Celebrate Freedom: Freedom Session Report

Last year, at the prompting of my daughter and son-in-law, I attended "Freedom Session" at their church. Freedom Session is a Bible-based twelve-step program, aimed at freeing us from our addictions, compulsive behaviours, and tendency to do the wrong things. The goal is to find healing and freedom through Jesus Christ. (Website: www.freedomsession.com)

What follows is my testimony on graduating from the program.

The main reason that I went to Freedom Session was to support my wife in her need to attend in order to deal with painful depressing memories from her youth. I also wanted to evaluate the program to possibly take it back to our home church. I also thought that, just maybe, I could also learn something on the way.

The most meaningful breakthrough for me during the 26-week program was, surprisingly, what I learned about myself and what I needed to do to break the grip that Satan had on me, and then doing it to obtain freedom.

What I have learned is that:

  • I needed to forgive those in the past who have hurt me.
  • I needed to take responsibility for my own life and the hurt that I've caused others.
  • I needed to confess my sins and hurts to myself and to God and to others. "Therefore confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16a).
  • God has shown me that I needed to make amends to those whom I have hurt.
  • I had to admit that I was wrong and had no right to hurt them in that way.
  • What I do, now, after the fact, cannot undo what I have done or remove the hurt I have caused. I have no excuse for why I hurt others as I have. They did not deserve that.

In the future:

  • I need to recognize my errors as they happen, admit them, and make amends right away.
  • I need to train myself in humility and godliness, through filling my mind with godly things, like the holy Scriptures, the Bible.

I have set in motion a strategy to prevent myself from again slipping into Satan's power but continuing to live with the Holy Spirit, in freedom from Satan's power. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out, so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV).

And yes, I plan, as the Lord allows, to take Freedom Session to our home church. Also, as the Lord allows, I plan to take steps to incorporate Freedom Session into the renewal activities of our whole denomination.

Praise the Lord for loving us and caring for each of us. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9 NIV).

Now, ninety days afterwards, I am still praising the Lord and still reading the Scriptures daily, which I had gotten away from over the years and slipped into some other bad habits. In effect, Satan had quietly grabbed hold of my life, subtly, and made me an ineffective Christian, despite all the good things that I was doing, or thought that I was doing. Now, I am reading a short passage of Scripture daily, marking it, and writing down how it is meaningful and applies to me. I am talking and praying with my wife daily, which we had also gotten away from. I am asking the Holy Spirit to help me with my compulsive behaviour, to keep me from being dragged back down by Satan. Yes, I am trying to walk with God, and loving it! It is great to be free.

Many of us, both in the church and out of it, have hurts and abuses from our past, as well as broken relationships. People are living in states of addiction, compulsive behaviour, envy, bitter jealousy, greed, anger, and other things that are keeping us from living the life of freedom that God has designed for us. This program, Freedom Session, can help us, as it has me, if we take Scripture seriously and really want to get closer to God. It is the first step for renewal in our lives and thus renewal in the church.

George L. Myers, Guelph, Ontario <glmyers@bell.net>

A Christmas to Remember

I had the opportunity to hear Rodger Nishioka (Associate Professor, Christian Education, at Columbia Theological Seminary) speak this past fall. One story he told was about a research interview he did with a woman who lived in an apartment building across from a church. She told him that nothing that happened there had any effect on her life. She said that if that local church ceased to exist, it wouldn't make any difference to her. Dr. Nishioka then challenged us to think about whether the people in our communities would notice if our local churches suddenly disappeared.

The other thing he shared that I thought was noteworthy was this: "As society becomes more high-tech, there will be a corresponding need for high-touch."



During the recent power outage of Christmas week, I had the opportunity to reflect on some of the things Rodger said, and I came to two conclusions.

First, our Nassagaweya Presbyterian Church (NPC) community in Campbellville, Ontario, does make a difference to our neighbours. Many volunteers joined staff at the church during the week of the ice storm crisis to provide water, heat, electricity, food, and friendship to anyone who came through our doors. Further, donations of leftover barbecue containers meant that dinners could be assembled for pick-up to deliver to hydro crews who couldn't come to the church. This may have gone unnoticed by many, but for those who did notice, our contribution was appreciated.

