hello Jesus, goodbye church

Last night (Wednesday) we started our Recalibrate Your Life bible study here at Calvary church.  Together we are walking through the gospel of John.  I was joined by members of Calvary, and others, who signed up to walk this journey.  I know that God is going to bring about something good in our lives as we journey together.  

I chose John’s gospel specifically because no other writer presents Jesus this way.  John is unique in His understanding and interpretation of Jesus which makes his presentation of Jesus also distinct.  Furthermore, John was also leading a community of believers in Ephesus while writing this gospel anywhere between 85-95 A.D.  Knowing this helps us understand that his text could literally be viewed as the first sermon preached to a congregation of Jesus followers.  In other words, John’s gospel could be understood as the First Churches Bible. 

I find it refreshing to go back and stir up these ancient paths.  As a follower of Jesus today, are we not supposed to be living and following His Way? 

Living in a contemporary world where there are a plethora of voices designed to influence yours, an ongoing challenge for everyone remains: who will I follow?

For John, and his church, the answer is abundantly clear.

Today, the church has many competing options.  We are surrounded by theological frameworks and systems that communicate aspects of God’s Truth to many listening ears.  Oftentimes Western theology has its roots in specific Western church fathers like Luther, Calvin, Augustine and Aquinas.  Most, if not all, were products of the Monastic movement that renounced worldly pursuits in order to devote themselves to a more full, spiritual work.  This type of thinking has been handed down through the church and oftentimes produced a gospel with legalistic tendencies.  My tribe was no different.   

Bradley Truman Noel summarizes Classical Pentecostalism well by highlighting its emphasis on ‘separation’ from the world. Early Pentecostals were encouraged to give evidence of their commitment to Christ by pulling away from and denouncing the world’s evil culture and institutions.2 You surely would not want to be caught in the movie theatre, pool hall or local pub when Jesus returns.  If you were, Jesus might leave you behind.

For Pentecostals, to follow Jesus and be a Christian meant separating oneself from your surrounding community and culture so that you could live a life free from its negative influence.  In this way, others too would enjoy a similar separation from the evil world and come to know Jesus.  Noel says, ‘this understanding, of course, does not fit well with Christ’s own description of believers as in, but not of, the world.’ 3

So, if separation from the world is not the way of Jesus, what is? 

This is why I have taken it upon myself to write my very first book.  It will most likely be a self-publishing endeavour through Amazon (Kindle).  I guess this is my first shameless plug of sorts.  This is also my first step towards bringing and awareness and committing myself to finish now it is ‘out there’.  

My goal in writing this book is an attempt to bring us back to The ancient path, Jesus. By specifically looking at a few scenes from John’s gospel, my desire is to reawaken a movement of Jesus followers who will carry out the mission of Jesus today. After all, Jesus is The Way. 

What does that look like?  

You will have to wait for the book to find out.  However, what I will say is this: the way of Jesus has nothing to do with separating, isolating or insulating oneself from the world.  

No. 

The way of Jesus is to bring the very light, life and love of God and His Kingdom to a broken, dark and hurting world. 

Oh, and yes the title of the book will be: hello Jesus, goodbye church.

Maranatha!

Footnotes:

Bradley Truman Noel. Pentecostalism, Secularism, and Post Christendom. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. 2015. Pg. 181

The Dawn of a New Day

Here we are.  We are on the brink of a New Year.  There is always something exciting about rolling the calendar over.  It almost feels therapeutic to know that you have an acitve part in something brand new. 

A couple years ago Trish and I purchased our very first new vehicle together.  Up until then we had always purchased used vehicles.  I have to admit that there have been too many lemon purchases and clunker deals in my personal vehicle history report.  However, after adding up some recent repair costs and looking at some needed ones, we decided that it would be financially better for us to try and get into something new. 

There is something to be said about being to very first one to sit in the drivers seat of a brand new vehicle.  Your fingers are the first to adjust the mirrors, customize the radio and fiddle with the instrumentation.   But we all know that we really get excited about is our foot being the first to put the pedal down and take off down the highway.  Oh yah.  

I also have to admit that the new car smell is also a very real thing.  It is hard to describe, but if you have ever smelled it, you will never forget it. 

I mention those things to strike a cord and get us thinking about 2021.  We stand at the brink of a whole new day, and Jesus stands with us.

The Bible tells us that after Jesus had risen from the grave, He made a few guest appearances to those He knew.  

In John 21, we are told that Jesus continued to do this, but in a new way.

After this, Jesus revealed Himself again to His disciples by the Sea of Tiberias.  He revealed Himself in this way:

Simon Peter, Thomas (called “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of His disciples were together.

“I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them.

“We’re coming with you,” they told him. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore. However, the disciples did not know it was Jesus.

“Men,” Jesus called to them, “you don’t have any fish, do you?”

“No,” they answered.

“Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He told them, “and you’ll find some.” So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. 

Therefore the disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”


This passage continues to intrigue me on a number of levels.  How could the disciples NOT know that this was Jesus on the shore of a lake?  It’s not like they hadn’t witnessed Him standing on the shore of the sea of Galilee before.  

Also, John tells us that the disciples also did NOT recognize His voice.  Remember that they had just spent approximately three years listening to Him speak, but they thought His voice was one of a stranger.  

So how come they did not know it was Jesus?

I think the point is this.  Jesus was doing something new.

John tells us at the very beginning of this scene that Jesus was revealing Himself in a completely new way.  

The word that is used to describe the revealing of Jesus in John 21 is an extremely rare word.    

The verb used here has only been used once by Mark but not by the others.  

In John’s Gospel as whole, this word has also not been used to speak about Jesus’ previous resurrection appearances.  

