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
On Tuesday nights we are studying prayer. It is the third study we have done on prayer in our small groups. We are using a book and DVD by Philip Yancey called “Prayer - Does it Make Any Difference?” Last night we spent the session talking about how to pray. Some people wonder if they are praying the right way. Yancey says that if you are praying you are doing it the right way. In other words, there is no wrong way to pray. He said that prayer is a way of relating to God, not a skill set like double-entry booking.
How can you make prayer “work” for you? Here are some suggestions that were offered:
1. Set aside at least one specific time each day for prayer.
2. Create an environment for prayer - perhaps lighting a candle or playing music in the background while you pray.
3. Find a specific place that encourages you to pray. For example, an outdoor garden, a quiet place in your home, or sitting in your car during your lunch break.
4. Meditate on God and consider how he must feel about the issues and people you are praying for.
People have been praying for a long time. So we have mentors to instruct, guide, and encourage us. The Bible includes approximately 650 prayers of faithful believers who have gone before us. These prayers show how people in a variety of moods and circumstances have talked to God about important matters throughout history. They offer insight into prayer and how to pray. During the coming weeks as we journey through Lent, I challenge you to read some of these prayers with me. How about one each week beginning Ash Wednesday.
Week one - March 5 - 11
Genesis 18 - Abraham?s pray for Sodom
Week two - March 12 - 18
Exodus 15 - Moses? song to the Lord
Week three - March 19 - 25
Exodus 33 - Moses meets with God
Week four - March 26 - April 1
2 Samuel 7 - David?s response to God?s promises
According to Yancey, studying the Bible gives us a glimpse of the broad sweep of God's actions in history. It gets our own lives off center stage. We can review the big picture. We can place our own small story in the context of God's larger story. We learn that we are not the only ones who have wrestled with God or who has endured a time of wilderness and testing. Focusing on prayers from the Bible may help us recognize God's voice and improve our own prayer life.
Who will accept this challenge? Let me know, and we'll see what happens.