Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
May 14, 2018
After many conversations by the Board, Lead Team, and Directors of E-Free West, and after much prayer and consideration, we have decided to wind down the E-Free West Sunday service.
E-Free West began four years ago with a group of people passionate about impacting West Lethbridge with the gospel. We have appreciated the obvious growing desire its members have for building intentional relationships with our westside neighbours. This congregation has been a welcoming home where many people have found encouragement and connection to God and His Church. Many of its members we may never have had the opportunity to reach through our south campus. Since the very beginnings of E-Free West, we have seen God at work in so many ways—from sorting out logistical details, providing leadership and volunteers, to changed lives and incredible discipleship. Those who have walked through our doors to engage in worship, small group, and community life at E-Free West have become a part of our church family.
This decision brings many emotions with it, and we look to the Lord for guidance, wisdom and strength in navigating through the transition. God’s Word gives us assurance that He is for us and for our city, even the midst of these disappointments. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)
Please pray. Pray for those who call E-Free West home. Pray that they would continue to seek Christ and draw near to Him through this transition. Pray that they would find a place to land as part of a church family where they can continue to grow and also serve. Pray for the congregation as they continue to meet for worship for three more Sundays, serve their neighbours through the westside Clothing Exchange and Summer Day Camp, and explore other ways to build relationships with neighbours. Pray for wisdom, guidance, and peace for the Koops as they continue to shepherd the people under their care through this transition.
We and the congregation of E-Free West thank you for your prayers and support.
In His Service,
The Board of Directors and Lead Team
FAQs Regarding the Closure of the E-Free West Sunday Service
What is E-Free West?
• E-Free West is a satellite ministry of the Evangelical Free Church of Lethbridge that meets on the westside for Sunday worship services at 4 pm, with high involvement in community groups during the week.
• Beginning as an idea proposed by a core group of committed disciples with a passion for reaching their westside neighbours, the first step launched in January 2014 as “The Crossing” service at E-Free’s south campus. Running as an 11:00 am Sunday service in the gym for a year, the service ended in January 2015 to focus on discipleship training and strategy with a core leadership team, heading toward a westside service launch that fall with 100 committed people.
• In September 2015, E-Free West launched with Sunday services at 9:49 am at Columbia Assisted Living, led by Scott Currie, with attendance settling in around 75 (over 6 months). When Scott resigned to pursue further studies abroad, Allister and Danielle Koop, part of the core group since the proposal stage, were hired to share a part time role as Site
• Navigating the logistics and challenges of starting a new ministry, including a move to Westside Community Church in August 2017, E-Free West’s passion has remained strong for reaching the westside community. The Koops have been able to form strong relational bonds with the people of E-Free West and their leadership has been respected and appreciated.
What were the deciding factors in bringing the E-Free West Sunday service to a close?
• The availability of affordable and appropriate space has been a challenge for E-Free West from the start. The only facility that was available when the ministry launched on the westside was Columbia Assisted Living, a Senior’s Care facility. E-Free West made this facility work for a year and a half, however in the summer of 2017 circumstances necessitated a change of location. The only available venue, Westside Community Church, required a change in time to Sundays at 4 pm.
• With the shift in time and location, attendance that had been slowly declining suddenly dropped sharply in August and again at Christmas, falling below the critical mass required to keep the service viable. (Worship service attendance in 2018 has averaged less than 30.)
• Recognizing that the 4 pm service time was a significant challenge for both those in attendance as well as a many of those who had chosen to attend elsewhere, we attempted to find a venue that would allow for a morning service. However no appropriate, affordable location was found.
• Following ongoing conversations involving the Koops, Lead Team, and Board considering the vision of E-Free West and the support required to maintain and rebuild the ministry, and after much prayerful deliberation, leadership reached the conclusion that we do not have the financial or organizational support for a satellite service at this time without pulling resources from other key areas of our discipleship strategy.
What is the timeline and communication plan?
We are planning a 4-week wrap up of E-Free West, which began with a verbal announcement following the E-Free West service on May 13.
