Baptism: The Ace of Grace

Posted on August 24, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Relationships, Spiritual Growth, Theology | Tags: , |

If you’re into Swedish Rock or 90’s pop, then chances are you’ve memorized  “The Sign” by Ace of Base.  “I saw the sign, and it opened up my mind, I saw the sign…” Sorry, that will likely be in your head now.

At it’s core, that’s what baptism is for many Christians, including yours truly. A sign, not a Swedish Rock band, in case you were confused. When God gives us a covenant, he marks it with an external sign.  The sign of the old covenant was circumcision, and the sign of the new covenant is baptism:

Paul writes, “When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).

Christians are not set apart physically, instead we are differentiated from others by our faith in Christ. Baptism is a marker for this faith and a sign that points to a new life in Christ. Though the sign of the new covenant leaves no physical distinction, there are still outward indications a person has faith in Christ through their works (James 2:14-26).

I acknowledge, not everyone would agree that baptism is simply a sign. Some denominations even believe it is required for entry into paradise (bummer for the thief on the cross). Indeed, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding baptism because it’s something people take seriously, and rightly so. A red flag should go up when people don’t take committing (or recommitting) their life to Christ seriously. But I don’t think we should get so hung up on the details that we lose focus on what’s important, celebrating a brother or sister coming into the Church.

With that being said, this is my blog so I’m going to explain where I come down on the issue: baptism is a public statement indicating a faith in Christ and marking the beginning of a life in him.

Without rehashing the Protestant Reformation, I believe that faith in Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity and that it is only by faith that we are justified with God (John 3:16, Romans 3:22, Ephesians 2:8). Because baptism is a sign of this faith, my husband and I chose not to baptize our children, after all, they have no faith in Christ yet (or any concept of faith at all). We’re working on potty-training for now. We pray with every fiber of our beings that one day we will witness their testament to faith in him, but we believe that is their choice, not ours. Sprinkling them with water won’t change this.

That being said, there is biblical precedence for parents attesting that they will raise their children to love God and for dedicating children to the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:7). For that reason, we have chosen to dedicate our sons in front of our church so that our brothers and sisters can hold us accountable to raising them in the faith.

There are lessons I take from Christ’s baptism. Not only was he a man (rather than an infant), but he made a public declaration. The thing about public statements is that they have a way of holding you accountable (assuming of course your witnesses hold you accountable). For that reason, I think it’s important for baptisms, dedications, and weddings to be done publicly.

Secondly, when Jesus went down to the Jordan River, he was likely submerged by its waters rather than getting a little sprinkle on the forehead (the Greek for baptism actually means ‘to submerge’). I think there’s something symbolic about being completely washed by the waters, after all Christ takes away all our sins, not just a few. But I also contend this is not, and should not, be a sticking point of baptism.

So that’s it for my personal beliefs: a public statement of faith, preferably with a lot of water. I realize not everyone agrees with me, and I recognize some good arguments for the opposing views which I hope you will share in the comments.

If you’re exploring “the sign” for yourself or your children, I hope you take your decision seriously. After all, as some wise Swedes once said, “No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong.”

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Baptism: Biblical Waterboarding

Posted on August 19, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Spiritual Growth, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , |

As a person with swimming skills a step above the doggie paddle, I always had a mild heart attack anytime a friend dunked me in the pool. Even if it was 3 feet of water, panic always briefly gripped my heart. So, a few weeks ago when our church was baptizing people, I realized it’s a bit ironic I look forward to watching others get ‘dunked.’ And when you think about it, whether it’s a little sprinkle on the forehead for an infant or complete immersion, baptism is kind of a weird ritual. Why do we do it? Where did it come from?

I always assumed baptism was invented by a rugged bug-eating-camel hair-wearing Hebrew (i.e. John the Baptist) shortly before Christ’s ministry began. But you know what they say when you assume…Turns out the practice went back a bit farther than that.

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a gas station bathroom? That’s the feeling the Jews had about Gentiles (anyone that isn’t Hebrew). As such, when a Gentile coverts to Judaism, they have to be made clean in a ceremony called ‘proselyte baptism.’

