there are mean people everywhere,
so what do we do about it?
Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 1 Corinthians 14:20
Some people are mean. This is a fact that cannot be ignored if you want to live a faithful life. No matter how hard we may try, sometimes people will not be nice or considerate or civil. Mean people can be Republican or Democrat, Christian or atheist, rich or poor.
Mean people can be anywhere, and most of us do our best to avoid them if we can. When someone is determined to be mean, we hardly know what to do. How are we supposed to live the Christian ideals of forgiveness and peace and love when it is clear that another person is determined to do us harm.
I believe that the gospel provides some help and hope in such situations. I do not believe that the gospel requires us to submit to another person who seeks to harm us. An abused wife does not have to continue to subject herself to a husband’s abuse just to preserve a marriage, for example. No person should be manipulated by guilt to endure another’s meanness.
Instead, the gospel inspires us to recognize that we have value before God. No one has the right to be mean to us. The gospel commands that we do not retaliate or seek revenge, but it does not require us to remain in abusive situations.
The gospel also helps by reminding us that we have an obligation as Christians to be with others who are having to face abuse and attacks. We stand alongside each other and give each other strength.
The gospel also helps us rebuild by giving us hope that new life can grow and that old abuses can be left behind. Abused people often have deep wounds. God’s love and the love of caring brothers and sisters can be healing forces in our broken lives.
Some people are mean. The gospel helps us so that we don’t become mean too. As we seek to follow Jesus and invite others to do so as well, we make a little dent in the brokenness of the world.
the good news about
ginger the cat
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
Recently we have taken in a stray cat. We’re not sure where she came from. She appeared to be almost dead when we started taking care of her. We fed her and took her to the vet. We continued to nurse her back to health and eventually brought her in the house to protect her from wild animals outside. We gave her a name: Ginger.
It hasn’t been easy trying to fit Ginger into our household. Lily and Oliver, the two cats we already had, are not very happy about the new arrival. But we are doing our best to work it out.
One thing we do know, right now, Ginger is safe and well. Without our help, there’s a good chance she wouldn’t have made it.
The gospel tells is that God reached out to us, and through the work of Jesus on the cross, God made a way for us to find life when we had no other hope.
Can you rejoice in that? To know that God loves you and takes you in and “pays all the bills” to make you well and whole and fit you into His family?
The word “gospel” means “good news.” And it certainly is. We know what love is because God has loved us and taken us in. As we struggle to make Ginger a part of our family, we are happy to see her getting healthier and feeling loved. God smiles to see you growing in His grace and learning to live and love as a part of His family.
the church must prepare now
to have a future
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Romans 12:11
Everyone knows the story of the ant and the grasshopper. It’s one of Aesop’s fables. An ant is busily working to store food for the winter. Each day he passes by a grasshopper who is playing and singing but doing no work. When winter comes and food is scarce, the grasshopper comes to the ant’s door and begs for food. But the ant, unable to spare his own provisions, refuses to help the grasshopper.
This simple story cannot begin to address all of the complicated issues of work and charity. But it does illustrate an important truth. If we want to be prepared for the future, we must prepare now.
This lesson is one that we must always remember in our church. If the church is thriving and doing well, we cannot assume it always will be. We must prayerfully and carefully prepare for the future. God has a plan for the future of Rocky River Baptist Church to continue to proclaim and live the gospel. Are we doing what we can to prepare for future generations to continue that calling?
To prepare for the future requires that church members be willing to work to make it happen. The church needs your financial support but it also needs your commitment to work in the ministry of the church. Where is God calling you to help prepare His church for the future? The church will always need teachers, nursery workers, administrative leaders and helpers to maintain building and grounds. This is only a partial list. There is noshortage of work to be done.
God is calling you to serve in His church, Rocky River Baptist Church. “Those who have ears to ear, let them hear.”
some things should never change
(but only a few)
Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
A lot of money and time is spent in our modern world trying to analyze and plan how to make churches better and more modern. This kind of thinking is a good thing. Everyone, including believers in Jesus, should be open to thinking carefully about how things are done. When change is appropriate we should be open to it.
We like to joke about ourselves when we say, “We’ve never done it that way before.” But most of us understand that changes will be necessary as the habits of our communities change.
But there are still some practices of Christian faith that we should keep at the center of what we do as a church and as followers of Jesus. Some things that shouldn’t change.
Christian discipleship can take different forms in different places and times, but the foundational practices are simple. They do not change. We attend church to worship God, to fellowship and to study the Bible. We pray to God in private devotional times to build our trust and reliance upon Him. We give sacrificially to God’s church, to proclaim the gospel and to help those in need. We serve those in need around us, demonstrating the love of Christ with our time and effort.
These simple practices can be dressed up in the fanciest sanctuaries with pipe organs and velvet pews or in a storefront with aluminum chairs and a cheap guitar. Or in a place like ours that is somewhere in-between. Following Jesus is simple, but not necessarily easy. Because it also requires us to love the unlovable, the same way that God loves us.
in our darkest hours,
God goes with us
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there; if I make my bed in the land of the dead, you are there. Psalm 139:7-8
Most people know what it’s like to walk through a dark place. I don’t mean a place where the lights are turned off. I mean a time in life when circumstances seem to be going against you. When deep sadness comes over you or an emptiness takes hold inside.
This darkness can come because of some loss, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or the betrayal of a trusted friend. In one way or another, at one time or another, most of us have felt it.
At times like these faith can be tested. We may be tempted to wonder why God has allowed such a tragedy. We may blame ourselves and believe that God is punishing us for some sin. People of faith often renew their commitment to God through church attendance or devotional time or a pledge to engage in some ministry of service.
Or we may turn away from God. Our spirit may simply grow numb. Anger may repress any hint of joy or love. The darkness inside resists any light. Even scriptural calls to “rejoice in the Lord always” and “pray without ceasing” seem only to mock our despair.
Jesus does not offer a quick easy way out of this darkness of the soul. But he does offer the only lasting hope. The gospel contains important truths that help us through the darkness. First, the darkness is real. If we deny it, we cannot go through it. Second, no matter how deep we go into the darkness, God goes with us.
respect, love and our
role in evangelism
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15
One of the most important callings in any church is our calling to share the faith. Jesus calls us to “Go and make disciples…” The Apostle Paul reminds us, “We are therefore, Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” The New Testament is full of admonitions to share the gospel and call others to know God in Christ.
As we share the gospel, we should remember that it includes several elements that are important. We are calling people to acknowledge and repent of their sin, to trust in Jesus Christ and His saving work through His death and resurrection, and to commit themselves to serve God as a part of His family, the church. Sometimes we oversimplify the gospel message and just tell people to “believe” in Jesus. This gives people the impression that saving faith is only something we do with our minds. The gospel must be a change in the whole life, “heart, mind, soul and strength.”
We also live in an age where just asking someone about their religious opinion can be considered offensive. This upsets some Christians, but we should not waste our time being upset about the situation. We must always approach evangelism, sharing the Good News about Jesus, with respect for the person with whom we are talking. God’s motivation for reaching people is His love for people, “God so loved the world that He gave His Son…” Our motivation should be the same.
Finally, Jesus clearly tells us that no one can come to Him unless The Father draws him or her. The starting point for sharing our faith should always be prayer. Pray that God will guide what you say, and open the heart of the hearer to God’s message of grace.
Let us begin together now to pray that God will move Rocky River Baptist Church to be a faithful witness to the saving Good News of Jesus. And that each of us will look for and take advantage of opportunities to share that Good News with people we know.
attribution theory and
the christian experience
For by grace are you saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8
There are a lot of things that go on in contemporary America that I do not like. Often it seems that selfishness and irresponsibility have become the dominant way of living in the world. From simple aggravations such as trash on the roadside to the murderous and hateful outrages of terrorism, there is a lot to make us angry.
I think this is why so many Christians seem to want a powerful voice speaking out on the moral concerns of our times. “Why doesn’t the preacher preach on the Ten Commandments?” It’s easy to understand why we are tempted to cry out for “Thou shalt not” spoken with the authority of God.
However, like most humans, we really like the message of grace, God’s favor toward us when we don’t deserve it, when we are the ones who sin. Our intuition says, “I deserve God’s grace. Those other folks don’t.” We are convinced that deep down, we are really good and they are really bad.
But God has seen the sin of our hearts and lives. Even if no one else knows, you and God know the ways that you have failed God. When you readily receive and expect grace for your own sin, but you cannot bring yourself to be graceful toward others who sin, you have become the Pharisee of the gospels. It is so easy for us to fall into hypocrisy.
God loves you. God wants to give you His grace. But God loves them too, whoever the “them” that you find most hateful. God wants to give them grace too. And God expects His people to engage other people with the grace that He has toward us.
who is my neighbor?
Go and do likewise." Luke 10:37
One day a religious teacher asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus replied that the most important of all of God’s commandments is “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength.” And Jesus said, Tthe second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” The religious teacher wanted to justify himself so he said, “Who is my neighbor?”
That is the fundamental question. Everyone is willing to love his neighbor if he can define who his neighbor is. As long as God does not expect us to love people who are different than us or difficult to love, we have no problem with this commandment.
Jesus answered the question by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man is beaten and left for dead on the roadside. Two religious leaders pass by and refuse to help the man because they do not want to be unclean. Then a Samaritan comes along and gives the beaten man help and takes care of him.
“So who was neighbor to the man who was beaten?” Jesus asks the religious teacher. “The one who showed him mercy,” the man replied. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus said.
And so Jesus calls us to go and do the same. Abused and persecuted local children, Muslims fleeing war in their home country, families torn apart by unjust legal rulings, wherever someone is in need, we are called to be their neighbor if we can.
Many media outlets and organizers are telling us we need to be afraid of those people . The New Testament says “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:8). Some will object that we cannot help everyone in need. That is certainly true, but it is no excuse for not helping those we can. Millions of Jews died in the Nazi holocaust. Some of them died because American politicians refused to let them immigrate to the United States.
In the face of our fears, the words of Jesus ring out, calling us to listen to His Spirit and be our better selves. “Go and do likewise."
jesus' example for our times
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 16:24-25
Jesus was born into a world where his people were oppressed by a vicious and violent empire. His world was full of turmoil and division. The Zealots believed that God was calling them to violent overthrow of the Roman government. The Sadducees believed that following a strict reading of the Mosaic Law would bring prosperity. There were countless other competing ideas: the Pharisees strict piety, the Samaritans tribal regionalism, the Hellenists drive to imitate the Greeks.
Into this world, Jesus came. Satan himself tempted Jesus from the beginning to display his power and dominate the world with his authority. The Pharisees and the Zealots and the Samaritans all sought to influence him. In this world of political and social and ideological turmoil, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was something different.
God’s kingdom does not overcome through violent oppression, fearful intimidation or divisive hatred. God’s kingdom, Jesus said, was a kingdom built on loving God and loving others.
When the violent oppressors of Rome and Judea arrested Jesus and executed him by torturing him on a cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus went to the cross because he knew his sacrifice was the only way to begin this kingdom of God.
In Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, God began His program of changing the world through changing one heart at a time, through faith and hope and love. When we accept Christ as our Savior, we join God’s kingdom and His plan to save the world by saving us. And we commit ourselves to doing it the way Jesus did, through loving sacrifice and selfless service.
the state of our union
Behold, I make all things new. Revelation 21:5
At the beginning of a new year it is customary to review some of the significant events of the past year. Every year brings its share of sadness and this year is no exception. But at the same time, we can look back on 2016 at Rocky River Baptist Church and see some ways that God has worked among us.
At this time last year, we were just beginning to put together our four lay leadership teams in Missions, Outreach, Education and Worship. These teams have faithfully met and worked to lead us into new avenues of ministry for Christ in our community.
We have talked repeatedly about the wonderful mission trip put together by our Missions Team this summer. We had 35 people travel to minister in West Virginia and countless others who supported us through donations, prayers and preparation. What a blessing we received, as we ventured outside of our local community to share the good news of Jesus through service and proclamation.
In addition, our Outreach and Evangelism Team has been busy starting with an event to provide school supplies for and fellowship with our neighbors. They have been at work on other projects as well, arranging for help with Chatham Habitat for Humanity and a coats program through Silk Hope School.
The Worship Team and the Education Team have also been busy engaging with consultants to talk about ways we can make our ministries even better here at Rocky River Baptist.
Thanks to everyone who is serving on any of our four leadership teams and to everyone who has participated in any of these ministries.
We also joined our Silk Hope neighbor churches to present the gospel through a dramatic presentation at the Annual Trunk-or-Treat event at Silk Hope on Halloween night. We welcomed about 40 children and youth from the Baptist Children’s Homes in Thomasville and provided them with a special Christmas. We once again participated with sister churches in Siler City in community song services and a pulpit exchange.
Music has always been important to us at Rocky River Baptist, and God blessed us with a wonderful new Music Minister. Matt Fry has built upon the good heritage of music we have at Rocky River Baptist and has lead us to meet some new challenges in worship music.
We also continued many good events and ministries that have become long-time traditions around here: the Chicken Tender Fundraiser in May, The Churchmen leading worship in November and our faithful support of Baptist missions to name just a few.
God has been doing some wonderful things through you, His people at Rocky River Baptist Church. I have no doubt that God has plans to continue allowing us to serve others in His name and for His kingdom as this new year starts.
Jesus is coming ... today
While we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Colossians 2:13
"Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon, many will meet their doom, trumpets will sound. All of the dead shall rise, righteous meet in the skies, going where no one dies, heavenward bound.”
So goes the old gospel song. I have sung this many times over the years. It has inspired many with hope and joy. It has provoked fear in hearts as people contemplate standing before God who will judge their lives. The promise that Jesus will return one day encourages us. The promise that the day will come “like a thief in the night at a time that no one knows” should keep us alert and ready. We are excited to claim the promise of Paul in 2 Timothy. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness… but not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
“All who have longed for his appearing.” We should be careful, though. Jesus will return as judge. But we must not forget that Jesus is coming among us every day. Throughout history, Christians have used the time leading up to Christmas as a reminder that we are called to welcome Jesus into our lives every day. The weeks leading up to Christmas are especially set aside as a time to prepare your heart to receive Jesus and all He has to give.
We do this all year round, of course. But now is especially the time to remember. Our natural tendencies go against what Jesus is about. When the Psalm says, “Be still and know that I am God,” it is a reminder that we need to quiet the con-stant drumbeat of the world that stirs us and wait for God’s arrival in our hearts each day. We also need to remember that the only way to calm the storms within our souls is to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus himself saying, “Peace. Be still.” Just as he calmed the waves on the Sea of Galilee, He will quiet the storms in your heart so that your soul is ready to re-ceive Him.
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!”
is Jesus really imporant to you?
But seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33
Jesus said that the kingdom of God was like a man who found a pearl that was the best he had ever seen. He returned home and sold everything he had so that he would have enough money to buy it.
But most of us treat the kingdom of God as if it is merely one more leisure activity. When we write up our Facebook or Twitter profile, our Christian faith is just one more listing in the preferences we indulge. I like basketball and reading and planting gardens and Jesus.
Jesus’ parable doesn’t allow us this privilege. We must be followers of Jesus as our top priority or we must say that we are not truly His followers at all.
Many people are lamenting the state of the world and all of the problems in it. Many are also saying with a loud voice, “Jesus is the only answer.” But we are simply dishonest if we say we believe that Jesus is the answer for the world’s problems and yet we refuse to live our lives devoted to Him and His kingdom.
Our devotion to Christ is not measured by Facebook shares or retweets of a daily prayer chain. Our devotion to Christ is measured by our faithfulness to His church and by how much mercy and love we show to those around us. In other words, our devotion to Christ shows up in how we live for Him.
Is Jesus all important to you? He has offered you forgiveness, abundant life and an eternity of joy. One of the old hymns says it best. “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
pastor burriss' first newsletter article
as he marks 20 years at rocky river
It has been 20 years since I came to Rocky River Baptist as pastor. In honor of that, and because the words I shared then are still so appropriate, I reprint here the very first newsletter article I wrote for the September 1996 Rocky River Recorder.
"Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." —1 Thessalonians 5:18.
As I begin this ministry here at Rocky River, I want to give thanks to God for bringing us to this wonderful new place. I give thanks for the many blessings which God will give to us as we minister here together. I would also like to give much-deserved thanks to some special people.
Thanks to the people of North Benson Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky. They will always be part of our family.
Thanks to Gayle Black and all of the Search Committee for being so gracious and professional.
Thanks to Ethel Buckner for taking care of the details.
Thanks to Chip Price for making those exasperating phone calls to moving companies.
