12 years ago, the Holy Spirit called Jean and I to OCBC. At that time, we were given the charge to build up the English Congregation, particularly among the group of youth and college students that populated the English Congregation at that time. It was my experiences and calling as a missionary that led me to come to OCBC, and I approached the work as a missionary, working to build up the ministry while helping to guide these young people as they graduated, began work, got married and had children. As I trained them, I always told them there would come a time when I would hand them off to another pastor who would stabilize and build upon the work we had begun.
About five years ago, I was beginning to sense the our congregation had grown up. The generation that was there when I first arrived are now adults. They are serving on our church board and leading our ministry team and small groups. The English Congregation is no longer a youth ministry or young adult ministry - it is fully a multi-generational, multi-cultural expression of the church. We’ve welcomed more adults and families into our church in the past three years than the previous nine years combined. As we matured into a more well-established congregation, I began to sense that they needed a pastor to sustain and care for them, rather than missionary to build them up.
Over the last five years, I have tried to be that pastor. Three years ago I took a four-month sabbatical to shadow a senior pastor at another church and have tried, with varying success to fill that role over the past three years. However, I am again sensing that the time is near for me to pass off this ministry to another, and hear the call of the Holy Spirit to again seek a fresh work of evangelism, discipleship and missions. I am not sure as to what or where that work would be, only that I would be disobeying the Holy Spirit if I were to put off His call for another three years.
This decision has come with a great deal of heartache, as I do sincerely love all the brothers and sisters at OCBC. You have been our church family for nearly our entire adult lives. Our kids grew up here with many loving aunties and uncles. We love you and will always pray for you with joy because our your partnership in the gospel with us.
Jean and I want you to know that we are not leaving immediately. After I step down from being English pastor on September 4, we hope to remain in Ottawa as we discern our next calling. As long as we remain in Ottawa and do not have responsibilities elsewhere, we hope to continue fellowshipping with you as regular members of OCBC, so long as our remaining with you is mutually beneficial and encouraging to both the church and our family.
[From EMT Coordinator]
We would like to pray for Pastor Dan, but first I'd like to just share a few words on behalf of our English Ministry Team.
As Pastor Dan mentioned, he will continue to fellowship and serve with us until September 4 in his role as Pastor and, God willing, beyond that as a member of our Church family. We look forward to celebrating Dan's service to our Church as well as his friendship which will certainly reminiscing about our favourite Pastor Dan moments. But right now, I want to address Pastor Dan's announcement and the immediate future of our congregation.
When Pastor Dan arrived here in Ottawa in 2007, he expressed to us in his teaching and in discussions with our leaders that he believed that, based on his gifting and his passions, he saw himself as a kind of Church planter, someone who was here for a season to help establish the ministry at OCBC, and would, God willing, move on from here to a different work. That was almost twelve years ago. Now, Dan will be pursuing another work. And we intend to send him off with our blessing as his Church family and as his partners in the Gospel.
It is our desire and prayer that God would use the Byrne family for the advancement of the Gospel. We also pray that God would protect the unity of our Church. Some of you may have had past Church experiences where you have been deeply hurt or where you have seen painful Church conflicts. And so, some of you may be tempted to ask questions like: "What really happened?" or "Why is Pastor Dan really leaving?" I want to strongly state that Pastor Dan is not being pushed out of OCBC nor is he abandoning us. He has not disqualified himself from ministry through some horrible sin or leaving out of a desire for selfish gain. His decision was not the consequence of any conflict with the leadership here at OCBC or any challenge to his leadership. He will end his term as a beloved brother. We love Pastor Dan, Jean, Aiko, Keiden, and Noami, and I believe that the next few months our Church familiy will continue to show them that love.
As the leaders in this congregation, we will be working with Pastor Dan to ensure that the next few months will be as joyful and God-glorifying as possible. We will also try to keep you updated about the process of starting a search for a new English Pastor. In the meanwhile, please pray for OCBC. Our prayer is that the next season of our Church's life will demonstrate what our Saviour says, that He will build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Our prayer is that, come September, the Gospel will continue to be proclaimed, the Bible will continue to be taught, we will continue to meet together to praise and worship Jesus Christ, and there will continue to be opportunities for us to meet together, eat together, and serve one another as members of one body, the body of Christ. But please pray. We need His help. It is He who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.
