Baptism in the Age of Selfies

Log Flume

 

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a post on one of my Facebook groups.  The question was something like this:

“Is it okay to use a GoPro camera on a person during baptism?  Too much?”

My initial response was, “I’m appalled at even the suggestion.  Baptism is not and was never meant to be a form of entertainment.”

Apparently, I was in the minority in this group.  Although it’s a church related group, it’s not a theology-focused group. I ended up receiving a number of negative responses, eye-roll GIFs, etc.  One person said, “We’ve been videotaping baptisms, funerals, and weddings for a long time.  What difference does it make how close the camera is?”

It took the question to be a legitimate question, not a trolling or argumentative question. Here, in part, was my response.

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Hi, thanks for your question.  While I understand that this is not a theological forum or group and there are many, many differing views, I would like to offer my thoughts because I think it is ultimately a matter of theology.  And because this isn’t necessarily the forum for in-depth conversations, I’ll try to be brief.

The theological question is:  Does the church and its rites (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper) become a theology of self-glory (what I do and what I get) or a theology of the cross (what Christ has done)?

My concern with a GoPro camera either in the water or on a person’s head makes the focus about them. The emphasis becomes “Look at what I have done.”

I would assert that we live in a culture that is steeped a theology of self-glory.  The fact that we have so many “selfies” and reality shows are but two small evidences of this.  My concern with a GoPro camera either in the water or on a person’s head makes the focus about them.  The emphasis becomes “Look at what I have done.”  It would seem that we’re treating baptism the same as taking pictures at a log flume ride at the amusement park.  I don’t see any glory to God in this.  I may very well be wrong, but I cannot see it.

I personally have no problem with a video camera at the back of the church taping the events.  In this case, the video camera becomes a quiet observer of the event.  However, when the camera becomes much more of an active participant, I believe it the line is crossed and the rite becomes a theology of self-glory.  It becomes a version of a selfie and reality TV combined.  This is why I personally don’t allow cameras on the chancel/altar (or stage as some may say) during baptisms, weddings or funerals.  I also ask that no flashes be used during this time throughout the church because I believe these rites to be holy moments in which God is glorified.

Without trying to be rude at all, I’d like to give a little thought experiment to see where the line might be for you or others.  At a funeral, would it be okay to put a GoPro camera on the deceased’s head so that when people come to give their last respects you can capture it on camera?  Or if not on their head, why not on the casket?  Again, I’m not trying to be rude.  I’m simply trying to see what would be the reasoning you or others would give if you see this example as crossing the line.

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It’s hard to be a follower of Jesus in a selfie culture.  We keep trying to make us the center of it all. 

It’s hard to be a follower of Jesus in a selfie  culture.  We keep trying to make us the center of it all.

Should we celebrate and have joy in our lives?  Yes!  Most definitely!  We should be joyous. Not because of what we have done, but because of what God has done for us.

What are your thoughts about church in the age of selfies?

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God is on the Move

God is on the Move

I have never prayed for nor asked for international ministry.  I’ve always thought that my local area is the mission field to which I’ve been called.  Always.  Yet, I have been confounded a number of times this past year at God’s reach.  Now, I know that God’s reach is boundless and I’m not surprised at all of His work throughout the world.   In fact, I pray for and am glad at His reach.  I am glad that men and women are spreading the gospel message throughout the world.

But I am confounded and almost bewildered in the way that God is using my church’s ministry at an international level.   We’re a small church in a small town in the middle of Minnesota.  But as the song says, “God is on the move.”  Here’s what’s been happening.

We’ve been posting the Sunday messages on YouTube for a little over a year.  Generally speaking, we don’t get many “hits” or views on the messages.  Really, if any of the views go past 20 I consider it to have gone viral! Remember, we’re a small church in a small town in the middle of Minnesota.  (Quick, if you’re reading this outside of central Minnesota, raise your hand if you can pinpoint Upsala, MN on the map!  For those who raised your hand, good job!  You can now lower your hand.  By the way, this is nothing at all about Upsala.  It’s a great place with good people.  It’s just not on the tip of tongue for many people.  Okay, now back to the videos.)

