Friday, 27 June 2014

Taking a Break?

Just an update to let you know I am on holidays until about July 7. My holidays consist of travelling to Grande Prairie, helping my daughter and son-in-law move, and drywalling a room in their new basement for my grandson's bedroom. He himself is 12, so I hope to have him help me and train in the art of hanging board. I only recently learned this myself, my wife and I having finished a room in the basement of our house in Edson, and taking about 3 weeks to do what a skilled drywaller could have done in a day or two.

It was perfect though, and I'm convinced helped sell the house.

More on Alpha stuff later, but not much is new, other than, as I mentioned in a previous post, I am planning another luncheon event in the Lacombe area and have already had some response, including from the pastor I had hoped I could ask to provide the venue, and he volunteered without even being asked. He probably read my secret strategy and issued a pre-emptive strike.

Take Care,
John

Monday, 23 June 2014

MySecret Strategy (Don't Let Anyone Know)

I posted recently about the lunch I held for pastors and Alpha leaders from Red Deer area churches. However, for various reasons, there were a number of pastors that couldn't make it. So I plan another one for the  City of Lacombe, a few km north of Red Deer (date and venue yet to be announced). I have already heard back from a couple of pastors, so I feel I can now publish this post.

I am about to reveal one of my secret strategies, but first this...

Last year at the Leadership Summit at Holy Trinity Brompton, Bill Hybels began his talk with this anecdote:
"Nicky Gumbel called me at home in the US and asked me if I believed in free speech. I said, 'Well I'm an American, fairly conservative, of course I believe in free speech.' So Nicky said, 'Then how would you like to come over to England and give one.'"
So... I am about to reveal a secret. When I am planning one of these area lunches, I pick a church and give the pastor a call. The conversation usually goes something like this:

"I'd like to invite you to lunch," I say, "In fact, I'm planning to invite all the pastors in your area to come to lunch, to both give and get feedback on how Alpha went last year with the Alberta2013 Initiative."

"Great," they usually reply, "Count me in."

"Fantastic," I say, "Can we use your building?"

Sometimes I announce the lunch before I even have a venue, and the first pastor to reply gets the call.

I have found pastors to be very gracious in their responses, but please keep this very sensitive information a secret, if you can.

Thanks and Blessings,
John

Friday, 20 June 2014

Preaching This Sunday

Just in case anyone is in the neighbourhood, I will be giving the message at Christ the King Edmonton this Sunday. The readings I have chosen are from Isaiah 44, Acts 17 and Luke 14, and I hope to tie them all together into a commercial for Alpha.

Blessings,
John

UPDATE: Went well, apparently.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Pastors' Lunch in Red Deer

I always wondered exactly how Red Deer got its name, but until I watched this video I didn't realize that the elk was also known as the, "red deer."

As part of my challenge to reach and meet personally as many of the over 300 churches in Alberta who ran Alpha last year, I have been hosting lunches in various areas of the Province. Today's was in Red Deer, at Balmoral Bible Chapel. Pastors, elders and Alpha coordinators came not only from the city itself, but from a number of towns in the vicinity.

A good number of the churches represented in attendance gave encouraging reports about their experiences with Alpha. One church reported their success in running the Youth Film Series in their local high school. Another was surprised at the number of people who were beginning to come through their doors from outside the church. A third saw their Alpha numbers jump from their usual 30 to 40, to 119 on last fall's course, the result of the Senior Pastor delegating complete Alpha responsibility to on of his staff members, telling her it was her responsibility to focus on Alpha alone.

Alpha had an amazing year in 2013. For an overview, see here.

For a great video showing all the Alberta2013 churches, check this out, although I'm finding out that some churches who participated are missing - Victory Lethbridge and Bethany Lutheran, Dickson AB, for two. Sorry about that.

Blessings,
John





Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Alpha for Catholics - The New Evangelization - A Perfect Fit

My friend and brother in Christ Josh Canning (even though I've never met him face-to-face)  is our National Coordinator of Alpha for Catholics.

Here... is a talk he gave recently. I think it is brilliant. An extremely effective analogy he gives is this, speaking of the difference between witness and evangelization:
I think that our witness of life is the envelope that the message (the Gospel) goes in. An envelope helps to deliver a message somewhere. But if you don’t open up an envelope, how can you expect someone to understand the message inside it? How much good is a sealed envelope, no matter how pretty it is?  
Wish I'd thought of it first.