Second, we are a "high-touch" community. When one of the eleven hydro workers who ate at the church on Boxing Day saw the home-cooked meal in front of him, he said, "This is better than the Keg!"



Home-cooked food and good old-time hospitality are some of the gifts with which God has blessed our community. These gifts meet a real need in a world where people are becoming more isolated by technology. For me, it was a real blessing to see our church community leap into action during the power outage. Thanks for making my first Christmas at NPC so memorable!

Blessings,
Reuben St. Louis
Minister, Nassagaweya Presbyterian Church

Intentional Spiritual Community

Pictured at the November 2013 Conference for Presbyterian Church in Canada Ministers at Crieff Hills Community: Garfield Havemann, Barb Fotheringham, Mike Maroney, Fred Stewart, Katherine Burgess, Ian Shaw, Cherie Inksetter, David Sherbino.
Pictured at the November 2013 Conference for Presbyterian Church in Canada Ministers at Crieff Hills Community: Garfield Havemann, Barb Fotheringham, Mike Maroney, Fred Stewart, Katherine Burgess, Ian Shaw, Cherie Inksetter, David Sherbino.

Having just finished the three-day retreat for Presbyterian Church in Canada ministers – two full days bracketed by two half days – at Crieff Hills, I spent some time listening to the comments of the other participants, and was struck by how often certain words came up. With that in mind, I decided to expand on them a little.

COMMUNITY: Everyone needs community. The church itself is a community. Yet, how often are ministers themselves denied access to their own community, one where they feel free not to be perfect? One where they are able to share concerns with like-minded people? This is one thing which happened here in November. We came together – some of us not knowing each other, and before the first full day was over, we were a community. Tonight, I listened to a youth choir singing We Are Not Alone, and, as a result of the time in Crieff, it took on a whole other meaning.

BLESSED: I was reminded of the Beatitudes, as this word kept coming up in people's comments. And, because of what people said after the fact, I decided to write my own. Blessed are those who come together in a place away, for they shall discover things about themselves that they never knew before. I heard colleagues share their stories – all unique, and yet all oddly similar. I saw colleagues cry, and knew that these were healing tears.

DISCIPLINE: The spiritual disciplines talked about by David Sherbino gave each of us something to take away, something which we can work into our own lives. Many commented on the fact that most people would assume that spiritual disciplines are already a part of a minister's life, but the fact is that, like just about everyone else in this 21st century, ministers are busy people. Bringing spiritual disciplines to the forefront is one way for us to get back into relationship with God.

RELATIONSHIP: This was a key concept – the idea of building relationships with God and with each other. It is through relationships that we can grow in our faith, and hence in our ability to share it with others.

Thanks to Fred and to David for an amazing time apart. I could only wish that more of my colleagues, many of whom are struggling alone, could have been there. Then they would have known that they are NOT alone.

— Rev. Katherine Burgess,
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church,
Quebec City, QC <katherine.burgess.pcc@gmail.com>

The Story

Here at Norman Kennedy Presbyterian Church, we have just completed a great year of reading, studying, preaching, teaching, and talking our way through the Bible using Zondervan's The Story resources. A year ago, our session discovered and reviewed these helpful resources, and committed to improving our congregation's biblical literacy in 2013 by following The Story. In brief, The Story is an abbreviated, chronological, easy-to-understand version of the Bible that is written in narrative format (in continuous paragraphs without chapter and verse numbers). The Story gives an account of who God is, and of His plan to rescue and redeem His people. Its 31 chapters of selected scriptures and brief commentaries cover the Bible's main events and themes, telling the greatest story ever told!

The Story Resources
The Story Resources


Our congregation embraced this program in many ways. Most Sunday morning worshippers purchased either the book or a set of CDs, and read one chapter per week. Each week's sermon was based on the reading. Since each chapter covered large sections of Scripture, selecting a specific story to preach on was both a challenge and a delight.

