Anchored Hope

By: Shannon Youell

As I write this article, it is snowing outside my window.  Big huge, wet flakes are plummeting to earth.  In only a few minutes everything begins to look a lot less green and a lot more white.  Of course, living in Victoria BC guarantees that this snow, especially in December, will be short lived.   

The snow causes me to pause and think about the elements that we consider necessary or even just enhancing for us to ‘feel Christmas’.  Bing Crosby’s classic lyric “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” floats through my thoughts.  Perhaps for you it is the “stockings all hung by the chimney with care” or, “… in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”  There are all sorts of perspectives on what makes Christmas meaningful, on what ‘the true meaning of Christmas is’ and what each of us needs or wishes for to have a happy or merry one. 

 For us as Christ followers, we also look through the Advent lens of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy.  This year as I’ve been reflecting upon that lens and as I’ve spoken with many people struggling with the concepts of joy, peace and sadly even a sense of love, I realized how hard it is to hold on to them when we don’t have the anchor of hope holding us steady.  So often we try to manufacture peace, joy and love through all those things we ‘do’ and ‘create’ to make Christmas special, but in the end find ourselves celebrating the mediocrity of it all.   

Perhaps this was the sense of Zechariah as he carried out his priestly duties just as he’d spent his life doing, yet not seeing his own hopes of either a child of his own or the anticipated Hope of Israel.  Or of the shepherds, a social class of their own, huddling through yet another cold night watching dirty, stupid animals for little reward or hope of a better life.  I wonder whether, in the same-old-same-old cycle of hope deferred, they had lost any sense of peace or joy or love.  Without hope, can one even know or recognize the presence of the others?   

Yet.   

Yet when those same shepherds, chilled to the bone, resigned to their lot in life, saw those angels and hurried off to gaze upon the babe in a trough whose birth they announced, returned to their flocks, their whole countenance had changed.  They returned to the same mediocre life.  The same dirty sheep.  The same endless days and nights of poverty, marginalization, invisibility, disappointment that they’d always known, yet something had changed within them.  Luke tells us they returned ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen”.  Hope had been enlivened within them.  Joy sprang forth from their hearts and lips and God’s love in his promises blanketed them with warmth, comfort and a sense of knowing all will be put right in the world again.   

Zechariah, too, gazing upon his own promised newborn, explodes in joy with prophesy and praise.  “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.”  He uses the language of salvation, rescue, tender mercy, forgiveness of sins and light shining on those living in darkness and the shadow of death, of peace.   

For each of these, the meaning of Christmas is found not in the weather, the feast, the gifts, the celebrations or even in the religious rituals thick with their own meaning.  It is found in a promise fulfilled.  A gift already given.  A future already in motion.  For each, this single moment, this single gift, this single event embedded such hope within them they could not contain it.  They carried it with them wherever it went.  It lasted.  It didn’t melt away in short order like Victoria snow.  It sustained them as they returned to the mediocrity and reality of life in a broken world where once they knew only the absence and fleetingness of peace, joy and love.  Now, with this anchor of hope, it welled over into the lives of those they found themselves among. 

Today may be heralded as the longest night of the year – yet – it is only a night.  The dawn comes each day.  It is in the night, in the dimly lit places where we often most need to embrace hope, take hold of it to bring us encouragement, rest in our souls, peace in our spirits and love in our hearts.  As Paul writes in Hebrews 6, this hope is an anchor for our souls, firm and secure.  It tethers us to God and changes our expectations.  It focuses us to fix our eyes on the Christ and the promises of God that have been enacted through him and the celebration God’s ongoing action within the world he so loves.  

Whatever your Christmas is this year, let it be rich and thick with meaning that comes from the fullness of what God has accomplished, is still accomplishing and will be accomplishing through Christ our Lord.  May our hope be so anchored in him that we are enlivened with his peace, his joy, his love in whatever places, spaces and circumstances we find ourselves in.  In him we find the true meaning, hope, that springs praise upon our lips and gives witness to the goodness of God in the land.  Merry Christmas. 

