I really can't believe that two years have slipped into eternity past since we first arrived in Grand Cayman to join the family of saints at FBC. It seems we've hardly blinked and eternity future is two years closer!
I don't know if this will become an annual exercise (perhaps it should be monthly or weekly!), but I wanted to reflect a little bit on those two years of the Lord's grace to me, and I pray the church. Pretty much all the things mentioned in yesterday's post continue to be true. And in no particular order, here are some things for which I am grateful to the Lord.
1. I think it was Mark Dever that I heard say, "Young pastors often think they're being patient when they enter a new church. But in time, they come to see the church has been patient with them." Boy! How true that is in my own life and ministry! The saints have been tremendously patient with me in my two years here.
2. One way they've been patient with me is by sitting under my preaching as I continue to try and figure out (a) how to preach and (b) how to preach to the people here. By far, FBC is my favorite place to preach. There is a growing love, familiarity, and joy that comes from being with God's family week in and week out. And yet, with people from about 30 nationalities with no real clear super majorities (unless you count "Caribbean" as a general bloc), it's a joyful challenge to not fall back on my own cultural assumptions, to not reach for easy illustrations from my experience, to not assume too much in terms of language and idiom, etc. It's been a joyful challenge to try and rely more and more on the word itself to be the great lingua franca for our gathered life. And the saints have been patient and prayerful through it all.
3. And the Lord has blessed His word, just as He promised. Last night we had dinner with a young lady from the church who recounted the ways she has seen folks in the congregation growing from the ministry of the word in the pulpit, Sunday school, Wednesday nights, and small groups. I'm thankful for the partnership in the gospel that is being strengthened by God's grace as more gifted teachers invest in the teaching ministry of the church.
4. Stephen Ryan joined the church staff almost a year ago now. He was a promising young accountant with a bright future in that field should he desire it. But he opted to invest his life in the ministry of the church, directing some of our missions and youth efforts. His addition to the staff is a gift from the Lord.
5. On August 18th, Lord willing, a young man whom the church supported through Bible college, Bentley Robinson, will join the pastoral staff of the church. Bentley loves the people here. He is eager to serve, encourage, and disciple. And he is a gifted and passionate preacher of the word. In God's kindness, we'll be moving from strength to strength with Bentley joining staff.
6. Adding Bentley and Stephen to the staff is direct fruit from the generous and sacrificial and joyful giving of the church. Two years ago, the church was still recovering from the devastation Hurricane Ivan wrought in the island. The main part of the church building was pretty much gutted and rebuilding required taking on debt at a time where most people were out of work and probably a third of the island's population had to relocate to other countries. The saints agreed to contribute to a campaign we called "Treasures for Heaven." Above their regular giving, in just a little over a year, the congregation chipped a C.I. $1.1 million (US$ 1.3+) debt downed to under $300,000 today. The grace of God evident in faithful and sacrificial giving has been a great encouragement. And going forward, when completely freed from that debt, we look forward to the various ways we can invest approximately C.I. $340k per year into missions, church planting, and a host of other gospel ministries.
7. Conversions. How tremendously kind of the Lord to show us a season of converting power here in the congregation and on the island. I think of the housewife brought to her knees in a pool of tears, convicted over her sins of pride and rebellion against her husband, repentant, meeting him at the door confessing those sins, and trusting the Lord for her rescue from the coming wrath. She is perhaps the most joyous, loving and fruitful evangelist among us now. Or the young woman who first came to us as an atheist. She attended a volleyball fellowship at the invitation of a co-worker. Later she came to the Christmas concert to hear him sing. Soon she started attending the morning service and Wednesday night Bible study. We began an email conversation addressing some of her concerns and questions. Soon she began reasoning from inside the faith. And one Sunday, in God's matchless kindness, she was we trust transferred from death to life. There is the former marine biologist, committed evolutionist, who sat Sunday after Sunday weeping at the preaching of the gospel. A year later, he still weeps when He thinks of the Savior who invaded his life and overturned his worldview through the foolishness of preaching. There is the popular musical artist who had only known a peevish and sour "Christianity" who attended a children's program and heard the gospel with fresh ears. The Lord used the steady, joyful, freedom-embracing witness of a young couple to enflesh the effects of the gospel in a compelling and drawing way.
8. The congregations love growing to show equal concern for every member (1 Cor. 12:25). We're not there yet. Is any church ever "there" on this? But we're growing in our love for each other. Membership in the church is becoming more meaningful, as our union in Christ and His call for us to love one another becomes more explicit in our thinking and tangible in expression. We've had another case where our love was measured in the form of corrective discipline. We've shown love to people listed as members but who, in some cases, have not been active in the life of the church in 10 years. We've reached out to them over several months, and in love have removed many from membership. Already many who are actively involved have experienced deeper love for the body, greater concern for the spiritual well-being of other members, and a clearer sense of family encouragement and accountability. It's not as though those things weren't there before, but it's been encouraging to hear from even some newly re-connected members how "right" it feels to them that the body should be more closely knit and mutual love expressed in these ways.
9. Then there are the many new members who have joined over the last year. What a wonderfully diverse and joyful group of people! Each has become a part of the family and jumped in to serve.
10. We have experienced the Lord's grace to us in the appointing of new elders to help shepherd the sheep. Garnet Harrison, our former deacon of finance, and Shane Foster, a Barnabas of a man who returns to the eldership after a year's break, have already made tremendous contributions along with William, Duncan, and Dave who continue to serve. What a sweet year it's been, honoring men who served as elders but have come to the end of their terms... Hedley Robinson being the most recent.
11. Our missions work continues to meet with God's grace and blessing. We're adjusting some priorities and looking forward to more growth in this area. Many of the Filipino brothers and sisters have operated an evangelistic radio outreach and Bible studies to reach the Filipino community. God has given them reach and fruit in their efforts!
12. There are marriages back on track. And there are couples still fighting the fight of faith against serious attacks, failures, and sin. The Lord's grace is in it all.
13. Our partnership in the gospel has grown to include a few more speaking engagements and another book, What Is A Healthy Church Member? So much of that book is so evident in the lives of many, many people at FBC.
14. I see God's grace in Mrs. Heather's constant care for Ray. They've just celebrated their anniversary. Ray has fought significant limitations due to a stroke for almost two years now. And I think their love for one another is stronger than ever. So much teaching has gone on through their love for one another. And I praise God for it.
15. It would be improper for me to finish this short reflection--this is by no means all there is to consider--without honoring my wife and family. A man could not pray for or receive a more gracious, generous, kind, faithful, joyful, loving, involved, helpful, and zealous wife. She is better than I deserve, and her marks on my life and ministry are too many to count. The children take after their mother--and boy what a relief that is! The girls are thriving and they don't show any strain or resentment for being PKs. In fact, I think they delight in it, in no small measure because the congregation encourages and loves them so well, avoiding unfair expectations of them or putting them under a microscope. And Titus, now about 19 months, actually called me "pastor" the other night! With a big ol' smile he looked at me from his car seat and said, "Daddy... pastor."
I praise the Lord for the year that's past, and I look to His coming grace and omnipotent hand for the year ahead. May He richly bless FBC and all His churches with mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace.
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