Category Archives: From the Pastor’s Desk

Now Is the Time

Dear Church,

Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!

Mark 1:15

Now is the time, God has come in the form of Jesus. The infinite has met and became the finite. Now is the time, there’s immediacy, just as a child coming into the world, God came in the form of Jesus into the world. Again, the infinite became the finite.

We are to live into God’s reign and kingdom now. The word “repent” in Mark 1:15 means to wrap your mind and heart around a new reality, it’s recognition language, in light of the “good news” we are to recognize this new reality of God’s kingdom and reign. The Good news is there is a new reality of God being loose in the world. A new kingdom is present, a different reality is breaking in, and our recognition is the repentance Jesus speaks of here. Some have made repentance an individual confession as opposed to what God, in Jesus, was doing in the beginning by forming a community with whom the presence of God is so evident that the promise of God’s peace is glimpsed even in the midst of chaos.

~ Rev. Nick

Calling the Prayer Troops

Dear Church,

During this time of celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., one day before the inauguration of a new president, our city and communities find themselves in precarious times to say the least. I ask that you join in prayer for our city, for justice, for peace, for a seamless transition, and for positive change in the coming days. May we be instruments of this justice, peace, and change.

Instead of offering a reflection I think it best to share some of the powerful words of Dr. King so they may speak for themselves. It is my prayer that we at Riverside never lose our voice for justice.

Please keep safe this week and do not hesitate to contact should you need anything.

Rev. Nick

“People often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.”

“I have decided to stick with love, because hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“The person who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”

“If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace. If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it. Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice for all people.”

“Whatever we do, we must keep God and love in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all of our actions. But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.”

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

“The problem of housing discrimination is a glaring reality all over this country, north and south; and as long as we have this problem, there will be some form of de facto segregation in the public schools and in all other areas of life.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

“The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”

“A Church that has lost its voice for justice is a Church that has lost its relevance in the world.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let’s Meet This Moment

“[My father] used to wake me up every morning at dawn…But it was still dark. It’s dark right now. But morning comes. And scripture tells us weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Let us rise up, greet the morning, and meet the challenges of this moment. Together, we can do the necessary work and win the future for all of our children.”

Raphael Warnock

I do my best not to be political for the sake of being political and seldom name actual politicians’ names. But when a Baptist minister, who studied under James Cone, is elected the first black senator of the state of Georgia, it’s difficult to not be excited and celebrate Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock. This is particularly true as his nomination was cemented on the same day seditious violence was perpetrated by white supremacists just a few blocks away from our church. Lives were lost including two Capitol Police officers.

In a year where there has been so much weeping, in fact too much weeping, I earnestly look forward to the joy that is coming; and church, joy is coming! I’m not sure when we’ll be able to regather, but I do know the prospect of such a regathering is more certain than before. The hard and determined work by the many scientists, health workers, administrators, doctors, and nurses have brought us to a place where we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

There are still many challenges facing us. Challenges stemming from the virus of COVID-19 to the virus of racism and wanton prejudice. Yet despite these challenges, Riverside Baptist Church remains resolute in her mission and commitment to our families, community, and most importantly the gospel she teaches and lives out. May we continue to strive for joy and continue the necessary work that is ahead.

Thank you,

Rev. Nick

Our Fate Lies Not in Our Hands

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Ephesian 1:3

Church, hear the good news of Christ’s blessings! Our fate is not in our own hands, but in God’s and it has already been determined for us. And God, in mercy and love, refuses to be limited by our inabilities or abilities. God refuses to be limited by our abilities to do harm, evil, and even produce death. As we begin this new year, may we count our blessings, may we be blessings to one another, and may we demonstrate to the world the hope that Jesus brings. Amen. Thank you,

Rev. Nick

New Year, New Hope

Kindness, kindness, kindness. I want to make a New Year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage.

Susan Sontag

Dear Riverside,

We look upon the coming year with hope. 2020 has been a year filled with lose, anxiety, loneliness, hostility, and anger. So, we look toward 2021 with hope, perhaps cautious hope, but hope, nonetheless.

In that hope, may we find kindness, for this is also my prayer. Kindness towards ones another as we make our way through this pandemic and kindness towards ourselves as we accept our own limitations and realize that we often neglect imparting grace, much needed grace, upon ourselves.

The thing about kindness is that it does take courage. It takes courage to be vulnerable. It takes courage to do the right thing when that is what is best for our neighbor. It takes courage to put others first at times when we feel we need to cling onto perhaps the very little we have left. It takes great courage to be kind.

It takes courage to love ourselves at times when we feel inadequate or unworthy. It takes courage to admit that we may not have it all together and need the help of others. It takes courage to admit we can’t do it alone. It takes courage to be kind, to one another and ourselves.

Thus, my prayer for Riverside and our community for this coming year is that we find courage, the courage to be kind, the courage to become a living sanctuary that welcomes and comforts one another. The courage to have hope.

May God bless you and yours and may 2021 be year filled with hope, love, and kindness. May it be a year of healing and a year of continued growth. And with that, I’ll leave you with the words of a modern day psalmist.

“In our perfect ways. In the ways we are beautiful. In the ways we are human. We are here. Happy New Year’s. Let’s make it ours.”

Beyoncé

Sincerely,

Rev. Nick

The Promise of Isaiah

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”

Isaiah 40:1

Much like the people in the passage from Isaiah, we too are in a form of exile during the pandemic. We are in the wildness and we eagerly await a time when comfort will come and when the exile will be over. We await the one John “the forerunner” spoke of who brings peace, comfort, and salvation.

