FEARLESS: A guide for small groups

By Anna Robbins

When I was with you for your assembly back in 2013, and with the pastors and spouses in Banff in 2016, I engaged with people on some of the basics of relating faith and culture in today’s world. I have given similar workshops with regularly-updated material in many places before and since, and the MacRae Centre for Christian Faith and Culture at Acadia Divinity College has decided to produce this as a six-week small group resource, complete with teaching sessions and leader’s guide with discussion questions and bible studies.

FEARLESS for Small Groups
We are so deeply committed to the contemporary church in Canada, that we want to share this educational resource with your leaders for free. We have already given out over 100 copies to pastors and churches in Atlantic Canada, and we would like to offer it free to the wider Canadian Baptist family as well.

The world is changing so rapidly; we find it difficult to understand what’s happening to our churches, or where our faith fits. We can lock the doors and hide in fear, or we can engage our mission to the world with courage! Fearless is a new resource designed for small groups to tackle what it means to live out the Christian faith in an ever-changing culture. Lively introductions by Lennett Anderson, and clear teaching by Anna Robbins, together with a leader’s study guide, will equip your group to understand the relationship between faith and culture, so that they can live courageously as Christians in the world today.

Click here to download. CBWC churches and leaders use the CODE: CBWC-Fearless at checkout for free access.

The six sessions include the following topics:
* What is culture?
* How do faith and culture relate?
* How does culture influence faith?
* What does it mean to be in the world and not of the world?
* How does faith influence culture?
* How do we live out Fearless faith today?

My Gospel Questionnaire Part 2: What’s Good News to You?

By Shannon Youell

When I pick up my newspaper at end of my driveway each morning, I walk back glancing at the headlines to see what catches my attention the most. Those are the stories I want to read first. What is the story underneath the headline?

Were I to pick up my newspaper and see the headline: “Good News! Becky Morgan found her lost hamster,” I would think, “well that’s nice.” And indeed, it is good news for Becky. But it doesn’t affect how I approach the rest of my day, let alone my tomorrows.

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Or how about the headline this summer announcing that Canada had just purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline? That was good news for some, but not such good news for others who opposed it.

However, if the headline read that scientists had discovered the cure to eradicate all cancer, this would indeed be good news for many—if not all—of us. This story changes everything in regards to the ravishing of these diseases. This news gives hope for those who have the disease and relief for those who may find themselves or their loved ones in this place in the future.

Good news is something that has happened that impacts what is happening to them/around them, and will change what is yet to happen.

The Good News of God’s “Is-ness”
Those of us who have heard and believed good news that changed everything can likely pinpoint the aspect of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God that penetrated to the depths of our very souls. For some, it was the release from guilt and shame that the good news offers forgiveness into. For others, it was the aspect that God loves you; that God has always been looking for you; that you are not abandoned.

Others found the good news first in emotional, psychological or physical healing–  demonstration that God truly is, and, in his is-ness, God is actively stepping into the darkest places of our souls with a holistic healing that begins to transform thinking, actions, motivations and the lens through which life is viewed.  Some who have lived in rejection intersected the good news by being accepted, welcomed, given dignity, value and voice regardless of what separated them from both community and God.

These are but a few spaces where the good news intersects with God’s beloved image-bearers.

In Jesus’ encounters with people throughout his ministry, he found the intersection between the story of the person he was engaging and the Big Story of God. To the thief on the cross, good news was that he was forgiven, absolved, and entering with Jesus into a transformed reality of both an immediate and a future of restored relationship with God and with God’s community. God had not forsaken him after all, no matter what lies he had accepted and lived by.

For the cripple, the blind man, the woman with the issue of blood, the good news was that because Jesus had healed them, they could now be included by a community that treated them unlovable. This because was the catalyst for those to have their eyes opened to see Jesus as Lord and Savior as they recognized that only God-with-them could deliver them from the darkness of their world.

Fluency In the Good News 
I believe our world is hungry for good news. Even as we lament the growing secularity in our nation and our world, the hunger for connecting with something greater than ourselves, that has the best interest and future for humanity does not wane. In fact, it seems to increase.

To engage in conversations with our not-yet-followers-of-Jesus family, friends and acquaintances, we must increase our fluency in the amazing good news that God is looking for us?  Can we develop our listening skills and our care for, the stories we tell one another and listen to, always opening up the space of inviting Jesus as Lord into the very stories themselves. Can we thicken our understanding of the Gospel to see where Kingdom and salvation are co-existing aspects of God’s very good news and are both being realized here on earth as in heaven?

How we share the good news, and which aspect of the gospel is any one person’s entry point, requires us to be good listeners to truly hear where people’s stories, the place they find themselves in their current reality, intersects with God’s kingdom plan of Shalom of flourishing humanity that reflects God’s heart in how we love God, love others and love our world and submit ourselves to inviting Jesus into the situations where we see the miracle of Jesus is Lord reach deep down to connect with us in the midst.

