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Saturday, August 29, 2015


In my "Introduction to Baptism" post, found here, I eluded to the fact that I have a personal baptism story that is, perhaps, less than what I wish it was... or at least it used to be... until I started studying what baptism should be...

When it comes to symbols, there is a very awkward tension for me.  So much of what I really love to do is about the experience of it, and the more senses that can be engaged, the better. And yet, it is also really important to me to capture moments (often as pictures) in order to remember them and to even re-live them to a certain extent.  I think a lot of people fall into one category or the other.  There are the people who enjoy the experiences and there are those who document the moments.  I like to do both, and that often means that I need to participate in things multiple times to get them "just right".  I like having a second (or third... or fifty-seventh...) chance at things.

I am thinking about this a lot lately as I am deep in the vacation planning process.  Ride pictures might be the best example I can offer.  I really love roller coasters.  I am an adrenaline junkie.  This has been passed down to at least three of my five children, and I'm really hoping this next trip will confirm my suspicion that my littlest one is also going to be a "rider".  The clicking on the way up the hill, the realization that the drop is really much steeper than you'd imagined, the hope that your restraint is just a little bit too loose, because there is nothing quite like catching air, throwing your arms up at the last minute.  Come on... who doesn't love to fly?

This desire for thrills has rubbed off most noticeably on my oldest daughter.  She is all about the experience.  She couldn't care less about the picture at the bottom of the hill.  And as much as I love the experience, too, this drives me crazy!  I mean, what really happened if there is no photographic evidence?  Did anything happen?  How will you remember the experience?  On most rides, I know where the cameras will flash.  If I don't, I try to scout it out ahead of time.  And if the picture turns out blurry... or dark... or if someone's flailing arm is in my face... or the face of one of my family members... It's no big deal (ahem).  We just have to ride again.  And sometimes again.  And again.  Well, you get the point.  Oh, I want to live the moment, but I also want to own it.  But sometimes I think the owning casts a shadow on the experience. 

If you're still reading, I hope I haven't lost you.  We were talking about baptism, right?

I was baptized at age ten.  In the church tradition in which I grew up, you got baptized when you wanted to "join the church".  Which meant you could "take communion".  You had to "come forward" at the end of a Sunday morning service, and that was no easy task for a kid who spent most of her time trying to blend in with the walls.

There were classes about which I remember almost nothing except that I had to pick a Bible verse to recite at my baptism, and I picked John 3:16, and another kid in the class thought that was a really lame verse to pick, because everyone knows that one, and my choosing it probably meant that I didn't know any other Bible verses, and maybe I didn't even have one that was meaningful to my life.  That's not really what I would like to remember about the process leading up to my baptism, all these years later, but it is what I remember, nevertheless...

On the actual night of my baptism, we invited friends and family to come to the church, and I wore a frumpy dress under a baptismal robe, and I must have mumbled my way through John 3:16, after all, and you would think that with this many details stuck in my brain I could remember the actual moment of baptism, but honestly, I can't. 

Then I went home, and we had cake, and there were cards and gifts.  And I actually do have a picture to commemorate the party.  I look absolutely miserable in it, and you know, I mentioned the frumpy dress, right?  This is not something that you post on a blog.  I promise.  Neglecting to share the picture is not causing anyone to miss anything significant.

That's my baptismal narrative.  And I don't like it very much.  But, the thing about baptism is it's a onetime deal, so it's not like those roller coasters that you can ride again and again until you get the perfect shot... or even the perfect experience.

And yet... 

My experience does not negate the grace that God imparts in baptism.

Jesus' baptism is really cool.  I especially like how a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  I wonder if this is said at every baptism.  In that moment, are we declared children of God?  Children God loves?  Children with whom God is well pleased?

This has caused me to consider that it might not be the experience or the visual that has been a problem for me.  It's the audio.  When I was ten, and OK, even now, I have some degree of trouble turning down the noise all around me to hear the quiet words that affirm that I belong, not because of anything I have done, but because of what God has done.  And those are pretty important words to hear...  Definitely worth listening...


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Introduction to the Eucharist

Here's Nazarene Article of Faith #13...

XIII. The Lord’s Supper

13. We believe that the Memorial and Communion Supper instituted by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is essentially a New Testament sacrament, declarative of His sacrificial death, through the merits of which believers have life and salvation and promise of all spiritual blessings in Christ. It is distinctively for those who are prepared for reverent appreciation of its significance, and by it they show forth the Lord’s death till He come again. It being the Communion feast, only those who have faith in Christ and love for the saints should be called to participate therein.

