Vol 9 No. 52 Thanks Be for Mary and Joseph’s ‘Yes’

 

Dear Friends,

Matthew 1:18-25:

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiahtook place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”                                                                                             which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

This passage cannot be read except in tandem with Luke 21:26-38.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

 Matthew writes from Joseph’s perspective without giving him voice.  Luke writes using Mary’s voice and historically the narrative has focused on her and not God.  Let me combine the narratives.

Joseph is caricatured as a bystander to the birth narratives of Jesus.  But in fact through his acceptance of a providential dream he becomes, in the culture of that day, the protector, preserver and place of safety for the Christ. Without him, Mary and her son would have been abandoned, marginalized and isolated.  He is to be remembered and emulated for his faithfulness to God.

Mary has often been described as a blank slate, an easy spiritual mark, a sort of vacuous, almost mythical figure of innocence.  Mary’s strength, like Josephs, is in her willingness to follow God into the unknown, that is a place and person of strength.  Young, sheltered, female, disempowered and virginal does not deprive one of one’s ability to make choices, nor does it make one ignorant.  The hyperbolic adulation currently made to Mary is a minor down payment on the historic misogyny of the church.  Women did well in the first two centuries and Christ’s mother, sisters and brothers were significant leaders in the early church (yes, Mary and Joseph eventually got round to consummating their relationship and had more children). Women also had significant roles in historic monasticism and modern Christian revival.  Mary was never a forebearer of women’s gifts being expressed.  Yet it is left to her and Joseph to say ‘yes’ to God.  That choice is ours as well, regardless of our gender.  Without them, the Messiah could not have come.

Spare yourself the mental gymnastics of imagining God finding someone else.  He chose them.  Mary chooses to allow God to change the world. If the word ‘no’ had passed through her lips to Gabriel, none of this would have been possible.  One phrase stood between the birth of Jesus and the willingness of Mary to bear the Messiah.  The one word ‘yes’ to God stood between the hope of Jesus or the continuation of chaos.

Mary and Joseph’s response said simply this at the first Christmas:  I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me, as you have said.

May it be said of each of us, that in our time and place and at every successive day of our lives, we echo just those words: I am the Lord’s servant, as we wait upon God… May the Messiah come once again to our world in a renewed way and also in a renewed way to me…even now, come Lord Jesus.

A God-filled, holy and Spirit-filled season be yours, and those you love, serve and live in community with.

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

 

Reflection on Nelson Mandela

Christmas and the Gift of Forgiveness

Dear Friends,

If we believe in the incarnation; Emmanuel, God with us, it is essential that we examine, engage and interact with the events in the middle of our collective experience. Nelson Mandela’s death is one of these things that prompt us to engage in with our faith.  It is not always clear, definitive nor accurate but it is a discussion that needs to take place more often.

The central theme in the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas is that his birth, life, passion, death and resurrection make possible the forgiveness of God through the Christ.  Forgiveness is often seen as an Easter gift but for more than obvious reasons, that gift begins at Christmas.  This reconciliation to Christ through the Easter resurrection and my claiming ‘what is on offer’ becomes the central narrative of human history and my own life.  I’m going to look at the life of Nelson Mandela in the context of this Christian understanding.

There is little to be said about Nelson Mandela that has not been said already.  There are some interesting sidebars, however, that might be of interest.  To be blunt, his primary contribution is his expression and modelling of forgiveness in his later years… much of the rest of his life is far too complicated to comment on… there are exceptions, but complicated is probably the rule.  His autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, has some interesting perspectives.  He followed his mother’s Methodist faith and was baptized even though he lived in a patriarchal culture where his father rejected the faith.  He saw, and I quote, “The church was as concerned with this world as the next; I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seem to have come about through the missionary work of the church” (pg. 19).  His chief spiritual friend and mentor, Rev. Matyolo, was “of the fire and brimstone variety, seasoned with a bit of African animism.  The Lord was wise and omnipotent but he was also a vengeful God who let no bad deed go unpunished”(pg. 19).  There is no autobiographical comment by Mandela that his early experience of faith was a central theme in the rest of his life.  In fact, he considered the conversion of his first wife, Evelyn, to being a Jehovah’s Witnesses as the cause of the break up of their marriage.  Not because she was a JW, but in part because she “attempted to persuade me of the value of religious faith” (pg. 206) (over the value of political activism). Mandela seemed to see this an as either “or” choice.  His mentors and heroes were those whose pictures hung on the wall of his home: Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and Ghandi.  It is to Mandelas credit that in his autobiography, he doesn’t seek to conceal his embrace of Stalin.