Thanks ot Amy Fitts for knowing everything and making sure it gets done.
Thanks to Sammy Culberson for helping unload the furniture.
Thanks to Phil Culberson for making the parsonage ready to live in.
Thanks to Rev. Bridges for teaching me to love the Scripture and teach it, for showwing me with his life how to be a pastor and for guiding Rocky River in the interim. Also to Mrs. Bridges for thinking of us.
Thanks to the many others who have made this transition as smooth and pleasant as it could be.
God will bless us as we work together to honor Him. The blessings have already begun through all of you.
God has truly blessed us as we have worked together to honor Him. A lot has happened in these 20 years. I remain grateful to God and to you all.
a lot has changed, but some truths remain
pastor burriss reflects on 20 years at rocky river
The world has changed a lot in the last twenty years. In that time, communication technology has changed dramatically. The entire globe is connected in a way that most could not have imagined even twenty short years ago. Now, we can have a face-to-face video conversation with someone just about anywhere in the world.
Twenty years ago I came to serve as pastor of Rocky River Baptist Church. It was an exciting time but bittersweet. We were returning home to North Carolina, to an area close our families. But we were also leaving a church full of people that we had grown to love dearly in Kentucky. Our daughter Bethany was 9 and our son Daniel only 2. They have changed a lot too, since then.
The world changes; our lives change, but I remain convinced that some things do not change. The convictions that I have as a preacher of the good news of Jesus have not changed.
First, the message of the gospel, the heart of what it has to say to us is that God loves us and wants to embrace us in His family. “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). For many preachers the emphasis is on condemning people. I do believe that God takes sin seriously, but the gospel message is not mainly a message about our failure. It is a promise of God’s love and His power to overcome those failures in our lives.
Second, the church is all about relationships. “Love God with all your heart and love other people like you love yourself.” Jesus said all of the commands of God are kept when we do these two things (Matthew 22:34-40). How we treat each other, and how we treat the other people we interact with every day, this is the real measure of our faith.
Finally, being part of a church is still a vital part of being a faithful Christian. To follow Jesus we need regular connection to fellow believers in Bible study, prayer, fellowship and service. The strengths and challenges of the relationships with our brothers and sisters help to refine our character in Christ. We need each other.
Thank you Rocky River Baptist church family for allowing me to be your pastor for 20 years. Wherever God takes us from here, you will always have a special place in my heart.
dealing with anger and fear
Right now, our world is full of attempts on every side to induce anger and fear. God’s people have the resources to live above these challenges. Among the many places in scripture where we can find help, the fourth chapter of Philippians provides several reminders and words of encouragement and strength.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
This promise could not provide comfort if it did not stand on the firm foundation of God’s Spirit bringing His calm and peace into our hearts.
…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Philippians 4:8
How much time do we spend filling our minds and lives with fearful and hateful things? I do not believe the Bible is telling us to be naive and ignore the evils that are real in the world. But we are called to fill our minds full of God’s truth and have faith that God is still Lord even in fearful times. Such faith sees beyond the evil to God’s goodness and sovereignty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:12-13
Can you find contentment and peace in the midst of the fearful things going on around you? Keep your life and mind focused on Jesus who will strengthen you to see beyond what you fear.
I pray that these words from scripture will strengthen your hearts and minds so that God’s people can serve and love others in these fearful times. The reactionary way that the world responds will continue the cycle of violence and hate that has produced so much of the world’s problems. Jesus is the key to breaking that cycle as we show His love to this miserably broken world.
life and death
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
Sickness and death is something that comes to us all. Often, there is no easy way to face it. Even if we have lived a long productive, enjoyable life, we don’t want to quit. We sometimes say that there are things worse than death. This is certainly true. But we still have trouble accepting it for ourselves or for our loved ones.
The end of our lives here on earth is inevitable. We cannot escape it. Our faith helps us to understand that we are not meant to live forever in our present condition.
Death is not the end, but the beginning. Jesus rose from the dead to give us new life but also to remind us that the grave is not the end of life. Our lives continue after death. If we belong to Christ, we have eternal blessing in the presence of our loving heavenly Father.
We will be healed. Every physical and emotional and spiritual ailment will be made well in our eternal home. As Revelation says, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
We serve a God who knows about pain and death firsthand. Jesus was humiliated and tortured and then executed as a criminal. Even though He is the Son of God, He can understand the pain and suffering we experience. When we turn to Him for comfort, we know He can empathize with our struggle.
To learn to live with dignity and purpose in the shadow of death is one of the marks of a mature adult human being. It’s not easy for any of us, but as trust God in Christ Jesus, we find strength to face the most painful and difficult of life’s circumstances.
called to give
So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Romans 12:5-6
From the time we were young Baptists, for those of us who grew up as Baptists, we have been told, “God loves a cheerful giver.” This important scriptural promise from 2 Corinthians is mostly used to exhort God’s people to give money. At Rocky River Baptist Church, it’s clear that most of God’s people understand the importance of giving money. You have been faithful to do so. God continues to bless that faithfulness.
But thinking about what we give to God through the church, it’s important to remember another area of stewardship that matters just as much as money. Every church, including Rocky River Baptist, needs many volunteers to make things work the way God wants them to. There are plenty of opportunities for everyone who belongs to this church family to contribute to the well-being of God’s church here.
Every kind of skill is needed: people who can build and tear down, people who can teach and sing, people who can wrangle kids, evaluate staff and plan budgets. As with money, God has blessed Rocky River Baptist with a fine crew of faithful volunteers. But we always need more! God is calling you to do something to bless His church right now!
I invite you to pray and talk to someone about taking on a new opportunity for service through God’s church here at Rocky River Baptist. No matter what your skills and gifts are, there is something you can do!
turning away from your
agenda and toward God's
But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.Matthew 6:33
You may remember the story of the man who came to Jesus and asked Him to set his brother straight. Evidently this man felt that his brother had not been fair in distributing the inheritance he should have received. No doubt he knew Jesus cared about fairness and justice. Jesus was a highly respected teacher. He believed that Jesus could put some pressure on his brother to do the right thing. Jesus’ reply certainly didn’t satisfy this disgruntled brother. “Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter over you?” (Luke 12:14).
It often happened that people came to Jesus with an agenda only to find that Jesus wasn’t interested. Jesus turned people away from their own agendas and toward God’s. The same is often true in our prayers. We come to Jesus hoping that He will hear and answer our prayer. We have a definite plan we want Him to follow. Sometimes, He has to help us see that our plan is not God’s plan.
Have you been asking God to deal with some circumstance or give you some blessing, only to find that your prayers are met with resistance? Maybe God is trying to tell you that your focus is in the wrong place. Maybe your plans and hopes are not what God wants for you. Are you willing to lay down your own preferences and refocus on God’s plan for your life?
The prophet Jonah ran away from God only to find himself in a mighty uncomfortable place. Maybe the time has come to let go and let God direct your path.
dogs and cats and
people, oh my!
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. Matthew 25:35
No one knows for sure who said it, but it is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “I care not for a man’s religion whose dog or cat is not the better for it.”
Wherever it came from, I believe the Bible’s authors would agree. While they didn’t talk much about dogs and cats, they often say that the sincerity of our religion can be seen in how we treat other people. As James wrote, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and be well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? ... faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17).
A faithful church is a generous, giving church. A faithful church is a group of people who show up to serve others and offer help in times of need. A faithful church is more concerned about finding ways to help than it is about complaining.
At Rocky River Baptist, we have participated together in helping ministries in our community. We have helped to sponsor a Habitat for Humanity house. We provide support and service through Circles Chatham, an anti-poverty initiative. We have provided volunteers to distribute SNACK boxes to needy families during the summer. We have collected toys, coats and money for the children housed in the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina.
Yet we live in a time when our busy personal schedules and the climate of blaming the needy are always making it difficult to keep our minds on the business of God’s kingdom. The words of Jesus quoted above remind us that Jesus, himself, defined His followers as those who would show compassion to the needy in concrete ways. Paul warns us, “Let us not become weary in doing good ....” (Galatians 6:9).
How can we show Christ’s love to the world through our generosity? Our neighbors are watching us to see if our religion influences how we treat our cats and our dogs, and the least of these among us.
Jesus' death ...
Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
Easter is the time that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. In the church, we talk about the death of Jesus all the time. We talk about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead too, but it often seems to be of secondary importance. The New Testament never speaks of Jesus’ death or resurrection in this way. Paul will often link the two together. The two actions in history, the death and the resurrection, should be seen as one event – the death and resurrection of Christ.
The connection is not merely historical. These two actions are also connected in our salvation. As Paul says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).
The importance of Jesus’ resurrection cannot be overemphasized. New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright reminds us that the New Testament places a different emphasis on the meaning of the resurrection than we often do in our modern world. We sometimes say that the meaning of the resurrection is simply to remind us that we can have life after death. But, says Wright, the New Testament shows us that the apostles saw the resurrection primarily as a confirmation that Jesus was the Messiah that God had promised to His people throughout their history. You see this most clearly in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2.
Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of God’s plan to restore His fallen creation! It is our calling not only to live as God’s new creation but also to proclaim it to the world. Note that in Matthew the Great Commission follows the resurrection immediately (Matt. 28:18-20), in Luke (24:45-49) and Acts (1:8) there is a similar calling. In John we see the restoration and commissioning of Peter and Jesus’ instruction to him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).
Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the one who is anointed and appointed by God to bring restoration to His fallen world. When we receive God’s grace in salvation, we are at the same time called to proclaim this good news about God’s gracious rescue. This is what we celebrate at Easter. This is why the death and resurrection of Christ is the most important of all holy days. As Christians, we live the death and resurrection of Jesus in everything that we do. Paul declares it this way, “…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10).
patience and trust
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Joseph is one of the most intriguing characters in the Bible. You will find his story in Genesis chapters 37-50. He was the great-grandson of Abraham, one of the 12 great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. From an early age, he frustrated everyone in his family with his lack of tact in sharing the dreams God had given him.
Because of the frustration with him, his brothers sold him into slavery. As a slave, he worked diligently and faithfully for his master and to honor God. He was falsely accused, imprisoned and seemingly forgotten.
Eventually, it became clear that God had put Joseph in that place for a special purpose. He became the chief manager for Pharaoh himself. Through Joseph's wisdom and faith, he was able to save many lives in Egypt and Canaan. God used Joseph for this purpose and reunited him with his family.
But this took many years. Through all of those trials, as God's plan unfolded, Joseph remained faithful. He made the best of every situation in which God placed him. He did not whine and complain because God didn't give him prosperity right away. He patiently waited on God and trusted Him throughout every difficulty.
I pray that God will help each of us to have that kind of faithfulness and patience and trust. I do believe that God will honor and bless if we do.
What time is it?
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it... Psalm 127:1
Time to make your resolutions! The New Year is upon us. I hope you have been praying for Rocky River Baptist Church as we have been making plans and seeking God’s guidance for our future.
This January we are beginning a new process that will help us love God and serve our neighbors even better than before. As we begin this process, there are things I ask you to consider:
1. Pray. We know that no effort to be God’s church will be effective unless it is directed and blessed by God. We want to follow God’s leading in all things. As we pray together, God will be able to bring us together in His Spirit. Pray for God’s blessing and direction for the whole process. I am also asking you to pray about how God would lead you to be involved.
2. Consider how you want to be involved. The first step in this new process is to form four leadership teams. Some of you will feel called to be on a leadership team. For those who are not on the leadership team, you may still feel called to be involved in a specific area. The four areas are: (1) Worship and Prayer, (2) Evangelism and Outreach, (3) Christian Education and Spiritual Formation and (4) Missions.
3. Commit yourself to Christ and the mission of His church. Don’t let your personal preferences get in the way of supporting new ways of doing ministry. In the Rocky River Baptist constitution, we have a “mission statement” for the church that really expresses what our focus should be. “This church is to be a dynamic, spiritual organism empowered by the Holy Spirit to worship, to witness, to educate, to minister, and to apply the teachings of Christ to our daily living by emphasizing total commitment of life, personality, and possession to the Lordship of Christ.”
God is at work among us and around us! Let us resolve to join what He is doing and to grow each day in our faith and service for Him.
God has made many promises
and he has kept them
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14
I try to keep my promises. You may have learned various morality tales, fables and proverbs as a child that taught you to be honest. Don’t be like “the boy who cried wolf,” I learned. Imitate George Washington who said, “I cannot tell a lie.” Or maybe Will Rogers said it best: “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”
In the Christmas season, we speak a lot about the virtues of love and charity. We emphasize giving because God gave His Son on our behalf. But there is another virtue that is represented in the coming of Christ to save us. God had made many promises to His people throughout the centuries. Through His prophets, God declared over and over that one day He would send the ultimate messenger and helper. One day, He would bring salvation and light and eternal hope.
And He kept His promise. In Jesus, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God had promised through Abraham that this promise was not just for one ethnic group of people. He told Abraham, “Through you, all the peoples of the world will be blessed.”
Then, one day, a virgin did conceive and bear a son. That Son was Jesus, which means “The Lord saves,” and He was called “Immanuel” which means “God is with us.” God kept His promise.
There is another promise God will keep this Christmas, and any time during the year. In Joel 2:32, God says, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
If you call out to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness and salvation, He will save you. And fortunately, we know His name. It’s in the Christmas story too. “And you will give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
the church is alive,
and that means changing
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15
The church is alive. We all know this, but often we tend to think of churches as merely institutions or organizations. But a real church is a living thing. The New Testament often refers to the church using the image of a body. We are the Body of Christ.
Living things cannot remain static. A living being with no movement is simply a corpse. Churches cannot exist and remain alive without changing. Change is happening. God has given us the privilege of helping Him to change it for the better or to allow it to grow weak and sick. These are the choices. We cannot choose to stay the same. We can only choose to grow or to allow ourselves to die.
We want to grow in a healthy way, God’s way. Growth for a church is not about numbers of people. Growth is about spiritual health. Growth is about faithfulness and becoming more mature in our walk with Christ.
Rocky River Baptist Church has begun a process to be more deliberate in making our church grow this way. We will be putting together four teams that will provide leadership in areas that are essential to church growth. The four teams are: (1) Worship and Prayer; (2) Evangelism and Outreach; (3) Christian Education and Spiritual Formation; and (4) Missions.
Through November, I will be preaching about these four areas on Sunday mornings. As we start 2016, we will bring experts in each of these areas to the church to talk about what Rocky River Baptist might do to grow in faithfulness. I am asking you to begin now to pray for this process. I especially ask you to pray that God will lead the individuals He wants on these teams to recognize that calling.
I also ask you to pray about how God wants you to be involved in this process. Is God calling you to be on one of these leadership teams? Or is God calling you to be a part of one of these areas to help the church grow?
bear each other's burdens
Bear one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
I remember pretty vividly the night I had to tell Vicky that her beloved grandmother Ola had died. We were living in a small apartment in Sanford. Vicky had been at the hospital with Ola that evening. I had stayed home to take care of Bethany, who was just a baby. I got the call while Vicky was still on the road. When Vicky got home, I told her. I held her, and we cried together.
I remember very well, too, sitting at a table in a consultation room at Duke Hospital as the doctors told my mother, my brother and me that my father was brain dead. Just days after what should have been a minor surgery, my mother was being asked to decide to let him die. Vicky was there at my side. She held me, and we cried together.
Vicky and I have lived together through family trials and heartaches. They have been difficult, but those burdens have been much easier to bear because we love each other and support each other through them.
Marriage should be like that. You bear each other’s burdens. Church should be like that too. Everyone faces heartaches and challenges. Being part of a church family should make those burdens lighter.
Sometimes in a family, a husband and wife can begin to take each other for granted. Church families do that too. We get caught up in our own struggles and neglect others. We forget that one of the ways God has given us to cope with our own struggles is to share them, by caring for others and by letting others care for us. As the Scripture says, when we “bear one another’s burdens,” we “fulfill the law of Christ."
missions in changing times
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...." Matthew 28:18-19
Baptists have always been people who believe in Missions. In the 19th century, that meant cooperating to collect money to send individuals or couples overseas to establish churches and make disciples for Jesus. In the 20th century, Southern Baptists developed the Cooperative Program as a way to support missionaries and mission work. This common funding allowed more money to go to actual missions and missionaries by reducing the administrative costs. It was a tremendous way to share the gospel throughout the world.
Baptists have adapted their support and mission efforts to changing times. We now live in a world where the boundaries between countries are more fluid. Missionaries are no longer sent to countries but to “people groups.” Such groups may be a small group of villages within a country or they may cross national borders.
