Friday, 31 October 2014

From Dreams to Dust

The top picture I took a year ago on my way back from Bonnyville and Cold Lake, Alberta. It spoke to me of someone's shattered dream. The bottom I took the other day, of the same site. Now nothing is left. The destruction is complete. Any remnant of the plans and dreams of whoever L'il Dave is or was have been eradicated, at least as far as the physical premises of his business at this site are concerned.

I don't know why, but this touches my heart. I have always had a mentor's heart. Whether it has been in my own business or in a business in which I have served in management, I have always felt a fatherly concern for younger people just starting out in the working world. Even in my most recent, "retirement career" with Alpha I constantly keep my eyes open for people with potential to rise up through ranks, so to speak. One thing I have always tried to do is to find and train up my own replacement. As someone has said, "If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted."

That's not my motivation here with Alpha. I have no ambition but to keep doing what I'm doing for as long as the Lord will allow me and enable me. But at some point I will have to pass the torch, and my duty to God and this ministry is to have someone ready to take it over when my time has come.

But I'm digressing from the point I originally began. This verse came to my mind.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)
Now, that may be cruel to post that, and it may indeed have nothing with the reality of these pictures, but another verse came to mind in the same regard:
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
Or this:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 1: 13-15)
And finally:
 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) 
I don't know if this all makes sense to anyone but me, but perhaps it's just a matter of connecting the dots. We humans make all sorts of plans, have all sorts of dreams for our futures, but for each one we should be lifting it up to God and asking if this is in His will. Sometimes, in the short term, if things don't work out the way we hope, we can be disappointed. Hey, I just thought of another verse:
Take delight in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
I believe that is not to say He will give us everything we want, but He will implant new desires in our hearts; desires that align with His will and His plan.

God's plan is best. In fact it is perfect, and the closer we come to it, the better things will be.



Thursday, 30 October 2014

That Was No Miracle!

Or so some might say. I had an 11:00 appointment the other day. I was to meet a pastor (Greg) at a Second Cup in Edmonton. This appointment was not an easy one to make. We had been trying for the better part of a month to find a suitable time and place to meet.

I thought I would make the best use of my time, so I stopped first at another church on the south side and met the pastor. He gave me a tour of his new facility, explained enthusiastically how his church is growing and told me how they have a new Alpha coordinator ready to run Alpha in the new year. At 10:40 I looked at my watch and apologized for having to cut our visit short.

I walked out to my car searching my pockets for my keys. Not there. My heart sunk as, looking through the window, I saw them in the ignition. The doors were locked!

I called AMA for roadside assistance. By the time I had waited for 'the next available operator' and we had gone through all the details of my problem and location, it was 10:45. the operator told me they would have someone there in 35 to 45 minutes. So much for my long-awaited meeting!

I did two things. I shot up a short prayer that God would somehow redeem this predicament. I don't know what I expected. Would He somehow open the doors for me? Would I return to my car and find the doors no longer locked? Would I recheck my pockets and find my keys were there all along?

The second thing I did was call Pastor Greg's church to get his cell number. The receptionist gave it to me. It was now 10:50. I was in the middle of dialing his number when another call beeped in. I debated with myself whether or not to take it. I did.

It was a recorded message from AMA saying that assistance would be there within ten minutes.

I did call Pastor Greg and explained the situation. But to cut to the end of the story, I was able to make our appointment by about 11:03.

Was there a miracle here? Many might argue not. How did the 35-45 minutes become 10? Many might say it was just a fortunate coincidence.  All I can say is that I prayed and things worked out.

Would they have worked out the same if I hadn't prayed? Who knows?



Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Gospel; Exclusive, Inclusive or Both

I've been thinking about a couple of verses that, at first glance, may see, to present a bit of a paradox:
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.(Luke 11:23)

 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:50)

Both these verses were given in passages connected with the driving out of demons. In the first, by Jesus, in the second one, by another man, an outsider.
As I started putting things down on paper I realized they touch on the same subjects as Pastor Brent Cantelon’s talk at our recent Alpha staff retreat – that the Gospel is , at once, exclusive, inclusive and urgent.
Jesus said that whoever is not with him is against him. In this sense the Gospel is exclusive. He said that he is the only way to the Father; that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Exactly what that means is a way bigger discussion. Just how much does one need to know to come to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Bottom line is that the only thing that made such a relationship possible is the atoning, sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. The world does not like this kind of exclusivity, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

In the second context, the disciples saw someone doing something in Jesus’ name and objected because he was not one of them – their circle, their denomination, their ministry. But Jesus corrected them, saying that whoever is not against them (and by extension, us) is for us.