I do not know whether I would have had the courage to seek non-violent protest.  Nor do I know whether many of us in the face of violence would have not sought to take up violence ourselves.  Amnesty International shed Mandela as one of their ‘prisoners of conscience’, when he signed up for the cause of violence.  It was a huge rupture at the World Council of Churches when, despite the ANC’s engagement in violent struggle, the World Council supported them.  There are a lot of complicated issues here.  I simply describe them and leave you to interpret.  I was moved by one South African BBC news reporter who summed up Mandela after his death by saying, and I paraphrase, “He was no saint but he was instrumental in the process of reconciliation”.

Mandela made up his mind for whatever reason that forgiveness would be his creed after he left prison.  He proceeded to very publically and resolutely meet, socialize with, and be publically and privately reconciled to those who had harmed him…a prison guard who was invited to his inauguration; the growing and deepening friendship with de Klerk, the last Afrikaanner and white South African President; the visits with the prosecutor who had sent him to jail or lunch with the widows of the South African presidents who had initiated apartheid.  All these were utterly important for peace in South Africa, and showed that Mandela had learned through his own suffering and the suffering he had sometimes caused others, that real courage lies in forgiveness.  Desmond Tutu commented on the day of Mandela’s funeral that it was a travesty that the Dutch Reformed Church and others who identified with white South Africa were not part of his memorial funeral.  Mandela had learned to be forgiving and a reconciler.  The ANC has clearly not learned that lesson.

When the now deceased CBC personality Barbara Frum interviewed Mandela during the week of his release from prison, she asked him whether during his incarceration he felt like a Job or a Moses (quite insightful given Frum’s general attitude towards religion). Mandela replied that that was for other people to decide.  He defied the role of prophet and embraced the role of servant, which is instructive.

If the central theme of my life is the forgiveness of God and my reconciliation and relationship with Christ then what am I to do with Mandela and a very public death which is imbedded in the Christmas season?  In all the media commentary and at the state memorial and funeral it is in the main, a generic god that is being spoken of.  Jesus rarely gets a mention.  We are asked to follow Mandela’s example, not our Lord’s (although former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda’s challenge to be a Christian was wonderful).  No one even dares suggest that we are to imitate Mandela because he was imitating Jesus… no one suggests it because it’s not necessarily true.  Nevertheless, I am moved by the man, respect and honour his suffering and find that he is in the handful of courageous folk in the 20th century who learned the lessons of forgiveness; and I believe that the roots of that come only from the Holy Spirit… the source Mandela drew from.

Enough of Mandela.  This letter has gone on long enough but I need to say one more thing. I experienced two dramatic times this year when the Lord shook me out like a dirty, dusty rag and awakened my own need to forgive and seek the forgiveness of others.  It was and continues to be an amazing journey that I only regret I did not start sooner. I regret that I do not do it more often.

PS: I once referred to a Marianne Williamson poem which is associated with Mandela… it is thematically appropriate to attach it to him and I share it with you again.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

May the gift of forgiveness that comes to us through the Christ child this Christmas dwell in each of us richly.  As we have sought from the Lord His forgiveness, might we receive it and grant it to others this day and forever more.  Amen.

Jeremy Bell, CBWC Executive Minister

Vol 9 No. 51 Christmas and the Gift of Forgiveness

 

Dear Friends,

If we believe in the incarnation; Emmanuel, God with us, it is essential that we examine, engage and interact with the events in the middle of our collective experience. Nelson Mandela’s death is one of these things that prompt us to engage in with our faith.  It is not always clear, definitive nor accurate but it is a discussion that needs to take place more often.

The central theme in the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas is that his birth, life, passion, death and resurrection make possible the forgiveness of God through the Christ.  Forgiveness is often seen as an Easter gift but for more than obvious reasons, that gift begins at Christmas.  This reconciliation to Christ through the Easter resurrection and my claiming ‘what is on offer’ becomes the central narrative of human history and my own life.  I’m going to look at the life of Nelson Mandela in the context of this Christian understanding.

