MESSY GRACE IS IN OUR FUTURE
Someone asked me, “What outcomes are you hoping for from your “Messy Grace” sermons? (That was the title of my two recent sermons about the church and those who identify as LGBTQ+.) I was glad for the question because I am hoping and praying for several very specific outcomes. Allow me to share these with you:
That our church community will move forward with truth and love in our relationships with LGBTQ+ members and guests (cf. Ephesians 4:15). It won’t always be easy to express these things with the seamless harmony that Jesus did, but I hope we will each make that our goal. I called my last two sermons “Messy Grace,” for a reason. We will have to be generous-spirited toward one another and toward ourselves as we figure out what this will look like.
That LGBTQ+ individuals will experience love and welcome at Bethel. I think the silence on this issue was creating insecurity and inaction that was hindering our ability to express genuine love and welcome. Now that the silence has been broken, my hope is that we can get on with loving, supporting, and reaching out to those who identify as LGBTQ+.
That we can talk openly with one another about this issue. Already I have seen evidence that this is happening. In the past weeks I have had more conversations about this issue at Bethel than I have ever had before—both with those who agree with me and those who don’t. I praise God for this. It is not healthy for a church to tiptoe around the elephant in the room. Doing so will lead to hurt and misunderstanding rather than loving and respectful conversations.
That we will all look to God for guidance. I hope we are all realizing that the journey ahead is bigger than any of us is able to handle. We will only be able to navigate it as we are all looking to God to find wisdom from his Spirit. As we do so, though we can’t know all that the future holds, we will be able to know that God is holding us.
REFLECTIONS ON OUR INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
A week ago Thursday, I spoke at an interfaith event that also included religious leaders from Edmonton’s Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities. Many of you came. The stated goal of the event was to pursue peace through dialogue. Each speaker was given 15 minutes to talk about their Faith’s founder.
This was the first time I have ever engaged in something like this. Having had a week to think about it, these are my reflections about the event.
Bethel Church is awesome: Many people contacted me to say that they were praying (some even fasting) for me as I prepared my talk. Over 40 Bethelites showed up at the event. I was deeply touched. (Thank you, Bethel!)
Some good things happened: I and other Bethel attendees had a chance to chat with people from the other faith communities. When you get past faith-labels to first names something good happens. Barriers come down. Fear is replaced by understanding and empathy.
I was disappointed: Unfortunately, I felt that the sponsoring group had an agenda for the event that was not advertised. They had banners, and book tables, and backdrops aimed at promoting their faith. They were very hospitable, but it was evident that they had not been completely transparent about their motives for hosting the event. (I wrote a letter to them expressing this.)
We have an amazing Saviour. I was thrilled to be able to talk about Jesus. This was my biggest highlight for me. The Good News is such good news! Jesus stands alone as the worlds one Lord and Saviour, and I was thrilled to be able to describe the wonder of His grace.
I am not sure I would ever do this again: I believe that dialogue, not conflict, is the way forward in our pluralistic society. However, now that I’ve experienced this interfaith dialogue, I am just not sure that it is the most effective avenue for pursuing that goal. There isn’t strife among the faith groups in Edmonton. In the future I think I will just to sit down for a coffee with my neighbours from other faiths.
LONELINESS IN THE CHURCH
I’m reading a book by Wesley Hill called Spiritual Friendship. It is part of my quest to learn how we can be a deeply loving church where all are included, and no one feels lonely.
Do you ever feel lonely? In a church community no one should feel this way, but we sometimes do. It is even possible for people to be very busy in the church—perhaps even leaders in the church—and yet lack deep friendships.
This isn’t how it is supposed to be. It’s not how it was in the early church, and it’s not how it should be today. But how do we break through the relationship barrier to become a community in which men and women, young and old, “red, yellow, black and white” all feel at home? How can the church live Christ’s vision of loving community in a society that pushes us toward isolation? We need to find the way.
We all need the kind of fellowship I am talking about. People without a strong support system will feel the need even more acutely. Wesley Hill, who wrote the book I mentioned, Spiritual Friendship, is a celibate gay Christian. He represents a demographic that desperately needs meaningful Christian fellowship but often can’t find it. Single men and women also face challenges when it comes to experiencing deep community.
Pastor Cris, our new second pastor, shares my passion for deep community. When he arrives we will be talking together about this topic and we will be speaking with our leaders about it, as well. As we prayerfully work together, I am confident that we can become the kind of community Christ wants us to be. –Pastor Tom
ON THE FOREFRONT OF CREATION CARE
I attended the first Climate Hope session hosted at Bethel Church this past Sunday. I didn’t know what to expect, but I came away challenged and encouraged and grateful that Bethel is on the forefront of urging concern for the creation.
The presenters for the evening, Dr. Kristopher Ooms and Dr. Gerda Kits, are both professors at The Kings University here in Edmonton. They laid out the scientific case for climate change and described our Christian responsibility in regard to it. Then they gave opportunity for attendees to ask questions. Many people were in attendance and the discussion was lively.
