Thursday, 23 February 2017

New Alpha Youth Series

The Alpha Youth Film Series has enjoyed tremendous success since it's introduction in 2013. Originally made in Canada, by Alpha Canada, for Canada, the Series has now been seen in 49 Countries and made available in 19 languages. Thousands of young people have found  relationships with God and a faith in Jesus Christ through this resource. It has been used extensively in both youth groups, where Christian young people invite their friends to hear about Jesus in a non-threatening way, and in schools, where Christian kids have approached school staff to offer this program that has been so helpful to them personally.

Because anything to do with youth becomes ancient after three years, we are working on another one. Both these videos look the same here, but in fact are two different videos. Watch them both.

Here is the first behind-the-scenes look at the new production.

Please pray for all involved in this new production as well as all those who will be reached by it, that God would anoint this resource to yield much fruit and bring many into His kingdom.

I will keep you up to date as further materials become available.



Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Calgary Etc.

I made a two-day run to Calgary last week. I've mentioned before, but I'll say again that I love Jesus, I love Alpha and I love driving, so I have the perfect job. I'm now known on a first-name basis at my local Enterprise Car Rental office. If I travel any more than about a 250 km round trip I rent a car, because it costs Alpha Canada less to pay for the car and gas than to reimburse me for mileage. (I say 'mileage' partly because I am of an age where I'm still partly mired in the imperial system of measurement and partly because the term rolls off the tongue, or the keyboard, more smoothly than, 'kilometerage.')

I have a TomTom GPS that I take with me, and when I dial in my destination, it tells me what time I should arrive there (by driving at the posted speed limits no doubt.). I like to see how much more quickly I can make it, so as I drive only enough above the limit not to lose my eternal salvation, I watch the ETA go backward minute by minute. On a trip to Calgary I can make it go back by about 15 or 20 minutes over the 3-hour trip.

In any case, my first stop on Wednesday was at the Bowridge campus of RockPointe Church. This is not their main campus, but what was formerly the Danish Canadian Club. It has a beautiful view from the back of the church building over the spreading Bow River valley. I was there to pick up Alpha's big red question mark which I had previously left with Youth Pastor Brent Sellers for a conference he held a while ago. While there he filled me in on how Alpha is running in a number of junior high and high schools in the area, all with his help, but ultimately at the initiation of students at those schools. I am so encouraged by what I see happening with Alpha in schools. It really reveals and develops leadership qualities in students who have hearts to see their friends learn about Jesus.

From RockPointe it was off to SCCEFC. They have to use initials because, apparently, "South Calgary Chinese Evangelical Free Church" is too long to fit on their sign and probably their letterhead. Pastor UK (Kenny) Wong of their Cantonese congregation and his wife act as coaches for Chinese churches in the Calgary area. Meeting with Pastor Kenny and the Youth Pastor, Adriel Lui was very encouraging. Adriel has been in touch with the above mentioned Brent Sellers regarding running Alpha in schools. In all, SCCEFC are running or planning to run about a half dozen Alphas, including one for women, one for students and courses in Mandarin, Cantonese and English.

Supper was at my brother and his wife's new condo. They just moved in the last month from our ancestral territory in Southern Ontario and are now Calgarians, along with their three adult kids who had already moved here over the years.

Breakfast Thursday morning was with Ron Wain of Knexions Church, (formerly Midpark Christian Assembly.) I will spare you the details of how my alarm didn't go off and how my TomTom mislead me, to say I did arrive at the agreed-upon restaurant just slightly before my guest. Another fruitful and encouraging discussion. Knexions is rebuilding their numbers using Alpha in home groups and promoting an invitational culture among their members.

Next stop was Foothills Alliance to see Jerry Orthner. Always a blessing. Jerry is so committed to Alpha and Foothills always does such a good job. My records show five Alpha's currently running at or through Foothills, including Marriage courses and one at the University of Calgary.

Finally, before the long ride home, was a meeting at Centre Street Church, one of Canada's largest, with a weekend attendance, I've heard, of about 9000 people. Alpha Coordinator Reneyah is one of the most organized coordinators I've ever met, even adapting Alpha's own invitational materials to their own local context, and keeping progress records and survey results for each of her guests.

