baptism

To Celebrate Pentecost

 

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Do you know what it is to have to lie to your son… because you’re afraid to let him see who you really are?

We went to Jerusalem for Passover. You should have seen it. Sarah kept telling me to calm down. But I couldn’t help it. It was the first time going since she gave birth to Levi. Our son. He was only a few months old. I know, I know, we didn’t have to take him yet. She kept telling me he was too little. “Benjamin, calm down!” But I didn’t listen. This was my son, and I got to show him Passover! I insisted on carrying him most of the way. My arms would carry my son to Jerusalem! We got to Jerusalem and visited my uncle’s home, where we’d be staying. Uncle David.

I took little Levi out to pick out the lamb. The one we’d sacrifice and remember the first Passover. So we’d remember the lamb that was sacrificed so that our ancestors could live. The lamb that died instead of them. And little Levi… you should have seen his smiles. He loved all those lambs. The priests frowned that I brought a son so young, but I was so excited. I held Levi and took his little hand and placed it on the lamb’s head.

And Passover night – the first Passover, you know, those of us from the country celebrated a few days before everyone in the city just so there was room for everyone! – we ate the meal, just like my father did, and his father. And now I got to teach my son. Sarah told me he wouldn’t understand, but I didn’t care. And just like always, we opened the door to see if Elijah was there. We opened the door to find out if this year, if maybe this year, the one God promised was here, if the Christ was here to free us from slavery again. And that Passover night… it was golden.

But the next day. The next day… there was some sort of uproar in the city. I left Levi with Sarah and went with David to find out what was going on. My arms felt empty without him. I found myself outside the Roman governor’s palace. He presented a man – a man already badly beaten – and shouted. I couldn’t hear over the roar of the crowd. But a man next to me – a priest – he told me what was going on. This beaten man was Jesus from Nazareth. I’d heard of him, of course – who hadn’t? They said he did miracles, like Elijah did long ago. But then my neighbor said: “He says he’s equal with God.” (more…)

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Sing the Impossible

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Jesus pointed. “You need to be better than them.”

And the people looked. Better than them? No way. Impossible.

But Jesus didn’t stutter. “Unless you’re better than them, there’s no way you can enter the kingdom of heaven. Unless your righteousness surpasses theirs, you have not a chance.”

No way. Impossible. Who could be better than a Pharisee? They always helped the poor. They were always memorizing the Bible. They were kind people!

And it’s still true today. Unless our righteousness surpasses theirs… we don’t stand a chance. (more…)

And God Said, “You are mine.”

Water. Jesus’s promise. New life. Adoption into God’s family. Just like that.

Last Sunday I got to baptize a young woman. This past Thursday, I got to baptize two young men and witness a third be baptized.

How cool is that?

You might remember Dilemma. Well, it’s still dilemma’ed, because the girl in question wasn’t there Thursday night, when all this went down. The teen center is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so… well, we may have to address this again next week. But now we have a plan.

We’re going to treat her like an adult and let her have the final say. We will emphasize that she still needs to respect her mom, and it would be best if she was responsible and tell her mom what happened. At the very least, she needs to be an adult and take responsibility for her actions.

Yet, if this is what she wants… good. We will share with her the same blessings we have!

But I want to back up to Thursday. At the beginning of the teen center, the director pulled aside a few young men that he knew were interested in baptism and asked if they wanted it that night. When they replied in the affirmative, our plan rolled into action.

Five o’clock: the normal time for their Bible study. I joined them. The director walked through what baptism is, who should have it, the blessings that it brings. Like normal, the teens talked through the bulk of the thing and showed little outward respect. Yet, when it was time to do some back-and-forth questions and answers, they knew what was going on. They had been paying attention.

Five minute break. Then, upstairs into the sanctuary. I had filled the font with warm water. I’d turned on the sanctuary lights. I lit the altar candles and the paschal candle.

The what? (more…)

…it’s a baby. Yep.

My wife gave birth to our third child this morning. Apparently it’s a big deal.

Now, I love this kid. He’s awesome. He’s a blessing given by God, and it’s a blast to see him lying right over there while I’m typing this in the hospital. He’s my third, though, so I’m familiar with all this. Yes, still a blessing. Yes, I need to remember how small and fragile these kids are when they’re born. But I’ve been this route a few times before.

I expect close friends and family to be happy with us. It’s no surprise that grandmas and grandpas and close family are celebrating. We’ve done this before. Again, I know what to expect.

This is the first time we’ve had a child while I was a pastor, though. And… well, the excitement of the congregation is a little overwhelming. So many congratulations and wondering when we can visits and offering to helps and so on and so on… and it’s hard for me to figure out what I “should” say yes to and what being a good husband and father necessitates me saying “no.” We’ve had such an outpouring of generosity — for instance, people have fought to take care of our other children while we’re in the hospital. It’s a bit of a balancing act to not offend anyone!  (more…)

“I don’t have the qualifications necessary to untie a shoe.”

Mark 1:4-11 4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

(more…)

“Everyone, this is Vanessa.”

Sunday I had the extreme honor of administering a baptism. I got to be the one to hand over the adoption certificate as God took another child into his family.

Wow!

I followed the rite straight out of Christian Worship, my church body’s hymnal. It’s very straightforward and repeats the promises straight from Scripture. It communicates God’s Word effectively. And, hey, ain’t nothin’ more powerful than God’s Word! And when it’s combined with water, according to the promise of God, it is effective in creating faith in the hearts of infants.

Following the rite, I marked a cross on the infant’s head and heart, to mark her as a redeemed child of Christ. She was sleeping. And then, the water. As I poured the water over her head and spoke those amazing words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” — she woke up. But no crying she made! And as I blessed her following the water, her bright blue eyes locked on mine. I spoke those words of blessing, and she watched me and listened.

And then I took the infant from her mother. (So you know, for safety’s sake, I have changed the child’s name for this post.) I held her so the congregation could see… and I walked down the center aisle of the church slowly, so every row of peopel could see that little baby. “Everyone, this is Vanessa. She’s your little sister. Just like Jesus loved you and died for your sins, Jesus loved Vanessa and died for her sins, too. And now she’s a member of your family. Treat her like the little sister she is. Watch out for her. Love her. Encourage her. She’s a member of our family now.”

And that’s when I had completed my walk through the church and made it to the front again. I looked down at the infant’s face. “Vanessa, this is everyone. We’re your brothers and sisters now. We love you. Welcome to the family. Welcome home.”

Welcome to the family, Vanessa. May God keep you in your baptismal grace all the days of your life, until he takes you to your true and final home.