Vol 10 No. 53 Happy New Year

Dear Friends,

The birth of Jesus is only the beginning as you will see unpacked in Michel Martel’s reflection on “le Petit Jesus”… from birth to Passover to empty tomb and Risen Christ. A completed picture of Jesus. As we await the New Year let’s ask one another, give sanction and permission to one another to ask ourselves and one another some questions:

  • Does my journey with God include prayer, scripture, and gathering with other Christians?
  • Do I behave in such a way that I know that God is concerned about all of me, body, and spirit and even more than that?
  • Are there relationships I need to reconcile?
  • Is it well with my soul in Christ or are there some outstanding things I need to attend to?
  • Is my view and stewardship of resources, money, time, leisure and God’s creation reflective of Christian faith and practise?
  • Am I thankful, truly reflectively, wonderfully thankful for God’s gifts to me?

As with all lists, I write these as a reflection of my own journey; may some of them have meaning for each of us.

If I need to brace myself for the new year, there are words of comfort and perspective found in Isaiah 42:1-7 in a devotional by Kerry Macfarlane Bell.

Happy New Year (being the second New Year as Advent is the real New Year Season).

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
Luke 2:16

Ils se dépêchèrent donc d’y aller et trouvèrent Marie et Joseph avec le nouveau-né couché dans une mangeoire.
Luc 2:16

 

Experiencing the Three Cs of Christmas

For a French Canadian, the child in the manger is an integral part of the Christmas story, as it should be. It’s not uncommon to hear a person in our milieu refer to our Lord and Saviour as “le petit Jésu” (little Jesus). Obviously, for many this Jesus is but a myth, an archetype of something good and sublime: end of story. I’ve learned through the years that in order to reach my fellow French Canadians for Christ, it is important to start where they are in their understanding or concept of God.

Let us for a moment look again at “le petit Jésu.” What is it in this child that would warrant such adoration and praise?

First, we see the cradle or “la crèche.” God’s celestial calendar made it crystal clear that the time had come (Galatians 4:4), the prophets had proclaimed it and the angels confirmed it on that glorious night. The Son of God experienced the cradle in the most humble abode for our salvation. As Philippians 2:8 tells us, he truly humbled himself. Experiencing the cradle as Jesus did reminds us to humbly walk before the Lord, to be God-centred rather than self-centered (James 4:10). Andrew Murray said something like this: “Humility is not thinking about yourself, but also, not thinking about yourself at all.”

Second, as we look at the child we see the cross. One day they sang “Hosanna blessed be the King of Israel” and then on the next cried “Crucify him, crucify him.” The baby in the manger was to experience the cross, the most hideous death of that time. What a death, what a sacrifice, yes, but what a victory! As an evangelist and pastor I am often overwhelmed when I preach the message of the cross, because I’ve seen with my own eyes how the power of the cross can totally change a person’s life (2 Corinthians 5:17). Nonsense to the world, as Paul would say, “but unto us who are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is also power for those who seek real fellowship with God day after day. (1 John 1:5-7).

Third, as we look at the child we also see the crown. He died but he rose again and now sits at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12). In Revelation 4, the 24 elders are wearing crowns but in the end “cast their crowns before the throne” to glorify him who is worthy of all praise and glory (Revelation 4:10-11). May we cast our crowns before the one “who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of his glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). We most certainly can experience the crown (victory) as he reigns in us today.

Thus the child does speak to us all and reminds us of the words of the gospel song that says “I am his and he is mine.”

Michel Martel, Pastor

Église Baptiste La Voix de l’Évangile, St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC, UEBFC

 

Isaiah 42: 1-7

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,

I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I was so struck by an image in the Globe and Mail recently, that I have fastened it to my fridge with a magnet. Over the slim blue curve of the earth against a black background is a circular ball of starfire. It is a photograph of the sun rising over the edge of the Earth in an image taken from the International Space Station. It is a simple yet stark image of hope, a reminder as we enter this season of Advent.

I am far from alone as I lament all that is ravaging this planet we call home; war, corruption, terrorism, and the threat of environmental degradation. Into this present reality, the words from Isaiah 42 are a beacon of hope not unlike this image of a rising sun. Both beckon us to awaken to the coming of the light. The words are an echo of the explicit promise of the Light to come in Isaiah’s words in chapter 9…”The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in deep darkness – on them light has shined.” Isaiah 42 holds forth the hope, spoken through the mouth of the prophet that, “Here is my servant…my chosen in whom my soul delights, my Spirit I have put upon him and he will bring forth justice to the nations.”

