Beautifully "Boring" Testimonies

I had the privilege yesterday of baptizing a young gal aged 7 yrs old. After my 4 year old witnessed this sacrament, he thought it appropriate to lead my 2 year old into the bath tub and baptize him. No word yet (happened while at youth group) on whether the preferred mode was sprinkling or immersion, though I’m hoping for the former (in the interest of safety just as much as in theology).

So you could say I, or rather we, have baptism on the brain. The next potential baptism might be a baptism based upon profession of faith, as opposed to the covenant baptism (based upon the profession of parent’s faith) yesterday.

She, like many, cannot point to a point in time when she was converted. The unwritten rule, or at least assumption, while I was in college was, “If you can’t tell me when you became a Christian, there’s a good chance you aren’t one.” Sadly this is probably the case in much of evangelicalism, and is probably an over-reaction to the mainline denomination’s lack of concern with being “born-again.”

The first time I really encountered anything other than this type of thinking was in seminary. My professor of evangelism named Steve Childers, who has led numbers of people to faith, and now runs G.C.A. (Global Church Advancement-a church planting/revitalization ministry) told me a simple prayer he had for his children: “I pray that they never know a day when they don’t remember trusting in Jesus to save them.” That sounded strange. Didn’t this guy get it?

But the more I studied, the more this seemed like a pretty darn good little prayer. First of all, the child will never be able to answer the question of why he/she is a Christian with a convenient date he/she prayed a prayer. Instead, he/she can only say, “I can’t tell you when it was that Jesus saved me, but my whole confidence is in the fact He did.” He/she can’t base the why of his/her salvation upon any sort of prayer or immediately concomitant drastic life change, but only upon the grace of God in Christ.
 
It is fine and dandy to have a date where you clearly remember being born again, but for the covenant child, that is not often the case. At least it shouldn’t be. And it is not simply for the baptized child because whether or not the child has the sign/seal upon him/her, he/she is still a covenant child.

I enjoyed reading such a testimony from this gal. It wasn’t drastic. It wasn’t crazy. It wasn’t long. In some ways it was boring, but it was also beautiful. She didn’t wrestle alligators by day and deal meth at night. She couldn’t remember when God saved her, but she was certain that He did. She recognized she was a sinner and needed the grace offered to her freely in the gospel. 

Simple but still beautiful. I like hearing about a Professor of Lesbian studies come to faith, get married to a pastor and have a family. But I like hearing “boring” testimonies as well. 

Every night I pray for my boys the same prayer I heard in seminary, that “these two boys would never know a day where they don’t know the saving love of Christ.” They don’t need to pray a special magic prayer but simply repent and rest upon the saving work of Jesus. 

However God decides to use this prayer is up to Him. I don’t get a vote but I do get a prayer and covenant promises to go with it. In the end, I’ll take any testimony my kids share that points to Jesus. Drastic or “boring,” now or later. It’s always best to leave it to the author, founder, and perfecter of children’s faith. 

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A Boobalicious Baptism? Nope, not classy enough

A friend of mine posted a video snippet from the show Big Rich Texas (I guess that’s a real show) on how to do a classy and stylish baptism.



It is worth watching because it is quite outrageous. It is also quite funny, but at the same time it is quite sad. A weird mix, like Hope Solo and Jerramy Stevens who married one day after being arrested for assault. Jesus is conspicuously absent, but not in a Esther-esque type way.

Despite the fact that this video misses Jesus entirely, I will try to practice Paul’s method in his ministry to the Athenians (Acts 17) when he commended that which he could before critiquing and pointing to Jesus. Here’s my best shot.

Positives

1.) Breasts should take a backseat to a baptism. Now she doesn’t say this exactly, but instead warns against being “boobalicious.” I think that church is probably also a time not to be “boobalicious.” Then again, whatever that means, boobaliciousness is probably best reserved for the bedroom. 

2.) Baptism is celebratory. I think this lady gets that. It is a big deal. A baptism is something we should get very excited about. Jesus is on the move as a conquering King and we join in the celebration.

3.) Community. Sometimes shy people would prefer to have as little attention drawn to them as possible, and therefor postpone or put off baptism entirely. But our baptism is not an individualistic endeavor. We are being brought into a new community, of which we now have new blessings and responsibilities. And in turn, that new community, the church, has new blessings and responsibilities as well.

