With a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day

Sometimes it’s nice to just go and sit beside a river bank.  The flow of water combined with all the sounds of nature can bring a soothing to the troubled soul.  Perhaps this is why Ezekiel found himself there. 

The Bible tells us that Ezekiel was thirty years old when he sat along the bank of the Chebar Canal.  This canal is believed to be a tributary of the great Euphrates river that ran along the regions of northern ancient Babylon or near present day Baghdad.  It was here that Ezekiel sat as a thirty-year old refugee in exile.

What had gone wrong?  This was not supposed to happen.  His entire life was preparing him for a certain path that now seemed to be eroded and gone.  You see, Ezekiel was of the priestly age, thirty, which meant that should be serving as a priest.  He had fully pledged himself to the priestly order of Israel and was set to continue this honoured tradition.  His entire life was aimed and groomed for such a purpose.  Ezekiel was to be a servant in Yahweh’s Temple and perform the ritual duties of worship and sacrifice within Israel.  But now he sits exiled and alone in a pagan nation.  How could this happen?

History tells us that Israel had been conquered and sacked by the Babylonians as part of their quest to dominate the ancient Near Eastern landscape.  Under King Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonians had successfully de-throned the dreaded Assyrian Empire that was dominating most of middle earth.  Employing Babylon’s strength and military greatness, King Nebuchadnezzar now ruled over many nations with power.  Ezekiel, like other captives, were exported from their native lands to begin their assimilation into the Babylonian way of life.  It was a drastic and abrupt change. 

This was especially troublesome for Ezekiel, and other Hebrews who potentially held onto a view that Yahweh would never let this happen.  Many Psalms (songs of the Hebrew people) were written and penned with confident expressions that God would make an eternal house and home for His people (Israel) here on earth.  The hope of the nation was in Yahweh’s desire to establish a ‘city’ within their land.  Jerusalem (the city of God, Zion) was this place where God would dwell.  This confidence birthed an understanding that God would protect His people from any and all harm that would come their way.  In other words, God would never allow His beloved city to fall into the hands of pagan nations or allow His people to lose their territory to neighbouring overlords.  This simply could not be. 

That type of thinking is referred to as ‘Zion theology’.  It was a perspective or worldview that understood that the Ark of the Covenant would provide covenantal power and act as God’s secret weapon against Israel’s enemies.  This led to comfortable prophets and prophecies which led many to believe that God would never allow Jerusalem to fall.  God, as their divine warrior, would fight for His people. 

Thrown into the mix of all this thinking was the understanding that ancient deities were also aligned with geographic territories.  Each nation had a patron god whose power was demonstrated within their region or land.  In other words, if Yahweh truly was more powerful that other gods, then no harm would come to His people within their nations borders.  However, Ezekiel now sat in a conquered state within a foreign country that had just demonstrated its power over Israel.  What did all of this mean for Yahweh’s power, promises and prophecies?  What was Ezekiel to understand now that everything he had ever been taught, believed in and worshipped seemed to all come crashing down?  Where do we go from here?

I do not know if you are asking any of those questions due to recent events.  Perhaps or perhaps not.  However, allow me to encourage you with a few thoughts from the God of the whirlwind. 

The Bible tells us that even in exile, the hand of God found Ezekiel.  In a spectacular vision, Ezekiel sees, feels, hears, and even tastes the supernatural wonders of Yahweh.  This vivid encounter with the living God of the universe ultimately left Ezekiel overwhelmed for seven days!  This truly was a powerful experience.

Ezekiel tells us that he encountered a form of the LORD’s glory that day.  It was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day (1:28).  Prior to this, Ezekiel had witnessed wheels of motion, angelic beings, creatures of earth and God’s Spirit  working and empowering it all.  The heavens have opened for Ezekiel and he was able to see the power of Almighty God.  From Creation to the Cosmos, all things were moving according to the Spirit of Yahweh.  It seemed that Yahweh is not bound to physical space, aspects of time, or theologies of man.  He is simply bigger and beyond it all.  He is the Most High God.

For Ezekiel and us, there are three things that I would like to highlight:

Yahweh is Sovereign:  The Bible is an affirmation that the God of Israel is indeed the God of the Universe.  He made the Cosmos and Creation with determination, design and destiny.  There is also a point, purpose and plan to everything He does.  He has a goal and mission that involves the cosmic powers and created beings of both realms.  It is all moving as planned. 

