Thursday, August 17, 2006

Baptism Letter

Congratulations on your baptism! Below are some thoughts about baptism and the Christian life that would be worth your reading and maybe even keeping in your Bible. This letter is a little long, but I just didn’t know how to make it any shorter.

Your baptism marks your decision to follow our God, to yield yourself to Him, to let Him make you like Him no matter the cost. It is a milestone along your journey back to God. It is not the culmination or end of that journey, but comes near the beginning of a life-long adventure.

The Christian journey is one of transformation, of being completely re-formed. We change from selfishness and fear toward other-centeredness and confident submission. Just as our God loves you, let Him change you into someone who loves others. While that idea seems easy and desirable, in practice it can be hard and frightening as you attempt to make the idea concrete in your every day life.

It is eternally imperative that you see your decision to follow God as absolute and non-negotiable. There will come times when others will hurt you, let you down, or embarrass you. At those times it will be surprisingly easy to become angry and mistreat others – sometimes even those who have not hurt you. There will be other times when you will be tempted to take advantage of, or ignore others. In those times you must remember your decision to follow our God. Your example must always be that of our Savior. Jesus submitted Himself to God’s will, and to the interests of others. When mistreated, He did not lash out. Rather, He responded with patience and blessing – even to the point of dying for you. Jesus’ death must be your example of care and ministry in this world.

You will not be able to do this alone. Our God is with you; He is in you. More so, God is in the church, His body, His people. In community with God’s people you will be challenged, you will learn, and you will practice ministry and blessing for all God’s creation. You will also find imperfect people like you on the same journey. These people may disappoint you, but they can also provide you example, encouragement, and strength to continue. Love His people, join with them, help them, and find comfort with them.

Our God is faithful and steadfast. His love for you will last forever. He will be with you although at times it may not feel like He is. At these times trust that He is faithful and that He is with you. Follow Him through whatever comes. Our God is steadfast and so you must be.

Your decision has placed you squarely in the middle of a stream of people that began thousands of years ago and will continue until our God returns. You participate with Christians today, those that have gone before, and those that will come after you. See yourself as part of this grand procession of our God and His people through history. Doing so will give you a broader picture of our faith and give you patience with your people.

Christians through the ages have practiced spiritual disciplines. There are many of them, but I want to introduce you to three. The first is simplicity. Our culture and even our friends almost demand that we chase the most, the best, and more of everything. It seems that we can never be satisfied; that we always chase the next best thing. Do not fall into this trap of wanting more. If you do, you will never be satisfied and the stress of chasing “stuff” or having to look successful, will make your life miserable. Learn to live simply. If you can, you will have peace and be able to bless others out of the abundance that God gives you. Cultivating simplicity will help transform your physical and spiritual lives into the likeness of our God.

Develop a consistent and ever-present prayer life. This may include a daily quiet time, but nurture it into a life lived in the expectant presence of our God. Speak with Him and trust He is with you. This ever-present God will help transform your spiritual life, give you spiritual strength, and lead you to see the world and others as our God sees them. To love them as He loves them. Practice His presence and He will give you confidence in the midst of trouble.

Read your Bible every day. Do this in two ways. First, read big chunks at a time. Whole chapters, or even books. This will help you gain a broad understanding of God’s story. It will help you connect ideas, and see how they fit together. You will come to see our God and yourself in a more complete way, and better understand the workings of our God in this world. Secondly, read small bits – only a few verses at a time. Read the verses several times, maybe out loud, and reflect on them. Listen for what God is telling you and how you can use that in your life. Both these approaches, used together, but not at the same time, will open the Bible and our God more and more to your understanding. The growing realization of Him and His love for creation will help you find your place in the people of God.

As you practice these and other disciplines, look and listen for the message of God. Don’t spend too much time on do’s and don’ts, because they are secondary. Instead, see the picture and hear the descriptions of our God. What kind of God is it that you follow, and how does seeing Him change your very being? Seek Him, study Him, submit to Him, and imitate Him until He forms you, becomes part of you, and you become one with Him.

Finally, as you continue to let God transform you, make your whole life a ministry of blessing and care for others – for your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, and the rest of the world. Look for ways to be God in this world, to learn more about Him, to show others the goodness of our God. Learn two passages by heart:

God so loved the world that He gave His only son so that those who believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For He did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might by save through Him. (John 3.16-17)

He has shown you oh man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6.8)

I trust that as you follow Him, our God will bless you with peace and patience beyond your imagination.

