The Doctrine of the Church – Pt 2
Welcome again to Vision Sunday. If you’re new to River City, we typically have Vision Sunday the last Sunday of March, where we celebrate our birthday as a church, and then again the Fall the week after Labor Day as everyone is getting back from vacations and into school routines. It’s a good opportunity for us to keep the vision of River City in front of us, and celebrate some milestones along the way.
I was walking the Railroad Trail here in Riverside recently, praying about Vision Sunday coming up, just asking the Lord for direction. Asking him to give me clarity and wisdom for today. Because I’ll be honest – Vision Sunday messages can be really tough, and they are tough because ON ONE HAND thanks to websites and social media and what not, I can easily see what all the other churches are doing; what their vision is for their city, what hype they use to get their people excited, and the extra effort they go to get people to give money and all kinds of things.
But ON THE OTHER HAND, Vision Sunday messages are tough because there is no instance in scripture of a local gathering of believers having a Vision Sunday. There is no instance of Paul instructing a young pastor named Timothy… hey Tim, make sure you have a VS a few times a year. Make sure you lead those people out in front with a clear direction and vision and values and a solid memorable mission statement. No, the two letters the apostle Paul wrote to pastor Timothy could be summed up like this:
- Preach the true gospel
- Be on your guard against false gospels
- Don’t give up! Don’t quit
Nothing about Vision or vision Sunday. So anyway, I’m walking on the Railroad Trail, praying about today, and I came across the informational sign that gave a little history about the railroad. Some of you who’ve lived here in Riverside a long time might know the story better than the sign tells it, but the last company to manage the railroad that used to go through Riverside was called the Central Iowa Railway, and it took over operations of the 63 miles of rail between Hills and Montezuma in Feb 1974. And here’s what the sign said:
The Central Iowa Railway had one locomotive: a 600-horsepower EMD SW1. The railroad’s founders gave the blue and black locomotive the unusual unit number of J33-3 after verse 33:3 in the book of Jeremiah in the Bible, which says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.”
And I’m staring at this sign going, NO WAY! But what was so cool about this to me is that you could ask me how River City got started, and in my humanity and short-sightedness, I would probably start to tell you about conversations I had with the pastors at the church where I was on staff, or I’d tell you about prayer meetings we had with Nate and Janene King, or how God brought certain people along to be part of the launch team or the leadership team.
CALL TO ME!
But what this sign re-emphasized to me that day was that God has been working here in Riverside for a long, long time. 48 years ago, an open invitation from the Creator of heaven and earth was written on the side of the train that went back and forth from Hills to Montezuma, bearing the welcome of the heavenly Father saying, “Call to me, Hills! Call to me, Riverside! Call to me, Kalona, Wellman, Keota, South English! Call to me, and I will answer you!” I had my Bible with me on the trail, so I dug it out and read the rest of that chapter.
It’s what Tom read for us a minute ago, and I’d love for you to turn there with me. Open your Bibles to the middle, to Psalms, and then head to the right through Proverbs and Isaiah… then you’ll get Jeremiah.
The first question to ask here is: Who is saying to call on them? Who is speaking? Well, the verse right before that gives us the answer. Jer 33:2
 "The LORD (Yahweh) who made the earth, the LORD (Yahweh) who forms it to establish it, the LORD (Yahweh) is his name, says this:  Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible (inaccessible, like a walled up city) things you do not know.
And then as I’m reaching for the original RC vision documents, I’m thinking, oh my goodness – this all fits together so well!
Our theme verse is 2 Corinthians 5:20, that says, Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God.”
So the verse on the train is God’s voice saying “call to me,” and the theme verse of our church basically is our voice saying “Be reconciled to God” or another way to say it would be, “Call out to God!”
MOUTHPIECE OF GOD
So from the very beginning, the vision was that we would be the active mouthpieces of Christ, continuing to carry this invitation that ran through Riverside on the side of a train almost 50 years ago – ”Call out to God! Seek him! Be reconciled to him!” We exist in this city to proclaim the message that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! Jesus, who never sinned, willingly put on our name tag: Sinner, standing under God’s wrath, and gave us his own name tag: Righteous in God’s eyes!! Those who believe that, and call on his name will be saved: If you’ve truly done that, you are not going to hell anymore!