Enter John the Baptist. The controversial thing about John was that he wasn’t just baptizing Gentiles – he was calling out the Jews too. He claimed the Messiah was coming and that even the Jews were unworthy to receive him  (Matthew 3:1-12).  To be made clean, they needed to repent and turn to God. Think about it as reverse water-boarding: you confess the Truth and then get the water treatment.

This of course raises the question – why would Jesus, a man without sin, need to be baptized? You could write a book on that topic, but in short, Christ had to submit the Law perfectly. By being baptized he was obeying a command from God’s prophet (John the Baptist) and setting an example for us to follow.

After Jesus rose, he told his followers to go make more disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).  Where as the baptisms John administered were in preparation for the Messiah, the baptism Christ commands us to do marks the beginning of a life following him. In him we are made clean and made new, not by water, but by Spirit (Matthew 3:11).Christians recognize, though we are not worthy to receive him, Christ bore our sins so that we could be made new, clean, and righteous before God which is signified through baptism.

You might be saying, “I get that baptism is important (after all it is commanded by a locust-eating man of the wilderness and God incarnate), but why do some churches dunk babies and others dunk adults? Can you go to heaven if you don’t get baptized?” In the next post, I will explain some of these differences and why my kids haven’t been baptized …yet.

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Don’t Wait for the Storm, Toss the Baggage Now

Posted on August 14, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Relationships, Spiritual Growth | Tags: , , , , , |

Our church is currently studying the book of Jonah, which is actually one of my favorite books. It’s not just because like every child of the 90s, I have a soft spot in my heart for whales (if that kid could train a killer whale, anyone can). The book of Jonah is great because it’s short, easy to understand and full of satire (obviously my favorite literary technique).

As I was reading through the first chapter, this verse stood out to me:

“Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship” (Jonah 1:5).

Just to refresh your memory, the book begins with the prophet Jonah running from God.  Jonah was commanded by God to warn the Assyrians living in Nineveh to repent or be destroyed. Historically speaking, the Assyrians were pagans; and not your tree-hugging, Green Peace types; they were the skinning people alive and washing them down with a nice Chianti. Naturally, Jonah was worried he would become man-stew or man-jerky, so hopped on a boat, and went as far as he could in the opposite direction (Tarshish is in modern-day Spain). Unfortunately, disobeying a direct order from God may induce hurricane force winds as a side effect. While the storm was raging, the non-Hebrew sailors began tossing things over board to lighten the load and avoid sinking.

Why do we wait until we’re in the middle of a storm to toss out our extra baggage? Though the sailors may have thrown over some valuable belongings, they would have kept the items that they needed for the trip, the things that were irreplaceable. Only those items that were needlessly occupying space and weight would have been abandoned (thus, Jonah had to go).

I think we’re all guilty of carrying around too much baggage. For some of us, the baggage is extraordinarily heavy and burdensome, possibly past mistakes, relationships, or life choices that are still weighing us down.

But baggage doesn’t always have to be one heavy load, it could just be a bunch of small stuff that adds up. I realized my ship had a few too many fillers in it, like endlessly scanning status updates on Facebook and being too interested in the news cycle. Neither of these are bad by themselves, but they aren’t exactly life-enhancing either.

Psalm 90:12 reads, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” Extra baggage demands time and energy that we too often take for granted. It keeps us from living life and loving others to the fullest. Life doesn’t employ the TSA to inappropriately grope you or screen your luggage to ensure you aren’t carrying something you shouldn’t be. Sadly, it usually takes a storm in our life for us to realize we’ve been hauling around too much.

What nonessential cargo are you guilty of storing? Is anything keeping you from connecting with others or connecting with God? Perhaps you just need to play a little baggage Tetris by setting priorities. But you might also realize there are few things you should probably toss overboard before a storm forces you to do so. But I’ll bet after a little time, you’ll find you don’t really miss that extra baggage anyways.

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Olympic “Lawn Care”

Posted on August 4, 2012. Filed under: Culture, In the News, Relationships, Spiritual Growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

What’s your favorite summer Olympic sport to watch? I’m pretty cliche enjoying gymnastics, swimming, and track. I know everyone says it, but what these people can do with their bodies is incredible. Obviously they’ve been given certain talents, but the dedication that they have to developing their skill is mind blowing. I just want to be able to consistently catch a frisbee.