(Exodus 12:1-14; Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; John 6:28-58; 1 Corinthians 10:14-21; 11:23-32)

Like baptism, there is no way to work through this very important topic in a reasonably sized blog post.  The Eucharist simply takes more time and space than this will allow, and, therefore, it will likely become a series of interrelated thoughts and ideas at some point, much like my current work regarding baptism.  For today, let's consider a few main points.

The Eucharist as a memorial... 

In Luke, Jesus does tell the disciples to do this... to take this cup and this bread... in remembrance of him.  The Eucharistic meal is a memorial.  And yet, I think we might lose sight of exactly what we are memorializing.  We say that this is a declaration of Christ's death, but we immediately turn to the benefits for believers, and I don't think we often take the time to consider the depth of the words of Jesus as he instructs us to partake in this meal, not simply as a reminder of life and salvation and spiritual blessings but as a reminder of his body and blood.  The Eucharist should first touch the depths of our beings that understand what it is to mourn, and yet we seem quick to move toward the celebration.

The Eucharist as a communion supper...

In an earlier guest post, found here, the idea of the Eucharist as unifying for the body of believers is explored.  I would encourage you to click over to that post and to consider how practicing this meal brings us together.

The Eucharist as a sacrament...

I'm struggling with the word "essentially" in our definition.  As Protestants, we generally recognize two sacraments, the Eucharist and Baptism.  If we're going to do that, let's really commit to it.  The Eucharist is not "essentially" a sacrament.  The Eucharist is a sacrament.  It is instituted by Jesus, there is an outward sign (the bread and wine... or juice), and grace is imparted through participation in the Eucharistic meal.  But it's this grace (or lack thereof) that is really bothering me most about our definition in the article of faith.  As Wesleyans, we believe in prevenient grace (how many times are we going to come back to this), and yet we seem to have made the Eucharist into an exclusive ceremony by declaring that "it is distinctively for those who are prepared for reverent appreciation of its significance... only (for) those who have faith in Christ and love for the saints..."

If this is a means of grace and we believe in prevenient grace, then there is no possible way we should ever exclude someone from the table.  Perhaps we should take a clue from Jesus who allowed even Judas to participate in the communion feast. 


Monday, August 24, 2015

Entertaining Angels

"I was a stranger and you invited me in..."

The world's not safe.  Deja vu.  I get it.  This is another one of those issues where I frequently take heat from both sides.  I used to be afraid of everything, and then one day, I just wasn't.  But it's interesting to note that even when I was afraid, God always seemed to kick in some courage and compassion when I needed it.  This is where the real life stories begin. 

  • Stories like the pregnant high school dropout who crashed on our couch for a couple of weeks, because she had nowhere else to go.

  • Or the sex offender who dropped by to play video games and ended up on his knees in front of our coffee table, surrendering his life to Jesus.

  • Or the drug addict who brought his family to our house once a week for dinner and whose children were being discipled by mine in the backyard, on the swingset.

We can't be isolationists if we want to be disciples.  It will never work.  Disciples disciple other people, and let's face it, we need to reach out to people who don't have anyone else.  This is not a very popular worldview, but it has occurred to me that it is quite possible to participate in everything a local church does and to be far more isolated than you might ever imagine.  I love the Church.  I really mean that.  But I also love the community that will never set foot in one of our traditional church buildings.  I'm not willing to sacrifice one for the other.  Either one.  You might want to consider whether you actually want to adopt that standard for yourself, though, because it will get you into all kinds of fantastic trouble.  Believe me.  I know.

Interestingly, entertaining strangers comes at a steep price and also brings with it unexpected blessings. 

"Do not forget to entertain strangers for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.  Remember those who are in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" (Hebrews 13:2-3, NIV, 1984).

Perhaps it is easy for me to remember those who are mistreated, because I, myself, am suffering, have suffered.  And with this comes a thought that someone else has shared with me in recent days.  We are the least of these.  Just think that through.  I'm not talking about our vast wealth compared to the majority of the world, but most of us have a narrative that includes suffering of some kind.  I have long since abandoned the band wagon of "everything happens for a reason" and "God is in control" platitudes, but what if we took our painful life experiences and shared them with others who are hurting?  What if we partnered with God to bring some reason to the suffering? 

