Missing Fellowship or Worshiping a Building

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(Picture of our church family in the mid-1990’s)


For the third week in a row, we had church online yesterday.  For the third week in a row, I felt as if a part of my life had been taken from me.  Twice yesterday, I stood in a room as familiar to me as my living room to preach the gospel into three cameras.  The pews, normally filled with people whom I love, were completely empty.  Although there was music, there was no congregational singing.  There was no choir.  There were no children running around.  There were no “amens,” and there was no laughter.  Yes, I was in a building that I love, and a building that some question whether or not I worship.  Can I tell you what I felt?  I felt nothing.  As a matter of fact, being in that building without those people brought more emptiness than it did fulfillment.


I completely understand that the church is not a building.  I get it.  The church consists of the believers for whom Christ died, was buried, and rose again.  I understand what it means when I read the cute little statement, “The church has left the building.”  It is not just cute; it is accurate.  The past few weeks have not been difficult because I cannot walk into a building.  As a matter of fact, thanks to exemptions from various orders and my work as a pastor and a principal, I walk into that building several times each week.  I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself; walking into that building does very little to help or encourage me.


What would help me?  It would help me to be with the other believers that are a part of my church family.  It would not matter whether we met at 515 Southerland Street, in a conference center, at the local mall, or in the middle of an abandoned field.  Today, I do not need a building; I need the fellowship of God’s people!


What do I need today?  I need to see the smiles on peoples’ faces as our choir sings.  I need for a little one to come up and hug me around my legs.  I need a brother to give me a warm handshake or a pat on the back.  I need to watch the offering plates pass from row to row while our people invest in the Lord’s work through their local church.  I need to walk through the choir ready room as I head into the auditorium, while exchanging greetings with those who are there ready to sing praises to their God.  I need to watch scores of little ones running down the aisles when they are dismissed to their kids’ programs on Wednesday night.  I need to yell down the hallway, “Let’s pray,” before several dozen folks make their way through the serving line at the Baptist Buffet.  I need to be with the people in our adult Bible fellowship called GracePointe.  It is not a large group of folks, but being with them provides me with much comfort and encouragement.


I walked through our auditorium earlier today.  I saw the pews, the lights, the blue accent wall, and the relatively new carpet.  I saw the hospitality desks where not one guest has registered in the past few weeks.  I saw the banners, stating our theme, “Refreshed,” and admitted that I could use some of that refreshment right now.  I saw the tract racks still well stocked because no one has been here to take any for distribution.  I saw a stack of 2020 calendars and realized that many events on that calendar will never take place.  I assured myself that it was okay because church calendars do not matter nearly as much as church people.


I do not worship any building, but I definitely crave Christian fellowship.  Simply put, I miss my church family!  While we do our best to stay connected, being separated by phone lines and airwaves stinks.  We are going to work at it over the next few weeks, but we all know that it will not be the same.  Thankfully, my greatest need for fellowship can still be fulfilled.  That is my fellowship with my Saviour.  He and I can still talk.  As a matter of fact, He has clearly stated that if I draw nigh to Him, He will draw nigh to me.  I am finding that my isolation from other people is producing intimacy between my God and me, and that is a good thing.


With time, this dilemma will pass.  Our church family will be together again.  We will unite our hearts and our lips in singing His praises.  We will gather around His Word and glean from its pages.  We will express our love to one another and exchange greetings.  It is going to be a glorious day, and the very thought of it moves me to tears.  Yes, it will most likely take place in a building with which we are all very familiar.  Being in that building is not going to help me, but being in that building with those people is going to be indescribable.


