Baptism: The Who, What, When, Where and Why, Why, Why

I’m going to let you in on a personal battle I’ve been having since my children were born:

To baptize or not to baptize?

See, Andrew and I are not the kind of people to do something religiously just because it “seems right”. We have to understand the ins and outs, the whys, why nots, who said it, why did they say it, who did they say it to, what’s the point, etc. In short, we need to understand the when, where, why, why, why and how of everything.

Sometimes I get pretty annoyed because this need for understanding makes decisions much more difficult. If I’m having this inner struggle over baptizing my children, the easy answer would be just to do it and not have to worry about it anymore, right? By not doing it, I still have to wonder if I “should be” doing it.

This is an excerpt of an email I recently sent to Quest’s founding pastor, Mike Hartzheim:

I’m still hung up on baptism. I think baptism is just a “nice thing” people do, symbolic of parents committing their children to Christ, something society expects of “good Christians”. Andrew and I are raising Livy and Ryan as the children of God they have been since birth– without the process of baptism having occurred. They already are God’s children, born into God’s family, just like everyone else. We’ll raise them to see the beauty, worth and responsibility in that, hopefully not turning away from their roles as children of God when they get older. So, I still don’t understand the point of baptism. Do you think it’s necessary?  (necessary for what… to “enter Heaven”? To be God’s child? To have a relationship with God?)

This is the great thing about Mike and Quest in general. When founded, Quest wrote core values and one of them reads: Following Jesus is a growing experience.  Mike’s first paragraph in response to my email questioning one of the basics of Christianity was, “Lots of good questions. I’m glad you continue to struggle with what it means to follow Jesus. It is a life-long process… we never stop growing and learning.”

Isn’t that great? I expected nothing different, but it still relieves me every time I remember that Quest is the perfect place for imperfect people. I mean, come on, I work for Quest, but I certainly don’t have it all figured out and never, ever will.  And that’s OK!  In fact, that’s what we are all about! If we don’t question, we can’t grow.  No one wants to be spoon fed anything because there’s just no value in that. Tell me what I have to believe and I’ll run for the hills, but allow me to do my own investigating and come to my own conclusions and I’m here to stay. Quest allows me to question Christianity and find my own answers after a lot thinking, praying, discussing and researching. I love it.

Mike went on to write:

The answer to the question, “is baptism necessary?” depends on what you mean both by “baptism” and “necessary”.

Is this a religion question (what are the “rules”?) or a relationship question (what does baptism have to do with loving God and/or neighbor?)? Is baptism simply symbolic (something we do to demonstrate to God our “commitment”) or is Goddoing” something through baptism?

How you answer these questions influences how you answer the question about whether or not baptism is “necessary” and “the point of baptism” (what “benefits” come with baptism). I can share with you how I answer these questions. The more important thing is, “How do you answer these questions?”

Hmmmm, how do I answer these questions? I do not do anything in my faith life based on “rules”, so I wouldn’t take a rules-based, religious approach to baptism. For me, Christianity boils down to relationships with God and others. I didn’t realize it before, but based on Mike’s response, I must have actually been asking what baptism has to do with loving God and our neighbor. As far as whether baptism is something we do to demonstrate to God our commitment to Him, or something God does through baptism, well, I wasn’t so sure yet.

After I had some time to digest this and read the scripture passages he referenced in the email, Mike followed up with a second email.

Micah,

Thought I’d add some to what I said yesterday now that you (hopefully) have had a chance to read and reflect on those Scripture passages I mentioned in the earlier email.

Do I believe baptism is “necessary.” Throughout history, the Church has answered that question with a resounding  “Yes.” Some Christians see it as a “requirement” (you must make a public profession– something we do for God) and others see it as a “sacrament” (something God does for us).  I see it from the sacramental approach.

Is baptism necessary? Yes, but not because we have to (it somehow “saves” us) but because we want to because God gives us something tangible to cling to and recall God’s promise in Jesus. The focus is on what God is doing… it is not a one-time event (although we physically baptize only once), it’s an on-going, daily reminder of God’s presence, promises and power… a daily dying to self and living for Christ.

