The days seem darker

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

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

The effects are real. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How so?

There is life in the light.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel like Dave from Storage Wars: Yuuuuup!

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

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

I will end with this.  

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

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

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

Maranatha  

Hunt camp journals, Pictionary and Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read that blog by clicking here: 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranatha!  

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to come …

Maranatha!

Multiple-church-personality disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranatha!

Dissolving racism

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

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

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

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

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

Simply put, racism is a societal evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, may we choose to love.  

Perhaps then racism can begin to be dissolved.    

Maranatha!

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

10 is a good number

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small groups need to be … formed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranatha!

Going back to move forward

It is always nice to get away.  The past number of weeks have been draining, emotional and at times very bizarre.  Recognizing my true introverted personality and make-up, I knew that time away to think, reflect and listen were needed.  I am thankful that my wife’s family has an oasis on a lake that is disconnected from the distractions of the world.  Time away like this feeds my soul.  It was especially beneficial due to the fact that I was going to be taking another seminary course when I returned.  I really needed this break.

Upon returning to Lindsay, I began an intensive course entitled ‘Pentecostal Spirituality’ with Dr. Van Johnson.  Dr. Van continues to demonstrate the true nature of a Spirit gifted teacher whose ministry is to equip and build the Body of Christ.  He is also a prophetic voice in our time of need.  Here’s how.

We are well aware that COVID-19 has presented a plethora of challenges to all areas of culture and society.  What has this illness not touched and affected?  Every political, economic, educational, and health-care system in our nation has had to re-adjust and make changes because of the ongoing pandemic.  We have also discovered that religious institutions are no different.

Pastors, congregations and denominations have had to make monumental changes to the way spirituality is offered, modelled and experienced.  As a pastor within the Pentecostal tradition, COVID-19 ushered us into unfamiliar waters due to the reality that the worshipping community could no longer gather together.

There is something definitely special and dear to many Pentecostals when it comes to the gathering of the saints.  Whether we like it or not, we are a movement that is birthed from past revivals that generally happened within a building and among crowds.  Perhaps this is why much of the focus of Pentecostal spirituality has been rooted in the meeting place or worship service.  However, one of the things that I discovered this week is that true Pentecostal spirituality is never to be an inward focused movement.

I simply cannot say enough good things about Dr. Van Johnson.  I have had the privilege to sit in his classroom for a number of courses during my MTS (Masters of Theological Studies) journey at Tyndale.  I have one more course to complete, and I am specifically waiting for Dr. Van’s course in the 2021.  Learning from him is that important.

One of the many gems that Dr. Van beautifully illuminated this past week was that early Pentecostal spirituality was a forward looking movement with an outward focus.  By referencing our course material and the early revival newsletters, we all could plainly see that when people encountered God’s Spirit, there was one common result: mission. 

Testimonies and teachings, words and wonders were all coming from the Spirit Himself that produced a passion for others and a focus away from the gathering.  Neighbours needed to hear and nations needed to be won.  The motivation for it all was the soon return of Jesus.  It is clear that as early Pentecostals looked forward to Jesus, they reached outward to others.

There was no doubt that the Spirit Himself was doing something transformational inside humanity that demonstrated something about His nature, will and function.  Time and time again, teaching upon teaching, words upon words, and wonders upon wonders were all coming from the Spirit Himself that produced a passion for Jesus and a longing for His return.

In tandem to the rhythm of the Spirit came an intense burden for the lost and the world which needed to be won.  In other words, it seemed that early Pentecostal spirituality was directed towards God and towards others.   

In a brilliant display of wisdom, Dr. Van gave this example.  On the top of any MacBook is a symbol or sign of the power inside the machine.  Most of the known world has come to recognize that apple logo to be synonymous with its famous company.  This well known symbol is prominent on the top of any MacBook device.  However, the symbol or sign is only properly understood when it is facing others.  In other words, the sign on top of my MacBook is not for me.  It is for others to see and know that I am operating via the power of the Mac.

