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!

Finding the Way again

For those interested, here is a paper that I submitted to Tyndale Seminary as a graduating student for the Victor Adrian Award in Christian Apologetics and Missions.

At the recent online graduation ceremony, I noticed that my name was printed beside the award.

Maybe I was the only entry, maybe not. Regardless, I was humbled and thankful to have won.

My desire in putting this paper ‘out there’ is the off chance that the content could benefit someone in the ‘real world’. If you have read my first published booklet (hello Jesus, goodbye church), some of the content will be familiar to you.

I have to admit that I am somewhat saddened now that my seminary journey is complete. The five-year journey has been an enriching, positive experience that fed my soul when I needed it the most.

As a Pentecostal Studies major, the online ceremony with Master’s College and Seminary will occur next week. I have talked about the deep impact of Dr. Van Johnson in previous blogs. At my exit interview with him, I was able to share my utmost thanks for his continuing call and passion to see ‘guys like me’ enrol in Tyndale through the Master’s Seminary door. I am glad that I did.

Thank you Tyndale, and thank you Master’s College and Seminary for bringing me closer to God and understanding Him in deeper ways.

My life has changed, and I have found my way again.

Here is the paper:

Finding the Way again.

By Joel Holtz

Submitted to:Tyndale Seminary for the purpose of applying for the Victor Adrian Award in Christian Apologetics and Missions

Date: January 19, 2021

As the world continues to watch the unraveling events in the United States, I believe that there is a growing confusion surrounding Christianity, Jesus and those who claim to be followers of God.  This paper is not to be negative and critical in any way concerning traditions of Christianity in the West, nor is it my desire to encourage people to walk away from any faith community.  My goal in writing this paper is to awaken a movement of disciples who will carry out the mission of Jesus to heal the world and work to establish a culture that is reflective of God’s Kingdom.  It is my conviction that now more than ever, followers of Jesus need to recalibrate our life and love to His. 

The Ancient Path

Let’s travel back in time to around A.D. 85.  To be a follower of Jesus Christ is a very dangerous thing.  Times are bad and the situation looks bleak.  For the past thirty years Christians have been persecuted and put to death under order of Emperor Nero, most notably was Peter.  The Gospel of John is set against a backdrop where a community of Jesus followers (let’s just call them disciples) were experiencing a tremendous amount of trouble.  Perhaps the word trouble does not carry the right meaning.  When we hear the word trouble, we can be led to think that we have done something wrong.  But these early disciples did not do something wrong, they actually did something right.  They believed in Jesus.  However, believing in Jesus was a dangerous thing for someone to do.  For a Jew, it meant that they were affirming heresy, blasphemy and aligning themselves with a traitor.  It meant expulsion from God’s Temple and disfellowship from the established social relations within the Jewish culture.  They were outsiders looking in. 

The recent church attendance trend in Canada also has more outsiders looking in.  Regardless of the reasons, the possibility exists that there are more people in Canada who have left the church than what currently remain.  Whether people have either found themselves not fitting into a traditional expression of Christianity, or perhaps actually received the left-foot of fellowship from the religious institution of their day, the fact remains that Elvis is not alone.  Millions have left the building.  But all is not lost because the goal of Christianity was never to simply fit in.

Scholars tell us that it was around the turn of the first century when John began to write.[1]  As far as he knew, no other living witness remained alive.  Peter was gone, and so was brother James.  All of the others have gone silent or are missing.  Paul, Andrew, Thomas, Philip, Matthew, Bartholomew, Simon, Jude and James Alpheus are now all presumed dead.  John was potentially the last living witness of Jesus.  His testimony needed to survive.  But what would he say? 

After listening to words of testimony from others who had met Jesus, and combining his own first-hand experiences with Him, John began to collectively tell the story.  With each passing story there came with it a heightened anticipation and ongoing desire to be reunited with Jesus.  With each passing day, more and more stories were told.  Memories of how Jesus healed eyes, cured leprosy or made legs walk again.  Mary had her own unique memories too.  However, there was a day that stood out to many.  It was the day that Jesus stood up in the Temple and brought everything to a screeching halt. 

It was on the eighth and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles when Jesus addressed the crowds.  For the past seven days crowds of people had gathered to remember God’s protection, deliverance and provision in the past.  For the past seven days people also were reminded to look forward to the time when God would return and bring a fulfillment to everything He promised.  These feasts and gatherings were sacred times for the Jews.  It was here, during the greatest day of this sacred time, the eighth day, when Jesus stood and spoke.  It was if the whole world stood still. 

John is pretty clear that Jesus disrupted the pomp and circumstance of the Feast of Tabernacles by doing this very thing.  We are told that Jesus stood up and said, “If anyone is thirsty, they should come to Me and drink.”  He also said something would begin to flow out.[2]

J.D. Greear in his book, Gaining by Losing says that the Judea-Christian faith means to align oneself with a God who is described as a spiritual cyclone.[3]  According to Greear, the Hebrew God pulls you in so that He can send you back out.  This means that to follow the God of the Bible, and Jesus is to recognize that we serve and follow a God that sends. 

In Chapter 2 of John’s gospel we are told about a wedding that took place in Cana of Galilee.  John mentions the location twice just in case we needed a reminder of where this little town was.[4]  But Mary would know these small regions of Galilee well, and perhaps she is remembering this encounter vividly.  How could she forget this moment because she may have been there to help oversee this wedding.  Like any good hostess, Mary leaped into action as soon as she noticed that the wine had run out.  I can almost see her retelling this story among the believers in Ephesus with a glint in her eye.  Not only was she able to do something about the situation, she more importantly knew someone who could help.  Jesus was there.

In the ancient middle east, hospitality is a sacred duty, and the failure for a host to adequately provide for guests is a major problem.[5]  To run out of provisions at a wedding would cause terrible humiliation for this young bride and the bridegroom in the eyes of everyone.  Running out of wine would be a complete disaster.  For a Jewish feast, wine was essential.  ‘Without wine’, said the Rabbis, ‘there is no joy’.[6]

We know the story well.  Mary asks Jesus to help, and Jesus turns six vessels of water into wine.  No big deal.  But it is important to highlight what John highlights.  It was not just one jug of water that Jesus turned into one jug of wine.  No.  It was six containers that were filled with twenty to thirty gallons each.  Think about it.  Jesus turned one hundred and eighty gallons of water into one hundred and eighty gallons of the best wine!  

Here’s the point: Jesus converted an extravagant amount of water into an extravagant amount of wine.  Why does that matter?  For a Jewish audience, this could indicate something about the arrival of God’s long-awaited Kingdom. 

The Hebrew people believed that wine was a gift given by God and was associated with His blessing and abundance.[7]  The Old Testament talked about wine overflowing in abundance in the coming days when God would fulfill His promises and lead His people into a time of blessing and favour.  This means that the coming fulfillment of this blessed time of abundance was heralded to be an event that would be marked by an overflowing of wine and an abundance of food.[8] 

Our contemporary Western ears could miss the biblical significance here.  John seems to believe that in Jesus, the long-awaited fulfillment of the promise of abundant blessings was beginning to be fulfilled. [9]  No wonder John links the ‘glory’ of God with this miracle of abundance at a wedding, where there is a feast.  And to top it all off, it happened on the ‘third day’. 