On a personal note, I came to faith because I experienced God looking for me. The realization that, a) God was real (which was the initial question I asked “to the air”) and b) that this real God was looking for me was incredibly good news to me. It was this aspect of the gospel that then drew me to Jesus.

Those door-to-door evangelists had no impact on me with their “do you want to spend eternity in heaven or hell?” tracts. These were not things that concerned me. But the very existence of God looking for me was the perfect entry point for me.  That doesn’t mean that those approaches are wrong or obsolete. Rather, if we desire to be sharers of the thick gospel of the Kingdom of God through Jesus, we need to listen well for natural entry points. Everybody believes in something; even if their belief system is “nothing,” that’s still a thing!  It is here that we look to the Big Story for the intersection with that and begin.

Again, good news is something that has happened that impacts what is happening to them/around them, and will change what is yet to happen. 

Why do I write this on a church planting blog?  Because churches are planted as people who did not previously follow Jesus hear the good news in a way that connects them to God and the big story of God interacting with humanity. From there, discipleship communities grow into the places and spaces we live.

My Gospel Questionnaire, Part 1: How Jesus Put it

By Shannon Youell

One of the things I like to do is ask Christians “what is the gospel?” I don’t do it because I enjoy watching people squirm, but rather because these reactions show how those of us who are followers of Jesus have a hard time articulating the very thing we are commanded to proclaim.

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So, I’ve been doing a survey. For about ten years now. It goes something like this:

“What is the gospel? What is the good news that Jesus ushered in?” 

I’ve asked it of long-time Christians and new believers alike. More often than not, the answers range from explaining that the gospels are the first four books of the New Testament; or the gospel is the Creed; or the Gospel is summarized in four spiritual laws. Certainly we find aspects of the good news in all of those answers.

But there’s a follow up to question one:

Is our articulation of this gospel—this good news announced by angels, proclaimed by Jesus as the news of the kingdom now near us, among us, with us; of the fulfillment of prophecies that spoke of good news—actually heard as good news? 

It’s the question everyone should be wrestling with—because we should be able to talk about good news that, when shared with others, actually sounds like good news to them. To do so requires us to first look back at the historical Jesus and what He meant and what His hearers understood as “good news.”

When Jesus stepped out of His ordinary life into the spotlight, He said these things:

Repent.
The kingdom of God has come near.
Come follow me.

The story continues by telling us that “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria….” (Matthew 4:23, 24a).

The people who heard Jesus make these statements had an embedded understanding of what was being said to them because Jesus used concepts that meant something to them. The context, of course is their story, the story of Israel from the beginning and including their current occupied state.

The term gospel or good news had a known meaning. It was used as a heralding that a new king had battled an oppressive king. This new king would change everything about their lives. He had saved them from the results of that oppression and promised them peace and justice, both in the immediacy of the near future and into the future beyond.

When Jesus told those who heard Him that “the kingdom of God was near,” this was what they understood it would look like. The term “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God,” had an embedded understanding that comes both out of the story of God and his people, Israel and their understanding of the royal pronouncement of Good News represented.

So when the Jewish people heard John the Baptist and Jesus speak the phrases “good news” and “the kingdom of God has come near,” their ears immediately perked up. Here is something they’ve been waiting for, looking for. It had deep meaning to them even if many of them became disappointed and then many more disillusioned, that it wasn’t a power exchange that led to some kind of political domination.

They also recognized and understood that good news is only good news if there is a king.  They were anticipating God’s movement of anointing a new king to His kingdom who would be the deliverer of salvation for all peoples. Thus those who heard this pronouncement looked towards the one in whom the pronouncement was focused. Without the anointed king, there could be no kingdom, so the good news was the victorious king.

Thus, Peter’s epiphany–that Jesus Himself is the Messiah, the saving King who will come to usher in God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven–became those first followers’ battle cry.  It is because Jesus is that King, that Lord, that salvation from the oppressiveness of fallen humanity has broken into reality.

It is because Jesus is Lord that the sick are saved from sickness because mercy and justice are now upon them; that the “sinners” (literally “outsiders”) can be welcomed into the kingdom; that enemies can imagine what it looks like to love one another; that forgiveness can dominate and shape our thinking and actions towards one another; that we can now be in the presence of God who never stops looking for His lost children and be restored to relationship with Him and with community.

This was the rich, deep, joyful good news that pierced the hearts and souls of those who both heard and received it. It tangibly touched the aspects of their lives that were most separated from community relationships and from relationship with God their creator. It was so big that everyone with humbled hearts and willingness to rethink what they thought they already understood about God and themselves, could find a place of entry made possible by Jesus the King, Jesus their Lord. Good news indeed!

Tune in next week as we discuss what this good news means in our world today.

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.

