Intimacy

What a Way to Begin!

Last Friday afternoon I got the chance to baptize my granddaughter.  She’s just turning thirteen and this was her choice something she’s been talking about for the past few months. Just before I left for Europe she asked me if I would baptize her when I got back.  Would I?  My heart melted.

When I asked her why, she said, “I want to follow Jesus with all my heart.”  I don’t do much baptizing these days, never did actually. Even back in the day when I was a pastor we always encouraged the one being baptized to ask the person that was most influential in his or her decision to follow Jesus, or one who has been most helpful on the early parts of their journey, to baptize them.

It was great!  Even though that scared a lot of people to be asked we would always walk them through it and then they were thrilled to be a part of it. Lots of people experienced the joy of getting to baptize someone into this awesome journey. Many parents baptized their kids, and we never made a “service” out of it.  We’d start with the baptism and what it meant and finish up with celebrating the Lord’s supper together. They were always parties on the lake, by a stream, or in a backyard pool. Friends and family would celebrate together and often share a meal after.

I hear a lot of people out-of-the-box people diss baptism as an old relic from a bygone era. They see it as an empty ritual and argue whether or not it is essential for salvation, since it isn’t a normal part of our culture. After all, the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized, they’ll say.  I wouldn’t argue that baptism is essential, but I do think the Scriptures make clear it is preferable.  Jesus set the example with his own and we know his followers we’re also baptized. The early church saw baptism as the means of entry into the kingdom of God, which is why the Ethiopian eunuch wanted Philip to baptize him immediately in Acts 8.

This is how it played out after Pentecost:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acs 2: 37-42)

I don’t see baptism as a ritual, even though many seem to practice it that way. And even though some have abandoned it altogether for a “sinner’s prayer” and a get-out-of-hell free card, I see salvation not as the resolution of our destiny but as a door into an ever-deepening relationship with the Father through the work of the Son, by the power of the Spirit.  As such baptism becomes a powerful event in yielding to the work of Jesus and being resurrected into a new adventure in his glory. (See Romans 6:1-14)

When the heart is convicted and people want to know him, Peter says we first repent, which means to abandon our agenda for our lives and embrace him and his agenda for us. Then he said be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins”. Does that mean sins aren’t forgiven without baptism? Of course not. But baptism is a cleansing of heart and soul, a washing away of the old life and opens the door to a new one.

Then, Peter says, you will receive the baptism of the Spirit. So there are two things going on here. First, a baptism of water to demonstrate on the outside the transition going on inside. Then, there is baptism of the Spirt, where we are connected to him and empowered to go on a different kind of journey learning how to know him and to follow him. So after baptizing someone one we always lay on hands and pray for the baptism of the Spirit, which will make them alive to his reality.

Will it make them perfect?  Not even close. It’s the beginning of a journey, not the end of one.

Sharing that moment this weekend with my granddaughter was one of the most treasured memories of my life. Seeing her young faith and desire to follow Jesus touched me deeply and praying for the Spirit to fill her heart and guide her journey reminded me just how amazing this moment is.

If you’ve never been baptized, do it!  Find someone influential in your journey and ask them to do it with you. Invite some friends over.  You may feel a bit weird, especially if you’ve been a “believer” for awhile, but don’t leave out what this process does to mark the transition from the kingdom of darkness to the. kingdom of light. Don’t do it out of condemnation or fear, but when you know Jesus is the one you want to follow, remember this is how he began his journey, too. And ask him to baptize you with his Spirit as you do.

When Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven spoke, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” I always look for a dove and listen for a voice at baptism. I think Jesus got it that way because God needed people around him to know. But I do think God whispers the same thing in our hearts as well.  Jesus wasn’t beloved and pleasing because he had maintained his perfection until 30. The words were not something he earned, but the expression of the heart of his Father for him as his Son.

Don’t we all need to start that way? I spent over 40 years of my life thinking that I had to earn my way to pleasing my Father. Now I know that he has always delighted in me, and been pleased with me as his son even when I’m lost in my own brokenness.  Brokenness doesn’t make you less loved, if anything it makes us even more endearing to his heart.

That’s what Aimee needed to know on Friday, “This is my daughter, whom I love, with her I am well pleased.”

That we are loved and pleasing to Father is what we need to know most at the start of our journey, not think we have to earn it by its end. That’s why baptism is so important, not because it fulfills something God needs, but because it fulfills something in us that we desperately need to make sense of our growing life in him.

Four More Days…

I’ve often said that I won’t write a more significant book in my life than He Loves Me. That content is what changed the trajectory of my life from trying to appease God by my hard work and commitment, to learning how I could live inside the affection the Father already had for me.

Unfortunately many people look at the title and think they already know that. I’ve had so many tell me they hadn’t read it for years even though someone gave them a copy, but when they finally did they realized the huge difference between the knowledge of God’s love and actually living in that love. They sang about it in Sunday school and theologically the idea that God is love was cemented into their doctrine. It’s just that they never learned to live as if he really did, so they lived captive to fear, shame, and frustration.

I used to gauge God’s love by how well the circumstances in my life pleased me. If things were good, “He loves me!” When circumstances turned dark or difficult, “He loves me not.” I was constantly batted between those two conclusion, spending most of my time in the he-loves-me-not crowd.  All that changed 23 years ago and what Sara and I have experienced since has fulfilled every hope and desire we had for what life in Christ was meant to be and we could live alongside others in that same joy. No, life hasn’t gone easily since then. We’ve known some very dark and painful places, but we’ve never been alone in them. We’ve been able to find our way into the reality of his love and follow him however haltingly through those things in a way that endeared us to him and transformed us in the process. We love what that keeps shaping in our lives individually and in our lives together.

Here’s my (and many others) favorite quote in the book:

The friendship Jesus shared with his disciples was the model for the relationship he extends to you. He wants to be the voice that steers you through every situation, the peace that sets your heart at rest in trouble, and the power that holds you up in the storm. He wants to be closer than your dearest friend and more faithful than any other person you’ve ever known.

I know it sounds preposterous. How can mere humans enjoy such a friendship with the Almighty God who created with a word all that we see? Do I dare think that he would know and care about the details of my life? Isn’t it presumptuous to even imagine that this God would take delight in me, even though I still struggle with the failures of my flesh?

It would be so if this were not his idea. He’s the one who offered to be your loving Father—sharing life with you in ways no earthly father ever could.

For four more days you can order this book for $9.00 per copy. Yes, that’s cheaper than even the bulk price when people order ten. You can order as many as you like at that price and I hope you find it helpful in your own journey as well as a blessing to share with friends and family.

He Loves Me is also available in Spanish for $8.00 and in audio as read by me, either in CDs, or by digital downloads from iTunes or Audibles.

___________

PS: I’ll be leaving Thursday for my east coast swing through Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Maryland. If you want to catch up with me there you can get the details here.

Uhh… You Might Have that Story Wrong

I guess this meme made the rounds on the Internet but somehow I missed it. It was posted as a blog comment yesterday at The God Journey in our spirited discussion about what salvation really means.

Jesus knocks on the door saying, “Let me in.”

The voice from inside replies, “Why?”

Jesus says, “So I can save you.”

“From what?” asks the voice inside.

“From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in!”

I laughed of ten minutes when I read that. I know that world. I grew up in it and how ridiculous that whole story seems to me now! We need to be saved from Jesus or his irate Father? No we need to be saved from the sin and shame that devour our lives and leave us helpless to our own affectations and appetites.

Salvation is real. He saves us from a world of darkness, fear and torment and brings us into a new creation of light, love, and liberty. That’s a better story because it’s a more accurate story.