Welcome to the family! We love you and pledge to you our care and mentoring as we together live the lives we were made to live.

God's Story

Explanation: At last night’s meeting of the Sacrament Review Committee, I made a comment, well several I suppose, that apparently revealed myself to be a heretic and ignorant. I make that conclusion based on the number of gasps, choking noises, and the number of people leaping away from anticipated lightening bolts. My comment was that God’s story isn’t about God, but creation. This post is intended to illustrate my comments and to place them in perspective.

God’s Story

In one aspect it is patently obvious that God’s story is about God. After all, who else would God’s story be about? Isn’t that why we would call it God’s story? Well of course. God is the actor, He does great and mighty things, it is He who moves in history to craft and to cause what He wants. Similarly, it is clear that any biography is the story of the person whose name is on the front of the book. It is a story about what they did, a description of their life.

But a person’s story, if read only to get the details of what they did, or even to laud them as great people, is of far lesser value than if read to gain insight and lessons from the person’s life. If we do not actually see their life from their view, we have missed the greatest reason for reading their biography. We become mere fact finders.

Let me illustrate. If we were to read Billy's story, we would read about him. About his job, about what he did on Tuesday, about the fact that he is a preacher, and a host of other facts. In short we would read a story about Billy. But if we were to enter that story from Billy's view, we would see that his story is not about Billy, but rather Susan. We would see a story about a man who loves, cares for, worries about, cries with, and prays for someone else. Billy’s story becomes less about Billy and more about Susan. Billy remains the actor, but the focus of the story shifts from how great a guy Billy is to what Billy is actually about. Billy is about Susan.

Or perhaps Billy might consider his life incomplete if his boys simply learned the fact that he was a preacher. Even if they all become preachers, if they simply were masters at the preacher’s craft, Billy’s hope for them would not be realized. Rather, Billy’s hope for them is that they come to see who Billy is, his love for God and his love for other people. Hopefully Billy does not preach because he is driven by fear, but rather because he is driven by care for others. Billy’s story is not about Billy. Billy’s story is about becoming the man God wants us to be. It is about other people. It is about his boys.

Similarly, the same is true concerning God’s story. God is the actor. We read of His great deeds, we see Him bless and afflict various peoples and beings. But that view is from outside the story. If we see the story as God see’s it, if we can put ourselves in God’s place in the story, it becomes clear that God’s love, God’s concern, God’s passion is the creation. Our God is an other-centered God and His story is about His care for others. God is about other people. His story is about people. His story is about you.

N.T. Wright argues that God’s story is about a God that cares so much about creation that He remains faithfully in covenant with it, that He created, loves, transforms, and will re-create the creation. God’s story, from God’s view is about something other than God. James Thompson argues that Paul’s great mission in life was the transforming of the Christians and the church into the creatures we were made to be. It is that transformed church that will prove whether Paul’s work was worth much. Paul’s story is not so much about Paul as it is about the church. It is that way because Paul understood that God’s story is about the creation.

We get a glimpse of this from the prophets. God calls the entire cosmos together as witnesses to His love and care for His people. He does so not out of some ego need, but because He wants His people to see what kind of God He is. He wants them to see that He is steadfast and faithful to them. And He calls them to be steadfast and faithful to Him and to each other. Not so much because He’s a great God, but because He is crafting in them the salvation of the world. They were to be God-people in the world. Their story isn’t so much about them as it is the creation.

We do ourselves and our God a great disservice when we come to believe that our highest calling is the worship of God rather than the love and care for the same things that are the center of His work. We are being transformed not into worshippers of God primarily, but rather beings that are like Him. Beings that are truly human and that bear the clear image of our God. Beings that truly are what they were created to be. We are made to join with, and be with Him.

Because we come to see what our God is about, we worship Him and yield to His transforming power to make us like Him. We don’t do so out of fear, but out of an understanding of our God. This is what Israel missed. They acted as though God’s story culminated with them and in other cases, that their rituals were sufficient. They missed that they were a vessel of blessing for the entire creation and when they missed that, their rituals were hollow. They missed that God’s story is about people other than themselves.

We (the creation) are the foci of His creative power, His sustaining power, and His saving power. And so God’s story is not about God. It is about people. We can fully join with Him only if we grasp what He is really about.

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