Without getting into too deep of waters theologically, all I will say is this.  The Spirit of God has wonderfully chosen to empower people and gift them with aspects of Himself for one reason: win the world.  The passion of early Pentecostal spirituality moved to the rhythmic drum of the Spirit whose goal is to bring all things to Jesus.  

For me, it was evident that true Pentecostal spirituality views the world to be in need of healing and transformation.  People, societies, systems and nations all need to encounter the life changing presence of the living God.  This outward passion became a lived reality for those who encountered the Spirit of God.  This lived reality with God’s Spirit seemed to redirect and reorient ones entire being. 

The Pentecostal tradition clearly illustrates this outward focus and heartfelt passion for the living presence of Jesus to come and heal their world.  In other words, the emphasis and focus was never to be on an individual experience or on those within the assembly.  The world needed to be won, and people needed know that Jesus was coming back.  It is clear that true Pentecostal spirituality is one of mission.

So here I sit on a Saturday afternoon writing thoughts about a tradition that I and my family have been associated with for more than four generations.  Many things continue to swirl in and through my mind as I reflect upon the task at hand: leading a Pentecostal church forward.

Here is what I know.  I do not walk alone.

Perhaps in my upcoming blogs I will talk more about this concept and how our church has finally been able to structure itself in such a way that makes listening and following God’s Spirit a little bit easier.  There is an communal aspect to Pentecostal leadership that is often ignored.  But that topic will wait.

Let me end with this.  COVID-19 has taught us many things.  Within my tradition I am sure that there are countless others who can say the same.  My prayer and desire is that everyone within this great tradition will return to these true aspects of what it means to be Pentecostal.  Pentecostal spirituality is indeed a missional spirituality.

Having said that, I can say this.  It ought to be every Pentecostal’s will and desire to keep themselves focused on those who are not yet in the church.  The Holy Spirit was given to empower an outward witness before Jesus returns.  Heaven help us if our speaking and witnessing has only been reserved for those who have parking spots on our church parking lots.  Herein lies the immense challenge.   

However, I take comfort in knowing that the restoring work of the Spirit is specifically focused towards those who do not know Jesus.  Perhaps this truly is our Pentecostal forte: we are a movement geared toward those who are not yet in the church. 

Thank you Dr. Van.

Maranatha!

Time for a new stream

I really enjoy fishing.  There is nothing like being out on the water going after the elusive lake trout, hard-hitting smallmouth bass, or the good old bucket-mouth.  Fishing is one of my favourite hobbies. 

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to the vision in Ezekiel 47.  Where else can you find divine references to fishermen and an abundance of fish!  It truly is a spectacular vision. 

Ezekiel almost seems to be caught up in a stream that could remind him of Yahweh’s good beginnings for Creation.  We know that there was a river that went out from Eden to feed the garden (Gen. 2:10).  Ezekiel also could have been reminded of a river whose streams make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4).  Regardless of what Ezekiel may have thought, this river was doing some new things.   

For us today, we can look back upon the Scriptures and see that another river shows up in Revelation 21.  We know that John’s vision ultimately points to the promised New Creation yet to come.  However, like Ezekiel, we are still in this middle period of time, or in stage two of a three stage story.  Also like Ezekiel, I believe that God wants to bring us into some new waters.

In my most previous blog I wrote about some of the current pastoral challenges and realities that congregations face.

You can read that blog by clicking here:

https://joelholtz.com/2020/06/17/hey-pastor-are-you-open/

There are major challenges coming for congregations and church leaders in the wake of COVID-19.  We are facing many uncertainties, upsetting circumstances, and unsettling conditions.  Like Ezekiel, we feel as though we’ve had the rug pulled out from underneath us.  But perhaps this is exactly where we need to be in order to discern what God is doing. 

Here are some thoughts that might help you get into God’s new stream:

1.  Am I willing to follow:  

Leadership is a big industry in the Church world and millions of dollars continue to flow towards this subject area.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some great leadership principles that I adhere to and many books have been good for me to read.  However, at times it feels completely exhausting and overwhelming to implement all the relevant, timeless, essential and foundational characteristics that are needed for success.  And of course every good leader knows that everything rises and falls on leadership! 

