Becoming Agents Of Transformation

The leaders at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas recently developed a mission statement to better direct our focus and activity: Pursuing Christ-likeness and community transformation according to the Word of God. The launch and promotion of this new mission statement included a 10-week sermon series from The Book of Nehemiah, changes to our signage, changes to our website and, most recently, this promotional video.

The footage for this video was shot by the very talented Tim Aylen. The editing for this video was executed beautifully by his daughter, Julia. My role was simply that of the narrator and cheerleader for my tech experts.

I’ll let this 2 minute video tell most of the story, but if I had to add a point it would be this: Our growth in Christ-likeness should benefit other people. As we experience transformation by Christ’s Spirit, we also become agents of transformation by Christ’s Spirit—we become God’s difference-makers in our local communities.

My 1st Nassau-versary

Nassau AnniversaryMy wife and I have been feeling quite sentimental the last few days as we consider all that has transpired in the past year. You see, today is our 1st “Nassau-versary”—one year ago today we moved from Toronto, Canada to Nassau, Bahamas.

I shared many of the details related to this transition in a post written in March 2010. This current post is intended as a kind of “Year in Review” that affords me the opportunity to say “Thank you” to those who have helped us along the way.

I’m inclined to keep this post brief having read this morning my wife’s reflection on our transition and believing that she has conveyed better than I  how we currently feel.

One year later, we feel at home.

The transition shouldn’t have been so smooth. None of us had ever lived outside of Ontario. The differences between Nassau and Toronto are too numerous to list. We left behind family, friends, and familiar culture. I left behind, not only a congregation, but a denomination. My wife gave up her Marriage and Therapy practice and transitioned with no guarantee of being able to establish a similar practice here. My 8 year-old daughter left behind the only home she has ever known and all that was to connected to it.

Somehow, in spite of these drastic changes, one year later, we feel at home.

There are many who deserve credit for this. I immediately think of my new congregation, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk. The people have been exceedingly kind toward me and my family. I am acutely aware of my flaws and my shortcomings as a pastor, and yet these shortcomings have been continually met by grace.

As I consider all of the Sessions I have worked with as a Moderator and Interim Moderator, I can say that my experience has always been largely positive. It has only been a year, but I am proud to say that my interaction with the Kirk Session here has been entirely positive. At our last meeting I explained why I hadn’t suggested that we have a Session retreat this year. My feeling was that every meeting felt like a Session retreat. I am so grateful for that.

Many Kirk members have offered hospitality to our family–taking us out for lunch, or having us over for dinner. This may be something that can be anticipated in most congregations, but it is something that I refuse to take for granted. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

There is always a danger in naming individuals while attempting to say thank you to a group, but I must. Two individuals have gone above and beyond what you might expect from any church leader. Earla Bethel and Robin Brownrigg, by every appearance, have made it their mission to help the MacPhails adapt, settle, and thrive in this new environment. I will forever remember and give thanks for their kindness to my family.

Above all else, I thank the Lord for His sovereign mercy in my life. He has controlled and managed the things that I could not. He has kept congregational conflict at bay. He has shown Himself faithful in so many ways.

I suspect that many people read a passage like Jeremiah 29:11ff and think, “I hope that holds true for me.”  It delights me to say that I have experienced the fulfillment of this promise in my transition here:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Grateful seems like too small a word to convey how I feel today on my Nassau-versary. I say that I feel at home, but I am quite open to the possibility that this might just be home.

Reformed Theology Page

The internet has changed drastically since I first published The Reformed Theology Source website in 1998. One of the great advances has been the vast number of reformed theology online resources that are now available. Some of my favourite of these resource websites, Monergism.com, Desiring God Ministries, Truth For Life, & Ligonier Ministries are bookmarked on the right hand side of this blog.

As you can see, The Reformed Theology Source has evolved into a WordPress blog entitled “Thinking Big”.  I have maintained a “Reformed Theology” page which contains some of the links from my original site. Thirteen years later, however, many of the original links I had posted got moved by the author or became extinct. As a result, my Reformed Theology page is a little thin on links/resources. I’m not looking to recreate a massive online database, but I am very interested in adding a few dozen Reformed resources….and I’d love your help.

I would be delighted if, in the comments section, you recommended some suitable links to buttress my reformed theology page. In particular, articles/sermons by the following are encouraged:

Calvin, Luther, Baxter, T.Watson, M.Mead, Owen, Bunyan, Edwards, Ryle, Spurgeon, Bonar, McCheyne, Pink, Lloyd-Jones, Boice, Sproul, Piper, Begg

If you prefer to recommend via facebook message or Twitter message, that works too! Thanks in advance.

Blogless In The Bahamas

It has been nearly a month since my last blog post. Prior to that, I was averaging only one post per week. What’s my problem? I’m not sure.

