Recently the youth of Bethel, and their fearless youth volunteer leaders, journeyed to Camp Nakamun for their annual winter retreat. The theme this year was: “Enter the Story.” Throughout the weekend, we retraced the “Story of God” in the Bible, moving through the acts of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Re-Creation.
Students were given an opportunity to meditate on God’s Word, focusing on one of the acts of The Story. One group of students chose to study the Creation – looking through many articles and commentaries to learn more. Another dreamed up stunning dramas based upon the Fall in Romans 3 and Genesis 3. Those who chose Redemption wrote short stories, poetry and songs about Jesus’ saving work. Finally, the Re-Creation group created paintings and sketches to portray what they imagine the New Heavens and New Earth will look like. When everyone gathered together to share their creative works I was incredibly blessed by the thoughtfulness and depth that went into each students work.
The highlight of the retreat was certainly an extended time of prayer and intercession that broke out. On Saturday November 21st, the youth of Bethel experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit and felt God’s love in a powerful way! Students in High School and Junior High laid hands on each other and prayed blessing. Broken before God and each other, many made commitments to Christ and to follow after Him daily in their lives. Our time of prayer changed the complexion of the weekend. Students voted to keep on praying instead of going outside and playing a wide game! (You know God is working when…)
The message that night was on the parable of the Lost Sheep in the book of Matthew. While the sheep in Luke’s account are unbelievers, in Matthew the sheep represent believers who have lost their way. As one by one we realized our own lostness, we were encouraged that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who always goes after His own. God loves us all so much that He will pursue us until the very end. The Love of God changes everything!
- Pastor Ryan
At our most recent meeting, our Managing Elders endorsed a bold proposal from our Capital Campaign Team. With our very successful, building campaign entering its last days, and with just over $300,000 still outstanding on our Mortgage, the Campaign Team asked if they could appeal to the congregation to eliminate our remaining debt within one year. This would free up approximately $40,000 per year, for ministry, that is currently being paid toward the mortgage. Did I mention that this was a bold proposal?
This is the vision that Dan Van Keeken will cast this Sunday morning (or did cast--depending on when you are reading this). What I would like to tell you now is the amazing backstory that led to this proposal. It is a story that was in progress when I first arrived at Bethel three years ago. It intrigued me then and continues to fascinate me today.
When I came to the church, Bethel had just finished raising $800,000 in cash and three-year pledges for the building of the new wing of the church. $800,000 is a sizable amount of money, but that isn’t what amazed me about this campaign. What amazed me is that this capital campaign was not organized as I have always seen these campaigns organized throughout all my years of ministry.
Normally, when a church is entering a building phase, a church’s leadership will carefully select a Capital Campaign Team and task them to plan for, and execute, the raising of money. At Bethel it did not happen that way. Instead, when they saw that no campaign had been planned for the upcoming building project, a group of people passionate to see God glorified, and passionate to see us at Bethel handling our finances wisely, stepped forward and volunteered for the massive task of casting the vision and visiting every household in the church to raise the needed funds. That a group of people, out of their love for God and the church, would do this on their own, astounds and humbles me.
Well, now this group is at the end of the campaign. They have done a great job, and the fundraising has been very successful. If they quietly laid their responsibility down, and accepted our thanks, that is all anyone could ask of them. Instead, this team began a conversation with the Managing Elders some months ago to communicate a single message: “Think of the great things we could do as a church if we were debt free. Let us ask the congregation to extend their gifts and pledges for one year. Let us invite others to join in who did not have the opportunity to give the first time around.”
To me this team’s actions are evidence that the Holy Spirit is moving at Bethel. Businesses typically work from the top down. In the Body of Christ, The Holy Spirit gifts every member according to His sovereign pleasure. Any member can make an impact on the whole body. When different parts of the Body sense God’s call, and act faithfully, the church will move and grow. When this happens, even the most extraordinary things can happen—like a group of people, gifted for stewardship, calling the church to a better future through the joy of generosity. Thank you team members Mike Huisman (Chair), Helena Myschuk, Dan Van Keeken, John Vleeming, and Melvin Werkman.
This week someone made a special point to come to talk to me. They said, “I believe the Lord spoke to my heart saying that a new revival is coming to Bethel. I believe He wanted me to come and encourage you with these words.”
How do you respond to this story? My guess is that:
· Some of you will find this very exciting.
· Some of you will say, “I don’t get it. I don’t feel like I, or other Bethel Church members, need reviving.”
· Still others will wonder: “Can we really trust these kinds of ‘words from God’?”
Before I describe how I responded to it, let me explain the word “revival.” “Revival” describes God working in such a way that His people in a particular location come to feel a deep sense of conviction about God’s holiness, their sins, and the truth of God’s Word. They repent from wrong thoughts and actions, find inner refreshment and renewal, experience new enthusiasm for serving God, and gain a new boldness for declaring the Gospel.
Revival often leads to reformation. This means that more and more people coming to Christ because of the revival live out their discipleship where they live, study, work, and play. As a result, society itself starts to change for the better.
Now that sounds pretty good to me. What follower of Jesus would not welcome an experience of inner refreshment and a new vibrancy in the church that makes the world a better place?
Do I believe a revival is coming to Bethel? Well, I do trust the character of the person who shared this word. I am mindful of Paul’s words, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt,” (1 Thessalonians 5:20), and I believe that “nothing is impossible with God.” At the same time I know that God is sovereign with respect to when, and how things happen in the world. With all these things in mind I am taking the approach of Mary the mother of our Lord. Whenever she heard prophecies spoken about her Son, we are told that she “treasured up all these things.” (Luke 2:19). So I will treasure this promise, pray for revival, and hope expectantly that God will be gracious to us.
(If you want to read some of the Bible’s accounts of revival, check out the following verses: Genesis 35:1-15; Exodus 32 & 33; 1 Samuel 7:1-13; 1 Kings 18; 2 Chronicles 14-16; 2 Chronicles 20; 2 Chronicles 30; 2 Chronicles 34-35; Haggai 1 & Zechariah 1:1-6; Nehemiah 8; Acts 2; Acts 8:1-25; Acts 10 & 11:1-18; Acts 19)
Is the church a hospital for sinners or a barracks for soldiers? In other words, is the church a community of broken and needy people, slowly being healed through God’s help, or a triumphant army of overcoming warriors empowered by His Spirit? The answer, of course, is “both.” A discussion that took place in my small group following last week’s message (in which I referenced pornography) reminded me of how important it is to hold both of these realities in fine balance.
The discussion centered on the question: “How can our church community live out our faith in such a way that we can be a place where people struggling with sin (pornography for example) can find healing?” One of our members talked about a gay relative whom she is trying to love, who was hurt by the church in the past. We wondered aloud if prostitutes and others with “notorious” sins would feel as eager to spend time with us as they did with Jesus during earthly ministry.
As a church we face a tension. We need to be striving for holiness; however, there is always the temptation, if we experience some success at it, that we will forget how desperately we still need grace daily, and how long a way we each still have to go before we will be like Jesus. If believers become self-confident rather than “Christ-confident” an inevitable smugness creeps in. Struggling people sense the judgmentalism and will stay away or hide their struggle.
With the Spirit’s help, we can each embrace our identity both as a “needy saint” and an “overcoming warrior.” Then our community will be characterized by the sweet atmosphere of truth and love—a community that is truly authentic, a place where people will be challenged to grow even as they receive support and encouragement. In that way we will grow together toward the maturity in Christ that Paul, in Ephesians 4:15, encourages every church to strive for.
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