Where have all the Christians gone?

In a recent article in Faith Today, some alarming and confirming statistics were shared about the current state of Christianity in Canada.  Alarming due to the staggering percentage losses in weekly church attendance, and confirming because of what many leaders have been stating about the current condition of the church in Canada.  According to the Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Canada (EFC), only 6% of Canadians attend Evangelical churches weekly.  That number is down from 9% (2015) and 12% (1996).  Also according to the survey, it is not the younger generations that are absent.  The EFC estimates that the biggest loss in attendance is from the Silent Generation (1925-1945), and the Boomers (1946-1964).  They report that approximately 57.5% of Boomers and the Silent ones (Silencers?) attended church when they were 12 years old.  Today, only 15% attend weekly.  That is a 42.5% decline in weekly attendance among that demographic.  Narrowing the field to the Boomers only, whose weekly attendance was 53% (at age 12), to now only 11% today, shows a similar percentage loss (42%).  What does all this mean?  Perhaps most staggering is the fact that 50% of Canadians today report no religious affiliation whatsoever.  The question begs to be asked: how has the Evangelical tradition failed so many?

I often hear today that the ‘younger’ people need to step up and take over.  Oftentimes that comes from the lips of senior saints who still attend weekly worship services.  In a church context that often translates to mean that the younger generation better come and do church exactly the same way that we have been doing church.  Well, the numbers seem to suggest that Generations X,Y,Z never really got plugged into the church to begin with.  EFC shows that at age 12, weekly attendance for Gen-X (1965-1981) was 33%, Gen-Y (1982-1996) was 26%, and Gen-Z was 22%.  Today those numbers are 10% (Gen-X), 11% (Gen-Y), and 9% (Gen-Z).  Those numbers suggest only 10% decline along those demographic, compared to the 42% decline in the older generations.  So the question could be asked: where have all the boomers gone?

EFC suggests that the church hasn’t paid enough attention to areas that receive attention.  Our world is a digital, device driven culture.  I would agree that the church in general needs to be using a platform to truly addresses the crowds.  The church definitely needs to rethink how to engage the crowds.  One time some radical even used a fishing boat as a teaching platform instead of the tradition synagogue.  Go figure!  However, for me this problem goes beyond technology to the heart of something bigger: the message of the church has not been Jesus. 

I come from a tradition where church attendance was … well, not an option.  I often say that I had a severe drug problem growing up.  I was drug to church every Sunday.  My parents modelled faithful attendance, as their parents did, and as their parents did.  Yes, I come from a very long line of weekly church attenders.  I also am employed by people who weekly attend church now.  For close to the  past twenty years, my livelihood has been generated by those who weekly attend church.  The recent survey would suggest that future full-time employment at the church may not be all the feasible!  However, that is not the essence of what I want to say.

I mention my heritage and occupation to suggest that my observation is gained from first-hand experience (literally), and that my heart is not negative, cynical or judgmental towards the Church or any particular tradition within her.  I am very thankful for my upbringing and for the positive example my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents modelled.  Perhaps this is why I am writing this article.  I feel a motivation and compelling to call people to experiencing something bigger and greater than weekly services.  I desire for people to encounter the supernatural dimension of God’s Kingdom.

For most of my growing up years in the church, the gospel message seemed to centre on ‘being a good little Christian’.  The old saying was ‘don’t, drink, smoke or chew, or go with girls that do’.  I could also add onto that by saying that there was driven into me a fear of being in certain places, like the billiards halls, movie theatres, and any local pub.  A ‘good’ Christian would not be in those places, and you better not get caught in those places when Jesus returns because you will miss that rapture and go to hell.  That seemed to be the message from the pulpits, books, end-times guests and dramas.  Anyone remember heaven’s gates and hell’s flames?  The message of Christianity seemed to be more about conduct than Kingdom.  Perhaps it is because most, if not all of our Evangelical traditions come from the Protestant tree where many of our church fathers were monks.  The Monastic movement gave birth to much of our mainline thinking and doing (orthodoxy and orthopraxy).  In other words, much of what we have come to embrace about who God is and what living for Him looks like in the world, has come from those who embraced a model of isolation from ‘the world’.  To put this very plainly, perhaps the gospel in the West has been a gospel of moral conformity and behavioural conduct living under an angry God who seeks to punish those who don’t get in line.  Simply stated, perhaps the Western church at large has not been preaching what Jesus preached. 