Negatives

1.) Baptism is not about you wanting to change. Baptism isn’t primarily about the commitment to live a different life or turning over an new leaf (thought that is certainly the result of the gospel), but about Jesus atoning sacrifice and resurrection which then empowers us to live differently (I Peter 3:21; Col 2:12). It may sound like semantics, but if God doesn’t deal with the punishment and power of sin, all is lost. Baptism is not a sanctified public New Years resolution ceremony celebration of your commitment to Him. It’s celebrating His commitment to you.
2.) Classy and Stylish? Not exactly God’s great and wonderful plan for our lives. I even wonder how “classy” Jesus was. When he describes the great eschatological banquet and party he’s going to throw at the end of time, he goes after the classless, scoundrel, smelly, crippled, blind (Luke 14). The classy people you would expect to come to the party didn’t want to be there. Maybe they felt too classy? I wonder if we don’t at times follow the same M.O., but just don’t realize it. Jesus washed feet, touched lepers and bleeding ladies. And that’s not to say he didn’t have classy friends: I’m sure Zaccheus’ house was probably pretty classy. When you steal a lot of money, you probably spend that money on your house. But classy and stylish didn’t form some sort of invisible fence determining that which he should or shouldn’t do. Now I’ve never been accused of being too classy and stylish (my high school priest/teacher refused to believe my family were members of the Tampa Yacht and Country Club), but there are things that I should do which I sometimes feel are “beneath me.” Am I not then acting too classy but sub-Christian?

3.) Don’t try to make baptism or Jesus beautiful. You can take something beautiful, such as a baptism, and try to make it more beautiful, and end up making it repulsive. Like Big Rich Texas. We can do this with our pictures of Jesus. CNN actually offered a survey to discern whether or not you were “Red Jesus or Blue Jesus?” When we create a Jesus that has a bigger heart for the 2nd amendment than the 2nd commandment, or a Jesus that is primarily interested in entitlements and more government regulation, we have before us a very ugly Jesus.

We’ve all tried to make him more beautiful by adding stuff which seems classy, stylish, fitting, and relevant, but we have ultimately presented a repulsive view of Jesus. If not to ourselves, then to others. And he’s beautiful beyond description as the disciples found out (Matt 17:2). They were speechless, minus Peter who was apparently a talker.

Anything you try to adorn Jesus with will in the end leave him looking uglier beyond belief, whether it be good works, tradition, politics, etc…That’s the irony.

In the end, I’m ok with an non-traditional baptism as long as the person and work of Jesus, and His church, take a front seat to stylish, classy, convenience, and individual.
 

Do you guys baptize adults in this place? Part II: Desire

This is a follow up post on why someone may not have seen as many adult baptisms in a Presbyterian setting as in a Baptistic church. One reason, and I don’t think its the only reason, is that there just might be fewer conversions. 
However, I want to depart from comparing denominations or convictions on baptism. Comparing theological differences, particularly when they deal with gospel truncations can be helpful. And comparing evangelistic strategies can also be helpful as we have much to learn from each other. But comparing the “results” of evangelism, which are ultimately the Lord’s work (Acts 13:48), can lead to either pride or jealousy. So I’ll focus particularly on why we don’t see more conversion than we would like, and not on why we don’t see more conversions than them
All Presbyterians-and when I say that I don’t mean folks who necessarily subscribe to the polity or theology of the P.C.A., but who are currently attending/members of such a church-should at least consider why we don’t see more conversions.
Here are a few possibilities. In no ways am I zeroing in on evangelism to the neglect of other ministries of the individual believer and the church; it just happens to be the a pertinent issue when dealing with a dearth of conversions. All of these particular possibilities are couched in lack of desire.
1.) We don’t care that much, so we don’t pray that much. This sounds un-spiritual, and that’s because it is. But it may very well be a good representation of our hearts-mine included. Perhaps we just don’t care as much as we say we do. If we’re not regularly praying for specific people to come to faith, we should probably not be surprised when specific people don’t come to faith. If we don’t have specific people we would like to see come to faith, and plug into the life of the church, then we need to ask God for specific people to come into our lives. God is cool with that: He’s opened some doors for us recently. 
Then open up your eyes and see who’s there. And if you need the faith to believe a specific someone could come to faith, you can ask for that too. I think we all have people we deem “un-reachable.” I guess sometimes you could say our lack of conversions may stem from lack of faith as much as lack of desire. It has for me.
2.) We don’t care that much, so we don’t prioritize any time for such relationships.
Time is precious. We have family. We have work. We have hobbies which help burn off stress or help us spend time with family. You can’t invite your friends to work, but you can invite them to things that are currently in your schedule. Checkers motto, “You gotta eat” rings true. Invite them to things you already do and you’ll find you actually do have the time.
3.) We don’t care that much, so we aren’t inentionally trying to move our non-Christian relationships to the next level of verbally sharing the message of the gospel. This is where I stink. I’m great at building relationships, pretty good at inviting folks to church, but often don’t find myself being as intentional with my questions that till the soil for personal gospel sharing. Praying for desire is still a legitimate prayer in this stage.

4.) We don’t care that much, but we never recognize our apathy. As a result, we don’t repent of it. None of us probably care as much as we think we do. Again, I’m not highlighting evangelism above leading your family, honoring Christ at work, mercy, discipleship, but simply want to raise the point that many of us probably don’t care as much as we think we do. Perhaps that’s one of the main culprits.

