Sunday, December 28, 2008
As we celebrate the birth of Christ, how many would say, “That’s my King!” When it was declared at His birth that He was a King, Herod tried to kill Him. Thirty-plus years later, Pilate found himself eye to eye with this King, unsure what to do with Him.
Much has been said about this King. On Newsweek’s website in 2006, they asked their readers to express who they thought this Jesus was. Here are some of their responses.
“We don’t know many historical facts concerning Jesus, but apparently he was a rabbi who was an example of compassion. Since then he has been exploited by Christians, particularly Americans.”
“Jesus is real, in the sense that he exists for those who want him to exist.”
“Jesus is my personal Higher Power. He helps me stay sober one day at a time.”
“I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I believe I am a Son of God.”
“Jesus is about as real as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or King Arthur.”
“Jesus was a man who was nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.”
“Jesus was a man we should pity more than revile or worship. He suffered from what contemporary psychologists now know to be delusions of grandeur, bipolar disorder, and probably acute schizophrenia.”
Who do you say He is? Many say, “That’s my King!” I say, “He’s my King!” To say He is your King is no light statement. I gave this some thought and here is how His Kingship is fleshed out in my life. When I say “He’s my King”, I am saying...
1. I recognize Christ not just as a good man, a wise man, an influential man… but as the God Man!
2. I choose to subject all my decisions, my thoughts and ambitions to His ultimate authority.
3. I read His word, not like I read the Whig Standard or McLean’s but as a sacred text full of mystery and the creed that governs my life.
4. I seek to honour Him in every crowd, conversation and contact.
5. I realize that His Kingship in my life is to be as true and real on Friday night as it is on Sunday morning as I sit in church where I am suppose to be good.
6. I pursue Him when times are good and when times are bad. When I understand where He is leading and when I do not.
7. I accept the mantle of being His ambassador, a vessel in which His Spirit can dwell. When people see me, they should see aspects of His Kingdom and this King living in and through me.
8. I live on my knees where I remain a student, embracing wonder and mystery. Not on my feet, self-assured and self-made.
9. I acknowledge that all we see is His. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and has graciously given me life on one of those hills.
10. I rest assured that He watches over me today, redeems my worst yesterday, and knows, and guides me into tomorrow.
This is my King!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
One of the reasons I write these weekly articles is to create a connection between you and me. I realize that, in a church the size of Bethel, it is impossible to make significant contact with everyone. Thus, I hope that these articles have helped in a small way to create a point of contact. I have very much appreciated talking and corresponding with some of you who have read the weekly articles and provided some input. This week I thought I would include the Kotchapaw Christmas letter.
God bless and have a great Christmas!
I find myself writing this letter sitting in a completely different context than the one I found myself in last year. Last year....
• Snow shovelling was a distant memory
• “Minus” temperatures only existed in the fridge or freezer
• Dreaming of a white Christmas was as far as it went
This year the shovel is out, I feel like I am living in the freezer and dreams are coming true. The Kotchapaw world has changed. We have returned, repatriated and been reminded of how challenging and unique the Canadian experience is - especially as winter bears down on us.
We wanted to write and provide a brief update on how life is for us now in the North Pole.
In terms of the church, Bethel, we feel we are fitting into this unique ministry setting. Bethel is a downtown church, planted right in the heart of The Ghetto. This is a term referring to where many of the Queens University students live. Queens is one of the top universities in Canada, and that deeply influences the demographics of our church. We are a multi-generational, multi-cultural church, embracing the very educated, least educated, rich and poor. We are truly loving learning about our new ministry environment and being part of what God is doing in this part of His Kingdom.
Rhonda is working full time as a teacher placement manager with Oxford Seminars. Her office is a 7-minute drive from our front door. Commuting is not much of a challenge but she is finding that the learning curve at her work is keeping her motivated and growing. We are very grateful for this job, especially in these economically difficult times.
Our kids are doing well. Lyndsey has had a great semester in her second year of university. We think she is having more fun than ever but is still keeping her grades up. Landon is working at a Deli in downtown Ottawa. He is taking a Gap Year before heading off for more schooling. Taylor is in grade 11 and keeping busy with academics, working part-time at Tim Horton’s and keeping his social life nurtured.