I am convinced that Jesus only ever preached and embodied one gospel: the gospel of the Kingdom.  In fact, Luke stunningly records Jesus’ following words: 

“I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.” (4:43)

I believe that Luke seems to capture the very essence of why Jesus came.  Think about that statement.  The cooperative union between the Logos, Eternal Father and Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary gave birth to the Christ-child (Jesus of Nazareth) in order for the good news of Gods’s Kingdom be manifested here on earth.  When was the last time you heard that from a pulpit? 

The preaching of ‘good news’ for Jesus was directly linked to a vocal proclamation and visual demonstration of God’s tangible Kingdom.  As you read the Gospels, it seems that everywhere Jesus went, the Kingdom of God was taught and people’s lives were changed.  People were welcomed, healed, set free, transformed and loved.  There are over 162 references to the ‘kingdom’ in the New Testament alone, and the majority of them come from the gospel writers.  You would almost think that Jesus was intentionally modelling a distinct message and practice (orthodoxy and orthopraxy).  Perhaps His words and deeds do matter.  Perhaps Jesus was doing more than simply coming to earth in order for us to go to heaven when we die.  Perhaps Jesus was doing more than simply taking my place and getting me off the hook from an angry God.  Perhaps Jesus was positively fulfilling God’s mission to redeem humanity and the fallen world we live in.  Perhaps Jesus was ushering in a new revolution for humanity.

When reading the Gospels (John, Luke, Matthew and Mark) you can almost envision being in the same room, hillside or table with Jesus.  These are first-hand accounts.  When reading His words, you could almost believe that Jesus was indeed teaching and modelling God’s heart for humanity and creation.  When looking at what He did, you can almost see the breaking in of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven.  When experiencing His love and hearing His call to ‘follow me’, you can almost see yourself saying ‘yes’.

Perhaps this is why the numbers are what the numbers are today.  Perhaps we (the Evangelical church) have not modelled or taught the message of God’s Kingdom.  Perhaps we have simply become a gospel of the Reformation.  Perhaps another protest is needed.  Perhaps more reform should come.    

It’s been said that when a church asks what the Kingdom of God is and then further asks how the Kingdom should drive what we do, and even determine what we pray, that church is asking the right questions.  I find myself asking those questions.  I find myself attempting to implement them where I work.  Regardless, perhaps we all can ask ourselves this question: how am I fulfilling the mission of Jesus here on earth? 

Perhaps that question will motivate and engage people across all demographics to align with Jesus’ way of Life and message of Truth.  Perhaps then the church will be saying and doing what Jesus said and did.  Perhaps then, we will see people choose to follow and fulfill His mission in the world.  Perhaps then we will be the Church instead of attending church.

Maranatha!

 

To read the Faith Today article click the link below:

http://www.faithtoday.ca/Magazines/2020-Jan-Feb/Not-Christian-anymore?fbclid=IwAR0AueVrg-lK8w8tFCUcYCYWv3f3Uu2RoqjpfWU3PUQWXojiorMdE_BSx6Y

Spirit session

I have just come back from a one-week intensive seminary course on Luke-Acts.  I am tired.  I feel that for the past five days my mind and spirit have been working out in the arena of discovery, challenge and learning.  It has been a great week among colleagues and friends.  It has been a great week of growing.

It truly is a pleasure to be part of a creative atmosphere where thoughts and ideas flow from teacher to student and back again.  Our gifted professor taught with passion and purpose.  He poured into our hearts immeasurably more than what we could hope to reciprocate.  The teaching was rich, deep, and rewarding.  You could feel God’s pleasure and presence with us in the room.  We were touching the heart of God as we meditated upon Truth and navigated the material.

Walking through the Lukan narratives (Luke-Acts) allowed us to digest close to twenty-five percent of the entire New Testament (NT) canon.  As a NT writer, Luke is the largest contributor and weaves a very interesting, pneumatic narrative.  In other words, he creates a compelling Spirit story.  His work is a carefully constructed selection of history.  Luke is intentionally telling us important details pertaining to Jesus in order to influence his audience (the reader).  In short, Luke is constructing a selective re-telling of Jesus and the important of being a follower.  He is telling us how to live an empowered, accomplished life here on earth.  He is telling us how to live with the dynamic breath of God, the Holy Spirit.    

In Luke’s narrative it is the Spirit who empowers and enables God’s people to live and function as difference makers here in the world.  It is God’s Spirit who desires to fill, shroud, come upon and overflow from within the life of the believer.  In other words, anyone who believes can receive the empowering presence of the Spirit of Jesus.  It is the Holy Spirit who is the source of all things powerful, rich and real in this world.  It is God’s Spirit who inspires, enables, speaks, reveals, instructs, guides, comforts, constrains, gifts, sends and affirms things in our lives.  The Holy Spirit is the One is able to bring God’s abundant overflow for you and others.  The Spirit is the One who gives life. 

