Archive for January, 2007

The Grapefruit

Posted: January 31, 2007 in Family, Personal Reflections

grapefruit.jpgMy in-laws were in town this past weekend to watch our kids as Kelly and I went on a leadership retreat.  Not only were they in town to watch our kids, but they also were dropping off their Toyota Camry which they are just graciously giving me (they bought a brand new one) so I can turn my leased Honda Civic in next week.  NOT ONLY THAT but while they were here, they also removed the wallpaper and painted my dining room!  Isn’t that incredible?!  I have good in-laws.  They are very gracious to us.  Keep that in mind.

So…this morning I woke up and was in a mood for a grapefruit.  This is strange because I don’t eat grapefruit.  Unless I’m at some breakfast bar or retreat place, I cannot think of a time that I have ever just sat down in my kitchen and had myself a grapefruit.  But, last week, there was a sale at the grocery store on grapefruits so I thought I would purchase one.  Well, this morning was the morning I woke up craving the grapefruit.  So, I opened the fruit crisper in the refrigerator and MY GRAPEFRUIT WAS GONE!!!  My in-laws had stolen my grapefruit and consumed it while I was at the leadership retreat!

So, I turned to my wife and complained, “Hey – your parents ate my grapefruit.”  Kelly cocked her head, gave me that “are you serious” look and responded, “they gave you a car.”  (you just have to imagine her face and tone…it was priceless).  It struck me funny the moment she said it.  They sure did.  Not only did they give me a car, they took care of my kids and redecorated my dining room.  All that for a grapefruitIt is a good trade.

 I shared this story about my pathetically ungrateful heart during our staff meeting today and how I had complained about my in-laws eating my grapefruit and Jennae Gee, our Administrative Assistant, whipped out A GRAPEFRUIT and gave it to me!  Who has a grapefruit just laying around?!  Apparently Jennae.  So – I got my grapefruit after all.  My life is good…really good.  Maybe I can remember that the next time I want to complain about something. 

Postscript:  what in the world is the proper way to eat a grapefruit?

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I begin the Deal or No Deal message series on Sunday morning with the first week entitled, “Accept the Banker’s Offer?”  I find that somewhat ironic given the fact that we had lunch today with the church’s banker, Todd Bruce from Lake City Bank!  That dude is awesome.  Not only did he pay for lunch at Logans (one of my favorites) but gave some good advice in regards to some of our plans and goals for growth and vision.

We wanted to discuss three big priority areas in regards to our continued growth and movement:

  1. Expanding our current lobby space by knocking out several walls and offices.
  2. Turning the back half of our building into an exclusive children’s wing with brand new decor, themes, safety issues, etc. (this was especially exciting to our leaders during the leadership meeting)
  3. Redeveloping a current building into an exclusive youth center/space to house all of our teen activities.

Todd was very encouraging in regards to some of the possibilities.  We trust him in regards to being a banker, and thus not taking a ridiculous risk on any lending, and as a fellow Christian we trust him in regards to giving us honest advice as to what is a wise and smart investment versus a goofy and wreckless plan of borrowing and spending.

Next step – getting some bids for a few of these priorities.  Very exciting!

I went sledding today with my baby girl.  We went to Erskine Golf Course’s 5th hole – also known as “cardiac hill.”  It was cold – but a lot of fun.  It reminded me of when I was a kid and went down the same hill.  Lots of fun.  There is something sweet about hearing my baby girl giggling and screaming while sledding down the hill.  But did I mention it was cold?!  Good grief.  It is supposed to be cold all week.  I think this Sunday is going to have a low of 5 degrees.  So, if you have ever said to yourself, “I’ll go to church when hell freezes over,” this may be your best opportunity.  See you in church on Sunday!

Since I’ve been in the narratives of Acts over the past few weeks I have had a lot of guests or recent attenders at church ask me questions about baptism.  They are great questions and I love talking about this stuff.  It is interesting to hear how many diverse backgrounds and understandings there are about baptism.  So, I thought I would post a few thoughts I have about the subject.  This is an actual e-mail I sent a while back to a guy named David who was interested in coming to our church (when we were the Donmoyer Avenue Church of Christ) but wanted some clarification about baptism.  Here was my letter.  It’s sort of long.  It also didn’t convince him!