Helping the Helpless Helper


If ever we needed to be committed to helping one another, it is now. I’ve said it, and we’ve all heard it; we will get through this…together. This is not the time to become self-focused, self-centered or self-serving. If we develop an “every man for himself” mindset, it will be devastating!
We all want to help. Many of us have reached out to friends, especially those that are alone, to see what we might be able to do to make a difference. Many in our FBC-Durham family have contacted the church, offering to help anyone in any way possible. Thankfully, we have many more volunteers than we have needs.
In the past few weeks, I have spoken on the phone with dozens of pastors. Some of them, I called, and others called me. What is the topic of our discussions? “What can I do? How can I help my people? Do we have on site services? If not, how can we minister? I’ve never led a church family through a pandemic.” To be really honest, most of the men with whom I have spoken seem to feel helpless. I know that I do.
The purpose of this article is to encourage you to help the helpless helpers. I’m speaking of your parents, your spouse, your teacher, your pastor and anyone else that is trying their best help you. They don’t always know what they are doing. They are not as confident as they may seem. They wonder if their efforts are making any difference at all. Some of their efforts, at times, even feel silly to them. One thing that will really help them is a simple acknowledgement, from someone whom they are trying to help, that their efforts are appreciated. It doesn’t need to be a public acknowledgment. It’s not about recognition or fanfare. It is a simple gesture, by someone who’s been helped, to express gratitude to their helper.
This morning, my daughter, who lives in a distant state, sent me a screenshot of a text that she received from someone whom I don’t actually know. That person had viewed some of our Facebook Live videos, and a Livestream service, and they texted my daughter to let her know that they had been helped. My daughter sent that to me, and it was a huge source of encouragement! Immediately, I thought of many “helpers” who may wonder if anything that they are doing really matters.
If someone encourages you, let them know. If they give you a moment of hope in the midst of a day of hopelessness, tell them. Even if their efforts don’t make a huge difference to you, a simple acknowledgement might encourage them enough that they will continue trying to help others.
We will get through this. Our God is with us. We need each other. I believe our lives, our families and our churches will be enriched when we reach the other side. While we are in “the middle of it,”  let’s do all that we can to “help the helpless helpers.”

It’s Saturday Night

It’s Saturday night in your town, that community that you call “home.”  That dark area where the Lord raised up your church to shine forth the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.  That place where God planted you, expecting you to bring forth fruit.  While you might be making final tweaks to your sermon, or fine-tuning your Sunday school lesson, or just getting your kids’ clothes ready for tomorrow, others are engaged in a battle for everything important in life.

It’s Saturday night in your town. That functioning addict just succumbed to his besetting sin for the final time before the church bells toll tomorrow morning.  He comes every Sunday.  He’s looking for hope.  He’s reaching out for help.  He’s looking for answers.  The 11:00 hour each Sunday is the one time during his week when he has some hope.

It’s Saturday night in your town. That young couple fights and screams while their little boy covers his ears in the other room.  Satan has them in his grip and their marriage at the edge of destruction.  When they married, they never thought that it would be this way.  They had dreams and hopes, just like you and your spouse did when you were wed.  If you asked them, they couldn’t really tell you when things took a turn for the worse. They thought that a baby would make things better, but he only seemed to make things more complicated.  They hate the way their life is, but they have no idea how to fix it. Before they go bed tonight, they agree to “give church a try” tomorrow.  When they say that, they’re talking about your church.

It’s Saturday night in your town. Some teenage girl will lose her purity tonight.  She might very well be a regular in your church, one that you would call “home grown.” She made some poor decisions this evening and put herself into a situation she couldn’t get herself out of. She’ll go home and go to bed racked with guilt.  She’s heard all the sermons.  She’s made a vow of purity and has worn a ring to prove it.  Tonight, when she takes that ring off, she’s going to wonder if things will ever be the same.

It’s Saturday night in your town. A widow is going to bed alone…again. This past week was her wedding anniversary.  The grief hits her at the most random times, but there are specific dates when it is certain to visit.  She will toss and turn, eventually crying herself to sleep.  “At least,” she thinks to herself, “I get to go to church tomorrow and hear from the Lord.”

It’s Saturday night in your town. It’s late when he hits the remote to turn off the television, not even knowing what he’s been watching.  His mind is elsewhere.  His memory has been flooded with the familiar noises of children running and playing, his wife cleaning the kitchen, and his teenage son talking on his cell phone.  Once the television is turned off, the silence is deafening.  How did it happen?  How did he go from having so much to having so little?  How did he go from being surrounded by family to sitting solitary in the family room of a house that is suddenly way too big?  He doesn’t put all the blame on his wife; he realizes he made a lot of mistakes.  If only he could have a second chance.  He’ll be there tomorrow, probably sitting by himself.

It’s Saturday night in your town. Let me remind you about those people who are coming to your church tomorrow looking for help and hope. There are some things that are important to them, but whether or not that preacher that was accused this week is guilty or innocent is not one of them.  They don’t care who’s conference you attended this week, or what conference you’re scheduled to speak at, or what conference you cancelled, or why. They don’t care where you went to college or where your church kids go to college.  Your “favorite” preacher is a stranger to them.   They won’t care how syncopated the quartet song will be or whether or not the choir special is on the “approved” list.  They’re not interested in whether you believe in inspiration, preservation, both, or neither.  They don’t care what the projected enrollment is at your Christian school or whether or not you think you’ll meet budget.  They don’t care who is to blame for the recent mass shootings.  Tomorrow, they won’t be thinking “red” or “blue”; they’ll only be thinking about the blackness of the hole in which they find themselves.  Pastor, they don’t care how many hateful emails you received this week, and if you’re not the pastor, they don’t care how many emails you sent.  Your opinion about whether or not the contractor painted the stripes straight on the parking lot after it was resealed means nothing to them.

CoupleIt’s Saturday night in your town, and they are coming to your church tomorrow!  Before you go to bed tonight, sign out of your email account; log out of your social media; disconnect from the Internet, and clear your mind.  If you’ve sinned and you know it, confess it, and forsake it.  Ask the Lord to help you to regain your focus, thinking only about things that really matter, not the ever-increasing mountain of minutia that distracts you.  It’s Saturday night in your town, and someone is counting on you to help them tomorrow.

My Father’s Fingerprints

 As I was driving down the highway, I must confess, I became very nostalgic. You see, I was driving my 1940 Ford street rod, a car that was given to me by my father before he went to Heaven three years ago this month. Daddy was a man who always loved cars. When I was a young boy, he raced stock cars at local short tracks. When that became too expensive, he purchased a 1939 Ford Coupe and completely restored it.

When he purchased my 1940 Ford Sedan approximately twenty years ago, my mom asked him, “Philip, why do you need two cars?” His reply was short and to the point, “Because I’ve got two sons.” My father purchased the ’40 Ford, and like the ’39, set out on a mission to completely restore it as well.

Driving down the highway that day, a thought overwhelmed me. The car that I was driving had my Daddy’s fingerprints all over it! No, his original prints had long been waxed away, but nonetheless, he had touched every inch of that machine. He had done some of the metal fabrication with his own hands. He had sanded and painted every inch of the exterior, as well as the interior. His hand was on the wrench that turned every bolt and tightened every nut on that car. Driving down the highway that day, I felt very connected to my father, who changed addresses three years ago and relocated to Heaven. If you knew Philip Finley, you can see him in that 1940 Ford. His attention to detail and pursuit of excellence is everywhere. Some of the parts on the car still have small tags, bearing his handwriting upon them. There is no doubt that the ’40 Ford was Phil Finley’s car. It’s obvious!

Then it hit me, I wonder if my Heavenly Father’s fingerprints are clearly seen upon His creation; and when I speak of His creation, I’m speaking of myself. You see, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I was created in my mother’s womb and crafted by the Master Craftsman. Since birth, my God has continued to mold my life. He is working to conform me to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is His desire that people see His fingerprints all over my life. It is the purpose for which I was created ̶ to bring Him glory.

I was very convicted driving down the road that day. I was convicted that far too often, the Father’s fingerprints cannot be seen because my life is dirty. Oftentimes, people fail to see Jesus because I’m too consumed with their seeing me. Unfortunately, there have been many times when my life reminded people of many other things, the last of which would be a child of God.

When I drive my car, I am quick to tell them of a father who loved me enough to leave me such an inheritance. I explain to them how he rebuilt that car with his own two hands. I explain to them his desire to leave his two sons something for which he would always be remembered. I want him to get the credit for that car because I did nothing to make it what it is.

In much the same manner, may our lives bring glory to Jesus! We are reminded in Psalm 100:3, “Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” May His handprints upon our lives be obvious to everyone who crosses our paths.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

sunday am screenTEXT: Phil 3:8-17

 INTRODUCTION: Are you like me? Do you find yourself losing your focus quite easily? In the midst of a very hectic and fast-paced life, if I’m not extremely careful, I completely lose my spiritual focus. It isn’t something that is done intentionally, but the prevention of this loss must be done intentionally.

Much can be learned from the Apostle Paul concerning this matter. He was a man that deliberately maintained his focus, and his focus was knowing Christ. In Philippians 3:8-17, we can learn much from this godly man’s example.


 Life is full of distractions. Sometimes they come in the way of trials. Sometimes they come in the way of victories. Paul had experienced both, but in our text, his attention was centered on the accomplishments of his life, not upon the setbacks. In Philippians 3:4-6, Paul recounts his impressive list of credentials.

In those verses, Paul refers to the traditions he had embraced, his compliance to the Law, his impressive heritage, his fervent religion and even his political alliance. To many in Paul’s day, his resume’ was truly admirable and one that could have been coveted. Yet, in Philippians 3:7, Paul writes, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.” Paul refused to be distracted.

One of the greatest problems with our accomplishments, our positions, our heritage and our traditions is that they can come to occupy a place that should only be held by Christ. It is Jesus that should be our security, our sufficiency and our satisfaction, not our accomplishments. In order to remain focused on Him, we will have to ignore those “good” things that can so easily distract us.


 In Philippians 3:7 we read these words, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.” Had Paul “gained” anything because of his accomplishments? Absolutely! He was well thought of by his peers. He was well respected in the community. The governmental leaders admired him. Yet, Paul had the integrity to realize that, although his credentials helped him with man, they were of no help to him and his relationship to His God.

The phrase “I counted” means to lead or to be a leader. In other words, Paul assumed responsibility for his choices. He made some very difficult decisions. He determined that all of those things that had gained him favor with man were distracting him from his pursuit of Christ.

What is it in your life that is distracting you from truly knowing Christ? It could be your job. Even my job, the pastorate, could be a distraction as I seek to know Him. Our families, as important as they are, can hinder our relationship with Jesus, if we allow them to. I don’t know what your distractions might be, and you don’t know mine. We must be honest with ourselves. Sometimes we have to step back from the life that consumes us, take a really honest look, and step up to make the really hard decisions.


Maybe there was a time in your life when you made those difficult decisions. Maybe God convicted your heart, and you surrendered to Him, those things that were interfering in your spiritual life. Maybe it was at an altar. Maybe it was in the privacy of your own heart. Maybe sometime later, after you had made those commitments, you began to doubt.

Many of us have entertained those types of doubts. Their pressure has overwhelmed us. In Paul’s case, he recognized this and wrote in Philippians 3:7-8, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ, yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…” Paul refused to undo in doubt, what he had done in faith. In verse 13 he gives us a glimpse of his secret when he describes, “…Forgetting those things which are behind…” May God give us grace to make these types of choices and then may He give us grace to follow through on them.


When we eliminate the distractions in our lives, verse 10 indicates that we will begin to truly know Christ. Our knowledge will go beyond knowing Him as Saviour. We will begin to know Him intimately. We will learn of Him. We will better understand how He thinks, and we will even begin to think like Him. Our lives will change, and that change will be for the better.

Not only will this knowledge impact our lives, it will impact the lives of those who follow us. In Philippians 3:17, Paul writes, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” How do we expect our children to know a Christ that we don’t really know? How do we expect to ignite this passion in the hearts of those whom we lead in ministry, if the fire doesn’t burn in our own hearts? Are we leading, by example, in this critical area?

A couple of years ago, Adam LaRoche was offered a $13 million contract extension by the Chicago White Sox. This money would be added to over $72 million he had already made playing professional baseball. However, the offer was conditional, and the condition was, he had to “cut back” on the amount of time that his son spent in the clubhouse. Fourteen-year-old Drake LaRoche was a fixture in the Sox clubhouse. He came to work with his father every day. Although Drake was well received by Adam’s teammates, management feared that he had become a distraction.

Adam LaRoche declined the $13 million, and retired from playing professional baseball. The White Sox brass asked him to reconsider. As he thought and prayed about his decision, (LaRoche is a professing Christian), the words of one of his former chaplains resonated in his ear. “What do you want written on your tombstone? Do you want ‘Adam LaRoche: Gold Glove, batting average, hit so many homers, and has a million dollars in the bank account,’ or do you want, ‘Adam LaRoche, man of God, integrity, raised a great family, loving.’ Let’s be honest, I don’t know anyone who wants their stats.”

Adam LaRoche turned away from the distraction, playing baseball, to what he deemed most important, being a good father. It was most certainly a difficult decision, but one that LaRoche was willing to make. May we have that same willingness when it comes to our relationship with Jesus and our desire to know Him.S