Even more importantly, many mission organizations have realized that opportunities abound to do ministry and share the gospel in the United States itself. The areas surrounding the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, our own neighborhood, are among the most diverse and multi-cultural areas in the world. In recognition of this changing landscape, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship appointed Marc and Kim Wyatt to be missionaries to Internationals, with their residence in Wake County. The Wyatts had served for several years in Canada.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and its partner, CBFNC, are doing innovative work to share the gospel and help churches engage in the mission of Jesus to make disciples. I encourage you to get to know the work of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. To reach the world that we live in, we need to partner with Baptists like those of CBF to find new and meaningful avenues of outreach. To learn more about CBF visit cbf.net and cbfnc.org. Missions is in the depths of our soul as Baptists. Missions is at the heart of what Jesus tells us to do as His disciples.
do not lose heart
Therefore, we do not lose heart...." 2 Corinthians 4:16
So much sickness. It seems that many of our conversations these days begin with recounting the ills and injuries of our neighbors and friends. Over several years here at Rocky River Baptist, we have seen so many of our dearest loved ones suffer through long-term illness and tragic dying.
In addition, our world is beset with tragedy. The threat of ISIS, Charleston and Chattenooga, racist tensions, these put us all on edge every day.
Thankfully, we worship a God who is "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
Together, in Christ, we look to make our testimony the same as the Apostle Paul's. "We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed." 2 Corinthians 4:8,9.
Such a testimony comes from our faith in God, and our love for each other. As circumstances get tougher, we realize we must depend upon God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. In doing so we can also say with Paul, "Therefore, we do not lose heart . . . For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory..." 2 Corinthians 4:16-17.
death is inevitable
He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:8
Death is inevitable. It’s an unavoidable truth, although some of us do a lot to try and avoid it as much as possible. Still, there are no exemptions. Until the Day of the Lord rolls around, everyone who lives will die.
Accepting the reality of death is complicated by the fact that we live in an advanced technological and scientific age. Humans have made wonderful advances in medicine and healing through technology. Where advanced medical care is available, life spans and quality of life have greatly increased. Some are saying that within our children’s lifetimes, people will be able to live hundreds of years or more.
But for now, death will eventually come, sooner or later. The Bible has a lot to say about death and a lot to say about how to get ready for dying. Here are a few of the most important things:
Death is the end of the physical life we have known, but not the end of life. The death of our bodies is the beginning of our eternal existence. We can only see hints of what this eternal existence is like from the Bible’s stories. The images of streets of gold and gates of pearl might be literally true or metaphors for something even more amazing that our human minds cannot yet understand. There will be beauty and glory in abundance.
Our ultimate destiny is not life on this earth. This does not mean that our life is unimportant. On the contrary, the Bible seems pretty clear that our physical life is preparation for our eternal life. But remember the words of Jesus, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20).
So our life on this earth is about allowing God to make us more fit for heaven every day. Heaven, the eternal kingdom of God, is a place where God’s will is done always. This is a place where love, justice, peace and blessing are the law of the land. Our life here is meant to make us more like that each day.
Finally, the eternal life of bliss with God is not automatically given to everyone. Each of us must receive the grace and forgiveness of God. Jesus says to enter the kingdom of God we must be born again. Everyone is invited to receive God’s kingdom. But God will not force you to accept Him. You are free to choose.
Death is inevitable. But it should not be something we fear. The uncertainty makes it fearful, but the closer you grow to your Heavenly Father, the more your love for Jesus grows in your soul, the more certain you will be that death is not an end, but a new beginning of peace and love.
bullying is wrong
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another .... Ephesians 4:31-32
It's just about time for school to be out for the summer. I know that many young people are excited to set aside the daily chore of homework and learning. I remember how much I looked forward to summer vacation each year.
But there is another reason why some kids will be looking forward to going home for the summer. For these kids, school is nothing more than daily torture. Not because they don't want to do school work. These kids are being bullied.
Bullying takes many forms. Sometimes its physical, but often it is verbal abuse or a constant teasing that targets sensitive souls in areas of weakness. Whatever form it takes, bullying is wrong.
This is not a new phenomenon. Kids have bullied other kids for all of human history. And it's not only something that happens to kids. Husbands bully wives; bosses bully employees; neighbors bully neighbors. But whoever does it, at whatever age. Bullying is wrong.
Lately I have been hearing a lot of stories about bullying, both physical and verbal abuse, happening in schools around us. And my question is: In communities where so many people claim to be Christians, how is this allowed to happen? Some of the bullies are church members themselves. But even when they are not, why are there no moral people, no Christian people, taking a stand to put a stop to this behavior? Have we done such a poor job in church teaching our young people how Christians should act?
Sometimes it takes the courage of a few to stop the abuse of others. As parents and adult members of this community, let us state clearly to our children and the young people we know, that bullying is unacceptable. If our own children are doing it, let's not pretend they are innocent. Let's lend our community support to school administrators and teachers who create safe places for our kids to learn.
And let's live our own lives committed to the ways of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:7
The first Sunday in May, Rocky River Baptist church will celebrate your faithfulness! On that Sunday morning we will have our first Stewardship Sunday emphasis. This special service will be a celebration of the faithful way that you, the members of Rocky River Baptist, have given to the Lord through the church.
As a part of that celebration, we will take some time to share with you the different ministries that are supported through the money that is given to Rocky River. We will talk about missions and Christian education and buildings and music and all of the ministries that make up what we do in Christ’s name here.
We refer to our church giving as stewardship because we want to remember the foundation for our giving. We give to the church because we understand that everything we have comes to us as a gift from God. We believe that God has given us all that we have so that we will be good stewards of His gifts. An important part of that stewardship is supporting God’s work through His church.
If you are giving to the church, it is important that you have some idea of what your money is used for. At Rocky River, our finances are open and published in a treasurer’s report every month, so that any member can know how the money is spent. On Stewardship Sunday we will explain with a little more detail some of the most important ministries that your money supports through the church.
God has blessed us. And we bless Him when we are faithful to support His work in the world through the church. We invite you to start praying now that God will honor this day and help us to celebrate His blessings to us!
death, resurrection and change
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:5
Easter is about the resurrection. The true story of how Jesus rose from the dead. In that act, God showed that Jesus was the Christ and victory over death is certain. He’s alive! Because of that life, we have abundant and eternal life in Him.
In the New Testament, the resurrection is rarely spoken of without also mentioning the crucifixion. It has to be that way. Jesus could not rise from the dead until He was dead. The crucifixion and resurrection are companions. The most certain way to demonstrate that He had conquered death was for Jesus to die. The sacrifice of death was also necessary to secure our forgiveness.
We remember what Jesus has done for us in both the crucifixion and resurrection at Easter. It is also a good time to remember that life is a series of deaths and resurrections. Very often, for something new and good to come into our lives, something else has to die. We may need to end old habits or destructive relationships. We might even need to let go of good things that stand in the way of more excellent things we need.
Life consists of this cycle of letting go and getting back. As parents, our relationships to our children change as they grow and become adults. As we age, we recognize the limits of physical ability and grow more aware of our eternal spirit. Death comes to everyone. In Jesus, resurrection comes too.
The world around us is also changing. Churches everywhere are desperately trying to hold onto “the way things used to be.” Perhaps God is telling us that we need to allow some of our old ideas to die, so that He can bring new life, resurrection, to His people and His church.
Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: rejoice! Philippians 4:4
Central North Carolina is such a nice place to live. There is so much to recommend this area. The climate is temperate. Occasionally it can get a little too humid and, rarely, a little cold, but most of the time it is moderate and comfortable. From where we live, you can visit the mountains and see the leaves turn in the fall in just a few hours. And anytime you want, a few hours will also get you to the coast.
In addition, we live within an hour or so of some of the best hospitals in the world. The educational opportunities and advanced research facilities place central North Carolina among the most desirable places in the world.
Not to mention the best college basketball in the country.
But in the midst of all this geographical paradise, some people are unhappy. They are unwilling to appreciate the blessings of where they are.
And that’s what happens with a lot of us as Christians too. We have every reason to always have the joy of the Lord in our hearts. We have salvation, eternal life, peace of mind, but we turn our eyes away from Jesus and let our minds wallow in aggravation.
Certainly, sometimes we have legitimate reasons for grief. But most of the time, we allow the smallest of excuses to justify our despair. If we allow Him, God gives us Himself to lift our spirits and encourage our hearts.
The spirit of every Christian always resides in the most beautiful place, in the presence of the Lord. Don’t let the temporary circumstances of life prevent you from appreciating where you are.
the more things change ...
Not that I have already obtained all this, or I have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12
Some people seem to have the idea that the weakness and worldliness of modern-day churches is something new in the church. There is an idea that the church at the time that the New Testament was written was purer and more spiritual than we are.
But the New Testament church was full of people too. If you read the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament, you notice pretty quickly that those followers of Jesus were just as stubborn and self-centered as we are. Notice these words of Paul in 1 Corinthians. “Brothers and sisters, I would not address you as people who live by the Spirit, but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”
He goes on to say that they are quarreling and jealous of each other. They have cliques and factions among them. He wants them to be able to know and live the deeper truths of the faith, but they have not been able to digest even the simplest truth – “love one another.”
Even the disciples of Jesus, living in His earthly presence, would argue among themselves and completely miss the point of things He would say.
These examples should not make us give up trying to be a better church for Jesus, but they should encourage us as we recognize ourselves in them. The only church where everything goes perfectly smoothly and no one ever gets upset is a church where one authoritarian hand controls everything and no one has the freedom to be irritable and moody.
God is working on us, perfecting us, but we haven’t arrived yet. Let’s try to be better. But let’s also rest in the faith that God has not given up on us just because we are not perfect yet.
old truth, new times
What has been will be again, and what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9
“We’ve never done it that way before.” Congratulations! As you read this, you are experiencing something new, something that we have done for the very first time at Rocky River Baptist Church. With this issue, the Rocky River Recorder goes digital. Whether you are reading this through email delivery or by picking up a paper copy at the church, you are part of something new.
The immediate reason for making this change is simple. We can save money by no longer mailing all of our newsletters.
But money is not the only issue. For now, the Recorder will look very similar to what you are used to, although we have changed the format to fit a normal sheet of paper so that you can print it at home if you want to. But delivering the newsletter electronically provides a lot more flexibility. Most people are becoming more and more used to organizing their lives, including their reading material, through electronic devices like smart phones and tablets. The church needs to embrace the use of these technologies to stay in touch with members and reach out to prospects.
“Give me that old-time religion. It’s good enough for me.” Christian faith is an old-time religion. But Christian faith has always spread through embracing new ways of reaching people, bringing ministry and communicating its old-time truths. The gospel is eternal and timeless, but God speaks to people in their own language and their own times. So, when we adopt new ways in the church, there is really only one reason to do so. This is the best way to preach the gospel and show God’s love to people among this generation of Americans.
We pray that this new way will not be too stressful for those who like to stick with “the way we have always done it.” But remember, our goal is clear, to tell our neighbors and community that “God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Luke 2:10-11
“Don’t be afraid. We have terrific news that will bring you great joy!” That is a message we all could use right about now isn’t it? Whether we are struggling with sickness or uncertainty about the future or frustration at the circumstances of our lives, we would love to have a heavenly visitation tell us that God has sent us some good news. Good news that will give us great joy, yeah, that’s what we need.
But suppose as you are receiving this heavenly visitation, this great news announcement concludes like this: “Your salvation is a helpless baby, lying in the food trough for the animals because his parents can’t afford a decent place to stay.” Would you put much confidence in that plan?
Many times God’s answers come to us in seemingly powerless packages: a still small whisper, a basket of reeds or a sling with five stones. God’s might is not measured in size.
Has God been speaking a word of blessing and hope to you through some small miracle? Have you not been able to see it because you have been looking for something large and shiny, while God’s message has come in a seemingly insignificant package?
Allow God’s word to come to you this Christmas, a word of salvation and blessing. “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” Many people will not recognize how important this is. Don’t miss it!
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16
When you picture God, do you picture Him far away? If we take the time to imagine God, we often picture a white-haired father figure sitting on an ornate throne in a great palace in heaven. There is nothing wrong with this picture. In fact, the Bible lends itself to such an image in many places.
But that is not the whole story of who God is. If you only have that image, you will miss something really beautiful about God. The opening chapter of the gospel of John tells us how “the Word was God” and “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” That “Word” John is talking about is Jesus. Jesus is God. Jesus was also human. Our God became human.
So God is not only the powerful Being in heaven, he is also the loving Son on earth. He knows what it means to be tired, frustrated, hungry and thirsty. He knows what it’s like to be misunderstood and betrayed by his friends. He felt terrible pain. He was falsely accused. He suffered the humiliating public execution of a criminal. He can understand every human experience.
In the Bible, the book of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…” Jesus can understand all of our weaknesses. Even though Jesus did not sin, He felt every temptation and every frustration of being human. So we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence,” knowing that our God will know what it’s like.
God is in His throne room, but He is not far away. He is present to hear and understand and help no matter what our struggles. Take your burdens to Him. He understands. He wants to help. He can.
commitment through giving
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
October is the time when we begin to settle into fall, a new school year for families of children and the regular pace that returns at the end of summer. At Rocky River Baptist we begin a new church year in September, but Labor Day and warm weather mean that many weekends are still vacation days for church families. October marks a turn to a more regular pace.
And that makes it a good time to consider how God desires for each of us to contribute to His church in this coming year. We do not ask members to sign pledge cards to declare how much money you will give to the church this year. However, we do ask that you make your giving to God’s church a matter of prayer. What does God want you to give? How can you make a deeper commitment to Him through giving?
The Old Testament law instructed God’s people to give ten percent of their income, a tithe, to the work of the Temple and its priests. Even as He was condemning the Pharisees, Jesus applauded their commitment to giving a tithe. “You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matthew 23:23).
So now is a good time to recommit ourselves to supporting God’s church through giving. Maybe it is not possible for you and your family to give ten percent at this time. That is between you and God. But giving is a spiritual blessing and a spiritual discipline. In Acts as Paul is sharing his heart with the Christians in Ephesus just before he must leave them, he reminds them that Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This is the heart of Jesus and His followers.
our new associational missionary
My prayer is not just for my disciples alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. John 17:20-21
On Monday night August 18, the churches of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association (SCBA) met at Sandy Branch Baptist Church. We voted to call Eric Davidson as the new associational missionary.
Eric has been serving as interim associational missionary for the past year. Eric has been a bivocational pastor in Lee County and served in various ministry positions throughout his life. As we begin this new chapter in the life of the SCBA, I would like to remind you to pray for Eric and the association of Baptist churches that he leads.
The SCBA is a voluntary association of Baptist churches. It comprises most of the Southern Baptist churches in Lee and Chatham counties along with one church in Alamance County. According to their website, the SCBA’s purpose “is to partner with the 49 churches and missions of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association providing assistance, training, resources, mission opportunities, fellowship events and more as they seek to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord in their communities.” In other words, the SCBA exists to encourage and help the work of the local churches that belong to it.
The SCBA regularly offers training and resources. The SCBA sponsors and promotes mission trip opportunities. The SCBA encourages pastors with fellowship and training opportunities. The associational missionary and various teams in the SCBA provide help when churches are going through conflict or looking for ministry staff. These are just a few of the things our association does.
Rocky River Baptist has always been a big supporter of the SCBA. We give 5 percent of our undesignated offerings to support the SCBA. You can support the SCBA through prayer. You are already supporting with your giving whenever you give to our church.
You can keep up with the SCBA’s activities by viewing their monthly newsletter, "The Link", which you can view on their website, or through a link on the Rocky River Baptist Facebook page each month. There are also always opportunities to volunteer for SCBA ministries and committees.
The association is an important part of Baptist life. It keeps us connected to other Baptist churches and ministries. It helps us see beyond our own community to the world that God so loved.
back to school
Back to School! Well, not quite yet, but it is on the horizon. Everyone is planning last minute vacations and finishing up summer plans in preparation for the return to the routine of daily education. Some students are excited to think about reconnecting with friends. Some are depressed at the thought of daily homework. Most of us are heading into new possibilities that we have not yet imagined.
I remember starting my 10th grade year without much enthusiasm. I did not dread school, but I was moving away from some old friends and not quite sure what I might be moving into. I started doing a little running to try and get into shape to try out for the school basketball team. Without much thought, I signed up to audition for the school play one morning in choral class.
When the afternoon came for the actual audition, I wanted to back out. I was pretty scared of the idea by that time. My mother insisted that because I had signed up, I had made an obligation to be there. Neither one of us had any idea what that decision would mean for me.