I was doing some analytics on our videos for the past 30 days and here is the list of top countries in order of viewing time that we’ve reached:

  1. United States
  2. South Korea
  3. India
  4. Philippines
  5. Bahrain
  6. Kitts & Nevis
  7. Hong Kong
  8. Canada
  9. New Zealand
  10. Pakistan
  11. Cameroon

Is that list anything close to what you would’ve imagined?  It wasn’t for me.  I admit that I didn’t even know where two of the countries were.  I’m guess that you might not as well so I’ve included some maps of Bahrain and St. Kitts and Nevis.

But what blew me away was that South Korea was second in terms of viewing.   Apparently there is one message that seems to have been helpful.   It’s about discipleship.  If you want to see it, click here  The Commitment of Discipleship

Do I know the impact the messages are having?  No.  But what I do know is that people don’t view whole messages unless it somehow resonates with them.  By the way, I’m not trying to toot my own horn.  Not at all.  In fact, if you could see my face right now, you’d see the confused dog look – you know, furrowed eyebrows, head titled to the side.  Apparently, God is on the move.

Also, through Facebook, I’ve received some friend invitations.  One was from a man in Kenya who became a Christian during the course of our message conversations.  Because there was no church around him, he started going door to door to invite others to meet, pray, and read the Bible.  Wow, to “see” the birth of a new body of believers.  Wow.  Then more recently, a pastor from a Word of Life church in Pakistan reached out to me because our church is Word of Life.  Through our conversations, he asked me if I would give a message to his congregation.  They meet not only on Sundays but Wednesdays as well.  So, on a recent Wednesday morning (7:00 am my time, 6:00pm their time), we connected via Skype.  I was able to participate in their worship from beginning to end and to give a message.

Again, I’m not trying to toot my own horn at all.  Far from it.  Like I said, I’m a bit bewildered at it all.  The only thing I’ve done is said, “Yes, Lord.”

After all, God is on the move.

Is it time that you said, “Yes, Lord”

When Love Came Down

when-love-came-down

 

Think of all of the things you’ve been doing to get ready for Christmas this year. Think of all the preparations, the planning, the lights, and everything that goes into it – what one word would you use to describe your experience of Christmas? Family, food, presents, busy, full, exhausting, festive, celebration, lights, singing, church, baby Jesus. I’m curious – does the word love comes to mind.
 
There is a very famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13. It’s called the Love chapter. Recently I came across a version in which someone applied it to Christmas.
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If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny balls; but do not have love, I’m just another decorator.
 
If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime; but do not have love, I’m just another cook.
 
If I work at a soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity; but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
 
If I trim the tree with shimmering angels, and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir; but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.
 
Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the spouse. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love does not envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens. 
Love does not yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.
 
Love does not give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who cannot. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails.
 
Toys will break, necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust; but giving the gift of love will endure.
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Christmas without Christ and his love is simply another holiday or break or time off from work. You see, Christmas is a time when love came down.
 
One  day over 2000 years ago, the God of the universe left the glory and the splendor of heaven, a place where there was no pain, no sickness, no accidents, no hurt, and no death. He came to the place where there is hurt, loneliness, pain, tears and death.
 
Yet, he came because of love. But it was not a soft, warm fuzzy love that came down that night. This was a heart-wrenching, full bore agape love.
 
As it says in the song, What Wondrous Love is This: Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.  
 
In coming down, Jesus didn’t simply bring the good news of God.  Rather, he IS the good news. And the good news is this: That through Jesus you are forgiven. FOR unto us a son is GIVEN. FORGIVEN. Through his life and then his death on the cross, EVERYONE who puts their faith in him and him alone, are forgiven.
 
This is the love that came down for us. For you.
 
And if you let that sink in, but really sink in, you will have the greatest warmth of gratitude and joy of any Christmas you’ve ever had.
 
So if someone every asks you to explain Christmas in phrase you can say, “It was a day when love came down.”

