Saturday, 10 December 2016

Perhaps the CIA can Give an Answer (Bumped and Updated)

здравствуйте
Which means, "Hello," in Russian. At least Google says it does, so I hope it is not some terrible insult.

Blogger tracks page visits to this blog, and again lately there have been quite a few visits from Russia. In the hundreds in fact. My tongue in cheek title for this post refers to the current news that the CIA accuses Russia of interfering in the recent American election. Well, if they want to know about Alpha, I'll be glad to tell them everything they need to know, even with no hacking. I'd even come over to do training if they'd pay my way, although the only Russian I know is, "Hello." And that only to write.

Interesting indeed. Perhaps we will see a growth of Alpha there.



Есус ловес ею Jesus Loves you.
Есус ванц то кнов ею Jesus wants to know you
Ооо сан кнов хим алсо You can know him too

#аттенд Alpha #RunAlpha

Blessings,

John

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Always Changing

Not me; Alpha numbers. I can't keep up. I believe I posted recently that there have been 650 Alphas run in Alberta in 2016, and that I didn't expect many more, as it was so late in the year. Well, I now see that number is up to 677. I don't think I have much to do with it, but it is such a blessing to me to see how many churches have it on their heart to reach out to those in their communities who do not yet have  Jesus Christ in their lives.

This picture is from the course-end Celebration Supper at Beulah Alliance in Edmonton, to which their fantastic Evangelism Pastor, Angie, invited Eva and me. Beulah is one of my best Alpha churches (they run, in various contexts and venues, about 30 Alphas a year), and Angie, who calls herself, an "Alphaholic," is not only a very good friend, but one of the most passionate and enthusiastic people I've ever seen on behalf of the Lord. The supper was attended by about 140 people; graduates from their just-completed courses and their invited guests. It struck me that Beulah's Alpha supper had more people than some congregations. And we're concerned with church growth! Alpha, run properly, in the context of a real invitational culture, is, I would say, one sure way of ensuring church growth.

Having said that, let me say that that is not our primary focus. Our real goal is Kingdom growth. Our task is to obey what I personally see as the first prerequisite of Christ's Great Commission (go and make disciples), which is first to go and make Christians. (Even that seems to have come out wrong - all we do is make the introduction to Jesus. He, by his Holy Spirit, actually does the, "making").

Alpha called me the other day and told me I should take some holidays, as I still had three weeks coming, so I suppose I'm officially now on holidays, even though I'm still sending and receiving emails, making and receiving phone calls, and prepared to meet with key contacts who want me to help them with Alpha. Have I ever said, "I love my job?"

Blessings,

Happy Advent,

John

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Great Stories

Back from Southern Alberta and to a certain extent looking toward Christmas and the end of the year. I don't have any major trips planned between now and then, but Alpha never sleeps, nor would I want it to. I consider myself to be constantly, "on call."

In the last little while I've heard some great Alpha stories and had some encouraging meetings. A story about an Alpha table leader who came to Alpha looking to serve behind the scenes but was thrown directly into the fire, so to speak, and was incredibly blessed by the experience.

A story about a couple with a young family, relatively new to the faith, with almost no Christian background or experience who found that Alpha strengthened not only their faith but their marriage as well.

A meeting with the Senior Pastor of a fairly large church, influential in its community, whose Alpha attracted 200 guests, and is turning out to be very fruitful. This church is hoping to integrate Alpha into its small group program, as well as running it in a local high school in the new year. It is already involved in running it in an area community college.

All in all, as they say at McDonald's, "I'm lovin' it!"

Blessings,

John

Friday, 25 November 2016

Unknown Numbers

If you have call display what is your reaction when a number comes up you don't recognize; nervousness, fear, annoyance, hesitation? Are you tempted just to avoid answering it - let it go to voicemail?

Well, I certainly wonder, when it happens, "Who could this be?" However, in my ministry with Alpha, it turns out as often as not to be a call I'm glad I took.

Yesterday, near the close of the day, I received such a call. I answered, wondering, of course, who it could be. It was from a pastor in a town in Alberta. I had met him at a recent networking event. He told me he has a youth group meeting in his church building in which there are no kids from his church! Twenty to twenty-five teens every week. No Christians! He wanted to know if Alpha had any resources he could use for this group.

Do we have resources?!!! (Rhetorical question of course on my part 😉)

I went over highlights of our Youth Film Series, including some figures showing how successful it has been across the country. I gave him our link to preview the videos, explained how he could set up an account and be able to download everything he needed to run the course (even training and promotional resources), offered to help personally, and gave him contact info for the youth pastor at another church in his town who, I made sure to ask first, should be able to help him as well.

I know my Youth Associate Amy will probably read this blog, so I was a little hesitant to tell this story. She is so enthusiastic to reach young people for Christ that I'm afraid she might want to jump right out of bed, ready to help.

Don't worry Amy. They probably won't start until February.

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Youth Alpha Training Summit - RockPointe Church

Youth Alpha Training Summit - RockPointe Church
I'm afraid I can't claim a lot of credit for this one. Most of the credit goes to Brent Sellers of RockPointe Church who has stepped up as an Alberta Youth Champion. Much of the credit for the establishment of the concept of Alberta Youth Champions goes to my friend and Associate, Amy Croy. So I come in a bit down the line for accolades. I did, however, deliver the banners and the Big Question Mark to RockPointe in the middle of a snow storm at great risk to my life and person.

On Saturday our Alpha Teams hosted the first ever Southern Alberta Youth Alpha Training Summit
--a gathering of youth, pastors and leaders, school christian clubs and individuals to prepare to run Youth Alpha in their circles of influence.