In the verses that follow in Jeremiah 33, the result of not calling on the name of the Lord, the result of not seeking him was death to the city. Destruction. Hopelessness. Despair. God told the Israelites in verse 5 he had hidden his face from them because of all the evil they had done.
But, God’s promise to them was bigger than even their own sin, because even though he had hidden his face from them, look at verse 6: Yet I will certainly bring health and healing to the city and will indeed heal them. I will let them experience the abundance of true peace. 7 I will restore the fortunes of Judah and of Israel and will rebuild them as in former times. 8 I will purify them from all the iniquity they have committed against me, and I will forgive all the iniquities they have committed against me, rebelling against me.
And then verse 9 is wild: This city will bear on my behalf a name of joy, praise, and glory before all the nations of the earth, who will hear of all the prosperity I will give them. They will tremble with awe because of all the good and all the peace I will bring about for them.
I’m not claiming in any way shape or form that Jeremiah is talking about Riverside, because it was written to the nation of Israel right before they went into exile. But how amazing would that be if he was? Is it far fetched to think something like that could be true of Riverside and/or surrounding communities? Nothing against Star Trek, but how amazing would it be if Riverside would go from being known as the future birthplace of Captain James T Kirk to a city known for its joy and its wholeness and its peace?
THE SAME GOD
Sure, maybe that prophecy wasn’t about this city we’re living in, but the God of Jeremiah is the same God who gives the same invitation to us today. The same Yahwah who said Call to me and I will answer you is the same God who invites us to call on him and seek him and look to him today.
The same Yahweh who promised health and healing and true peace to the city of Jerusalem, the same Yahweh who promised to purify Israel from their sin and their rebellion, is the same God who has given us health and healing and peace and holiness in Jesus! And the same God who promised to answer Jeremiah is the same God who has answered us by sending his own Son.
So the picture we have of River City 5 or 10 or 50 years from now really isn’t about what we hope to accomplish. Because our God is a merciful, saving, rescuing, welcoming God, I think we are able to dream that one day the homes and families and stories in Riverside and the surrounding communities where fear and death and despair and darkness or earning salvation by trying to do better once had its way, would instead be filled with joy and healing and wholeness and rest in the finished work of Jesus as this city answers the invitation of Yahweh to call on him.
Because our God is a merciful, saving, rescuing, welcoming God, we can be a group of believers so anchored in the gospel of Jesus, that as we are his ambassadors in our schools, neighborhoods, ball teams, dance teams, etc, that every man, woman and child in Riverside and the surrounding community wouldn’t be able to go a week without running into someone who is kingdom-minded who can give them some hope.
I don’t believe that happens by us getting rid of all the old things of the Christian faith and moving toward something bigger, better, flashier, or more entertaining. I don’t even think it happens by us creating big new goals for the coming year. I think the city-wide gospel movement that will impact Riverside and surrounding communities will be anchored in God’s continued grace to ordinary people through everyday faithfulness and Spirit-filled witness.
Since the beginning of River City, here is what we wanted to be about:
We Love God's Word
We believe the 66 books that comprise the New and Old Testaments of the Bible are the inerrant, inspired word of God in their original languages. God’s word is the final authority for everything it talks about, and it tells us everything we need to know about who God is and what He requires of us. That’s our foundation, and one thing we will continue to give a lot of time to in our Sunday gatherings.
Next week we jump back into Luke, starting where we left off at chapter 12, going verse by verse, chapter by chapter until we get to the end right before next summer.
If you aren’t sure how to read your Bible, or not sure where to start, please come and see me afterward, or on the back table there are green bookmarks that will walk you through how to go about reading and praying the Bible.
Jesus is Central in Everything
Jesus is God's representative to humans and humanity’s representative to God. Everything was made by, for, and through Him. He is the head of the church, and the fullness of God lives in Him. We are committed to keeping Jesus central in everything we do... preaching, singing, serving, counseling, etc all point to Jesus as our one and only way to God and our hope of glory. There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved, so we will intentionally proclaim only one.
He purchased our salvation with his own life; God raised him from the dead to prove the cross worked, and right this moment, the God/man Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven still interceding for us, still mediating between God and humanity, until the day he returns to claim his own.
