Sunday I preached on the age old problem of trusting God in the face of evil. I spoke about how bad things can suddenly appear out of nowhere, how awful stuff happens in our world. I looked at the “why did this happen to me?” question and how it cannot ever be answered satisfactorily. It’s more profitable for Christians to ask “what can I do now?” I preached my conviction that no matter what, we best trust that God will be with us however hard our life becomes.
After the service I went home and looked forward to a quiet time of recovery, capped by a well deserved Sunday afternoon nap. (I always told my kids that preaching was as hard as digging ditches all day. I’ve convinced myself, if not them, that it’s true.)
That’s when the phone call came. My daughter was speaking, her voice telegraphing desperateness. Tate, our three year old grandson was out hiking with his dad, when a stick rammed into his eye. They were on their way to Boston Children’s Hospital emergency room.
I was overcome with confusion and fear and helplessness. My prayers rapidly cycled between “Please, God, save his eye,” and “Why, God, did you do this?” From time to time my mind would go the the sermon I had just preached. I did serious soul searching. Was my message just hot air and pious cliches, or did I trust God even in the ugly events of the last hour? Did I trust God with my grandson?
Sometimes Christians are viewed as simplistic and naive. People think that when we are faced with difficult situations, we just avoid facing reality. We solve problems like an ostrich does — by sticking our head in the sand and hoping everything goes away. That unfortunately may be the way a few Christians act, but the Bible calls for us to trust God as capable, intelligent, and strong people who know God cares for us. Even more, we know that is true no matter the outcome. God promises that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from His love Christ Jesus our Lord, and that God will work it all together for good.
Trusting God when the bad stuff hits doesn’t come easy. It’s a lesson we’re always learning. I discovered more about God’s care Sunday afternoon than I ever did in the time I spent preparing and preaching my sermon.
Oh, and Tate’s eye is just fine. His reaction to the whole thing? On the way home he happily announced, “Next time I poke a stick in my eye I’m going to come to the same hospital and the same doctor!”
At First Baptist Arlington we are in a period of focusing anew on missions. The church has a long history of supporting missions. There have in the past been foreign missionaries who have gone out from this church. In fact, each of us are “missionaries” as we live out our Christian life in the world around us. Our mission emphasis is something that needs to be renewed as we consider our task as the body of Christ - in this time and in this place.
Our church mission statement reads “Growing together in faith. Sharing Christ’s love with our world.” That mission statement echoes the Great Commission given by Christ to his followers in Matt. 28:19, 20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
But what can we do? Let’s look at some concrete examples. We have a number of outreach programs in place. We collect food for the food pantry. We collect warm gloves and scarves for the homeless. We provide clothing and gifts for local families in need at Christmas. We support outreach programs for battered women and victims of human trafficking. We give money to Christian colleges. We support our denomination’s home and foreign mission offerings. We are having a special collection for international missions.
On a personal level we offer prayer support to those we know of who are ill. As an example, we often send cards signed by church members to those we know of who need our prayers. Recently we sent a card to Linda Barnett, sister of Joe Westberry. She was so touched by it that she took it to her church in Texas to see if they might do a similar thing.
These activities seem small individually. But collectively they surely have an impact. Let us continue to minister to others in the name of Jesus. That is our call and purpose as Christians. Let’s each ask ourselves - “What can I do?”
People by nature have a need to reach beyond themselves. We wish, we dream, we hope, we aspire for something more. Often this aspiration focuses on our living situation. We want to be better off financially, have a happier home life, or learn how to achieve a more satisfying outlook on life. Often these are goals we long have cherished. Even when we don’t have these hopes for ourselves, we have them for our children or our friends.
People also have spirituals dreams. We want a sense of deep, inner contentment for ourselves and for those we love. We try to discover the meaning of life and to live our lives by that discovery. There are two problems, however, that often frustrate us in our attempt to claim an adequate spirituality.
First, what we discover as the purpose of life often has a nasty habit of not being “big” enough to base our lives upon. The obvious example of this for those of us with a church background is the way we all outgrow the idea of God we carried around with us as children. We all give up the picture of an old man in the sky with a long white beard. Some of us replace that picture with a more mature and complete understanding of the God who really is there. Others don’t replace it, and go through life feeling empty. They become angry at a silly and inadequate god they have created in their own mind, confusing their infantile picture with the real God. Often these people feel superior to those who have faith, and don’t bother to notice that Christian believers try to let the Bible inform them of what God is really like. And the God of the Bible doesn’t have a white beard!
The other thing that often frustrates people in their spiritual journey is the discovery that we do not live up to our expectations. We walk the pathway of faith only a short while before we are shocked at the gap between ourselves and the real God. Not only are we a long distance from our Creator, we even fail to match the day by day expectations we set for ourselves. This sense of shortcoming is especially vivid when we have a more mature, adult picture of God. In comparison with the God of the Bible we just do not measure up adequately. Most of us are just not too good at parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, or loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
The Christian faith helps us with these two problems. First, the real God isn’t some creation of our mind, and therefore will not fail us. God is so awesome that we never will be disappointed. We can stake our lives on the adequacy of God. Secondly, God already knows that we do not measure up to standards and loves us anyway. God is “big” enough and loves us so much that our shortcomings are overcome in Christ.
Reaching beyond ourselves is a natural part of life. The good news is that God has reached out to us, and that in Jesus Christ our spiritual hope, dreams, and aspirations can be realized.
The Bible Study groups at church have spent a great deal of time studying the Gospel of John. One of the resources that I have used is The Life Recovery Bible, New Living Translation. It is an addition with notes to encourage those who are in recovery. In the introduction to the Gospel of John, I read this: “From the vast stretches of eternity to the confines of time - so the Son of God entered into this world.
Jesus was the Creator of this world, but then he immersed himself into his creation. God became a man and willingly sacrificed himself so that all who receive him could have forgiveness and redemption.” I read it over and over. It is the gospel. It echoes John 3:16. It is the foundation of any Christian church.
In order to better understand what this means, John used a number of images to illustrate who Jesus is and how he gives us eternal life.
Here are some of the “I am” statements in John. Jesus is:
1:29 - the Lamb of God - more a “he is” statement by John the Baptist
Jesus is the unblemished Lamb of God who is sacrificed for us.
4: 10 - living water who satisfies our spiritual thirst
6: 35 - bread of life who satisfies our spiritual hunger
8: 12 & 9:5 - the light of the world who guides us
10: 7, 9 - the gate for the sheep
10: 11, 14 - the good shepherd who leads us
11: 25 - resurrection and the life
14: 6 - the way, the truth and the life
15: 1, 5 - the true vine who gives us life
He is also the counselor who comforts and teaches us.
Jesus is God, and because He is, final death is impossible for him.
This is the basis of what Christian education is all about.
This will be our focus for the new church year.