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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Seeing God through Glasses I Couldn't Find

Answered prayers take on many forms, and every one of them speaks to the love of the sovereign God who is on our side.  Today God's love and sovereignty showed up as an answered prayer in the form of a pair of glasses and a credit card company mistake.

A couple of months ago, I got a slightly changed new prescription for my glasses.  The lenses I had were terribly scratched last February during my trip to India & Nepal.  But I'd worn them with scratches ever since to save money.  And I didn't fill my new prescription after I got it for the same reason.  But then roughly three weeks ago I lost my glasses.  As soon as I realized it, I looked everywhere for them, and thoroughly, but I couldn't find them.  I still had my prescription sunglasses, and I managed as best I could for the last 3 weeks with only my shades (So if you saw some crazy guy in a white SUV driving somewhere in Kershaw county SC at night while wearing shades, now you know he wasn't drunk or high).  But over the last few days, I was starting to get headaches and achy eyes, so I realized I just couldn't wait anymore.  I had to bite the bullet and go get new glasses.

Because my prescription had recently changed some, I also needed lenses for my shades.  So by the time the lady added up one pair of new frames and lenses for 2 pairs of eyeglasses, the total came to over $350!!  Though we make it a point not to carry a balance on credit cards, all I could do was put it on a card and pay it off over the next couple of months.  So I selected a card I use regularly but pay off the balance in order to get vacation points from the purchases.  Although the lady who helped me tried to run the card several times, it inexplicably wouldn't work.  Eventually she set my order aside on my promise that my wife would be in later that day to pay for the new frames and lenses with another card that would work.

As I walked out of the store, I called my wife to tell her she'd have to come by to pay for my glasses for me.  We both remarked how this was a large expense we didn't need right now due to some other recent unplanned and unavoidable expenses.  She asked me, "Are you sure you checked everywhere?", to which I answered, "Yes, thoroughly."  She also mentioned that the credit card company had contacted her as I was attempting to pay for the glasses, to ask her if we were trying to make a $357 purchase.  She would have to call them back to find out why it wasn't going through.
They later informed her that the card wouldn't go through because the security code printed on the card was not ours "according to their records".  Keep in mind that this was the very same security code that had always been printed on the card and which we had used multiple times including within the last 48 hours! 

As I got to my car and hung up the call with my wife, I decided it couldn't hurt to check the car once more for my lost glasses.  As Lisa hung up the call with me, she decided to pray and ask God to help us with this unexpected expense.  I looked under the seat, then I looked in the gap between my seat and the console.  As I knelt beside the car to look under the seat again one last time, I caught a reflection just behind the seat, not under it.  THERE THEY WERE!!!

God had answered Lisa's prayer!  But even more than that, God had made sure just minutes earlier that I didn't purchase eyeglass frames that I didn't need.  For a few critical moments, at just the perfect time, a credit card, which had always worked, suddenly didn't--just long enough for God to reveal what I needed--just long enough for God to reveal that He was involved and in control.

Lisa called the card company and they fixed the "problem".  I found glasses to wear till my new lenses (no new frames needed!) come in (so no more headaches).  And I spent nearly $100 less on glasses than I would have had to spend had I not found the glasses!

A good friend recently asked me, "How can you be so sure about God?  Do you ever struggle to believe?"  I told her that I often have questions, that I often deal with things I don't quite understand. I did today when the lady at the optical shop read me a total that was $100 more than I expected.  I thought, "Lord, why now?"  But I also told her that although I have questions and doubts, I don't doubt that He is, that He is good, and that He is in control.  I often doubt my own understanding of Him.  I sometimes question whether I have misunderstood His Word and Him as a result.  But I don't doubt Him.

"Why do you not doubt God?", you may ask.  There were at least 10,000 reasons before today.  But reason 10,001 is that today I saw Him through glasses I couldn't find, frames I couldn't afford, and a credit card that wouldn't work...each of them a part of a gracious and timely answer to prayer from the God who both "exists and...rewards those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Are You Thirsty?

by Bill Stroup

On Sunday, July 14th Pastor Bryan referred to this verse:

     Psalm 42:1  "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God."

