Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Communicating the Relevance of the Gospel in a Changing Culture (II)

Here is where I think we stand today.
After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10)

We are reaching out to a new generation. I think we can look back at three stages.

1.    We’ve been through a generation where, for many, the default was to go to church every Sunday.

2.    We’ve been in a generation where many of those, and their children, have left church but still claimed to be "spiritual but not religious."

3.    And we’re entering a time when many now don’t even claim that! Don't even seem to think it matters.

Our culture no longer even has what Tim Keller calls a, “ghost memory” of Christianity – where people perhaps attended church or Sunday School as kids then drifted away. We are in a generation where many of the people we want to reach have no Christian memory and therefore absolutely no Christian knowledge or awareness.

Yet, because our culture was built, generations ago, on Christian values and a Christian worldview, we are still living with a Christian residue, so to speak. It is like the air around us, or water to a fish. We breathe it, taking it for granted, without really giving it much thought. We are still breathing Christian air, even if we may be living in an ex-Christian society. People are enjoying the benefits that Christianity brought us with no awareness that it was Christianity that gave them to us.

People will say, “I’m a good person,” remembering somehow that it’s important to be good, but not remembering what it means to be good; the definition of good, or where the standard for good came from. Christianity gave us the concept of the dignity of every human being. It is the basis of the idea of human rights. But that concept has been perverted; it has been applied to selfish ends. The concept has been turned inward – so that it has become about my rights… and those I think are right – and those who agree with me. We’re seeing this especially in the area of sexuality. “I have rights but if you disagree with me, you don’t.”

Bruce Jenner, a former Olympic male athlete “became” Kaitlyn and was hailed as “courageous.” But anyone who expressed misgivings about this story was instantly demonized. If any Christian questioned it they were not only dismissed as deluded but derided as intolerant. Frankly, it takes more courage to disagree with the current sexual agenda than to be part of it. Try expressing publicly that Jesus is the only way to the Father and see the reaction you get.
(to be continued...)

Monday, 30 January 2017

Communicating the Relevance of the Gospel in a Changing Culture (I)

I promised (threatened?) to post my Break Forth presentation in a serialized form here on my blog, in the hope, mistakenly or otherwise, that some might like to see it, so here is the first 'chapter,' so to speak. My presentation was developed using some of Alpha's own material and adding my own thoughts and those of others in the Christian sphere. I must say that when I make such a presentation, I don't merely put it in point form, but write it out fully, pretty much as I give it verbally. That's just the way I do things. Hope you enjoy it.

My presentation, more or less as I gave it:
You can see my name on the screen. The reason I put it there is not because I like to see my name in lights, so to speak, but so that when I introduce myself as John Kivell, people don’t think I’m the guy from the dog food. (My wife hates it when I say that)

I should also tell you that even though the title of my presentation doesn’t mention Alpha, this is pretty much going to be a commercial for Alpha, because I truly believe that Alpha is the perfect tool for communicating the Gospel in today’s culture. And in keeping with the subject of staying relevant, this talk will be made available on your choice of audio cassette orVHS tape.

Os Guinness says: “Evangelicalism has never chased relevance more determinedly than it does now. And yet, we've never been more irrelevant.” The only thing that is always relevant is the Gospel itself.”

Notice I didn’t say, “making the gospel relevant…” The Gospel is relevant. So the question is, how do we communicate this relevance; the already existing relevance, in today’s world. As soon as you feel you have to try to make the Gospel message relevant, you are admitting that you think it is not.
I'm not attacking true relevance. Just saying that in our attempts to be relevant we mustn’t inadvertently (or advertently, if that’s a word; let's say deliberately) change or soften the truth of God’s word. That happens all too often and it’s not necessary. What I mean is communicating this eternally relevant message effectively in a changing culture. Trying to be relevant to the culture can mean we think we have to change the gospel, or omit or soften parts of it, to appeal to people at a particular point in time. Being relevant is not being trendy. C.S. Lewis said if you change the gospel it to suit the current generation it’ll be meaningless to the next.

Apparently now there is a move among a lot of young people toward history, liturgy, and richness again. They're going back to the early church fathers and the Scriptures. They want the Cross and worship. The people who cut out all that stuff in the name of relevance have suddenly found themselves becoming irrelevant.

So, again, the challenge is how to communicate eternally relevant information in various or changing contexts. How can we hold people’s attention  in this culture – I think we have to hold it longer - long enough for them to hear the saving message of Jesus Christ; long enough for it to break through the barriers that more and more are being erected and through to understanding. Times and attitudes have changed. Ways that grabbed people’s attention in the past perhaps no longer work.

Deep down people have the same needs, but seem to give less and less time to anyone attempting to address those needs. They have less and less patience – give less and less credibility – to anyone who tries to tell them they have the answers they need.

That’s why I love what I do. I love Alpha, and that’s why this message will emphasize why I think the Alpha model works for evangelizing today. It’s not the only way, but certainly one of the best.
(to be continued...)

