Lasts…for now.

As Michael and I have been finishing up our final week at YWAM Turner Valley before we move into a new season with participating in the Titus Project, we’ve had a lot of “lasts.” Now, they’re not final “lasts,” because in December we’ll be back here again, but all the same, it is a bit sad and exciting all at the same time. This week we had our last staff meeting. Our last community chore. Our last dinner in the home of good friends. Tonight I cooked my last supper. Tomorrow morning Michael and I will make our last Saturday breakfast for staff and students.

These lasts are a little bit sad because I genuinely love being here at YWAM Turner Valley. I’ve loved being in the kitchen throughout the summer, and we love the people here. Of course, being a little sad is better than the alternative – it’s a good sign that we’ll miss this place, these people, and these aspects of our ministry! But along with that sadness there is excitement, as we’ll be moving into a season of “firsts.” First time being involved in something together as learners. First time teaching the Bible in Mexico. First time participating in all sorts of ministries.

So as we check all of these lasts off our lists in these next few days at YWAM TV, I’m glad they’re only lasts for now, and I look forward to all the firsts God has in our future.

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Book Reviews: Quitting Church, by Julia Duin & Holy Fire, by R.T. Kendall

For the recent SBS conference Helen and I attended in Montana, we were asked to read three books that were a reflection of three major topics one speaker was going to cover. Due to the length of the books and the cost, I was only able to read two of them: Quitting Church by Julia Duin and Holy Fire by R.T. Kendall.

quitting-churchQuitting Church was a look at the trend of people leaving the church in the West, and an investigation of the reasons behind why those who claim Christianity are often uninterested in attending a local church. As a journalist, Duin’s writing is very approachable, making the book a quick read. Quitting Church contains both stats she had researched, and stories she had collected from people who represented those statistics. The book was written in 2007 and was re-released last year, so many of the reasons for people “quitting church” have been discussed at length in other books since the first release of this book. The big issue seemed to be that the seeker-sensitive movement has created churches that are miles wide but inches deep. Additionally, the movement towards mega churches have left many feeling alone in a crowd. What interested me most was the chapter on women leaving the church. It seems that many women are “quitting church” because of the barriers that continue to exist for woman to participate in the ministries of the church. The book spoke of how women who exercised clear leadership giftings in their workplaces, are not permitted to participate in leadership in the church, which discourages their willingness to attend in the first place. One of the great joys of my work with YWAM has been watching the God-given gifts in my wife being exercised and encouraged, and I can understand how it would be unappealing to participate in a church that bars your service solely because of gender. In the end, I found the book offered many criticisms and little in the way of solutions. Throughout the book I also felt that Duin longed for a time that has passed in the history of the church in the West –  a sort of nostalgia without suggestions of how to move forward. On the whole, Quitting Church has encouraged me to think more deeply about how to foster a healthier situation in the faith community I am a part of.

Holy-Fire-front1Holy Fire offered an argument for the activity of the Holy Spirit, refuting cessationism. Cessationism suggests that the Holy Spirit does not and has not acted in supernatural ways since the age of the Apostles. It was a much more academic read, but a thorough look at the issue. Kendall is in an interesting position writing this book, as he holds to much of the Reform theology common to cessationists, but speaks from personal experience about the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our generation. His closing argument is that when the work of the Holy Spirit (as seen in the charismatic movements of recent years), connects with solid Biblical teaching, there will be a revival on a level not yet seen in church history. Having grown up in a charismatic church, I have been taught much of what Kendall writes about, however having moved away from the charismatic movement in more recent years until coming back into YWAM, it was helpful for me to open up again to the work of the Holy Spirit through the filter of a Biblical worldview. I still see a lot of the abuses of the charismatic movement, but like Kendall, I hope that soon we will see the walls standing between those who fear the abuses of the charismatic movement, and charismatics, coming together and changing the world for God’s glory.

These two books look at big topics relevant to the Evangelical world right now; if you’re interested in these issues, I would recommending these books.

In a Month…

In a month, Helen and I will be in Mexico.

That statement makes me realize that there is a lot we need to do in the next four weeks. This includes reading books, packing bags, traveling to Ontario to visit family and friends, getting travel insurance, and many other things I am sure Helen is totally aware of and will ask me to do as she thinks through the details I often forget. For me, adventures like the Titus Project in Mexico, don’t often feel real until I am in the airport, but in this case, I can already feel my excitement growing for our upcoming season of growth and ministry. The reason it’s all coming into focus for me may be because my role here at YWAM Turner Valley right now is so day-to-day and unclear. Since SBS ended, I basically do whatever needs to be done around the campus. Helen, on the other hand, is constantly busy, taking care of our food services like a champ. She is busy planning the menu for the campus while we are away, when there will be no kitchen coordinator. With only two weeks of work left here in Turner Valley before heading out to Ontario, I am starting to think about all that I need to stay on top of for us to be ready.

Our next four weeks will see us hammering out the details of what needs to happen so we will be fully prepared in Mexico. In the midst of that is two weeks in Ontario, where we are looking forward to seeing my family and connecting with friends and supporters. The sad part of this trip is realizing that two weeks will not likely be enough time to see everyone we would want to, but if you do want to get together with Helen and I while out there, email me at michael.packard@ywamturnervalley.org.

Please be praying for us in these final weeks. We are still uncertain of the total cost of the Titus Project, but God knows how much it will be, so be praying with us as we wait to see how God is going to provide. Be praying for our preparations, that we cross every “t” and dot every “i.” Be praying for our time in Ontario, that it will be a blessed time of reconnecting. Finally, pray for our time in Mexico; we long to grow as teachers and minister well to the needs of those God brings us to. Thank you for your support.

The Centrality of the Gospel

If you received the e-newsletter we sent out yesterday, you’ll know that Michael and I are currently in Montana, at what is called the “SBS Boost.” The Boost takes place every two years, and is an opportunity for Biblical Studies staff from YWAM campuses throughout North America, to get together and to talk about the challenges we face in our programs, the ways we can improve in what we offer our students, and the trends taking place in both YWAM and the church. Michael and I had the great opportunity to meet people from YWAM locations in Tijuana, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Montana, and others, and that was a highlight for us. But the major takeaway (at least for me) was being reminded of the centrality of the Gospel and that the cross needs to be our focus as we minister and teach.

You’d think that this would be a no-brainer – we are Bible teachers after all! But as we were reminded throughout the week, the Gospel continues to be compromised in the world. It’s not considered “politically correct” to state that Jesus is the only way to salvation – that all people are entirely sinful, and unless we believe that He has taken on the punishment for our sins by being nailed to the cross, we will not be saved. Jesus – God Himself – took our sin upon Himself, and defeated death, so that those who believe in what He has done, will live forever with Him. As Peter in Acts 4:12 puts it: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

A couple weeks ago, Michael and I had the pleasure of spending five days with the Mountain Venture Discipleship Training School, prepping food for them as they camped in Kananaskis. On each week of a typical DTS, a specific topic is addressed – it could be relationships, the father heart of God, missions, Bible study, etc. While we were camping with the DTS, the topic of the week was “Christianity 101.” Though Michael and I didn’t get to sit in on entire lectures (we had meals to prepare), we had the opportunity to listen to snippets here and there, and as you may guess, the real message of the week was the Gospel. The Truth that God created the world, man rebelled, breaking the perfect relationship that existed between man and God, and that ever since, God has been orchestrating His plan of salvation. The Law could not save us, but Jesus took on the just punishment for our sin – death, and those who believe are forever found “in Him.” As was said during the Boost this week, those words – “in Him” – are the two most important words in the Bible. In Him we have died to sin, and in Him we have been raised to new life in Christ (Romans 6:5-11). Because His righteousness is counted to our credit based on His taking our place on the cross, those who believe are raised up with Him; God has “seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:6-8).

God has really been highlighting the centrality of the Gospel – of the cross – to me over these last few weeks, but another major theme of my time this week has been realizing I can do better. I can do better in the job that I do, whether it is in SBS or in Titus. I can invest in students more, I can be more thorough in my grading, I can be more intentional about reading more broadly so my lectures are richer. More importantly, however, I can do better in sharing the Gospel, whether it is with my students as I teach the Word, whether it is with strangers I meet, whether it is with people I already know who do not know the Truth.

On the last day of the DTS camping trip, the lecturer challenged the students to not tell themselves that because they “don’t have the gift of evangelism,” they are somehow excused from preaching the Gospel. I am so guilty of this. As an introvert, I’d convinced myself that I’m exempt from sharing the Truth. That is totally unbiblical. When Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20), He didn’t add, “except for you introverts. You get a free pass on this one.” God has called us all to share the Gospel – God has called me to share the Gospel. This means I need to bring my SBS lectures back to the centrality of the cross. This means I need to be listening to the Holy Spirit, obeying when I’m told to share the Truth, whether that is with a friend, a family member, or a complete stranger.

The Gospel is the most loving message in the world – we have been saved by grace. We are wholly undeserving – I am wholly undeserving – but God’s love has made a way for us to be restored into relationship with Him. Praise God! This is the best news in the world. Why wouldn’t I want to spend my life sharing it?! Lord, help me to make the Gospel – help me to make You – the centre of my life in every way.

DTS & Vulnerability in Community

Helen and I find ourselves in a new season with SBS wrapped up, and summer upon us. We did not get much of a break with Helen moving into running the kitchen, and me trying to do what I can as my collarbone mends. Though SBS is over until September, we have a new group of students bringing life to our campus: YWAM Turner Valley is running a new DTS program this summer – a “Mountain Venture DTS” (Discipleship Training School). It’s a privilege to serve this group in practical ways, and while doing so, I get to observe what God is doing in their lives. For the first time in my YWAM experience, I am not directly responsible for the spiritual development of a group of students, which means I can really focus on caring for their material needs, while getting to see how God brings this group together for the purpose of their growth in community.

Helen and I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with the DTS students, as the second week of their adventure DTS entailed a five day mountain camping trip; we were invited to come along to prepare meals for them so they could focus on their lectures. God really used this time of shared experience to draw the students closer to each other. He did this by giving them opportunities to be vulnerable with each other – both staff and students – whether it was sharing the trials of backwoods camping (like a bear coming through the campsite) or being brutally honest about their testimonies of the journey God has had them on. I can so often be afraid to share my story, yet very few things are as freeing as telling the story of your journey to others and feeling heard. The surprising part of vulnerability in Christian community is that it makes me stronger as I see what God is doing in the lives of others – it allows me to see that I am not walking alone. I am surrounded by brothers and sisters walking a similar journey. Satan would want me (and you) to walk alone because even he knows the body of Christ (and its members) is strongest when it is connected, and the life blood of the Spirit flows through it. My hope for our DTS students is that they will continue  to walk in openness being vulnerable with each other:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6).

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YWAM Turner Valley’s Discipleship Training School (staff and students).