I write this on the eve of another baptism in our church; of several more who will stand before their friends and famiies and make an initial step of obedience, giving testimony of what has already taken place in their hearts, giving glory to God and making a declaration that they will follow Christ. And as we look today at what is happening here in this church, in the lives of so many, we can easily say "we did the right thing, for look at what has happened, but we need to hold back that thought.While it offers great encouragement to me, and I rejoice so often as I see the growth of the church, it can cause us to forget required steps as we are employed by God in the building of His Church. We are still and always need to be concerned with the materials used in the build. 1 Cor 3:10-13
As John MacArthur taught through Matthew, he drew an illustration from Jesus life, and highlighted a transition in Jesus life. In Matthew 13:1, it records, That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. While this seems to only be a change in location, from land to speaking off shore, this also seems to point to a transitional point in His ministry. Jesus ministry to this point had mostly been one where He went house to house, and the house represented Israel. But now he stands off shore, ministering to different people. Something new has happened. He has left the "house", and from here on, his recorded ministry is teaching by the seaside, teaching on the highways and byways, in the village streets, on the hillsides, and in the countryside. Having started in the synagogues, there appears to be a turning point in Jesus life, a subtle statement, a new dimension, less time in the synagogue, and now among a great multitude.
I am reminded of a letter I had to write. I was on a hill, away from the busy activities on the houseboat far below me. We were gathered there as the Amani Acres Christian Academy group, and this was the "best field trip ever!". But for me at that time, I was saddened by my having to write a letter of resignation from my current position as an elder at the church I grew up in, brought my wife to, and my children knew so well.
My decision to leave that fellowship was hard on my family, for those I left behind and for my own, who would suffer severed relationships, and yet, I knew this what I needed to do, as there was such a separation within the leadership, and in light of several events, my decision was confirmed as the right one for my family. Recognizing, we left behind many who continue to stand faithful to their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and others have gone on before to meet our Saviour face to face. Someday, we will rejoice together again in heaven.
Tony Zlot served with me there and he too saw this same time as appropriate for him to bring his family with us, having addressed the leadership with a similar letter. And there were others who had felt the need to leave that same fellowship. Emily Ford, Sarah Osinchuck(Kinter),Howard and Kelly Brown and family, Ken and Deb Burton, Paige and Shelby.
It was the next Sunday we sought to sit under another faithful man we had grown to love, and all made a two hour trip to Grace Reformed Baptist Church(now Gracelife) in Edmonton to be taught by Pastor Lyle. And what an encouragement it was to us all. It is amazing to travel so far, to meet with "friends" who we had never known before, and we thank that entire church for the warm hospitality offered there.
But for me, it was the moment after the service, even after most had left, which was most impactful to me. As I recall, Pastor Lyle was talking with Howard, Tony and I, and a question was directed to us. A simple direct question. It took me back initially, but how it impacted me.
"Why are you here?"
My unrehearsed response: "We know this is a faithful church and that this is a place where I could bring my family to worship."
Pastor Lyle repeated the question. "No, why are you here?"
My delayed response was evident, as I stammered for another reason why we would travel there, and wondered if he heard me.
Pastor Lyle continued. "Why are you here? Howard, I know you can teach, and from what I hear, these men can too." So why are you here? Do you have a place where you could meet? You guys need to start a new work."
Still unsure of the concept, I did offer. "I guess we do have Amani Acres, which was a private school, and resided in our yard."
And so it began, discussing the possibility, and the means and even the name for our new gathering and the following Sunday, June 29, 2008, 22 of us met together in a small two room building.
Howard, Tony and I took on the role of teaching elders within the church, maintaining a similar level of leadership as we had previously.
I can remember our intial focus was looking to God's Word to learn "how to do church", holding fast to the principles taught there and living our lives according to that standard.
Our emphasis was, and still is, to provide a careful study and verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible, with special attention devoted to the historical and grammatical background behind each passage.
From a leadership perspective, our lives were busier than ever, having comitted to fulfilling this ministry and at the same time, providing for our families.
Tony and Howard each took a book of the Bible and started teaching verse by verse expositing the tremendous truths found there, while I focused on following an outline found in John MacArthur's book The Masters Plan for the Church, using his book as a starting point but exegeting a different passage each week.
And God caused the growth. We were merely instruments in His hand, and as each member reached out to family, to friends, the church was added to.
And how great it was to see changed hearts and transormed lives.
The Lord has us "Off shore" now, ministering in a new area with new people, and how they desire to hear, to learn God's Word and how I have seen the reality of a saving Gospel; that it produces changed lives, lives that adorn the Gospel and demonstrate obedience.
What a joy it is to be able to look back at what we have come through, and know that it was not by our strength, for we once saw the task as impossible, a hill we could never get over. But God was faithful. He was and always will be, and having faced those trials before, we look ahead with greater anticipation at what it before us now entrusting our lives to a sovereign God.