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An Apology

In an attempt to present the Lord’s Supper as the time and place where we experience our unity with Christ and express the unity we have with all Christians in Christ, I used a picture during yesterday’s sermon depicting a variety of people joyfully gathered around a communion table. The picture served as the background in a PowerPoint slide for 1 Corinthians 12:13: “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”

A concerned parishioner gently informed me later that the picture showed a cat at the table.

A terrible, terrible mistake on my part. As God is my witness, I never once saw that cat when putting the PowerPoint together last week. We all know that all cats are reserved for the fiery lake of burning sulfur and do not have a place at the Table of our Lord. I regret the mistake. Please forgive me.



Baptism: Identity in Christ

Ephesians 2 tells us who we used to be and, now that we’ve been baptized into Christ, who we are.

This is what you were: dead; this is what you are now: alive with Christ!

This is what you were: following the ways of the world; this is what you are now: raised up with Christ and seated with Christ at the right hand of God!

This is what you were: objects of divine wrath; this is what you are now: saved!

1 Corinthians 9 affirms that we are cleansed and made pure from our many sins, we are set apart and dedicated to the holy God as belonging to him, and we are declared righteous in God’s eyes “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Jesus is Lord.” Romans 10 tells us that’s the Christian confession. “Jesus is Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12 says that’s how we worship. Philippians 2 says on that last day every tongue in heaven and on earth will declare “Jesus is Lord!”

But we first say “Jesus is Lord” at our baptisms. And to say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not. To say Jesus is Lord is to accept a brand new identity as his servant and to affirm that the shape and direction of my life now lays wholly within his power. I belong to him. I no longer live. The Lord Jesus lives in me and through me. Baptism is that moment of transfer. By faith, the waters of baptism move you from sin and separation from God to forgiveness and communion with God. By his love and grace, baptism transfers you from an outsider to the Kingdom of God to an insider with all the privileges and benefits. It’s a brand new way of life.

“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~Colossians 1:13-14

A few verses later, Paul says all of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In baptism, there is an exclusive devotion to Christ Jesus as Lord. Our loyalties are not to the fading kingdoms of this world but to the eternal Kingdom of our Lord. Our priorities are not in the interests of this world’s structures and institutions but to the missions and goals of our God.

Our very identity is rooted in what God has done for us in Christ. And we’re given that new identity in baptism. But our increasingly fractured and polarized culture is exposing our primary identities. It seems that we identify with our nation and national politics, race and socio-economic groups first and then our Christian beliefs and practices are filtered through those identities instead of the other way around. We struggle to identify first with our Lord and his ways and then filter our national and political and race and group beliefs and practices through that.

Whatever the issue — immigration, race relations, tax reform, gun control, war, abortion, social security, gay rights, Obamacare, the environment, the construction on the bridge at I-40 and Bell — my first instinct is to view it and talk about it through the lens of my political affiliation or my race or gender. How should a Republican feel about that? How would a Democrat talk about that? How might a patriotic American deal with this? How does a white guy, how would a black woman, how does a conservative say this? How does a liberal view this?

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as Texas Tech of OU, and not first as baptized disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses or our race or zip code or voter registration card and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the crucified and risen Christ.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead… God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross… Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?” ~Colossians 2

Now, I think all Christians in America have dealt with this for 242 years — we’re no different. Our divided and polarized society is just exposing it in more obvious and disappointing ways. I do know our Christian impulses are good and holy. It’s deep inside us, it’s in our DNA to serve others, to sacrifice for the sake of others, to view the needs of others as more important than our own, to do things the Jesus way and not the world’s way. The impulse is there. So is the desire. But the follow-through is becoming more difficult because our culture is telling us to do the opposite.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” ~Colossians 3:1-2

Remember your baptism, the Bible says. Remember where you were. Remember who was there. Remember how you felt when you came up out of the water. Remember the spiritual experience and claim all the spiritual resources you received that day.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” ~Colossians 3:3-4

Baptism is a touchstone moment for followers of Christ Jesus. It’s an event that embodies the faith and participates in the Gospel. But it’s also a definitive moment in time that we can reflect on for strength. Dying and rising with Christ. Putting off and putting on. Living this life under his exclusive lordship. Putting off and putting on. Every day. Dying and rising. Romans 13 says clothe yourselves with Christ and stop making room for sin.

We have a new identity. We have a different worldview. We see things differently. We see people differently. We know God’s work is not complete in me or the world, but we know it’s begun. If anyone is in Christ: new creation! The old has gone, the new has come! Baptism doesn’t just symbolize new life, it actually gives us a new identity. It doesn’t just symbolize our washing, it actually empowers a new way of living by the Holy Spirit. It not only symbolizes a break with the fallen world of sin and death, it delivers us into a brand new creation and a new world view.

If you’ve been baptized, God wants you to see yourself as one with Christ and united with all his people. God wants you to consider yourself as under the lordship of Jesus with new priorities, new goals, new methods and practices, new Holy Spirit power to live for his Kingdom.

