OUR VISIT TO THE SADDLE LAKE RESERVATION
Eleven of us from Bethel drove to the Saddle Lake Reservation this past Wednesday. We spent the day touring its various facilities and meeting the people there. We were guided by missionary Philip Lee, whose work among the youth of Saddle Lake we support. Our hope was to learn more about the First Nations people at Saddle Lake and, in some small way, to be agents of reconciliation.
Two things about the trip stand out to me in particular. The first is the unique spiritual openness of the people we encountered. On several occasions we asked if we could pray for the person who had just spoken to us about some facet of life at Saddle Lake—the Economic Development Officer, the Administrator at the Council building, our residential school tour guide. In every case these people were not only welcoming of this but genuinely appreciative. On one occasion, after learning that we had been praying for the youth of Saddle Lake while in the Youth Center, an employee suggested we also go to the building where the (all too frequent) funerals are conducted and pray there, as well.
The other aspect of the trip that stands out to me is much sadder. It was our tour of the residential school. It explains why First Nations peoples can be so resistant to the Gospel. Terrible things were perpetrated at that school in the name of Christ, under the priests and nuns who supervised it.
Alsena White, our guide and a survivor of the system, explained how she lost her name when she entered the residential school at aged 5 and was referred to solely by her identifying number, “eleven,” from that day forward. Since she was judged a slow learner, those in charge made her a housemaid. She never learned how to read and write. Alsena was routinely sworn at, humiliated, and physically abused. She remembers being severely punished because she smiled and waved at her brother when she saw him in the school cafeteria. (Girls were not to have contact with the boys.)
Even as those of us who went to Saddle Lake continue to process our thoughts, our Church has plans to further our connection with this reservation. We have invited Alsena White to come to speak at the Truth and Reconciliation evening which we have planned May 7. (I think you will be touched, as we were, by her honesty and warmth). We are hoping that a group from Saddle Lake will also come here and have a meal with us as part of that day. We want our upcoming Truth and Reconciliation event to be about real people and real relationships rather than about abstract concepts.
On our tour of Saddle Lake, wherever we went, Philip Lee introduced us as “the people from the Church in Edmonton who pray for Saddle Lake.” This is a accurate description. There are many at Bethel committed to praying for Saddle Lake. I encourage you to keep this First Nation’s people, and our ongoing relationship with them, in your prayers. –Pastor Tom
WHAT I LEARNED—AGAIN
I spent last week in Florida at The More and Better Conference. The “More and Better” in this title refers to making more disciples of Jesus, and better disciples of Jesus, in obedience to the Great Commission. Through the conference I was reminded of what is really important in our life as a church and in my role as a pastor. In a word, that thing is the Gospel.
The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” When the Bible was written, the word “gospel” described the proclamation of something momentous, like: “Our troops have won the battle,” or “A new emperor has taken the throne.” It was not advice or speculation but the declaration of an accomplished fact. In reference to Jesus, the Gospel is the declaration that He died and rose again so that everyone who believes in Him can have new life.
The Gospel is not just a message for beginners. Some Christian’s think that the Gospel merely tells us how to come to faith—that it is like learning the “ABC’s” of faith and that once you have learned this simple message you graduate to deeper things. But this is not true. As a Christ-follower you can never go beyond the Gospel. You can only go deeper into it.
The only sermons that can feed us are Gospel sermons. Every text in the Bible is an expression of the Gospel if it is properly understood. A preacher who tells people to live the Christian life, but then fails to point his hearers away from themselves to Christ, His death, and resurrection power, is merely preaching legalism. He is proclaiming the anti-Gospel. He is only telling Christians what every religion in the world tells its adherents to do.
As is it often pointed out, religion says, “do,” but the Gospel says, “done.” Religion tires us out and hardens our hearts. The Gospel refreshes us. Jesus invites all who are weak and weary because of religion to come and take upon themselves His easy yoke.
The Gospel is “the Power of God for Salvation to everyone who believes. We need to gain fresh confidence in this message’s power to save others and to save us.
My renewed commitment is to proclaim the Gospel every week—to lead us through each week’s Bible passage to the life-giving streams of God’s grace. My prayer is that the lost will be found, and that the found will found again, and again, and again.—Pastor Tom
“He Equips the Call!”
Greg Boskers, one of Bethel’s management elders, spoke to us all recently and announced that the time has come again to elect new office-bearers in the church. As a congregation we are looking for Christ-like women and men to step up and take on various leadership capacities in the church. What are the various roles we are electing people to?
First, there are management elders who are the visionary team who prayerfully discern God’s leading, and make key decisions for Bethel. Second, there are shepherding elders who take the mantle of spiritual care in the body. Lastly, there are deacons who seek to help those in need, both in the congregation and the community, and seek to promote justice.
Paul writes to his apprentice Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:1: “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” He then lists qualifications for these leaders. Becoming a leader in God’s church is a noble task filled with exciting challenges and profound blessings. Do you know someone who loves God with all their heart, and would make a great leader at Bethel?
I want to ask you to prayerfully consider nominating someone to serve as an office-bearer at Bethel. If you have the honor of being nominated for a position, and are asked to serve, pray to God and ask whether you should say yes.
It is possible that you might feel under-qualified (this is probably a good sign), and you might feel too busy. If you do, I want to encourage you with these words borrowed from my mentor:
“God does not call the equipped; He equips the call!”
The church, which is reflected in all of its diversity of gifts, personalities, and experiences, is a testament to the incredible faithfulness of God. Jesus is in the business of routinely doing amazing things through ordinary people.
To God be the Glory! -Pastor Ryan
MORE THAN FUN IN THE SUN
As you read this, I should be sitting (or standing or walking) under Florida’s sunny skies. Janet and I came here for a five-day vacation, because I am scheduled to take part in a very special Church Renewal Labs seminar here. It is that seminar that I want to talk to you about and for which I would like to ask your prayers.
The name of the seminar is More and Better. It is about all how to make more disciples of Jesus, and better trained disciples of Jesus than we are currently seeing in North America. In other words, it is about getting back to doing what Jesus instructed us to do when he gave us the Great Commission.
During our time here will be meeting with pastors who have been successful both as evangelists and disciple-makers. One Christian Reformed pastor who will be addressing us has witnessed 500 people join his church through evangelism in the past ten years. Another pastor developed a program of disciple-making and saw 125 people come to faith in Christ and be enfolded into a small discipleship groups in a single year. He did not lead all these people to faith and undertake their instruction. Rather it is the people he led to faith and discipled are doing so!
Doesn’t this sound wonderful? Can you imagine scores of new Christians being loved and taught the faith in an intentional way through your words, example, and prayers as well those of others at Bethel? That is what happened in the early church, and what has happened everywhere the Gospel has advanced most successfully.
I believe I have witnessed a deepening hunger for God’s Word at Bethel in the last years. I also believe I am seeing more people investigating faith or renewing their commitment to faith than in previous years. Let’s pray that we can faithfully disciple those whom God entrusts to us, and that he will Bethel Church in greater way than we have ever imagined.--Pastor Tom
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