It is the Creator God who is the source of these words. Out of the cosmos, far from the horrors that meet us in the morning news, come these words. So says the Creator who made the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and ALL that comes from it, who gives breath to the people and spirit to those who walk in it – you, me, all nations; the inclusive Word comes to all, in flesh, to this earth, beckoning all to awaken to this hope, this light, this bringer of justice, who is pictured as full of gentleness, patience, and perseverance. “A Bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench;” and once again, “He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Quietly, through the breath and the presence of his Spirit, a covenant people will be transformed and become Light-bearers who are, in the words of the Creator God speaking through Isaiah, to “open the eyes that are blind, bringing out those imprisoned in darkness.”

Isaiah’s words come, like the image of the light rising over the rim of the earth seen from space, as a promise of a hope that is to transform darkness, our own and that of our planet. Keeping this image before me in this season, I also hear a quiet echo of this hope captured beautifully in a paraphrase of Psalm 46 by Nan Merrill.

Come, behold the works of the Beloved, how love does reign even in humanity’s desolation. For the Beloved yearns for wars to cease, shining light into fearful hearts: Loving even those who oppress the weak…Awaken! Befriend justice and mercy; Do you not know you bear my Love?

Kerry Macfarlane Bell

Vol 10 No. 52 Final Advent Reflections

Dear Friends,

I feel a bit like Yenta from Fiddler on the Roof; she was the matchmaker… in the film she introduced families and their children to each other so they could form relationship… in Yenta’s work, marriage… I feel like Yenta sometimes. I introduce families… churches, church communities and families to each other. I am only one of many who do that… Making Connections, this letter, Regional letters, Assembly, Banff Pastors Conference, leadership forums, celebration dinners, and Partnerships & Possibilities all do that introduction as well…. Very well indeed. So this Christmas, as a Yenta (my sisters, all four of them, call me a Jewish mother, which requires no further comment), I say “Merry Christmas to each church family”… and say that on behalf of each church family to one another in our CBWC family, stretching across four provinces and two territories, some of the most wonderful places to live in God’s world.

As before I have chosen 2 Advent devotionals; one from Tom Mei, in the CBM reader, entitled “Far from Home.” Tom and Grace know our love and prayers from far away… The second is from Jenn Milley, one of the most expressive writers I know. Jenn writes for the Kitsilano Christian Community Advent reader…

Peace, hope, love, joy, and the Christ who in his birth and more has given us all these.

On a sad note, Bob Bentall, father of CBWC Vice President Laura Nelson and of Barnabas founder director Rob Bentall, passed away on Monday, December 22 in California. He was the last of three brothers (the other two being Howard and Clark) who, along with their families, have contributed significantly to the CBWC. Bob has not been part of the CBWC for some time now but his contribution to West Vancouver Baptist, and particularly the then unusual architectural building, is noted here.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion.

Psalm 137:1

 

Far from Home

My wife and I are from a small town on Vancouver Island. There was only one high school in our town then and still only one high school there today. I grew up playing hockey with the boys in our neighbourhood and we knew everyone on our street. Mrs. M, the Italian lady who could hardly speak English but made great pasta, and her small quiet husband who knew how to make wine from the grapes he grew himself. Grouchy, cantankerous Mr. A who would yell at us every so often for playing hockey on the road in front of his yard. Our next door neighbour Mr. C always had a snide comment whenever he decided he’d give you a moment of his precious time. Small town folks all of them, including us.

Now we live and work in a big city in the middle of China, with an official population of 14 million (and an unofficial population of 22 million). It is quite a change for us. The sounds, smells, language and food are the polar opposite of the small town we grew up in.

Christmas here is different. There is nothing in the culture or history that remotely resembles the Christmas story we grew up with.

There is one Christmas tree on our street. It is a large commercial tree that stands outside the shopping centre at the corner. No one, save this Canadian couple, has a Christmas tree in their home. We hear Christmas music – no sacred Christmas music – “Rudolf,” “Santa is coming,” etc. People know it’s Christmas music imported from the West but no one understands what is being sung. So Christmas in our home away from home is rather hollow, out of place: a foreign ploy for shop owners to sell more stuff. Even among believers here, Christmas is not the season they prepare for. Families don’t get together for Christmas. There is no special food, no Christmas cookies, and Christmas hymns are only sung in churches. Advent and Christmas do not belong to this culture, even to the Christians of this culture – it is foreign.

Spending Christmas in this city, among these ancient people, whom we have grown to love deeply, makes me think of the Jews living in Babylon so many years ago – longing for home.

Tom Mei, Global Field Staff
Hong Kong, CBM

Luke 1:76 – 80

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

To give knowledge of salvation to his people

By the forgiveness of their sins.

By the tender mercy of our God,

The dawn from on high will break upon us,

To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

To guide our feet into the way of peace.

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day

He appeared publicly to Israel.

