BEST ALPHA COURSE EVER

BEST ALPHA COURSE EVER

The church I lead ran its first Alpha Course in 2011. We’ve hosted it eight more times since then (twice one year and none in 2018) and 2019 was the best ever! The reason? Not because our team was any better than previous years. We had many of the same people. And not because the food was any better, although it was great. And not because the Alpha Course now features a high-quality video journey with two young hosts in fascinating global locations along with in-person interviews instead of just a guy giving a talk on a stage. We used the new videos in 2017. The difference was that the 2019 Alpha Course at our church had more prayer support than any previous year and it showed in at least five ways.

First, prayer preceded the partnership between the Task Force leader, me, and the Alpha Course Host, Jeff Good. Jeff and I went into this partnership after attending the Alpha Course National Leadership Conference in Arizona last winter. We prayed together in the hotel room and at other times during the conference and came away convinced that God would have us offer the course this year. After that, we agreed to meet weekly to pray for this year’s course.

If you’ve ever spent a long time praying for a specific project, you know what I mean when I say that many direct answers to prayer don’t seem all that spectacular. Things just occur or become obvious or apparent that weren’t apparent before. Things flow. For example, all we knew when we left Arizona was that we were going to offer the course and we needed to pray. We didn’t know who would lead the Task Force and who would be the Host. The Task Force leader oversees setup, meals, and clean up. The Host does PR and everything else. But over time it became apparent that, even though I’d been the host most years and I’m no cook, I should lead the Task Force and Jeff should be the Host.

Direct answers to prayer and evidence of its power appeared in other ways as well.

I realized we probably didn’t have enough budgeted to pay for all the food and the necessary advertising. We also needed a new catering plan that would involve the whole church. But before we even had the catering plan, someone donated $1,000 for the food. Then, a thought “occurred to me,” You dummy, Karen Schopen owns the best restaurant in town and has been in the hospitality business her whole career. Ask her! And voila! We had a new catering plan that included the whole church working together as a team.

But we still needed someone to massage the menus and recruit the cooks and select the right serving setup and make sure I kept everyone up to speed. Enter my excellent wife who, though she’s never cooked for fifty people in her life, knew exactly what to do and how to get it done. Almost the whole church participated. No one felt exhausted and burned out at the end. The meals were great! And the cost? We spent $942.04 on food!

Then there was childcare! Before we could even ask her, Karin Theo offered to do a children’s program concurrent with Alpha. Karin recruited helpers from the whole congregation, and we didn’t have to worry about this part at all. A big relief for me!

Technological problems overcome. We wanted this Alpha Course to feel seamless and high quality to our guests, but we also knew that, technology being what it is, glitches happen. We prayed about that and sure enough, about halfway through the course, the sound card went bad on the computer. One of our guests who is a whiz with technology had it figured out for us before dinner was over.

Finally, and most important, friends who are genuine seekers felt free and safe to ask their hardest questions and hear answers. People in the small groups developed great relationships, shared their deepest struggles, and grew closer to God. One, totally new to the area and our congregation, even joined the church.

With all that in mind I want to ask you to do three things. First, join us each week in prayer for the 2020 Alpha. Second, ask God to show you what part you can play in an Alpha Course near you. Third, begin praying and talking it up with your friends as God provides opportunity. Be ready to invite them when the time comes. I believe the 2020 Alpha Course will be the best ever!

Haven’t heard of The Alpha Course?Click here: The Alpha Course.

RENDEZVOUS WITH JESUS: Alpha 2017

A new friend sat across the table at the local deli, eager to tell me what had happened to him.

“On the third week, when Nicky Gumble led in prayer, I prayed with him and gave everything to God. I told God I couldn’t do anything without him and didn’t want to try. Up until then I had some good days and some bad days, well, really a lot of bad days and some OK days, full of anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression. All of that is gone. I felt this incredible lightness after I prayed. I’m sleeping the night through now, and I’m so happy.”

That was in 2011, about five weeks into our first Alpha Course, and conversations like it have continued to happen ever since. That’s the reason our church will offer Alpha in September for the eighth time since 2011. I’m writing today to ask you to pray for the course and for friends you might invite this summer.

Haven’t heard of Alpha? Wonder what it’s like?

The Alpha Course is completely apolitical. More importantly, it isn’t built around a sales pitch of the gospel. It is a course, Christianity 101 if you will, founded instead on two fundamentals: Process and Community.

Learning is a process that happens best when we are in the presence of friends. This is what makes Alpha so enjoyable and encouraging. No one is pressured to “buy” anything and all questions are welcomed in a community of friends who’ve gotten to know one another through shared meals and laughter.

Alpha is for everyone. People who have attended church all their lives will enjoy it. Those who’ve never entered a church or considered Christianity will also enjoy it and come away enriched, with new understanding and new friends.

The Alpha Course Team, the people who make the event happen each fall, consists of two parts: task force, and hosts / facilitators. The task force prepares the meals and handles logistics. The hosts / facilitators make  guests feel welcome and facilitate small-group discussions. The only prerequisites to serving on the team are to have attended the course at least once and meet a few times prior to launch for prayer and training.

One of the most important things our Alpha team has learned over the years is that the primary reason people attend the course is because a friend has invited them. So even if you choose not to serve on an Alpha Course team, your prayers for and invitations to friends really count. Of course you’ll also want to attend with whomever you invite.

The coolest thing in the world is to sit with new friends, see the peace and joy on their faces, hear how awesome it is to know that they are loved and cared for by the Creator of heaven and earth, and know that we got to play a small part in their rendezvous with Jesus.

Interested? Visit  http://alphausa.org.

FINDING HAPPINESS

How do you find happiness? Apparently, more and more young Americans are finding less and less of it each year. At least that’s the opinion of author and political philosopher J. Budziszewski, who has had a ring side seat to rising generations as a professor for thirty-four years at the University of Texas at Austin.

In a recent World Magazine interview, Budziszewski (pronounced Bud-a-Chev-ski) says college kids are running in to the “hedonistic paradox” much sooner than previous generations. Hedonistic paradox is the title for the law of diminishing returns as applied to pleasure. The professor explained, “If you pursue truth and friendship for their own sakes, you will enjoy pleasure. If you pursue pleasure for itself, pleasure recedes and you are likely to find pain. Eventually you burn out … so many of these young people have started in on hedonism so young, and thrown themselves into it so thoroughly, that the paradox kicks in very early.”*

Budziszewski’s words struck a nerve because I had recently finished a sermon series on the book of Ecclesiastes whose author, King Solomon, knew more about the pursuit of pleasure than anyone. Solomon went after pleasure with the intensity of Peyton Manning dismantling an NFL defense. He had more sex partners, more and bigger parties, more financial success, more fame, and more of everything else than most of us could imagine. His conclusion? It’s emptiness, the vain pursuit of a slippery breeze.

So again, how do you find happiness? How do you find happiness that won’t burn you out and leave you in pain? Here are a few of the answers I’ve found. It has less to do with how and much more to do with who.

The who begins with God. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” C. S. Lewis said, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” I’ve found this to be true. When my relationship with God is first, every other pleasure is enhanced, like eating dark chocolate with black coffee, the combined experience is better than either one alone. Every good thing is a gift from my loving Father and I enjoy it more knowing it came from him. But when I put pleasure first even the good things are diminished.

Worship, the abandonment of all concerns and self-thoughts in praise and adoration, fills me with happiness and peace. Ditto prayer that has said all that needs be said and that does not end with “amen.”

The “who” continues with others: I’m never happier than when I’ve made my wife smile or laugh, than when I see her or my children flourishing in their gifts (she is always happy when she is creating beauty). Seeing others flourish, family, friends or fellow-believers fulfilling the calling and expressing the gifts the Creator gave makes me happy.

Communicating truth, whether in the pulpit, in a song, in this blog or face to face, telling the eternal truths of Scripture energizes me. I’m doing what my Father created me to do, and like Olympic runner Eric Liddel said of his gift of speed, “When I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Sex with the wife of my youth, sex without shame and without fear, absolutely certain that our intimacy and vulnerability with each other is protected by covenant loyalty and blessed with innocence by our Creator, makes me deliriously happy.

The where and what include motorcycle riding in the mountains on a spring day, especially with friends. I find myself singing thanksgiving songs as I throw it through the curves.

A good meal with good friends, helping others solve their problems mechanical or spiritual, these things give me joy.

All the above accompanied by beautiful music performed with excellence, or just music all by itself.

All of these things are gifts from the hand of a kind creator who gave us this promise:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ John 7:37-38.

If you thirst for happiness, if you long for joy, go to him and drink and you will never thirst again.

*J. Budziszewski: Generation disordered. Q&A | The sexual revolution has left many college students with empty lives, but there is a longing for something more. By MARVIN OLASKY “Off the grid,” Sept. 5, 2015.