• Tuesday, May 1 – A special meeting was held to inform the E-Free West Leadership Team
• May 7-12 – Allister and Dani personally inform individual members of E-Free West
• Sunday, May 13 – Public announcement at the E-Free West service
• Monday, May 14 – Whole church informed by email including FAQs
• Tuesday, May 22 – Family Meeting for the E-Free West congregation
• Sunday, May 27 – Second to last service with Allister teaching
• Sunday, June 3 – E-Free West Celebration / Prayer and Worship Service
Do we have a different plan for reaching the west side of Lethbridge?
• While we do not have a strategic plan for engaging the westside specifically at this point, we have expressed a priority for increasing engagement and partnerships with the community across our entire city.
• We expect that discussion and planning around building relationships with those living on the westside will continue under the umbrella of Community Engagement.
• The core leadership team of E-Free West feels a calling to reach unchurched people on the westside and our prayer is that whether as a community group or individually, this team will continue to be active in ministering together among the westside community.
• The Koops have been asked to meet with the Bard and contribute a report, sharing from their perspective the unique needs of the West Side, opportunities for ministry, and lessons the church can learn from their experience at E-Free West to be more effective in ministry in the future.
Does this mean we won’t start other satellite ministries in the future?
• Not necessarily. While E-Free West did not grow as originally envisioned, God has been at work at E-Free West and our church as a whole through our experience on the westside. The work done there has been valuable—relationships formed (some that we would never have had opportunity to build through the services at the south campus), ministry experience gained, leadership and serving opportunities for a large percentage of the congregation, partnering with hosts, and growing as disciples determined to live intentionally for the kingdom, making the most of every opportunity to seek and serve their neighbours in their westside community.
• Since launching E-Free West, we have learned many things about satellite ministry, both from experience and from other churches. Reports on our experience and the lessons learned though E-Free West will be prepared for the board to help guide future conversations.
• If we felt God’s leading us toward another satellite ministry in the future, we would consider the opportunity, taking into account the lessons learned through our experience with E-Free West. We are encouraged to learn retrospectively but also think and dream about the future.
What about the individuals who call E-Free West home?
The Koops are contracted by the church through July 31, 2018. Following the wrap-up of E-Free West services on June 3, the Koops will use their remaining time on staff to continue pastoring their congregation through this transition, encouraging individuals to settle into other E-Free worship and ministry settings or other churches where they can continue to thrive and grow, and continuing the ministry to the westside though the westside Clothing Exchange (June 2) and the westside Summer Day Camp (July 9–13).
I have more questions, who can I talk to?
Please feel free to contact any Board or Lead Team member, or start a conversation by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In January and February 2018, our congregation was invited to participate in a survey to help the Search Committee understand what our church looks like now, what our vision is for the future, to find the right Lead Pastor, and to provide useful information for the new Lead Pastor when he begins his ministry with us. Our deepest thanks to the 500 people who shared their feedback and comments with such thoughtful consideration. We are encouraged by your responses and comments, which will be used alongside other resources as we collaborate with the board to craft a job description. Thank you for praying with us as we continue to seek God’s guidance in the search for our new Lead Pastor.
Note: The following is a summary of the survey results and do not include analysis of the “Comments” section of the survey.
Overview of Survey Respondents
• 60% female and 40% male
• Country of Origin: Canada = 89%, with respondents also from: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe
• 62% members and 38% non-members
• 83% felt membership was important
• 73% of respondents volunteered in church
• 47% of respondents volunteer in the community
Top Reasons Respondents Attend E-Free
• 74% feel that our church strengthens their faith
• 56% feel that our church strengthens their family, 35% felt it does to some extent
• 51% said they are being discipled in their walk with Christ, 42% say they are to some extent
Top things Our Congregation Feels Characterize Our Church
These are the top ten results. Respondents were asked to choose their top 5, so percentages reflect a summary of their five choices.
• 66% feel they are learning and growing as a result of the Biblical teaching, 30% say they are to some extent
• 74% feel confident in the staff led team, 21% say they are to some extent
• 66% are aware of opportunities to use their gifts in the church, 27% say they are to some extent
• 40% say they use their gifts at E-Free, 41% say they do to some extent
• 42% say E-Free is meeting needs in the community, 53% say we are to some extent
• 46% say they feel the name of our church reflects who we are, 41% say it does to some extent
Top Attributes Desired in the New Lead Pastor
• 36% feel the age of our new lead pastor doesn’t matter, 25% prefer age 30-45, 34% prefer age 46-55
• 55% feel the marital status of the new Lead Pastor does not matter, 44% prefer married with children
Have questions or comments? Feel free to contact Sid Bergsma, Search Committee Chairperson, or any member of the committee.