Blessings,
John

Under Attack


Last night was our first Alpha back after our weekend away. This Alpha retreat was one of the best in my memory, comparatively speaking. In addition to the leaders' team of four, there were six guests on the weekend. Every one except one came for private prayer to be filled with the Spirit. (The one who didn't was my wife, and she wanted to, but every time she came there was someone else in the room.) Two guests received the gift of tongues and one prayed the prayer giving her life to Christ. Our plan had been to run the first morning session, "How Can I be Filled With The Spirit?" ending at 10:30, then be available for half an hour for prayer. Our prayer time ended up lasting until after noon.

Last night's talk was on the reality of evil, and healing. There is a reason why Satan and the powers of evil are addressed immediately following the weekend retreat. That is because, if there is a wonderful Spiritual experience on the weekend, there is often an attack right after, not only on new believers but also on the leaders. The enemy does not like what we are doing. He does not like to lose those he considers his nor does he appreciate those who lead them away. At our pre-session leaders meeting last night, we all remarked on how tired we were following the end of the retreat Saturday afternoon, even though we slept well at the wonderfully peaceful Star of the North Retreat Centre in St Albert, Alberta (product placement). I lay down after it was over that afternoon and fell asleep for about two hours. 

Before last night's talk I asked how many of our guests felt tired after the retreat and every one of them raised their hand. I notice this after practically every Alpha retreat. We can have the most wonderful time of blessing and renewal, but immediately, the enemy comes in and attacks; causes doubt. He tries to get us to question, "Was that really real?"

But it's never the first time he has used that tactic. From the very beginning he has used the doubt-raising question, "Did God really say..."

Blessings,
John

Monday, 16 June 2014

Unlike Trix, Alpha is Not Just For Kids

I was invited to the Kiwanis Place Lodge, seniors' housing complex yesterday afternoon to make a brief presentation on Alpha for their afternoon church service. There were about 20 people there and they plan to run an Alpha for their building. The pastor at this service for the last two and a half years has been Ray Baillie of the Edmonton Family Worship Centre. My wife and I both went after our regular service at Christ the King and both enjoyed the experience.

First of all, let me say that I love seniors (after all, I am one) and think they are just as cute as children. First we had several songs out of their songbook (with very large print). The woman playing the organ was very enthusiastic, if not always spot on in rhythm or tone. She had parked her walker right beside the electric organ, which I just thought made an interesting picture. Pastor Ray then walked around the room holding the portable mic while four people read passages of Scripture, some of them quite boldly, may I say.

Then I gave a short message about how Alpha was a non-threatening way to invite friends to hear about Jesus. I repeated some of Michael Harvey's statistics on inviting and his encouragements to do so. Pastor Ray had prepared some printed Alpha invitations and left them on each table and asked how many people planned to invite. Several hands went up.

Ray gave an excellent message and the service ended with a rousing rendition of, "Because He Lives."

Touching base at the other end of the spectrum, Pastor Ray's wife, Elaine, who told me she ran Alpha's Youth Film Series at the Fort Saskatchewan Christian School, where she is a teacher, and was very pleased with the result. The had about 75 kids attend and plan to run it every year from now on.

Alpha for seniors reminds us that it is never too late to hear the Gospel. In fact, it may be more crucial at this time in our lives than at others, as time remaining is so short. One of my favourite Alpha stories to tell is of the, "seniors table' I hosted on an Alpha a couple of years ago, where two people in their 80's came to faith. One woman especially said at the end of that course, "I have finally been able to forgive my father, and the sense of guilt I've had all my life is finally gone." This was from someone in her 80's. That's a long time to wait for the freedom that Christ brings, but compared to eternity it is but an instant.

Blessings,
John

Friday, 13 June 2014

Alpha Weekend Away - Always Memorable, Never Predictable

Getting ready for our Alpha Weekend Away, which starts tonight and lasts until about 3:00 tomorrow afternoon. The focus, of curse, is on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and guests often experience God in new and wonderful ways on these weekends. For some, they come to truly know Him for the first time.

I always expect God to do great things on these retreats, although there are some who don't like to use the term, "retreat," because we are not retreating; we are moving forward. In any case, God always shows up.

The prayers of the saints would be a great help and be much appreciated.

I hope to have an update, and, Lord willing, an encouraging one, in a couple of days.

Blessings,
John

UPDATE: Home now. Wonderful weekend away. The verse God has given me to take home for this retreat is Philippians 1:6 -
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
I will not at the moment give details, but suffice it to say that this verse applies in more than one case.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

God Shows Up - In spite of Me

I will reiterate that this is a diary, so I will claim the right merely to express whatever is on my mind - sometimes in a rather rambling way.

