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 Originally made in Canada, by Alpha Canada, for Canada, the Series has now been seen in 49 Countries and made available in 19 languages.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

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

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


Our Attitude:
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5)
 
We are to have the same attitude as Christ – and what was that? An attitude of love and compassion; non-judgemental to those he came to save (he came not to condemn the world but to save the world) It's interesting that Jesus didn't express anger to sinners, repentant or not (the rich young ruler), nor to the Roman occupiers or their representatives (centurions), but only to the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders. 

The expression, “Love the sinner hate the sin” doesn’t resonate any more outside our own Christian community. The world almost exclusively, and almost automatically, assumes that if you criticize the sin, you hate the sinner, so the expression almost has become a, “Christianese” expression.

That’s why we first develop the relationship. It gives us permission to speak about spiritual things. It’s not our place to immediately judge the lifestyles of the unbelievers we want to lead to Christ. Yes, we are to speak the truth, but speak it in love, speak it from a place of love, and speak it at the proper time. 

In John 16 Jesus talks of the work of the Holy Spirit.   He said, “…when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me…”

Note my emphasis. He didn’t list any number of particular sins; he didn’t list the commandments; he just spoke of the sin of not believing in him. The greatest sin, the only sin that will result in permanent residence in hell, is not an act or a behaviour… it is non-belief. Every other sin, no matter how egregious, is irrelevant if there is no belief, but with belief in Jesus, any of these other sins can be forgiven. So the whole point of evangelism is not primarily to change our guests’ lifestyles or behaviours but to have them come to a place of belief in Jesus Christ.

More and more, lifestyles and behaviours that were considered wrong in the past are now considered no big deal. If we begin by attacking them as sinful, we’ll lose people before we even start. We’ll not get a second chance.
I once belonged to a weekday evening Bible study. There were a number of men who met regularly. One evening a visitor dropped in. He was new to town and just happened to see there was a Bible study going on so he came. He was a young man with a large tattoo on his arm. One of our regulars looked at him and said, "You know what the Bible says about tattoos, don't you?
We never saw him again.
Carey Nieuwhof says that if we’ve never thought through what it might be like for someone with little to no church background, with a different moral code operating in their life, hearing truths that are thousands of years old for the first time, and trying to figure out their life through a very different lens, it will be exceptionally difficult for us to connect with them. And if we can’t speak to the unchurched, we will speak to an ever-shrinking audience, because one day only unchurched people will be left.

We in Alpha like to look at people in the light of 4 Biblical themes:

First - Creation: God made man in His own image, so … Look at them like that. Look past their current lifestyles, their current situations, their current faults. See in them the same value that God does.
 
Second - The Fall: Every guest who does not yet know Christ is in exactly the same position that we once were, so let’s not be judgmental. Many will be living in ways that they see nothing wrong with, but to which we might be tempted to take exception or judge. In 1 Corinthians 6: St Paul lists those who will not inherit the kingdom of God - various areas of sexual immorality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers;

But then he says,
…that is what some of you were. But you were washed; you were sanctified; you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
We were washed, sanctified, justified – there’s every reason to believe that God can do the same with others as well. Let’s leave that part to Him.
 
Third - Redemption: Every guest is someone who Jesus died to give the possibility of eternal life. John 3:16: God so loved the world, not just good people who measured up to His standards. As we said before, nobody does, all have sinned, but nobody is beyond redemption.
 
Fourth - Glorification: Every person who puts their faith in Jesus will one day be with him forever. Any guest may be one with whom we will spend eternity. Imagine them coming to Christ. Imagine them as a brother or sister. Imagine meeting them in Glory. How would you like them to remember you?

(to be continued... next: conclusion)

Blessings,

John

Monday, 6 February 2017

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

Now Back to our regular programming:
Communicating the Gospel involves the whole person.


It's an appeal to the mind: over time
Unbelievers are not stupid. They’re intelligent. Don’t speak down to them, but discuss on a rational level. Here is the opening statement from my first email exchange with the young university student mentioned in a previous post:
First, let me say I appreciate your questions and I appreciate that you have them.  Unlike some, I would not encourage anyone who has serious questions and doubts about specific areas of Christianity to just “Set them aside and proceed on faith.”  An honest person cannot ignore legitimate concerns and say to themselves, “Well, I have serious concerns but I’m going to subscribe anyway.”  I’m not saying that all questions have to be answered, because they never will be, (and new questions/areas of interest, study or investigation will arise for the rest of our lives) but what is necessary is that legitimate objections be reconciled.
From there... how to respond.  I realize that you and I are coming from different directions, so to speak, because I am thinking from a position of certainty that God is real and that Jesus was who the Bible says he was, so my answers may, in fact will, be coloured to some extent by that position.  IOW, I see myself as looking back and interpreting things from a position of certainty.  You are looking forward and inquiring from a position of skepticism.
People might attack us on our faith. Comedian Bill Maher makes fun of Christians saying faith is belief in something for which we have no evidence. That’s the definition he chooses, but in our case it’s the wrong definition. There is a definition of faith from a Christian perspective and it’s right from Webster’s dictionary: faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing; something or someone we know exists. I have faith in my wife, for example. Does she not exist? Of course she does (unless I’ve been imagining her for the last 50 years.) 