Related to the idea expressed here are the following verses from other psalms:

     Psalm 63:1  "O God, you are my God;
                           I earnestly search for you.
                           My soul thirsts for you;  
                           my whole body longs for you 
                           in this parched and weary land  
                           where there is no water."

     Psalm 65:9  "You take care of the earth and water it, making it rich and fertile.
                           The river of God has plenty of water;
                           it provides a bountiful harvest of grain, for you have ordered it so."

There is a song we sometimes sing, based on Psalm 42:1 –

          As the deer pants for the water
      So my soul longs after you.
      You alone are my heart’s desire
      And I long worship you.

        (Refrain)    You alone are my strength, my shield,
To you alone will my spirit yield.
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship you.
      I want you more than gold or silver,
      Only you can satisfy.
      You alone are the real joy giver
      And the apple of my eye.

            You’re my friend and you are my Father
      Even though you are my King.
      I love you more than any other
      So much more than anything.

Really? Does that describe how you feel, how you react when thinking about God’s presence in your life. Are you dying of thirst for His presence, for an active relationship with Him?

As worship leader in another church I used the above song on occasion. One Sunday after having used this song in the service, a fellow elder in the church came to me and said, “Bill, I don’t really like that song very much. I wish you wouldn’t use it.”

When I responded back by asking him what he did not like about it he replied, “Well, there are lots of times when I just don’t feel that way. I don’t feel I’m dying of thirst for God’s presence in my life. I feel like when we sing it that I am telling a lie to God.”

Do you ever feel that way when using that particular song or other songs in which we express our love and appreciation toward God?

“John, I totally agree with you – but here, as in many of the songs we sing, we sing about where we know we ought to be, where we desire to be, where we hope that we will be as we grow and develop in our Christian lives. I really believe that if you sing it in that spirit that it will mean very much to you.”

What about you? Do you find that at times it is hard to sing some of the lyrics to worship songs? If so, remember that they are often meant to challenge us toward growth in our Christian lives and appreciation of God’s awesome goodness and care for us.

On the other hand, if you are never challenged by the songs we sing, are you actually thinking while you sing?  It can be easy to JUST SING, without focusing on the words, on their meaning. It is encouraging to hear Pastor Bryan comment often on the words of the songs we sing, to note how they touch his heart. That comes from paying attention to what is being expressed, and I would implore you to do that too. Think about the words – and allow them to turn your heart and mind to our God and his gracious and mighty character.

Even if you can only “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 100:1), allow the words of the songs to bring you to real worship.

(Bill Stroup is an elder serving on the River Church's advisory team.  He and his wife Mary Ellen have served the Lord in various leadership roles in churches over the years.  They also served as missionaries in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Love, Serve, Give - Feeding the Hungry and Homeless in Kershaw County

The book of Nehemiah is a great story.  A rather ordinary guy has a burden for what is ultimately God's burden, and - despite incredible opposition - accomplishes great things as he leads the effort to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem in 52 days!   So often, we read these stories and think... why don't great things like this happen is modern times?  A better question might be, are they happening, and we're just missing them?

This week, we enter our third month of serving the hungry and homeless in the old Bi-Lo parking lot in downtown Camden.   A lot has happened in these first eight weeks.  We've grown, we've learned a lot, and we've been able to begin thinking about "what's next?" in the realm of this ministry.  But...  let's back up a bit...  What am I talk about, and how did it get started?

In March 2013, The River Church did a series on Nehemiah entitled "52 Days" (you can listen to it here.")  A young lady came up after the service and said she had found her burden, and that she felt called to feed the hungry and homeless in Kershaw County.   I remember thinking "...this lady can't really impact the problem, and she's really not in a position (financially) to do anything about it."  I also remember thinking... "I know how this works...she'll be back in a month, wanting to know what WE (the church) had done about HER problem..."

A  few weeks passed, and - sure enough - she started towards me after church.  I remember thinking, "Here she comes... wanting to know what we've done..."  Instead though, she began to tell me this incredible story!  On her own, she decided to purchase and cook rice and beans, and take them to the old Bi-Lo building to feed whoever showed up.  No plan.  No committee.  Just someone who saw a need, married it up with God's burden (to care for the less fortunate), and answered it.  She fed 17 people that first day!

