happen internally as you dialogue with Jesus about the situation you are in.  He may even open your mind to help you understand yourself and Him better than before.  Imagine the possibility of your mind being transformed!  What a novel idea.

Furthermore, the reality of His supernatural presence will be made known to you. This is something we all need and can only come via the Spirit’s power.  Ask the Holy Spirit to make Jesus real in your life.  Trust me, it’s a good thing and it will change your life for the better. 

Finally, it encourages me that Jesus is not overly bothered by the range of human emotions running amuck in the room.  He lovingly displays the realty of who He is and tangibly demonstrates the realness of His presence.  This demonstration also does one vital more thing for the disciples: It allows them to follow Jesus out of the room.  In other words, Jesus leads them away from the place of inner tension and external worry.

Luke ends his gospel by saying that the disciples were able to return to their community, worship with others and bless God (24:53).  What a dramatic turn around.  What was possible for them is possible for us.  Jesus makes all the difference in the world.  Literally. 

Give Him the opportunity to lead you away from places of tension and worry.  Allow Him to lead you forward and bring you into a better place.  It is possible because of the reality of His powerful presence that operates in the world today through Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit who brings life, joy and peace to all who, ask, seek and knock.  It is yours to receive.  Open the door and let Him in.  Jesus can make all the difference in your world.   

     

Maranatha!   

 

Click this link to view Andrew Gabriel’s Advent Readings for families:

Advent Candle Readings for Families with Children