In its religious sense, baptism means “to identify” or “to be made one with”. It refers to the act of identifying one thing with another thing in such a way that its nature or character is changed, or it represents the idea that a real change has already taken place.

As a reference to identification, “baptize” means to place a person (or thing) into a new environment, or into union with some one or something else, so as to alter his (its) condition or relationship to the previous environment.

Having said all this, does that make what you and Andrew are doing as you raise your children wrong? Not at all. You (and your whole family) are God’s children. Someday you (or they) may want to be baptized. If and when that day comes, I will be glad to assist in any way I can.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Ah, just want I wanted, right? Mike’s beliefs and opinions backed up by scriptural and scholarly evidence, yet opened-ended enough for me to formulate my own beliefs and opinions.

Just what I wanted and just what I didn’t want. See what I mean? It’s difficult to not just accept what educated people tell you as personal truth. I have been mulling over this information for a few weeks now and came to a conclusion (at least for now) when sweet baby Aidan was baptized last Sunday.

In my own words, baptism is a spiritual event that allows us to look back and gain strength and courage from the act of being physically identified as God’s child. Through baptism, we were born into new life. Mike later told me, “The baptism water is just plain water, but when we apply it with God’s promises, it becomes a life-giving event.” Jesus became all that we are so that we may become all that He is.  He became our sin so that we may become his righteousness. Though we only physically baptize once, it is actually a daily process. Baptism is a daily dying to self and living for Christ.

Are we all God’s children already? Yes.

Is baptism a necessary part of the Christian life for rules-based reasons? No.

Can we have a relationship with God without being baptized? Yes.

Is God with us through difficult times without being baptized? Yes.

Does baptism provide us with a tangible event to look back on and cling to when we need the reassurance that we are God’s child, identified by Him and called to live a life filled with His power, presence and promise? YES!

And so, sweet Aidan, I loved being a part of your baptism. You have been physically and spiritually identified as a child of God, born into a life full of the promise of Christ. Look back on this day and know with certainty that God is in you and with you, promising great things for you forever. We love you!

(These are only my personal thoughts, of course. I’d love to read your thoughts on baptism. Please leave a comment explaining what it means to you.)

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We Have Work To Do, Guys

Thankfulness.

I’m sure you’ve thought about what you’re thankful for this past week, having just celebrated Thanksgiving. Maybe it was just for a passing second or maybe you pondered your blessings for a while.

Corey talked a bit on Sunday about all that we have to be thankful for. Of course the list is long and wonderful to think about, but our responsibility goes beyond just counting our blessings.

I’ve been talking about my kids quite a bit on here lately and I think it’s because my oldest is about to turn 4. She’s experiencing aspects of the world without me and, to be honest, it kinda freaks me out! She’s learning things that I haven’t taught her. For instance, yesterday she came home from preschool, climbed in her chair for lunch and promptly said, “Mom, corn is stupid.”

Caught off guard, I told her we don’t say “stupid” and she replied, ever-so-innocently, “But, Mrs H said we don’t say ‘stupid’ in the classroom and I’m at home now!”

Ah, kids are so literal. Sometimes it’s a blessing to see things black and white like that, but sometimes we need to dig a bit further. As parents, not only do we teach and lead our kids, we also have to get on their level and figure out what they’re getting from the world. What lessons have we explained very well (in our own opinions) that our kids have understood completely incorrectly? Like with Livy, she thought it was perfectly fine to say “stupid” anywhere except the classroom. So black and white. Thankfully this small error was realized quickly, but I sometimes panic wondering what other things she has assumed so simply!

I’ve written a letter to my children with my thoughts on what I hope will be their upbringing in a nutshell and I thought I’d share it with you here.

Dear Livy and Ryan,

You, my sweet children, are beautiful gifts from God. You are beautiful in every sense of the word, but mostly you have the most innocent and open hearts I have ever seen.