Other people had ideas.  Ideas that they carried with them for years.  Ideas for a place.  Ideas to feed hungry and homeless people.  Ideas to get churches to work together.  And we had incredible cooks with a desire to make lots of food for people!  It all began to come together.

Fast forward to where we are today.  That initial "feeding" has grown to a group of people from multiple churches feeding around 60-80 people on Sunday afternoons at 5pm in the old Bi-Lo parking lot.  Some of those involved don't attend church.  We don't attend the same church.  In fact - we're not even all the same denomination!  But - we've all come together to meet the needs of the community and to answer the call that Christ had to "love your neighbor."

 Why Sunday afternoon?  Because it's the ONE day in Kershaw County that the hungry and homeless cannot get a hot meal.  The other six days are provided for by our friends at Food for the Soul and Mount Moriah Baptist Church.  We've also found out that friends at God's Hand's Beyond Our Wall's ministry, a group of churches that provides a bag lunch on Sunday at Boykin Park, share our vision for providing a hot meal, and that four times a year (on the "fifth Sunday" months), we will be joining with them at a location to be determined for a celebration and feeding for the hungry and homeless!  Our goal has NEVER been to compete.  In fact, we've said - the day that Food for the Soul feeds on Sunday is the day we find another problem to solve!

So what's next?  Someone from our own church asked me "If other churches 'sign up' to handle a week each month at the old Bi-Lo, then what will those of us from The River do?"  It's a great reminder that this was, and never will be, about US!  There are communities spread all over Kershaw County that can't get to the Bi-Lo building in Camden.  What about Elgin?  Lugoff?  Cassatt?  Kershaw?  Bethune?  Our goal was never to find something for us to go - but to ensure that every hungry person in Kershaw County had access to a hot meal seven days a week.  Not just in Camden.  Or Lugoff.  Or Elgin.  In ALL of Kershaw County.  This is simply the first step, and there's much work to do!

You may have already begun seeing the bright yellow LoveServeGive t-shirts around town.  Where do they fit into all of this?  Remember - it's never been about us.  It's never been about me, and it's never been about The River Church. The t-shirts are simply a way to say "it's not about me.  It's about Him, and what He wants." Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all we've got and the second is to love others the same way! There is no better way to show this than to follow the example that Jesus set by serving others and giving completely of Himself.  It's not simply about feeding the hungry or serving the homeless.  It's about showing people who Christ was.  Not just inviting them to church.  Not just telling them about Jesus.  Both are important, but people need to see who Jesus is, too.  We do that when we Love.  Serve.  Give.

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."  - Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I'm a Big Flippin' Mess!

By Jimmy Braddock
It’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything and that’s because I really haven’t felt like anything I had to share was good enough, important enough, eloquent enough, profound enough or anything enough to warrant our precious collective time and attention. I get that way a lot and, I guess, that’s the way I feel about my life in general. Stay with me! This isn’t about my lack of self esteem or inferiority complex-Those things have been addressed…Okay, still being addressed! This is about travelling through life, with all it’s peaks and valleys, and being comfortable with my screwed-uppedness (yep, my word.)

