Fellowship Amid COVID-19

Dear Church,

I hope and pray this message finds you doing well.

With the continued recommendation from the CDC and local authorities, Riverside’s building will remain closed until further notice. Please do not hesitate to contact our staff should you need anything.

We are continuing to offer our Sunday service virtually. The service will be posted online Sunday morning at 10:00 am along with the bulletin for you to follow along at home.

I wish to share with you an invitation to virtually join together each Sunday at 11:00 am though Zoom. Our hope is that this prayer meeting will allow us to connect, see, and pray with each other. The format of the meeting will allow each person the opportunity to share a bit about how they are doing and how we can pray for them. This format does not allow for multiple individuals to speak at the same time, so I kindly ask you respect the time and one another’s turns. I also encourage you download and register for the Zoom application before Sunday to make sure you have as little difficulty joining as possible.

On Sunday morning, to join the prayer meeting via Zoom please go to the link – https://zoom.us/j/766901652 a little before 11:00 am. Again, please allow yourself enough time to register and launch the Zoom application.

Additionally, if you already have the Zoom application you can find our meet through the meeting ID: 766 901 652

If you do not have a smart phone or video capabilities through your computer, you can dial one of the following numbers and then enter the meeting number when prompted.

  • +13017158592, meeting number 766901652#
  • +13126266799, meeting number 766901652#
  • +16465588656, meeting number 766901652#

As this is our first attempt at such a meeting please be patient with us as we begin this process. It is our hope to continue to meet virtually through Zoom each Sunday at 11:00 am until we are back in person.

With appreciation,

Rev. Nick

The Lord Is Our Shepherd

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’ When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

This sentiment of wounded healer reminds me of Psalm 23. Dr. Ellen Davis states that the Psalms are written, in part, as our personal communication with God. The Psalms were scripted for our mouths, becoming our cries and prayer to God. Where other books in the Bible are the stories of a particular people or to a particular people, the Psalms invite and call us into these laments, songs, and prayer to the point where each Psalm is our Psalm, our prayer.

This past Sunday we read Psalm 23 to open our worship service, and until we are meeting together in person I will continue to read from the Psalms to begin our service. Psalm 23 is a psalm of healing. What stands out most about Psalm 23 is the complete lack of anxiety in the midst of such adversity. The psalmists would normally express their cries, anguish, and anxiety freely throughout their numerous laments. This psalmist is free to express their sentiment without anxiety because they truly embodied what they prayed. Psalm 23 comes from someone who has known fear and has faced it down, it comes from someone who had wounds and was healed.

“The LORD is my shepherd.” The metaphor of shepherd is perhaps lost on some of us as I imagine very few have actually spent much time tending to sheep. But I hope over these past weeks as we’ve read and discussed the life and ministry of Jesus the “Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10) resonates and helps comfort as we hear these words from Psalm 23. That though we go through adversity, we have Jesus as our shepherd. To all of us, the psalmist offers the reorienting word that God brings us back to life. The Hebrew for “he restores my soul” in verse 3 is that strong, it emphasizes the life that God restores within us.

Psalm 23 is one of comfort, but not compliancy. It is a Psalm of fortitude. If we are to “dwell in the house of the LORD”, we have our chores to tend to. We have our command to love one another, to encourage and care for another, to uplift and pray for one another. It is my hope and prayer that you are encouraged, comforted, and know that you are loved as part of the Riverside household.

Sincerely,

Rev. Nick

Online Service Now Available

To balance the spiritual needs of church-goers with the physical health risks from gatherings and COVID-19, Riverside Baptist Church is offering virtual Sunday services. By providing a video of Rev. Nick leading the service and a bulletin guiding you through the service, you can continue to connect with God and the Riverside community. 

The service for March 22, 2020 is now available here.

Challenging Times

Dear Riverside Family,

I am reaching out today to extend my love and prayers for you and your family during these unprecedented and challenging times. I know many of you are worried about your jobs, your income, and your health. These are scary times for all of us.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, we have an opportunity to trust in God in a new and different way. Won’t you join me in praying for our church community and for our world? If each of us prayed just ten minutes more each day, what an impact our prayers would have on our world!