This got me thinking about my lawn. Stick with me, this is going somewhere. The first thing I notice about a house is the lawn, which can tell you something about the tenant. For example, lawn gnomes usually indicate someone has an unhealthy fascination with Tolkien books. But if it’s freshly cut, edges are trim and clippings have been blown away, someone takes a lot of pride in their work. Like olympic athletes, a person who takes care of their lawn dedicates their time and energy for a higher purpose.

Ok, so not exactly the same thing. But both do require time and dedication to achieve the maximum desired outcome. In fact, almost everything in life is like this. Going to the best college requires dedication throughout high school.  Getting promoted means dedication in the workforce. Having a great marriage means dedication in your relationship.  In effect, you reap what you sow, whether its your garden or throwing a javelin.

The Bible says, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (Galatians 6:7-8).

Decay and death? Isn’t that a bit too extreme? Not really when you think about it. Why do marriages end in divorce?  Why are so many of us carrying a few too many pounds? Why do we go through highs and lows in our walk with God? Because we allow it to happen.

Whether it’s relationships, our health or our careers, things falter and eventually ‘die’ because without willful thought, we’re always going to turn inward, seeking to gratify ourselves. We naturally neglect what we shouldn’t, letting life simply happen to us and to our relationships. Instead, we need to invest time and resources to that which matters most. Take time to pray. Have an uninterrupted conversation with your friend. Read a book on improving your marriage even if it’s going great. Practice hand-eye coordination with your toddler…

Craig Groeschel wrote, “When the grass is greener on the other side, it’s time to start watering your lawn.”  The next time you’re admiring an athlete’s skills, another couple’s intimacy or maybe just their lawn, ask yourself, “Am I sowing what I expect to reap? Is it time I water my lawn?”

 

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Why I’ll Be Getting A Rock For My Anniversary

Posted on August 1, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Relationships, Spiritual Growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

This time of year is very special to me or a few reasons. My husband and I were married August 4th, our son was born August 11th (no, not the same year), but more importantly for my readers, I started The Renewed Way on August 1st last year. It’s our one-year anniversary! And you know what that means – its time for a rock. A really, really big one.

Unfortunately for the men, rocks are biblical gifts. Unfortunately for the women, I’m not talking about diamonds. I’m talking about the sedimentary kind (the most emotional of the 3 types of rocks).

After Moses died, Joshua led the Hebrews into the land of Canaan, but before doing so had to cross the Jordan River (a mile wide in flood stage at the time). Miraculously, God dried up the river to let the Hebrews pass on dry land. While God seems to be a fan of water, it appears He’s not so much a fan of getting wet. When everyone had finished crossing, the Lord commanded one man from each of the 12 tribes pick up a stone from the river bed and place it where the Hebrews camped that night. So Joshua told his 12 leaders:

“Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:4-7).

God wants us to commemorate the important events in our lives, and it would appear marking these events with inanimate objects as a reminder is biblical (provided you aren’t financing it, of course). We are to share the celebration with others so they too know how awesome the achievement is. But most importantly, we need to remember that the achievement isn’t about you. It’s about your wife. But seriously, it’s about God and what He has done in your life.

Notice Joshua didn’t say, “Yeah these stones are to remind your kids that I was an awesome general” or “These are to reaffirm that I’m still committed to sharing the next X years with you” or “Here’s a nice stone to buy me some wiggle room for a little while.” He gave all attribution, rightly so, to God and the miraculous work that He had done. Anniversaries shouldn’t be about all that we’ve accomplished over a period of time; they should be about all that God has accomplished in our lives.

The Lord has blessed me with 5 years of marriage to an amazing husband and through this relationship He has taught me a bit about patience, faithfulness and of course, love. Through motherhood, He has given me a whole new appreciation for patience, gentleness, and certainly plenty of joy (Galatians 5:22-23).

As for this blog, over the past year God has blessed me more than I ever could have imagined, and it’s my prayer that some of my posts and maybe a few of my bad jokes have blessed you as well.

