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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)