Burn Down or Burn Up!

I look upon the rubble of what was our church building from the 2nd floor window of my home study.  I don't see pews or pulpit because they are no more.  I can't see organ pipes or piano keys because they have been pulverized.  The elegant stained glass has melted, so it's no longer possible to feast one's eyes upon their glory.

I pastor The First Baptist Church at Conshohocken.  Our ministry is located fifteen minutes northwest of Center City Philadelphia and fifteen minutes east of Valley Forge National Park. It has been my privilege to serve here for the last seventeen years. 

My church building was destroyed on Tuesday, May 10, by an accidental fire.  No one was hurt, my home was spared though a mere twelve feet away from the conflagration, and I remain to shepherd those who are now busy picking up the fragments of what they once knew.

One cannot begin to describe the horror of that day, least of all me who was too busy being interviewed by the news media or ministering to beloved congregants to even pay attention to the fire.  It was left to others to witness the fire engulfing our building.

One cannot lend justice to the extraordinary efforts of the fire fighters that fateful day, though one must try, for the efforts of some 150 men and women was Herculean in scope and I, for one, can never forget, not ever.

But one can see the hand of God at work, if one has eyes of faith.  I pray that you do.  It is a special sight.

You will see how He prepared us for the imminent crisis.  Our newly installed lay leadership had recently provided my wife and I with cell phones, a body of individuals and gadgetry that would prove indispensable at our moment of reckoning.

My wife, who was the last person to share the Word of God from our pulpit, had just encouraged us to welcome and strive for unity of faith (Ephesians 4).  The week prior I had reminded our people, "God does not live in temples built by human hands" (Acts 17).

Our key trustee had just entered stride in a diet and exercise program that has helped him to be more physically fit, feel better and (as he would come to realize) be ready for a job he never conceived of having, let alone wanted.

The clarity of focus extends into the future.  Adoniram Judson, the great Baptist missionary to Burma, remarked,  "The future is as bright as the promises of God."

We heartily concur.  The fire that brought down our building impotently pales in comparison with the fire that is rising up a congregation.  The one destroys things like buildings, but the other - Praise God! - builds up people in a Christ-like manner.

The Bible tells us of an earlier day when Christians, having gathered in one place, "saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them."  On that day the people of God were "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:3).  It was a fire that would work its trajectory across the then-known world.  Its flames continue to ember and kindle across the entire globe.

Every Christian and every church is entrusted with the mandate of being aglow with the love and light of Jesus Christ.  We are exhorted "to fan into flame the gift of God"(II Timothy 1:6).  We are warned, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire" (I Thessalonians 5:19).  Our glorious Lord, it must be remembered, is described as having eyes "like blazing fire" and feet like "bronze glowing in a furnace" (Revelation 1:14,15).

We no longer have a building, but we have our Lord.  We can't worship ever again in that elegant yet intimate little sanctuary of dark wood, high ceiling and exquisite glass, but we can still worship our beautiful, faithful and sovereign God.  We are further removed from our ecclesiastical history, yet more fervently alive to one another and our spiritual future.

One would not wish every church building to be torched, but one would wish every Christian and every church to be on fire for God.  The fires of God's judgment will one day consume our world; in the interim, God's people have the privilege of spreading the flames of His love to neighbors and far-off peoples alike.

We were never meant to be museum- or mausoleum-like; novelist Paul Scott observed, "Museums arrest the progress of history."  Christians are about the business of working on behalf of eternity and the dross of time must be burned away.

The charred remains of old timber have given way to a newly ignited Christianity.  John Wesley said it best:  "Burn for Christ, and the world will watch you burn."

Bradley E. Lacey
August 26, 2005