Wednesday, October 17, 2012


SERMON RECAP. Sunday we talked about ecclesiology.That's the study, or doctrine, of the church. This word comes from the Greek word "ecclesia" which speaks of the assembly of called-out ones. The Church is made up of believers who have been called out by God from the world to serve Him.

The New Testament speaks of the Church in 2 different ways. Sometimes a text will refer to the universal Church, that global community of Christ-following people on earth and in Heaven. Our departed saved loved ones are still a part with us of the body of Christ. We are also connected and related to believers in Jesus that we have never met all over the world. At other times, New Testament passages mention local churches. These are specific portions or expressions of the true, worldwide Church that meet in particular places and are microcosms of the universal Church. Riverside Baptist is a local church as was the congregation in Jerusalem or Antioch or Corinth. message attempted to answer the basic question, "whose church is it, anyway?". Who does the church belong to?

We looked at a lot of scripture verses. We examined Acts 20:28, 2:47, 9:4, and saw the tie between 1:8 and 8:1. We considered Matthew 16:18 and I Corinthians 3:16-17 and Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22. I Peter 2:5 was discuused, too. I offered some conclusions.

For starters, it's obvious that the Church belongs to Christ. Pastors or deacons or SS teachers don't own it. Neither do denominations. It's not even the possession of the members. If that's true, then everything we do "ecclesiastically" should be done to advance His kingdom. We're not to be a religious country club that seeks its own comfort and makes its own rules We're to seek His will, not our own preferences. Our vision and goals and strategies should be developed as we pray, search the scriptures, and consult about what will honor Him. When we think we own and control the church and wrap our fingers too tightly around it we're inviting the Lord's discipline.

We nailed down the truth that the Church is a building but not of brick and mortar. The Church is a building of people. We are "living stones" being constructed into a spiritual temple. The Old Testament temple, a literal, physical edifice, foreshadowed  and pictured Jesus and also God's people. God dwells in us now. For the first 300 years of Christian history, congregations didn't even have their own facilities. They met in homes and caves and on riverbanks. Today local assemblies do have meeting places, but getting overly attached to them and somehow equating them with the church is totally foreign to the biblical understanding
of what church is. This insight has particular relevance to us right now as we begin the process of possibly disengaging from this property and moving elsewhere. A familiar, much-loved and enjoyed facility may be vacated and left, but the people of Riverside would go on and go forward to new opportunities and experiences as the people of God on mission for Him.

Ultimately the Church of Jesus Christ will be victorious. He said that He would build His Church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. Over the centuries the global Church has faced poverty, wealth, scandals, failures, successes and weaknesses, but in the end it will triumph. Our own congregation has had very high times and some very low moments. But we're in this together under the lordship of Christ. As we seek His pleasure He will guide us. As we link arms, put our personal desires aside, and take scary steps of faith, God will reveal to us what's next.

HALLOWEEN. October 31 falls on a Wednesday this year. After discussion, it was the consensus of our Midweek fellowship crowd recently that we not schedule any activities here that night but rather encourage our folks to stay home and meet and greet the families of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhoods. We don't really have the money or the manpower this year to put on a "trunk-or treat" or "harvest fest" event as we do at times. I know that it sounds all pious and spiritual to say "we're not gonna close church just because of Halloween, and hey, isn't that evening the Devil's night, anyway?" but there's another way to look at it. Maybe it's the more spiritual thing to be out there, at home in our communities, as salt and light in the midst of darkness, warmly welcoming folks and perhaps beginning friendships, and maybe inviting people to church. At our place, all the lights will be on! We're gonna make the unspoken point that we're people of the light. Being kind, gracious, friendly neighbors surely is part of the lifestyle that Christ calls us to live, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Here We Go

Well, the journey is beginning.

The relocation journey, that is. We voted last April to start the process of selling this facility, buying ground elsewhere, and building a new place. We now move forward with this. Reflect with me for just a few moments about the matter.