So... a confession.

You've heard the expression, "Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach" (Apologies to my son-in-law, a high school English teacher, who can both do and teach.)

I feel I can relate to that old axiom. I feel quite confident in doing both, or either, but unfortunately not always at the same time. I have been involved in Alpha courses for over twenty years. I sometimes think I could start and run an Alpha course blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back, to use an old schoolyard expression. That is both good and bad; a blessing and a curse. What I mean is that while I feel I could step in and facilitate an Alpha course on very short notice, this can be seen as flippancy, even off-handedness, by some who are not so experienced. I have the unfortunate tendency to just do things myself in a project in which I am involved, but this does not so completely facilitate the teaching aspect that is necessary to what I am trying to accomplish. We do have team meetings, and we ran the training at the beginning of the course, but I have to resist the temptation just to run through an Alpha evening in a way that has become second nature to me, without explaining to my team exactly what I am doing and why I am doing it.

All this to say that on my church's current Alpha, which, as I have posted before, I am coordinating to raise up the team and leaders to be Christ the King's Alpha team for the future, I have to have two very separate and different hats, a doing hat and a teaching hat, and I feel I need to take one off to put the other on, sometimes repeatedly.

Which brings me to the title of this post. I caught myself  last week (the talk on prayer) doing something I insist should never be done - that is, causing someone in my small group embarrassment (by asking them to pray when they did not feel comfortable doing so. I must have been between hats and actually had on neither.) Of course, I realized my mistake, and apologized for it in private at the end of the evening, but still was worried that I had done irreparable damage. Thanks be to God, I believe I have not. Last night, in our discussion following the talk on the Bible, both small groups had wonderful discussions, and even the previously shy guests in my group began to open up and participate fully and enthusiastically in the conversation. God showed up and covered my mistakes.

This Friday and Saturday is our Weekend Away, so I would appreciate prayers for it - that God would show up in a mighty way and meet every need that people bring with them. Pray that He will show up by His Spirit and move powerfully among us, and that lives would be changed and hearts blessed by this time of focussing on the Holy Spirit.

Blessings,
John

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Last Week in Calgary

I spent an interesting 4 days in Calgary last week. Some of it I have already written about, but just a couple more thoughts.

Traffic-wise, Calgary is the Jekyll and Hyde of cities. Mid-day, when there is no traffic, it can be the most efficient place to drive. It's system of, "trails," basically freeways, can get you around the city in practically no time at all. But let there be traffic, or let there be an accident, these trails can become parking lots. As I travelled, sometimes across town, for appointments with various churches, I had to plan accordingly. What might take 20 minutes at 2:00 in the afternoon might take 90 at 5:00.

Having said that, among my several meetings with Church leaders, one sticks out, looking back at it. It was with the Associate Pastor of a Pentecostal Church. When we first sat down, he proceeded to tell me how little they were doing with Alpha. But then he said that in fact they did run the Youth Film Series, and it was very successful, bringing in kids who were not previously in a church, and those kids seemed to be making friends and staying.

Then he said, "Oh yes, we're also doing the Marriage Course, and that is working out well."

"And we're also doing an ESOL course which is bring in people from the neighbourhood."

"And even on our regular Alpha a couple of people accepted Christ and were baptized."

"And I'm putting together my team right now to run Alpha in the fall, so we'll have lots of lead time to make people aware of it."

I'm smiling now. If only other churches were doing so little.

Blessings,
John

Pre-Alpha, The Existence of God, Episode III - Free Will and Rational Thought


The next thing I want to examine, and I think many atheists haven’t thought this completely through, is the whole area of free will and rational thought. In fact Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist who has, apparently, given this some thought (although I would argue, not enough) has said, “This is a question that I dread.” And here’s the problem – the atheist, or let’s say, the naturalist (a person who believes that everything must be within the realm of the purely natural, or physical) must believe that our minds, like everything else, are nothing but, as atheist Lawrence Krauss puts it, “particles in motion.” Krauss in fact gets the ramifications of his position. He says that we really don't have free will. I, of course, don’t pretend to know the entire workings of the human brain, but to put it very simply, all our thoughts are just the result of electrons travelling along certain pathways in our brains – everything is physical.  