Thrust into Darkness

By: Shannon Youell

Here I am, and the children the Lord has given me.  We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.  When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?  Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.  Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God.  Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness, and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.  Isaiah 8:18-22 

Just before Isaiah wrote the famous Advent words, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;”, he scribed the passage above.  He sets the context for what the world is like, where hope has waned, if not disappeared, where both the present and the future are painted as a bleak, gloomy fearfulness, where people curse and blame both their government and their god.  It all sounds so dismal, disturbed and pointless.  If one were to never go on to chapter 9, one would consider the calamities of the day as fatalistic and humanity as on the precipice of expiration. 

But, then, one has missed the beauty of what Isaiah is saying.  He first acknowledges that as far as it is up to him, he will wait for the Lord, he will put his trust in him (8:17) and then he echoes his words from chapter six, “Here I am.”  But he is not alone.  The people whom God has given him, the people of God with whom he journeys, are there with him.  And together they are “signs and symbols” from the Lord who dwells among them in the land. (8:18) 

Signs and symbols of hope when hope seems to have fled the hearts of people.  Signs and symbols of a light that pierces the fiercest darkness, saturating hearts with an unexplainable expectancy rising up in joy.   

The writings are a poetic reminder that we, the God believers, the disciples of Christ, are called to shine our light and not hide it under a bowl.  In that way we embody hope to the world.  

In one of the Advent Readers I am following this season, the writer wrote these words, “Hope holds steady, clinging to peace in the midst of chaos.”1 

This is powerful imagery in the reality of this particular Advent in 2020.  In a time when many are embodying fear, anxiety, despondency, cynicism, hopelessness and anger, Isaiah and the Gospel of God’s kingdom invites us to cling to peace in the midst of it all.  To be seekers of peace, joy and love.  To be the embodiment of the kind of hope that fosters hope to and towards the world.  God’s hope.  

It is our “God of hope” who enables us to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).  This reality isn’t true only in ‘good’ times; in fact, it is dark and difficult times when hope truly shows its mettle. 

Hope, God’s hope, disrupts the utter darkness we find ourselves plunged in.  It displaces it with “a great light” revealing the shadows we live in are only that, shadows.  They are dangerous, frightening, agonizing shadows that in the absence of God’s hope are bereft of any peace to cling to.  But with God, with Messiah, with this great light that has already dawned, when we embody the presence of God calm comes with us.   

In the midst of the chaos where suffering, grief and loss are so real, we, the people who call Jesus Lord and Savior, are to be signs and symbols of our God-With-Us.  His hope is with us when we can’t leave our homes and are lonely.  His hope is with us as we struggle with all the things that have been disrupted and displaced by this virus.  And the Gospel invites us to embody that hope for others, to be signs and symbols clinging to peace, and our very demeanor, language and gestures embodies a hope that is disruptive to shadows we find both ourselves and others living shrouded in as our world feels thrust into darkness. 

May each of us be signs and symbols of Disruptive Hope. Let us shine the light of dawn among our neighbours, our church families and our nation in humility and strength, love and grace, in this very different and modified Christmas Season. 

Hold steady. Cling to peace. Together we are signs and symbols of our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Shalom.

With-Us

By Shannon Youell

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God-With-Us.  Incarnated.  Spirit takes on flesh.  The Lord is born to earth.  Christ.

All the Christmas stories have now been re-told.  The waiting, the expectation has come.

As sure as the sun will rise in the sky each morning

As sure as the God-With-Us Son walks with us,

In the midst of human-living in dark places where grief, despair, desperation dwell

in hollowed hidden crevices,

Light has come to define these deepest sorrows to shadow

Only shadow

For on earth there is peace to all peoples

On whom God’s heart is resting.

