Preaching in Paradise

Yes, I am using the term ‘paradise’ loosely. Jesus referred to heaven as “paradise” (Luke 23:43). Needless to say, that’s not the paradise that I’m speaking of. And yet, for a preacher who has never lived more than a three hour drive from where he was born, Freeport Grand Bahama feels a bit like paradise–the earthly version.

I’m privileged to have been invited to preach for a month at Lucaya Presbyterian Kirk in the Bahamas. This is my second tour of duty in this capacity, the first coming in 2007. If I can pull myself away from the beach, I hope to blog a little bit about my experience here in tropical paradise.

I’m in my 4th day of this 29 day adventure and two things in particular are standing out. The warmth and the warmth. The first kind of warmth was expected. It is crazy hot down here. Let’s just say the air conditioner in my condo is set at 80 degrees, and I feel remarkably refreshed when I come in from outside.

The second kind of warmth I have experienced is the warmth of hospitality. Bahamians treat their visitors extremely well. Tonight will be the 3rd time in 4 nights where someone had me over for dinner.  The folks from the Kirk have been kind and generous. The condo where I am staying belongs to a couple from the church who are currently in Scotland. I have never met them, and yet they were eager to accommodate me and my family.

There is a culture of friendliness down here which is winsome and attractive. I was grocery shopping the other day and was amazed at the number of people who said ‘Hello’ or ‘Good morning’ to me. Here I was, a stranger, in an unfamiliar place, being treated as if I always shopped in this store.

Once I was settled I then sought out a gym to help me counter all of the extra calories I was anticipating to consume. I found the same spirit there—warm, welcoming, and sincere. By day 2 the gym staff were treating me like a life-long member. I was, and am, amazed.

And now a passage comes to my mind, from 1Peter 4:8-10:

Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.

That sounds great, but how often do we see that? How often does love, joyful hospitality, and generous service describe your experience within a community? How often does it describe your interaction with others?

I would love for the local church to be marked by the kind of hospitality I’ve seen on this island. That visitors would come to church and be made to feel as if they’ve always been here.

I’m inspired by the example of my Bahamian friends. Hospitality is a huge deal.

I came to this island believing that it was the first kind of warmth (temperature) that made this ‘paradise’. But I expect that by the time I leave it will be the second kind of warmth (hospitality) which will cause me to exclaim, ‘I’ve been to paradise!’

 

The Power Of Joy

Joy is strength-giving. Think about your energy levels as you perform certain tasks. Isn’t it true that the more joyful you are, the greater your capacity to complete the task?

Is was asserted in my previous post, “Superior Joy“, that the joy that originates from God is the greatest kind of joy in the world. If that is true, then you would expect greater joy to bring greater strength.

This is precisely the principle we see at work in the Book of Nehemiah. Seemingly against all odds, the walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt. The people gather for worship. The Law is read and explained. The people are contrite, and then Nehemiah directs them: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Yes, joy is strength-giving.

On Sunday July 12 at St. Giles Kingsway and at The Well, we studied Nehemiah 8:10 and 12:43 with a view to gaining this God-given, strength-producing, joy.

It was noted that acquiring “great joy” (Nehemiah 8:17) is not an automatic thing, but rather it is something we pursue as we seek to live in close proximity to the Lord.

Within the message, you will observe 4 key things that are enhanced when we possess the strength-giving joy of the Lord. I want that for every follower of Jesus. Have a listen, and may it soon be said of you that “(your) joy was heard from afar” (Nehemiah 12:43).

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Superior Joy

Not all joy is alike.

The origin of your joy has massive implications for the quality and character of your joy.  Much of the time our joy is fleeting because it is connected to circumstances which are constantly shifting. For example–when the Toronto Blue Jays win, I am joyful. But if they lose the very next day, my joy in their previous win dissipates.

Joy from some sources have a better quality than joy from other sources. I would contend that the best joy in the world has its origin in God. King David affirms the same in Psalm 4 when he writes:

You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:7,8)

David compares the joy that the Lord has given to him with the joy that comes from worldly gain. His conclusion: No contest! Superior joy comes from God. Enduring joy comes from God. Joy that transcends our circumstances comes from God.