For twelve years, I’ve had this process of how to plan my preaching series. Usually, a few times a year I’ll take a day or so, or some time over a few days to pray and reflect on what the next message series should be for our English Congregation. I think about you, and the discussions we have, I pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show me what challenges we’re going to face as a congregation, where we are at in our establishing process, and what message or themes we’re going to need, and I begin brainstorming. I usually write down everything that comes to mind, and then sift them and order them. And then I page through the scriptures and try to connect those themes with books and passages. And every time over the past twelve years, I believe that the Holy Spirit has used that process to guide me. And usually, when I’m about a month out from finishing a series with you, my heart and mind and soul are already in the next series, preparing and praying and studying. So that’s how it’s gone for twelve years.
So as I was finishing our Ecclesiastes series this winter, and I was going through that process. I started about a month out, and as I was praying about it, and brainstorming and reflecting, something peculiar happened. Actually, nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. I had nothing. Some of you were asking me, what we were going to be doing next, and I joked, “I think I’m retiring, Ecclesiastes is going to be my “drop-the-mike” series.” I said it as a joke, but the reality is, the only thing I heard from the Spirit was “it’s done”. But I had a problem - I wasn’t done, I still had to preach. Luckily there was Easter - so that was covered. Resurrection, thank you. But I still didn’t really know. So I did something that hadn’t done in 12 years. I basically randomly, pragmatically chose a book. Philippians. It’s short, so we can do it before the summer. We hadn’t been in the New Testament for a while and hadn’t done a letter of Paul for a few years, so that was good. The theme of joy connected it to Ecclesiastes’ theme of joy. But really, I picked it because after being in such difficult books to study like Genesis and Eccelsaistes, Phillippians - well I nearly have Philippians memorized. I’ve translated Philippians before. So I thought, this will be a little easier in the preparation, so then I’ll have more time to reflect on other things concerning our church. So yes, I picked Philippians somewhat randomly, not understanding why the Holy Spirit seemed silent.
Now I understand why the Holy Spirit is having us study Philippians together. Philippians is a letter written to an anxious church, a church that is anxious because their pastor, Paul, has left, and he’s now in prison, and they don’t know what will happen to themselves or to him in the future. So now that makes more sense. I didn’t know when I started promoting this series a week before Easter that I wouldn’t be staying on with you. But by the first message, I was beginning to really wrestle with the spirit about whether He was calling me to stay on. I felt Him calling me out when I preached that first message, and that’s why I actually was breaking down a bit as I preached it. If you remember that first message was the joy of partnership, in which Paul says of the Philippians,
“Phil. 1:3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart”
It’s a really joyful passage, but I was emotionally a wreck as I preached it because I feel that way about you. It one point, I said, Paul’s is telling them how much he loves them, even as he tells them he may soon be leaving them, meaning he may be soon executed. I said in Paul’s words, “I may not be with you, but I want you to know I love you.” As I said it I paused after it, because I realized how true those words might have been about me. May wife and daughter said after ward that they both freaked out a little, like, is he going to say something right now - even though we hadn’t made a final decision. I’ve even had a few of you share with me that they suspected something more was going on there.
The point is the each of these last three weeks has been really the Holy Spirit working through his word at least for me personally. Paul spoke about constraints in ministry in the second message, and that has been a passage that I’ve taken to heart many times of the years when I consider constraints in ministry, and so it was necessary that I wrestle with the word and spirit over that passage. In last weeks passage, Paul is wrestling with his own interior struggle - what it better, to remain on which is profitable for you or to depart and be with Christ? Only that for me to live and to die is gain. The last two weeks have been hard because I’ve had to conceal a bit of my struggle from you.
