Saturday, December 31, 2016

Non-Hysterical Conversation

"I've decided to stay out of those discussions, until I'm sure that we can have a non-hysterical conversation about it."


A "non-hysterical conversation"... 

The moment my friend casually uttered that phrase, I was immediately struck by its simple and profound wisdom.

It's become increasingly difficult to have a good, old-fashioned conversation these days. Much more so, a debate. I recall with fondness all the late-night theological discussions during my Bible college days. In a non-denominational school, my friends represented a wide variety of viewpoints, and we enjoyed (a) our spirited discussions, and (b) the ability to go out for coffee the next day, because friendship/fellowship was not mandated on 100% agreement.

Discussions about politics and religion have always been meme-worthy in their ability to devolve into polarized shout-down matches. That was true when I was a kid, and it appears to be -- if anything -- even more vociferous today, thanks to anti-social media platforms that reduce dialogue to soundbytes or less.

"Theology by zinger" is a fairly predictable byproduct in a culture that prizes the ability to cram complex ideas into a bumper sticker or a tweet.

I could go on to suggest that the casualties of the zinger approach would include things like: nuance, context, and understanding. You can't even legitimately arrive at the old adage "agree to disagree" if all conversations degenerate into zinger-ology.

But I think something far more basic has been lost, and if there's any value in making a New Year's Resolution for 2017, it might be this:
We need a revolution of listening.
The art of conversation, and respectful "help me understand" dialogue. Where the end goal is not to gather ammunition for the next zinger, but to understand. "Agree to disagree" may still be the result at times, but relationships will be greatly improved.

And "non-hysterical conversations" will look (and sound, and feel) a lot more Christ-like.
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Savior Is Born

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord...”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
(Luke 2)

Now, if this was the classic scene from "A Charlie Brown Christmas", the next line come from Linus VanPelt, blanket in hand: "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

A Savior is born.

In order for the birth of a Savior to be "good news that will bring great joy", there must have been a felt need to be saved from something. For example, the helpless swimmer caught in the rushing water leading to Niagara Falls understands his/her need for a "savior" in ways most of us can only imagine.

The Israelites believed the promised Messiah would save them -- from the occupying army of Romans. The Sadducees, who had largely adopted a civil religion approach to their faith, would have felt the same. A savior would be political, to deal with their enemies.

The Pharisees, confident in their own righteousness based on their scrupulous observance of rules & regulations, would also have assumed that a Savior would save them from external enemies.

And that would have been good news, politically speaking, to a people oppressed by a foreign government.

But Jesus, the Savior and promised Messiah, had another Kingdom in mind, and his earliest message was simply, "repent." He left little doubt in the minds of his hearers that He considered the real enemy of His Kingdom to be sin, a problem that only He could deal with.

Both Sadducees and Pharisees were deeply offended by the idea that they needed saving. Their pride blinded them from seeing their own sin, while the average Israelite -- often more aware of their spiritual condition -- seemed more receptive and willing to respond.

And the various writers of the epistles echoed the same theme, over and over: Jesus came as Savior to save people from their own sinfulness. They were powerless to fix the problem; they needed outside help.

Just like helpless swimmers nearing the brink of Niagara, they needed a Savior.

Fast forward to the tail end of 2016, and nothing in human nature has changed. We are still a collection of human beings with a sin problem, expressed in various and sundry ways across many countries and cultures, but just as real today as it was in Jesus' time.

We are still powerless to fix our sin-sickness, and all 'religious' attempts at hiding the symptoms under fig leaves of denial does us no good whatsoever.

We (still) need a Savior.

And that's why we celebrate the birth of Jesus. That's why, even two millennia later, the story of His birth is good news that brings great joy.

Unto us, a Savior is born.

That's what Christmas is all about.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Personal Savior

Every now and then, I hear (or read) something that mocks the idea of Jesus as a "personal Savior".

The rationale is usually along the lines of: "What? You think you own Jesus, or something? Like, He's your personal Savior -- what a narcissist you must be, to think you're that important!"