Ryan, being barely one, we haven’t seen a lot of your personality traits yet, but do know you love life. You greet every new experience with eager anticipation. Your excitement for life is contagious and I hope you keep that forever. You have taught me what it means to truly “forgive and forget” as you instantly pick yourself up from a let-down and carry on with life, happy as ever. There’s serious truth in that ability to forgive, Ryan. You know, when you forgive someone, you are freeing yourself from the negative feelings tying you down. You free yourself to live and be a shining example of love to the world. Keep that up, buddy. Keep inspiring me to do the same.

Livy girl, you are a wonder to behold. Being that you are getting older, your true characteristics are showing and let me just say that you take my breath away. Really. You are so compassionate, so honest, so kind. I want to be like you, Liv. You are able to find wonder in the tiniest of moments. You find joy in the simplest activities and you find ways to show love at the most necessary times. I have learned so much from you, but you have particularly taught me the art of being content with being together.

Thank you, my loves, for being so absolutely wonderful.

I want you to know how thankful I am for you. Do you know what that means? That means I recognize what a blessing you are to my life. I don’t know where I’d be without you! But, thankfulness goes beyond just thinking about blessings. You see, thankfulness comes with a call to action.

I’m thankful for all that we have and know other people have far less blessings than we do. That means we have work to do, guys. We are blessed to be a blessing. If there’s one lesson in your entire childhood that I want you to remember, it’s that you’re blessed to be a blessing.

You, Livy and Ryan, have so much to be thankful for, so many reasons you are blessed. Your job is to pass on those blessings. Help others, love others, smile at strangers, donate to causes, support what you believe in. I know you will do all of that and more.

Being blessed is a big responsibility. Think about what you’re thankful for every day and figure out what you are gonna do with those blessings.

I’m so thankful you’ve given me the opportunity to realize what being thankful truly means. It’s more than counting my blessings, it’s pouring my blessings out for others.

I’ll love you always and forever.

Mom

 

Where Did It Come From?

We’re halfway through our series “Making Sense of Scripture” and from last week, if your brain didn’t melt trying to follow the post, you remember that the Bible, as the Word of God, points us to Jesus.

We discussed the Bible being like the manger, as Martin Luther said, having a few crooked nails and a few warped boards, but holding the perfect Christ.

I love this analogy. It gives me so much hope!  I mean, think about it– despite being swaddled in a manger, smelly, dusty, cold, and wobbly, Christ still did his thing.

and by “thing” I mean, you know, everything.

Do you see where my hope comes from in this? Isn’t it possible that God can still do his thing despite the vessels He now has to work with?  (ahem, us.)

Despite our flaws, our mistakes, our human-ness, God will still do his thing.  He will use us to accomplish his will.

Are you up for that?

Let’s come back to that question in a minute and get back to the first question I asked, where did the Bible come from?

The answer is two-fold. On one hand, the Bible is God’s book, through which God accomplishes divine purposes. This book points us to Jesus, the Lord and Savior of all creation. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible points us to Jesus.

On the other hand, the Bible is a very human book, written by inspired witnesses in a particular time, to a particular people, and for a particular purpose. The Bible is the gathered writings of ordinary people just like you and me who were so gripped by their experience of God that they had to share it with others.

In its human sense, the Bible is the faithful confession of ordinary people of their extraordinary experience of God.

In its divine sense, God used these confessions of faith to draw people to Him.

Divine and human, both.

That’s what the Bible is. That’s where the Bible comes from. God worked through humans, despite our flaws, to create a book that leads us to Him.

and you know what? He’s still doing it. He’s still working through humans to lead us to Him.

Back to that second question I asked earlier, are you up for that?

I’ve mentioned Bill Hybels’ book Just Walk Across the Room before. Despite how much it intrigues me, I don’t find time to read it often. My latest reading included something that I have to share, related to being open to God using us for His will.

Hybel writes,

I realize some of you believe that unless the plan of salvation gets explained, it’s been an unsuccessful conversation, spiritually speaking. And some of you probably put yourselves through an exhaustive self-deprecation routine unless you extend an invitation to your church each time God opens an evangelistic door. Still others might say that everything is A-OK on your evangelistic value meter as long as you give your personal testimony- all four volumes of it- at every opportunity.