I went to that audition and got a lead role as the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. From that time on, I spent most of my high school years working on one play or another. I found a passionate love that gave me a reason to enjoy every day.
I was also introduced to the prettiest brown-eyed, dark-haired young woman who played Dorothy. Neither of us had any idea what that meeting would mean for our futures. Now, 37 years later, God has turned that into 30 years of marriage, two wonderful children and a lifetime of serving His church together.
God also brought friends into my life through that theatre experience that deepened my commitment to Him. Friendships that continue to be a source of encouragement in my walk with the Lord.
What wonderful blessings does God have in store for you in this new school year? As the summer winds down, I pray that you will open your life and heart to the gracious presence and leading of His Spirit.
a servant of Jesus Christ
There are different kinds of service but the same Lord. — 1 Corinthians 12:5
What is your job title? I remember how people used to make jokes about how companies upgraded the titles of jobs to make them sound more important. A trash collector suddenly became a sanitation engineer.
The great apostle Paul begins his letter to the Romans by stating his job title. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.”
We believe that the Holy Spirit was inspiring Paul as he wrote these words. And I believe that Paul was expressing something important in the way he said these simple things.
First, Paul was “a servant of Jesus Christ.” For every human being, there is no more important role in life. God created us to be His people. He wants every person to follow Paul in this. Every other role we take on in life is shaped by how we respond to this desire of God. If we are parents, spouses, bosses or community leaders, the most important role we can accept is “servant of Jesus Christ.”
Second, Paul accepted the calling of God to be an apostle. Not everyone is called to be an apostle. But everyone is called to serve Christ in a role within His kingdom and His church. Some are preachers; some are teachers; some are musicians. There are many different roles in God’s work. Each of us is called to find some ministry within the church by which we serve Christ.
And finally, as we accept our calling we recognize, just as Paul did, that we are set apart by God for His message of good news, the gospel. God defines our role and equips us for that role in the greater mission of God. We are part of His plan to call every person to be His servant and His child.
Many Christians want to receive the gift of being God’s child, but ignore the call to be His servant. Paul knew, and the Spirit inspired him to remind us, that we cannot be one without the other.
every member matters
Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together. — Hebrews 10:25
There was a time when the rhythms that shaped the life of a community like ours were the rhythms of the farm. Milk and feed before daylight; harvest and plant and repeat. This rhythm was partially replaced by the rhythms of the school. This was the rhythm that shaped my years of growing up. Christmas holiday, spring break, summer vacation, shopping for clothes and supplies were the hallmark moments of each year.
Churches also have a rhythm to their lives. In some churches, the year is shaped by the liturgical calendar, an outline that moves from Christmas to Easter and around to Christmas again. And then there’s the summer. Summer is when the kids are out of school. Summer is vacation and ball games and weekends at the lake. In the rhythms of modern life, summer is often a vacation from church.
Of course, we should not take a vacation from our relationship with God, no matter how often we are away from church. But you should also know that just because you may be away with your family on vacation or at ball tournaments, you do not have to miss out on your relationship to the church.
At Rocky River Baptist, we post regular updates on Facebook. I send out a weekly devotional email. You can request copies of worship services on CD for listening at your leisure. You can also follow the prayer list on the church website and make praying for church needs a daily part of your routine.
Every member matters at Rocky River Baptist Church. Sometimes obligation or recreation takes us away from the weekly Bible study and worship, but the church needs you to be involved in any way that you can. I hope to see you many times during the summer, but when you cannot be with us, remember to be a part of us!
out of control
Blessed are those who do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly ... but their delight is in the law of the Lord. — Psalm 1:1-2
Our world is changing at a blistering pace. We all know this is true. The expansion of smart phones, the advent of Netflix and constantly changing healthcare rules are just a few of the dramatic ways that our world is changing almost every day. It's easy to see why so many of us feel that our lives are spinning out of control.
To have any peace in a world that is changing so dramatically and abruptly, we need to have a foundation, a fixed point which provides a stable base. Like children playing freeze tag, if we can return to base in times of insecurity and uncertainty, we can clear our minds and safely find a way to move out again.
When I was a teenager, a Christian friend suggested that we memorize Psalm 1 as a reminder of where that foundation is. "Blessed are those who do not walk in the council of the ungodly ... but their delight is in the law of the Lord." To remember that God's word, God's law, is the foundation to which I can return and find stability, safety and peace. Jesus said that all of that Law was summed up in the two commandments, "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength," and "Love your neighbor as yourself."
We feel the strain of circumstances pulling us off our base all the time in this ever-changing world. This Psalm describes perfectly the off-balance life of people who do not follow God's Law: "They are like the chaff that the wind drives away."
But when we remember to ground ourselves in God's Law, we have stability and powerful hope. The Psalm promises, "They are like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper."
It's natural that in these wildly changing times we may feel like we are reeling in the wind. But if we return to the basic foundation, to God's law of loving Him and loving others, we will find a reliable place to stand strong.
afraid of change
Behold, I am making all things new. — Revelation 21:5
Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. — Revelation 1:17
It's Spring. It's April. It's just about Easter. Bunnies and candy and egg hunts and, hopefully, some time spent meditating on the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul often spoke of Christ's death and resurrection as a tandem event, each one as important as the other. "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Romans 4:25).
Each year we remember the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins. And we remember the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He overcame death. We sing so joyously, "Up from the grave He arose with a mighty triumph o'er His foes!" We think of the resurrection as the ultimate victory.
But its easy to forget that when the resurrection first happened, those who saw it were fearful and confused. Mark, talking about the women who were the first to see the resurrected Jesus, says, "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid" (Mark 16:8).
They had just seen Jesus. And they were afraid!
They were afraid because this was something outside of the normal. They grieved over Jesus' death. But death was normal, something they knew how to handle. They would anoint the body; they would weep and mourn. They would cherish their memories.
But resurrection, that was too much, too much to hope for and far outside of anything they could imagine! They wanted comfort and peace from God and the memory of their beloved Jesus. Instead, they found the foundations of their lives turned upside down. Everything they knew and could understand suddenly could not be counted on.
Often the changes that come into our lives because we choose to follow Jesus take us to a place that is new and extremely scary. We long for the old, comfortable life we had before. If we are not careful, we will miss the triumph of the resurrection because we are afraid of the change.
Do not be afraid. The new may be unfamiliar, but in Christ, it is the power of resurrection and life!
but spring will come
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. — Hebrews 11:1
Its been a cold, wet winter and everyone is longing for spring. We have already had spring teasers in the form of 70-degree days in February that followed snows and ice and lower-than-normal temperatures. But winter has not left us yet. After a short burst of warm weather, the cold and the wet returned.
But spring will come, right?
We don't have any doubt that spring will arrive as usual. We are certain that we will once again hear the birds sing and see the trees bud and sneeze at the pollen in the air. Spring will come. It always has. It may not come as soon as we had hoped, but it will be here.
In some ways, life on earth can be compared to a long winter. There is a lot of cold and dark even in the springtime. In our troubled moments we cry out with the saints of the Psalms and Revelation, "How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?" (Psalm 13:1)
But spring will come.
Spring on the earth is a yearly reminder that darkness and death are temporary. Just as the cold, wet winter gives way to the warm sun of spring, the pain and heartache of earthly life fades away into eternal sunshine for everyone who trusts in Christ.
Spring will come, eternal, bright, warm spring. "In my Father's house are many rooms," Jesus said and promised, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me..." (John 14:2-3). Don't lose hope. Though your life may feel like winter all the time, in Jesus, spring is coming.
one body in Christ
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. — Romans 12:4-6
This month we will once again be having our monthly business meeting during the Sunday School hour at 10 a.m. on February 2. This will give more of us a chance to hear the business reports and be involved in the business of the church. I hope you will take the time to join us. Going to the church business meeting is often like balancing your check book: It isn’t much fun, but it must be done.
The business meeting in a Baptist church is the formal opportunity for every member to share his or her thoughts and ideas about the church. Many times only a few people make decisions for the church, but often this is because those people are the only ones who attend the meeting!
Every member has the same right to speak out and vote on the decisions that are made by the church within the rules of the church’s constitution. This is the covenant agreement we have made with each other as members. It is also the legal obligation we have as an incorporated organization in the State of North Carolina.
But, there is a theological reason why we do it this way. We don’t do it this way because we are imitating the democratic process of our country. We believe that every believer has the Spirit of Christ. Therefore, every believer has a contribution to make from that Spirit. We cannot know the complete heart and mind of God for our congregation unless the whole body expresses its understanding of God’s will.
We do not want a majority vote where one side "wins" and one side "loses." What we want to see is a group prayerfully discerning the will of God together. A group reaching a consensus that honors Christ and keeps the church focused on ministry.
It is easier to reach a consensus if only a few people show up. But it means that those of us who do will lack the experience and talents and wisdom and spiritual awareness of those who do not. Because even though there are many of us, "we are one body in Christ."
grow closer to the Lord
... those who hope in the Lord, will renew their strength. — Isaiah 40:31
As the New Year begins, everyone will be making resolutions, thinking about the new things we want to do, the ways we want to change our lives for the better, the improvements we would like to see in our homes, family and community.
So, this is the perfect time to think about how we might grow closer to the Lord in 2014. God has given us many blessings. But His greatest desire is always to give us a closer relationship with Himself. With the busyness of the Christmas season behind us and the slower pace of the winter settling in, we can take some time to reflect on where we are in our relationship with God.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Do something to revitalize your prayer life. It is easy to let prayer become routine and stagnant. Do something new. Consider finding a prayer partner and pray together with them once a week.
2. Memorize some scripture. Don't just memorize the verse, but use that as an opportunity to meditate on its meaning for your life. Write it down on an index card or place it as the wallpaper on your smart phone so you can look at it throughout the day as you learn it.
3. Take on a ministry project. I am not talking about a formal project with an organization. Look around at the people you know at work or in your neighborhood. Someone needs help with something. Pray and ask for God's direction. If you have a passion for something — for example, playing music — try to make that a part of your project. You will be doubly blessed as you do something you love and help someone else.
4. Pray that God will direct you to a place of service in His church and be willing to accept whatever that service will be. God's church at Rocky River needs everyone to serve in ministry. There are activities and ministries that are not being done because no one is willing or able to do them. You may think that you can't do anything, but if God is calling you to it, He will prepare you for it. If you are not doing some ministry in the church already, then you are not fulfilling your call as a member of God's church.
Don't let your relationship with God become stale. Remember the promise of Isaiah: "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:31).
When I was a child, each year at Christmas, my family would travel to Conway, South Carolina, to visit my grandparents. Visiting our grandparents was always a special treat any time of the year. At Christmas, we knew we would be enjoying my grandmother's delicious cooking and visits with aunts and uncles and cousins. Good times.
I also remember that my grandparents had the most fascinating Christmas tree. It was an artificial tree, and it was all silver. At the base of the tree, they had an electric light with colored filters that spun on a wheel like a fan. As it spun around, the silver tree would reflect each new color, turning blue, then yellow, then green.
Trees and lights and family memories remain an important part of Christmas for us. I hope for you there are many pleasant family memories. For many of us, Christmas is a time of sadness as well as joy. Like the spinning wheel of light at my grandparents' house, life changes its gifts to us each moment. Tragedy follows comedy follows boredom in a seemingly endless spinning wheel.
Evergreen trees and lights remain powerful symbols of the hope we have in Christ no matter the changing fortunes of our daily lives. The northern European ancestors who passed along to us the veneration of the evergreen saw in the those green needles, life enduring in the midst of the deathly cold of winter.
As Christians, we continue to celebrate with that symbol because we see it as a reminder of Christ, who was born as a baby in Bethlehem so that we will have life. The star that led the Magi to the baby Jesus was a light like the lights we put on our houses and trees that lead us to worship the new-born king.
And if your world has been spinning into a place of fear and anguish this Christmas, God not only hears and sees those tears; He has sent His Son to let you know that He walks with us on this spinning orb in space. And He brings peace and good will.
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. Philippians 2:3-5
This past year, the pastor that I grew up with passed away. Many of you knew Pastor Bridges, "Mister Bridges," as we almost always called him. He had an old-fashioned, fatherly demeanor — stern, but quite loving. No one I have ever known loved to preach the New Testament more than Gerald Bridges. And no one I ever knew did it better.
After his funeral, a good friend from childhood and I were reminiscing about growing up at Cool Springs Baptist Church. Mr. Bridges was there for almost 23 years as pastor. He was the only pastor I knew growing up. I didn't always think that Cool Springs was perfect. I didn't always agree with Mr. Bridges.
But I have always recognized the great value of growing up in a stable loving church home. I see more than ever the foundation that Cool Springs Baptist and Mr. Bridges laid for the gospel to take root in my life.
Sometimes, we may find ourselves feeling critical about our church home and some particular part of it. Rarely is there complete agreement, even among faithful believers. Some want more shouting, and some want more silence.
But I invite you, in this moment to take the measure of the Spirit among us. Be thankful for your church and church family. Pledge yourself, your time and your money, to making the kind of place where you and your children and one day your grandchildren will say, "I am so thankful that I grew up at Rocky River Baptist Church."
The world longs to be entertained, and some would encourage us to do the entertaining. But people will not be won to Christ by entertainment or enthusiasm. God's program for changing the world is to take over human hearts and communities of believers. He is deliberately and gently pushing and pulling us toward Himself. Like the tortoise in the fable, slow and steady wins the race of God's kingdom, too.
So today, be thankful. Rocky River Baptist Church is God's church still. And we are blessed to be here.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…. Philippians 2:3-5
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Good people everywhere are united in the belief that no husband (or wife) should physically abuse their partner. But violence is not limited to physical abuse. Good people should also be committed to the idea that husbands do not mistreat their wives in other ways.
One of the ways that husbands abuse their wives is through verbal abuse. A spouse who is constantly yelling uncontrollably or demeaning their partner verbally is engaging in domestic violence. Such behavior is not Christian. “Love does not behave shamefully…is not easily provoked….” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians.
Another way that husbands abuse their wives is through forced control. If a husband completely controls his wife’s money, or does not allow her to spend time with friends, for example, he is engaging in controlling behaviors that are inappropriate. This is not Christian love.
No husband (or wife) should treat his spouse in a way that suggests she is less of a person than he is. Before God, every person, male or female, is sacred and valued. Christ died for all. The promise of John 3:16, “whoever believes in Him…” belongs to every person.
One of the truest measures of our faithfulness to Christ is how we treat our closest family members. All of us have known men who were church leaders and presented a spiritual front who were disrespectful and mean inside their own homes. God is not fooled. Every Christian marriage should be characterized by the words of Paul in Philippians 2 quoted above. A faithful Christian marriage will be respectful and loving.
a violent storm
Peace. Be still. … Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? Mark 4:39-40
Jesus is sleeping. No, I don’t mean now as you are reading this. I mean in the boat. His disciples were freaking out. There was a terrible storm. The wind and waves were about to capsize the boat. Many of the disciples were fisherman. They had seen storms on the water before. Their fear came because they knew precisely what this kind of storm could do.
And Jesus was sleeping. After all, he was a carpenter. What did he know about storms? They probably thought he didn’t know what a storm like this could do. But they knew. And they were terrified. "Wake up," they shouted at him. "Don't you care that we are about to drown?"
Jesus did care. But he was not afraid. He knew what storms could do. But He also knew that God’s power is greater than the storm. He knew that He was the master of all storms. All He had to do was say the words. “"Peace. Be still."
The world in which we live is raging like a violent storm. It threatens to overwhelm and engulf us. We know it can. We have seen its power. Our fear does not come from ignorance, but from very certain knowledge of what the world can do to a fragile and vulnerable human being.
But we also know the One who has power over the storms. It may feel like He has been sleeping, but He is fully aware of the storms we face. He is right there in the boat with us. At the right time, He will get up and speak those words to the storm of your heart and to the storms threatening your life.
“Peace. Be still.”
“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
what are we?
But grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18
What does it mean to be a Christian? The world as we know it is in a state of flux. Things are changing more rapidly than we could have imagined in the middle of the 20th century. Now it seems like the speed of life and change increases every day.
Another reality that we see happening around is that churches in North America are dying. We can rejoice to hear reports that in the southern hemisphere, many places in Africa, South America and even in China, the church is growing with great energy and vigor. But in the United States, the traditional churches are losing members, even closing their doors.
In a time like this, we need to think carefully about what our identity is. In other words, we need to be able to give a simple definition of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a church.
And we need to be willing to admit that the old definition is not good enough.
The church itself needs to grow and be transformed by the gospel of Jesus in each new generation. This does not mean that the definition of the gospel changes. It does mean that our understanding grows and changes.
