Category Archives: Baptism

The Light of Lent

As a child, I experienced Lent as an extra-long prelude to Good Friday. It had a dark, somber feeling to it. The themes all seem to center around the suffering of Jesus and the cross. Confession of sin was the central act of worship.  The dark sanctuary was a contrast to the bright morning light of Sunday worship.  The hymns we sang felt heavy and ponderous.   We did not walk to the cross – we crawled with scrapped knees and heavy hearts.

Is Lent meant to be so dark?  Does our Papa in heaven delight in the ways we berate ourselves?

One of the early purposes of Lent was to prepare new Christian believers for their baptism on Easter.  It was a time of instruction, and even fasting, but it had a joyous destination:  to be joined to Jesus in both his death and resurrection.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4).

The new life in Christ was the destination of celebration which colored the time of preparation with joy and light.

Gethsemane window background removed

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane

The word Lent comes from an old English word that means “spring.” This year at Trinity Lutheran (where I am serving as interim senior pastor), our Lenten theme will have a spring like quality: The Garden of Prayer.  Inspired by the stain glass window above Trinity’s pipe organ, we will join Jesus in prayer.

The theme verse will be “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Each Wednesday evening together we will embrace a specific Christian form of prayer.  We will celebrate the rich ancient spiritual practices of Gratitude, Confession, Intercession and Meditation.  Like a loving father or mother, God delights in spending time with God’s children.  Let us join in that delight this coming Lent.

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 10.  Encourage you to find a way to center in with God’s Love during this holy season.

I will also be using this blog to highlight these different forms of prayer.  If you want to follow along sign-up for the weekly e-mail using the form in right hand column.

How has Lent impacted your life in Christ? 

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Chasing After Baptism

Grace Amelia's Baptism  140330 croppedLast evening my second grandchild, Grace Amelia Keller, was baptized. It was a big celebration with aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends rejoicing in a new child of God. When my first grandchild, Jack, was baptized I reflected on the significance of baptism here.  Last night I was struck with a whole new perspective.

Grace Amelia's Baptism  140330  John Crosby croppedBefore the baptism, Pastor John Crosby gave some instruction to the gathered congregation regarding baptism. He emphasized the role each of them has in modeling and teaching the faith to Grace. At one point he said, “And if Grace is running down the halls of the church, you should be chasing after her.” I am not sure exactly what he meant by that image of running and chasing, but I immediately flashed back to my own son, Jonathan, father of Grace, running up and down the halls of the church when he was a toddler.

Children do a lot of running and exploring. Last night after the baptism, Jack and his friend Lily were both running/toddling/crawling about the church, exploring every nook and cranny. They wanted to see all the musical instruments, the doorways and pews. In an earlier age, I might have discouraged such behavior in “God’s House,” since it seemed disrespectful. Today I encourage it as children seek through exploration to understand their environment. They have not become jaded or apathetic about church space.

Our congregation’s Easter postcard (inviting new residents to Easter worship) is simple this year. It is a young child running with joy in a park. In John 20:4 Peter and John race to the empty tomb after hearing Mary’s report of it being empty. They ran with joy and excitement.Easter 2014

Maybe that is why we need to chase Grace and other children down the halls of the church. Not so much to stop them or to keep them safe and quiet. Rather that we might capture their childlike enthusiasm of exploring the sacred. To find Jesus. After all we are all children of God. Together lets run to see him.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

In what ways do you think we should receive the kingdom like a little child?

Lord Jesus, create in me a child’s desire to run after you.

Day One: Walking Wet

The start of a hike has not only a loaded backpack but also plenty of emotions and thoughts: worries that I might have brought too much, too little or the wrong equipment; excitement for the unknown that I will discover or the challenges that I must endure; curiosity as to whom I will meet on the trail or what self-revelation will surface. Eight days and 104 miles proved to be enough time for all kinds of emotions and thoughts to bubble up.

Preparing to kayak with my brother Rob and sister Kris prior to hike

Preparing to kayak with sister Kris and my brother Rob prior to hike

My brother Robert graciously drove me from Seattle to Lake Chelan in Central Washington and accompanied me on the ferry to the far end of the lake. Without the assistance of my awesome brother (and sister Kris) I would not be able to complete many of the mountain backpacks that I have accomplished over the past decade. Gratitude for family was an underlying emotion from the start.

After 2.5 hours the ferry reached the village of Stehekin. The only vehicles in the village have been shipped by barge including the shuttle bus that rattled over 16 miles of dirt roads to High Bridge, mile post 2580 on the Pacific Crest Trail. I quickly picked up my pack and started down the trail.

Full pack at Stehekin

Full pack at Stehekin

Actually it was up the trail, since High Bridge was the lowest elevation (1587 feet above sea level) I would encounter on the trail. I was in a deep river canyon, slowly making my way to the high alpine country I love. After stopping for a trail lunch, I steadily climbed into a forest that was thick with brush in places making it difficult to see the trail at times.

The clouds thickened and a light drizzle began. I considered using my rain gear but decided my own sweat inside the rain jacket would be worse. I hiked on as the drizzle became a steady rain. With the sections of thick brush, clothing was soon soaked. I marched on.

Having grown up in Washington, I knew rain. If one keeps moving, the body stays warm. I was thankful that my recent purchase of a broad rim hat kept the rain off my face and glasses.

Here is a short video of the wet brush, (you may need to use “full screen” to see it.)

I arrived at Cedar Camp at 5:30 pm, ten miles from High Bridge, soaking wet. I set up my tent, changed to drier, warmer clothes and greeted the others camping at this site. I discovered some were from Holden Village, a nearby Lutheran retreat center. I met Ben Stewart, a pastor and professor from Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. I informed him that a new presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, had been elected at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly the day before.

As I talked with other hikers from Holden, the forest continued to drip with mist and showers.  I was reminded of a phrase that I learn when I had visited Holden years ago, that as Christians “we walk wet.” The phrase was a reminder of our baptism into Christ. Though the water of our baptism may have long evaporated, we are still renew each day by the promises of our baptism, that we are beloved children of God, empowered by the Spirit. That thought warmed me as much as the freeze-dried chicken-and-rice meal I ate. I was “walking wet” in the wonder of God’s creation.

How do you walk wet?

Lord Jesus, thank you for the gifts of creation, family, church and renewal.

Running Out of Water

English: Dripping faucet Deutsch: Tropfender W...

Confirmation students often surprise me with the questions they ask. Recently we were discussing the Lutheran sacrament of baptism. They wanted to know, “why do we use water for baptism?”

The simplest answer would be that this is what Jesus used and commanded (though technically Jesus never used water since he never baptized anyone, see John 4:2). Though John the Baptist baptized Jesus with water, he remarked that the Messiah would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 4:11).  However water remained the essential physical element for baptism in the early church.  As the Ethiopian Eunuch observed after his conversation with Philip about Jesus, “Look, here is some water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ (Acts 9:36). Since the early church, water has remained an essential element of baptism.*

Jesus might have chosen another physical element, but water was what he chose.   Water remains a basic part of life. Without water, biological life dies.  Jesus takes this simple, basic element and does something extraordinary.  That is the power and wonder of the baptism.

In my old church I was leading worship and preparing to do a baptism. I discovered a great-grandfather of the child was a former governor of Minnesota and he was present for the service.   I was a bit nervous knowing this. As I called the family forwarded to the baptismal font to start the service, I looked into the baptismal bowl. It was empty. No water. My nervous meter shot straight up.

Silver bowl with modernist base designI picked the empty bowl up and said, “An essential part of baptism is water and our bowl is empty.”

I started to walk towards the side door, saying as I walked, “There are two essential parts to baptism: the Word of God and water. I have God’s Word here (holding up my Bible), but I need water as well. And do you know where we get our water for baptism?”

I stepped into the kitchen.

“From the faucet right here in the kitchen.”

I turned on the water and filled the bowl.

“It is just ordinary water that we start with, but used with God’s Word it does extraordinary things.” I walked back into the worship area holding the bowl of water.

“And that is part of the power of baptism. God takes ordinary people, like you and me, and does extraordinary things we them. Turning us into the children of God.”

I placed the bowl of water back into the font and continued the baptism.

Later the former governor told me that was one of the most memorable baptisms he had seen.  It was for me as well.

Lord Jesus, thanking for taking ordinary stuff, like water and me, and doing extraordinary work with them.

*The gift of the Holy Spirit remains connected to the act of baptism, but certainly not restricted or limited to water baptism (see the story in Acts 10:44-48).

Lite or Light Christian

My baptism with Aunt Nola Mathre

My baptism with Aunt Nola Mathre

I grew up in a loving Christian home. My parents had me baptize when I was six weeks old and brought me to the worship services at church throughout my childhood. For the most part I enjoyed going to church. Sunday school, especially the Bible stories, was something I grasped easily. I grew up singing and believing the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” I never wandered too far from church or faith.

Several of my high school and college friends rebelled against the faith. Drinking, drugs or other addictive behavior pulled some of them out of the “safe” environment of church and family. Others just sorted of drifted away out of boredom or dissatisfaction. Meanwhile I continued to find meaning and identity as a Christian, even at a secular college.

Conversion by Caravaggio

Conversion by Caravaggio

Other friends had powerful religious conversions in which their lives made a 180 degree turn. They had been running away from God or ignoring him, but one day they embraced faith in Christ and their life changed. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, they had seen the light and struck down by God’s grace (Acts 9:1-5). Like Paul, they were zealous for others to come out of darkness and into the light.

I marveled at their stories of transformation. Part of my wonder was a sincere praise for God’s amazing grace towards His children. But part of my marvel was envy. I never had the “amazing” conversion story of being trapped in darkness and seeing the light. Among my evangelical friends, I felt somewhat inadequate.

Once, when I was camping after college, I started a conversation with two women my age. The conversation turned to religious faith and they asked me the fateful evangelical question, “When did you become a Christian?” I responded, “When I was baptized.” Since I was baptized as an infant, they could not comprehend this. I did not fit their standard of being old enough to “ask Jesus into my life.”  I was not “real” Christian in their eyes.

For some time I thought of myself as “Lite” Christian, not having the full-conversion experience that my evangelical friends had. But now I see myself more as a Light Christian, who has had the joy of living in God’s light all my life. Christ is the source of light and I am thankful for every time it shines on me. As Paul proclaims, For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Have you ever wrestled with feelings of inferiority in your faith?

Lord Jesus, let your light shine in and through me.

The Love of Reading

Kelller SmileAs a new grandpa I enjoy holding and playing with my grandson. Like nearly all grandparents I delight in both my grandson’s ever-expanding abilities while appreciating my son and daughter-in-law’s parenting challenges and joys. Last week they sent me a video of Jack’s new ability to roll over and I was dancing with joy as I watched.  I fully embrace my new role as “papa”.

Family Reading Baby Yawning by Jacob Schriftman

I saw this photograph from a blogger in Ireland, Jacob Schriftman, and it immediately reminded me of one of my parenting joys: reading to children. Most parents in our society know the value of reading as well the intimacy of holding a child. One of my professors in seminary said that as parents we teach our children both the value of intellectual knowledge and emotional intimacy when we hold our child in our lap to read to them. There is something powerful and significant in this nightly ritual.

And naturally there are all kinds of books to read to children. One of my favorites as a parent was to read Goodnight Moon and search for the mouse in each picture. Even though I grew tired of reading it, my children’s fascination kept me engaged.

Spark Story BibleA member of my congregation stopped by my office the other day and said how much his five-year old son appreciates their family reading from the Spark Story Bible. His son was very upset when the family return from a trip and the Spark Story Bible could not be found right away. They had to do a thorough search for it prior to bedtime so that the story ritual could be restored. Perhaps they read the story of the lost coin in Luke 15 and the rejoicing that took place when the coin was found.

I look forward to reading to my grandson in the years to come. It is one way that I can live out my calling to “love my neighbor” and to bear witness to Jesus Christ. At baptism, parents promise to place in the hands of their children the Holy Scripture and provide for their Christian instruction. I think grandparents can play a big part in that promise as well.

Lord Jesus, may your Word become the joy of our hearts.

Baptism ABC: E is for Engagement

Jack starts his week with worship at the Table at Christ Presbyterian Church

Jack starts his week with worship at the Table at Christ Presbyterian Church

This is my final post for now in the series: Baptism ABCs. E is for engagement which centers on the promises the parents, sponsors and congregation make during an infant baptism. They promise to engage the child in faithful behaviors so that the child will come to understand his or her identity as a child of God. As wonderful as the Baptismal promises are, they are of little value unless the baptized child grows to understand and embrace them.

At baptism the parents promise to bring the child to worship, to place in their hands the holy scriptures and to provide for their instructions in the Christian faith. The parents and child need the community of faith to assist in this maturing process. Part of that maturing process in the Lutheran church is confirmation where a child is instructed in the basics of the faith: Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer as well as the overarching story of God’s love recorded in the Bible.

At the end of confirmation instruction, the child stands before the congregation and declares her own trust in God. It is no longer the faith of her parents and sponsors but her own personal faith. She affirms the promises of baptism as her own.

My grandson Jack’s recent baptism sparked my series of baptismal reflections. Though Jack’s father (my son) was raised in the Lutheran church and baptized as an infant, Jack’s mother was raised in the Pentecostal tradition and was baptized in her later childhood. I sometimes wonder if at Jack’s confirmation Jack might benefit from the opportunity to remember his baptism in a special way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wonder if a large baptism tank or a lake outdoors might be used so that he could be fully immersed into the water and rise up into newness of life (see Baptism ABC: D is for dying). I would not believe this to be a re-baptism, but rather as remembering his baptism in a direct experiential way. The promises of his infant baptism would remain but his memory of them would be reinforced. As I think more about it, I wonder if I might not join Jack in such a watery remembrance.

For now, as a grandpa or papa, my task is clear: to help Jon and Maggie engage Jack with the love, joy and peace of God. What an honor that is!

In what ways do you remember or affirm your baptism?

Lord Jesus, keep me engaged in faithful practices and vibrant life.