There is little to be said about Nelson Mandela that has not been said already.  There are some interesting sidebars, however, that might be of interest.  To be blunt, his primary contribution is his expression and modelling of forgiveness in his later years… much of the rest of his life is far too complicated to comment on… there are exceptions, but complicated is probably the rule.  His autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, has some interesting perspectives.  He followed his mother’s Methodist faith and was baptized even though he lived in a patriarchal culture where his father rejected the faith.  He saw, and I quote, “The church was as concerned with this world as the next; I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seem to have come about through the missionary work of the church” (pg. 19).  His chief spiritual friend and mentor, Rev. Matyolo, was “of the fire and brimstone variety, seasoned with a bit of African animism.  The Lord was wise and omnipotent but he was also a vengeful God who let no bad deed go unpunished”(pg. 19).  There is no autobiographical comment by Mandela that his early experience of faith was a central theme in the rest of his life.  In fact, he considered the conversion of his first wife, Evelyn, to being a Jehovah’s Witnesses as the cause of the break up of their marriage.  Not because she was a JW,  but in part because she “attempted to persuade me of the value of religious faith” (pg 206) (over the value of political activism). Mandela seemed to see this an as either “or” choice.  His mentors and heroes were those whose pictures hung on the wall of his home: Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and Ghandi.  It is to Mandelas credit that in his autobiography, he doesn’t seek to conceal his embrace of Stalin.  I do not know whether I would have had the courage to seek non-violent protest.  Nor do I know whether many of us in the face of violence would have not sought to take up violence ourselves.  Amnesty International shed Mandela as one of their ‘prisoners of conscience’, when he signed up for the cause of violence.  It was a huge rupture at the World Council of Churches when, despite the ANC’s engagement in violent struggle, the World Council supported them.  There are a lot of complicated issues here.  I simply describe them and leave you to interpret.  I was moved by one South African BBC news reporter who summed up Mandela after his death by saying, and I paraphrase, “He was no saint but he was instrumental in the process of reconciliation”.

Mandela made up his mind for whatever reason that forgiveness would be his creed after he left prison.  He proceeded to very publically and resolutely meet, socialize with, and be publically and privately reconciled to those who had harmed him…a prison guard who was invited to his inauguration; the growing and deepening friendship with de Klerk, the last Afrikaanner and white South African President; the visits with the prosecutor who had sent him to jail or lunch with the widows of the South African presidents who had initiated apartheid.  All these were utterly important for peace in South Africa, and showed that Mandela had learned through his own suffering and the suffering he had sometimes caused others, that real courage lies in forgiveness.  Desmond Tutu commented on the day of Mandelas funeral that it was a travesty that the Dutch Reformed Church and others who identified with white South Africa were not part of his memorial funeral.  Mandela had learned to be forgiving and a reconciler.  The ANC has clearly not learned that lesson.

When the now deceased CBC personality Barbara Frum interviewed Mandela during the week of his release from prison, she asked him whether during his incarceration he felt like a Job or a Moses (quite insightful given Frum’s general attitude towards religion). Mandela replied that that was for other people to decide.  He defied the role of prophet and embraced the role of servant, which is instructive.

If the central theme of my life is the forgiveness of God and my reconciliation and relationship with Christ then what am I to do with Mandela and a very public death which is imbedded in the Christmas season?  In all the media commentary and at the state memorial and funeral it is in the main, a generic god that is being spoken of.  Jesus rarely gets a mention.  We are asked to follow Mandela’s example, not our Lord’s (although former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda’s challenge to be a Christian was wonderful).  No one even dares suggest that we are to imitate Mandela because he was imitating Jesus… no one suggests it because it’s not necessarily true.  Nevertheless, I am moved by the man, respect and honour his suffering and find that he is in the handful of courageous folk in the 20th century who learned the lessons of forgiveness; and I believe that the roots of that come only from the Holy Spirit… the source Mandela drew from.

Enough of Mandela.  This letter has gone on long enough but I need to say one more thing. I experienced two dramatic times this year when the Lord shook me out like a dirty, dusty rag and awakened my own need to forgive and seek the forgiveness of others.  It was and continues to be an amazing journey that I only regret I did not start sooner. I regret that I do not do it more often.