Advent Assurance

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We were driving to our best friends’ house late one evening a long time ago.  They recently had moved several hours away due to a job.  Even though they had given us directions with key landmarks to guide us (this was before GPS or cellphones with apps) I felt very uneasy.  It was dark, snowing and we were in an unfamiliar area of the state.  I could feel my stomach start to tighten – not much but I could feel it.

I asked my wife for the fourth or fifth time, “Honey, are you sure you’re reading the directions right?  Maybe you should take a look one more time at the map.  I think that we should’ve taken a left instead of a right at that last turn.”

She calmly said for the fourth or fifth time, “Quit second guessing yourself.  They gave us the right directions and the map shows that we are on track.  Besides, it always feels like it’s taking longer than it should especially when it’s dark out.  Have some faith.”

Just as I was about the say something I saw our friends’ house around the bend.  We had made it. The lights were on and you could see the whole family inside sitting at the table laughing together.  It was a picture of love.  I let out my breath that I had unconsciously been holding in.

Everything was as it should be.

blue-line

Life often feels like an unchartered course and we need assurance from time to time that we are on the right path.  This is the same when it comes to our faith.  We, too, need assurance from time to time.  Our assurance comes from the very word of God who laid out the road map for us.

The birth of Jesus fulfilled multiple prophecies:

From the line of Abraham. (1900–1800 B.C.)

Genesis 22:18  “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  The genealogy of Jesus is told in the book of Matthew, which refers to him as “the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

From the line of David  (1010–970 B.C.)

2 Samuel 7:12-13  When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  In Luke 1:32 the angel Gabriel tells Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,”

Born in Bethlehem.  (750–700 B.C)

Micah 5:2  But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Born of a virgin. (740–700 B.C.)

Isaiah 7:14 Isa 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

There are over 300 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled regarding his birth, death, resurrection and reign.  The map is well laid out, the directions are clear.  Because of God’s enduring word, we find comfort and assurance.

In Jesus we find a picture of great love.  In him we are home.

Everything is as it was declared to be.

Click here to listen to the message: Advent Assurance

Advent Joy

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Our daughter was aghast.  Her face was ashen white.  Her eyes wide open in horror.

“How could you?!” she loudly whispered.  Of course, everyone could hear her.

“How could I what?” I laughed.

“How could you dance in the middle of the street?!  Everyone is looking!!” Then with a face that said she was ready to die and with a voice that only a teenage daughter could have she said,  “YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME!!”

I told her, “Listen my dear.  There are times in our lives when you hear such good news that you can’t keep it to yourself.  You have to sing as if no one is listening and dance as if no one is looking.  With the good news that I got today, I  just have to rejoice!”

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Advent is a season of rejoicing.  We rejoice that our Lord and Savior Jesus has come into our lives.  For those who have received Jesus and put their faith in him, we rejoice that the judgement against us is no more.  We are freed from a debt that we cannot pay.   As it says in Zephaniah 3:14-15

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!  The LORD has taken away the judgments against you

Therefore, no matter our circumstance, no matter the aches and pains that we have in life, we still rejoice because of what God has done for us.

Click here to listen to the accompanying message.

 

Advent Preparation

Joseph and Mary's Journey

The clock ticked louder than I had ever heard before.  tick.   TICK.  TICK.   I asked my wife, “Did you turn up the volume on the clock?”  I got a very funny look in reply.  I stood up and paced the floor.  Five steps one way; five steps back.  I kept this up until I noticed my spouse’s eyes squinting at me in annoyance. 

Finally, with a loving sigh my wife said, “Don’t worry.  He’ll be here.  Everything is set and we’re as prepared as we can be.  The house is clean, there’s plenty of food in the fridge and clean sheets on the bed. The only thing left to do is to prepare yourself. It’ll be fine.”

“I know,” I said with a lump in my throat.  “It’s just that I love him so and we’ve waited so long for him to come back home.”

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The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent.

