Sunday, October 23, 2011

Christianity 101: Baptism

We’ve reached a critical point. If you’ve followed these Christianity 101 posts, then you’ve learned that God is all about the relationship with us. You know that each of us have sinned and broken that relationship. However, God took the necessary steps of Grace through Jesus Christ to arrange for our redemption because regardless of our lack of faithfulness to Him, He still loves us and wants that relationship. We’ve come to our part, and we’ve learned what it means to repent. Now, we take a look at baptism.

Before we do, if you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, please go back and review them. This post will make more sense to you if you do.

Acts 2:36-39
Peter: Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

The Cut-to-the-Heart People: Brothers, what shall we do?

Peter: 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.

Let me rephrase this exchange. I’m going to take some liberties to try to express how this strikes me.

Peter: Well, all of you can be sure of one thing: God has made Jesus…the one YOU killed on a cross…both Lord (Your Master. Your King.) and Christ (Messiah. Savior.).

The “What-Have-We-Done” People: What do we do now?

Peter: Change the direction of how you are living your life and be submerged in water by the authority of Jesus…the Messiah, the Savior…so that your sins will be forgiven and the Spirit of God will live within you. This is not just for you, but for your kids, and everyone who comes after you too.

So, what’s the deal with this baptism thing? I called it being submerged. In the original Greek, that’s what the word means…to be submerged or immersed in water. What’s the big deal? Is there something magical in the act? Or, is it just a symbol? Can we do without it? Or, is it necessary? People in religious circles often fight over these questions. Book after book has been written to support one view or another…over and over again.

I’m going to try to skip all of that. Let’s just look at what we can know for sure that these people understood as they heard this in Acts 2.

Here they are just going through their lives. They thought they were doing the right things. They thought that they had brought about the death of a heretic who was threatening the relative peace that Israel was enjoying under Roman rule…cruel as it was. They felt justified.

Then, on the Day of Pentecost, God flips their lives upside down.

A crazy sound of a wild, rushing wind. Tongues of fire. People who shouldn’t be able to speak other languages are speaking clearly in tongues not their own.

"What is this? This is a fulfillment of a prophecy? Joel? Really?

The heretic is not a heretic? He has risen from the dead? Not only that, but he was the Messiah? We killed the Messiah? But, he didn’t stay dead? Now, he’s more….now, he’s the Lord….the king?

Where can I hide? How can you hide from a king who has risen from the dead?

But wait! Not only is he the Lord…he’s also the savior.

Is there any hope?...any hope for me?"

"Sure there is. Repent…change. Be immersed. Your sins will be forgiven and God will live inside you!"

"That’s all? That’s it? Geesh! Where do I sign up?"

3000 people did. 3000 people repented and were baptized that SAME DAY. They didn’t fuss about it. They just responded to what they were told. They put their faith in Jesus through the words they were told....those same words that we have been told in every generation since in the Book of Acts.

The problem is that we want to fuss about it.

All they knew is that they’d messed up and this was the answer. Isn’t that true for us? We’ve messed up, and we have an answer that Peter said was for “all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”


We do have an advantage over the folks in Acts 2, however. We can read other passages that can broaden our understanding of what GOD DOES when we submit to baptism. It can give us a clearer picture of the beautiful union that occurs…or, should I say reunion?

Romans 6:3-4
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.

When we are baptized, God buries us with His son, and then raises us up with a whole new life…a fresh start…free from the burden of our sin. Keep in mind that God does this. All we do is submit ourselves to what He is doing.

Galatians 3:26-27
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

If you have enough faith in Jesus Christ to submit yourself to baptism, then you are covering your life up in His. He is covering your sinfulness much like clothing covers your nakedness…making you acceptable to being seen by God.

I Peter 3:21
…and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge (response) of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,…

By submitting to the process of baptism, we are responding to God’s call in good conscience. We are giving ourselves in pledge to Him.

It is the great reunion of a lost person with the God who loves him.

Let us simply relish in the beauty of this gift of Grace that God has provided.

In conclusion, I want to say that baptism is neither nothing, nor is it everything. There are some who discount it completely as only a ceremonial act that we have no need to do. There are others who think that everything revolves around this one step. For me, it is a culmination. Loving God is the prime ingredient. God has done the work. It is up to us to both repent (change) and submit (be baptized) into the grand reunion.

This promise is for ALL whom the Lord will call. Do I hear your phone ringing?

Monday, October 17, 2011

To Ramble or Not to Ramble? A Ramble.

Okay. So here’s the deal. For over a year, I was prolifically writing blog posts. Well, prolifically for me anyway. It seemed that I had something to say about every other day. Idea after idea came to me, and I typed and posted away. Then….all of the sudden….poof. All of the ideas just came to an end. Ugh. Putting together a blog post became work. No energy. No fun.

So, I thought: Mike, you’ve just got to slow it down. Give yourself a break. Take some time and allow the creative batteries to recharge. Well, time has gone by. Weeks in fact. However, I’m still finding myself lacking in defined inspiration.