At the end of our class today we had a special time of waiting, praying, seeking and allowing God to speak to the group.  It was special, deep and real.  Classmates raised their voices in prophetic prayer, encouragement and intercession.  The Spirit was speaking, comforting, communicating and transforming us.  My eyes welled with tears.  The Spirit was empowering once again. 

On the drive back home my mind replayed many of the moments, conversations and discussion points that occurred in that classroom.  I return home feeling challenged, encouraged, and somewhat overwhelmed with the upcoming schedule, tasks, duties and responsibilities that await me at work, home and school.  However, I will forever remember the day we stood in God’s Presence as ‘one’ class and allowed the Spirit to speak.  My prayer is that God’s people around the world would experience the same. 

We need God’s Spirit to speak, enable and empower His people everywhere so that we can be His voice and vehicle of blessing here on earth.  In other words, as Jesus followers, we are to be His prophetic witness in world through word and deed to those around us.  This is what I take to heart.  This is what I desire to be.  Holy Spirit come and make me a conduit for Your Presence and Power.  Enable me to speak Your Truth and express Your character.  Empower me to be a witness for Jesus in all that I say and do.  Let the wind of Your presence continue to blow upon my life, family, church and community.

May Your Kingdom come and Will be done on earth as in heaven.

Maranatha.

Kingdom Joy

Growing up I have fond memories associated with Christmas.  I know that this is not always the case, and Christmas can oftentimes be the most depressing time of the year for many.  I am very thankful that my childhood memories of Christmas were positive. 

One of my memories at Christmas was the SEARS catalogue.  We would always get one in the mail it seemed, and every year the three Holtz kids were able to circle some potential gifts that we would want for Christmas.  There were sometimes tense moments between us siblings due to the fact that three pens were ready to mark up the one household catalogue!  Nonetheless, we were all able to make our mark or circle a few gifts ideas that our parents would potentially purchase on one of our annual trips to Ottawa or Peterborough for the Christmas shopping event. 

It is funny how we remember certain things and not others.  There is a running joke in my family that I often do not remember much of my child-hood, and oftentimes am not able to join in on the walk down memory lane.  However, looking back I can most definitely remember sitting and looking through those catalogues and circling with hope and anticipation that some of these highlighted items would be wrapped and placed under the tree for me. 

In our Advent journey as a church family, the upcoming Sunday celebration is about Jesus, our light and joy!

So let me ask this question:  What is joy? OR What brings you joy? 

The answer to that question is obviously vastly different in the mind of a child compared to an adult.  Children may associate joy with a feeling and emotions that are associated with objects and things.  Playing and having fun can be expressions of joy much like receiving a new toy, game or clothing.  The same could also be said for adults who also associate joy with feelings of emotional pleasure or the absence of physical pain and suffering. 

Joy can also be associated with a spiritual element where joy is found in ones ability to walk according to their giftings, abilities and choices in life.  Joy can be a lifestyle of choice and living intentionally so that inward needs are being met through career, vocation and behaviour.

Not matter how you look at it, we can probably all agree that joy is more that simply circling toys in a SEARS catalogue.  It is something much more.

As a follower of Jesus, I believe that joy is indeed something more than feelings, emotions and a sense of fulfillment.  For me, joy is only found in the presence of the living God. 

The Apostle Paul writes that joy is a naturally-supernatural byproduct of the Holy Spirit living inside the follower of Christ.  He says that joy is to be like a fruit growing inside believers, and is also a present spiritual reality associated with God’s very Kingdom (Gal. 5:22, Romans 14:17).  Paul clearly believes that joy is rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

As a New Testament believer, it is paramount for me to believe that the pouring out of God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost forever changed our world and humanity’s ability to currently have a dynamic relationship with our Creator that is instantaneous, progressive and eternal. 

Without getting into too deep of a theological subject, simply consider the Incarnation event itself.  Gabriel’s words to Mary are recorded as this:

“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.” (Luke 1:35)

This is the only record of Gabriels announcement to Mary.  Thankfully Luke wrote about it!  Where would we be without Luke’s account of the Nativity.  Or better yet, where would Hallmark be?  Regardless, Luke intentionally writes about the Incarnation, and tells us some incredible details pertaining to the birthing of the Immanuel, “God with us”:  the Incarnation was a Spirit event. 