We also used The Story as our Sunday school curriculum. One elder, also a Sunday school teacher, remarked: "The Sunday school material was easy to use, and loved by the children. There were lots of activity choices, and the accompanying DVD provided illustrations of each chapter and totally captivated the kids."

Throughout the year, two small discussion groups met biweekly to delve deeper into the Bible with questions, reflection, and discussion. On numerous occasions someone would interject, "I never knew that before!"

Collectively, our greatest learning probably centred on the concepts of Upper Story and Lower Story. Max Lucado and Randy Frazee (co-pastors of Oak Hill Church in San Antonio, Texas) explain that each stage of history, including our own, has an Upper Story (what God plans and does) and a Lower Story (what plays out in the lives of ordinary people). According to an elder who hosted a study group in her home, "The concept of God's Upper Story interacting with our Lower Story encouraged us with the awareness that God can and does use us to further His purpose. This awareness grew week after week as we discovered how God used the patriarchs, kings, and prophets to accomplish His great plan."

It seems that many folk – even those who have gone to church all their lives – now have a better grasp of the biblical narrative and of how all of the Bible stories fit together. We also have a fuller understanding of God's love for us and of the lengths He will go for us to know and love Him. For that outcome, I praise God!

— Ronda Bosch
Lay Missionary/Pastor at Norman Kennedy Presbyterian Church in Regina, SK
(with comments from Leanne Irving and Judy Page, Elders)
For more info go to www.thestory.com
or email Ronda at <nkpreschurch@sasktel.net>

Good News Journey – Find Life In Jesus

To the untrained, secular ear, "Presbyterian" sounds every bit as mysterious as Shiite, Sikh, Druze, or Methodist. At Chippawa Presbyterian Church, Niagara Falls, Ontario, when we were inviting people to worship, we began to realize that people with no faith background felt quite uncertain about what exactly it was they were being asked to consider and experience in a Christian church.

We also recognized that when faced with questions such as "Why would I come to church?" or "What do you do there?" people in our congregation struggled to articulate answers in a succinct way.

Some call it the "elevator pitch", the ability to "pitch" your message in the time it takes to have a short elevator ride, which is to ask, "Do you have a clear, easily-communicated and understood message of why you exist and what you do?"

Worship Serve Learn Connect
Worship Serve Learn Connect

We worked to get this in place. We got the message down to eight words. "Find Life in Jesus. Worship. Serve. Learn. Connect."

We use these words everywhere. This logo is posted in our foyer. We fit it onto a wristband, below, and distributed them.

We have shaped our programming to ensure that all four of these areas of the life of discipleship are encouraged and supported.

So now, as quick as a short elevator ride, we can share who we are and what we do.

We can tell people that "We find life in Jesus." We can quickly communicate that the life of a growing Christian is active in four areas; in worship – loving God; in serving – loving one's neighbour; in learning – knowing the Bible; and in connecting – sharing one's faith.

Wristband
Wristband

Who we are and what we do has never been clearer.

—The Rev. Douglas Schonberg, Lead Minister <doug.schonberg@chippawapc.ca>

Good News Journey – Life Through Christ

As the oldest church in Scarborough, Ontario, St. Andrew's Presbyterian exists to help people experience life through Christ. An integral part of this vision statement is what we call our Adult Discipleship Studies, consisting of our pastor's bi-weekly Tuesday morning Bible study, a laity-led bi-weekly Wednesday evening study, and a between-the-services Sunday morning study.

Alpha was part of our study curriculum for several years. But in 2009, we decided to explore a variety of other studies coming on the market, including DVD short-term studies. We have been truly blessed by the variety of study themes that we have studied, which have helped us to grow in our faith and knowledge. Each time we start a new study, it is exciting and heart-warming to have first- timers from our church and people from other churches and faiths join in with us.

In 2010, the first study in our new curriculum was Prayer Ministry – It's Easier Than You Think. During the Alpha studies we realized that most of us were not comfortable praying aloud. This 4-session study was based on Sandy Millar's Prayer Ministry Training Manual and Max Lucado's book, Discovering the Power of Prayer. We designed a post-study questionnaire to help us assess the study and its impact on our participants.

