I've been reflecting on the two years a little bit, trying to note God's grace in it all. And it's been grace filled. So, I thought I'd do a couple of posts. First two re-posts of some things that encouraged me three mongths and one year into our time here. And, Lord willing, tomorrow a post on encouragements since that time. I pray you're encouraged just as the Lord has encouraged me.
October 5, 2006--Things That Encourage Me As a Pastor
My beloved brother in Christ, friend, and mentor C.J. Mahaney frequently encourages Christians to look for "evidences of grace" in other Christians and the congregation. It's a good exhortation, especially for those of us who are more likely to see flaws in a 4-karat diamond than the brilliance it reflects. So, I've been thinking about CJ's instruction and my first six weeks at FBC, and here is a list of 39 (and counting!) evidences of God's grace in the life of the congregation that encourages me as a pastor and Christian.
The elders. I've joined a group of six men that have led this congregation for the past three years in some very difficult periods and who have forged strong affections for each other and for the congregation.
Hedley Robinson, an elder with deep humility, a godly tendency to err on the side of grace, and a sweet love for the Lord and His people.
Shane Foster, an elder who displays tenacity at doing the work of an elder, excellent leadership skills coupled with that humility that thinks more highly of others than himself, and a John Bunyan-like knack for seeing Scripture and understanding situations in clear pictures and parables. If you've read Pilgrim's Progress, you have a sense of what I'm saying here.
William MacTaggert is an elder full of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, patience, etc. He is gentle and yet passionate for the people of God here at FBC. He demonstrates that rare kind of wisdom: slow to speak, eager to listen and filled with God's Word from above.
Dave Jorge, an elder and pastor of worship, whose love for the people of FBC and Grand Cayman is tangible and unsurpassed, who passionately desires to see the people grow in their love for God.
Philip Pedley, an elder who has devoted himself to the counseling work of an elder, applying God's Word to most every question that comes before us as a group, and modeling deliberateness in the finest sense.
Duncan Nicol, my Scottish brother, an elder who speaks with a Scottish accent mingled with a Caribbean lilt, and who expresses a wide compassion for all of the people of FBC.
I'm encouraged by the prayer ministries of the church, the faithful band of folks who gather on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to bathe the church and the leadership in prayer, who call down heaven on this island and her people, and who encourage us all to enjoy this sweet communion with our Savior.
I'm encouraged with the sweet fellowship in the Word at our Wednesday night Bible study. What a fun time thinking together about Galatians, asking and answering questions, being formed together by God's Spirit through His Word.
I'm encouraged by the energy and zeal for the young people of the church displayed by the youth group volunteers who are pouring themselves into the teens. Similarly, there are the 'tweener volunteers who have recently started a new program for the 11-13 year olds and are laboring under the weight of early success, needing more volunteers, but rejoicing in the midst of God's goodness.
Then there is the choir. A bumpin' choir with great musical and singing talent that leads the congregation well in rejoicing in the Lord.
Deaconess Dorothy Scott, who is probably fainting with embarrassment at being mentioned in a public way like this, labors quietly, almost invisibly, until you see the fruit in people's lives from her benevolence ministry. I'm encouraged at the godly way she models service to others without seeking any applause or recognition.
I'm encouraged at the congregation's attitude of forgiveness. Though many were wounded from some unfortunate, sinful events a year ago, the prevailing response is a godly desire for reconciliation and forgiveness.
The elders' wives freely and cheerfully give up their husbands and some family time for the sake of the ministry and love for the church. That's tremendously generous and encouraging.
I'm encouraged by the marriages of the church, especially those who are fighting through difficulty and fighting for their marriages against assaults from the evil one.
Though the congregation is facing a challenging budget situation because of our debt, their response is a steadfast faith in the face of the challenge. The great majority are not flinching... but trusting in the Lord to provide.
The work of missions is very encouraging. The Lord has worked in the congregation to move individuals and the body to send and support the work of spreading His gospel around the globe. The fruit and joy of their labors is amazing.
There is Jennifer West, a young, talented single sister, who has forsaken the allurements of "island paradise" to labor with young people and young refugees in Costa Rica. Her faith is encouraging.
There is Jim and Karla, Wycliffe literacy staff, who have labored for ten years now among predominantly Muslim peoples in Asia.
There is Paul and Martha Buford who have cheerfully left large homes, family, business and friends to strengthen and establish churches in Honduras.
Also, the church's support of seminarians is tremendous given our size and financial situation. God has been gracious to us over the last several years. Bentley and Maureen Robinson are studying at Moorlands in the UK. Bentley is a humble lamb in person and a roaring lion in the pulpit. Maureen is a helper suitable to him with great faith in god and the singing voice of a bird.
David and Lori Nigh are studying at Southwestern preparing for the mission field. But they're not simply chillin' in a college student's schedule. They're faithfully serving at their local church and doing the work of evangelists among Hispanic people there in Texas.
The congregation's generosity in supporting these missionaries and seminarians is encouraging. Since we are not a part of a mechanism like the cooperative program, we're taking up the lion's share of support for most of these people. We're not the only support by any means, but the level of support is hugely generous and encouraging.
Moreover, I'm encouraged at the current proposal to raise the percentage of the budget dedicated to missions from 6% to 10% this budget year. It's a reflection of our growing desire to spread the gospel among all nations.
The volunteers who serve in children's ministry (especially extended session) are champions! The faithful who show up for their shift and for the shift of others' sometimes are people you can build a ministry on. There are folks who serve in the ministry to their own spiritual detriment--two of the coordinators (Kim and Pam) have essentially missed nearly every morning gathering of the church for two years. Ladies, that's tremendous service, but we're going to fix that!