That’s the kind of joy I strive after each and every day. On Sunday July 5 at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well we examined Psalm 4 with a view to gaining this joy. Have a listen to the audio below. Superior joy is within your reach!

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A Memorable Day

Most of my days feel ordinary. I wake up, clean up, pour myself a cup of coffee, and update my Twitter status. From there I’m off and running with the usual business of being a pastor. Often that means lots of reading, writing, and praying. Sundays are a bit different. Sundays tend to be the overflow of the work done throughout the week. Sundays are special for me, but it would be hard to say that one Sunday is better, or more memorable, than another.

Today was one of those exceptions. At St. Giles Kingsway, we celebrated Kingsway Adventure Camp Sunday—the final event of our week long Vacation Bible School. I loved seeing the kids pour in just ahead of 10am, full of excitement , ready to sing their songs for the congregation, and wearing their ‘outback’ hats (part of the VBS theme).

Many of these kids had no previous connection to St. Giles Kingsway, and so they came accompanied by parents who also had no previous connection to our church.  I hope we made a good first impression. My text was Nehemiah 8:10, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (I anticipate posting the audio this week). The key points were that joy from the Lord is strength-giving, but to gain this joy we must live in close proximity to the Lord.

At 11:15am, I switch locations to the Sports Hall for The Well. I was delighted that many of our first time attendees from 10am made a point of checking out our alternative service also. The feedback was hugely positive.

A quick lunch and then I’m off to visit a dear elderly lady in the congregation who has been house-bound for quite some time. Just as I’m about to leave, I take the lady’s hand and ask to pray for her. She responds by asking me if I could serve her the Lord’s Supper. I didn’t bring my portable communion kit with me, but she doesn’t realize this. Her son and I exchange glances as if to ask one another, “What should we do?”

We get up and head to the kitchen to find suitable items to serve as the elements for communion.

“Do you have any grape juice”, I ask.

“No. Sorry”, is the reply.

“Wine?”

“My mother doesn’t drink.”

Hmmm. Now what?

“Do you have any kind of juice?”

“Just prune juice” is the reply.

“Ok, we’ll use that”, I said, acting as if prune juice is the perfect substitute.

I would’ve thought procuring the bread would be easy, but even then we had to cut and defrost whole wheat Wonder bread.

This was a first for me. Full communion with prune juice and newly defrosted Wonder bread as the elements. It is conceivable that someone might read this post and think, ‘Sacrilege’, but I would contend that this three person gathering for the Lord’s Supper might be one of the more holy moments in ministry I have been a part of. It was a privilege.

From there I was off to visit another dear lady in our congregation. The circumstances for this visit were markedly different. I had just learned this morning that this lady’s son had died suddenly, stemming from complications from a recent surgery. I was unprepared in a different sense for this visit. This time I didn’t know what to say. That didn’t change as the visit progressed and so I mainly sat and listened—asking just a few questions along the way. I closed the visit in prayer for her family while gleaning a sense of how acute her grief was.

Some might say that this is the ‘tough part’ of being a pastor. This is tough stuff to be sure, but I regard this to be part of what makes being a pastor such a massive privilege. To engage people who are hurting, to pray for them, and to assure them that we serve a great Saviour—A Saviour who is an ever present help in times of trouble (see Psalm 23 and Psalm 46).

Most of my days seem ordinary, but not today.

Today was a memorable day.

Remembering Rachel

I just received word that our friend, Rachel Barkey, has gone to be with the Lord. Rachel leaves a legacy of vibrant, steadfast, faith. Undoubtedly, Rachel’s message from March of this year will continue to inspire many to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.

Remember Rachel’s husband, Neil, and their children, Quinn, and Kate in your prayers.

The words of the apostle Paul, nearly two thousand years ago, seem appropriate for a time such as this:

 

The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.

To read more about Rachel’s story, click here.