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

How much fun are you to live with?

If you were to throw a party, what would your guest list look like?  I know that we’ve all been there.  We mentally go through and asses the type of people we want to invite.  In other words, we want to be around people who are fun-loving, genuine, and caring.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt if they are cheery, hopeful and positive. 

Growing up I pretty much only had a handful of friends.  Truthfully, throughout my high school years I could narrow it down to only one guy.  His name was Vince.  Vince and I met probably around the grade ten year.  Neither of us can pin-point to an exact time, but it helped that my mother (who was a teacher) had taught Vince in public school.  There was a certain familiarity we shared because Vince was one of my mothers favourites. 

Throughout high school Vince and I shared many hours walking the hallways and chatting with pretty much anyone.  Everybody loved Vince because he was always positive, fun, energetic and honest.  He was a high school phenom and was an incredible rugby player.  In fact, he was most-likely responsible for the success of rugby at our school.  I never played rugby, but regardless of the sport, Vince always seemed to be the straw that stirred the drink.  He was the embodiment of school spirit.  I was proud to be his friend, and even though he was shorter than most, he was a giant in many ways.   

Throughout the years Vince and I stayed connected in and out of school.  We fished and hunted together often.  We went sledding (that’s snowmobiling, not tobogganing by the way) and even jet-skied the ocean together.  On one of our very successful fishing days we even talked about starting up our own Fishing Charter Company.  That would have been fun.

As we got older, we were able to be in each other’s wedding parties, and connected a couple of times socially with our young children.  However, throughout the years our families have grown and our time is often spent on them.  Months have turned into years,  but if there’s one person who I can count on to always be there for me, it’s Vince.  He actually drove over three hours on a week-end to come help fix my furnace.  He’s a one of kind gem, and he reminds me of Jesus. 

We are told that the very first miracle Jesus performed was at a wedding.  Jewish weddings were big-time celebrations and festive events.  We know that Jesus was invited, and so were His closest friends.  He made the list.  As the evening unfolds, Jesus is made aware that the host was running short on drinks.  Mary must have found out, or had been told because she knew Who could do something about it.

We all know the rest of the story.  If not, you can read about it in John 2.  Here’s the point.  Jesus was at the party because He was on the guest list.  He and the disciples were invited.  But not only was He present, Jesus also brought new life to the party in a divine way.  John says that Jesus displayed His glory for the very first time at a party.  Interesting.

I wonder how many “Christians” are intentionally left off of party lists because they bring anything but God’s glory into the room.  Could it be that it’s because they bring judgement, negativity, criticalness and the message of moral conformity into the atmosphere.  We all know a Larry Legalist and a Fundamental Freda who seem to drain all the joy, happiness and life out of everyone around them.  But this is something Jesus never does.  His gospel is actually good news and doesn’t seem to focus on negative legalism.

The point is that Jesus was desirable to be around, and people sought His company.  He was likeable and adored by children.  Social outcasts flocked to Him in droves.  I personally believe it was because Jesus was very friendly, positive, fun, energetic and honest.  More than that, Jesus embodied the divine love of God.  He loved people radically and attracted those that had been rejected by the prevailing religious system. 

Here’s my point.  First Century believers were radically different from any type of defined religion because they did not fit into any defined and accepted form.  In fact, early Rome deemed these Jesus followers to be atheists because of it.  They were literally breaking the traditional mould.  Maybe it was because Jesus didn’t fit the mould either.  Truthfully, He actually tore it wide open. 

I am thankful for my friendship with Vince and what he means to me.  He is someone who reminds me of what God is like through Jesus.  He is someone who makes my party list every time and is always ready to help when needed with a positive outlook and smile.  Vince may have never turned water into wine, but he never fails to fill up empty spaces with his love and kindness.  According to Psalm 63, that seems to be the essential qualities of God’s divine life.  Perhaps we could all use a little bit more of that in our lives everyday.

Thanks for the reminder Vince.

 

Maranatha!

P.S.  By the way, if I ever throw a party, Vince your in!

Kingdom Awakening

Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”  Revelation 21:5

Have you ever had a morning where you woke up totally refreshed, fully rested and feeling so good that it almost felt surreal?  I had one of those moments years ago that I will never forget. 