PS: I once referred to a Marianne Williamson poem which is associated with Mandela… it is thematically appropriate to attach it to him and I share it with you again.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

May the gift of forgiveness that comes to us through the Christ child this Christmas dwell in each of us richly.  As we have sought from the Lord His forgiveness, might we receive it and grant it to others this day and forever more.  Amen.

Further to Keith Churchill’s passing.  Many, including myself, want to convey how we were the recipients of Keith’s kind, generous and wise pastoral care.  Thanks be to God for Keith.  Our prayers are with Joan and his family.  We echo God’s delight in him.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

 

Vol 9 No. 50 A Meditation for the Longest Night

 

Dear Friends,

We will publish an article on Nelson Mandela on Thursday on our website but today we want to recognize and minister to those amongst us for whom Christmas is difficult.  Doug Bingham is an old friend.  He is a long standing member of Kits Church who published this Advent guide.  The Bingham family co-founded Keats camp.  Doug has worked as a case manager in county mental health for years so brings a wide range of perspectives to this article.  Thanks for letting us see this, Doug.

John 1:5

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend.

I find it hard to join in the excitement and spirit of Advent, as it coincides with the darkest time of the year and I hate and fear the dark.  When the nights become longer than the days my spirit begins to shrivel.  I spend what daylight hours there are in the pale fluorescent light of my office and come and go in the gloom.  During this season I find it impossible to be joyful or spontaneous.  Most activities become a test of willpower, my confidence fades and I am anxious, clumsy and dull.  I sleep poorly and eat too much.

I have been aware of the affect of winter darkness on myself most of my adult life and have developed various coping mechanisms.  I use a SAD light, exercise regularly, try to control my diet and not drink too much.  These tactics are somewhat effective.

A few years ago, however, on a dismal winter day, I found that visualizing the sun and thinking about sunlight actually eased my dread.  The thought that brought me the most satisfaction was the fact that the sun is always shining.  It struck me that, while I was sitting in traffic in the rain at 5:30 on a dark Vancouver night, the sun was beating down on a beach in Australia, heating up a tennis court in Chile or warming a backyard barbeque in South Africa.  I would picture myself there and call to mind the light and hear of the sun in all it’s manifestations.

Now I would like to say that the spiritual significance of affirming the presence, nature and work of the sun was immediately apparent to me but it was not.  Perhaps this shows how truly dull I became in the winter.  Nevertheless, it eventually dawned on me that the approach I was taking to sooth my longing for the sun could draw me nearer to the comfort of the Son.  For at Advent Christ is proclaimed “the light that shines in the darkness” Christians are called to “bear witness”, call to mind, remember and contemplate the “true light which enlightens every man.”

Now as the winter darkness looms over me I have developed a two pronged defense.  When the darkness is without I remember the sun.  When the darkness is within I remember the Son.  I bear witness to his nature and his work and I remember what he has done in my life so far and I am warmed by his light and can see my way.

Doug Bingham

Also, it is with great sadness that we note the passing of Keith Churchill who was well-known and loved by many in Western Canada, especially as pastor of West Point Grey Vancouver and Trinity Sherwood Park.  I’ll share more later about Keith’s story, particularly with the CBWC, at a later date.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

 

 

 

Gordon “Keith” Churchill

bigstock-bright-yellow-tulips-isolated--16929578GORDON “KEITH” CHURCHILL  BA, M.Div, D.Min (1939-2013) of Greenwich, NS. A gentle man has gone quietly toward a new horizon. Keith was born in Sydney, NS, the son of Rev Ernest and Blanche Churchill who were pastoring in Mira, CB.  His public schooling took place in Digby, NS where he was active in student affairs. While at Acadia University, he became student council president.  After graduation as a math major, he decided to go into pastoral ministry. Student pastorates were at Port Bickerton and Spryfield.  He chose Union Theological Seminary in New York to take his theological training, graduating in 1964.

Returning to the Maritimes, he accepted the position as Associate Pastor at First Baptist, Amherst.  Subsequently, he served as senior pastor at Lancaster Baptist, St John NB, First Baptist Lethbridge, AB, West Point Grey Baptist, Vancouver, BC and Trinity Baptist, Sherwood Park, AB. While serving as pastor he completed studies for a doctoral degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. In 1995 he became Area Minister for the Baptist Union of Western Canada, now Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, – an area that stretched from the Arctic Circle to the US border.  After retirement, Keith did interim ministries in Vancouver, White Rock, BC, Toronto, Edmonton, Middleton, Margaretsville and Bridgetown.  His work was thoughtful, his love was genuine and his ministries effective. He married Joan Neily, North Kingston, NS in 1968. In 1970 their son, Jeffery Churchill, (Vancouver, BC)  was born.