To view more survey results, click here.
Christmas is a time our culture recognizes as an expression of faith. It gives opportunity to both say “Come and listen, and hear the story of the birth of Jesus!”, as well as a time for us to “go and tell”. Our walk with Jesus both draws us into community with one another and also moves us out to love the people that surround us. Loving others takes intentionality.
This Christmas season, we invite you to participate in inviting your friends, neighbours, co-workers, fellow students—those God has placed along your path—to come to your table.
The idea is simple.
1. Invite a group of people that you would love to share a meal with. There is something about sitting around a table. A moment in time to set things aside and focus around food and community. Throw a pizza on the table or get out the fine china. Decorate or pick up the dust bunnies. People want to know and be known, the details don’t matter. A real life shared is what draws us in.
2. After dinner, be intentional in asking four questions to get to know each other better. These are ways to hear each others’ stories and to grow in love and understanding for one another. Ask the questions one at a time. Have each person around the table answer each question.
• What is your favorite Christmas tradition?
• How do you keep your eyes focused on the most important things about the celebration?
• What are some of the stresses that come with holiday season?
• Where are places that you see hope and joy?
• If you have a circle of people who have relationship with Jesus or are open to more spiritual discussion you can also ask one more: How can you share the hope of Jesus with the people around you?
It’s really that simple. You may be surprised by how open your friends are willing to be—all you have to do to find out is to be brave enough to ask a few simple questions.
We are people compelled by love. This Christmas season let’s make space in our lives to share with others our food, our table, and our friendship.
This is an extension of the “IF Tables” that have been happening in Women’s Discipleship. Here’s what people are saying about their IF Tables:
“#IfTable. Mind blown. These gals showed up with their whole hearts wide open. 1000 times better than I could have imagined.”
“Last night I shared a meal with the employees that work with me! We used the questions to get closer to one another and grow our friendships and our understanding of how God is a part of it all. How to reach out to the lonely and come together when we are lonely. This IfTable concept is changing my life!”
“First #IfTable. God’s up to something. We don’t know what yet but we’re along for the ride.”
Annual General Meeting
Monday, November 6 at 7 pm | Gym | Childcare provided
Join us as we look back on the past year of ministry and forward to what’s on the horizon for the coming year. Also on the agenda:
• vote to fill the existing vacancy on the board
• vote on the proposed bylaw change
• financial report
• succession plan
• report on the governance review
Everyone is encouraged to attend. Those who have taken up official membership at E-Free will have the opportunity to vote.
At the May 29, 2017 Members Meeting, the Board gave notice of a future motion regarding changes to Board composition. The board will be asking the membership to vote on the proposed by-law change at the November 6 meeting.
Theological Study: Proposed By-Law Change
Monday, October 30 at 7 pm | Kids Zone Centre
A staff-led biblical perspective in response to the proposed by-law change, including the topic of the role women in church leadership.
LEAD PASTOR SEARCH COMMITTEE
The Board has named the committee tasked with overseeing the search for the next lead pastor of our church. The team will be comprised of: Sid Bergsma, Tanya Duerksen, Nick Korver (Board Representative), Joanne Penner Herron, and Graham Reimer. The Board has also asked Yvonne Groenenboom to serve in the new role of Prayer Coordinator.
Pastor Ian shares from his heart on how He believes the Lord is directing his future. Over the past weeks and months, he and the leadership have set a timeline and plan for moving forward, with his roles and responsibilities scheduled to end on the last Sunday of January 2018.
Please be in prayer for Pastor Ian, our church board and staff, and our church family as we journey through these changes and look forward to the future together.
There are currently three items under discussion by the Board for you to be aware of. We would appreciate hearing your thoughts on any of the following:
1. The “Missional” Conversation
This is a conversation around the question of whether our historical view of missions is the same as the future view. How is God calling us to communicate His good news to our culture and the world today?