I do not believe that this is just some random miracle in poor-town Galilee.  John is seeing more and wants his audience to see deeper too.  John understands that this miracle is somehow manifesting the very same glory of God that was experienced by Moses on top of Mount Sinai on the third day.[10]  Except, this time, God is doing it through Jesus, at a wedding, on the third day.  Could Jesus be unleashing God’s kingdom now?

The picture of the kingdom of God as a wedding feast has wide biblical support and also summons up biblical images of the long-awaited messianic era.  For God’s people, it was going to be a time when God would bring an end to everything that robs people of joy and life.[11]

Now we can see what John is beginning to teach us.  A new mountain has arrived, and a new place is able to receive the glory of God.  Why does this matter?  I am quite certain that the Johannine community in Ephesus would have raised an eyebrow when it was reported or read to them that the glory of God was manifested in a place outside the Temple.  Remember, the physical Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and to make matters worse, they were not welcomed into the local building either.  But the glory of God is no longer contained to a physical building anymore, nor is it restricted to a certain place.  It is manifesting through a Person here on earth in the lowliest of places.      

For eons the doxa of God had only been linked with one place within the Jewish tradition: the Temple.  In other words, Judaism had an understanding that God had already given them an incarnational symbol of His presence here on earth.  The Temple was the place where the living, breathing Almighty God would dwell.  But all of that has now changed.  Jesus is here, and He is acting as the Temple, in person.[12]

The Temple had long been identified within Judaism as the place where God resides on earth.  As such, the Temple was understood within Judaism to be the place where the realm of God (heaven) and the realm of humanity (earth) overlapped.  In other words, the Temple was the place where heaven and earth met.[13]  This meant that the Jews already had a symbol of what God looked like here on earth: the Temple.  But John redefines this dramatically. 

John does not present the Temple as the place where God dwells, nor does he present the Temple as the overlapping place of God’s abiding presence.  John redefines all of this, and places Jesus at the very centre of it all.  If this is true, then Jesus is now the place where God Almighty dwells.  He is the true logos, light and life of God on earth.  In other words, the glory of God looks and acts like Jesus.[14]    

For the early disciples in Ephesus this would mean some radical implications.  Would they be able to meet with Jesus in a place other than the dedicated buildings of their past?  Would they be able to discern the ways of God without the established religious structures and voices of systematic protocol?  How could they possible navigate their way in the midst of a pagan polytheistic culture? 

Perhaps the pressing question is: what does life with Jesus look like now?

The Path of Love

John 13 is sometimes referred to as the footwashing chapter.  The ancient Eastern world taught that guests feet, often begrimed from the dusty streets, should be washed by a slave upon arrival and entrance of a house.[15]  The general rule was that a slave or person from a lower social class would be assigned this task by the host.  Washing feet was a particularly humble task, often looked down upon and something that even a Jewish slave would not be required to perform.[16]  The following details from John’s memory are particularly revealing. 

In the footwashing scene we are told that Jesus rose from the table and prepared Himself to do something that deviated from the customary practice of the day. [17]  Rather than sitting back and finishing the meal, Jesus took it upon Himself to once again demonstrate something that was going to rock the disciples’ world. 

In this revolutionary scene, Jesus astonishingly abandons the established social codes and normal scripts of the ancient Jewish world and washed the feet of His disciples.[18]  You might be thinking to yourself, ‘what is so revolutionary about this’?  Jesus is simply showing an example of humble servitude.  True.  Judaism stressed humility, and Jesus could be illustrating the importance of this essential characteristic.  But there is more.

You may also be thinking that Jesus is doing this because of the cleansing from sin that will happen on the cross, and knowing this, Jesus is foreshadowing that upcoming event.  True.  Oftentimes scholars do interpret the passage this way highlighting the purification and sacramental implications from this scene.  However, all of those interpretations ignore the fact that Jesus did this in the context of a meal.[19]

In the ancient world meals were highly social events and were held so that statements could be made about relationships, identity, closeness and the honor of those who were invited and actually came.[20]  But this was not just another social meal for Jesus.  John says that this also happened around Passover.  Now watch what Jesus does.

In dramatic fashion, the Teacher, changes roles with this students by washing their feet.  By doing this Jesus intentionally crosses the common social lines of the day and breaks all of the established social norms that the disciples have grown accustom to and were comfortable with.[21]  He has dramatically overturned their understanding of social status positions, by assuming this ‘lowly’ position.[22]  

This picture of Jesus washing the feet of His loved ones is reminiscent of the same God that loved the world so much that He descended into the very depths of the human story.[23] The transcendent God has entered into our time and space to reveal His unprecedented love through Jesus.[24]  This love of God in Jesus has opened a new living reality that followers are now to express and bring to the world.[25]  In other words, God has given us the ability and opportunity to express a new way of being human.  This is John’s way of describing the awesome love of God: it has taken a foot-washing form.[26] 

By washing the feet of the disciples Jesus was doing something that would be an incomprehensible social act.[27]   No wonder Peter had a hard time allowing Jesus to do this.  Peter objected because Jesus violated so many social standards of the day.[28]  He was lovingly changing roles with those ‘beneath’ Him.

Undercover Boss is a reality TV show featuring high-ranking executives or owners of corporations going ‘undercover’ as an entry-level employee.  The executives alter their appearance and even assume an alias so that they will not become detected.  They do this so that they can receive an inside look at their company and the people who work within.  At the end of their time being undercover, these top executives return to their true identity and oftentimes reward their hard-working employees.  But in Jesus’ world, we are not to return to our ‘top positions’.  We are to perpetually look for opportunities that demonstrate a socially upside-down way of loving.

It is striking that Jesus pushed past Peter’s boldness and refusal, to make a very profound statement: in order to ‘have part’ with Him means partnering in a movement of self-giving love.[29]  He was doing it to show that if footwashing was not beneath His dignity, then nothing was.  But being loved is not the end of the story.  Accepting a love like this also means bringing it to the multitudes. 

The Greatest Example

Oftentimes within Western Evangelicalism, Jesus is presented as a solution to the sin and hellfire problem.  In this way, Jesus is sometimes viewed as coming to earth in order to get humanity off the hook so that we can go to heaven when we die.  God the Father is often painted as an angry God that needs some sort of payment or sacrifice in order to balance the cosmic scales of justice and wrath.  However, this is not how John sees the cross.[30] 

John has very little to say about familiar theologies that emphasize wrath, payment, or any type of substitution.  He actually talks more about abiding with God than needing to be saved by God or from God.[31]  Furthermore, any type of payment or courtroom metaphors often used to describe the cross are completely absent in John’s gospel.  What does matter to John is that there is a reason for the cross and that somehow it was necessary so that humanity can receive the gift of life from the Father.[32]  For John, the cross is an expression of God’s radical love.[33]  It’s as if God the Father in Jesus was saying, I will even do ‘this’ because I love you so much.  The cross then becomes not only an expression of love, but also an open invitation for all to accept a love like this, be changed by it, and welcome others via it.  This is exactly what Jesus was modelling: a love that crosses social barriers. 

