Monday, 28 July 2014

I Hate to be Commercial About This, But...


Well, no. I don't really. In fact, I must.

This is an event we have planned for September 25. It began as a desire to help a young friend of mine who also has to raise all his own support and I thought we could do something together. At the same time, a couple of friends from church indicated a desire to put on a fundraiser for me, so I said, "Why don't we make it a joint affair?" (No, nothing about legalizing marijuana.)

I recruited a new-found friend, the very funny Dan Taylor, to do a standup routine, mutual friends of both Steven and mine who are very skilled jazz musicians, and another friend who loves to perform John Denver music. I think it will be a really enjoyable evening, and at 30 bucks, a cheap dinner date.

Online registration is available here. Anyone interested can also reach me by phone or e-mail using the contact info at the bottom of the poster. You can also right-click the picture above and print it as a poster.

Just to clarify, the $30.00 ticket price is basically to cover the cost of the event; it is not supplying financial support to either ministry. Guests will be given the opportunity to support the ministry of their choice at the event itself. Hope to see you there.

Blessings,
John

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Caring for Some of the Most Vulnerable Among Us

One of my activities this week has involved being in discussions with Alpha Canada's Prison Alpha Coordinators, John and Roxana Kreklo and a large Edmonton-area church, regarding an upcoming event, probably in late August. I will post more details when they are firmed up.

The event will focus more on Alpha International's Caring for Ex-Offenders (CFEO) ministry, rather than the actual Prison Alpha program.

The CFEO program takes much more of a commitment and much more of a community than merely running Alpha in a jail. That is not to belittle Prison Alpha itself. It is a very valuable and worthwhile ministry. As you may know, I ran Alpha in a Provincial jail for about three years, a number of years ago. I found it very rewarding and a complete blessing to have been involved in such a ministry. I have posted on some of my thoughts and experiences here.

The CFEO ministry, however, is a much broader thing. It has been said that a prisoner's rehabilitation begins, not the day they are released, but the day they are incarcerated. Yes, the relationship with a caring outside community begins in prison, but the real challenge begins upon release. A person who not only has been imprisoned, but has previously lived the style of life that put them there in the first place, faces almost unimaginable challenges. Once released into this new, and too often unwelcoming world, they must begin to find a whole new lifestyle and a whole new circle of friends. And they can't do it on their own. They need a supportive and caring new community - one that can surround them with love (perhaps a love they have never previously known). I sense that even that new kind of love can be a rather intimidating thing. I suspect that some of these people have spent a great deal of their lives surrounded by takers, and now will experience a whole new community of caring givers.

Anyone interested in hearing more can just drop me a line (jkivell@alphacanada.org), but as I said, I will publish more details on this upcoming event as they are firmed up.

Blessings,
John

UPDATE (already): The event will be held at Beulah Alliance Church, August 22 - 23.
Here is a link for more info and registration.
And here is a link to a printable poster.

Monday, 21 July 2014

A Devotion for This Morning


Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
    until the disaster has passed. (Psalm 57:1) 

This verse has special meaning to me because it helped me through a very difficult time of my life. I think of it now, not only for anyone who may be going through a difficult time, but for our brothers and sisters, Christians in the Middle East (Mosul, where apparently Christians and any sign of their existence are being eradicated from the city) and Nigeria, for instance, who may also be going through struggles we cannot even imagine. 

Yesterday’s lectionary reading was from Romans 8, about the sufferings of this present time not being worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, and the creation itself groaning to be set free from its bondage to corruption when Christ returns to set everything right. I can imagine these Christians in Mosul pleading, “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” 

Have mercy on me is the cry of desperation. It was the cry to Jesus of the tax collector, of a Canaanite woman, a blind beggar. Of David, the Psalmist. People don’t generally cry, “Have mercy on me” when things are going well, as Matt Redman says in in Blessed be Your Name, “when the sun’s shining down on me, when the world’s all that it should be…” No, people plead for mercy when they are in the deepest of trouble; when things are at their most hopeless. And here David pleads it twice.

But it is a reassuring verse. “For in you I take refuge…” How reassuring to know God – to know that there is a place of refuge. How hopeless would it be if we didn’t know there was this place of refuge? How hopeless it must be for those who don’t know Him.