I have been so blessed by a number of conversations I’ve had with folks who are tracking my blog. I can’t say that I’m lacking motivation based on the feedback I’ve received.

Perhaps my lack of blogging can be attributed to the change in my ministry landscape. Being the “new pastor” at the Kirk in Nassau has compelled me to focus a lot more time on connecting with people than I otherwise might. Or maybe, spending more time with people is part of an evolution within my own ministry.

Friends who know me well know that I am quick to embrace the efficiencies afforded to me by technology. I’m carry an iPhone…everywhere. I use Facebook, Twitter, and even Gowalla (Which is probably my favourite social network utility). I use Skype to contact friends, family, and colleagues on a regular basis. I don’t think I’ll ever be guilty of not connecting with people by way of technological means.

I could, however, at times be guilty of not going the extra mile to connect by more intimate means–by phone or in person. I’m changing that. I’m having more meals and cups of coffee with church members than ever before. I’m also spending more time investing in people apart from the context of the church. I volunteer at a local orphanage once a week, and I’ve just committed to helping out weekly at a local mission to children ages 5 to 16.  I even joined a street hockey league and am connecting with people I might not otherwise meet (Mostly hockey starved Canadians living in The Bahamas).

Perhaps it sounds like I’m making excuses, but I hope that’s not the case. I do like blogging, but more and more I’m choosing face-to-face meetings over my computer screen. I’m not giving up on the blog, and I’m thinking that at the very least I’ll post my audio sermons here (Weekly?). I’ve just recently come to the realization that I probably won’t post as regularly as I once did.

For people still looking to track with me, Twitter & Facebook will keep you up to speed. Our Kirk (Church) website, http://www.standrewskirk.com, will give a more regular glimpse into my ministry activity. Or, if you live in Nassau, we could get a coffee together…in person. :-)

At Home In The Bahamas

“How are you and your family settling in?” is the question I am most frequently asked.

There has been an evolution to my response over the last couple of months….
“We’re slowly getting adjusted.”
“Just fine thank you.”
“We’re settling in nicely now.”
“We feel at home here.”

It may seem premature to say that I feel at home in The Bahamas, but that’s exactly how I feel. Early on in my time in Nassau, I would make reference to “back home” (i.e. Toronto, Canada), but lately I have been catching myself. Canada is where I’ve come from. Canada is where I’ve lived my entire life until this past June. I am a Canadian citizen. However, strictly speaking, home is right here in Nassau. I did not come here as a missionary for a term. I came here as a called pastor to stay for as long as the Lord permits (see James 4:13-16) and prospers the ministry here.

We’ve set up our house (home!) as a family that is here for the long term. Pictures have been hung, new furniture has been purchased, and we even adopted a Bahamian dog! (a 1.5 year old “Potcake”). Some of the large “practical” pieces of the puzzle are coming together—my daughter is happily enrolled in a fantastic school, and my wife has made some fantastic connections with great people. Today, I found out which street hockey team I will be playing for. Yes, the Nassau Street Hockey League is a big deal, and my aspiration for 2011 is to win the Stanley Conch (I’m not kidding!).

I realize that I’m just short of living here 4 months, but every indication is that this is where we belong. This is where God intends for us to be. The affirmation, generosity, and support from the Session at the Kirk has been off the charts positive. One of the exercises I’m delighted about is we’re devoting half of our Session meeting time to studying Francis Chan’s book, “Crazy Love“.

The congregation’s early response has also been massively positive. The Lord has been merciful in beginning to mend some of the historical wounds within our congregation. I am humbled by the notion that my presence has contributed in some way to the healing and progress we have experienced thus far. I am quick to remind folks, however, that “Apart from (Christ) we can do nothing” (John 15:5). Or, to frame that in the positive, I remind our people, “(We) can do all things through (Christ) who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13).

I’m simply a guy who is desperate for God’s help. And, I’m so pleased to report that God has hugely exceeded my lofty expectations (Ephesians 3:20, 21). I’m so thankful for grace that has indeed been sufficient for each day (2Corinthians 12:9).

The congregation appears to be growing—not simply numerically, but I sense lives being transformed. We’re also making some great friends along the way.

For the first month or two, I regarded the outpouring of hospitality and support as a function of my newness here. I imagined that the tremendous affection and sense of blessing we were feeling was a part of the “honeymoon” stage. But now I’m starting to wonder if maybe this is the way it’s going to be. Why does the blessing that we feel today about ministry in Nassau have to come to an end? Is it not possible that this is the way it’s going to be?

Challenges within the ministry here may lie ahead—I’ve never known a trouble-free ministry to exist. What I do expect will remain the same, however, is this acute sense that I really am at home in The Bahamas.