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Baptism: A One-Time Event And A Constant Reminder

Buried with Christ in death; raised to walk in newness of life.

Many of us have either had this familiar mantra spoken directly to us, or have been around church (especially Baptist churches) long enough to hear it spoken over others. But unfortunately, time and familiarity can erode the effect such a powerful truth can have on our hearts.

As children we’re wired to remember everything; our minds are like sponges that soak in every detail — but somewhere along the way that sponge begins to leak. The information begins to seep out, and all of a sudden one day we can’t remember what we ate for lunch the day before. (I had two chicken sandwiches, by the way, so I’m not quite there yet.)

That’s why God built reminders into our faith — so that our minds don’t grow dull with the memory of his work in our lives, and our affections never get bored of sensing his glory.

However, the good thing for all of us is that it’s not important to remember what you ate yesterday. But it is of utmost value to remember spiritual truths and realities, especially when they have personal and practical implications. And God knows that our minds easily forget. That’s why he’s built reminders into our faith — so that our minds don’t grow dull with the memory of his work in our lives, and our affections never get bored of sensing his glory.

Baptism is one such reminder, but how? Getting baptized is the first step of a Christian’s obedience. In the New Testament and much of the history of the church, baptism immediately followed (or even initially proclaimed) a new believer’s faith. But unlike communion, which is regularly practiced, baptism is a one-time event. So how is baptism given to us as a constant reminder of the truth of Romans 6:3-4? That all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death, and just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we too are raised to walk in newness of life.

In our own baptism we proclaim to everyone, “That’s happened to me!” There’s usually excitement and celebration and a shot of spiritual adrenaline that accompanies our baptism. But over time that energy fades. We always remember our own baptism, but many of us don't get excited about it anymore. It doesn’t have to be that way though.

More than a little has been preached and written and shared about getting baptized if you never have been. But Christian, when was the last time you were exhorted to celebrate others being baptized and let it call to your remembrance your own baptism and its significance? In regular practice, the baptism of others should call back to our minds the reality that each of us has also participated in that same death and resurrection, that same cleansing from our sin, and all the joy and excitement that come with it. As we look on we should reflect on our own faith, and let the initial gratitude and zeal for God come rushing back.

This is why my faith is not just about me and God, and your faith is not just about you and God. Faith is a personal thing, but it’s not meant to be private. I need to be reminded of the joy I felt the day I got baptized. We all do, and every time we witness a baptism let’s remember our own, join in the celebration, and be reminded that we were dead and now we’re alive!  

 

REFLECTION

What do you remember about your own baptism? When you think about it, does it energize you?

If the power of baptism is not in the water or the act of being dunked, but in the truth it represents — why is it so important for Christians to participate in the actual event of being baptized?

If you’ve never been baptized, what’s stopping you?

If you have, what aspect of your faith can you celebrate as you remember your own public profession? Freedom from sin? New life? Eternal security? Something else?

For further reflection, read Romans 6:1-14.

The Church Is Full Of Messed Up People -- And We Should Love It

Have you ever wondered if the perfect church is out there?

Maybe you’ve tried a few different ones looking for it. Like a beautiful mythical creature, somewhere hides this unicorn church that always does everything right, believes everything right, and all the people are friendly, holy, and happy. Maybe you think you’ve found it. If you think you have, just wait; you simply haven't been there long enough — like more than five minutes.

Because the truth is, there is no perfect church. The church is a people. And as long as people sin, people make a mess of things — including the gathering together of the body of Christ. Some churches are better at loving and serving people. Some are better at putting together a well-ordered worship service. Some are better at singing or preaching or serving their community — but no church is perfect because people are not perfect.

The poster-child for messed-up churches is the church in Corinth. Reading though the Apostle Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians reveals that their church was riddled with division, sexual immorality, lawsuits against each other, idolatry, false teaching, and all kinds of sin.

And yet, in 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul describes the church as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Despite all their sin and every vile thing they were doing, Paul addressed them as a people made holy—set apart—in Christ. He affirmed that as the church, they were “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus.” They were saints, too, along with the Galatians, the Colossians, and even the Philippians, Paul’s favorite church. The Corinthian church, with all its problems, was identified with all other believers in the Lord, and in no way was it seen as inferior or second-rate because of the many issues in the church. Paul rebuked them for many of the things they were doing, and he had strong words for them — but he also boasted about them (2 Cor 9:2) and wrote to them, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor 12:15). 

As far as the east is from the west, the Corinthians were from the perfect church — but they were saints. They were sanctified in Christ, and Paul loved them dearly. Today the Church (and every local church that comprises it) is no different. Division. Immorality. False teaching. Idolatry. No church is perfect. In fact, most churches are just plain messed up — and still, we should love it.

And while often the church is not pretty either, still we’re encouraged to love our brothers and sisters through their mess because Jesus loves the church.

We don't love the sin. We don't love the heartache and the strife and the brokenness. But we love the church. Because the church is a people. We love the church because Jesus loves the church. He died for the church and one day he’ll return for the church. It’s a great mystery but the church is the body of Christ, so don't ever believe anyone if they tell you they love Jesus, but not the church. If you think that’s possible, try it out sometime. Tell someone close to you that you love them as a person, but you don't love their body. See what kind of response you get. Hint: it won’t be pretty.

