Posted tagged ‘Baptism’

Small Church Baptism

January 17, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     January 17, 2020

                    

She came to me after the church worship service back in early December and said “Pastor Bill, I’d like to be baptized.” 

“Okay! That sounds good!” Actually, I was taken back a bit by the request, not because of the young lady in front of me, but rather because I’ve known her for four years, seen her grow up, and hadn’t thought about this step in her faith journey.

Plus, I’m not really her pastor, although I sorta’ am. I share the Sunday morning speaking opportunities with my friend, Ed Stucky. So…we’re sorta’ unofficial co-pastors. The fourteen year old asked me to baptize her because I’ve been her middle school camp pastor the last two summers. 

“So…when are you thinking of doing this?”

“Oh, like the last Sunday in December or around there.”

“Okay, let’s talk about what it means and your understanding of why we do it, and why you want to be baptized.” 

We went through our scriptural understanding for why Baptists practice immersion…and then we went back and looked in the baptistry at the front of the sanctuary. That’s when I realized that the church hadn’t had a baptism for a while…like years! Old wooden doors were being stored in the tank. A few spiders had moved in for the winter. We also discovered the missing church crock pot, a leftover brownie (I think it was a brownie!), and someone’s missing hat and mittens…okay, just kidding on the last three!

For us to do a baptism required some rearranging. The wooden doors had to find a new home or doorways.

We prepared. Last Sunday it happened. 

But here’s the thing! Simla First Baptist doesn’t have a heater for the baptistry, and the church’s hot water heater has the capacity of a tea kettle. The church moderator and his wife arrived at 6:45 that morning to fill the baptistry for the 10:15 worship service. They emptied the hot water heater and then started boiling pots of water on the stove. Bless them! Unfortunately, the tank holds a couple hundred gallons. I had visions of a YouTube video I had seen entitled “West Virginia Extreme Baptism”, where a couple of young boys get dunked in a creek where you can see the snow banks on each side.

When I stepped down into the water with my bare feet and an old pair of jeans I immediately thought of my 104 degree hot tub back at our home. I have never done “cryotherapy”, but thought this might be comparable. I smiled at our small congregation, trying to hide the discomfort. I thought of the comfort of Methodists sprinkling a few drops on someone.

I’ve had baptistry issues for a number of years. When I pastored in Michigan the heater was broken on a February baptism Sunday. One young boy getting baptized jumped from the steps to the ledge in front of the baptistry when his feet first touched the water. I literally had to pull him into the water before I was able to dunk him. It’s been a few years, but I think I remember holding him under a few extra seconds just out of my irritation.

And then there was the Christmas Eve when our baptistry was leaking and we placed an inflatable kid’s wading pool shaped like a whale inside our baptistry. 

No leaks this time around, just a few ice cubes!

When I lowered the young lady into the water and then brought her back up her eyes became as big as saucers. It was an awakening experience in more than one way for her. The congregation smiled. 

It was good!

And the doors will not be moved back in. We expect another baptism in the next few months…like August!

Baptism Day

June 28, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   June 28, 2015

                                                 

Baptism in the Baptist church is a celebration that drenches the soul! It isn’t an invitation to a funeral, but rather an expression of the deep flowing grace of God, the life-giving story of the gospel visualized in a person standing in the midst of the waters.

This morning was an awesome experience in the sharing of people’s faith journeys. Four adults…some new to the faith, and others who have journeyed with Jesus for a while, entered our “church tub” and testified of their faith.

The event was punctuated by the fact that other people were involved in the baptisms. In our congregation when someone gets baptized I encourage them to ask someone who has been instrumental in their faith journey to be the one who dips them into the waters.

The first woman to be baptized was helped into the water tank by her husband. She had been serving faithfully for the past several years in our congregation. We just assumed that she had been baptized…but sometimes assumptions get the best of us! As her spouse asked her if she knew Jesus in a personal way I could hear a slight emotional crack in his voice. He looked into her eyes with love and compassion, and she back at him with the same loving gratitude. As he lowered her into the waters I was there to give physical assistance…since both of them are into their sixth decade. Wait a minute! So am I! After she came back up to her feet, husband and wife embraced…and more than a few tears were being shed by those watching!