But now everything is in the open. And today we come to verse 27, and I have set aside this passage for you, and it is on my heart to share it with you. It is the appeal of the gospel worker for the church he loves, the church he may soon be leaving, the appeal that they may carry one and continue in the gospel of Jesus Christ
The Plea of The Gospel Worker to the Church He Loves
Phil. 1:27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Paul’s Great Concern is that the Church Would Continue To Live as an Outpost of Heaven on Earth: That’s a pretty big calling to live up to! Let your manner of life be worthy: (lit: worthy of the gospel, live a citizens) “To conduct oneself with proper reference to one’s obligations in relationship to others, as part of some community — ‘to live, to conduct one’s life, to live in relation to others.” Paul is addressing members of the Philippian church community to live together in community as citizens of God. This word took on a special meaning in the city of Philippi, for though it was outside of Italy, it was a Roman colony extended special privilege as one of a few leading city’s in whom you were automatically granted Roman Citizenship by virtue of birth. The Philippians took pride in they special status and it brought a sense of unity and camaraderie to the dwellers of the city. The Philippians lived a certain way because of their citizenship. Paul is directing the Christians in Pjilippi that they should have an even greater call to worthy living, for their citizenship is greater than Rome. Later in the letter he gets specific - Phil. 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s point is that even if he never return to see them and continue on working with them, there was still community-building work to do among the Philippians and it would take them all understanding what God is doing to bind them together as citizens of a greater kingdom, and that they all with one mind might live worthy of the gospel as they build into that kingdom together. This is what Paul hopes that the Philippians continue in, whether he is able to return to them, or whether he only is able to hear about them from afar.
What does it mean for a church to continue to live together as citizens of heaven?
Stand together in our spirit and in one purpose.
Fight for the Faith
Don’t be intimidated of fearful
Stand together in our spirit and in one purpose. “I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind”
I believe the idea that Paul has in mind here is that the church would continue to be united, but not in some mere sentimental unity that comes from liking one another, or not rocking the boat, or confronting hard issues, but that they would stand firm together in one spirit and in one mind, by standing firm in the things that they had been taught about Christ, about the gospel. Paul uses similar phrases in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 for example, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by four letter.”
Fight for the Faith: “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,”
Literally, the word is made up of two parts, sun - which means together, and athlew, from which we get our english word athlete, so it means vigorously contend together for the faith of the gospel. Paul didn’t just want the church to stand firm together in the things that they had been taught, but that they might actually work hard together, and strive together, and contend with one another to further magnify in their own midst and before the watching world, the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t just hoping for them that they would stand were they were at spiritually, but that together they would strive onward to be more fully formed by the gospel, and that they would strive onward together to make the gospel known. Often, when a church loses its leader it can go into maintenance mode, preservation mode. Paul, yes, wanted them to preserve the gospel in their midst by standing firm in it, but he did not want them to suddenly stop striving onward.
Don’t be intimidated of fearful: “28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. Third, DO NOT BE AFRAID! Paul uses the phrase in everything.
Living as an Outpost of Heaven Will Be Hard, But Is an Evidence of Your True Salvation
This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
What is the clear sign? The living as an outpost of heaven, standing, striving and not fearing. This marks the true church, it is a sign that God is with you, that God is among you, that God is sustaining you. The very fact that opponents and suffering will come, and that you endure through them, is evidence that your faith is genuine.
Paul’s words in verse 29 are significant - “it has been granted to you … to suffer for Christ sake.” In the early church, suffering was not a tragedy to be avoided, it was a mark, a sign, an endowment by the Holy Spirit, that the church was immediately sharing in the sufferings of Christ. The understanding of the apostles was that if we suffer with him and for him, if we are united with him in his death, if we are tied to him in our sufferings; then surely we will be united with him in his resurrection, we will be tied to him in his victory. Jesus promised us life, but he promised us life through death.
John 14:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
Here, Jesus is speaking of his own death and ressurection, but inviting us into it. That if we join him in counting our lives as not something to be grasped unto, but release our soul into the care of God and follow Jesus, God will raise us up with him. There is no life, but that daily dying. This again is what Paul means in saying, For me to live is Christ.
This is, obviously, my prayer for you this morning. I am confident in this, that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete the work among you until the day of Christ Jesus. That your faith may be proved genuine and complete as, no matter where God takes our family, we may hear that you are standing firm together in the faith, striving together for the gospel, and no fearing anything the enemy may throw at you.