I was on staff at a church as the assistant pastor.  I woke up one morning feeling completely refreshed and feeling absolutely amazing.  I poked around the house getting my coffee ready and was enjoying this great moment when I began to think to myself, ‘Something is not right … what am I forgetting?’  It then dawned on me that this was Sunday morning!  Worse still, church was about to start.  Thankfully, I was living in the parsonage that sat adjacent to the church property.  I literally ran over approximately 7 minutes before the start of the service.  Some of the board members and youth leaders were waiting with for me with smiling faces as they realized what was happening.  Pastor Joel had slept in.  Thankfully it was one of those rare Sundays that I was not involved with music, so my absence was not that noticeable until the main service was about to begin.  They all had a good laugh at me running over in my suit while tucking in my shirt.  I later learned that they were taking wagers to see if I would actually make it on time or at all.  All in all, they were really good about it, and my senior pastor laughed it off but said that I had better not do that again!  I haven’t since. 

In John’s gospel we read about a conversation that Jesus had with a very prominent religious man named Nicodemus.  We are told that Nicodemus was a highly esteemed and devout Pharisee who was not only an expert in studying the Scriptures, but also sat among the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin were ruling members of the Jewish community that essentially interpreted the Torah and other Jewish laws that pertained to Jewish events and people. 

In this conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus makes a bold statement about the need for Nicodemus to awaken to the reality of God’s Kingdom.  For this to occur, Nicodemus would need to experience something new.  Jesus said this: “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 

Jesus essentially tells Nicodemus he needed to be remade.

One of the promises that the Risen Christ declares about Himself is this very thing.  In Revelation we are told that Jesus is the One who makes all things new (Rev 21:5).  In fact, when John writes out this apocalyptic vision of Jesus, he makes sure to tell us that the ‘newness’ of Jesus is something that is happening now and will continue to happen.  The verb making is in the active, present tense. 

Also, the word that John uses for ‘new’ is kainos, which means a newness in quality or essence (rather than time).  That word also seems to hint and link our new lives in Christ now with God’s ultimate renewal involving creation. But what does all this have to do with Kingdom Awakening and Nicodemus? 

I am convinced that Jesus only preached one gospel.  I am also convinced that He sent out His followers to only preach the one, same gospel.  What gospel is that?  The gospel of the Kingdom of God.   

The gospel writers tell us time and time again that Jesus came preaching this one very thing.  It seems to be His only message.  In other words, the Kingdom of God seems to be God’s good news to humanity.  If the gospel is good news, and the Kingdom of God is the gospel, then what good news should we be preaching?

Here’s the thing.  I cannot help but to think that the Western Church has drifted away from this central message.  In fact, I believe that most traditions within Western Christianity preach a specific Reformed theological worldview more than the Biblical worldview of God’s Kingdom. 

I have recognized this within my own Pentecostal tradition.  We often talk about people getting ‘saved’ and being ‘filled with The Spirit’ in a moment in time with little emphasis for the continued newness in quality and essence that is to accompany the ongoing work of Jesus within.  Furthermore, our focus often is individualistic and neglectful of creation itself. In other words, people often refer to their personal salvation as something done in a moment in time rather than a continued journey of Kingdom newness that is linked to a greater reality.  For that matter, the Kingdom of God itself is a subject that we often neglect in our post-Reformation theological worldview.  We have seemingly forgotten about the only message that came from heaven.

I am thankful that God is stirring in me a passion for His Kingdom once again.  At our church we are attempting to realign ourselves with the gospel of the Kingdom and implement a Kingdom worldview for our church and all who attend.  We want God’s Kingdom to be a present spiritual reality for every believer and our church (Romans 14:17).  We also believe that the preaching of God’s Kingdom brings a demonstration of God’s supernatural Presence and Power that affects our physical and spiritual reality.  Just ask some of our people who have experienced God’s supernatural healing power in our services.  From dizziness, aches, pains and sickness being healed to legs miraculously growing and crutches being left behind; God is accompanying the gospel of the Kingdom by healing the sick, releasing the oppressed and establishing His favour among us.