We are all very grateful on how well our adjustment has gone in coming back into our own culture. In some ways we feel like we never left. In other ways, we see how our lives have been deeply shaped and influenced by living oversees for six and a half years.
We hope that you have a great Christmas and find some good down time to invest in relationships and celebrate the birth of Christ.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Connect The Dots
Ever played "connect the dots"? Probably not recently seeing that you are likely an adult reading this article! Many of us though, have played connect the dots in our past. As kids we connected the dots in the right sequence and spelled words or drew pictures. There was an element of surprise as the word or picture became clear. For the overly ambitious once the dots were connected, the coloured crayons would come out and add artistic flare.
I think life is like connect the dots. Like dots on a page we can feel disconnected and alone. However, as we converse with each other we sense a greater connection with the other “dots”. Conversation connects you with me as we realize just how much we have in common. And while there are many issues that connect us, one issue that connects us all like a line between two dots is our brokenness. Some of us carry heavy loads - we wish we could somehow off-load burdensome luggage. Worse yet, some of us walk all alone, “dots” weighed down, feeling like we are the only one on the page. Let me share with you what for many that brokenness looks like.
Divorce - I would imagine that if we were to take a survey on a Sunday morning with a show of hands, that the majority of people would raise their hand acknowledging that their lives had been touched by divorce. Most of us, if not having walked through divorce ourselves, have a close family member whose life has been scarred by such a break up. For example, this Christmas, how many of us will be juggling kids between our home and the spouse we have divorced? How many of us will not see a particular family member because divorce has removed that person from the family circle. How many grandparents will attempt to offer up a little more TLC because their grandkids have been exposed to the harsh winds of divorce? Unfortunately many of our lives are connected by the trauma of divorce.
Alcoholism - Since returning to Canada I have been amazed with how many people have alcoholism in their family background. I have learned much about what it means to be "a child of an alcoholic" just by listening to peoples' stories of growing up with an alcoholic parent. Some kids become perfectionists, trying to please the parent who binges and never nurtures a child who so desperately needs love. Others attempt to become "the strong one". Never acknowledging their own need but instead being "the fixer"! What alcoholism has left in its wake is not pretty, but I have seen many stories of God's deliverance and healing. Unfortunately many of our lives are connected by the trauma of alcoholism.
Physical Sickness – This can come in a number of packages. One such way is sickness that accompanies an aging body. As someone said to me “I think at times the golden years have lost their shine.” There are many seniors who are wearing a path down to the doors of medical clinics, hospitals and pharmacies, all in an attempt to deal with the aches and pains that come with time. Then there is mental sickness, addictions, and terminal illnesses that can ravage the body regardless of age. Unfortunately many of our lives are connected by the reality of physical sickness.
We are not “dots” all alone on a page but we are connected by brokenness. Each of us could probably tell a story or two, fill a few pages talking about how divorce, alcoholism or physical sickness or other events have shaped our lives, influenced our prayers, occupied our minds and tried our patience.
However, for many of us there is another reality that connects us, like a line between two dots - it is our hope in the Christ of Christmas. It is our journey of faith! Many of us could tell a story or two, fill a few pages talking about how faith has sustained us, how God’s Word has strengthened us, how the Body of Christ has rallied around us.
It is our brokenness that draws us to the manger where we join the magi and worship this Christ. The Son of God of which it was said:
"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us." Matthew 1:21-23
And then as He began His public ministry He said of Himself:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." Luke 4:18-19
We are not dots all alone on a page. Our lives are connected. Our journeys intersect at many points. Yet I am most grateful that what connects us most deeply in this life and will connect us for eternity is not our brokenness but our hope in this Christ of Christmas!
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!  "Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?"  "Who has ever given to God,that God should repay him?"
 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
During this past weekend (Nov 29) we had a mini retreat at Ewen Mackenzie’s home. The purpose of our meeting was to look at how Bethel plans to fulfill Christ’s command of making disciples. Bethel has several great programs, we have many great workers and leaders but it is extremely important that all our efforts go into prioritizing what the church should be doing - making disciples (Matthew 28:19,20). If lives are not being transformed to be more Christ-like, then we seriously need to question what we are doing and how we are doing it.
