Visiting Alma
 

Merry Christmas – From The McCready’s

Dear Alma Bible Church family,

Christmas is always a wonderful time of year. It is a time where many of us can spend time with extended family, build memories with our children; but most importantly to celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

When we reflect over the past year, we are reminded of so many ways in which God has moved among us. He has been there to comfort us in hard times. He has provided for us in times of need; and He has been at work in us refining us to become more like Him. Often it is easy to look back and see the pain and heartache.  For many of us, some experiences in the past year were very difficult. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, looking back we can see that God was there with us, giving us the strength we need for each new day.

For us as a family, it was a year in which we were called to be flexible. As with many of you, we watched as some who are very close and dear to us got sick. Very recently we found ourselves having to say good bye to Wendy’s grandmother – a pillar of love in the family. She was welcoming and hospitable to so many. She will be missed.

As for our girls, with the schools shifting from in class to online and back, both Anna and Olivia had to adjust. Olivia also moved on to a new school this fall, which involved a lot of changes including the need to build new friendships.

Yet with all of the changes, one thing that we have been thankful for is that we have been together. Through all of the changes and turmoil, as a family we have engaged in new activities and developed some fun new routines that we are sure will become lasting memories.

As most of you are now aware, for the next few weeks Mark will be taking time away to refresh and renew.   This is a time that he as been wanting and dreaming about for some time. Already as he looks at his calendar, there are so many things that will be taking up his time, including reading, writing, and also working to improve in some areas of his life. For a number of reasons, there won’t be any fancy trips or long get-aways. While it is not exactly clear at this point, his desire is to keep you all informed as to how he spends his time.  In any case, please know that we are very grateful to all of you for this opportunity for him.

Have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Mark, Wendy, Anna & Olivia

 

Lockdowns, Mental Health and Faith

Under ‘normal’ circumstances mental health is a big and critical issue. When we face greater challenges, the pressure on our mental health only increases. On Thursday Jan 14, the Ontario “stay at home order” went into effect. Some people will praise the decision, while others will be frustrated and angry. What I do know for sure is that this will put greater pressure on the mental health of many of us.

It is no easy challenge to deal with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. If you are one of these people, then you know what I mean. We find ourselves dwelling on things that we can do nothing about. We worry about what might happen. We feel helpless and defeated with all the terrible things that are happening around us. We take personally the things that people say and do. From all of these thoughts we end up with physical symptoms. We feel tension in our gut, our hands shake, our heart begins to race, we start to sweat, we feel exhausted.

So what can we do? Living under a stay at home order, there are many things we can do to help our mental health. Some of the basics which may not seem obvious include getting the right amount of sleep, making sure we eat healthy and getting plenty of exercise. I was once told that if we want to be strong mentally or spiritually, we need to keep our selves healthy physically. What I have learned since is that if you are weak in one area, the others will suffer.

So assuming we are all doing what we can to stay physically healthy, what can we do about our mental and spiritual health? The Bible has some very helpful advice for us in these areas. One of the hardest things to do, but one of the most critical is to manage or control our thinking. We need to make sure that we don’t feed our minds all kinds of junk. The book of Philippians from the Bible was written by a guy named Paul. He wrote it from prison. In Philippians 4:8 we read that we are to dwell on things that are true, honorable and right. In practical terms that means that we need to make sure that we keep ourselves rooted in facts. It is easy to let our emotions take control, but our health will be much better if we spend our time focusing on facts. This same Paul also wrote that we should try and “capture” every thought. Good thoughts that honor God should be held on to, and other thoughts thrown out (II Corinthians 10:5). Psychotherapists, social workers and counselors will sometimes encourage the practice of something called “mindfulness”. One of the benefits of this exercise is it helps root us factually in our current environment. I always think it is cool how modern day thinking comes back to match the wisdom offered in the Bible.

While the Bible offers good advice about managing our thinking, our faith in general offers us hope. Christianity teaches that if you have faith in Jesus then you can look forward to an eternal hope. That hope being the promise of an eternity in heaven. I don’t know how many movies I have seen or books I have read where the concept of hope is held up as a means of enduring difficult times. I personally have found that the hope of eternal life has been a life line in difficult times. Let us also never forget that while it may seem like we are isolated, God is always there with us. We can always talk to Him.

Of course there are things that the rest of us can do who don’t struggle with mental health issues. For one, we all need to remember that people who struggle with mental health would be glad to be free of it. It is also important to remember that they didn’t ask for it. Sadly, far too many people attach a stigma to those who suffer with mental health like somehow they are to blame for their own trials. But it is never that simple. Life experiences and genetics play a huge part and these are things we can’t control. In fact if we are honest, all of us struggle with our mental health at one point or another. Others will find that trying to keep healthy mentally is a life-long struggle. Those who suffer need compassion and a willingness for others to try and understand.

In the midst of trials, like this lock down, our faith can play a huge role in helping us maintain good mental health.

Let Them Lead Joyfully

Over the past few weeks the number of confirmed cases of COVID 19 has increased steadily. While it seems the numbers are what is making the news, what I have been watching is how different people are responding.

On the one hand there are people who are responding with extreme concern. Some people are seeing the numbers and are expressing quite vocally that more effort should be made to contain the virus. On the other hand, there are those who are very concerned about the economy. These people are becoming very vocal in letting us all know that if any more restrictions are imposed that more businesses will be forced to close and that there will be long term impacts on our economy.

I have watched Doug Ford who has on more than one occasion expressed frustration at the difficulty of trying to balance all of the competing needs. Sadly, this polarization has entered into the western evangelical church. It is probably more evident in some areas than in others, but there is no question that the tension is real. Here at Alma, we are not immune. In my conversations, it has been made very clear to me that we have a very broad range of opinion regarding how to respond to COVID.

Back in June/July, the elders had some lengthy discussions before we opened the doors again after being closed back in the spring. The elders also had a lengthy discussion to consider the issue of communion, and what that would look like. The subject of music and singing continues to be a topic of conversation at the elders table.   We just recently started up a Sunday morning program for our kids. That was not an easy decision and was only made after a lot of thought, prayer and consultation. One of the more recent discussions has involved the topic of fellowship. With the weather getting colder, should we as a church provide more opportunities for people to gather socially? If we do, what would that look like? If we did allow for it, but had to implement some guidelines, would people cooperate?  Will the government even allow it?

When the leadership has wrestled with these questions, it has been very clear to me the extent of the burden that has been carried. These issues have not been taken lightly, and have weighed on the hearts of our leadership quite heavily. Your leaders have spent a great deal of time in prayer as they have tried to walk through these issues. They have also called on the church staff to contact our local Public Health department. In fact I wonder what the folks at the Public Health department think of the Alma leadership considering how often we have called for guidance or clarification.

Some of the decisions were especially difficult, not just because of the diversity of opinion, but because the guidelines weren’t so clear as to what we are permitted to do and not permitted to do . In those cases we have stepped out and made our own decision, with the readiness that we may need to change.

I know that not everyone has agreed with every decision that has been made. However, I want to thank you for your patience with us. I also want to thank you for not being so hard on us when you thought that we have made mistakes. The reality is that your elders are trying hard to do the best job they can in the midst of a very difficult situation where things are constantly changing.

What I really would like to say is a big “thank you” to our board of elders and our church staff. The next time you see Luke or Yvonne or one of our elders, please be sure to thank them. This is definitely not an easy time for those in leadership.

Mark McCready
Senior Pastor