City of Contrasts

The islands of New Providence and Paradise Island have provided me with a very unique experience thus far. There is an opulence here that surpasses anything I ever witnessed in Toronto. But there is also widespread poverty here that is startling and heart-wrenching.

And, incredibly, these two contexts exist almost side by side.

Just last week I had the opportunity to visit Atlantis Resort with my family. Atlantis is one of the most highly regarded resorts on the planet. Everything about this resort is 1st Class. Within Atlantis there is absolutely no sign of poverty, and so it is easy to forget the desperation that is nearby.

This is not my experience when I am at my office at the Kirk. It is often the case that when I look out my office window I see a man sleeping on the shaded porch in front of our church doors. The man who sleeps here is known to us, and we welcome him. I don’t yet know “his story”, but I know that he is often hungry and that he is often in desperate need. I have provided meals for him, and he now owns some of my t-shirts, and yet I realize that I’ve done little to change his predicament. Today I “caught” my friend washing my vehicle…I was humbled by his thoughtfulness. I pray that as I get to know this man better, we might begin to talk about more personal things, and that I might have opportunity to share the Gospel with him.

Last evening I had the privilege of playing tennis at the prestigious Ocean Club on Paradise Island. Again, not the slightest hint of poverty anywhere nearby (For that matter, not the slightest hint of the middle class!). Playing tennis here once a week with one of the Kirk’s members has become a recent custom for me which I enjoy very much. I am mindful, however, that this experience is exceptional rather than normative.

Tomorrow morning I will be visiting a place for the first time called Ranfurly Homes, which is a residence for children who have been orphaned, abused, neglected, or abandoned. I don’t know what the visit will hold, but I suspect it will further remind me how profoundly varied the living conditions are for the residents of New Providence/Paradise Island.

One approach might be to shun the “high life”, and focus my time and energy on those who have little or nothing. Another approach might be to shrug my shoulders at the impoverished conditions and say, “It is what it is”, and then go hit some tennis balls.

I have a different resolve. Rich or poor, we perish apart from Christ (John 3:16-18). The Lord has placed me in a context where I have the opportunity to live among people with vastly different personal situations. All of these people, however, share a single need: Jesus.

As I continue to become accustomed to this city of contrasts, my resolve is, and will continue to be, to love all people and to preach Jesus.

Church Growth

It has barely been a month since being inducted into my new charge and I am already thinking about “church growth”.  For me, experiencing growth within a congregation is not something that happens because I “perform” well, or because I successfully implemented some creative “outreach” initiatives. No, my expectation for congregational growth comes largely from two things:

1) Jesus promises growth

2) Growth was the normal experience of the Early Church

While I recognize that growth occurs at different rates, and often over a long period of time, my confidence comes from the declaration of Jesus who promises, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).

This does not mean that I can sit idly by, and expect the Lord to grow the congregation I serve. I’m mindful of the call for us to “pray to the Lord of the harvest” (Luke 10:2), and the need for us to actively pursue those living apart from the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 15). What the promise of Jesus (Mt. 16:18) does is it assures us that such efforts will not be in vain.

It delights me to read about the experience of growth in the Early Church. I note that they did not have a state-of-the-art facility or a “cutting edge”, culturally relevant, strategy. What I observe is their genuine, earnest, devotion to the Lord evidenced in their attentiveness to the Scriptures, to prayer, and to one another (Acts 2:42-46). I also note that their community gathering was not a weekly thing, but an every day thing. Even their “personal possessions” were not off limits—selfless generosity carried the day.

And the result? “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

We are nearly 2000 years removed from the Early Church. It is common to cite how dramatically things have changed in the world since then, and it is tempting to suggest that we can no longer expect such growth in our present day. And yet, I do not think that the promise of Jesus has an expiry date. Accordingly, I am compelled to believe the congregation growth should be the normal experience of the 21st Century Church.

There is work to be done. We must pray. We must engage our not-yet-Christian friends. We must proclaim Christ with our words and with our lifestyle, but we should do so encouraged by the promise of Christ to build His Church.

At St. Andrew’s Kirk, on Sunday, June 27, I exhorted (audio message below) the congregation here to actively pursue those living apart from Christ. Some have already begun that work. I pray that this continues and that eventually we too will experience what is commonly referred to as “church growth”.

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Why You Need To Try Another Church

If you regularly attend a local church, which you love and serve at, this blog post is not for you.

If, however, you attend a church which frustrates and disappoints you, please read on. Or, perhaps you’ve given up on church altogether. Maybe you grew up in the church, but as soon as you were old enough to choose for yourself, you decided, ‘This isn’t for me.’ It might be that you had such a bad experience with church that you’ve resolved, ‘Never again.’

I want to urge you to reconsider. I want you to try another church.

Last week the MacPhail’s were invited to a friend’s home in Nassau for some Bahamian food. As the platters of food were set out before us, I became sufficiently excited about the menu options in front of me. One platter in particular, however, gave me pause. There was a plate of fried plantains that I was eager to avoid.

A couple of years ago, when we were eating at a restaurant in Freeport, Bahamas, I tried fried plantains for the first time. I absolutely hated this dish. The plantains we mushy and messy. Imagine an overripe banana, served warm. Yuck! I couldn’t finish the serving. And, having tried this new food, I resolved that my first taste of plantains would be my last. That all changed last week.

Good manners compelled me to try plantains again, and so I put two small pieces on my plate….and loved it! If I was blindfolded, I might have guessed that I was eating cooked apples that were rolled in cinnamon. But I wasn’t–I was eating plantains, and was looking for more.

I have met many individuals who have abandoned Christianity because of their bad experience in one or two churches—but does that make sense? If I go to a restaurant and, as a result, I get food poisoning, does it make sense to swear off eating at all restaurants? No—what would make sense would be to stop going to the restaurant that poisoned you and you find another restaurant, where the food satisfies you.

I fear that there are a plethora of people out there who have bailed on corporate Christian fellowship because of a negative experience within a local congregation. I don’t mean to sound unkind when I say that such a resolution follows a skewed string of logic. I almost employed that same skewed logic the evening when a platter of plantains was put in front of me. I’m so glad I gave plantains another try. They were amazing!

Could it be that you are overdue to give church another try? Perhaps your experience has been limited to a congregation chosen by your parents. Have you taken the time to identify a congregation more suited to you, and your life experiences and spiritual needs?

I readily confess that there are some bad churches out there. I have experienced congregations that are doctrinally mushy and relationally messy. But I also know of congregations that are sweet, and help bring satisfaction to the soul. I don’t want you to miss out on those.

No doubt, those reading this blog post will have varied backgrounds and experiences. But for those who are not currently connected to a congregation, my counsel is simple: You need to try another church.