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,
At the end of December, Pastor Ryan will finish his work at Bethel. He will spend January studying and preparing for church planting, and then he will embark on his new role as pastor of the emerging Bridge Church. That means that as 2019 unfolds we at Bethel will be opening a new chapter in our life as a church. What should we expect?
There are some things we cannot know about the coming year—like who will fill Ryan’s shoes after he leaves and when that person will arrive at Bethel. But some things we can know. For example:
Our Youth Director Melanie Wright will be taking on leadership of the young adults’ ministry starting January 1. She will be adding 10 hours to her current 30-hour work week to bring her up to fulltime. She will turn over her young adult responsibility to the new pastor once he or she arrives.
Wendy Werkman will be assuming responsibility for Bethel’s small groups till we get a new pastor. She will not be adding hours to her work week; rather, she will rearrange her work responsibilities to make time for small group’s ministry.
We are exploring ways to get preaching and pastoral assistance. Our current plan is to invite preachers to fill the pulpit occasionally. We will also consider hiring someone part time who can both preach and carry out some pastoral responsibilities. We look forward to Pastor Ryan’s preaching at Bethel on occasion, as well (before the Bridge Church starts its own Sunday worship services in September). There are also some significant events coming up in the New Year.
On Sunday February 3, the Sunday following Pastor Ryan’s sabbatical, we will officially bid “farewell” to Ryan, Jessica, and family. On February 9, we will celebrate our church’s 40th anniversary with a potluck supper followed by an evening of activities. Then, the following Sunday (February 17) we will lay hands on the Bridge launch team members and officially commission them for their missional work.
We are in an exciting time as a church. All of these plans reflect that God is doing a significant work among us. We can move into the future expectantly, knowing we are in His hands.—Pastor Tom
A DREAM FOR GIRLS
I love talking with our GEMS Girls’ Club director, Viola Dueck. She is so enthusiastic about her ministry. This week she stopped in to tell me about some of the exciting things happening with our grade-two through grade-six girls. Allow me to share them with you.
The club has a record high number of girls this year—45. Of these, most are from the broader community. A whopping 25 of them are from an unchurched background. This is truly astounding.
I asked Viola what motivates her to do this ministry. She answered, without hesitation, that she wants every girl in her club to know the goodness of God. “He loves me and gave Jesus to die for me so I would not have to pay for my sins—and He did that before I was even born!”
Viola recently had an encounter that deeply affected her. It was with a girl from the broader community who graduated from the program the previous year. Viola asked the girl: “Do you miss GEMS?” The girl’s face turned sad, and she said, “Yes. But the program isn’t for girls my age. That’s just the way it is.”
This encounter birthed a dream in Viola. Her dream is to extend the GEMS program (come fall) past the grade-six level to include grade-seven and grade-eight girls, and also to make a place in the program for even older girls to be Counsellors in Training.
GEMS is just one of the amazing ministries Bethel offers. Other leaders are reporting similar, startling, God activity in their ministries. God is blessing our efforts to serve Him and is entrusting us with many lives. Let’s keep GEMS and all of our ministries in our ongoing prayers. —Pastor Tom
BETHEL’S COMMUNICATIONS GET A FACE LIFT
You will notice that our newsletter and worship folder have a new look this week. We have combined the two documents into one. The new bulletin will be distributed on Sundays, and will also be sent out electronically to those who request it. Why have we made the change? Here are some of our reasons:
Many people were not reading either the worship folder or the newsletter. This is because the worship folder was repetitive from week to week, and the newsletter contained a lot of information that people found irrelevant.
Many items that we have been placing in newsletter can be delivered in more effective ways. For instance, the teens look to the Bethel Youth webpage for their information and prefer to receive notifications by text. The schedules we put in the newsletter to inform us of our church responsibilities can easily be replaced by electronic reminders.
Our guests, and those just starting to attend Bethel, do not received the newsletter electronically and they do not have a mail slot to get their newsletter that way; consequently, they are missing out on important information. Now it will be placed in their hands each Sunday.
If you have been receiving the newsletter by email, you will now receive the bulletin by email. The newsletter will no longer be placed into mail slots, rather a bulletin will be handed to each person who attends worship on a Sunday morning.
You might say our new approach is the “new, old way” of doing things, because we used to deliver our Bethel information in precisely this format. We hope it can be useful again.
Try it out for a few weeks, and then let us know what you think. Give feedback to any staff member and they will relay it back to the church office. In two months we will evaluate our new approach.
THE ALL-IMPORTANT INTANGIBLE
For the last two weeks we have been celebrating our church’s overwhelming response to the ALL IN Campaign. To date, over $247,000 in cash and pledges has been raised. This means we can move ahead with The Bridge Church plant, and we will pay off our church’s mortgage within a month. What an outstanding result!
But there is another important facet of this campaign that we need to keep in mind. The first line on the ALL IN giving envelope invited us to pledge something less tangible than money but every bit as important. It said: “I will pray for The Bridge Church Plant.”
There is no doubt in my mind that the amazing momentum behind this church plant is only explainable in terms of God’s power. We decided to plant a church because we prayerfully discerned that God was leading us to do so. We then bathed the project in prayer culminating with our 24/7 week of prayer last spring. Now we are seeing God’s power on display.
It is not only the campaign result that demonstrates God’s power at work. Pastor Ryan cites new answers to prayer almost daily in connection with the work in Fort Saskatchewan. God is clearly blessing the efforts of our launch team.
So let’s not forget the all-important intangible of prayer. We will need to continue to rely on God’s power in order to see the church plant fully established and many coming to faith in Jesus, and also for Bethel to find the right person to be our second pastor. –Pastor Tom
THE SHAPE OF THE FUTURE
November is going to give us a chance to taste the future. This is because of an assignment given to The Bridge Church members.
The members of The Bridge launch team have been asked to unplug from Bethel for the month of November in order to visit other churches. Their goal is to experience what it is like to be a first-time visitor on a Sunday morning. They are to learn, first hand, what makes them feel welcome, and what makes them feel left out. And to make it a completely authentic experience, they are not to go with friends or other Bridge families.
This exercise is going to give The Bridge members a taste of the future in an obvious way. They will learn what their guests will be experiencing when they visit The Bridge for the first time. They will also know the kind of warm welcome they want to extend to them.
It will give Bethel a taste of the future, as well. For one thing, we will experience what it will be like to not have the nine families who departing for The Bridge in our midst from week to week. But positively, and more importantly, this group’s intentionality will inspire us to be more welcoming in the future.
This last item shows us the biggest way this exercise is giving us a taste of things to come. We are starting to experience one of the great benefits of planting a church. The fresh, experimental way this new church is pursuing ministry is helping us to learn and grow. I am confident that there are many, many more things we will learn in years to come. –Pastor Tom
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