 

Wide Awake in the Dark

There is this moment in the night, when I know the dawn is coming, but a large part of me doesn’t believe it will.

 

Eyes rasp in dry sockets.

Spent grief.

Or.

A baby sleeps fitfully nearby.

A slick trace.

This insomnia

for its current comfort.

 

Whatever the reason, it is a profound moment of darkness, within darkness. And yet. In the midst of this trance-like state, another, more important, mement arrives. The room is suddenly less dark. Shapes begin to ease into view; blurred objects sharpen. The day is arriving, despite my fears, despite my sadness, my exhaustion, my failed belief. The world rebooted. Beginning again in light, it is the promise of itself.

Zechariah’s words to his son and gathered hearers remind us of this profound and beautiful congruence. Every dawn is a metaphor, and a lived event. And, because of His mercy, we’re told, God is about to send his own 2-in-1; God-and-Man, Son-and-Equal, Jesus. He is a Light to see by, like daybreak, but he is more than a metaphor, Zechariah promises. This “morning light from heaven,” God’s love manifest for us, will also show us the way to the path of Shalom.

As we find ourselves in the dark – figurative or literal – ay His light break in upon us, and be all that God promised. May it bathe us in love from Heaven, may it illuminate our way, and may it guide us into the way of peace.

Jenn Milley

Vol 10 No. 51 Further Advent Reflections

Dear Friends,

It is nine days before Christmas and we are very much in the midst of the clutter of ordinary life. Never mind the subtleties, intensity and crowdedness of the mid-advent season. Our churches, our communities, our culture and our own choices get us into difficult places. There is, for some of us, in the current events of our day, in our personal circumstances and in the communities in which we live – a certain darkness, cloudiness or opaqueness that seems sometimes to overcome us. We are reminded by John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” In the Canadian Baptist Advent reader there is a treatment of this verse in the December 15th reading. Particularly, there is a treatment of one of my favourite phrases in scripture, “I am the bright morning star” Revelation 22:16. May I introduce you to Graham Ware…

The Revelation of Christmas

In the lead up to Christmas we usually turn to the familiar stories that have been played out on the stages of churches, year after year. But there’s a Christmas story we generally forget: the one in the book of Revelation.

Now, who in their right mind would ever think Christmas and immediately go to Revelation? It’s about the end, right?

When you look more closely, you see something you might miss. At the beginning of the book, Jesus reveals himself, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” (Rev 1:17) Then at the end, Jesus speaks again to John saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” (Rev. 22:13) In the final statement of his speech, Jesus says, “I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright morning star.” (Rev. 22:16) The morning star appears when the night is darkest. It begins small, almost unnoticeable, but grows in brightness. Its appearance in the sky indicates that we are closer to dawn than to dusk.

Jesus’ incarnation is the first step towards the breaking of dawn that shatters the darkness of this age.

These two appearances of Jesus are bookends to Revelation. But look to the middle, the geographic centre of the book, where it says, “A great sign appeared in heaven.” (12:1)

And what is this great sign, right in the middle of Revelation?

A “Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.” (12:1-2)

There it is. In the middle of Revelation – Christmas.

Jesus will appear again, ushering in the fullness of day. But his incarnation is the hope of the new day coming. Our hope is here. He is the morning star declaring that the darkness’s days are numbered. We live in a world where darkness still exists. But the dawn of the eternal day is coming. We, the body of Christ, therefore, bear witness to God’s sign of the morning star. God is bringing his victory to defeat the darkness, and in this we, his hands and feet, become the source of hope on earth.

Graham Ware, Pastor

Centre Street Baptist Church, St. Thomas, ON, CBOQ

 

May indeed, we apprehend the light that shines in all the darkness and celebrate that that light in Christ has overcome everything.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

Vol 10 No. 50 Advent Reflections

Dear Friends,

The following folk have sponsored an advent reader through CBM which are made available both online and in print:

  • Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches
  • Union d’Eglises Baptists Francophones du Canada
  • Canadian Baptists of Quebec and Ontario
  • CBWC
  • CBM

This publication has deeply affected many. Several of CBWC folk have written in this piece but I want to share two with you today which I found particularly helpful. Bruce Martin from FBC Lethbridge and Shannon Youell, our church planting coordinator from The Forge in Victoria.

Advent may not be part of your tradition, experience or practice but it is sometimes helpful to have a framework for preparing for Christmas that is a strong counterpoint to the culture. Please feel free to prepare in your own way or follow through these advent readings. My wife Kerry and I are using the one from our church and I am augmenting that by using CBM’s resource.