As a church we believe and pray for an awakening to happen for those Nicodemus-like people who are lost in a religious worldview that is void of God’s life-bringing Spirit.  We are also believing for an awakening to happen for those lost in their own surreal world of day-dreams and slumber.  We are believing for an awakening to happen in our personal lives, families, church and community.  We are believing for God’s Kingdom to manifest on earth as in heaven. 

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!  This is what we are asking ourselves at Calvary these days.  This is the path we choose:  May Your kingdom come and will be done on earth as in heaven

Maranatha! 

I used to go to church

With the ever changing landscape in Canada continuing to embrace a lifestyle and worldview that is void of absolutes, more and more people are moving away from any sort of centralized thinking and behaviour.  In fact, you could almost say that any type of message that believes in an absolute truth or champions a moral standard is viewed as being anti-cultural.  Viewed this way, such a message is often deemed restrictive and treated with hostility and anger.[1] What is the church to do?  How are we going to evangelize a culture that views the gospel message negatively and with potential hostility?

Enter stage left, a young student who grew up going to Sunday school and was told various stories about God.  Now, being challenged with alternative options and viewpoints, they almost feel lost and drowning amid the rising tide of voices.

Enter stage right, a young family parent who also grew up going to church, walked away from it during most of their college and young adult life, but now have children who are being taught a very different curriculum than years gone by.  They begin to wonder what’s really true.

Standing stage centre is a senior adult who also used to go to church, but has since walked away from any such belief in a superior being beyond what the natural mind can understand.

Do you know anyone like this?  I do.  There are acres of them in the community I live in.  So what can be done?  What can the church do?

Depending on who you ask, the answers are various.  Thom Rainer in his book, ‘Autopsy of a Deceased Church’ calls for churches to assess their level of sickness and radically change their  inward, preserving focus and embrace the work and call of the Great Commission to go and reach those around them.

Samuel Chand, Ed Stetzer, Frank Damazio and others realize that a church’s culture can and will trump any type of vision each and every time, or to put it another way: church culture eats pastoral vision for breakfast![2]  For them, a church cannot move forward until the culture inside has changed, transformed and is willingly moving forward strategically together.

Also, there are obviously still some voices that speak to past glory and believe that if we continue to do what we we’ve always done, things are bound to get better and revival will happen.

We all know what the definition of insanity is.  If not, please look it up and stop listening to those who say that all we need to do is to keep doing what we’ve always done.  Please take your head out of the sand and look around at the landscape of our nation.

I came to this realization perhaps later than most.  As a fourth-generation Pentecostal byproduct, there was much that I needed to unlearn.  It seems that the more I learn about God, the more unlearning needs to happen.  It’s called the unlearning curve, and it is still happening daily for me.  I’ve also discovered that what Pelikan said about Christian tradition was correct: ‘tradition is the living faith of the death, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.’  I wonder what most of those who have given up on church have come to experience?  Is it a living faith, or dead traditions?  Has the church embraced a form of traditionalism?  What breaks my heart is that it seems as though millions in our nation have given up on the living God.

You see I believe that the Bible portrays a wonderful portrait of humanity’s exposure to, belief in and oftentimes bewilderment in trying to figure out this God who is alive, speaks and acts in our world.  How is it that God being ‘wholly other’ has decide to love us, be for us, and actually come to earth and live among us?  How is it that ‘we’ (humanity) can come to know, feel, hear, taste, touch, and even smell what this God is like?  Furthermore, what does this God want with me, where is this all going, and how does this all end?  Oh, and is my pet, Starbucks, grandpa, and grandma going to be there in the great beyond?

These are great questions that the Bible can help us understand, but I am afraid that ‘we’ (the church) have not been so good at answering them.  In fact, perhaps we have been communicating a message that looks more like a conservative political agenda than anything else.

Let me ask this, true or false: whoever tells the best story wins the day?  Most would say true!  Well, ‘church’ what does our nation say about who is telling the better story?

Here is where I will end for now.  My deep conviction and heart’s cry is this:  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Israel; the God of the Bible whose one and only Messiah is Jesus Christ; is the only living, loving, and liberating God.  His Name is Yahweh.  Yahweh is God and no god is like Him.  He is merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness.  He loves to love and deeply cares about us.  His Word is Faithful and True, and He has poured His Spirit out upon all humanity so that we can come to experience Him and His Kingdom.

