In a community as large and diverse as Bethel many great things are happening all over. At times it is difficult to celebrate all of the many victories that arise throughout a given year. Many volunteer their time behind the scenes, others give generously without any thought of thanks. I want to share one of these victories.
Two years ago a new World Missions Team formed at Bethel. Over the last couple of years this team has thoughtfully worked towards encouraging faithfulness to Christ’s global call to the Great Commission. Particular attention has been given to missionary support. Bethel is now in regular contact with our missionaries and there is mutual prayer and encouragement happening. This has meant greater exposure for our missionaries on a congregational level.
Perhaps the most telling sign that things are moving in the right direction is in terms of financial support. In just one year Bethel’s support to World Missionaries has tripled!
Who are our current Missionaries? In Nicaragua Bethel supports the Ezra Team, a group of local missionaries sharing the Gospel based out of the Nehemiah Centre. In El Salvador Bethel supports Rachel Beveridge and Roland Vanderburg based out of Seeds of New Creation. You can expect a new missionary to be added to our list next year.
On Sunday June 28th the exploratory team to Nicaragua and El Salvador will share more about what God is doing. They will talk about what other possibilities there are for Bethel to make an impact around the world. You can also expect to see an informative bulletin board with bios on our Missionaries, and one of them, Roland Vanderburg, is coming to visit us in August.
There is nothing more important on this planet than sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ! Our world missionaries have given their lives to see the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel around the world. With them, we dream of the day when every tribe, every tongue and every nation worships the King of Kings.
Sometimes the most momentous things in life happen in quiet moments. Like a rock falling into still waters that sends ripples far out over surface of the lake, these times have an impact well beyond what is apparent at first. I believe the gathering of Managing Elders that took place in my home this past Monday was one of those times. The meeting was relaxed and comfortable. It had the atmosphere of a small group meeting, such as the ones many of us experience regularly. But for all its seeming innocuousness, something happened that I believe will significantly shape the life of our church for years to come.
The purpose of our meeting was to create a covenant—a document that would describe our commitment to one another and to the Lord. The covenant came to include statements about being faithful to maintain our personal walk with the Lord, loving one another, being respectful even when we disagree with one another, upholding one another’s reputation, keeping confidences, and striving for consensus in all decisions—along with several other things.
There are two reasons I believe this exercise was significant and will have lasting value for Bethel Church. First, it means that as a leadership team we want to be more than just a group of decision makers. Often the leadership role, even in churches, gets reduced to that. Decisions are made, but there is no depth of relationship in the group, no commitment to one another. By making a covenant, we want to affirm that we are the church, and the church is unique. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We want our decisions to flow out of the relationship we share in Him.
The second reason our evening was significant is that we are committing ourselves to be a model for the church. In one way, our covenant only describes how every Christ-follower should act toward every other Christ-follower in the church, and that is precisely the point. As leaders we believe we should strive to exemplify the life we hope our community will live. As our covenant puts it: “We commit to being a living example of what we hope the congregation will be.”
I am very grateful for my fellow office bearers. I think (and pray and hope and trust) that our commitment will have a slow but profound effect on the way we live out our faith as a Christian community.
Imagine this: You are standing in the Egyptian desert facing the Nile River. You are looking at a lush paradise growing out of the rich alluvial soil along its banks. Now you turn around 180 degrees. In stark contrast to the greenery you had been looking at, you find yourself staring into the vast Sahara. To the ancient Egyptians the desert was the realm of Set, the dangerous god of chaos.
Again and again on my recent trip to the Middle East, both while walking along the Nile and while looking down upon this ancient river from high above, I saw this stark line that marked the end of the fertile lands and the start of Set’s land. That stark line represents a counter intuitive choice that faces every believer if he or she wants to choose the life God has for them.
The ancient Israelites lived in the lush Nile delta when God first came to them and told them to follow Him into the desert. God told them that if they stayed in their Nile-side home it would result in death for them, but, if they followed Him into the wilderness, it would mean life for them. For all the hardships they suffered in Egypt, it must have been hard for them to believe that the wilderness could lead to life.
But it did, and it did so because it was there, through all its severe challenges, that God shaped them to be His people. There He taught his people to trust Him, with the guarantee that in trusting him they would find the real purpose of life.
Our wildernesses today have the same meaning. The world seduces us with promises to “come and find life.” However, God says that the way of the world is the way of death. It is alluring, but its promises are ephemeral. As a Christian, you can always know that your wilderness, as impossible as it seems, is the place where God is shaping you and teaching you to embrace the true life that He has for you.
— Pastor Tom
Janet and I are back from the Middle East. We have finished two and a half weeks of touring through Egypt, Jordan, and Israel along with 41 other area pastors and spouses from the Christian Reformed denomination. The trip was so impactful it is hard to know how to begin to explain it. One thing that impresses me strongly as I reflect on the trip is that it was both like what I expected, and yet, surprising unlike what I had imagined it would be.
I expected the trip to be rigorous, and it was. The organizers had warned us to train hard in preparation. Once in the Middle East our leader repeatedly reminded us: “You are not tourists--you are investments.” We were there at someone else’s expense, and he intended to make sure we experienced everything we possibly could in the short time we had available.
Consequently, we walked—a lot. We walked in the dessert in 45 degree temperatures. We walked up mountains (notably, Mt. Sinai) and through valleys. My Fitbit device informs me that I set new personal records for steps walked in a single day (over 20,000) and for flights of stairs climbed in a single day (300).
Sometimes our leader asked us to walk even when there was no necessity to do so. Once, after a three hour trek to reach the mountaintop where Jesus may have experienced the transfiguration, our weary group was surprised to discover a road coming up the mountain from the other side. It was the road routinely used by tour busses to drop off passengers at the summit! When this discovery was pointed out to our leader, he said with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, who knew?” He then promptly led us down a precipitous descent on yet another face of the mountain.
So, with respect to its physical demands, the trip was what I expected it to be. However there was also a significant way in which this trip was completely unlike anything I had anticipated.
I thought I was going on a study trip, and it certainly was that, but it was so much more. Our leader did not always tell us exactly where we were going on any given day. We had a general idea, of course, but, at any point during a day he might announce “Come, let us go,” and then we would march off toward some unknown destination. He repeatedly asked us just to trust him. Sometimes he put us into unanticipated situations of challenge, and even risk, where we could only get through the experience by working together and relying on one another.
Slowly I came to see the method in his madness. We had not come to the Middle East merely to see sites and learn history. More important to the trip’s planners was that we should learn again what it means to be the people of God. The Old Testament children of Israel followed a pillar of cloud and fire not always knowing where it would lead them. Jesus’s disciples were also asked to follow their Rabbi in faith. In both cases God was teaching his followers to trust Him so that he could forge them into a certain kind of people—a people who obeyed Him and reflected His character.
We received this trip as a gift of sheer grace (extended through the godly vision and generosity of one couple, Ted and Joanna DeVries of the DeVries foundation). In that way too, the trip mimicked the Christian life. The invitation to follow God is also a gift of sheer grace.
Janet and I believe we have been given a trust, and we want to use this trip to benefit the whole church. We are trusting God to show us how to do that.
Come here for news on what is happening in Bethel Church from our Pastors.