As I mentioned at the beginning of the service, I’d like to share with you a bit of the story of how God called Michelle and I to Telkwa. This story flows out of the Scripture passage, but it also sets the stage for the upcoming sermon series, which is part of a bigger project we’ll be pursuing over the next three months about our mission and vision as a church. Over the next three months, we’ll be reflecting on our church’s vision of what God is calling us to do, and who God is calling us to be. We’ll be asking questions about how we can more deeply identify with this vision, and how we can more intentionally live this vision. But in order for us as a church to live into this vision, each of us needs to also grapple with our own calling by God. When each of us understands our calling, we will have a clearer sense of why we are here, who we are, and how we can join in God’s work. So, I’d like to share with you my story of why I’m here. This is why I, personally, felt called to come to the Bulkley Valley and join this Church Family.
It was the spring of 2012. Michelle and I had just received approval by the Christian Reformed Church to be candidates as pastors. We were living in my parents house in Anchorage, Alaska, finishing up some schoolwork, and talking to different churches about the possibility of us becoming their pastors. One day, Michelle ran into the room I was in and said, “We’ve hit the jackpot!” I looked confused, so she said, “Telkwa CRC is vacant!” I said, “Telk-what?” We knew about the Bulkley Valley because we had been driving through some years earlier and loved it, but I hadn’t noticed Telkwa. And when I looked at Telkwa on google maps, you had to zoom in really, really close before it showed up. So, we kept Telkwa on the back burner. We had a few other interviews, including one where I was asked if I was planning on leading their church out of the Denomination, and pretty soon Telkwa started seeming more and more attractive. Eventually, Michelle and I paid a visit, and we had a wonderful weekend. The day after we left, John Wisselink accidentally included us in an email to the rest of the calling Committee where he made a motion to call us as pastors ASAP.
But, we still were having conversations with some other churches. We visited a church in Ontario, and also received a call from them. Michelle and I were in the difficult position of trying to hear where God was calling us. Michelle felt more peace about coming to Telkwa, whereas I felt better about going to this other church in Ontario. It wasn’t you, it was me. It was getting close to the end of November, and we needed to make a decision. We said that we should decide by the end of the week, and the end of the week came and we still weren’t any closer to deciding. Michelle was leaning towards Telkwa, and I was leaning towards this Ontario Church. I remember going to bed that night frustrated that we hadn’t made a decision. But instead of letting me fall asleep, I felt as though God had given me a sermon that he wanted me to specifically preach in Telkwa. But it wasn’t just a sermon he’d given me, it was as though he had shared with me a vision of the work that he was doing and going to do in the Bulkley Valley. He framed it around the work of John the baptist.
Everything that John the Baptist was doing was one big symbolic action. If we look at each part of John’s baptism, they combine to form a clear and sharp picture - (slide 2) John was preparing God’s people to enter into God’s Kingdom. John was inviting people to journey into the new reality that God was preparing.
John’s baptism was meant to communicate all this. For one that’s why’s he began by saying the Kingdom of God is here, and its also why he was baptizing people at the Jordan River. (Slide 3) When you read the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, the Jordan River represents of the boundary that the Israelites needed to cross in order to enter into the Promised Land. The Jordan River is a line they’d crossed on their journey from being enslaved in Egypt to living in God’s freedom in the Promised Land. When they crossed the Jordan River they were stepping into the Promised Land, the Land that God was giving them. Their, they were intended to live in close fellowship with God in His Kingdom. In this way, their way of life was supposed to show the rest of the world what it looked like to live in relationship with God. God was calling them to cross the Jordan and into His Kingdom. But remember this next crucial point - when the people of Israel walked through the Jordan and into the Promised Land, it didn’t mean their work was done. It meant that they were beginning the massive project of clearing the land and establishing a nation that was to live under the will of God. Crossing the Jordan was the just the first step of obedience to their calling.
But they had a hard time living out their calling. Not too long after crossing the Jordan, the people abandoned this project of living in God’s Kingdom. Instead of being a light to the nations, they began trying to live like everyone else around them. Because they had forgotten the original reason why they had crossed the Jordan, God sent them out of that land and into exile. God sent them back into the world of slavery. That was a pretty serious wakeup call. Ever since that moment, the people of Israel were waiting for that moment when God Himself would come and lead them back to the Promised Land, and reestablish His Kingdom. When you read the prophets, God promises again and again that he will do exactly that. (Slide 4) In fact, John the baptist calls to mind one of those promises when he quotes the prophet Isaiah and says, I am the “voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” John is signalling to the people of Israel that the time they were waiting for is at hand. John is preparing the way for the Lord’s return, who will lead His people on a path back into His Kingdom. (Slide 5) John is preparing the people of God for the Lord’s return. When he says that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand, he is saying, “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for!” So, John invites people to cross through the Jordan River, and by doing so they are saying, “Yes, I want to follow God back into His Kingdom.” That’s why people were coming up to John, confessing there sins and being baptized. By crossing the Jordan River, they were conveying their desire to journey with God back into His Kingdom.
That’s the vision for the Bulkley Valley that I felt God unfolded as Michelle and I were trying to discern where God was calling us. I felt as though God was inviting me to see the Bulkley as a Northern Jordan River. I felt that God was showing me that He was leading His people through a Bulkley River baptism. As we emerge from the river, God would send us His Holy Spirit to inspire us to discover His Kingdom in the Bulkley Valley. God has always chosen small, little places and foolish oddballs to do his work? So why not here?
When God’s people crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, there was a lot of work to do. God didn’t say, “you crossed the river, now sit back and relax.” The people of Israel had to claim the land as their own and figure out exactly what it looked like to in that place live as God’s people. God gave them a lot of direction, but that also meant a good deal of work. God required them to be faithful to their calling. That’s our task also.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus will one day completely transform this world. We believe that Jesus powerfully began this work 2000 years ago. The presence of God’s Kingdom was His primary message when he walked on Earth. But we also look forward to when the Kingdom of God will fully come to earth, and this world will be ordered in perfect harmony. No more tears, no more pain, no more injustice, but rather this world will be full of God’s glory. The Lord Jesus came and began this project. He died for our sins and gave us the Holy Spirit so that we can participate in this project. Transforming the world so it resembles God’s Kingdom is our project - we anticipate that Jesus will one day transform this world completely, but until then the Holy Spirit will work through us to bring about the Kingdom of God today, even here.
This is the work Michelle and I felt called to join in Telkwa. God has given this Church a vision for what it would look like for us to be faithful to journeying towards God’s Kingdom. About fifteen or twenty years ago, our church got together in order to discern what’s important to us as a church. We asked the question, what is God calling us to do and who is God calling us to be. Together, the congregation developed that sort of vision. (Slide 6) The church discerned that we are a people who worship God, Grow together as disciples, and make Christ known. That’s the big picture of how God is calling us to bring about the Kingdom in the Bulkley Valley.
The church then took each of these statements and discerned how they could be made a bit more specific. (Slide 7) So, we value worship that honours God and fully engages all God’s people. We value biblical, reformed, Christ-centered preaching that transforms us. We value being a praying church. (Slide 8) We value discipleship. We value loving, grace-filled relationships in which members and seekers are enfolded and cared for. We value our church to be a safe place for those who are broken and hurting. We believe Christ followers of all ages should be nurtured and trained as we yearn for continuous growth. (Slide 9 )
This is who we’ve said that we want to be. As we work out the implication of our baptism, we as a church have said that worship, discipleship and making Christ known need to be core to our identity. This is our church’s vision for what it looks like to walk more deeply into God’s Kingdom in the Bulkley Valley. Over the next three months, we are going to imagine, think and pray how we can go deeper still. We will explore each one of these statements, and reflect together on how God is calling us to practically and tangibly live out each one of them. The hope is that at the end of these nine weeks, it’ll be like we’ve gathered onto the other side of the river with Jesus. Jesus will say, “now that we’ve looked at the map, let’s take steps towards the Kingdom together.” Together, we’ll leave the river and continue in God’s work of transforming the world into His Kingdom.
At the beginning of the sermon, I said, “for us as a church to live into our vision, each of us needs to also grapple with our own sense of calling by God.” I’ve shared a bit of my own calling, but how has God called you? Do you have a sense of how God has called you to join in His work? When each of us understands our own calling, we will have a clearer sense of how we can work together. Perhaps, as we reflect on our Church’s vision of who we are, we can listen to God’s particular call for each one of us.