Let the words of Jeremiah 29:11 comfort you:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

When anxieties begin to rise, turn off the noise and rest in the promise of God’s word. He is faithful. He is true. And he has your best interests at heart.

This is our promise, and today is our opportunity to live it. As we adjust to our new realities, and the temporary closure of our church home, let’s love and serve one another well through this season. Reach out to those around you who may be alone and fearful. Spend a few minutes on the phone reassuring a neighbor or a friend that God loves and cares for them.

If you need prayer or assistance, please feel free to call our church office at (202) 554-4330. Someone from our pastoral care team will get back in touch with you.

Praying God’s continued blessings over you.

In Christ,

Deacon Laurel

Today’s Trouble Is Enough for Today

Since high school, throughout college, after divinity, and until this day I have had the same favorite Bible verse. Matthew 6:34, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Another translation states, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

These words of Jesus are a welcomed reminder. I know if I focus on my worries too much, they can become onerus, burdensome, and even at times paralyzing. I often have to remind myself of Jesus’ words, particularly his instruction to not worry, because today’s trouble is enough for today. Making sure work is completed, diapers are changed, trash is taken out, the dog is fed, and all the many other daily tasks are enough.

This isn’t to say we should be flippant about the future or not prepare or not be wise in our decision making. However, if you’re like me and tend to worry a lot it is comforting to hear the words of a person who knew very well what the future held from them, an unjust and gruesome death, and yet still taught that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow.

In the coming days there will be plenty to worry about. I know firsthand that not worrying is often easier said than done. If you find yourself being overcome with anxiety and worries please think back on the words of Jesus and pray for peace. Try to take each day at time and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow arrives. And for those moments in life when the stress becomes so real that I can physically feel it, I find myself singing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” in my head as a way to meditate and ground myself. I’ve done this so much so that I now enjoy watching birds as I’ve come to associate birds with not worrying. It is my prayer that as we wake tomorrow morning we can smile with the rising sun, handle the day’s task, knowing that God is still God and eventually everything will be alright.

Prayerfully yours,

Rev. Nick

P.S. – For those of you who would like to join in some daily structured prayer and meditation, I encourage you to visit the http://commonprayer.net/.

A word on giving – If you are among those fortunate enough to continue to be salaried or receive other regular sources of income during this national emergency, please mail or give electronically to Riverside Baptist Church’s ongoing expenses despite in-person worship services being cancelled.  We continue to pay our hourly employees who for years have faithfully served the church in a number of capacities, but we can only do so with continuing support from you! Thank you.

God is Still God

Dear Church,

The leadership of Riverside has made the decision for us to discontinue gathering in the sanctuary for worship. Effective immediately all church activities are postponed until further notice.

Beginning this coming Sunday, March 22, we plan to offer a video of our Sunday morning service as well as having the bulletin posted on our website for you to follow along at home. This is new for all of us, so I ask for your patience as we work out the nuances of virtual worship.

Let me state the obvious, but I think it bears repeating, God is still God. God is still loving, merciful, faithful, omnipotent, and everlasting. Though our community, country, world is going through a circumstance that is new for all of us, God is still God.

I want to remind you that we are the church. God’s people make up the church and we do not cease being the church even if we are not physically able to meet in our sanctuary. During this time, we can continue to live out our calling by loving our neighbors as Jesus taught in Matthew 22:39. Part of loving our neighbors is seeking their health and wholeness. The CDC indicates that social distancing is important to slow the spread of the virus. The CDC also indicates that certain populations are especially vulnerable to the virus, namely, persons over the age of 60 and persons with respiratory and chronic health conditions. With all this in mind, we at Riverside seek to love our neighbors by taking reasonable steps to limit the spread of this pandemic.

Please keep checking the church’s website for continued updates. Please be in prayer for one another, and please remember God is still God. Psalm 94:19 “When the worries of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.”