A message from Brent:
We had 50 people present, representing 6 multi-ethnic churches from five denominations, plus representation from several high schools. Our student teams opened the day by sharing their testimonies of God's faithfulness through their obedient efforts from last year. One group of adults in the room said to me "It strikes us that we could have everything perfectly planned, but what we've learned from these kids is that what we need most is faith."
We watched the NEW training videos that Alpha Canada provides--which are exceptional, by the way. I love how the opportunity for a mock discussion is built into session 2, and the opportunity for prayer is built into session 3!
Jason and Shauna Caldwell--parents of Evan and Jordan who died in the sledding accident at COP last February--shared a powerful challenge about the importance of taking the gospel out into the world for the sake of those whose souls are on the line. One of the most profound parts of the challenge was when Jason said "That bobsled track is like a metaphor for life, nobody knows when you'll round the next corner and your time will be up." His plea for urgency was profound!
Finally, we spent a time in prayer for one another that included anointing and commissioning. Some youth pastors/leaders took the opportunity to commission and anoint their kids... but the most moving part for me: I saw two girls who came separately BY THEMSELVES, and just happened to know one another, one from her Catholic School and one from her Public School, laying hands one each other and praying for God to use them for His glory.
Many people left having shared ideas, learned new techniques, and having made contacts that will lead to stronger partnerships in local schools. For instance, Notre Dame High School is running Alpha--they sent one girl to the summit. Harvest Hills Alliance, which is right around the corner came, too. Harvest Hills has numerous youth group kids at Notre Dame, but had no idea they were running Alpha. So, now Harvest is making sure all their kids are present, inviting friends, and leading groups at Alpha in Notre Dame!
At RockPointe--We have one team running Alpha at Calgary Christian School right now, and all our other teams (Cochrane, Thirsk, Manning, Bowness, Arbour Lake) are aiming to re-launch in January. Please pray for our youth on these teams, as the Lord's story in all this continues to unfold! Please also pray for a location for our Arbour Lake team, as we look to partner with local families or even the nearby Catholic School (Mark Richards is helping me with this).
Thanks be to God for His saints who so willingly and eagerly use the gifts He has given them. What an honour it is for me to be associated with such a team! What a joy to be involved in Alpha's ministry, equipping the body of Christ, the local church, to reach our nation for Christ.

Blessings,

John

Monday, 21 November 2016

I'd Been Warned - I Shoulda Known Better



I'll explain the title of this post, which refers to an incident that occurred at 11:30 PM, and work backwards form there through my day (Friday) I hope you'll forgive the flippancy of my Youtube link. It's just the way my brain works.

I booked my hotel room for Friday night at a hotel in Innisfail. However, my daughter said she had booked a stay at that same motel and left for another because her non-smoking room smelled of smoke. I thought, "Well that was then - this is now. Surely It wouldn't be a common occurrence." So I booked in, went to my room and everything seemed fine. That is until about 11:00 when I heard the drip, drip of water. I ignored it for a while, but then wondered if I had left a tap dripping in the bathroom, so I got up to check. There was water all over the floor, dripping from the ceiling.

I called the front desk and explained the problem. The clerk said he would be there in 5 minutes. I called again after 6, saying also that he should find me another room, and he came right to the room, finally realizing the problem. (It turns out that the toilet in the room above was cracked and leaking.) So he let me in to the room next door. Guess what it smelled like: yes, smoke. I told the desk clerk, he came into the room, took a cursory sniff and said he didn't notice it. But it was definitely there. Looking back, when I originally entered my first room I noticed the (not unpleasant) smell of ozone. An ozone generator is what they use to get rid of smoke odor. As I booked out the following morning I mentioned the smoke smell and the morning desk clerk shouted into the back office, "We need the machine in room 119." It seems it is not an uncommon problem for them.

I'd been warned - I shoulda known better

So... enough on that problem. My afternoon meeting in Red Deer was with Living Stones Church. Living Stones has run Alpha's Youth Film Series effectively in the past, but now their Senior Pastor is the driving force behind their running the new Alpha Film Series for the entire congregation. He was not able to be there, but I had a very good meeting with Associate Pastor Darren Aucoin. Living Stones began years ago with a small group of 6 people. They now have about 800 attending their Sunday Services. Their current location was once a drive-in movie theatre, and the old projection/concession building still stands as their youth centre.

Prior to Red Deer I had two meetings in Calgary. My late morning meeting (I'm working backwards, remember) was with Rob Martin of Eastside City Church. I was encouraged to hear that they have made Alpha an integral part of their church's small group strategy, where they intend to run Alpha sequentially and guests graduating from an Alpha course are then rolled over, if you like, to a new small group.

My first morning meeting in Calgary was with Southview Church where I had another great conversation and heard some wonderful Alpha stories. Just before we sat down, I was given a tour of their new facility. I smiled when my guide showed me their worship space (half of which was divided off and set up for their Alpha. My own church meets in a high school atrium, and we have to set up and take down about 110 chairs every week. Because Southview's worship space is, "multi-use," they set up and take down 1000 chairs every week. I don't think our people should feel so bad.

And that's as far back in the morning I'll go as I'm not sure you don't want to know what I had for breakfast.

Blessings,

John

Thursday, 17 November 2016

New Friends - Southern Alberta Day 3

This is the Neighbourhood Church, a street front church in old downtown Medicine Hat. It is rather a new church on my radar, but already I've found a new friend. When I knew I was coming to Medicine Hat, I checked our records and saw this church of which I had not previously been aware, so I emailed to say I was going to be in town. Pastor Michael Fischer replied to say he would like to get together, so we arranged a meeting for between 10:30 and 11:00 this morning.

The first thing that came up that indicated Michael was an OK guy was that he loves Alpha. You can see the Alpha posters prominently displayed in the front windows. The second was that he came to Medicine Hat from Hamilton, which was basically my own home town. His church started Alpha last spring by running it on weekday noon hours right there in the downtown. Fantastic! This fall they have been running a Sunday evening Alpha. Plans are for the Marriage Course and more Alphas in the future.

Their church caters, if you like, to, "artsy and talented" people. As a result, Michael told me, they have an excellent worship ministry and have taken pains to have the best sound equipment possible. He has been told by one visitor that they had the loudest worship band he had ever heard. I think I would enjoy it there. One, "complaint" Michael had was one of which many churches might be envious; that he himself was, "nearly 40" and he was the oldest person there.