We are also told that on the cross Jesus looked at Mary and then to John and basically said to them: this is your new family.[34]  By doing this, Jesus is asking John and Mary to begin modelling faith and family in a completely new way.  In other words, because of the cross and from that moment onward, a new family in Jesus has been created.[35]  Jesus was asking them to unconditionally accept one another and model faith in a new way: a loving community

The Way Today

Sometimes the message from Western church culture insists that Christianity only gets good when you die.  In other words, ‘Jesus has come to earth to get us off the hook so that I can go to heaven when I die’.  For John, everything about that statement is completely wrong.  John believes that Jesus is somehow able to not only brings the abundant life of God into our reality, He also opens up a new way of living now. 

There is an ancient document that potentially helps us understand how followers of Jesus were living in Ephesus.  It is called the Didache, which means ‘the teaching’.  The Didache was written during the second century of Christianity and can help us understand the cultural context of the church during this time period.  The following quote comes from an early document called an ‘Epistle to Diognetus’.  The writer is unknown but is responding to a pagan of high social or political rank.[36]  This high ranking official had requested this writer to tell them about this ‘new Christian religion’ that was permeating the Roman Empire.  The writer insists that the Christian way of living ‘conformed to the customs of the country in dress, food, and mode of life general’ and ‘the whole tenor of their way of living stamps it worthy of admiration and admittedly extraordinary’. 

The writer also goes on to describe more about the ethical lives of these Jesus followers and makes another riveting statement: ‘Christians love those who hate them.’[37]  This is extremely helpful for us because this unknown writer was from Ephesus and was describing John’s faith community.   

If we are to take seriously John’s memory of Jesus and the truth of his gospel, then the goal for followers today is not simply to remain in a holy huddle, but to physically bring and model the reality of this upside-down kingdom life to the world.[38]  In other words, followers today ought to be modelling a different way of being human. 

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.  For my own tribe, this has unfortunately been all to true.   

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.  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.’[39]

The imagery within John’s gospel challenges the separation notion and ought to return the ‘church’ today to a continual dependence in knowing and experiencing the ‘embarrassingly intimate and personally and socially disarming reality’ of Jesus and His Kingdom.[40]  I cannot think of a better analogy than to describe Jesus’ loving descent into a broken, hurting and grimy world than the footwashing scene.   

In an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and with church attendance trends still spiralling downward, perhaps it is time for followers of Jesus across our nation to rethink how we have modelled God’s self-giving love to the world.  Maybe it is time to start living another way.   

Summary

On November 12, 2019 a brand-new American style space Western streaming series hit the online community.  This live-action series is called The Mandalorian.  The storyline features and follows Mando, a warrior-type hero who is a member of a clan-based cultural group known as the Mandalorians.  This unique community is composed of members from multiple species who are all bound by a common culture, creed, and code.[41]  Mando is often heard referring to this code by saying, ‘this is the way.’ 

In this paper I have demonstrated that John’s gospel speaks a radical message about the way Jesus lived and loved.  Furthermore, I believe that contemporary followers today would do well to return to our ancient path, Jesus.  His is after-all the Way. 

John was there when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and would have been on the receiving end of Jesus’ boundless love.  John was also in Ephesus establishing a new community that would operate in love’s way.  If you listen closely, you can almost hear the unspoken creed declared from this group: This is the way, the way of love.  Perhaps if we do, we will begin to model to a culture that the church was never a place to leave, but was actually a way of being human.

Lesslie Newbigin says that the church is be the bearer of good news to all the nations of a gospel that announces that the kingdom, the reign, and the sovereignty of God has now come.[42]  In other words, the gospel is not meant to call people out of the world and into a safe religious enclaves, but rather the gospel calls people out, in order to send them back into the world as agents of God’s kingdom.[43] This is a call that ought to move and motivate every believer to push past and challenge the status quo and social lines within our communities with crazy demonstrations of God’s radical love. 

For our local church it has meant purchasing new clothing items for those in need, partnering with a community food organization to help address food insecurities in our community, running a lunch program in the local middle school, and giving away back-to-school backpacks filled with school supplies.  However all of these examples do not fully grasp the revolutionary and vulnerable display of self-giving love depicted in the footwashing scene. 

The point however, is that our embodiment of the Father’s love needs to be awkward, and it needs to be weird.[44]  It also needs to be a catalyst the expresses our love for Jesus and others in a radical crazy way that not confined within a physical building.  When done correctly maybe, just maybe a new community of self-giving love will re-created.  When done correctly, maybe, just maybe this ideal will be accompanied by concrete practices within a committed community of disciples.  When done currently, maybe, just maybe followers today will continue to fuel the passion of the Father’s self-giving love demonstrated and embodied like the living Jesus. 

To ‘recalibrate’ means to ‘calibrate to (something) again’.  N.T. Wright says that the early church understood that whatever God was doing, He was going to do through them.[45]  Today, if we listen to one ancient voice, I believe that John would say: This is the way.       


[1] Ian W Scott. Gospel of John: Light in the Darkness. Lecture notes Week 2. NEWT 0726, Tyndale Seminary Online, 2020.

[2] John 7:38

3. J.D. Greear. Gaining by Losing. Grand Rapids: MI. Zondervan. 2015. pg. 80

[4] John 2:1, 11

[5] William Barclay. The Gospel of John. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press. 2001. Pg. 114.

[6] Ibid

[7] Deuteronomy 7:13, Jeremiah 31:12

[8] Francis J Moloney. The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina.  Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 1998. Pg. 66.  Also see Hosea 2:19-20, Isaiah 25:6-8, Jeremiah 2:2, Song of Songs, Joel 3:18, Amos 9:13-14

[9]Colin G. Kruse. John: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2003. Pg. 97

[10] Moloney, 66. See Exodus 19:16

[11] Isaiah 25:6-8

[12] NT Wright, Simply Jesus. New York, NY: Harper One. 2011.  Pg. 133   

[13] Wright, 132.