Notice that the Spirit seems to play a vital role in all of this and brings a divine anointing upon the birthing of the Christ child.  There is no doubt a mysterious thing happening here with the eternal Logos and Spirit coming together in Mary’s womb, but the Spirit is definitely at work here.  In other words, the Incarnation itself is a pneumatological (Spirit) event. 

For the New Testament believer this is crucial because the Bible testifies time and time again that it is the Holy Spirit who brings life.  In fact, Jesus Himself testified that the Spirit is the One who gives life (John 6:63).      

Ok, enough theology talk.  However, having this perspective is very important to living a joy-filled life because I am convinced that real joy is only available through the power of God’s  Spirit.

Consider also what Paul says this in Romans 15:

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

   

Did you catch that?  Paul refers to God as the One who ‘fills’ any believer with joy, hope and peace.  Paul  believes that God not only ‘fills’ the believers with all joy and peace, but there is also an ‘overflow’ that comes via the Spirit!  In other words, divine joy is available because of God’s Spirit, the living ‘God with us’ now.    

What does this mean for your definition or experience of joy?  It means that all other sources or experiences of joy are only temporary and fleeting.  They will not last.  They will fade away and become a distant memory.  Those old SEARS catalogues are long gone and so are the toys that were purchased from it.  The memory is real, but that’s all.  There is no lasting joy from it.    

The only real, genuine, life-giving joy comes from the God of the Israel; the God Hebrews; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of the Bible; Yahweh, the Great I AM. 

The Bible is a testimony to the Who and What real joy is and looks like.  The Bible is a written witness about the loving God who came to bring humanity back to Himself and change our minds about Him in the process.  The Incarnation is living proof of this.  The announcement is clear.  The purpose is stated:  good news of great joy. 

You see, Yahweh is a God of love, compassion and mercy.  His goal is to bring peace on earth and blessed favour amidst the chaos and darkness of night.  His light shines and brings seeking humanity to it.  His anthem is good news of great joy for all people because His Messiah, Jesus Christ has been given to all people.  Through Jesus, Yahweh has provided the only Way, Truth and Life so that all people, everywhere would be able to experience His abundant life here and forevermore. 

Simply stated, joy is found in Jesus.  He is light and joy.  This means three things for me. 

This means that the source of my joy is not in things, but in the presence of the living God.  This is good news.  God’s ability and awesomeness goes way beyond my limited, natural comprehension.  God dwells in eternity and His energy is infinite and inexhaustible.  He is the well that never runs dry.    

This means that the substance of my joy is not based upon feelings, emotions or circumstances.  The substance of my joy is found in the Personhood of God.  The Trinity is indeed a mystery to us.  We have formulated and theologized what we think the God-head is over the centuries, and the theory of the Trinity has become orthodox.  Whatever you think about the Godhead, there seems to be a cooperative fellowship within the Trinity that is rooted in divine love.  This divine love exists between Father, Spirit and Son.  This divine love is the substance of my joy.  Knowing that I am loved by God brings me joy.  Knowing that there is nothing I can do to gain more or lose His love for me is a marvel.  All in all, my joy flows from the divine love of God.    

This means the stance of my joy is other people focused.  Within the Incarnation the marvellous mystery of the Godhead came together in cooperative fellowship to birth the God/man Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  We refer to this awe inspiring event as the Immanuel event or the ‘God with us’ advent.  His first coming was based upon the mission to reconcile the world and restore humanity to His goodness and loving mercy.  The Logos became flesh so that humanity would be redeemed from its dark, chaotic existence.  The stance of my joy is likewise positioned.  My joy needs to impact others and flow towards the hurting, broken and wounded.  It is not enough to be happy and joyous within myself alone.  My joy needs to affect others positively.  It needs to be other people focused. 

This time of year can generate many different thoughts and opinions about life, meaning and happiness.  My prayer is that everyone will come to know the joy of the Lord.  He is my strength and He can also be yours. 

Maranatha!

Kingdom Peace

How would you describe an untroubled life?  In the ancient world, philosophers would debate about how a person would achieve a life of serenity against the ‘shattering blows’ and ‘petty pinpricks’ of this world. 

Today, serenity almost seems to be a lost possession.  We are continually inundated with a technologically fast paced society and rat race culture.  There seems to be a plethora of shattering blows and a massive gathering or cushion of pins waiting to jab us.  However, even in a non-digital ancient world, two things were identified in the life of humanity which made it impossible to achieve serenity back then:  inner tension and external worry.  Have things really changed today? 

