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Friday, November 4, 2011

Everyone Wants a Plan B

Sooner or later, if we haven’t already, we will all find ourselves facing some challenging but undeniable directive that leaves us anxious, afraid, maybe even disappointed and looking for another option--any other option. It could be when you have a friend who is far from God but you're afraid to share your faith with them. It could be when you see that person who needs help but you want a more convenient option. It could be when you are asked to compromise your morals by fudging that report at work and you know you shouldn't do it. It could be when your marriage is on the rocks and you are tired of the strife and are tempted to give up and move on to something else, something easier. It’s not our desire for a plan B that is so faithless. It’s not our asking God for an easier alternative or even our looking for one that sets us apart from great men and women of character, our heroes of the faith. Everyone wants a “Plan B” at some point--EVERYONE.

Let’s start with Abraham, the father of the faithful. When commanded by God to take his promised son to the top of Mount Moriah and sacrifice him there, he hopes out loud for a plan B in response to Isaac’s question of where is the lamb for sacrifice: "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son" (Genesis 22:8). God provided a plan B for Abraham, the ram caught in the thicket. Whew!

Abraham of course had other moments when he was not so faithful to plan A, creating his own plan B or going along with someone else’s. There were the two times that he lied about Sarah being no more than his sister rather than trusting God to protect him. And of course there was the time that he went along with Sarah’s impatient plan B to generate an heir by letting him sleep with Hagar, her handmaid. It was in these moments that he looked more like a spiritual midget than a hero of the faith. Too many of us identify with this part of Abraham’s life rather than the Abraham of Mount Moriah.

Everyone wants a Plan B--even Jesus. Satan offered Jesus multiple versions of Plan B when he tempted Him. The Bible tells us “he was tempted in all things as we, yet without sin”. It’s one thing to be tempted by some Plan B; it’s another thing entirely to choose it.

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed in the garden at Gethsemane: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39). Faced with all the sins of the world being placed on Him as the sacrificial Lamb of God, all the righteous wrath of God being poured out on Him because of our sins, separating Him from the Father for the first time in all of eternity, he shuddered in fear and he sweat blood in anguish. He asked His Father for a Plan B. There was none to be had. AND HE DID NOT TRY TO CREATE ONE. He denied Himself and just a few hours later took up His cross, despising its shame, and following through with Plan A, he secured our redemption. As David Platt puts it in his book, Radical:

“At the Cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God, and when he had downed the last drop, he turned the cup over and cried out, ‘It is finished.’”

Jesus gave us our Plan A: “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 and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Not only has Jesus not offered us a Plan B, He has made it clear that there isn't one: Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

Everyone wants a Plan B--that’s normal, human, expected. It’s only when we create or choose an alternative to God’s plan when he offers none that we step outside the footsteps of Christ. It is then that we are excluded from being useful to Him and from experiencing His best for our lives. Plan A = deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. There is no room for compromise, ever. There is no plan B.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Jesus Was Not a Bible Study Leader

What would it have looked like if Jesus had led bible studies? Would he have served refreshments? Would he have played ice-breaker, get-to-know-you games? Would he have used a DVD based, sermon based, or book based curriculum? Jesus could have just met once or twice a week with the disciples to talk about the Old Testament but the good news is: Jesus did not lead Bible studies.

Jesus did far more than just lead Bible studies. Jesus poured into his disciples by sharing life with them.

For instance, Jesus did not teach the disciples how to worship by inviting them to come to a 6 week study on the topic of prayer. Instead, he showed them how to pray. In Luke 11, the Lord’s Prayer was not initiated by Jesus asking what the disciples wanted to study next. The disciples were with Jesus; they witnessed him praying and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They were sharing life.

How would Jesus have shown the disciples how to be sacrificial servants outside of sharing life with them? He could have just reprimanded them for their “who’s the greatest” arguments or left it at “the first shall be last, and last first.” But there was absolutely no greater way to show them sacrificial servanthood than to kneel down before them wrapped in a towel and wash their dirty, smelly, road-weary feet. They were sharing life.

Jesus did not come to pass on an informational mission. Jesus came to share in and pass on the “sent life” in community with a few. Jesus would leave his mission for his disciples to carry on after he was gone. Mere information would not do. They had to share life.

So, who are you sharing life with? Who are you worshipping with? Who are you on mission with? Who are you sacrificially serving with? The shared life is such an integral part of who we are as a church. Without it, life transformation does not happen or is at least stunted. Without it, we are just having bible studies. And remember, Jesus did not lead bible studies. Jesus shared life.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Under Construction

Under Construction

Have you ever tried to build something? I learned early in life that I’m not very handy. As a kid, I once attempted to build a tree house. I got some boards and nails and went to work. I hammered some nails into the tree trunk and placed my boards on top. After, I had them just the way I wanted them, I climbed down and examined my creation. Satisfied, I climbed back up the tree to start constructing the walls. I was feeling pretty accomplished, that is until the nails gave way and my floor fell apart leaving me on the ground with some serious bumps and bruises. I learned pretty quickly (and painfully) that if you’re going to stand on something, you’d better have a good foundation.