Wayne’s Story Unfiltered

Here it is… My story as best I can tell it, at least from this stage of the journey. This summer I was approached by two men who wanted to interview me for a documentary they are working on about people who have left religious institutions. They were planning to come to California but when my travels toook me near them, they asked if I could come early for a video-taped interview.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Jeff Herr of DefiningRoots.com for a no-holes-barred question answer session where he freely probed my thoughts and passions and how I moved from being a pastor to helping those who felt they no longer fit in the traditional congregation. Jeff had had read my books and listened to my podcast, but we had not met before this trip.  The result is an hour and 15 minute interview by a campfire in the growing dusk of late summer in Indiana.  Produced by Daniel Madison they are going to use clips for their documentary, but offered the entire interview to me to play for those who frequent Lifestream and TheGodJourney.com.

In this I answer such questions as:   

  • What began this journey for you?
  • Did you feel God spoke to you to become a pastor?  Do you now think you misunderstodd him?
  • What made you give up on an institutional approach to church life?
  • How did you feel trying to be a leader as a young man with so little life experience?
  • Why did you leave the first church you were a part of?
  • Was the institutional model ever alive?
  • What is your definition of the church?
  • Is your view of the church only viable for mature Christians?
  • What would you say to those who think that without the insittution believers will go off track?
  • How can you live church apart from a system and not end up alone?  What would you say to those who have a hard time finding fellowship outside a system?
  • Why do you think accountability is not the basis of chruch life?
  • How do you explain to your family that you don’t want “to go to church anymore?”
  • What does it mean to live loved?
  • What happeend that caused you to leave the church you hleped plant?
  • Was this part of your journey birthed in bitterness for what you experienced?

The interview is in two parts:

Learning to Live Loved: Part One

Learning to Live Loved: Part Two

How Do We Know that We Are His?

I had the following exchange earlier today and know that a lot of people wrestle with assurance and how we get it, especialy of our connection to God and our safety in his heart. Since this young man asked me what I thought I responded. Religion really wires us to appeasing God by our good works and if you’re groping to know you belong to him that’s the last place you want to look. Here’s what he sent me:  

I was speaking with a co-worker the other day about our assurance in God.  Since I have been away from weekly gatherings, I have become more in tune with what the Father is doing.  I seem to hear him speak so much clearer these days.  As we were having our conversation, he began to talk about having assurance we are God’s children.  I told him that there are days I feel like there is only one set of footprints in the sand.  I don’t always feel like I am close to the Father but I believe by faith he is still there.  He compared it to the prodigal son by saying that while the son was away from the Father he didn’t have the assurance.  It was only when he came back into the Father’s house that he had that assurance.  He went on to say that we need that assurance in our lives and we get that assurance by following God’s law and obeying his commandments.  I couldn’t really object to what he was saying but I felt like he was speaking from a performance based way of life.  I was wondering if you could elaborate on this if you have the time.

My response: I like most of what you wrote, except the last bit.  Not sure you heard God clearly there or didn’t insert your own religious training into what he was wanting to show you.  Remember, we all see in part.  None of us hear God perfectly, which is why we have Scriptures and others to bounce things off of like this. 

The prodigal did not have a connection with is father. He had cut it off.  He didn’t gain it by obeying the law, but by coming home to the father’s house.  Assurance does not come from law or obedience to it.  Romans is really clear on that, as is Galatians.  Assurance comes from knowing how loved we are by God.  It’s in his character and his promise, not in our performance.  So you and him might need to rethink that. 

I don’t know if you’re thinking John 15 in that, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.”   If so, rethink that verse a bit.  His command was to love each other, not keep the law.  And he’s not saying we are loved by the keeping, but rather where we follow his ways we’ll derive the benefit of his love.  He loves us anyway, but when we’re off doing our own thing we miss the benefit of that love.  The prodigal is no less loved in his sin, but he doesn’t get the benefit of that love.  I would think the assurance of his Father’s love would bring him home, not make him earn it. When he comes home he gets to live in the reality of that love because he’s not running from it…

Assurance is grounded in his character, and knowing we are loved is the basis of the transformation he does in us so that we can learn to live in his ways.  And we know we belong to him by the presence of his Spirit in us. He is the firstfruits and the pledge that God is at work in us to will and to do of his good pleasure, even when we give into temptation or struggle to follow him.