Sometimes, as I'm well aware, the person uttering the comment actually does know what the phrase means, and is only pretending to be confused because they want to mock. But even so, when I pause to think about the phrase "personal Savior", I think it's worth the time to explain. You never know -- behind the mocking might lurk a genuine desire to understand.
(Of course, my facetious nature is at times tempted to respond with something like: "Well, what's the alternative? An 'impersonal' savior, who can't be known or experienced? Just some vague cosmic liver shiver -- how is that an improvement?")
But then, just in case there is a legitimate question buried somewhere, I realize that a facetious, bumper-sticker-level 'zinger' is exactly the wrong way to respond. So, I hereby bite my facetious tongue and would like to submit the following:

The idea of a "personal Savior" is very similar to another well-known phrase: "born-again Christian". Both find their roots in the evangelical belief often referred to as "conversionism" (á la Bebbington's Quadrilateral).

Simply put, "conversionism" means that nobody is born a Christian. Christian parents don't beget automatically Christian children. Going to church, getting attendance awards or Bible memorization ribbons, or attending every high school youth retreat ever held doesn't make you a Christian. Being born in a supposedly "Christian" nation counts for absolutely diddly-squat.

Conversionism is the assertion that each individual must make a conscious decision, at some point in their life, to surrender to Jesus. He is the Savior of the world, yes, but each individual in the "world" needs to decide whether or not they will follow Him. Literally, a "come to Jesus" moment of decision.

In other words, it's personal.

Of course, some of the same people who mock the phrase personal Savior also look down their noses at the entire concept of conversionism, usually with statements like: "we're called to make disciples, not converts," (in a tone of voice that subliminally includes the addendum, "you drooling theological moron").

Nine times out of ten, they are fully aware that discipleship is always predicated by coming to faith in Jesus (conversion) in the first place. Unconverted people, typically, make poor disciples (some converted people also make poor disciples, but that's a topic for another time).

For example, after Peter preached a passionate sermon on the Day of Pentecost, over 3000 people had their own personal "come to Jesus" moment, and were converted to faith in Christ. After which, they were discipled as they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, and to prayer (Acts 2).

But it all started with them making it personal with Jesus. Not relying on their Jewish heritage or synagogue attendance or bar mitzvah, any more than we can today rely on the country we were born in, the church we attend, or how many worship songs we know by heart.

With Jesus, it's always personal.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Release: Scorpion

An ancient story found in Aesop’s Fables:

A scorpion and a frog met on the bank of a stream. The scorpion asked the frog to carry him across the stream on its back.

“How do I know you won’t sting me?” asked the wary frog. The scorpion replied, “Because if I do, we will both drown.”

This seemed reasonable to the frog, and they set out together. But midstream, the scorpion stung the frog. The frog began to sink as paralysis set in, but with his last breath he gasped, “Why? Now we will both die!”
The scorpion replied, “It’s my nature; I can’t help it. I am a scorpion.”



The final book in the Tracker Trilogy is now available!
The Runners are preparing for a last-ditch, all-or-nothing assault on the stronghold of their deadliest enemies: the Givers. In order to gain entrance into the heavily-fortified Enclave, they are forced to rely on their new-found Hoarder ‘allies’, who harbour a hidden agenda of their own.
The true allegiance of the cryptic Mateo is impossible to prove, yet Runners and Hoarders alike have no choice but to risk trusting him.
Even as the Runners prepare to infiltrate the Enclave for the inevitable confrontation with the Givers, they must battle their own demons of anger, prejudice, and the thirst for revenge. The “Judas Card” – betrayal – has already been dealt, but which one them is holding it?
A cunning trap has been laid to ensnare them, and the Runners must learn what it means to “dance with the scorpion”, if they are to have any hope of surviving.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Evangelicals, Repent

If it hasn't been obvious before, it's obvious now -- as in: 'how could you possibly miss it?' -- that evangelicals need to do some serious soul-searching, humble themselves, and REPENT.