I had been dealing with several situations that were just difficult and messy. I was struggling with my ability to be an effective leader, if I was qualified to give advice, and if I was capable of dealing with anything much more complicated than a spirited game of Go-Fish. Enter the Creator of the Universe who decided to take a little time out of His somewhat busy schedule to send me, one of His problem children, a little nudge. A friend shared a Facebook status about a page called Messy Spirituality ( and it said the 100th “Like” would receive a free book and a $5 Panera card. I had to…I Love Panera. I liked the page, thought I was the 100th, and then forgot about it. I scanned the page briefly but honestly dismissed it with a thought to return later. A few days later, a small package arrived and I hadn’t thought anymore about the giveaway. It was my Panera card and a copy of Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli. By now, we had started a diet and there was no way Julie was gonna let me have chocolate croissants from Panera. So, Keli got the gift card and I started reading the book. After I read the back cover, I realized this was all just a little plot by my crafty Father to get this book in my hands. I haven’t finished the book yet and this is not a review. I will, however, recommend it to anyone who has ever thought to themselves (or screamed at the top of their lungs) “I’m a big flippin’ mess”!
I have known since I was a little kid that Jesus loved me! How did I know? For the bible told me so and that’s the way the song went. I went through a long period thinking God didn’t want anything to do with me. Then, that Jesus may love me, but He probably didn’t like me much. I’m finally starting to accept that Jesus loves me and there ain’t nothing I can do about it. He loves me in spite of, and including, my screwed-uppedness. Actually, I think it endears me to Him.
I want so desperately to be the perfect picture of faith, spirituality and obedience! But, I fall short of my expectations-not His. I get mad at myself when I question God, when I complain, when I’m short with my wife or kids, and the list goes on. Basically, I’m upset when I screw up because I know that God deserves so much better from me. He knows how messed up I am and he expects that I’m going to screw up-frequently. I feel like I am in this perpetual cycle of brokenness and regeneration while He continues to draw me ever closer to Himself. Jesus has absolutely wrecked my life and completely shattered any ideas of who I think I am or I’m supposed to be. I am grateful beyond words for that beautiful collision of my mess and His Grace. As long as I’m confined to this body on this earth, I will never come anywhere close to that perfect picture. Guess what? I hear that still, small voice telling me that as long as I keep moving closer to Him, That’s okay! If He’s okay with my mess, I’ve got to be okay with it. It’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay that I don’t meet my expectations (or anyone elses) as long as I meet His. It’s okay to be a mess!!!

I have said all of this to tell you that my God is right on time. He knows what I need and when I need it. No matter how big a screw up I am, He loves me! No matter how inadequate I feel, He says I’m capable! No matter how inferior I think I am, He says I am good enough, I am adored, and I am a kid of the King!  I may be a screw-up, but I know that I am His screw-up.

I’m a big flippin’ mess, but it’s a glorious mess and it’s okay!

Jimmy Braddock is husband to Julie and dad to Keli and Karis.  Jimmy is the Director of Operations for Providence Home in Columbia, SC and gets to do for a living what he loves -  hanging out with amazing people everyday sharing the love of Jesus while striving to be a follower of Christ and not just a fan!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why We Don't Disciple Like Jesus Did

Why We Don’t Disciple Like Jesus Did
by Mike Breen

If we want to know how Jesus discipled people and how the early church (including Paul) certainly seemed to disciple people, this is what we need to know: Discipleship requires imitation. This is the nitty gritty of what it means to be a learner.

Jesus asked his disciples to imitate His life. That was His process. It was how He passed on the DNA.

Our lives don’t have to be perfect, or close to perfect, for us to begin multiplying the life we have in Jesus into others. But people desperately need a flesh-and-blood example to look at, watch, ask questions, receive teaching and apprentice themselves to. If they are struggling to read Scripture, it’s not enough to toss someone a book on reading the Bible or point them to a podcast.

We don’t simply tell people to pray; we teach them to pray as we pray. We don’t just instruct people to forgive; we show them what it looks like to forgive when we’ve been stabbed in the back. In the end, we need to be at a place of enough stability and maturity in our own spiritual lives that we are confident it would be a good thing if people did imitate us. This is the way of discipleship.

So what stands in our way of following Jesus’ example?

If you’re anything like me, you probably have two, slightly negative knee-jerk reactions to the idea of imitation. And they probably have to do with confidence and power.
With confidence, it comes down to you and me. It comes down to the fact that we may know we’re created to disciple people and that it isn’t just about me “being fed.” We know if we are invested in, eventually we need to invest our lives into others. Scripture doesn’t give much leeway on that one. And if we are going to offer our lives to a small group of people to imitate, we actually have to believe that our life is worth imitating.

Now we’re going to take a sudden turn here because seriously discussing discipleship and imitation requires us to look into the future and ask what Jesus is asking of us. If we are His disciples, it means we will eventually be discipling people. That idea raises up some things in us.