Once again, I volunteered to return to help with a training event for his Alpha team and he happily indicated that it might be a possibility. That's 3 or 4 possible dates from just this current trip, so, Lord willing, there may be another Southern Alberta trip in the cards.

On my way to my first appointment of the morning, right in the middle of the city, on a through street, I had to stop to allow a family of deer to cross in front of me. They just walked casually out into the road like they owned it. It reminded me, in a sense, of driving through a Wal-Mart parking lot. I caught this one on camera. He seems to be saying, "C'mon kids. Hurry up!"

So I'm now in Calgary, ready for more meetings tomorrow. I'm really happy with how this trip has gone, and I still have meetings to come with more of my key churches. I'm becoming more and more encouraged with the strategy of deepening relationships with key existing Alpha churches. Alpha has one purpose - to help local churches reach their communities with the saving and life-changing message of Jesus Christ, and to supply them with the tools to do so - all at no charge or, as I like to say, for the low, low cost of nothing at all.

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Day 2 - Lethbridge

My day started off with a great meeting with Pastor Bert Faulkner at Westside Community Church (PAOC). Their Alpha is going well, ending at the end of November, but they are already planning to run again in the new year. I offered my services and availability to come again and help run a team training, which offer was genuinely appreciated. Hopefully I'll hear from them again on that.

My next appointment was at lunchtime, so on the way I stopped at 2 churches that happened to be on my route: Maranatha Christian Reformed Church and St Martha's Catholic Church. Maranatha has been running Alpha's Marriage Course faithfully for years. In fact the couple that coordinates it has basically designed their finished basement for the very purpose. At St Martha's I met Fr Roque, who is that Parish's chaplain to the University of Lethbridge. He seemed quite interested in the new Alpha Film Series for young adults. I also gave him contact information for Josh canning, Alpha's National Catholic coordinator and Mark Richards, our Catholic coach out of Calgary.

My lunchtime meeting was with Pastor Greg Esselmont and his dad Randy of The Gate Christian Church in downtown Lethbridge. Their church is in an old Bank of Montreal building, with 2 story ceilings. I wish I'd thought to take some pictures because all the old vaults are still in the building, albeit with the locks removed from the massive steel doors. They too are extremely pleased at how their Alpha is going.

Greg and Randy mentioned I should stop in to a local street ministry, Streets Alive, so on my way to my next meeting I did, and left some information with the person in charge, who was familiar with Alpha. Hopefully I stirred his mind to consider Alpha, although Alpha in such a context is different in many ways from what we might consider a, "normal Alpha."

Both Streets Alive and The Gate were initiated by the Victory Church in Lethbridge, which has been quite active in the local Christian scene for years. Coincidentally, my next visit was as a local Starbucks with Associate Pastor of Victory, John Albiston. John is one of my favourite people to talk with. He was brought on board at Victory Lethbridge with responsibility for church growth and is a fount of knowledge in that area. He joined Victory in 2012, a year after Senior Pastor Kelly Stickel, whose arrival John credits with the beginning of a process that saw church attendance grow from about 400 in 2011 to over 1200 today.

Among other tips for church growth, John gave me his 3 Laws for Church Growth:
  1. Invite lots of people
  2. Don't suck
  3. Have people make friends
I won't expand on them here, but they make perfect sense when explained.

I'm writing this post in Medicine Hat, where I will be meeting various churches tomorrow.

Blessings,

John

Southern Alberta Day One (♫Dashing Through the Snow♫)

This was Calgary late this morning as I arrived. I'm not sure if this is a picture of Stony Trail, but that's what it looked like. The Trail itself was more just wet than anything, but my first visit was to the Bowridge campus of RockPointe Church to drop off some banners and the big red Alpha Question Mark for a Youth Training Summit event being hosted there on Saturday by Brent Sellers, Youth Pastor there and an Alberta Alpha Youth Champion. The event is for students or youth leaders interested in running the Alpha Youth Film Series in various contexts or venues. I must say I am so encouraged by Youth Pastors like Brent and others who have so bought in to the vision of seeing young people come to faith through Alpha. Much credit must be given to Amy Croy, my Youth Associate who has taken the initiative in gathering together a number of these Champions. (Please keep her in your prayers.)

OK, my point: RockPointe is on Highway 1A, between Calgary and Cochrane. This road was not so well-travelled as the main highways, and when I arrived at the church's location and went to turn left off the highway  I very nearly slid into the ditch. By the time I reached the central area of Calgary though, the snow was gone.

From RockPointe it was over to Eastside City Church, where a scheduling mix-up meant a rescheduled appointment for Friday when I'll be passing through Calgary again on my way home.

Finally, a very encouraging meeting at First Alliance with Heather Brown, Adult Education and Development Pastor, who oversees their Alpha program, I volunteered my services to return before their next Alpha in January to do a training for their Alpha team. (More snow?)

I'm writing this in my hotel room in Lethbridge where I have a number of appointments tomorrow (actually today, as it's after midnight.)

So, Blessings & Good Night

John

Monday, 14 November 2016

Preparing to Head South

Well no, not that far south, and not a holiday, but a round-trip through Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, back to Calgary, then Red Deer and back home. I should be gone from Tuesday to Saturday.

There was a bit of a monkey wrench thrown into this trip - last week, before it even began. It was all planned around being scheduled to address a Wednesday lunchtime meeting of the Lethbridge ministerial. This was planned a couple of months ago, and the date November 16 decided upon because that was the time I could have 15 or 20 minutes for my presentation, in addition to networking with pastors in the city.

So first of all, when I called my contact at the ministerial a couple of weeks ago to confirm, he told me they were having another speaker from Calgary and I would be able to have about 2 minutes after him. With a deep breath and a sigh, I mentioned I had put together a full presentation and it was hardly worth my time to make a 5-hour drive for a 2-minute talk. He agreed to work it out so I could have my full time.

