WE’RE BUILDING A BRIDGE
This Sunday marks an historic moment. Almost exactly 40 years after Bethel’s pioneers founded this church, we are commissioning nine families to launch Bridge Church in Fort Saskatchewan. Prayer for these families, with laying on of hands, will take place at the end of the 9:00 a.m. service.
Already these Bridge families are involved in significant ministry in the Fort. They meet regularly in their house churches, they have established some essential teams—a Children’s Team, a Worship Team, and a First Impressions/Next Steps Team—and they are preparing to run three Alpha groups starting March 3, with many new and not-yet Christians already signed up.
Over the next several months, leading up to their public launch in September, we will get a taste of the Bridge’s emerging life. Praise bands made up of Bridge members will lead us in worship from time to time to bless us and to prepare themselves for their future. Those families departing for Bridge Church will continue to worship with us, but they will be more sporadic in their attendance as September approaches, and as they commit more and more time to their new ministry.
Your prayers are needed at this critical time in the new church’s life. The Bridge is a beachhead for mission, and the Evil One will resist this group at every point. Let’s pray for the future of this fledgling church even as we celebrate this milestone for both of our churches! --Pastor Tom
The Next Forty Years
We are celebrating our 40th anniversary as a church this weekend. Forty is a pretty significant number in the Bible, and I believe our 40th could signal something very significant for us.
Moses spend 40 years in exile before being called to lead the people of Israel.
The Israelites wandered for 40 years before they entered the Promised Land.
Jesus fasted for 40 days before starting His ministry
After His Resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with His disciples before ascending to heaven.
So, in the Bible, a period of 40 years, or days, often preceded a fresh, new moving of God. My prayer is that this will be Bethel’s story.
In the case of churches, good things don’t automatically follow after their 40- year mark. Many congregations tend toward a predictable growth path. Like people, they will go through the stages of infancy, adolescence, adulthood, and old age.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. God is always prepared to pour out His Spirit on those who are responsive to Him, and who are committed to obey what He says. If we go into the future with faith and forethought—trusting God and following His lead—there is no reason to believe Bethel won’t celebrate another 40 years of ministry and another after that.
God has given us a wonderful first 40 years as a church. I believe He is inviting us to join Him in a renewed journey of faith, with fresh surprises and blessing in store. –Pastor Tom
A SAD/HAPPY “GOODBYE”
Today we are saying “goodbye” to Pastor Ryan, Jessica, and children. After serving at Bethel Church for 11 years, Pastor Ryan is leaving to serve the emerging Bridge Church in Fort Saskatchewan.
This is such a sad/happy occasion for us as a church. On the one hand, this is an exciting time. It represents a high point for both the Peddes and Bethel Church. Pastor Ryan will be giving leadership to a church for which we have planned and prayed for five years. He will be fulfilling his personal life-long dream of planting a church. We trust that many, now living far from God, will hear and receive the Good News of Jesus Christ through his ministry.
On the other hand, this is a sad occasion because we are saying “goodbye” to a family we have come to love. Pastor Ryan and Jessica came to Bethel after graduating from Vanguard College. Ryan invested 11 years into Bethel and has made a huge difference in the lives of many youth and young adults. When he became our Second Pastor he touched all of us through his wider ministry and preaching. Jessica made an impact as a partner in ministry with Ryan.
We deeply appreciate the sacrifice the Peddes are making. Settling into a new city and being responsible for an emerging church is no easy task.
We are grateful that our “goodbye” is not the end of our relationship or even of our contact. We hope to stay in close touch with Bridge Church and to have Pastor Ryan preach from time to time.
We will say our farewell to the Peddes at the end of the 9:00 a.m. service today. Refreshments and cake afterward will be serve afterward. –Pastor Tom
GOING BIG IN BANNERMAN
More and more, Bethel Church is being seen as a vital partner in our church’s community. We regularly work together with the Bannerman Community League to put on special events. I also meet monthly with local community leaders to discuss how we can add value to the neighborhood through our joint efforts. Now our church is about to make our biggest investment yet into the Bannerman community.
As you will recall we raised an amazing $284,702 through our recent ALL IN Campaign in support of the Fort Saskatchewan church plant and related causes. We specified that everything we raised above our $250,000 goal would be invested directly into the Bannerman Community. That means we have nearly $35,000 to invest, once all the pledges are honored. (There may even be more, if the funds designated for hiring a new pastor are not all spent.)
I recently approached the local Community League to get their input into how we should spend this money. In response they invited me to a planning meeting being held this week to identify their strategic priorities for the coming years.
This invitation is a big step in our partnership with the community, and it’s a huge honor. This goes well beyond doing a joint project together. The Community League wants Bethel to be in on the ground floor of their thinking and strategizing for the neighborhood we all care so much about!
I will share any information I receive with our newly appointed “Bless Bannerman Team.” This team will meet on February 11 with our community social worker to try to formulate a proposal about how to spend our dollars in Bannerman.
The Bless Bannerman Team consists of Carley Clarke, Ed Dubbeldam, Calvin Vander Leest, Sid VanderMeulen, and myself. As we prepare to make this big investment, I encourage you to give us any information you think might help us to bless our local community! --Pastor Tom
EXCITING THINGS ARE HAPPENING IN BETHEL’S MINISTRIES
Recently, Bethel’s ministry leaders met at the church to share supper together and talk. We try to meet like this at least once each year. Our meetings are a time for supporting one another, sharing updates, and giving feedback that can make our ministries even more effective.
This time around, we reaffirmed that we are all committed to fulfilling Bethel’s mission: “Becoming like Christ; Sharing Him with Others.” We talked about the importance of making ministry participants aware of everything Bethel has to offer. We want people who come to faith through our ministries to grow in Christ through full participation in Bethel’s life.
We heard some encouraging reports. Here are a few:
At an Oasis Bible study, a woman prayed her first prayer ever! She later took an Alpha course where she was deeply moved by God’s love.
The Taekwondo Ministry is bursting at the seams. Many of the participants in this ministry are hearing Bible stories for the first time in their lives!
The Women’s ministry reported that they received incredible support at their fall retreat. Not only did people step up (spontaneously) to offer help at the event, but they had two women volunteer for leadership roles. They now have a full complement on their leadership team.
Most of the leaders gave thanks that they have all the volunteers they need for their ministries. However these ministries could use another dedicated person or two to help: Bethel Kids, Cadets, Dove Taekwondo, and GEMS. (Please contact, Theme VanHeerden, Calvin Vanderleest, Glen Oosterhof, or Viola Dueck respectively, if you can help out.)
I am deeply encouraged by the investment of so many in our church as we seek to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. —Pastor Tom
WHAT I DISCOVERED READING MY BIBLE
This year we are taking a journey through the New Testament together as a church. Everyone has been encouraged to read five chapters of the Bible per week, journal what they discover in each chapter, and then share their reflections with one other person or with their small group. I’d like to share with you something that impacted me while I was doing this week’s reading.
The “wow” moment came from my reading of John 13. That chapter relates how Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer by handing him a piece of bread during His final supper with his disciples. John says darkly “As soon as Judas took the bread Satan entered into him.”
Even though I know this story well, its truth startled me all over again when I read it. I wondered, “How it is possible is that Judas could be at such a low place spiritually, that he could actually betray Christ?” Because we are familiar with the story, we can easily think that Judas’ badness was obvious to all—like he wore a name tag that said “the bad guy.” But this is not the case.
Consider: Judas had been chosen by Jesus to be among His select group of disciples! Judas had healed the sick! He had cast out demons! All the other believers saw him as a promising young leader. Jesus’ other apostles did not understand it when Jesus exposed Judas’ treachery. It went right over their heads because his betrayal of Jesus was simply outside the realm of possibility for them.
Judas had a perfect façade of spirituality, but inside his heart had become deeply corrupted. Certainly, it didn’t happen all at once. It must have come one choice at a time—one mental compromise here, one temptation indulged there—till greed and bitterness that settled into his heart, and he was capable of things that would shocked and dismay him.
This sobers me. How tempting it is to pursue outward spiritual activities while neglecting the inner fire. It is the “occupational hazard” of every Christian. And pastors! Too many pastors who once had powerful ministries have brought disgrace to God and the church because they failed to nurture an authentic relationship with God.
So, that is how God spoke to me this week. How is He speaking to you? I would love to know.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE NEW YEAR
I am sure you have hopes and dreams for the New Year. I’d like to share with you my hopes and dreams for Bethel Church. They revolve around our church’s three core commitments: Communion, Community, and Calling.
Communion: I pray that we will walk more closely with Jesus than ever before. My prayer for each of us is that our lives will flow naturally (or maybe I should say “supernaturally”) from our fellowship with Jesus. I pray that, as families, we will have frequent, meaningful times of discussing God’s Word together and will readily share our faith stories with one another.
Community: I pray that we will love one another more deeply than ever before. I am so grateful for comments like this one made to me by a guest last week: “I like this church. It is like a family.” I am also grateful for the many acts of sacrificial kindness that I witness extended by Bethelites to other members of the community. I pray God will help us to make the sacrifices necessary to grow even deeper in love.
Calling: I pray that we will speak and live for Jesus more boldly than ever before. I genuinely sense we are on the verge of a breakthrough here. I believe Bethelites eagerly want to impact their friends and communities and our church’s neighborhood, with the love and Good News of Jesus. I pray that we will see many people, now living far from God, enfolded into the community this year.
I look forward to this hope-filled year of ministry with you! –Pastor Tom
LOOKING BACK ON THE YEAR
The year’s end is a wonderful time to look back over past year to see what God has done for us. The Bible encourages us to take this kind of retrospective look regularly in order to give thanks for the many ways God has demonstrated His faithfulness. Not only does this give God the glory He deserves, but it also nurtures our faith. Gratitude gives birth to joy. When I look back over the church year I feel profoundly grateful. Some things that stand out for me are:
We experienced the Pure at Heart events aimed at alerting families to the dangers of pornography and setting people free from porn addiction. Hundreds of people attended the events aimed at couples, parents, men, and women.
We spent seven solid days and nights in prayer as a church, with Bethelites taking turns spending time in one of several prayer rooms. Relatedly, people seem to be growing in their prayer lives as evidenced by how our prayer ministries are flourishing.
Six people joined the church through evangelism, and we believe this is the start of a pattern. We are praying and trusting God to draw people to Bethel who are now living far from Him.
The churches of our region endorsed a plan to plant a church in partnership with us. Pastor Ryan along with nine Bethel families accepted the challenge to step out to launch Bridge Church. Bethel gave a whopping $281,000 to support the new work, secure Bethel’s future through the transition, and bless the Bannerman neighborhood.
What has God done for you this year? Look back and give thanks. It will make you happy.
THE CHRISTMAS BUZZ AT BETHEL
A lot of community-oriented Christmas activities are going on at Bethel, and I am excited by what I am experiencing.
This week our staff observed an annual tradition. We delivered chocolates to our church’s neighbors and thanked them for allowing us to park our cars in front of their houses all year long.
We had some encouraging conversations. As I handed a bag of chocolates to one person, she said, in a joyful, singsong way, “Oh, from the church!” Someone else said that she is Roman Catholic but comes to Bethel about four times per year and always enjoys her visits. Someone else said she came to our community Christmas dinner this year. These are all positive signs that Bethel Church is making its way into the hearts of our neighbors.
At our recent community Christmas dinner we served a record number of people. I sat with several community leaders who are my friends through the Bannerman Partners’ group that meets at Bethel each month. I was deeply impressed by three things this year: 1) How many local (Bannerman) residents came to the dinner, 2) Just how diverse our guests were in terms of ethnicity and socio-economic background, 3) How freely and tactfully Bethelites talked about faith and/or invited guests to church.
The next big community-oriented activity on the calendar is our Christmas Eve service. We anticipate that many who are searching for God will be there. Janet and I have invited our neighbors to come, and I just invited another person today. (I’m quite sure she’ll come!) I am praying that God will make the Gospel come alive to all who attend! --Pastor Tom
Change can be unbelievably exciting. Change can be incredibly difficult. This tension of releasing the old and embracing the new has been a journey for my family and also for Bethel over the last year.
In just the last few months, Jessica, the kids and I have moved to Fort Saskatchewan. We have settled in to a new community and are building many new relationships. Over the last few months, incrementally my work time has been moving away from Bethel and to the Bridge. On December 1st, Jessica gave birth to a new baby, Isaac Jack. Everything in our lives is new right now.
Leaving Bethel is bittersweet. I have experienced many lasts recently. This Tuesday will be my last staff meeting after ten and a half years of them. This is my last Pastor’s Corner. Soon I will preach my last sermon as an employee of Bethel. There will be tears and hugs. Joy mixed with sadness. Every week I take a few more of my books from Bethel to my home office in Fort Saskatchewan. While the future is filled with promise and Kingdom opportunity, I cannot help but be sentimental and reflective right now.
For Bethel, the Fort church plant represents exciting change but also sadness as well. It is exciting because you are being obedient to God’s call to Mission in the world. However, building the Kingdom of God takes real sacrifice, prayer and hard work. You will say goodbye to families you have loved for many years. Finances have been sacrificed to send these families off well. A new pastor will be called soon. New volunteers will fill the empty places of those who have left. It may not be always be easy, but I can promise you that we will all be blessed.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 19 that those who leave family, houses or fields for the sake of Jesus’ mission will gain these things back 100-fold and gain eternal life. We can take comfort in these words. Why do we do these kinds of things? Simply put, the whole world needs to know that God loves them and sent His Son Jesus. It is what Christmas is about, and a message worth living for, sacrificing for, and dying for to spread.
This is not goodbye yet, we will save that for February.
Grace and Peace,
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