The question that I continue to ask those who are standing on the proverbial stage mentioned above is this:  Have you ever experienced God’s Kingdom and have you ever experienced His Holy Spirit here on earth?  I often receive blank stares.  Spirit?  Kingdom? What’s that?

The path that I am on today is one that specifically views God through the lens of Spirit and Kingdom.  In fact, Steven Land would agree that Pentecostal Spirituality is indeed a passion for God’s Kingdom.[3]  A challenge moving forward is that the Christian Church has two main theological traditions that are modelled for our culture: a systematizing tradition (Aquinas, Barth, Augustine, Calvin etc.) and an experienced, non-systematic tradition (Munzter, Kierkegaard, Unamuno etc.)[4].  This is not a thrashing of any tradition, nor an elevation of one over the other, but is a call to evaluate what perhaps in needed.

When Jesus called out to those around Him, the ask was to follow Him.  Follow.  Not study, analyze, sit, converse, and believe in only.  It was a journey of going, experience, testimony, wonder, confusion, trials, joy, suffering, love and deep fulfillment.  People were fed, prayed for, healed, loved, talked to, and even partied with.  Jesus was a friend to all.  His message was His lifestyle.  According to Theocracy, you could even say that Jesus was a rockstar!  This is something that Christianity can offer and bring to those searching for something real, meaningful and ‘wholly other’ beyond themselves.  Christianity is a living experience with the living God.  It is a ‘wholly other’ God engaging with my ‘whole’ being.

My prayer is that ‘we’ (followers of Jesus) will return to the wonder and amazement of our wonderful, amazing God who wants to meet us, love us and lead us.

My prayer is that those who know us will come to know Jesus through by His Spirit in whom we live, move and have our being.

My aim, goal and desire is for the church to be a breeding ground for people to experience God and His Kingdom.

I hunger for God’s wholly-other-supernatural-wildness to break-in, overwhelm, change, transform and conform my reality and worldview to His!

I want the power of God to come and agitate the city that I live in so that the culture of the church and community will look more like the culture of God’s Kingdom.

I desire to see His Kingdom come and Will be done on earth as in heaven.

This is my story.  This is my journey.  This is my Pentecost.

 

Maranatha!

 

 

 

 

[1] Timothy Kellar, from his speech at a convention addressing the challenges facing evangelism today.

[2] See Chand’s ‘Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code’; Stetzer’s ‘Comeback Churches’, ‘Transformational Church’; Damazio’s ‘Strategic Vision’, ‘Strategic Church’, and ‘Gateway Church’.

[3] Stephen Jack Land, ‘Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion For The Kingdom’

[4] ibid

The Oaks of Laura

On August 11th, 2019 at the age of 96, Laura Marion (Sutherland) Faught transitioned from this world into the next. She was beloved by all who knew her, and adored by many. She was a true gem. Her caring light was bright. Many were drawn to her. She was a darling wife, a loving mother and friend. To me, she was Grandma.

My earlier memories of Grandma trace back to a farmstead with a white-house and adjacent barns. Visiting Grandma always meant adventure, fun and home-made pie. Grandma made some of the best pies in the Ottawa Valley. A young child could be tempted into faking an illness just so that they could skip school and spend time there. In fact I did on more than one occasion. Her Osceola driveway never looked so good to a young boy who loved the outdoors, time away from school and homemade pie. Besides, who else had a Grandma who would take out the .22’s and do some target practice. Surely this must be heaven.

Through all my growing years Grandma was a steady, safe and secure woman that I looked up to. She gave priceless nuggets of advice and words of wisdom inspired from above. One could tell that she had connections that went beyond this world. She modelled a faith that was obvious, honest, genuine and sincere. She believed in the God of the Bible and praised the Name of Jesus.

