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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.