   1. Is this really God's will? I don't know. I think it is, and I hope it is, but I can't say for sure. I'm not one
       of those preachers who confidently pontificates about everything he wants to do that it is certainly what
       God has planned. Nathan the prophet made that mistake in 2 Samuel 7. We will learn whether or not
       we're on the right track as we go along. Our sovereign God in His providence will either move this
       process along or shut it down completely. If we can't sell this property or if we can't find suitable land
       somewhere else or if the money's just not there, then we'll have some indication from the Lord that we
       better stop and rethink the whole thing. If, however, as we put one foot in front of the other in faith and
       doors seem to open, that will be a strong signal that we should continue to proceed. With the affirmative
       April vote we've simply been given authorization and a little more freedom and wiggle room to explore
       our options. There's a principle embedded in Luke !4: 28-30 that has some relevance here.

    2. Why are we considering this? Certainly our deteriorating facility has something to do with it, and the
         fact that we're not going to be able to afford taking care of such a large, aging building much longer,
         especially as our attendances and finances have declined. But the main vision and goal is to move to an
         area where we'll be more in the middle of the population and will have the potential of attracting more
         people so that we thrive and don't just survive. We are surrounded by people here but we find
         ourselves at the non-growing far end of our city in more of a transitional community that is very hard
         for us to reach. The aim here is not just to run away and escape but to better position ourselves for
         a future of growth and spiritual harvest. Hundreds of churches across the nation have made similar
         decisions. Congregations on this peninsula that have relocated(First Baptist, Ivy Memorial, Orcutt,
         Liberty, etc.) have experienced significant turnarounds.

      3. It's invigorating to dream of a newer, fresher, somewhat smaller facility with lots of windows letting in
          the sunlight. All on one floor, without stairs and steps. A nice kitchen area. Well-lit classrooms.
          Maybe it would be wise first to construct a large multi-purpose type room that would facilitate lots of
          different activities like worship, concerts, dinners, sports, etc. with SS rooms along the sides. An
          advantage to that would be that if we were unable for years to put up a second stage, we'd still have
          an edifice that would accomodate a variety of functions. That's just my opinion, though. The
          congregation will make that decision, and that's if we get that far. An energy-efficient facility would
          really be nice!

      4. Whether we ultimately go, or are here for years, or remain on this spot 'til Jesus comes, we're gonna
           have to work hard. There's a lot to do either way. We  desperately need to be winning people to
           Christ and drawing them into our fellowship. We need to become stronger spiritually, too. Right now
           neither our evangelism or our discipleship are what they should be. Remember that simply pulling up
           stakes and moving to another part of town is no guarantee that we'll grow! And, as I was wisely
           reminded the other night, we probably haven't prayed over this whole matter as often or as deeply as
           we should have, either.

       5. I am excited, though! This could be a wonderful, exhilarating adventure for our church in this
           generation, much like the excitement and anticipation experienced by Riverside's founders and
           builders in the 1940's. Let's stick together, in unity, as a family. We have the potential here for an
           awesome fresh start. As Moses said to Hobab in Numbers 10, "Come with us. We're going
           somwhere as God has promised. We'll do you good." Decide to be like Caleb, in Joshua 14, who,
            though old. wanted one more great challenge for God, and wanted to leave a strong legacy of
            courage and leadership for the next generation. If we're successful in this venture, we'll really be
            doing it for those who come after us. After all, church is the people, not sentimental memories or a
            picturesque plot of real estate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Balance In Church Life

Ok, so there's no such thing as a perfect church.

What can we do to make our congregation a Christ-honoring, people-strengthening local assembly?

Christian thinkers and ecclesiastical leaders and ordinary church members would do well to consider the idea of balance as a pathway toward spiritual maturity and congregational effectiveness. Some examples follow.

For instance, maybe church health should be emphasized just as much as church growth. Over the past 50 years the big push has been on getting more and more people into our buildings and onto our membership rolls. That's a good thing(unless we're just swapping members) because Jesus mandated that we share the Gospel and win others to him. The entire New Testament pulsates with the call and challenge of evangelism. Local assemblies should never be content without consistently reaching out to new individuals with the life-transforming message of Christ and accepting them into the fellowship.