When the Southern Baptist Convention started over 150 years ago, most churches in the South taught that we could be a Christian and also own slaves. We have learned better. The church had to catch up to the gospel in that case.
The church stands against some of the things that American society stands for: sexual permissiveness, greedy pursuit of wealth, seeking revenge. These are the world’s standards and the church must oppose them.
But sometimes the church must listen to other people and hear their concerns. The world is telling us that we have become irrelevant in many places because we have focused on preserving the outer appearance of religion and ignored its heart.
In some cases this accusation is true; in some, it is not. But we have given in to the temptation to ignore the world outside and focus on maintaining what makes us feel good.
It will be uncomfortable for the church to listen and consider changing. It will take courage. But, as our young people in Vacation Bible School learned this summer, “God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment” 2 Timothy 1:7 (HCSB).
what a church should be
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20
“Lord I believe; help my unbelief!” so the desperate father cried out to Jesus, begging him to cast the demonic spirit out of his son. Jesus did respond to the father’s plea. He delivered his son from the spirit. The father’s faith in Jesus, a faith that was weak until Christ Himself gave it strength, that faith brought healing and a new life.
Year ago, I outlined an understanding of what a church should be based on the Great Commission, the scripture quoted here. Jesus commissioned His disciples to “make disciples” of others just as He had done with them. He gave them two tasks: baptize people in His name and teach people to live according to His teachings.
In my outline, I rename these tasks. Baptism is Jesus’ short-hand way of telling us to introduce people to God’s love. Teaching people to obey Jesus’ teachings means that we help people to live in God’s light.
The first task is to help others to know God in Christ, to experience salvation. There are three responsibilities of the church in this task: evangelism, ministry and missions.
We evangelize; that is, we tell people the gospel and invite them to respond by receiving Christ as their Lord and Savior. We do ministry; that is, we do good works that help others, and we do them in Jesus’ name. We do missions; that is, we take evangelism and ministry to areas outside of our immediate geographical location.
The second task, teaching people to live by Christ’s teaching, involves four responsibilities for the church: worship, education, stewardship and fellowship.
We worship God as a group on Sunday morning and promote family and personal worship among our members. We educate through Sunday School and other Bible study, so that members know how to live by Christ’s teachings. We encourage stewardship; that is, we offer ways for believers to use their resources for the cause of Christ, giving money and themselves to service through the church. We promote fellowship through churchwide fellowship events and care for each other in our daily lives.
To live up to Jesus’ Great Commission, we must be engaged in all of these tasks and responsibilities. Like every church, we have areas that we do well and areas where we need to improve. Where is God calling you to work in your church to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus? You have a place.
suffering and help
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
“Lord I believe; help my unbelief!” so the desperate father cried out to Jesus, begging him to cast the demonic spirit out of his son. Jesus did respond to the father’s plea. He delivered his son from the spirit. The father’s faith in Jesus, a faith that was weak until Christ Himself gave it strength, that faith brought healing and a new life.
Jesus’ preaching, and every witness of the New Testament, tells us that salvation comes only by faith. We cannot produce righteousness or eternal life through our own efforts. We cannot be good enough or wise enough to bridge the gap that exists between us and God. When the disciples asked Jesus why they could not cast the demon out of this father’s son, Jesus told them that this kind of evil can only be overcome by prayer; in other words, by a plea of faith in God.
Just like this father, we must have faith to find salvation and healing in God, and just like him we must recognize that our faith is weak and needs the grace of God to make it strong. Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a small mustard seed that would be enough to do great miracles. But we clearly do not have even that much faith unless God gives it to us.
When we get desperate enough ourselves, we pray the same prayer that father prayed, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
Most people are too proud, too caught up in the pursuit of pleasure or success or security to admit how desperate they are. They ignore the demons that are dragging them down. It’s not until we get so desperate that we are willing to try anything, even faith, that we pray that prayer. And then we can truly be saved.
Paul reminds us that salvation comes to us by faith, but even faith does not belong to us. We cannot take credit for it. Even the faith we have, “it is the gift of God — not by works so that no one can boast.”
The time has come. Give up trying to prove to God and everyone else that you can be good. Jesus told a story about a Pharisee and a sinning tax collector praying to God. The prayer of the Pharisee was simply blowing his own horn. But the sinner simply told God, “Have mercy on me. I’m nothing but a sinner.” The time has come. Pray that prayer today.
suffering and help
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9
“Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” This was the question the disciples had for Jesus when they encountered a man who was born blind (John 9:2). They wanted to understand the theology of the suffering they observed.
We would like to understand suffering too. Recently the Boston Marathon bombing followed by the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, reminded us of the fragile nature of human existence and the reality of suffering. We naturally are tempted to ask why such things happen.
Jesus’ reply to his disciples may sound frustrating. He doesn’t really explain why it happened. Instead of addressing our burning question, he turns the question around. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus said, “but this happened that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
John tells us that Jesus goes on to heal the man. We always pray for God’s help when suffering happens, but Jesus meant something more than seeking God’s help. Jesus was not really offering an explanation. Jesus was using this opportunity to teach his disciples that instead of questioning suffering, we should see suffering as an opportunity to help.
The disciples’ ideas about God made them think that the blind man deserved his suffering. We often dismiss the idea of helping those who are suffering because we believe they deserve it. But Jesus says that our responsibility as His disciples is to see suffering as a chance to glorify God by helping those in need.
Fred Rogers, the famous children’s television host, said that his mother taught him that when bad things happen we should “look for the helpers.” Instead of focusing on the evil, focus on the good, those who are rushing in to help. I echo this sentiment, because when we look for the helpers, we are looking at those who are acting in the spirit of Jesus.
he is risen, indeed
If Christ has not been raised , our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
1 Corinthians 15:14
Jesus was dead. And then He walked out of the tomb, left it empty. He was alive. Not a ghostly alive like the spirits that endless cable TV shows claim are touring our hotels and roadways nightly. He was physically alive. He could say to His disciples, “Touch the nail holes in my hands.” He ate and slept.
Jesus was dead and then He was alive again. This fact is central to Christian faith. Like Thomas, the doubting disciple, the world is prone to say that they won’t believe until they see Him for themselves. Like Thomas, we Christians fall on our knees and say, “My Lord and my God.” We remember that Jesus told him, “You see because you believe. Blessed are those who don’t see and yet they believe.”
Paul tells the Corinthian believers that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we don’t have any hope that we will rise from the dead either.
Jesus rose from the dead and because of that we know there is life after death. And we know that Jesus holds the keys.
Many people believe that Jesus’ resurrection is just a myth that His disciples made up. But I ask the question: “If they knew that Jesus was still dead, why were they willing to sacrifice their lives for a lie?”
“If Jesus was dead, what changed Paul from a fanatical enemy of the church to its greatest champion?”
Yes, Jesus rose from the dead. And if we believe it is true, that fact can give us the greatest comfort. Eternal life is real. Faith in Christ gives us that hope. But it also brings home another important truth: The things Jesus said and did are more than just the thoughts of a religious prophet. They are truly the very words of God Himself, spoken through His Son.
And when we stand in eternity, God will hold us responsible for those words.
They tell me the ancient Christians used to greet each other by saying, “He is risen.” “He is risen, indeed.” And so He is. And we may be too, in Him.
whatever it takes
“Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I?" he said, "unless someone explains it to me?”. Acts 8:30-31
March is upon us. If you’re like me, you’re longing for some warmer weather and longer days just about now. March will bring us the first day of spring.
This year, March also includes the celebration of the most important days on the Christian calendar: Good Friday and Easter. As we look to the warmer weather and the renewal of green vegetation all around us, we are reminded of the renewal God brings in sending Christ to die and rise again on our behalf.
That good news is even better than warm weather!
March is also the time when we, as Baptists, emphasize the work of missionaries called to share the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection throughout the United States and Canada. This work that we officially call “North American Missions” is vital to the spread of God’s word throughout the world.
To support this work we collect the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions (anniearmstrong.com). That is a long title for a great chance for you to help missionaries called by God to plant churches and do ministry in the United States and Canada.
The theme of this year’s North American Missions Emphasis is “Whatever It Takes: Reaching the One.” The Bible story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch provides the backdrop for the theme.
In Acts 8:26-40, we read about God bringing Philip to a miraculous encounter with a traveling eunuch from the court of the Ethiopian queen. The eunuch is reading from the prophet Isaiah in the Bible. He asks Philip to explain the words, and Philip explains to him that the words are about Jesus Christ and His salvation.
This story and this theme remind us that God wants to reach every human being with the good news of His love. God wants us to tell the story to our neighbors and friends. God wants us to support the work of missionaries who are telling people around the world.
God loves you enough to send someone to tell you the good news of salvation in Christ. Let your love for God show in how you support the sharing of the gospel through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
memories and faith
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the desert. Psalm 126:3-4
Many people have heard me tell the story about how my brother and I loved traveling to our grandfather’s house in South Carolina to visit. We have many special memories of those visits, even the traveling, with our dad telling funny stories as he drove and my brother and me alternately fighting and playing in the back seat.
We called our grandfather “Pops.” Whenever peanuts were in season, Pops would boil a big pot of peanuts. He would cook them so that they would be ready shortly after we were scheduled to arrive. We would sit on his screened-in front porch, around the pot of peanuts, eating and sipping a cold Coke straight from those 6-and-a-half-ounce glass bottles.
Memories like these are important to creating and maintaining a family heritage. These memories are something my mother and my brother and I will always share. They have helped to shape who we are, and these memories of joyful times together sustain us in our times of struggle and heartache.
The Bible often talks about how the people of Israel would recall what God had done for them throughout their history. Believers in New Testament times took pains to remember the stories of Jesus and his life and teachings before they were written down. These memories sustained them and became the heritage of faith that they have given to us.
If you are a believer, you also have stories of faith, of times when God has delivered and helped you, times when you have seen His work in your church and family and community. These memories are sustaining moments that give us strength when we have struggles with our faith.
I can remember where I was when I first felt the personal touch of God on my life. I can remember the prayer I prayed when God spoke to me and called me into the ministry. I can recall many times that God’s hand has guided and helped me and my family and others I have known.
“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
never mayan ... and making disciples
The Mayans got a bad rap, I think. I doubt if they really predicted the end of the world. I think that was some New Age spin on Mayan mythology. But wherever the prediction came from, it was wrong. The world as we know did not come to an end in December of 2012.
So 2013 is here. We must go on. As you are filtering through the potential resolutions you will make to improve your lives, the New Year is a good time to review the purpose of the church, and to recommit ourselves to that purpose.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives his last instruction to the apostles before He returns to God the Father. We refer to this as the Great Commission. This is a short, simple statement of what God’s purpose is for His people.
Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and earth. Therefore, as you go, make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep everything I have taught you. And I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Jesus’ commission to the church is for us make disciples, in every place and among every people. He tells us there are two parts to this disciple-making project. First, we must “baptize them.” This is Jesus’ call for us to introduce others to the good news of God’s love and His plan for their salvation.
Secondly, He tells us to “teach them to keep everything I have taught you.” After we have introduced them to Jesus, He wants us to help each other live according to His teachings. Being a disciple of Jesus is not just the initial moment of getting saved. It is a lifetime of learning to follow and obey.
Making disciples is the purpose of the church. Everything that happens in the church should serve that purpose. Every fellowship event, every music presentation, every children’s game should be for the purpose of introducing people to Jesus and helping them to follow His teachings.
The New Year is a good time to renew our commitment to this truth. Let this be our New Year’s resolution as a church — that everything we do will be to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus.
the true meaning of Christmas
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21 NIV
Going into the Christmas season, you will often hear people admonish us to"“keep Christ in Christmas." While Christians should never adopt an attitude of belligerence, we should have courage in our convictions. We should be proud to claim that we believe the true meaning of Christmas is found in Christ.
And the true meaning of Christ’s coming is found in the promise of the angel’s words to Joseph. "He will save his people from their sins."
Unfortunately, many times Christians have severely limited the meaning of that phrase, "his people." But the New Testament is clear that God does not limit His salvation to any one group of people. Everyone can be forgiven and have salvation. As 2 Peter 3:9 says about God, "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance." Or as John 3:16 promises, "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
The words of Jesus that we sometimes refer to as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) also encourage us to reach out to all peoples throughout the earth and share the good news of Jesus with everyone. "Therefore go, and make disciples of all nations …"
So Christmas is the perfect time to remember Christian missions around the world. Each year at this time we contribute to the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions or the Global Missions Offering of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to support the spread of the good news to people who have not heard. We also emphasize prayer and learning about Baptist missions during this time.
We have the greatest gift of all already — we have heard and believed the gospel and our sins are forgiven. God calls each of us to give generously, pray and consider going to share that gospel with people have not had the chance to receive that gift for themselves.
keeping Christ in Christmas
... remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35
I don’t want to say it, but guess what is just around the corner? Yes, I mean that, Christmas. As November begins, the stores have already been covering their shelves with Christmas decorations and merchandise, hoping to cash in on the all-important Christmas shopping season.
Our children and grandchildren will be getting excited, making their wish lists on Amazon. And some of us will be dreading the rush of the season, even though we may enjoy the carols and food and family. And getting presents, of course.
Since thinking about Christmas is inevitable this time of year, I invite you to really think about your Christmas celebration. How should we, as Christian believers, celebrate this holy-day? We hear a lot of talk about keeping Christ in Christmas. How do we do that? I have some suggestions.
1. Make sure that Christ and the biblical Christmas story are a definite part of your family tradition. In the modern world, we may have to come up with a more creative approach than just reading the Christmas story. Whatever you do, make sure that you include the real meaning of Christmas in some part of your family celebration. If you have not done so before, start a new tradition that incorporates the story of Christ’s birth.
2. Find a way to encourage your family to give— and make a gift that requires some sacrifice. Encourage your young children to choose a gift for a needy child in place of not just in addition to something they want for themselves. Volunteer together to do something special for someone else.
3. Finally, consider giving a sacrificial gift, as a family, to mission causes. Both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship make the Christmas season a time of missions giving emphasis. Whether you prefer to give through the Lottie Moon offering of the SBC or the Global Missions Offering of the CBF, giving to missions is a way to continue Baptist efforts to tell the story of Jesus to people around the world who might not hear it at all.
Now is the time to start thinking about how you can change your Christmas celebration and giving to reflect a more Christ-like Christmas.
faith is about letting go
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14
It's fall! The cooler weather feels so good. Many people don't like fall because they only see it as a precursor to the unpleasantness of winter. But I love the feel of the chill in the air, the autumn smells and colors.
And football. I love watching football. Sitting on my sofa, watching the game, I am transported back to my youth when I could run like the wind up the sidelines and catch the long bomb for the last second touchdown from the hands of Bob Griese or Bart Starr.
That reminder of the pleasure of running and tackling and throwing and catching makes me want to get up off my sofa and run out into the backyard to experience that pleasure once again.
But the moment my 50 year old body actually starts to run or to throw, I am then reminded, sometimes very painfully, that I'm not 15 anymore.
Each day of our journey in this life we are forced to acknowledge that life is about letting go. We spend our time and money to plan the many ways we are going to gain more, but no matter how much money and time we have, we are still forced to admit that letting go is a permanent part of life, always.
The illusion that we will always be young and strong is not the only illusion that we have to give up in this journey of life. We must look straight into the face of many other illusions: our family will never disappoint us, our children will never be sad, we will never die.
Some people look to religious faith as a way to guarantee that these things won't happen. They believe that if they have the right beliefs or the right religious works then God will spare them from these normal stages of living. This is childish faith. Genuine, mature faith knows that this life is temporary. It's always about letting go.
The gospel promise is that as we let go of the things of this world, we will see more clearly, and participate more deeply in the life of God. God knows that this does not happen for us all at once. We grow into it. And God is there, through every loss, taking our hand and bringing us in Christ to a future that truly will never spoil or fade.
our mission is the world outside
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
This month, I had the privilege of giving the Invocation at the Convocation meetings to start the new school year in the Chatham County Schools.
I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the teachers and staff. They spent the time reviewing last year and making sure everyone knew changes in personnel and policy. The school superintendent, Mr. Robert Logan, led the festivities and kept the energy high. He also issued some important directives and warnings to all those who were assembled.
September also marks a new year for us at Rocky River Baptist Church. As our school children and families begin the new school year, we are beginning a new year of opportunity to minister for Christ in the Silk Hope and Siler City area.
We carry on the new year building on the history we have lived in this place for so long. That history, both good and bad, is a part of us. We accept that we are the church that we are, and we are thankful for God's forgiveness and patience when we have not been faithful witnesses to His gospel. We are also thankful to God when we can see that His grace has produced fruit in the lives of people because we know that is His work and not our own.