And no, actually, this isn't just a cheap shot at the president-elect of the country south of Canada. If anything, their POTUS-to-be is a warning, or maybe a symptom, of a problem that goes back for years. In some ways, 'Bigley Orangelid' is the inevitable present outcome of sinful decisions made in the past.

And while it's fairly easy to see the detrimental effects in the most recent American election, evangelicals in general have oft-times been guilty of the same blind capitulation to error.

In just under two months, a man who has been variously called bully, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, vulgar, crass, manipulative and immoral (plus a few additional epithets that you wouldn't say even to a cockroach), will be known by a new nick-name: "Mr. President".
And white evangelical Christians voted in massive numbers for him, and in all likelihood, were the deciding factor in the election.
But even if "Crooked Hillary" had won instead, evangelicals would still need to repent. And no, not because of Clinton's position on the abortion issue.
Evangelicals need to repent for something far more insidious.
In more countries than just America, evangelicals have long been guilty of pursuing political power in the name of advancing the Kingdom of God. From somewhere came the idea that worldly power is necessary, or at least an advantage, for accomplishing God's purposes.

In contrast, Jesus told the political powers of His day: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).

Much has been made about the long-reaching negative consequences that befell the Church when Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity the official religion as he sought to consolidate his Roman Empire.

Many have also noted, throughout church history, the detrimental long-term effects that resulted when the church was controlled by the State.

Conversely, what many Christians seem to be pursuing in recent years is a State controlled by the Church. This isn't surprising, if one has embraced a "Kingdom Now" (Latter Rain) paradigm, where believers think they will usher in the Kingdom and then turn it over to Jesus later. But it's not just charismatic extremists who need to repent.

The root goes much further back. Remember the "Moral Majority" movement of the early 1980s? When Fundamentalists decided to use political power to force Christianity -- or at least Judeo-Christian morality -- on the masses? And then evangelicals jumped on the Moral Majority bandwagon as well, just in case it might work?
(Ironic parenthetical question: Why is it so horrifying to think that Sharia Law might be imposed on the populace, but it's perfectly acceptable for fundamentalist Christians to do exactly the same thing? Just wondering.)
No, if there's anything evangelicals around the world need to repent of, it's for embracing the seductive and idolatrous lie that the Kingdom of God will be advanced through political power. The pursuit of worldly power has resulted in evangelicals supporting worldly politicians, and becoming worldly themselves in the process. As evangelicals, if the shoe fits, it's time to repent.

All evangelicals, not just white males in America.

"My Kingdom is not of this world," said Jesus, the One we claim to be following, who calls us to be "in the world, but not of the world" (John 17:14-19).

The first disciples had the same problem; we're still learning the same lessons they had to learn:
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (political power for their people)

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” (spiritual power for the advancing of a different Kingdom) (Acts 1:6-8)
Yes, it's time for evangelical Christians to repent. We serve a different King, and we are called to partner with Him to advance a very different Kingdom.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Foreshadow: Scorpion (Tracker Book 3)


The release of Scorpion, the final installment in the Tracker Trilogy, is imminent.


nemesis; [nem-uh-sis]
noun
  1. A long-standing rival; an archenemy
  2. An opponent that is very difficult to defeat
Time is running out: 

A mysterious antagonist is operating behind the scenes, manipulating both Runners and Hoarders alike, accelerating them towards a fiery confrontation with their ultimate and deadly nemesis: the Givers.
 

- from the inside cover -
A battery-powered torch snapped on, its warm glow illuminating the confined area. The air was heavy with the reek of many years’ worth of sea-borne flotsam. The howl of the wind was muted, and even the pounding surf seemed lessened. Don’t kid yourself, Aubs, the tide is already coming in. The ocean is not your friend.
Mateo stood with his back to them, facing a barnacle-encrusted wall. In the shadows beyond him, Aubrey could make out the oblong shape of a doorway. A circular handle, with four spokes, was located in the center of the hatch. The torch cast the portal into sharp relief as Amos directed his light at it.
The outside rim of the door was discolored, blackened, as if it had been burned in a fire. The metal was puckered in places, the bubbles of molten metal now hardened into one solid mass.
“It’s been welded shut,” Mateo informed them bleakly, retreating to his instructor’s voice. Aubrey felt her throat constrict as she stared at him. I’ve never seen that look on his face before.
“We’ve been cut off,” said Amos, staring at the fused portal in disbelief.
“They knew we were coming.”