I can't mention Meg Bodden enough. She is Ms. Encouragement. When's the last time your administrative assistant on her own accord listened to or read most everything available on the 9Marks website?
There is Carolyn Harrison, volunteer extraordinaire who is investing much of her available free time to helping out administratively around the church. She and her husband, Garnet, are some of the most hospitable and kind persons I know, often taking in newcomers and helping them adjust to the church and the island.
Speaking of Garnet, he's our deacon of finance. And he approaches the task with spiritual-mindedness and faith. He has a difficult job but he does it with class, which is to say he does it humbly, patiently, steadily, joyfully, and without complaint.
I'm greatly encouraged and grateful for the way the congregation loves my wife and children, caring for them, teaching them to swim and snorkel, inviting them to lunch, sending flowers on our anniversary, checking in on us during storms or power outages and so many others ways too numerous to list.
It's encouraging to serve people who seem to appreciate the preaching of the gospel. I don't notice any weariness at hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I am encouraged that they called me to be their pastor. It's a joy and a privilege to be called "pastor" by this congregation.
The way they understand and protect time for me to study and prepare adequately is quite encouraging and helpful.
The congregation's generosity in allowing me an outside ministry to other saints and churches is encouraging.
The body's desire to submit to and follow the leadership of the elders makes serving them a rewarding joy.
The congregation's desire to reach out to the broader community is a strength and an encouragement.
Their desire to be better evangelists and to reap a harvest for God's glory encourages me as a pastor.
The Filipino members of the church are a model for reaching out to others in the community without neglecting the overall unity of the body, maintaining our corporate identity as a church without abandoning a soul-seeking concern for other Filipinos who do not know the Lord.
I'm encouraged with the fellowship that goes on between many in the congregation... group lunches after church, cookouts at people's homes, and meeting up one-on-one during lunch breaks. That's a good foundation on which to expand and build a culture of mutual care and discipleship.
And I'm encouraged with the prayers the congregation offers for me. One lady encouraged the church to devote the month of September to pray for our pastors. Another sister emailed to let me know how she was praying for me as we approached the ordination service. And yesterday, I received this email from a saint letting me know how she was praying:
Thank you Pastor Thabiti for your email and prayers,I pray for you also, that you will receive numerous blessings and that your time here in Cayman will be a lengthy and fruitful one, bringing forth new believers in Christ. I pray that you will have a positive impact on our church - FBC and the community, that you will be recognized as a true disciple of Christ and that others will want to follow in your leadership. I also pray for FBC, that it will continue to grow in Christ, that each of us there will feel the need to serve God and each other.
Yep, I'm encouraged... and with many reasons to be so.
August 1, 2007--One Year Ago Today...
My family and I landed at Owen Roberts Int'l Airport in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. August 1, 2006 began a radically new and joyous life for us. And the past year has easily been one of the most exciting and rewarding I've ever lived.
Reflecting on the year, I thought I'd list a number of things (ten this time) that have been especially encouraging for me.
1. I have never seen my daughters more outgoing and comfortable than the year we've had in Grand Cayman. Naturally shy (like their dad), they've really blossomed here.
2. I've never seen my girls receive so much love and care from so many people young and old. The way the saints at FBC have loved my children has been tremendously encouraging as we've settled here.
3. There is simply no way to place a value on my wife's constant encouragement, support, and words of wisdom. She has been a phenomenal helpmeet in life and ministry.
4. We've seen the birth of our first son, Titus. What a blessing he has been. And like the girls, the folks here have just loved on him to no end.
5. Someone said to me before we left for Cayman, "Don't be surprised at the friends you'll make... some you expect and many you don't." How true that's been. The Lord has blessed us with new and dear friendships that we're enjoying all the time.
6. I'm heartened by the way many people in the congregation have been growing in response to God's word. The ways are too numerous to list really. But many are fighting sin like Christians, others are soaking up as much of the word as possible, some are trusting the Lord in difficult situations when they had once given up, the Lord is making visible many men with strong teaching gifts, and lots of people are shaping their families and life decisions by the word. I'm sure this was going on before my arrival; I'm not taking credit for any of it. But it's been a rewarding privilege to see the Lord working this fruit.
7. There is a sweet unity in the church.
8. I'm settling down as a preacher and getting to know the body better. That's been fun. Though I enjoy the privilege of laboring in other places from time to time, by far, my favorite place to preach is FBC.
9. The word of God is becoming more and more central in the life of the congregation in terms of how we understand our responsibility to one another and how we care for one another. The most brilliant example of that is the church's recent decision to remove an unrepentant brother from membership. It would not have been my choice to deal with something like this in the first year of service, but with meekness the congregation received the word (James 1:21), submitted to the very loving and able leadership of the elders (Heb. 13:17), and loved our brother the way Jesus would have us love him (Matt. 18:15-17). In my mind, this was a defining moment in the life of the body made possible by the congregation's love for and submission to the word of God as sufficient and authoritative.
10. I feel the significant partnership I have with the congregation in ministry here and outside the church. When I'm away, I know the saints are praying for me. Many pray for and encourage me in writing projects. And sending me off to serve in other places is an investment both in my own development, growth, and refreshment, and we trust an investment in the lives of other congregations and saints. I can't imagine a better congregation with whom to share and labor together in ministry.
There's much more I could list or describe. But suffice it to say that the first year at FBC has been a tremendous joy and the evidence of God's grace appears everywhere. I am thankful to the Lord, my family, and the saints at FBC for the privilege of laboring as a pastor here.