But numbers and swelling attendances alone never tell the whole story about a church's success. Sometimes growing and exciting congregations can be dysfunctional and unhealthy on the inside, just like some families. Converts must become disciples who are steadily moving toward greater Christlikeness, which is the true standard of measure. When that is the case there will be increasing trust, intimacy, joy, unity and peace. There  will be fewer secrets and less strife. More spiritual fruit will show up, like gentleness and patience and faithfulness. There will be less running away and off to some other church when conflicts or misunderstandings or disagreements arise and more staying with it and working through to cooperation and harmony. Maybe one reason why so many congregations are splitting and declining is that we bought into some American cultural idea that success is evaluated solely on the basis of competition and productivity and expansion and we neglected to pay attention to the inner quality of life in our churches.That is,spiritual depth that only come from intense prayer, wrestling with temptation, working to really grasp the scriptures, and being accountable to one another in the body of Christ.

Perhaps that's why the tandem relationship of truth and grace is so crucial. Jesus modeled that for us according to John 1:17. Paul encouraged it as a tool of ministry in Ephesians 4:15. Some folks are good at telling you the truth but do so without much tenderness or compassion. It comes across as arrogance or condescension and leaves you cold. Others are sweet and humble but are afraid to tell you what you really need to hear. They actually shortchange you by their reluctance to confront and be honest with you. Both sides of the coin are desperately needed in our local assemblies and in the larger Christian community. On one hand we're shouting at one another on the cultural scene. On the other hand we're often afraid to stand up for our convictions and raise a prophetic voice on critical societal issues. We can learn from the example of Jesus in John 8:1-11 how to dispense both truth and mercy. He gave an adulterous woman a strong dose of truth when he told her to "go and sin no more." He offered her sensitivity and understanding and kindness when,in the same sentence, he refused to condemn her. Imagine what it would be like for our congregations to become laboratories where truth and grace freely mix and bring release from old habits and sin patterns and flaws in a loving atmosphere of patience and acceptance in which individuals are constantly challenged to stretch and grow but where the very air breathed is not harsh legalism but prayerful compassion.

Let's not forget, either, that the balance of both inward and outward focus is significant.

Churches must take care of their own. That means developing programs that will build believers up in their faith. It also means attending to the needs of those within the fellowship who are sick, grieving, doubting, lonely, and struggling. It's essential that fellow church members enjoy times of fun and laughter and social outings among themselves that strengthen ties and closeness,too.

But if we ignore those on the outside we fail in our mission. If everything we plan and do is for those already there we miss the point. We can get so comfortable in the trappings of congregational life and so enmeshed in the goings-on of our particular assembly that we don't even see people on the other side of our walls. We can actually become religious country clubs. We have our own verbiage, our own systems and policies and traditions and we can get to the place where we don't want any of that disturbed by having to make intentional, concerted efforts to reach out in various ways to attract outsiders who are not like us. Congregations should instead be wired to be constantly brainstorming about fresh, innovative projects and ministries to impact lives(whether they end up at our church or not!) and mobilizing teams to take initiative and go out to people and extend loving hearts and helping hands. The personal mission statement of Jesus in Luke 19:10 ought to become ours.

One other thing. We simply must, in our preaching, teaching, and faith-sharing, find a way to balance saying the hard stuff along with the bright, positive stuff. There's no doubt that we've got a lot of joyful ideas to pass on. The very word "gospel' means good news. We must talk about how Christ can change sinners by his death on the cross which provides forgiveness and freedom from guilt and the fear of death. We need to speak about how day-to-day living can be abundant and victorious because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us to comfort, empower, motivate, and guide. The joyful expectation of eternal life in a new heaven and new earth should be frequently discussed as well as the miraculous and sometimes just ordinary ways that God intervenes in our lives now.

But we've got to be real and transparent, too. We've got to jettison plastic smiles and fake hallelujahs and often glib answers and sometimes present the more unpleasant realities that the scriptures reveal. That'll mean talking more about sin. About God's wrath. About judgement, and, yes, Hell. If we're honest, it'll include talking about suffering, and sacrifice, and serving. About how God doesn't always heal or keep us from pain or make us materially prosperous.Even about how sometimes we may experience those "dark nights of the soul" when we can't feel the presence of God at all or go through those seasons where we struggle with problems and wonder where in the world God is. John 16:33 is very helpful here. It certainly doesn't sugarcoat things. It gives us the hope we crave, though. Many Christian commentators are saying that we need to do a better job of preparing believers for hardship that may be coming. I tend to agree.