- Scorpion (Tracker Book 3): coming November 2016 -

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Teaser: Scorpion (Tracker Book 3)

Almost exactly one year after the release of Tracker: Book One, the final novel in the Tracker Trilogy, Scorpion, is almost ready for publication!

The stakes keep getting higher for the small band of Runners, and only the direst of circumstances could persuade them to join forces with their most despised enemies, the duplicitous Hoarders. Win or lose, they are out of options.

- from the back cover -
The troubled alliance between the Runners and a small cadre of renegade Hoarders teeters on a razor’s edge. Years of suspicion and prejudice – on both sides – wars against their need to present a united front against a common enemy.
Neither side trusts the evasive Mateo, yet both are reluctantly dependent on him.
The situation inside the Enclave continues to deteriorate, manipulated by unscrupulous forces behind the scenes. The Judas Card – betrayal – has already been dealt. But which one of them is holding it?
A trap laid by unseen hands is about to close, leaving the Runners with one last, desperate chance to complete their mission.
They have no choice but to learn what it means to ‘dance with the scorpion’.

- Scorpion (Tracker Book 3): coming November 2016 -

Monday, October 31, 2016

Awkward Continuationist: the Prophetic

My first experience with actually being prophesied over was a memorable one.

We were in a tiny Anglican church -- myself, a few youth from our church, and about seven blue-haired octogenarians -- and we were all kneeling at the front, about to receive the Eucharist.

(This was about five months, give-or-take, before I attended the Vineyard Worship Festival, which accelerated my Awkward Continuationist trajectory.)

As was "traditional" in this little church (and the reason a friend had encouraged us to attend the mid-week service), the pastor would lay hands on the head of each person. At the very least, he would pray a blessing. More often than not, however, the pastor would share a prophetic word that God gave him.

These "words" were astounding, in several directions:
  1. They were usually delivered in words that only the person being prayed for fully understood. The language was English, but it was almost like it was in "code". On one hand, that preserved the person's privacy, and on the other, it showed each of us that God was truly speaking through the pastor (who was often unaware of the full significance of the words he was giving).
  2. We would leave feeling challenged, encouraged, and built up in our faith.
"Do you mind that we're coming here, even though we aren't part of your congregation?" I asked the pastor later.

"Not at all!" he smiled in response. But then his expression and voice turned serious.
"But, six months from now, if the only time you hear from God is in this place, then you have made me into a 'guru' and I won't allow that. All of you can encourage each other through prophecy."
It was excellent advice, and thus began our journey into previously unexplored spiritual gifts.

In hindsight, I realized that I had inadvertently started the "word of knowledge" journey about ten years earlier, during my first semester at Bible college.


It all started innocently enough.

Every first-year student was assigned some manner of "student work" to help off-set the costs of running the college. I had come to college straight from (a) playing in bar bands and (b) working as an assistant manager in a grocery store (I kid you not). Based on this dubious resumé, I found myself drafted into the unenviable position of "night watchman".

Now remember, this was in a long-ago prehistoric time period. Computers didn't show up until my senior year, and back in the day, there was only one thing to see on television after the playing of the Canadian national anthem at midnight.

In short: it got really, really boring in between my rounds throughout the night. Yes, I suppose homework would have been a responsible option, but let's just say you aren't writing your best material in the middle of the night.

So, I started putting encouragement notes into peoples' mailboxes. I would scan the list of names on the wall until one jumped out at me, and then I would scrawl down something encouraging, or a Scripture verse, and pop the card into the appropriate numbered mailbox.

I was just trying to encourage people; nothing more grandiose than that.