Sometimes the hardest thing for a church to remember is that God's mission is the world outside of the church. God longs for us to join Him in loving and reaching the lost world around us. But "the world" is not an abstract concept. It is your next door neighbors and co-workers and fellow students.
As much as we enjoy the many fellowship activities that we do together, we cannot call ourselves a church if we do not look to love other people, those who are not in the church, those who are not like us. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son …"
The first step in this journey is to ask God to give us His heart of love for those around us. If we try to do it under our own power, we will surely fail. But we must also be willing to cross that street, that cultural gap, that social boundary, and make an effort to know and love.
God has done that for us.
celebration, thankfulness and renewal
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57
August is Homecoming month here at Rocky River Baptist. We set aside the second Sunday in August each year to celebrate our church heritage and enjoy a good fellowship meal after our morning worship service. Rocky River Baptist has been "in business" for 256 years now. We continue to celebrate a rich heritage of God's work in this community through His church at Rocky River Baptist.
On August 12, the celebration will be in full swing. We can reflect on the fun activities that our children and families shared, like the Fall Festival, the annual Easter Egg hunt and Vacation Bible School. We can remember the work and mission projects that some of members participated in: repairing a local home, landscaping around the church and collecting items for ministries around the state. We can mourn the losses we have seen and celebrate the new births, both physical and spiritual.
We are trying to allow God to create a culture here, a new life that mirrors the character of God. That life will be full of hope and compassion, integrity and fairness. That life will also be full of gratitude for what God has done in our lives, a gratitude that overwhelms the petty annoyances that threaten to kill the joy that comes from God's Spirit.
So let's make August a month of celebration and thankfulness! As the writer of Hebrews in the New Testament suggests, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith ...." (Hebrews 12:2) Because when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we remember His graciousness toward us, even when others around us may not be so gracious.
That is how God is creating that new culture and new life among us. He is loving us so much, that our lives are full of gratitude and not regret or despair. In that light, we change. And as we change, the church and the community are renewed.
change and sin
Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Ephesians 5:9-10 ESV.
Whatever happened to sin? So the question goes in the modern world, as many of us look around and lament the loss of some of the community values that meant so much to us as we were growing up. We feel a stirring in our spirit to go back in time, to experience once again the less-complicated world into which we were born.
Of course, we know that every generation of human beings has had the same longing. We want things to be like they were when we were young. We want to go back, but only so far. We don't really want to return to the days of outhouses and hauling water from the creek.
So, in many ways, the discomfort we feel with the changes in modern society are typical growing pains that every generation feels. I have become the angry old man that I used to make fun of.
But we should not ignore that the changes that were made before us, made our young lives better in many ways. We may have had more opportunities to sin, but we also had more opportunities to explore and learn and grow. The price we pay for growth is change. Some of the change will be bad, but much can also be good.
But what about that "old time religion"? The gospel doesn't change, does it? No, it does not. As the writer of Hebrews notes, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8, ESV). And this means that we can be confident of God's faithfulness in Christ, no matter what changes humans bring to this planet.
So, we need to learn to understand that some things make us uncomfortable simply because they are different. We can then be more careful to distinguish those changes from changes in our society that are really sinful. That means more careful study of scripture to be sure what the word of God is for us and for our time. As Paul writes to Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV). Then we can know what is truly sin.
perfection and a dream world
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
As a young man I was often guilty of wishing the church was more perfect than it is. Of course, it took me a while to realize that my idea of perfection is not God’s idea. What does it mean to be a church in unity? From every church conference, we hear the idea that we need a golden vision of what our church should be.
Recently I began to read the book Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer speaks some important words about the community that is called the church — and the idea that we must turn the church into our ideal.
Bonhoeffer says (translated from the German by John W. Doberstein):
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.
By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.
… God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself.
… Because God has already laid the foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders, but as thankful recipients.
spring and new life
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…they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears and we want to know what they mean." Acts 17:19-20
The statistics are clear. In the United States, the Christian church is in decline. Church membership is dropping; financial support is dwindling. We are following in the footsteps of Europe. I started to write that church is becoming irrelevant to many. That is too optimistic. Church has become irrelevant to many Americans.
Some statistics say that spirituality and religion are as strong as ever. People want to feel connected to God. But they are voting with their feet, leaving churches, or never entering them in the first place, because they are not finding any connection to God there. In some cases, this is because people don't really want God; they just want to feel good. But most of us eventually learn that feeling good is not a permanent state. To feel good and be healthy, we have to be willing to accept the discipline of not feeling good some of the time.
Realistically, most people will never commit to church. But many more people would commit to a group where they found nurturing truth, accountability, real service and real worship and connection to God.
If that is right, why aren't they coming to church? Maybe we need to take a long hard look at what we are doing and saying. When visitors come to our church, do they feel a gracious and open hospitality? Or do they feel like an outsider who has to answer all of his own questions? Do church members insist on preserving everything just the way it was many years ago? Do we insist on singing songs that are 50 or 100 years old and frown whenever younger members ask for updates?
The church as we know it will not survive. Go back and read that sentence again. We will change. The only choice is whether that change is growth or death. Some people would rather see their church die than see it change. They will most likely get their wish. The trends are clear. Perhaps we are willing to let God make us the exception — a church that is more interested in service and real worship than we are in preserving our own traditions.
spring and new life
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He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Romans 4:25
It is surely no accident that the spring solstice was chosen as the time of year when the resurrection of Christ would be celebrated in the church.
Of course, the gospels tell us that the crucifixion of Jesus coincided, according to God’s plan, with the Jewish festival of Passover. This is the holy day in Judaism when the people remember God sparing them from the final plague against the Egyptians. They were instructed to smear lamb’s blood over their doors. When the Angel of Death saw the blood, he “passed over” the houses of the Israelites. Likewise, when Jesus’ blood is applied to our lives, God’s judgment passes over us.
This spring remembrance fits perfectly also with the resurrection of Jesus. Spring is a time when we watch the earth “rise again” in the form of new leaves and budding flowers. The resurrection of Jesus is not only the sign of God’s power in the life of Christ, but also the beginning of new life for us too.
When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He gives us the new life of His Spirit living within us.
If you recognize that you are a sinner, guilty of sins that you cannot make right, God offers new life, a second chance, in Jesus.
If you are a Christian, but you have been walking outside of the fellowship of the Lord, and you feel the weight of betraying the God who saved you, God offers new life, a second chance, in Jesus.
If you are a husband or wife, and you know you have been unfaithful, not loving your spouse the way in which God commands you, God offers new life, a second chance, in Jesus.
If you have cheated someone in business, if you have abused your children, if you have neglected your duty to the church, if your guilt is piling up over anything you have really done wrong, God offers new life, a second chance, in Jesus.
refueling the spirit
Bless the Lord, o my soul, … who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103:2,5
There they go again, gas prices, rising. My mother asked me recently if I could remember the gas lines from the early 70s. But I usually had my head stuck in a book (really, probably a comic book) in the back seat. Most of us hope we do not face that kind of shortage again. American society is built on mobility.
If you can't afford to put gas in your car, you will eventually have to park it. To get going again, you need to refuel. The same is true with your spirit.
In the modern world, many people are saying that we don't really need church and prayer. They say that if we just treat people right and act decently, then everything will go well. One of the problems with that philosophy is that most of us human beings get tired out from doing good things for others. The demands of justice and mercy are never ending.
And if we are not careful, we will run out of fuel. Cynicism will take us over. Like a physical body that has not had enough sleep or the right kind of food, our spirits can grow exhausted and malnourished.
Worship, fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters, prayer and Bible study, these are the energy that reawakens our compassion. Without the energizing regular experience of encounter with Christ through church and prayer, we will lose our strength.
And these experiences do come at a cost. They cost us our time. When we budget that limited commodity, do we include time for God? Sometimes that price is costly. But there is always an abundant supply.
we are free indeed
... and the truth will set you free. John 8:32
I love my cats. Lilly and Oliver have been with us for a few years now. We adopted Lilly from the Chatham County animal shelter. We found Oliver as a twelve-week old kitten wandering in the shrubbery behind the old fellowship hall. Since they have come into our home, we have had a lot of fun watching and playing with them.
Cat owners, like other pet owners, revel in sharing stories about the common characteristics of house cats and about the unique brilliance of their own cats. Other cat owners will delight when I talk about the cute way that Oliver will climb onto the couch next to me, look up at me and tilt his head, squint his eyes and then yawn out a big "Meoooowwww." Or the way that Lilly will jump onto the computer table and nuzzle her head against mine.
Cat owners find common ground in these cat actions because cats act on instinct. Cats are not all the same. They have unique personalities. But they act on instinct, not according to rational thought or personal will.
Humans act according to instinct too. We are usually surprised when it becomes clear to us how many choices we make thinking that we are acting according to our own will only to find that we are really reacting in an instinctive way. This is one of the major insights that Sigmund Freud and psychiatry have given the world.
But it's not a really a new insight at all. A long time before Sigmund Freud, the Bible declared that we have natural impulses that push us to act in certain ways. But the Bible also tells us something else. As human beings made in the image of God, we do not have to be slaves to our instincts. We can rise above our natural impulses. When the Spirit lives within us, He gives us power to overcome our nature.
Our natural instinct is to strike back when we are attacked; Jesus says, "Turn the other cheek." Our natural instinct is to hate those who hate us; Jesus says, "Love your enemies." And Jesus not only tells us to do it. He gives us His Spirit to help us.
So do not think that there is nothing you can do about it. In Christ, we are set free indeed.
the end is near. or is it?
What I say to you I say to everyone: "Watch." Mark 13:37
It’s 2012! According to several New Age observers, this is the year that the world will end. There are a few different suggestions about why 2012 will be the end of this world as we know it. Many of these revolve around the supposed details of a Mayan calendar. The Mayans were a great civilization located in Mexico before the Spanish conquered that part of the Americas and wiped out those old civilizations.
The Mayans were very sophisticated and had developed a very accurate calendar. According to some who have studied it, the Mayan calendar indicates that the world will end in December 2012. But others think that the calendar ending only indicated a new cycle of years, like coming to the end of your 2011 calendar on the wall. You throw it out and buy a new one for 2012.
People will continue to debate the meaning of the Mayan calendar and the possible end of the world. As Christians, we look into the teachings of Jesus and the Bible on this subject, not the Mayans — no matter how smart they were.
The Bible is very clear that the end will come with the return of Jesus to judge the world. But the Bible is also clear that we will not know for sure the time of the end. Jesus himself said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32, NIV)
Jesus was clear about one thing. He was very concerned that some of His followers would be so involved in the things of this world that they would not be alert and ready for His return. “Keep watch,” He said repeatedly.
Will the world end in 2012? None of us knows. We long for Jesus to return and straighten out the mess that this world is in, but we also want God to be patient so that men and women will have a chance to know Him. Even so, we repeat the statement of hope that was common among the early Christians believers, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
beginning of something good
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. Luke 2:10-11
When I was about 17 years old, I wrote a Christmas song. I was thinking about the story in Luke of the shepherds leaving their sheep to go and see the baby Jesus after the angels had announced His birth.
Think about that, the angels did not announce the birth of God’s Son to the king in Jerusalem or to the Roman Emperor or even to important preachers. God had His angels announce the birth to some of the poorest working-class people in the land. Luke liked to emphasize that part of Jesus’ ministry — reaching out to the outcasts and poor.
I began to think about the shepherds. As they decided to go to Bethlehem and see this baby, would they have left someone in charge of the sheep? Maybe they woke up a 10- or 11-year-old son or nephew and put him in charge of the sheep. Maybe as he stood there, sleepily keeping watch, he sensed in the air of the night sky something momentous had taken place in the universe.
The song is called “The Beginning of Something Good.” The closing stanza of the song is:
So come along and sing with me.
Walk through the meadow, swing from a tree.
Let's celebrate this happy time.
I don't know why I only know that it is mine.
It's the beginning of something good.
Invite Christ to begin something good in your life this Christmas.
witnessing at home
... and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
As November arrives among us, our thoughts turn to preparations for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We are already being bombarded with reminders to buy Christmas presents and holiday decorations of various kinds. Our children and grandchildren are making their lists and checking at least twice to make sure we have the details recorded accurately.
Thanksgiving and Christmas is also the season when we collect our offerings for International Missions, both the Lottie Moon Offering for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions Offering. These are important opportunities for us to participate in the global proclamation of the gospel. Because of these funds, people will hear the gospel in places where there is no other witness for Christ.
As the story of Christmas and spirit of Thanksgiving are in the air, and while we are thinking of telling the gospel story, this is also a good time to think about opportunities we have to witness to our neighbors and friends about our faith. People are thinking about the story of Jesus' birth already. We have an opening to talk about that story and what it means for us.
Baptists have always been a witnessing people. We should pray that God will help us find the chances to reclaim that heritage of faithful witness. We give money to send missionaries around the world, but increasingly our own neighborhoods are full of people who really do not know the story of Jesus and salvation. God calls us to give our money to missions, but God also calls us to witness for Him in our own world.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth .... (Gen. 1:1)
The universe is vast. When the ancient readers of the Bible were reading these words, they may not have envisioned a world much larger than the lands and sea they could see from where they lived. Now, scientists tell us that the universe encompasses spaces so vast we hardly imagine them.
And before any of the vast area existed, God was there.
The story of God's people in the Bible is the story of a small nation of people who were constantly conquered, enslaved, taxed and trampled by larger empires. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, the Barbarian hordes are all considered the most important players in the history of the ancient world. But while these empires were enforcing their will upon many nations, the Israelites were preserving the story of God's action on this earth through His people.
So even though the Egyptians and Romans did not know Him, God was there.
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matt. 24:35)
One day there will be no universe as we think we know it now. But even though all of this world will pass away, God will be there.
We live in troubled times. The economy is weak. Morality seems to have been forgotten. It's hard for us to find hope. But that is because we have forgotten. No matter what the circumstances or the times. God is there.
"And they will call him Immanuel which means 'God with us'" (Matt. 1:18).
pain and revival
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Psalm 85:6-7
This month will mark the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York City. Many of us will remember vividly where we were when we first heard the news or saw the video of those planes crashing into the towers.
We mourn the devastating loss of life; we celebrate the heroic efforts of those who rushed in and those who spent months in rescue and search for survivors; we cherish the sense of community that brought us as a nation together around this tragedy.
In a number of ways, the years since the fall of the towers have been increasingly painful in the United States of America. The sustained recession that continues to plague the country has made many feel that God is turning against us as a nation. It seems that every new day brings more bad news in our individual lives and our communities.
The day after the fall of the twin towers, churches all across the nation, including Rocky River Baptist, held special services of prayer for our nation. Many predicted that churches would become full again after years of decline, as people remembered that life is fragile and temporary and can be taken away so quickly. But even though we have endured many terrible things in our country and our world in the last ten years, we have not seen much revival of interest in Jesus in the United States.
We have been talking a lot lately about the need for an economic revival. But we are in desperate need of a spiritual revival. We cannot manufacture a revival, but revival often comes in the life of an individual or church when they really commit to asking God for it. God will not revive us spiritually if we act like we are satisfied with the spiritual life we have!
Many people complain that God is not doing enough to help them, yet at the same time, their lives indicate that God is not a high priority. Jesus said that if we want to be His followers we must deny ourselves and take up our cross, that is give up our own agenda to follow God’s agenda for our lives. Is this cost too high? God will not be treated as an accessory. If we want God to help us through, we must love Him with all our hearts.
not just a building
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV)
I am writing this article in the midst of a week of Vacation Bible School here at Rocky River Baptist. Each night, between 70 and 80 children and youth are spending a few hours laughing and playing and singing together around the church, activities that are marking them with church experience as a part of their lives.
They are also hearing the gospel and seeing it lived out in the lives of the adults who are teaching them the gospel story. Their minds are being marked with Jesus. It is a moment of renewal for our entire church family to spend this week together around our new fellowship building with these young people. Our minds are being marked with Jesus, too.
This month also marks the first time we have had to dip into our reserve funds to make the monthly payment on our building debt. That wonderful building that we all enjoy so much, that elicits glowing compliments from every new visitor, that place where we all are being marked with Jesus, we are still paying for it. And that requires everyone working together.
When we first undertook the building debt our fund-raising committee asked church families to commit to giving an extra $10 each week, above and beyond your regular tithes and offerings to the church. Some have continued to contribute in this way. A few families have taken the initiative to give an extra $20 per week or more to pay the building debt.