This begs the question, who are we working for here? When sharing the love of Christ with others, are we doing it for our own personal satisfaction or are we doing it for God?

If you are sharing your testimony, inviting people to church and explaining the plan of salvation because you feel it tips the scale more toward the right, adding more weight on the “good deeds” end of the spectrum, you’ve got the wrong idea.

No matter how much we do, we will never be good enough for God. But, He didn’t leave us without hope! Jesus died and so paid for every bad deed we will ever do. We’ll spend eternity with Him because he loves us.

Therefore, we don’t need to play the obligatory “God card” in awkward situations. We do not neet to force Jesus down anybody’s throat. Leading others to Christ isn’t up to us. It’s not our gig! See, when we allow God to work through us to bring others to Him, we are allowing His spirit to guide us. We wait, we listen, and if He doesn’t tell us to act, we don’t. If he opens the door of opportunity for us, we go! (Oh, and it’s usually not easy, but more on that soon.)

And so, what I’m saying is the Bible is still very much alive today. God is divinely using our human actions to bring glory to His name. Pray, listen, respond. The relationships you build with people are the biggest tool in pointing them to faith.

Oh dear. We’re getting deep!

How is the Bible the Word of God?

Wham. I asked it. Deep question, eh?

In chapter 3 of Making Sense of Scripture, Lose asks a few questions that nicely sum up my thoughts on the “Word of God” phrase:

A lot of people call the Bible “the Word of God” and I have trouble making sense of that. Does it mean to call the Bible the Word of God? Are we saying it’s different from every other book? That it kind of fell from heaven or has special powers? That it’s holy? We do call it “the Holy Bible,” after all.

What words come to mind when you hear “Word of God?”  Anything from the list below?

  • A big, black leather-bound Bible
  • A preacher striding the stage with the Bible in one hand and pointing with the other hand
  • Truth
  • Guidance
  • The Ten Commandments
  • Jesus
  • Peanut butter and jelly

(Just making sure you’re still paying attention.)

Those words are all descriptions that come to my mind when thinking about the Word of God and a little research proves at least a couple of those are correct, in theological terms.

Hang with me.

First, I think we’ll all agree that the Word of God is the Bible. The Bible tells the story of God’s love for the world throughout history and so is God’s written Word.

Despite there being three definitions representing the Word of God, this one of the Bible seems to be the only meaning we typically think of. Christians have long claimed the Bible as the Word of God because the whole thing is a story about God. We believe the Bible is the best place to get to know God.

This is true, but it’s important to remember that the Bible is not the only way to think about the Word of God. See, the Bible is important not simply because of what it is, but because of what it does, which is to testify to God and to God’s work in Jesus.  This ties in with the last post on “Is the Bible True?” detailing that it’s important not to get hung up on analyzing the Bible for facts, but instead to read it for what God is telling us through it.

(Please keep reading!)

Second and most importantly, Jesus is the Word of God. The very first verse of John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then a little later, it says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (Think Christmas. God took on our human flesh in Jesus, which we celebrate as Christmas.)

(We’re almost done…)

Thirdly, the gospel is the Word of God. The gospel is the good news of what God has done for us and all the world in and through Jesus.

Let’s sum this up: The Bible is a medium that holds the gospel, the gospel tells the story of Jesus, and Jesus is God made flesh. So, when we use the term “Word of God,” we are ultimately talking about Jesus or God.

Lose uses a great flow chart to represent this relationship:

The Bible shouldn’t be worshiped or held holy for its own sake. The Bible is important because of what it contains, which is the gospel. The gospel is the story of Jesus, told by various people. It’s important to remember that one person’s eye-witness account of the very same event can differ from another’s. Therefore, we use the gospel, various accounts of the life and death of Jesus, to point us to the real deal: Jesus.

The Bible and the gospel are mediums through which we get to know God.

Are you still with me? The main point of this post is the previous sentence. Read it again!

