We have a great group of graduates in our church family this year. It is an exciting time of year for them and their families. Graduation is a time of promise and expectation for the years to come. I have been to many graduations. They are all basically the same. Speakers encourage the graduates. Special recognition is given to some who have excelled. Then the diplomas are awarded. Exciting stuff at the moment, but then life goes on and the memories fade.
Of all the graduations I have attended, there is only one commencement speech that I remember anything about. When my youngest daughter graduated from high school, a local sportscaster was asked to give the commencement address. I remember being disappointed at the choice of him as the speaker. How could he encourage the graduates? None of them may remember his speech, but I do. He talked about always being a freshman. He said to the graduating students that they had been seniors but that they were about to become freshmen again. Then he went through the various stages of life that they would encounter and noted that with each new stage they would be freshman again. First there would be college, and they would be freshmen. Then with their first job they would be freshmen. The would come marriage, parenting, and even in retirement, the would begin as freshmen. His speech has caused me to think that with each new phase of my life, I too have been a freshman. But by now, I have learned that with each new stage of life, there is one who sees ahead when I can’t. With each new step in life, we put our faith in God and trust him to direct our paths.
I am reminded of the hymn that says. “I don’t know about tomorrow. I just live from day to day. I don’t borrow from it’s sunshine, for the it’s skies may turn to gray. Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.”
Congratulations to our graduates and may you hold tight onto God’s hand as you walk through your tomorrows.
Many signs of spring are finally arriving in New England. Flowers are showing their beautiful hues to our color-starved eyes. The grays of winter are fading away as vivid colors emerge. Every time we are out, Jon and I say to each other, “Oh, look!” at the blooming trees and flowers. They bring such joy.
Another sign of spring is seeing children playing outdoors. Gone are winter coats and mittens which had enslaved them for so long. They are running on the soccer fields and hanging from the low branches of the trees. It’s just fun to be alive when the spring comes.
In my family we also focus on the running of the Boston Marathon. Some of our adult children and their spouses are runners. Our son has run many marathons, and our youngest daughter just ran this years’ Boston Marathon. Our fun comes from standing at the base of Heartbreak Hill and cheering the runners on. They come by in all shapes and sizes, all ages, all ethnicities and races. In that respect, they remind me of the kingdom of God. So many unique individuals.
But there is a lot of preparation that goes into running the race. There are hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks, even months and months of training. There are long and short training runs that happen back when the days are short and the roads are icy. The runners must prepare themselves.
The same is true of the Christian life. We must study God’s word when times are good to know how to stand firm when times are hard. We must train ourselves to listen to God’s guidance so that we will be ready in all circumstances to hear His voice among the clattering noises of life that might distract us. We must focus on the goal ahead and move forward.
The Bible even uses the analogy of a race in Paul’s second letter to Timothy in chapter 4 verse 7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” NIV
We are in the middle of that run of faith. May we be found ready for the spiritual race set before us.
With the NBA playoffs still occasionally making headlines despite the media circus that swirls around the Los Angeles Clippers and their bigot billionaire boss, Donald Sterling, I am reminded that preaching is a lot like the game of basketball. There are times when you are hot, and there other times when you just can’t hit the basket.
I’ve had my fair share of both experiences. (Preaching, not shooting hoops.) Sometimes I feel as if I can turn my back to the basket, flip the ball over my head, and know it will slip in with nothing but net. Then there are times I give it my best shot and can’t even hit the backboard. The funny thing is that those times when I’m on are often the times when I let the Holy Spirit do the work, and the times when I’m off correlate with my strange idea that I can do it better myself.
So how do you preach? With power, with conviction?
“But Pastor Jon, I don’t preach at all.”
Oh yes, you do. Every one of us preaches -- by our lives. If we are to have a viable church, an effective Christian influence in Arlington and the other communities in which we live and work, then we need the Spirit’s presence in our lives. If somehow we expect to help meet the deep needs in people’s lives, only the power of God is sufficient.
The only thing that will make a church relevant today, the only thing that will give you credibility and make you useful in serving the Lord will be God’s presence in your life. When we live Christianly -- being open to God giving us new depth and integrity in our faith, we will find that who we are will “preach” loudly in a society that craves authenticity and soul.
Christian character in a world of racial bigots, greed, and frivolous sexuality is an unanswerable and powerful kind of statement. It is one that we as followers of Jesus Christ must make in our daily life. Please notice I am not talking about an increased religiosity or “churchiness” -- a superficial coating of sweet evangelical piety or a display of phony churchmanship. I am talking about you and I being in contact with God in such a way that somehow, despite all of our imperfections and weaknesses and mistakes the presence of Christ can still be seen in our lives.
Is there evidence of this in our lives today? In my life? In yours? If so, it will preach. And meanwhile, go Doc Rivers! Go LA Clippers! And go First Baptist family! Preach it!
The Salvation Army Massachusetts Division
Mass Brass Concert
Monday, May 12, 2014
Here at First Baptist Church of Arlington