And while often the church is not pretty either, still we’re encouraged to love our brothers and sisters through their mess because Jesus loves the church. He gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). Paul loved the church, and if he could have great pride even in the church at Corinth (2 Cor 7:4), we can have pride in the Church as well, flawed and imperfect as it may be. So stop looking for a perfect church. Let’s look at a perfect Christ, roll up our sleeves, and love the imperfect church.

 

REFLECTION

Why do we lament and stress about messiness in our churches? We know everyone sins—including ourselves. Why are we surprised by it?

The sin of the Corinthian church is well-documented. Considering all their sin, how can Paul speak so highly of them at times?

What comfort is there in reading of Paul’s affection for such a messed up church as the one in Corinth? What comfort is there in Paul’s calling them sanctified, and saints together with other believers?

What is one practical way to “love the church”? (Remember, church is a people.)

For further reflection, read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.

Those Three Little Words We All Hate To Hear

We need volunteers.

When you hear those words, if you can’t wait to respond—you’re an anomaly and this isn't for you. The rest of us, though, typically don't like volunteering. We cringe when we hear those three little words. Our minds go to our calendars first because that’s the easy way out. “What do I already have that day,” we ask ourselves as we search for an excuse. Once we realize the calendar is clear, we’ll settle for anything! “That’s not really my thing.” “I’ve had a long week so I’m just going to rest.” Or the best one, “God hasn’t called me to do that.”

Of course I don't do that, and you don’t either I’m sure. But some of us do. In fact, over 75% of us do, according to the most recent (September, 2015) data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; less than 25% of Americans give unpaid (volunteer) service to any organization. So during National Volunteer Week this year (April 23-29), our country celebrates the sacrificial service of volunteers everywhere—even though they only make up about a quarter of the population.

On the brighter side, within the church those numbers are usually not as low; they can’t afford to be for churches with much organized programming. In fact, according to our own analysis for our Annual Report last November, the number of people who volunteer in ministry at my church is closer to 40%! The old 80/20 rule (80% of the work is done by 20% of the people) doesn’t seem to apply here—and that’s something to celebrate. But we still have reason to pause. What about the other 60%? Why aren't they volunteering? I think there may be a few reasons besides simple busy-ness.

Maybe we, as pastors and teachers, have made a poor connection between volunteering andservice within the Body of Christ. While serving the Lord is not synonymous with volunteering in a local church, it’s at least something for Christians to consider. Think about it—if only 40% of my body is working, I’m in pretty bad shape. To be healthy, I need my whole body working! That’s an interesting thought when one of the Apostle Paul’s favorite metaphors for the church is a body; he uses it extensively in 1 Corinthians 12, as well as many other places in the New Testament. We all do different things and have different gifts, but we all work together for the health and sake of the whole. In other words, for the Body of Christ to be as healthy as it can be, it’s essential that everyone do their unique part.

But what if people don't know their unique part? What if more Christians don't volunteer in the church because they think they have nothing to offer? Perhaps church leaders haven’t properly led people to understand how God created every one of them with gifts and abilities and talents that can (and should!) be used for God’s glory. Sometimes it’s easy to connect our abilities to volunteer opportunities: if someone is a good teacher, singer, musician, or handyman, we can all think of easy ways to use those abilities. But what if someone is none of those things? What if you're just a great people person? Well, use that to make a good impression on new people to the church! What if you’re a talented artist? Use that to help design teaching or promotional materials. What if you’re a detail person or a great event organizer? Use that to help coordinate ministry events so they run more smoothly. Or, what if you’re quirky and obsessive compulsive like I am? Use that to do a little bit of everything since it’s impossible to ignore anything!

There is one thing that’s more powerful than our laziness, and it compels us to volunteer where and when we can: Christ-like love.

Perhaps worst of all, maybe more people don't volunteer because we simply haven't communi-cated the best purpose for serving. No, it’s not because you have to in order to be good enough for Jesus, or even because he needs you. It’s not to impress other people, and it’s not in order to belong. We know the first two from the Bible, and the other two from experience; acceptance and belonging are powerful motivators, but they usually don't win against our own selfish desires. But there is one thing that’s stronger than self-preservation, and it does motivate us to serve. There is one thing that’s more powerful than our laziness, and it compels us to volunteer where and when we can: Christ-like love. Serving as an expression of Christ-like love is satisfying and even joy-giving! It’s an easy yoke. It’s the only real purpose to volunteer at all. To serve. To love. Because after all, we want to be like Jesus. And he didn’t come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).

 

REFLECTION

Think about the last time you volunteered for something begrudgingly. How was your attitude? Did it fill you with joy or bitterness?

Contrast that with the last time you volunteered to do something you enjoy, or you’re really good at. How was your attitude that time? When you finished, were you encouraged or discouraged?

What gift or ability has God given you that’s not being used for him right now? Is there a place inyour community or in the church where your talents or personality could be used for God’s glory?