Then, last Wednesday (the 9th) at about 12:30, my phone rang. It was him. "Hello John, where are you? Are you in town?"
"No," I said, "I'm in St Albert."
"Oh, didn't I tell you it was today?" No, in fact I was sure it was set for the 16th. Just to make sure I was not mistaken I checked our email string and he had indeed told me it was the 16th.

I had already set up a number of appointments in the other cities, so rather than cancel the trip I set about making individual appointments with the Pastors I had planned on meeting at the ministerial. My dance card is fairly full now, so Lord willing, some good will come out of all this.

And I'll be driving, not flying like the ones in the picture, so I'm praying God will keep the animals and the snow off the roads for me.

Blessings,

John

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Ninja Evangelization! Made My Morning

I received an email this morning from  one of Alpha's most ardent coordinators, reporting on the results of the Alpha she runs for Grade 9's in a local Catholic high school. She reports:
Out of 53 more-or-less regulars, at least 22 students began or strengthened a relationship with Jesus and 13 more are ready to dive in!"
She used this picture from one of the videos in her post-Alpha evaluation. In other words, asking students where they thought they were before the course and after. The water in the pool represents a relationship with Jesus. Choices were: 
1 – In deep and moving!
2 – In the water but not really moving
3 – Ready to dive in
4 – Testing the water but not ready to get in
5 – Moving toward the water
6 – Close but distracted by other things
7 – Know it’s there but focused on myself
8 – Not even in the room

BEFORE ALPHA, 39% did not have a relationship with Jesus and 36% were "testing the waters but not ready to get in (total 75%). AFTER ALPHA, just 22% did not have a relationship with Jesus and 15% were "testing the waters" (total 37%).
BEFORE ALPHA, 13% had a relationship with Jesus (were in the water) – including 2% who were "in deep and moving!" – and 11% were "ready to dive in" (total 24%). AFTER ALPHA, 41% had a relationship with Jesus – including 11% who were "in deep and moving" – and 26% were "ready to dive in" (total 67%).
Every Alpha, my team starts to doubt that they are making a difference, and every time they are bowled over by the results.  The students come to Alpha for RE credit – and pizza – and then Jesus sneaks up on them, gently drawing them to Himself. The Holy Spirit is working even when we don’t see it. That’s why I call it ninja evangelization!
Thanks Alana. You have what my mom used to call, "stick-to-it-ive-ness." I love your heart for the Lord, for kids, for Alpha.

You made me smile this morning, and if I may be so presumptuous to say, probably the Lord Himself too.

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

He is Still on the Throne

As tempted as I am to comment on last night's US election, I will refrain. As I have said, I was a fan of neither candidate.

But one thought does come to mind; John, the recorder of the Revelation of Jesus Christ was given a vision:
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”  At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.  And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. (Rev 4: 1-3)
Well, the day after the election there is still someone sitting on the throne and He is still in control. Whatever happened last night happened somehow within His will and with His permission, and whatever we may think of circumstances, God's will is still, ultimately, good, pleasing and perfect. Exactly how this all plays out remains to be seen.

And my own mission remains the same;
"...my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)
Blessings, and invite a friend to Alpha.

John

(Cross posted at A Reasonable Faith)
 

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

I Was a Bit Disappointed Until...

Alpha Canada recently upgraded their program for reporting statistics on Alphas running in Canada.

Late last year, when sitting down to forecast for 2016, and establish targets, I settled on what I thought was a challenging, yet fully attainable target of seeing 450 Alpha's running in Alberta by the end of the year.

I felt I had worked hard throughout the year, yet never seemed to be keeping up with my self-established target. I kept running a report based on number of courses run and Organizing Church name.

Late last month my friend and Alpha for Catholics coach in Calgary, Mark Richards, asked me to give him a list of all Alpha for Youth courses being run in Alberta in Catholic contexts. So I ran my report with those criteria and sent it to him. He replied, "What about, (such and such Catholic School), I know they're running one there."
I ran and re-ran the report but couldn't get the course in question to come up. Finally I resorted to asking someone who actually knew the program, Brandon at Alpha Canada, why this course was not showing up in my report.

It turns out I was limiting my statistics by using, "Organizing Church" as one of my criteria. If I just ran the report to find, "courses" I would get courses where the Course Administrator had not specified a Church name.

So I did.

And quelle surprise! Suddenly, even after removing duplicate registrations, there were 650 courses reported! (And that's just year to date. There may be more come online, although it is getting near the end of the year)

What was the difference? Well, courses are being run in prisons, schools, basements, living rooms, pubs, restaurants, business places, youth groups, all of which have not been reported as affiliated with a church.

And I know there are more. Because I hear of them. All the time. If I may say this, in love, youth pastors are the worst at not registering their courses. And God bless 'em, they are so concerned and single-focused on shepherding their kids that they often just go ahead and run an Alpha for their Youth without even thinking to tell us about it.

But God knows, and as much as we like to see numbers, the ultimate numbers may not be known until that day we are gathered, from every tribe and tongue and nation, around the throne of grace in Heaven.

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

What's Happening With Alpha

Centre Street Church, Calgary Alberta
We recently received information from a survey of the largest churches in Canada, by average Sunday attendance aver 1000. Six of them are in Alberta, and all six, by the way, are strong Alpha churches.

What was fascinating and encouraging was the response given when questioned regarding outreach and evangelism. The number one effective strategy across Canada was listed as. "effective programs for youth and children that meaningfully impacted parents." Well who could argue with that?

Number two, however, was the Alpha Course, mentioned specifically by name. Other figures I have seen recently show that over 90% of churches in a number of countries around the world agree that Alpha is an effective tool for evangelism and would recommend Alpha to other organizations.

Not that Alpha is effective only for Mega Churches; Alpha is just as effective in a home group with two to ten guests. Most of my Alpha churches are running Alpha with between twelve and thirty guests. One of my favourite stories to tell is of an Alpha my wife and I ran in our home with two guests. One was already a Christian and the other became one, so I count it as my most successful Alpha ever - 100% conversion rate.