Paired with my trip the week before to Red Deer, I've had a very encouraging and rewarding couple of weeks. I know I'm writing this a bit after the fact, and right now, as I write, I'm waiting for the arrival of John Kreklo, Alpha's National Alpha for Prisons Director who is visiting prisons and associated ministries in the Edmonton area, and staying overnight in our home, along with his pastor from BC.

Later tonight, we are going to attend the introductory session of Alpha in the West Edmonton Mall Chapel, presented by West Edmonton Christian Assembly (WECA). I'll be participating in this course as a table helper, so I look forward to taking a little lower profile for a change. Myrna, Course Administrator, tells me they have close to 70 guests registered so far, for a facility that might comfortably hold 40, so I look forward to seeing how God decides everything will work out.



Monday, 13 February 2017

We Have Been Given a Job

The Church has a job. One job above all others.

It is a job given to us by our founder, our head, Jesus Christ. He said:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18a-20)
Jesus did not say, "Attract disciples from other churches." He said, "Make disciples..." so how are we doing?

I was reminded today of a church in a city in my province. It is a fairly large church. It is a church that has run Alpha in the past, but not at present. As I say, they have run Alpha but when I spoke to the pastor, I heard that they have trouble getting their people to invite, so now they are running a program purely for their own congregants.

I was talking to another pastor, who knew of this church, and said of them, "They tend to grow when other churches close." That statement was like a flash of light to me. It was a "Wow" moment. It was an insight that I realized is a problem I have seen in other places.

Church organizations do not exist primarily to receive believers from other places. Yes, it's nice to welcome people who may be new to the area, or Christians escaping from churches in denominations that have left the path of truth. But that is not our prime purpose. Our purpose is to make disciples. It is to guide those who have not surrendered their lives to Christ into a relationship with him and help them grow in that relationship.

So, how are we doing? How is your church at welcoming not-yet-believers who may come through our doors? Are we making them feel welcome? Are they making friends among us?  Even more important, most important in my opinion, are we the kind of church that an unchurched, non-Christian coming through our doors for the first time, want to come back to. Are they leaving their first service with us thinking, "I want to come back here."?

And if not, are we willing to change, not our message or doctrine, but our style - the way we present it, for their sake.



Thursday, 9 February 2017

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

We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

 As I said previously, it’s a process… Becoming mature in Christ takes a lifetime. Be patient. Who of us solved all our issues the moment we came to faith? None of us. Sanctification, becoming more Christ-like, is a life-long process. The time has passed when we as Christians could enforce our way of living on those who don’t share our faith. We shouldn’t be surprised if people who have no Christian background don’t see the point in living the way we do, or the way we think they should. We introduce them to Jesus – let Jesus change the heart. 

Finally, a word of encouragement to us: In the very next verse following the above, Paul says:
“To this end I labour, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29) 
We labour, but it is His energy, powerfully working in us. Christ’s great commission is both a joy and a challenge. It can be hard work. We can sometimes think it a burden, but it can be a joyous burden. We can’t do any of this on our own…but by God’s grace, He invites us to partner with Him. 

I want to close with two things Jesus said:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19)

That’s a command. Go! Make disciples! Jesus did not say to go and make converts, but conversion obviously has to come before discipleship. Alpha is a fantastic and proven way to guide people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It’s also somewhat helpful as a discipleship tool as well, but for the most part, discipleship is a continuing process that will take place within the context of the local church and again, is part of an ongoing relationship.

So, “GO!” Follow Jesus' command. Make relationships, and out of them, make disciples.

But he also said,
“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
 That’s not a command but a statement of fact. Jesus is not telling us to be his witnesses; he’s saying we will be. We will be his 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? 

If we do nothing we are still witnesses – we are saying our message is not that important. 

The world out there is watching.  

There is a world out there waiting to hear. 

So how do we reach them?