And yet, as the semester went on, people would come up to me -- sometimes misty-eyed or actually crying -- to thank me for what I'd written or the Scripture I'd jotted down. "It was what I needed today," and "How did you know?" were two common remarks.
It never occurred to me to call what I was doing "prophetic" or a "word of knowledge"; I was just trying to encourage people.
Which is probably why I'm such a big fan of the Vineyard's "5 Step Prayer Model" -- it's low-key, non-hype, how-can-I-pray-for-you in its approach, and comes with the assumption that the Spirit might whisper something to pray-er and/or pray-ee without fanfare or posturing or any attention-grabbing behaviour.

Less hype = God gets the credit.
Less posturing = Focus is on encouraging others. (NOTE: These are very good things!)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Desperate

A tradition in one of the bands I play with is to "give back" a free concert for the annual Recovery Day held in Vernon BC (about an hour north of K-town).

It's a privilege to be involved, and listening to the stories of those in the midst of recovery is both humbling and inspiring.

The first two steps in a classic Twelve Step Program (Alcoholics Anonymous being perhaps the most well-known) go something like this:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over "___________".
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
The majority of those sharing their stories at the most recent Recovery Day made no bones about it: their "higher power" went by the name of Jesus. And they were grateful for His intervention in their lives, often weeping as they spoke.

I am hardly the first person to make this observation, but it was profoundly moving to me that day:
These precious people in recovery were desperate for God to move in their lives. They had nowhere else to turn (John 6:66-69).
A desperation that we seldom see reflected in our churches. (Or in my own life, for that matter...)
As I listened to the testimonies during Recovery Day, I was struck afresh with the realization that only those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:6) will have their hunger and thirst satisfied. Those who are incapable of seeing (or admitting) their need will be left to their own devices (Revelation 3:17).

And as someone who pines for genuine revival, Lord, let me be hungry, thirsty, and desperate!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Evangelical in Theology, Charismatic in Practice

In any group of people -- spending a lot of time together, growing in community and working alongside each other -- tidbits of jargon appear.

Jargon isn't a bad thing, if you take the time to explain what you mean. At its best, jargon serves as a sort of "verbal short-hand", where complex ideas can be quickly communicated without having to go into all the details each and every time.

For example, Canadians know instantly what the term "double-double" means (two cream, two sugar in the coffee, please and thank you). It's jargon, but it's almost universally understood in this country. It only becomes a problem if you use the phrase outside of Canada and expect people will know what you're talking about.

A well-known phrase (among many) within the Vineyard is: "evangelical in theology, charismatic in practice". It has often been explained as, "the best of both worlds: the solid preaching of the evangelicals and the open-ness to the Spirit of the charismatics".
Of course, even though we use the phrase as a compliment to both groups, it sometimes backfires. Evangelicals have reacted, "What do you mean? Are you insinuating we don't have the Spirit?"
And pentecostals/charismatics have wondered, "What are you saying? That we have lousy preaching and theology?"
The phrase got me thinking about the "radical middle" between evangelical and charismatic, and specifically, what I really appreciate about my evangelical roots. On one hand, it's pretty basic. But on the other, I keep meeting Christians who are just now discovering (or searching for) the same things. A few examples:

1. God loves me. Period.
There is nothing I can say or do that will make Him love me more.
There is nothing I can say or do that will make Him love me less.
2. There is no condemnation.
I'm always amazed at how many Christians walk around feeling condemned. It's a problem for every generation, it seems. I'm thankful to have learned that the story of St. Paul's struggle with sin in Romans 7 is answered immediately in Romans 8.
3. God is not one-dimensional.
God is quite capable of loving us and yet also despising our sin and its effects.
God can be angry at injustice and yet show mercy to the perps.
He is the Holy King, Lord, God Almighty, and Jesus calls us friends.
God is Judge, and God is Father.
These are just a few, but I'm grateful to my evangelical upbringing for teaching them to me.

"Evangelical" has become the favorite scapegoat for just about anyone with a bone to pick or an axe to grind. But I would like to suggest that if some Christians have never learned that there is no condemnation (for example), the problem isn't evangelicalism. If anything, it might just show that some churches haven't been evangelical enough.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Unsung Heroes

I just got home from playing a gig in Penticton BC, with the J.S. Garcia Band, and wanted to give a shout-out of appreciation to all the hard-working sound techs and gear-heads that make live music such a treat for both the performers and the audiences.

