A new, modern church

Daytona Beach First Baptist Church

I attended a required Child Evangelism Fellowship workshop today so that I could continue working with the Good News Club at a local elementary school. The workshop was held at the new campus of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, which recently moved from its historic location closer to the heart of the city. I looked forward to seeing their new site.

On the way there, I missed the turn into the church entrance. After I turned around, I turned into a mile long drive into a gorgeous acreage with the two new church buildings. A friend of mine commented, “That drive must have cost at least a million dollars.” I believe he was on target.

But as I pulled into a parking space, I was underwhelmed by two very understated buildings. I felt like I had pulled into an industrial park rather than a church complex. OK, take a breath. Just walk in and see what they have done here.

I walked into a space that was designed to be a coffee shop, restaurant and gathering area. It was very nice, and I quickly recognized others from my Good News Club. We sat together with coffee and bagels and caught up since our last time together.

The opening session was in the adjacent building, the main worship space. I tried to keep an open mind, but to tell you the truth, it felt like a warehouse rather than a church. The audio/visual technology was spectacular, but with a back wall of garage doors, exposed ventilation ducts and exposed walls, I did not feel like I had stepped into a church. I know that this design was intentional, but wow, what a difference from what this church used to be. Our breakout sessions were in very nicely appointed classrooms with very homey appointments.

So many thoughts went through my mind. Is this what a church looks like in the 21st century? Am I old enough to feel uncomfortable in a contemporary church? Is this what Jesus had in mind?

Jesus never went to church. What would he have to say about our churches? I am so glad he is merciful and abounding in love!

The dais, screen and stage

Rock climbing

I am having a ball in the Psalms this time through the Bible. The word pictures just keep jumping off the page and into my life. Like this one:

“Lead me to a rock that towers above me” (Psalm 61:2 AAT).

You never have to teach your kids (or grandkids) to climb on rocks. From parks to the zoo to a creek or the each, take them anywhere there are rocks and they will automatically begin climbing.

Why is that so appealing? Is it the physical challenge? It is the sense of accomplishment when you get to the top? Is is a chance to be higher and taller than the grown-ups? Or is it for that moment when they can announce, “Look at me! I’m all the way up here!”

For David, these words were his prayer for help against an enemy. The top of a rock was a good defensive position, a strong tower of protection. There’s no better rock and no more secure tower than God himself!

You’re never too young to begin and never get too old to keep climbing on the Rock!

Put it on the scale

Those of low estate are but a breath;
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath. (Psalm 62:9 ESV)

Mortal men are only a breath,
even important men a delusion.
When they are weighed the scales rise;
they are altogether less than a vapor. (Ps. 62:9 AAT)

There have been times at the airport when we cut it really close as we put our luggage to be checked on the scale. If it weighs an ounce over fifty pounds, you have to pay a hefty added fee for that bag. I’ve put a forty-nine point something on that scale and breathed a sigh of relief! I’ve also watched people franticly toss items from a fifty-two pound suitcase, desperately trying to lighten their load.

I often overestimate the weight of what someone has done, could do, or might do. I’ll stay awake at night fretting about what someone has said, what I fear they will do, or hypothesize a worst-case scenario. I’m convinced that I’m going to have to pay the price for their criticism, abandonment, negativity, accusation or failure. Those things always seem so heavy! This psalmist has a cure for such sleeplessness: put it on the scale.

Put it on a scale to see how it compares to God’s power, grace, mercy, forgiveness and promises. Go ahead, try it. No matter who they are or what they’ve done or what they might do, the scale rises on their side. Next to everything God is, does and says, they are “lighter than a breath” or “less than a vapor.”

I just love that image. I will add it to my collection of visual prayers. Whoever is antagonizing me, I will just prayerfully put it on a scale opposite my Lord. Suddenly, it’s not so heavy. It’s virtually weightless!

And I can rest in Him.

Forgiveness is a must

Photo by Gianandrea Villa on Unsplash

“Is it ever OK for a Christian to not forgive?” In a word: no.

I wasn’t present, but I know the question came up recently in a bible class. More than a few folks argued that there are just some offenses and sins that couldn’t and shouldn’t be forgiven.

Scripture is clear: Christians forgive. We forgive because we have been forgiven. When Peter asked Jesus if there was a cap on forgiveness, Jesus said, “No.” Peter asked, “How many times do I forgive someone? Seven times?” Jesus replied, “Seventy-seven times.” In other words you always forgive.

Jesus then tells a story that illustrates his point in Matthew 18:23-35. God’s forgiveness is so extravagant that we must forgive the comparatively small things others say or do against us. His instruction to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” expresses the same directive. Our mandate is to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). He sets the example; we follow suit.

No one ever said it was easy. Forgiveness is hard. God doesn’t just look the other way or say, “Forget about it.” His declaration of the forgiveness only happens because Jesus was crucified, paying for our sins with his life. In fact, Jesus paid for all sins by his innocent suffering and death.

“But what if they don’t repent?” “What if they aren’t sorry?” Neither changes the call to forgive. Forgiveness is one-sided. You let it go. You don’t hold it over someone’s head. You don’t seek retribution. You do not make them pay for what they have done.

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, though. It does, however, give us a different way of remembering without resentment or bitterness. Forgiveness makes it possible to see the one who hurt us through the lens of the cross, which always brings Christ’s compassion and mercy into view.

However, forgiveness may or may not lead to reconciliation. Forgiveness is one-sided. You can intentionally forgive in your heart all on your own. Reconciliation, however, takes two. It requires two people to work to heal a broken relationship. Reconciliation may take a long, long time. Though pursued, it may never happen. You may never get along with someone, even though you have forgiven them.

What about Jesus’ words to his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23)? The church pairs these words with Jesus’ teaching about what to do when a “brother sins against you” (Matthew 18:15-20). Much responsibility is given to the church to hold its members accountable for their actions and proclaim God’s forgiveness. In other words, the preaching of Law and Gospel is serious business! Just remember, you are not the church. You are simply a child of God, forgiven and free from your sins. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV).

"Hey, I like your glasses!"

Photo by William Moreland on Unsplash

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been in the process of having my cataracts taken care of. I started the process about a week before Christmas. Except for a few days here and there, I had to stop wearing my contact lenses. Though they are so thin I can’t even tell they are in my eyes, they can affect the measurements which determine what implants I need. So, I’ve been wearing my glasses for last month.

That first Sunday, the comments didn’t surprise me. Nor did they seem out of place on Christmas Eve. A couple of weeks ago, people returned from holiday travel, so they got their first view of me in glasses. But this past Sunday, four weeks into the process, I was still getting the comment, “Hey, I like your glasses!” My response was a little different, though. This time I said, “No you don’t. You like my frames!” You see, I took the lens out of the right side of my glasses since that eye sees so nicely with its new implant. I only needed the left lens until tomorrow’s procedure.

But I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why didn’t you notice my glasses before?” Did they really not notice? Not remember? Not pay attention? Could be any or all of those. Most of us are poor eyewitnesses. Asked to describe a person, would you fail to mention he or she was wearing glasses?

It’s so easy to be distracted or preoccupied, and miss a whole bunch of stuff going on around you. I like to go places and intentionally watch people, noting what I observe about them and what seems odd or out of place. I work hard to be situationally aware of who is around me, what they are doing and listen to what they’re saying. Such awareness is a good way to be safe in this world. It’s a good way to notice how you might help someone. I get to enjoy the incredibly diverse population God has created.

Most of the time, no one notices I’m watching. They’re absorbed in their phone or their own little world. So I can take pictures, eavesdrop on conversation, catch a pin or password, and learn their name, what they do and where they’re from. I think it’s fun to do that.

Sometimes though, I notice that someone is watching me

I wonder if they noticed I was wearing glasses. And next week, will they notice that I’m not?

Little Gray Box

The other day, I noticed that my “Little Gray Box” water heater timer sounded different than usual. Actually, it hardly makes any noise at all, so the rhythmic throbbing sound coming through the wall informed me it was replacement time. I had installed this one at least fifteen years ago, so I got some good life out of it.

I foolishly headed right out to Home Depot to get a new one. I say foolishly because I forgot to look closely at the one on the wall, so I knew for sure what I needed to buy. When I arrived at Home Depot, I asked a friendly man standing at the main entrance in an orange apron, “Where are the water heater timers?” He sent me towards the water heater aisle, but that’s not where the timers are. I got on my phone to see what was in stock, and the app sent me towards the electrical aisle. It took a few minutes, but I finally found them on the bottom shelf. The thing is, there were about six different ones to choose from. They all looked pretty much the same, but were designed for assorted voltages and current, and I wasn’t 100% sure what I needed. Sigh. I went back home, took a look at what was on the wall, ordered the exact same one on Amazon and had it in hand the next day.

I was pretty happy when I opened the box. It was exactly the same one. So I didn’t even have to take the old box off the wall. Just swap out the guts. Yes, I turned off the circuit breakers. I also poked around with my current tester just to be sure. Even though I’ve done it before, I feel nervous working around wires delivering 220 volts. I double checked everything, then took a picture so I would know how to reconnect the wires. I said a little prayer, checked for current again, unhooked the old timer, connected the new one, said another prayer, and flipped the breaker back on. Worked like a charm!

I suppose I would be a little more confident if I were an electrician and worked with stuff like this every day. Or I could be really confident and just hire an electrician!

We want to go back to bed.

I settled into my Sunday morning routine quite a few years ago. The first of our two weekly worship services is at 8:15 am. The musicians for that first service arrive to warm up between 7 and 7:20. So if I want the place to myself to run through my sermon, I need to start practice preaching about 6:30. I like to have about an hour to eat some breakfast, shower, get dressed and drive to over to the church. So I’ll get going with all that about 5:30. Plus, after I feed and walk the dog, I like to have some time for my own personal devotions, prayer and journaling, so I set my alarm for 4:30 am. That’s why I always look so awake when y’all arrive for worship. I’ve been up for about four hours.

But that’s not what this post is all about.

My routine was a little different today. You see, my daughter’s dog is spending the weekend with us. So I had two large brown dogs to tend to first thing this morning. No problem. They play, sleep and bark at everyone together. After feeding and walking them, I made my coffee and sat down with my Bible and journal. I figured they would lie down and relax.

Didn’t happen. My wife was still asleep having worked till 11 the night before. We tried to be quiet, but lapping up a quart of water is surprisingly noisy. Toenails ticking on the floor is surprisingly noisy, too, as they sniffed here and there and just couldn’t get settled. They noised our bedroom door over and over again, and I finally figured out what they wanted. They wanted to go back to bed!

I turned off the lights and quietly opened the door. They hurried in, circled around in their beds a few times, and noisily collapsed for a few more hours of shuteye.

It was finally quiet. They probably thought I was nuts to be up so early. I’m sure they’re not the only ones.

Hey, I know you…

You know what it’s like at the doctor’s office. You wait. At my ophthalmologist’s office, there are numerous waiting rooms. After I check in, I sit in the main waiting room. When they call my name, I go back and after a few drops in my eyes, I go to another waiting room. After I saw the doctor, I still needed to see the surgical coordinator, so I was left in yet a third waiting room. At least you feel like you are getting somewhere when they keep moving you around.

Anyway, when it’s my turn, a nice tech or nurse calls, “William,” “Mr. William” (cause we’re in the south), or “Mr. Douthwaite” (or some attempted pronunciation of my last name – because they grew up in the north.) On my most recent visit, I was the last person left in waiting room number three. So I knew I would be next. My right eye was doing great, but remember, it had been corrected for reading. I took my contact lens out of my left eye so they could check the pressure. My left eye is very nearsighted. So I could kind of see, but not really. I could see enough to watch what was on the TV: “Fixer Upper.” In fact, every time I have been to this eye doctor, even at different offices, Chip and Joanna are renovating houses in every waiting room.

No problem. I like that show. Kind of watching, kind of listening, I noticed someone at the door, but they said, “Pastor.” I’m sure I looked surprised, since no one has used my title on previous visits. Sure enough, with a little squint, I recognized someone from church. She had been on vacation when I had come in the last time, so I didn’t even know she worked there. But I’m glad she did! Everyone there had been very nice and done a great job, but it was extra nice to sit down with someone I knew.

I love running into folks I know out in the community. Nurses at the hospital, service reps when I take my car in for service, tellers at the bank, cashiers in the store, servers at the drive-thru window, staff in a big box store or waitresses at the restaurant, staff at funeral homes, teachers in the school and baristas at the coffee shop. I’m grateful for all the people I’ve gotten to know over the years. Makes a large and growing community seem smaller and more personal.

You are thirsty.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me? (Psalm 42:5)

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God. (Psalm 42:1,2)

The psalmist puts his finger on the problem when the symptom is discouragement. When you are discouraged, that is, when you soul is “cast down,” you’re thirsty. Your soul is thirsty for God.

Who hasn’t felt discouraged? You might be discouraged because you tried your hardest but failed. Or someone let you down. Someone you thought you could depend on. Discouragement can arise when reality is far less than your dreams. Or when you feel like you’re the only one who cares. I am sure there are a hundred other things that could make you wonder, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?”

In this psalm, we learn that discouragement is a manifestation of spiritual thirst. You know what physical thirst feels like. Dry mouth, scratchy throat, and a craving for anything liquid. Spiritual thirst feels like a horrible terrible no good very bad day.

Here’s the thing: a wonderful successful tremendous very good day will not quench that thirst. Only God can. A soul that thirsts is a soul that thirst for God. Why? Because we screw up and wander so far from Him. Because we forget his promises, take his gifts for granted, trust in horses, chariots and our own strength, and neglect to pray.

So where do you go to get a nice long tall drink of God for your soul? His Word. Prayer. Worship. He’s right there when we gather in His name. He faithfully touches our hearts with His Word. He loves to engage us in conversational prayer. He reminds us of that cooler of water dumped over our head in baptism.

When I’ve had it “up to here,” I just need to stop. Stop trying, stop blaming, stop justifying and stop pretending. Stop and listen to Him. Alone, or with a few, or with the church. Open my Bible and open my heart. What a joy and what a game-changer to drink from His well!