This fall alone, there are close to four hundred Alphas running just in the Province of Alberta, and over six hundred since the beginning of the year. I hesitate to give an exact number because every time I do, more are registered (or discovered.)

If you are currently supporting Alpha, this is what your dollars are helping to accomplish. You are participating in what is possibly the most effective evangelistic outreach tool available today.

But if you are not, and are looking for a ministry where your contribution can make a positive difference in our nation and for the Kingdom of God, would you consider doing so? It's as easy as clicking on my image to the right and following the link.

Or, if you are so disposed, sending a contribution to Alpha Ministries Canada, #230, 11331 Coppersmith Way, Richmond BC V7A 5J9, specifying, "Alberta" in the memo line.

Thanks and Blessings,

John

Monday, 31 October 2016

More Alberta Travels

Since my last post I have travelled to the Lakeland district of Alberta and to Lloydminster.

The Pastors’ Appreciation Lunch at Bonnyville CommunityChurch included Pastors and church leaders from Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Lac LaBiche, Smoky Lake and points in between. This is an annual event put on by Pastor Ken Jagessar and is a wonderful opportunity for networking. I was able to give a brief presentation on Alpha, but already the Alpha activity in that area is extremely encouraging to me.

Pastor Ken allows everyone in attendance to introduce themselves, and a few (like me) are given additional opportunity to expand on their ministries. I came away with the sense that there is much expectation of revival in that area and churches are of one accord in praying fervently for it.

But no sooner did I return home than I read in the news of the Government’s shutdown of the Trinity Christian School Board in Cold Lake, in part because of apparent financial irregularities. Is this an attack of the enemy? One way or another I must believe it is. Either the accusations are unfounded, in which case we might guess that the government has an agenda to close down Christian school boards and homeschooling, or there is truth to them, in which case certain Christians may have allowed this to be brought upon themselves by yielding to temptation and entitlement and not being completely above board, open and blameless. We may be entering a time when the world will seize upon the slightest opening to come against the Christian Church. We must not only be blameless and above reproach; we must be seen to be so.

My next trip was to Lloydminster, to address a meeting of their ministerial at Living Faith Pentecostal Tabernacle. It was a small crowd, but my presentation on Alpha was well received, and people came from as far away as Paradise Valley to hear it.
 
Part of the reason for this trip was to introduce Alpha’s new Regional Director for Saskatchewan, Austin Gagne, to churches there, including to the ‘major’ Alpha Church, Lloydminster Gospel Fellowship (LGF), on the Saskatchewan side of Highway 17. We met for coffee with Kevin, my Alpha coach in Lloyd and the Alpha coordinator at LGF. Kevin lives on the Alberta side. Lloydminster could become a battleground for territory if Austin and I were not so generous to one another and such good friends ;>)

Following the ministerial, and after a cold call to New Life Community Church, I met with Tom, Alpha Coordinator at St Anthony’s Catholic Church, and what an encouraging meeting it was. This is their second Alpha and attendance has been about 40 to 60 guests each time. Plus, they seem to be doing things right, with prayer time both on the day and on healing night. I also discovered they are running a second alpha for their youth, even though they haven’t registered that – another, ‘underground Alpha.’

Then back home to St Albert. In addition to everything else, this trip gave me an opportunity to drive the new leg of the Anthony Henday ring road (picture above), even though my Tomtom GPS thought I was in the middle of a field for several kilometres.

Blessings,

John

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Youth and the Future

I listened in on our Alpha Youth Champions Webinar today. At left, in a screenshot of the call, is Tim Teakle, Youth Associate in Ontario, but who has been acting in rather a national capacity for the last while as Alpha Canada has been searching for a National Youth Director.

Speaking of that, however, below is Alpha's brand new National Director for Youth, Tim Gonzales.
The focus of the call was the encouragement and empowerment of students in high- and junior high schools to share Alpha with their friends in their schools, and to invite their friends into a conversation about life, faith and God.
It is already happening in a number of schools across the country and our hope and prayer is that it will happen in many more. If I may say so, much of the impetus for the formation of this concept of a network of Youth Champions came from the passion of Alberta's own Youth Associate, Amy Croy, and her own heart to see students empowered to run Alpha in their schools.

One statistic mentioned this morning that I found encouraging is that 75 young people have now signed up as wanting to participate in running Alpha in their schools for their friends.

There is so much hope for this generation of young people. Please pray for them as they come to a faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and as they may find it more and more difficult to profess that faith publicly as time goes on.

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Is There Any Hope?

Alpha in Prisons
In a word, "Yes."

One of my memories is of running Alpha for about three years at the Fort Saskatchewan (Alberta) jail and seeing wonderful results and lives changed among the inmates there. Did you know that statistically, as I understand it, among prisons in Canada, the average re-offending rate for released inmates is between 70 and 75%?

However, the re-offending rate for those who have attended Alpha in prison and come to a genuine faith in Christ is about 8% (eight percent)! Isn’t that amazing? My friends and colleagues John and Roxana Kreklo are doing a great job of communicating this to prison officials across Canada. For the good of our country, pray that they, and we, make headway and inroads in this area.

Friends, the solution to a great number of our society's problems is right in front of us, but do you think anything will be done about it? Do you think those with the power and position to act will do so?

Aside from some kind of divine intervention, probably not, I'm afraid. But divine intervention is what we're all about, so the least we can do is pray. Please do.

Blessings,

John

Monday, 17 October 2016

DtP, Where the 't' is a Cross

Disturbing the Peace
Disturbing the Peace is one of the coolest names I can think of for a youth gathering. It has been held for the past 14 years in Grande Prairie, this year at Grande Prairie Alliance (GPA), but it attracts young people from churches all across the Peace Region, from Fort St John and Dawson Creek in BC to Peace River in Alberta.
 
I was up there this past weekend, not so much in an official capacity, but because two of my grandchildren were attending. They have recently found their way back to church and are attending GP Alliance. My granddaughter, 13, was baptised there a couple of weeks ago.
 