In the same way, we know God exists. Our faith is a matter of trust in the God we know is there. We’re not just hoping He’s there. Our faith is based on the sure knowledge that God exists and He rewards those who seek Him. We can look back on His faithfulness in the past and be confident in His faithfulness for the future. We don’t need to be embarrassed to say we have faith in God.

A seeker, someone who is not yet a Christian, is not in that place. We are looking back with certainty, they are looking forward with skepticism, so we can start by presenting the evidence for the actual, historical, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Alpha does. Not as an argument or a weapon; just present the evidence and ask what they think. Alpha does this in its first session, "Sho id Jesus?" Then we engage in a civil and rational discussion. 

Faith and reason do not oppose each other. William Lane Craig, one of the most effective defenders of the Christian faith, has a website called Reasonable Faith. The Lord in Isaiah (1:18) says, “Come let us reason together.”   

The tag line for the Alpha’s Alberta 2013 Initiative was, “Question Everything.” I saw a comment on an atheist website, “If people really questioned everything there would be a lot more atheists.” I answered, “No - there would be a lot fewer!” In the relationships we develop, over time, we can try to get non-believers to question their belief in the non-existence of God.

We don’t need to be afraid about questioning our faith, because it is true, and truth ultimately, by definition, cannot be disproven. There may be difficulties, but because it is the truth, these difficulties can be overcome. There are answers. If anything can be disproven, then it’s not the truth. 

So it’s an appeal to the mind – the intellect.

It’s an appeal to the heart.
You’ve heard the expression that there is a God-shaped hole in every human heart. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes that God has placed eternity in people’s hearts. And St Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Ultimately, people need to experience God’s love personally and tangibly, and there’s a hunger for that. There is that hole, and people try to fill it with all sorts of things – various activities, various spiritual practices, relationships, sex, but ultimately there is only way to fill it.

It’s like a lock and a key. Your front door has a lock and there is only one key that will work in it. Same with the key to the heart. People try all sorts of keys; some may even fit in, may seem to satisfy for a while, but ultimately won’t turn. The only key able to unlock the heart is the key that was made for it - a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. 

An appeal to the conscience:
The Bible tells us that everyone has fallen short of God’s glory – of God’s standards, and deep down people really do know it. They know they’re not perfect, they just don’t realize the eternal significance of that fact.

First two chapters of Romans tell us that right and wrong are written on the human heart, whether we admit it or not. Most people secretly have a sense of God, and they know deep down that there are such things as right and wrong, even if they may not agree exactly with what is right and what is wrong.

Ultimately, once the layers are peeled away, every person's conscience is on our side. The wonderful thing about our faith – and how wonderful it is when people come to realize this, is that forgiveness… for anything… is available. Not only does God offer it, He longs to give it through Jesus Christ. There is no room for lasting guilt in the Christian life.

An appeal to the will.
The Gospel involves an invitation. No one can come to Jesus unless he draws them, but Jesus said that when he was lifted up he would draw all people to himself.

Jesus invited people, he said "Come to me. “ Not all came. Some came, some didn’t.  Same today. Some will accept the message of the Gospel, some won’t. But we present it to everyone. We invite everyone. Some will come, some won’t. The invitation is up to us. The rest is God’s business.

On Alpha we only invite guests to the first night.  We just say, "Come to supper. Come and check it out. If you enjoy it, come back."  If they don't, that's up to them. We won’t chase them.

(to be continued... next: our attitude)

Blessings,

John



Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sunday Night in Red Deer (There's a country song there somewhere)

I'm going to interrupt my series on communicating the gospel for an actual post. It's Sunday night and I'm sitting in my hotel room in Red Deer. It was an uneventful drive down from Edmonton this afternoon, except for the very last part when I had an argument with my GPS. It was right (mostly)but I didn't believe it. Fortunately I had that lady's voice muted or there might have been a real shouting match. My second sentence above is evidence that I eventually made it.

I have at least three appointments tomorrow between 8:30 and noon, and hope to line up at least one more before I head home. The first is a breakfast meeting with the long-time Alpha coordinator from Crossroads church, a church that has been running Alpha for many years. Next is a meeting with Senior Pastor Paul Vallee of Living Stones church.

Living Stones is an interesting and encouraging story. They began with a group of 12 people meeting in a hotel. From there they grew to the point where they purchased Red Deer's drive-in theatre. They kept the concession/projection booth as their youth centre and built their own brand new church on the site. Living Stones' youth pastor Amy has run Alpha's Youth Film Series a number of times, but now the church is running our Alpha Film Series for their first "adult" Alpha in several years.

At noon, I'm meeting the Alpha Coordinator from Alliance Community Church, Sylvan Lake, another fellowship I count as one of my key Alpha churches in their area. They too have run Alpha for a number of years. We're meeting in a Tim Horton's in Red Deer, which is a 22 minute drive from Sylvan Lake, as the crow flies, or at least as the Google maps.

The one other appointment I hope to make is with Deer Park Alliance. I was unable to connect with them last week to set up an appointment, but I will try again before I leave town. I may even just drop in to see if anyone is there.

That's all I can say for now, except to say,

Blessings,

John