800 Days In Paradise

My linkedin profile informed me this morning that it has been 103 days since I last posted on this blog. Undoubtedly, this is the longest gap between posts since launching my blog in January 2008. I don’t know how to account for this silence, and I can’t even say for certain that it won’t be another 103 days before I post again. What I can say is that after a little more than 2 years of pastoring at St. Andrew’s Kirk in The Bahamas, I have never been out “in the field” more than I have been here.

I don’t know if the Lord is turning me into a missionary or simply making me the kind of pastor I should have been all along. The best theological explanation I can offer is the one I gave during an interview with Wendell Jones on his television show. Having been prompted by The Great Commission throughout my ministry, I find myself newly challenged by the first imperative, which is the word “Go” (Matthew 28:19).

In the past, I have pastored as though I were in a fortress—focussing mainly on those who were already on the inside. Today, I find myself keenly interested in reaching those who have yet to confess Christ, and those who have yet to connect themselves with a local church community. I often find myself in the neighborhood just south of the Kirk, Bain & Grant’s Town. I find myself making weekly visits to the local orphanage, Ranfurly Homes For Children. I have even found it fruitful for me to be a part of the Nassau Street Hockey League.

The counterintuitive aspect of this new focus is that the more we focus on those outside of the Kirk, the more we seem to be growing inside the Kirk. We remain a modest sized congregation to be sure, but I marvel on how progress on the inside can be the consequence of giving careful attention to those on the outside.

I am so proud of the Kirk’s leaders who have not only supported this ministry trajectory, but have encouraged it. This emphasis in reaching the community would not have been nearly as effective if it were only me “going” out. The number of Kirk members engaging our community is increasing and, by every appearance, it is making a profound difference in the lives of, both, those serving and those being served.

I think what I am trying to say is this: After more than 800 days as pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk, I couldn’t be happier.

Many predicted that my “honeymoon” stage with this congregation would eventually come to an end—and it still may. But I’m confident that this honeymoon will transition into a relationship marked by even deeper love and concern.

I’m often asked—by those within the Kirk, and those outside the Kirk—how long do I plan on staying? Ultimately, that is up to the Lord, but my intention is to stay in Nassau a very long time.

There is much work to be done, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of all that God calls us to do. But I think it is important for me to remind the people I serve that I regard it to be a massive privilege, and a source of great joy, to be their pastor and friend.

See you in 103 days (or less).

Jesus Forsaken For Us

On Maundy Thursday I was interviewed on JCN’s “The Platform” by Wendell Jones and Godfrey Eneas. I was asked to explain why Jesus exclaimed “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” while hanging on the cross. The video above provides part of my answer. The audio below is a more comprehensive answer from my Good Friday message, delivered at St. Andrew’s Kirk, “God Forsaken For Our Sake”.

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I Need Thee, O I Need Thee

As a part of our congregation’s desire to promote theological education, we produce a recommended reading list for our congregation a few times a year. The list of 9 books that we recently recommended were all about the church. (Transformational Church, Simple Church, The Irresistible Church, The Purpose Driven Church, Being The Body, Nine Marks Of A Healthy Church, Onward Christian Soldiers, The Trellis and The Vine, 7 Practices Of Effective Ministry).

All nine of the books we recommended have been helpful in shaping me as a pastor and as a leader of a local congregation. I am grateful for these resources and for those who have produced them. One of the common features you’ll find when reading books about the church is there often is a prescribed number of activities or habits—“9 Marks”, “7 Practices”, “12 Traits”, 5 steps, and so on.

I recognize that such numbers are intended to focus our effort, rather than serve as an exhaustive list of things needed for ministry. Allow me then to weigh in with this brief post, offering but one trait to pursue: desperation.

Yes, desperation.

Of all the things that have served me well in my 15 years of ministry, desperation for God’s presence in my life has been the most vital asset.

That’s not to suggest that nothing else matters. Leadership matters. Good preaching is a must. There is value in strong administration. Wise delegation is critical. A mission emphasis is needed. The list is long. I get why some want to boil the list down to 12, 9, 7, etc.

There are times, however, when it has been helpful for me to focus on one thing. The pressure of pastoring effectively can be intense, and the responsibilities set before us are often numerous. What keeps my anxiety at bay is the notion that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Accordingly, I find that the one thing I must do is seek God with all that is within me. I am quite literally desperate for His help, remembering the words of Jesus, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

I’ve been reading the Book of Exodus lately and I’ve found myself resonating with Moses who, by every appearance, was also desperate for the presence of God. Moses is struggling to lead the Hebrew people through the desert and is constantly coming to God for assurance of His favor. Accommodating Moses’ desperation, the Lord replies, “My presence will go with you” (Exodus 33:14).

I love Moses’ response: “If Your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).

Moses understands that it would be a complete waste of time to attempt to lead, or do anything, without God’s help.

I long for every Christian pastor to come to that same realization. That, before we seek to implement our 24 step plan, before we launch that new outreach program, before we seek to do anything…we seek God first.

Friend, I urge you: Be desperate for God.

Few hymns capture such a spirit the way the hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour, does.

I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby;
temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;
come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

We want our efforts to count for something. We don’t want anything that we do to be in vain. There is a way to make things count. There is a particular way to go if we want to make a lasting difference. We need to go with God…Every step of the way.

As a pastor, one of the best things I can do for the congregation entrusted to my care is to model desperation. Model desperation for the One “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Stay desperate my friends!

Tebow, Prayer, & Bahamian Street Hockey

2012 Stanley Conch ChampionsThis might be the strangest title I have ever used for a blog post, so I should probably connect the dots for my readers.