Yahweh is Transcendent:  Yahweh is completely and wholly ‘other’.  He stands beyond our time, space and matter.  He is altogether completely different from anything created.  He is from eternity to eternity.  He is Spirit.  His realm is beyond ours.  He stands over and above this middle earth.  He sees all things and is not surprised by any of it.  History is His Story.   

Yahweh is Immanent:  Yahweh is everywhere all the time.  He does not just stand afar off on top some mount peering down from the clouds.  No.  Even though He stands above and beyond all that we can comprehend, He is able to draw near and be present in the world that He made.  His arm is never short of reaching in and touching our lives.

From this experience with Yahweh, Ezekiel modelled three responses that transcend space, time and matter.  In other words, may we consider responding similarly today:

Be a worshipper:  Ezekiel falls face down (prostrate) six times throughout his book (1:28, 3:23, 9:8, 11:13, 43:3, 44:4).  Every time he encounters God, Ezekiels worships.  No one does it more in all of Scripture.    

Be a person of the word: Ezekiel ingests the words of God (2:8-3:3).  A scroll was presented to Ezekiel containing words of lamentation and woe.  However, when Ezekiel ate of it, it was a sweet as honey in his mouth.  The word of God filled Ezekiels stomach.   

Be a Spirit-empowered witness:  Ezekiel heard God’s voice commission him to speak to the nation of Israel.  As God spoke, the Spirit entered Ezekiel and set him on this new pathway towards a prophetic ministry.  The priest was now a God’s prophetic voice. 

During these COVID days of unexpectedness and uncertainty, please know that there is One who still stands beyond all of this and saw it coming.  God was not caught off guard or is pacing up in heaven trying to figure out what to do.  No.  He has everything aligning towards His climactic end.    

Also, please know that He is able to meet with you and bring about life change amidst the confusion, chaos and commotion.  Yahweh still rules the universe and His reign is demonstrated via His Spirit here on earth.  The Spirit is in the world today working to bring all things under the Lordship of Jesus.  That includes you and me.  The Spirit has a mission.  That also includes you and me.   

You can read about the mission, nature, character and personality of God via the Gospel testimony about Jesus Christ, the Nazarene.  Jesus is the only perfect icon of God who came to show us the Way.  Jesus is the living Word who spoke and communicated eternal Truth to us.  He also demonstrated the Life of God’s Kingdom and the mission for all who follow.  Jesus truly is Yahweh’s Way, Truth and Life.

Let me ask you this.  If you have yet to turn and embrace Jesus within your mind, heart and lifestyle, please do.  Allow Him to be Lord of all that you are and all that you do.  Allow Him to bring His newness into your spirit, heart and mind.  He died so that you can live.  His life is abundantly different than anything you have experienced to date.  It’s a supernatural transformation that brings love, refreshing, change and transformation.  It is like being born again for the very first time. 

For those who have already committed their walk to Jesus, I pray that in these days you will continue to respond to His Sovereignty in appropriate ways.  May we all continue to lower ourselves in worshipful postures, feed on His faithful and true words, and continue to be filled with His Spirit so that we can function as His prophetic voice in the world.    

May we continue to embrace His Spirit of motion, destiny and direction in all that we do.  May we yearn for the heavens to open once again for our King to return.  Middle earth needs her King, and so do we.    

Come Lord Jesus Come! 

Maranatha!

Essentials of life

7-10 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love.  (1 John 4:7-8 MSG)

The days that we are living in has definitely allowed us to think about essentials.  Much has changed, and there is an uncertainty about what will remain.  Aspects of society and culture have been shaken.  Our worldview have been challenged.  It feels like we are being called to a great unknown.   

The Bible tells us that Abraham was an individual who has an experience with God.  Thankfully, Abraham was listening and began his journey with Yahweh.  It is interesting to notice that in Abraham’s journey God seemed to separate him from the known foundation of the day.

Abraham was part of a vibrant culture life.  Ancient Mesopotamia was a hotbed of civilization and human culture.  It was vibrant, artistic, and systematic.  Mesopotamian culture had legal, economic, social systems and religious structure.  The Biblical account of Job also highlights some of the philosophical understandings and worldview pertaining to this time period.  Archaeology tells us that the Ur-Nammu Law Code is considered the oldest known written code of laws pertaining to humanity.  I am not an expert by any means when it comes to Mesopotamian culture, but I do know that it was indeed a structured and established society that had foundations.