I’ll think about an idea during the day (when writing isn’t really an option), but by the time I have a few moments to create it’s all gone.

Now, I’m left with a choice. Do I just hang it up? Consider the blog a passing fancy? Or, do I act like a baseball hitter who’s in a slump and keep swinging until I work myself through this?

What do you think?

For now, I’m left with random thoughts. Just little snippets of opinions and views that I can’t seem to develop into something more substantial. Here are a few examples:

1. Occupy Wall Street. Somehow, I think these protesters are somewhat na├»ve about what they are trying to do. I don’t want our country to veer totally into the direction they are trying to pull it. People need to feel a sense of ambition to succeed, and an expectation that they will reap the benefits of that success without the concern that the government is going to ‘redistribute’ their earned reward. On the other hand, have you ever looked at an annual report and considered what the CEOs of major corporations make per year? I saw one the other day, and the guy’s annual compensation package reached $1.5 million. 1.5 million dollars! He’s just like you and me. He has two legs, two arms, one brain, and 24 hours in a day…and, somehow he’s worth that much? I don’t blame him for taking what’s offered to him, but the question is begged….why is it offered? Why do American corporations feel so obligated to be the so profitable and so successful that they lay off their fellow citizens and move those jobs to other parts of the world? Sure, they can automate every function and save on human overhead, but do they really need to?  You've got to wonder why to save a few million, they'll lay off dedicated workers and move factories to foreign countries, and then on  the other hand pay ONE GUY well over a million dollars? If the Occupy Wall Street protests do nothing more than pull back on the reins of greed, then they’ve done something good for this country. I just don’t want them to stop the wagon altogether and park it in the barn.  Balance, folks.  Balance.

2. Dan Weldon’s Death. I’m a guy who cannot view someone else’s grief without struggling to contain my own emotions and I usually lose that battle. Watching the pain in the faces of the crews in Las Vegas was tough to take. Also, I was touched by how they all banded together and honored their fallen fellow racer in such a fitting manner. That said, I think I’ve seen that wicked crashed just a few too many times in the last 24 hours. Why do the news channels feel so obligated to show a man’s death over and over and over? Lastly, I’ve heard it mentioned on the news today that maybe the IRL should stop racing on oval tracks, or that they need to change the rules to make it more safe. Slow things down. Etc, etc. Folks, part of the excitement of racing for both the racers and the fans is the danger. I hope I never see another driver die in my lifetime, however, they know the risks. It is their choice. Let them make it.

3. Politics. I am completely sick of both the Republicans and the Democrats. I don’t think either party has a clue of what to do. One side doesn’t want to stop spending, and the other side doesn’t want to sacrifice. Are we going to have to collapse as a nation before things change? Or, is it finally time for a new party to arise and lead our country down a reasonable path. Is it time for one of the traditional parties to go the way of the Whigs? I think it is possible today for that to happen. As a society, we are much less dependent on TV and the costs incurred by advertizing there. Now we have the internet. Just look at what the protesters are doing with the social media. What if that got harnessed for a fraction of the cost of TV to create a reasonable new choice for leadership in our country? Notice I’m not saying a “third” party. I want a new party. One or both of the current ones need to go. And, I’m about sick to death of the TV pundits on both sides. Geesh, enough already!

4. The Proposed 9. 9. 9. Maybe it’s not the answer for our tax system, but none of the traditional candidates seem to be able to think outside the box. Right now, we need someone thinking outside the norm. We need a game-changer. Is Herman Cain the guy? I don’t know, but I like the fact that he’s not just the same old stuff. If point 3 above doesn’t come about before November 2012, I’m going to have a difficult set of choices to make and maybe Herman's the guy.

5. Bank Fees. Recently, it was announced by several major banks that they are going to institute a monthly fee for people to use their debit cards to make purchases. They claim they NEED those fees because of changing regulations that have caused them to lose profits on credit card charges to retailers. REALLY? Come on now. Seems to me that I’ve recently heard of the billions of dollars in net annual profits reported in annual reports. So, they need my $4 or $5 per month? Maybe they could drop the salaries of their CEOs by a million or so, and let us keep our money as a show of good faith after we bailed them out a couple of years ago. Just a thought. Besides, I thought that debit cards were saving them oodles of money since they didn’t have to handle all those paper checks anymore. What happened to that? If I get hit with a fee, maybe I’ll go back to paper checks in protest.  I think what I hate most about the major banks is how they make you feel powerless.  They are like towering tyrants pushing the peons around.  No wonder people are protesting on Wall Street.

I guess that’s enough rambling for now. Pray for my creative streak to return. I like to write, but I just need something to say.

Until my next ramble….


PS. My dog, Xena is snoring on the couch. Do they make those Breathe Rite Strips for dogs too?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood-Bullies and Bumblebees

I’ve been hearing a great deal in the media these days about bullying. It seems to be a popular drum to beat, and it’s played up as if this were something new or as if it were a problem unique to a certain subset of society. The fact is that bullying is as old as humanity. For as long as there have been people, I’d be willing to bet that there have been bullies.