Sincerely,

Rev. Nick

In Times Like These

Over the past few weeks it has been interesting to see a letter written in 1527 make its rounds in religious news cycles and blogs, a letter I first read in an ethics course during divinity school. Protestant Reformer and Theologian Martin Luther’s letter “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague” addresses the moral dilemma that arose when Christians were confronted with the question of whether or not one should escape the chaos of a deadly plague or remain behind to aid those who are held captive by the bedlam of sickness. Luther examines the ethical question in its relation to the love commandment set forth by Christ. If Christians are to love their neighbor, should they leave them in a time of distress, even if it means putting themselves at risk?

The letter came 200 years after the Black Plague had killed nearly half of the European population and had begun to re-emerge in Luther’s hometown. In his letter Luther states that it is the duty of clergy, public officials and professionals, and family with dependents to continue their vocational responsibilities.

Furthermore, Luther says, “Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death. We have a plain command from Christ, ‘A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees’ [John 10:11]. For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death.” What Luther faced was far more dire and deadly than the virus(es) we face today. Yet, there is an atmosphere of fear and anxiety amongst many, especially as more cases of the Coronavirus are confirmed in the DC area.

Luther holds in juxtaposition the sanctity of self-care [Eph. 5:29; 1 Cor. 12:21–26] with the sanctity of caring for others [Matt. 22:39, 25:31-46]. In addition to imploring those with duties and responsibilities to stay, Luther also offers examples of actively seeking refuge and safety so long as it does not harm our neighbor. To put it simply or to reinterpret what Luther was saying in my own words: 1) we should not freak out, we are a community called to live not by a spirit of fear, “but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” [2 Tim 1:7] and 2) we must remember the command to love our neighbors as ourselves [Mark 12:31] and in doing so, that includes caring for those in need as well as making sure we do not put others in harm’s way (please stay home if you’re sick).

As your pastor I am here to guide and lead you on this collective journey of faith in times of joy and in times of uncertainty. I am here to serve the community at Riverside and assuage any apprehension our community may have. The deacons and I have been active in our response and have already begun implementing appropriate decisions regarding communion and the passing of peace. Please do not hesitate to call upon us should you have any questions or concerns. As always, I am available for office hours or visitation.

With Appreciation,

Rev. Nick

All Are Saved?

The final word is never that of warning, of judgment, of punishment, of a barrier erected, of a grave opened. We cannot speak of it without mentioning all these things. The Yes cannot be heard unless the No is also heard. But the No is said for the sake of the Yes and not for its own sake. In substance, therefore, the first and last word is Yes and not No.

Karl Barth

God’s YES repudiates our no; God’s YES overwhelms our no; God’s YES is the final answer to any and all no’s. When we begin to realize this truth of God’s unconditional love for us, we can begin to be transformed as a people following the risen, loving God.

A word about office hours, pastoral counseling, and visitation. I am available to meet and will happily do so if you contact me to set up a time. Please email me at pastor@riversidedc.org or call the church office if you do not have access to email.

~ Rev. Nick

Baptist Participation in Lent

Lent is the liturgical season in which Christians prepare for Easter through prayerful and solemn penance, and contemplation of mortality. Lent is derived by shortening the Old English word lencten which means “spring season.” It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends some forty days later on Maundy Thursday. The forty days of Lent represent the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Unfortunately, some Baptists have viewed the observance of Lent as being associated with “works righteousness.” It seems this view misses the depth and richness of Lent. Lent offers us a chance to reflect, respond, and strengthen our relationship with God. It also demonstrates a practice that is ecumenical, transcending denominations.

Traditionally, Lent has been observed by giving something up; it could be meat, alcohol, coffee, sweets, dairy, or any number of things. The sacrifice is in part meant to demonstrate our reliance upon God and emulate Jesus. An alternative to sacrifice could be taking something on as opposed to giving something up. This could be by way of community service or volunteering or kind acts or donating to a charity that you normally wouldn’t. A third option is a hybrid of both, such as giving up your afternoon coffee purchase and instead donating the money to a charity that provides clean drinking water for those in need. There are obviously any number of ways to observe Lent.

The essential factor is using your observance to deepen your relationship with God and prepare your heart for Easter. Regardless if you choose to participate in Lent or not, I hope and pray God’s blessing upon you during this season.

~ Rev. Nick