For further reflection, read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.

Renovate: A Helpful, Practical, Timely Book About Renewal

the right words + the right time = CHANGE

That's the formula that undergirds Léonce Crump, Jr's Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are. In this new book about cultural renewal, the author has the right words--about the gospel, race, social justice, and a "theology of place." But this book also comes at just the right time; issues of race and reconciliation dominate the news, social media, and conversation perhaps now more than they have in at least a generation or two. And if enough people digest the right words at such a ripe time as this, that's a recipe for the type of renewal the author is seeking.

However, this book is not only about race. At the bottom, this is a book about reflecting the glory of God, and how Christians and churches achieve that--especially through the actions of intentional Christians investing in their communities. In what I thought was the best part of the book, before giving six very practical and helpful ways to seek change, Léonce Crump, Jr, explains clearly--and practically--how cultures change:

through community, not heroic individuals. Renovation happens through networks of people who think critically about culture and seek out ways in which the gospel can be applied to their work or creativity, creatively. (p. 127)

Renovate has many strengths, and I would recommend it to anyone--especially other pastors who wish for their people to embrace their "sent-ness." By itself Chapter 4, "A Theology of Place," is worth the price of the book. The author has a clear passion for being intentional in the place to which you've been sent, as well as a pastoral concern to see Christians and churches take on the task of renewing their cities to the extent that race relations, politics, education, and all other areas are affected -- and that's a message we all need right now.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.

Would You Give Up All Restaurants If You Ate At One Bad One?

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I came across another one of those awesome "here's why people are really leaving you, church" blog posts earlier. The link featured a picture of a bald, pretty healthily-bearded dude--so I clicked it. Now, without getting into whether or not people can actually leave the capital-C Church (they can't by the way), I had a few thoughts on this particular author's reasons. The stereotypes and the supposed-to-be-shocking, in-your-face writing style made it hard to finish, but I pushed through and here are just a few of my own brief responses and thoughts about why people are leaving.

The author's first point is that Sundays are just a production now, and one that has "worn thin." People can be entertained anywhere and as long as the church is irrelevant on Tuesday morning when the stuff hits the fan, people won't stay. There's some truth in this one, but unfortunately it reveals more of a selfish attitude on the part of the worshiper. "I'm not getting anything out of this other than entertainment, so I'm gone." However, I don't think this is actually the reason anyone is leaving; if anything, churches have erred on the side of trying to be too "relevant" and they've watered the gospel--and the Bible--down to 5 Steps to a Better Marriage or similar. And that, I would say, is one of the real reasons people aren't sticking around.

Second, though, the author thinks the church's "dead tongue" is to blame for people leaving. We use big, churchy words that no one understands anymore. Instead, we should talk plainly about love, joy, and forgiveness. And we should! But not at the expense of meaning-filled words that have been used for hundreds (or about 2,000) years--biblical words like justification and sanctification. If I agreed with the author, I might actually be offended that he's given me so little credit to be able to understand theological words and themes. And now here comes the real reason some people are hitting the back doors: a lot of churches have already abandoned these big, churchy words! So where the author was concerned that churchy stuff is not making any real difference on a hard, ordinary Thursday afternoon, could it be that the church has failed to teach how intensely practical the doctrine of sanctification actually is?

So the author wants the church to dumb down its teaching and get away from big words and churchy doctrines--just teach something simple and practical. But then blames the church for being little more than flashy entertainment that doesn't really apply to everyday life? This is turning into quite the catch-22. 

His third, fourth, and fifth reasons include a false dichotomy about being "out there" reaching people instead of having a nice church building to actually do some ministry and teach and equip people (to go "out there" to do ministry), as well as doing too much fighting about trivial stuff like Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A while the rest of the world starves and burns. He ends with a long, guilt-inducing rant about everything that's wrong with the church, how unloving it is, how judgmental it is, and how the church should tolerate people who drink, have tattoos, and vote Democrat.

But don't be duped; just because it's on Facebook doesn't make it true. Are people leaving because once they come to church, they're told to stop sinning? Sure. But that's kind of a biblical thing--and most people don't like being told they need to stop doing some things they're doing that aren't honoring to God. Are people leaving churches because they're too shallow? Sure. But that might be a reason to find another church, not leave the church and quit going altogether. I didn't give up all restaurants because I ate at Applebee's one time and didn't like it.

There are good churches out there. Do we get in our own way sometimes? Sure. But if you come in (or write a blog) saying I need to accept you and your flaws, then you better be ready to accept me, mine, and ours. So be encouraged, church! Like most others, this most recent "why people are leaving the church" post was mostly based on stereotypes. Because the reality is that the church could be better at loving and discipling people--but there are lots of churches that love, disciple, teach, and shepherd people well. Lots of churches out there are involved and making a difference with the world's poor, neglected, enslaved, and abused. And there are probably some churches somewhere with some Democrats. Even Democrats with tattoos.

And at the end of the day, as long as Jesus has work for the church to do, the church will be around--so don't let anyone tell you the church is in trouble. Jesus came to crush the serpent's head, not the other way around!