The tender mercy of God

Filling the hungry with good things,

Lifting up the humble, the rejected, the excluded

Restoring to creation intention the God-With-Us

Glory of Created walking in the cool of the day with Creator

In Thy will on earth splendor

Christ the Savior present – With-Us – 

Guiding the weary to green pastures, quiet waters

Restoring souls, hearts, hope, joy

For on earth there is peace that God-With-us-Will-Never-Leave-Us

Alone

For darkness is but a shadow

Waiting for the light

Light of the world

With-Us.

 

Merry Christmas from CBWC Church Planting!

Blessed Is She Who Has Believed

By Cailey Morgan

Advent reflection started early for me this year.

My husband and I had escaped for a couple days away in early November. I was sitting alone in the Selman Cottage on Keats Island, sipping tea while Kyson was out taking pictures of the fall scenery. I had determined I would read through the whole book of Luke to get a refresher on the ways and work and words of Jesus in the midst of a season in which I was using Jesus’ words to conveniently give permission for my own hurried ways and self-reliant work.

I sat on that futon for two hours, but never got past Luke 1. My realignment to a truer understanding of the person of Christ and to the life He offers came from the part of the story where He wasn’t even born into humanity yet, through the joyful cry of an impossibly-pregnant octogenarian to her equally-impossibly-pregnant teenaged cousin:

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said will be accomplished.

That one line gripped me. I couldn’t keep reading until I had wrestled through the questions of whether I could be that kind of woman. And frankly, two months later I’m still stuck, here on verse 45. Do I believe? Do I hear the Lord’s words? Do I look for the accomplishment of His works in this world?

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Do I believe that God performed those incredible, intimate supernatural actions in Elizabeth and Mary’s bodies? That maybe the Holy Spirit knows my limitations and might even be willing to touch me personally to overcome them as I open myself to being His servant? More than that, do I believe and live into the blessing of the empire-shaking, darkness-shattering Gospel Kingdom that those two miracle baby boys inaugurated?

At the risk of reducing one of the most epic moments of history into a object lesson, I want you to consider this question with me: “What has the Lord said will be accomplished, that I need to believe will be accomplished?”

For me, the answer came quickly. I’m a bit loath to tell you, because this blog is meant to inspire us to pray, equip leaders, and share Jesus. What gives me the right to write about these things if my own witness is impotent and life in the Spirit is in infancy? But I hope that sharing some of my struggles and conversations with God will encourage you in your journey and invite you to share how you’ve been growing as well.

What has the Lord said will be accomplished, that I need to believe will be accomplished? Jesus said this: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

But I don’t believe it yet. I love Jesus, and I love my neighbours. I long for my community to be transformed by the hope of Christ. But I don’t really believe that I’m a Spirit-filled witness.

I don’t.

If I did, I would act like a Spirit-filled witness!

I’m like Mary or Elizabeth before the angel showed up–in a place where new birth is just not on the radar as something that would or could really take place. My limitations make spiritual pregnancy and birth (aka disciple-making) a nice–but practically impossible–thought.

But then, what happened to these women? I’m sure neither Elizabeth nor Mary could even imagine the prophecies before they were spoken:

“You will give birth to a Son, and you will call His name Jesus,” says the angel to Mary (verse 31).

“How will this be, for I am a virgin?” responds Mary (verse 34). She’s asking a legitimate question. “I am physically not able to complete your request! Wrong stage of life! No experience! So, how will you make this happen Lord? What do I do now?”

How does the angel respond? “You’re right. You can’t do it alone. But the Holy Spirit will come on you and take care of all the tricky business. You will become who He’s asking you to be, for His glory, through His power” (verse 35, my paraphrase).

Sounds a lot like Acts 1:8! And how about Elizabeth?

“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God” (verse 36).