As a church we are committed to “making disciples of Jesus Christ”. However, making disciples cannot be lived out in isolation. It is inconceivable to make disciples who are not “on mission”. While in most of our experiences discipleship and missions are separate functions, we are challenging that assumption and exploring what it means for how we live and how we do church.
2. Governance Review
A committee will be established to audit our current practice of governance. Mark Orenstein has been tasked with forming the committee, including three members, with the aim of reporting back at the next Members Meeting on November 6. Questions and comments may be forwarded to Mark at email@example.com; 403.929.0113.
3. Board Composition / Women in Leadership
At the May Members Meeting, the Board invited the church into conversation around the composition of the Board, including a notice of a future motion that would allow the Nominating Committee to bring forward the names of women qualified to serve.
There are two Town Hall Meetings planned for Monday, August 28 and Monday, September 25 (7 pm, Kids Zone Centre). These meetings are intended to provide more information and bring clarity the Board’s current position, as well as provide a forum for discussion. Questions submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org will form the basis of this meeting. The same information will be presented at both meetings, acknowledging that there will be slight differences based on the interaction of those in attendance.
Board Members for August 2017–July 2018
Treasurer: Sheila Friesen
Recording Secretary: Cindy Smith
Staff Liaison: Jeremy Light
This year, 2017, marks the 500th birthday of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31st it will be the anniversary date when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg.
Earlier this month I took a 10-day trip to Germany on “vacation with a purpose”. It was a Reformation tour to mark this anniversary year, walking in the steps of Martin Luther. From his birthplace at Eisleban, to his university and monastic days in Erfurt, to the town of Wittenberg where he lived and worked, we were bathed in 16th century history. The tour was organized by Regent College, with daily lectures from Dr. Iain Provan. The lectures were accompanied with walking tours and museums. I’ve been in enough museums to last for several years!
While I’ve studied the Reformation in the past, my trip to Germany caused me to reflect on the shadow cast over us by Martin Luther and the reformers. Many of the accomplishments of the 16th century we take for granted. But here are 7 benefits of the Reformation that come to my mind:
Discovering that Salvation is by Grace Alone through Faith Alone
The unbiblical practice of selling indulgences to the people was the tinderbox that set Luther’s heart on fire. He was offended by this money making scheme of the Church and chose to challenge it. Luther made this “discovery” when studying Romans: “the just will live by faith” (Rom 1:17).
Centrality of the Word of God
Luther determined that Scripture would take precedence over traditions of the church. In his disputes with the Pope and the officials at Rome he appealed directly to the Bible. In his dramatic statement to the Holy Roman Emperor at Worms in 1521, he declared: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God”.
Our English Bible translations
Although he was not the first to do so, Luther translated the Bible into the German vernacular and it had a huge impact on the people. Until then one had to know Latin in order to read the Bible. The advent of Bible translation began because of the Reformation.
Primacy of Preaching
Luther and the Reformers replaced the altar with the pulpit, placing it in the center of their redesigned churches. This move indicated the central place of the Scripture in the reformed churches. Services were held in the vernacular, rather than the Latin as had been the practice for centuries.
Place of Singing in Public Worship
Luther introduced congregational singing into his church order. He recognized the role of teaching as sound theology was put to music. As one who loved music, Luther penned dozen of hymns, of which the best known is “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.
Seeing no biblical mandate for celibacy of the clergy, the Reformers were free to marry. This was a sign of reformation and independence from the Church of Rome. Luther advocated the right of congregations to select their own pastors.
Priesthood of All Believers
Luther saw the mediatory role of the priests as unbiblical. He saw Scripture teaching that believers have direct access to God. Each believer is a priest with immediate and unhindered access to the Father, without needing the service of a priest.
These are a few of the changes that came to us from Luther and the Reformers. Their foundational feature was a commitment to the Scripture. We are the benefactors of their insights and courage. What was my takeaway? Still today, we must be reforming (and always reforming) to bring the gospel truth to a new generation.
I’m pleased to report that my recent teaching opportunity in Egypt was very rewarding, perhaps one of the most satisfying of my life. That’s a strong comparison, and I recognize that I may not be fully objective at this point in time. Thank you for praying for me, as many of you have attested. I believe that there is a clear link between your prayer and my ministry.