Like Mesopotamian, every human culture has a ‘way of doing life’ that has been handed down from generation to generation.  Fundamental to any culture is a set of beliefs, experiences and practices that seek to grasp and express the ultimate nature of all things.  This set of belief’s, experiences and practices often establish a worldview that shapes and gives meaning to life.  Oftentimes, this same worldview claims final authority pertaining ‘the ways of life’.

Much could be said about how COVID-19 is challenging and changing foundational elements of present day culture and society.  Like you, I have been able to re-evaluate many things during these days.  We all have had ‘time’ to think, act, and evaluate the ways of North American life.  I pray that you have been able to handle all the needed adjustments.  I also pray that you have had some time to evaluate and examine beliefs, experiences and practices concerning your cultural worldview.

We all have a culture, and we are all impacted by culture.  In fact the ‘gospel’ itself is never culture-free.  The Bible was written within a specific cultural worldview.  Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a first-century Palestinian Jew.  Jesus communicated in concepts and language known to the receptor culture of the time.  He did so in order to bring about a radical contradiction (revelation) that would call into question everything pertaining to the Greco-Roman ‘way of life’.  This ‘upside down gospel’ of Jesus was not simply a message addressed to leaders in society, government and religion.  Jesus seems to walk away from the pulpit spot-light when such occasions arose.  The ‘way of life’ for Jesus was much more than talk.  It was a revolutionary way of being human.

The recent response by millions of front-line workers has been a testament to humanity’s drive to combat the evils of COVID-19.  Our church recently thanked a group of those workers by sending them gift-cards.  It was a small token expressing our appreciation for their committed stance against the darkness of the disease.    

Similarly, Jesus and His new community of disciples challenged evil whoever they found it, and it wasn’t merely an inward spiritual challenge.  Yes, Jesus regularly denounced hypocrisy and blasted the religious leadership.  But He also challenged the economic establishment, overturned social values and specifically addressed customs related to women.  The Way of Jesus was a radical confrontation to the fallen systems and cultural powers of the world.  His call to ‘repent’ and do a U-turn meant that individuals needed to centre their existence and ‘way of life’ around His.  This ‘gospel’ of Jesus specifically refers to a series of events that have its center and foundation upon Him.  His story is what we call the gospel, and His gospel was all about the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus spoke much about the Kingdom of God.  Perhaps this was because Jesus knew how good the Creator intends culture and civilization to be.  Who better to tell us about the Way of God than God Himself.  Who better to show us the Way of God than God Himself.  Who better to kick start a revolution against the fallen systems of this world than God Himself.  Who better to call people to a new way of being human than the One who Created all things. 

I am convinced that the mission of Jesus seems to centre on all areas of society and culture where sin had introduced brokenness.  We continue to see the fall-out of humanity’s idolatrous choice to walk away from the One who gives us life.  In the wake of turning away from God, we have embraced transgression.  Our broken world continues to remind us about this cosmic wrong-doing.  However, all is not lost in the battle against the chaotic darkness that surrounds us.  Hope breaks through every time someone combats the evils of the world.  Hope walks in the room through acts of self-sacrificial love. 

We need to thank the millions of front-line workers who are daily operating amidst the evils of COVID-19.  Their dedication and commitment to love’s self-sacrificial way is inspiring and significant.  This self-emptying is reminiscent of another who operated similarly.  For God so love the world, He gave, and continues to give. 

The evils of the world and darkness of disease is a problem that is to be addressed and overcome by God’s powerful love.  In fact, I believe that His Spirit is seeking to and fro throughout the earth to find people who will operate in this capacity.  I believe we are seeing it within the many who operate according to the Divine Way of self-sacrifice.

At the end of the age, millions may ask, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:37-40 MSG).

This the way of love.  This is the way of Jesus.  May His Way be our foundation now, and forevermore. 

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

11-12 My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!  (1 John 4:9-12 MSG) 

 

Maranatha!

The pain is not the product

I remember the day when my life changed forever. It was a summer day in August. The year was 2004. We had just welcomed our first born child into the world. I will never forget that experience, and neither will my wife! I admit, that my role was not as involved and ‘felt’ as my wife’s (or any other mother for that matter). But from my perspective, the journey towards new life seems to involve moments of pain.

Again, I want to make it known that I am not attempting to say that I ‘know’ what it is like to give birth. That would be unnatural. I am simply alluding to the reality that during the stages of giving birth, there are definite moments and cycles of pain.