And so, the promise of Isaiah is good news to us today, because our world is in desperate need of some comfort, in desperate need of some good news. The holiday season is already a challenging time for people who are suffering pain or loss. From mid-November till the New year, the focus on family leaves those who are grieving the loss of loved ones or broken relationships, struggling to put a smile on their face and attempting to pretend to be in the holiday spirit, all the while they are barely making it one day at a time.

May we be both gentile and honest with one another, striving to provide comfort and peace during this season of anticipation and waiting. It is my prayer that this Advent season, and the holiday season in general, will be one of reflection, comfort, and grace as we continue to navigate these waters together. For as the Gospel of Mark tells us, this is “the beginning of the good news.”

~Rev. Nick

Advent: Anticipation for What Is to Come

Yesterday began the first Sunday in the new church year; it was the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a season of the liturgical year observed as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ at the Second Coming.

I’m sure many of you have seen Advent calendars, many hold chocolates which you eat daily in anticipation of Christmas. Recently there can be found Advent calendars that have beer or wine. Despite what it is in them, the Advent calendar aims to offer a treat with our anticipation, a foretaste of the celebration that is Christmas. You may have noticed we began the service yesterday with the Advent wreath and candles, a tradition signifying the hope we possess in the anticipation of Jesus’s coming. We’ll continue lighting these candles each Sunday leading up to Christmas.

In the end, Advent celebrates two things. It celebrates the most important news about the past, and it celebrates the most important news about the future. The most important news about the past is that Christ has come. The most important news about the future is that Christ is coming back. When Christ came, God showed us everything we needed to know about the character of God, our friendship with God, how that friendship has been restored, and how we can keep it. Think back to Matthew 25 and how when we serve and love others, we serve and love Jesus.

It is said that when Christ comes again, God will deal with everything in his creation that is not yet ready to come into his glory. And so now we live in the meantime, the time in-between, the time of the already and not yet, the realm of God celebrating the life of Jesus which we live out in our service of others while we eagerly wait for the return of Jesus.

I hope and pray this Advent season is a blessed one for you and yours.

~Rev. Nick

Living in the Realm of God

“Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid…”

Matthew 25:24-25a

“So I was afraid.” Afraid of what? What was the servant who received one talent afraid of? Perhaps fear of the character of God and also perhaps fear of taking a risk?

I’d argue the third servant doesn’t understand the character of God. The reason he doesn’t understand is because he responds to the master by saying “I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.”

If you look at all the parables in Matthew, you don’t see these characteristics of God. The third servant’s comments to the master are a mischaracterization of God, the God that we are told who throughout the Old Testament, and even in Matthew, is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and mercy.”

This third servant in the parable of the talents had more fear than trust, fear of living out the abundance and riches for which we have all been given. If we live just in the now, then perhaps we too will live in fear, but if we live in the realm of God, in the kingdom that is already but not yet, the time between Jesus’s first coming and second, then we can live both in abandon and with abundance; and we can go for it, risking all, loving everyone. When we hold back love we hold back our greatest talent.

~Rev. Nick

Take Refuge in God

Dear Church,

This past Tuesday night I was privileged to participate in the prayer vigil in DC led by the Emergency Clergy League. Below are the words I shared and the prayer I offered:

The Muslim theologian Said Nursi famously said, “I take refuge in God from Satan and politics.” These days when hate is normalized, children are ripped from their parents, prohibitions are placed on ethnic and religious groups as well as groups associated with their specific orientations, and the value of life is commodified to determine if it matters or not, I speak sincerely when I say it seems hard to find the line between Satan and politics; nonetheless, we seek refuge in God.

And so, as a nation we see many supposed people of faith claiming heirs, rights even, to the “true” political way.

I was reminded recently how James Wm. McClendon cited Roger Williams as a key source for understanding authority rightly. As a Baptist minister I would be remise not to include a little nod Williams. McClendon, drawing from Williams’ life and thought, observed, “From Jesus onward, government interference in anyone’s faith, be that faith false or true, constituted disobedience to Jesus himself; if undertaken for supposed biblical reasons, it was self-refuted.”

Yet here we are with a new supreme court justice, on the day of a critical election where a coalition of “emergency clergy” have gathered to intercede. And intercede for what? I suppose for many of us, of all faiths, we would say peace and justice.

But allow me to speak as a Christian for a moment. The always brilliant Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney reminds us, “If our gospel proclamations are not true for the most marginalized among us, women, non-binary folk, trans folk, gender-nonconforming folk and LGBTQIA folk, then our gospel is not true.”

And so, we pray to the God of creation to create new hearts within our elected leaders, reminding them that we are all tasked as stewards of God’s creation, a gift for us and our children.

We pray to the God of Abraham whose offspring are more numerous than the stars above, may we as children of Abraham work towards peace and not conflict, as we are all family.

We pray to the God who used Balaam’s ass, that even if a donkey can be taught obedience unto God so can any of us. We pray that obedience unto the sovereign God is instilled upon the hearts of our elected officials.

We pray to the God of Joshua, that as the walls of Jericho fell, so too will the walls we build up both spiritually and physically be brought down.

We pray to the God of a Jewish radical who taught the first shall be last, the captives would be set free, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves and even love our enemies, praying for those who persecute us.

And finally we pray as the one who once did the persecuting instructed saying: Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in God, and the God of peace will be with you. Amen

~Rev. Nick

Think About These Things

Dear Church,

As we take each day at a time and approach this critical election, let us be prayerful and hopeful. May we be comforted in knowing that the God of all creation is in control no matter the outcomes. I love you all and am praying for each of you by name.

In relation to the election, I encourage you to read this article in which Pastor Bledsoe, along with some Riverside friends, are featured.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in God, and the God of peace will be with you.  Amen.

~Rev. Nick