When I was in 8th grade, I had a gig as a teacher in “Children’s Church,” which is where Christian parents send their kids so they won’t whine for the grape juice and little stale crackers that’s served in Big Church Communion.
Children’s Church was a sweet job if you could get it. All you had to do was study for the talk, write out the talk, and then stand up and teach the talHEY YOU STOP CLIMBING ON THAT WHAT ARE YOU INSANE?!?
One of my weekly challenges was to introduce a memorable object lesson that the kids could remember through the week and temporarily distract them from bonking each other on the head with a flannelgraph board. One 4th of July weekend, my memorable object lesson was a homemade firecracker. This was not just any firecracker. This was a firecracker made out of a paper towel roll that I painted red, put caps and authentic looking warning labels on either end, and placed a bona fide wick in the top that sparkled when it was lit.
You’re right…this was no firecracker. This was a stick of dynamite. And it was awesome.
The talk was based out of Matthew 23:27, where Jesus told the Pharisees that they looked good on the outside, but were dead on the inside (you can’t pull any punches with self-righteous second graders). And in what would be a defining moment in the history of object lessons, I was going to barricade the kids behind furniture, and then light this beautiful stick of dynamite and let it flash and pop and sparkle down, until it finally just puttered out.
(This is the point where I should mention that the brilliance of that object lesson was obscured by the fact that little Jon Bass ran and told his worship pastor daddy that I had lit a stick of dynamite and blown a hole in the wall of the choir room, and before I knew it I had a line of angry deacons ready to revoke my Children’s Church teacher’s license. But I digress.)
The lesson for the pharisaical second graders is the lesson for us all: we can look good on the outside. We can sparkle and pop. We can have all the outward appearances of someone who’s going to make a bang.
But we’re still a dud inside.
Duds happen when we fail to instill the disciplines necessary for growth. We avoid reading the Bible, we put off prayer, we don’t do life in community. Duds happen when we don’t cultivate an inner life that matches our outer life. Duds putter out. They leave us hollow.
The gospel is the antidote to a dud-deadened life. It’s no longer our failed attempts, but his finished work. It’s not our worthless acts, but his worthy sacrifice.
It’s Christ in us, the hope of our glory.