However, it is a word that has been used to speak about the revelation that only takes place in Jesus.  

John the Baptist came to reveal Jesus to Israel (1:31).

At the wedding in Cana, Jesus revealed His glory (2:11).

The light of Jesus reveals the work of God (3:21).

The healing of the a blind man revealed the works of God (9:3).

Jesus revealed the name of the Father to His people (17:6).

So what does all this mean?  It means that there is definitely something unique about Jesus that reveals the glory of God here in this world.  Yes. 

Jesus is also the source and place for the glory and work of God among us.  Yes. 

However, the usage of this word in John 21 also means that Jesus is doing something greater than just physically re-appearing to His friends.  Jesus is making Himself known in completely new ways.  

So friend, will you believe and continue to believe that in this world we can experience and continue to experience the newness of Jesus here on earth?  

Will you believe and continue to believe that Jesus desires to make Himself know to you in completely new ways this year?  

If so, then believe with me that Jesus is still standing on the shores of our seas right now.  

Believe with me that Jesus is still speaking to us during our moments of frustation and angst.

Believe with me that Jesus knows what we need and will adundantly provide.

As we head into 2021, believing in the Risen Lord means that we can still experience the reality of His presence, hear what He has to say and be recipients of His grace in completely new ways!

So bring it on 2021, because a brand new Jesus is waiting to bring about brand new things in my life and yours.

I’m ready to jump in and put the pedal down.  

How about you?

Maranatha!

A Christmas deja vu

Here we go … again.  Another lock-down looming.  Did we not just get off this merry-go-round?
No doubt, this all feels too familiar and is reminiscent of a recent nightmare.  

I hear you.  We all just want this pandemic to go away and end.

In the midst of this nightmare, we all need some good news.  Let me share some with you. 

When COVID first hit our community here in Lindsay, our church began to give.  We raised money to purchase food items from local stores and gave it to those in need. 

We also purchased Tim Horton gift cards for every employee at the local Food Basics and for the staff at the Radiology department at the Ross Memorial Hospital just to say ‘Thanks’ to those who were serving our community.

Once the colder weather hit, our church again started raising money to purchase winter clothing items for the needy in our community.  Purchasing brand new snow suits from Carter’s and winter coats and boots from Whites of Lindsay, our church purchased and donated over 200 clothing items to be given away!   

This means that during the COVID crisis, close to $22,000 was given back to our local community in 2020.    

One of the things that I am often reminded of in scripture is that God seems to always be up to something and is usually in the middle of earthly affairs.  Although we may not always recognize and discern what He is up too, one thing that we can be certain of is this: He is always on the move.

For our church, in the midst of a pandemic, God was moving through our congregation.  I need to say a big thank you to those who attend Calvary and those who connected with us via technology who gave.  You are proof that God still moves in the midst of troubling times and authorial decrees.      

I am reminded of this very thing when I read the Christmas story.  Albeit a lock-down is different from a census, but the points is that God is able to orchestrate the miraculous through the actions of earthly rulers. 


We often take it for granted, but we are told that because of the actions of the Roman rulers, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  Luke says that a registration took place during the days of Quirinius (Luke 2:2). 

Was a census something that people eagerly desired?  Absolutely not.  A census brought about major inconveniences to the regular routine and rhythm of life, not to mention the added cost in travel and paying tax.  Furthermore, was any of this comfortable for pregnant Mary who had to travel while carrying full-term?  This was probably not in her family plans nor was the stable delivery room a first choice for her first-born child.

However, in the midst of an unpopular and costly census, God was moving in a big way.  His miraculous coming to earth and dwelling with humanity took place in the midst of a governmental decree.

What does this mean for you and me?  Simply this:  God is still in control.  

Call me simple, but I am still convinced that God still knows what He’s doing.  I also still believe that He journeys with us through all of our affairs in life.  I also have faith to believe that He will bring about something new and miraculous in the middle of it all.

That’s what I am banking on heading into 2021 and another twenty-eight day lock-down.

Let me end with this.  Whether you are part of a faith community or not, I encourage you to be light wherever there is darkness.  

It is sometimes easier to give into the darkness and yield to its power.  Trust me, I know.  The path to the darkside is always a constant struggle, especially when you are trying to face it head on.  George Lucas understood it all too well.  Star Wars is not just a battle in the cosmos.  We face real struggles here. 

To help battle the dreariness around you, why not practice some self-giving actions.  Whether it is being kind and complimentary to those around you, or checking in with someone you have not seen or heard from in a while, we can all find simple ways to impact others in a positive way.

Finally, and most importantly, may our self-giving ways always be done in love.  Our church responded immediately to COVID by giving to those in need.  We did this because we believe that is how God rolls.  We will continue to do so, and are even looking for new ways to better serve our community in 2021.  We believe that this is what God is leading us to do and embody to our community. 

We believe that this is the way of Jesus.  My prayer is that is becomes your way too.  

As we round off 2020 and head into 2021, I desire that God Almighty will bless you abundantly in the days ahead; may He keep you from stumbling in every step that you take; may His glorious face and presence shower you with love; and may His full favour bring wholeness to your mind, body and soul.

Maranatha! 

I AM still here

400 years is a long time.  According to our calendar, 400 years is equal to one hundred and forty six thousand days; or three million, five hundred and four thousand hours; or two hundred and ten million, two-hundred and forty thousand minutes.  Four hundred years is a long time.  

It is generally understood that the time period between the two testaments in the Protestant Bible (Old Testament and New Testament) is four hundred years.  For many, this inter-testament time period symbolized a time of silence and darkness.  It was as if God had removed Himself from the known world and the heavens were shut.