In this recession, many churches are struggling mightily with regular expenses. I commend you, the members of Rocky River Baptist, because you have continued to give faithfully. For some of you, giving more is just not possible. God blesses whatever you are able to give. But for those of us who can, we need a renewed commitment to giving to the building fund above and beyond our regular gifts to the church.
Will you consider renewing your monthly gifts to the building fund? All of those young people are well worth the expense!
what never changes
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
The world has changed. Since I was a boy, we have seen the introduction of cell phones and personal computers. When I was in college, my wife Vicky typed my papers on a typewriter. The first comic books that I bought when I started collecting cost just 25 cents. Now they are four dollars!
When I was a kid, adults always talked about how the world was getting so much more criminal and violent. Television shows were increasingly showing material that once was considered immoral. The vocabulary of the young people was full of words that were never uttered in polite company.
And now as an adult, I find myself making the same criticisms that my parents made. The television programs of my youth are tame compared to what anyone can see at anytime of the day now. I understand why my parents found it so unsettling.
There are good changes, too. I take a daily non-drowsy allergy medication that is a relatively new drug. I can instantly connect with friends and family almost anywhere in the world through computers and cell phones. Many aspects of life have been improved through technology and scientific achievement.
But even with these changes, many things have not changed. The reality of human sinfulness and the gospel of God’s grace are the same as they were for all of human history. We ache to have the latest technology and fashion, but we always find that new things never really satisfy the empty places in our souls.
That’s because each of us is made to be a child of God, to have fellowship with God in our hearts and lives. There is no activity or possession or even relationship that can take the place of that one most important thing.
The human heart has not changed. God’s love has not changed. And it never will.
And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. Romans 8:15-16
In June of 1980, I was playing Jesus in a community production of the musical “Godspell.” It so happened that one of our productions was on Father’s Day of that year. We always began our warm-up session with a voluntary group prayer. We gathered that Sunday and held hands to pray in preparation for that day’s show. Since I was playing Jesus in the show, I began the prayer with “Happy Fathers Day .....”
What an amazing thing to know that God loved us so much that He sent His Son as a sacrifice for our salvation. And that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God becomes our Father, not in the metaphorical sense in which we often refer to God as father of all humanity. The New Testament writer Paul puts it in these terms, "... he predestined us to be adopted as his sons ....” (Ephesians 1:5) God is our real Father; He chose us.
A cartoon in the June issue of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association newsletter shows two children and one suggests to his friend that God must really get a lot of cards on Father’s Day since He has so many children. What might we give to God to make this an extra special Father’s Day for Him this year?
One of my favorite Christian songs is called “A Child’s Love.” Written by Bryan Duncan, it talks about how as we grow older we become more cynical and less gracious; but, as he watches his young son playing, he is reminded of the joy we bring to God’s heart when we love him with the innocent love of a child. “Don’t let me live without a child’s love, ... teach me, dear Lord, to have a love for you, a child’s love.”
God witnesses all of the horrors that occur in this world and His heart breaks over every one. But in the same way that our own children and their love for us encourage us in this messed up world, so our adoration and love of Him lighten the heart of our Father God.
Smile to God, and tell Him, and show Him that you love Him.
When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death the righteous have a refuge. Proverbs 14:32
One event has dominated the local news like no other in recent memory — the passing of severe storms that brought multiple areas of tornado damage to our state including the nearby community of Sanford. The destruction brought to us by these storms elicits expressions of dismay and thanksgiving. And there are many lessons we may learn from this terrible tragedy.
We often hear people say that a person never knows what might happen next. But such assertion usually relates to some minor inconvenient circumstance. But these tornadoes definitely remind us life may change dramatically in a very short moment. You may personally know people who are going through their days right now with no more home to sleep in. Such dramatic disruption of life might happen to anyone of us at any time.
In addition to this, we have learned that such disruptions will reveal the character of neighbors and friends and others. There are three kinds of people in the middle of a tragedy: those who help, those who stand around and watch, and those who take advantage of others’ misfortune.
We have a hard time understanding how someone can loot the homes of people who have seen their lives demolished by tornadoes. But those people are always there. But remember that there are many more who have come to help than there are those who have come to steal.
Finally, we can remember that preparation really does matter. People who had made a plan and practiced their plan had a greater chance of getting through the tornado without injury. Preparation helps you understand what your priorities need to be in a crisis.
Crisis will be a part of our lives. We cannot possibly know every potential tragedy that might come our way. But recognizing the possibility and preparing the best we can with God’s help makes us better able to survive and thrive in a world where crisis is inevitable.
Ultimately the words of Proverbs remind us that our best preparation is to live to please God and receive His eternal reward.
easter week 2011
rebuilding devastated lives
This week's news in North Carolina has been dominated by the tornados that devastated various areas in the central and eastern parts of the state. You all know by now the large death toll in addition to the photos and videos of demolished homes, vehicles and sometimes entire neighborhoods. Reports of cars in treetops and images of debris from businesses flown hundreds of miles from the spot where they once stood all mark our minds with the massive destruction wrought by these storms.
As so often happens in such circumstances around the world, our hearts are warmed by the large outpouring of help when these tragedies occur. People from many states have come to North Carolina to help clean up and rebuild. Volunteers from over 50 churches met together at Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church in Sanford on Monday for assignments from the North Carolina Baptist Men disaster relief team. Many others have come in since and Facebook is buzzing with volunteer information and opportunities.
Every day people find their lives in shambles, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Many of us have experiences ourselves or had moments among our family members in which life has come apart. When a house is blown apart by a tornado, the owner cannot hide the damage. And if he is willing to accept help, friends and neighbors and many others are there.
But many of us who have emotional and spiritual devastation in our lives are not willing to let anyone see. We do not want to be vulnerable to others who might take advantage of us or avoid us because of our weakness.
I wish I could say that church is a place that is different. I wish I could say that in church we have a safe place to share the devastation that afflicts our lives. I wish that I could say that in church we find a crowd of people gathered to help us rebuild and clean up. People who will not sit in judgment but who understand that this tornado of life might have hit them just as easily as it did you. People who were eager to listen and love, protect and restore.
I sometimes get frustrated that church is not like that. But then I remember that it can be. If a few of us are willing to show love instead of harsh criticism. If a few of us are willing to take a risk to help someone rebuild their shattered family, their lost integrity, their missing hope.
This is Easter Week. The Christ who died is the Christ whom God raised up alive again. God invites us to allow Him to rebuild our lives and also to join Him in helping others to rebuild their lives. Will we allow God to make our churches into places where people are restored instead of discouraged? If we believe that such a church is what we want, then we must be willing to be that kind of people.
perspective on the diamond
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you but Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2
It's almost Easter, which means it is also spring training. No doubt if you have watched any baseball news this spring you have noticed the intense talk about a new contract for Albert Pujols, all-star slugger for the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols' career has been amazing and he commands the highest of salaries and the highest regard from baseball fans everywhere.
Given his status in the United States, we might think that Pujols is a self-obsessed celebrity, greedy for all the money he can get. But Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth have recently written a book about him, documenting that this baseball star is not about fame and money. Ellsworth, writing about his book in the first 2011 issue of Faith and Family Values magazine, highlights the spiritual side of Albert Pujols.
According to this article "... at age thirty, Pujols has more home runs than Babe Ruth, more RBIs than Hank Aaron, more hits than Pete Rose, and more runs than Ricky Henderson at the same age." According to former teammate Larry Walker, Pujols is "as down-to-earth as you can get."
Ellsworth's article continues:
Pujols isn't one to revel in his celebrity. Though his talents have made him immensely wealthy, he has used that wealth to bless others. In 2005, Pujols and his wife Deidre launched the Pujols Family Foundation that works primarily with families of children with Down syndrome and with the impoverished in Pujols' native Dominican Republic.
It is the Lord Jesus who is the true hero of the Albert Pujols story. ... "In baseball, every night there's thousands of people telling me how great I am during a game," Pujols told an audience of men in 2010. ... "That can go to my head really quickly if I don't keep my spirit in check. Humility's getting on your knees and staying in order with God's will for what he wants from me...."
"I look up at the sky every time I get a base hit and every time I cross the plate to remind myself that it's not about Albert Pujols. It's about the Lord Jesus Christ."
We love sports in this country and celebrate our favorite athletes with almost idolatrous fervor. Remember these words of Albert Pujols as you are watching him swing the bat and as you are teaching your kids to play, "It's not about Albert Pujols, it's about the Lord Jesus Christ."
love, acceptance & forgiveness
Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:8
People will be people.
Some people have the idea that all of the earliest Christian congregations were places of blissful interaction between God's Spirit and the believers in Jesus, who loved each other unconditionally. While there is a brief mention of such a time in the beginning of the book of Acts, anyone who actually reads the rest of the New Testament will be struck by how those early Christians pretty much behaved with the same selfishness that we do.
1 Corinthians is a dramatic example of a typical church — full of squabbles, power plays and self-serving behavior. Paul begins by complaining that they have divided into factions. One group thinks Apollos was the best preacher, others think that Paul was best and another group thinks that they are really super-spiritual because they only follow Christ.
Then, Paul remarks that they are missing the point of the Lord's Supper. They divide up into cliques. One group celebrates the supper before others get there, so they will not have fellowship with those others.
Finally, there are certain people who believe that they know the right way to worship. They believe they are more holy than others because they have special spiritual power during their worship and that anyone who does not do it their way does not really know the power of God.
Sound like any churches you know?
In the midst of his description of this too-typical church family, Paul pens one of the most profound descriptions of what our hearts should really be like in Christ. "If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal ... love is patient and kind .... It does not insist on its own way .... Love never fails."
Most of us hear these words only at weddings when the promise of everlasting love feels so real in the excitement of a new relationship. But we really need to hear these words more when we have spent years together, trying to live as the body of Christ, and each week facing the disappointments and insults and heartaches that accompany any regular human interaction.
Do you believe that God can create such love in the hearts of Christians in spite of such disappointment and resentment? "Lord, I believe; Help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)
love, acceptance & forgiveness
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Lately on Sunday evenings, we have been studying the book, "Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness" by Pastor Jerry Cook. Pastor Cook outlines his understanding of what the New Testament teaches about how Christians should live and how a church should operate.
You might guess that, based on the title, his main contention is that individual Christians and Christian churches should always operate with these three special qualities. Love, acceptance and forgiveness should be evident in everything we do because that is what Jesus is like.
Among the many important points that Pastor Cook makes is that our marriages and family relationships should also be characterized by love, acceptance and forgiveness. Too often, he says, we act like vultures perching and waiting for our spouse to make a mistake so that we can pounce on them.
It is easy for our attitude to communicate to the people we love that they just aren't good enough. But Cook asserts that the greatest gift we can give our family members is real acceptance.
We can sometimes fake a good Christian image in public, but to know the truth about a person's heart we should look at how they treat the people who are closest to them.
God has shown us His love; God has accepted us in His family; God has forgiven us for our sins against Him and others. God invites us to express our gratitude to Him by living our lives with the love, acceptance and forgiveness He has given us.
dangers of the cold
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:12-13
I am writing these words on the first day of winter and already we have experienced more cold than usual. You do not need to be a scientist to understand the effects of cold on the human body. If you stay out in it for just a little while you can readily feel those effects: your reactions slow down, your body shakes involuntarily to try to get warm and you lose strength.
We are not surprised, then, when we read authors who use the metaphor of cold to talk about the human heart. Jesus warned that an increase in wickedness would be accompanied by hearts that have grown cold. Many are shocked when they hear stories of people who have committed torturous acts against other people. In these cases, the normal human emotions of empathy and sympathy have been turned off; the heart is cold.
We also are in danger of seeing our hearts grow cold. We may never be tempted to inhuman brutality, but we are daily tempted to focus on ourselves and lose our love for God and others. When the circumstances of our lives bring suffering and pain and fear and heartache, our natural instinct is to become cold to protect ourselves.
The warmth of God’s love and presence is the only remedy for and protection against a cold heart. Jesus’ words say that those who endure to the end will be saved from this love going cold.
As we grow cold, we are tempted to withdraw from God. But the remedy is to run toward Him. Find warm-hearted believers, worship and pray and study the Bible with them. Obey God’s commands and look for opportunities to serve people in need. This is the exercise that strengthens the heart of faith.
… the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures regarding his Son …. Romans 1:2-3
Approximately 1,800 years before the birth of Jesus, God spoke to the Hebrew ancestor Abraham and told him that through his descendants all the world would be blessed. About 600 years later, God told Moses that He would raise a prophet like Moses to be the leader of God's people. About 200 years after that, God told the Israelite king David that one daye of David's descendants would be king over God's people in a permanent kingdom of God.
All throughout the history of Israe,l many prophets spoke about the anointed one whom God would send to deliver the Israelite people. Isaiah proclaimed a suffering servant would come to bear the people's sins. Micah told that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the promised deliver. These are only a few of the many prophecies that announced God's good news of a coming Messiah (which means "the one anointed by God").
We know now that all of those prophecies point to Jesus who lived in ancient Palestine, taught about God's kingdom, healed the sick and cast out demons, died on a Roman cross and was raised from the dead. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of these prophecies.
God knew all along that He would one day send Jesus to be our Savior. All of the history of the ancient Hebrews is God's leading the world to that time when Jesus would come. That coming was the answer to every prayer. And Jesus remains the answer to every prayer.
In God's time, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In God's time, we are born again when we allow Jesus to come to us personally and become our Lord and Savior. This Christmas, remember and give thanks for God's greatest gift — Jesus Christ.
... you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood…” 1 Peter 2:5
On Tuesday November 2, many of us will go to the polls to vote. This is a special privilege we have in the United States. We cherish it, if we are smart, and work to keep the process fair and free. Democracy is a way of life we defend and celebrate.
For those of us who are believers, it is also clear that we live in another political realm — the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom, as the name suggests, is not a democracy. God is king. If we are smart, we will do what God says. God always knows best.
Recently some leaders in Baptist life have used this idea that God is our king to assert the idea that our churches should not run democratically. The church, they say, should be a theocracy. That means that God is the decision maker. But who decides what God’s will is in that case? When a pastor says he wants to make the church a theocracy, what he often means is that he wants everyone to do what he says God wants.
So, in Baptist life we offer everyone who commits himself to be a member of the church the chance to speak and vote on the decisions of the church. We believe that when all of God’s people decide together, then there is less chance that one person’s agenda will prevail. We believe that the contribution of every member is a part of the voice of God’s spirit.
This is less efficient than just letting one person decide. But is affirms what we believe is a central teaching of the Bible — that all believers have a personal, living relationship with God who wants to communicate to each person and through them to all of the church.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11
Hot and dry. Everywhere we go lately, someone is talking about the need for rain. Even the townsfolk are checking the weather every day looking hopefully for indications of rain.
We easily recognize the symptoms of dry earth. As believers, we also experience times of drought in our life with God, those long periods when we have no direct sense of God’s presence with us. The Psalms provide some important guidelines to handle our spiritual dry periods.
Psalm 1 says that God’s blessing come to us when we avoid evil and we delight in God’s law. The law of God for Christians is the law of love, "Love God with all your heart … and love your neighbor as yourself." When we find our delight in loving God and others, the Psalm promises that we "…will be like a tree planted by streams of water."
Where do we find those streams of water? Psalm 23 reminds us that when we accept God as our shepherd then He leads us "beside the still waters." When we try to find water with our own wisdom, we will grow thirstier. When we follow God, then He will take us to the purest streams.
When we have found this "living water" (see John 4:10) of God’s presence and leading, we will then be refreshing to others as well. Psalm 84 says "Blessed are those whose strength is in you .... As they pass through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs ...." As we allow the Lord to refresh us, we will refresh each other with God’s love.
i will give you rest
The Lord replied, "My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest" Exodus 33:14
Back to school. Not everyone is excited about that reality, but the time has come. Young people will wrestle with the intricacies of algebra and personal pronouns. School teachers will wrestle with the delicate nuances of discipline and instruction.
For some of us who are older, back to school means the renewal of acquaintances, but Facebook and text messages have largely eliminated the separation of summer. The face-to-face time in school will be just a continuation of endless conversations still made primarily through cell towers and DSL lines.
Finishing school was something that most of us looked so much forward to. Those 12 years of public school humiliation finally done and perhaps four more years of college where new possibilities sometimes brightened into new hopes for the future. But always the looking forward to the time when there were no more papers and no more equations.
Only to find that adult life is a continuous back to school. Every day, some challenge to be conquered, some new lesson to be learned. Work, romance, married life, children, illness, mortgage, an endless stream of lessons constantly arriving at my door. Once I think I have mastered one, two more lessons arrive, with no guidebooks or Cliff notes or highly-trained educator to guide me toward the solution. And the only grades are the success and failure of real life.