We may sometimes have the opportunity to tell some troubled soul about this place of refuge. 2 Cor 1:3-4 tells us that the God of all comfort comforts us so that we may be able to comfort others with the comfort we have received

Where is this place of refuge? It is in the shadow of His wings. We can be confident it is an absolutely safe and firm place of refuge. What could be safer than under the wings of the Almighty, the King and creator of the universe.

The Bible speaks in a number of places about a bird sheltering her young beneath her wings – an owl in Isaiah 34:15.

In Matthew 23 Jesus laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. 

Jesus longs to gather us under his wings, to care for us, to protect us; even those who, to this point, have rejected him. He longs for them to come to him in this way. Here is where Alpha comes in: People are free to choose or reject this offer, it is available to all, and we need to offer it to all. It’s not up to us whether they accept or reject. But if they refuse this offer, their destiny is on their own heads. Jesus assumes no responsibility for their fate. He says, “Your house is left to you desolate.” 

The final phrase in the verse from the Psalm gives hope – “Until the disaster has passed” Not if, but when. – It will pass. We have firm assurance that if we take refuge in the Lord our God, the disaster will pass. Not that we can take this in a flippant or facile way. We can’t necessarily be presumptuous. For some it may not pass in the way we wish or expect. 

As Jesus says, rather paradoxically, in Luke 21: "...they will put some of you to death… But not a hair of your head will perish." 

If we have put our faith in Christ, we are safe. The disaster will pass. As my friend and Alpha RD for Ontario put it this morning, The disaster will pass if we put  our faith in the One who will not pass away. 


Isaiah 43:2 - “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

 Again, we may take these verses for ourselves or we may have the opportunity to be a comfort to others at some point. Not so much by quoting various Scripture verses, but by inviting them to come and meet this God who can provide them the ultimate refuge.
 
Blessings,
John

Monday, 14 July 2014

For Such A Time As This

I remember an incident very clearly. It was Sunday, the day after our Alpha weekend away. We always end our retreat Saturday night, and feel it important to be in church together the next day.

A woman who had come to faith in Christ on the weekend was walking with me after the service up the side aisle of our church. She was my age at the time. (Well, I suppose she would still be my age now, wouldn't she?) In any case, her eyes were full of tears; the tears that only the Holy Spirit can bring; tears of joy of the knowledge of God, of sin forgiven and at the beauty of a brand new relationship with the God you had no concept of so short a time before. And at the same time, tears of grief; grief at the realization of the price paid by the one you now recognize as your Saviour for your redemption.
And she was saying, "John, I feel my entire life to this point has been a waste."

I answered, "No, your entire life up to now has been in preparation for this very moment." I am reminded of the verse in Esther where her uncle Mordecai tells Esther,
And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
God has not wasted anything. God can redeem your entire life to the moment of salvation and use it for His glory.
I was listening to Charles Price on Living Truth, and he was teaching on much the same theme. He used the example of Saul, who became known as the Apostle Paul. Paul describes his life before coming to know Christ in his own words:
I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. (Acts 22:3a)  ...circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.(Philippians 3:5-6)
I'm sure God had His eye on Saul, as he grew, and learned the Scriptures inside and out. It was no mistake, accident or coincidence that this was the man He would use to argue His cause in the synagogues of various cities on his missionary travels. It was no accident that this man of brilliant intellect would be the one to write such a great portion of what we now know as the New Testament, delineating our Christian doctrine with such clarity. God knew all along what he was going to do, and everything unfolded just as it was meant to do.

Not that Paul was a mere automaton, a puppet with no will of his own. No! But God used his human education, training and background to allow him to elucidate his thoughts clearly and forcefully, and God, perhaps, if you think He does such things, had a hand in aligning circumstances or placing him in situations where he could do just that.

Your life before you came to know the Lord was not wasted. It was all in preparation for what He has planned for you from now on. Every experience, every bit of knowledge gained, can now be put to use for His glory.

Starting now.

Blessings,
John

Friday, 11 July 2014

Curious

I had two conversations yesterday. Well, actually I had more than two, but two in particular stood out. One was with the pastor of an ethnic church and the other with the minister of a church in a mainline protestant denomination.

The purpose of my calls were to both give and get feedback regarding Alpha during the Alberta2013 initiative last fall. The two conversations could practically have been played on top of each other in sync.  Both loved the Alpha material. Both were aware of Alpha's excellent reputation as an evangelistic tool. Both said that those who attended the course enjoyed it.