Then, suddenly the heavens were rendered. 

In a flurry of activity, Luke begins to unfold a detailed series of events depicting God’s continuation of His redemptive plan.  The heavens are opening and God is going to come down. 

Beginning with a priestly couple centred around the Temple in Jerusalem, Luke shows through his orderly account how the unfolding events in the ancient world of Galilee and Judea are of universal significance.  The story of Jesus’ birth and childhood is a celebration of God’s love for Israel and for all of humanity.1  

Here’s how.

Luke is careful to present and contrast two women: Elizabeth and Mary.  Elizabeth is a daughter of Aaron and married to a priest of admirable status.  By all accounts, Elizabeth has the right name, family, tribe and marriage.  However, she was barren.  As a result, she would have suffered disgrace among her people and would have been on the low rung of the Jewish social ladder.  But God has come to lift up the lowly (1:52).  

Next comes Mary.  A peasant girl far away from the social and religious centre of the Temple.  She does not reside in Jerusalem, but in a backwater town in Galilee that was despised, rejected and deemed unclean.2  Could anything good ever come from such a place?

These two ladies are at the centre stage in Luke 1:5-2:52.  One is a shining example of Jewish piety and a life that is oriented around the Jerusalem Temple.  One is in great need.  One is highly favoured.

What we discover is that behind both chains of events that are set in motion, stands Almighty God, who is present via a messenger.

Gabriel, the angel of end-times visions, and last seen by Daniel, is now on earth again.  Could God be acting to bring about His final plans and end-time deliverance for His people?  Who is going to play a part? 

The simple answer is both.  The offspring of Elizabeth (John) and Mary (Jesus) are both involved in God’s redemptive plan for humanity.  However, the focus of God’s plan is not going to be on a priestly couple operating in the Temple, or anyone else with high status or prestige.  

The emphasis falls on Mary and the rejected town of Nazareth.  It is here, within a peasant village that God found one who would embrace His plan and be one of His dedicated servants.  Luke tells us that Mary, who is a ‘little person’ in the eyes of Judaism, has been the one who is highly favoured by God. 

Gabriel makes the announcement: Rejoice favoured one!  You have found favour with God … You will conceive, you will give birth … you will call His Name Jesus.’

Gabriels words echo what was spoken to Hagar, and Isaiah’s prophecy … this child will be ‘great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom will have no end.’

This sign truly will expand from the depts of Sheol to the heights of heaven – Jesus means YAHWEH SAVES.

Mary’s response:  ‘How can this be?’  

This is not a statement of unbelief, but one of perplexity.  How is this physically possible?  How is it that I have become the recipient of God’s grace?

Gabriel’s final wordsmay echo the comparable statement of the Lord made to Sarah: ‘Is anything impossible with God?’

Mary’s final words:  ‘I am the Lord’s slave.’

In this short introductory chapter, Luke has begun to tell us about God’s active and ongoing plan in the world.  Not only has God come to be with us, but He is somehow supernaturally joining Himself to us.   

‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore, the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.’

Those two sentences contain a supernatural wonder and mystery for the ages: Almighty God has become a human being.    

For Mary, this meant an active role and a divine partnership in the unfolding of the purposes of God in the world. Joel Green believes that this is exactly what Luke is saying. It seems that the miraculous, redemptive activity of God calls forth a human response and partnership.3

The Christmas story is similar to the ancient story of Abraham and Sarah.  God seems to call people into a divine partnership so that His redemptive plan continues to unfold here on earth.  None greater than this story.  None greater than the gospel of Jesus.

You see, the Christmas story features Mary, the one who had been highly favoured by GodShe will have a supernatural encounter, she will receive divine favour that will result in the most profound mystery known to humanity: the conception of a child by the Holy Spirit.  It is Mary who will fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy:

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.

In the Ancient world, the status of a slave was determined by the status of the householder.  Luke has taken particular time to carefully craft and characterize Mary as a ‘slave’ of the Lord.  By doing so Luke has begun to undercut the competitive maneuvering for positions of status that were prevalent in the first-century Mediterranean world.4 

Mary, who seemed to measure low in all rankings—age, family heritage, gender, and so on—turns out to be the very one favoured by God. It seems as though God has come to bring about a change to the social status of the world. 

You can read about this in Mary’s prophetic praise at the end of Luke chapter 1.  

In Mary’s rejoicing, she sees and depicts God as the Mighty One who sides with and works on behalf of the lowly

Mary’s song captures the very essence of God’s merciful plan and highlights that God has looked with favour upon the lowliness of His servant (1:48).  Mary understands her low, poor status and rejoices because of the merciful, greatness of God

Mary’s song also points out that God has come to oppose the social, political and religious forces in the world that are proud, high and mighty.  Mary believes that God has come to scatter the proud, bring down the powerful, and send the rich away empty.

We need to be careful to understand that Mary’s praise is not about God obliterating the powerful so that the lowly can achieve the positions of honour and privilege that had been previously inaccessible.  No. 

Mary’s prophetic praise points out that God is at work in individual lives (like Mary) and in the social order as a whole in order to bring down the very structures of society that support and keep such distinctions alive.  

In short, the God who has been working redemptively in the world, still is, and is now especially doing so in Jesus in order to bring about a balance the power.5

I am not sure that this will make any Hallmark cards, but perhaps it’s time that we see Christmas the way this old-timer did: 

Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly?  Whoever finally lays down all power, all honour, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.  And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly … God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings.  God marches right in.  He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would lest expect them.  God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

If this is true, then perhaps Christmas is more about God marching in (saving) to heal the world and bring about a change in society, culture and class. Followers of Jesus today would do well to think about their concepts of salvation and contrast them with Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God. What does responding to God look like?

