Dalton Rushing on Infant Baptism

Rev. Dalton Rushing’s article, “Why I Affirm Infant Baptism,” has me thinking this morning. I know, scary, isn’t it? I believe that infant baptism is a defining doctrine of The United Methodist Church. If we were to lose (God forbid!) infant baptism, we would cease to be Methodist. It is the core doctrine and practice that grounds all we do firmly in God’s grace and reminds each of us that “it’s not about me.” In our culture, where we have become slaves to individualism, it is a message that needs to be proclaimed as often as possible.

Rev. Rushing says…

Infant baptism reminds us that God’s power is much larger than a simple decision; salvation is much broader than a moment in time. When we see an infant baptized, we see the ultimate argument for the power of God’s grace: even in this child, who cannot feed herself, or clothe herself, or make her own decisions–even in this child–God is at work.

Our theology of Baptism proclaims with certainty that there is no limit to God’s amazing grace. What do we, as United Methodists, need to do to reclaim this central doctrine of our faith tradition?

A Lenten Reflection

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34

“Don’t let the vehicle fool you, my treasure is in heaven.” That was the pithy phrase on the bumper sticker on the back of the Hummer in front of me as I sat stuck in traffic after leaving Memphis Theological Seminary one rainy Tuesday afternoon. Having just come from a class on the Gospel According to Luke, I wondered what Luke would think of the idea that our accumulation of material possessions says nothing about our ultimate affections.

I began to try and visualize the type of church this individual must attend and the sermons he or she would hear. “It must be one of those ‘name it and claim it’ ministries,” I thought. It must be one of those with the large opulent sanctuaries, video screens projecting sermon outlines, and praise bands keeping the people entertained. But those thoughts didn’t last long. Instead they turned to my own Hummer.

No, I don’t actually own a Hummer, but I do have “things”. You know, things that cost too much or take up too much valuable time. Computers and mobile phones, TVs and iPods, mortgaged homes and financed education – none are necessities, so I could put a “Don’t let this thing fool ya” bumper sticker on any of them. And what would Luke say to me? I say “Luke,” because I am not real sure I want to have that conversation with Jesus.

I am sure a conversation with Jesus would include something about an ox in a well, salt and manure, or maybe even about a narrow door. Whatever he says, I am sure it will leave me examining the life I live and the choices I have made, wondering what to do now, and praying for the courage to make the changes that being a faithful follower require. These are important ideas to reflect on during the Lenten season.

We began our Lenten journey last month on Ash Wednesday and will continue until Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday. The season of Lent offers us a time to reflect on who we are as humans and why we so desperately need a savior. We look into our hearts and see the darkness that would quickly overwhelm us. We gaze out across the landscape of humanity and see the evil that would overtake use. The season of Lent could be one long miserable “Crucifixion Friday,” where the depths of human depravity threaten to suffocate the last breath of hope we have. But look, off in the distance, on the horizon of your night, is that the breaking dawn?

“It’s Friday
Jesus is buried
A soldier stands guard
And a rock is rolled into place
But it’s Friday
It is only Friday
Sunday is a comin’!”
From a sermon by S.M. Lockridge

How Shall We Then Live

Augustine, in The Trinity, says, “it is difficult to contemplate and fully know the substance of God.” I would go further and say that it is not just “difficult, it is impossible to “fully know the Substance of God.” However, it is in the journey – the questions, the searching, the quest to know the unknowable – that God makes Godself known to us.

God is beyond all that we as finite humans can possibly imagine, but God is knowable in an intimate way that goes beyond any human relationship we can have. As Christians, we should affirm the fundamental orthodox doctrines of the Christian church, but at the same time, we must recognize that these are limited ways of expressing what we have come to understand as the nature of God. We move between the opposite extremes of mystery and knowability as we seek to live out a faith based upon the affirmation that “God is truth”; all the while knowing that our apprehension of that “Truth” is limited at best.

What can help us as we move toward a meaningful relationship with God and God’s creation? I can find nothing better than the affirmation from First John that says, “God is love.” I understand that the love of God takes many forms and sometimes it may be a form we don’t like – correction for example – but nevertheless, the pursuit of a life consumed by God’s love is, for me, the only answer to the often difficult question of “how should we then live.” In Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes…

For those who abandon themselves to it, God’s love contains every good thing, and if you long for it with all your heart and soul it will be yours. All God asks for is love, and if you search for this kingdom where God alone rules, you can be quite sure you will find it.

Every day, I am reminded that my “understanding” of God is limited at best and my ability to communicate that limited understanding will always be flawed. However, in a miraculous way, when we love people, God speaks. In that moment, God is revealed in a way that we could never hope to explain using words alone. It is the expression of faith through loving others that I have come to see as the truest representation of who I believe God to be.

So for me, as important as it may be to have a proper theological understanding of who God is, it is equally if not more important to love as God has loved me. My experience of God leads me to the conclusion that either through me or in-spite of me, God will be true to all that God has promised.

Looking Forward

The Holiday Season is behind us and, if you are like most people, you enter the New Year with a huge sigh of relief. You settle into your easy chair, kick off your shoes, and thank Your Maker for a much-deserved rest. I know, you probably enjoyed the holidays; decorating, cooking, entertaining, visiting, eating, buying, wrapping, giving, getting, unwrapping, cleaning, singing, worshiping, and everything else, that I’m just too tired to remember. How did we make time for it all?