The second woman was baptized by her in-laws…mother in-law and sister-in-law. They had walked with her through moments of loss and births of children. They didn’t turn their backs on her when she expressed doubts about faith. In the background, although not in the baptistry, was her grandmother-in-law who had been praying for this day to happen for the past several years. What a story of walking with someone in doubts and discoveries!

Finally a husband and wife came to be baptized. They asked me to be the one who took them back into that expression of the death and resurrection of Christ. The husband and I play basketball together. We trash talk each other on the court…in Christian love! But in this moment I fought back the tears of joy of seeing two lives wanting to serve the Lord. Parents of three young children they have been through some difficult times, times of searching and asking tough questions, and times of trying to figure out this thing called “walking in faith.”

Four faith journeys coming together for a few moments of mass celebration. I don’t know if anyone will remember a word I said that morning in the sermon, but there were four messages of transformation visualized that no one will forget!

A Jess Bless!

June 18, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              June 18, 2015

                                                    

Last night I had the last session of a children’s discipleship class plus two adults. The two adults were there because we talk about baptism in our last session. One of the attenders of the class has been my grandson, Jesse! In earlier sessions we’ve talked about Romans 3:23 and 6:23 and the scriptural principle that all of us fall short. We’ve talked about the impact of the cross of Christ in bridging the gap between us and God that sin created. We talked about forgiveness and grace and other things.

Jesse did a recap for us last night. In these classes I look for whether or not the kids understand and whether they can explain it.

He did!

When I explained baptism he was right with me! Often he would complete my sentences.

“Jesus died-“

“And rose again!”

“All of us have sinned-“

“And fallen short of the glory of God!”

“That’s right, Jesse!”

I asked him why he wanted to be baptized. Sometimes this becomes the stumbling point, as some children can’t verbalize why, but Jesse…”Because I believe in Jesus and I’ve asked him to live in my heart because I love him, and I want people to know that I love him.”

“That’s right, Jesse!”

“And you can’t be a pastor unless you are baptized!”

“Well…not quite! Anyone can be baptized-“

“But you are “called” to be a pastor!”

I sat there with my mouth open. He has a pretty good grasp on things!

It was a Jess Bless time!

Children can bless us more than we can imagine if we let them verbalize it. In the midst of their “ants in the pants” they have the potential to communicate a gem, a truth, a heartfelt belief.

My grandson lost his “chair privileges” one day at school this year because he kept falling out of it with antsyness! Hyper in motion!

But he believes in Jesus, and isn’t afraid to tell you about him!

The Worship of Excellence

May 18, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 18, 2015

                                  

Our church strives to do things the best we can in worship of our Lord, but I could write a book on the number of times when we have fallen short of excellence. Here’s a few examples:

-We are a Baptist church that has had a baptistry that kept leaking…bad! One baptism Sunday there was hardly enough water in it to qualify the person to be a Methodist, let alone a Baptist. One memorable Christmas Eve we baptized people in the inflatable pool of my grandkids that was shaped to look like a whale…including the tail! Joe, one of the people being baptized, and I still joke about him getting baptized in the belly of a whale.

-One Easter Sunday we had the wrong video shown. Instead of a nice beautiful melody that made the resurrection sound celebrate (which it is!) we had a video of heavy metal music that I’m pretty sure mentioned Satan and demon worship a few times. Awkward!

-A couple of people have done special music who missed more notes than hit them.

-People still remember my “oops” slip in a sermon when I referenced giving out “Lady Godiva” chocolates. Red face!

-I’ve led the reciting of The Lord’s Prayer a couple of times and I gone blank on the words. When the pastor stops midway through the prayer the silence becomes like a wave moving though the congregation.

In many ways we are a Lake Wobegon congregation!

We strive for our best, but often miss excellence.

And yet, I’m okay with that. People put their hearts and souls into using the gifts God has given them, and if that falls short of a concert hall experience…that’s okay.

Our culture…and especially church culture…worships excellence. It worships the seamless flow of worship where “dead time” is almost non-existent, and people can marvel at the precision, the timing, the carefully manuscripted event.

There is a difference between a worship experience and the worship of excellence. The first is about an encounter with God that stirs the soul. The second is a production that is a delight to the senses. One is spirit-moving and the other is foot-stomping. One gives us the feeling that God is seeing the condition of our heart and the other is a taste treat for our eyes.

The worship of excellence is like a glass of evening wine that is satisfying for a few moments with our feet propped up as we sit in the recliner. A worship experience is “new wine” that quenches the thirst of my soul.

We worship excellence. The difficulty is that the worship of excellence is prone to have grace evicted. Sometimes church culture is a mirror image of a professional football stadium crowd who break out into the booing of their team that is falling short of excellence in a contest. Very rarely is anyone on the field giving less than their best effort, but pro football fans have a tendency to check their forgiveness at the door…or after the third beer!

Worshiping excellence leads us to critical spirits where less than perfection is not tolerated. The worship of excellence does not allow students and interns who are still trying to figure out and be perfect. Worshipping excellence is about keeping score like Olympic gymnastics judges.

Worshipping excellence becomes deaf to prophetic voices. The words of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel would not gain a hearing in a gathering of excellence worshippers.

There are those who have been gifted by God in the leading of people into a worship experience that will be remembered as being excellent…and we thank God for those he has so incredibly gifted. A gifted worship leader will always lead people to God, not to an experience.

In my office are several “drawings” from my grandkids. They will never be in an art studio, pinned to a wall with quality lighting on them to bring out the vibrancy of the colors, but they are works of art that bring delight to a grandfather’s heart…more meaning to me than a Rembrandt, and even more understandable than a Picasso.

Sometimes we encounter a display of love, such as that, and we respond “Excellent!”

Baptist Bucket Challenge

August 22, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 21, 2014

                                       

I’m trying to be creative!

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can raise 15.6 million dollars (to date) in the seeking for a cure to Lou Gehrig’s disease by challenging people to dump a bucket of ice and water over their heads, there’s got to be something that I can challenge the people of our American Baptist church to do to take care of a budget deficit.

People don’t misunderstand me. I’m not minimizing the ALS cause. I did the ice bucket challenge on Tuesday, and challenged a couple of other people to then do it. I also remember leading a funeral service several years ago for a man who had gradually deteriorated from ALS. IN the last couple of years of his life he and his wife had attended the church I pastored. I saw how the disease slowly decimated his body and his hope.

So, I understand the effects of the disease, and I am delighted that people have dumped enough ice water over their heads to fill Lake Erie.

Now, if I could think of something to loosen the purse strings of a bunch of Baptists!

What would be creative, but also not destructive, life-threatening, or end up on one of those TV shows that airs video clips that display people’s stupidity?

What could loosen people’s grips on their cash that wouldn‘t necessitate me having to wear a diaper, kiss a pig, or wallow in manure?

What could people of my church challenge one another to do?

Since we’re a Baptist church maybe it should be something that involves baptism! Not necessarily baptism by immersion. People get baptized in other ways, you know…like baptized by fire!

Not sure we’d get many volunteers for fire baptism, however!

Baptized in the Spirit might be a possibility. There are always a few people that I’d love to be smacked up the side of the head by the Holy Spirit. I’d even pay for it!

Back pedal! It seems that Simon the Sorcerer tried to do something like that in Acts 8, and it didn’t go over very well!

I’d be willing to be baptized by already-cooked shrimp, but I’m not sure anyone would give a donation for that. I’d enjoy it, though!

I’d be willing to be baptized in ice cream, but I’m a little hesitant to have people standing around me with spoons and chocolate sauce.

Perhaps a Coffee Cup Challenge. I’d be willing to drink Folger’s Coffee for donations. There’s a hefty price for pain and suffering…even involving your taste buds.

Or how about a Prune Juice Gulp Challenge. Fifty bucks for each ounce of prune juice I down. The downside of that is that I’m sure there is a limit…personally speaking.

I dressed up as Queen Elsa this summer for $200 collected by kids. There’s got to be someone that adults would want tome to dress up as and throw money at.

Friends of mine have done the duct tape challenge where they got duct taped to a wall. That wouldn’t be too bad unless people stuck me up there and left!

Sleep deprivation could be an option. There’s a group of young guys at church who would pay to see me stay awake after 10:00.

There’s got to be some creative ways for a group of mostly teatotalers to way funds that are legal and won’t get us on the evening news in the crime section. Maybe the
Ice Bucket Baptism! Total immersion (A Big Bucket), not sprinkling!

Boom…got it!

What DO I Believe???

September 25, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  September 24, 2013

 

 

      I’m beginning a new sermon series in a couple of weeks entitled “What I Believe..and Why I Believe It.”

It’s caused me to pause and ask myself the question, “What DO I believe?”

Most of us can spout off what we don’t believe, but saying what we do believe makes us pause and consider. For instance, I no longer believe in the tooth fairy, Transformers, or fries being French. I don’t believe that the Pope walks on water, or water baptism saves you. I don’t believe there is a special section, Boardwalk if you will, for Baptists in heaven. I don’t believe that anyone knows the time or the day that Jesus is coming back, or that a worship service should last a certain amount of time and be done.

What I do believe is that the gospel is the most incredible gift that God could ever gift us, and that the gospel makes all the difference in the world.

I believe that grace is awesome, but often not believed in.

I believe that God believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself!

I believe that God has purpose for my life, even when some of my days seem purposeless.

I believe in the church, even though so many of God’s people have given up on it.

 

Those are a few things I believe. Now I’m taking it to the next step: why do I believe it? One of my seminary professors, Dr. Tom Finger, at Northern Baptist Seminary outside of Chicago, would always ask us that? He pressed us to get past our “Sunday School answers” and ask ourselves why we believed what we believed. I hated it at the time, but thirty-four years after seminary I think of him as being the professor who shaped my belief system more than anyone else.

What DO I believe?

In losing my mom recently it has caused me to think deeper. It’s not that I’m more cerebral, it’s that I’m more introspective…perhaps even quieter.

My cynical side sees our culture believing in a lot of fluff with no substance. Some people think Starbucks is the basis for theological belief. More espresso shots means deeper revelations. I saw a deeply meaningful commercial the other night about important relationships that ended up being sponsored by a beer company. Not that I have anything against beer..except that I hate the taste and college students think it’s a mandatory part of university life…but it seems to be the source for what the “good life” is about these days.

I believe we settle for shallow belief. We settle for beliefs that don’t require pondering.

What DO I believe? It seems that my belief list is getting shorter, while my ‘uncertain list” is getting longer. But the beliefs that have stuck have made me stronger, more grounded…and that’s what I truly believe.

The Far Side of Church

June 8, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     June 8, 2013

 

The Far Side of Church”

 

I love laughter, and I love “The Far Side” comic strip. It was a sad day when Gary Larson stopped doing “The Far Side.” Thankfully, my brother had given me “The Far Side Calendar” every year for Christmas for five or six years. When I get depressed or frustrated I take a look at a few of the calendar pages.

I wish I could blame my warped sense of humor on “The Far Side”, but that would be a lie. It was in my genes long before I started looking at funny-faced kids and adults wearing spectacles. And, as a result of that, I think of situations that might occur in church that I think would be funny. Others might not think they are even worth a giggle, but I’m ready to explode.

Like the Sunday several years ago when I asked a dear elderly lady named Pauline Jones to light the advent candle and I gave her a book of matches that had no matches in it. To further the humor I then gave her a second book of matches…that was also matchless!

I think of church pranks, like when I spoke at Ascension Lutheran Church down the street from us on pulpit exchange Sunday and they gave me a bulletin that had the pages mixed up. Page three ended with us singing “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, and then page four…in my bulletin had the second verse of “Spirit of the Living God.”

I can imagine a Far Side entitled “Deacon Pranks” with a picture of a deacon putting Super Glue on the bottom lip of a communion plate, or substituting prune juice for grape juice.

I can picture a wolf dressed up in a suit, wearing a wig and glasses, sitting in church,with the caption underneath “Being a life-long independent Baptist wolf, Peter felt justified in stealing sheep from other flocks.”

I can imagine a baptistry with sharks swimming around a circle within it, and the pastor saying to the fearful-looking teenager “As Paul tells us in Romans …all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.”

In other words, church needs to encourage finding the lighter side of things.

Ricky, the sound booth humorist, was known to turn off the pastor’s mic in the middle of the sermon and start playing a Richard Pryor tape.”

There’s a time to be serious. There’s a time to share hope and peace. And there’s a time to laugh.

Ted didn’t see the humor in it. The one Sunday he fell alseep in church, the congregation had exited quietly and placed empty clothing on the pews with a sign, ‘Raptured! Sorry you couldn’t come.’”

Solomon wrote that there was “…a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4a).

Look for the humor in church. I believe that it is one step along the journey to experiencing joy.