In my travels with Alpha, I am finding that, as the world and its culture seems to be departing further and further from our Christian faith, there is a growing realization of the unity of the true Body of Christ. I am seeing a growing cooperation between various churches and denominations. The man in the second verse was ministering in Jesus’ name, even though he wasn’t one of their particular circle. So in that sense we are cautioned not to be exclusive. All who truly profess Christ as God the Son, Saviour and Lord are our allies.

Within Alpha, I love the servant attitude of our team. Any one of us is willing at any time to help any other of us. None of  our team is jealous of territory or protecting our particular turf. Nor is Alpha itself. Even Nicky Gumbel, who developed Alpha to its current level of excellence, says that if he were to find something more effective in presenting the Gospel than alpha, he would drop Alpha immediately.
And finally, because our message is both exclusive and inclusive, there is a urgency to our communicating this truth. There is no other way to a relationship with God than through Jesus Christ. It is a relationship that everyone needs, and one that everyone has available to them.
There is no neutrality. Anyone not for him is against him. But in our communicating this message to the world, anyone not against us is for us.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

What Do CF-18's Have To Do With Alpha?

CF-18's take off yesterday from CFB Cold Lake, Alberta
I was invited to attend and briefly address a Pastors' appreciation lunch in Bonnyville Community Church yesterday. I actually went last year as well, and in spite of that Pastor Ken invited me back. It was attended by 26 guests representing 14 churches or ministries (15 including mine - Alpha).

One of the guests was a Padre at CFB Cold Lake (which is about 1/2 hour from Bonnyville), and he had just participated in the sending off of 6 CF-18's to Kuwait to help in the fight against ISIS. I was going to post a picture of him speaking, but in light of today's developments in Ottawa, and having been cautioned by news reports to use caution in posting public photos of members of the military, I chose not to.

Having said all that, it was a very encouraging meeting. The Padre himself expressed quite an interest in our 7-week (Campus) Alpha. The new Pentecostal pastor in Bonnyville, new after a two year search, and whose church I have been, "pursuing" for that same two years, expressed interest in both Campus and Youth. The Youth Pastor from Cold Lake Community Church gushed at how successful their own Alpha for Youth has been. I met the senior pastor from Bonnyville Baptist Church and hit it off well with him. They have been running Alpha since 2013 but I haven't been able to connect in a couple of tries with his associate pastor who runs Alpha there. I was beginning to think they were mad at me, but I was assured not. Pastor Claude from Lighthouse Ministries, a ministry to First Nations people in the Lakelands area of Alberta, took some information on Campus as well. The Anglican Priest in Cold Lake also hopes to run Alpha for Youth there.

I will be following up on all these opportunities, but I thank God for a safe trip (3 hours there, 3 back) and for doors He has opened for Alpha as a tool for reaching that area of Alberta.



Friday, 17 October 2014

Tailgating and Fundraising

I live in Leduc, Alberta, in a neighbourhood just off the old Highway 2A south. To get to Edmonton, I must merge from the old highway on to Highway 2 northbound. It is an awkward entrance; sharp and short, so one doesn't necessarily have a lot of time or distance to accelerate to highway speed.

This morning, as I drove this route, an SUV was right on my rear bumper as I accelerated on to the highway. I could almost see the colour of the driver's eyes. When we both entered the highway, it pulled out and passed me. A decal on the back window advertised Lia Sophia Jewellery.

Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to be critical of lia Sophia. But it sparked an idea in my mind. This organization sells jewellery at home parties, like Tupperware years ago (and maybe still, for all I know). I think my wife has bought some. So for some reason I thought, "I could do that to raise funds for my ministry with Alpha."

I wonder if it would work. Maybe I'll even put a decal in my back window.

Nah. Then I would have to watch my driving.