Having said that, there was an Alpha presence - Ben Woodman from our Youth Alpha Film Series was there, along with Dan Roe, who is involved in its production. It was good to see them both again so soon after our Alpha staff retreat and hear of their adventures in getting to Grande Prairie. Apparently their plane from Vancouver was rerouted due to weather concerns from it's original transfer point (Calgary or Edmonton, I don't remember which) to Regina. They then missed their connecting flight to GP and had to take a later one, so Ben missed his first of five scheduled sessions. However, we caught his last one on Sunday morning and he had us alternatively in tears and stitches. Ben is a great speaker, a great lover of young people and a great ambassador for Alpha and for Jesus.
 
Friday, before we left home, I had sent an email to April Fogle who is running Alpha with the youth from St Joseph's Catholic Church in Grande Prairie, just wanting to introduce myself. Quelle surprise, then, when, although I didn't hear back from her by email, she was introduced onstage as one of the workers who had helped put this year's DtP together. I could see, then, why she might have been a bit too busy to answer my email, so I introduced myself to her there.
 
Also encouraging was to find out that GPA's Youth Pastor, Caleb Barkman, is coordinating Alpha for youth in two local high schools (even though they have not, as yet, registered.;>)
 
I am so encouraged at what I hear is going on among the youth of this province and this nation through Alpha. Kids are discovering God and coming to faith in amazing numbers. I believe I have mentioned before that in 2015, 6000 teens from inside and outside the church came to faith in Christ in Canada alone through Alpha.
 
Please keep these young people in your prayers as they grow up in a world in which it is seemingly more and more difficult to profess a public faith in Jesus Christ.
 
Blessings,
 
John
 
 
 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

How Did We Get Here?

How did we get to the point where everything seems to have been turned upside down, in so short a time? I can remember a time when a person running for political office would include, in their campaign pamphlet, a picture of them and their family coming down the steps of a church on a Sunday morning. Nowadays, a Christian faith seems to be anathema to great majority of the voting public.

Holding an opinion in areas of sexuality and morality that most Canadians held not that long ago now earns one the accusation of, "hater."

Now the reality of "assisted dying" is with us. I will not deign to judge the pain or agony, physical or emotional, of one who feels this to be the only option, but what I do fear is the retraction of the right of conscience for physicians who feel they cannot participate. Watch for it.

Just as I'm sure as I can be that that same right of conscience will disappear for any religious leaders who feel  they must take a stand on the position of marriage. Watch for this too. That right of conscience, seemingly guaranteed in our constitution, is already being erased in the area of gender identity.

But here, with tongue somewhat in cheek, is what illustrates my thoughts on the forces that may have brought about his upheaval so quickly:



I post this, really, only as a bit of a joke; to give you this rather amusing (in my opinion) illustration that may or may not be far off the truth.

In truth, I feel I must not dwell so much on what is happening in worldly society and concentrate on whatever small role I might play in contributing to God's Kingdom work while I am still here on earth.

So... #tryalpha

Blessings,

John

Monday, 10 October 2016

A PC Presentation

No, it's not PC as in, "politically correct." Rather, it refers to the Presbyterian Church.

I was invited to give a presentation on Alpha to members of the Edmonton-Lakeland Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Canada (PCC),at Callingwood Road Presbyterian Church in Edmonton.

It was a 3-hour presentation, plus lunch, so it went from 10 to 2.

I included a section explaining what Alpha is, why it's particularly effective for evangelizing in today's culture, and a session (see pic) on Alpha's model of prayer ministry.

I must admit that I may be overly sensitive in one particular area of Alpha, and that is the subject of being filled with the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of tongues; especially among mainline denominations.

In fact, whether in my own Alpha small groups or speaking with some pastors who may not, or whose denominations may not, agree with Alpha's position on speaking in tongues, I always give them an, "out," so to speak. I tell them that this is an area in which not all Christians agree, are free not to, and that if they are uncomfortable with it, just let it go. I do say not to leave it out, because trying to avoid speaking about the gift of tongues is like not telling your kids about the facts of life and hoping they won't hear about them anywhere else.

So I gave that little disclaimer before my talk, I showed a short video by Alpha Canada's own Jason Ballard on prayer training, then ran the entire episode form the Alpha's Youth Film Series on being filled with the Holy Spirit, including receiving the gift of tongues. I was a bit surprised when, at the end of it, one guest asked, "What could possibly be controversial about that?"

We closed out the session by following Alpha's model of inviting the Holy Spirit to come, then finally praying for one another in groups of three or four at our tables.

I'm afraid I haven't yet been in touch with my host for the day,  Pastor Rodger McEachern for feedback on the day, because the very next day I was off to Loon Lake BC for the Alpha Canada staff retreat. 

That will be the subject of another post.

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The World Should Be Astonished

I was at an event the other night when the teaching was on Acts 3 - 4; the healing of the lame man at the temple gate. This verse stuck out to me.
 


 
 
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.(Acts 4:13)
 
 
This should be true today about Christians. People should be astonished at the effect Jesus has on our lives.
 
Jesus also said:
...you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
What I find interesting is that where Jesus' Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16 - 20) is a command - "Go!", his statement from Acts, above, is merely a statement of reality: "You will be my 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?
The world out there is watching.
The world is waiting to hear.
How do we reach them?

Tryalpha.ca

Blessings,

John

 


Monday, 5 September 2016

Allow Me to Rant

"...wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie..." (2 Thessalonians 2: 10b - 11)
I believe a great delusion has fallen on our culture, and it has happened so quickly that it can only be supernatural in nature. What used to be known as good is now called evil.  Mere disagreement is now called hate. "Tolerance" once correctly defined as allowing others, and respecting the rights of others, to believe differently, has come to mean absolute acceptance of all thoughts and behaviours as completely valid. The only thing now considered wrong is disagreement with those who think that all things are acceptable.

And it has happened with amazing rapidity - within a few years even.

