It’s time for summer celebrations! Days at the beach. Ice Cream stands. Family cookouts. Long hours of daylight. Life at a more relaxed pace. And there is always the Fourth of July which gives us reasons to reflect on the blessings we have in our country. I know there are problems here with families in need of jobs and other important things, but in spite of that there is much to celebrate.
My daughter told me about a Fourth of July that she spent in Paris with some of her college students. They were homesick and unhappy to be away from home and in a land where the day was not a holiday. They remembered that the Statue of Liberty had been a gift to the United States from the French and that there was a smaller version in Paris. So they decided to go see it as a celebration of the Fourth. When they located it, they found other Americans there who had had the same idea. They all joined together for an impromptu party.
A friend recently went on a mission trip to Honduras. She was deeply saddened by the poverty so apparent there. She said the hardest part was to realize that for some of the neediest people she saw, there was no hope for a better life. They were locked into a life of poverty. She compared it with the poor in our country who get help from the government and other social agencies. She felt that even the poorest Americans where better off. But in this land of little hope she found Christians who had found hope in Christ. She said that while their situation remained the same, they had found freedom in Christ and were joyful in Him. They had become children of the King.
We do live in a country where we can live our lives with a freedom that many others only dream of. But true freedom, freedom of the soul, comes only from a relationship with Jesus Christ and acceptance of his give of salvation. Think of the apostle Paul who sang hymns as he was chained in prison. Nothing could take his spiritual freedom from him. And nothing can take ours away either! Let freedom ring!
This past weekend Nell and I joined in celebrating Millbury Baptist Church’s 175th anniversary. Millbury was the first church I pastored, the church that ordained me to the gospel ministry, and the church that taught me everything left out in seminary. It was so good to meet old friends, remember how significant our time together had been (even if it was way, way back in the old days) and see the good God is doing through his church right now.
When I came back to First Baptist Arlington I wandered into the sanctuary, sat down in a pew, enjoyed the sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows, and thought about the church’s lifespan. Our roots are deep. We celebrated our 225th birthday back in 2006. As I sat there I thought of all the folks who normally gather on Sunday mornings. Then I remembered those I have known and loved who have passed on and now form part of the heavenly congregation.
The past ten years of our time together have only been the iceberg’s tip. Great hosts of people have anchored their church life in this holy place over the centuries, choosing to worship God and to work for the kingdom through our church. I know a few names from the past, but most have been forgotten in the dust of history. They have been drawn to this church, wanting a faith to live by, wanting to love God and neighbor, wanting to follow Jesus. Over the years they have left a significant legacy, a heritage upon which we build today.
I moved from the pew to the ornate chair behind the pulpit. There I thought of those who have gone before me -- pastors who have brought the good news of Jesus Christ to the congregation. Some did it with the unpolished roughness of a frontier Baptist preacher, some did it with great eloquence and sophistication. Some did it winsomely and effectively, while others failed. Most tried their best to shepherd the sheep, and all of them did it knowing the task was impossible but for the grace of God. All have left their mark.
Glorying in the accomplishments over a 175 year or a 231 year span of ministry unfortunately doesn’t carry much currency in today’s world. The church must bring the power of the gospel to our world right now. There are multiple needs and issues that need to be seen and addressed from the viewpoint of Christian faith, and there are spiritually searching people who need to know that Jesus is the way, truth and life they have been seeking.
Things do change. We must not cling to the past, but discover what living Christianly for today and tomorrow means. The book of Hebrews puts it in classic yet so contemporary and relevant language: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. Summer is a wonderful time as we live our lives at a slower pace enjoying the longer hours of daylight. It’s a more relaxing time that we eagerly anticipate. When I taught school, teachers counted down the days to the beginning of summer as eagerly as the students did. Two of my daughters are now teachers. One of them posted this on Facebook recently. “Grades are turned in, library books re- turned, let the summer begin!”
Summer can be fleeting. When we lived in Vermont, people told a joke about summer. They said, “What do you do in the summer in Vermont?” The answer was, “We have a picnic that day.” It does indeed seem to fly by.
Even in this leisurely time of fun and relaxation, there is learning to be done. Beach days prove a chance for our little ones to explored God’s wonderful creation. I am amazed at the joy my grandchildren find in the rocks and shells they pick up along the beach. The rhythm of the waves ebbing and flowing by God’s schedule remind us of his unchanging love and faithfulness to us. The world become our classroom for a time.
It is important, too, that we not neglect our spiritual education during summer. What are some of the ways you stay rooted in your faith? Many simply don’t attend church. After the first summer that we were here, someone asked Jon when church would start up again. Actually, we have church all summer. Spending an hour or so each week worshiping and praising God can reap great benefits. How about Bible reading, devotional times and private prayer? Let us not neglect those things that build us up and bring us into the very presence of God. Fortunately, he doesn’t take a vacation from us.
Have a wonderful summer!
Our Lenten journey has begun. On Ash Wednesday, we committed ourselves to follow Jesus on his trip to the cross. We know that his way was difficult and that he suffered greatly. In some small way we try to join him in his suffering but the magnitude is too great to even imagine. We only know a lesser kind of suffering.
On a personal level, I watched someone I love suffer last week. My seven-year-old granddaughter fell at a roller skating party and broke her leg. As a result she was confined to a wheelchair during the week of her Winter Vacation. She had so looked forward to that week to play with her sisters and friends. But that didn’t happen. Her leg hurt and she couldn’t move easily or comfortably. And she was so sad. She didn’t complain, but there was pain and sadness in her lovely blue eyes. My heart ached for her. I thought that I would rather it had happened to me than to her.
On Sunday, a friend stopped by my office to ask how she was doing. He listened patiently while I complained about her distress, Then he told me that God would bring good out of the situation. He said that she would never again see someone in a wheelchair and not feel compassion for them. He reminded me that her situation is temporary and that she will soon run and play again but that there are children who will spend their lives in wheelchairs. She will be able to relate to them in a way that she never could have before her accident.
It is interesting to me that all this is happening during Lent. The cast will come off her leg during Holy Week. And she will be made whole. While I could not take my granddaughters pain and suffering, my savior took mine when he took my place on the cross. And when Easter comes we will celebrate our spiritual wholeness as we rejoice in Christ’s victory over death. To him be glory and honor forever!