Elizabeth prayed and waited for a child for decades. But as time marched on, she probably looked at Zechariah and said, “Honey, this isn’t going to happen. We missed our window. ”

There are two women who I’ve been praying for, for over half of my life. One I haven’t seen in 10 years; the other I run into maybe twice a year. When I made these friends as a teenager, my prayers were fervent and frequent: “Lord, draw her to Yourself. Lord, what do You want me to say? Lord, what do I need to do?” These days, when I don’t even see these people any more, it’s easy to skip praying, and just look in the mirror and say, “Honey, this ain’t gonna happen. We missed our window.”

I know that many of you have similar stories of faithful prayers that seem to go unheard. Maybe you don’t feel ready yet to have spiritual kids, or maybe you’ve been waiting for so long you don’t think God really wants to use you in that way. And I don’t really have a good answer to this, other than to look at what happened to Mary and Elizabeth, and ask the Lord for His Spirit to come in power and overcome our lack of patience, faith, and imagination, for nothing is impossible with God.

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said will be accomplished.

I hope that Luke 1 becomes a year-round reflection for you, as it is becoming for me. Rather than a story to remind our children about the true meaning of Christmas, it’s a call to follow the great King whose Kingdom will never end (verse 32-33), and to open our eyes to the eternal Spirit-filled life that this King offers us, starting now!

Adventitiousness

By Joell Haugan

So here’s a question that nobody is asking. “Is the Advent an example of adventitiousness”?

Ya, nobody, ever, has asked this.

But this word, which has the root “advent” actually brings some light and some questions to the story of the Advent, or coming, of God in flesh: Jesus Christ. “Adventitious” means “coming from without” or “coming about from a unknown or unexpected cause” or even “from an accidental cause.”

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Insight #1 – Jesus’ coming is from “without.” OK, yes, God is everywhere and the God-Man Jesus created everything…but in the Advent we see God entering the sphere of humanity in a very different way. As the creator becoming the same as the created. In this sense, the Advent is adventitious.

Insight #2 – Indeed, there is a “unexpected” element to the Advent of the “long expected” Messiah. Sages and prophets had signalled the imminent coming of the Messiah yet, there is an amazing element of surprise when He actually shows up…and, for sure, shows up in the way He did. In a manger. In a smaller town. To common parents. To poverty. To the worship of shepherds. This was indeed the most unexpected expected event.

Question #1 – So is the birth of Christ a cosmic accident? There have been those that have surmised that the virginal conception (aka the virgin birth, but the birth isn’t the virginal part. It’s the conception….well, you get the idea) was actually legitimate, but that it was a fluke of nature. Like the apparent spontaneous pregnancies reported in sharks (it’s true, look it up). This would change the story to the the wonderful name of the “adventitious conception” Ya, that doesn’t roll off the tongue. But, we know that this amazing historical happenstance was anything but an accident. It was designed and brought about by God Himself in the most awe-inspiring way. The most intelligently designed event in history.

Question # 2 – So what? Ah, the classic question that every sermon should answer. So, this Child is God. What does this mean to us today? Well, it means the world. Because in Christ we have the coming of God in flesh to ultimately take our place. No, Jesus isn’t going to replace you in your job at Walmart or Sears (oh, skip that last one). He came to replace us in the whole department of “taking our sin and its consequences.” Human sinfulness cannot stand in the presence of Holy God, but Holy God can stand in our place so that our lives can be exchanged for His–through His life, death and resurrection. That’s kind of a big deal. That’s what this Advent deal is all about.

So, this Advent season, take time to reflect on the adventitiousness of the Advent. OK. You can skip the adventitiousness part….but reflect you must! 🙂

Joell

PS. Charles Wesley did some of this reflecting for us:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Looking Back / Looking Forward

By Joell Haugan

Ah. The mandatory year end reflection and looking ahead article. Yes. We all do it (some of us call them Christmas or New Years letters). It’s pretty easy to talk about what the kids and grandkids are up to which, ironically, is exactly what us Church Planting people are doing. We have infant churches out there and, often, parent churches that are eager to see them thrive.

