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

Entrusted

I am back into the office today after being away since Monday evening at our District Conference in Huntsville.  The theme of this years conference and main thrust was “Entrusted”.  In the sessions and workshops the continuing theme pushed the conversation towards being ‘fruitful’ with what we’ve been ‘entrusted’ with.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) and minas (Luke 19), three servants were given something according to their ability.  Jesus commends two faithful workers for taking what was given them, and being fruitful with it.  Those two faithful servants were fruitful and multiplied what they were entrusted with.

The one servant who did not multiply, or bear fruit with what he had received was called wicked, lazy and evil.  Remember this is Jesus speaking.  The Eternal Logos called the servant who did not bear fruit or multiply what he was given wicked, lazy and evil.  Ouch!  In other words, the Master expects His servants to be fruitful and to multiply.

For us, this means that we must reject the attitude and belief that faithfulness alone is sufficient.  We must move away from a theology and practice that celebrates a faith of holding on, waiting, and playing it safe.  The servant who did this was the negative example in the parables and ended up losing what was given him.  This tells me that for those who advocate and model a Christian lifestyle of preservation, maintenance, and an internal focus are not the positive examples in our world.  Jesus commends the servants who took risk, invested and multiplied what they were given.  In other words, fruitfulness is the action of faithfulness.

I come from a Christian tradition that has revivalist roots.  In 1906, God’s Spirit touched a man who changed a city which impacted the world.  William Seymour was the man, Los Angeles was the city, and the world is the one we live in.  We are told that within the first year of the Azusa Street revival, nearly two dozen missionaries left Los Angeles for foreign lands.[1]  China, India, Liberia, Africa, Europe, Asia, Russia, Australia and Canada were all impacted by people from the Azusa revival.  Gary McGee says that, “this radical new movement was mobilizing for action … and changed the landscape of Christianity.[2]

I believe that it is time for the landscape of Christianity to change once again.

Our Canadian culture is desperately depraved and in desperate need of regeneration.  We are living in confusing times among a confused people.  It is similar to the days of Jonah whose call was to go to a people who do not know their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11).

As an individual who has been impacted and ‘entrusted’ with God’s Spirit and message, I am firmly committed to God’s Mission and Kingdom.  Now more than ever, I need to be fruitful through faithful obedience.  In other words, Christianity must be actional and not doctrinal only.

I am thankful to the part of a Fellowship which believes in the power and moving of God’s Spirit in the world today.  Join me by asking, believing and moving outward in mission so that others may be impacted and brought into His Life and Kingdom.

Jesus is the ‘Radiant Dawn of Eternity’[3] who stands on humanity’s shore and calls for all to experience His newness.  His Spirit brings the quickening power of new creation to all who believe.  His Spirit beckons us to move outward, invest and be fruitful with what we have been entrusted with.

Maranatha!

 

 

 

[1] Cecil M. Robeck Jr., The Azusa Street Mission and Revival

[2] Gary B McGee, “To The Regions Beyond: The Global Expansion of Pentecostalism”

[3] Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life

 

The God who is always on the move

10 A thief has only one thing in mind—he wants to steal, slaughter, and destroy. But I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect life in its fullness until you overflow! (John 10:10 TPT)

Have you ever in your life received more than what you asked for or expected to receive? A couple years ago my one neighbour was moving. He had asked me if I wanted to purchase any of his stuff. I don’t think it was an attempt to off load his junk on me before skipping town. In fact, he had some good stuff that I was interested in. I did tell him that I was interested in his BBQ, painters ladder, and some of his garage storage containers. What I ended up getting was a whole lot more!

When it came time for me to claim what I spoke for, ‘Greg’ ended up giving me more than I expected to receive. One such item was a gazebo! All that needed to be done was swallow my ‘pride’, accept this gift, and move it into my yard. My family is thankful that I overcame the challenge and accepted what was offered to me.

Lately, I have been reading through and thinking about the early believers as depicted in the book of Acts. Within this book, Luke gives us a glimpse into the Greco-Roman world and what ‘living for Jesus’ looked like among a multi-faith, urban driven culture. The more I think about the believers early days, the more I begin to see similarities to today. Especially in the area of challenges, and there were many.

One of the challenges the early church faced was excessive conservatism. In Acts 6:11-15 we read that the Hellenists (Greek speaking Jews) and their leader Stephen were advocating that God was essentially on the move. Stephen believed in and shared that the Temple of God was no longer a building, but God actually ‘temples’ inside of His people (the body of Christ). Stephen also believed that Jesus was not merely a Jewish Messiah, but the risen, reigning Son of Man who now exercises world dominion (imagery from Daniel 7). You can read through Acts 7 to see all of what Stephen was saying. All in all, Stephen was communicating a faith that contradicted many of the established customs handed down from Moses. This enraged the religious crowd and infuriated the church leadership.

Today, the people of God can face the same challenges by becoming addicted to a particular building, a particular way of doing things, or a pattern of worship laid down long ago in a book somewhere by someone we’ve never met. Too often worship services can become ‘status quo’ where the order of service become the ‘be all and end all’. For many, this is good enough and highly desirable. Worship services that become predictable can often slip into ‘stale’ mode quickly. But this is often pleasing to the conservatism mindset which views the past to be its hero.

A major problem emerges when excessive conservatism is allowed to oppose every new advance. When this happens, a church (or anything) can become bogged down in debate over secondary issues while the primary purpose is often forgotten about and abandoned. Within the church, secondary issues like carpet, chairs, colour and choruses often become the focus while the primary issue of worship and the gospel is often ignored. This can lead to a church becoming more of a ‘Pharisee-party’ where secondary issues or ‘Christ-and’ issues take centre stage. I will talk more about that next time.

Like Stephen, when facing such constricting conservatism, remember to: stay wise (6:10), stay shining (6:15), stay full of the Spirit (7:55), and stay forgiving (7:60). In the end, it is God who will either open minds or not. Our role is to be His faithful empowered witness til the end of our time.

Today, when faced with mindless conservatism on secondary issues, I find it helpful to remember and explain that the God we serve is always on the move. He IS (not was) the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He IS the God who is making all things new (Rev. 21:5). He IS the God of Creation and New Creation. In other words, God is moving to accomplish His purposes and mission on earth through humanity; our past is not our future; and there is creative work to be done in partnership with God’s Spirit now!

At our church we are experiencing the movement of God in refreshing ways. Many people are encountering God through dreams, visions, salvations, healings, signs and wonders. We believe that “times of refreshing” are indeed happening because of the presence of God among us. We are seeing The Spirit lead people to accept Jesus as Lord. We are witnessing the power of His Kingdom here on earth as in heaven. We are tangibly seeing the goodness of God.

During our worship services I feel thankful, excited, humbled, and nervous all at the same time. That is because God is moving and I do not always know what He will do!Knowing what He has done, and what He has spoken helps. Having a trusted leadership team that is hungry and spiritually-mature is also needed. We have those at our church as well.

In your context, I encourage you to push past life-less forms of dead tradition and ancient practices of religion that are void of God’s Presence. Really, what is the point? If what you are doing is not connecting you with the Maker of the Universe and your Farther in Heaven, then change it up. Ask The Spirit to refresh your worship times or guide you to a vibrant faith community where you can worship, grow and serve. God is on the move, and He may be waiting for you to connect with Him in deeper ways so that your reality and world will be made new. He has something good to give you and it is way better than a gazebo.

Maranatha!

A New Easter

18 And God has made all things new, and reconciled us to himself, and given us the ministry of reconciling others to God. 19 In other words, it was through the Anointed One that God was shepherding the world, not even keeping records of their transgressions, and he has entrusted to us the ministry of opening the door of reconciliation to God.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (TPT)

As a fourth-generation ‘Christian’ I have sometimes found myself attempting to explain the death and resurrection of Jesus through a lens that often did not make sense.  Christianity affirms that the death of Jesus brought freedom and forgiveness from ‘sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3, John 1:29).  That is a Bible fact.  However, at the same time, Christians hold to different theories about ‘how’ this exactly happened through Christ’s death.  In other words, how did Christ’s death accomplish the salvation of humanity and the world? 

The word ‘atonement’ is what most English translators use for the Hebrew word kippur (to wipe away, to cover over, to cleanse).  Our English word ‘atonement’ tries to describe the beautiful act of God making us ‘at-one’ with Him.  The result of what God was doing through Jesus made us ‘at-one’ with God in a ‘moment’.  Our ‘at-one-ment’ with God means that we have been cleansed from sin, reconciled, and re-united with God forever.  All of this happened at Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension.  But how?

The Bible uses different images to convey this concept.  Here are a few:

  • Jesus as the Sacrificial Passover Lamb – an image of a life given, to take away our sins and give us our freedom (1 Corinthians 5:7, John 1:29)
  • Jesus as our Ransom – an image of a price paid for our freedom (Mark 10:45)
  • Jesus as our Conquering King – an image of one who achieves victory through what looks like defeat (1 Corinthians 15:54-57, Hebrews 2:14)
  • Jesus as our Healer – like the bronze serpent in wilderness, Jesus will heal the dying who look to Him in faith (John 3:14-16, 2 Corinthians 5:17,21)
  • Jesus as the New Covenant – the blood of Jesus guarantees God’s New Covenant (Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25)

Oftentimes Christians do not disagree or debate these major images that the Bible uses to describe what was accomplished through Jesus’ death.  They are right out of the Bible after all. However, what Christians do passionately debate is the meaning of these images and metaphors.  What exactly was happening when Jesus died?  What are the metaphysics and meaning behind the metaphors?  This is where theories develop?

It is very important to acknowledge that atonement theories are just that – atonement theories.  They are believing humanity’s attempt to understand and explain the deep theological implications pertaining to the atonement.  We now enter the field of taking what the Bible says by trying to establish what the Bible means.

Throughout Church history different atonement theories have been pitched onto the proverbial playing field so to speak.  Here are a few:

  • Healing – Christ changes our hearts by taking sin and making us new
  • Penal Substitution – Christ changes God’s heart by taking our punishment and appeasing God’s wrath
  • Ransom – Christ took our place by offering His life  and defeated and fooled Satan by rising from death
  • Christus Victor – Christ conquered Satan by turning power upside down and ascending to His throne as the rightful King. 
  • New Creation – Christ’s death ends the old covenant and establishes a new way of relating to God and each other and launches the world towards ultimate transformation.

When reading the above theories, which one speaks to you and captures your mind and heart?  Perhaps a combination of them serve as your primary way to communicate what God was doing through the cross.  Most Christians holds to one of those theories, however, all Christians should avoid making any one atonement theory equivalent with the gospel.  When that happens, the gospel itself is weakened because atonement theories are not the gospel, but theories about the gospel. 

Currently, there are Christians in the world who passionately state that one is not preaching the gospel unless you specifically describe God pouring out His wrath upon Jesus on the cross.  In this light, Jesus serves as someone who steps in between God’s wrath and humanity.  Acting like a divine asbestos-suit, Jesus deflects God’s flames from us, or absorbs it on our behalf.  The fact is that YES, Christ’ death removed any and all punishment coming our way, and YES Jesus took our sin.   However, the Penal Substitution theory has some major issues with it:  1. It goes beyond what the Bible clearly and plainly says, 2. It seemingly is not Trinitarian (what is The Spirit doing in all of this), and 3. It seems to contradict what the early believers presented to non-Christians. 

In the book of Acts, there are over a dozen examples of the gospel presentation, and none of them bring up aspects of Jesus being punished or God’s wrath being poured out on Him.  In other words, the Biblical pattern of believers communicating the gospel with non-Christians do not use elements of the Penal Substitution theory.

I challenged you to read the following passages to see how Peter communicates the role God plays in the Easter story (death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus):

Acts 2:23-24, 2:36, 3:15, 4:10, 5:30, 10:39-40 

When you read those passages, a pattern emerges:  We are responsible for the death of Christ.  But God raised Him from the dead.  The only ‘wrath’ evidenced upon Christ was from humanity, not God.  For some reason the earliest of gospel writers do not describe God pouring out His wrath upon Jesus.  Simply stated, God discharging His wrath upon Jesus is something never stated in the Bible or preached publicly as the gospel in Scripture.  The early church never communicated an image of an angry God hovering over and above Jesus while pouring out His punishment for sin.  This was never stated.  We do see wrath, but it is the wrath of fallen humanity acting through the power of religion and politics raging against Christ.  God in fact was not operating in wrath, but in love.  Here’s how.

God was in Christ, suffering with Christ and loving the world (and us) through Christ. 

This is clearly stated in the Bible.  God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer holding anything (our sin) against us. 

So I admit that I’m not a fan of the Penal Substitution theory to explain what God was doing and accomplishing through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  Moreover, I am less of a fan of people who preach this theory like its the gospel.  However, let me end on a positive note: through Jesus’ death on the cross, God is reconciling the world to Himself, and us to one another.    

In the first-century world, Paul uses this concept to help the early church understand what God was doing by bringing the Jews and Gentiles ‘at-one’ with Him.  He writes in

Ephesians 2:14-16: Our reconciling “Peace” is Jesus! He has made Jew and non-Jew one in Christ. By dying as our sacrifice, he has broken down every wall of prejudice that separated us and has now made us equal through our union with Christ. Ethnic hatred has been dissolved by the crucifixion of his precious body on the cross. The legal code that stood condemning every one of us has now been repealed by his command. His triune essence has made peace between us by starting over—forming one new race of humanity, Jews and non-Jews fused together!  Two have now become one, and we live restored to God and reconciled in the body of Christ. Through his crucifixion, hatred died.

I believe we need to return to an outlook which truly emphasizes what the Bible says about the power and mystery of the Easter story: new creation.

Now, if anyone is enfolded into Christ, he has become an entirely new creation. All that is related to the old order has vanished. Behold, everything is fresh and new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I am thankful for a God who offers us a fresh, new start.  I am thankful for Jesus who endured more physical, mental and spiritual anguish than I could ever imagine in order to usher in a new reality for us to experience and have. 

NT Wright says that ‘on the cross we see dying love, and we recognize it as the undying love of God.’

Amen. This is Easter.  This is Jesus. 

Maranatha! 

Kitchen Reno’s and Kingdom Preparation

My apologies for not writing in a while and being absent from posting online in a number of weeks. The reason is that we are five weeks into a full kitchen renovation. We essentially gutted the kitchen area and have replaced pretty well everything except the wall studs! Doing this with three children while continuing to work has been an adventure. All of us have been eagerly awaiting the finished product. The good news is that we are almost finished and we should be all set for Easter week-end! Another good thing is that I have had some time to ponder more faith issues, and I am prepped to come back and share some with you. So here we go.

As we approach the Easter weekend, and if we were Jewish, we would be making preparations for the Passover meal. Passover is a much celebrated Jewish holiday tradition that lasts an entire week. On the eve of Passover, a special Jewish Seder meal is celebrated together. During this special meal there is often an extra place setting at the table for a potential guest to come. Wondering who? This time the answer is not Jesus. In fact, the extra place setting is for the prophet Elijah.

Elijah is held in high honour within the Jewish faith as a man who operated in God’s power to deliver Israel from their enemies. Elijah is also believed to physically return near the end of time to usher in God’s eternal Kingdom. During the Jewish Passover meal these aspects are celebrated. Here’s how.

When the meal is over, the host will pour wine into ‘Elijah’s cup’ and opens the door of the house for the prophet to come in. There are various reasons for doing this, and depending on the host, a selection of Scriptures can be read pertaining to a certain theme. One such emphasis is that when the ‘Cup of Elijah’ is poured, the host would recite verses from the Psalms where God is beseeched to pour His wrath upon those who persecute and oppress His people (Psalm 60, 69, 79). In this light, the cup of Elijah is linked with God’s wrath to be poured onto those who oppose God. God’s wrath is generally understood as something that would impact His own people.

Another emphasis (I like this one) links the ‘Cup of Elijah’ with the God’s coming Kingdom and ultimate redemption for God’s people. Again, various Psalms are read along those lines (Psalm 93-100) which focus on God’s Messiah and the coming eternal Kingdom. This time, the ‘Cup of Elijah’ is linked with hope for a future renewed world and participation in God’s divine glory for eternity. Did I mention that I like this one better?

Now, I am not Jewish and I do not celebrate a Passover meal. However, let me ask you this question: When you think about what God is doing in the world, which lens do you naturally gravitate towards? Is it a lens of ‘wrath’ or a lens of ‘hope’? Now consider and apply the same thing to what God did through Jesus. Which lens do you use? In other words, when attempting to explain what God is up to in the world, and especially what was happening through the death and resurrection of Jesus do you lean towards the ‘wrath’ end, or towards the ‘hope’ side?

One of the things that I often say is that when it comes to the death and resurrection of Jesus, we need to be consistent with the ‘Big Picture’ of God’s Story, as well as be Trinitarian (Father, Son and Spirit) in our worldview and theology. In other words, we need to make sure that everything fits with God’s Personhood and His Mission.

I am personally very thankful for the gospel writers who tell us much about Jesus. One conversation is particularly important to keep in mind. It is with a prominent Pharisee named Nicodemus. Essentially Nicodemus is having a tough time working out just who this ‘Jesus’ guy is and what God is doing through Him. Cutting right to the heart of the matter, Jesus keys in on Nicodemus’ worldview and what that meant God was doing.

In this conversation Jesus utters the following words which we have come to embrace:

“And just as Moses in the desert lifted up the brass replica of a snake on a pole for all the people to see and be healed, so the Son of Man is ready to be lifted up, so that those who truly believe in him will not perish but be given eternal life. For this is how much God loved the world—he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge and condemn the world, but to be its Savior and rescue it! So now there is no longer any condemnation for those who believe in him, but the unbeliever already lives under condemnation because they do not believe in the name of God’s beloved Son. (John 3:14-18 TPT)

Did you notice Jesus’ emphasis on the love of God and His plan for eternity? It almost makes you think that God (Yahweh) is love, and He desires to live with His creation forever. In fact that is exactly who He is.

At the church where I pastor, we are committed to being a people who act this way and model this understanding of who God is. We believe that God is love, and that He has a great eternal plan for humanity and the world. The entrance is to believe and have faith in His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only Way to God, the divine Truth about God and the abundant Life of God.

As you prepare for the Easter weekend, I encourage you to consider reflecting upon the God of The Bible and what you think He is up to in the world. If you are in the Lindsay area, consider yourself invited to our Good Friday service (10 am) and Sunday morning (10 am) services where we will specifically be talking about ‘Finding your place in the world’. We are also doing an Easter Adventure on the Saturday featuring an animal farm, arts and crafts, and an Easter egg hunt. It’s going to be a great week-end here at Calvary.

Regardless of where you live, consider attending a Christian church were the Resurrected Jesus is celebrated. It is an important event. In fact, it totally changed the world forever.

Stay tuned for more …

Maranatha!