[14] John 1:14

[15] Bruce Milne. The Message of John: Here is your King!  Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1993. Pg. 233

[16] D.A.Carson, The Gospel According to John. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans. Pg. 461

[17] Jan van der Watt. “The Meaning of Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples (John 13).” in Neotestamentica 51, no. 1 (January 2017): 25–39. doi:10.1353/neo.2017.0001. Pg. 30

[18] Scott, Lecture 7

[19] van der Watt, 27

[20] Ibid

[21] Scott, lectures

[22] van der Watt, 31

[23] John 3:16, John 13:1

[24] Thomas L. Brodie. The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Oxford University Press, 1997. Accessed November 10, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, Pg. 456

[25] Ibid

[26] Brodie, 446

[27] van der Watt, 31

[28] John Christopher Thomas, Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community. Cleveland, TN: CPT Press. 2014. Pg. 53

[29] Moloney, 375

[30] Scott, lecture 10

[31] Ibid

[32] Ibid

[33] Ibid

[34] John 19:25-27

[35] Moloney, 504

[36] Wahba, Wafik. Gospel, Church, Culture. Lecture notes. MISS 0782. Tyndale Seminary. Online. 2020

[37] Ibid

[38] Daniel Castelo, “The Improvisational Quality of Ecclesial Holiness” in Towards a Pentecostal Ecclesiology: The Church and the Fivefold Gospel.  CPT Press; Cleveland, TN: 2010. Pg. 100-101 

[39] Bradley Truman Noel, Noel. Pentecostalism, Secularism, and Post-Christendom. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 2015. Pg. 181.

[40] Ibid

[41] Fandom, “Mandalorian,” https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Mandalorian (accessed December 4, 2020) 

26 Lesslie Newbigin.  Foolishness to the Greeks. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 1986. Pg.124

[43] Ibid.

[44] Scott, Lectures

[45] N.T. Wright. God and the Pandemic. Zondervan. Kindle Edition. Pg. 32

What Mom taught me about God

This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day.  Generally speaking, Mother’s Day is a worldwide tradition that honours motherhood.  In some countries it is a single day celebration that takes place in the month of May.  In other countries the celebration can last a couple of days and even in a different month.  

For example, Ethiopian families celebrate motherhood in the Autumn and have multiple meals during the week, while in Thailand, Mother’s Day is always celebrated on the birthday of the current reigning queen.1 In Canada, as far as I can remember, Mother’s Day has traditionally been celebrated on the second Sunday of May. I acknowledge that it is a nice tradition, and it is good for us to celebrate our Moms and all Mothers. At times I do wonder how this tradition has come to be somewhat of an annual liturgical event for the church.

Regardless, if we want to be biblical about honoring our Moms and Dads, then it should be something that the people of God do every day.

I remember going to Crusaders at church as a kid.  If you are not familiar with Crusaders or Missionnettes, they were a mid-week program that Pentecostal churches could offer for boys and girls.  My home church ran it for years, and my parents were often the ones leading the thing. 

Anyways, during my Crusader years, I learned the famous 10 Commandments from the Old Testament.  One of them on the list is to honour your mother and father.  Depending on your Bible translation, it may read something like this:

Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)

There you have it.  It’s in the Bible.  According to God, honoring your parents will yield a long and prosperous life.  Who wouldn’t want that!  So maybe there is something to this whole honoring thing after all.

In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul picks up on this and describes what this ‘honoring’ concept ought to look like for the people of God.  In his letter to them, Paul attempts to explain that all relationships need to be self-giving.  

Paul’s key thought is this one: followers of Jesus are to basically give of themselves the way that Christ did. This means that regardless of position within the family or society, the message was clear for all Christians: we are to live in relational self-giving and demonstrate relational self-giving within the family unit.

When it comes to these family dynamics, Paul expresses his desire for the Ephesians to do this very thing. By demonstrating this quality daily, they would become a people characterized by a mutual love for one another.

Luciano Lombardi, in his commentary on Ephesians, says that ‘children are to view their parents in the loving equality and acceptance’ that is to be symbolic of the ‘new humanity’ made available and given to them in Christ. In other words, the people of God would do well to remember and replicate what was modelled to them by God Himself.  

Lombardi captures and expresses this really well:

“Think of the incredible love and patience God showed toward Israel over the centuries and, for that matter, continues to show humanity in general and to each of us who call Him Father.  Instructing, and advising, warning and correcting, waiting patiently, forgiving and restoring, being there for us – these are they ways that God has displayed His loving character as He has historically engaged in relationship with humanity.”3

When reading Lombardi’s comments on God self-giving and loving ways, I could not help but be reminded of my Mother.

In terms of self-giving qualities, and the characteristics mentioned above, my Mom has exhibited all of those in spades. Not only did she lovingly raise three kids into adulthood, but while doing so she also held down a full-time teaching job, coached numerous track and field athletes and teams, organized and conducted annual school musicals for decades, taught and led in children’s church programs, while hosting family meals, birthday parties, anniversaries and Christmas dinners.

Also, never once did she miss taking her own crew to ongoing rehearsals, practices for sports, shifts for work and visits to both sets of grandparents.  Not to mention the fact that we were always on time and properly dressed too!  I am exhausted trying to remember and list half of the things that she did do, and I know that I have probably forgotten more than what I can remember.  

The point is that my Mother has helped me and countless others understand the loving-nature of God in deep cherishing ways. She taught and cared for all her students with equality, love and compassion every day. She gave countless hours pouring into thousands of lives through music and athletics her entire career. From cheering people across the finish line, to applauding students achieving success, Mom was a place of strength and support for all her ‘children’.

For friends and relatives, Mom served and put together thousands of meals in our home for multiple generations.  Neighbours, cousins, aunts and uncles gathered in our home on many occasions and were treated to an endless supply of desserts, food and laughs. Church goers, pastors and travelling guests were often invited to come over for a meal and enjoy a time of fellowship with our family. All who came to the family table were treated like royalty.

I think that the number of people and lives impacted by Mom’s self-giving love may never be fully realized on this side of eternity. And the thing is, she’s still at it today. Even in retirement she continues to find ways to help feed those in need, volunteer hours in local stores and provide care for her neighbours, family and friends. She is and continues to be an example of self-giving love.

Now, don’t kid yourself. She could scare the hair right off of a wooly mammoth if she needed to. Trust me, I’ve tried to mess with her a time or to, or know of others who have attempted to do the same. Momma bears have a reputation for a reason, and my Mom is no different. But all who know Shawna Holtz, know her to be a person of genuine loving-kindness.

I am glad that I know her as my Mom.

Love ya Mom … and thanks for teaching me all about God. 

Maranatha

  1. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/mothers-day

2. Luciano Lombardi, A New Humanity, 120

3. ibid, 122

A long obedience

Eugene H. Peterson is one my favourite biblical teachers, writers and prophetic voices.  You may have read some of his work even if you have never heard of him.  The Message bible is one of Peterson’s most commonly known works.  Perhaps a lesser known one is this: A long obedience in the same direction.  

In this commentary of selected ascension psalms, Peterson pinpoints some of the unique challenges that the people of God faced in the ancient world as they pilgrimaged with God.  As pilgrims, the Israelites were a group of people who spent their lives journeying towards God, or places to meet with God.  The long up and down history of the nation of Israel illustrates many things, and highlights some of the real challenges and obstacles that the people of God faced in the world.  However, travelling to Jerusalem and meeting with God at His Temple was a foundational element and primary ingredient in the lives of the Hebrews.

Today, some of this ancient history is lost and foreign to our modern ears. The thought of spending days walking somewhere is not overly a positive one, let alone the idea of giving as opposed to receiving.