During the mini retreat we discussed:
- How our own lives have experienced transformation. What have been the factors that have contributed to our growth?
- What a disciple looks like.
- What the process might look like at Bethel regarding a disciple-making ministry.
- How important it is that we execute well. Sometimes we can over-promise but under-deliver. Elephants should be eaten one bite at a time.
- The importance of handling change well. We need to be highly sensitive to how people process change and we need to take time to help people work issues through.
- The value of establishing true authentic community at Bethel. We all agreed that when we looked at our own lives, relationship was a key factor in our growth.
- The importance of not being a “busy” church but a “purpose-directed” church.
We would very much appreciate your prayers as we continue to move along in this process. We have another meeting scheduled this Tuesday (Dec 9) and another retreat scheduled for January 2009. We are committed to leading Bethel into becoming a community where people are transformed by the power of Christ and live contagious lives every day of the week, proclaiming and demonstrating Emmanuel- God is with us!
For the elders’ team,
P.S. Feel free to ask us questions concerning this process. We learn from the dialogue. In the New Year you will have opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Many of you have already.
Destined For The Dust Bin!
At one of our staff meetings recently we took yellow post-it notes and stuck them on everything in the room that was destined to become dust. As you can imagine, there were yellow post-it notes everywhere. I even had one stuck to my forehead.
Why would we do such an exercise? Because it led to a discussion about how we should live, what we should invest in, in light of the temporal things with which we are surrounded. Here were some of our comments:
- All this “stuff” is not an end in itself but a means to a greater end – Loving God passionately and serving others significantly. Sometimes in ministry (and relationships), we can become so busy that we feel we don’t have time for people. In fact, we can even find ourselves too busy to spend time cultivating our relationship with God. Instead of the temporal being a platform that propels us in to better loving God and serving people, it can actually have the reverse effect. We can become bound by it!
- Sometimes we can get quicker results with the temporal stuff than with the eternal priorities. Think about it: investing in people can be a slow, arduous, “not visible” process. However, checking off my to-do list for the day can produce results. All those check-marks bring a sense of accomplishment.
- We can quickly forget when working on a team that what is often more important than the task is the person on the team. We can push ahead to finish but not realize that the partnership in ministry is an awesome opportunity to invest in the person or person (s). We may celebrate a job well done, but sometimes what is more important is using the project to invest in the person!
- We live in a culture that is finding it increasingly difficult to know how to cultivate a rich relationship with God and people. For example, when people get together, it’s often not to pursue each other, to know each others’ hearts, or to wrestle with the issues of the soul. Sometimes people unknowingly hide behind “doing things” as opposed to getting to know the person. We do things “together” but remain distant from really knowing the other person’s heart.
" 'Love the Lord your God (eternal) with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour (eternal) as yourself (eternal).'"
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Walk It Out
One of the challenges of teaching a large group every Sunday is that there are very few checks and balances in place to encourage people to “walk out” the message. The reality is that often people walk in and walk out after the service, and choose not to apply the message. At Bethel we are talking about how to better encourage people to “walk out” the message. Some of our small groups discuss the message the following week, but we realize that this represents a very small percentage of our church.
This week’s edition of Touching Base is designed to help you walk out what has been taught. I want to encourage you to work through this exercise. Scripture is pretty clear that the objective of God’s word, the reason for God’s truth, is not just information but transformation!
James 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Walk It Out Exercise
Read the text below several times this week- keeping in mind the two images- Protégé (10,11) and Athlete(12-14). Reading the text in different versions can help you appreciate what Paul is saying.
Journal on these images as you reflect on the following.
- What insights do these two images provide in passionately following God?
- What questions do these images raise?
- How would you rate your desire for knowing Christ?
- What aspects of your walk of faith are not addressed in these images?
- As you go through your week, what other images come to mind that illustrate the walk of faith? (look around you)
- Pray these verses back to God each day of the week. Personalize them.
- As you pray, ask God to show you what He wants you to do, and/or believe.
- Who do you need to pray for regarding having a passionate heart for God?