My sister-in-law is a mid-wife and she would be able to identity the many stages and phases that women go through while giving birth. I admittedly acknowledge that I have completely forgotten all of what I learned in our pre-natal classes, other than this one simple command … breathe!

Breathe in … breathe out … breathe in … breathe out … breathe in … pass out! Oh wait, I can’t. I’m supposed to help get my wife through this part of the journey. I need to understand that the pain will come, and it will pass. I need to understand that pain is part of the process in order to bring forth new life. I need to know that the pain will end, and that new life will come.

With all the recent activity amidst the COVID-19 crisis, I am sure that you have had many opportunities to form your opinion pertaining to ‘why’ things happen, and if there ‘is a reason’ for any of this?

Speaking as a parent, here is what I have come to understand.

The pain is not the product.

Never once did I consider the pain that my wife was going through to be the ‘essence’ of my unseen child. In other words, the pain was not part of my child’s essential character or quintessential make-up. In fact, we named our children specifically because we believe that a child’s ‘name’ speaks about their life and character. We see this in Scripture. Moses means ‘drew him out’; Abraham means ‘father of many nations’; Eve means ‘living or to give life’ etc. Names speak about character.

In the Bible, God reveals Himself as the “Yahweh”. In the book of Exodus it says that the LORD passed in front of Moses and said:

Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin.

The Bible affirms that God is merciful and compassionate in over thirty-eight other verses. It seems that the Bible testifies loudly to the merciful character of God. I say this because of the temptation to turn the events of the world into a doom and gloom stick used by ‘Christians’ to improperly match negative events with the essence of God’s character.

I realize that God cannot be divorced from tragedy. However, God’s character is also not vindictive, judgemental or condemning. He is good, merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He desires mercy over sacrifice (Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13) and closed the book on vengeance permanently. Jesus specifically announced that God’s favour and jubilee was here (Luke 4:18-19, c.f. Isaiah 61:1-2).

It saddens me to hear those who only speak gloom, doom, judgement and fire. I refer to these lost people as the ‘turn or burn’ folks. If you are a ‘repent, hell, fire and brimstone’ type of person, I challenge you to read the gospels and notice how Jesus spoke, acted and demonstrated God’s character in the world. Please do.

Furthermore, it pains me to hear supposed ‘prophets’ claim that God is more aligned with any one political government over the other. I recently heard one such ‘voice’ declare that ‘God is angry’ with ‘country-x’ and is going to bring ‘devastation’ and ‘judgement’ upon them because of their ‘ungodly ways’ and ‘persecution’ of the Church, and that God is tired of their ‘arrogance’ and how they have snubbed their nose at Him. If I am not mistaken, the Spirit seems to have spoken already about this, and the Bible affirms that God is for all the nations, not just one nation from the West. But I digress.

In a previous blog, I spoke about the context of plagues and being shaken. Please feel free to read that blog to see where I am coming from in terms of my understanding of world events. We are witnessing ‘birth pains’ that Jesus said ‘must’ take place (Matthew 24:3-8, Rev. 1:1, 22:6).

It is my opinion that in the context of God ‘delivering’ His people, pain can be understood as part of the birthing process. The movement from ‘no life’ to ‘new life’ involves pain. Children cannot come into the world without it, and even when they arrive the pain does not end! But most parents would not identify the pain with the product. In other words, the essence of the product is not to be understood synonymously with the pain.

The pain is not the product, but it is part of the process.

The pain is part of the process.

The Genesis narrative is pretty clear regarding the cause of the rift between God, humanity and creation. God’s shalom was broken and it was our fault. By turning away from the source of life, humanity embraced the voice of the deceiver and ate from the forbidden tree. The result of such produced a journey of pain.

He said to the woman: I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children in anguish …  And He said to Adam, … The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:16, 17)

The process of life here on earth involves painful labour. It resulted from our turning away from God and embracing a false one. Humanity’s idolatry has marred God’s good work and corrupted His perfect shalom. Creation itself longs to be set free from this futility and despair (Rom. 8:18-25).

Thankfully, God is not some cosmic kill-joy or grumpy brow-beater looking to install hardship, toil and sorrow. Remember, we brought this on ourselves. However, God has provided a Way. The pain is part of the process, but with God, the process can produce a new product.

The product is new life.

I’ve spoken about being made new, or being born again recently at Calvary church. This ‘newness’ of God is offered exclusively through Jesus Christ of Nazareth. God’s new creation is available for anyone who believes. As Paul would say: if anyone is in Christ, new creation. I love how The Message translation phrases it:

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start …. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Does that not sound good! Is this not what Easter is all about? In fact, it is. But Jesus is not done just yet. He continually makes all things new up until His Return (Rev. 21:5).