The Bible tells us about a situation where the disciples were having a moment of inner tension and external worry.  It came after the resurrection and is recorded in Luke’s gospel. 

Luke tells us that Jesus shows up, stood among them and speaks ‘Peace’ (24:36).  Jesus literally speaks ‘peace’ right in the middle of the disciples fear, worries and troubles.  In a nut-shell, you could say that the disciples whole world had just been turned upside down and sideways due to the fact that Jesus was killed.  Roman authorities and Jewish religious leaders would now also be all too eager to put away any people associated with this latest ‘Messiah’ movement.  Rome had a way of dealing with Messiah-type people and all those who followed.  They crucified every one of them.  Jewish leaders would also like to rat out any potential blasphemers too.  You could say that the crucible the disciples were in, could legitimately produce some inner tension and external worry!    

Nonetheless, Jesus shows up and asks them ‘why’ doubts were arising in their hearts that He was alive? 

Before they could respond, Jesus shows them living proof and allows them to physically experience the reality of His presence.  However, Luke still admits that the disciples, even though they were joyous, could still not believe (24:41).  It seemed as though the risen Jesus was almost too good to be true. 

My take on this encounter is that the disciples were all a bit of an emotional mess.  There was worry, doubt, fear, belief, confusion, extreme joy and disbelieve all at once!  Talk about a thoroughly confused group of believers.

Thankfully Jesus does not leave them in this dazed and confused state.  He opens their minds, teaches them, and eventually blesses them (24:45-50).  He also reminds them that He will be sending them the Holy Spirit too! 

So, in this situation filled with inner tension and external worry, Jesus stands, speaks, asks, shows, opens, teaches, and blesses.  It all started with His original pronouncement of peace, and then tangibly impacts their situation by engaging with them.  In other words, real peace is only found in His living Presence. 

Today, we no longer live in only a post-resurrection world.  We live in a post-Pentecost world.  What does that mean?  It means that the Spirit has been sent, and we are now able to experience the very same reality of Jesus’ living Presence through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps this is why Paul says that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).  It is God’s Spirit who makes the living reality of King Jesus available to you today.   

If you are having moments of inner tension and external worry consider inviting Jesus into the middle of it.  He seems to have that ability.  Also, allow Him to speak to you through Spirit and Truth.  Reading Scripture is a great way to accomplish both of those things together.  During this Advent season, consider reflecting upon some passages filled with hope, peace and joy.  I will include a link to an excellent resource below. 

As you read Scripture be prepared for a conversation to happen internally as you dialogue with Jesus about the situation you are in.  He may even open your mind to help you understand yourself and Him better than before.  Imagine the possibility of your mind being transformed!  What a novel idea.

Furthermore, the reality of His supernatural presence will be made known to you. This is something we all need and can only come via the Spirit’s power.  Ask the Holy Spirit to make Jesus real in your life.  Trust me, it’s a good thing and it will change your life for the better. 

Finally, it encourages me that Jesus is not overly bothered by the range of human emotions running amuck in the room.  He lovingly displays the realty of who He is and tangibly demonstrates the realness of His presence.  This demonstration also does one vital more thing for the disciples: It allows them to follow Jesus out of the room.  In other words, Jesus leads them away from the place of inner tension and external worry.

Luke ends his gospel by saying that the disciples were able to return to their community, worship with others and bless God (24:53).  What a dramatic turn around.  What was possible for them is possible for us.  Jesus makes all the difference in the world.  Literally. 

Give Him the opportunity to lead you away from places of tension and worry.  Allow Him to lead you forward and bring you into a better place.  It is possible because of the reality of His powerful presence that operates in the world today through Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit who brings life, joy and peace to all who, ask, seek and knock.  It is yours to receive.  Open the door and let Him in.  Jesus can make all the difference in your world.   

     

Maranatha!   

 

Click this link to view Andrew Gabriel’s Advent Readings for families:

Advent Candle Readings for Families with Children

How much fun are you to live with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the reminder Vince.

 

Maranatha!

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

Kingdom Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus essentially tells Nicodemus he needed to be remade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been said that when a church asks what the Kingdom of God is and then further asks how the Kingdom should drive what we do – and even determine what we pray – that church is asking the right questions!  This is what we are asking ourselves at Calvary these days.  This is the path we choose:  May Your kingdom come and will be done on earth as in heaven

Maranatha! 

I used to go to church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Maranatha!

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

[4] ibid