Keith passed away December 7, 2013 in his home after a two year struggle with Lymphoma. His primary work and first love was to serve the worship and witness needs of a congregation.  But his interest went beyond that to a larger field of service – participating in US  civil rights demonstrations, visiting the work of world missions in Africa and India, spending a sabbatical building houses in Nicaragua, serving as local president of the Interchurch Council. Keith was an avid Scouter, became Queen Scout, attended a Jamboree in 1958.  In 2010 he was made a Baden-Powell Fellow under the patronage of the King of Sweden.  He was an admitted news junkie reading several newspapers a day.  He loved old movies.  The more often he watched Casablanca the better. Listening to jazz music, reading, feeding birds and enjoying his grand boys were treasured times.

Keith is survived by his wife, Joan, Greenwich NS; son, Jeff (Devony) and grandsons, Hayden and Callum, Vancouver;  brother, Rev. Dr. John Churchill (Lana) and the families of their children, Laura, Sharon and James; Aunt Minnie Clayton, Halifax; Special Niece Darlene; numerous cousins and friends from Coast to Coast to Coast.  He was predeceased by his parents. Cremation and burial have taken place. A Service of Celebration will be held at Port Williams United Baptist Church on December 11, at 2:00 p.m.  Reception to follow.  No flowers by request.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Port Williams United Baptist Church, Box 301, Port Williams, NS. BOP ITO or Doctors Without Borders, PO Box 1269 Stn K, Toronto, ON M4P 9Z9. Funeral arrangements were entrusted to the White Family Funeral Home and Cremation Services, Kentville.  On-line inquiries may be directed towww.whitefamilyfuneralhome.com.”

Please pray for Keith’s wife Joan, his family and friends during this difficult time.

 

 

Vol 9 No. 49 A New Way of Looking at Things

Dear Friends,

Part 1:

The new Partnerships and Possibilities Guide is now available.  It represents the outstanding writing and editing work of Ceal McLean, chair of our Communications Committee.  It is a labour of love, gifted layout and creative thoughtfulness by Bob Webber, our Director of Ministries.

This year’s topics include:

  • Church Support
  • Supporting Pastors
  • Camping Ministry
  • Education
  • Women in Focus
  • Canadian Baptists of Western Canada Foundation
  • Youth
  • Church Planting
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Justice and Mercy
  • Building Community

Please use this guide for:

  1. Your Elders’, Council or Deacons’ meeting as an aid to understanding our ministry together and financial commitment made to one another.
  2. Please ensure you have enough copies and that there is a creative way to make them available to the congregation.  They should have arrived over the last 2 weeks.
  3. If you don’t have a copy of this please contact Louanne Haugen at (403) 228-9559 or 1-800-820-2479 and we will send it to you.

Part 2

A simple article for Advent that I wrote for the Kits Church Advent Reader:

A disclaimer that some of the themes from this devotional may be familiar from another newsletter (about 40% of it).

There are so many places in our world and in our lives where we are uncertain, cautious or even afraid; there are precious few where we feel safe.  Our times, or our seasons of life, bring with them their own unique challenges.  Ironically, the Advent season, the beginning of the church year and the anticipation of the birth of Christ are often in the midst of turbulent times, places of worry or even fear.  That was true at the beginning of Kits Church 25 years ago; it was true at the birth of Jesus.

The core of people that formed Kits Church came from 1st Baptist Vancouver and had their leave-taking service and farewells the first Sunday of Advent, 25 years ago.  What followed was a whole month of waiting until we would meet in public for the first time in January. The feelings of many of us in that early church were a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  The two seasons around us at the time – the approaching winter solstice with its lengthening nights and the Advent season with its anticipation of the birth of Jesus – represented the perfect conflict within many of us.

Our times are not so different.  Imagine if you were a Syrian Christian, a Sunni in Iraq, a Coptic Christian in Egypt or part of the Anglican congregation in Pakistan that was murdered last month.  But we don’t have to go that far away, do we?  Think of those single women and parents who are at the second stage Salvation Army shelter house, wondering where they will live next.  Think of the refugee family who will be helped by HomeStart or the displaced Filipino from this month’s typhoon who has lost everything including loved ones.  How do we say to anyone else, let alone ourselves, ‘Be not afraid’… Who are we willing to hear that from?