PS – Mike, you can get me a rock for our anniversary as long as it’s one so big you have to carry it on your shoulders.

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Listen Up!

Posted on July 22, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Spiritual Growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

When I was in elementary school, I got pegged to train in ‘Peer Mediation.’ It was a program where students who were having an argument of some type could settle their disputes by attending (usually by adult threat of force) a mediation session counseled by two unbiased (in theory) students. If it sounds nerdy, that’s because it was from the same teachers that thought DARE would keep kids from trying drugs. But one thing they hammered in training was this: listen. Conversations will naturally produce talking, but you have to actively listen to the other party if you want a relationship.

I’d say most of us want a relationship with God, but how many of us actively listen to Him? Probably not many, but why is that?

John 10:27 says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” One reason we don’t listen to God might be because we don’t know what God ‘sounds’ like. When we think of God talking, I think most of us return to the story of Moses talking with the bush that was on fire but did not burn. I also think about Jacob wrestling with God – I would imagine it’s pretty easy to listen to God when he’s putting you in an arm bar. But I came across this verse this week that really spoke to me:

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

Too often I think we’re focused on dodging falling boulders, putting out fires, or as my husband would say, playing whack-a-mole with the alligator closest to the boat. As a result, we never tune out life’s cacophony to hear what we claim we want to hear and certainly what we need to hear.

The other reason I think we don’t hear God: we’re too busy talking to Him. My pastor recently said that he spends 95% of his prayer time just listening…Obviously, he’s a man. I think it’s difficult for anyone to just listen, but extra hard for a woman. I read once that men on average use 7,000 words a day while women use 21,000. Sounds about right.

It’s easy to become too focused on telling God all about my needs, desires, even thanking Him for what He has provided me. As a result, I forget there’s someone else I need to yield the conversation to. I actually wondered, would God ever try to interrupt me if He had something He needed to say? Then it occurred me, it’s more likely that I’ve interrupted Him when there was something He wanted to say. There’s a sobering thought for how I’ve treated the creator of the universe.

So, who would have thought after all this time that my Peer Mediation training would turn out to be useful and remind me I need to focus a little more on listening in order to grow my relationship with God. I may not get to the 95% point, but at least I’ll be more successful than DARE – will you?

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Who Do You Have A Friend In?

Posted on July 15, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Cover of "Toy Story: An Original Walt Dis...

Cover via Amazon

My nearly 2-year-old son has fallen in love with  “Toy Story.” I’m thankful that the kid has good taste, considering I’ll probably be watching it a lot over the next few years. There’s great characters, an original story line, (clean) adult humor, and pretty catchy tunes. I’ve actually had “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” in my head for the better part of a week now, which got me thinking, who should I have a friend in?

Friends are interesting creatures. The meaning of the word ‘friend’ has always been somewhat ambiguous. There’s your ‘friends’ that you’re friendly with but don’t really know too well. Then there’s the ‘just friends,’ which is usually someone of the opposite sex that you want to be more than friends with. Or the ‘friend’ that sat three rows behind you in Anthropology and you didn’t even know their name until they ‘friended’ you on Facebook. And then there’s the people that genuinely enrich your life.  All of these people are defined as ‘friends.’

But what does a biblical friendship look like? How do we know who we should be friendly with and who should be our companions in life?

We intrinsically know that friends are people you enjoy spending time with and usually share something in common with, like a love of a sports team or where you went to school together. The books of Amos echoes this: “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3). Yet, Amos takes our basic understanding of friendship to the next level by suggesting friends need to have their destination and the way they are getting there in common.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I don’t think Amos meant my girlfriend and I need to agree on how we get to frozen yogurt shop, though that’s also important. Friends communicate and agree on where they want to go in life and equally important, how they plan to get there.

Most people don’t give too much consideration to where they want to be or how they are getting there. But Christians have a friendly tour guide and road map, which give us direction. Christ himself laid out who his BFFs were when he said, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14).

While part of me wants to pretend a friend is someone who does whatever I command, I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus meant here. Instead, his words lead me to believe a true friend is someone who is doing will of our Father, someone who confides in and knows Him. I realized, a friend is someone who brings you closer to your final destination, being with God.