If this is true, then perhaps Christmas is more about God searching to find willing human beings to partner with so that this transformation to society, class and culture will happen. Those believing in the power of the Holy Spirit would do well to reflect upon the mission of God’s Spirit in the world concerning the norms of society. What are the words and deeds of the Spirit empowered community?

If this is true, then perhaps Christmas is more about God coming to join Himself with humanity so that ‘whosoever will’ is able to be propelled towards a new way of being human. Those who profess to being a Christian would do well to think and reflect upon the life of Jesus and how He embodied God’s Kingdom on earth. What does participating with God look like?

If this is all true … then perhaps we need to rethink a lot of things about God, His Story, the Gospel, salvation and Yes … even Christmas!

Regardless, may we all continue to model a light and love that resembles the merciful love of Almighty God that broke through long ago. May He continue to break through and shine in the world via His messengers today.

The world needs to know that God is still here.

Maranatha.

Footnotes:

 Green, Joel B.. The Gospel of Luke Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition

The days seem darker

Does it seem like the days seem darker?  Do you feel as if there is an extra layer of heaviness descending with each setting sun?  Does your morning seem to drag?  Do your evenings seem to lag?  Has your smile begun to sag?

Right now winter solstice is upon us.  It means that this is the time when our days are the darkest.  The sun is rising very late and setting very early.  The better part of our day is spent in the shadow of night rather than the light of the sun. 

The effects are real. 

This past Tuesday night during my online class, someone stated this very thing.  They honestly said that they felt like the days seem darker than normal.  Many agreed.  

That phrase has lingered in my mind and has percolated some thoughts.   

But before we get to that, I have to say that I am glad to finally be in the ‘hip’ crowd.  You see, according to one member of our household, Christmas decorations ought to be up immediately following Remembrance Day.  To not have lights strung and stockings hung the day after November 11 seems to be a crime against humanity and everything good and decent in the world.  Well, that is how it came across from my middle teenage daughter!  

But perhaps she is right.  Perhaps we need to bring out the lights.    

The Bible tells us that the light of God has come to our world.  In John’s gospel we read those very words. 

“The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

John is speaking about Jesus of Nazareth, God’s true light.  

Furthermore, John says that the light of God continues to be present despite the world’s dark, hostile reception.  

“That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.”

John is telling us that the darkness has not overpowered God’s light.  This means that the light of God shines on despite the ongoing presence of evil in the world.  Which also means that God’s light continues to shine today so that it can be received now. 

How so?

There is life in the light.  

When John speaks of the Word breaking into the human story, he does not mean that this was simply a historical event for the ancient world.  Yes, the historical Jesus is real, but the historical Jesus is not simply a human being of the past.  As God, Jesus bring God’s divine life into the human story so that the effects of of God’s abundance life is made available today. In other words, the light that broke into humanity’s past, can still effect humanity’s present.     

Sometimes you hear certain phrases expressed by people who have been around individuals highly esteemed.  The phrase, ‘we were in the presence of greatness’ can be associated with human beings who have done great things.  Oftentimes sports figures, celebrities and people of royalty can receive such accolades.  

For me, Wayne Gretzky is often depicted in this manner.  But even Wayne is truly not The Great One because Wayne is not able to impact my entire being the way that God can.  

This is perhaps the very reason why I follow Jesus.  His light pokes holes in the darkness.

Have you ever had dark thoughts?  Have you ever had dark talk?  Have you ever done dark deeds?  Have you ever felt dark needs?

I am sure that we all have had struggles and challenges that seem to lean towards the darkness rather than the light.  I know that no matter how hard I try to not do something, I oftentimes do it.  It seems as though Paul has read my mind.  

“For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do”

I feel like Dave from Storage Wars: Yuuuuup!

Thankfully, God’s light is able to break through and dispel the very darkness that can cloud our thinking and shadow our soul.  Somehow, some way, the light of God brings His divine presence and life into the midst of darkness and sends it away.  What remains is His good, abundant, nourishing, ever-flowing, beneficial life.   

“Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness”

I will end with this.  

Ever been driving somewhere and you knew that your arrival would happen well into the evening or early hours of the morning?  I have often driven back home to the Ottawa Valley during such times.  Generally when talking with my parents about my arrival time, they would often say, ‘We will leave a light on for you’.  That simple phrase communicates so many things.  Knowing that the light will be left on for me is a significant thing.  Knowing that God’s light is left on for you is always a very significant thing.

This is your reminder that God’s light is still on.  It shines in the midst of our darkest days.  It shines in order to light our way.  Jesus is the light of God.  He is the light of the world.  

He is the life that I need.  May His face shine upon you today.

Maranatha  

Hunt camp journals, Pictionary and Jesus

I recently returned from some time away in the woods.  The annual trek to the family deer camp is a much anticipated event in my life.  It is something that I have fond memories of doing with family, relatives and kin for decades.  

As always, one of the highlights is the re-telling and remembering of some epic tales of the past.  Reliving those times, and retelling those stories are meaningful.  

My uncle has now taken it upon himself to document some of the ongoings in a hunt camp journal.  He often records the people involved and the outcomes of each day.  Sometimes an added reflection about the past and those who have passed make it into the pages.  These stories and reflections help create and re-create the moments of the past. As such, the hunting camp journal is like a picture-book of memory. 

A family game that I played growing up was called Pictionary.  In the game, one person on each team would need to draw a picture that was to describe a certain word, phrase or thing.  Teams would compete against each other to see who could guess the correct answer first.  Oftentimes, whoever had the best artist in the game would win.