So, your church isn't going to be perfect.Ain't gonna happen. But with some delicate balancing acts in the Spirit, it can be a soul-nourishing congregation. Perhaps we need the jarring words of 1 Peter 4:12-19 to shake us out of lethargy and selfish desire to use Christ and the Church to just get our own needs met and rather step out into a whole new dimension of Christian living and churchmanship.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Miscellany

BACK TO SCHOOL. I'm so excited about our new partnership with nearby Crittenden Middle School.

Several weeks ago, our Outreach Committee led us to "adopt" the administrators, teachers, and students over there. Since then we've served snacks to the faculty and offered brief backrubs and placed candy bars in each teacher mailbox. We've collected and delivered gently used belts for use in pupil attire. One of our women's Sunday School classes prepared and took over a gift basket to a teacher who is expecting a baby this week. Two of our ladies went there last week and stuffed each faculty mailbox with a bag of popcorn and a note of appreciation from our church. We are donating money to their Angel Tree project for needy students this year.

And we want to brainstorm and dream up dozens of other creative ways that we can be a blessing and a help to that local institution. Possibilities include tutoring, putting on a special dinner for school staff and teachers, helping with flowers and shrubs on school grounds, asssisting with a planned student garden next Spring, volunteering to help in student athletic programs, and sending birthday cards to all the teachers through the year. We have a chance here to put our arms around those folks and lift and encourage and refresh them.

Why do we do this? Why bother?

Because Jesus challenges us to be salt and light in the culture around us(Matthew 5:13-14). Because our good deeds can open doors and make it a little easier for people to listen to us and believe what we say when we talk about Jesus(Matthew 5:16). Because good works are the signature of the Christian(Titus 2:14: 3:8). And because while we're waiting for Christ to return so we can go home, we're to be actively engaged in being a very positive, caring influence in our society(Jeremiah 29:1-7).

I long to see every person in our congregation find some way or niche to plug in to this undertaking. Each church member has skills and talents that could be utilized to contribute to the overall success of the project. Getting involved will energize you! If this campaign ends up just being an activity that a small handful of our folks work on, then we will have missed a golden opportunity to unite around something significant that enables us to break out of these walls and out of our comfort zones to make a difference, even if a small one, in our community. I also hope that throughout the duration of this outreach we'll have numerous chances to actually interact with students and not just the adults who work at the school.

Please don't get tired of hearing about this labor of love. Pray for its success. Ask God's blessings and favor on the employees and kids over there. Step forward with suggestions and ideas and a willingness to actually get involved in some manner. Remember that we're not going there to witness or evangelize or try to get new members for our church. We can't do that. We go out of the grace and love of Christ to give ourselves away in simple, quiet, humble service. Here is a tangible way to minister that has more traction to it than anything we've done in a long time.

MOVING DAY. Once again I want to encourage all of our folks to sit a little closer to the front in Sunday worship. We have a large sanctuary, and when people are so spread out or clinging to seats toward the back we lose a lot of warmth and intimacy. Please consciously, deliberately decide to begin to relocate to a pew, in either section, within the first 12 or 13 rows from the platform. If everybody did this it would have a transforming effect on our worship times. Do this for the good of the church body.

ADVENT. It's hard to believe that this season has rolled around again, but I sure am glad it has! I love the music and the scriptures and the colors and the decorations of this 4-week preparation time for Christmas. My preaching for these Sundays will come out of Luke 1:26-38 which tells of the angel Gabriel's announcing to Mary that she will bring baby Jesus into the world. Read and reflect on these verses to get ready for the sermons on December 11 and 18. And look, enjoy this whole month! Don't let commercialization or overactivity rob you of the simple joys and wonders of this time of year. By the way, please remember that I love you and my job and this great church more than I could ever express!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Will you be on the road, traveling this holiday season, away from your residence?