Have No Fear

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Romans 8:31

In Genesis 12, Abram had every right to be afraid. He was called to leave his homeland, Haran, for a new country, Canaan. That journey – 1000 kilometres of unknown wilderness filled with who-knows-what dangers heading for who-knows-what in Canaan – would in itself be a pretty terrifying experience. Second, Abram, his family, and his flocks faced the frightening prospect of famine. But in both of those circumstances Abram seemed to show no fear. The record we have implies that he simply followed God’s leading, without much worry about the future. He trusted God completely. What a wonderful, peaceful way to live. May God give us such a simple, sincere, trusting faith!

However, as the family arrives in Egypt, Abrams’ faith seems to fail. He is terrified – to the point of allowing Pharaoh to have his wife. Apparently Abram has his “fear-threshold” too. What were the consequences of his decisions, made in fear? What can we learn?

God’s great mission is to bring people to faith and new life in himself. Our God is a missionary God, always reaching out to people with his love. He calls Abram to be part of that mission by being a blessing to others, too. When Abram walks in that calling and confidence, he seems unafraid – he knows God is with him. It’s when Abram loses sight of God’s call and care that he gets himself into trouble.

All we have – ourselves – to him, and if that be all, that is enough.” – Watchman Nee

That sounds great, but it is so hard to live out. God’s call to us is to “be a blessing” to others as well. When we make that our aim, we need have no fear. To whom can we be a blessing?

Lord, give us your confidence to walk through the uncertain futures of our life unafraid.

Bruce Martin, Senior Pastor

First Baptist Church, Lethbridge, AB, CBWC

 

Promise, Prophecy and Proclamation

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went inot the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

And recovery of sight for the blind,

To set the oppressed free,

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

Luke 4: 16-21

Some thirty years after his birth, standing in a synagogue and reading from the Isaiah prophecy, Jesus proclaimed God’s strategy of the kingdom presence here on earth as it is in heaven; to free the captives, give voice for the voiceless, food for the poor, sight for the blind, belonging and healing for those relegated to the margins of community and restoration to the Lord’s favour, to his place of shalom.

This same prophet writes that this Prince of Shalom shall “…reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:7)

In between the prophecy and the proclamation in Mary’s revelation that God’s promises are about to be fulfilled – those living in darkness in the shadow of death, despair and desperation will be washed with a dawning light conceived in an unwed, shamed teenaged girl.

Within this promise, prophecy and proclamation is rejoicing. Those who society deems as losers, failures, unclean, less valued and ‘unredeemable’ are elevated and invited to the banqueting table!

The promise of Christmas is that God’s kingdom is established through Christ and upheld by justice that delivers all humanity from the captivity and oppression that became our fall, restoring us to community with God. This id God’s righteousness! And it is our righteousness – that we seek first the kingdom, the rule and reign of God’s plan for life and liberty and become both spiritual and tangible deliverers in our communities, cities and nations. We are deliverers of a justice that shatters the yoke that burdens heart, soul and spirit – the bar across shoulders that pushes people into the mud of desperation, and the rod of the oppressors who take away the destiny that each human has as image-bearers of God (Isaiah 9:4)

When John’s disciples were sent to find out if Jesus was the “one,” he sent them back with this description of the tangible presence of the kingdom among us: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Matt 11:5)

Wherever this kind of righteousness is delivered, the kingdom is upheld, lives are transformed, community is enlarged, joy is increased and God’s creation rejoices.

Glory to God in the highest and Shalom for all!

Shannon Youell

Church Planting Coordinator/BC-Yukon Church Planting Director

The Forge, Victoria, BC, CBWC

 

24 Days of Giving

Help Canadian Baptists of Western Canada extend the season of family, feasting and celebration all year long.

We recently launched Celebration Dinners—free regional get-togethers where folks from a whole bunch of our churches can network, plan exciting new ministries, and enjoy a meal together. The 2014 Celebration Dinners were a big success and we’d love to offer them again in 2015, but we need your help to make them happen.

From December 2 to 25, the CBWC’s 24 Days of Giving your chance to support a good cause and be honoured with a big thank you, also called a perk.

Check out the perks at http://indiegogo.com/at/ CBWC including a Christmas treat basket and even a personalized thank you video from me!

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

Vol 10 No. 49 Note on New Year and Resolutions

Preparing to Read Scripture in the New Year and Two Advent Devotionals on the Shepherds

Dear Friends,

Words have great power and influence…take the first paragraph of Bev Willm Best’s reflection on Luke 2:8-15

I am not a writer, but I do know this. Words have power. Words have called into being people and planets; they have started romances and ended wars. They have inspired nations and soothed babies. Words have broken hearts and healed troubled souls.

More from Best and Luke later. Words are powerful and even when the words are righteous, passionate, and well intended (I’m being generous to myself here), they can rattle to the floor ineffectually.