Now, go drink some coffee, think about this, and then come back and ask your questions.

The Bible Gets You Going, Right?

Do you remember the first time you read a book that you couldn’t put down?

I’ve read a lot of books in my day, but I can vividly recall the first book I couldn’t put down. This page-turner was Sophie’s Heart by Lori Wick. The jist of the story is that the beautiful and unsuspecting Sophie, new to America from Czechoslovakia, found herself unhappily keeping house for the gorgeous Alec and his family. Yes, I was all of 12 years old, reading a Christian romance novel. (Insert snorts of amusement here.)

So, there’s me, a bit farsighted in my early days, hanging on every word of this romance novel with my bifocals on. (Go ahead, let your snorts turn into all out roars of laughter.)

Regardless of this absurd situation, I couldn’t put the book down. I felt myself completely involved in the story, wanting to linger on every word, yet speed reading through the details to find out what happened next.

Have you read a book like that? Have you read a book that changed you, altered the way you think or feel about some particular issue or even about life in general?

Books, really good books, are powerful.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for example, with its vivid depiction of the cruelty of slavery, changed the way Americans thought about African Americans and slavery. Really good books leave a mark upon their readers, changing them forever.

My guess is that the Bible has not been one of these books for you.  I know, the Bible is supposed to be the book and it has been incredibly popular for centuries, but if you’re being honest, is it the page-turner for you that Sophie’s Heart was for me?

So many people have set out on the grand adventure of reading the Bible start to finish, only to give up somewhere around… oh… Deuteronomy?  (I wouldn’t have personal experience with that or anything.)

We know the Bible is an amazing book and it may even change our lives if we read it, but we just can’t get wrapped up in the pages. It just doesn’t do it for us.

Do you know what I mean?

That’s where Quest’s current Sunday series comes perfectly in to play.  See, our topic from now until November 20, entitled “Making Sense of Scripture”, is going to show us how and why the Bible is an amazing book, difficult and complicated, but still amazing. There’s a reason people have been reading and rereading it for thousands of years and we’re gonna figure it out.

We are focusing on the book Making Sense of Scripture by David J Lose. His hope is that by studying his book, we will gain the confidence to explore the actual content and claims of the Bible in our own ways.

Bring your questions, ask them anytime here on the blog or on our facebook page, and follow along to engage the major questions about the Bible that people of good conscience and abundant curiosity often ask.

Before we get started with topics over the next several weeks, take a moment to think about where you are with the Bible at this very moment, as Lose urges us to do in his introduction to the book. What are your feelings toward the Bible?  Is it sacred or secular, inspired or interesting? Does it reveal God’s will for you and the world, offer a record of ancient history, or offer timeless wisdom and inspiration? Has your experience of reading the Bible been positive or negative, illuminating or confusing?

Feel free to share your feelings in the comments!

What Do We Do With This?

Wrapping up our series on being “Blessed to be a Blessing”, Sunday’s message from Corey discussed what we are supposed to do with what we’ve been given.

In 2 Corinthians 9:8-15, we hear the words of Paul encouraging the faithful to be grateful for all that God has done and is doing. Paul is giving a pep talk, challenging the faithful to be “cheerful givers”. The reward for generosity is the provision for more generosity, the ability to be blessed to be a blessing. Remember we are not simply receptacles for good things, instead we are pipelines, meant to pass the good deeds along. We want to pay it forward. When we give out, God gives back.

Not only is Paul telling us to be generous, he is also asking us to be cheerful, to give willingly and joyfully. When we give reluctantly, we will not be satisfied. “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Giving cheerfully doesn’t just have to do with your wallet. Giving cheerfully means giving gifts, time and talents. As you know, Quest recently moved to a new location. The generous hearts of all involved allowed us to finish the building two weeks ahead of schedule!  We had people doing demolition work, electrical tasks, scrubbing and painting, shampooing carpets, babysitting kids and supplying food. What a happy time for Quest! The generosity was overwhelming.