You'll have a lot of company. Millions will crowd the interstates heading home to visit the relatives. So many of our men and women in the military will be scattered around the world, often in distant places, separated from loved ones. That's true, too, for Christian missionaries, who will go on serving the Lord in far off locales at the cost of being unable to be with family at yuletide. Truck drivers will still be hauling freight. Emergency personnel, like police and firemen and hospital and rescue workers, will be on the job and moving about and out of the house.

It's fascinating to me that most of the persons in the stories of the first Christmas in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2 spent time on the road as the epic events of Christ's birth unfolded. A good bit of traveling takes place in these narratives.

Zechariah, for example, was fulfilling priestly duties, away from home, at Jerusalem's temple when he learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, were going to have a baby in their old age who would grow up to be John the Baptist. He journeys homeward with the amazing news. Young Mary, upon receiving the angelic announcement that she, though a virgin, has been chosen to give birth to the Christ-child, leaves her house in Nazareth and travels southward to a Judean town to visit Elizabeth, her relative, and she both gives and receives encouragement at their joint and unusual pregnancies.

Then, of course, there is the long, arduous trip that Joseph and Mary take from Nazareth to Bethlehem during the most difficult time of her child-bearing when she is about to deliver. She's a long way from home and her "maternity ward" ends up being in a smelly stable or cave. Later, after the birth, shepherds leave where they are and go to see the new baby. Eventually wise men from hundreds of miles away set out on a road trip to find and pay homage to this small child who they sense is someone of great significance. Ultimately, Mary and Joseph will have to embark on yet another not-completely-pleasant pilgrimage when they hurriedly whisk young Jesus away from their dwelling and to safety incognito in Egypt out of range of king Herod's evil intentions. And don't forget the intriguing story of the family trip to a religious feast in Jerusalem when the now adolescent Jesus is missing for awhile, causing great distress for his parents.

Surely the incarnation itself was the most extensive journey. God stepped out of eternity and Heaven, entered time and space, and took on human flesh in Jesus, all for the purpose of reconciling sinful humanity to Himself. What an incredible distance was spanned. What an awesome love was demonstrated.

Some lessons emerge.

For starters, we probably ought to shed our naive, warm, cuddly,sentimental notions of what that first Christmas was like. It was not a Hallmark, comfortable, cozy, "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" kind of experience for the cast of characters living through it, even though they were tremendously blessed. There was fear, uncertainty, loneliness, hardship, and separation involved in history's most momentous event. Let that be of some comfort to you this holiday season when you're stuck in traffic or just can't find that perfect gift or have to put up with cranky or obnoxious family members around the Christmas dinner table or are haunted by dark, hurtful memories of past holidays that were very painful or when you have to be far, far away from the people you love most. Let's face it--Christmas is not always "the most wonderful time of the year." Remember, too, that there will be other Christmases. More than likely this is not your last one!

Let the journey motif in the Christmas stories remind you that the Christian life itself is a pilgrimage. Spiritually speaking, we are to be on the move. We're to be growing and stretching and advancing. We're in a maturing process, progressing toward the goal of becoming like Christ. The Bible describes our relationship with Jesus as a walk and a race. Sometimes that's hard and sometimes it's easy, but we're not just to sit and wait until we go to Heaven! There are lessons to learn, sins and bad habits to give up, virtues to acquire, and service to render.

In your literal moving about this Christmas, whether it's crosstown or across the nation, take some cues from the personalities you meet in the birth stories of Jesus. Like Mary, for example, find someone(an Elizabeth) that you can lift and refresh and affirm. Nursing home, maybe? A lonely homebound individual, perhaps, or a scared little child? You might find, as Mary did, that encouragement and inspiration flow right back to you. Like the shepherds and the wise men, make ample time for worship. How tragic to spend so much money on self and others and schedule so many holiday activities for ourselves that we forget about Christ and his amazing entry into this world and ignore opportunities to give him praise. He can be adored, incidentally, just as much in a family car trip on I-64 or I-81 as in a magnificent Christmas Eve candlelight service in a church if you are genuinely focused.