Yes, that’s right, Jesus is coming back. And when He returns, everything will be made right once again for eternity. We will experience the shalom of God forever and ever. That’s a good plan.

I realize that we are still in the ‘midst’ of COVID-19. I realize that we are in the middle of God’s three-day story. The second day in any three day story is challenging and normally involves difficulty and pain. It does. But God’s third day is on the horizon. Pain is part of our process, but it is not the final product. The final product is new creation.

God’s final product is coming … breathe … there is still pain during the process … breathe … you will make it through … breathe … He is with you through it … breathe … He is coming …
Maranatha!

Shaken

Habakkuk 3:5  Plague goes before Him

Recent events have brought many Biblical passages and scenarios to my mind.  Admittedly, it has been a challenge for me to discern exactly what needs to be said and when it’s time to say it.  The challenge is real because tensions are high. 

For those who have been following me now on our church page via Facebook and YouTube (Calvary Pentecostal Church Lindsay), you may know that my family recently returned from Florida.  We thankfully were able to head down the week before March break and enjoy Disney before it was closed.  We truly had a great time. 

While south of the border, we were given a unique perspective of the unfolding crisis.  We were able to watch the local news, as well as tune in to CTV News online.  The scene in Canada was very different from what we were witnessing in Florida and much of the United States. 

Upon returning to Canada, we were relieved that we were not ‘going to be sent to Trenton’ and that we did not receive any ‘date stamp’ indicating our quarantine release date.  Such were some of the fears portrayed to us from loved ones in the north.  I honestly did not give it much attention.  However, it did illustrate to me the atmosphere that I would be returning to.  We were not just dealing with COVID-19, we were also dealing with a plague of fear. 

In the Bible plagues and pestilences are often associated and linked with a particular event in Israel’s history: the exodus.  To put it very simply, the exodus event is a major thing for the people of God.  It was a classic showdown down between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt.  Some even believe that the specific plagues mentioned in the Bible resembled the pagan deities of Egypt.  Regardless, it was indeed a Cosmic clash between the deities of Egypt and the God of the Hebrews.  Which deity ruled the known universe and beyond? 

I believe that the Bible rightly proclaims that Yahweh is indeed the God of all gods, and that He (Yahweh) has delivered His people from the hands of those who oppose Him. Moses also seemed to have this view.  He wrote, ‘For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe.’ (Deuteronomy 10:17).  

Psalm 97:9 also says, ‘For You, LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; You are exalted above all the gods.’

The Hebrew people believed that YWH (Yahweh) was indeed God Almighty, and had demonstrated His power over the existing powerhouse of the known world: Egypt.  God was delivering His people from the clutches of Pharaoh.  

Psalm 77, 78, 95, 105, 106, 114, 135 and 136 all recount and contain explicit references to the exodus saga.  Furthermore, the Prophets also mix in Sinai and wilderness imagery into their writings.  The result is an array of OT passages, prophecies and poetry that contain vivid imagery pertaining to the earth being shaken, days being darkened, and wonders in the heavens.  What else would you expect when the Almighty intervenes into the affairs of the world?

These echos of the exodus and the Sinai encounter are noteworthy and help us better understand the imagery associated with plagues of the Bible.  Biblically speaking then, it could be said that plagues are framed with Israel’s exodus, Sinai and wilderness narrative.  It could also be said that plagues were understood as a must that accompanied Yahweh’s return.

As in Habakkuk, plagues were often associated as things that would proceed the Yahweh’s return.  Similarly, Jesus too alludes to events that also must take place. 

‘the disciples approached Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”4 Then Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you … You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars … See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines[a] and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these events are the beginning of birth pains.  (Matthew 24)

I mention all of this for a couple of reasons.  Events ‘like’ COVID-19 helps me:

Understand that ‘these things must take place’. Correct me if I am wrong, but Jesus did say that we ought to expect such events.  And did He also not send out and commission the 12 and 70 to a journey of hardship, strive and opposition?  In other words, Jesus seems to indicate that our starting point would involve tribulation.

Understand that Jesus has overcome ‘these things’.  In John 16, Jesus encourages His followers with the following words:

Look: An hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

Do you feel encouraged?  Perhaps not.  However, the NT testifies that Jesus Himself has overcome everything that humanity and the powers of darkness threw at Him.  He and He alone stands in the both realms as King.  He and He alone is able to bring perfect shalom (peace) with God, others, within ourselves and the created order.  Jesus has conquered everything that opposes God. 