A Verse For The Rest Of Their Lives

Ben Woodman
Ben Woodman

Speaking on his recent cross-province tour, Alpha for Youth Director Ben Woodman mentioned Jeremiah 29:11 as the verse he always puts in yearbooks or graduation cards for young people who have been his, "Spiritual children."
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
It brought to mind the verse I wrote in my own daughters' graduating cards, and I suppose it reflects the difference between a father and a youth pastor. The verse the Lord brought to my mind at the time was Philippians 4: 8-9.
 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
This passage reflected, and still does, the true sense of how I wanted to send them out into the world. I pray that I was not only a good father, but also a worthy example, as far as I could have been in the weakness of my flesh, for them to embark on the rest of their lives, flying on their own, so to speak.

As I said, the difference, perhaps, between a father and a youth pastor.

Just my thoughts.



Thursday, 16 October 2014

This Is Now, That Was Then

The last couple of days I have spent observing Ben Woodman of our Alpha Youth Film Series as he has held meetings around Alberta. Tuesday he was in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. I joined him, along with our Youth Coach Amy in Calgary on Wednesday and then for a stop in Red Deer.
You may recognize the trusty sidekicks; Ben, on the left, and Jason Ballard on the right, in this scene from the Film Series. 

However, you may not recognize the Jason of Grade 10 at Terry Fox Secondary School in years gone by. This was one of the video's Ben showed at these meetings. As you will see, Jason comes by his passion for youth honestly
Check this out.
Today's meeting was at Beulah Alliance in Edmonton. Both Jason and Ben were there, and the same kind of passion is apparent among students in this city. The young team at Edmonton's Celebration Church alone is coordinating student-led courses in 15 high and junior high schools in the area. And this being driven in large part, if I am not mistaken in this, by the passion of one 16-year-old girl who attends there.

How amazing and how encouraging!



Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Growth Has Been Spectacular - But What Now?

This is a picture of the lodge at Loon Lake, BC, where we recently held our annual Alpha staff retreat. The setting is absolutely beautiful, although the cell phone coverage is non-existent and wifi is sporadic at best, but perhaps that is a good thing. It is wonderful to gather with the entire Alpha Canada team in such a such peaceful place, marvelling at God's creation, and basking in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I have had a long career in business, both as an employee, senior manager and business owner, and I must say that this team, under the leadership of our National Director Shaila Visser, is the best of which I have had the privilege of being a part.

Shail welcomed us with a message on the State of the Union in Alpha Canada. The highlight of her message, to me, focused on the difference between being successful and being faithful. Is success, in other words, always increasing in numbers, so that every year reflects greater numbers than the last? That may be an indication of success, but is it always an indication that we are being faithful? Not necessarily. We at Alpha Canada want to be, first of all, faithful. Then, God willing, success will follow. That is what we desire to be and believe we are; a faithful organization that is also successful.

The verse for this message came from Isaiah 54:
Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; (Isaiah 54: 2-3a)
This verse is in the context of God telling His people to prepare for future blessings; get ready for things to come. Alpha has enjoyed phenomenal growth over the past couple of years, More courses were run in Ontario alone this year than in the entire country a couple of years ago. Alberta went from 61 churches running Alpha in 2012 to over 300 in 2013. Every region of the country saw bountiful increases.

But what is God's will for the future? Is it just to keep growing at this exponential pace? We discerned not. Yes, we are planning for some growth, but at a more modest rate. Not because we, in our own wisdom, don't think such growth possible, but because we have a collective sense that God is preparing something; something we don't yet see, but which is stirring just beneath the surface, so to speak. We have a sense that God is getting ready to do something, and He is preparing Alpha to be a part of it.

So, and I hope I am not out of line in saying this, or that I don't get rebuked for disclosing some great secret, I believe this next year may be a year of maintenance, modest growth perhaps, but a year of readiness; of waiting on the Lord; waiting for Him to move in whatever way He has planned.

Because He already knows what He is going to do. And we are waiting to be surprised, delighted, challenged. But most of all, we pray we will be ready.