Later that year, we turned to Challenging Lifestyles by Nicky Gumbel. The theme of the study was Practical Guidelines for Living out Jesus' Teachings. The topics included how to have an influence on society, how to find life, getting our relationships right, dealing with anger, sexual sin, avoiding divorce, how to respond to evil people, loving your enemies, and dealing with criticism. This 6-session study was held in the spring and again in the fall.

In the last two and a half years, we have held seven other studies – usually accompanied by a DVD presentation. Listed below are the titles of the studies and a brief report on each of them. Our format is to meet at 7 p.m. for a short social, prayer and refreshment time, viewing the DVD presentation, going to our individual groups for study and discussion, and adjourning at 9 p.m.

St. Andrew's Scarborough
St. Andrew's Scarborough

Pastor Duncan Cameron is usually with us during the large-group time, and then is available in his office whenever we need clarification and assistance during the individual group discussion times.

Becoming a Contagious Christian – Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg.
Both of these individuals are associated with Willow Creek Community Church. Bill Hybels is the pastor and Mark Mittelberg is an evangelism strategist and author. The themes in this study are on developing a natural evangelism style, building spiritually-strategic relationships, learning how to direct conversations towards matters of faith, and sharing biblical truths in everyday language. It is a 6-session study.

The Power of a Whisper – Bill Hybels.
This 4-session study taught and encouraged us to listen and discern the "voice" of God from all the other voices that vie for our attention; and how to allow heaven-sent input to direct our lives toward making a difference in this world.

A Life Worth Living – Nicky Gumbel.
This 5-week study is based on Paul's letter to the Philippians. It is a practical and positive guide to uncovering a new heart, purpose, attitude, and confidence in the way we live our lives.

God's Story – Your Story – When His Becomes Yours – Max Lucado.
This 6-session study gives us perspective on how our daily life relates to God's grand, epic story. He peels back the chaos and confusion of our story to reveal God's loving and orderly purpose and perspective.

The Case for Christ – Lee Strobel.
The author is a journalist who was an atheist determined to prove that our Lord Jesus was not the Son of God. In this 6-session study we see and hear him using his journalism and legal skills to cross-examine a dozen recognized theological authorities with doctorates from leading schools. He questions whether any evidence for Jesus exists outside the Bible and whether there is any reason to believe that the resurrection was an actual event. The responses he received are helpful for us when we deal with people who are not believers.

The Reason for God – Pastor Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
The format of this 6-week study is with Dr. Keller hearing the doubts and scepticism of non-believers. Questions to him include how a good God can allow suffering, how a loving God can send people to hell, and why have so many wars been fought in the name of God. He responds using literature, philosophy, and reasoning.

The Prodigal God – Pastor Timothy Keller.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the best-known but least understood parable. In this 6-session study we watched and listened to the entire video the first evening, and it was mesmerizing. All of us realized that we had not truly understood the message before and now looked at each of the two sons in a different light than we had previously.

Future Studies

Gospel In Life – Grace Changes Everything – Timothy Keller.
This is an 8-session study on the gospel and how it is lived out in all of life: first in our hearts, then in our community, and then out into the world. This study will start on September 24th and be completed in mid-November.

Grace – More Then We Deserve – Greater Than We Imagine – Max Lucado.
This is a 6-week study starting in January 2014.

On a final note, in 2009 and then again in 2011, we held the exciting and inspirational Discovering your Spiritual Gifts Workshop. Most people are not aware of the spiritual gifts they have received from our Lord. Often we are surprised when we are complimented or thanked about a work area we are involved in at our church. It is exciting when you realize you have an unexpected spiritual gift. This encourages us to explore new areas of activity. We are planning to have another one in 2014, again being led by Rev. Dr. Jeff Loach.

— Margaret MacIver, Elder <margaret.m@bell.net>

Follow-up article

Good News Journey – PA Day Camp Nassagaweya

At Nassagaweya Presbyterian Church in Campbellville, Ontario, we rejoice in the arrival of our new minister, Rev. Reuben St. Louis. And, with his arrival, we have consequently made both changes and an exciting addition to our youth ministries.

One of our youth ministries has been KOTH – "Kids-on-the Hill" Club, established as a mid-week after-school programme for children aged JK-Grade 8. Recently this outreach was cancelled in large part due to the difficulty faced by any after-school ministry – the on-going challenge of the time it takes to transport children to the church. Rural parents, in particular, struggle with work schedules and other transportation issues in order to drop the kids off in a timely manner. Session is currently considering a revision to this valued programme.

In place of KOTH, recently we started Camp Nassagaweya on PA/PD Days (professional activity and development days for teachers), from 8 am to 5 pm. We offer music, skits, crafts, games, and stories. This is a free ministry to the families in our rural community, but we do mention that a freewill offering would assist us in planning camps in the future. The children are asked to bring a lunch (a light breakfast and an afternoon snack are provided), weather-appropriate clothes, running shoes, and a water bottle. The first day attracted 16 children, and the second day 20 children. We rejoice in this good beginning and ask you to pray for us as we plan more Day Camps in the fall.

— George Myers, RF Board Member and Treasurer <glmyers@bell.net>

Good News Journey – In British Columbia

There are several dynamic, growing churches in British Columbia and we have heard from two churches in the Presbytery of Westminster that have 'good news' to share and encourage the whole church.

1. St. John's Presbyterian Church, White Rock

By Sheila Jakus <sjakus@shaw.ca>
(Sheila is a joyful member of St. John's)

Like many other churches, St. John's Presbyterian Church in White Rock suffered a steady decline in attendance. Faithful members moved into nursing homes, and many passed away. The youth in the area were attending more "vibrant" churches. The congregation prayed for renewal and growth. God heard our prayers, but answered in some unexpected ways.

Recently, a small Lutheran group asked for space in our building and began worshipping in one of our halls. After worship the two congregations join for coffee and fellowship. They also join some of our other activities: Alpha, the Women's Missionary Society, and Proclamation. We welcome them with open arms and they add fresh vibrancy to our gatherings.

God also brought a day care to our building. Not only do they add life to our building through the week, but they have transformed our Sunday School space. A support group for moms and tots has also started, using our space for a time of sharing and advice from a nurse.

We opened our hearts in prayer, and we opened the doors of our building. God has filled both and continues to take us on new adventures. Praise God!

2. St. Andrew's and St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church, North Vancouver

By Rev. Robert Allison <boballison@shaw.ca>
(Bob is a retired minister of The Presbyterian Church in Canada)

Another church in the Presbytery of Westminster, St. Andrew's and St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church, North Vancouver, also decided to make some changes. Commencing about 24 years ago the elders became really concerned about reaching young people with the Good News. Realizing the need for different service and music styles, they inaugurated an early service, making it less formal and using some of the old lively gospel music. This eventually grew into music led by a praise team with song leaders, drums, guitars, piano – the whole bit. The second service remained more traditional with the use of organ music and the hymn book.

This church has for many years employed a full- or part-time youth pastor – a necessity, not a luxury – so there are well-led youth groups and summer day-camps for children. The Senior Pastor chairs the Presbytery's summer camping ministry which is promoted.

It is not surprising that the early service has a full house with many young families, and children who hear a great message from one of the ministers before going on to Sunday School.

Members of the church are also "freed up" to do their ministry, so there are committees that specialize: one that prays for and promotes missions, another whose concern is evangelism, and the list goes on.

The April Presbyterian Record has an excellent article, Trusting and Trying – Weighing What Works at Westminster, by the Rev. Matthew Ruttan about Westminster Presbyterian Church in Barrie, Ontario, that has risen from the brink of extinction to becoming a vibrant, growing church. This is because they called a minister who "believes in the gospel" and "courageously" preaches it; a church that "realizes it is all about Jesus"; and a congregation that specializes in getting to know the names of, and in warmly welcoming, newcomers.

This North Vancouver church likewise loves the good news of Jesus, and Sunday by Sunday at both services, they have a teaching and evangelizing pulpit. And here is a little word for interim moderators and search committees: as a friend of mine says, "strong churches are not built around weak pulpits".