Understand my role in ‘these things’. I believes that God desires to partner with all humanity via His Spirit so that we can accomplish His mission and build His Kingdom in the midst of suffering and trials.  This perspective helps me understand not only what God is doing in the world today, but my role amidst the chaos, opposition and evil. 

Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia,  Jesus is on the move to bring an end to everything that is wrong in the world and within me.  We live in a broken world that is in need of His shalom (peace).  Until He comes, there is much to do. 

C.S Lewis said that “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

Acts 10:38 says that ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power’, and that Jesus ‘went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him.’  

Friends, God is still with us.  His Spirit is here to accomplish the same plan and Mission of Jesus.  Much is broken.  Much is wrong.  Much is misaligned.  However, the Bible seems to indicate that Yahweh’s plan will not be shaken.

Wherever you are, and whatever situation you find yourself in, my prayer for you will be this verse:  Though the mountains move and the hills shake, My love will not be removed from you and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,” says your compassionate Lord. (Isaiah 54:10)

These days are challenging, and we do not have all the answers, nor do we see all things.  There is only One who can. 

I pray that we would all come to place our hope, trust and faith in Yahweh, His Messiah (Jesus Christ of Nazareth) and His good plan for humanity and Creation. 

I pray that we all would look upon His face and see the love of Jesus. 

I will be praying for you.  Please also pray for me. 

 

Maranatha!

This is the way

God’s New Creation

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. 2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:[a]

Look! God’s dwelling[b] is with humanity,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them
and be their God.[c]

4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things[d] have passed away.

5 Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.”

Revelation 21:1-5a

I have enjoyed watching Disney’s Mandalorian series.  I eagerly await the next season to come.   At a funeral service this week I was given the ability to share about the next season to come.  To me, this is the hope of Christianity.  The Bible talks about a hope that is found beyond this world; a hope that is not tied to anything natural or temporal; a hope that is rooted in a Person.     

The book of Revelation is perhaps my favourite letter.  The challenge in presenting it to the Western church is that many have already been told what to think and believe about its context and content.  Much of our thinking has been impacted by Dispensational theology.  Whatever lens you use to view Scripture, may we always be encouraged by the reading of this prophetic book.  The words are faithful and true. 

Within the book of Revelation John sees many things.  In fact a good reading of the letter would follow that pattern, rather than a chronological one.  We see what John sees.  In this passage, John sees an opened heavens. 

In the OT, Isaiah prophesied a prayer that contained an intercessory cry for God to ‘tear the heavens and come down’ (64:1).  Jesus is physical proof of that happening, and so is the coming of the Spirit.  However, on the Island of Patmos John experiences a vision of a final opened heavens.  This wonderful vision contains promises that can give us hope amidst our post-modern world today.

In God’s new creation there is hope for new beginnings free from chaos and the enemies of God.  John notes that ‘the sea existed no longer’.  Biblically speaking, the ‘sea’ can be viewed as an image of chaos, anarchy and opposition to God (see Psalm 74:12-14, Is. 51:9, Psalm 89:9-10).  The OT affirms that YHWH rules the heavens and the earth (Psalm 24:1-2, Isaiah 40:21-22) by His Spirit, which demonstrates His Power (Gen. 1:1-2).  Perhaps this is why John says that death will exist not longer too.  All of God’s enemies are finally absent.

In God’s new creation there are new beginnings that are real and rewarding.  I love how John describes what he sees.  The vision of this new heaven is ‘like’ a beautiful bride!  All married couples reading this will remember the day when the love of your life came walking down the aisle.  Your eyes locked and the cosmos stood still for the briefest of moments: it is breathtaking glory.  This is what John sees.  He describes the vision in terms of an intimate love relationship.  God Himself is dwelling with us once again!  It seems that God’s new creation is primarily about our loving God being united perfectly with humanity once again.  It is a relationship that is real and rewarding. 

In God’s new creation there are new beginnings that allow us to find our true end.  John also describes this vision to be ‘like’ a city (Holy City, new Jerusalem).  Within cities there are people, citizens, society, employment and culture.  It would seem that this vision expresses humanity’s ability to operate and function in perfect harmony with each other and with God.  This is vision of God’s new creation depicts His perfect rule operating in and through the lives of His people.    