Look at some of the best examples of friendship in the Bible: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naoami, Elisha and Elija, Balaam and his donkey. In each of them, both parties knew they wanted to follow God by obeying his words. Through assassination attempts, deaths of loved ones, and other life trials, these friendships endured because these people (and animal) weren’t focussed on pleasing themselves or even the other person. Rather, they were focussed on God.

This may sound like a simple concept, not too many of us are friends with murderers. But it can be difficult to sever relationships, platonic or romantic, with people who drive us from God rather than bring us closer to Him. We might even be tempted to think God ‘placed them in our lives.’ But verses like 2 Corinthians 6:14 and 1 John 2:15 lead me to question if God would want me to confide in someone who doesn’t agree on my life’s route or destination.

I’m blessed to have the friends who will ensure I check myself befo’ I wreck myself  (Proverbs 27:17). It’s my prayer that you’ll take the time to reflect on the relationships you surround yourself with to ensure they are drawing you closer to your destination. Hopefully, these are the people who will be with you from now to infinity and beyond.

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Pause for Feedback

Posted on February 19, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Economics, Government | Tags: , , , |

English: U-Haul van being refueled on the Rout...

Image via Wikipedia

As some of you know, right now I’m in the process of transitioning to a bigger home to accommodate our expanding family. While I’d love to sit and write a moving post on what the Bible has to say about Uhaul, I’d rather take this opportunity to ask my readers to provide some feedback and guidance on what they’d like to read more about. Feel free to take the following poll or just ‘comment.’ Thanks everyone, and I’ll be back next week.

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If We Only Had a Brain

Posted on February 5, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Last week, I tried to illustrate that I was guilty of putting faith in something I knew very little about. But I’m not so sure that (my lack of) thinking is reserved for the secular world alone. Do Christians today focus too much on how we feel?  Do we rely too much on heart-felt experiences to guide our ‘faith’? Are we just trying to bypass the mind and  fulfill the emotional needs of our hearts?

Obviously, the heart is important because we generally won’t do something we feel is wrong (Proverbs 4:23). But scripture also warns us of the importance of using our head.

Some might be familiar with the Shema, probably the most important prayer in Judaism, which is found in the book of Deuteronomy (Deut 6:4-9). This was the prayer that baby Jesus probably said when he went to bed. While it’s content is enough for another post, it is important to note that the Lord calls the Hebrews to continually think about His words or as He said, “bind them on your foreheads” (some took this a little too literal). God tells us that we should contemplate His words each day and use it, not our feelings, to purposefully guiding our actions.

What happens when we just ignore the Bible (or remain ignorant on its content)? The New Testament warns that if we do not “retain the knowledge of God,” we become corrupt, and give into our sinful nature (Romans 1:28). Eventually, our character becomes schizophrenic as we preach one lifestyle and live another (James 1:8). This is probably one reason why the world has negative opinions about us, sometimes we’re hypocrites.

Paul wrote, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5). Here, Paul wasn’t warning that our heart would deceive us, but that our mind would fall under attack from deceivers (which are inside the Church as well). Christians are  called to fight false arguments that keep us from God. While some arguments might be obvious, the majority of them aren’t. The lies we give into are the ones we are either are not aware of because they are subtle or they are the ones we want to believe (Proverbs 22:3Romans 16:17-18).

So, how do we defend ourselves in the battle of wits? Certainly not by shutting off our mind. God wants us to use our heads as He commanded us to do so (Deut 6:8). He doesn’t want us to become the stereotypical ‘blind-faith’ Christian that feels our way through life, which as we see inevitably leads us to sin. Instead, we are called to renewed our mind (wow, that would be a good name for a blog…) and become purposeful about how we think (Romans 12:2).

Inevitably, this all means Christians have to spend time reading, learning about, studying, and memorizing scriptures. We can’t claim to love God if we don’t take the time to know Him and what He is telling us. It’s His words, not our heart, that will show us His perfect will (Matt 15:19). After all, as a famous scarecrow once said, if your “head’s all full of stuff in’, your heart’s all full of pain.”

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