My good friend, Lee Heyward, invited me to accompany him on a new teaching ministry that came to him last summer. He had not been to Egypt before and knew very little about the Tyrannus Missionary Training School. So this was an adventure for both of us to explore together. Here is an overview of our adventure.
Tyrannus Missionary Training School
The school began in Sudan 3 years ago, but relocated to Egypt due to rising tensions. The vision of the Egyptian leadership is to see ten such schools across North Africa in the years ahead. Pioneers USA is a funding partner and info can be found here.
The curriculum is well developed and is delivered through a rigorous weekly schedule. During our week together the students studied two classes with 9 contact hours in each. I taught the “Epistle of James”, while Lee taught “Spiritual Formation for Leadership”. One of the Sudanese staff took notes during classes and prepared an exam to be administered on Friday.
The students were alert, sitting on the edge of their seats to soak up all that we gave them. Their questions were insightful. The students have varied levels of ability in English, and some very capable. All classroom interaction is translated into Arabic. We were pleased with the capable translators, all Egyptian believers – Vivien is a TV anchor in Upper Egypt at a public station; Sarwat is an HR manager for a large American company; Deena is an administrative assistant in a local bank. They each were skilled in English with an evident commitment to the mission of the school.
The students are high caliber, and deeply devoted disciples of Christ who were selected through a rigorous application process. Only 22 are selected for the 10 month program from hundreds of applications – 11 from North Sudan, 2 from Darfur, 9 from South Sudan. The current accommodations for the school are temporary and not suitable for both men and women, or for couples, so the Sudanese are all young men. Upon arriving at the school they voluntarily surrender their passports so they are not tempted to return home before program completion. Further, they sign an agreement to return to their country as a church planter, but not to their home community. These students come from challenging circumstances, and know they will return to conditions of poverty, war and persecution.
On the same location an Egyptian training school is in it’s first year. Currently there are six students each having a calling to Christ’s mission somewhere in the Middle East. These 6 Egyptian students joined the 22 Sudanese for the week to hear from us westerners. One of these students is a single doctor who is called to carry the gospel to a hospital in Mauritania when he finishes the program. The sole couple at the school are led to work with Syrian refugees, in Turkey or in Lebanon.
Eman is the Program Director and was our primary contact. Trained as an architectural engineer, she has given her life to vocational ministry. She has served with Haggai Institute and previously with Campus Crusade. Youhana is a Sudanese brother with theological training and is the liaison between the school and the churches of Sudan. Samir and his wife are retired science teachers, now in their eighty’s, who are directors of the Tyrannus School. They are passionate about expanding Christ’s kingdom among the Sudanese. Behar and his wife Maha are directors of the Egyptian school. He is a businessman who has recused himself from the daily operations, and she is medical doctor. They too are devoted disciples of Christ giving their lives to kingdom work. We were impressed to see the strength of the church of Egypt and her commitment to help with gospel advancement across North Africa and the Middle East.
Along with Connie and me, Lee and his wife Terry, were our best friends in Seminary. Last summer when in the Chicago area I stopped for a few days and rekindled our friendship. The 30 years of distance felt like about 30 months. We picked up where we left off in 1986. During my time there Lee received an invitation to teach at Tyrannus and suggested that we should do it together. That off handed comment turned into an emerging dream over the course of the year. During our seminary days we mused about working together, but knew that we were too much alike to work effectively in the same context.
After planting a church in the greater Milwaukee area and leading it for 24 years, Lee turned his attention to the global church. With the inspiration of Stuart and Jill Briscoe, who were his mentors, that dream grew into an organization. Nine years ago Lee began a ministry called Brooklink. It’s a global ministry that equips church leaders for greater kingdom effectiveness.
Being with Lee for this joint ministry was like cold water to a weary soul (Prov 25:25). It’s truly remarkable how an old friendship can be so easily rekindled after many years of minimal connection. Our time together was a personal blessing.