David,

In regards to baptism, don’t forget that you aren’t convincing me of the importance or practice of baptism.  I’m already there.  I believe in baptism and practice it in the manner in which you agree is right and biblical.  The thing that is difficult in most of these conversations about fellowship is that it often feels like somehow I am placed in a position that makes baptism look something other than what I believe it is.  God does all the things I stated in the Discovery notebook and to which you reminded me (i.e., forgiveness of sins, entrance into the Body of Christ, and entering the Kingdom of God) and the signage of that seems to be especially apparent in the act of baptism.  That is not to say that baptism does that, but that God does that, and he seems to do so in and especially at baptism (this goes back to the “baptism being a sacrament and a sign” that we talked about in the Discovery notebook).  Can God offer forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and salvation prior to baptism?  He seems to in the case of Cornelius and most likely Paul in the narrative of Acts.  He also seems to extend grace and salvation to others who misunderstood baptism as is the case of Apollos.  I would still contend the story of Apollos as well as the story of the Ephesians in Acts 19:1-7 in which they are called “disciples” but had never heard of the Holy Spirit nor had they received baptism in Jesus’ name illustrates this point.  Having said that, there is enough passages (and by far the predominance of passages) that places soteriological significance on baptism, and for that, I think it would be a mistake for anyone to dismiss baptism as somehow inconsequential or not important in the salvation experience.  While I think it is the most inferior of reasons to be baptized, the bottom line is – Jesus commands baptism.

So at least let us agree to these things:

1.    Baptism is a part of the conversion/salvation process.

2.    It is a sign of something going on in the heart, but it is also a moment in which God is actually doing something.

Now – here is the crux of the matter for me.  The reality is that I’m unaware of hardly anyone who has not been baptized.  With the exception of the Quakers and a few fringe religious groups, everyone practices baptism.  It is rare that you come across anyone who has any Christian background who has not experienced baptism.  They all practice baptism.

Having said that, if anyone were to come to me and say, “I’ve never been baptized” (I mean at all) I would not hesitate to appeal to them with everything that I am to be immersed in baptism. 

The real issue between us is the form and manner of baptism.  Not in what is the biblical example of form and manner, for we both agree on that as well.  But whether the form and manner is the affectual thing in baptism.  That is, does baptism work if there is variance in form and manner?  I think baptism with a variance of form and manner can be affectual because baptism is ultimately about what God does, not what we do.  Can I acknowledge someone as a Christian who was baptized as an infant?  The answer is yes, not because I think infant baptism is right, but because I understand how thoughts, practices, and doctrines are passed down.  Just as the both of us have changed our minds on many things that we once thought were right thanks to our background and heritage, I assume the possibility exists that others can do the same, and God’s grace isn’t dependent on having every doctrinal issue settled.  We both, at one time, thought that having instruments would condemn one to eternal punishment.  Why?  Because we were taught that.  Did God have grace for us in spite of our imperfections?  Of course.  It is funny to me that we presume God to be very gracious in all areas of morality, but when it comes to doctrine, we have a “get it right or burn” mentality.  However, having said that, I would discuss with someone the need for immersion as an adult.  This is what we practice, and this is what we do at [Donmoyer].  And this is why I think Apollos’ example is legitimate.  Did Apollos get baptism wrong?  Yes.  Was he unsaved prior to Pricilla and Aquilla’s instruction?  No.  He was already considered by fellow believers as one of the best articulators of our faith.  He just missed something (as we all do).  Those who have been baptized as infants missed something.  And how they missed it is easy to see.  They just need instruction.  And my experience (at least in the past nine years in one of the most Catholic of cities) is that no one has refused it when we simply entered into humble and affirming conversations about baptism.  But it would be easy to miss immersion as an adult if you grew up as a Catholic.  The English translations do not say immersion explicitly.  I believe it to be the case, but you have to go through a Greek word study to get there or infer things from the text that we see because it is what we practice, but not necessarily apparent to those who all their lives grew up in another tradition.

Can I accept as a Christian someone who was baptized in another form (i.e. pouring)?  I can.  But again, I would explain why we do what we do and encourage them to accept adult believers baptism.  And again, in my experience, no one has refused it.

The reason why this is so sensitive and why I think our attitudes are so important is because I think we are for the same thing, but if you presuppose people to be lost when the text has not said that in regards to the form of baptism (which is what we are talking about) you will have less success in seeing people immersed than one who can affirm their faith for what it really is and encourage them to take that step.  It would be the same as if the Grace Brethren church came to us and said our baptism didn’t count and we were lost because we were only immersed once and not three times as they believe to be the ancient practice (and there is good evidence to support such a claim).  Or the United Pentecostal Church coming to us and telling us that our baptism is not effective because we recited a trinitarian formula at baptism rather than only in “Jesus’ name” (which again, outside of Matthew 28, is the only example of baptism given in the book of Acts).  We would be defensive and dismiss them immediately knowing in our heart that we aren’t lost because of who are hearts belong to and what God has done in our lives and the Holy Spirit that we possess.  If ever I listened well enough and was convinced that their practice was more in conformity to the New Testament practice, I would submit to that baptism.  Not because I was lost, but only because I could see it was more in keeping with New Testament baptism.