Do you guys baptize adults in this place? (ammended)

Someone asked me the other day whether or not Presbyterians baptize adults. Surprised at the question, I told him that we do. He responded that he had never seen it in his several years at one P.C.A church. I told him that I’d baptized an adult and his two young daughters one Sunday, assuring him it does happen. But why does it not regularly happen, or at least as often as you might see in a Baptistic church?
1.) One explanation could be that Baptistic churches will re-baptize folks. So if they have been baptized as an infant, the church may require or at least encourage re-receiving the sign of baptism. People can be baptized more than once, sometimes more than twice. In a Presbyterian church, we will not re-baptize. So if someone who was baptized as a child or a teenager, and yet truly comes to a embrace and cherish Christ for the first time as an adult, he or she won’t be re-baptized. Baptistic churches tend to think of baptism as an outward sign of an inward reality, whereas Presbyterians see baptism as sign and seal of the promise. I have no desire to argue the validity of the latter, but simply want to show why we and they do what we and they do. So that may account for some of the lack of adult baptisms in Presbyterian churches.
2.) There is another other explanation; I don’t like it, because it is a bit more condemning. Yet I think it may be more likely the culprit in the dearth of Presbyterian adult baptisms as compared to our Baptistic brothers and sisters. It is possible that Baptistic churches just do a better job at reaching people for Christ than Presbyterian churches. It is possible that they simply “see” more conversions, or at the very least, more professions of faith. That’s probably the reason as much as I hate to admit it.
Now of course some Presbyterian churches do see plenty of adult baptisms. It has not been my experience in PCA churches where I’ve been a member or minister. Yet. I’m not throwing in the towel…..

As far as to why there are discrepancies in new professions of faith, which soon lead to the adult baptism discrepancies, well, that’s for another day. By the way, hope you enjoyed the picture of the 80’s Mormon baptism in the right hand side of the post. Apparently they immerse. Somehow I missed that in all of my front door Mormon conversations. Just for the record, Presbyterians would baptize you if you came to faith out of a Mormon background. Their baptism is not Trinitarian and so we would “legitimately” baptize for the first time. 

Baptism thoughts

This past Sunday, my 8 month old Cade, now free of chicken pox, received the covenant sign of baptism. We took my three year old boy Connar out of the nursery so that he could be a part of it. During the prayer he asked if he could put water on Cade’s head too. Nice.
He expressed a desire to be a part of Cade’s baptism from the get-go, even telling random people Cade would be getting baptized. His desire to play an active role in Cade’s baptism is admirable. And playing in active role after baptism is quite attainable, yet often over-looked.
One of my favorite parts of the baptism is the question asked of the covenant community. Do you promise to assist the parents in the raising of this child? Sometimes I wonder if people really believe what they say.
I have no reason to believe my current church Redeemer’s members are anything but sincere. Each month we have to use nearly 50-60 adults for the two nurseries, Sunday School, children’s church, and youth groups. That’s probably even a conservative estimate. When people promise to help the parents, that doesn’t mean ONLY serving an existing children’s ministry, but I think it would be disingenuous to quickly rule out serving in an existing children’s ministry. Such are opportunities designed not to replace parents, but to assist them. And we all need assistance.
But formal existing ministries like programs are only part of the picture. In their book Essential Church, Thom and Sam Rainer claim one of the few consistent factors present in the youth who continued their faith in college was adult relationships. Most had a number of them. The more the merrier. A youth pastor and parents are not enough. Our youth need more than that, and that’s why I try to include a team of adults and parents as often as possible in youth ministry.
I wonder how seriously I, and other parents take their children’s baptism. It’s not just a “precious” time (though it was quite moving to watch the video). You are vowing before God and others to raise the child in a Christian home, dedicating him to the Lord. That’s pretty serious stuff.  I play baseball with Connar in the front yard on my lunch break and before/after dinner about every day. But I think baptism reminds me of something more important: that God will be faithful in my “informal” ministry times (which definitely outweigh the number of “formal” times like Jesus Story Book Bible reading), so I should take advantage of every available “teaching” moment.
Finally, I also wonder why Presbyterian parents sometimes don’t take advantage of, or want any covenant community involvement in raising their children. Over the years I’ve seen folks who just don’t want any help, and I can’t figure that out. I’ve seen folks agonize about whether or not their children will attend their own church’s VBS. Still, other folks just don’t care about discipleship of their children and so don’t make the necessary lifestyle adjustments. Both seem to goes against the flow of the covenant community structure called the church with which we’ve been so blessed. 
I’m thankful to have (and have had at my previous church) a covenant community who has shown love to my two baptized boys and assisted Amy and I in training and raising them. I hope the same is true for you, both in serving or being served by your local covenant community: the church.

Anyhow, these are my baptism thoughts for the day.