The shepherds in Luke chapter 2 were understandably terrified at the unknown heavenly ambush that embraced them on that night.  Their religion and their culture taught them to be afraid of the heavens, whether they were Jews or Greco-Roman poly-theists.  They had reason to be afraid. Rather like Sarah McLachlan’s powerful version of “Noel”, the heavens for all time were torn asunder, the Christ child is announced and as the shepherds who find him in a stable and as each of us find him in our lives and collectively celebrate him in our community, we feel within ourselves the rising evidence of subsiding fear.

The angels’ message to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid”, takes me to a place where in the midst of the jumble of all that is around me, I am willing to hear from God not to be afraid.  He seeks to give me his peace and in the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Christ, he has given me new life.  “Be not afraid” is brought home to me in the Advent season, just at the cusp of the Christmas Eve declaration of the angels.  This phrase however carries new meaning for me since August 30th and the death of Seamus Heaney, the Nobel laureate and Irish Catholic poet.  As he lay dying and could not communicate with his wife, Marie…I think he simply could not speak…he texted her, “Noli Timere”, Latin for “Be not afraid”.

From the angels to the shepherds, from the Lord to all of us, from Seamus to Marie, may each of us find the powerful presence, power and indwelling of the Christ child in each of us. “Noli Timere” this Christmas.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

 

 

 

 

Vol 9 No. 48 Advent Etc

Dear Friends,

I love Christmas.  Period.  The now deceased Nova Scotian Rita McNeil would keep her Christmas tree (I presume it was artificial) up for up to eights months of the year.  I don’t like Christmas THAT much.  There are many joys to be found here.  The Advent season slows down the hype of the consumer juggernaut, for a time.  Given the wealth of Advent resources there is an abundance of genuine, honest spiritual reflection as we anticipate the birth of Jesus.  You will experience some of that on the sites I will mention later.

I sometimes suspect that Advent is to the culture of consumerism what diet pills are to continued over-eating.  We continue to consume irresponsibly but take meds to reduce the effect.  Some of our readers find comparisons and metaphors to be bewildering so let me be blunt: sometimes Advent is a season we engage as a penance or a ritual for continuing to behave in an ungodly way, like the rest of the culture.  I find that in my own life…that may not be your experience; fair enough.

I would like to draw your attention to two Advent reader sites:

The first is the Canadian Baptist Collaborative offering that First Baptist Vancouver also uses:

http://baptist.ca/advent/

The second is the church I attend; David Jenkins is the pastor and designer of the guide. The link is found within Carey Institutes website for Advent resources.  A rich offering of resources as well as the reader from Kitsilano Christian Community Church:

http://www.carey-edu.ca/institute-resources/

Please pray for Rob Daley, the senior pastor of FBC Nanaimo.  He had heart surgery last weekend and is stabilized and in recovery.

Sadly, William “Bill” Gietz passed away early November 21, 2013 at the age of 96.  Wanting to note that amongst us all.

Please find this excellent summary of SERVE from Tammy Klassen at New Life in Duncan, BC.  Should be another exciting year at SERVE.

Serve 2014 will take place in the beautiful Cowichan Valley, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia from July 6-12, 2014. The purpose of SERVE is to shine God’s light on this region known as “The Warmland” as we serve him and others in practical ways. The many projects could include gardening, painting, visiting seniors, kids’ camps, community cleanup, and simple construction jobs.

Youth age 12 and up from Canadian Baptist churches across all parts of Western Canada will have the opportunity to be a part of this event where they can make new friends, learn new skills, and have their lives transformed through worship with the Fraser Campbell Band and a nightly message from a top-notch speaker. And for those who have never been west there will be the opportunity to go for a swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Attending SERVE costs $225 per youth or leader, although any church sending five or more youth can send one youth leader for free. Mark the dates and watch for registration packets being sent out to the churches in the near future.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

 

 

 

William Gietz

bigstock-Single-Red-Rose-Flower-44599210We are saddened to learn of the passing of Rev. William Gietz on November 21 at the age of 96 in Winnipeg.

