Categories
Christianity

Why Alpha?

This coming week Craig and I are to lead a breakout group on Alpha and I just wanted to write a short blog on this course. 

Earlier this year I saw an advert on Facebook for an upcoming Alpha Course.  Now, I have seen and heard about Alpha many times during my life and often thought about attending so the question begs to be answered, why didn’t I?  I would answer as follows:-

  1. Unable to get childcare.
  2. Course held in unfamiliar church.
  3. Don’t know anyone attending or leading.
  4. Alpha might not be for someone like me.
  5. Scared to speak in front of others.
  6. Don’t think I will fit in with Christian people.

The reason I admit to these fears is because I am confident I am not alone and that these are the very same fears many of you suffer from and are the same fears that prevent you also from attending Alpha so let us address them:-

  1. I would question myself as to whether it really was impossible to get childcare or whether I did not want to explain to anyone where I was going.  It can be difficult when we are surrounded by non-Christians to have the courage to tell them that we are attending a course about God.  This is humorously addressed in the Alpha course as we all understand how difficult this is, even those of us who have been Christians for years.  The fear of being different does not go away but experience makes it easier. 
  2. I am sure many of you feel this way.  Going to an unfamiliar church can be daunting even on a Sunday when you can sneak in, sit at the back and not have to contribute so the thought of walking into a church you have never been to and taking part in something is very daunting.  Sometimes the Alpha Course is also held in people’s houses, this would have been equally daunting to me!  What if I need to use the bathroom and I have to ask in front of everyone where it is?  What if I start coughing and have to ask for a glass of water?  What if I don’t know where to sit?  What if they serve food I don’t like, and I have to eat it anyway!  My mind would have been awash with these and many other anxieties.  Whilst I cannot speak for every host of Alpha (as I have not personally met them) I could be confident that if they are hosting Alpha they have a desire to reach out to those who have not encountered God and teach of His great grace and mercies.  With this purpose in mind I think it highly likely that these hosts would do everything in their power to make you feel comfortable and at ease to show the love of God that we as Christians are called to demonstrate. 
  3. I think realistically whether I knew people on the course or not I would be anxious.  When I think about it, I probably felt more comfortable not knowing anyone as I was free to speak and ask questions without worrying about prejudices that I was conscious people that know me may harbour. 
  4. I was scared Alpha was not for me for many reasons at different points in my life.  I remember a friend of mine did Alpha about 20 years ago and then I thought “I don’t want to be involved with this Christian stuff, what’s the point in going away for a weekend with a load of boring Christians when I could have my own weekend away doing the things that I like to do.”  As life progressed, I thought “I am too busy with the children to devote an evening for 11 weeks to this course and an entire weekend!”  Later still “I don’t think I am good enough to go on a course like this, people will see that I am not capable of such faith.”  When I eventually began Alpha this year I had been a Christian for some years and that made me think “this course is not for me because I am already a Christian so what can it teach me that I don’t already know.  Perhaps people will know I don’t belong there because I already have faith and they will think it is stupid that I am going along.”  After having attended Alpha I have to say that Alpha is for everyone.  There were people at all stages of faith there and those of no faith.  I believe that this contributes to better conversation and better learning opportunities because all stages of faith bring something to the table.  Those that are new to the faith often have such enthusiasm that many long-term Christians have long since lacked.  Newbies have so many questions that can push the long-term Christian to think over these questions of faith that perhaps they have long since forgotten or the newbie can challenge the long-term Christian to provide an answer that he doesn’t have and force him to learn for himself.  The advantage of having long-term Christians is that they have had many experiences that they can share with newbies and can provide a comfort to them, they can introduce the newbie to prayer and answer questions that they may have, suggested books that may help, etc. etc.  Believe me when I say there is no one out there in this whole big wide world we live in that would not bring something to Alpha. 
  5. It can be terrifying for some of us to speak in public.  For my husband, not so much, in fact he revels in it, for me it is so frightening.  I constantly question myself about what I have said, was it correct?  Will people think I am stupid?  Did I sound like a know it all?  Did I interrupt someone?  Am I speaking too much?  Am I speaking too little?  When we attended Alpha, I was terrified, I told my husband before we joined that he was to speak for me if I was too nervous to speak.  Everything changed as soon as we joined our first breakout group.  Our hosts were so lovely, welcoming, and instantly made us feel at ease.  Our group was fantastic, and at once I felt as though we had known each other for years.  There were 9 of us altogether at different stages of faith and every single one of us looked forward to our weekly chats, a chat that continued throughout the week in our What’s App Group that we created.  When it came to the last evening we were all really sad but we vowed to keep in touch and we have done so and still regularly chat on What’s App and one day we hope to meet in person whenever we get to the other side of Covid!  It will be so strange seeing each other for the first time and yet knowing each other so well through group chat, one to one chat and following each other’s lives on Facebook!      
  6. Christians are just like you and me.  Christians have the faith that God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and that through this and His resurrection those of us who believe are saved and are co-inheritants of eternal life.  These Christians also have “normal” jobs, they have relationships, they play sport, they sing, they go to the pub or restaurant, they hang out with friends, they travel, they watch movies, they have “normal” lives and are “normal” people.  Christianity, at times, can, unfortunately appear as though it is all bake sales, craft afternoons and tea dances (no offence to any bakers, eaters, crafters or ceilidh enthusiasts (I must admit to dabbling in all of these activities myself), however, I understand, for the young it may be off-putting!  I thought it may be helpful to make a list of some confessing Christians who are in the public eye in order that you may form your own ideas of what a Christian looks like:-   

