Tag Archives: confirmation

Broken and Unbroken Promises

I have been neglecting my blog for several months for no good reason.  Recently I was contacted by the congregation where I was confirmed, Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bremerton, WA.  They are celebrating their 70th anniversary this fall and was seeking stories from former congregation members.  My confirmation experience became a kind of crossroads in my spiritual life so I will share it here as well.

Emmanuel Lutheran BremWA

Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bremerton, WA

Pastor Orville Crawford was my 9th grade confirmation teacher and our class of about twenty boisterous teenagers met most Wednesday evenings in the basement of Emmanuel. We struggled to memorized Luther’s Small Catechism. Being a good student, I struggled less than others. God had given me a sharp mind that grabbed new concepts quickly. I was also active in the small Sunday afternoon Luther League activities, so Pastor Crawford knew me well.

In the spring, as our Confirmation Sunday drew near, Pastor Crawford had a concern. At that time, communion was restricted to confirmed members and thus our first communion would come the Sunday following our confirmation. We were to receive communion as a class, sitting together in the front of the church, just as we would do on our confirmation Sunday. Pastor Crawford was concerned that not all the class would be present for the first communion because it would fall on Memorial Day Week-end that year. So he asked me, “John, how many of your confirmation classmates will be there for the First Communion?” I had no idea, so I said, “I don’t know, but you can count on me being there!” I remember how confident my promise was to him.

Our confirmation Sunday went smoothly. I was very excited to confess my faith in Jesus Christ and become an active member of the congregation. However, that afternoon some friends approached me about going on a backpack trip the next week-end into the Olympic Mountains. It would be my first such trip. I was torn. I remembered my promise to Pastor Crawford, but also wanted to try backpacking. My parents said it was my decision, since I had completed confirmation. With only a brief hesitation, I decided to go backpacking.

Lower Lena Lake

Lower Lena Lake where we camped. It rained most of the week-end.

When I returned I discovered that I was the only member of my confirmation class not present for the first communion Sunday!

Yet when I next came to worship Pastor Crawford did not chastise or judge me. He simply welcomed me to the Lord’s Table, delighted that I was there. I felt loved and forgiven.

What I learned from that experience is that God’s Grace is not about what promises I make to God, but about God’s promises to us. I might make lofty promises to God or God’s people, only to discover that I fail to keep them. Yet God does not hold that against me. God is always willing to welcome me in love. Jesus promises to forgive and heal us. “This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Also as an ordained pastor, I have worked to follow Pastor Crawford’s example of grace and hospitality.

The ironic thing is I learned to love backpacking as a member of Emmanuel’s Luther League.  Every summer during high school we made a long hike in Olympic National Park. That love (along with the love of God) continues with me as I prepare to return to the PCT in Washington next week.

The Study of the Way

Hiking below Mt. Rainier

Hiking below Mt. Rainier

My past few posts have focused on my backpacking journey along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Today I am writing about a different journey, a much more ancient yet comprehensive path: the Christian journey through the story of Scripture.

Like the PCT, the Biblical story is long, covering sixty-six books and nearly 2000 years of history. It has moments of great beauty, high adventure and powerful spiritual depths. And to be honest, the Bible has sections that seem tedious and overgrown, especially to the newcomer. Not every verse inspires when read. Yet the diligent study of God’s Word reaps tremendous benefit for those who stay on the path.

Confirmation Bibles prepared to guide our students.

Confirmation Bibles prepared to guide our students

On Sunday evening, as part of our orientation to Resurrection’s confirmation program, parent of our confirmation students will place in their hand their new student study Bible. Along with other staff members, I have taken time to highlight Bible verses that have guided my spiritual walk with Jesus. Such verses as

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:19b-20).

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In the coming weeks I will have the privilege and joy of leading these students through the basic story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, from Creation to Resurrection and beyond. We will meet such Biblical heroes as Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Pharaoh, Ruth, David and Solomon, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Peter, Mary and Martha, Paul. We will explore such stories as Abraham’s call, the Exodus, David and Goliath, the Exile, the Good Samaritan and the Lost Sons. This journey is so rich with wonder and meaning it will take a lifetime.

Jesus Discourses with His Disciples

Jesus Discourses with His Disciples (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My biggest task and joy will be exploring the story of Jesus, the Word of God. He is the core of our Christian faith and I am so thankful that he is the true guide on this journey. After all, he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). My central reason for studying God’s Word is to stay on the path with him.

What Bible verse is one of your favorites? How does the Bible guide your life?

Lord Jesus, Word of God, guide me today as I seek to follow you.

Cry Out!

Out of the depths I cry to you, oh Lord (Psalm 130).

Yelling!I try not to be a complainer. My preference is to simmer on the inside, while smiling on the outside. However there are times when things don’t go my way and I get frustrated and complain. No, more accurately, I yell.

Last week as I prepared for confirmation, I had three you-tube videos I wanted to show the students. I tested my laptop and projector in our class room the afternoon prior to the class. The set-up needed some minor adjustments but I thought I had all the tech “gremlins” worked out so that I could easily show the video clips that evening. I was psyched to teach.