We Don't Work Alone
We are committed to partnerships with like-minded local and national churches. If you’re here at River City long enough, you’ll see that from time to time we have other local pastors come and preach on a Sunday morning. I meet monthly with a group of local pastors from Fairfield, Washington, Kalona, Wellman, and Keota, and we are working together to see how God is moving across this part of the state, even exploring what it would mean to join forces to plant a church.
Here’s a really cool story about partnerships… Up until last Fall, we had no options for having a Middle School youth Group here at RC. We always wanted to have something, but didn’t have anyone to run it until Andrew Brooks came along. Andrew offered to lead the youth, so he and I started to meet and talk about how this could look. Right about that same time a large church in Cedar Rapids reached out to Andrew about doing a pastoral internship with them.
Andrew said, I don’t know, I’m just about to start leading the youth at River City… I don’t know if I can do both. And that church said, you know what… How about you do the 6 month internship with us and we’ll help you get ready to go. Then the church called me up and said “What do you want us to teach Andrew to get him ready for River City?” It was so awesome. Andrew completed the internship and then when we finally kicked off MSYM here this summer, he had additional training and reading and spiritual growth that came at the hands of another like-minded local church that said, hey, we’re on the same team, let us help you.
The gospel of Jesus says we don’t have to be the Church that has it all figured it all out. Our Savior Jesus is the Great Shepherd, the true Pastor and Builder of the universal Church. Remember the first thing we talked about last week in the Doctrine of the Church part 1… the Church belongs to him, first and foremost. I will build my church. So we can partner with other local churches in the gospel, and instead of worrying about whether people will leave one church for another, we realize it’s not our church anyway! The gospel is furthered when we work together.
We Replace Ourselves
Because Christ is the head of the church He is building, our ministry doesn't rise and fall on the shoulders of a few people and their gifts. With that freedom in hand, we raise up and train other leaders at every level to take the gospel to other cities and neighborhoods locally, as well as other nations and people groups around the world. The goal is that leaders at every level, especially Directors within River City, are training people to take their place or at least be able to do what they do.
One area we hope to see this pick up some speed early next year is through Elder Training. Last week, I mentioned that the biblical model for church leadership is a group of Elders or Pastors working together to lead a church.
- If you’ve been here for very long, you’ve seen Steve Hall and Nate King getting a turn to preach from time to time. As of right now, I’m the only one serving in the elder/pastor capacity here, but both Steve and Nate are in the process of being recognized as elders. I’ve been meeting with them since the Spring, and the goal is that by the end of the year I’ll be ready to present them as official elders.
- But even then, their first item of business will be to start taking other guys through the process of discipleship, working through scripture and books so that the work can be shared and leaders are trained.
We Serve Our City
When God was sending the Israelites into captivity in Babylon, he told them to seek the welfare of the city where they would live, because when the city prospers, they would prosper. It benefits everyone when all aspects of the city are clicking well, so we want to see Riverside flourish.
Over the past year, we completed a Neighborhood Assessment of Riverside, and are waiting on the final results to be compiled and returned to us. At that point, we’ll be able to continually refer to the book and see where there are opportunities to follow Christ's example of serving those in need. But we don’t look at our getting involved in the city simply as a back door way to make our church grow larger in numbers. If it does, fine, but that’s not the motivating factor. The motivation is that serving and honoring and loving others is one of the ways we show honor and love to our King. He will put people right where he wants them.
We Champion Community
River City places a high value on Community Groups where we give and receive the love and care of a family. It is in this context that leaders are trained, as Groups multiply throughout Riverside and surrounding communities.
Last year we had 4 Groups, two in the Kalona area and two in Riverside, but the Groups were at or very close to maximum capacity. This year, we are excited to say we have added two more groups! Most of the groups are set to kick off next weekend, so if you signed up to be in a Group, you either have already been contacted by your leader, or they might be doing that on their phone right now while I’m talking.
There is another purpose for Groups we don’t talk about much, and that is to establish a ground game for the church. What I mean is this: all across the world, Christian churches come under attack week after week. Pastors are killed, church members imprisoned or their homes burned. I get updates on my social media feed every couple of days. And when people ask me what do you think the future of the church of America is if/when persecution like that hits our shores. My answer is always: Community Groups. By God’s grace we’re not there yet, but there’s no telling how long the United States will ride this wave of God’s mercy before it crashes on the shore.