- Who inspires you in your walk of faith? If you know of someone, how could you spend more time with that person? Why not thank them for how they have inspired you.
- Discuss your insights with at least one other person.
 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
No doubt: at Bethel there are enough ideas and vision to keep us busy for the next century. As I talk to people, it is very obvious that many hearts are bursting with what God might want to do at Bethel, and how He could use Bethel to touch the world of which we are a part. It is exciting to realize how many people love Bethel and desire to see the church step into all God has for her.
One of the issues we have struggled with in our past is execution. Many great ideas and lots of plans, but we have at times faltered in the area of carrying out those plans. I realize that not only is Bethel vulnerable in this area but so too are many churches. For some reason plans are made, decisions noted, but then little or nothing happens. We have lots of ideas, lots of motions but have struggled in executing on those ideas.
Why is that? Why have we struggled with carrying out on decisions made, motions passed? Let me share with you some ideas on this and encourage you to pray that we would be better in the area of executing initiatives on which God wants us to step out.
- Getting sidetracked by problems. Bethel has come through some turbulent years. God has been good and faithful to bring a lot of good out of some of the darker days. I would suggest that at times in our history those turbulent waters drained the leadership and shelved many good plans. Instead of being able to execute on vision, leadership at times were dealing with day-to-day turbulence. I think at times that the leaders, and many in the congregation, were just hanging on, trying to work through a difficult season.
- Moving on to many fronts. One great lesson I have learned (but not always implemented) is that less is more. I think that at times in our zeal for doing God’s work, we have tried to juggle far too many balls. I believe that we would be further ahead to go slower, do fewer things and do them well. Being busy with much is not always synonymous with being effective.
- Not having a clearly defined purpose and strategy. Purpose channels energy. Purpose is also forgotten very quickly if not repeatedly preached, spoken, and illustrated. Do you know what the purpose of Bethel is? It is to Love God Passionately and To Serve Others Significantly. It is rooted in the great commission. As we keep our purpose clear and define our strategy this will help us see what is important.
I am sure you could add your insights into why we have sometimes struggled in the area of execution. Please pray for Bethel that we would be faithful to how God speaks into our lives as leaders and congregants. I sense much excitement at Bethel these days and am glad to be a part of it. However, I realize the need to prayerfully seek God’s mind on all matters and through His strength to execute with excellence, in the context of team and in a posture of humility and prayer.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Every household has “the code”! You know, the way things are to be done, what is acceptable and what is not. Some of us growing up knew when we broke the code, not by what was said, but by what wasn’t said. The stare said “You’re out of line and if you don’t shape up, your life may end prematurely!” Regardless of your living context there is no doubt a code, a preferred way of conduct that aims to make life for everyone enjoyable. I am sure that in some living contexts the code is stated and posted for all to see:
- Last one out turn out the lights
- No loud music after 10pm
- Use the garbage (novel idea for some)
- Don’t eat my food in the fridge! (This also could result in premature death)
At Bethel we are like a family, hopefully minus the stares. There are certain kinds of behaviour that will encourage family health and there are certain kinds of behaviour that will make being together more of a challenge. I want to remind you of some of the needed behaviours and attitudes so that we can do life well together especially on Sunday mornings.
- Make room for people. In case you haven’t noticed, on many Sundays our services are very full. You can help by moving to the front, so late comers do not have to walk all the way up to the front pew. Think of how difficult this is for a newcomer. Sitting in the front pew should not be someone’s penance for being late.
- After the first service, make a point of greeting, including inviting. You can invite people to the gym for coffee and conversation. After the second service you can invite people over to your home or Tim’s.
- Don’t be afraid of talking to people from other generations. We are an inter-generational church. We need to be crossing the unhealthy dividing lines that can exist in some churches.
- See yourself as a contributor, not just a consumer. Find ways to contribute in creating an atmosphere of warmth on Sundays. How you treat people may determine whether they ever return to Bethel. More importantly, how you treat people may influence someone on what they think of God. Now that’s a heavy!
- When you greet new people, introduce them to a few others. Breaking in can be difficult, and our efforts in this area can go a long way in opening up the friendship circles at Bethel.