I came back early to reset the laptop and projector for the actual class and two tech gremlins attacked my system. First my laptop kept “freezing” during the video and the projector refused to power up. Neither of these happened during the afternoon test run. The students were restless, ready to start, and my whole lesson plan had gone out the window. I could feel the frustration and anger rising up within me and I confess it came out sideways. I “yelled” at the students to be quiet. It actually was my “crying out to the Lord,” since I thought he had abandoned me. After the outburst I attempted to teach my first lesson on the Apostle’s Creed from scratch.

Yet as I stumbled along, God heard my cry. Or at least two of God’s servants did. Two adults who are tech savvy, started working on the laptop and projector. Within ten minutes they had the projector and laptop working and the video clips cued. Our confirmation class could continue.  (And later I apologized to the students for my outburst.)

Not every cry of the heart is heard so quickly. Some cries come from much deeper within us.  In hospital rooms,  I have joined others in crying out to the Lord, asking for healing from Almighty God.  After worship, I have cried out to the Lord with members who need real guidance and strength.  After a counseling appointment, we cry to the Lord for mercy and grace.  At times our cries seem to be lost in the heavens. Yet like the Psalmist, we continue to cry out. God does not promise how or when he will answer our prayers. He simply commands us to pray. Or to cry out!

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Roman 8:22-23).

How do you cry out to the Lord?

Lord Jesus, hear my cry and rescue me.

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.

“I am” and Green Algae

Last week-end I participated in our ninth grade confirmation retreat at Camp Wapo.  The sixteen youth will be confirmed in October, affirming their baptismal covenant. This group had a few “energetic” boys who could be distracting at times so we had to find creative ways to teach.

The retreat focused on the “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. At Friday’s campfire we introduced God’s name “I AM WHO I AM;” God gave this name to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). The name in Hebrew became so sacred that later generations of Jews would not pronounce it. Yet Jesus utilized the “I am” name to describe himself. For example in John 9 when he healed a man born blind, he said, “I am the light of the world.”

The next morning we explored the other “I am” statements of Jesus. To keep their attention, we walked about the camp as we discussed, thinking about “I am the way” (John 14:6). We walked through the gate of the “Gaga Pit,” for a discussion of “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7).

I am the vine, you are the branches.

As we stopped in a grove of trees, we listen to Jesus’ words, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:1) and prayed as we grasped the trunk/vine in our hands. For the most part, the students seem to be connecting to Jesus’ words.

As we approached the swimming beach, I had planned to have the student remember their baptism and Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26). We were to walk down to the lake shore, dip our hands in the water and make the sign of the cross on our forehead. We would say the words, “I am alive in Christ.” The water would connect us to our baptism and our life in Christ.

However I had neglected to scout the beach prior to our approach. It had not been used for a few weeks, since summer camp ended. As I walked to the shore, I discovered that there was at least a half-foot of thick mud at the water’s edge and that the water had become a sickly green. Instead of life, the water reminded me of death. Uncertain what to do, I looked up to see one of the “energetic” boys walking out onto the dock. It stretched beyond the mud and green algae.

So there on the dock, we reached over into the lake water and renewed our baptism, water dripping from our heads and hands.

I hope someday that I can incorporate an actual immersion under the water as a way of remembering our baptism. I am still Lutheran in my embrace of infant baptism as God’s means of grace. God starts the covenant relationship. But I think many of us need experiential rites along the way to affirm and remember this covenant. Being dunked in a lake could help us remember that we are buried with Christ and raised with Christ in the waters of our baptism (Roman 6:3-4).

I will first need to find a lake without green algae.

Lord Jesus, I am alive in you. Thank you

Questions about God and Prayer

At Resurrection, confirmation students complete sermon notes.  I enjoy reading the questions they write after the sermon is done.  Normally they offer just one, but this past Wednesday one student was truly inspired.  I had preached on Moses and his encounter with God at the burning bush in Exodus 3.   I started the sermon with the verses that come immediately prior:

Hebrew Slaves Cry Out

The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out.  Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God.  God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. Exodus 2:23ff

The cry of the Israelites created all kinds of questions for the student:

While God’s people were slaves, many died.  Why did He not save them? Why did he wait?  Were they the “bait”/sacrificed for us to grow closer to God? How do you know if God is listening? (you don’t feel he is there.)  Why did God “then” hear their “cries?”

Great questions!    

Though the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for generations (Exodus 1:8), this is the first record of their calling out to God for help.  They may have called out before, but we have no record of it.   God knew their struggle and was preparing a way out of Egypt through his preparation of Moses for leadership.   The cry of the people and God’s call for Moses to lead the people are linked here in Exodus.  God waited both for the people’s desire to leave and for the right leader to be ready.

As to the question of whether we know God is listening, the point is the Israelites did not know at first.   They cried out to God and God chose Moses, even though Moses has no desire to be God’s leader.   Moses was God’s answer to the Israelites cry for help, but they did not know it at first.  In fact, when Moses first arrives they reject him, Exodus 5:21!

The story demonstrates that God’s answers prayers, but not always in the time and way we choose.  We are called to trust God even as we wait.  It also demonstrates that we might become the answer to someone else’s prayers.

When was a time that you had to wait for God’s answer to your cries for help?