Yes, you deserve a rest, or at least the chance to slow down just a little. However, just as we begin to make ourselves comfortable, the cares and concerns of our everyday life come knocking at the door and rouse us from or resting place. Back to school, back to work, manage the household, pay the bills, clean the kitchen, wash the car, wash the kids, wash the dog… you get the picture. Our days are filled with the seemingly mundane tasks that are necessary just to make it from one day to the next; tasks that, while sometimes necessary, leave little time for physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal. So we trade the busyness of the holiday season, for the grind-it-out, day-to-day, living that leaves us empty and yearning for something better.

We look to the new year as a time of new possibilities (resolutions anyone?), yet we carry with us many of the same responsibilities, attitudes, and habits. We want to look forward, hoping that this year will be better than the last, but a glance over our shoulder reminds us that we’ve been wrong before. There is a simple answer to our dilemma. In Matthew chapter eleven, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” And it really is just that simple.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those who say, “If you just have enough faith, everything will be alright.” It’s a complex world we live in and being a person of faith doesn’t negate the challenges we face, but faith is our connection to the one in whom we place our trust. And through that connection comes a “peace that passes understanding,” because…

“We always see through a glass darkly, and that is what faith is about. So I will live by the best I can discern today. Tomorrow I may find out I was wrong. Since I do not live by being right, I am not destroyed by being wrong. The God revealed in Jesus whom I call the Christ is a God whose forgiveness goes ahead of me, and whose love sustains me and the whole created world.” – Verna Dozier

May God bless you this year as you purpose in your heart to know Jesus in a meaningful way.

Blessings on you and yours
Allen

Disturbed By Statistics

I heard somewhere recently that only seven percent of millennials are self-described Christians. That means that we are in danger of losing an entire generation. If being a disciple of Jesus is as wonderful as we say it is, then why are so many rejecting our claims? Some will say that it is just a sign of the times and that this is only the beginning of the “great falling away.” Frankly, I just don’t buy that. I think that we have so distorted the image of Jesus with our pettiness, in-fighting, bickering, etc. that those on the outside looking in will have nothing to do with us. So the question is, what do we do now?

Book Review: Radical by David Platt

What would it look like if a person were to forsake their pursuit of the American Dream and instead live their lives as a radical disciple of Jesus? The question assumes that the two are mutually exclusive. In his book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, David Platt suggests just that. The American Dream has become for many a pursuit of bigger and better stuff. Platt challenges us to re-examine our faith and ask the serious questions that, while uncomfortable, force us to take seriously the radical call of Jesus to forsake all in order to follow him. This is a must read book for anyone looking to move from a superficial feel-good faith to one that is life altering. If you are looking for some light reading to pass the time, look elsewhere, but if you want something that will press you to move outside your comfort zone and stir you to action, then look no further.

Note: I received this book from the publisher as part of a blogger review program. The opinions expressed are my own.

Pastor, I Need to Find God

“Pastor, I need to find God,” is a statement that is made often in one form or another. It is often stated after a person experiences a crisis and finds they are unable to cope with the situation they are in. The weight of the world seems to be pressing in on them threatening to smother their very life from their bodies. Sometimes it is stated after a person experiences disappointment or rejection, especially in a religious setting. When people we trust fail to live up to our expectations, it sometimes leaves us questioning God’s ability to work in our lives. Other times it is the result of a spiritual valley we are going through. It is a common occurrence for us to think God is far from us when things just don’t seem to be going right. And in those moments when we recognize that something in our life is out of place, whether we can identify it or not, our response as people of faith is often, “where is God?”

In Luke 19:10, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” If that is true, why would anyone ever feel “lost”? Did Jesus fail his mission? Is this simply about a one-time salvific event in the life of the believer? Or does “being lost” say more about our willingness to be found, than it does about God’s ability to find us.
The truly lost, those who have not had a conversion experience, but who genuinely seek God, seem to have no trouble “finding God.” In the moment when they reach that crisis of faith and they experience an overwhelming need for God, God is there. The stories told as a result of these experiences are often amazing. So, it is the believer, who after months or even years of living the faith and now find themselves seemingly far from God, that often require our best effort as pastoral-care-givers.

One of the most beneficial things I have done for my congregation is to work intently with them in the area of spiritual growth. My idea of spiritual growth has always been to grow in knowledge about God, to challenge my own presuppositions, and to discover God’s grace in new and exciting ways that leads to an active faith and ultimately a more intimate relationship with God. Spiritual growth allows us to explore those areas of theology with which we may be struggling, helps us to rediscover ways in which to express and live out our faith in a way that is relative to our society, and helps us to gain new perspectives on our lives as Christians. The opportunity to study, struggle, and grow with fellow seekers who share a commitment to the quest for an intimate relationship with God that makes a difference in our lives each moment is invaluable.

So, maybe one of the best things we as pastoral-care-givers can do is to help people to evaluate not only the places they are looking for God, but what they expect to find there. Is their image of God one that is faithful to the Biblical witness? Do the historical teachings of the church have something to offer a person seeking God? If a person doesn’t know who it is they are looking for, then it becomes increasingly unlikely that they will find who or what they seek. In his book, Taking on the Gods: The Task of the Pastoral Counselor, Merle R. Jordan says…

Confronting those psychic structures, forces, and images which masquerade as God; bringing love, faith, and hope into the lives of persons; and being an extension ministry of Jesus Christ walking in the hells of human existence are all ways of expressing the true evangelistic purposes of pastoral counseling.

First we listen to their stories and help to unearth the hidden theology that shapes their understanding of who’s they are. Then we carefully help them to find the one true God who will fill the God shaped hole in their lives. Not an easy task at all…but worth every effort.