Monday, June 13, 2005

Of Bats and Books for Singing

The auditorium was dimly lit as I made my way from my office to the back of the room to prepare for Sunday morning’s services. I don't know why I looked up, but I did. Usually I am pretty focused on what is ahead, walking with head bent towards the task I am undertaking. This day, for whatever reason, I allowed my eyes to drift upward. There I saw it. It was hanging right next to one of the chandeliers - the largest bug I ever saw. Veering from my charted course, I drew closer. But it was not a beetle; it was a bat that had somehow found his way into our sanctuary and decided to bed down - or up as it turned out.

Just so you know, I am no wimp. Growing up on our family farm, the only time I can recall being really frightened was when I came face to face with a nest of rats in my uncle’s old barn. I used to think that a rat was the most terrifying animal God ever made – that is, before I met his flying cousin Mr. Bat.

I did the only thing I could think of. I made a hasty retreat into my study and called the church custodian. "Surely," I reasoned, "Necia will know what to do. After all, extermination is closer to her job description than mine." (Fear makes people think strange things.) Of course Necia thought I was a big baby. She was right. A few minutes later, her son, Troy, arrived ready to do battle with the flying mammal. We closed all the doors, taped a sheet of plastic over the foyer entrance and opened a window.

When the siege was laid, Troy threw a red
hymnal at the bat. The bat just laughed and sang We Shall Not be Moved. Troy tossed the hymnal again, missing the bat and nearly knocking the chandelier off the ceiling. Finally, I worked up the courage to try my luck at chucking the hymnal upward. I leafed through the songbook until I found Out of the Ivory Palaces, marked the page, and heaved it heavenward.

I hit the bat . . .at least Troy said I did. I was already half-way across the room before the bat took to flight. He fluttered everywhere in the room except out the window. As I cowered behind the piano, Troy shouted, "Herd him to the window, herd him to the window." “Exactly how does one herd a bat, anyway?”, I thought. Dazed by my assault-with-a-deadly-hymnal, the bat finally beached himself in the greenery above the baptistery. While I pinned it down with a fly swatter, Troy grasped the tip of each wing and, as the bat was singing Rescue the Perishing, escorted the creature to the open window and freedom.

Believe it or not, that is not the first bat I have ever seen in church. In fact, some church people are a lot like him. They show up every so often and hang around, but they never really do anything. Like their flying mammalian counterparts, they appear when you least expect them and leave just as suddenly. They don't make a lot of fuss, or disturb anything, but if you challenge them to leave their comfy perch and get involved in ministry, they disappear faster than a plate of cookies at Vacation Bible School.

God does not need that sort of Christian. God expects us to do something. Not that our salvation depends on it, mind you, but someone else's might. Too many Christians believe that it is enough to simply “show up for the game.” But the contest isn't won – and neither are the lost - when Christians remain on the sidelines. James reminds us that Christians cannot merely posses faith; we must exercise it.

How about you? Do you just "hang around" at church, or are you making a difference? Does somebody need to throw a songbook at you to get you moving, or are you moved by the plight of the people around you?

Recently, over 51,000 Christians from all over North America gathered in more than 250 churches to learn how they could be more involved in their churches' ministries. They decided to do something for Christ. One does not have to attend a seminar to get involved in ministry, however. Joining this game merely requires leaving the bench. If you've been hanging around, perched in one spot, not involved in ministry, come and join the fray. I promise not to throw any hymnals.

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