But with Groups we hope to accomplish what Sunday mornings cannot: develop meaningful friendship, fellowship, and opening our hearts and our stories to those we meet with. We’re already loved and accepted and approved by the Heavenly Father because Jesus stood in for us and gave us a seat at the table,. So we have nothing to lose in sharing our story of his grace toward us!
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, so we're committed to praying together often. We don't just say, "I'll pray for you." We do it right then and there, and we value prayer in our public gatherings.
Someone asked me recently how it came to be that I felt the call to plant a church, and their second question was “why Riverside?” And while I can tell you the journey God took me on over the past 10-20 years that led up to this moment, when we finally started the church and started making connections around the city, we realized that the answer to those questions really wasn’t about me or the team who led the way.
River City came about as a direct result of prayer. We met some of you and learned that people had been praying for 20-30 years that God would stir up the gospel here in Riverside. Those folks were praying for this church to come to existence while I was still in Middle School trying to decide if girls were cool or not. Imagine what effect the prayers we pray today could have!
A few other things to note that don’t fit perfectly into one of those categories:
- Middle School Youth Ministry PIVOT: A minute ago, I talked about Andrew who stepped forward to take the lead on youth ministry. Several of you were faithful to open your homes for them to meet on Wednesday nights, but what we found after three months is that only 3 Middle School students were able to come. While they could continue to meet with only 3, it creates a little challenge if one of those 3 is not able to make it. But what we saw as we looked over the church directory is that the age group 9-12 year olds, or 4th-6th graders, is a fairly large group. So, what we’re thinking is this: Andrew is willing to move the student ministry to Sunday mornings for 9-12 year olds. Instead of 3 in that age bracket, there are 13. So the thought is to establish the groundwork for Middle School and High School ministry by starting with the grades right before Middle School.
- The idea is that these students would be part of the gathering for singing, prayer, scripture reading, but would have class during the sermon like those in KidCity, starting in October.
- If you have questions, concerns, thoughts about this, please feel free to talk to Andrew or myself in the next week or two and let us know what you’re thinking.
- Secondly, at the Spring Vision Sunday, we opened applications to bring an administrative assistant on staff, and we have! In early August, Leanne Sexton became our very first staff member to fill that role 10 hours a week. So you’ll probably hear from her a lot more as we transition a lot of things to her in the coming weeks and months.
- One of the roles Leanne has taken over is that of scheduling the people who serve at River City, people we call ambassadors. The program we use to schedule ambassadors like door greeters, coffee, worship team, scripture readers, KidCity teachers, and more, tells me that there are 84 people who have been scheduled to serve at least once in 2022. So it’s a pretty large task to keep all the teams straight. Up until Leanne was hired, that role of scheduling was filled by Gail and Jo Ellen Crowe. They agreed to take on this role while they were also leading a community group, and taking care of Gail’s elderly father who lived with them off and on. They often wrote their own names into positions that were vacated by people who called in sick at the last minute, and it became a much bigger beast than any of us imagined. So as a Leadership Team, we would like to publicly honor Gail and Jo Ellen for filling this role last year. Would you join us in thanking them?
- Speaking of the Leadership Team, I’d like to invite them forward. The worship team can make its way up here as well. If you’re new to River City, this is who you can pray for as we look to lead the church. Steve and Kiff Hall oversee KidCity as well as Mens and Women’s Ministries, Nate and Janene King oversee the Finances and Business Admin - Janene also helps lead Women’s Min with Kiff; My wife Jodi sort of fills in wherever she is needed – KidCity or worship team, directing video work or taking photos for the website.
There are other things I’m sure you may have questions about, so feel free to come talk to one of us afterward if you’d like. So stand with me and we’ll close with this: River City belongs to Jesus. It’s his. He has full and final authority over everything, and he loves this church and the universal Church so much that he gave his life for her. He loves this city more than we ever could. He loves our children and youth more than we ever could. The Doctrine of the Church part 2 is that the vision for the church is not ours to determine. It’s been given to us by the Word of God already:
Titus 2:11-14 - For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works.
May we anchor our lives in this grace that has brought us salvation so that we live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way, eager to do good works until our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who redeemed us and cleansed us and made us his own, appears in his glory.