Occasions like this one make me grateful for the various gifts in the body of Christ. That is because, as Christians, we are called to impact our world on many different levels. We have been called to fulfill the Great Commission (so Bethel has set a goal, along with Bridge Church, of seeing three hundred people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in the next five years). However, we are also called to be leaders when it comes to compassionate ministry and doing justice.
While we all have responsibilities in all of these areas, we can’t all invest ourselves equally in each area. That is why I am thankful that God gives particular gifts and passions to people for the different areas of our calling. We can get all the work done only as we each step out to give leadership in our own area of gifting.
Ideally, our concern for sharing the Good News and our concern for love and justice should work together seamlessly. This seminar shows how that can happen. At least two people I know of, who are detached from church, came to the seminar because they appreciated the leadership this event’s organizers are giving in an area that is so much on the minds Canadians.
To learn about upcoming events in this speaker series, visit facebook.com/780climatehope/ or talk to one of the Climate Hope Team’s organizers who attend Bethel Church: Linda Hofstede, Paul Horsman & Susan Horsman, Jennifer Porritt, Brendan & Alex Middel, and Richard Vriend. –Pastor Tom
CONNECTING WITH OUR CARE-GIVERS
I hung out with Bethel’s Shepherding Elders for the second half of their meeting this past Wednesday. I thought you might like to know what a great job I think they are doing.
As their name suggests, our Shepherding Elders are elected elders who are in charge of “shepherding” us. They focus especially on people who are not in small groups but are available to all of us when the need is there. They create policies that relate to the spiritual and physical health of all Bethel members. They also oversee baptism requests, membership transfers, and the Lord’s Supper.
At the meeting, I was deeply impressed by the group’s intentionality. I saw this on display as the various elders (and Pastor Martin who has been hired to do pastoral care in the absence of a second pastor) reported on visits they had made to members of the congregation. They described the support that was being given, while being careful to keep confidences. Suggestions were made about how to provide better care to those who need it.
The second thing that impressed me was the group’s wisdom. I had shared the good news about upcoming weddings at Bethel and sought input about questions related to them. I had also proposed a pastoral way for responding to people who drift away from the church. During both discussions the elders gave feedback that was both loving and sensitive.
As we met, there was a joyful spirit in the room. I left feeling that we are in good hands with these godly men and women who serve us! –Pastor Tom
A MEETING OF MINISTRY MINDS
We held our annual ministry leaders’ “summit” this past Wednesday. As always, it was exciting to hear the reports of what God is doing in each ministry area. Here are some highlights:
Ministry leaders are seeing many people who are new to Bethel joining their ministries.
At least one person came to faith in Christ through Alpha, and several others were renewed their faith. Several of the fall Alpha attendees will be joining a Bible study group together to continue their faith journey.
The Oasis women’s ministry, has welcomed several new and not-yet Christians this year.
The Healing Prayer Ministry continues to grow, with more people asking for healing prayer appointments month after month. Even people from the local community have requested prayer appointments.
Viola Dueck has a dream for the GEMS Girls’ Club. As a way of strengthening the ministry and discipling more girls, she plans to invite girl’s grades 9-12 to become junior counsellors in the program.
Families who are introduced to Bethel through one ministry, often will join, or send their children to, another ministry. Some people have even started coming to church.
The Willow Wood Preschool added two new students in recent weeks.
The Dove Taekwondo Ministry cannot keep up with the demand for the program.
They have a waiting list of around 20 people. This is a lot to be thankful for. God is changing lives through Bethel’s ministries! --Pastor Tom
CAN WE TALK ABOUT THAT?
We have a new sermon series to start our new year called Can We Talk about That? It will consist of nine messages about topics we sometimes prefer to avoid.
It is vitally important for a church to go to these uncomfortable places, at times. It will negatively affect our health as a congregation if we avoid hard topics, and only talk about safe ones. Superficial conversation leads to superficial relationships.
The idea for this series came to me when I was meeting with a group of Bethel young adults to learn about their perceptions of our church. One thing in particular stood out to me from that meeting. The group said they found the church to be strangely silent about issues that were of burning importance to them. Many of these issues were prominent in the news and on social media, and yet they were not being talked about in the church.
These young adults were asking “why can’t we talk about these things?”—and that is an important question. As Christians, and members of the same church family, we should be able to talk about all kinds of things and find light from God’s Word on them. This sermon series is an attempt to do just that.
In the next weeks we will be looking at topics that include: doubt, sexuality, same sex attraction, living justly, care for the environment, and mental health. Some of these topics are delicate because they are deeply personal while others are delicate because they can be controversial. I am hoping the messages will start many healthy conversations.
All of the topics in this series are vitally important to God. So let’s talk about them!–Pastor Tom
2019 IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR
2019 was a significant year for our church. It was filled with joys, challenges, and lots of reasons for thanksgiving. Let me mention a few:
We celebrated 40 years of being a church: In February, former members and pastors joined us to celebrate 40 years of God’s faithfulness.
We gave birth to a church: Much of this year’s challenge and joy was related to the launch of Bridge Church. We said “goodbye” to Pastor Ryan, Jessica, and their children after 10 years at Bethel, and we commissioned nine other Bethel families to join the church plant. All of our sacrifice resulted in the birth of a new, vibrant church in Fort Saskatchewan.