I feel passionately about scripture and the whole people of God needing the whole word of God. There have been real alarm bells ringing in recent Evangelical Fellowship of Canada research called Confidence, Conversation and Community: Bible Engagement in Canada, 2013, showing a real decline in Biblical literacy in Canada. (Found at http://www.bibleengagementstudy.ca/)  We had a discussion about this in 2013 at the EFC’s Denominational Leaders Cluster and one of the points raised was the use of the standard lectionary for; 1. literacy in scripture and 2. for a missiological approach to relating to the 22 million Canadians whose worship tradition use the lectionary which means Sunday morning gets four readings instead of the typical one.

David Wells, one of our speakers at Banff, noted the use of the lectionary as his first point in his workshop. I firmly believe that the lectionary is one way to encounter a broader relationship to scripture but you who in your church are using another method to embrace a broad swath of scripture, more power to you and the Spirit as it works its will in your lives. I gave examples of churches that are practitioners of the lectionary, but there are many who do just fine without it. I regret I may sound too zealous in this area and will continue to look for and listen to other ways of celebrating the Bible in our congregations.

I want to share two advent devotionals from my home church, Kitsilano Christian Community. One is from Bev Willms Best, the other is my own. Each week until Christmas I will be sharing different devotionals that I have found particularly helpful to me.

Thanks for being patient in having a newsletter on what is essentially three different topics.

Peace of the Lord be with you as you have begun this advent season. Just a reminder: Advent is the start of the new year. Happy New Year.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

Bev Willms Best:

Luke 2:8-15

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known.”

I am not a writer, but I do know this. Words have power. Words have called into being people and planets; they have started romances and ended wars. They have inspired nations and soothed babies. Words have broken hearts and healed troubled souls.

I like to think of words as millions of glittering stars that writers catch and form into constellations that give us stories, histories, poems and songs.

And into the darkness, on an ordinary night, God spoke the words of Christmas that speak to me still, “Do not be afraid.” Oh yes, all that comes after is beautiful and breathtakingly lovely, but the words on to which I hang are the first four, hanging on to them with my own dear life.

When ISIS looms and Ebola threatens – do not be afraid.

When my thoughts and actions as a parent, teacher, spouse, or friend are never as I would like them to be – do not be afraid.

When my parents age and care providers become needy – do not be afraid.

When finances are tight and stress is high – do not be afraid.

When children are lovely, but relentlessly needy – do not be afraid.

When panic attacks come at 3:32 am – do not be afraid.

When it has rained for seven days straight and our house seems too small for the inhabitants who bicker therein – do not be afraid.

When the hours in the day don’t stretch far enough to meet my obligations and desires – do not be afraid.

When life sucks – do not be afraid.

I try to keep up the practice of contemplative prayer. My participation has been spotty and on every occasion, my mind wanders. In silence however, the word I return to is “trust.” On mornings that begin with this quiet focus, it seems the rest of the day falls into place more easily and I carry with me a more peaceful outlook. The presence of God is brought into my awareness and these words stick to my soul like glue:

Do not be afraid.

Trust.

God is with us,

Today and forevermore.

***

Jeremy Bell:

Luke 2: 10

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions in the human experience. It was for the shepherds. It is for many of us reading these reflections, including me. Fear stalks the land.

From random shootings to ISIS, from concerns about food security to the degradation of creation, we live in a world that is wrought with very real anxieties and indeed haunted by fear.

For the shepherds it was the fear of the unknown God. Shepherds, going about their ordinary lives and work were ambushed, as it were, by the Heavenly Host.

This was not a welcome experience. It was not something to which any of these shepherds would have aspired. To be exposed to God or one of His messengers was invariably thought to indicate that a person was an object of displeasure. From the Roman occupiers to the natural predators that hunted both sheep and shepherds, these tenders of the flock had enough to worry about without being traumatized by encounters with angels.

Let us put to each other the core of this verse. It is at once simple, powerful, and mysterious. We were once afraid, we need not be afraid any longer. For Christ, in the incarnation, lives, breathes, and takes on all that might be fearful and says of the Father and Himself “Be not afraid, I am with you, through every breath and step of this journey of your life.”

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

Vol 10 No. 49 Note on New Year and Resolutions, Preparing to Read Scripture in the New Year and Two Advent Devotionals on the Shepherds

Dear Friends,

Words have great power and influence…take the first paragraph of Bev Willm Best’s reflection on Luke 2:8-15

I am not a writer, but I do know this. Words have power. Words have called into being people and planets; they have started romances and ended wars. They have inspired nations and soothed babies. Words have broken hearts and healed troubled souls.

More from Best and Luke later. Words are powerful and even when the words are righteous, passionate, and well intended (I’m being generous to myself here), they can rattle to the floor ineffectually.

