Tuesday, 30 September 2014

I wish I'd...

...said some things, done some things, differently.

Our fundraising event is now over. From a certain standpoint it was a success. That is;
  1. We had more guests than we thought we would - about 150.
  2. Most of them enjoyed the evening
However, our purpose in running the thing was not (primarily) so people could enjoy themselves. That was a wonderful side benefit, but the primary purpose was to raise funding for Steven Craig and myself. I have not heard what support came in for Steven, but, on the evening, I must say I was somewhat disappointed.

Now, that may seem like whining, or self-pity. For a short time it may have been, but not now. My thoughts are the same, but now they are a rational reflection on reality. And this being my diary, I get to express them, emphasizing once again that they are my own, not those of Alpha Ministries.

I made a 15 minute presentation on Alpha; what it is and how it changes lives and contributes to a better society. The presentation was well received, even receiving spontaneous applause in two or three places. But the response in returned giving envelopes was disappointing. Obviously, I do thank those who did give, those who support me regularly, and those who might still, as a result of the event. But at the end of the evening one of my friends who help plan and prepare the event gave me a short debriefing, mentioning what I might have done better, and I see now that he may have been correct.

Here are a couple of ways I believe I fell short;
  1. I didn't give enough specific time for people to fill out the donation slips at the tables. I was told afterwards that at the end of the evening I should have said something like, "Now take 5 or 10 minutes to fill out your donation slips and pass them to one person at the table. Frankly, this feels manipulative to me. Perhaps I'm naïve, but I felt (and really still do feel) that we should rely on God touching people's hearts to convict them to give. 
  2. I wasn't specific enough about the need. I felt I was fairly direct, emphasizing that our ministries depended on their giving, but perhaps I should have said something like, "Our salaries depend 100% on your givings, and if not enough people see the value on our ministries, and the parts we play in them, then you may next see us greeting at Wal-Mart."
  3. I snuck in a prayer showing how one might give their life to Christ. It was in the context of my relating how my friend Laurier prayed such a prayer with a young Native man in the Fort Saskatchewan Jail, when we ran Alpha there. I quoted the whole prayer for the benefit of non-Christians in the room but I think now I should have explained it just a bit more fully and emphasized that it is a prayer anyone could pray for themselves at any time.
Bottom line is this: I gave what I thought was my best shot at a presentation, but when it came down to the time to fill out the donation envelopes, not many did. That is what is frustrating to me; there were people there who I know have the financial resources to give but for some reason made the conscious choice not to. I'm not talking about people who were unable to. Nor am I really here to judge anyone else's ability to help. And perhaps there will be donations come in later, based on someone's attendance at the event. But I'm sure there were those there do have the means, yet, after having seen and heard the presentations, didn't. And it strikes me that they must, in some way, have thought to themselves, for one reason or another "This is not worthy, or worth my while, to support." Otherwise they would have. Which causes me to ask myself, "Did I not do a good job of convincing people of the value of Alpha as a ministry, or the value of my part in it?" I thought I did, but perhaps I am naïve.

Okay - so much for the self pity. The devotional on our Alpha Canada Monday conference was about faith, from Hebrews chapter 11. This is often known this as the, "Faith Hall of Fame," but the last two verses I found very convicting:
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
None of them received what God had promised immediately, but God had something better for them in the future. And here am I complaining that I didn't receive immediate gratification. I should be embarrassed at what I have written above, but to make the point I just tried to make, I will let it stand.
And maybe we'll see you at Wal-Mart if that is God's will.

Blessings,
John

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Stop The Sun!

Do you know the story of how God stopped the sun for Joshua? I don't know just how He did it. I don't know exactly what happened that day, but I have no doubt that the Creator of the entire universe can do exactly what He wants with it.

Sometimes I have days where God seems to do it for me too. There are times (and I must confess, recently) where, looking ahead, I have no idea how I'm going to accomplish everything that needs to get done. But I pray that God will somehow extend the hours, somehow expand the day, so I will get everything done.

And He does it. Now, I'm not saying He literally stops the sun in the sky, but as I run from project to project; from appointment to appointment; from place to place, at the end of the day, or even part way through it, I look at my watch and am amazed at how the time has not gone by as quickly as I thought it would.

So, in the face of a seemingly impossible schedule or a seemingly insurmountable list of tasks, rather than barging in and feeling you must get all this done in your own strength, take a pause for prayer. Ask God to stop the sun for you.

You may be amazed.

Blessings,
John

PS: I just got word that the daughter of someone who has been on my heart for a very long time is registered for Alpha Youth at Steele Heights Baptist Church.  Praise God!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Still Time

To get tickets for the fundraising event in support of God's work through Alpha in Alberta and Inter Varsity at McGill University.

