(A final Message as CCF’S Lead Pastor September 4th, 2011 by Nelson Okanya)
It is hard to believe that this day has come for me to preach my final message to you as your lead pastor. Jessica and I came to CCF in March of 2006 when you called me to serve as your associate pastor. We have done life together; we have prayed together, sung together, cried and mourned together as we went through life experiences marked with deep grief and pain. I buried some of your loved ones and grieved their loss with you.
We have also celebrated the beginnings of life together. I visited some of you in hospital when your babies were born and held those precious babies and saw your smiley faces as you gazed on their new eyes. I have dedicated some of your children and baptized some of you into the faith. I married some of you, walked with some of you through difficult marital situation and parenting journey.
As a community you have further affirmed my calling and have allowed me to grow in my calling; I was licensed as a pastor here and then later ordained and installed as your lead pastor following your overwhelming affirmation of my calling and gifts. Together we have seen other people called into the pastoral ministry most recently Jaye Lindo as our youth pastor and Caleb Kaye as our pastor of worship and small groups. I have watched with amazement as people serve whole-heartedly here both on staff and as volunteers. Truly, we are a community that actively seeks to love God, love people and live as disciples.
During our time here, the lord blessed us with two handsome sons, Barak and Izak. We experienced your caring and support as a community during these life transitions. You brought meals and gifts to our newborn babies. You held them and cuddled them in your arms and babysat them.
Some of you Robert and Marie even braved the night to help us get to the birthing center in the dead of the night just forty minutes before Izak was born. Who can take such experiences lightly? We do not!
You supported my family and me when my sister Lillian passed away in childbirth two years ago. That is one of the most terrible experiences I have gone through in my life. You gathered around us and prayed for us and also gave of your resources to fly me to Kenya and helped with the funeral expenses and you watched over my wife and son while I was in Kenya for almost two weeks. When I had a huge dental bill some of you found out and anonymously helped us with that bill and we still don’t even know who you are. This list goes on….
It was upon reflecting on our life together that I thought of a letter written from a man who had come to appreciate a faith community. Paul’s’ letter to the Philippians is addressed to a people he regarded with great affection and longed deeply to see again. I see you in the same way as Paul saw the Philippian community. A similar affection with which Paul wrote this letter as he responded to the community’s care for him while he was imprisoned for the sake of the gospel has captured my heart. They prayed for him and also met his needs in practical ways as well.
Because of their generous response to Paul’s needs while he was in prison, he praised their repeated generosity. But while praising their action towards him, he also made sure to assign credit where credit was due. What had happened had nothing to do with Paul or the Philippians but rather with God who made all things possible. Therefore, Paul expressed confidence in God whom he described as the ‘starter’ and the ‘finisher’, the ‘beginner’ and the ‘ender’ of all things. Paul was convinced that the repeated generosity of the Philippian community had the marks of God written all over it.
He therefore expressed confidence in God whom he believed was responsible through grace and mercy for what the action of generosity among the Philippians. When God’s act of mercy and grace transforms people, their whole look on life changes and they do things that display their changed lives. This is the essential mark of discipleship. For Paul, the generosity that he had received from the Philippians was a clear evidence of their changed lives in God. The fact that they were generously giving to meet the needs of a stranger (Paul was Jewish while Philippians were Europeans) from an entirely different culture and country was a clear indication that God’s transforming grace had taken root among them and Paul was even more convinced of this and hence his prayer that, “The God who began a good work in you will complete it by the day of king Jesus (v. 6).
You have done the same for us CCF and I say with Paul, the God who began a good work in you will complete the work, you only need to be faithful and remain committed. As Paul reflected on his relationship with the Philippians, he saw them as “partners” in the gospel (v.5), partners in grace (v.7); together with Paul they were in the gospel’s call, the call of grace, and their prayers and gifts proved their partnership. The experience convinced Paul that God was indeed at work among the Philippians and he kept them in his prayers always as he believed that God was at work among them changing lives. I look at you in the same way CCF, when I look back on the last almost six years of doing life together. It was precisely such a confidence that led him to pray this very passionate prayer,
“This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians. 1:9-11)
Paul prayed that the Philippians love would flow in knowledge and wisdom. True love for God leads to true love for others and that love is characterized with knowledge and wisdom. According to Paul, the wise love leads and guides people in moral discernment. Such discernment is crucial as we contemplate the coming day. Such discernment helps us to look to such a day with confidence and with joy. This joy this joy overflows with the fruit of right living.
I leave you with this prayer because like Paul, I believe that the one who began a good work is capable of completing it. So keep up the faith!
1. I will continue to thank God in all my remembrance of you
2. You will always be in my prayers
3. I am thankful for your partnership in ministry and look forward to the many ways this partnership will continue as God continues to work in and through us
4. I am convinced that the God who began the work of grace will complete the work
5. May your love flow in knowledge and wisdom in order to be able to discern what is right living; a life that is pure and blameless able to distinguish what is good from what is evil in a complex world.