As a boy of the sixties and seventies in Muncie, Indiana, I interacted with any number of bullies. In elementary school, the kids to avoid lived down on 24th Street, east of Hackley. A good punch in the gut seemed to be Kenneth’s favorite game. I avoided him at all costs.

In those days, I walked to school. It was only five blocks straight up 21st Street, but I was only about six or seven years old at the time. One day, I headed off to school, and being wary of the bullies that were lurking in the area, I didn’t take the direct path. Instead, I slipped over away from the road to cut through people’s yards, hoping to make the trip unnoticed. My dad noticed because he tracked me down after a couple of blocks to find out what I was doing.

Besides the fear of the brutal punch in the gut, there were the insults…

“Hey fatty!”

“Are ya chicken?”

“Your hair looks like somebody put a bowl over your head before they cut it.”

“You’re stupid!”

And, the list could go on.

How about always being picked last for….just about everything?

That was elementary school. Then middle school arrived with gym classes that included locker rooms and showers. The athletically insufficient meets the sports stud. Not a good combination.

One example of being bullied stayed with me for about thirty years. Let me paint the picture: 8th grade at Wilson Middle School. Math class. I’m at the heaviest point of my life to that date, and haven’t yet hit my growth spurt. We get a new kid in class. Jimmy.

I remember Jimmy from Roosevelt Elementary. I hadn’t seen him in years because he gone on to another school, but he was memorable because he was a bully and was good at fighting. He was like that old Jim Croce song: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim!”

Of course, the teacher rearranged the seating chart and put me right next to Jimmy. I thought I was safe because we were basically two feet from the teacher’s desk, but that was not the case. He turned out to be oblivious to the situation, and Jimmy had become an expert at subtle, covert terrorizing and humiliation. His favorite tool was a little synthetic bumblebee attached to an elastic band, and he sat there everyday flipping me with it…constantly.

Flip, flip.

“What ya gonna do ‘bout it? Huh? Am I bothering you? Ah, too bad.”

Flip, flip.

"What's the matter?  Can't you concentrate?  Having trouble with that problem?  Too bad.  Hahaha!"

Flip, flip.

I tried ignoring it. I tried to make friends with him. I didn’t dare complain to the teacher because that would be grounds for an after school sneak attack. I had two choices, either I could sit there and take it or I could turn around and punch him in the face. In retrospect, I should have drilled him. There would have been consequences with the school, with my dad, and with Jimmy, but it would have ended the situation, and maybe gained me some personal self-respect and the respect of my classmates. Instead, I just bore the burden…for weeks on end. I just put up with it, and inside I struggled with hating him.

Of course time changes all circumstances. Eventually, that school year ended. Jimmy and I parted company. I saw him rarely through the high school years, and I can’t even remember if we went to the same high school. In high school, I grew enough that I finally got bigger, and the direct bullying ended.

The problem was that I carried that pain for years afterward. On the one hand, I gained some strength of personal endurance by bearing the situation, but on the other hand I suffered for years from a lack of self-respect, AND I couldn’t shake my anger with Jimmy. As a Christian, I wanted to forgive him, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t find the way to get there. I tried. I failed. I kept trying, but the pain kept creeping back in.

Fast forward about thirty years. I’m now in my mid-forties and a successful industrial sales leader in my industry. I’ve matured past my youthful insecurities, and have gained a measure of personal toughness I didn’t have as a kid. I live in Indianapolis, but I’m in Muncie on business. It is lunchtime, and I’m enjoying my Ham-n-Cheese sandwiches at Mac’s Restaurant on south Madison Street. At the table next to mine is a face I recognize, but I can’t quite place. He looks so familiar. We must have gone to school together. We start to talk.

It was Jimmy!

It is interesting how time changes people. My mind still had him in eighth grade, and still an obnoxious bully. Now, he’s a middle-aged man just trying to live life like everyone else. Despite the image in my mind, time had not frozen him in place.

Jimmy starts to tell me how his life has changed. He’d had some rough times in his life, but he had found God. He was a Christian, and he was doing his best to live right. He was oozing with humility. He knew he’d done a lot of wrong things back when he was younger…

“Yeah, you were pretty hard on me,” I interjected.

He looked me in the eye. “I’m really sorry about that.”

Two things happened at that instant. 1. I found that place of forgiveness, and my entire burden of anger toward him had dissipated. 2. I gained a much better understanding of the meaning of GRACE.

I can tell you this….Grace feels much, much better than hatred and resentment combined. No wonder God is so eager to give it out.

All that said, I don’t like bullies. Bullying is wrong no matter the target or the reason. It causes a great deal of pain, pain that lasts for years and even decades.

If you are the target of a bully, it won’t always be like it is. Talk to some folks and get some help, but don’t despair. Time changes things, but be proactive. Maybe society would frown on you taking direct action like punching someone in the face, but still you have other options. Go to a person in authority and get help. Confront the situation head on.

And, if you are an idiot math teacher who is sitting two feet away from a kid who is being terrorized with a synthetic bumblebee on an elastic band…do your stinkin’ job!

Maybe I’ve got someone else to forgive now. What do you think?