Navigating the vaccination divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Social media matters:

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

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

2. Individual rights matter:

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

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

3. Conspiracy theories matter:

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

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

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

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

So, whose voice is correct?

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

  1. Living mentors should matter:

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

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

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

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

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

2.  Meaningful traditions should matter:

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

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

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

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

3.  Kingdom responsibilities should matter:

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

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

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

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

So, again I ask, whose voice is correct?

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

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

Happy navigating and decision making.

Maranatha! 

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

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

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

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

Some of the topics and issues that Preston addresses are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Preston.  Well done. 

Maranatha!

A not-so-happy Canada Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am personally doing this very thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Maranatha!

What Dad taught me about God

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

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

the Apostle Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thought is this:  God is for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Dad.

Maranatha!

Degrees and Weeds

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

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

Here’s why.

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

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

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

But back to my lawn analogy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranatha!

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!