Why is this important?  It’s been said that we live in a culture that embraces story, and whoever has the best story wins the day.  

One of the things that I appreciate about the gospel writers is their ability to give us a discerning look at Jesus.  Through their human lens of interpretation and being guided by the Spirit, they began to write a story.  Mark, Matthew, Luke and John each recount vivid images, moments and life changing sayings of Jesus.  Their unique story of Him is powerful.  

Essentially what we have are four first-hand, eye witness accounts of the God Almighty in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth!  (Sorry Evan, you’ll need to sit down).

Primarily then, the gospels could be referred to as ancient biography, or a narrative that is centred upon the life of One specific Person.  

To help explain the importance of this, allow me to share a thought from a professor of mine:

“For the first Christians, God’s communication with humanity was centred, not in a text, but in a person: Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel texts of the New Testament were authoritative at first only in the secondary sense that they allowed their readers to see and hear Jesus. Christianity is grounded in the basic conviction that God was acting in Christ to rescue the world. Since Jesus himself spoke, both in words and in symbolic acts, this divine intervention in Jesus must include an element of communication. So it is in Jesus that we find the centre of God’s speech in the world, and it is in hearing the earthly Jesus that early Christians believed they heard God’s voice.”  Dr. Ian W. Scott 

What the point? Simply this: we need to return to the words and deeds of Jesus.

The term ‘recalibration’ means to calibrate (something) again’.  From planes, trains, and automobiles, to business, charities and churches, ALL things need to be recalibrated from time to time.  If 2020 has done one thing is this: it has increased the need to recalibrate exponentially.  

Many pastors and church leaders are knee-deep in the process of evaluating and forecasting the ongoing impact of COVID.  What will the financial trajectory look like and how are we able to sustain things related to the operations of the church are being discussed.  Everything is on the table and budgets are being looked at like customers walking into a barber shop.  How much are we cutting off?

From ministry funds to payroll lines, everything is on the table as budgets are reduced across the board. I have heard that the suggestion is to take another 5-20% off of your 2020 year end. That will make financial operations very tight and difficult for many organizations, charities, churches and employees.

For some church leaders, pastors and staff, this may mean the end of a job, or the beginning of another career. Bi-vocational ministry and part-time employment may be the road-map for many clergy in our nation. If you have been paying attention to the landscape of Christianity in Canada, this ought not to surprise you. In my previous blog, I talked about some of those facts and the biggest demographic missing from the church.

You can read that blog by clicking here: 

https://joelholtz.com/2020/01/23/where-have-all-the-christians-gone/

Now, with the ongoing impact of COVID, the decline and vacancy issue in churches has red-lined.

However, in the midst of it all, I remain positive.  I think it was Winston Churchill who said, ‘never waste a good crisis’.  Now, I am not saying that the COVID crisis has been good.  But I do not want to waste it.  Here’s how.

At Calvary church in Lindsay, I am taking our leadership team and congregation through a ‘Recalibration’ process.  I have written and put together a Leadership Recalibration booklet that addresses the model, methods and messages of the church.  

The booklet leads us to ask and evaluate the traditional structure, focus and communication of our church in the past.  We look at what the church has communicated to its congregants, culture and community over the years.  We then compare and contrast our results with the first-century believers and the One who kick-started it all.  Right!  Remember that guy?  


Furthermore, we will dive deeper into the first-hand, eyewitness accounts of the gospel writers and ask ourselves to compare our current theological understandings (God-talk) with the Biblical words and deeds attributed to Jesus.   

You can see where all this is going, and what my new favourite word is: recalibrate.

Let me end with this.  I feel that the recalibration process is in full swing for many.  Whether you are an individual or group of people, this past year has most likely initiated some sort of recalibration in your personal life and family.  I hear you.  You are not alone.

I encourage you to join me and others as we embrace the recalibration process back to Jesus.  Here’s why.

The New Testament is an affirmation that Jesus is the centrepiece of God’s communication to us.  Therefore, all our our ‘God-talk’ and way of being human needs to centred on, based in and reflective of His words and deeds.  Jesus expressed and embodied the will and actions of God the Father.  We are we replicating?       

Second, Jesus needs to be the centrepiece of our communication to the world.  Now more than ever, the world needs to hear and be invited to ‘Come’ to the One who makes right everything that is wrong.  Jesus brings God’s eternal, abundant, satisfying, nourishment and wellbeing of life to anyone who believes.  Jesus says ‘Come’.  What are we saying? 

Third, we need to do so because Jesus is the centrepiece of God’s Creation and new creation.  Jesus is God’s eternal light, life, and love that will shine and lead the way for Creation and His own forever.  Jesus is the only leader and source that is pure, just, faithful and true.  Are we basing humanities hope and future in an alternate source, authority figure or governmental agenda?     

I believe the Bible affirms that the more you get to know Jesus, the more likely you are to be like Him.  Perhaps there are some good stories, memories and moments awaiting for you in the picture-book journal of Jesus known as the gospels.    

I pray that you will find Him and make Him your centrepiece today.  

Maranatha!  

  1. https://ianwscott.blog/2020/01/07/the-idea-of-inspiration-and-the-new-testament/

My thoughts on Thom Rainer’s ‘the Post-Quarantine Church’

I was recently gifted Rainer’s current book entitled ‘the Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation’.  

In little over an hour I was finished. Like his earlier works (Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Becoming a Welcoming Church, and I am a Church Member), this volume is very easy to read and digest. In just over one hundred pages Rainer outlines some very good thoughts that will help pastors and church leaders never return to the pre-quarantine normal.