In our culture today we often hear two words that define humanity.  Those two words are freedom and equality.  Our postmodern world believes that we need to be ‘freed’ from any restrictions that limit ones ability to achieve their ultimate fulfillment.  Capitalism can be viewed as the vision of this freedom.  Similarly the goal of socialism is to bring ‘equality’ of rights to every autonomous individual so that they can pursue their self-chosen ends without limits.  Each ideology (capitalism and socialism / freedom and equality) offer a vision of human life, purpose and existence.  However, each of these options fail to account for one major element: the breakdown of relationships.

I believe that neither freedom nor equality are words that can take us to the heart of what it means to be human.  In other words, the fundamental aspect of being human is not found in our pursuit of freedom or equality.  Our humanness is rooted in our relatedness.  As human beings, we are meant to live in relationship with other living beings.  In fact, it could be said that our true end is found only in these bonds of mutual love.  If so, then the breakdown of these loving relationships will ultimately destroy any ideology not built upon such.  In other words, at humanity’s fundamental core is the need to love and be loved.    

Lesslie Newbigin writes that “human beings find fulfillment not in the attempt to develop themselves, not in the effort to better their own condition, not in the untrammelled exercise of unlimited covetousness, but in the experience of mutual relatedness and responsibility in serving a shared goal.”  (Foolishness to the Greeks ,122)

The context of Newbigin’s comments are rooted in his belief that humanity (male and female) is made for God in such a way that being in the image of God means being bound together in the most profound of all mutual relations: God binds Himself in a covenant relationship with men and women to which He remains faithful at whatever cost and however unfaithful His covenant partner is.  If this is true, then all of humanity is called to live in these binding covenant relationships of brotherhood.  Then, according to Newbigin, humanity’s true end is found in the bonds of mutual love and obedience which can only be found in the Triune God of love.  In other words, the quest for what it means to be human can only be found and fulfilled in the bonds of this mutual love relationship with our loving Creator God (Yahweh).  From this loving relationship we are able to reach out and love others around us.  This sounds very similar to the words of Jesus:  love God and love others.    

I don’t know about you, but oftentimes I long for a better tomorrow, and a brighter future.  I long for all situations to be free from strife, conflict and chaos.  I long for all relationships to be real and always rewarding.  I long for perfect fulfillment and purpose in my everyday.  This is my heart’s longing.  This is also my heart’s hope.    

I fully realize that God’s ultimate newness for creation is yet to come.  We live in this ‘already, but not yet’ dynamic tension of God’s Kingdom.  However, I fully believe that God’s newness is available now, on earth as in heaven.  Why else would Jesus pray such: Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven“; and why else would Paul say: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So let me ask you this: What are you looking for today?  What are you seeking to find?  What are you asking for?  What is the longing of your heart?

If you long to be free from some of the ‘waters’ of chaos that keep circling around you that threaten to swallow your joy, peace, love and happiness; if you are searching for a love that is real, rewarding, non-judgemental, accepting and true; if you are desiring to find fulfillment and purpose in life’s pursuit, then perhaps it is time to look to God and receive His newness via His bonds of love. 

Simply call out to Jesus Christ of Nazareth and ask His Spirit to make you new.  This is the desire and decree from the very heart of God.    

Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.”  (Revelation 21:5)

This is the way. 

 

Maranatha!

Kingdom Embodiment

Last Sunday morning at Calvary church I talked about speaking your Kingdom word.  This was an attempt to unlock the believer’s ability to communicate to others what God has done within them.  I believe that I said something like this: the best word from you is about what God has done in you.   

Have you ever noticed that when Jesus sent out the 12 and the 70, He gave them the ability and authority to essentially preach the kingdom and heal the sick.  Jesus seems to combine and establish the element of speaking and doing (words and deeds) in the lives of the disciples.  The disciples were not to only speak the message of the Kingdom, they were to also sent to embody it.

Oftentimes within the gospels we see that the disciples heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and drive out demons.  These four things are mentioned time and time again throughout the gospel narratives.  I believe that these four acts symbolize and serve as demonstrative elements of Kingdom speech.  There seems to be a restorative function associated with the physical act of speaking.  As the Kingdom is preached, fallen humanity is restored.  The gospel writers seem to convey their understanding that the breaking in of God’s Kingdom yields powerful results.  They document that the gospel of Jesus has a liberating and victorious effect on the hearer that not only reaches into their physical make-up but also addresses their spirit-being too.  The results are nothing short of a supernatural makeover and a transformation of lives.  People are re-born.  Think about those who were raised from the dead.  That event would change pretty much anyone’s day and perspective about this Jesus of Nazareth and His followers.  Jesus seems to be demonstrating His Kingship over the physical and spiritual worlds.  In fact He is.