Thanks & Blessings,


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

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

Our Attitude:
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5)
We are to have the same attitude as Christ – and what was that? An attitude of love and compassion; non-judgemental to those he came to save (he came not to condemn the world but to save the world) It's interesting that Jesus didn't express anger to sinners, repentant or not (the rich young ruler), nor to the Roman occupiers or their representatives (centurions), but only to the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders. 

The expression, “Love the sinner hate the sin” doesn’t resonate any more outside our own Christian community. The world almost exclusively, and almost automatically, assumes that if you criticize the sin, you hate the sinner, so the expression almost has become a, “Christianese” expression.

That’s why we first develop the relationship. It gives us permission to speak about spiritual things. It’s not our place to immediately judge the lifestyles of the unbelievers we want to lead to Christ. Yes, we are to speak the truth, but speak it in love, speak it from a place of love, and speak it at the proper time. 

In John 16 Jesus talks of the work of the Holy Spirit.   He said, “…when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me…”

Note my emphasis. He didn’t list any number of particular sins; he didn’t list the commandments; he just spoke of the sin of not believing in him. The greatest sin, the only sin that will result in permanent residence in hell, is not an act or a behaviour… it is non-belief. Every other sin, no matter how egregious, is irrelevant if there is no belief, but with belief in Jesus, any of these other sins can be forgiven. So the whole point of evangelism is not primarily to change our guests’ lifestyles or behaviours but to have them come to a place of belief in Jesus Christ.

More and more, lifestyles and behaviours that were considered wrong in the past are now considered no big deal. If we begin by attacking them as sinful, we’ll lose people before we even start. We’ll not get a second chance.
I once belonged to a weekday evening Bible study. There were a number of men who met regularly. One evening a visitor dropped in. He was new to town and just happened to see there was a Bible study going on so he came. He was a young man with a large tattoo on his arm. One of our regulars looked at him and said, "You know what the Bible says about tattoos, don't you?
We never saw him again.
Carey Nieuwhof says that if we’ve never thought through what it might be like for someone with little to no church background, with a different moral code operating in their life, hearing truths that are thousands of years old for the first time, and trying to figure out their life through a very different lens, it will be exceptionally difficult for us to connect with them. And if we can’t speak to the unchurched, we will speak to an ever-shrinking audience, because one day only unchurched people will be left.

We in Alpha like to look at people in the light of 4 Biblical themes:

First - Creation: God made man in His own image, so … Look at them like that. Look past their current lifestyles, their current situations, their current faults. See in them the same value that God does.
Second - The Fall: Every guest who does not yet know Christ is in exactly the same position that we once were, so let’s not be judgmental. Many will be living in ways that they see nothing wrong with, but to which we might be tempted to take exception or judge. In 1 Corinthians 6: St Paul lists those who will not inherit the kingdom of God - various areas of sexual immorality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers;

But then he says,
…that is what some of you were. But you were washed; you were sanctified; you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
We were washed, sanctified, justified – there’s every reason to believe that God can do the same with others as well. Let’s leave that part to Him.
Third - Redemption: Every guest is someone who Jesus died to give the possibility of eternal life. John 3:16: God so loved the world, not just good people who measured up to His standards. As we said before, nobody does, all have sinned, but nobody is beyond redemption.
Fourth - Glorification: Every person who puts their faith in Jesus will one day be with him forever. Any guest may be one with whom we will spend eternity. Imagine them coming to Christ. Imagine them as a brother or sister. Imagine meeting them in Glory. How would you like them to remember you?

(to be continued... next: conclusion)



Monday, 6 February 2017

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

Now Back to our regular programming:
Communicating the Gospel involves the whole person.

It's an appeal to the mind: over time
Unbelievers are not stupid. They’re intelligent. Don’t speak down to them, but discuss on a rational level. Here is the opening statement from my first email exchange with the young university student mentioned in a previous post:
First, let me say I appreciate your questions and I appreciate that you have them.  Unlike some, I would not encourage anyone who has serious questions and doubts about specific areas of Christianity to just “Set them aside and proceed on faith.”  An honest person cannot ignore legitimate concerns and say to themselves, “Well, I have serious concerns but I’m going to subscribe anyway.”  I’m not saying that all questions have to be answered, because they never will be, (and new questions/areas of interest, study or investigation will arise for the rest of our lives) but what is necessary is that legitimate objections be reconciled.
From there... how to respond.  I realize that you and I are coming from different directions, so to speak, because I am thinking from a position of certainty that God is real and that Jesus was who the Bible says he was, so my answers may, in fact will, be coloured to some extent by that position.  IOW, I see myself as looking back and interpreting things from a position of certainty.  You are looking forward and inquiring from a position of skepticism.
People might attack us on our faith. Comedian Bill Maher makes fun of Christians saying faith is belief in something for which we have no evidence. That’s the definition he chooses, but in our case it’s the wrong definition. There is a definition of faith from a Christian perspective and it’s right from Webster’s dictionary: faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing; something or someone we know exists. I have faith in my wife, for example. Does she not exist? Of course she does (unless I’ve been imagining her for the last 50 years.) 

In the same way, we know God exists. Our faith is a matter of trust in the God we know is there. We’re not just hoping He’s there. Our faith is based on the sure knowledge that God exists and He rewards those who seek Him. We can look back on His faithfulness in the past and be confident in His faithfulness for the future. We don’t need to be embarrassed to say we have faith in God.

A seeker, someone who is not yet a Christian, is not in that place. We are looking back with certainty, they are looking forward with skepticism, so we can start by presenting the evidence for the actual, historical, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as Alpha does. Not as an argument or a weapon; just present the evidence and ask what they think. Alpha does this in its first session, "Sho id Jesus?" Then we engage in a civil and rational discussion. 

Faith and reason do not oppose each other. William Lane Craig, one of the most effective defenders of the Christian faith, has a website called Reasonable Faith. The Lord in Isaiah (1:18) says, “Come let us reason together.”   

The tag line for the Alpha’s Alberta 2013 Initiative was, “Question Everything.” I saw a comment on an atheist website, “If people really questioned everything there would be a lot more atheists.” I answered, “No - there would be a lot fewer!” In the relationships we develop, over time, we can try to get non-believers to question their belief in the non-existence of God.

We don’t need to be afraid about questioning our faith, because it is true, and truth ultimately, by definition, cannot be disproven. There may be difficulties, but because it is the truth, these difficulties can be overcome. There are answers. If anything can be disproven, then it’s not the truth. 

So it’s an appeal to the mind – the intellect.

It’s an appeal to the heart.
You’ve heard the expression that there is a God-shaped hole in every human heart. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes that God has placed eternity in people’s hearts. And St Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Ultimately, people need to experience God’s love personally and tangibly, and there’s a hunger for that. There is that hole, and people try to fill it with all sorts of things – various activities, various spiritual practices, relationships, sex, but ultimately there is only way to fill it.

It’s like a lock and a key. Your front door has a lock and there is only one key that will work in it. Same with the key to the heart. People try all sorts of keys; some may even fit in, may seem to satisfy for a while, but ultimately won’t turn. The only key able to unlock the heart is the key that was made for it - a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. 

An appeal to the conscience:
The Bible tells us that everyone has fallen short of God’s glory – of God’s standards, and deep down people really do know it. They know they’re not perfect, they just don’t realize the eternal significance of that fact.

First two chapters of Romans tell us that right and wrong are written on the human heart, whether we admit it or not. Most people secretly have a sense of God, and they know deep down that there are such things as right and wrong, even if they may not agree exactly with what is right and what is wrong.

Ultimately, once the layers are peeled away, every person's conscience is on our side. The wonderful thing about our faith – and how wonderful it is when people come to realize this, is that forgiveness… for anything… is available. Not only does God offer it, He longs to give it through Jesus Christ. There is no room for lasting guilt in the Christian life.

An appeal to the will.
The Gospel involves an invitation. No one can come to Jesus unless he draws them, but Jesus said that when he was lifted up he would draw all people to himself.

Jesus invited people, he said "Come to me. “ Not all came. Some came, some didn’t.  Same today. Some will accept the message of the Gospel, some won’t. But we present it to everyone. We invite everyone. Some will come, some won’t. The invitation is up to us. The rest is God’s business.

On Alpha we only invite guests to the first night.  We just say, "Come to supper. Come and check it out. If you enjoy it, come back."  If they don't, that's up to them. We won’t chase them.

(to be continued... next: our attitude)



Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sunday Night in Red Deer (There's a country song there somewhere)

I'm going to interrupt my series on communicating the gospel for an actual post. It's Sunday night and I'm sitting in my hotel room in Red Deer. It was an uneventful drive down from Edmonton this afternoon, except for the very last part when I had an argument with my GPS. It was right (mostly)but I didn't believe it. Fortunately I had that lady's voice muted or there might have been a real shouting match. My second sentence above is evidence that I eventually made it.

I have at least three appointments tomorrow between 8:30 and noon, and hope to line up at least one more before I head home. The first is a breakfast meeting with the long-time Alpha coordinator from Crossroads church, a church that has been running Alpha for many years. Next is a meeting with Senior Pastor Paul Vallee of Living Stones church.

Living Stones is an interesting and encouraging story. They began with a group of 12 people meeting in a hotel. From there they grew to the point where they purchased Red Deer's drive-in theatre. They kept the concession/projection booth as their youth centre and built their own brand new church on the site. Living Stones' youth pastor Amy has run Alpha's Youth Film Series a number of times, but now the church is running our Alpha Film Series for their first "adult" Alpha in several years.

At noon, I'm meeting the Alpha Coordinator from Alliance Community Church, Sylvan Lake, another fellowship I count as one of my key Alpha churches in their area. They too have run Alpha for a number of years. We're meeting in a Tim Horton's in Red Deer, which is a 22 minute drive from Sylvan Lake, as the crow flies, or at least as the Google maps.

The one other appointment I hope to make is with Deer Park Alliance. I was unable to connect with them last week to set up an appointment, but I will try again before I leave town. I may even just drop in to see if anyone is there.

That's all I can say for now, except to say,



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

(My 2017 Break Forth presentation continued)

What needs to change is the way in which we communicate the message. But never dilute the message. Faith still comes by hearing and hearing still by the word of God. The key is to engage in a narrative, not to hold up the word of God as a club; to discuss, not lecture. Scripture can be used in two ways. We can confront authoritatively with, "The Bible says!" Or we can engage, with, “Here is what the Bible says. What do you think?"

Bringing people to faith is a process:

1. It's a Process of Understanding
The old model – one-off encounters, turn or burn, threatening non-believers with the fires of hell,  may still work in some cases, (God can work any way He wants) but I spoke to a young person, a Christian, in their 20’s, a Millennial, who has seen this approach and it put them off completely. They said they would be embarrassed to have any non-believing friends be confronted like this. It would be completely outside their realm of understanding.

I've seen an evangelist on line who confronts people on the street, engages them in questions and answers to convince them they are sinners bound for hell, tells them they need Jesus, encourages them to ask him into their lives, but then says thank you and goodbye, hoping, I suppose, that he has planted a seed upon which they will follow up. I’m not trying to be critical of a brother, and that kind of encounter may have its place, but we have no clue what happens to them, and neither, I suspect, does he.

First form or develop the relationship. Out of that, begin to talk about matters of faith. Alpha presents Jesus over a number of weeks. Then we let the Holy Spirit do the rest – in His own time.
On an Alpha a number of years ago, there was a young university student. I'll not mention his name, but he came as a skeptic, asking difficult but legitimate questions about the Christian faith. Many of his objections were too much for small group discussion so I suggested we carry on a discussion by e-mail after the course, which we did. He would pose questions and I would do my best to answer them. (|You may recall that I mentioned earlier that if our faith is the truth, then there will be a legitimate answer for every objection. If we can't think of it immediately, research (and prayer)should help us find it.)
In any case, our conversation carried on by email for a time, then we began to lose touch. I was transferred two hours west to Edson by my company, where I stayed for about 7 or 8 years, then returned to the Edmonton area. I was visiting with Amy (who is now an Associate for Youth with Alpha) a couple of years back when she asked, "Do you remember (name)?"
"Yes," I said, "We lost touch. What ever happened to him?"
"Oh, he's working with the youth at (another church in Edmonton!)" 

2. It's a Process of Building Trust:
It is extraordinary to me how distrustful people who are not Christians are of Christians, and what a false and negative picture they may have of us. We can't understand it — we're nice people! Why wouldn’t everybody want to be just like us? Why wouldn't everyone want to know God like we do? Why wouldn’t everyone want to come to our church? It’s such a wonderful place. What better place to be on a Sunday morning. But they don't seem to realise that at first.  People are suspicious. 50 or 60 years ago a politician running for office would publicize the fact that he went to church. Often you would see, in his campaign literature, a picture of him and his family coming down the church steps after Sunday service. Today, he would probably have to hide the fact he is a Christian to increase his chances of election.

It takes time to build trust. If we begin by lecturing people or putting them on the spot they may be nodding agreement with what we say, but really they just want to get away. They may not really be listening to what we’re saying at the beginning of a relationship, or in the first few Alpha sessions, because they're thinking to themselves; "Who are these people?  What are they after?"
I remember on one of my Alphas, on the first evening, "Who is Jesus?," the small group discussion began with my asking, "What did anybody think of the talk?"
One guest launched into a tirade against the church. She insisted that we can't believe what the Bible says because the church has controlled it and edited it and we can't be sure it is telling the truth; it's not saying what the original writers said. She was actually quite angry. My response was basically what an Alpha small group host is supposed to say, "That's an interesting point of view." I did sneak one little thing in, matter-of-factly; "I've heard that before," but then I turned to the rest of the group and carried on, asking, "What does anyone else think?"
I didn't confront her; I didn't argue with her. I just let her have her say, then turned to the group for discussion. I must say that I snuck in the bit about 'hearing it before' subtly, for a reason. Rightly or wrongly, I hoped it might make her notice, "Oh, he's heard that argument before and it doesn't seem to bother him."
I did, however, at the end of the evening, mention in an off-hand way, "You know it's interesting that when they discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls, back in the 1940's, that had been buried for about 2000 years, they found a nearly complete manuscript of the book of Isaiah, and when it was translated it was almost exactly word for word what we have in our Bibles today, so I think we really can trust that it has been handed down to us accurately."
That ended the evening, but that guest was completely different the following week; friendly and non-confrontational, and stayed for the rest of the course.

(to be continued... next: Communicating the Gospel involves the whole person)



Friday, 3 February 2017

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

All that has been by way of introduction, because in light of what seems to be today's view of truth – relativism, everybody can have their own truth, etc., I wanted to establish that what we believe IS the truth. We have to know it’s the truth. We have to be confident that what we are inviting people into, a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, is the best thing for them, because they’re not going to recognize it when we first start.

Because of the points I have made, I believe, more and more, we have to rely on relationship evangelism. We need to introduce people to Jesus, all the time developing a relationship on a personal level yet over time letting Jesus look after drawing them to himself. So how do we do it?

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col 4:5-6)
Besides being a rather touching story, this illustrates that relationship evangelism takes time. Sabrina took Alpha 4 times. (Plug – don’t just run it once).

It's crucial to remember that we don't begin by putting people off. Don’t start with a lecture. Jesus should be the only stumbling block, not us. Do not begin by judging lifestyles – LGBT, cohabitation, etc. Everyone is welcome on an Alpha, and no one should be faced with a lecture when we first meet them.

Listen before talking. I would hope that if a gay person came through the doors of our church they would feel welcomed. Alpha is open to everyone. Let the only offense be that of the cross, not of our speech, attitude or behaviour. 