Come Holy Spirit.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

7 Reasons to Run Alpha More Than Once a Year

In How to Run the Alpha Course, Nicky Gumbel instructs “It is of utmost importance, in order to maintain the momentum, to run at least three courses a year. When people complete Alpha, they very often want to invite their families and friends to the next course, and it is important that one is available.”
Here are a few more reasons why running Alpha more than once a year is beneficial:
1. It gets people talking about spirituality!  This includes ALL sorts of people – those with no religion, other religions, new believers, etc. - who can explore and experience solid Biblical teaching and authentic community in a safe, inviting environment.
2. It tells the community that the church has an open door.  Even if people don’t attend Alpha, they know there’s another course starting soon. When they’re ready to attend, they know Alpha will welcome them (at the church, or the pub, or on campus, or the boardroom, etc).
3. It keeps the church focused on outreach. Many programs are designed for church members, but Alpha is for the unchurched. When the pastor talks about Alpha in his/her sermons, and asks for volunteers and shares testimonies, the congregation’s passion for sharing hope & healing is rekindled.
4. It fosters unity in and among the church. As volunteers with diverse gifts rally together for one purpose, they learn about teamwork. Cooks, decorators, book table fans, small group leaders, and task force members join forces and serve together. Different denominations network together to serve the people in the community.
5. It encourages leadership development.  Alpha is a place for guests to become helpers, and for helpers to become leaders. It’s a place where people can develop their leadership skills, spiritual gifts, social skills, etc. As they are mentored, practice makes perfect (ok well almost) and they in turn will lead and mentor others. Running Alpha 3x a year or more provides this momentum.
6. It builds relationship with the community. There are no dividing walls at Alpha. Christians make friends with non-Christians and friendships are formed regardless of beliefs or stage of life. Alpha allows trust to be built over time.
7. It strengthens the faith of all. Although the Alpha course is an opportunity to help people discuss and discover a relationship with Jesus Christ, many who are already Christians find that they re-discover their love for Jesus. Many questioning doubters experience God in a fresh way that re-calibrates their faith and purpose in life.

I will be posting about our recent Alpha Staff Retreat, but for now I thought this entry from alpha is an important one for all churches to remember, for the reasons given.



Friday, 3 October 2014

Well... Who Knew?

I just watched an interesting program on PBS about MI6, the British Secret Service. In the program, I learned that a statue of St. Francis of Assisi on the grounds of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) was a favourite place for Soviet spies to use as a, "dead letter drop" during the cold war. A Soviet double agent would leave a microfilm, a cassette or message behind it to be picked up later by a 'handler' from the Soviet Embassy.

From here...
A little further away, literally just behind the oratory, the Holy Trinity Church is the site for another dead letter drop. As you approach the church from the Brompton Road, bear to your left and in the corner there is a small statue of St Francis of Assisi. Soviet agents reputedly left their files and microfilms on the ground at the base of the tree next to the wall.
Mind you, this was way before Alpha, and HTB was not implicated. It's just that its grounds were a secluded spot to leave clandestine messages.

I just found it interesting, that's all.

Small world.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Pharisees vs Prostitutes

There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, "Son, go and work today in the vineyard."  "I will not," he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, "I will, sir," but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (Matthew 21: 28b-32)
Sometimes I will visit a church where I'm told, "We don't want Alpha." "We're happy the way we are."

Such a church may often be comprised of people 50 plus. They are happy coming together every Sunday, worshipping just the way their parents did, and they themselves have done ever since they were children. They don't want to change. They are happy with ancient Bible translations, traditional hymns only (not that there is anything wrong with them), traditional music only with traditional instrumentation only.  (Which leads me to reflect that what we today refer to as traditional hymns were, at one time, contemporary music.)

These churches often don't seem too enthusiastic to reach out to their communities in any active way. They are happy ministering to their own. They may say they would like to grow, but one gets the impression that any new person coming through their doors must squeeze themselves into the church's mold. Therefore, in many cases I fear, these newcomers may come once and never show themselves again.

I believe that Alpha can be very much a part of the answer to the question, "How can we reach those who need to hear the Gospel in a way that will hold their attention while they hear it?" Times have changed in the last generation or two. And to take a point from Romans 10:14, how can we tell them if we can't hold their attention. Evangelization is a process. Not everyone responds the first time they hear the Good News, even though it is the best news of all. Alpha, with a 7-week or a 10-week timespan, is an ideal vehicle for evangelism.

In the parable above, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees. I have the definite sense that, at least in this passage, Jesus did not say that they would not enter the kingdom, but that others, more honest ones perhaps; more sincerely contrite; those who truly recognized their need, would enter before them.

I wonder if these of whom I spoke a couple of paragraphs above might  be in the same boat. They may get to Heaven, but I think they might get a pretty good talking to when they get there.

Just thinkin'