Thursday, August 23, 2007

How Many Baptisms Does it Take to be a Quaker?

How many baptisms does it take to be a Quaker?

If you're talking about something that involves water, the historic answer is none.

The official answer, as given by the Faith and Practice statements of many Friends bodies, is that there is one baptism given directly by the Spirit. That is all that is needed and it doesn't involve water.

The answer from my experience with God is that it takes a lifetime of baptisms to be a Quaker.

I grew up in Baptist churches. My life was blessed by parents and other people who loved Jesus and shared their stories and the stories of Jesus with me. When I was nine years old I responded to an invitation for salvation and a few weeks later experienced full immersion in the baptistry of that church.

As a nine year old, I wasn't very aware of the theology involved in being baptized, but I knew that getting all wet in front of all those people marked a transition. I had made a public statement that I was a believer in Jesus.

And then I spent ten years or so pretty much ignoring Jesus.

When I was twenty I went through a second baptism. I got wet this time as well, but there was no water involved.

Some friends and I invited ourselves to a party one Saturday night. I don't know who the host was and didn't know very many people there, but it was loud, crowded and fueled by alcohol. In the course of the party, I stepped across a line with my friends that I shouldn't have. My good buddy Ervin then proceeded to pour a bottle of beer over my head.

I stopped. And I knew that God was reaching into my life. God used that bottle of beer to bring me to the place where I knew I had to make a choice -- I could continue messing around with life and ignore God, or I could take the claims of Jesus seriously. It was a very clear and unavoidable choice in front of me.

Paul describes baptism this way in Romans 6:3-4:

Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] 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. (NIV)
I was stopped dead in my tracks by that beer being poured over my head. It was a baptism -- I experienced being buried with Jesus and being raised from the dead. My life was new.

At about the same time I was starting to hang around different kinds of Friends. I became part of a Friends Meeting and discovered people who loved others and took their relationship to God very seriously.

And they taught me two new ways of being baptized--

In worship -- being buried with Christ in worship, so that his living presence can continue that job of making me new. It's a process that started when I was a child and it will continue for a lifetime.

In service -- allowing my wants and needs to be buried with Christ in service, so that he can use me to be a small part of creating something new in our world.

It takes a lifetime of baptisms to be a Quaker.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Survived Junior High Camp

Being a counselor at Junior High Camp is not for the squeamish. Of course there are all the jokes and stories about body functions that junior high boys like to tell. Then there are the games played in and with various food items. Then top it off with 145 kids and adults playing four corner kickball on an indoor basketball court all at once... Which reminds me of the noise level, which varies from low roar to shrieks and more.

On a positive note, Quaker Haven Camp is a beautiful facility, overlooking Dewart Lake in northern Indiana. The camp leadership is genuinely concerned about the well being of the campers, and the camp directors do a great job of making sure the campers learn about Jesus.

There were 80 girls and 40 boys. The boys weren't especially interested in the girls, although some of the girls were eying the boys. At meal time the campers doing meal set up and the counselors were encouraged to sit around in different places, in order to get to know other campers better. At lunch time I sat at a table with one of the boys who helped set up. When the doors opened, the table quickly filled up with six girls. The boy hunkered down in his seat, avoiding eye contact and not wanting to talk about anything. As we waited for prayer and our turn to go through the buffet line he looked more and more uncomfortable. We got up to go through the buffet line and he saw his chance. He never returned to our table.

Junior High camp makes you thankful for some different kinds of things:
--I was thankful I could get the butter out of my hair after the football game.
--I was thankful somebody threw out Jerry's coke bottle filled with dead minnows.

I walked by the beach early one morning on my way to get my morning cup of tea. The sandy area and the grass area were covered with geese. It looked pretty, but I decided I wasn't going to use the beach. (However, the camp does try to clean up after the geese, which I appreciate)

So, you may ask, why would you choose to be a counselor at Junior High camp?

Thursday night, during our cabin time, those seven junior high boys spent some time talking about their desire to serve Jesus and their hopes for the future -- then we spent some time praying for each other's families, friends and churches. That's what makes it worhwhile.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Somebody Who Asked Good Questions

Vernard Eller passed away on June 18. He was a minister in the church of the Brethren and a retired professor of philosophy and religion at the University of La Verne in California.

He was also a great thinker and writer who always raised interesting questions as he explored what it means to be a Christian today. He was probably most famous for "The Mad Morality", an exploration of the ten commandments as seen through the eyes of "Mad Magazine".

He knew how to raise interesting questions and understood in a profound way that life in God is a journey of discovery.

I remember him for writing "The Outward Bound: Caravaning as a Style of the Church". This short book transformed my way of understanding how we do church. He uses a series of contrasting pictures to describe what the church is and is not. For example, instead of thinking of the church as a "commissary" dispensing grace, truth and spirituality, he argues that the church is a "caravan" on its way to a destination, taking on newcomers, adapting to the needs of the journey, and looking after the needs of those in and out of the caravan.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sticky Ideas

Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is a new book on marketing that has helped me think through some of the things we do as a church. The book explores the question of why some ideas survive – they “stick” in our minds – and others die.

The authors suggest six common characteristics of ideas and concepts that are memorable and connect with people. Using the acronym “SUCCESs”, they describe how ideas that stick are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and are communicated by Stories.

The good news we have to share about Jesus transformed our world in just a few centuries because it had these qualities. It was a message that bridged languages and cultures and “stuck” in peoples minds and hearts.

We have the same good news to share today, but it doesn’t seem to stick very well. Why is that?

Chip and Dan Heath’s list of sticky qualities caused me to ask myself some questions about what I am doing as pastor and what we are doing as a church. They are good and important questions and I’d like to share them with you:

Simple – Have we complicated the core message of Jesus (“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”)? Do our ways of doing church get in the way of knowing and sharing Jesus?

Unexpected – Have we made Jesus so predictable that nobody really hears what we have to say about him?

Concrete – Do we spend too much time in abstract theories and not enough in down-to-earth ministry?

Credible – Are people able to see Jesus at work in our lives and the lives around us?

Emotional – Are people able to feel Jesus at work in our lives and the lives around us? Are we communicating passion in our quiet Quaker way?

Stories – Are we getting good at telling the story of God from the Bible and from our lives?

The good news of Jesus is the ultimate “sticky idea.” Let’s share it.

Pastor Bill