Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Baptism Part 2: Death of the Messiah, Resurrection for Humanity

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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. -Romans 6:3-5
Baptism is an act whereby we affirm our faith in God's promise to deliver and liberate his people and his world as he delivered Israel from Egypt. Baptism is our public initiation into the community and movement established by Jesus. We last looked at how baptism is connected to the Exodus narrative and is in itself an Exodus act, Baptism Part 1: New Exodus. Jesus is a better Moses who has rescued us from sin and has led us into the new world of God's Shalom.

Baptism is a beautiful and colorful sacrament. It is much more than a string connecting worlds, times or events. It is a web weaving in and out of history and throughout the biblical story connecting and illustrating the plan and intention of God for his world and for his humanity. Paul is getting at this very thing when in his letter to the Romans he comes to the topic of baptism.

Paul introduces and applies a very important theological truth that all who call themselves followers of Jesus must come to terms with: What is true of the Messiah, is also true of his people. The Gospel writers express this toward the end of their accounts. John in his Gospel remembers these words of Jesus:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. -John 14:12
In his prayer in John 17, Jesus expresses his desire to have all his people with him where he is because he is loved by the Father, "before the creation of the world" (vs.24). Paul might have this in mind in his letter to the Ephesians when he tells them that they have been loved and chosen by God before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)...what is true of Jesus is true of us.

So here in Romans 6, as Paul is re-telling Israel's story with the Messiah twist he comes to the Exodus. We have discussed how baptism and exodus correlate in part 1, Paul wants us to see baptism in an even greater light. The text quoted above postulates that being baptized in water is more than that, it is being baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection. Here Paul takes the truth, 'what is true of Jesus is true of his people', and exposes it's very foundation- we have become united with him (6:5). In baptism we follow Jesus into his death, an event that brought an end to death's reign. In baptism we obey the command of Jesus to take up our cross and follow him to Golgotha (Mark 8:34).

Paul continues his reasoning, if we become united to his death, we will also have his resurrection. Joining Jesus' movement and community is to join in his suffering. All who follow Jesus are called to their own wilderness experiences, but what is true of Jesus is true of us. Jesus died and was buried, his people die and enter the ground with him.  Jesus did not stay in the grave. We resurrect with him! Death has no victory over us, sin is no longer our master! (Romans 6:9-12) So in Baptism we not only re-enact the Exodus from Egypt, we re-enact humanity's Exodus from sin and death. In Baptism we demonstrate that we have been united to Jesus in such a way that we have died to sin as he did and we resurrect victorious over death as he did. By baptism we affirm faith in Jesus, that he was victorious and that we will indeed always be with him where he is. So by entering into the water we in a very real sense enter a new world and a new hope. When we raise out of the water we do so knowing that our life is new and that resurrection is in our future for our bodies as it is present in our spirits.

Have you yet to be baptized? Hurry to the water! Come to unity with Jesus in his death, resurrection and eternal life.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

When the Rabbi Says "Come"

In the days of Jesus, what did the term disciple (talmid) mean to them; and what can we learn from that today? Ray Vander Laan, a scholar of the Hebrew texts and customs, Christian teacher, and Ancient Middle East expert, helps us understand.

Learn more from Ray Vander Laan at FollowThe Rabbi.com

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Discipleship Simplified From Down Under

The wonderful publishers from Down Under, Matthias Media, has provided an excellent resource that aims at equipping believers in having one-to-one bible reading times with their friends who are non-believers, young believers, or, like them, growing believers. 

The name of the short book is One to One Bible Reading and it's by David Helm, the pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Chicago. Part of Helm’s premise is inspired by a paragraph from The Trellis and the Vine, another resource from Matthias Media:
Imagine if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught up in a web of regular Bible reading—not only digging into the Word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian for follow-up once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, and with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement. 

Prior to referring back to this quote from Marshall and Payne, Helm says in One-to-One, “What is this way? What is this activity that is so simple and so universal that it meets the discipleship needs of these three very different people? We call it reading the Bible one-to-one.”

By design the one-to-one concept is meant to remove all the programmatic pressure that today’s American church-goer is inclined to burden himself or herself to in the discipleship process. Rather than approaching discipleship with the expectation of having a directed program, professional curriculum, and polished facilitation, Helm frees Christ-followers from feeling like they have to be a bible study specialist and gives us confidence that meeting to read scripture together and discuss will be a catalyst for gospel, spiritual, and community growth.

Helm writes:
Any committed Christian is capable of initiating a good conversation on a biblical text. In reality, your fears in this area of personal work betray two Screwtape-like lies that every Christian must resist. First, that gospel growth depends on us and on our abilities. This is simply not the case. Our proficiency in the Bible is not the final arbiter in seeing spiritual growth occur. The Holy Spirit can and does use timid people just like us. The second lie we fight against is disbelief—disbelief in the potency of God’s word. We need to be reminded that God does his work in his way, and it is his word that accomplishes whatever he desires in the world.

I love this approach!  And, if you've been around Grace Church for a while, you know this approach  resonates what we've been pushing since our beginning. The concept of One-to-One centers Christian fellowship around scripture. By design this fellowship leans heavily on the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of two people developing a mutual friendship around the Word of God.

Go figure…a discipleship method that depends on the Spirit and Scripture! And here's the best part, any and every Christian can do it!

This concept is not novel. This concept is not trendy. This concept is not vintage. It is simply rooted in historic biblical Christianity. Order it today or pick up a copy this Sunday at Grace Church!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Forgiveness: It's Not About You

Inside Shalom blogs on Forgiveness. Many see forgiveness as something that's good for the psyche. This is true but Jesus teaches and demonstrates magnificent and grand reasons to live a life of forgiveness that are bigger than us. Its how we walk in true discipleship and how evil itself is eradicated. Grace and Peace.