But both were disappointed in the numbers. Both complained that their people didn't invite others to join them. Both seemed to have expected that the ads and publicity would have been enough to bring people through their doors.

Well I, and anyone else in the Alpha organization will be the first to tell you that that is an unreasonable expectation.  All the ads do, and all they are intended to do, is to make it easier for congregational members to invite their friends, family or neighbours to an Alpha.  but the personal invitation is still necessary. It is still THE most effective way of getting people to #tryalpha, as the twitter hashtag goes.

It strikes me we all may suffer from this weakness; that is, the tendency toward laziness, if you like, by which we expect some advertising campaign or promotion, in other words some outside mechanism, to do our work for us, and that by putting such a campaign in place, or by launching such a promotion, we have somehow done our job; accomplished something. Perhaps it's a function of our times, where there seems to be some machine or electronic device to do our work for us. Perhaps it's another function of our times where we seem more and more to be, "cocooning;" spending more and more time in our own little bubble and not associating so much with our wider community, and a sign or ad of some sort replaces personal contact.

And perhaps even senior church leaders can fall prey to these tendencies - expecting some program to motivate their people instead of motivating them themselves, setting the example themselves or encouraging them personally and specifically to be a more inviting people. And it's not enough merely to set the example, one has to be SEEN to be setting the example.

One of the things that my friend Michael Harvey tells Senior Pastors to do is to say to their congregation, "I'm going to invite someone to come to church (or Alpha). How about you?"

I have stated before that this blog is a diary, as the name implies, no, states specifically. Therefore, it functions exactly as I see the purpose of a diary - a place to express my thoughts as they come to me. This particular post is an example. When I sat down I had an idea where I would begin, but no idea how it would end, so forgive me if it seems a little rambly.

I reserve the right to be so.

Blessings,
John

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

In The Hands of an Angry God?

I was thinking again about how I, as an Alpha person should interact with atheists sceptics or even seekers. Should I preach hellfire and brimstone? Frankly, I don't think that works very well anymore. I'm not sure that Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, preached before a crowd of today's non-believers would meet with the same response as when Jonathan Edwards first delivered it.

So here is an approach I think might be reasonable, at least to those with ears to hear. My real objective is to get people at least questioning, to the point that they may want to come to an Alpha to hear more.

I believe there is a God who created the atoms and molecules that go together to make up everything we see around us. I believe this God has offered us the opportunity for a relationship with him, by entering this world in the person of His son, Jesus Christ and dying on the cross. I believe we are free either to accept or to reject this relationship.

I believe this life is not the end. I believe there is some aspect of each of us, call it soul or spirit, that lives on after physical death.

If we accept the relationship we are offered with God in this life, we will spend eternity with Him.

If we reject it in this world, God will not force it on us in the next. If we choose to walk apart from God in this life, He will not compel us to be with Him in the next. I don't much know what that will be like, but some refer to it as hell. Jesus himself calls it a place of, "weeping and gnashing of teeth." It doesn't sound very pleasant.

So, "choose life." And come to an Alpha with me to check it out.
And, in my best Alpha small group leader manner, "What does anybody think?"

Blessings,
John


Monday, 7 July 2014

I'm Baaaack!

Back stiff and sore from my so-called holidays. Actually it was not too bad. It was just the odd morning that I had trouble moving, but we moved all the furniture out of one house and into another, then drywalled 2 rooms in the new basement.. Hanging the board was kind of fun, but the up and down off the chair, mudding, taping and sanding was the worst part.

So... back to Alpha stuff. Some of the team nationally are thinking things are going to slow down during the summer, and I guess that's the case, but I will still have a few irons in the fire, so to speak.
  • Arranging regional feedback meetings in various areas, such as Lacombe, Tofield, Cold Lake, Didsbury, etc.
  • working with one of our large churches in Edmonton to arrange a one-day conference for Prison Alpha, which I hope our National Coordinators, John and Roxanne Kreklo can attend.
  • An evening of training for a Chinese church.
  • Hopefully getting a team in place for my own church for the fall.
  • I've been in touch with a number of churches in the Calgary region about training, but nothing has firmed up yet. My aim is to gather them all together in one location for training, in the interest of good stewardship of resources, rather than make several trips to individual churches.
I'll keep you posted.

Blessings,
John