Over the past few months in Kid Zone, we’ve been working to build a solid foundation for our kid’s ministry. We’ve made some great strides: We have an incredible team of committed volunteers and an improved, safer environment for our children. Sounds pretty good, right? Definitely! But we’re not stopping there; we’re going to the next level!

Over the next month, you’ll begin to see some changes in the Kid Zone environments. First off, our leaders have taken a huge leap of faith and committed to lead on a full-time basis, so when your child comes into Kid Zone he or she will see familiar faces and be excited to hang out with them. The good news is you’ll recognize them, too! This change allows us to take a big step forward in our strategy for partnering with families to develop spiritually healthy kids. On November 6th, we’re introducing a new teaching style that allows kids to participate in age-appropriate worship and small group activities, in addition to our interactive Bible lesson. We didn’t leave out the parents in this equation. We’ll be providing tools on a monthly and weekly basis to help you discuss and reinforce the spiritual truth your child is learning.

So watch out River Church, Kid Zone is under construction! Beware of excitement!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Our Samaria

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  Acts 1:8 ESV

By now, each of you should have heard the good news - we're moving to Camden High School's Performing Arts Center for our new worship venue starting December 4th! 

Camden High School Performing Arts Center
It's easy to be excited... The new venue offers a whole bunch of "convenience factors" for us as a church - 350+ padded seats that don't need to be setup each week; a larger lobby; more children's rooms (and more space in each of the rooms; better security for our kids; better sound and lighting options; more parking...the list goes on and on.    But, with that said, and if you've attended The River for more than two weeks, you've heard us say on countless occasions -  "It's not about us...."  So, if these aren't the reasons we're moving, what are they?

Our mission is to multiply and grow missionary disciples and communities by loving God and loving people.

That's why we exist!  It's not only what we as a church believe, but it's what we believe as Christians, based on what Jesus said in Acts 1:8.  Too often we focus on our own comfort and convenience, and forget what God really called us to do in the first place.

As we look at our mission statement, it not only talks about growing disciples, but also communities.  You could (rightly) argue that you can't do one without the other.  We talk about being "in community" in our Life Groups, but there's also an element that calls us to reach communities outside of our comfort zone.  When Jesus commanded that we reach out, he specifically mentioned Jerusalem (Jesus' home) but then spread to "...Judea and Samaria...", and then to "...the end of the earth."  Why did he lump Judea and Samaria together?  In some respects, they're the same place.  So what makes them different?  They were two different ethnic groups.  

As we look at moving to Camden High School, we see an opportunity to move into a community that - in some respects - is different than we are as a church today.  Remember, it's not about the building, it's about the community - and that community looks different than most of us do.

It's not going to happen by accident.  We can't just move to Camden High School and hope that things change.  That we start attracting people that are different.   People that are far from God.  That people will somehow come to know and understand who Jesus is simply because we meet there on Sunday mornings.  It's doesn't work that way.  We use the word intentional a lot, so let me define it.   It means we have a plan, and that each of us own making the plan happen.

What about you?  Are you committed to being on the journey with us?  Are you committed to being intentional?  Are you committed to helping us spread the Gospel to our Samaria?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Climbing to rescue others or descending to save ourselves?

This Sunday, September 11 marks the 10 year anniversary of one of the most tragic days in the history of the U.S. But ten years later, September 11 is not just a time to mourn the people lost, but to celebrate the inspiring stories and take note of the lessons learned from the heroes of that day.

Recently I watched a documentary in which a veteran NY firefighter spoke of losing many of his friends and of losing his firefighter son at the towers on 9/11. He told the story of how he searched for the bodies of the fallen alongside many other fathers and friends for months after the towers fell. Eventually they began to recover the equipment and bodies of firefighters each time they would find stair treads, and so it became evident that their loved ones died in the stairwell. The man shared accounts of survivors who had descended the stairs and escaped the towers. Many of these descending survivors spoke of crying as they saw the firefighters passing them on their way UP the stairs. They cried because they knew these brave men were going TO the places where they had just come from; they cried because they knew the hell these firefighters were charging toward as they ascended those stairs.

