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.
Last Sunday Roy and Norma played an amazing piano duet of “This Little Light of Mine.” We think of that as a children?s song, but their rendition certainly was not. It was just beautiful and got me thinking about light. I love the summer when the days are long and full of sunlight. In the dark days of winter when we lose the light by 4:30 pm, I remember those bright days and long for more light.
No wonder that Jesus described himself as the light of the world. (John 8:12) No wonder that the Bible tells us that evil men love the darkness because their deeds are evil (John 3: 20). No wonder that even the faintest light gives hope in the darkness.
Behind our house there are trees that divide our property from the neighbors. And on the next street over there is a house where a small light is left on all night. I don?t know who lives there. I am not sure even which house the light comes from, but it is very comforting to me to look out the back window at night and see that light shining in the darkness. We have lived here almost twelve years, and every time I have looked out the window at night that light has been on. Then one night last week, the light was not on. I wondered what had happened. It bothered me so that I thought I should try to find out what house the light was coming from and see if something was wrong. I couldn?t quite figure out how to do that, but the next night the light was back on, and I felt relieved.
Jesus has called us to be light in this dark world we live in. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteous and truth).” Ephesians 5:8 Let your light shine!
I did something really embarrassing in our church service Sunday. As I preached a message I repeated the words of an old, old (very Baptist!) hymn, When We All Get to Heaven.
Sing the wondrous love of Jesus;
sing his mercy and his grace.
In the mansions bright and blessed
he’ll prepare for us a place.
And then the chorus comes ringing in:
When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
we’ll sing and shout the victory!
I was surprised that hardly anyone in our congregation had heard of it, and so at the end of my sermon I walked to the piano and started playing. Carried away, I began singing the words. If you have ever heard my singing you know what it sounded like. Luckily, nobody walked out.
Which brings me to the Bible’s picture of worship in heaven, with a massive white robed choir of redeemed people singing praises to God. With a choir that size gathered from the four corners of the earth singing to God himself, no less, they had to be good. It’s pretty obvious that they’ve been to choir practice. Lots of choir practice, if any of them sounded like me.
Likewise, as we look ahead to the time when we will be in Heaven’s Church we better pay close attention to the church family we are in here on earth. Being part of a fellowship of believers, a church, is absolutely vital if we are going to grow in our faith.
We are so much a part of an individualistic culture in America. We think we can worship God sufficiently while hiking the Appalachian trail or out on the golf course or beach combing or sitting home with our telly-vangelist, but we can’t. We need each other. We need to be connected with others in Christ’s body so we don’t stagnate, but rather develop maturity ourselves and help others along in their own life journeys.
Jesus never said that where one person is walking down Mass Ave on an iPhone listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers or Death Cab for Cutie that he was there with them. No, he said “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Mt 18:20) This isn’t my take. This is what Jesus said. Deal with it.
In Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll had Alice ask, “Cheshire-Puss, would you please tell me, which way I ought to go from here?” The cat answers, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” If you want to get to Heaven’s Church -- or heaven itself, for that matter -- you better get to know the One who is The Way. He has prepared a place for you in heaven, and also one right here on earth for you. In this earthly place you can practice your singing skills in choir rehearsal as well as all the other skills that go into living Christianly. You don’t want to be embarrassed when you do show up at Heaven’s Church singing and shouting the victory!