I feel passionately about scripture and the whole people of God needing the whole word of God. There have been real alarm bells ringing in recent Evangelical Fellowship of Canada research called Confidence, Conversation and Community: Bible Engagement in Canada, 2013, showing a real decline in Biblical literacy in Canada. (Found at http://www.bibleengagementstudy.ca/) We had a discussion about this in 2013 at the EFC’s Denominational Leaders Cluster and one of the points raised was the use of the standard lectionary for; 1. literacy in scripture and 2. for a missiological approach to relating to the 22 million Canadians whose worship tradition use the lectionary which means Sunday morning gets four readings instead of the typical one.

David Wells, one of our speakers at Banff, noted the use of the lectionary as his first point in his workshop. I firmly believe that the lectionary is one way to encounter a broader relationship to scripture but you who in your church are using another method to embrace a broad swath of scripture, more power to you and the Spirit as it works its will in your lives. I gave examples of churches that are practitioners of the lectionary, but there are many who do just fine without it. I regret I may sound too zealous in this area and will continue to look for and listen to other ways of celebrating the Bible in our congregations.

I want to share two advent devotionals from my home church, Kitsilano Christian Community. One is from Bev Willms Best, the other is my own. Each week until Christmas I will be sharing different devotionals that I have found particularly helpful to me.

Thanks for being patient in having a newsletter on what is essentially three different topics.

Peace of the Lord be with you as you have begun this advent season. Just a reminder: Advent is the start of the new year. Happy New Year.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy Bell

 

Bev Willms Best:

Luke 2:8-15

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known.”

I am not a writer, but I do know this. Words have power. Words have called into being people and planets; they have started romances and ended wars. They have inspired nations and soothed babies. Words have broken hearts and healed troubled souls.

I like to think of words as millions of glittering stars that writers catch and form into constellations that give us stories, histories, poems and songs.

And into the darkness, on an ordinary night, God spoke the words of Christmas that speak to me still, “Do not be afraid.” Oh yes, all that comes after is beautiful and breathtakingly lovely, but the words on to which I hang are the first four, hanging on to them with my own dear life.

When ISIS looms and Ebola threatens – do not be afraid.

When my thoughts and actions as a parent, teacher, spouse, or friend are never as I would like them to be – do not be afraid.

When my parents age and care providers become needy – do not be afraid.

When finances are tight and stress is high – do not be afraid.

When children are lovely, but relentlessly needy – do not be afraid.

When panic attacks come at 3:32 am – do not be afraid.

When it has rained for seven days straight and our house seems too small for the inhabitants who bicker therein – do not be afraid.

When the hours in the day don’t stretch far enough to meet my obligations and desires – do not be afraid.

When life sucks – do not be afraid.

I try to keep up the practice of contemplative prayer. My participation has been spotty and on every occasion, my mind wanders. In silence however, the word I return to is “trust.” On mornings that begin with this quiet focus, it seems the rest of the day falls into place more easily and I carry with me a more peaceful outlook. The presence of God is brought into my awareness and these words stick to my soul like glue:

Do not be afraid.

Trust.

God is with us,

Today and forevermore.

***

Jeremy Bell:

Luke 2: 10

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions in the human experience. It was for the shepherds. It is for many of us reading these reflections, including me. Fear stalks the land.

From random shootings to ISIS, from concerns about food security to the degradation of creation, we live in a world that is wrought with very real anxieties and indeed haunted by fear.

For the shepherds it was the fear of the unknown God. Shepherds, going about their ordinary lives and work were ambushed, as it were, by the Heavenly Host.

This was not a welcome experience. It was not something to which any of these shepherds would have aspired. To be exposed to God or one of His messengers was invariably thought to indicate that a person was an object of displeasure. From the Roman occupiers to the natural predators that hunted both sheep and shepherds, these tenders of the flock had enough to worry about without being traumatized by encounters with angels.

Let us put to each other the core of this verse. It is at once simple, powerful, and mysterious. We were once afraid, we need not be afraid any longer. For Christ, in the incarnation, lives, breathes, and takes on all that might be fearful and says of the Father and Himself “Be not afraid, I am with you, through every breath and step of this journey of your life.”

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

Vol 10 No. 48 Many Announcements

Dear Friends,

We have just finished the last two of eight Celebration Dinners across Western Canada. Edmonton and the Central Alberta meeting in Clive.  While there are a couple of unusual themes and observations I would like to make about these events, I primarily would like you to see the attached list of activities and collaborations that were suggested by the participants in each evening.  These lists are a response by individual tables to Bob Webber’s questions as to “what we might do together”.  They are simply suggestions but they also present the spontaneous response of people and potential prompting of future work together. 