As posted previously, comedian Dan Taylor has been selected as one of Alberta's top comics in a Sirius XM contest and is opening for Russell Peters at Rexall Place. Then he is travelling to Toronto on the very day of our event to appear on Just For Laughs. I would not begrudge him all this success for anything.

Stepping up to the mic in his place is another Christian comic, David Rae. I have seen and enjoyed his act as well, and I consider myself a good judge of comedy. (For those who don't know, in my previous, BC [before Christ] life, I performed at Yuk Yuk's in Toronto and Yuk Yuk's and the old Sidetrack here in Edmonton, approaching a level fairly close to mediocrity in my act.)

You can message me for tickets or register online here.

The commercial is now over. Next post will be back to our regular programming.

Blessings,
John

A Couple of Updates

The woman on the right is Amy, our Alpha Youth coach for Alberta, newly on board but already on the road. With her is the chaplain of a high school, and the young girl I mentioned in this post. Looks like they got together and the wheels are rolling for another Alpha Youth Film Series in another Alberta school.

Speaking of which, in my travels yesterday, after making a cold call to the Salvation Army Edmonton Temple (an encouraging call and well-received, I might add) I popped in to Celebration Church and helped an amazing young woman, Sophie, register another 12 or 14 junior high and high school courses. What an AMAZING generation! We seniors need not fear for the future of the Church if these kids are any indication.

Then I received an e-mail from the Pastor of  New Life Victory Church in Lac La Biche, the church where I made the cold call last week,  mentioned in this post. He was asking for more information on Alpha, so I wrote back mentioning, among other things, other Victory churches running Alpha in Alberta, in St Albert, Calgary and Lethbridge, among others. Pray with me for further fruit from that visit.

I've been thinking recently about Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Four lines. My prayer is constantly that the first three apply to my life and activities. I have noticed that the fourth definitely does. Often I just seem to be in the right place when something comes up. Sometimes I just happen to take a certain route, at a certain time, and lo and behold, an opportunity appears; I pass a church and turn in; there just happens to be someone there; even (as in the case of my cold-call to the Salvation Army mentioned above) they were sort of thinking of Alpha.

God is good - all the time.

Blessings,
John

Friday, 19 September 2014

Calgary Chapter 2

OK, so now for my Wednesday in Calgary. I had started with 2 firm appointments, the first one at 2:00 in the afternoon.  But my phone calling Tuesday began to pay off. I arranged to visit Westbourne Baptist church at 9:30 in the morning. Not knowing how traffic would be I checked out of my hotel and hit the road at about 8:45. My route took me along 24th Ave, (hope that link works) where oncoming traffic was backed up about 2 km heading to the University. However, my direction was free and clear and I arrived about 25 minutes early. Pastor Bill Finch was very kind to let me in anyway and we spent a very nice 35 minutes or so in conversation and prayer.

Next stop was Southview Alliance in the southwest area of the city. I chose a route that took me along Canyon Meadows Drive. (There's a reason for all this - hold on.) As I was travelling along that road, getting closer to my destination, I got a call from a church back in North Calgary in a bit of a panic. They had run the first session of the Marriage Course the night before, and had way more guests than they expected. The pastor wondered where I could get about 30 more copies right away. Well, just as I hung up, I looked to my right and there was Bonavista Baptist (finally we get to the explanation of the picture on the previous post). They are a great Alpha church, so I turned into their parking lot, walked into their office and asked to use their wifi. I sent a fast e-mail to Elaine Young, our Relationship Central national Director. She put me in touch with a Marriage Course coach in south Calgary, who had a manual in his possession. I picked it up later and delivered it up to the church who needed it so they could copy what they needed.

Next Appointment was Southview Alliance, where Pastor Rob Penner informed me that they had purchased land for a new building. Their current building was going to be taken over by Southgate
Alliance, whose building in turn has been purchased by a growing Filipino congregation, now meeting in a school. I love it when churches need more room.

I had a lunch meeting with a loyal Alpha church whose Alpha coordinator (and a wonderful one) was stepping down and a new team stepping in. I'm praying for a smooth transition and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for the new husband and wife team. Then a 2:00 meeting with another very solid Alpha church.

Finally, I was invited to St Andrew's Presbyterian for their actual Alpha introductory supper. Their Alpha torch is also being passed to a new team, so prayers for them as well. About 35 guests enjoyed a dinner of shepherd's pie, vegetables, a very tasty dessert, a few jokes and (I hope) a brief address by myself.

Then at about 8:30 headed out on my 2 1/2 hour drive home to LA.

But as I've said before, I love Alpha and I love driving, so I've got the perfect job.

Blessings,
John

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Calgary Trip (1)


The picture is of Bonavista Baptist, the results of last week's early snow in Calgary, and I'll get back to it in a minute.

I had quite a productive trip to Calgary. You will note that on my last post I was hoping that new appointments would firm up as I embarked on my visit there. Well, things did.

Parenthetically, I remember another of our Alpha Regional Directors wondering if anyone else had trouble getting churches to return calls. I smiled. I don't know if it was an honest question or tongue-in-cheek, but I think we all have the same problem.

So I committed to the trip in faith, having three firm appointments with church and/or Alpha leaders. Then came a last-minute appointment - a lunch date with a key Alpha coach in downtown Calgary at 11:00. I left the house at around 8 AM, certain I had plenty of time. Before I left I double-checked everything I had or needed and was satisfied I had everything, but a half-hour south I realized I had left my map of Calgary in my other briefcase, so I Googled the AMA location in Red Deer and zipped in off the highway to get one. (Maps are free to members) That cost me 15 minutes.

Calgary is in interesting (read; almost impossible) city to find downtown parking. I found a spot in the vicinity of my lunch appointment after about 5 or 10 minutes of driving around in circles. They have done away with parking meters, and gone to a system of pay stations where you have to enter your parking area and your licence plate number. I realized later that I was one letter off on my plate number, so I hope I didn't get a ticket. If I do, I hope they'll understand my mistake and let me off.

My next appointment was at 2:00 PM, also downtown, but I had a couple of hours to kill, so I got on my phone. I had prepared a list of churches I had not yet had personal contact with and got through to the very first one. We discussed when it would be convenient for me to drop in, and I blurted out, "How about now? I can be there in 15 or 20 minutes."

"OK," was the answer. So off I went to the northeast section of the city. I met with the pastor of a church with two campuses, one in Calgary and one in Airdrie, a suburb. They are very happy with the experience they've had with Alpha, so we went over some of the things current and upcoming in Alpha's world.

From there it was back downtown to meet with a woman who had presented Alpha during lunch at the Shell tower. I suppose a plug might be in order here for Shell, who was quite willing to allow her to do so on their premises. I'm sure there are other companies who might not be so cooperative. More parking adventures but a good meeting.

Some time during all this I was cc'd on a reply from Alpha Canada to a young girl who is wanting to run the Alpha Youth Film Series in her school and looking for help. So there was a three-way series of  e-mails including Amy Croy, our Youth Alpha coach who was also heading down from Edmonton to Calgary and was hoping to drop in to see her on her way. I haven't yet heard whether they were able to get together.

After this last downtown meeting I spent time on the phone, lining up appointments or leaving messages for Wednesday. I will make Wednesday a separate post, but let me say that highest among the encouraging events of this Tuesday was hearing from this young girl who felt called by God to reach out to her schoolmates through Alpha, not having the slightest clue how she was going to do it. She just answered God's call, then set about figuring out how. I am confident that with our help, but mostly God's, it is going to happen. Pray for her if you would. I haven't mentioned her name or any details, but God knows who and where she is.

So that was my first day in Calgary. I just realized I didn't address the subject of the picture, but I will do that in my next post.

Blessings,
John

Monday, 15 September 2014

Good New/Bad News

Good news for my friend Dan Taylor, pastor and stand-up comedian. He has won the opportunity to perform on Just for Laughs in Toronto. Bad news is that he was scheduled to do his act at my fundraiser on September 25, the very day he will be in Toronto.

Dan has promised to do his best to find a replacement, but if he can't, I may be doing a routine myself, something I haven't done in a very long time. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that to everything there is a season. If it is my time to do comedy again, let's hope it is a time to laugh. In any case, all the best Dan.

In other news, I'm leaving tomorrow morning for a couple of days in Calgary. I still have some openings in my schedule, so pray with me that I might find some productive appointments to fill them. Two very faithful Alpha churches there are transitioning to new teams, so pray I might be an encouragement to them, and pray for them as they step into new leadership roles in their respective churches.

All for now,

Blessings,
John

UPDATE: Dan has found us a replacement comedian - David Ray. Thank you Dan and God (not necessarily in that order.)

Friday, 12 September 2014

A High Mileage Day



Moderately successful but not without its frustrations. My trip took me in a "Grande Tour" from home in LA (Leduc Alberta), to St Paul, to Bonnyville, to Lac laBiche and back home again - all in all about 750 km.

I had spoken to a church in St Paul where they ran both Alpha Campus (as their regular Alpha) and the Alpha Youth Film Series (YFS) for their youth. When I called Wednesday to firm up my appointments the youth pastor told me he would not be there Thursday (the day of my trip) but that the Senior Pastor would. So, once on the road, I called the church to let them know I was on the way.

"Oh," said the receptionist, "The Senior Pastor is on his way into Edmonton."

"Well, OK," I thought, "I'm on my way, I'll just have to make the best of the rest of my trip."

I had one other stop in St Paul, at the Catholic church, where I had a very nice meeting with Fr Gerard. This is the church where their Associate Priest was shot and killed a few months back. I didn't get to meet the bishop because he was in Rome; (I assumed the Rome in Italy, but I didn't ask.)

From there it was on to Bonnyville. I had made an appointment with an Alpha church there but once again, it fell through at the last minute. However, I had lunch with Rev Ken Jagessar of Bonnyville Community Church, a who has run Alpha a number of times. After lunch, when I dropped him back at his church, he said, "Here's someone I want you to meet." He led me over to an old camper van in the church parking lot and knocked on the window. The occupant opened the door and Pastor Ken introduced me. It was John Bergen (check out their amazing story), who was on tour and speaking at the church. We spoke for a while. John was quite familiar with Alpha and very pleased (encouraged was his word) to hear how well Alpha is doing. The Bergens' next stop, next Sunday, was to be the Evangelical Free Church of Lac la Biche, which, coincidentally, was the very next stop on my own trip.

This church has run both Campus and YFS, and during my discussion with Pastor Emmanuel, it became apparent that the town might benefit from a Marriage course, so that too might be in the works. After my visit there, and a cold-call to the Lac la Biche Victory Church, I headed home. I had left my house at about 8:00 AM and got back about 7:45 PM, but as I tell everyone who will listen, I love Alpha and I love driving.

So I have the perfect job.

Blessings,
John

ADDED: I just noticed that Google Maps says the trip should have taken 8 hours and 57 minutes. I don't think it took me that long of driving, and one stretch was on gravel. (Although I did have to slow down to 110 for that stretch.)

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Some Things Are True...



I often think of Nicholas Cage's final line in this clip from the movie, 'City of Angels'. I wouldn't say it was a Christian movie; in fact, far from it, but I think this quote fits very well with the Christian message. It is one that all who are seeking answers to life's big questions would be wise to consider. An Alpha course is one of the best ways to do just that. #Tryalpha

Blessings,
John

Even Seed on Good Soil Takes Time

How wonderful it is when seeds you have sown, seeds that perhaps has even slipped from immediate memory, show promise of bearing fruit. I was cc'd this morning on an e-mail from Alpha Canada HQ to a person I met with months ago. This person holds a position in a Christian organization and the indication is that they want to run Alpha in a particular setting.

I thought of the parable of the sower. The seeds we sow fall on various soils, but even seed that lands on good soil doesn't flourish right away. The farmer who sows his seed, even on soil he is confident is good, doesn't see the results for weeks or months.

And so we sow in faith, confident that some will fall on good soil and that God will bring the increase in His time.

Blessings,
John

Monday, 1 September 2014

How Do You Like My New Look?

Never mind - you're stuck with it. I figure that since this is an Alpha blog it should look somewhat like it. Thus it should reflect Alpha's new branding, which, as you have probably noticed, it does.

For the past couple of years Alpha Canada used a logo represented by a small smooth stone, with the tag line, "No Stone Unturned." It could be understood in two ways.  For us at Alpha Canada, and current believers, it told us that we should leave no stone unturned in reaching people for Christ.  For seekers, it says that the message of the Christian faith, as it relates to the big questions of life, is so important that they should leave no stone unturned in their search for meaning in life.

It was a great concept... for those who understood the idiom. The problem was that not everyone did. It was fine for English-speaking people, but I asked an Iranian Christian friend if he knew what it meant, and he had no clue. I explained the imagery to him, but that is not possible in every case. Far better to explain the Christian message than to spend time explaining our catchphrase.

Thus the change in branding. The big question mark has been part of the Alpha image from the beginning. You may remember this guy:
Alpha International has recently rebranded to the big red question mark you see as the background of this blog. The question mark is a universally understood symbol, and it perfectly sums up the Alpha philosophy of being able to ask any question in a safe and non-threatening environment.

The only negative, and this is purely personal, is that it reminds me of a pair of pajamas my dad had when I was a kid. His were white with red hearts all over them.

But it reminds me just the same.

Just sayin...

Blessings,
John