I think of the story of Joseph often, and I am completely sold on the idea that God did not hope or will that Joseph would be abused by his brothers, sold into slavery, deceived, lied about, or imprisoned.  However, just because things happen that God doesn't want to happen does not mean that they cannot be redeemed.  As Joseph says, "you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people." (Genesis 15:20, TM).

What if we took all of our pain and allowed God to transform it into life for others?  For strangers?  I'm in...


Saturday, August 22, 2015

So, What Does God Do?

On Thursday, I began an exploration of baptism with a brief look at what the Church of the Nazarene article of faith, regarding baptism, has to say.  You can catch up on that post here.  My biggest concern about the article was that it didn't say much about the part God plays in baptism, and I think we're going to find it's rather essential, seeing as we view baptism as a sacrament.  As has been the case with so many of these Sacramental Saturday posts, today I turned to the Catholic Catechism to learn and share some additional perspective.  Here's what I found.

First, the Catholic Church is really serious about baptism.  I think this should probably be obvious, but this particular paragraph stood out to me as relatively astounding,

"Baptism is God's most beautiful and magnificent gift... We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift.  It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism, because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God's Lordship" (Kindle Location 1216). 

I know I need to tread lightly, but when I read this, I thought to myself, "I sure wish our article of faith said that."  Still, I found myself asking, what is it, exactly, that God does through baptism?  And maybe more specifically, what grace is this that is imparted?  It will probably come as no surprise that I really liked what the catechism had to say about this grace.  It is,

"sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:

- enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues;

- giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;

- allowing them to grow in goodness through moral virtues" (Kindle Location 12876).

Now, stay with me here.  The Catholic Church is very adamant about the need for further learning and growth in faith, especially in connection with infant baptism, but taking the above statement on its own merit, I think the Protestant Church would look at this and conclude that baptism is everything.  And yet I don't necessarily see us treating baptism with this kind of reverence.  It's something to think about.

There's so much more yet to explore here.  Soon.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Introduction to Baptism

This post probably should have happened first. 

I'm planning to dig in a little deeper, regarding baptism, for Sacramental Saturday.  For today, let's take a quick look at Article of Faith #12 and what the Church of the Nazarene has to say:

XII. Baptism

12. We believe that Christian baptism, commanded by our Lord, is a sacrament signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ, to be administered to believers and declarative of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and full purpose of obedience in holiness and righteousness.

Baptism being a symbol of the new covenant, young children may be baptized, upon request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training.

Baptism may be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, according to the choice of the applicant.

(Matthew 3:1-7; 28:16-20; Acts 2:37-41; 8:35-39; 10:44-48; 16:29-34; 19:1- 6; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-28; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:18-22)

Let's quickly review the qualifications we have for sacraments in the Protestant Church.

#1 Sacraments must be instituted by Jesus.  According to Scripture, and this definition, baptism meets this criteria.

#2 There must be an outward sign or symbol.  This is definitely the case with baptism, however we do it, which is flexible in the Church of the Nazarene (see paragraph 3).

#3 God imparts grace to us through the sacraments.  I'm going to go with, "Yes, that definitely happens in baptism," but I think our definition above is lacking when it comes to what God does in this sacrament.  It feels as if the general idea here is that baptism is only an outward sign, something that we do.

The line that troubled me a little bit is the one about us, "signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ".  I think the intent here was good, and I think this statement was made in an attempt to define what I feel is largely missing in my third point, above.  However, I still think it misses the mark a little bit.  If baptism is simply about us signifying and declaring our faith; I'm not sure how it differs from any other testimony we might give.  And yet, we have chosen to declare baptism a sacrament, which is pretty serious in the Protestant Church, if you think about it, since we only have two, and even the most sacramental among us don't often want to budge from that viewpoint.

Our stance on the baptism of infants and young children is also interesting.  I feel as if it states, rather plainly, that this is a symbol and not much (if anything) more.

I grew up in a different Protestant denomination that definitely viewed baptism as symbolic only.  I have often struggled with my own baptism because of that, but that is probably a story better told as this exploration of baptism progresses over the next few days.  In the Church of the Nazarene, I really do believe that, at least in theory, we believe that God extends grace to us, through baptism, but I don't think we've articulated this well in the articles.  I wonder what we might do to make baptism less about us and more about God.