Faith Knoll, Assistant Registrar at Carey for the past 10 years, is retiring.  Faith received her BA Honours Anthropology degree and her BSc in Nursing from the University of Saskatchewan as well as her MRE from Canadian Theological Seminary.  After her education, Faith served 10 years with Arab World Ministries, now part of PIONEERS.  She returned to Canada in 1995 and worked five years at Mt. Edwards Care Home in Victoria while caring for her parents.  She started at Carey December 1st, 2004 with Cam Yates as Registrar.

Our prayers and thoughts go with Faith.  We are thankful for her faithful 10 years at Carey as she retires to pursue other interests and challenges.  Faith is a member of White Rock Baptist and incidentally, actually makes the best fruitcake I have ever eaten whether it be a favoured relatives recipes or Mark’s and Spencers.

Heartland Church Planting Director Appointed

By Cailey Morgan, Church Planting Assistant

It’s an exciting time in Church Planting with the CBWC. Our executive Coordinator and Director of the BC-Yukon Region’s church planting activities–Shannon Youell–has been with us since early this year and has already brought fresh energy and ideas to the table. Ron Orr, Alberta-NWT’s Church Planting Director, has been faithfully serving since the spring as well.

We’ve seen growth of our existing plants, and we look forward to introducing several new partnerships and local works to you in the coming months. We also look ahead to the further development of church planting initiatives in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as we welcome Pastor Joell Haugan to our team as part-time Heartland Director starting January 2015.

Joell, who pastors at Community Baptist Church in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, shares some thoughts with us about his past, present and future ministry.

What is your experience in pastoring / church planting?

Joell Haugan: I’ve been a pastor for 23 years…. 13 of which were as a youth pastor and 20 of which have been with the CWBC in both Kitimat, BC and now here in Swift Current.  Here in Saskatchewan we initiated a church plant in a very little town and hour and a half south of Speedy Creek. It was great to be involved in that ministry which, sadly, lasted only about five years. However, that planted in me a desire to see more churches started in any and every place! If we could get a church going (even for a little while) is a town of 20 people… surely they can be planted anywhere!

Cailey: Share some passions and joys in your current ministry?

JH: What we see here in Swift Current is a town that has been noticeably changed over the past decade. Immigration has literally changed the colour of our city and our church has changed right along with it. A body of believers that reflects the makeup of their community is a sign of health. Our blended ages and ethnic groups has been a blessing to this church which was planted only 25 years ago itself as part of a Heartland Area (then the Saskatchewan Area) initiative. I would love to be part of similar initiatives to see other areas blessed the way we have been here in Swift Current!

Cailey: What excites you most about your new role?

JH: The traditional models of church planting can still be a valuable model for ministry however, what excites me is that churches can pop up in so many different ways these days. I imagine that when existing churches simply open themselves up to the church birthing process we’ll see satellite churches, house churches, affinity churches, ethnic churches, multi-ethnic churches, inter-generational churches, front porch churches…. and some other types we haven’t even thought of!

Pray with us that the Holy Spirit would go before Joell and guide him as he seeks to catalyze, connect, and encourage new churches in the Heartland.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

Vol 10 No. 47 A Focus on Evangelism

Dear Friends,

Over the past few months we have been emphasising the whole narrative of people coming to personal faith in Christ. One of the exciting examples of that was the Lower Mainland Leadership Forum on 2 October 2014, held at Trinity Baptist Church, Vancouver, BC. Over 20 churches were represented out of the 30 congregations in the Lower Mainland and we also had a strong representation from our friends at Carey Centre.

Claudia Merida (Grandview Calvary, Vancouver) spoke on social isolation and disconnection in Vancouver, asking each of us “how is Jesus good news in this?”

Shannon Youell (CBWC Church Planting Coordinator) spoke on personal evangelism in her community. She told the story of “Front Porch.” In Shannon’s community, many people are living on large acreages, and therefore are not physically close to each other like so many other communities. The challenge of not being able to see your neighbour is that you don’t get to know them in the same way as you might in a “closer” community. Shannon and her family therefore organised a community / neighbour dinner to get to know their neighbours. This has continued for a number of months and led to many great nights of family, friends, and conversation.

Last night, Darrell Johnson (First Baptist Vancouver) spoke at the Leadership Forum about the role of the Holy Spirit in going before us as we share our faith. 

These conversations and events fall into a larger context. This Fall, many of our churches are beginning to run the ALPHA course.  We will try to network those churches who have done so over the last year. If your church is doing the ALPHA course this year, please contact Shelby Gregg (sgregg@cbwc.ca) from next week onwards.