Sometimes I need to remind myself that Jesus made a promise to ‘make’ His disciples as they ‘followed’ Him.  So perhaps we need to re-align ourselves to be a follower once again and trust in the One we are following.

There is no doubt that God is doing something new within our midst.  My worldview lens and understanding of God’s Sovereignty allows for me to make such a statement.  Can yours?  Regardless, I am convinced that God is always accomplishing His plans and purposes in the world, period.  This means that I am not in the ultimate drivers seat, and must relinquish ultimate control to One who knows better.  My role is to remain faithful and follow.  Ezekiel did, and he was able to experience the richness of God’s life-giving river. 

So, may we too follow and step out into areas where He leads us.  After all, does He not lead us into green pastures?    

2. Am I willing to adjust my theology:

As a new testament believer, it is clear to me that Holy Spirit is now acting as God’s representative here on earth.  That statement alone can often send people into panic mode as they search for a Bible to thump me.  But seriously ask the question, did Jesus not say that it was better for us that He leave?  If so, then I assume most Bible-believing followers actually affirm those words of Jesus recorded in Scripture.  Let’s not forget that the reason we even have a Bible is because Jesus Christ died, rose again, ascended and promised to come back.  In other words, the Bible is not God, but Holy Spirit is.   

As a new testament believer I find myself often reading through the book of Acts.  It makes sense to read a detailed record of Jesus’ followers in the first-century.  Luke’s second volume is a powerful narrative describing the believers journey to implement the teachings of Jesus in His absence.  The book of Acts is a testimony to the disciples ongoing tension and struggle to map out a new way of living, acting, demonstrating, worshipping and following Jesus together.  After all, this had never been done before, and perhaps Luke is writing for this very purpose.  David Bosch believes that Acts was written specifically to let the believers know that the risen Lord was still with them, particularly through the Spirit who was continually guiding them into new adventures.

Ed Silvosa, in his book Ekklesia, comments that perhaps Antioch became the focus (and model) for the new testament church because of the firm grasp that the Temple had on the believers living Jerusalem.  Consider the immense pressure that Temple leadership and the centuries of tradition would have had on the people of God at that time.  There were no doubt many Jesus followers who slipped back into the routine and rhythm of Temple worship after Pentecost.  Needless to say, perhaps this is why an outpouring took place in Samaria when Philip began to proclaim the good news of Jesus coupled with the Spirit’s embodying presence (8:4-7).  Luke tells us the result: there was great joy in the city (8:8).

I recently participated in a leadership webinar from Frank Damazio (I know, another leadership thing).  However, I find Frank’s approach to ministry and leadership material very refreshing because of his confidence and trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit.  In this leadership webinar Frank commented that churches today would need to find ‘their way of being the church’.  The pandemic has essentially tossed a lot of things out of the proverbial church window.  This means that many congregations and pastors are needing to re-think, re-envision and dare I say, even re-launch church. 

I like the sounds of a re-launch.  Besides, who simply wants to re-open after we’ve been given this opportunity to do things different.  I also like this because there is no official formal structure laid in Scripture for ‘the church’ to follow.  Early believers needed to find their way with the Spirit’s help.  Which leads me to my final point.

3. Am I willing to find a new centre:

Eugene Peterson once said that ‘we understand nothing if we don’t have a centre.’  He was speaking about John’s revelation of God’s Throne in Revelation chapter 4.  However, his words extend beyond that chapter to give relevance to our current church context.

You may disagree with me, but from where I stand, the church has often confessed that Jesus is our centre, but has failed to grasp all of what that entails.  Here’s how. 

I have been in full-time ministry since graduating in the year 2000.  For the past fourteen years I have been in the position of lead pastor.  I am currently leading my second church.  I say those things to only give you context into what I am about to say. 

In my experience, whether on staff or leading, the general consensus from the avid church goer is this: Pastor, remember that you are here for me, and you had better do what we have always done or else there will be trouble! 

I say that because oftentimes the very thing that becomes the churches centre is themselves.  And to be truly ‘Christ centred’ would mean physically demonstrating the complete opposite in every single way. 

