Points to Ponder/Big Message in a Small Package
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
One Sunday, our 4 1/2 year old Elizabeth was playing at a friend’s house. A neighborhood girl had come over to play with Elizabeth and her friend. When it was time to come to church, the little girl headed back to her own home. Elizabeth asked why the girl was not coming to church with them. The mother told her that the little girl “doesn’t belong to our church.” To that Elizabeth replied in all seriousness: “Miss Bonnie, the church belongs to everybody.”
Out of the mouth of babes, what wisdom comes! The innocent truthfulness of children can stop us in our tracks when they simply form a conclusion based on what they have taken in from their surroundings and from the significant adults in their lives.
Does the church belong to everybody? In Matthew 24:14, Jesus said the gospel “will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” That message is to be lived out in and conveyed through the church, the body of Christ (I Cor. 12) to take the word to everybody.
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (that about covers everyone), according to His eternal purpose, which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10-11 NIV, commentary mine)
Does the church belong to everyone? It is designed to, in that through the witness and testimony of the church, people who do not know the Lord should sense a spirit of welcome. The second great commandment, (following Love the Lord your God with everything you have and are), is to love your neighbors. Jesus gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lowest of low in that culture, to help us grasp that point (Luke 10:25-37). As the church reaches out in love to the lost and broken of this world, they should see as it were God’s hand reaching out to them.
In II Corinthians 5:17-20, the purpose to which we in the church are called is spelled out plainly.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
In her 4 1/2 years, Elizabeth has known only love and acceptance in the four churches with whom we have lived and worked. At approximately 18 months of age she got away from her mother during the serving of communion. She toddled up to me as I held the loaf of bread for people to receive as they processed up. She tugged on my legs and looked up at me. With the bread in my left hand and her sitting in my right, I served the Lord’s Supper.
Many a Sunday she and I served Communion together like that. Other times as I held the offering plates up for dedication to the Lord, there she was at my side. My arms have gotten stronger, as I hold the stacked plates in my left hand and her in my right.
Misbehavior in church is dealt with (with a 4 year old that will occur), but if she wants to come to the altar at the appropriate time, she can. Any child could as far as I’m concerned. And why not? People who tell me they believe their children can not “get anything” out of the worship service do not realize that the most important lessons - the foundational ones - are the ones they learn early on. These are the truths that are deeper than words.
Elizabeth, in one sentence, preached a sermon to her friend’s mom. How did she get that? Because she’s the pastor’s daughter? Are you kidding? The preacher’s kid (PK’s) are often the hardest ones to teach. They know the flaws and imperfections of their Rev. Dad or Mom. But through the collective church family and their love for one another and for their neighbors, the kids grasp the deeper point; the point they can not yet articulate.
Jesus said that people would know His followers by the love they have for each other (John 13:35). But also, people encounter the love of God personally when they witness it in us.
“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” (I John 4:12 NIV)
All the commercials, fliers, tracts, contemporary worship services, and evangelism programs are shallow and pointless if we are not doing the foundational and most challenging work of all: LOVE. If the children are not able to get that out of the service or church life, then the adults probably are not either.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Whitmore serves God at the First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.