Welcome

You — YES, YOU — are welcome at First Baptist Arlington!

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Adele or Beyonce, or if you are like Pastor Jon who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion” — we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or come because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters … and we especially welcome you!

Somewhere in my journey I found this welcome message, have adapted it from time to time, and have always liked it. I believe it truly represents the attitude of First Baptist Arlington, and for that I give thanks to God. Come check us out as together we learn to follow Jesus. And just it case you didn’t get it you are really welcome here!

Tree

Spring is a beautiful time in New England. Right now we have rhododendrons climbing up the corner of our house. There are also irises just coming into bloom. Add to that the hibiscus my husband bought me and two gorgeous lupine plants that I received for Motherʼs Day, and I could go on and on. I love the flowers and plants as they show off the colors our God painted them.

One of the favorite things that I have always loved about our yard was a beautiful Japanese Maple tree. It had suffered over the last couple of years with Gypsy Moths and drought conditions. And this year and last it did not leaf out. We had the tree company do deep root fertilization twice and held our breaths, but the bark began to peel off and we knew it was gone. So yesterday we had it taken down. And as beautiful as the other plants are, the tree will be missed. I remember my grandchildren climbing in it and swinging from itʼs branches. I remember its vivid red leaves and its beautiful snow covered branches. I asked myself if itʼs okay to grieve over losing a tree. Somehow I think it is. At least the loss is real to me.

I think about losses in the church. Much more significant than a tree. I think of David Gray often. I miss his presence as he often visited with us in the office. I miss having him in Bible Study. He had much to add, filling us in on historical background. I miss Shirley Donaldson with her kind, sweet spirit and perpetually positive outlook. I miss Dottie Burke whose Memorial Service was last Saturday, and her enjoyment of her friends at church. Additionally, people join us in worship and then move away. We get to know and love them, and then they are gone. We miss them.

I think this just points out the importance of each member of the body of Christ. No one is insignificant. We are all joined together as the church of Jesus Christ. And not just the people who are living now. We join with others who have proclaimed the name of Jesus through the ages. May we continue to serve him as long as we can. Then we must trust the job to those who will come after us, the ones we are teaching now. For as CS Lewis said in Screwtape Letters, we are a part of the church of Jesus Christ marching through the ages.

Joiners

We like to join things. We join garden clubs and health clubs and the PTA and the AARP.  Americans are joiners. But we don’t join churches like people used to in the good old days.

Used to be everyone went to church. Now it’s different. We have become secularized. Or maybe a little bit lazy.

But those who really love Jesus are joining and supporting churches today. They are bucking the trend because they want to do God’s will.

Christians know their commitment is crucial to Christ’s work. They know their gifts are needed for the kingdom. They know that they are important to the Lord, and they are excited to use their gifts and talents for him.

Real Christians are ready to risk themselves in church relationships. They are willing to love other people in real and practical ways. They know it’s risky, because loving people invites hurt and disappointment. The only way to keep from getting hurt is not to love. But to stop loving is to stop living and growing. So being a disciple means making a commitment to others.

Followers of Christ join churches because they know their pocket book and billfold need to be committed to him. And they know the church needs their support. There’s no other organization on earth that has a more important mission and a worst way of financing it than the church.

And then real believers join a church because they know they need help in living Christianly. They know fellow members will help them and hold them accountable in living for Christ. And when this doesn’t happen, it probably means the whole church needs help in living Christianly. God is up to the task, if we are!

Finally Christians join a church just because it’s the right thing to do.

And what about you? What are you waiting for?

Beauty

Spring is the season that helps me marvel. I am reminded of that each time I step out into the world and see the shocking, defiant beauty of daffodils asserting themselves against a dark brown carpet of withered grass, disintegrating leaves, and patches of bare ground. Continuing the brilliant crescendo of yellow, the forsythia broadcasts it’s wild, unruly, joyful presence with a gusto that is bursting with life affirming happiness. Marvelous! I am changed in the presence of such beauty.

May spring also be a time to marvel as I drink in the beauty of God.

The God who is even older than the universe and the debris of my leftover winter lawn.

The God who is all powerful and created my earth and formed the intricacy of a daffodil’s bulb and who marvels himself as it bursts into flower.

The God who who created the planets and placed them in their orbits and also allowed the forsythia its rampant freedom of bloom.

And to think that this God is my God!

My God because he first loved me.

My God because he prepared all the conditions for my emergence from the winter of separation and hibernation from all things holy and spiritual.

My God because he made me into a living, growing, thing of wonder, a child of his own.

My God because such miraculous transformation became possible because of his own grace, mercy and redemption.

My God because he came to me in my Jesus, my Christ.

I am changed in the presence of such a fusion of eternal life. May I never cease to drink in the beauty of the One who graced me. May I always marvel in awe and thankfulness before my Savior, whatever the season of the year, or the season of my life.

The Enigma of Easter

Most of us have heard the Easter story so many multiples of times that there is no way we can be shocked like those close to him that first Easter.

In spite of everything the disciples had seen Jesus do from healing the sick to feeding a hungry crowd in spite of what they heard Jesus say about how he will be killed  and how on the third day he would be raised.  Not one of the disciples expected to see him alive.  Not one of them had any hope.

Where were the macho men who had followed Jesus for three years? Hiding, in fear for their lives. Their faith and their dreams crushed.

It was the women who went to the tomb that Sunday morning. They didn’t go to see if Jesus had risen. They went to the graveyard to finish the work of burying him.

The women see someone — an angel — who tells them Jesus has been raised.   He tells them to go out and tell the others. Tell them soon they will see Jesus themselves.  The story ends with them running away in panic,  terrorized by what they had seen. Dead men stay dead.

No one was expecting resurrection. Old Testament prophecies of the resurrection. Jesus’ own teaching. The disciples just plain missed it.  They only got it after they saw Jesus alive again.

The very Word of God became alive and significant only after they had seen the risen Christ.

The written Word becomes really alive for us only after we meet the living Jesus. Otherwise, it’s just an old book covered with dust lying on a bookshelf underneath the LL Bean catalog and grocery ads.

The old book is a book of don’t do this and don’t do that until we meet the one who says – hey you — do come and follow me.

They were not expecting resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection, or their own. That’s clear from this story. What about you?