Reflecting God’s Love For the Whole Community

Valleyview Presbyterian Church
Valleyview Presbyterian Church

Twenty years ago, the congregation of Valleyview Presbyterian Church constructed a new building at a new location on the outskirts of Calgary, Alberta, surrounded only by fields and aspen groves. Twenty years later, this church now stands in the west suburbs of the city of Calgary.

Recognizing that Christ has provided a unique opportunity for us to connect with the community that has grown up around us and to reach out with the Gospel, Valleyview has been very intentional about making the transition from a small country church to becoming a moderate-sized community church.

Making this transition required a number of difficult changes, which everyone realized were necessary.

So we changed worship styles from traditional to contemporary, and we created an inviting, relaxed and informal atmosphere in our facilities. We leveraged the community connection potential of our facilities through renting to church-friendly pre-schools and before- and after-school care programs, just to give few examples. We even changed our name to Valleyview Community Church Calgary.

And slowly over the past five years, these efforts – covered by our weekly prayer ministry – have received Christ's blessing and He has added many new members to His Body.

We are now a healthy, vibrant, multi-cultural, inter-generational, growing church, and we are looking forward to continuing to discover new and innovative ways to be the presence of Christ out in our neighborhood.        

Children and Worship Team Leaders
Children and Worship Team Leaders

Editor's Note – I would add "friendly and welcoming" to this description of Valleyview. I was a visitor on the first Sunday in February after a Saturday of leading a Children and Worship Training at Valleyview – see photo to the left of the Children and Worship Team Leaders.

Beside me in worship were parents with a baby on the left, and a younger man who recently moved to Canada from Korea on the right. In front, were two young girls dancing and also an elderly woman tapping her cane to the beat of the worship songs.

The worship team that day included a 12-year-old boy on drums, an energetic aging rocker on bass and others of diverse ages and ethnicity – a wonderful reflection of the congregation. May God be praised for blessing Valleyview and making them a blessing.

Linda Shaw

Share a Good News story of your congregation with Renewal Fellowship Board member Linda Shaw <ianandlindashaw@gmail.com> or call 519-428-5396

Good News Journey – We’re Getting The How

I have attended Cote des Neiges Presbyterian Church (Montreal) for eight years, and I've had the pleasure of being a part of the regular Wednesday gatherings for prayer. The leaders, Roberto and Jessica, have a strong burden for the well-being of our church. Through their humble, friendly, and warm leadership, Roberto and Jessica have set everyone at ease; from the very first meeting, they have set the tone for sincere, heartfelt prayers. Roberta has guided us in the art of prayer, which has not only encouraged us to articulate prayers at church, but has also renewed our zeal for at-home prayers. Sharing snippets of Bunyan, Goodwin, and Shepard – we're getting the how.

Although many of our entreaties have been for a new pastor, the requests are never wearisome but a delight. The prayer group members are committed to each other and have a burden for the whole church family. God hears our petitions, blesses the group, and makes the group a blessing to the whole church.

Each member of the group brings something special to our time together. Daniel brings not only his confidence in the Lord, but also his sparkling wit and zany humour. Lovina wears many hats in our little church, and her face shines commitment. Her earnest prayers reflect an expression of familiarity and an appreciation of the role of church. Enrique enriches us with the insight of his years and the unceasing flame of his love for Jesus. Rosemary's gift to our group is her experience as a missionary, and as chief cookie lady, we're also getting the sweets! Her very presence is a testimony to the way God matures us in the faith during our whole life-time. As for me, when I sit amongst this little group of bowed heads, uttering the holy name of our Creator – petitioning Him with the needs of our little church – seeing His sheep cry out to Him – praising Him – loving Him – I feel powerful, for I am reminded of a promise from the Lord: "The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results." – James 5:16.

Oh, what a delight to gather in prayer. The Lord is in our midst, and our hearts are full of sweet expectations from Him.

Update: The Rev. Joel Coppeters was inducted at our church in September. We have the new pastor we have been praying for! Pray for Cote des Neiges Presbyterian Church, where God is doing wonderful things! Amen!


Share your Good News story with Renewal Fellowship Board member, Linda Shaw <ianandlindashaw@gmail.com> or call 519-428-5396.