As founder and CEO of Church Answers, Rainer and his team took it upon themselves to connect with and listen to thousands of church leaders in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The end result was put into ink and published so that churches and leaders can continue to focus on mission and eliminate needless busyness.  

Here’s how.

In very simple terms, Rainer calls leaders to re-think mindsets concerning buildings and bodies.  

First, churches must not simply re-think how people will be welcomed into the building, but they need to ask: how can our building best serve those who currently do not attend?  In the past churches welcomed the community for ‘well-planned, seasonal events’, but now churches need to ask how they can creatively find ways to reach people who are not currently being reached. 

Second, churches must continue reaching out into the digital world to find areas where a few things can be done well.  Churches must not be lured into the temptation of ‘digital busyness’ or not confuse a new busyness with effectives.  Ask how your church is able to best connect with the non-Christian in your community, and keep doing that.  

Third, churches would do well to focus on geographic boundaries rather than denominational lines.  Rainer says that neighbourhood churches were originally started in a community for the community.  The neighbourhood church had a clear purpose and mission: minister to those in your immediate vicinity.

Fourth, prayer needs to be about people praying.  Generally prayer rooms in church buildings remain empty and are often unused.  By utilizing technology and people, prayer ministries can effectively happen anywhere at anytime.

Fifth, referring back to the first challenge, churches will need to rethink their building facility in pretty much every way.  By beginning with a ‘blank slate’, churches have been given the opportunity to serve their community and form partnerships with groups and agencies like never before.  

Last, churches must always think strategically so that lasting change will occur.  A pandemic knee-jerk reaction will not suffice.  Ministry objectives, committee budgets, job descriptions and ministry portfolios will all need to be re-evaluated so that the church can be positioned to achieve success in the post-quarantine world. 

Rainer concludes by listing nine key changes for the newly formed post-quarantined church.  Many of these keys reinforce the earlier six urgent opportunities.  

While reading through this newest book on the church, I was reminded of Rainer’s earlier work Simple Church and Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church.  Rainer does reference Simple Church in this publication, and his referral to the early Jerusalem church is reminiscent of Warren’s focus.

The references to the early church are not many, but when they do appear, Rainer is looking only at the Jerusalem church from the very beginning of the book of Acts.  In fact, he references concepts from Acts 2:42-47.  But here’s the thing, the book of Acts seems to emphasize a different location and church other than Jerusalem in its pages.  In other words, a better example could have been made from the church in Antioch.

History tells us that Antioch was the first great city in which Christianity gained a footing.  It was here where the believers were first referred to as ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26).  It was also in Antioch where the church launched the very first world-wide mission and missionary.  Remember Paul anyone?  

Through the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, the Antioch church displayed concern for people they had never met. It was in Antioch that the church sent out missionaries towards Cyprus, the mainland of Asia Minor, and elsewhere. In fact, Antioch became such an innovative and impacting ‘church’ that the Jerusalem church sent leaders down to Antioch to see what was happening. Oh, and one more thing, the Spirit of God was doing something new in Antioch.

Luke tells us that Antioch was experiencing the moving of God’s Spirit in ways that Jerusalem was not. In Antioch, people were operating with identified spirit-gifts. In Antioch, the church was communally recognizing and sending out workers to impact the nations. In Antioch there was unity between Jews and Gentiles. You can read about in Acts 13.

Also, it was in Antioch that humanitarian aide was organized and sent to those impacted by a famine.  I guess you could say that Antioch modelled a positive response when crisis hit.  

NT Wright summarizes the response from Antioch amidst the impending famine crisis:

So what do the Antioch Jesus-followers say? They do not say either ‘This must be a sign that the Lord is coming back soon!’ or ‘This must mean that we have sinned and need to repent’ – or even ‘this will give us a great opportunity to tell the wider world that everyone has sinned and needs to repent’. Nor do they start a blame-game, looking around at the civic authorities in Syria, or the wider region, or even the Roman empire, to see whose ill-treatment of the eco-system, or whose tampering with food distribution networks, might have contributed to this dangerous situation. They ask three simple questions: Who is going to be at special risk when this happens? What can we do to help? And who shall we send?

Wright, N. T.. God and the Pandemic (pp. 31-32). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. 

Luke tells us that, each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea. They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul.  (Acts 11:29-30)

So perhaps Antioch would be a better example if we are looking for an outward-focused, innovative, and neighbour minded church for our post-quarantine world.

Having said that, I highly recommend Rainer to all church leaders and pastors alike.  He has some really good things to say in easily understood ways.  He does offer practical guidelines and effective principals for churches to think through and implement.  

However, I personally found this edition to not bring an awareness to the Spirit’s creative, innovative and mobilizing work inside the people of God to be the ‘church’.  We cannot miss the primacy that Luke brings to the work of the Spirit in the life of the church.  This is somewhere Rainer does not go.  

Perhaps this is why I am focused on creating a leadership structure that is prioritized on the gifts of the Spirit. Perhaps this is also why I am developing a leadership curriculum so that other churches and leaders can help align their people with the needs of their community. Perhaps this is why we need the church to recalibrate.

More to come …

Maranatha!

Multiple-church-personality disorder

The other day I took a look at my book shelf.  I admit that I am a reader and have accumulated a lot of books.  I also do an annual purge or give away books that I probably will not use down the road.  It is a difficult process for me.  

Regardless of my book departure woes, I realized the other day that I might also have another disorder: a multiple-church-personality-disorder. 

By surveying my bookshelf, I realized that I have many books that speak on and address a variety of important issues pertaining to the church.  Each author has written their masterpiece and stated their opinion as to what the church needs to be, represent, have and not have.  It has left me wondering what kind of ‘church’ I am to aim for and be.  