Bear Grylls, Adventurer

Chris Pratt, Actor

Mark Wahlberg, Actor

Denzel Washington, Actor  

Justin Bieber, Singer

Stormzy, Singer

Matthew McConaughey, Actor

Tom Hanks, Actor  

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, Rapper/Reality Star    

Elijah Wood, Actor  

Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, Singer/Actor

Alice Cooper, Singer  

Tyson Fury, Boxer

Lionel Messi, Footballer

Neymar, Footballer

Sergio Ramos, Footballer  

Usain Bolt, Athlete

Bubba Watson, Pro Golfer

Manny Pacquaio, Boxer

Lewis Hamilton, Racing Driver

We have looked at many of the fears one can have about Alpha and I have explained how, in my experience, the fears I had turned out to be unfounded.  But I have something even more reassuring to share with you.  Covid 19 has given Alpha the ability to come to you!!  For the meantime, Alpha is virtual!  

Attending Alpha online means:-

  1. You attend from the comfort of your own home.  You can attend from your bed, from your sofa, from your dining table, from your garden, from anywhere you feel most comfortable.
  2. You can leave without any uncomfortableness.  Although I highly doubt you would want to, there is reassurance in the fact that at the touch of a button you have left.
  3. You have your own facilities, your own food and drink on tap.
  4. If nerves overcome you or a situation arises you must deal with, just pop your camera, and microphone off and listen in.  Just by the touch of a button you can listen whilst “invisible”.
  5. Here there is an opportunity to enter into this Alpha space, suss it out, see others that are taking part and test if you feel comfortable enough to continue and if not, the magic button is there to be pressed. 

Although I have explained how simple it is to leave I write this merely because I know it helped my fears knowing that this was an option, however, not once, did I consider it and I highly doubt you will either.  Sometimes we just need to know there is a safety net below us!  If you have these concerns or indeed any others please get in touch with me, a local church, or a member of Alpha because we, as Christians, are here to help.  It is part of our “job description” to love our neighbours as ourselves and this includes comforting and reassuring those who need it. 