Please recall the parable of the sower:

Matthew 13: 1-9

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

I raise this because many of the possible 3000 folk that go to our summer camps have seriously contemplated coming themselves to a relationship with Christ for the very first time, or have recommitted themselves to that journey of faith. These journeys route fully if they are in the context of a community and church. Please pray that the seeds that were planted in people’s lives during the summer at camp in fact, like the parable, take root, grow and multiply a hundredfold. So today, here are some beginning stories about evangelism, sharing of faith, and a conversion narrative in our lives together in the CBWC.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

Vol 10 No. 46 Banff Pastors and Spouses Conference Reflections

Dear Friends,

The 39th Banff Pastor’s and Spouses Conference was a very encouraging time. Our theme verse was simply Psalm 115:1 – Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Our Bible studies, by Loralyn Lind, focussed on that particular verse, but particularly its first phrase – Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. And even more specific to that, Loralyn spoke of the glory of God. It was a deeply encouraging experience as she encouraged us, in fact exhorted us, not to be so absorbed in ourselves, but in fact that which is the reflected glory of God in the creation, others, ourselves, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

David Wells, the General Superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, invited us to see the functional estrangement of Canadian society and culture from the faith. The striking experience that so few who have ever seen the inside of the Bible, let alone embraced the notion of a Jesus with whom relationship is possible.  David gave us an overview of Canadian faith and culture, challenging the church to respond to the hunger and ambivalence of both secular and Christian society. He encouraged us to abandon our old apologetic and engage people relationally in new and powerful ways.

Harry Gardner, former Executive Minister of Atlantic Baptists of Canada, and President of Acadia Divinity College, spoke to us in both plenary and workshop sessions about the foundations and disciplines of spiritual exercise. Harry is a wonderful raconteur with a deep love of the church in all its warts and foibles. He was particularly insistent on articulating that in our understanding of spiritual direction that “one size did not fit all”. All of these speakers were a complete delight to experience. They deeply encouraged and were extremely well received.

They will be available online in the next few weeks and I will let you know when that occurs. We will also encouraged to have something very new at Banff – that is Leland Klassen, a comedian, and Katie and Jason Leussink, the two worship leaders.

Presentations were also made by Carey and CBWC Foundation. CBM staff introductions and youth resources group were also presented.

Our thanks go to Heather Thomson who did all the work in organising this. Many thanks also go to Louanne Haugan, Sharon Onciul, Cindy Emmons, Amber Baker, Bob Thomson, and Jim King for all their work.

Many thanks to those of you who prayed for us during this time. We were very encouraged by your support.

We also launched our newest Partnerships and Possibilities. It will be coming to your church very soon, and we encourage you to prayerfully consider our ministries.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

Vol 10 No. 45 Scripture Reflection

Dear Friends,

I asked Sam Chaise, Executive Director of Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) to describe a process they are engaged in at CBM. It includes a weekly bible study reflection, and as Sam writes, it goes like this:

On a weekly basis the CBM senior leadership gathers on Wednesday mornings to read through the past Sunday’s lectionary selections and to read a short piece written by a CBM staff member that engages the Scripture readings.  We then spend time sharing our own reflections as we sit with the Scripture.  Our international staff share in this practice via an online webpage.  One of our goals for this practice is that even though we are spread out over the globe, we share at least one practice together and are formed by it.

On the day I joined other Executive Ministers with Sam in Mississauga, ON on Wednesday 22 October 2014, they were engaged in just such a process. The passage that day was Exodus 33:12 – 23.

Moses’ Intercession

Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favour in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.”

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

Suzannah Nacho wrote the following commentary:

I found myself deeply moved as the passage was read, almost in tears, and felt that God had wanted me at these meetings, if only just to hear these words (they meetings were excellent by the way). I let you explore this passage for itself, but I do need to say three brief things which were important to me:

I often ask God, just as Moses does, who will go with me…sometimes in the loneliness of the task, sometimes in personal worry, sometimes because I fail to see the wonderful collaboration and community that is around me.

I stand with Moses and think of the Lord, before you as CBWC. If the Lord does not go before us, and with us, we do not go. I love the assertive, analytical, blunt way Moses speaks. I love the whole expanse and in many times in my life, where vibrant, robust, intellectually sound apologetics were the order of the day. But, I have always needed mystery and wonder in my life. It has often come to me in music.

The third observation I make of this passage is that after all of the back and forth between Moses and the Lord, the Lord says “I will show you my power, but you can’t look upon it.” There is a mystery and a wonder, which is often missing, but found in this passage. There is an irony, a coincidence, whatever you might call it.

But the theme of the Banff Pastors Conference this year is from Psalm 115:1 – Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Loralyn Lind is teaching the bible studies, and she focused on both passages from Exodus and Psalm, and spoke the first day on glory. I will leave it there, because I know that you will enjoy listening to her online in a few weeks when we have the conference talks available on our website.

God be with you.

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca