Does God still love the world?

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s why.

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

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

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

But was Darby’s system correct?  

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t agree more. 

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

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

Here is where I will end.

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

Good question.  

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

Maranatha!

Starting over at 45

This past Sunday marked my final day as lead pastor at Calvary Pentecostal Church in Lindsay, and in a greater way concluded twenty-two years of full-time pastoral work.  I guess you could say that it was a pivotal event.

Now, right off the hop I need to make it clear that the decision to step away from pastoral work was not done on a whim or due to external pressures or circumstances.  Yes it is true that the pandemic has initiated many changes across many landscapes, churches included.  But for me, these past couple of years revealed a path that would allow our family the opportunity to stay, work and live within the community that we have come to love. 

Approximately nine years ago our young family moved to Lindsay because ‘dad’ was going to be the pastor at Calvary church.  Unbeknownst to us then, our little family would grow and make connections with people in our church and community that would run deep and wide.

Now for some who may not fully know the process of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC), a lead pastor does have the flexibility to remain or leave a church when they feel that their time has come.  Apart from being ‘voted out’, many pastors remain at churches for as long or as short as they would like.  Our denomination is a little different in that there are normally no marching orders of packing boxes delivered to pastors from an organizational head office.  In this way, PAOC churches are able to govern themselves and their staff independently at the local congregational level.  It has been my privilege to work pastorally within this fellowship for the past twenty-two years.  It will also be my pleasure to stay connected from the sidelines and help support pastors and churches where and when I can.  But for now, my path is leading me away from the church building. 

Without rehashing what I said to the congregation during the live Youtube video feed this past Sunday, I will simply say that approximately three years ago the Lord began to prepare me for a change in perspective, and it all began with a dream.

Now, I am not sure if there are other pastors who have resigned their position because the Lord gave them a dream.  It almost sounds contradictory for a leader to say so.  However, who am I to argue with the Almighty.  It’s His church by the way.  All I knew is that following Him now meant letting go of the congregation that I had been leading and passing the leadership baton to someone else.  It meant that my season was coming to an end.  

Then the pandemic hit.

It’s been said that the pandemic has been a great revealer.  There is no doubt that the pandemic has revealed many things about people, businesses, organizations and societies.  I think that we have all learned a lot of things these past few years, and hopefully even a thing or two about ourselves along the way.  For me, I’ve learned the value and need to journey through life with people, and none more important than family.

As a family we came to Lindsay nine years ago, and as a family we will remain here even though my ‘job’ at the church has concluded. I know that there are some who will balk that I have referred to pastoral ministry as a ‘job’, but let’s be real, it is a job just as much as it is a ‘calling’. But I digress. The point is that after twenty-two years of working within a ‘company’ I am starting over at age 45, and to make matters even more interesting, I decided to go back to school too!

I did not make this announcement from the pulpit because I did not feel that it was ‘church’ related, but I have told enough people that most are probably aware that I have gone back to school to become a Funeral Director.  Thanks to the online learning options, I was able to enrol at Humber College and start the program this past September.  I am now in semester two of a five semester program.  Semesters three to five begin in May and continue for another year while learning on the job during a full-time internship.  Thankfully, a local Funeral Home owner was gracious enough to take me on and promise me a job.  I spoke with Linden a couple years ago about this potential pathway, and it’s clear to me now that he has been an answer to prayer.   

So I write this blog to try and help answer some of the questions, texts, calls and emails that I have received during this past week. I appreciate many who have reached out to inquire and express concerning thoughts. Thank you.

But I also am writing to let you know that although things have changed regarding my ‘job’, things have not changed in terms of my ‘work’. As a follower of Jesus, my work is to do whatever He asks me to do. This is something that I have tried to model and do since re-dedicating my life to him over twenty-five years ago. Then and now the journey continues. Then and now the call to being a faithful witness to Him remains. Then and now I rely on His Spirit and power to operate in and through my life for His glory and kingdom purposes. Then and now I fully rely on Him.

I realize that the journeying forward here on earth is going to look a little different now than before, and I acknowledge that I probably did not see this change and transition coming three years ago.  However, a very important thing for me is knowing that He has opened this path and will be walking with me along the way. 

Maranatha!

Remembering Daryl: The stuff that legends are made of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2010 he announced his retirement.  

In 2012 he returned.

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

Wow.  What a record.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until we lace up in eternity uncle … 

Maranatha!

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

Catching your 22

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever been there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s where I will end. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, I know He does.

Maranatha!

Angelic words for Omicron days

OK … Christmas is just over one week away!  

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

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

Why is that?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how.

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

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

Here’s the point.

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

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

Why?  

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

Now that’s truly good news.

So let’s try this.  

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

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

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

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

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

Say it again.  

Repeat it one more time.

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

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

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

Maranatha!

Navigating the vaccination divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Social media matters:

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

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

2. Individual rights matter:

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

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

3. Conspiracy theories matter:

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

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

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

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

So, whose voice is correct?

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

  1. Living mentors should matter:

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Meaningful traditions should matter:

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

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

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

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

3.  Kingdom responsibilities should matter:

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

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

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

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

So, again I ask, whose voice is correct?

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

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

Happy navigating and decision making.

Maranatha! 

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

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

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

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

Some of the topics and issues that Preston addresses are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Preston.  Well done. 

Maranatha!

A not-so-happy Canada Day

I honestly admit that I have not given much thought towards finding ways to celebrate Canada Day this year.  But I have been thinking about our nation.

Since the Kamloops discovery of 215 children, I have taken it upon myself to seriously reflect about the role of the ‘church’ in this and other residential school tragedies.  My broad definition of ‘church’ here refers to those who believed that they were acting on behalf of the Hebrew God of the Bible.   

As a fellow believer and follower of Jesus, it grieves my heart immensely that these atrocious actions and the inhumane treatment of children were performed by people who also professed Jesus as Lord.  

From Catholic to Protestant traditions, history tells us that each residential school in Canada was not only a product of our Government, but it was also embraced and sanctioned by the ‘church’.  Here in Canada, it seems that the beastly powers of government and religion operated in tandem to try and ‘remove the Indian’ from every Indigenous child.  To make matters even worse, many Bible-believing Christians seemed to be convinced that this was God’s holy mandate.  

Today, as a pastor and leader in a local ‘church’, I am left to ponder an enormous amount of questions and wrestle through some challenging issues. As the ‘church’ how are we able to begin reconciling the actions of our past? Where do we start?

For me, it has meant asking some sobering questions and probing into the belief system that seemed to endorse this violent behaviour.  In other words, I have had to wrestle with the violent actions of those who believed they were acting correctly ‘in the name of God’. 

Furthermore, I have had to come to grips with the multitude of Old Testament Scripture passages that seem to endorse this type of violent conquest behaviour exhibited within the residential school system. And then, I have had to make sense of Jesus’ command to love and bless our enemies. I have had to work through and try to address the nastiness of the Old Testament with the niceness of the New.

Believers today would do well to give serious thought and attention to the thousands of passages in the Bible that paint God to be some sort of deity that approves violence and seems to take pleasure in conquering over pagan nations. How can a Bible-believing Christian accept these violent Biblical portraits of God in the Old Testament while condemning the violent actions of His people today?

In this regard, it would seem that Christians today need to give serious thought about the Bible and the violent action taken against the Indigenous people of Canada.  

I am personally doing this very thing.

Thankfully, our National Fellowship has published a statement regarding the Kamloops tragedy and recently hosted an Indigenous Day of Prayer.  You can find those resources here:

https://www.paoc.org/missions/global-view/2021/06/01/kamloops-tragedy-paoc-responseat

https://www.paoc.org/canada/news/2021/06/17/our-father-in-heaven-we-gather-to-pray?utm_source=home

David Wells (General Superintendent) continues to model and encourage all pastors, leaders, and congregational members within the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada to take active steps towards grieving, reconciling, listening and learning.  

Futher to this point, Dan Collado, who is the Indigenous Peoples Coordinator and the Academic Director of the Aboriginal Bible Academy, continues to help our Fellowship find ways to bring healing to our past while leading towards a better tommorrow.  

Individually however, may I suggest that we ALL need to take appropriate steps towards reconciling the actions of our nations’ past in personal ways.  In my admitted ignorance, I was all too comfortable with the religious reasoning that gave rise to the violent action taken against the Indigenous people of Canada.  

Today, I apologize to the 1.6 million Indigenous people across our nation for my personal complacency and for turning my comfortable religious blind eye towards the atrocities of the past and the un-Christlike behaviour of those operating in His Name.  

I am grieved and profoundly moved by your hurt and the enormity of your loss.  With God’s Spirit, my desire is to stand with the Indigenous community during this time of national reckoning and pledge to demonstrate and teach that God is a God of love.  

My prayer for this Canada Day is that all Canadians take the needed tangible steps towards our Indigenous neighbours that our God of love calls for.

What this looks like for you, I do not know. But Jesus modelled footwashing for a reason, and I am convinced that followers of Jesus need to model and find ways to respectfully ‘wash the feet’ of our Indigenous neighbours today.  

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

Amen.

Maranatha!

What Dad taught me about God

“If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward.”

“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men” 

the Apostle Paul

Some of my earliest memories of spending time with my Dad involve sports and education.  My dad, Harry Holtz, was a celebrated public educator in the Renfrew County District for decades.  First serving as a teacher, and then becoming a principal, Dad rose through the ranks to become one of the top principals in the county.  

I often remember waking up early as a youngster during the week to find that Dad had already departed as he commuted to his first school as principal. McNabb Public School became a place that my siblings and I would visit on P. A. days during Dads time there. We actually thought that ‘we’ were the special ones and looked forward to P.A. days because it meant that ‘we’ would have the run of the school and the use of all of the equipment in the gymnasium.

Maybe those moments at McNabb played a role in Dads efforts to raise money and build a much needed full-size gym for Eganville District Public School when he was principal there. Sports was an easy thing for Dad to focus on due to his natural playing ability and belief in organized sports.

Back in the day, Dad was second-to-none as a soft-ball pitcher, and equally on top of the leader board in terms of home runs.  Many trophies were on display in our home that gave witness to Dads ability to dominate and hit the ball regardless of size.  Dad was a natural at baseball, ping-pong, golf, hockey, football and pretty much every other game that involved a ball.  

Our family was able to witness Dad in action during his later slow-pitch years playing at the Stafford ball field. Seeing our Nanna Holtz proudly blow her whistle every time Dad hit a home run is a memory that will forever remain in my mind. But hitting home-runs and throwing touch down passes were not the only thing Dad was also good at it. He excelled at connecting with and organizing people.

In the education system, Dad thrived on making things better. ‘Strive For Excellence’ was the motto Dad embodied to Cobden District Public School when I was a student. At every school function, celebration or assembly, Dad would lead the conversation and call all of us to a higher standard. We were not just students showing up to achieve a passing grade. We were more than that. We were being called to be and become better human beings.

I admit that seeing Dad in action was not always appreciated at that time as an eighth-grade student, but looking back upon those years when Dad was my principal is very much appreciated today.  

Seeing Dad focus on connecting with students at school and in the community speaks to the genuineness and passion of his heart to encourage others to be all that they can be. From throwing football at recess with kids who needed a friend, to giving out high-fives at the local arena to athletes inspired to be better, Dad was someone who always desired to see others succeed. He was successful at it in spades and was always there to celebrate the moments.

Through the many school Fun-Fairs and various fundraising endeavours, Dad collectively instilled vision, brought goals, and celebrated achievements with those around him.  I personally remember desperately trying to sell the most chocolate bars in order to win the coveted five-pound chocolate bar prize, or design the best egg-drop container to receive top honours in the competition.  I guess it is because Dad had a way of bringing the best out of myself and others.    

As my first hockey coach, Dad successfully coached us to win the Mosquito minor hockey championship when the opposing teams coach pridefully bragged, ‘I guess you decided to show up eh’.  We played our hearts out to win the game and stun the home town team.  

But is was on the diamond where Dad’s true passion would spill over. Dad would meticulously teach us the proper way to field ground balls, turn a double-play, and work together as a team. Trying to help us become better hitters, Dad would pitch to us at home in our make shift backstop just so that we could work on our swing. I was honestly too terrified to swing in fear of being hit by the blazing speed of the heater. But Dad would always say, “I’m not going to hit you. Trust me. Stand in there and hit the ball. You can do it”

Now without getting bogged down in theology or bore you with Scripture passages, I would simply like to highlight a pinnacle concept that I have come to believe about God.  

The thought is this:  God is for us.

In the beginning of our days, the Bible speaks of a God that blesses.  From the expanse of the Cosmos to minutia of micro-organisms, the Lord God (Yahweh) created and blessed all that was made.  Eden’s garden and the breath-taking imagery associated with it has long been understood as a place of good beginnings.  

The Bible tells us that it was here, east of Eden, in Yahweh’s garden where humanity received life, meaning, pleasure and purpose for our very existence. It is here, in Eden’s garden, that the Lord promised to be a God who said, “Trust me. Go ahead. Go out in the wider world. Have fun. Multiply in numbers. Work the ground and with the animals. Eat the produce and enjoy the outdoors. Remember, you can do it. This is why you were made. Stand in there and knock it out of the park.”

Ok. I admit that I took some translation freedom here, but the overall point that I am trying to make is that the God of Israel, the God of the Hebrews, Yahweh, is on the side of humanity.

I am further convinced of this fact by looking at the life and ministry of Jesus who lovingly gave His life for the benefit of others. In other words, I believe that when you look at Jesus you are seeing a love-centred, other-oriented, and self-sacrificial God who is for us. I have also come to believe that although God may not look like my Dad, my Dad sure looks a lot like Him.

Now, please understand that this is blog post is not a eulogy because my Dad is alive and well living in his hometown of Pembroke, ON. I am thankful that I will get to call him this Sunday, and wish him a Happy Father’s Day. But better than that, I am able see him continue to impact lives.

Yes, my siblings and myself will tell you that Dad is still on mission to make things around him better one project at a time. It seems that no matter what we say or do, Dad cannot stop himself from making shelves or fixing floors. I guess that’s because it’s just part of who he is: his nature is to make the world a better place.

Hmmmm.  I guess that’s a lot like God too.

Thanks Dad.

Maranatha!

Degrees and Weeds

For the past five years I have been working on a Master’s degree in theological studies at Tyndale University.  As an undergrad from Master’s College (formerly Eastern Pentecostal Bible College), I was able to enrol with Tyndale as a Master’s Pentecostal Seminary student.  Five years ago, the journey began.  This past week, the quest concluded.

As I reflect upon my personal growth journey and transformation in gaining a better understanding of God, the Bible, His Kingdom, Mission and the Spirit, I am reminded of my lawn.  Yes, that is correct, I said my lawn.  

Here’s why.

For the past few days we have been actively pulling out a plethora of dandelions from our backyard.  When I say plethora, I absolutely mean a excessively large and extravagant amount!  The sheer number of weeds that have overtaken our back lawn is unreal.  But it was not always this way.  The landscape of our back lawn used to look very different.  A number of years ago we had a decent amount of healthy grass and only a few weeds.  However, over the years weeds have invaded our space unchecked and unchallenged.  Over the years they have been allowed to take root and are now taking over.  Over the years these little invaders have become dominant.

I admit with honesty that during my seminary years there were times when I had to think through and challenge some of my preconceived ideas and thoughts about God.  As a typical church kid, there was a basic foundation that my Bible College years built on.  However, as a ‘Pentecostal’ now attending a multi-denominational Seminary, my worldview was going to challenged in ways not previously done.  This of course does not always go well in Pentecostal circles.      

I have mentioned in previous blogs the Pentecostal heritage and tradition that runs deep in my family tree.  Generations of ‘Faughts’ have been associated with Pentecost for decades.  Most notably would be ‘Uncle Harry’.  Dr. J Harry Faught was a cherished man and mind within Pentecostal circles and the larger Christian community as whole.  His scholarly impact was felt at numerous academic institutions, churches and in congregations around the globe.  He was a Canadian Pentecostal scholar.  Even though he was a brother to my grandfather Elmer, we simply called him ‘Uncle Harry’.  He was loved and adored by the entire Faught clan.  My cousin Todd Faught, lead pastor at Evangel Temple in Napanee ON, continues to carry on this tradition of Faught’s in Pentecostal pulpits.  We are all proud of Todd and know that Uncle Harry would be smiling.  

But back to my lawn analogy.

One of the comments I made to Dr. Van Johnson (Academic Dean of Master’s Pentecostal Seminary) in jest during my exit interview as a graduate, was that when I began my seminary journey, I envisioned that there would ‘only be Pentecostals in heaven.’  The fact that I self-published a little book entitled, ‘hello Jesus, goodbye church’ after my last seminary course, ought to serve as an illustration to some of the ways my thinking has changed!  Dr. Van kindly reminded me of that via the online graduation ceremony this past week.  Yes, some of those older ways of thinking no longer remain attached at the root.  Thankfully, some necessary weeding has taken place in the landscape of my mind.

Here’s the thing.  Engaging in theological thought, asking questions and listening to others has allowed me to gain new perspectives on certain issues and deepened my appreciation for the mysteriously deep things of God.  My way of ‘seeing things’ underwent an overhaul in certain areas and some of my personal biases even began to change.  But none of that could have happened if I was not open to it.

It is somewhat of a running joke that being a Pentecostal and a seminary student is a bit of an oxymoron.  Our tradition has been known to over value experience and under value academics.  At times the mood in Pentecostal church culture seemed to give off the impression that as long as we had the Spirit, we don’t need degrees, and seminary was sometimes looked upon as being a cemetery.  But not for me.

Yes, I admit that not every follower of Jesus is happy to engage in theological thought nor have their lens (way of seeing things) challenged.  Like other pastors, I have a wall of fame and a large file where all of the various accusations and other proclamations made by all-knowing people find their place.  I guess it is par for the course when attempting to bring about change.

But that is perhaps the greatest thing for me upon graduating from seminary: ongoing transformation.  

I am thankful to not be the same person I was five years ago.  My thinking has led to ongoing changes to my conduct, behaviour and outlook on life.  I am thankful for the way God brought ongoing change to my life through the renewing of my mind.  Through various teachers, authors, and students, God, by His Spirit, has helped me take back some of the territory of my mind that had been left to the ever growing ‘weed-like’ place of ignorance and un-Biblical truth. 

Now, with some added tools in my toolshed, I can go about my lawn of ‘thinking’ and continue uprooting things that ought not to be fed or allowed to grow.  You may not be able to embark on a seminary journey, or bite into the deep matters of theology, but everyone one of us can stop and think about what we believe and why.  

Who knows, maybe you too will expose some things that ought to be removed and even learn some new things in the weeding process.

We all know that a healthy lawn is a desirable space.  I also know that a healthier mind is a welcomed oasis.

Maranatha!