- If you see a newcomer with children or youth be sure to inform them of our youth and children’s ministries. Tell them how they can get in touch with Pam or Fred. Both their emails are in the bulletin.
Healthy church families do not just happen. They are the result of people like you and me choosing to embrace healthy attitudes and behaviours. Healthy churches result when God’s Spirit moves among His people in such a way as to make the community of faith- awesome! So be sure to do your part, minus the stares!
Friday, October 31, 2008
One place in life where I see a lot of inspiring and perspiring going on is the club where I work out. Go into the work-out area and you are inspired by the RMC students’ dedication to early morning work-outs, Other fitness buffs are pumping iron, riding bikes, running on treadmills (and going nowhere fast) while sweat, the evidence of one’s labour, pours forth! Walk by the double gyms and you can hear shoes squeaking on the wood surface floor as volleyball and basketball teams practice, hoping for perfection on game day. Then meander over to the indoor track and there you will find students taking the Shuttle Run (also known as “the beep”) test. The beep test is where one has to run back and forth between two lines faster and faster, beating the “beep” as the beep goes off faster and faster. The last person standing is, I guess, the new Rocky and insanely exhausted!
- The senior who prays and how their prayer reflects the depth of their relationship with God that has come through decades of following Christ.
- Students who are living out their faith on the campus they attend. In many ways they are on the front lines.
- A number of individuals who are wrestling with some of the trappings of North American Christianity and desiring to see the church set free to reach its full redemptive potential.
- The person who speaks to me passionately about their involvement with the homeless, the drug addict, the prostitute.
- Being present in the body of Christ on Sunday mornings and witnessing the many passionate worshippers that fill the building.
- The extreme dedication of the many too the local church, people who have full time day jobs but reserve some of their best energies and thinking for the local church!
Thanks for inspiring me!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Build your perfect church?
This past Sunday night about seventy-five college students showed up at Bethel for free pizza and some interaction on issues related to the church and the community. Bethel hosted this evening for students because students matter at Bethel and we want to listen to them and learn from them. One of the questions we asked was, 'How would you build your perfect church?' Their answers are listed at the end of this article. Let me make two observations regarding their responses.
The younger generation desires community. Note in the list of their answers, all the responses related to authentic community. I have highlighted those answers in orange. I think they're saying that to truly experience church as they desire it to be (and as it was meant to be) that nurturing deep, trusted friendships are a great priority. One comment I heard that night was that because Bethel is a big church with so many students, that it is easy to slip in and out without any accountability. Church for many has been reduced to 'something I attend' as opposed to 'a community I am part of'. I have heard it said that many students attend Bethel because of the location, music, and the teaching. However, in listening to them on Sunday night I think many are attending because they are looking for relationship and community. If this is the case, how should we adjust our ministries?
The younger generation values YOU! This generation is telling us that they want in on our world and they want us to step into their world. Note in the list they are asking for mentorship and for community to be inter-generational. Several of the Bethel leaders I talked to that night were surprised by how strongly the students stated their desire to connect with different generations. They seemed to be saying that they don't always want to be sent off to a generation-specific ministry. The picture they painted that night was of the young and the old sitting together, learning together and serving together.
If you are reading this and not a student at Bethel I trust that you will take this as a challenge to embrace the student culture at Bethel and pray for Bethel as we seek to build community amongst all generations.
. Know and be known
. Live life together
. Open discussions
. Serving communities outside church walls
. Face issues head on - For example- same sex marriage, gender roles in church, minorities, abortion, sex outside of marriage
. Connected to world
. Growing inward/outward
. Supportive of its members
. Dynamic activities for children
. Accountable leadership
Friday, October 17, 2008
Have you noticed in this season of elections, both here in Canada and south of the border, that political leaders are attempting to humanize themselves? Harper is the father who walks his daughter to school, Palin is a hockey mom, Obama grew up in a single parent family, Jack Layton can be seen riding a bike through the streets of a Canadian city. What this illustrates is that the leader can be lost behind a title, a party, a platform.
What is true in the political arena can also be true in the Church. Instead of leaders being personal and vulnerable, leaders can become remote and aloof. Rather than hearing a leader’s heart, we instead are kept at bay with impersonal rhetoric. Oftentimes in churches, permission is not granted for leaders to be human. All must appear happy and whole. What can then happen is that, sooner or later, “stuff” surfaces that has never been processed and a leader leaves in disgrace.
