Friday, 10 March 2017

My Latest Challenge

I enjoy challenges. Usually I enjoy them more after I've seen a positive outcome than I do leading up to facing them. But I'm always amazed at how God orchestrates things. I must say I have not often been disappointed during my time in this Alpha ministry. There have been times I have been very nervous about some upcoming event or task, and spent much agonizing time in prayer, but when I look back I'm amazed at how well things worked out. I think it must be because it was God's will that they work out the way they did. It could have been a major event, an appointment with a church leader or just walking up to a church door making a cold call.

One thing that comes to mind is an idea I took from one of Jan Karon's Mitford books; that is, In any situation, if I don't know specifically what to pray, I can merely pray, "Thy will be done." It's the prayer that always works.

Another thing is that I sometimes seem to wake up in the middle of the night, greatly worried over something, and pleading to God in prayer, but everything seems better in the light of the next day. I wonder if that is the basis of the saying, "It's always darkest just before the dawn." Or, as the Bible puts it;
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5b)
So... the challenge noted in the title above...

I just committed this week to run a training session for an Alpha in Mandarin. First time ever. I have some time - it's not until June - but that, hopefully, will give me time to think it through, get it straight in my mind and line up the resources I will need. Anita, the course administrator, has promised to provide an interpreter and Alpha does indeed have training videos subtitled in simplified Chinese characters, which Mandarin-speaking people understand. I will obviously use them, but I think the group, as do any who have never run Alpha before, will appreciate a personal presence for clarification and additional insight. I also have a couple of local Chinese Alpha coaches I can draw on for help.

So perhaps you'll join me in praying, in this and in all other challenges, "Thy will be done."

Blessings,

John

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Conversations on a Monday

I spoke with Pastor Paul Vallee of Living Stones church in Red Deer. I met with him earlier this year as Living Stones was about to begin their first regular Alpha in some time (they have run Alpha’s Youth Film Series a number of times). After that meeting, I made myself a reminder to call after their Alpha weekend to see how it went. I must say that my conversation with Pastor Paul made my day. They had 13 people pray to receive Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit. They saw two previously completely unchurched families arrive for church on Sunday morning and left impressed and loving it.

I also carried on an email conversation with City Centre Church, here in Edmonton. They are running Alpha in Prive Ultralounge next door to their office. Their Sunday morning services are held in a Landmark Cinema in Downtown Edmonton. Judging by the Lounge’s website I’d say, at the very least, it’s an interesting venue for an Alpha. Last night was their first night and they had 18 new people out to it.

I received an email from a church who has a long-ago history with Alpha, but now with a brand new team and staff in place, is interested in reviving it. I will call him today (Tuesday) and arrange to get together for coffee.

Finally (I shouldn’t say finally, because even though I’ve only posted about four items here, my day, even at home in my office, seems to fill up with any number of things to which to attend), but finally for this post, I fired off an email to Jocelyne, the Youth Coordinator for the Catholic Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, with a sales pitch about why she should consider Alpha for the young people of her diocese. I first met Jocelyne when I dropped in unannounced to the Chancery office in Grande Prairie and caught the whole staff on their coffee break in the basement. She replied this morning, saying how she knows Alpha is a wonderful tool and she may use it next year. That may sound like a put-off, but I believe her. She is fairly new to her position, with lots to do, so I have made a note to call her later on in the year.  

That was my Monday, usually one of the slower days of my week.

Blessings,

John

Friday, 3 March 2017

Psalm 124. What If?

Here is a devotional thought I shared with the Alpha Canada Regional Director team on our most recent  conference call. I am so blessed to be part of a praying team.

Psalm 124
If the Lord had not been on our side — let Israel say — if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.  Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

I’m thinking of prayer. Why do we pray? If God knows what we want, why do we ask Him? If He knows what he is going to do, why do we ask Him. The question that occurred to me is, “What if?” What if the Lord had not been on our side? What if we hadn’t prayed?

We’ve all seen answers to prayer. We’ve all seen God’s provision and we’ve all praised Him and shared our praises with one another regarding His faithfulness. But I wonder if we’ve taken these answers to our prayers for granted – as ordinary – as to be expected? Frankly I don’t think that’s all bad. Obviously we shouldn’t take God for granted in a presumptuous way, but I think we can see it as being confident in His faithfulness. Rather than arrogantly expecting God to grant us our will, the way we expect Him to answer our prayers, let us make it a matter of trust and faith that He will answer our prayers because they are in accordance with His will.