Peterson says that the contemporary Christian culture at large can at times be guilty of searching in order to consume the ‘newest and best’, as long as it is packaged and presented in an appealing fresh way. This can give way to what Peterson refers to as a ‘tourist mindset’.

Peterson believes that religion in the Western world has been captured by a consumer and touring mindset. Religious and spiritual seekers have often visited an attractive site in order to be treated to something adequate and appealing. In this way, attending church had become a leisurely activity that was similar to going to the movies, sporting events or other venues of entertainment. For many, the ‘Christian life’ was a pursuit of the right personality, right truth, and right experience that would bring the right return into their lives with the least amount of resistance or cost. In other words, today’s Christianity had become more about instant gratification than a long obedience in the same direction.

Peterson says that under such conditions, the Christian life will not mature and only yield a passion for the immediate and casual. The endless pursuit of the next big thing, breakthrough or big ticket item will only give rise to more anxiety and will continue to rob people of tranquility and peace. The end result will yield a people who are more like wandering nomads than journeying pilgrims. I couldn’t agree more.

Pastoring today continues to bring unique challenges with God’s people, and many of the lingering issues have been heightened by the pandemic. Before COVID everyone was in a hurry, and most people preferred short-cut solutions in hopes of spiritual satisfaction . In this way, Peterson says that most Christians desired a tour-guide who would give people the high points, instant credit (in eternity), a constant flow of new information and a bump free, user friendly ride. However, this is not what Jesus calls for. Jesus calls for disciples.

As a pastor, it is my privilege to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus. I truly enjoy helping people work through life issues and help them with questions concerning faith in this world. Having a deep appreciation for the Bible, it brings me joy to teach and challenge people along scriptural lines. However, to truly follow Jesus, we must be willing learners in all of life’s journey.

As our Master, followers of Christ are to be discipled learners who spend their lives apprenticed to Him. A disciple is a learner, but not so much in an academic setting or school. Biblically speaking, a disciple is someone who is in a growing-learning relationship with Jesus in the marketplace, job or work-site. In other words, Christianity is about growing and acquiring skills in faith outside the walls any institution or chapel building. Following Jesus is a journey plain and simple. It’s a path filled with ups and downs, and twists and turns. But through it all, it is also a constant journey and quest towards God Himself.

I will readily admit that this pandemic has shifted many things at a light-speed pace leaving many people with lingering questions, myself included. In many conversations with others, there seems to be a genuine and general ‘nomadic’ feeling to our everyday existence. In my previous blog, I mentioned that this third lock-down has perhaps been the hardest. These last few weeks have heightened feelings of restlessness, anxiety and angst that were already present and elevated in our lives. Many are feeling emotions, feelings, fears and doubts in new and unsettling ways. More people are experiencing tribulations, trials, and troubles that have shaken foundations of faith and have led to serious questions about God and His activity in the world.

What are we to do?

Peterson suggests that if you are fed up with the way things are, and have a serious appetite for something satisfying and true, then you are ready to journey the path of a pilgrim. For Peterson, such dissatisfaction with the world as it is, is preparation for traveling in the way of Christian discipleship. In other words, ‘a person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before (they) can acquire an appetite for the world of grace.’

Are you ready?  

If so, may we turn to God and begin our pilgrimage back to Him.

It may be a long journey, but the path is going in the right direction.

Maranatha!

The God of the valley

A line from Psalm 23 has been on my heart and in my mind the last couple of weeks.  Maybe it is because the last couple of weeks seem to have been extra draining than normal.  Anyone else feel the same?

Is it just me, or has this third lockdown messed us up a little bit more than the others?  To be clear, I am not referring to economics, politics or education issues.  I am speaking directly to the centre our being.  I am talking about our souls.  

When was the last time someone asked ‘how your soul is doing?’

For me, it was last year while taking part in an online webinar.  The featured speaker asked this very question to the hundreds of online guests: how is your soul?  

On December 25 2020, Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures released a computer-animated film entitled: Soul. The story is about a middle school music teacher named Joe Gardner, who after an accidental death, seeks to reunite his soul with his body.  The film follows Joe’s journey into the ‘Great Beyond’ and then back to earth again as he desires to fulfill his life-long dream of becoming a professional jazz musician.  Our family enjoyed the film and appreciated the reflection given about what it is that makes you, you.

So let me ask you a question: how do you define a soul?  

Webster’s says that the ‘soul’ is the spiritual part of a person that is believed to give us life.  This follows somewhat of a traditional understanding that views our human bodies to be comprised of a physical part that is separate from the spiritual part.  

Others attempt to separate our ‘being’ into physical and mental classifications that are believed to be separate, radically different and somewhat disconnected from each other.

However, according to the Bible and traditional Jewish understanding, the ‘soul’ of a person was not distinct or separate from the physical body.  The Bible says that we are simply living beings.  

The glimpse given to us in Genesis is that of Almighty God bending and breathing into the first human’s nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7).  Joel Levison says that in this way, the first adam had become a living soul that contained the spirit of life.1  In other words, human beings are unmade without the spirit and lifeless clay without God’s breath. 

This means that our Creator did not make an exterior physical form and them put a soul into it like water filling up an empty jar.  No.  The Bible says that the Lord God made humanity from the dust of the ground (not the dirt) and then breathed life into us.  

Not only that, but the Bible also tells us that God desires to breathe new life into us too! 

In a vision given to Ezekiel, the prophet sees a time when a new breath will enter humanity that will actually be the Holy Spirit of God.  

Why does any of this matter?

Simply this: As human beings, we can be filled with the Spirit of life. 

I don’t know about you, but these days seem to carry a lingering shadow of uncertainty that can be perpetually draining.  Furthermore, these factors and others can trigger fears and produce high levels of anxiety and worry that can be paralyzing.  At times we can feel ‘cast’. 

In the Ancient world and even today, there are people who look after sheep.  Shepherds are sheep people who understand and care for these wooly mammals every day.  I am told that every so often a sheep can potentially roll over onto its back and not be able to get up without assistance.  A sheep that has done this is called a ‘cast’ sheep.  

When this happens, the sheep can baa, kick and wail all it wants to, but it will not be able to get back up on its feet again until the shepherd comes to help.  Depending on how long the sheep has been on its back, the shepherd may even need to rub the legs of the sheep to get blood flowing and life back into the extremities of the sheep’s body.    

Perhaps this was in the mind of David when he wrote Psalm 23.  

In the 23rd Psalm, David pens some of the most comforting words to those who are going through times of trouble, trials and tribulations.  During those times, David realized that there was a Good Shepherd watching over his life who would come and bring restoration to his very soul.  

After His death, Jesus appeared to His own sheep while they huddled in a room behind locked doors and paralyzing fear.  John tells us that Jesus walked into the midst of them and breathed the Holy Spirit into them.  Did you catch that?  Jesus breathed into them the Holy Spirit.

Putting it very simply, Jesus filled them with new life.  

Here’s the point.  