Now a little about how the evening will progress.  The day before Alpha begins, and each week following, you are sent, by email, a link to a song which you listen to at 7.45pm (or whatever time the particular course begins), then at 8.00pm you click the link to a video which is really fun and informative.  There is a quick break before it is time to log into the group chats where everyone begins in a big group before being divided into small groups in order to discuss what was in the video or, as is often the case, many other topics that come up, which, at times, relate in no way to the Christian faith or Alpha but these are the times of growing relations with each other which are beneficial in so many ways, not least that you can all feel comfortable with each other to share and support.  A WhatsApp Group is usually set up so that your group can communicate with each other throughout the week, perhaps with questions you have thought of since the course or perhaps requesting support but mostly to support a friendship group.  This, of course, is voluntary and you are not under any obligation to give your phone details out to anyone.

Stepping out in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people and unfamiliar discussions is daunting for the majority of us but Alpha is worth stepping out of your comfort zone for.  You will learn so much, you will make new friends and your life may just change forever!

Lord our God I pray that those reading this will be comforted by my experience and thereby given the confidence to accept the invitation to try Alpha.  I pray that their fears will be quenched by your comforting hand upon them and that their hearts will be open to learn more about you.  Through Nicky Gumbel’s salvation you have created the platform that is Alpha in order that people can come to know your grace, mercy and love and I pray that through virtual Alpha many more may experience this course.  In the merciful, loving, and mighty name of your Son, Jesus I pray. Amen.

Love and Blessings

Louise x

PS

If you would like to learn more about Alpha, please check out their Facebook page or Website where you will also find details of how to sign up for the course. www.alpha.org

Categories
Christianity faith God Jesus Love racism Religion

Church and Faith: Dead or Alive

I understand only too well what faith looks like both dead and alive as I have experienced both.  I have experienced a complete lack of trust in God, I have experienced anger with God, I have ignored God completely and rested on my own strength and I have doubted the very existence of God.  I have fooled myself by believing I was alive in faith when, in reality, my faith was dead.

Recently, thanks be to God, I have discovered what faith looks like when it is alive!!  Lockdown has literally saved my husband and I.  While, before our faith was dead, we are now truly alive in Christ!  We live for Jesus.  Previously, my husband, like many others, whiled away his days staring at his phone, now, he wakes at 5am for prayer and study before work at 9am.  He had intended to sleep until 7 or 8 at the weekend but he has been unable to, he is too excited to spend time with God!  He is reading an impossible number of books in order that he can write a book for new Christians exploring who Jesus is!  I have spent lockdown making lots of new Christian friends, I have undertaken various studies and summits which have inspired me greatly, without them I would not be writing this blog! Our plans are no longer our own and we are happier than we have ever been!  I woke this morning after a very disturbed night’s sleep and I thought I will just have a relaxing day, finish the book I am reading entitled “God’s Smuggler”, catch up on some housework and do some craft.  God had other ideas!  As I began to get ready and look forward to my lazy day, my mind became inundated with thoughts.  This has happened a lot since I became “alive” especially since I started writing my blog!  This told me that God had other plans for my day!  So here I am trying to assemble my racing thoughts into coherent English once again.  You may ask, how do you know this is of God?  The answer is simple, because despite my idea of a relaxing day being turned on its head and my plans being totally disrupted, I am happy, I am excited, I am eager.  At the drop of a hat, my plans changed, and I delighted in it.  I delight in it because I know that this is God’s will, that by writing this I please God and that by writing this I may help even one person who is struggling with their faith. 

Coming to faith or indeed recognizing your faith is dead can be torturous, it can be mentally exhausting, you can be confused about who you are!  For years I was at war with myself, I was a soldier in a silent battle between God’s will and my own.  When I was defeated and accepted God’s victory, I then became swamped with questions, far more than I could find answers to!  By my own selfishness I had kept Jesus at arm’s length and, inevitably, this is why my personal journey was so difficult.  I did not want to let go of “my life”.  I liked my life just the way it was, or at least I thought I did.  It took far too long but, finally, I realised that the very things I thought made me happy were having the opposite effect.  Life will never go the way we want it to all the time and therefore, focussing on oneself is unlikely to lead to happiness.  This is a difficult concept to understand as it contradicts our modern thinking which advises “Be who you want to be!”, “Do what makes you happy!”” etc. etc.  This may work when you are employed, healthy, in love etc.  What happens when you are sick, you lose your job, your partner leaves, how do we just make ourselves happy then?  The reality is true happiness and contentment is found only in Jesus.  The peace and happiness that rests in your heart when you finally ditch your sense of self and accept God’s will in your life is unlike anything else one can experience. 