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Break Forth 2017

My presentation for Break Forth this year was entitled, "Communicating the Relevance of the Gospel in a Changing Culture." Yes, it's a long title but I figured if I used a long title I could shorten my actual presentation.😉 And of course it was completely a commercial for Alpha, mainly because much of the way we need to evangelize in our current generation, in my opinion, fits exactly with the Alpha DNA.

The room was pretty much full, so I'm guessing there were a hundred to a hundred and fifty there. A couple of technical difficulties didn't succeed in derailing things. I had no sound to start with, so a techie came in and solved that issue, and halfway through, the projector quit working, again solved by a resident techie.

The presentation went fairly well otherwise, and seemed to be well received. The Q&A time gave me an opportunity to address some of the questions of the audience and a few people came up afterward to thank and converse.

Afterward, as I roamed the halls and the exhibits, I met some of my friends from church who were also at BreakForth. They asked me if I was nervous before I did the seminar. My standard answer to this question is, "Yes. If I'm not nervous before I 'go on' it makes me nervous."

I think I will post my presentation here on my blog, in pieces, so you can see for yourself what I said.

Stay tuned.



Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Nothing is Impossible With God

Some things are impossible without Him.

Acts 12:5 - "...Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him."

Luke records it so matter-of-factly, yet through those prayers God supernaturally brought Peter out of a seemingly inescapable place.

If you don't have time to watch this entire video, at least check out, at about the 30 minute mark, news of church plants from Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB). One plant grew from 50 to over 1000. Another, in 28 months, grew from 11 people to over 550, and are now about to plant their own first church.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Prov 3:5-6)
 We must seek the full counsel of God, through fervent prayer, not just lukewarm prayer added as an afterthought to our own understanding. And as St Paul says to the church in Thessalonica,
...pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances... (1 Thes 5:17-18a)
Don't stop praying, but remember to give thanks in any circumstance, for what God will do. His will is good and pleasing and perfect, whether we see it as such at any particular time or not.



Monday, 23 January 2017

Just Some Interesting Things on a Monday Morning

No particular order, no particular agenda. We have a conference call every Monday morning with all the Regional Directors across Canada, along with some Alpha HQ staff. So - a couple of interesting items from this morning.

One RD spoke of a church young adults' group where a number of non-believers are regular members. The leader asked one of them, a particular, "argumentative atheist," as the fellow himself termed himself, "Why do you keep coming out to our group?" His Answer? "I can't believe how people so awesome could believe something so stupid." It's all in the relationship. Just keep working, Holy Spirit.

Another story was of a church in a small rural village, population 750. They have been running two Alpha's a year for three or four years. At their latest Alpha introductory supper they had 50 people. Fifty guest after running two Alpha's a year for three or four years?! In a rural village with a population of 750?! Asked about it, the coordinator said, "We have a population of 750 and we're not stopping until we have led each one of them to Christ." Praise God!

I had lunch today with  my friend Jeff who left a major Edmonton church a year ago to seek the Lord's will for his life. Reluctantly, he felt he was led to plant a church here in town. Almost exactly a year ago they started with 5 people. Last Sunday, they moved into a new space in the old Provincial Museum with 120.

Such an encouraging morning! God is on the move! His glory train is rolling. Climb aboard.

If you already are, help somebody else on. Invite them to an Alpha.



Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Grande Prairie

Max Rossiter
A dear Alpha coach passed away New Year's Eve in Grande Prairie. I may post further about him, pending permission from Joyce, his wife. His memorial service was held on Friday Jan 13 at Grande Prairie's Christian Fellowship Assembly (CFA). I was determined to attend, but to make it otherwise worthwhile, I fired off a number of emails to arrange meetings with other churches in town. There was no rental vehicle available until Thursday morning, so I arranged to pick it up by 7:30 that AM. My daughter and her husband and family had been down to our home for New Year's, and on the way back had hit a deer with their truck, so, knowing I would be travelling back at dusk on Friday, I decided to take the full protection package for this trip. Normally I don't, but for an extra 9 dollars a day I thought it was worth the extra insurance.

A number of Grande Prairie churches are participating in Alpha's Global Advertising Campaign (GAC), so there are about 10 Alphas running or about to start. My first appointment was with Fariborz Khandani of Christ Church Anglican. It was a lunch meeting and I actually beat him to the restaurant after my 4-hour-and-change trip. Following that meeting, I met with Pastor Peter Ma of McLaurin Baptist, where my co-father-in-law (son-in-law's dad) is actually hosting a table in their Alpha. Then I visited the Salvation Army, who are going to run an Alpha at their drop-in centre.
Friday morning I met for breakfast at Denny's with Wes Dong and Senior Pastor Anthony Bulmer of Grande Prairie Alliance. It was a great time spending time away from their usual environment with leaders of one of my key Alberta churches. Wes is the one who basically organized the GAC for the city, and he did quite a lot of work, including bringing on at least one church I had been pursuing since my first visit there, and one course running for students at Grande Prairie Regional College. Thanks Wes.

My last visit Friday morning was to the Chancery of the Catholic Archdiocese of Grouard-Mclennan, just to keep in touch and let them know I haven't forgotten them, and to ensure they have not forgotten me. My hope is that we might be able to arrange some kind of Diocesan-wide training event. If so, I'd invite Alpha Canada's National Catholic Coordinator, Josh Canning, out to participate. I'd appreciate prayer to see that happen, should it be the Lord's will.

Max's memorial service had a number of references to Alpha, the difference it made in his life, and his devotion to it as an evangelistic tool. He had been the Alpha coordinator at CFA for many years. Max was one of the most colourful characters one could ever meet. On his facebook page he attributed his education to, "Kingston Pen." After he was saved, he couldn't stop talking about Jesus. Now he's talking to him. And Jesus is probably smiling.

Peace, Max


BTW, no deer.
BTW.2 On the way to GP I passed at least half a dozen large, wide load trucks with pilot trucks, carrying oil patch offices or machinery heading north. I'm guessing they would have been heading either to the Grande Prairie or Peace River areas. I hope that's a good sign.

My Morning Routine,You Ask

Well, you may not have, but I'm going to tell you anyway. I have taken to beginning my mornings with the same routine every day, at least my work routine, not counting shower and breakfast.

What I do is this; when I first sit down at my computer, I open up Alpha Canada's database and pull up the report on Alpha courses registered in Alberta for 2017. If there are more than there were the previous day, (and this time of year, the beginning of a new Alpha term there usually are), I export them to Excel, organize them, remove any that don't really count (eg. some marked, 'test', and any mistakenly registered - so far, one in Long Beach CA, one in England and one in Chicago. How they got registered in Alberta, I have no idea!) and start scrolling down the list.

As of this morning, halfway through January, there are 119 courses registered in the Province, from Fort McMurray to Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie to Banff; big cities and small villages all in between.

The records show the city, the organizing church and the administrator's name. As I scroll, I pray a short prayer for each one. My prayers are prayers of thanks, for a course in a church I have called on and given my, 'spiel,' thankful to see them going ahead. Some prayers are prayers of blessing, that God would bless that particular Alpha, empower their team and bring many guests from their community. I have been doing this every day and it is a real blessing, to me, covering basically the whole Province with prayer in this way.

All in all, I find this a very encouraging way to start my morning. That's about the first half-hour. I'll not bore you at this time with the remaining seven and a half.


Friday, 6 January 2017

2016 Year End Wrap Up

As 2016 winds down, I’m happy to report that God’s blessing of the ministry of Alpha in Alberta has been more than I could possibly ask or imagine. 2016 was a pretty good year, as far as Alpha in Alberta was concerned. Many Alpha's (close to 700 or more at last count) ran throughout the Province, and from my conversations with various church leaders and Alpha administrators, many went very well. From the large (200 or more guests) to the small (two or fewer guests) I always find that every Alpha impacts someone's life in a positive way. Every Alpha makes a difference in someone's life.

I meet with churches, large and small, in every corner of Alberta, and at any given moment, as I'm meeting with a Pastor, their community is foremost in their mind as we meet. The concern is how to reach out to the citizens of that town or village or city, and more often than not, if they are running an Alpha, or have run one, the feedback is good; stories of the lost found, families reconciled, people returning to church after having walked away in youth.

I say there were, “around 700” because I know that there are Alphas running that haven't been registered. This is because we at Alpha make all our teaching and training materials available free of charge to any church or organization who wants them. Numbers are nice (for bragging purposes?), but the important thing is that the Gospel is being preached and people introduced to Jesus. Whether we know about them or not, God does. We may not see the results until we are in heaven. Bottom line, though, I believe those who support Alpha in Alberta are accomplishing even more than we can measure.

Just in the last week or so of the year I received amazing news about what is happening or about to happen, in various High Schools in, mainly but not limited to, Calgary and Edmonton, both in Catholic and public schools. Support is beginning to come from some high up places. At one recent Catholic High School Alpha, the percentage of students who said they had a personal relationship with Christ, or wanted one, rose from 24% at the beginning of the course to 67% by the end. Aslan is on the move. Please pray for continued good news in this area.

Just this week it was made official that the City of Grande Prairie is participating in the Bear Grylls Global Advertising Campaign, with city-wide advertising and Alpha’s being run in 8 locations throughout the city beginning in January. Especially heartening to me are a couple of things; one, that one of the churches I have been, “pursuing” for a long time, is running it for the first time. Secondly I was delighted to see an Alpha planned for GPRC (Grande Prairie Regional College) for college and university age students. Grande Prairie has been hit hard by the downturn in Alberta’s oilfield, so thanks be to God and to Wes Dong of Grande Prairie Alliance for this. Please pray for success beyond measure for each of these Alphas in GP.

Once again, my sincere thanks for all the support I've received this year.
If you feel called to support Alpha in Alberta financially, please click on the link to the right.
My own prayer is that I prove worthy of the confidence you have displayed in this ministry by your financial and prayer support and your personal encouragement to me.

May I wish you all the best to you and yours in the New Year.


In Christ,