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3/28/2010 ~ Wright Baptist Church, 795 Beal Pkwy., Fort Walton Beach, Florida.         

I visited the Fort Walton Beach, Wright Baptist Church today, Sunday 3/28/10. It is about half a mile from my office, and in fact I stopped in at the office for a "Free" cup of coffee on my way over from Bible Study with Pastor Charles Sansom and his group. I believe Wright Baptist has been around in Fort Walton Beach for decades. It features a very contemporary interior with a large stage, flood-lit with modern stage lighting; and displaying two gigantic wide-screen TVs up behind the lectern, one on each side. Checking the web-site, I note that they are absolutely up to date with both "Facebook" & "Twitter" connections!

 It was definitely an "AA-men!" environment  

I guess there were about 150 parishioners present dressed in what I might call "High Casual" style. (I didn't see many sneakers nor sweat shirts, and a number of parishioners - and all the ushers wore suit and tie).

There were no kneelers nor was communion offered. A collection plate was taken up. There were no hymnals nor bibles in the pews and I guess that was covered by

the words to the contemporary songs being flashed onscreen. Many other Baptist Churches I've visited featured a lot of biblical "dictionary" work as congregants search among the various books and chapters to follow the Pastor's dissertation, but that was not my experience today and in fact I did not see where any particular Bible Verse was advertized as constituting the "Word of the day", though the visiting preacher briefly focused on Palm Sunday and read a few verses relating to Jesus' Triumphal entry into the Holy City; before citing numerous references to the subject of Christian love.

The structure of the proceedings was simple: An extended period of music & songs to begin, announcements, meet 'n greet (everyone was pleasant), message, collection, and then a final informal segment.

It was a satisfying Spiritual "Meal" with an "everyday" flavor just like Home-Cookin'; without any exotic spices (except that             the   soloist was very good!)  One definitely felt a return to real-life after my visit to the D.C. "High-Church" of last week. But you know what? There was a more faithful Bible Message here than I heard last week!

And the sermon, given by visiting Director of Missions (Emerald Coast Fellowship of Baptist Churches) embodied a recognition of the problem relating to fading attraction of the current motif, which he said had led to a slowdown in the growth of the local Baptist Churches. (Read the Message below; and if you liked the brief video clip of the soloist singing "On The Hill of Calvary" ...    here's the rest of her song!)   ... It may take a while to download.

PALM SUNDAY MESSAGE; 2010

Message by: Visiting Preacher, Dr. Hershel Adams, Director of Missions, Emerald Coast Fellowship of Baptist Churches. (Most of this is direct quotation based on my best recollection from contemporaneous notes. There are admixed sections of synopsis. Quotation marks are omitted except when Biblical verses are directly referenced. The material is solely attributable to Dr. Adams).

This is Palm Sunday, a time when we think of Jesus Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Put in context, Jesus is facing The Cross, and death, and resurrection. And we will celebrate the victory of Christ (next week). But this Sunday we celebrate His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Today, He will ride the donkey! (Cite). Hosanna in the highest!

As Jesus entered The Holy City on Palm Sunday, the crowds praised Him! (Note that they are the same people who will shout, only a few days later: "Crucify Him!") But Jesus does not comment on this pending double-cross. He completes his mission and returns home for the night. The next day, returning to the city, He passes the famous barren "Fig-Tree" on His way back to Jerusalem. He says: "May no man eat fruit from you forever." (Cite).

It's the same thing with people: We in North America are basically fruitless.

What can we do to change this and turn things around? Has God's Power left The Southern Baptist Convention? We are dying. This year we have experienced an overall decrease in revenues of $1.5 Million. We are going down, down in Sunday School attendance and many other statistics. For a long time I've been wondering ~ why is our faith dying on the vine? Whereas, elsewhere it's blossoming! For example, in Africa the percentage of Christians has recently risen from only a few percent to over 50%. In India there are great increases in Christians; and even in China, more than 100,000 people per day become Christians! Last year, between January and May more than half a million people were baptized in a network of Home Churches!

But here in the U.S. things are troubling. I recently read an internet article by Josh Hunt entitled How To Get 90% Of Visitors To Join The Church. He said that 90% of people we play cards with join the church. That's a heck of an outreach plan. Josh and his wife gave a party Friday night for Sunday School attendees. When they invited couples to the party - the folks joined their church. Nine of ten invited couples joined! Of 35 people who did not attend the party - only 3 joined the church! So while 9/10 in the party joined; of those not invited to the party, 9/10 DID NOT join!

The difference is all about becoming friends, sharing lives and developing small relational groups. Growing a church is about developing relationships beyond the church in small relational groups. Where religion is growing - in Africa & China - it's in small groups. (See Acts, Chapter 2): "All the believers meet together constantly and shared ..." (Acts 2:44-47).

In our culture we come together "At the Temple." (And it's true that this corporate worship is very important). But in church we sit with people we barely know and have little interaction or sharing with them during the week. In our culture we have learned to distance ourselves from others and not share the deepest parts of our lives because of a lack of trust. But, in small relational groups, sitting in the circle, we support and share with each other.

Worshiping together in the home is almost as important as church, and unfortunately we have done away with this closeness in our current culture. Small relational groups is where we learn to love.

But what is love?

God is love. Here we're not talking about Philia, Eros, etc. - we're talking about Agape Love ~ "God Love!"

Love is always the giving of self for another. God is love: "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son ..." so we can have everlasting life. (Cite). On the other hand when outsiders see us they seldom see loving relationships.

So how important is love? 1 Corinthians, 13:1 says: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and  angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." If I have the gift of prophecy and have no love, then I have nothing. If I give all my possessions, but have no love, then it profits me nothing. If love does not permeate all we do then we have nothing. And that includes church attendance and activities.

So then we must ask ~ What is the nature of love?

1 Corinthians gives us the answer:  Love is patient ... kind. You know - on a personal note - God broke my heart when He first got a hold of me with this passage and I realized how I was interacting with my wife. ... Love is patient and kind, not jealous, does not brag and is not arrogant. It does not act unbecomingly (eschews profanity and coarse behavior). It does not seek its own (ie., does not push for its own ideas or seek exclusively its own way). It is not provoked. (You can't make me mad if I'm a loving person). It does not keep account of wrongs, does not rejoice in unrighteousness. But it does:  Rejoice with the truth and bear all things. Love believes all (good) things, hopes all things and never fails!

I assert that because we don't live like that, the church does not experience The Power Of God. Rather our emblem should be: (as John 13:35 says:) "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Also: "Most important of all, have fervent love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins!" (1 Peter 4:8).

It is important for the outside world to see us living in love for one another ~ Because it covers a multitude of sins. When our lives are dominated by love actions toward one another, then the world sees the nature of God in us. The world seeks to separate us and prevent us from knowing how to love each other. But my advice is that we must break up into small groups and share life and love with one another. We can learn from one another. Then God can bring a transforming presence among us.

So yes, Institutional Church is important. But we MUST learn to gather in small groups to worship together. Let us believe what it says in: 1 Corinthians 13:13: "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love!"

Amen.

                                                                                                                                               


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Last modified: 09/13/10