Time and time again, a popular phrase would roll off her lips with sincerity and goodness. Whether she was alone in her rocking chair drinking a tea, or listening to someone pray, Grandma would often say, ‘Praise You Jesus’. I will never forget that phrase or how she said it. They were the sweetest of words, from the sweetest of hearts about the sweetest of Saviours. It was as if the angelic hosts of heaven were speaking praises to God’s Messiah through her. In fact, I truly believe she was joining in on the worship chorus of the cosmos. She was bringing her glory to King Jesus.

As time passed along, this young boy grew older and times together with Grandma looked a little different. The .22 repeater did not come out as often, but conversations around eternal matters sure hit the mark. We would talk a lot about life and family. She was the hub for many spokes in the family wheel, and was the central point of contact between her five children, eleven grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren. My own three (great-grandchildren) adored her at every moment. They loved the way she dressed and how she always complimented them. Every time we visited ‘Nanna’, she was always amazed at how they had grown and how they look so much like their mother! For that I am glad.

Recent times with Grandma were filled with singing and reminiscing about times gone by.  My girls would often sing for her, and she especially enjoyed their version of In The Sweet Bye and Bye. We sang it today at her funeral service. Nanna loved to hear them sing, and they loved to sing for her. She would look so pleased listening and comment on the grandness of their ability. ‘My that’s grand’ she would often say. I think they all grew an inch in height after every visit due to the encouragement they received and words of affirmation spoken. Grandma always had an encouraging word and a treat to go along with it. We will miss those times. They were rich moments lavished by her genuine love and care.

In the Bible, God’s people are referred to as ‘oaks of righteousness’. As ‘trees’ God’s people are planted by the Lord Himself to bring Him glory (Isaiah 61:3). If there ever was a verse in the Bible that described this wonderful lady, it is this one. Not only because of her love of trees (and disdain for any beaver or chainsaw that came near one), but because trees symbolize strength, steadfastness and stability. Not only that, oak trees replicate their very lives in the acorns that they drop. Laura Faught was such a tree.

I am a proud descendent from her tree. Together with Elmer Faught, they planted a tree within the Faught orchard of God’s Kingdom. From this tree, five acorns have fallen and produced trees of their own. I am a descendent of one of those acorns (Shawna), who also produced three life bearing trees. My very own mother is a replica of the original tree that gave her life. The acorn did not fall far from Laura’s tree, and in so many ways I was raised by two oaks of righteousness. Today, my family continues to grow and resemble the oaks of Laura. She has replicated her life within us and has modelled heavens agenda for how we are to live and grow.

I had the privilege to lead her committal service today. I shared some of these thoughts there. I spoke as one among many others who have also experienced the richness of knowing Laura. A truth I also shared there and believe is that this is not the end of Grandma’s life or story. Laura lives today in the divine Presence of Jesus and His Paradise. As one of God’s people, she is receiving the very same promise that Jesus gave to a dying thief who acknowledged the Lordship of Christ. She is enjoying the paradise of the Risen King.

What this looks like and how this happens still remains a mystery to us who are still on the temporal side of life. But let me make this certainly clear, God did not need another angel, nor did my Grandma become a star in the galaxy or a drop in an ocean of non-existence. My Grandma is fully alive and is experiencing all the blessedness of Jesus’ love and goodness as we speak. In fact, she’s not the only one. She has joined a great cloud of witnesses that continually receive others until the end of the age when the Day of Resurrection occurs. At that time, her physical body will raised to a new, resurrected, ultimate reality. What was once corruptible will become incorruptible. What was once dishonoured will become glorified. What was weak will be strong. What was natural will be supernatural. It will happen in a thinking of an eye when the dead in Christ are raised. This is the the trunk of Grandma’s oak tree and the Source of her strength, steadfastness and stability. Her roots have always been connected to the life giving flow and hope found in Jesus, who is the True Vine, David’s Root and the Branch of Jesse.

Looking to my own tree and three little acorns, I realize how blessed I am to be part of such a great orchard that is connected to God’s Vineyard. Looking back I will fondly remember the years, conversations, and moments spent on this side of eternity with my loving Grandmother. I look forward to the time when I will see her again in eternity. There may not be any .22’s to shoot up there, but I am sure there will be tea for us to enjoy together. Regardless, there will be eons of time to catch up, reminisce and enjoy each others company once again.

