Last week that phrase popped into my head and, straightway, out my mouth. I thought it and said it in the context of a conversation with the other two pastors and our Chairman, Barry Lockwood. We were discussing that the core message and ministry of the Church never changes – it has always been and forever will be about God seeking fallen people, in love, to forgive them and restore them in Jesus Christ. This has been our message for 2000 years. It will be our message for however long the church remains on this earth. And yet we are called and equipped by God’s own Spirit to find ways to incarnate this message afresh, so that people living here and now can understand and respond to it.
That’s when the phrase popped: ancient but never old. The good news is not some new-fangled hot-off-the-press thing. It is deeply ancient – rooted, enduring, venerable. Its antiquity, far from diminishing its value, heightens it. Just as rare coins increase in value with each passing year, so the gospel’s beauty and worth becomes all the more apparent as it is held alongside the trivialities and banalities, the frantic emptiness, of our own age.
This truth is ancient. But it’s never old. It’s never stale. It’s never tired. It’s never out-of-date, obsolete, or old-fashioned. The good news is still news – an attention-grabbing event happening right now as we speak. From culture to culture the whole world over, the gospel is still breaking into sin-blighted hearts and transforming them. The ancient but never old news from the Middle East – Christ died for sinners, of which I am the worst – is fresher than the latest news from the Middle East – Gadhafi’s fall, or whatever. Fresher than any news anywhere anytime.
God has entrusted us with the only news that stays new no matter how old it gets – indeed, that stays new precisely because it is ancient, not some swiftly fading fad.
Ask God to fill you again with humble gratitude that his ancient but never old truth swept down into your life. And ask God to fill you anew with a sense of the enormous privilege that he has called you to be a herald of this truth.
Here’s something I built this weekend. It’s yet one more bonus of living on the West Coast: all the opportunities to co-create with God. He provides the raw materials, you bring a little elbow grease and an artistic hunch, and it’s amazing what you can do together in an afternoon.
This Sunday is the 10tb anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers. Iconic photos of smoke and fire billowing from those glittering buildings are indelibly stamped in most our heads. Our sadness and sense of vulnerability remains close to the bone.
This Sunday is the 28th anniversary of the incorporation of the church I pastor. Twenty-eight years ago, a small band of faithful Christ-followers signed a deed that established New Life Community Baptist. We didn’t meet then where we do now, but a group of committed people – some still in our midst – bound and loosed on earth what was bound and loosed in heaven. All of us today are heirs of their faith and courage.
To them I feel an abiding thankfulness.
What a perfect Sunday to be in church.
Twenty-eight years ago, the people of New Life home met together for the very first time. Those who initiated that meeting made a declaration that, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. They chose to live lives defined by deepest reality.
And ten years ago, all North America woke up, if only briefly, to that deepest reality. For a split second, we got it: Life is about more than the latest reno or vacation or clothing purchase or pay raise. The Sunday after 9/11, churches throughout our continent were filled to standing room only. Tens of millions of people who otherwise didn’t pay any attention to deepest reality were, for a breath or two, utterly gripped by it.
And then most fell back asleep.
September 11, 1983 established an ensign. It announced on behalf of a few people that the Kingdom of God would reign in a little corner of Duncan.
September 11, 2001 pulled back a veil. It revealed to millions of people a reality most ignored most the time: life is very precious and very fragile. And only God and his Kingdom can redeem its preciousness and protect its fragility. Everything else is an illusion. Money, status, popularity, power – none of these things suffices. None can even scratch the surface.
God alone redeems.
God alone protects.
This 9/11, may churches everywhere be filled to standing room only, and may the veil be pulled back once again.
And this 9/11, may New Life be filled to standing room only, in celebration that for 28 years we have tried to live with no veils at all.
My mother used to sing, in a scattershot way (she forgot entire lines and stitched the holes together by humming and mumbling), songs from Fiddler on the Roof. I grew up listening to her, in her low alto like a man’s baritone, declaiming, “If I were a rich man…,” arms akimbo, kick-stepping like she was leading a line dance at some bar mitzvah. And I can still see her moving about the house in sweeping motions, crooning, “match-maker, match maker make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch,” filling in with gibberish words she couldn’t recall.
But she would tear up when singing “Sunrise, Sunset.” Sometimes she’d stop mid-phrase, words catching in a thickness of emotion. I didn’t understand why. She said I would one day.
That day would be Wednesday.
Cheryl and I took our girls to Chemainus Theater’s excellent production of Fiddler on the Roof the night before I drove Sarah to the airport and kissed her goodbye. She’s off to university in Quebec. When Tevye, Fiddler’s bewildered father, began to sing at his eldest daughter’s wedding the opening line from that song – Is this the little girl I carried? – I lost it. I sat in my chair trying to hold myself in one piece. And then the chorus came and sent me over the edge:
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears
I know the sadness of sorrow is great. But the sadness of happiness is great, too: to have loved and been loved, deeply, and then to endure the inevitable separations and losses life brings. Love makes us vulnerable. Simply, in love we wound easily.
So forgive me if you notice me limping slightly, moving slower.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m thrilled with and for Sarah. She is a beautiful woman of faith and courage. She’s always had an appetite for adventure, and I knew that God gave her to us – as he does with all children – to shape her heart, not supress her personality. I sensed from early on that she would leave us sooner than later, chasing some big wild dream. So be it.
Still, there’s no preparing. I stood Thursday morning at the airport security gate, rummaging for something wise to say. Nothing came. Only, “I love you. I’ll miss you. I’m proud of you.”
Which, I guess, is wisdom enough.
And then, just like that, the little girl I once carried walked away. I returned to my car, feeling tremendously old. Feeling the sadness of happiness. Wishing for nothing to be otherwise, and yet, and yet….
O mother, now I understand.