Then we have “uncle and aunt” churches that may not have been directly involved in the birthing process but, nevertheless, are supportive and curious as to how the little one is doing. And, I suppose, we have some grumpy old relatives that think the world has enough stuff to worry about and don’t want to bring anyone new into this horrible world. I’ll leave this last group alone for now.

Overall, the Heartland is full of our congregations that are supportive of church planting, at least in principle. I often get a genuine “how is church planting going?” from both pastors and parishioners throughout Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Some churches  have begun Venture Partnerships with our one active church plant (Shalom in Winnipeg) and are even building a relationship with Shadrack and his congregation through invitations to visit and through monthly financial support.

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Enjoying Banff Pastors Conference with friends.

Over 2016 I also think it’s fair to say that there is a genuine “opening of eyes” to see where churches need to planted. For many in smaller areas there is a realization that churches (perhaps even house churches) are needed in many of the smaller towns throughout the prairies. Managing a large building and staff isn’t often feasible in small towns. But, perhaps, a house church connected to an established church in the region (say up to an hour away) might be a great way to bring church live and vibrancy into rural areas. Oh, I guess I’ve now moved into the “looking forward” part of this…. Oops.

In the cities we have seen some church plants become established and self supporting, which is always nice when we see the kids go off on their own….but part of us misses the times when they needed us!

Still, that feeling needs to be filled with new births … er… plants to nurture and grow and push out of the nest (there, that’s now three different metaphors in one sentence). Many neighbourhoods have dramatically changed (especially in the inner cities) and we are finding the need to re-plant in areas that have long since seen most (not all) churches and church members move to the suburbs. The challenge that I’ve seen our inner city churches grab hold of is being re-made in the image of their communities. That’s tough stuff but that invariably leads to new church plants/expressions.

So, for 2017 I’m hoping to see some of these ideas take hold. I’d love to see small groups beginning to meet in Christ’s name in small rural areas. I’m hoping to see city churches extending themselves to be the neighbourhood’s church. I’m hoping to see more Venture Partners for Shalom and for future church plants. And, finally, I’m hoping to see church leaders rise up (both lay and pastor) and want to branch out into a new area that needs a new expression of Christ’s body nearby.

Christmas Giving Campaign

Help Canadian Baptists of Western Canada extend the season of family, feasting and celebration all year long.
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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 is your chance to support a good cause and be honoured with a big thank you!

Check out the perks,  including a Christmas treat basket and even a personalized thank you video from Executive Minister Jeremy Bell.

Pray with Us: A New Year Ahead

A Prayer for the New Year

Author Unknown.

What shall I ask for the coming year
What shall my watchword be
What should thou do for me, dear Lord
What can I do for thee?

Lord, I would ask for a holy year
Spent in thy perfect will
Help me to walk in thy very steps
Help me to please thee still.

Lord, I would ask for a trustful year
Give me thy faith divine
Taking my full inheritance
Making thy fulness mine!

Lord, I would ask for a year of love
O let me love thee best
Give me the love that faileth not
Beneath the hardest test.

Lord, I would ask for a year of prayer
Teach me to walk with thee
Breathe in my heart the Spirit’s prayer
Pray thou thy prayer in me!

Lord, I would ask for the dying world
Stretch forth thy mighty hand
Thy truth proclaim, thy power display
This year in every land.

Lord, I would ask for a year of joy
Thy peace, thy joy divine
Springing undimmed through all the days
Be thy days of shade or shine.

Lord, I ask for a year of hope
Looking for thee to come
And hastening on that year of years
That brings us home to you.

Christmas Pictures from Mill Bay

Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship, a CBWC church that started in 2011, celebrated its first baby dedication, and a lovely Christmas service. Here are some photos:

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Mill Bay also took the exciting step of becoming a fully-affiliated Canadian Baptist Church in 2012. Continue to pray for this community of believers as they explore how to best serve their neighbours and reach the college students and members of the Malahat First Nations community in their area.

Do you have updates or photos to share from your church? Email Cailey at cmorgan@cbwc.ca with the details.