At Bethel, we believe that it is good for leadership to be personal and vulnerable. As we share aspects of our journey, we can contribute to building an authentic community and encourage others who may be having similar struggles and victories. As an elders’ team we believe that modeling this kind of leadership needs to start with us. We believe that in order to build a caring community we must build an honest community. Thus, over the next several months in the Sunday morning services the elders will be taking some time to share aspects of their journey. We desire that you not only know who we are, but that you also see into our hearts and understand aspects of our growth.
What is it about the human make-up that allows us to be so close yet so far? We can be with the same person day in and day out, work on the same team, discuss issues in depth, pray for one another yet barely know anything about that individual. Sometimes marriages can experience this. Living together but not connecting, talking but not sharing, and the result is two lonely people in a relationship that skims the surface. Sometimes this happens with our children. As they get older, we can sense them distancing themselves from us even though they are still under our roof, close but far!
This happens in ministry all the time. We know each other on one level, yet on another level we really don’t have a clue what is going on. It’s like we have been taught that we must put our “game” face on for each other. Church has for some become a place where they need to keep it all together, show no weakness, share no pain, cry no tears - sustain the plastic smile. Why do so many live like this? Let me share with you my observations. Let me know what you might add.
Fear - For some, they have managed their public persona for so long that they are fearful what people might think if they ever shared some aspect of their life that might not be seen as a strength. They fear that people accept them for who they have projected themselves to be not who they really are. That is a terrible prison to live in.
Modeling - For some they have never seen real community modeled. It’s always been about the Sunday face, the “spiritual” smile.
Appropriateness - Some believe that if they are serving on a ministry team, it is not right or appropriate to take time to share on a personal level. The meeting agenda must be accomplished, the to-do list must be checked off.
Permission - Some don’t feel they have the permission to be honest about some of the deeper issues of their soul. No time is allowed to draw out individual team members on how they are really doing.
Pride – I know of situations in people’s lives that have exploded to the surface because they were too proud to share the problem in the earlier days of the issue. Keeping it private gave the issue greater life until it became obvious to everyone that something had been brewing for years. Pride often prevents us from dealing with issues in seed form and thus they are allowed to grow and establish strong roots.
Shame – We feel we should be victorious but have walked in defeat for a long time.
Let's work together at building authentic community at Bethel. If you are a team leader why not schedule some heart-to-heart-time in your next meeting agenda. Oh ya, be willing to go first!
Saturday, October 4, 2008
One of the great things about Bethel is that there are many who realize that we, in many cases, are the answer to our own prayers. Now let me explain before you write me off as a heretic.
Last week in the service, we talked about how we are the body of Christ. In short, we are Jesus’ hands and feet to demonstrate His character and accomplish His work in the world in which He has placed us. We see this truth in Matthew when Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Matt 9:36-38). Right after saying this, Jesus commissioned the disciples to go out and begin the harvesting. Instead of looking around wondering who was going to get the job done, the disciples stepped up.
How often do we pray for something or someone without seeing that God wants us to be the answer to our prayers? James put it another way: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:15-16)
The Bethel House ministry is a great example of taking responsibility for being part of the answer to our prayers. For years, Bethel has understood its strategic location and the immense need that surrounds us right here in the downtown core. But instead of just praying and trusting that others would get the job done, Bethel stepped up and has shouldered part of the responsibility of touching that core.
We are the body of Christ, thus it is not enough to pray and trust that God will raise someone up to address the need. We also need to pray, realizing that we, in part or in whole, might be the answer to our prayers. So, be careful what you pray for, God may ask you to get busy!
You would probably admit that your past week had a lot to do with balancing your priorities, making sure you were not neglecting certain things, being careful to not work too much, eat too much or sleep too little. You can probably think of certain areas in your life right now that are out of balance, areas that are your greatest challenge when it comes to keeping all the balls up in the air and not going crazy.
Well, balance is a key issue at Bethel these days. For example we realize that there are many good issues we are addressing (i.e. staffing, governance issues, communication, pastoral care) when it comes to in-house issues. There is a lot of energy that goes in to ministering to the church. We are grateful for the many who have stepped up to fill the holes and shoulder some responsibility here at Bethel. Yet, to stay in balance we need to look beyond ourselves, to the world around us, to the world that Christ has placed us in. We need to continually give our best for the body of Christ and also to give our best to the community around us. The Aberdeen clean-up teams and Bethel Houses are two examples that come to mind when thinking of the larger community.
As we journey together it is imperative that we stay balanced. We need to live with the good tension of intentionally allocating our resources to minister to the body and at the same time generously allocating our resources to the world around us. Sometimes believers in the North American Church think first and only about themselves. They are the centre of the universe. Their language is very “I “centred. However, there are other Christians who have been so turned off by that kind of self-consumed Church that they have swung to the extreme where it’s all about those outside the Church. Let’s do what the writer of Hebrews said we should do, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Then and only then will we strike the right balance and be the church that pleases Jesus!
One hears this mantra when buying a house or when choosing where to set up a business. We want a house conveniently located so we can dash off to Costco or pop over to Timmy’s. When setting up a retail business we look for high traffic and high visibility areas. Nobody wants to be stuck at a dead end!
Well, one of the many things that is great about Bethel is our building. We score a perfect ten when it comes to location, location, location. We are in the bull's-eye of activity. This is the perfect location for a church like Bethel that has a growing heart for the city and a growing vision to touch and restore the core. When reading of our history I am deeply grateful for the leadership that chose not to move out to the suburbs but chose instead to stay in the heart of the city. Now, we must ask ourselves the question: How can we maximize the use of our building to serve the body of Christ and to serve the greater community of Kingston? How could our building be a means of blessing
people who walk by it every day? How could our building be used to help needy people be
resourced so they can get back on their feet? How could our building serve others significantly?
I believe that being a good steward of our building will involve seeing it used 24/7, multiple groups addressing a broad range of issues, investing in people and demonstrating Christ’s love.
Church buildings are not supposed to be sanctuaries where Christians retreat to be safe from the rest of the world. They should not be mystery buildings that the vast majority of the community sees but never enters. They should not be relics of the past but tools of the present to embrace a needy world. Our building should be an aid to achieving our aims of glorifying God.
How do you think Jesus would use our building? Got any ideas? Let’s talk.
If you were to ask people attending Bethel, “What attracted you to Bethel?”, you would get a number of answers such as,
Children or Youth Ministry
Over the last decade, Bethel has grown substantially because of the strong attractional aspects of its ministry. However, the vast majority of those individuals that have been attracted to Bethel are already followers of Christ. They were attracted because they already knew Christ! Thus, while Bethel grew, the kingdom of God did not grow proportionally. Followers just traded places, shifted venues, traded in soft chairs for the hard pews of Bethel. In light of this reality, there are two commitments we as a Church need to make:
- Commit to discipling those followers of Christ who have come to Bethel. Our goal is to move people along in their spiritual growth. Anything less is a mockery of what Christ’s Church is all about. It is our privilege and responsibility to care for these people.
-We need to think deeply and biblically about the majority of people in Kingston who would never be attracted to Bethel. For them our Church culture is like a foreign culture. While it is true that there are still many folks who are not followers of Christ that would be attracted to Bethel, the hard truth of the Canadian landscape is that those numbers are decreasing. The only way we will ever influence this growing majority of people for Christ is to go to them. We must learn to love them deeply, listen to them carefully and pray for them faithfully. We must earn the right to be heard. We need to find ways to be carriers of God’s kingdom to them. Maybe then God’s Kingdom will grow!
Now that I have been here at Bethel for 36 days (I probably will soon stop counting) one of the things I am discovering is the incredible people that call Bethel their home church. Many who I have talked to are full of passion, vision, love for God, storied pasts, and a love for people. As I have had the opportunity to talk too many of you, I have seen great evidence that God is at work. It has been very encouraging to listen and learn about the path that God has people on and how they are growing, struggling, wrestling and attempting (by God’s grace) to keep in step with the Spirit of God. One thing I am discovering in listening to peoples’ stories is that many of these stories have never been told. These many treasure chests of life lessons and experiences have not been tapped into by the rest of the body at Bethel.