If you’ve never been baptized, let me ask you: Why not?



Baptism: Unity In Christ

You’re not baptized by yourself. Baptism is not a private deal. When you’re baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, you’re baptized into his community. You become part of God’s eternal people. It’s not only unity for you with Christ, it’s also unity in Christ will all baptized followers of our Lord.

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

This is a bold, radical, mind-blowing claim for any Christian living in America in 2018. Because whatever our society is, it cannot be called “one” in anything. It’s almost impossible to find unity anywhere. There are more and more options, which means more and more opinions, and more and more platforms to declare those more and more opinions. We’re inventing new ways to disagree with each other. We’re identifying new ways we’re different from each other. We can’t find unity in a country or in a family or in a neighborhood or in a middle school choir. There’s only one place to experience the realities of unity and togetherness and community: through baptism into Christ.

We are not baptized into a nation or a political party. We’re not baptized into a denomination or a faith tradition. We’re not baptized into an economic brackets or a language or a skin color or a blood type. We are all baptized into Christ.

Baptism is not just about an individual’s conversion. It’s also very much about being initiated into a community. Baptism allows you to participate in the Gospel and it makes you a member of God’s eternal people. Baptism creates an eternal unity with all followers of Jesus. There are no divisions at all among baptized disciples.

When there were divisions in that church in Corinth and people were dividing between rich and poor, men and women, tongue speakers and prophesyers, favorite preachers and teachers — yes, just like today, people divide and pick sides and decide who’s right and who’s wrong and split up accordingly — Paul addresses it head-on. Right out of the gate in 1 Corinthians:

“Hey, this is Paul. How’s it going? What’s the matter with you?!? Is Christ divided?!? Was Paul crucified for you?!? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?!?

When the unity of the church and the integrity of the Gospel is at stake, Paul reminds them of their baptisms. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, Paul writes, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free. Which, by the way, sounds a lot like Ephesians 4:

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

And that sounds a lot like Galatians 3.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, Texan nor Mexican, American nor Syrian, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is neither slave nor free, Republican nor Democrat, Church of Christ nor Presbyterian, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is neither male nor female, black nor white, old nor young, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

For some reason, our Lord chose you. And he chose me. And he has united us to him forever and he has inseparably united us to one another in him. In baptism. What a gift. What a challenge.



Baptism: Unity With Christ

When you pass your drivers license test at 16-years-old, you become a person who drives. You belong now to the community of people who operate motor vehicles and you share the privileges and responsibilities of that group. You have a freedom you’ve never had before and you also have to pick your little brother up from practice. And go to the store for laundry detergent and milk. It’s really the only reason we have kids — we hope one day they’ll go to the store for us.

Your seventh grade Texas History class qualifies you as a true Texan. When you come out of that required course you know the difference between the Alamo and San Jacinto, you can talk knowledgably about cattle drives and cotton farming, and you’re better able to look down on and feel sorry for the millions of people who live in the other 49 states. Rightly so.

Graduating from high school makes you a lifelong alumnus of that institution  and confers on you a unity with all that school’s alumni for all time. Once a Sandie, always a Sandie, they say.

There are certain rituals that shape your identity in the Stanglin family. We have first day of school rituals that include an obnoxious song, awkward group photos, and invasive questions at dinner. We have Christmas rituals in our family that include certain holiday movies and certain holiday foods on certain nights. We have summer vacation rituals in which we stack everything we’ve packed by a certain door the night before, we stockpile our favorite snacks, we play rock, paper, scissors for the preferred seats in the van, we get up early and say a prayer in the living room, and something on the car breaks down as we’re pulling out of the driveway.

These are rites of passage. These rituals form us and give us our identity.

Baptism is a ritual and a rite of passage that places one into a brand new community and give one a brand new identity. Christian baptism radically changes where you are and who you are.

And we need this gift from God. We need this ritual. As our Western society becomes more and more a world of disconnected and lonely individuals, we need this ritual. We need this gift of baptism as an anchor driven deep into the solid foundation of a saving faith in God.

For the rest of this week, I’d like to post some simple baptism theology here. We’re wrapping up a twelve-weeks Bible class and sermon series here at Central on the sacraments of the Church. And I’d like to share some quick thoughts on baptism in this space.

If the Gospel is that the Son of God lived a perfect life, he was crucified, and then because of his perfect life God vindicated him by raising him from the dead and exalting him to his right hand, and because he did this for us we, too, can be saved and raised and exalted exactly like Jesus if we are connected to him, how do we get connected to him? If that’s the Good News, how do I participate in that? How do I get in on it?

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ 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. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Baptism is unity with Christ. Baptism is a participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus WITH Jesus. It connects us to Jesus, it makes us one with Christ. We die with Jesus, we are resurrected with Jesus in baptism.

Now, that’s a strong statement, it’s a very positive statement about what God does for sinners in baptism. Jesus was recognized as the Savior and declared the Lord because of his death, burial, and resurrection. And the Bible says we get in on all that — all three of those things — with Jesus in baptism.

“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” ~Colossians 2:9-12

Again, baptism connects us to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it unifies us with the saving work of the Son of God. The very same power that God used to raise Jesus from the grave belongs to us in baptism. So does his righteousness and holiness and peace. His sinlessness belongs to the baptized. His perfect status belongs to the baptized. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is applied to all of us at baptism.

Theology doesn’t have to be complicated. More tomorrow.



A Quarter Century of the Whitster

Our oldest daughter turns 25 today.

Whit-Pit’s beautiful eyes are just as blue today as they were when she FINALLY decided to be born late, late, late that Wednesday night in Austin. Her enthusiasm for all things related to any sports team in Texas is just as rabid as it was when she was three-years-old and would cuddle up with me on the couch in our first house in Marble Falls to share a bowl of popcorn and cheer on the Rangers and Mavs and Longhorns and Stars. Her love for others is just as infectious, her spirit just as sweet, her joy just as contagious as it’s been her entire life.

When we shared a birthday breakfast at Calico County this morning, we talked about the Rangers’ starting rotation and Dennis Smith, Jr being in the All-Star dunking contest. We re-capped the Stars’ win last night over St. Louis and calculated the ‘Horns’ chances this afternoon against Zero-U in Norman. But we also discussed things you talk about with 25-year-olds: her car, her job, what we’re doing with our/her health insurance, why the breakfast “special” at Calico County comes with a drink but the breakfast “traditional” doesn’t.

So many things about Whitney are exactly as they’ve always been. Her personality, her voice, her speech patterns, her physical features, her unbridled exuberance for others — all of that is exactly the same. Watching a video from when Whitney was eight-years-old is like watching her today. Talking to her on the phone, listening to her voice, it’s easy to imagine you’re talking to a seven-year-old Whitney. She’s different, but it’s subtle. She’s older and more responsible, but it’s nuanced. Her loves are deeper, her concern for others is expressed more outwardly, her tastes are more broad.

And as long as she lives, nobody will ever have a hard time loving Whitney.

Happy Birthday, Whitney. You are a tremendous blessing from our Lord to every person who’s graced by God to know you.

I love you.


Thoughts and Prayers

The people who are criticizing Christians and politicians for sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida but aren’t doing anything tangible or practical, are exactly right. Such is the backlash against supposed followers of Jesus in this country who offer their prayers but no real work toward real solutions that “thoughts and prayers” is trending. It’s a hashtag.

And they’re right.

When we pray to God we pray through the name of our Lord Jesus.  And we are ordained by God’s Holy Spirit to act as our Lord’s body — his representatives, his ambassadors — on this earth. We are the Body of Christ and it’s on us, Christians, to do something. That’s how prayer works. We ask God for the boldness, courage, and power to do what needs to be done. And then, by his grace, we do it.

I think about Jesus telling his disciples to pray for workers. In Matthew 9 and Luke 10 he tells his followers “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest , therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And then the very next word is “Go!” Jesus says in the very next verse, “Go! I am sending you!”

Pray for God to raise up workers. Oh, by the way, YOU ARE THE WORKERS!

I think about the inspiring prayer of Paul at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle prays to our God who, yes, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” But how does God accomplish his will? How does God work in the world? “…according to his power that is at work within us!”

As part of the curriculum for the Transforming Community experience I’m in, I’m finishing up a book this week by Ronald Rolheiser called “The Holy Longing.” He addresses this near the beginning of a chapter on Consequences of the Incarnation:

“Not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer. To pray as a Christian demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”

We must put skin on our “thoughts and prayers.”

If I pray that more young people would be involved in our church, but I don’t seek out any young people for friendship or don’t give young people any opportunities for service or leadership, I’m not praying like a Christian. I’m not concretely involving myself in trying to bring about what I’m asking God to do. If my daughter is sick and I pray that she gets well but I don’t drive her to the doctor, I’m not praying like a Christian.

So, it is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless those children and their loved ones with his merciful healing, comfort, and peace. It is good to lament the tragedy and it is good to pray for the soul of the shooter. But we’re not praying like Christians, and we deserve the criticism from non-Christians, if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.

I understand it can seem hopeless. We live in a sick society with a fetish for guns. We drink the water and breathe the air of violence in the U.S. — it’s “our thing.” But Christians are a people of peace, not violence.  Followers of Jesus are reconcilers, not dividers. What does that look like in your context as it relates to what happened at Douglas High School on Ash Wednesday and what keeps happening every week in this country?

This is not meant for prescription, but for discussion. And reflection.

If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. Take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your car.

If you don’t vote, maybe you stop going to violent movies. Maybe you destroy your own guns. You might speak against violence when the conversation at work turns to war or crime. If you’re praying for peace in the world, maybe you can start doing something real by forgiving your own enemies in your family or at church, being kind to people who are different from you, reaching out to the lonely and depressed people around you with love and grace and friendship.

Thoughts and prayers are good. To be Christian, though, it cannot stop there.



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