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.