Added Experiences (“tourism”)
A benefit of such travel opportunities is to see the sights and experience the culture of another part of the world. We had one day at the end of our week of teaching for a taste of Cairo. Here’s an overview of our experiences beyond the school:
- Sudanese Service – we accompanied the students to a suburb of Cairo where the Sudanese have settled. We were privileged to join them in a loud and lively expression of worship of King Jesus. It’s always inspiring to worship with nationals in their own manner. We brought greetings to the church, and as guests were invited to help serve The Lord’s Supper.
- Cave Church is a well known Coptic church in Cairo. After a heart wrenching drive through “garbage city” we arrived at the church where a Friday prayer service was underway. With seating for more than 10,000 there are 70,000 in weekly attendance. Here’s a recent article of interest.
- Kasr El-Dobara is the largest evangelical church in Egypt. We stopped there on Friday as regular services were underway. Churches hold services on Fridays and Sundays to accommodate those worshipers working on Sundays and
unable to be at worship. After passing sand bags, a police barricade, and metal detector, we entered to the singing of “He is Lord”. That was a moving moment recognizing that we share Christ in common with the hundreds of Egyptian believers gathered there. Learn more here.
- Tahrir Square forms the heart of Cairo and is the location of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. That event lasted for 18 days and resulted in the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years.
- Museum of Egyptian Antiquities is on Tahrir Square and a treat for any history nerd! I loved it and our 2 hour walk-through was 2 days too short.
- The Pyramids are a must see when in the vicinity. Having taken a course in Egyptology years ago it was a treat to actually be there. As spectacular as the pyramids are, it was a footnote to seeing the church of Egypt in action.
In one of our final conversations Connie encouraged me to pursue such overseas teaching opportunities. Being in Egypt to engage in this strategic ministry felt like a partial fulfillment of that conversation. Thanks to the board and staff who made it possible for me to be absent for ten days. Thanks to all who stood with me in prayer. Your prayers made the ministry effective. Please pray for these heroic students and for the ministry of Tyrannus school as the leaders seek to expand its kingdom influence.
In the Service of King Jesus,
Today marks a month since Connie was laid to rest at Mountain View Cemetery. It was a poignant moment when, sitting by her grave, my kids and I were enveloped by your singing: “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness . . . on Christ, the solid rock I stand”. Those words and that moment will live on in my memory. That day, February 11, marked the conclusion of an agonizing ten months for all of us.
This will be my final and concluding “update”. These began as a hurried email in April to inform you of our crisis. As you responded and interacted, these posts have become more than information. They’ve provided a means for me to process what was happening to both Connie and me. They became a virtual podium where I’ve bared my soul with you while reflecting on our circumstances. I’ve tried to not be sensational, but to invite you into my honest grappling with our reality. Thank you for reading and engaging. While this update ends this accidental blog, I’m hoping to continue writing on topics of consequence to you, our church, as they ruminate in my mind. Stay tuned!
Some of you have asked if I’ve experienced any doubts during Connie’s illness and death. The answer is yes. Two doubts have wandered through my mind. The first is a question about the justice of God. It appears unjust, from where I sit, that God would take Connie so soon when she had so much to live for. Beyond our children and grandchildren, there were growing numbers of people being impacted by her life and her teaching. At 60 she was reaching new heights of profound ministry in our church and beyond. In my judgment, there are others who seem to be coasting to their finish line, making less kingdom impact than she. That’s where the question of justice arises. How could God take her when she is contributing so much? Why would he take her when there are others he could have taken who appear less committed?
A satisfactory answer escapes me. However I was recently reminded of the prophet Habakkuk. Reading that obscure text again it’s apparent that the last chapter has yet to be written on justice, both in the world and in our lives. Surrounded by real injustice, Habakkuk chose to trust the sovereign God, even if he does not see justice in his lifetime. “Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud . . . though the olive crop fails . . . though there are no sheep in the pen . . . yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Pam Ukrainetz also spoke to this in her funeral message, “just because it is not your plan doesn’t mean there is no plan.” And so I choose to believe that God is just, even though my questions persist. By faith I trust God who is incomprehensible. Elizabeth Elliot wrote profoundly: “If God were small enough to be understood he would not be big enough to be worshipped.” In the absence of a better answer to apparent injustice I choose to trust God’s justice in his time.