In Isaiah 40:3 it says

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

In that spirit we prepare our ourselves to receive our Lord.  We take our time to prepare ourselves for Christ because although the birth of Jesus took place almost 2,000 years ago,  Advent is far more than simply marking an old historical event. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God.

Click here to listen to the message Advent Preparation

 

 

 

 

 

Advent Hope

Message for MaryI looked up at the night sky.  I was alone in a strange country without friends and without a place to call home.  I was hungry and tired but more than anything I was empty.  I felt abandoned by everyone including God.  My life seemed to be without hope. The coldness of the night made me shiver and I clutched my coat around me.  In my pocket I felt the small Bible I carried with me.  It was worn and tattered, kind of like my life right now.  My fingers wrapped around the Bible and then I remembered.  I remembered what God had promised so long ago.

The promise was from Isaiah 9:2  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

I remembered that God has promised to deliver me from a time darkness.  In the midst of darkness God has me promised light.  He has promised me a hope that is an everlasting hope.

gray-line

Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, anticipation, preparation and longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance!

It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.

Click here to listen to the message: Advent Hope

Why Church? Part 2

Pastor Clayton's Blog Rounded cropped

Ok, quick!  When I say, “church” what comes to mind?  Did you picture a building?  I would guess that 90% of you pictured a building.  Or perhaps you pictured yourself inside the building singing or listening to a sermon. For the vast majority church is a place you go to on Sunday.  We equate church with a building, a place to go for worship.

However, that was never the design of church.  In the New Testament, the word for church is ekklēsia and it means the body or gathering of believers.  When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Ephesus, it wasn’t addressed to 301 North 5th Street, Ephesus, Asia Minor  00065 AD   It was always addressed to the people, the gathering of believers; the saints.

The wonderful thing about church being a gathering of believers is that other people comfort, encourage and build each other up.  Of course, they also annoy, irritate and anger us.  In fact, that’s why a lot of people stop going.

You might have heard it said that:

  • Business would be easy if it weren’t for the customers.
  • Managing would be easy if it weren’t for the employees.
  • Working would be easy if it weren’t for managers.

Let’s add another.  Church would be easy if it weren’t for the people.

A number of people I’ve spoken to this past year are bitter because of people from their church.  They have an idealized expectation that church should be full of good people who always do good things.  People with this expectation might think of Acts 2:42-44

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

Sound idyllic, doesn’t it?  In a sense it was because of the great outpouring the God’s grace through the Holy Spirit.  Yet, when we take in the whole of the New Testament, we see a fuller picture.  Here are three quick examples:

  • The apostles, James and John, tried to wheedle for the best position in heaven. (Mark 10:35-3)
  • Paul accused Peter of being a hypocrite when dealing with the gentiles. (Galatian 2:11-21)
  • The Corinthian church was full of problems such as, incest, idols, arguing over the “best” spiritual gifts, drunkenness, lawsuits, etc. (1st Corinthians)

The list can go on and on.  It turns out that the church is made up of very flawed and imperfect people.  Church is for the flawed and broken which, as far as I can tell is everyone.

As followers of Jesus we are called to a higher standard of life but that does not mean that once you join a church that you are somehow perfect.  In fact, as you hear and study God’s word, you are confronted with the holiness and majesty of Jesus so that in his light our flaws become ever more apparent.  When you see more clearly the depths of your own sin, you begin to understand the depth and necessity of grace.  When you understand the necessity of grace and let it sink into your very soul, you start to see that others are also in need of this same grace.  Humility replaces your pride as you realize that you are as broken as those who annoy, irritate and anger you.

Through Jesus and His church, we learn to love even when love is not returned. Through His word and His sacrifice we learn to forgive.  Through Him and His church, we are conformed into His image.

When you stop thinking of church as a building and start to think of church as a body of believers who are being sanctified in Christ Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit you will understand why you need church.

Why Church? Part 1

Pastor Clayton's Blog Rounded cropped

“Oh, I don’t go to church.  I just worship God by going outside in nature.”

I hear that on a regular basis when talking to people about faith.  Perhaps you’ve said it yourself.  After all, as long as you believe in God that’s all that matters, right?