So how can you achieve this?  Well, for me, it was learning to trust God, to completely trust that everything that is happening in my life right now is God’s will and that it is for the good.  I may not see the good in this lifetime, but I trust at some point, I will!  It is surrounding yourself with faithful believers.  Lockdown has provided so many opportunities for me to join in different church services, bible studies, summits, conferences etc. that I otherwise would have been unable to attend.  This has literally changed my life, from the Cheerfully Given Creative Christianity Summit which turned me from an adamant uncreative whose biggest artistic achievement would be the sun, grass, bird, house picture of a four year old child to a buzzing creative with her own craft trolley, who is so full of ideas that she carries a notebook around with her at all times so that her head does not explode! The Aberdeen Christian Fellowship Big Church Weekend which brought my husband and I into the community of believers in Christ who welcomed us warmly.  The Alpha Course where we met fabulous new friends who we keep in touch with regularly, we chat, we laugh, we pray for each other and, God willing, we will soon meet each other face to face for a time of fellowship.  Watching Angus Buchan’s Mighty Men’s Conferences which due to Covid are broadcast online!  Seeing the faithful heart of Angus Buchan inspires us so much to follow in his footsteps, to live our lives for Christ.  Watching an African Church Service where praise is paramount, little is spoken without “Amen” or “Halleluiah”.  This is the faith I strive for, the faith to praise Jesus without fear or embarrassment.  A “Get Out Of Your Head Bible Study” where as a group of women we come together to discuss our struggles and our faith, we pray for each other and we learn from each other and I see Jesus in each and every one of these woman.  Scripture tells us how important it is to fellowship with one another, Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

I fully understand the fears that you may have as new Christians reaching out to believers.  It can be difficult; I understand that churches can be cliquey, and some church goers may not be approachable.  I want to say to you that this is your time!!  Coronavirus may have been meant for bad, but God is using it for good.  I would not have had the confidence to attend the above in person and though I was still apprehensive, sitting in my own house, in my chilling clothes made things much easier!  I did not have to worry about my appearance, I did not have to worry about whether I could escape if I were uncomfortable and anxious because all I needed to do was press the Leave Meeting button!  Luckily, I have never felt the need to do this!  So, I urge you, give it a go!  Sign up for Alpha, watch a church service, sign up to Bible Studies or small groups.  Just have a peek and see!!    

For the church, this is the time to rise to the challenge.  Statistics show a huge rise in church attendance during this pandemic, people are interested, people want to know more, people need Jesus.  Acts 2:46-47 “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” 1 Corinthians 3:9 “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

Like Martin Luther King Jr I too have a dream and mine is this … that we will see the Church of God come alive.  That the church will unite throughout the world focussing on union and not division.  That this church will exist for the glory of God and that the living Word of God will be preached with joy and love and without errancy.  That this church will welcome each and every soul as their brother or sister, that they will be welcomed with open arms and encouraged each step of their journey and that those who arrive as strangers, leave as family.  I dream that this church will heal the sick and save the lost.  That testimonies will be shared with joy and fervour.  That the praise will be resounding and powerful that those outside of the building may know that God is alive.  That the walls of this church will tremble from the vociferous preaching held in its midst and that this good news will flow to the ends of the earth and not be silenced.  That no brother or sister is left in any need, but is provided for financially, practically, and emotionally and that this church stands together, shoulder to shoulder with each other living out the graceful love of God.

Ephesians 2:19-20 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” 

Romans 12:4-5 “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

1 Corinthians 12:13 “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

Let this season of tragedy emerge a season of triumph!  Let the people come!!

Love and Blessings

Louise xx