There is a second doubt that meanders through the hallways of my mind. Is there really life after death? Is Connie really in the presence of Christ as we proclaim, or is that just wishful thinking? After Connie breathed her last I chose to remain present and silently watched as the morticians moved her lifeless body from the bed that was her home for months. Having been her caregiver for the duration, it felt like I was participating a final act of care. It was apparent that life had left her body. Her frame had become a shadow of what she was. With tears flowing, I continued to watch until the hearse left our driveway, knowing she would never return. During those moments these questions gnawed at my mind. Is she really with Christ? How do we know? Can we be certain?
A few years ago I heard a pastor at a graveside service opine, “I’m absolutely certain, beyond any doubt, that (the deceased) is with Jesus today.” I’m left uneasy by those over confident statements that seem so certain about matters of faith. I worry that strong assertions like that may create skepticism in some people rather than build faith.
I expect you’re wondering how I processed the doubt. A debate raged inside me. The words of C. S. Lewis came to mind: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” In other words Christian belief provides the best way to understand the whole of reality. Then I recalled 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Indeed I’d watched the cruel effect of cancer wasting away her body. At some point in that debate in my mind I pondered the historical resurrection of Jesus, and the evidence for it. Just as the very Jesus who died was resurrected, the Bible promises that the same will occur for all who trust Christ. It seems to me that in times of doubt the Holy Spirit uses the things I’ve read or heard to build my faith. And so, I choose to believe that Jesus’ words to the dying thief is true, “this day you will be with me in paradise.”
Volumes are written on both of those doubts and so my answers may seem superficial. But I share them in the interest of honesty. Doubts are real, and they can be daunting. The hymn we sang at the grave continues: “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” There will be storms in our lives. There will be times when God seems absent, or at least silent. In the darkness I choose to trust him – “we walk by faith, not by sight.” And so rather than use language of certainty I prefer say “I believe that . . .” or “by faith I trust that . . .” Yes, all other ground is sinking sand. By faith I choose to believe that it was God’s design to take Connie now, and he doesn’t owe me an explanation. Without proclaiming absolute certainty, I make regular and recurring choices to believe with eyes of faith. We live in the land of choice and conviction and faith, not of certainty.
While most of us Christians experience doubt, I hope we can allow it to build faith rather than undermine it. Let’s not ignore our doubts. Rather, like Thomas, let’s face them head on. Thomas was not embarrassed to express his doubts about the resurrection, nor did Jesus condemn him. If our faith is too weak to be challenged, then it’s too weak to be believed. When I look back over these days, I wonder if it was the very doubts themselves, and the wrestling, that leads me to a deeper and more robust faith. I choose these things in the dark because of what I’ve seen in the light.
Choosing to believe,
These words sung by Kristyn Getty have become my prayer:
Jesus, draw me ever nearer
As I labor through the storm;
You have called me to this passage,
And I’ll follow, though I’m worn.
May this journey bring a blessing,
May I rise on wings of faith;
And at the end of my heart’s testing,
With Your likeness let me wake.
Jesus guide me through the tempest;
Keep my spirit staid and sure.
When the midnight meets the morning,
Let me love You even more.
Let the treasures of the trial
Form within me as I go –
And at the end of this long passage,
Let me leave them at Your throne.
Here’s a link if wish to hear Kristyn’s Celtic voice, with husband Keith at the piano:
Thank you for continuing this journey of The Gospel Project for Kids®. We’d like to take a break from the chronological study of the Bible and invite boys and girls into the stories of Easter. Today’s Bible story describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem during Passover week, riding on a donkey like the prophet Zechariah foretold. (Zech. 9:9) The people welcoming Jesus with palm branches believed He would overthrow Roman oppression and be an earthly king. Jesus sent a different message when He arrived in Jerusalem.
Jesus entered the temple complex. He turned over the tables of the money changers and those selling doves. Jesus said the temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:6-7), declaring His kingship would be over all people, not just the Jews. Jesus healed the blind and the lame. Jesus wasn’t just an earthly king; He was God! (Isa. 35:4-6)
Help kids connect the dots between God’s promises of a Messiah and Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. How did the people act when they saw Jesus? The people welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem as their King. Celebrate why Jesus came: to save the world from sin!