Why do I say all of this?  Simply to illustrate that I believe that the Gospel of Jesus is something truly remarkable.  Furthermore, speaking and embodiment the Gospel was to always go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly.  A peanut butter sandwich is OK, and a jam sandwich is OK, but a peanut butter and jam sandwich is utterly divine!

There is no hiding the fact that I am a big fan of Luke.  It also helps that I enjoy Star Wars and every time I think of Luke’s name it sounds as though Darth Vader is speaking.  It is kinda cool.  John and Paul just don’t sound nearly as good in Darth Vader tongue.  “Luke …” it just takes the cake.  I digress.  Let me get back on track.

Here’s my continued point of emphasis.  As followers of Jesus, the Church has the ability and power to speak and embody God’s Kingdom here on earth as in heaven.  I personally believe and affirm that the book Acts testifies how the Spirit empowers and enables the believer to function in the world today.  This function, or purpose is demonstrated through words and deeds that align with the nature and mission of God’s Kingdom: it is good news to the poor.  

Jesus demonstrated the nature and mission of God’s Kingdom when He read from the prophet Isaiah.  Luke reminds us:

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (4:18-19)

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

  Let me conclude this by commenting on last week’s post. 

Perhaps a reason why we are seeing so many turn away from Christianity in Canada is because ‘we’ (the Church) have drifted away from our essential call, purpose and function in the world.  Perhaps we have been guilty of caring more about human behavioural reform than demonstrating the nature and effectiveness of God’s Kingdom in the communities that we live in.  Perhaps we have cared more about an individuals righteous standing and position than the restoration of others around us.  Perhaps it has been more about us than others.  Maybe we have lost the heartbeat of God’s Spirit to manifest the Kingdom of Jesus.  In fact, God’s Spirit may have been specifically given at Pentecost to accomplish this purpose.  Imagine a world where the Spirit fills all things to the point where it is equal to Christ’s fullness.  Maybe that is exactly the Biblical point, the Spirit’s purpose and the believers profession.  Maybe this is what being a follower of Jesus is really all about.     

In the church that I pastor we are asking and wrestling with these questions.  We are also making some fundamental shifts backwards.  We are returning and re-focusing our message and identity to be aligned with God’s Kingdom.  In other words, we are seeking His Kingdom first.  Radical isn’t it?  But this goes beyond talk, this must be embodied.  

As a church, we have partnered with a community organization that exists to address hunger and support those who feed the hungry.  In 2019 we formalized an agreement with the Kawartha Lakes Food Source (KLFS) to host their new shopping style food bank in our building.  Ten months ago the Lindsay Community Food Market (LCFM) opened its doors, and the results were immediate and immense.  Last month, over 320 guests were helped via the LCFM.  Together we are helping the hungry in our community. 

Further to that point, this past year we have given away over fifty back-to-school backpacks, hundreds of toys at Christmas and fed over 300 people from the community at a special Christmas dinner.  The generosity of local businesses (Giant Tiger, Crayola Canada and Kawartha Bakery) has been incredible.  Together we are helping hundreds of people who are in need.  It reminds me of someone who once said that the Spirit of the Lord was on them to preach good news to the poor.  

I admit that we are early in our journey to become a church that embodies the message of the Kingdom.  I also admit that the initial results have not grown the Sunday morning worship attendance.  In fact, it may even have an adverse affect.  However, I am convinced that we are finally getting back on mission and becoming a group of Christ followers who are connecting with the hurting and the broken.  In short, we are on a mission to figure out what the Kingdom of God looks like through us. 

Perhaps this will help ensure that future generations of Christ followers at our church will continue to operate in the mission of Jesus and do the work of His Kingdom here.  Perhaps then our church will clearly be demonstrating the power of what God has done in us to those around us.  Perhaps then we will not only preach the gospel, but will also embody it.   

This is our journey to be the Church.

 

Maranatha!

Where have all the Christians gone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranatha!

 

To read the Faith Today article click the link below:

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

Spirit session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranatha.

Kingdom Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

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

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

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

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

Consider also what Paul says this in Romans 15:

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranatha!

Kingdom Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

Maranatha!   

 

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

Advent Candle Readings for Families with Children