We welcomed many new members: We receive 22 new members this year and celebrated 12 baptisms. Eight of those baptized were starting a new life with Jesus. We heard the Koyu family’s unforgettable testimony about their journey of faith from Islam to Christianity. After John (formerly Musa) and the children had made a decision to follow Christ, Sandy Koyu saw a vision that resulted in giving her life to Christ.
We forged new links to our church’s neighbourhood: We partnered with the Community League in the first ever Bannerman in Action event—“a day for doin’ good in the hood.” We also committed $25,000 to support the local After School Program.
We found a second pastor: After 18 months of searching we called Cris Harper to be Bethel’s second Pastor. We look forward to welcoming Cris and Christy and their children Ruth and Gabe in about two months.
We became a more vibrant church of prayer: For the second year in a row we had a week of 24-7 prayer. During every hour of that week, day and night, at least one person was in the church building praying. People prayed weekly during and after worship services, and we saw an increasing number of people ask for prayer through our healing prayer ministry.
We grieved the loss of beloved church members: Kieran Otteson and Joanne Huitsing passed away this year. We felt a deep loss for each and surrounded the grieving families with love. Genevieve MillerElsner lost her husband Glen recently. This week, Netty Fennema passed away. Though not a member of our church, Netty was among its first members and was the wife of Bethel’s first pastor, Chuck Fennema.
We started new things: We created a new “Dream for Bethel”—a five-year ministry plan for our church. We launched a Growing Young Team to study the attitudes and needs of our church’s young adults. This resulted in the start of an Intergenerational Team that will take action in response to our findings.
Time and space does not allow me to talk about all the ways our ministries changed lives or all the new friendships that were started or all the people who journeyed through illness, and received visits and meals, and sometimes startling healing, this year. These few things show us, though, that we have lots of reason to praise God and look forward to the future.—Pastor Tom
A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR BETHEL!
Christmas came early for our church, this year. We received a gift from God in the form of a second pastor.
Last Sunday, we voted overwhelming to issue Cris Harper a call. Cris could have taken three weeks to respond; instead, he and Christy decided not to make us wait. They feel certain God is calling them to Bethel. So soon, Cris, Christy, Ruth, and Gabe will be headed our way to become part of the Bethel Church family.
I asked Cris when he knew God was confirming his call to Bethel. He told me that he and Christy had been sensing God’s leading to come here for some time. However, it was on the Monday evening of their visit during their meeting with our church’s Council, that they felt certain of it. Cris explained that, up to that point in their visit, they had met many Bethelites and they were feeling a strong connection with our congregation. When they experienced that same connection with our church’s leaders, their hearts were at peace. They would come to Bethel if they were called.
Janet and I hosted Cris and Christy during their stay here. We experienced firsthand what sincere, authentic, Christ-loving people they are. Cris is passionate for Young Adults, he has a vision for building community within the church through small groups and hospitality, and he is not afraid to take on big challenges. Christy is very talented, as well. Together they make a dynamic team. Personally, I could not more thrilled with our choice of a second pastor.
During these last 18 months of searching for a new pastor, we have experienced some disappointments. At times the waiting seemed interminable. We interviewed several candidates without success, and we even called one candidate who declined. However, I now believe I see why God asked us to wait patiently. Our church has grown through the search process, and I believe we are getting the pastor (and pastor-couple) who best fits Bethel. It was worth the wait.
We don’t know when, exactly, the Harpers will make the move to Edmonton; however, Cris said they definitely want to be here before midMarch. Our area Christian Reformed Churches will meet for their Spring Classis meeting on March 13-14, and Cris wants to be here in time to be examined for ordination.
Keep the Harpers in your prayers as they prepare to pull up stakes and move to Edmonton. If you want to introduce yourself to Cris or write a note of encouragement, Cris’s email is: email@example.com. —Pastor Tom
DIALOGING WITH OTHER FAITHS
I received an unexpected and interesting invitation this past Sunday. It was put to me by two Muslim gentlemen who spoke to me in my office between worship services. They were inviting me to represent Christianity at a gathering of six different religious leaders who will introduce their religion’s founder and explain His basic teachings.
I was not sure what to do with this invitation on first hearing it. On the one hand, it seemed to present a wonderful opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus in an open forum. (I firmly believe that dialogue, not confrontation, offers the best hope of getting a hearing for the Gospel.) On the other hand, I worried that these two men might be coopting me into an event that would not treat each faith as evenhandedly as promised—they seemed to be very aggressive in their desire to spread their own faith.
In the end I agreed to do it. I believe Jesus Christ is the Lord of all, and that He is God’s way of salvation for all people. It is hard for me to say “no” to an invitation to tell people about Him. My simple aim will be to speak personally and sincerely about Him and His claims. I will trust the Holy Spirit to use my words to whatever affect He wants.
The date of the event has been set for Thursday, January 30. The time and place are yet to be determined. I will keep you abreast of details.
Assuming the event goes forward as planned, I invite you to come, to meet people from other faiths, to learn about their sincere beliefs, and to pray that I can faithfully present Jesus to all present.—Pastor Tom
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