So let me try something. Let me ask you to raise a hand – just one – it doesn’t matter which one, either your right or your left hand. Thank you. Now, to do that, each of you had to think about raising a hand, then think about which one you would raise, then make a decision, and raise the one upon which you decided. Some of you may have decided not to raise either, but the point is that you had a choice and you made a choice. How does the naturalist account for this? 

To look at another way, picture this: an infinitely large billiard table with an innumerable number of billiard balls on it. Imagine it being perfectly smooth with no friction, so that a ball started in motion would continue in a certain direction until it hit another ball. Then it and the ball it hit would move, or continue moving in a direction and at a speed determined completely by the original speed and direction of that first ball. Picture then, all these balls in motion, colliding with each other all around the table. Do these balls have any choice or control over themselves? Can they decide which direction they want to go? No. Then apply this picture to the entire universe. In the purely natural view, all these balls, or particles are completely at the mercy, so to speak, of what we will call antecedent events – each particle’s speed and direction is completely dependent upon the speed and direction of another particle with which it had previously collided. And we can carry that back all the way to the big bang. These atoms and molecules, electrons and protons, have no control over themselves. They themselves have no decision-making powers.  

So if that is all our brains are, how do we account for our ability to make decisions? To make conscious choices, we must be able to control along which paths these electrons in our brains travel. As John Lennox states it, "We have a mind that can move atoms." Where does that power come from? How are we able to do this? The most obvious explanation is that there exists something outside of the purely physical; some mechanism by which we can control the movement of particles in our brains. If everything is purely natural, we don’t, but surely, deep down, we must believe that we do have that power – to make decisions, to choose between one thing and another. 

The atheist, or pure naturalist, must logically believe that we don't. But that introduces another self-contradiction in their thinking. That is this; what is the point in any argument or debate. Each of our beliefs, according to their position, is immutable, every thought or opinion having been formed, not by conscious consideration, but by the purely mechanical movement of particles in our brains over which we have no control. Every thought we have was determined by the speed and direction of particles at the beginning of the universe.

Now, they might try to say that we somehow have some kind of power to make these particles behave in a certain way but that presents two problems. First, they are introducing some kind of intelligence (in this case our own) outside the purely physical, and if you’re an atheist I don’t think you want to go there – speaking of outside intelligence, that is. And second, if everything is purely natural, then we too are just particles and we come back to the original problem; how do we account for this ability to have free will and rational thought.

Now this may not be an argument or proof for the God of the Bible, but it is to argue for something outside the purely natural, and that may a beginning; a place to start.

Again, to quote our tag line from Alberta 2013, "Question Everything."

Blessings,
John

Sunday, 1 June 2014

A Difficult Question With a Non-Alpha Answer

(Previously posted  by me elsewhere)

Sometimes I have been asked the question, "What is the most difficult question you've ever been asked, as an Alpha small-group leader, and how did you answer it?"

Now, you may think of difficult questions like, "Why did my husband die of cancer?" or seemingly flippant questions like, "How did Noah get two polar bears on the ark?

But the one that comes to mind was not that kind of question. This was during one of my prison Alpha's a few years back. It came from a Native Canadian - would have been in his late'40's or early 50's I suppose - tall, distinguished, in a warrior sort of way that the prison system had not been able to beat out of him. He could have been a chief in an old western movie. His long salt and pepper hair was pulled back behind his ears and over the collar of his orange jumpsuit. He said this:
When my father was a boy he was taken from his home, his village and his people, and sent to a white man's school. They tried to take away his language and his culture and turn him into a little white man. He never recovered from it, nor did my family. The people who did this represented your Jesus. What do you say about that?
 
The question was not intended for discussion. It was directed straight at me. I must admit I didn't give the standard Alpha small group leader answer, "That's interesting. What does anyone else think?"

Instead, I remembered a story told by Ravi Zaccharias:
There was a small village. In that village was a well respected man, loved by all. This man had a very distinctive coat and a very recognizable hat. In fact, you could tell even from a distance when he was coming, because you could see his hat and coat. They would say, "Here comes Mr So-and-so; we can see his hat and coat."
One day a thief stole that coat and hat, put it on and robbed a corner store. Police were called in and all the witnesses said, "It was Mr So-and-so - we recognized his hat and coat." But, of course, it wasn't Mr So-and-so. It was just someone wearing his hat and coat.
"Many things have been done in Jesus' name," I said - "some of them even well-intentioned. but don't blame Jesus for some of the pain. Sometimes it's just been someone wearing his hat and coat".

I left it at that.

Blessings,
John