Psalm 37:4 tells us:Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Make sure the desires of our hearts come from Him.

What would have happened if we hadn’t prayed? Best not to know. Best not to make that test. St Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. So we continue to lift up all things, great and small. Not only is nothing impossible for God – nothing is too big for him to grant, but also nothing is too small for Him to bother with. We can pray for all the small everyday things – we can pray for each meeting or phone call, we can pray for safety in our travels, we can pray for the salvation of our friends and families, we can pray for donor support.

If we can’t think of anything else we can simply pray, “Thy will be done…” As Father Tim says in Jan Karon’s Mitford books, “It’s the prayer that never fails.”


So we don’t stop praying. We pray always. We pray every day. We’re ready at all times to lift up any circumstance or situation in prayer.

Blessings,

John 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

New Alpha Youth Series

The Alpha Youth Film Series has enjoyed tremendous success since it's introduction in 2013. Originally made in Canada, by Alpha Canada, for Canada, the Series has now been seen in 49 Countries and made available in 19 languages. Thousands of young people have found  relationships with God and a faith in Jesus Christ through this resource. It has been used extensively in both youth groups, where Christian young people invite their friends to hear about Jesus in a non-threatening way, and in schools, where Christian kids have approached school staff to offer this program that has been so helpful to them personally.



Because anything to do with youth becomes ancient after three years, we are working on another one. Both these videos look the same here, but in fact are two different videos. Watch them both.

Here is the first behind-the-scenes look at the new production.



Please pray for all involved in this new production as well as all those who will be reached by it, that God would anoint this resource to yield much fruit and bring many into His kingdom.

I will keep you up to date as further materials become available.

Blessings,

John

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Calgary Etc.

I made a two-day run to Calgary last week. I've mentioned before, but I'll say again that I love Jesus, I love Alpha and I love driving, so I have the perfect job. I'm now known on a first-name basis at my local Enterprise Car Rental office. If I travel any more than about a 250 km round trip I rent a car, because it costs Alpha Canada less to pay for the car and gas than to reimburse me for mileage. (I say 'mileage' partly because I am of an age where I'm still partly mired in the imperial system of measurement and partly because the term rolls off the tongue, or the keyboard, more smoothly than, 'kilometerage.')

I have a TomTom GPS that I take with me, and when I dial in my destination, it tells me what time I should arrive there (by driving at the posted speed limits no doubt.). I like to see how much more quickly I can make it, so as I drive only enough above the limit not to lose my eternal salvation, I watch the ETA go backward minute by minute. On a trip to Calgary I can make it go back by about 15 or 20 minutes over the 3-hour trip.

In any case, my first stop on Wednesday was at the Bowridge campus of RockPointe Church. This is not their main campus, but what was formerly the Danish Canadian Club. It has a beautiful view from the back of the church building over the spreading Bow River valley. I was there to pick up Alpha's big red question mark which I had previously left with Youth Pastor Brent Sellers for a conference he held a while ago. While there he filled me in on how Alpha is running in a number of junior high and high schools in the area, all with his help, but ultimately at the initiation of students at those schools. I am so encouraged by what I see happening with Alpha in schools. It really reveals and develops leadership qualities in students who have hearts to see their friends learn about Jesus.

From RockPointe it was off to SCCEFC. They have to use initials because, apparently, "South Calgary Chinese Evangelical Free Church" is too long to fit on their sign and probably their letterhead. Pastor UK (Kenny) Wong of their Cantonese congregation and his wife act as coaches for Chinese churches in the Calgary area. Meeting with Pastor Kenny and the Youth Pastor, Adriel Lui was very encouraging. Adriel has been in touch with the above mentioned Brent Sellers regarding running Alpha in schools. In all, SCCEFC are running or planning to run about a half dozen Alphas, including one for women, one for students and courses in Mandarin, Cantonese and English.

Supper was at my brother and his wife's new condo. They just moved in the last month from our ancestral territory in Southern Ontario and are now Calgarians, along with their three adult kids who had already moved here over the years.

Breakfast Thursday morning was with Ron Wain of Knexions Church, (formerly Midpark Christian Assembly.) I will spare you the details of how my alarm didn't go off and how my TomTom mislead me, to say I did arrive at the agreed-upon restaurant just slightly before my guest. Another fruitful and encouraging discussion. Knexions is rebuilding their numbers using Alpha in home groups and promoting an invitational culture among their members.

Next stop was Foothills Alliance to see Jerry Orthner. Always a blessing. Jerry is so committed to Alpha and Foothills always does such a good job. My records show five Alpha's currently running at or through Foothills, including Marriage courses and one at the University of Calgary.