This September 11 also marks the six year anniversary of the launch of The River Church. What a perfect time to learn from the inspiring example of the 9/11 heroes who died climbing the stairs toward the fires, climbing toward those who needed to be rescued from the fires. Recently, my friend, @KennyKelly (Pastor of Refuge church in Chapin, SC) tweeted the following quote from C.T. Studd: "Some wish to live within the sound of a church or chapel bell, I wish to run a rescue shop within a yard of @#!*% ." That little rhyme captures the missional heart beat of Jesus himself, demonstrated in his leaving heaven to "dwell among us" (John 1:14) and reveal the glory of God to those who are far from Him. More than once Jesus reminded the religious people and leaders that "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." He said "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17). The problem was these religious folks were comfortable within the confines of their religious community and they thought it was all about becoming clean and remaining clean by staying away from anything or anyone who might be unclean. Not so with Jesus.

Everything Jesus said and did was about carrying out his rescue mission from the Father and passing that mission on to those who follow Him (John 17:18). How did he grow his disciples? By taking them with Him on his rescue mission. How did he challenge the stagnant status quo of religiosity of that time? By letting them see Him on his rescue mission. How did He bring people to wholeness and peace in a real relationship with God? By taking His rescue mission where they were--where we were--to save them.

We need to never, ever forget that our mission is not to just to descend the stairwell of life to live another day safely. We need to take our cues from Jesus and the firefighters who climbed the stairwells of the twin towers on 9/11. Our mission is not to build churches (and certainly not church buildings) where saints are comfortable. In fact our mission is not to build churches at all; that's Jesus' job (Matthew 16:18). Jesus gave us our mission in Matthew 28:18-20, to make disciples. Our mission hasn't changed. Our mission on earth is the same as that of Jesus when he was modelling it for us in sandals: sacrifice ourselves to rescue those who are perishing. Let us live and die climbing toward the fire and those who need to be saved.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Next "Look" for The River Church

A couple of years ago, I heard Artie Davis, Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Orangeburg SC, tell a story to some church planters. As I remember it (and frankly, I may mangle the details), this is how it went.

After traveling for hours to get to a distant village in a remote part of Africa, some missionaries came upon a lone man walking along the road in the middle of nowhere. Worried that they might be lost and thinking this native man would surely know the area better than them, they stopped to talk with him and see if they were getting closer or if they were even on the right track to get to their intended destination. After greeting him, they explained where they were going and asked if they were close to the village yet. His reply puzzled them: "Yes, you are close. The village is only 3 looks and a stone's throw away." Not knowing what that meant in kilometers or miles, they asked him to explain. The man told them to "look" for something on the horizon along the road they were traveling, perhaps a distant tree for example, and then follow the road until they reached it. Then he said they should do the same again twice more, thus completing "3 looks". From there, the village would only be as far from them as the distance they could throw a small stone. The missionaries were relieved to know that they had been making progress toward their destination though they could not yet see the end of the road.

The River Church is rapidly approaching our 6 year anniversary since launching on September 11, 2005. We have come a long way already. Worship attendance has increased ten fold. Our staff is more than 4 times the people it was back then. Most importantly, we've seen hundreds of lives changed powerfully by the Lord Jesus Christ! We really have come a long way...but we haven't arrived yet. But you might say that we have reached the end of a "look". As we continue to travel toward the distant destination of seeing every man, woman, and child in Kershaw County have opportunity to see, hear, and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ, our end point may be too far away to see it yet. But now we have to set our sights on the horizon, to the next marker on the road to our destination and keep moving.

In the coming months, we will begin to fix our gaze on some new milestones. These will include
  • strategic changes in structure and curriculum to make our children's ministries more effective,
  • new resources for Life Groups and new groups for people to plug into,
  • new ministry opportunities that will reach across new lines to impact "the least of these" in our community,
  • incorporating four core practices into the lives of every believer who calls the The River Church home,
  • and a new worship venue for our Sunday morning worship services.
I hope you'll join us right now in this journey toward our next "look" by committing to serve consistently, by connecting in a Life Group or opening your home to host a new one, by preparing your heart to be challenged in the days ahead, and by praying for God to open the doors he wants to lead us through as it relates to our next worship venue.

My heart is set on the destination--every man, woman, and child in Kershaw County seeing, hearing, and responding to the good news of Jesus Christ. My eyes are fixed on the next "look". How about you?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blog Announcement!

As we continue our efforts to better communicate not just what's going on at The River, but - more importantly - how God is impacting our lives and our communities, we've started a BLOG! Our goal, as a staff team, is to share with you on a regular basis. Ever two weeks (sometimes more often), we'll share what God is doing in our lives and how that impacts the mission of The River.

As a reminder:

Our mission is to multiply and grow missionary disciples and communities by loving God and loving people.

Stay tuned - there's LOTS to share. God is at work, and we're excited to be part of the journey!

Bryan, Todd, Mike and Eric