At the same time, a veil seems to have fallen over people's eyes to prevent them from seeing the truth. Facebook is filled with people posting warm and fuzzy quotes; quotes that in the end are nothing but words on a screen. They may make some feel better or encouraged for a short time, but beyond that, what good do they do? No sooner has one read or posted one inspirational saying than another one appears. It seems to me they are like a drug. One is never enough

Why do people not see the one thing that will really help - a genuine relationship with God - the God who is as real as the keyboard upon which they type.

Even the world of Alpha has changed. Years ago it was not unusual to see large Alpha's of 60, 100 people or more. These can still be found, but more and more we are seeing Alpha run in small home groups or in coffee shops or in pubs, of 5, 10, or 20 guests. Perhaps we are returning to the model of the early church where small groups of believers met in homes or catacombs, hiding from those who held the power and would silence them but who, over the course of two or three centuries, changed the world.

But whether in large groups or small, Alpha introduces people seeking the truth to the one who is the Truth; the One who changes lives and changes them for the better; the Saviour of the world and the Saviour of the individual - Jesus.

Knowing God - there is nothing better. #TryAlpha

Blessings,

John

Monday, 29 August 2016

Smoky Lake Saturday Night


Okay, so I know it sounds like the title of a honkytonk country song, and you may wonder what these old high school yearbook pictures have to do with anything, but I'll get to that.

I was invited to speak on Sunday at First Baptist Church in Smoky Lake Alberta. I have posted before on this church, and we did indeed meet in their new facility, even though it is still a work in progress and there was no heat. It was a bit cool but that did not dampen the worship within.

Smoky Lake Baptist has been a strong Alpha church for many years, ever since a couple of key Alpha people arrived there from Fort McMurray - Ross and Val Whitelaw.

My message was the text of a breakout I hope to present at next year's Break Forth; "Communicating the Relevance of the Gospel in a Changing Culture." The talk went well and was well received. The only glitch was the uni-directional mic I used. As I turned my head to various sides of the room the sound would become louder or softer. Eva said it reminded her of the scene from, "Singing in the Rain"  where they were first experimenting with sound movies. (Check it out from about the 1:40 mark)

But... now the pictures. We have known Ross and Val for several years; ever since I first started with Alpha Canada, but this time Eva and I were staying at their home over night, so there was more time for conversation. Saturday evening we got to talking about our respective pasts. It turned out that Val grew up very near where I did, in southern Ontario, and even went to the same high school - Salfleet High in Stoney Creek. Even more coincidentally, we were there at the same time - she in grade 10 while I was in grade 9. Hence these pictures. Val dug out an old yearbook (the year was 1959) and there we were. Val is in the top picture; 10a, fourth girl from the left in the second row, in the dark outfit. I'm in the bottom picture, 9b, on the right end of the first row.

As an added bonus, there was even a picture of my dad, who taught there at the time. (One thing I notice is that his handwriting was a lot neater than mine is.)

We were all amazed, and still are I dare say, at this amazing crossing of paths.

I suppose I could just as easily have called this post, "A Blast From the Past."

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Timely Visits

This was my trip today; from home to Morinville, to Gibbons, to Fort Saskatchewan and back to home again. I know the map says an hour and forty five minutes but it actually took me longer than that because, you see, I stopped at a few churches on the way.

My day started when I arrived on the dot of ten, their opening time, at The Father's House in Morinville. Whenever I walk through a church door and people don't know who I am, I have a sense they might feel like I might upon seeing some kind of salesperson approaching my own front door. Not exactly a trusting look - somewhat skeptical perhaps. I don't want to single out The Father's House because it happens many times. In any case, I was greeted cordially, and introduced myself as being with Alpha Canada.

Genuine smiles broke out instantly. "This is a very timely visit," said the Associate Pastor who greeted me. He went on to say they were just discussing what to do with some of their small groups this fall, and Alpha fit the bill perfectly. Father's House has three, "campuses," he told me so they might run multiple Alphas. He was especially happy to hear that all our resources are free, "Available," I like to say, "for the low, low, cost of nothing."

From there it was on to Gibbons, where Sturgeon Alliance has been a pretty steady Alpha church. Once again, they were glad to see me. Once again they used the same term, "What a timely visit!" They were planning their fall, were aware of the upcoming Global Alpha Campaign with Bear Grylls and hope to run both it and the Youth Film Series.

On then to Fort Saskatchewan, visiting three churches there, including dropping information off at the Catholic Parish, Our Lady of the Angels. The receptionist knew about Alpha and said she would leave the information for Father. I was surprised, when I got home and went to enter a record of my daily calls, to see that they actually ran a Youth Film Series earlier this year.

My final stop was at Community Baptist Church, the energizer bunny of Alpha churches in Fort Saskatchewan - they just keep running and running and running... Here is a picture.
 
There was no one there, so I just left my card in the door, but look above their sign and the shrub that's behind it. It's an old Alpha sign. I'm not sure how old, but if Alpha ever opens a museum, I'm sure it could find a place there.
 
Alpha HQ might shake their heads, but there's something I love about these small town and rural churches. That banner has been up there for years and, "Why change it...?" They're just so faithful in serving their communities, and if something ain't broke, why fix it? In any case, I will have to talk to them about an upgrade.
 
So there you go. Another fun day in Alberta.
 
Blessings,
 
John



Monday, 15 August 2016

Misssionary du Jour

I posted this picture on my facebook page yesterday, along with this commentary;
With Sam Nikkel and Eva (who took the pic) at McKernan Baptist at 'Meet our Missionary.' Yes I am counted as one of their missionaries and today I was, 'Missionary du Jour. '
McKernan has a wonderful brand new facility, in an established neighbourhood in Edmonton, and I think many might attribute at least some of their growth to their relationship with Alpha for over a decade. Sam has been a long-time Alpha enthusiast and supporter.

Thanks Sam and McKernan. I really value our relationship.

Blessings,

John

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Outta The Blue (From Time to Time)

From time to time I get discouraged. Doesn't everybody - from time to time that is?