You are the unsung heroes who make it all come together.

Especially during the annual craziness known as "Festival Season".

Nothing says this better than Jackson Browne's the Load-Out/Stay, perhaps the most perfect song ever written in honour of the symbiotic relationship between performer, audience, and the sound crews who work tirelessly to serve everyone, with just the right combination of professionalism and a good-natured grin at the end of a long, hot day.

We truly appreciate all that you do for us.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Transfiguration

Depictions of the Transfiguration of Jesus always strike me as a little strange. The one at left for example, has Jesus, Elijah, and Moses floating in mid-air, while (I cropped this part out to save space) a confused crowd mills around below, finger-pointing and aghast. Plus, there's two anonymous guys spying from the bushes.
(A different depiction shows the three disciples gathered around the feet of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but the "mountain" is only about two feet above some farmer's field, where you can see the homestead behind Jesus and the farmer plowing his fields with a donkey, apparently oblivious to what's happening a few meters away.)
The original story, found in Mark 9, is dramatic enough, without all the artistic license in the paintings. So, when my colleagues at ThinkTheology.org invited me to submit another post in their "Follow Me" series through the gospel of Mark (I contributed some thoughts on the Unforgivable Sin earlier in the series), this is what I wrote:



Mark 9:2-13 tells us the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. It's a fascinating passage, full of surprises, mistaken assumptions, prophetic triumph, and ominous foreshadowing.

The previous chapter of Mark is chock-full with the feeding of the four thousand, the healing of a blind man, Peter's declaration regarding Jesus' identity as the Christ (Messiah), and culminating with Jesus' prediction of His own death in the near future.

Against this backdrop, we begin Mark Chapter 9 with the story of Jesus taking three of His closest friends/disciples -- Peter, James and John -- to a high mountainside for some private time together.
Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:2-4)
Judging by the reaction of the three disciples (we'll get there in a minute), this was not what they had been expecting. Time alone with Jesus on a mountain -- not a new thing during their three years together -- but it had never been like this before!

This event, coming so quickly on the heels of Peter's recognition and declaration of Jesus' Messiah-ship, even shocked Peter, the one who had just recently (six days earlier, according to Mark) made such a bold, faith-filled declaration. Imagine seeing two of Israel's greatest heroes -- Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) -- appearing with a transfigured Jesus, speaking with Him!

(The text doesn't tell us how they knew the identities of Moses and Elijah, just that they recognized who was talking with Jesus.)
Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to Him." Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them. (Mark 9:5-8)
Peter probably thought -- in his excitement and exuberance -- that he was suggesting a good idea. Honoring the Law and the Prophets was a staple in the Jewish religion and culture. Peter may have even seen this extraordinary event as a sign that Jesus was the "next big thing". After all, Moses (Law) and Elijah (Prophets) and Jesus (Messiah) was a potent combination to win over their fellow Israelites -- perhaps even finally convince the critics and nay-sayers -- to Jesus as the promised Messiah that Israel was waiting for.

Without reading too much into the text, it's significant that when Peter's makes his heat-of-the-moment suggestion, there is no direct rebuke (although Mark points out that he didn't realize what he was saying). What God the Father says, instead, is "listen to My Son". And when the cloud cleared, all they saw was Jesus.

All they saw was Jesus.

Jesus, greater than the Law and the Prophets. Jesus, the dearly loved Son of God. Jesus, the One to whom they should listen. This had to have had a profound impact on all three of the disciples. (How could it not?)
As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept it to themselves, but they often asked each other what he meant by “rising from the dead.” (Mark 9:9-10)
Again, Jesus returns to the topic of His impending death and resurrection. He speaks of the resurrection with absolute confidence, instructing His disciples to keep quiet about what they'd just seen until afterwards.