I strongly believe that people’s stories are important. Not stories where there is always a great ending or where the prince finally gets his princess, but stories that show we are people on a journey, in process, battling, wrestling and over time experiencing God’s transformational work in our lives. Stories, I think, keep church real. They keep us from becoming sickly sweet (where people settle for pat answers and wear plastic smiles). Stories help us understand our own journey and help us understand other people much better.
I encourage you as you meet people at Bethel to ask them to tell you their story. Listen and learn. These “best-kept secrets” need to be told. You will be glad you asked!
When I think of “in and out” I think of how I like to shop. Get in, get what you need, and get out, unless it’s Costco, of course. I think of going to the doctor’s office – get in and get out as quickly as possible. Long waits and full body examinations are not my idea of a great way to spend the day!
For some the in and out pattern applies to their experience of church. Sunday morning represents the one and only time in the week that they have contact with the body of Christ. They come in the same entrance, down the same aisle each week. They answer the most commonly asked and insincere question, “how are you?”- the same way – “fine”, even though it may be the furthest thing from the truth (excuse my cynicism). Then they proceed to find their safe space (not too close to the front) where they can view the action up front. Once the service is over, they make as little eye contact as possible, smile when necessary and move toward the exit. Once the exit door is behind them, their in and out experience is over until the next week, same time, same answer (“fine”) same pew.
As a Bethelite, how many do you think essentially experience church like this each week? How many never connect, don’t want to connect or cannot find any engaging opportunity to connect? How many experience this kind of crowded loneliness in the pew each week? I have talked with several of you who feel this is a challenge area at Bethel. Several feel that we need to somehowcrack the code of insular living, cocooning, and help people experience authentic community.
Is this your experience: in and out? Let’s work at changing it for yourself and for others!
One of the realities of living in Kingston is the incredible diversity that shapes this city. When you walk the streets you can see a little of everything on any given day: students, tourists, retirees, young mothers with kids, the poor, the very rich, military, joggers, walkers, etc. You get the idea, this city is a collection of extremes! Bethel is no different. We are not a one dimensional church. We have a broad group of people representing every season of life and pretty much every economic level. Bethel does not pride itself in being a church of one kind, colour or taste but like Baskin and Robbins we have a number of “flavours” making up this body.
At times during Bethel’s history this diversity has created fracture lines and disrupted unity. We do have some healing wounds from learning to live together and thrive in our diversity. As I talk to people who come to Bethel I hear often the theme that Bethel is learning how to celebrate diversity, learning from each others’ differences, and becoming stronger, not weaker, because we are not all alike. There is a huge desire by many to see a better integration amongst the generations and to see how we can strengthen the ties between people of extreme differences.
Let me encourage you as you attend each week not to always move toward people who are like you, but to step out and embrace diversity. Look for people unlike yourself, and engage, pursue and learn from them. You may be surprised what they can teach you about being a Christ follower!
Trust is being restored.
I’m sure that all of us have experienced a relationship where trust was broken, fractured or totally destroyed. As many of you know the restoration process takes time and lots of intentionality. Even then, sometimes trust is hard to recapture. Trust is an essential part of any relationship. It is key to a healthy functioning church. Without it all kinds of complexities emerge…
· we make policies to control rather than to empower
· we harbour deep suspicions of each other (especially leadership)
· we tend to see others through a skewed lens
· we create unhealthy “camps” in the church (the “us/ them” mentality)
· we allow old wounds to fester and as a result nurture an unhealthy spirit
· we use words that at times create walls instead of building bridges
One of the things that I am learning at Bethel is that we are walking through a process of building trust. One of the ways we are attempting to do this is by growing in transparency as leaders. This involves engaging in dialogue on issues, informing the church body on relevant issues, and modeling transparency in our teaching. It also requires a concerted effort by all to deal with the root causes wherever and whenever we see a lack of trust immobilizing the body. We all need to be builders of trust! Bethel is on a great journey and is in a good season. Let’s all realize our part in helping Bethel grow into the purposes God has for her!