Craig Barnes is a Presbyterian pastor and president of Princeton Theological Seminary and someone whom I admire a great deal. Before his current presidency, Barnes was the preaching pastor for the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA. During his ministry with that congregation, the church undertook a renovation and expansion of their facilities. At the launch of the financial campaign for the work, he wrote a letter to his congregation. I share a portion of it here with you.
“When someone enters your home, they learn a lot about you. The way you decorate and furnish the rooms, the art and photographs that hang on your walls, and even the way you maintain the house tells people who you are and what you value. The same thing is true about our church home. A church is certainly more than a building. It’s the people, centered in Jesus Christ, who make up the church. But every church expresses its personality and values by how they organize and maintain their building.
Our church is a grand and beautiful testimony to our devotion to Christ. The great lantern that sits above our Sanctuary is a physical witness to our mission to be the light of hope to the community around us. Our grandparents who built this facility wanted people to follow that light into the congregation where they would find a ministry that can restore the human spirit. But after all these years, our church home is now in need of some significant renovations.”
Perhaps what I like best in those words from Craig Barnes is the image that the church is a grand and beautiful testimony to our devotion to Christ.
Years ago, during my first ministry in Florida, there was a young family in the church I served. The wife was a former Miss Florida. She was active in the church, he was not. One day she dropped by the office and told me how unhappy she was. As a former beauty queen, she had always enjoyed the attention, the affection that came with the title. When she married, she believed that the only affection and demonstration of devotion she needed now was from a husband. Yet, something happened. His affection for her evaporated – at least any demonstration of it.
He was in sales so he drove a new car with all the bells and whistles. It was necessary for him to make a favorable impression on potential customers. They couldn’t afford two nice cars, he thought, so he required his wife to drive an old pick-up truck that lacked air-conditioning. As she told me through tears, it wasn’t so much that she hated driving that ugly truck, though she did. What bothered her was that it didn’t concern her husband that she had to settle for the old truck. The old truck became for her a symbol that he no longer valued her, no longer desired the best for her, and no longer had a grand and beautiful devotion to her.
The Bible teaches that Jesus has chosen to “dwell” in us – to take-up residence in our lives. The Lord of all, the One who rescued us from death now makes His home in each of us. The question we must ask is, “What kind of accommodations are we providing?” Do our lives resemble an old, ugly pick-up truck or a grand and beautiful Sanctuary? It is really a question of desire and intentionality. Are we following a purposeful path each day to grow-up into full maturity in Christ or have we settled for church membership and worship on Sundays. The difference is considerable.