There are many people who lull themselves into a false sense of comfort with such beliefs.   Can nature declare God’s majesty?  Yes, to a degree.  We look at the mountains, the forests, waterfalls, meadows, beautiful sunsets and starry nights and we marvel at the power and wonder of God.

Paul in his letter to the Romans wrote, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”  Romans 1:20

Yet, for those who say that they only need nature, they are missing the greatest aspect of God’s nature – his love for us in Jesus.

When you look at the mountains, do you they declare Jesus to you?  When you hear the breeze over the meadow does it whisper to you that you are a sinner in need of a savior?  When you look at the trees do you see the wood which was used for a cross upon which he died for us?  When you touch the ground do you touch his blood that was shed for you so that you might be forgiven?  When you see the sunrise, does it declare to you a risen Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords who will come again to judge the living and the dead?

My guess is that very few people come to understand God’s greatest act of love when being in nature.  That’s why God gave us His word in Scripture.  In Scripture, we find God’s nature revealed.  In it we see that God loves us though we are dead in sin.   In it we find the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, of overflowing grace and mercy.  In it we hear Jesus proclaim that he alone is the resurrection and the life.

This is why, in part, Jesus gave us his church.  We gather together because we go to hear God’s word; we go to hear Jesus; we go to be reminded of God’s love for us through Jesus. We go to be renewed in the forgiveness that only he can give.

Are You A Disciple? Part 2

Pastor Clayton's Blog Rounded croppedIt sounds like a trick question but it’s not:  Are you a disciple of Jesus?   (If you’re curious, skip to bottom of this post and see how fully you can answer three questions.  Then come back and read the rest.)

Ultimately, our work is to be disciples and then to make disciples.  That is our primary task.  This is the pattern set forth by Jesus; this is what the apostles did and this is what the early church did.  Be disciples and make disciples.

Unfortunately and with disastrous results, we have divorced the idea of being a disciple from being a Christian.  We focus on the name, Christian, and forget what being a Christian actually means.

To be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus.  To be a follower of Jesus is to be a disciple.  A disciple is a student, one who diligently studies at the foot of his master, who learns from Jesus and his word throughout their lifetime.

Sit at the foot of a master?  What does that mean?  It sounds pretty vague because we’ve lost the cultural context and meaning of discipleship.  Perhaps the best analogy we have today is apprenticeship – those who learn a craft or trade from someone with more experience, a master craftsman.

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Jesus being God himself is the supreme master, and he taught his disciples day-in and day-out for three years.  They listened, observed, talked, shared and tried to practice what Jesus taught.  Along the way Jesus both commended and corrected them as needed.  They learned from him as well they could and then they spent the rest of their lives growing and maturing into his image.

While we can’t go back in time and walk with Jesus as they walked, we do have his word given to us in Scripture.  Therefore, we can learn to be better disciples by asking three fundamental questions when studying his word.  The questions on their face are simple but they are not simplistic.  Each question has a depth to it that will last you a lifetime.

The Three Questions

  1. Who is Jesus?
  2. What did he teach?
  3. How does that apply to me?

If you skip or ignore any of the questions, you miss the mark when it comes to being a disciple.

  • If you miss the first one and don’t understand who Jesus is all of the other answers are off.  Period.
    • You need to determine if Jesus is God and understand why he had to die for our sin.  For those who wish to have some help in understanding who Jesus is, Lee Strobel has written a very good book, “The Case for Christ.” 
  • If you skip the second question you are left with simply making things up out of thin air.
    • You’ll hear people say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter what he taught as long as I believe in him.”
    • If you cherry pick the parts of Scripture that you like and disregard the rest, you are creating Jesus out of your own image.
  • If you ignore the last question it means that you might be full of knowledge but it is ultimately dead knowledge.
    • Dead knowledge is knowledge that does not affect your heart, your head, your hands, your eyes, your mouth, your interaction with God and with others.

Well, how are you doing with these question?  Are you willing to learn from Jesus and walk in his footsteps?  Are you willing to be his disciple?