Maybe that ‘sheep’ is you.  Maybe that ‘sheep’ is me.  Maybe that ‘sheep’ is all of us.  The point is that there is a Good Shepherd who will not abandon His sheep in our time of need.  His name is Jesus, and He is able to restore our souls in life changing ways.    

If you are at a point where you feel ‘cast’, alone, and needing help.  If you are feeling drained, fatigued and constantly under the shadow of the valley.  If you feel paralyzed, fearful and full of worry.  If that is you, all you have to do is make Jesus your shepherd and receive His life giving love.  

David could say that God was ‘my’ shepherd, because David allowed God to be his shepherd.  Those two little letters made all the difference for David, and it can for you as well.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  Yes.  But He wants to be yours as well.    

My prayer is that whomever reads this blog will turn to Jesus and receive His life giving love.  

My prayer is that you will allow Him to breathe God’s very Spirit into you and fill you with new life.  

My prayer is that you will be able to say that the Lord is my Shepherd, and allow God to bring restoration to you very soul. 

My prayer is that you will allow Jesus to continually help and strengthen you to be … you. 

Maranatha.

  1. Joel R. Levison. Filled with the Spirit. pg. 23

Radiant Thursday

What a gorgeous day again in the City of Kawartha Lakes!  Wow.  This is definitely the kind of weather most of us have been longing for all winter.  It is so good to hear the birds, so good to feel the warmth of the sun and definitely so very good to see and know that all the snow is gone!  

But, there are also some ‘not so goods’ too.  I know that it is ‘not so good’ to be in the midst of another lock-down and ‘not so good’ to be faced with all of the restrictions that correspond with it.  I know.  At times it can feel that there is always a ‘gloom’ amidst our sunny days. 

Handling all of the the constant ‘unknowns’ and dealing with the plethora of opinions out there can definitely continue to take its toll. The Bible reminds us that we are only ‘earthen vessels’ that can only take only so much. When you add the ongoing ‘Zoom fatigue’ and the constant brain drain from electronics into the mix, the looming lock-down can be viewed to be extra emptying.

The point that I want to make is this: we all need to look after ourselves, especially during these days.  The old saying is true: if you don’t look after yourself, no-one else will. 

So, please take the time to care for yourself during these extra-challenging days.  

Here are a couple thoughts that might help:

Routines: Generally speaking, people embrace routine and appreciate its rythm. Before the pandemic, most people had a rythm that included caffeine, commutes, computers and customers. For others it was a slower pace of walks, talks a gawks. But all of us had a pre-pandemic routine that has been severely affected. However, with the now third ‘stay at home order’ being implemented, many of us have had to re-adjust and find new ways of being normal. In other words, we have made adjustments and have created some new routines. But the key is to develop a routine and stick with it. So, whatever new routine you are doing, try being consistent during these next few weeks.

Relationships: We are social beings whether introverts like it or not. Scientists have actually told us that humanity has a ‘relational brain’ that desires to and needs to connect with other living beings. Go figure! It seems that our Triune God has wired into us a desire to connect with other people. It’s called community.

One of the positive things that the pandemic has done for us is that it has brought about a change in our relationships with others. Many existing relationships have been deepened, while others have closed. We also have been given the ability to create new relationships with those around us. Many people have discovered their neighbours for the very first time. Through it all the pandemic has definitely heightened our need to connect with people, and has also given many the opportunity to create new relationships. During these days, it is important to continue connecting with our existing friends and even be willing to foster new ones.

Rewards: Everyone likes to be rewarded, so why not reward yourself from time to time. Let’s face it, we have all overcome some incredible obstacles this past year. Yours are different than mine, but we have all had to overcome some significant challenges. Perhaps it’s time to celebrate and treat yourself to something nice.

In our house, eating out is a treat and oftentimes comes at the end of the week or on the week-end. We generally steer-clear of fast-food and prefer to cook and eat at home. Our children often play a role in cooking and take their turn preparing meals. So, ordering in is kind of like a reward. For us, it often involves ordering pizza and then watching a couple movies. For you it might be a store related purchase or some other delightful treat. But the point is, take the opportunity to reward yourself every now and again for the things that you have accomplished.

Now I realize that the ongoing pandemic and lock-down has the potential to turn everyday into a pizza, pajamas and movie day. But this is where routines and relationships help bring that needed balance so that we don’t slip off into the abyss of online binging and constantly skipping the dishes.

So let us rise above any tendencies to drift away from routines and relationships during ths third Province wide lock-down.  May we also take it upon ourselves to periodically check in with others to see if they are doing ok.  

We could all use a little more personal touch in our highly technical digital lives.  Who knows, you may even brighten someones day by doing so.    

Maranatha!  

Gnats, camels and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine

According to Wikipedia, Richard Albert Mohler Jr. (born 1959) is an American historical theologian, the ninth president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and host of the podcast “The Briefing” where he daily analyzes the news and events from a “Christian worldview.” He has been described as “one of America’s most influential evangelicals”.

On Wednesday, March 3, 2021 Mohler’s title for his podcast was this: Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Approved by U.S. for Emergency Use: How Should Pro-Life Christians Think about This Newest Vaccine?

After reading through the transcript, it was clear to me that the main thrust of his argument is coming from a very narrow Evangelical worldview. 

In his post Mohler asks the following question:  Can a Christian, a pro-life Christian committed to the sanctity of human life and to avoiding complicity and evil, take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

In a very lengthy argument Mohler tracks the history of vaccines and mentions the usage of cloned cells coming from aborted fetuses.  Being adamantly opposed to abortion, Mohler feels compelled to talk about this when commenting on the making of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  

He says that although the cells used by Johnson and Johnson are ‘not absolutely direct’  from any aborted fetus, ‘we have to recognize that morally there is an indirect … or a link between the aborted tissues and the evential Johnson & Johnson vacccine.’

Mohler then goes on to elaborately talk about the dangers of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine based upon the principle of proximity.  Mohler defines this as how far from the original evil is the product, which is now under consideration?  

In this case, the product is a vaccine and the original evil for Mohler is the act of abortion that was conducted decades ago.  Mohler states that current vaccines were based upon cell lines dating back to the 1970s, when tissues were used from aborted fetuses.  

He goes on to say that one cell line that has become very much interwoven with modern medicine. And we’ll have to talk about that.

Although Mohler does not come right out and explicitly state that this ‘one cell line’ is found in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he pretty well infers it.

Mohler relies heavily upon the findings of one institution, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, who put a ‘red diamond’ beside the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in terms of development, production and testing.  Without explaining what this means or the significance of the ‘red diamond’, Mohler blatantly asks, ‘now how do Christians think about this?’  

Believing that the Charlote Lozier Institute to be the ‘most authoritative research body in this field’, Mohler calls for all ‘Evangelical Christians‘ to give serious thought into what he presents.

How so?

Mohler says that Evangelical Christians, operating via ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture only) need to apply the ‘scripture principle’, and be ‘dependent upon biblical teaching and biblical logic’.  Right.  Who was the voice of authority mentioned earlier?  

Furthermore, Mohler says that Evangelical Christians ‘do not have as much room for negotiating or thinking through some of these issues. We don’t have some of the alternatives that other groups might have.’  

The ‘other groups’ must be the Roman Catholics, because he does not mention anyone else.  I also do not know what he means by what the ‘other alternatives are’ when it comes to our thinking?  I guess we are to simply believe his take on it.  

But this is where things begin to go really sideways for me.  Mohler states that the ‘Christian worldview reminds us that moral actions mean that we are never free from all responsibility, but the Christian worldview also helps us to understand that even though we can be unconsciously complicit in evil, there’s a particular moral responsibility, a particular sin, in being consciously involved in evil.’

He continues.   

We would have to avoid any action, taking any drug, undertaking, any medical treatment that would implicate future evil that would lead to the abortion of even a single infant or even the conducting of a single explicitly immoral act in the future.’

For Mohler, consciously doing so would be a ‘far greater sin.’  

What are we to make of all of this?  

Well for starters, Mohler admitted that there is no direct connection to the use of aborted tissues in the Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.  So what’s the issue?

Also, he seems to speak for Christians, Evangelical Christians, Pro-life Christians, and all Christians with a biblical worldview.  Hmmm.  

So … what are we to think?

First, nowhere does Mohler quote Scripture or reference a single thing from the Bible.  So much for being Sola Scriptura.  This is probably because there is no chapter and verse talking about this specific issue.  Jesus certainly did not nor could not address every issue that would surface in our contemporary world.  Jesus was living in a peasant society east of the Mediterranean in the first century A.D.  The Biblical writers also were not concerned about the complexity of particular problems that confront Christians in today’s world.  They had Someone else to talk about.    

Second, we have to remember that the Kingdom of God is not based on human morality.  In other words, God’s Kingdom is based upon His righteousness, not ours.  

Jesus taught a lot about the Kingdom of God.  There is no greater subject area for Him.  Much ink has been spilled throughout the centuries attempting to to define and articulate exactly what the Kingdom is and looks like.  I will not attempt to do that here!  

However, it is extremely important for us to not attach specific issues of morality with the Kingdom of God. The Evangelical world is often guilty of this. We need to remember that it is not the self-righteous who enter God’s Kingdom, but those who receive it with humble child-like trust (Mark 10:15). In other words, it is not the self-righteous moralist, trusting in their own virtue and their own fidelity to the law, who enters the Kingdom.

Third, to focus on sin issues continues to miss the mark.  Jesus had ample awareness into this issue and said that it was due to the “hardness of heart” that Moses permitted divorce (Matt. 19:8; Mark 10:5).  In response to questions pertaining to moral law and issues of life, Jesus actually said that love seemed to be the best way (Mark 21:30, Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27).  In other words, Jesus did not play the game of sins and ladders.

Georgia Harkness (1891–1974) was an American Methodist theologian and philosopher.  In her book, Christian Ethics, she says that “it would never have occurred to Jesus to talk about the “lesser of two evils,”.   For Jesus, ‘sin was the supreme evil which must be eradicated’ (Matt. 5:29-330; 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48).  

For Mohler to suggest that there are ‘greater sins’ seems to contradict what Jesus said.  

Here is where I will end.

Harkness believes that taken as a whole, ‘the message of Jesus does not tell us to choose the lesser of two evils.’  However, it does tell us that we are to live with a realistic awareness of the range of these evils, and to choose the greater good.  In other words, life should always supersede the law.  

For Rabbinal Jews there was a common understanding that life was to always supersede the Law. This is probably why there was no pushback from the Pharisees who were accusing Jesus of violating the law by healing a man on the Sabbath.

Jesus said the following:

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:5)

I love what Mark says next: But they remained silent.

For us today, I think that Jesus models a ‘greater good’ course of action that, in any given circumstance, there can be a full embodiment of faith and love with God at the center in the act of decision. (Harkness)

Harkness again points to the fact that we are constantly living in times when circumstances change, and with them, so do courses of action.  However, God does not change, nor should the type of obedient, faith-filled love which Jesus embodied and proclaimed.  For Jesus, life always superseded the law.  

Knowing this can help us navigate some of the concrete decisions that we need to make today.  Like, if given a choice, which vaccine to choose. 

For Mohler it is very clear: The Christians operating out of biblical conviction simply have to respond, if the sanctity of every single human life isn’t important, then what is important?

I think that Jesus would agree with Mohler that life is important.  But I am not convinced that Mohler’s argument speaks for Jesus.  

Here’s the thing.  There is no end to issues that deal with morals and ethics.  These decisions will continue to plague the conscience of humanity until the appointed time when God will be all-in-all.  But to make blatant claims about ‘moral responsibility’ pertaining to every action around the ‘sanctity of human life’ moves things into a Christendom conversation rather than a Kingdom one.  

As a follower of Jesus, it gives me great hope to know that one day our world will be filled to the brim with the awareness and knowledge of His glory.  Habakkuk says it this way:

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  (2:14)

However, until then, we are left to navigate many issues and opinions that Jesus simply did not talk about.  Like whether or not to use a vaccination that may have abortion in its backstory.

Maranatha!

A look at ‘The QAnon Deception’

My review of James A Beverley’s new book.

As a kid growing up watching Star Trek, The Next Generation, hearing the word ‘Q’ brought to mind a being from an unknown origin who possessed immeasurable power and influence over time, space and reality itself.  After reading through Beverley’s recent book, I am still convinced that whomever ‘Q’is, they are still doing the same.

I admit heading into this book review that I knew absolutely nothing about ‘Q’, Anon’s and the QAnon world.  I can honestly say that ‘The QAnon Deception’ has been my classroom and that James A Beverley has been my teacher.

As an Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion and Research Professor at Tyndale University, one could admit that this type of material is right up Beverley’s alley.  Adding to an impressive resume consisting of over sixteen books, being interviewed multiple times by BBC radio, The Los Angeles Times, CTV News, CBC, as well as Finnish and Syrian television; Beverley also has a number of degrees.  Professor Beverley holds an Honours B.A. in Philosophy (Acadia), a Master of Divinity (Acadia), a Master of Theology (University of Toronto) and a Ph.D from the University of Saint Michael’s College, Toronto.   

All in all, I think that it is safe to say that Dr. Beverley is definitely qualified to write and inform the general public concerning ‘the most influential conspiracy in our world today.’ 

Here’s why.

Beverley writes with openness, honesty and integrity when approaching this massive subject area and navigates the vastness of this platform with ease.  He also provides a contact email and willingly welcomes feedback from all readers regarding the accuracy of the content, as long as they do not engage in personal attacks.  That is a very risky thing to do considering the polarization of conspiracies theories and the immense loyalty of those who buy into them.  However, Beverley courageously dives into the deep mysteries of ‘Q’ and the ‘Anon world’ and its followers (Anon’s). 