Am I to be a strategic church, simple church, healthy church, emotional-healthy church, transformational church, multi-ethnic church, purpose-driven church, unleashed church, missional church, deep church, essential church, next level church, vertical church, converged church, emerging church or even a comeback church?  It sure looks like the ‘church’ has a lot of issues … and then along comes COVID!

Now, I am not knocking any of these wonderful authors, and please do not take my comments out of context.  I deeply appreciate what the Spirit has impressed upon each writer’s heart for the church.  However, I honestly am asking the question: What is the church to be? 

There is no doubt that the ongoing pandemic continues to bring a level of uncertainty to all aspects of church life, worship and economics.  As someone whose income is based in the charitable giving of others, the continued economic realities of church economics are obviously very real.  But that is not the point of this blog.  

I recently read through a book entitled Ekklessia by Ed Silvoso.  You guessed it, another book on the church.  However, this book was not like many of the others.  This book did not give a list of principals or practices that were must haves, essential or needed in order for the church to thrive or be relevant.  It was much simpler than that.  The focus of this book was people.

The full title of the book is “Ekklesia: Rediscovering God’s Instrument For Global Transformation”.  The title suggests that God’s ekklesia is the chosen instrument to bring about His transformation to the known world.  Perhaps this is a common understanding for you.  Perhaps not.  But it refreshing to be reminded about God’s favourite building project. 

Ekklesia is the word that Jesus used in the famous verse that Matthew re-captures.  Peter had just been inspired by God to make this statement about who Jesus really is.  

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. 

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My ekklesia, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.  (16:16-18)

In a nutshell, ekklesia was a very common word that simply means assembly.  That’s it.  An assembly of people.  Oftentimes, the word ekklesia was used by the Greek and Roman empires to refer to a body of people assembled together to conduct governmental business.  That’s a far cry from buildings, steeples, pulpits, pews, choirs, members, robes and music.  Those things may help people of faith express their faith, but those things do not truly capture the essence of ekklesia. 

So why did Jesus use this word?  Allow me to suggest three things.        

  • Jesus has come to build people.  Could it be that the modern day church has confined within the four walls of a building something that was originally designed to be a unstoppable transforming movement?  Could it be that we have settled for and focused on principals and programs rather than people?  All I know is that Jesus said that He came to build people.  Period.  Not buildings, systems, programs or principals.   Ekklesia means people.   
  • Building people is not systematic.  For all of the hundreds of books written on the ‘church’, it is helpful to remind ourselves that Jesus actually talked about it twice.  Matthew’s gospel has the only two references in the entire synoptics.  This means that Jesus really did not talk about it a whole lot.  This also means that ‘we’ like to talk about it a whole lot more than He did.  Here’s the point, there is no single normative model of ‘church’ that can be drawn from scripture.  None.  This means that ‘we’ ought to think critically (self-awareness) about all of the latest models, programs, principals and presentations that come our way.  Seriously, if those closest to Jesus don’t recall Him speaking about it much, then perhaps our focus on the church is a little bit unbalanced.  Just saying.  
  • Whoever tells the best story wins.  The cultural experts tell us that our nation is filled with people searching for a non-institutional spiritual experience.  Institutional religion has been rejected, and the masses are looking for new experiences that bring meaning into their lives.  But here’s the thing, we are also told that the majority of seekers do not necessarily know what they’re looking for.  They are simply searching for people to journey with and to share communally the story of their lives.  That is music to the ears of the followers of Jesus because the ekklesia that Jesus is building has a story to tell.

So … what is the church truly to be?  In one word: built.  

Jesus said that He was going to build His ekklesia so that the forces of darkness and evil would not be able to stand against it here on earth.  

So let me end with this.  If we are not building ekklesia, then what are we building?  If we are not structuring ourselves around ekklesia, then what are we structured around?  If we are not listening to the stories of ekklesia, then whose story are we listening to?  If we are not opposing the evils that plague society and the soul, then what are we doing with the ekklesia?

So, from one church leader who at time feels bombarded by all the many principals, procedures, purposes and programs to do with the ‘church’, it is refreshing to remember that Jesus promised to build one thing: people.  

Maranatha!

Dissolving racism

Being ignored leads to frustration.  I am sure that many of us have been ignored.  Whether it was in a line-up at a store, in a restaurant, with a boss or co-worker, or even at home; being ignored is a very frustrating experience.

Oftentimes when people are ignored long enough, they will act.  

This past week we witnessed many players and teams across the world of sports act in unity by not playing their respected NBA or MLB games.  This was done in order to bring attention to the ongoing racism, violence and segregation that exists within the fallen systems and nations of this world.  In particular, the United States.  

Jacob Blake was another victim of violence. Jacob was shot seven times in the back while being taken into custody by two police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The scene was captured and went viral this past week. This lakeshore town of 100,000 is now front and centre in the ongoing monumental problem known as racism.

Racism is defined as prejudice or discrimination towards a person or people on the basis of their particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.  It is a belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities or qualities that distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.  Racism elevates, divides, tears down and diminishes people based on their appearance.  It is contrary to God and His Kingdom.  

Simply put, racism is a societal evil

Here’s the point.  Only in God can racism be dissolved and ultimately end.  

I love John’s vision of heaven.  It continues to astound and amaze me every time I read it.  What I appreciate most about it is that God Himself is going to live with us again.  

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” (Rev. 21:3-5 MSG)

Can you almost see, hear, taste, touch and smell what heaven is going to be like? I can. Simply said, it is going to be a divine experience where all of the robbers of life are gone … racism included.