Rev. William (“Bill”) Gietz was born in 1917 on a farm in Poland, emigrating to Canada with his family in 1928 and settling near Pincher Creek, AB.  He attended Winnipeg Bible Institute (now Providence College) where he met Thora Oliver, who became his wife in 1943.  Following the birth of three sons, Nelson, Wesley and Rodney, and service in the Air Force in Calgary during World War II, he began divinity studies at McMaster University.  During this time he served in student pastorates at South Cayuga, ON and Eagle River, ON.

His first full time ministry was at First Baptist in Kenora, ON, where son Peter was born, but who died in infancy.  He next served Emerson Baptist in Emerson, MB, where son Clark was born, then Westmount Baptist in Moose Jaw, SK, before taking a secular position with the Saskatchewan government. He was called to First Baptist in Calgary, AB as an associate pastor with Rev. Dr. Howard Bentall, then moved to Thunder Bay, ON where he pastored Ft. William Baptist.  During this time he also served on the Board for Canadian Baptist Overseas Mission Board, now CBM.  He concluded his ministry service at St. Vital Baptist in Winnipeg, MB, where he retired as Pastor Emeritus.

His devoted wife Thora predeceased him in 2008, and his son Rodney in 2011.

A memorial service will be held on Monday, December 2 at 2 pm at Willowlake Baptist in Winnipeg with Rev. Mark Doerksen officiating.

Please remember Bill’s family in prayer at this time.

Vol 9 No. 47 In Memoriam

Clive Staples Lewis (Nov 29, 1898-Nov 22, 1963), Aldous Leonard Huxley (July 26, 1894-Nov 22, 1963), John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917-Nov 22, 1963)
Dear Folks,

C.S. Lewis and his brother, Warnie, lived in a home called the Kilns near Oxford in England. Late afternoon on Nov 22nd, 1963, Warnie heard a crash emanating from his brother’s bedroom where C.S. Lewis had fallen and died of a heart attack.  The greatest apologist of the 20th century to whom so many of us are indebted even now, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, and a professor at both Cambridge and Oxford, was dead.

The next luminary to die on this date was the American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  He was assassinated with several gunshot wounds outside the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, TX.  A man who was decried and even despised in his lifetime became a mythical leader of the American Camelot when the social and cultural histories of the time were written.  Kennedy was known for many things, from the Bay of Pigs to his infidelities, but he is particularly known for his identification with blockaded Berliners during the Cold War in the 1960s when he declared: “Ich bin ein Berliner”.  The powerful one identifying with the captive harks back to the Old Testament prophets and the incarnational message of Christ.  Both those comparisons are absurd but it gives one an idea of image and metaphor.

Aldous Huxley is less well-known.  He came from several generations of English intellectuals who were often identified not only with their secular humanism but their radical and negative critique of the Christian faith.  Huxley wrote the utopian manifesto Brave New World, and insisted that the repudiation of God was motivated by the embrace of personal freedom.  His views on this matter were captured by the Christian apologist Josh McDowell (who incidentally made this quote far more widely read than it ever was by reading Huxley in the original).  Paraphrasing Huxley, McDowell said “I had my own personal reasons and motivations for not believing in God.  They were simply the personal, political, social and sexual freedoms for myself and my friends”.  November 22, 1963, found Huxley in the last stages of dying of cancer.  He asked his wife for a dose of LSD, presumably seeking a synthetic metaphysic since he denied a real one.

God has a sense of timing and of humour (you’ll have to find the timing examples yourself but for humour look to the Quaker Elton Trueblood’s book: The Humor of Christ) for deadly coincidences…and I sadly collect these.  Karl Barth and Thomas Merton died the same day, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana in close proximity to one another and on a more banal level, the vet James Herriot and Robert Bolt, the writer of the screenplay for A Man for All Seasons, also passed on the same day.  The most recent absurdity was the British TV personality David Frost and Seamus Heaney died August 30th.  Tomorrow, the 22nd of November, is a significant and symbolic day.  Kennedy represented a nominal Christian faith (the only evidence seems to be that he would stop to light a candle for his dead brother when his motorcade passed a church), yet a wildly optimistic post-war dream of prosperity and peace…a lot about the potential of humanity and very little about the power of God.  There have been many forms of Christian humanism as in Erasmus but far too many that were similar to Huxley’s narcissistic form of sad, secular humanism.  Lewis forms an utter contrast to the previous two declaring in the richness of his faith having born the horrors of the trenches of First World War Europe and the secularism of the Academy; he was someone who found a transforming faith that changed him and influenced millions.