We can learn from Joseph that sometimes you may have to change your plans in order to serve the Lord. I'm sure that he would have preferred to assist his wife in her childbirth at home rather than on a long trip. I feel certain that a sudden, unexpected trek to Egypt to protect his new, young son wasn't on his calendar for the upcoming year. He wanted to please God, though, and so he was flexible and pliable. See your interruptions this season as perhaps divine appointments. Think about making maybe one major sacrifice to help someone in dire need. Like Zechariah, realize that there is great value in simply being silent sometimes, too. Carve out some down time as he and Elizabeth did to be alone and quiet and reflective, to let your soul be renewed in the midst of a hectic few weeks. That'll be tough on the highway when the kids are quarreling in the backseat. It'll be hard, too, if you think you absolutely have to go to every Christmas party. Personal times for solitude and retreat work wonders for our spirits, though.

Even if you're not going anywhere this holiday, travel back in your mind's-eye at least once to the rich happenings of that first Christmas centuries ago. It may completely change your perspective.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Miscellany, yet again

DON'T WASTE HALLOWEEN. This year we won't be having any activities here on October 31. In times past we've had Fall Fests on that night for the enjoyment of our own church family. In recent years we shifted to "Trunk 'n' Treat" events outside on our parking lot with outreach to our neighborhood as a focus. We'll take a break this time around. We'll not schedule a happening inside our facility or out on our grounds.

It's okay not to do the same thing every year!

We could use a breather. Traffic and walk-ups for the outdoor event had seemed to decrease some in the last few cycles, and the needed participation of our own folks was a little down, too. Maybe we should reevaluate what would be a better approach next year. Churches ought to be constantly studying and dreaming and brainstorming new and creative ways to minister and do mission. Staying in a rut is useless. ( I'm so very excited, for instance, about our latest project--adopting and partnering with nearby Crittenden Middle School and attempting to be a blessing to faculty and students there. That endeavor began last week.)

So...stay home this Halloween. But use the evening for God's glory. Turn on all the lights in the house so that your residence is ablaze with illumination(we're people of the light, not darkness!). Make your dwelling shine like a Thomas Kincade painting!Meet your neighbors as they come bringing their little "trick-or treaters" to your door. Put a gospel tract or a New Testament in the kids' bags along with the candy. Invite some folks to visit our church. Enjoy being with your family. Breathe a silent prayer for each one who stops by your place that night and then shuffles back into the autumn darkness. If it's chilly, build a fire in the fireplace, make some popcorn, and watch a scary movie...and be so grateful that because we know Christ we don't have to be people who live in fear(ever counted how many "fear nots" there are in God's Word?)

CHRISTMAS IS COMING. If you don't believe me, go visit Cracker Barrel.

It's only 8 or 9 weeks away. And Advent begins on November 27. Just my usual reminder that if you're going to buy a new Bible for a friend or family member this holiday season, consider purchasing a study edition. Those cost more but offer lots of very helpful explanatory notes alongside the scripture text. I heartily recommend the ESV Study Bible. There's now a student edition of that wonderful product, too, if you're looking for a good spiritual tool to give a teenager.

PBA. In a day when many are discounting the value of district Baptist associations any more, and when some of those groups are even disbanding(one in central Virginia did recently) our own local grouping of churches is doing very, very well. Some of us attended last week's annual meeting of Peninsula Baptists and I have to tell you that I came out of that 2-day event greatly encouraged. There's new energy and passion and focus. Chuck Harrison, our new Director of Missions, is doing an awesome job of leading us. He's very committed to church planting and to existing church revitalization. Lift a prayer for him occasionally. He's a man with a vision! I'm thrilled that we've already had him here 3 times for visits and that he's now a good friend to us.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Grandson

William Shaphan(2Kings22) Davidson was born at 12:22am August 20! Praise the Lord!

This is Ryan and Christie's third child, and our third grandchild. We were able to be present in the hours leading up to delivery and then just after the birth. His size? 8lbs., 14oz. at 21 inches long. And...he was born on Vicki's birthday. We're proud, ecstatic, and honored about that.

We're excited to see what God is going to do with this new young life. Welcome to the world, baby Shaphan. We're so glad you're here!