Most importantly, generosity means giving yourself. When you give out of the kindness of your heart, people are changed in ways you may never know. What we choose to do, both good and bad, affects others. Choose to change lives for the better!

When we act generously, we are living witnesses to the grace of God. Giving is an avenue of worship to God! When we give from our heart, we are worshiping God and prompting others to worship God. Generosity is a powerful tool! Its power never ends. It continues traveling the pipeline, changing lives at every turn. Keep it going!

(Side Note: The 2nd Annual 30 Deeds in 30 Days is beginning Nov 1! What a perfect opportunity for cheerful giving. Get ready to change the world!!)

Go on Now, Change the World!

(This post is based on Sunday’s message by Quest pastor, Mike Hartzheim)

We’re discussing Abraham again. You remember this guy:

Now that I’ve jogged your memory of Doubts: The Ants in the Pants of Faith, let’s look a bit further into Abraham’s story. We know that early on, God told Abraham to leave his country and go to an unknown land. In return, God promised three things: to make Abraham a great nation, to make his name great, and to bless him.

What we are looking at this time is the stunning reason behind these promises: that Abraham and his descendants might be a blessing to the whole world. See, Abraham was not merely the end recipient of God’s abundance, but a conduit through which God seeks to bless the world. The importance of God’s blessings on Abraham is that he was then a pipeline of those blessings, not a repository!

Take a peek at your own life. Do you pass on your blessings?

If I’m being honest, I’ve often overlooked that important “pay it forward” part and ended up thinking of myself as privileged rather than a purveyor of God’s promises.

Ever been there?

Why is it so easy to fall into the trap of accepting God’s blessing, but then ignoring the call to pass on those blessings to others?

Let’s turn this around a bit and take a look at Matthew 18:21-35. We, as humans, tend to want forgiveness from people, but don’t want to give forgiveness when someone does wrong to us. The parable mentioned talks about a king who wants to settle accounts with his servants. He came to one servant who was unable to repay, so he ordered that the servant’s wife and children be sold to pay for the debt. The servant fell on his knees and begged the king to be patient with him. The king had compassion and cancelled the debt completely. When the servant left he came across one of his fellow servants who owed him money and demanded to be paid back. The fellow servant was unable to pay, so the recently forgiven servant had his debtor thrown into prison. The king heard about what happened and called the servant in. He asked the servant, “Shouldn’t you have shown mercy on your fellow servant just as I showed you mercy?” The king was furious and had the servant tortured till he repaid his debt.

All of us are like this servant!  We owe God a massive debt– a debt we can’t pay, but God has extended his grace to us and cancelled our debt.

In life, we tend to want to protect ourselves, we want to limit how much people use us, we feel we need to draw the line.

When asked how many times a person should forgive someone, Jesus replied “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  The number seven was symbolic of completeness, so Jesus was saying there is no limit to the number of times you forgive someone. You don’t stop forgiving!

The servant in the story has just been forgiven a massive debt, yet he goes out to find the man who owes him much less and acts violently toward him.  How quickly we forget God’s grace!

How does this picture make you feel?

For me, it brings about feelings of pain, hatred, sadness, fear, helplessness and all around sickness. It’s not easy to look at this picture, to remember that day, to think about the lasting repercussions. It’s certainly not easy to extend grace in a situation like this, but Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Being forgiven means we have the responsibility to forgive others. We don’t just have the ability or the choice, but the responsibility to forgive others. God has blessed us so we can bless others.

Hatred, anger and negativity only serve to further distance us from Christ and from each other. As Christians, we must learn and remember to pay it forward. We must live in such a way that the world recognizes we are different. We must love those that hurt us, just as God loves us despite the ways we hurt Him.

Nothing we have done or will do will ever separate us from God’s love.            

Do we extend that same grace to everyone we meet?

Two challenges this week:

1. As Christians and Americans, let’s commit ourselves to building peace and standing against hate and fear.

2. Let’s literally count our blessings each day this week. For example, we have a couch to lay on, water to brush our teeth with, the ability to hear and talk on the phone, etc. Our challenge is to be a pipeline of those blessings to others around us!