Carey Nieuwhof, in one of his blogs, says that the people we want to reach these days don’t all have big problems. Not everyone’s life is falling apart. It’s an insult for us to assume they are miserable. Many out there are quite happy the way they are. They are not necessarily laden with guilt over their lifestyles. I believe that if there is any sense of guilt, it’s often hidden beneath the surface, layers down and more a vague sense that something may not be quite right. There may just be something missing.

What we can say, the thought we can plant, is actually the title of the introductory session of Alpha – “Is There More to Life than This?” IOW, someone might be very happy, but is there more? What if there is something that could make life even better?
I remember  the year was 1953. I was walking home from school, along Barton Street in Winona Ontario. As I got closer to my house I saw something that absolutely thrilled me - a television aerial on the roof. We got a TV! Our first! I ran the rest of the way home and burst into the living room. There it was! a 26" black and white on four spindly legs. We got three channels; a bit fuzzy, but we loved it. We were ecstatic.
Nowadays, you can get a 60" HD flat screen to hang on your wall. (Probably for about the same money as that first black and white cost.) But what a difference! As much as I loved that first TV, I would never want to go back to it. At the time though, we didn't realize there was anything better. The Christian life is like the new flat screen while life before Christ was like the old black and white, and I can remember both. I thought it was great at the time but I sure wouldn't want to back to it now.
Evangelization is just telling somebody, "Hey, there's something better." Alpha is allowing God to lead them to it.

(to be continued... Next: Bringing people to faith is a process)  



Wednesday, 1 February 2017

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

I've posted on this before, but because I included it in my presentation, I post it here again.
"Before we get to my main point – how to communicate our message, (next post, I promise)I want to look at one more thing.  (h/t Terry Stauffer for this analogy)

You may have seen this example of a number of blindfolded people examining an elephant – one the trunk, one an ear, one a leg, etc., and each coming up with a different answer as to what it is. Leg = tree, tail = rope, side = wall, etc. This is supposed to be an argument for the idea that no one can have an exclusive lock on the truth. That everyone’s idea of truth is equally valid. That many paths lead to God. 

It’s a self-defeating example. It disproves itself, because it requires that the observer see the whole picture – see that there is a truth -  stepping back and looking we can see that it is indeed an elephant, no matter what all these other people think, and that certain points of view can actually be wrong. Is it a tree? No! Is it a snake? No! Is it a wall? No! And the simple solution is for any one of those 'mistaken observers' just to have their blindfold removed to see what it actually is.

This example, when examined, actually shows that there can be an ultimate truth, and that it can be knowable. No matter what all those people think, it really is an elephant. Any other answer is just plain wrong. So it is possible to say that God is real. It’s possible to say there is one true way of knowing Him.

But it’s not enough for us to dispute and argue the preconceived notions that people have. Ultimately they need to hear it from God Himself. In other words, what if the elephant could just speak up and say, 'Hey everybody, take off your blindfolds, I'm an elephant!' 
That's just what God has done.
(Hebrews 1: 1a) In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son…

I see a couple of key words here, and I have underlined them above. The word, "but" is one of my favourite words in the Bible. Often it comes after the giving of bad new, then introduces good news. Here is connotes something new, something different. In the past, but now
The other word is "has" – not is. God has given us His word. There are certain people who may boast about being, 'progressive,' who will say God is telling us something new, like He’s changing His mind. Like He didn’t understand because things were different then.  (To insert here something not included in my presentation, but something my pastor mentioned since, if I get it right: if God changes His mind in response to a change, or changing circumstances in His creation, i.e. in areas of morality, He is not sovereign or immutable or omnipotent or even omniscient. He is subject to His very creation, and His very creatures.)
Anything and everything we need to know about Jesus is in the Scriptures. He will not tell us anything new that contradicts what He has already told us. Jesus is the final revelation of God. Jesus said, 'I and the Father are one.' He said, 'If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father,' and he said, 'no one comes to the Father except by me.' Many people will say they believe in God. Other religions have various concepts of God. The native in the darkest corner of the jungle or forest may have some vague idea that there must be something higher, but the only way to truly know God most fully is through Jesus Christ."
Alpha focuses on Jesus.
(to be continued...)