As a worldwide phenomenon, QAnon has documented believers in over 100 different countries. (pg. 17)  This ‘mutli-faceted belief system’ has a plethora of issues ranging from Lizard people to pedophilia.  It is hard to decipher a mainline message from the 16 million documents and the 39 different data bases that propagate these complicated and controversial messages.  However, after surveying over 1,400 articles on QAnon, Beverley and his team have been able to boil things down considerably.  

So … who is ‘Q’ and what is ‘QAnon’ all about?

Ok, let’s take ‘Who is Q for $200’

After mentioning and detailing close to two dozen potential sources as to ‘who’ the Q source is, ‘the only reasonable view is that no one knows for sure’ (pg. 87).  

You may be tempted at this point to say: ‘Great!  What’s the point of the book then?’  

Exactly.  

The point is that this conspiracy platform has generated multi-millions of views, and has become vastly influential worldwide without having a public name or an identifiable someone at the helm.  It is truly remarkable how and why the QAnon worldview continues to grow and gain global attention despite having an author of unknown origin. 

Through personal interviews, and referencing historical events, Beverley details the rise and growth of the QAnon appeal and the impact that it has had on issues and politics in the United States.  This is because the dominant view is that ‘Q’ is a ‘military figure who worked directly with President Trump to fight evil’ (pg. 75).

There you have it.  

Front and centre in the ‘Q discourse’ and the ‘QAnon community’ is none other than Donald Trump.  Need I say any more.

But Beverley does.  

This book is well worth the price and is recommended for anyone who has just been triggered by Trump’s name or conspiracies linked to Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, George Floyd, JFK Jr, Justin Bieber, time travel and UFO’s. 

Yep. It’s all in there.  

The reader will also be treated to Beverley’s rich knowledge of Satanism and Witchcraft, and the effects that this has had on the various concepts pertaining to the QAnon platform.  

I found the chapters very easy to read and full of researched notes and helpful comments from the author.  It is evident that Beverley lives and breathes this stuff with ease.  James is able to present it all with humility and in a confident, open way.  

The reader is able to make up their own mind, while tracking with Beverley’s ongoing warnings and cautions.

It is interesting timing that I was able to register for a upcoming web-cast featuring Beverley’s new book.  I am glad that I had the opportunity to engage his material before listening to him live.

The book is called “The QAnon Deception: Everything You Need to Know About The World’s Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theory”.  

Yes it is.  And it’s is available on Amazon. 

Maranatha! 

A return to abnormal

What then is the conclusion, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation.  All things must be done for edification. 

During the lock-down there have been many things on my mind.  I am sure that you have had the same experience.  At times, I felt that my mind was never shutting off, or that I could not escape the realm of working even though I was at home.  

During a Zoom meeting, one of my pastor colleagues described the lock-down as ‘always working while not working’.  Others have said that the lock-down seemed to ‘take’ from them more than it was ‘giving back’.  Many communicated that they were feeling mentally fatigued.

One of the many things on my mind has been the return to in-house worship gatherings.  Recording and uploading videos has become a weekly norm, and in a lot of ways, the lock-down has made my ‘job’ easier.  Online services has meant no music to practice, organize and lead, no projection system to fiddle with and no worries about who is going to run the sound system.  It’s just been me, my digital devices and the online community.  However, this also seems to missing something too. 

I am not a Pauline scholar, nor have I studied academically any of Paul’s letters.  So I admit that I am a little bit ‘out of my league’ when commenting on things that Paul wrote.  But here is something that I think Paul would agree with.  When believers were to come together, it was to be a communal experience. 

It is interesting to me that Paul mentions these things to the believers in Corinth.  The Corinthians were excelling in spirit-gifts, and had a lot of things going for them in the right direction.  But, they were also missing some key fundamentals or attributes of God’s Spirit. 

The famous ‘love chapter’ is placed right in the middle of Paul’s talk concerning spiritual gifts for emphasis no doubt.  But Paul also mentions and highlights the ‘community’ aspect of God’s Spirit too.

Paul seems to think that the Spirit has the ability to give something to ‘each one’ who comes to the worship service.  He mentions a couple things by way of example, but I believe the overall point is that everything is to be done communally for the improvement of the worshipping body as a whole.  

Earlier in the same letter Paul scolds the Corinthians for not thinking of others and excluding them in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In other words, it seems that Paul is genuinely concerned that the Corinthian church focus on becoming a transformed community together rather than focusing on ones individual spirituality.

A concept that we have been are ‘toying’ with and discussing at our leadership table is this: koinonia.  The word simply means ‘fellowship’.  The essence of the word expresses a communal nature and a collective focus that the early church seemed to model. 

The word comes from the book of Acts and is used by Luke to express something unique about the newly established Spirit-empowered community.  

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

This verse is part of a summary that Luke gives concerning the ‘new’ worshipping community created by God’s Spirit. Among other things, the first church devoted themselves to one another in deep, rich and rewarding ways. In other words, the first church modelled something that could inspire us today. They modelled a spirituality that was communal and geared towards contributing rather than consuming.

A recent tweet by Thom Rainer said this:  Churches and other organizations that are only waiting for things to return to a pre-COVID normal are in trouble. The pandemic is a disruption, not an interruption.

I have said before that there is never going to be some proverbial light switch that will ‘take us back’ to the pre-COVID era.  That ship has sailed and is long gone.  I do not believe that sitting on the shore and waiting for its return will be beneficial for anyone.  Nor is longing for worship services to return to ‘normal’ going to aide in our journey forward.  We need a return to abnormal.  

Here’s why.    

In his book, ‘The Spirit of Life’, Jurgen Moltmann says that church congregations need to be ‘participatory’ by accepting and carrying out the various tasks assigned to them by the Spirit of God.  In this way, the people of God are actively being ‘sent out’ to accomplish the work of God’s Mission.   

Moltmann says it well: 

“If Christianity in the world is to be aware of what it is, we must give up the pastoral church of taking care of people and call to life a Christian ‘community church’ … Christianity in the world is not just there to say Amen to church meetings and events; it is there for something more and something different.”  Spirit of Life, 235.

I truly believe that the local church is here for ‘something more and something different’ too.  So let me suggest something radical.  Let’s not desire for things to go back to the way they were when it comes to our weekly gatherings or celebration services.  Let us not return to a spirituality that is happy to simply show up, clock in-clock out, and go home.  May we long for something more.  

Many believe that something can be birthed in the wake of the pandemic that will mobilize followers of Jesus in ways not previously done.  Many leaders and pastors have come to the realization that a return to ‘normal’ will only yield the same results.  Expecting anything different from doing the same old thing is insane.    

May we demand for something more than a consumer minded approach to church and spirituality.  May we not settle for a system and tradition that simply exists to ‘feed me’ and not ‘send me’ into God’s Kingdom.  

May we hunger for God’s Spirit to propel us outward in power and purpose together for the sake of God’s Mission.

I don’t know about you, but if there is one ship that I want to see sailing again is this: a congregation that has set its sail to the wind of God’s Spirit.      

May we begin to see an expression of that in our weekly services together!  

Maranatha!  

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