There are so many quotes and examples from C.S. Lewis that I could mention, none of which sum up his influence nor significance.  When you compare his influence to that of Kennedy or Huxley, words fail to give meaning.  Here’s a simple quote from The Silver Chair where Jill has seen Aslan the Lion and Christ figure for the first time.  I’ll let Lewis pick up the story.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”

They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff.  For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken.  Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking.  Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s.  It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice.  It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,’ said Jill

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl.  And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said that Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion.  It didn’t say this as if it were boasting nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer.  “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

Indeed, down through history in the life and death of the ordinary and the famous, in Christ the living water is found the only stream.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

 

 

 

Vol 9 No. 46 A Larger Family

Dear Folks,

This Sunday is CBWC Sunday.  A group of churches that began in a preliminary inquiry in 1869 but began with the first service, as we’ve mentioned before in this newsletter, in May of 1873 when Pioneer McDonald began services in Winnipeg.  There are now over 700 Baptist churches throughout Western Canada of different types: some a genuine representation of a particular ethnicity, theology, culture or time; some born from the bitter fruits of schism and conflict but most very much attempting, in their own way before God, to honour the resurrected Christ and to practice the life of the Spirit in the communities to which they are called to minister.  A little over a quarter of these churches and congregations are part of the CBWC.  Many more of them had a relationship or a beginning with this family of churches.

I am celebrating CBWC Sunday with Living Hope Fellowship and Green Hills Christian Fellowship which are multi-cultural churches that reflect Filipino and Korean churches but are very much open to the communities around them.  They are also models for many other churches in their youthfulness and sense of purpose and mission.

What follows in today’s newsletter is the story of the many worlds and different layers of the Baptist network we belong to.  John Upton is the president of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) who, along with Neville Callum, provides leadership to over a hundred million Baptists around the world.

We often tell stories about our own family and gathering.  I thought it would be important today to share a story of the wider world.  Trust you are encouraged and blessed with what follows.

President John Upton at the BWA Executive Committee meeting:

I was visiting with the Baptists in Ghana.  Steven Asante, president of the Ghana Baptist Convention, took off a week to travel with me across the country. The majority of our trip was in the Northeastern part of Ghana, in the Yendi region. It is an area that is 87 per cent Muslim. It is also the poorest region of Ghana and an area burdened heavily with malaria.

We traveled each day deep into the bush. Steven said he had never traveled such difficult roads in his life. We were distributing treated mosquito nets to some of the villages in the bush. These were just mud huts with no electricity, no running water, no sanitation, and people with no jobs other than farming yams and abject poverty.

Before we could enter a village we had to visit with the village chief to receive permission to enter his village. All the chiefs are Muslim. We entered one village and visited the chief. We told him what we wanted to do. He gave his permission but he also had a request of us. He asked if we would start a church in his village. When asked about his interest to start a church he said he wanted a church for two reasons. First, Christians, more than any other people he knew, are people full of hope. His people needed hope. Second, Christians are good people and good people have a better future.   His people need a future.  Would we start a church while we were there? The leadership of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is committed to effective engagement of God’s mission. However, the level of effectiveness of the mission is reflected in the practice of faith and the level of mission engagement within the local churches of member countries. Would we start a church while we were there? I was very reluctant.

I will never forget: Steven and I standing under a tree singing while people from all over the village came. More than 150 people gathered under the tree with us. He and I, through a translator, shared the basic Gospel in no more than 15 minutes. It was a presentation without all the flare and fluff I normally add. When asked if anyone wanted to accept this Jesus, more than 100 persons raised their hands. We gathered them and from among their midst they identified five who would become their church leaders, three men and two women. We gave each leader a Bible in the local language. Those five have been connected since to a training program where a trainer will travel once a week out to the bush to train the leadership. Steve and I started a church that afternoon and it is doing very well to this day.

There is one other thing I want to tell you about that experience though. After the service a young man pulled on my arm and asked, “How long has this good news of Jesus been known?” I told him about 2,000 years. He said, “Then what took you so long to get here? What of my father and my grandfather, why did you take such a long time to come?”

Good question.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca