Proud or Fulfilled?

The past week has been an amazing time of unusual blessing upon our church family.  Just over a week ago, we celebrated our Lord’s resurrection with a powerful program presented by our Music Department here at Fellowship Baptist Church.    The crowds were large, the spirit was wonderful and the services were such a blessing.  The Lord met with us and for that, we are most thankful.  Just a few days ago, we held the first service of our annual youth conference.  To try and describe what God did during those twenty-seven hours would be pointless.  He met with us. People were helped.

As I enjoyed these special days in the life of our church, and reveled in the blessing of God, my first thought was, “I’m so proud of our church.”  (Before you condemn me for the sin of pride, allow me to replace it with the word grateful.) Our musicians and singers were at their best.   They had diligently prepared and their presentation was superb.  Our media guys were on top of their game.  The videos, paired with the music, were extremely powerful.   The spirit was excellent.  There was nothing about these special services that disappointed me or caused me even a shade of embarrassment.  Oh yes, there have been times over the past 29 years when something would happen in a special service, when I would turn a shade or two of red.  Maybe someone would fail to do their job, or maybe a microphone would choose the most inopportune time to quit working.  (If you’ve been in church long at all you know exactly what I’m talking about.) That didn’t happen last week.  Not even once.

Today, as I think about these special services, I realize that I’m not just proud;   I am fulfilled because I had a part in what the Lord did in these services.  As I looked at the faces of our choir members I was thankful for how the Lord had used me in some of their lives.  Some I had led to Christ.  Others I had been privileged to counsel through some of the darkest moments of their lives.  Some of our choir members were in our youth group when I was a youth pastor.  A few of them I had dedicated to God as little babies.  Some who had a part in the service were there because the Lord had given me the wisdom to place them in positions of leadership.  As I looked across the auditorium at youth conference I saw fruit from our church’s labor over the years.  As I listened to our teens sing, I remembered when most of them were born and I held them for the first time.

As I looked at the crowd for these special events, I was thankful that I had personally spent time trying to get people to join us.  I had invited people to attend.  My wife and I had knocked doors to pass out fliers, telling folks about the services.   As I sensed the Spirit of God moving in our midst, I was so grateful that I had spent time in prayer for that particular hour.  It occurred to me that I wasn’t just a spectator, watching what God was doing, but I was a participant, striving together with the Lord!

Before you accuse me of being prideful again, let me say that I am well aware that it’s God that gives the increase and that without Him, we can do nothing.  I am also aware that Almighty God has chosen to use people in His work.  I am reminded that He invites us to come unto Him and to enter into His yoke.  It is He who counts us faithful and puts us into His ministry.

I am grateful for those who enjoyed these special services at Fellowship Baptist as “proud” members of our church.  I am especially happy for those who were fulfilled, as they witnessed God taking their feeble efforts and doing something mighty with them.  There is vast difference.  Those who watch the Lord work are happy. Those who help the Lord in His work are joyful.  There is nothing like partnering with Christ to impact the lives of others.   For those in our church who are proud of your church, I believe you have reason to be.  For those of you who are fulfilled, I am most happy for you.  May God give us all a greater desire to serve with Him on a daily basis.

Rick Finley

Hold It As Close As You Can

It always happens at the most inopportune times.  It’s Monday morning and I’ve got a ton of work to do as I face a shorter than normal week due to our church’s couples’ retreat.  My wife and I are trying to leave the house a bit early in order to get a good start.  Normally, I would have two other vehicles in the driveway but they had both been borrowed by two of our sons.  I go out to start the car so that my wife’s seat can heat up and you guessed it.  The car won’t start!

Immediately I called my brother to see if we could catch a ride into church with him, only to find out that he’s already made the thirty minute commute into town.  Now I’m considering my options.  Do I take him up on his offer to drive back home to get us?  There is my other truck, which I seldom drive, underneath the car cover in the garage.  It’s there because I’m trying to keep the mileage down and it hasn’t been driven since it was last washed and wax.  What’s the weather you might ask?  It’s going to rain.

I told Bro. Ken that I’d just get the truck out and drive it, as much as I hated the thought.  As we were about to hang up on our call, he made a statement that captured my attention.  “Someone told me that if you hold the key as close as you can to the switch, the car will start.”  It sounded like a long shot to me, but I figured it was worth a try.

The reason my car wouldn’t start was not a mystery.  The battery in the key fob was dead.  How did I know that, you might ask.  The instrument panel had been telling me for days that I needed to get a new battery, but I had not made time to get it done.  I had ignored warning after warning, and now, at the one of the worst possible times, my car’s computer system’s prophecy had been fulfilled.  Reluctantly, I went back out to the car, held the key as close to the switch as possible, and pressed the switch button.  The car started!  As my wife and I drove into town I contemplated my dilemma and its solution.

There are times in our spiritual lives when we can become extremely weak.  Life comes at us at a frantic pace and we just keep going; trying to survive.  We ignore all the warnings.  People tell us, “Don’t get so busy serving the Lord that you don’t spend time with Him in worship.”  Scripture warns us about the danger of fighting spiritual battles in the power of the flesh.  We’ve all heard sermons about comparing ourselves with others and falling victim to spiritual peer pressure.  Yet, we just keep on driving as if the warning is meaningless and simply doesn’t apply to us.

Just like Monday morning, when we least expect it and can least afford it, it happens.  We are out of power.  We can’t get started.  All our wonderful plans become meaningless.  Thankfully, God has placed people in our lives that have gone through the same type of experiences.  Oftentimes, it’s a casual bit of advice that can make all the difference during these crucial times.

If you find yourself running low on spiritual energy, get as close as you possibly can to the source of your strength.  Resist the temptation to find another temporary fix.  James tells us in the epistle that bears his name, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you…”  When I got to town that morning someone went and purchased a new battery for the key fob.  Hopefully it will be a long time before I have that problem again.  However, in the midst of my dilemma, I’m thankful that someone told me to simply hold that key as close as I can to the switch.  In much the same way, there have been many times in my life when I found the power to get things started by simply drawing nigh to my Savior.

Rick Finley

Building Programs or Building People?

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This past Saturday, our Fellowship Baptist Academy Eagles competed for their fifth state championship since joining the North Carolina Christian School Association.  Unfortunately for us, when the final horn had sounded, Tabernacle Christian School from Monroe, NC, held a two point advantage and the Rams had held on for their third, consecutive NCCSA championship in boys’ basketball.

When speaking of teams that are perennially strong, people sometimes say, “They have built a great program at that school.”  That certainly is noteworthy, and coaches like ours here at FBA are certainly to be commended for their hard work and dedication.  To be highly competitive, year after year, requires a lot of sacrifice on the part of the players and their coaches.16825820_10212048925763657_5878734580533934275_o

In ministry, let’s be careful that we are not more concerned with building programs than we are with building people.  We oftentimes talk about building churches, building bus routes and building classes.  We can easily gloat in increased numbers, which we sometimes conclude equates with building a program.  There was probably a time, when I was much younger, when I was too focused on building programs.

This Sunday, I will begin my twenty-ninth year as the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church.  I have served on the staff here for almost thirty-four years, so I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.  I’ve also seen a lot of them come and stay.  Staying in the same place for so long has helped me gain a better understanding of building people.  After all, it was our Lord who boldly proclaimed, “I will build my church!”  I am convinced that if we build people, He will build the program.

Last Saturday when Coach Ken Finley was pursuing his fifth state championship, two of his former players were pursuing their first.  Bro. Charlie Clayton was coaching Granite Baptist in Glen Burnie, MD,  and Bro. Nick Holloway was coaching High Street Christian in Columbus, OH.  It wasn’t that many Saturdays ago when those guys were suiting up for FBA and helping us win one of our first championships.

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16939452_10211197915686782_4923230713215020634_nOh by the way, another one of our former players was sitting on our bench as one of our assistant coaches.  Another of our former players was recently elected to serve as a deacon in our church.  There were former players sitting throughout the crowd of over 700 that were in attendance at the championship game.  Many of them were sitting with their wives, holding their children and reliving their past.  Sunday, our former players were teaching Sunday school classes, driving buses, singing in choirs and supporting their churches all over the country.  You see, Bro. Ken Finley hasn’t just built a program; he and the other members of our church have built lives.  Now, those whose lives were built here in our ministry are building the lives of others.

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Don’t ever get discouraged because your program isn’t being built as quickly as you had hoped.  Just go help one more person.  Find someone who needs Christ and give them the gospel.  Find someone who is discouraged and give them hope.  Find someone who has failed and teach them to how to be victorious through Christ.  I promise you, if you will just build people, He will build the program.

Rick Finley

President Bush, Luke Bryan, Lady Gaga and the Commercials

On Super Bowl Sunday evening I did the same thing I’ve done for at least the past thirty-three years.  I went to church!  We had a great service and I was thankful that the Lord met with us.  I know a lot of churches cancelled their services or altered their schedules to accommodate the annual spectacle – to each his own.  I’m glad we had church, on schedule, and that a great crowd of our folks found their way to God’s house.

16487132_10211873799305605_2989060885590807070_oOn the way home, I picked up my phone to check the score.  At the time, Atlanta held a commanding 21-0 lead, which we all know now that they would relinquish in unprecedented fashion.  I didn’t have a dog in the hunt, but I do hate it for the Falcon fans who’ve never known the thrill that the New England fans have experienced five times now.

When I glanced at social media at a traffic light on my drive home, I began to learn a little bit about what was going on in Houston.  I learned that President George H. W. Bush had the honors of tossing the coin prior to the opening kickoff and that Luke Bryan sang our National Anthem.  I learned that Lady Gaga was performing at halftime.  I also got a feel for the television commercials that had apparently been a hit and those that had bombed, according to public opinion.

This morning, I watched the video of President Bush and his wife being escorted to the fifty-yard line, and I must admit, I got a bit emotional.  Although I may not always agree with the former President politically, I do think he’s a class act who ought to be honored for his service to our country.  Watching him being pushed to midfield in his wheelchair and hearing the thunderous applause tugged at my heartstrings.  It was a nice touch.

I also went back and listened to Luke Bryan’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  He sang it like I enjoy hearing it sung.  It seemed to be sung from the heart, and for the most part, as it was written.  It was powerful.

My wife and I arrived home where she made us both a sandwich, and we sat down to eat about the time the halftime show started.  I’m not a Lady Gaga fan in the least, and just a few minutes into her performance, I was reminded why.  I really have a hard time understanding why people who love Christ would enjoy Lady Gaga.  Enough of that, that’s not the purpose of this post.

Of course, there were the commercials.  I only saw a couple of them.  I’m not much of a commercial guy anyway.  As a matter of fact, I would prefer that television be uninterrupted by advertising but we all know that will never happen.  There’s nothing worse than an intense college basketball game being chopped to pieces by TV timeouts and media breaks.  I’ve never really understood the amazement with Super Bowl commercials, other than being amazed that companies would pay millions of dollars for thirty seconds in the limelight.

Oh yeah, then there was the game.  Yes, there was a football game!  New England made a historic, unlikely and unprecedented comeback to steal another Super Bowl victory in overtime.  Although I didn’t stay up to watch it, I have seen all the replays.  It truly was amazing!

Where am I going with all of this?  I’m glad that you asked.  The spectacle that is the Super Bowl seems to major on everything except the reason for the Super Bowl.  When people are talking more about Lady Gaga, George Bush, Kia, Budweiser and Mr. Clean than they are about the game, it seems that someone might have lost their focus.  If there were no game, there would be no need for a coin toss, a National Anthem, a halftime show or a commercial.  It’s almost as if we’ve been distracted.  It’s as if the byproducts of the game have superseded the game itself.

That’s disturbing, but I’ll tell you something even more disturbing.  That same scenario is being played out in many of our churches.  Too much of the attention has been diverted to the music, the programs, the facilities or the personalities involved.  In many cases, people leave our services talking more about who sang what song, what was announced or what’s happening next week than they do the truth that was preached from the Word of God.  When more attention is given to the personality of the preacher than the attention that is given to the preacher’s Saviour, it seems that again, someone might have lost his or her focus.

The same thing can easily happen in our personal lives.  We can become very preoccupied with the peripherals while ignoring the priorities.  Jesus Christ is the reason for every good thing that has happened in our lives.  Were it not for Him, we would not have a family, a home, a job or a life.  Yet, too often He is forgotten while all those other things that He has provided for us receive all of our attention.

May I remind you that they did play a football game in Houston last night?  May I also remind you that God’s Word was preached in churches all around the world.  What happened in Houston last night is very temporal. What happened in many of our churches will last forever.  Yet, lets not be guilty of losing our focus.  Let’s keep Christ, His Word, His mission and His purpose for our lives at the very center of our attention.

 Rick Finley

Enjoying the Journey

Some of the greatest times enjoyed by families are those times when they are together, headed somewhere.  I can remember going on a vacation as a child.  To save money, we would often visit relatives in Western North Carolina for vacation.  I can remember staying at Aunt Myrtle’s house, sleeping on her feather mattress and waking up to a complete country breakfast of eggs, ham, grits, red eye gravy and homemade biscuits.  Those are times that I will cherish as long as I live.

IMG_1045I can also remember the time spent getting to Aunt Myrtle’s house.  I remember stopping at public rest areas for picnic lunches.  We had a metal, light blue, Pepsi-Cola cooler.  I can remember the bottle opener on the end of the cooler.  (That was when you had to pop the top on a soft drink in order to consume it).  I can remember riding in the back seat of that 1963 Ford Fairlane with the wind blowing through my hair.  I was enjoying the journey.  Aunt Myrtle’s house was awesome, but I’m glad that I didn’t have to simply endure the trip there.

I got saved on September 15, 1978, and to be honest, it was all about a destination.  I trusted Christ because I wanted to go to Heaven and didn’t want to go to Hell.  I wasn’t thinking at all about the journey.  Since I’ve been saved, I’ve learned that the journey is important, just like the destination is important.  I’ve learned that being a child of God is a lot of fun!  I’ve learned that there truly is joy in serving Jesus.  The Lord has taught me that His desire is that I truly enjoy my life as a believer.  He didn’t just save me so that I could have eternal life.  He saved me so that I could have abundant life!

I meet far too many Christians who seem to be enduring life here on the earth, waiting for that day when they can enjoy their eternal destination.  That ought not to be!  Here are a few thoughts I’d like to share with you about the importance of enjoying the journey to Heaven.

ENJOY THE PRIVILEGE OF THE JOURNEY

I never thought of our family as being poor, but I knew we were not rich.  To eat a meal outside our home was always a treat.  To go on any type of vacation, even to Aunt Myrtle’s, was definitely a treat!  It was a privilege.

The only reason why I’m on this journey is because of the good grace of God.  The Lord has allowed me to call Heaven my home.  It was His Spirit that drew me to the Savior.  Were it not for grace, I’d be on an entirely different road headed to an entirely different place.  What a privilege it is to call God my Father and what a privilege it is to already be granted citizenship in Heaven.

ENJOY THE PROCESS OF THE JOURNEY

When we would travel, we would oftentimes stop along the way.  I can remember daddy stopping the car at roadside markets, just to look around.  We would stop when we would see a good price for gas, (about 30 cents per gallon if I remember correctly), and fill the car up.  While there, we would occasionally go inside that country gas station with the wooden floor and get a snack; maybe a pack of crackers and a grape soda.

As we make our way to our eternal home, let’s learn to enjoy the process.  God allows so many blessings along the way.  There are treats that we enjoy, which would only be enjoyed were we traveling this specific road.  Don’t miss them!

ENJOY THE PEOPLE OF THE JOURNEY

One of the greatest things about family vacations is family!  The four of us would load up that car and we would have a time!  We never had strangers with us when we went on vacation.  No, it was our family vacation and that’s what made it special.

One of the greatest things about our journey to Heaven is that we get to travel that journey with some wonderful people.  The family of God truly is something special.  Don’t become so preoccupied with your destination that you ignore the people with whom you are traveling today.  Enjoy them.  Cherish them.  Encourage them. Appreciate them.

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As our church begins our journey into 2017, I am determined, as the pastor, to be sure that we enjoy it.  Living for Jesus, loving people and learning along the way is an awesome life!  It’s so much more than a list of do’s and don’ts, which is the attitude that many have toward Christianity.  Even some Christians think that way.  It’s a life that God has chosen for us, and it just doesn’t get any better than God’s choice.

Rick Finley

CHRISTMAS MAGNIFICATION

As a young boy, I can remember being so infatuated with magnification.  I remember when I was first introduced to a magnifying glass.  When my teacher took that round piece of glass and held it over a leaf, it was as if that leaf instantly grew right before my very eyes.  I couldn’t get over it.

I remember the day when I learned a lesson pertaining to magnification in scripture.  I read in Joshua 4:14, “On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.”  Whenever the Lord put His magnifying glass between Joshua and Israel, Joshua instantly grew in their hearts and minds.  He was immediately given greater influence by God and those people followed him willingly.

15284956_10211561044372113_3349434442923242196_nToday, I want us to consider the magnifying power of Christmas.  Whenever we put a magnifying glass between us and what we have, what we have becomes more special instantaneously.  The blessings that we enjoy seem to come to life.  There’s nothing more special than spending time with our families and friends at Christmas. When there is enough money to purchase some gifts for those we love, we do so gladly because it’s Christmas.   Sitting around a Christmas tree, watching our children and grandchildren open gifts is about as good as it gets.  Having the health to be able to enjoy these special times is even more special at Christmas.

1606370_10201627597115207_1085362289_oOn the other hand, that same magnification can deeply hurt those who don’t have those things to enjoy at Christmas.  When someone has lost a loved one, the hurt is magnified by Christmas.  When a father doesn’t have the money to provide gifts for his family, the pain is intensified by Christmas.  Those who’ve lost their health seem to suffer even more because it’s Christmas.  The haves and the have nots are made more aware of what they have, or what they don’t have, simply because it’s Christmas.

If Christmas magnification makes you more aware of your blessings, don’t feel guilty about that.  I believe God wants us to enjoy the blessings that He has showered upon us.  I believe He has provided our families and our friends so that we can enjoy them.  Hold your children a little tighter because it’s Christmas.  Hug your spouse a little longer because it’s Christmas.  Cherish your parents a little more simply because this holiday makes them even more special to us. However, while you’re enjoying the magnification of Christmas, remember those who don’t have the things that you have.  Their hurt, disappointment and pain will be even more intense over the coming days.  The same occasion that causes you great joy, brings them great anguish.  Remember them, pray for them and when given the opportunity, reach out to them.

I hope you enjoy a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2017.

Rick Finley

Why Missions

About twenty-five years ago the Lord began working in my heart concerning the need for our church to do more to get the Gospel to the world.  At that time, we supported a very small handful of missionaries.  Each year we would try to add one or two new works to our budget, but it was becoming more and more obvious to me that there had to be a better way.

The Lord brought several men across my path that encouraged me to lead our church in practicing faith promise missions.  Although very biblical, the concept of faith promise was new to me.  It wasn’t something that I had been taught, and to be honest, I was afraid that it would hurt our church. (Just stating that now is embarrassing.)  I was fearful that our people would designate their tithes to faith promise missions and we would not be able to pay our bills here at home.  At that time, we were still recovering from a major church split and finances were tight.

Reluctantly, I stopped resisting the Lord and with a small measure of faith, we held our first missions’ conference.  Bro. Eddie Goddard was our guest speaker and he challenged us in this important area of our Christian lives.  Our people caught it!  They made their commitments and began to give.  We started taking on missionaries for monthly support.  Our church started developing a worldview of evangelism rather than a community view.  With no hesitation, I can say today that our missions program here at Fellowship Baptist revolutionized our church.

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A sample of our missions hallway at FBC

Allow me to share a few reasons why I’m glad our church became a missions-minded church.

IT’S BIBLICAL

 I know it sounds a bit elementary, but a local church sending missionaries around the world is in the Bible.  It is impossible to fulfill the Great Commission apart from being involved in missions.  When our Lord addressed the disciples with their marching orders, He chose the words, “uttermost part of the earth” for a reason.  That’s what He meant!

IT’S UNSELFISH 

Giving to missions is one of the most unselfish acts that a Christian can perform.  My wife and I are faithful and generous givers and have been for all of our married lives.  A week never passes that we don’t give more than ten percent of increase to the ministries of Fellowship Baptist Church.  Those monies make it possible for us to have a comfortable and clean building in which to worship.  Those monies help to pay the utility bills so that we can enjoy heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.  Those monies help to provide programs for our children and grandchildren.  We directly benefit from the money that we give into the treasury of our local church.

We get no earthly return on money that we give to missions.  It goes to help people whom we will never even meet on this side of eternity.  When we give to missions, we take money that we could spend on ourselves and we invest in others whom we’ve never met.

IT’S EXCITING

Being involved in giving to missions is exciting!  This week we will be privileged to hear from Missionary Mark Holmes.  For many years our church has supported the efforts of he and his family in Nigeria.  This week, we will see and hear of how the Lord has used our investments to produce eternal fruit!

A missions program infuses excitement into a church in a very unique way.  It’s really difficult to describe.  Our people are excited about this week!  About a month ago they gave over $17,000.00 to help make this conference a reality, and they are excited to see what the Lord is going to do.

IT’S NECESSARY

Sometimes we fail to see the importance of a strong missions program because we don’t see the need.  If I am commanded to take the gospel to the uttermost part of the earth, then I need missionaries to help me do so.  I cannot be in Durham, North Carolina and in Nigeria, so I need Mark Holmes.

Likewise, Mark Holmes needs me.  Not only is he to preach the gospel in Nigeria, his uttermost part of the earth would include Durham, North Carolina.  It is imperative that churches and missionaries realize that they are entering into a partnership together.  We need each other.

IT’S IMPACTFUL

Being involved in missions makes a difference.  My friend, Pastor John Wilkerson, oftentimes uses the phrase, “punching holes in the darkness.”  When we share the gospel, whether here at home or around the world, that is exactly what we do.

The people that we will see on our projection screens this week are real people.  Those are not stock photos taken from some website.  Those are real people who need someone to care about them.  They need to hear about a God who cares more than anyone else.  Their lives need to be impacted by the gospel.

IT’S BLESSED

God blesses those who care for the poor.  There is no escaping that truth.  When our church got involved in faith promise missions my fear of our offerings decreasing were quickly vanquished.  To the contrary, our general offerings increased as our people developed a biblical worldview concerning the gospel.

Twenty-one years later, the Lord continues to bless our church.  We’re certainly not rich, but our needs are met.  We are enjoying our sixtieth year of ministry in this place and our future is as bright as the promises of God.

IT’S REWARDED

We oftentimes speak of the many sacrifices that missionaries make, and they do live sacrificial lives.  We challenge our people to give sacrificial gifts so that missionaries can fulfill their calling, and our people do sacrifice to give to missions.  Yet, the rewards that will be received by those who are involved in world evangelism will far exceed any earthly sacrifices that are made to fulfill the mission.

Our people will one day stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.  Just thinking of that is sobering.  As a pastor, I want that moment to be a blessed one for our people.  I know that all of us, understanding the “terror of the Lord” are somewhat fretful when we consider standing before our Saviour.  Yet, if we are involved in reaching souls around the world, I believe with all my heart that it will be acknowledged at that moment.

So, this week we will conduct our 21st Annual FBC Missions Conference and we are excited about it!  Our goal will be to add our five guest families to the 125 families that we are currently supporting.  God has done a wonderful work in the hearts of our people.  They are passionate about reaching the world.  Thank God for missions!

Rick Finley