Finally, before the long ride home, was a meeting at Centre Street Church, one of Canada's largest, with a weekend attendance, I've heard, of about 9000 people. Alpha Coordinator Reneyah is one of the most organized coordinators I've ever met, even adapting Alpha's own invitational materials to their own local context, and keeping progress records and survey results for each of her guests.

Paired with my trip the week before to Red Deer, I've had a very encouraging and rewarding couple of weeks. I know I'm writing this a bit after the fact, and right now, as I write, I'm waiting for the arrival of John Kreklo, Alpha's National Alpha for Prisons Director who is visiting prisons and associated ministries in the Edmonton area, and staying overnight in our home, along with his pastor from BC.

Later tonight, we are going to attend the introductory session of Alpha in the West Edmonton Mall Chapel, presented by West Edmonton Christian Assembly (WECA). I'll be participating in this course as a table helper, so I look forward to taking a little lower profile for a change. Myrna, Course Administrator, tells me they have close to 70 guests registered so far, for a facility that might comfortably hold 40, so I look forward to seeing how God decides everything will work out.

Blessings,

John

Monday, 13 February 2017

We Have Been Given a Job

The Church has a job. One job above all others.

It is a job given to us by our founder, our head, Jesus Christ. He said:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18a-20)
Jesus did not say, "Attract disciples from other churches." He said, "Make disciples..." so how are we doing?

I was reminded today of a church in a city in my province. It is a fairly large church. It is a church that has run Alpha in the past, but not at present. As I say, they have run Alpha but when I spoke to the pastor, I heard that they have trouble getting their people to invite, so now they are running a program purely for their own congregants.

I was talking to another pastor, who knew of this church, and said of them, "They tend to grow when other churches close." That statement was like a flash of light to me. It was a "Wow" moment. It was an insight that I realized is a problem I have seen in other places.

Church organizations do not exist primarily to receive believers from other places. Yes, it's nice to welcome people who may be new to the area, or Christians escaping from churches in denominations that have left the path of truth. But that is not our prime purpose. Our purpose is to make disciples. It is to guide those who have not surrendered their lives to Christ into a relationship with him and help them grow in that relationship.

So, how are we doing? How is your church at welcoming not-yet-believers who may come through our doors? Are we making them feel welcome? Are they making friends among us?  Even more important, most important in my opinion, are we the kind of church that an unchurched, non-Christian coming through our doors for the first time, want to come back to. Are they leaving their first service with us thinking, "I want to come back here."?

And if not, are we willing to change, not our message or doctrine, but our style - the way we present it, for their sake.

Blessings,

John

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Communicating the Relevance of the Gospel in a Changing Culture (VIII)

Finally:
We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

 As I said previously, it’s a process… Becoming mature in Christ takes a lifetime. Be patient. Who of us solved all our issues the moment we came to faith? None of us. Sanctification, becoming more Christ-like, is a life-long process. The time has passed when we as Christians could enforce our way of living on those who don’t share our faith. We shouldn’t be surprised if people who have no Christian background don’t see the point in living the way we do, or the way we think they should. We introduce them to Jesus – let Jesus change the heart. 

Finally, a word of encouragement to us: In the very next verse following the above, Paul says:
“To this end I labour, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29) 
We labour, but it is His energy, powerfully working in us. Christ’s great commission is both a joy and a challenge. It can be hard work. We can sometimes think it a burden, but it can be a joyous burden. We can’t do any of this on our own…but by God’s grace, He invites us to partner with Him. 

I want to close with two things Jesus said:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19)

That’s a command. Go! Make disciples! Jesus did not say to go and make converts, but conversion obviously has to come before discipleship. Alpha is a fantastic and proven way to guide people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It’s also somewhat helpful as a discipleship tool as well, but for the most part, discipleship is a continuing process that will take place within the context of the local church and again, is part of an ongoing relationship.

So, “GO!” Follow Jesus' command. Make relationships, and out of them, make disciples.

But he also said,
“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
 That’s not a command but a statement of fact. Jesus is not telling us to be his witnesses; he’s saying we will be. We will be his witnesses. The question is will we be good witnesses or bad.

Will we be effective or ineffective? Will we draw people toward him or push them away? 

If we do nothing we are still witnesses – we are saying our message is not that important. 

The world out there is watching.  

There is a world out there waiting to hear. 

So how do we reach them?



Thanks & Blessings,

John