In his book “Gaining by losing: Why The Future Belongs to Churches That Send”, J.D. Greear says:

“Churches that want to penetrate their world with the gospel think less about the Sunday morning bang and more about equipping their members to blast a hole in the mountain of lostness.”

Greear believes that the church needs to completely re-orient itself around the concept of sending believers into the commuting so that they can make visible the invisible Christ.  The hope is that unbelievers desire to find the very reason why Christians live as they do. Greear believes that this allows the Spirit of God to work through the ordinary follower in a greater way than if Jesus Himself stayed on earth to lead the mission.  In this way the church begins to operate as ordinary, Spirit-filled believers turning the world upside down in the Spirit’s power by bringing ‘great joy’ to their city.  This is done through church demonstrations of love, generosity and blessing others who may never step foot inside the walls of the church building.

So, here we go.  It’s time to get into a new stream and begin to paint Jesus in our communities with all the vibrant colours of the Spirit.  

I admit that I am not following a five-step plan, or ten ways to transform a church.  I am simply licking my finger and sending it upward so that I can feel which way the wind is blowing.  Once determined and confirmed with the leadership team that I have, we set our sail and hitch up our plows so that we can work with the wind of the Spirit at our back.  By doing this we may actually begin to capture God’s heart for lost things.  

Moving forward, I continue to allow Ezekiel’s vision to feed my spirit.  I find myself wanting to continually go deeper into God’s abundant waters and moving forward with Him while still holding onto the structured banks.  Moving away from the comfort zone of the Temple is often easier said than done.  It is comforting to know that Ezekiel was ultimately led back to the river bank, but only after he saw what God was doing. 

I completely admit that most of my pastoral life has been spent ‘centre-ing’ on the wrong thing.  For decades I have tried to keep people happy, be a good little pastor and not intentionally rock the boat for the sake of rocking it.  Those days are over.  Now more than ever I feel the pulse and pull of the Spirit to bring His abundant life-flow to the dry, low-lying areas of our community.  My city needs to have an authentic encounter with God’s Spirit.  I want the lost to say that there is great joy in my city.      

In my upcoming blogs I will continue to talk about how we (Calvary church) have structured ourselves in ways that have helped us obtain this outward focus.  I will also share with you some of the ongoing tension and struggle that this outward direction yields.  It’s not always sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere.  It is also definitely not for the faint of heart or those who are easily wounded.  However, our belief and conviction is that we have a bright future in Lindsay and the City of Kawartha Lakes, because we passionately believe that the future belongs to churches that send

Maranatha!

Hey pastor, are you open?

Like thousands of fellow pastors in the regions of Ontario entering into Phase 2, the question is being asked: are we going to open?

For the past 12 weeks, places of worship were closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.  For many congregations this was a shock that generated a mixed bag of varying opinions.

Since then, hundreds of pastors have had to re-adjust to life on the fly if their employer was able to keep them on the payroll.  I have blogged about some of this weeks ago, and I won’t repeat myself here.  I will however, use a previous blog to launch me into this weeks thoughts.

In an earlier post, I shared some thoughts about Ezekiel.  You can read that post by clicking here. 

https://joelholtz.com/2020/05/07/with-a-rainbow-in-a-cloud-on-a-rainy-day/

Needless to say, Ezekiel was having a bad day.  Life was not lining up the way he expected, desired or prayed for.  However, we all at times need God to shake us up in order to settle us down.  This past week I found myself reading and meditating upon the vision of the life-giving river.

So, with this vision in mind, allow me to ask a few questions of my own pertaining to being open.

Are we open to being led: In this vision Ezekiel is being led by God to continue journeying away from the Temple.  It seems that the Lord is intent on leading Ezekiel to areas that He has measured off in the distance.  In a third of a mile increments, Ezekiel follows the One measuring.  The act of measuring in the Bible can mean God’s protection, identification with and purpose for the thing being measured (See Zechariah 2 and Revelation 11).  Here we see that God is measuring off new territory for His life-giving stream to impact.  In the vision, the river grows in volume as it flows further from the temple. 

Section by section, an area is measured.  Section by section the river deepens.  Section by section, the temple building is smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror.  Here’s the point, every time God moves, Ezekiel follows.

Needless the say, these last number of weeks we all have been ‘measured’ of sorts.  Many have had to repurpose themselves, reflect upon life and the world, reset priorities, rethink careers, readjust lifestyles, and even realign values.  Some have simply taken a recess.  But have we considered the possibility that God is leading us into something new? 

As a pastor, I realized long ago that a new score card was needed when it came to how I measured success.  In times past the church valued the external measures of ‘three Bs’: bodies, budget and buildings.  North American culture likes to count and so does the church.  However, in recent years churches and leaders have had to develop a new way to measure success.  The vision given to Ezekiel seems to suggest that God desires to establish a life-giving flow from His temple outward.  So, perhaps it is time for a new score card that measures missional impact.

Are we open to new things: I am thankful and proud of the many pastors who caught the passion to reach outside the walls of the building and become focused on the people who do not attend.  Seriously, even if we wanted to keep the focus internally, people were not allowed to enter.  Talk about a hit to the attendance numbers.  But our continued focus on the ninety-nine could be going against the very flow of God.  Here’s why. 

The river in Ezekiel’s vision is said to be flowing towards the Arabah (47:8).  Arabah literally means ‘the depression’.  This ‘depressed’ area is said to be the region surrounding the Dead Sea.  Not much life in there.  I guess that’s why God decides to go in that direction. 

It should not be stunning to us that God seems to passionately desire to bring His river of abundant life to the dead areas of the world.  You and I were not worthy to receive His abundant life, but it was offered because of God’s merciful compassion and grace.  He is always on the lookout to bring His people home.  In that regard, we are like that little fish called Nemo that has a Father searching the world in order to bring us back to Himself.

Here’s the point, perhaps the Lord is using this time to lead us towards new expressions of His abundant life to the surrounding community.  We all have a neighbour don’t we?  Furthermore, perhaps ‘the church’ in many aspects is being re-tooled to better reach the areas of deadness around us.  Maybe that is the whole point.  Maybe we are being led to discover new ways to reach the world.  Maybe this is what Jesus died for. 

Are we open to healing the world:  Sometimes we are all guilty of focusing too much on our own tribe.  We all are guilty of this.  The fact that so many pastors and evangelists preach this passage and vision as a personal revival message is proof of such.  Here’s how.       

We must remember that this vision was given to Ezekiel in context of land distribution.  The land that God measured was to be given equally to all the tribes of Israel (47:14, 21).  No tribe was to receive more than the other.  But God takes it even further.  Yahweh commands for all the aliens and foreigners living within the tribes to also receive an equal share (47:22-23).  That means that all the non-Israelites living among the tribes were to receive the same promised inheritance equally.  In other words, God’s river of life was to always impact and include others into His tribe.  Perhaps this is why God is measuring off distance from the temple.  Maybe He wants to enlarge the area, and impact for people with His healing river flow.

So let me ask another question: Do you see what the Lord sees? 

Ezekiel is asked this very question (47:6).  This question reminds me that this vision seems to emphasize what God is doing rather than what Ezekiel and the Temple are able to do.  Also, this question is helpful because it seems to invites us to experience and participate in whatever God is doing.  For some unknown reason He desires to work through people like you and me.  So a question could be: what is God doing right now to bring His healing presence to the depressed regions that surround us? 

Maybe that is a better question to ask.  So again, hey pastor, are you open?

Maranatha!

Hey, who pushed me?

There’s a story about a rich millionaire who threw a massive party for his fiftieth birthday.  During this party, he grabs the microphone and announces to his guests that down in the garden of his mansion he has a swimming pool with two sharks in it.

I will give anything of mine to the person who swims across that pool’.

So the party continues with no events in the pool until SUDDENLY there’s a great splash and all the guests of the party run to the pool to see what happened. 

In the pool a man is swimming as hard as he can … fins come out of the water and jaws are snapping and this guy keeps in going.  The sharks are gaining on him, but the guy finally reaches to the end and gets out of the pool, tired and soaked.

The millionaire grabs the microphone and says, ‘I am a man of my word.  Anything of mine I will give, my Ferraris, my house, absolutely anything, for you are the bravest man I have ever seen.  So sir, what will it be?’

Breathless, the guy grabs the microphone and says, ‘Why don’t we start with the name of the jerk who pushed me in!’

We may not be able to physically relate to that exact pool experience, but does it not seem as though there are times in our lives when we are thrust into situations beyond our control, which create extreme confusion, panic and chaos to the point where we feel as though we need to swim for our very lives?

For the past eleven weeks or more this has been the case for many.  Millions of people globally have been pushed into unfamiliar waters during this COVID-19 pandemic.  My previous blog mentioned some of those things as it pertains to my current occupation.  And then during that same week, we are thrust into the the midst of a cultural shaking. 

The events of the past two weeks instigated an onslaught of feelings, emotions, and actions.  I feel that there is reshaping in the wind.

For me, this past season has truly been a positive experience.  Being a true introvert, the ‘stay at home’ request was received with joy and thanksgiving!  I believe that I may have done the happy dance once or twice.  It was as if God was preparing me for this pandemic thing all along.  Hunkering down and being with family was music to my ears.  It is always a good thing for me. 

I am also very thankful that my employment as a pastor has continued.  The church that I pastor has been extremely kind and generous during this pandemic.  We are very thankful.  The church has also been extremely generous to our response to COVID-19.  We have raised over six thousand dollars!  All of the money has been spent locally to purchase food items to be given away at local food banks.  We have one that operates in our church building.  Our church is practicing self-giving love and generosity in completely new ways. 

It is this ‘new thing’ that our church is doing that continues to cause me to reflect upon the nature and function of God’s people.  I mentioned before that I believe there is definitely a link between the Spirit and the Church.  Furthermore, I believe that God’s people are to operate as Spirit-empowered people here in earth. 

As one writer says, ‘the event of Pentecost ushers on the stage of salvation history the community of faith as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic ecclesia – the anointed and empowers Body of Christ representing, in its mystical union with the Redeemer, the eschatological fusion of of heaven and earth.  This is the Body that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, continues the ministry of the resurrected Christ in the world as the living extension of His character and mission.’ (Daniela Augustine)

Now that is quite the definition of the Church!  But consider what Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:

This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. (5:32)

The word ‘ecclesia’ is often used to refer to ‘the Church’.  In the Hellenistic world, it was used to describe a political gathering, an official meeting of an assembly of citizens.  This usage is found in Acts 19:29, where the town clerk cautioned the crowd that any official action toward Paul and his associates would have to be settled in the regular ‘assembly’ (ecclesia).

The book of Acts tells us that those whom the Spirit had formed into the ‘church’ were first known as members of ‘the Way’ (9:2).  Eventually this new community of believers came to be called the ‘ecclesia’, which means ‘a called-out assembly’.   

So what is this ‘called-out assembly’ supposed to represent and actively demonstrate in the world?

For Paul, it may look like this:

for the administration of the days of fulfillment —to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him. (1:10)

So what does all this have to do with COVID-19 and the time we live in?  Allow me to suggest that as Spirit-empowered people, this ‘push’ or being thrust into a pandemic has produced some very positive results for many believing communities. 

Push #1 – Pushing past self-serving tendencies:  This continues to be an ongoing battle, however, the recent pandemic has allowed me the opportunity to eliminate and walk way from aspects of self-serving religion.  For decades in many traditions, the church building has unfortunately been the centre point and focus of all ministry.  From weekly programs, to Bible studies, prayer groups and discipleship curriculums, everything needed to happen inside the walls.  Who else would we be trying to impact?

Postmodernity had supposedly shifted the focus away from buildings and institutions, but somebody forget to tell a lot of congregations about this.  However, the recent pandemic has definitely sealed the deal.  In a matter of weeks, pastors from around the globe became tele-evangelists, movie producers, sound technicians and social media experts overnight!  The transformation was truly inspiring.  Way to go pastors!  But now what?

All the experts are telling us that online numbers are dropping and people are engaging less because the novelty is wearing off.  This may be true, but pastors are seeing the benefits of reaching and engaging people outside of the building.  In other words, you don’t need a building to be building. 