After moving to The Bahamas in June 2010, I joined the Nassau Street Hockey league—playing for the Potter’s Cay Pirates in my first year and then playing for the (Stanley Conch Champion) Nassau Hurricanes in year two.

Aside from the fun I have playing hockey with a great bunch of guys, it has been amusing to observe how my teammates and opponents have engaged me. I’m pretty sure that a few of these guys aren’t used to having a pastor around, and I’m likely the first “preacher” to play regularly in the NSHL.

Some of the players have admitted to testing me with behind-the-play “bumps”, elbows, and theologically rich chirping. One of the comments I’ve heard a couple of times has followed my making a save, “Rev., let’s see you Tebow!” (In the event you don’t know what “Tebowing” is you will need to read this article.)

For many of these guys, the frame of reference for a devout Christian playing sports is Tim Tebow. I am a huge Tebow fan, but I’ve always resisted the invitation to “Tebow” after a big save. Which leads me to the reason for this post. How does a devout Christian engage God prior to, and during, a competitive match?

My instinct is to pray. I pray a lot before the game, and I pray a lot during the game. To my teammates and opponents it probably just looks like I’m intensely focussed. I don’t bow my head. I don’t close my eyes. I don’t “Tebow”. But I pray.

Tim Tebow

What do I pray for?

I pray for a bunch of things, but one thing I don’t pray for is a win. I wonder if my inspiration for not praying for a win will surprise you…It’s Tim Tebow. I’ve enjoyed reading Tebow’s autobiography, “Through My Eyes”, and hugely resonated with this comment in particular:

“I’m not sure God is into who wins or loses—He probably is more concerned with what you do in the process and what you will do with either result.”

I’m acutely aware that my attitude and actions on the rink can positively or negatively impact another person’s view of Christ and Christianity. Hockey is a rough sport and there is a fine line between playing tough and still keeping it clean. Accordingly, my most frequent prayer is for my attitude towards others. I’ve been speared, butt-ended, and even thrown into the net—it’s not fun, and it tests your self-control. That’s part of the reason I need to pray.

As a goalie, I also pray that I don’t let in any weak goals. That probably sounds very close to praying for a win, but I can honestly say that I don’t mind losing. What I mind is being the cause of our losing. I let in some bad goals this year, but thankfully that wasn’t the case in the Stanley Conch Finals.

I didn’t sign up to play goalie. Although I played goalie in ice hockey for 30 years, I didn’t like the idea of putting on all that gear in this tropical Bahamian heat. But when our regular goalie quit, I was pressed into action without even having all of the necessary equipment. Accordingly, I did pray for a measure of safety as one of the pieces of equipment I was missing was a cup. If Chris Wheaton had hit me with a shot there, I might never have walked quite right again.

So yes, pray before you play and, as you have opportunity, pray while you play. I don’t want to be overly demonstrative with that. I don’t want to draw attention to myself when I’m praying. But I do need to pray. I do so remembering the apostle Paul’s instruction, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thess. 5:16-18).

I thank God for the opportunity to play street hockey in The Bahamas, and I am grateful to do so with a great bunch of guys–even when they slash me.

The Blessing Of Bad Traffic

[I will probably regret writing this post the next time I am running late because of bad traffic.]

Traffic jams are a daily problem in Nassau. I assumed that all my years living in traffic heavy Toronto would prepare me for the traffic challenges of this 22 by 6 mile island. I was wrong.

My GPS tells me that the drive from my home to my church office should take me 7 minutes. Rarely, do I get there in less than 20. On occasion, this short drive has taken me more than 60 minutes.

At this moment, I’m sitting at my desk, at the church, in downtown Nassau. There is no use trying to go anywhere. I’m stuck here—and that’s the blessing. Terrible traffic is enabling me to do some extra things today–like write this blog post (I haven’t written a post in more than 5 weeks). I’ve had more time to read my Bible. I’ve had more time to pray. You might say that I’m experiencing a forced retreat, but I’d prefer to think that I am rolling with providence.

There is no use in me belly-aching about conditions beyond my control. I know the cliche is that “When life serves you lemons, make lemonade”, but the Christian recognizes that “life” doesn’t have the ability to serve you anything. We serve a God who is sovereign over all things. Nothing takes God by surprise. Jesus reminds us,

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

There is so much in that little text. God is not too busy with “big” things that He cannot care for the little things. He cares about the smallest detail of your life. In short, you matter to God. On this basis, Jesus tells us to not be afraid and to not worry about trying or uncertain circumstances (Matthew 6:25-34).

I do realize that traffic congestion is a tiny issue in the greater scheme of things, but I rejoice that God’s purposes remain even in the tiny things.

I don’t always use my time wisely. And I don’t always have a positive view about the traffic here in Nassau. But today, I thank God for an opportunity to catch up on some things that matter immensely. I am grateful for the fact that, out of a negative thing (insane traffic), can come a positive thing (an opportunity for more intentional communion with God).

You might not live in a place with traffic problems, but perhaps you know what it is like to have your plans interrupted by adverse or unexpected circumstances. “Life” did not serve you “lemons”. God has entered in. How will you respond?

Jesus tells us not to be afraid and to not worry.

That’s a lot easier to do when we position ourselves in close proximity to Jesus Christ. But perhaps that is God’s intention with the adversity or interruption that you’ve encountered.

Eventually, the traffic will ease up and you’ll be on the move again. Until then, let me encourage you to use this time to draw close to God. That’s what He wants, and that’s what we need.