The disciples obeyed, although as Mark tells us, they "often" asked each other what He meant. You can imagine the three of them having a clandestine discussion among themselves, furtive glances in all directions to ensure none of the other disciples overheard them.

It must have been difficult to reconcile the transfigured Jesus -- talking with and yet superior to both Moses (Law) and Elijah (Prophets) -- with the disturbing idea of "rising from the dead", because in order to rise, that meant Jesus would first have to die. Jesus transfigured gave all the indications of triumph.

Death and triumph are not normally mentioned in the same breath.
Then they asked him, “Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes? Jesus responded, “Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. Yet why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be treated with utter contempt? But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they chose to abuse him, just as the Scriptures predicted.” (Mark 9:11-13)
The disciples return to the ongoing problem of the religious leaders refusing to recognize Jesus as the Chosen One, the Messiah. They have just seen Elijah -- although Jesus has sworn them to temporary secrecy -- and they knew that the religious leaders would use the argument that Jesus couldn't be the Messiah because Elijah had not appeared as they expected.

Jesus' response is cryptic, affirming that Elijah had already come to prepare the way, in the ministry of John the Baptist (cf: Matthew 17:11-13 where Jesus explicitly identifies John the Baptist as 'Elijah'). Jesus' reply was also a form of dark foreshadowing: the twin comments about Elijah/John the Baptist being "abused", and the prediction that the Son of Man would also suffer and be held in contempt. John's abuse had already occurred; Jesus was yet to face His own ordeal.

Jesus was as sure of this, as He was of the His own resurrection from the dead. It was all "just as the Scriptures predicted". Yet even in His confident prediction, you can almost hear a prequel to the anguish in Gethsemane: "WHY?"

This same Jesus, transfigured before their eyes, superior to both the Law and the Prophets, beloved of God the Father, swore them to secrecy and reminded them that the road to His glory and triumph would lead Him through suffering and contempt.

You can hardly blame the disciples for being just a wee bit confused. The glory they'd just witnessed on the Mount of Transfiguration (the very picture of triumph) was completely at odds with the defeat implied by the notion that Jesus was going to die. It would all make sense eventually, of course. But if any of us had witnessed the Transfiguration, we would have struggled just as much as they.

Perhaps the best take-away from this passage, for us today, would simply be: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

492km

I'm probably not the only person who hits the 'reset' button on the trip odometer after filling the gas tank. It's interesting -- in an objective, academic way -- to get a handle on how far a tank of gas takes you.

But it's also fun to clock how many kilometers a typical week during 'festival season' requires.
My odometer hit 492.2km as I arrived home late Sunday evening. I had filled my car just the previous Tuesday, en route to one of the many rehearsals which make up the unseen side of performing live. Out of curiosity, I reset the trip-o-meter (I just made that word up) to track a busy week and weekend of non-stop rehearsals and live performances with three bands in three cities.

Friday night saw me in Armstrong BC with the J.S. Garcia Band, a band driven by the amazing vocal harmonies of Jenn & Sophie (hence the "J.S." in the band's name), and who are best summed up by their tagline: "Ballads 'n' Sass". A fun highlight was incorporating Glenn Miller's In The Mood as a surprise instrumental break during the Beatles' Can't Buy Me Love.


The band I perform the most number of shows with is Feet First, a collection of rockin' road warriors who have one of the best classic rock playlists you could hope for. We played Island Stage in Kelowna on Wednesday, and Saturday night found us in Vernon BC.


Weddings are always a time of celebration, and when the request came for Public House Band to reunite for one more show, how could we say no? (Aided by the summer-vacation return of band members who no longer live in BC.) It was a treat to celebrate a wedding with friends, and hit the stage again with such a talented group of musicians on Sunday in East Kelowna.


492.2 kilometers is what my trip-o-meter objectively informed me as I pulled into my driveway. What that digital number cannot communicate, however, is the sense of joy that comes with performing live music, the camaraderie of musical friendship, and the gratitude that I feel for the privilege to get to do it so often.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Awkward Continuationist: Family Feud


When you are a continuationist, one of the more bizarre realities that you have to wrestle with is that some of your harshest critics are other Christians.