Until then, I will continue to follow in my Grandma’s footsteps and call upon the Name of Jesus as she did. I will praise His Name while drinking tea, enjoying the outdoors or in times of prayer. He is worthy to be praised. He is the King of Kings.

Maranatha!

In need of a break

I haven’t written much online in the preceding weeks. I am not sure why. It could be one of those things that gets pushed to the back burner when other pressing things become more urgent. In fact, the months of June and July have blown by in a furious pace. I really don’t know where the time went, but I know that I went to the Gaspe on a mission trip, hosted a special retreat week-end, organized The Big Give Event in Lindsay, ran a two-week basketball program, became certified as a basketball level 2 coach, and finished another seminary online course. I guess you could say that I did not have much extra time to blog.

You could also say that I am tired. I am.

Thankfully starting on July 29th I will be on holidays for two-weeks. Each summer we escape to the regions of the north for a two-week hiatus from technology and people. I love it. I look forward to quiet mornings on the lake fishing, and meals together with the family on the deck. I look forward to reading while drinking a morning coffee that’s been perked on the propane stovetop. Best of all, I look forward to no electricity, no cell service and no Wifi.

In those type of contexts I feel as if my spirit comes alive and my soul is refreshed. It is hard to explain to those who cannot fathom the scene or an afternoon without the internet. However, I need those times.

During my recent online seminary course we were asked to do a personality test. It was intriguing and eye opening for me. I had never done one. I discovered that my classification was an ‘Assertive-Advocate’ type personality (INFJ-A). That means that my individual traits lean more towards being Introverted – 53%, Intuitive – 59%, Feeling – 72%, Judging – 68%, Assertive – 76%. Much of these ‘rankings’ have to do with how my mind, body and soul engage, process and deal with those around me and the environments that I am in. They also indicate what I need to do in order to recharge.

You see, almost two years ago I was perhaps at one of the lowest points in my life and ‘career’ (if you can call pastoring a career). Without going down that road again, I can honestly say that I had just come through the most emotional, intense, bewildering, challenging and gut-wrenching years in all of my experiences with people and churches to date. Many in the church today have no idea of what ‘really went on’ and that’s fine. However, those five years took a toll, and beat my spirit down to the point where all I could see was nothing good. Imagine a pastor thinking, feeling and believing that! It’s true. But those years are behind me, and I am taking positive and more informed steps to wholeness and recovery.

The interesting thing about my personalty test is that it revealed that I was just over the line towards being an ‘introvert’ (53%). Huh. I would have never guessed that because I enjoy meeting new people, am not awkward in crowds and feel very comfortable around and in front of others. But that is not what makes an introvert and introvert. It turns out that my mental energy reserves can quickly become exhausted in high stimuli and social environments. In order to replenish them, I need solitude and silence.

That fact (and others) were very liberating for me. It almost allows me to positively engage ‘who I am’ without the need to feel bad about it or apologize. This is who God made me and how I am wired. Another interesting fact about ‘me’ is that I can become extremely bored, disappointed and disconnected due to the drain of the mundane. To put it plainly, I bore easily with the status quo and routines that are based around life-less tradition. Having those individual traits while being employed within a ‘religious’ workplace can definitely have its challenges. But that’s not the point of this blog. The point is that I am ready for something more.

One of the current debates within my ‘fellowship’ is a revitalizing process that is addressing much of what we have been thinking, living and doing as followers of God. Part of this revitalizing means the we examine ‘what we believe and why’. Imagine a group of dedicated Christ followers actually going back to the Bible to reevaluate the articulation of doctrine. I believe that a reforming movement was brought on by such a thing a few hundred years ago by a few key individuals and statements.

I truly find this revitalization vision refreshing and encouraging. There are those who obviously oppose. However, being a fourth generation Pentecostal kid, there is something within me that seeks to push the envelope to discover the wildness of God.

Coming from this ‘tradition’ means that I know nothing more than the reality and drive to encounter God via His Spirit. Being a Pentecostal meant that we specifically chose to engage God’s World and Mission through the lens of His charismatic and empowering Spirit. Having roots within the movement of Pentecost meant that believers cared more about what God’s Spirit was doing in the world and through our lives than anything else. What mattered was the fresh wind and blowing of God’s Spirit upon the worship meeting, gatherings, preaching and altar calls. I grew up on this stuff. It is in my DNA.

Having now pastored full-time since graduating in 2000, and serving as a lead pastor for the past 13 years, I can say that revitalization is definitely needed within our Denomination. From my experience and lens, much of our Denomination has settled into a religious routine that looks, feels, smells and sounds like much of the same. Regardless of our non-traditional past, Pentecostals in Canada have seem to become comfortable to fit within mainline Church tradition and embrace Evangelicalism as the be all and end all. But in my opinion, that is not ‘who’ we are.

This is not a guilt trip, manipulation or a stone being thrown in any direction other than at me. You see, I too have become somewhat comfortable or complacent in my own understanding, theology and expression of God’s life here on earth. Much of this, for me, is rooted in our comfortable theology.  Whether it is about the end of days and a hope of being rescued from any and all tribulation, or the belief that ‘we are right and others are wrong’; much of Pentecostalism places its blessed hope in a secret coming for the ‘right ones’ rather than His Second Coming for His Bride. Regardless of your perspective on eschatology, the mentality of ‘sitting back’ and ‘waiting’ to be ‘raptured’ ought to go against the very s/Spirit within us.  Are we not to be God’s empowering witness that wins the world?

When Jesus was asked to summarize all the Old Testament rules and regulations, His response was rather short and pointed. Love God and love others. As a Pentecostal, what does this mean or look like? It means that we have God’s Spirit available within us to speak the language of the culture around.  On the day of Pentecost this happened. At Azusa street this happened. At the Hebden Mission it happened. The Spirit was speaking and the bonds of love were breaking down the social divide. A comment coming from the Azusa street revival was that ‘the color line has been washed away in the blood’. In other words, the Spirit was tearing down walls of separation that had been built up by the world. People were hearing a radical message of unity, love and acceptance. People were encountering a radical, wild Spirit that was transforming their very life. Is this not the path of the Spirit? This is the path I choose.  I choose the way of love.

This past week I wrapped up a two-week basketball program that allowed me to invest myself into a group of young people from the community. One of the intentional events within the program is a give back opportunity. As a group we collected items and visited a local food bank to do some cleaning, re-stocking and general help. It was an opportunity to lead young people to express love, care and concern for others. I hope, pray and trust that this give back event and my talks to them throughout the two-week program will make a difference in their lives for eternity. Each athlete heard about how they were given a talent by God, and that my desire as their coach was to try and make them not only better basketball players, but better individuals and members of their community. I pray that they all felt build up and encouraged. My hope is that they would view, accept and believe that is on their side and is for them in this world. I pray that I will be able to meet them again and lead them into deeper waters.

Heading away on holidays will be a welcomed time to reflect and critically engage in matters of life, ministry and the Mission of God. I am looking forward to hearing from and allowing Spirit to speak. I need it, my family need it and so does my community. Now more than ever, the Spirit of God needs to break down dividing walls and usher us into the dynamic realm of fellowship, love and unity within our communities. Now more than ever we need to push past the mundane traditions and embrace the passionate life of God’s Spirit and Mission. Now more than ever we need to embrace the newness of our God and allow His Spirit to lead us to His life-flowing springs and river. Now more than ever we need to join the Spirit and call for Jesus to come!

I have said enough for now and have more than made up for the previous weeks. Please pray for me if you can. Please pray for my family. Pray also for the church I pastor and the community we live in. The road ahead has some very real challenges, and unique opportunities. I believe that God has poured out His Spirit upon me so that I can accomplish and fulfill His Mission in the world. I believe that His Spirit has been emptied upon you and others too. Wherever you are and whatever you do, please believe, trust, and ask the Reigning King of the Cosmos to open, give and speak to you. He does for me, and He will for you.

Until next time.

Maranatha!

Ten year olds and tongues of fire

I am a fourth generation ‘classical’ Pentecostal from the conservative Ottawa Valley.  Pembroke to be exact.  Growing up and attending church my whole life has allowed me to appreciate many things about God, family, and of course my Pentecostal tradition.  Indeed I am thankful for the Holtz/Faught generational tree that has roots that run deep into the things of God and the moving of His Spirit. As a boy I have fond memories of attending church with my family and sitting with my grandparents during service.  While the worship service took place, my grandfather Elmer would at times be moved upon by God’s Spirit to speak forth in tongues and prophecy.  This I remember well and treasure.  The moving of God’s Spirit was often accompanied by these vocal gifts which the Apostle Paul talks about within his letter the church in Corinth, a church who did not lack any spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 1:7). 

However, as much as I appreciate my heritage within the Pentecostal tradition, there are things today that I need to unlearn.

Approaching Pentecostal Sunday has typically been a time when the good old Pentecostal ‘initial-evidence’ distinctive of Spirit baptism as ‘tongues’ would be emphasized within the sermon or message that I would give.  After all, is this not what Pentecost is all about?  After a conversation with my 10 year old son this week, I realize the magnitude of the unlearning curve ahead of me.   

Truth be told, I have not been saddling or saturating my references to the moving of God’s Spirit with ‘tongues’ terminology when I speak or preach for the past few years.  In fact, when I reference God’s Spirit, other words like creation, life, witness, mission, empowered speech, kingdom and love seem to outnumber the glossolalia ones.  But that discussion is for another time, and thankfully is being looked at by the Fellowship I belong to.  The task at hand in this blog is to examine my youngest child’s reference to what the Holy Spirit is up to and can do in the world today. 

When talking about what Holy Spirit does in the world, I was told that all the Holy Spirit can do is put ‘tongues of fire on your head’.  This is what came out of my son’s mouth when we talked about what Holy Spirit was up to today.  In other words, what came to my son’s mind when I mentioned Holy Spirit was most likely some drawing or artwork that he saw in Sunday school that illustrated what Luke was writing about in Acts 2. 

When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech.  Acts 2:1-4 HCSB)

I give Luke utmost credit in his desire and ability to accurately reflect, capture and report to us what happened on this very important day over two thousand years ago.  Luke’s specific and intentional charismatic theology is very useful and helpful when reflecting upon the purpose and point of God’s Spirit being poured out.  Canadian Pentecostal theologian Roger Stronstad seems to push the functioning aspect of God’s Spirit well past the upper room event or experience.  For Stonstad, God’s Spirit has come to establish a new prophetic community in the world that functions and displays the very qualities and characteristics of God’s Spirit. 1

When reflecting upon the ‘life’ of the Spirit-filled believer, Pentecostal guru Frank Macchia affirms that Spirit baptism is linked to the very divine life of God.  For Macchia, the pouring out of God’s Spirit brings the very life of God’s Kingdom to the believer.  Life in the Spirit equals the reigning life in the very Kingdom of God. 2

I reference these two voices simply to show that the ‘classical’ definition of the Spirt’s work and role in the believer’s life and the world needs to push past the flannel graph visual of fire upon the heads of the disciples and a funny language that they spoke. 

The Nicene creed spoke of the Holy Spirt as the “Lord and giver of life”.  The early church seemed to understand that the Spirit who brooded over the waters of chaos (Gen. 1:2), the Spirit who indwelt Jesus and led Him to the Cross, is the same Spirit that was poured out and is now present and at work within the believer.  Further to this, Paul seems to make an integral connection between the current possession of God’s Spirit by Christ’s followers and the eternal existence of glorified humanity.  For Paul in Romans 8, God’s Spirit is now given as a token so that our bodies, although still subject to mortality, will rise to new life as Christ’s very own body rose.  Jurgen Moltmann believes this to mean that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Christ, is the Spirit of the resurrection of the dead, and is also the divine quickening power of the ‘new creation’ of all things! 3

Having said all of that, I realize that I have much to communicate, model, and aspire to when reflecting and referencing all of what the Holy Spirit can do and is up to in the world today.  There seems to be a lot more to this simple ‘tongues of fire on your head’. 

Yes indeed. 

Maranatha!     

 

 

1 See Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology

2 See Frank Macchia, Baptized in The Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology

3 See Jurgen Moltmann, Life in The Spirit: A Universal Affirmation