Often I get frustrated at how many people don't return my calls or respond to my e-mails. Sometimes I think it might be better not to try to make appointments, but just to drop in unexpectedly. I've actually had success using this tactic, and one of my favourite things to do is to go to a particular community and just walk in through church doors. In 5 years I've only had one what I would consider negative response. I even forget where, exactly, but it was a rather fundamentalist church who wanted nothing to do with Alpha because Catholics used it too. I resisted the temptation to come back with the snappy rejoinder, "Catholics also use the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation. Do you reject it as well?"

But I digress. A couple of weeks ago I telephoned a church in Edmonton hoping to speak with the Pastor. He was on holidays; could I call back the following week? No problem. I called back the next Tuesday, thinking I would give him his Monday to get back into the swing of things. He was in a meeting; would I like to leave a voicemail? So I did. No reply. So I emailed a friendly message saying I hoped we could get together. No reply. I was feeling quite rejected.

Yesterday another pastor, Senior Pastor of a pretty large church called me. I asked how things were going with him. He shared how it might be a sign of summer, but he was getting frustrated at how people didn't return his calls and emails. I said, "And here I thought I was the only one with that problem." It didn't necessarily make me feel any better, but at least I was not alone in my misery.

This morning I got a call from the church mentioned two paragraphs above. Not from the pastor, but from someone else on staff who had no idea I had been trying to reach them, but asking for help and advice on running Alpha this fall. Coincidence, eh? We spoke for a while, and I made an appointment to visit the Pastor next week. Mission accomplished in a roundabout way.

God seems to do this  - from time to time - come up with little ways to encourage us in our times of frustration or discouragement.

Outta the blue.

Blessings,

John

Thursday, 4 August 2016

What's Going On?

"What's going on?" you ask (as also did Marvin Gaye). "What's coming up? What's in the works?"
Well I thought it was time I wrote another post, so let me tell you about a couple of things.

I've been working on a few things. A couple of churches have been really encouraging to me. Yesterday I met with St Albert Alliance. They are planning a pretty major fall Alpha campaign, as a church as a whole, in small groups and in Seniors' homes.

South Calgary Chinese Evangelical Free Church (SCCEFC - Chinese Churches seem to like initials; see Westside Calgary Chinese Alliance Church [WCCAC], SEAC [South Edmonton Alliance Church], ECCC [Edmonton Christian Community Church] etc., but enough of that - they are all good Alpha churches) are planning 2 Alpha's this fall.

Christcity, my favourite Sunday evening church, (I tell people I'm an Anglican Sunday mornings and a Pentecostal Sunday nights) is planning to give Alpha a higher profile this fall. I've been after them for quite a while about that because they are quite a rockin' church and I have long felt they could be a very major Alpha church.

And I've reserved a spot at Break Forth for next year, along with a breakout session.  My session will be entitled, "Communicating the Relevance of the Gospel in a Changing Culture," (I hope the title will fit in the program.) My description for the program is:
 this
 "Evangelicalism has never chased relevance more determinedly than it does right now. And yet, we've never been more irrelevant." (a quote from Os Guiness)
As soon as we feel we have to try to make the Gospel message relevant, we are admitting that we think it is not, so how do we communicate the eternally relevant message in today's world?
 Hopefully, it will receive the same response at the conference as last year's presentation.
Please continue to pray for Alpha's ministry in Alberta, across Canada and around the world. As we are embarking on a fall fundraising initiative, you might also consider clicking on my picture on the right and helping us out a bit.

Blessings,

John


Thursday, 21 July 2016

Driving in Peace

Image result for dunvegan alberta
Canola to infinity
My title for this post is a bit of a play on words. A recent road trip took me to the city of Grande Prairie and from there to the  town of Peace River. That whole area of Northwest Alberta is known as the Peace Country, after the mighty Peace River. As a matter of fact, an annual Youth gathering there has one of the coolest titles I've heard; Disturbing the Peace, to be held later this year at Grande Prairie Alliance, a really good Alpha church.

The first picture above is where the Highway 2 crosses the river at Dunvegan. The second picture is of some of the bright yellow fields of canola one sees along both sides of the highway. I love travelling this Province.

In Peace River I had some interesting and encouraging calls. My first appointment was with Pastor Nathan Friedt at First Baptist, a church who has been taking the lead in that community, Alpha-wise. Nathan is a former Youth Pastor who left for Vancouver Island for a time, then was called back to be their Senior Pastor. They must have liked him, and I don't blame him. We had a very encouraging visit and brief time of prayer.

My next call was a cold call on the Catholic Church, appropriately named, "Our Lady of Peace." Fr. Cyril Joseph and I had a good conversation about Alpha and the possibility of his parish using it in conjunction with their RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults).

Finally I dropped in to the offices of the Anglican Diocese of Athabasca. Bishop Fraser Lawton (with whom I get along pretty well, as we are both, "car guys") and his Administrator, Danielle, had just returned from the Anglican Church of Canada national synod in Toronto, at which a motion  was passed which will ultimately lead to the approval same sex marriage in that denomination. Bp Fraser was among those standing against this motion, and in addition to the usual jet lag, I suspect was emotionally weary as well, so I didn't stay long - just long enough to say I was thinking and praying for them.

An interesting "coincidence" took place before all this on our way from St Albert to Grande Prairie. We stopped at McDonald's in Whitecourt. I was just leaving the till when I heard someone call my name. I turned around and it took me a couple of seconds to recognize Fariborz Khandani, a former Muslim from Iran who came to Christian faith and is now Rector of Christ Church Anglican Church in Grande Prairie, also in Bp Fraser's Diocese of Athabasca. He was travelling in the opposite direction, to Edmonton. We had a good time of discussion over Big Macs and a short time of prayer right there in McDonald's. I'm hoping his church will be one to run Alpha in the fall. For various reasons, which I'll not get into here, I believe it was not a coincidence that we met, but divinely ordained.

But you never know who you'll run into. It's a small world when you're a Christian. Family is everywhere.

Blessings,

John