You know, your extended spiritual family. And as the saying goes:
"You can pick your friends, but you're stuck with your relatives."
And one of our crazy cousins -- the unpredictable one you would think twice about inviting to the annual summer family BBQ -- is John F. MacArthur. He's written three (count 'em, three) books attacking all things pentecostal and charismatic, with each one getting progressively meaner and more volatile.

The first book, for example, was 1978's The Charismatics, which you wouldn't exactly call complimentary. But it did at least close with the chapter: "What We Can Learn From Charismatics".

By the time Charismatic Chaos was published in 1992 -- largely a rehash of the first book -- the closing chapter was gone. Apparently, there was nothing to learn from charismatics, after all.
Full Disclosure:

I read The Charismatics while still in high school, via the three-month installments made available in Moody Monthly magazine. And I purchased a copy (hardcover, even!) of Charismatic Chaos when it first came out. I read it, front to back, several times. My reasons, at the time, were two-fold:
  1. It was the best-selling book of the year in our local Christian bookstore, and I knew I had better be aware of what Cousin John was saying. Sort of a continuationist application of "always be ready to give a reason" (1 Peter 3:15-16).
  2. I thought there might be some helpful critique that we continuationists needed to hear.
Boy, was I disappointed on item #2. The numerous misrepresentations, exaggerations, caricatures, and generally sloppy research resulted in the book having no redemptive value. Plus, the shrill hyperbole and hysterical tone made Cousin John sound like he was cussing out his enemies, not addressing his brothers and sisters in Christ with love and respect, even in disagreement.
Rich Nathan wrote an excellent response to Cousin John's section on the Vineyard, which you can download for free here.
But, never one to leave well-enough alone, Cousin John did it again in 2013 with Strange Fire. This time around, I knew better than to waste my hard-earned money and meager book budget on it. But through the modern miracle of Amazon's "Look Inside" preview, I was able to verify the following quote from the book's preface:
"Charismatics now number more than half a billion worldwide. Yet the gospel that is driving those surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity. The Charismatic Movement was a farce and a scam from the outset; it has not changed into something good.

"This is the hour for the true church to respond… There must be a collective war against the pervasive abuses on the Spirit of God. This book is a call to join the cause for His honor."
(John F. MacArthur, Strange Fire?, page xvii)
Um, yeah. You really want to go there, Cousin John?
  • A "false gospel", you say?
  • As dangerous as any cult or heresy?
  • It's time to declare war on continuationists?

I think it's safe to say that Cousin John is confusing "gospel" with "secondary teachings". For example, believing in the gift of tongues (or not) has absolutely zero effect on the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. Believing that God still heals and performs miracles today (or not) has no impact on Jesus being the Way, the Truth, and the Life and the only way to the Father (John 14:6). You'd be hard-pressed to find any difference in the gospel being preached by MacArthur and that of the overwhelming majority of continuationists.


pistol silhouette courtesy of http://cliparts.co
Cousin John has gone beyond the bare facts of the gospel and added cessationism to the mix. The irony is quite glaring: Cousin John is upset at some of the secondary doctrines in the continationist camp (Word Faith, NAR, for example), and yet his secondary doctrine of cessationism is just as biblically indefensible (you could call it false teaching without exaggerating).

Cousin John is right to be concerned about some of the wacky secondary teachings in certain continuationist circles. I wouldn't have taken the time and effort to write Post-Charismatic (and the resulting flak), if I didn't agree. The bathwater needs cleaning. But that's a far cry from words like "false gospel", "cult", "heresy", and "war".

At this point, it would be very tempting to just write off Cousin John as a grumpy curmudgeon with an axe to grind. But then I remember something John Wimber once said:
"Your brother is never your enemy, even when he acts like it."
So, Cousin John, we may never have a BBQ together this side of eternity, and it would appear that a snowball in hell has a greater chance than you and I agreeing on everything. But despite our differences, and our disagreements, you are my brother.

Yes, that's right. You're stuck with me.