Not just a Mickey-Mouse Faith

Today, I’m in Disneyland with my husband celebrating our anniversary. Surrounded by a sensory-overloading one-two punch of overpriced cotton candy and Louisiana jazz, I’m standing in the sunshine on a pristine path of perfectly-shaped fake rocks having my picture taken with two of the most influential heroes in my life: Kyson Morgan and Buzz Lightyear.disneyland3

Today, it’s easy to be thankful. But what is thankfulness for sweet-smelling, bright-colored experiences even made of? At the end of the day, yes: I’m be thankful for fun. I’m thankful for churros. I’m thankful for relaxation, and (no offense) a break from the daily routine at the CBWC.

But will these easy days of meditating on Toy Story, when my only prayer is to not die on California Screamin’ and the only evangelists are selling Winnie the Pooh t-shirts, shape me into someone who will praise God no matter the cost? Ecclesiastes 7:14 comes to mind:

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Thankfulness is not just an emotion for the good times. It is a choice and a necessity for faith.

My friend, a mother of three whose husband died of cancer, reminded me recently  that faith is real when it’s lived out. Faith is proven when you have to choose whether to curse God like Job’s friends were pushing him to do, or to consciously choose thankfulness as Asaph did in the midst of distress and exhaustion:

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;

   at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted…

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.

Your ways, God, are holy (Psalm 77:1-2, 11-13).

I don’t believe that God is calling us to praise Him for every situation. But without a doubt, the true Christian walk is praising Him in every situation, even if it means forcing ourselves stay concentrated on the goodness of God’s character by recounting His faithfulness in the past.

Paul put it this way:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2).

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

So whether riding Splash Mountain or walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we are called to choose thankfulness. The Bible makes it clear that thankfulness is hard work, and that we may never know why horrible circumstances happen to us and those we love:

For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.

You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.

You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

But in the end, we are God’s kids. No matter how dark life seems, remember this: God is good, God loves you, and His character does not change.

Faith, Farming and Reaping a Harvest

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13:3-9).

wheatI had the privilege of being involved in a Church Plant in an area where farming  occasionally collided with oil/natural gas and logging interests. I developed a deep appreciation and awe for my friends who farmed and ranched. I remember speaking with a farmer who professed to be an atheist.

After listening to him for a while I smiled and said, “I think you have way more faith than I do.” He laughed as I continued: “In the springtime you invest tens of thousands of dollars on preparing the soil, seeding, fertilizer, fuel, and maintenance. Then, after spending all that money you sit back and wait, hope and trust for a good harvest – friend, that’s faith!!”

Wilson Geisler wrote a great article, “Glorifying God through Church Planting,” sharing how God pours Himself into people who invest themselves into the lives of others – for God’s glory, and Seth Godin shares a few intriguing thoughts in this article: “Planting, harvesting and your fair share.”

We on the CBWC Church Planting team would love to hear some of your stories on faith, planting and harvesting – please drop us a line! Praying for God’s best for you as we co-labour in the kingdom.

Tom Lavigne

What’s the difference between a leap of faith and a step of faith?

Now, I’m just making a distinction between the two phrases, so don’t go running to Webster’s to see if I’m right, but I’m suggesting that true Christian faith is more of a “step” than a “leap”. Leaps of faith often are considered for no reason at all. People might just jump off a bridge, expecting God to save them…only to wake up dead.Flickr-Hugo-stoplight

Others will fight against obvious evidence to the contrary and insist that something came out of nothing (the universe, for instance) or believe that a loved one couldn’t have committed a crime, even though they’ve been found guilty not just beyond a reasonable doubt but beyond all doubt.

Leaps of faith actually aren’t faith at all. You could substitute the word “folly” or “stupidity” instead of “faith”, and it would be more accurate.

Steps of faith, on the other hand, are logical, reasoned, and evidence based moves. For example: going through a green light at an intersection is a step of faith. You are trusting that the drivers coming perpendicular to you know that red means stop… and that the light is functioning correctly.  However, you do not know this for sure. You don’t know the mind of the other driver… and you can’t see the light from the other angle.  You are stepping out in faith, knowing the training that all drivers must take, knowing that the city maintains their lights, and knowing that the manufacturer is trustworthy. But you really don’t know for sure.

There may be be mechanical failure in the other car or the lights. A hacker might have messed with the light programming. The other driver might be drunk or texting. You are taking a step of faith.

The Christian life is to be lived with such information. The Bible gives us the foundation for helping us to learn about things that we can never prove (who The Father is, how Jesus loves us and dies and rose again, how to rely upon the Holy Spirit). We learn from each other through their experiences in the faith. We are tutored in things of “faith” in our churches.  We see God’s handiwork in nature.

All of this is not proof, but it is evidence… very good evidence that leads us to take a knee in the presence of God and defer to Him to be in charge. It’s a step of wondrous, mystical, rational faith.

Avoid the leaps… they hurt.  Take that step!

Pastor Joell Haugan
CBWC Church Planting Advisory Team

This article is reposted with permission from Pastor Joell’s blog.