Even religion so often appears to us as a new lesson to be mastered. God and heaven are presented to us as another challenge to conquer. In this world of lessons to learn, Jesus calls us to give up struggling to make ourselves worthy of grace.
Over the cry of all the relgioius voices calling out to you with the perfect plan for you to follow, I hope you can hear the voice of Jesus calling out, "Come to me all who labor and are carrying heavy loads and I will give your rest."
recommitment to faithfulness
But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you. 1 Samuel 12:24
Every August here at Rocky River, we celebrate our annual Homecoming with a special preacher and "dinner on the grounds." This year, we will celebrate Homecoming on Sunday, August 8, and our guest preacher will be Gordon West, Director of Missions for the Sandy Creek Baptist Association.
Homecoming is a time when I am reminded of all those blessed saints who have passed on and left a legacy of faithfulness here. I think about Ed Clapp and P.D. Short and their quiet faithfulness. I think of the sweetness of Dorothy Johnson and the feisty spirit of Mary Joyce Wright. I remember the wit of Herbert Buckner, the energy of Willie Duncan, the smooth baritone voice of J. Warren Brewer. I remember watching Mary Edith Teague make the cross from the organ to the piano through all those years of service. I could name so many others.
"Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
" These words appeared recently on a local church sign. They are from an old favorite gospel song that mirrors my sentiment exactly. I pray that when I leave Rocky River, my legacy will be one that our youth and children will remember as faithful to God and to the people here.
Many of you are building on this legacy right now. As we celebrate this Homecoming, let us renew our commitment to be a faithful church by renewing our individual commitment to be faithful people.
recommitment to giving
Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7
Like many other churches and organizations, Rocky River Baptist has been affected by the current recession. In some respects, we are in very good shape. We still have some surplus funds for emergencies, and our general receipts are ahead of our expenditures for the year so far. We are quite a bit behind on meeting our budget, but we have tried to be frugal with spending.
The finance committee has begun to meet and is working to lower our budget for the new church year. In the office, Amy and I will continue to try and keep spending down as well.
I understand that we are facing a tough economy. Because of your faithfulness to give in these tough times, we are still paying our bills and meeting our needs and giving generously to the missions of Christ through the Southern Baptist Convention, the State Baptist Convention of North Carolina and the Sandy Creek Association.
But there is an area in which we need you to consider renewed giving. Each month we make a payment of over $3,000 on the loan for our new fellowship building. When we began making these payments, we asked each family to consider giving an extra $10 per week to cover that payment. When we started this campaign, you responded well and we had enough coming in each month to cover the monthly payment. That is no longer the case. The building fund giving has dropped in this church year so that we are not collecting nearly enough each month to make our payment.
For those who have continued to contribute to this effort, I say thank you. Some of you committed from the beginning to give even more than the extra $10 per week. Please consider at this time committing once again to give at least an extra $10 per week if you can. If you can give more, we need your help. We have enjoyed the new building so much. It is a valuable addition to the ministry we do here at Rocky River. We are all using it for many events. Let's support it with our contributions.
why get married?
Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate. Matthew 19:6
Why get married? This is the question I find myself asking repeatedly lately.
Most of us have heard the often-repeated assertion that in the United States about 50 perent of marriages will end in divorce. These statistics are challenged by some researchers, with the actual number ranging from 33 percent to somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. Divorce rates have dropped slightly since the highest rates we experienced in the 1980s. A part of the reason for this drop might be that more couples are living together and opting out of marriage, although the biggest majority of American adults will be married at some point in their lives.
Among the reasons that marriages are not working so well anymore, I believe that the most prominent may be an attitude that is growing throughout our society. Increasingly, we are a society of people who are focused on our own individual happiness with no tolerance for seeking the good of others. Many parents in previous generations saw their whole purpose in life as making a better life for their children. Now, so many indulge themselves with no thought for their children's future.
This sin is as old as humanity selfishness. Since love has been redefined as something that makes you "feel" good, it is inevitable that getting married and having a family is going to fail a lot of the time. But if we remember that the real definition of love, God's definition in the Bible, is serving others, then we begin to see that marriage is an opportunity for spiritual growth.
When I say I love my wife, I am not saying that being with her always makes me feel good (although in my case it does, sweetheart!). I am saying that I want to serve her, be with her, and take care of her. In good marriages, this works both ways, so that as you look after each other, you both feel and know love.
In this short space I cannot address this entire topic thoroughly. Some people have abused this biblical notion of love and used it to heap abuse upon their spouses. That is not love and such marriages are already in default. But without a sense that I am in marriage to serve my spouse, I will be disappointed with what marriage can really contribute to my life.
the place of "rest"
At that time Jesus said,
"Come to me, all you who are weary and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:28-29
I have a quotation that I keep on my bulletin board in my study. This quotation is from an old dead guy named St. Augustine. Well, "saint" is not really part of his name, but they call him that now. Professors in college refer to him as a "Doctor of the church." He was not a medical doctor. In the funny ways that professors talk, "doctor" means "teacher."
The quotation is a prayer from the first chapter of Augustine's most famous book, his autobiography, called "The Confessions." The quotation is "You excite us to praise You, because You made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."
Augustine thought, and taught, (he was a doctor!) that God created us to be in a relationship with Him. If we are not in a good relationship with God then our hearts will be restless. But Augustine also believed that if we surrender ourselves to Jesus (read that phrase again and think about it surrender ourselves!) then we will find the rest that our hearts want so desperately.
Some people have believed in God all of their lives but have never known "rest" for their hearts. But it is available. We look for the answer to our restlessness in so many places, but there is only one place that it can come. "Our hearts are restless until they find rest in You."
be cautious of abuse, even in the church
The Lord heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3
Some days are better than others. No doubt this is true for everyone in different ways. But for many people, every day is a miserable journey toward forgetting some tragic event in their lives.
I suspect this is true for the many victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests that we have read about so often lately. So much of this story is tragic, the betrayal of a truly sacred confidence and the shameless cover-up that allowed perpetrators to continue their abuse, the fact that the current Pope was one of the Vatican leaders who threatened local Catholics with excommunication if they made the charges public or reported them to law enforcement. Of course, the real tragedy is the disrupted lives of the young victims.
In thinking about this tragic abuse of power and position, I encourage you to take thought for your own children and grandchildren. I do not like the climate of fear that many want to encourage but the Bible never whitewashes the reality that people are sinners.
Do not assume because a person is a respected public figure, even a preacher or a priest, that they are a decent human being. Take sensible precautions. Notice your child's habits and emotions. Notice if they act differently when they are going to be alone with a particular adult. Teach your child early about inappropriate behavior. Listen to them when they talk about their lives.
And do not suppose that because you are not Catholic you do not have to be careful. In the Baptist church we do not have the same system, but we often get the same results. Because we do not have any authority over our churches, a church worker can abuse children, be dismissed and find a new job at another church without anyone having the courage to speak out about it. There are many stories like this in religious institutions all over the world.
Finally, if you have been the victim of abuse, understand that this tragedy is not God's will for you. Jesus weeps with you when you have been abused. In this season, when we meditate on the work of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection; please know that Christ knows what it is like to suffer abuse and shame. But He also has the power to raise your broken spirit back up from its silent grave.
is it "good" because we do it for the church?
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. Mark 7:6-7
Every Christian denomination agrees that a Christian should try to live a godly life. Even though we often emphasize beliefs, every church encourages its members to do good works not just believe good things. Paul encourages us to think about things that are "honorable" and "praise-worthy."
The problem with saying this is that for so many people "godly things" equals "church things." Of course, church should be one of the good things that a Christian person does. But the problem arises when we make the subtle shift from thinking that church things should be good things to seeing things as good because they benefit the church. Instead of allowing God to make us and our church a godly presence in the world, we start to assume that the only godly thing is whatever we do for the church.
I think that this is the reason that each of the Christian denominations has sometimes found itself involved in evil things like the Crusades or the Inquisition or racial discrimination. We start to think that anything we do to benefit the church is the godly thing to do. But the Bible is full of warnings like those that Jesus gave to the Pharisees. "You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel." (Matthew 23:24) or "You make the word of God meaningless through your traditions!" (Mark 7:13)
I hope in your Christian life you are helping to make the church where you attend a place of God's grace and love and holiness. I hope you are willing to give up your own traditions and sacred cows so that the church can be a place where God is proclaimed honestly in words and in actions.
No church is a perfect place and those outside the church often criticize us unjustly, but their criticisms sometimes are true. May God help us to do what is right, not just what our traditions say is good.
traditions and the good news
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge .... Ephesians 3: 17-19
Modern philosophers debate the meaning of abstract words as a regular part of their work, but most people see no need to go to all that trouble. We do not need to think much about it.
However, the meaning of words does matter. Words articulate our thoughts and help to shape our thoughts. So when we read in the Bible that we should "love" or that "God is love" or that "love never fails," we realize that it matters what the word "love" means.
I once helped a man find his way to Christ, but he struggled greatly with a lot of what we practiced in the church. He asked me one day why we always talked about love. It seemed an odd question to me, and I never fully understood his problem with the word. But this incident did show me that people understand these terms differently. Therefore we need to try and carefully define them.
It seems that almost everyone is willing to say that "love" is the most important part of religion. Anyone who believes in God or some supreme power wants to connect that idea of God with love.
Now in the defining of the word "love" we Christians have something very concrete to which we can point. The essence of love is the cross. Whatever "love" means for other people it must always mean that for us. "God loved the world so much that he gave His only Son
" and "No greater love can a person have than to lay down his life for his friends."
For Christians. the word "love" means the self-sacrifice that comes for the good of others. That "love" is perfectly expressed in Jesus. And only in Jesus can we know such love.
traditions and the good news
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone .... Galatians 6:9-10
2009 will be a year long remembered. Some people will remember it as the first year in the presidency of the first African-American president. Some will remember it as the year of escalation in a series of wars that seem to have no end in sight. Perhaps most will remember it as the year of the Great Recession.
Good news is hard to come by in this most volatile of years. Everybody is looking for some good news, but most people are not looking in church to find it. While almost everyone still claims to admire Jesus and his teachings, almost everyone is turning away from church as you and I have known it most of our lives.
It is not hard to understand why many people are not looking in church to find answers to their problems. Everywhere they look churches are arguing over seemingly insignificant issues. Church people are desperately holding onto traditions and ideas that most of the world finds ridiculous.
We are not really sure which traditions and ideas we should keep and which we should reexamine. Many church leaders are preaching loudly that we must refuse any compromise with what is modern. Others are declaring with the same intensity that we should update everything.
There is a growing movement of people who have decided to abandon the traditional church. Many churches will insist on protecting themselves and their traditions. They will one day die. But every genuine act of service done for Christ will live forever.
In this new year, let us grow in our determination and faith that we will not allow the bad news of this world to crush the spirit of the good news we know in Jesus. Let us open our hearts more each day to serve others out of the overflowing love God shows to us. The world grows cynical, but we will not lose hope when our hope rests in Christ.
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him, Immanuel which means, God with us. Matthew 1:23
Bethlehem is a famous town. If you go there today, you can take a tour and see a home typical of what a home might have looked like in the time of Jesus. In spite of the constant conflict in Israel and the West Bank, Bethlehem remains a popular pilgrimage spot for Christians from all over the world.
But it was not such a famous place 2,000 years ago, when Mary and Joseph made their visit in response to a demand from the emperor. Some pious Jews may have revered it as the city of David, but to most of the world it was not an important town. Yet here is where God became man. When that most famous baby was laid in that well-known manger, Bethlehem was the most important place in the world. No person on earth except for Mary and Joseph had any idea what was taking place in that little town. Yet it was the most important event in human history.
The significance of most things is hidden to us. The tone of voice with which a parent imparts some wisdom to a son or daughter may ring in that child's ear for a lifetime. The angel told Joseph that the baby would be called Immanuel and that means God is with us. Even then, Joseph could not have known how true that was.
In Christ, the presence of God is with us. He is not confined to a church sanctuary, or a mission pew. As you gather around your Christmas tree with your family, He is there. As you weep at the gravesite of your mother who will not be with you on this Christmas, God is there. As you revel in your children's delight, as you sing carols for your neighbors, as you pray in desperation for guidance and help, God is there.
Most of us are not important people to the world; we do not live in an important place. Yet, God is with us.
What a blessing it is to have served with you these thirteen years. The time has gone by so quickly! Your continued generosity to me and my family is a constant source of blessing for me. Thank you for all the many prayers and gifts and words of affirmation you continue to bestow. I cannot begin to say thank you to each individual person who works to make Rocky River what it is, but there are a few specific words of gratitude I would like to share with you.
For over a year now Charity Dixon, Bobby Gales, Charlie and Julie Teague have been working with our youth in Sunday night meetings and recreation events. I know next to a relationship with Christ, the most important thing a young person can have is the influence of godly adults. These four are providing that for our young people. I am very grateful.
You have heard me say many times that we are very blessed with a number of musicians who help us out with our worship services. I am so grateful to Dawn Allred, Kelley Moody, Alice Sue Teague and Bonnie Moon for their willingness to play for us and especially for their sweet spirits in doing so. Gayle Black continues to bless us with her conscientious direction of our choir. Chip Price and Angie Burke are leading and teaching our children in music. Helen Nunn has stepped up to keep the hand bell choir active. For each of you I am so grateful to God.
Too often we take our Sunday School teachers for granted. Increasingly in this day and age people do not want to take on this responsibility. So we all say a big thank you to each of you who takes the time to prepare and teach Sunday School each week.
There are so many more I could list. I am grateful for everyone who works to make this a wonderful church family. I invite you to take the time this week to write a note or make a call and tell someone that you appreciate what they do.
celebrating halloween and freedom
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 1 Corinthians 8:9
On Saturday, October 24, we will share together at the church in our annual fall festival, where our children (and some brave adults) will dress up in costumes and trunk-or-treat. We have a lot of fun every year at this event. All of us enjoy seeing our children dressed up in their costumes.
Even though we do not refer to this as a Halloween festival, we all understand that we are doing this as a part of the Halloween season. Many churches avoid anything that could be considered a celebration or acknowledgment of Halloween because of its association with witchcraft, Satanism and the increasingly-graphic depictions of gore. Our church chooses to take a moderate position between two extremes: We discourage the use of violent horror images or any acceptance of occult practices, yet we also celebrate with costumes and candy.
The name "Halloween" is a conflation of the name, as used in the historical Christian calendar. November 1st is actually the Christian holy day All Hallows Day or more often called All Saints Day, in present terms.
The Roman Catholic Church uses this day to recognize all saints and martyrs. Some protestant churches recognize the members of their church who have passed away. For a number of reasons, All Hallows Eve became associated with increased demonic activity and some New Age pagan groups have adopted it as an important time of celebration.
The New Testament attests to the reality of spiritual evil. We should not take this lightly. Christians should avoid getting involved with occult practices, even if they appear to be only play. Tarot and Ouija board readings or séances to some are only innocent games, but the spiritual dangers are real to persons who are vulnerable and gullible. You may be able to participate and walk away, but you may be encouraging someone else to get involved in activity that will draw them to the occult.
I believe that dressing up at Halloween, passing out candy, even watching a horror movie can be innocent fun for Christians. In Christ we are free. But, as Paul advises, we should never use our freedom as a license to indulge ourselves when we may be hurting others. And we should beware because sometimes real dangers lurk beneath innocent-looking faces.
answer the call to ministry
renew a steadfast spirit within me
A new church year! Another summer come and gone. Fall is just around the corner. I want to begin this new church year by saying thank you to everyone who has faithfully continued to support Rocky River over these past few months.
Like most churches, our attendance drops during the summer, understandably as members take vacations and weekends at the beach and the lake. But we have continued to remain strong during the summer months because some of you have remained faithful with your time and money. Thank you.
I also want to say thank you to each of you who has agreed to serve in some official capacity in the church. We are blessed to have many of you willing to be teachers and leaders or to serve on committees. Thank you for your willingness and for the faithful service you will give to the church this year.
Since we are starting a new church year, this is a time of recommitment and renewal for each of us. The blessings which God has given us have come because some of you and others before you were willing to give of their time and money to support the church. The burden is always lighter when each of us takes our share.
The church is a place of worship, fellowship, education and service. You have something to give that someone in this church, someone in this community, needs. Jesus said, You are the salt of the earth. But as many have noted before, you cannot give any flavor if you don't get out of the saltshaker.
God is calling you to ministry and giving of yourself in His service. You are the perfect person for that calling. Listen and answer. We need what you have to give.