Tomorrow is Halloween. I think it is my least favorite holiday. Oh, the costumes are fun. At least those that are not too scary. And who doesn?t like candy. But it is it?s connection with evil things that bother me. I don?t like the idea of witches, goblins and zombies. I also don?t like the fact that Halloween has eclipsed the special day that follows it - All Saints Day. In fact, Halloween was originally All Hallows? Eve. It was the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.
As Baptists, we don?t often focus on the Saints, but All Saints Day, November 1, is a good time to do that. So I would like to highlight four early Christian martyrs. First, is Saint Ignatius of Antioch (born 35 - 50 AD, died 98 - 117 AD) He was the third bishop of Antioch in Syria. Tradition tells us that he was a disciple of the disciple John, and some even suggest that it was Peter who made Ignatius a bishop. He wrote seven letters encouraging churches in right faith and practice. Ignatius ?rst used the word catholic to refer to the whole church. He was brought to Rome to die in the coliseum, attacked by lions.
Second is Saint Polycarp (70 - 115 AD), bishop of Smyrna, who taught against heresy. He was burned at the stake. When a Roman of?cial suggested he say, “Ceasar is Lord,” so that he would not have to die, Polycarp said, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
Finally, Saints Perpetua and Felicity (died 203 AD), who were young women from North Africa who were martyred in Carthage. They came from very different social backgrounds: Perpetua was a married noble woman from the senatorial class, and Felicity was a slave. As sisters in Christ, they de?ed social boundaries to worship the Lord together in a community that saw all Christians as free to become slaves of Christ. They were both new mothers. Perpetua sought permission to keep her nursing infant with her in prison, and Felicity rejoiced that an early delivery allowed her to face wild animals with her fellow Christians rather than alone. Both these women left their biological children, and us, their spiritual children, a powerful testimony about the extraordinary strength that the Holy Spirit grants to ordinary people seeking to glorify God in life and death.
And the list goes on, even until today when Christians around the world are martyred for the sake of Christ. Let us focus on that as we begin the month that we give thanks for our blessings.
As Baptists we don’t consider ourselves as creedal people. If we look closely at the Apostle’s creed, we must admit that in some ways we are. Let’s look at the words of this creed and see if we agree.
“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
We believe in this basic statement. In our children’s Sunday School last Sunday, the students drew pictures to illustrate this fact.
“I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,”
We believe this, too, as we annually act out this story in our Christmas pageant.
“suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried:”
Again, we believe this as we walk through the solemn days of Lent and Good Friday considering the great cost of our redemption.
“he descended to the dead.”
In our recent Bible study of Philippians 2:9 - 11, we are told:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What this passage teaches is that all will eventually recognize and confess Christ’s Lordship.
“On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
We absolutely believe that Christ rose from the dead! That’s why we celebrate Easter. We know that he appeared to many after his resurrection. We have the biblical account of his ascension into heaven. His followers looked to the sky as He was taken into heaven.
“I believe in the Holy Spirit,”
We all come to Christ through the calling of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives us strength and comfort.
“the holy catholic church,”
Some baptists might say, “We are not Catholic but rather protestants.” But that is not what this line means. Catholic here refers to the church universal, a combination of all believers, marching together through all eternity.
“the communion of saints,”
This is definition of the Christian church. We are joined with believers of the past centuries, today’s believers, and those that are to come.”
“the forgiveness of sins,”
Thank you, Jesus, for taking our sins to the cross so that we might be forgiven.
“the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” AMEN
We will be raised to new life in new bodies and will live in heaven with our mighty God. AMEN and AMEN!
Fall seems to be coming early to New England. The trees are already tinged with color. The air is cooler and we are scrambling to find long
discarded fleeces before heading outdoors. With fall comes the promise of a new school year for our students. It also marks the beginning of our new fall programs. As your staff we meet together and pray about where to concentrate our efforts in Bible Studies and Sunday School classes. The Board of Christian Ed wants to offer the best possible opportunities for spiritual growth. So decisions are prayerfully made and our programs are put into place. Before making those decisions, we look at the church and try to assess what the needs are. Who are these people who make up our church, who are a part of the body of Christ that meets here at First Baptist Church of Arlington?
In our Tuesday evening and Saturday morning Bible Studies we are following a curriculum by Max Lucado on Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. In last weeks lesson he defines the church in an interesting way. He says, “Broken people come to church. Not with broken bones but with broken hearts, homes, dreams, and lives. They limp in on fractured faith, and they find healing. Pastor-teachers touch and teach. Gospel bearers share good news. Prophets speak words of truth. Visionaries dream of greater impact. Some administer. Some pray. Some lead. Some follow. But all help to heal brokenness: ‘to make the body of Christ stronger.’ “ (Life Lessons on Philippians p. 36)
We are offering an adult Sunday School class on what it means to be a
Christian. They youth will be studying different denominations. The chil-
dren will see how each Bible story (even in the Old Testament) whispers
the name of Jesus.
Perhaps you are one who needs to be ministered to. Or perhaps you are
one who can minister. There is room for all of us. Come Sunday and be a
part of this wonderful church.
Hypocrites. The church is full of them.
Haven’t you heard that complaint from people in your life? Haven’t you said it yourself? Research from the Barna Group shows that this is the most common complaint about churches made by young adults.
Well, I categorically deny that it is true, at least as far as First Baptist Arlington is concerned. Hypocrites in our church? Absolutely. But as you can obviously see any Sunday morning, we are not “full” of them. There is plenty of room for many more. I would guess our sanctuary could easily hold another two hundred or so without major crowding. Then, we could go to two services.
Christian churches are filled with folks who say one thing and then do something else. We sing “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,” and then go out and walk all over people who cross us or just happen to be in our way. We hold to the high moral standards that happen to be our own personal “hot button” issues, but are blind to the ways we play fast and loose with our list of “acceptable” sins.
Somebody once looked at a group of people an awfully lot like us — people who did not practice what they preach — and said: “Woe to you…you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)
This is a problem: when Christian people do not live up to the high standards of their faith, others notice our behavior. The way we treat the waitress, the tone we use with our children, the looks we give to others we pass on the sidewalk, the attitudes and behaviors that mark our personality are noticed. When what others see about us does not match what we say the label comes out: Hypocrite!
There is an easy, commonly used way to solve the whole problem, and get rid of the gap that leads to the dreaded label. Just lower our standards! If there are no high expectations, then there is no lofty height from which to fall. If I personally have no vision of truth, morality, or purposefulness in life, then I am free to live as it benefits me.
Shifting standards to whatever level is convenient or desirable is not possible for a Christian. There has been a high bar set, and if I am intent on practicing my faith, my goal is to shift my life upward to meet those standards. I have been called to follow Jesus Christ. Period. When I fall short, which I constantly do, there is forgiveness. When I get up and try again God does help. When I live Christianly, there is hope. And every time I fail to meet the high standards yet still keep on by faith, it is my prayer that those on the outside looking at me will see me truly for who I am — a hypocrite loved and being redeemed by Jesus.