At gut-level honesty, most of us don’t have the confidence to offer our lives as something to imitate, do we? Why?

Because we don’t think it would be a good thing. Our lives are often chaotic, hard, challenging and slightly depressing enough. Why in the world would we want to pass that on?

Maybe our marriages aren’t in the best place.

Maybe we’re single and haven’t exactly lived the “purest” of lives.

Maybe we’re not particularly good parents, and that’s not a relationship we want anyone to see.

Perhaps our work life/home life balance is really out of whack.

We might be loaded with debt.

Perhaps we feel isolated, alone or have very little sense of peace.

We wonder—though we have a hard time admitting it—if God is actually moving in our lives and communities. We read the book of Acts and think it must be for other people or other times.

This could very possibly be your reality. Herein lies one of our biggest problems: We can’t possibly conceive of discipling people because we don’t have lives we’d want others to have.

We are so consumed with being successful (the drug of choice for Americans) or simply surviving the chaos, or having more stuff, or being popular, that we aren’t much different from people who don’t know Jesus.

Even pastors.

The fact is that for most of us, imitating our lives might not be a good thing. The reality is that we don’t even know how to live ourselves, much less feel comfortable with someone imitating us.


Because most of us have never truly been discipled. Maybe you’ve grown up in church. Maybe you’ve even gone to seminary. Maybe you lead a church, small group or Bible study. Maybe you’ve read every Christian book there is to read from the last 50 years. Great! You may have an outstanding informational foundation.

But you still might need to be discipled in the way the Bible understands discipleship.
I have met more leaders than I can count who, combined, lead hundreds of thousands of people—and have never been discipled.

What if it didn’t have to be that way?

I wonder if there are people in your life whom God has been preparing in advance, who are open to you, who would want to invest all that God has given them, into your life?
I guarantee there is a person you know who, when you look at them, consider them and pray about them, you think, You know what? If in 20 years my life looked like theirs, that would be a really good thing.

If we exist in a relational system where the principle “every disciple disciples” is lived out, then we are all being held accountable by someone.

This article is excerpted and adapted from the free eBook The Great Disappearance by 3DM leader Mike Breen. In the eBook, Breen explores why the word “disciple” disappears from Scripture after Acts 21—and why the answer to that question is vital to how we make disciples today. To download the full eBook, click here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Joshua 3:4 --“Follow in the path I will show you. Now, you’ve never seen anything like this before, so follow about a kilometer behind the priests with the Ark.”
You will have plenty of time to see what I am doing, plenty of time to be ready for what I will ask you to do.
            Psalm 119:105 – Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
The small footlamp was not a spotlight! It gave little illumination beyond a step or two beyond. There are many times when we see no further ahead than a few steps.
Who is really called upon to trust God?
Many might say the ones with the footlamp. But I contend that both are called upon to trust God.
First the priests had to wade into a raging torrent driven by the rains. How far would you get into this torrent before you were swept away in and under it? But, that was what God said to do. The priests cross to the other side and wait for the people.
Joshua 3:16 says that the river was stopped a great deal above where they were crossing. At the Red Sea they apparently were able to see the water piled up on either side of them. Perhaps wondering when the wall might release and cover them with water. Here there was no way to see what held the water back. Might it begin to flow again sometime soon? I have seen such a flow where a dried up river suddenly filled with raging flow of water. Sunny day; no rain or threatening clouds, but suddenly the water filled and flowed in the dry river bed. The priests got over – but that was 20 minutes ago before the first of the Israelites started across. Was it safe? Would half the group get across, then be separated from the others? Well, no insurance company would sell you insurance against the chances. OSHA would certify it as definitely unsafe.
Still, they went across safely. Probably some with trepidation, some praying “Lord, I believe – PLEASE help me in my unbelief.” (See Mark 9:23-25.) Whether we can see a couple of steps or a kilometer, God calls upon us to grow in faith. Not all the circumstances are the same, but we can trust God in all circumstances.

Bill Stroup
Bill is serves as an Elder on the Advisory Team of The River Church