For the first time since Eden, humanity will be perfectly reunited with our loving Creator who made us and gave us life. In this lasting embrace, God dissolves everything that stands in opposition to His Kingdom life. In God death dies. Humanity and creation are finally set free from deaths sting, curse and destruction forever. Everything is going to be made new.

But what are we to do in the meantime? To phrase it simply: look to Jesus.

If you think that Christianity is the answer for the worlds problems … you’re wrong.  If you think that a godly government or Christian leader is the answer for the world problems … you are also wrong.  

Karl Barth is a highly regarded Christian theologian.  He was once asked this question by a student: “Sir, don’t you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only Christianity?” 

Barth replied, “No, God has not revealed himself is any religion, including Christianity … God has only revealed himself in His Son.”

Jesus is the only perfect icon of God.  Only in Him do we truly see, hear, observe and witness God in the flesh.  The NT affirms that in Jesus we find God.  

The NT writers illustrate that Jesus’ example and lifestyle of self-sacrificial love defies societies racism and stands against the endless acts of violence that plague our world.  Remember, Jesus is not like Caesar.  Jesus does not act like any other earthly ruler known to us.  His lifestyle is love and He models self-sacrifice.  

Today, may we model the same sacrificial love of Jesus. 

Today, may we live out Christ’s model of loving ones enemies and blessing those who hate us. 

Today, may we continue focusing on and fighting for the marginalized, persecuted and discriminated among us. 

Today, may we find ways to express God’s compassion locally to those in minority.  

Today, may we choose to love.  

Perhaps then racism can begin to be dissolved.    

Maranatha!

P.S. Shortly after posting this, the NHL made an announcement that games are also to be postponed in symbolic protest. #historyinrealtime

10 is a good number

When you add up all your toes, what number do you get? When you add up all your fingers and thumbs, what number do you get? Now ask yourself, how many commands did God give Moses?

Biblically speaking, the number ten can often symbolize completeness as fullness. Within the Apocalypse we see that the believers in Smyrna were going to be tested for ten days, indicating a full, complete trial and testing of their faith (2:10). Elsewhere in Revelation the number ten indicates a fullness or completeness of strength. The harlot that John sees in Chapter 17 is in league with ten horns or kings indicating her full and complete reliance upon the strength or power of the beast (17:13).

Here again is the point: the Bible seems to suggest that the number ten symbolizes fullness and completeness.

It is also interesting to note that Jacob vowed to give back to God a tenth of what God gave to him (Gen. 28:22). Was Jacob indicating his full recognition in God as His source and complete trust, worship and obedience to Yahweh? Possibly.

A number of weeks ago our Premier gave us the ability to socialize in groups of ten.

The significance of this number jumped off the page to me when it was announced. Could it be that God has given our government this number as a way for Ontarions to socialize and fellowship in a way that brings a sense of fullness to our social lives? I believe that it can.

A number of weeks ago we hosted a get together for our ‘social bubble’. It was a great time. I know that others have also done the same. I have also talked with others and encouraged more people within the church to also do the same. However, I have always said that whomever you socialize with, or plan to meet with, please do so in an organic, affinity aligned way. Here is what I mean.

You cannot force friendship. Jesus had three close friends. We know them as Peter, James and John. Wether we like it or not, the Almighty, Eternal Logos that became flesh probably spent more time with these three than anyone else. Consider also that the Bible only highlights the stories and writings of small group of Christ’s followers. Here’s the point: small groups can be a powerful thing. Jesus changed the world with a few. Maybe we should also give it a go as well. However, we need to do so as real people.

You cannot fake friendship. Have you ever read “The Velveteen Rabbit”? It’s a story about being real. In the story a toy rabbit is on a quest to discover what it means to be real. The rabbit eventually learns that being real is only found and offered in the context of loving relationships. In the story, this toy rabbit magically becomes living bunny because of his ‘real’ loving relationship with a boy. In other words, you could say that being ‘real’ means that one is in a loving relationship with others.

You cannot formalize friendship. A number of years ago our church tried to ‘run small groups’. It was our attempt to address a need within the congregation. Many folks simply did not know one another outside the Sunday worship service. For a whole year we organized, implemented and structured groups to run and operate via the newest and latest curriculum for small groups. I mean, if it worked for Saddleback, then it must work for us! Well … it didn’t.

This is not a negative towards small group ministry or Saddleback at all. I truly believe in small groups, however, I now realize that it cannot be forced (everyone needs to belong to a group), fake (sign up to attend) or formalized (let’s all watch the DVD and talk about it).

Small groups need to be … formed.

During this ongoing pandemic we have been given the opportunity to form social groups of ten people. This has become known as the ‘social bubble’. I have one and so do you.

If you are not in a social bubble as of yet, why not consider reaching out to someone that you know and give it a try? We all need contact and fellowship with other living beings. Try contacting a friend and set up a time to meet. You may discover that there are a few others that may like to also get together. Now you are off to the races and beginning to form friendships that are real.

If you are on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum and seemingly cannot restrict yourself to ten, maybe consider asking yourself this question: who am I truly in a loving relationship with?

This filter may eliminate 90% of your social connections. But at least you have narrowed it down to a group of people who you can be real with. This smaller group may bring more fullness and completeness to your life than the masses. Just saying.

This coming Saturday evening I will be connecting with a few friends from my ‘bubble’ for dinner. It sounds like another promising evening of being real with one another.

Why not organize one of your own? Jesus changed the world with three. We have been given the green light for ten.

It’s been said that while you may not be able to change the world as one person, you can change the world for one person.

What do you say? Shall we attempt to change the world together?

Maranatha!