Push #2 – Pushing past a self-focused vision:  Since the days of Moses, the people of God have always had one ultimate concern:  What’s the best for me!  Along with self-serving tendencies comes a self-focused vision.  You mean that there is more to life than me?  Exactly.

One of the blessings (and curses) of being a follower of Jesus in the West is the plethora of options for worshipping.  Seriously, there is anything from Southern Gospel to ‘cutting edge’ and everything in between in spades.  The options can be endless.  I am convinced that this has not really helped ‘the church’ maintain a Kingdom focus to win the world. 

Jesus died so that dead people can live.  He didn’t die so that we could have organ music, electric guitar, smoke machine, no smoke machine or choirs in robes.  He died so that the entire world could be made new.  He gave His love as an expression of self-sacrificial love so that the world could receive God’s love.  The mission of God is to heal the world.  How does that mission fit into our vision?  Or better yet, how does God’s mission to heal the world affect what we do in our everyday?   

The pandemic has essentially streamlined many things in terms of ‘church’.  It has given pastors and church leaders time to reflect, re-assess and potentially re-adjust the focus.  If so, then may we continue to strive towards what really matters: to bring everything together in the Messiah, or in other words, build His Kingdom.  If we are not building the Kingdom, then we are not building the Kingdom.  Much of what we have done in the past has not helped us achieve this desired result.  Perhaps we need a different vision.

Push #3 – Pushing past self-gratifying expressions:  Along with the above mentioned ‘self’s’ comes the physical expression of selfish living: selfish expressions.  Have you ever watched toddlers play together?  Sometimes they play great and all is well until you try and take their favourite toy!  In times like that .. watch out.  The physical expression indicates their utter displeasure.  Church can be like that.  Sing the right song and all is well.  Sing ‘that other music’ and the scowls come out like the dandelions … they’re everywhere. 

From songs to styles to messages that make me feel good, the church has long been accustomed to expressing itself in ways that bring satisfaction to those within.  We can even have really good church without God being there.  And at times I am afraid that some gatherings have not even noticed that His Spirit has left the building. 

During this pandemic, the Church has had to actually ‘leave the building’ too.  The Church was never really closed, it was simply repositioned into a better location: the community. 

Here’s the thing: having church is easier than being the church.  Trust me, this is coming from someone who get’s paid to ‘have church’.  So, what have I been doing these last ten weeks?  Well, confession time.  I have not being ‘having church’.  I have been ‘the church’.  I have been ‘the church’ by connecting with the needs of my community.  I have been ‘the church’ by purchasing food items from local businesses.  I have been ‘the church’ when delivering food goods to food banks, shelters and others in need.  I have been ‘the church’ by talking and listening to my neighbour express their emotions and confusion about the days we are living in (staying six-feet apart of course).  I have been ‘the church’ when I text, chat and call fellow believers and pray with them.  I have been ‘the church’ by spending time talking to my kids about what’s going in the world.  Oh, and yes, I have been ‘the church’ by putting together weekly teaching videos so that the body may be equipped to do the work of the ministry.  At least that is my desire … for the body to do ministry.  But I digress. 

Plain and simple, Jesus modelled a life that was anything but self-gratifying.  In fact it was the completely the opposite.  He came to serve.  The last time I checked, He also said something about picking up ones cross and dying daily.  Not a lot of time for self-gratification if you’re always dying to self.  I guess that’s the point.

So, now that COVID has potentially ‘pushed’ us in some of these areas (positively), it is up to ‘the church’ to continue this journey.  We haven’t come this far, to only come this far.  There is more to be about and more to address for the Kingdom’s sake. 

I am committed to the transformation journey with the group of believers that call Calvary their home ‘church’.  The continuing desire is for this group of believers to not simply be a group of believers, but to become a transformed and transforming community. 

This is my journey. 

Maranatha!

P.S. I just got word this week that places of worship can return to their buildings … I feel another push coming … I pray that it is not simply a push from those who simply want to return so that we can ‘have church’ again … but a push forward … ‘in the power of the Holy Spirit to continue the ministry of the resurrected Christ in the world as the living extension of His character and mission.’