This is what all of the leaders of [our movement] understood themselves to be doing when they submitted to adult believers baptism.  None of them (i.e. Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, etc.) was able to deny that they were Christians prior to their immersion, only that they could see it was more in conformity to biblical practice.  This is the example, in my mind, of Apollos.

The other problem with form questions is it puts way too much emphasis on what we are doing, rather than what God is doing.  God is the one who saves.  It is really what God is doing.  None of us are saved because we did something (this is Paul’s whole point in Romans 3-5 which I think especially important in this conversation).  Any doctrine that teaches that we are saved by a human work is a false doctrine.  We are saved by a God work at the cross and through the blood of Jesus.  Does receiving that work of God depend on a perfect understanding or practice of baptism?  I’m not so convinced.  Even in the OT we see quite a bit of grace for those who got Passover wrong, but because of their hearts, God permitted their participation.  God knows hearts.  He knows who loves his son and seeks to be obedient, and who doesn’t.  He knows those who have been immersed but could care less about serving the Master (which I find far more of at [Donmoyer] than the opposite problem of unimmersed people who are trying to serve their master).  And as the quote I sent earlier reflects, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to acknowledge those who truly have the Spirit of God at work in their lives and with all their hearts love Jesus and are striving with all that they have to follow after him.  This obedience seems to me to be far more important in terms of salvation than baptism itself.  That is why I think baptism can be emphasized to such a point that it eclipses everything else and produces people who think they are “Christian” simply because they were baptized.  If baptism had that effect, I find it strange that in the proponderance of Scripture, it receives limited mention.  Jesus almost never says anything about it, and the gospel itself makes it clear that Jesus did not baptize people and Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 1:14 & 17 seem odd. 

For me, I think it is not impossible to affirm baptism and practice it and teach it with confidence and boldness and still not hold it up as the one test of fellowship (which seems to have happened even among us).  I find some irony that the thing that was supposed to bring such unity and demonstrate the “one new humanity” (Eph. 2-4) has become such a cause of disunity and division.  Of all the things that will be the test of faithfulness, would we say baptism gets top priority?  That is what these conversations feel like to me.  And while I appreciate F. LaGard Smith’s attempt at defining fellowship, my question is what is the basis for F. LaGard Smith to determine the tests of fellowship?  We can all point to biblical doctrines that are explicitly taught in Scripture.  Who gets to decide which one is THE biblical doctrine that is the test of fellowship?  Why not Matthew 25 and Jesus’ statements of taking care of the “least of these?”  At least for Jesus, he is a lot more explicit about that as a test than anything else.  And the apostle John, as he offers tests of fellowship, does so only for the identity and person of Jesus (1-3 John).  I’m for that.  Why has baptism been elevated to the place of determining fellowship?  That is where I think we missed it in the Churches of Christ.  Not that we weren’t right on the execution of baptism, but that we were wrong on the emphasis of baptism and its test for fellowship.  Baptism, ultimately, at least in my view, is about what God is doing.  Baptism is a gift from God.  And we get so caught up in the packaging of the gift (i.e., whether it has a bow or not, the color of the wrapping paper, etc.) that we are missing what is inside the box.

Whew – I know that was long.  I hope this isn’t tedious for you to read through.  But those are some of my thoughts as we continue our conversation.

Because of the Kingdom,

Sam

Winter Wonder-Land

Posted: January 28, 2007 in Living Stones Church

Holy Schmoly it is still snowing.  We are under a “Lake Effect Snow Advisory Warning.”  When I woke up this morning there was a good amount of snow that had fallen.  The news reported many church cancellations.  I thought there would be a slim crowd at church this morning.  I was surprised at how many people were there

The opening song this morning was “Now I’m a Believer.”  Somewhat of an adaptation of the Monkey’s original (or is it Smashmouth?).  Kids loved it!  I thought it was awesome. 

In terms of message, dondpostcardfront.jpgI finished the Apprentice series we began four weeks ago.  We took a look at four different narratives at Acts of individuals (from various backgrounds) who gave their lives to Jesus – Ethiopian Eunuch, Saul (later to become Paul), Cornelius, and the Philippian Jailor.

Next week we begin a new series entitled Deal or No Deal.  I’m very excited about it.  We are mailing out 6800 postcard invitations to people who live around the church.  As a sidenote, I discovered through some demographic studies that there are 42,500 people who live on the south side of South Bend!!  That is way more than I would have guessed.  Anyhow…the Deal or No Deal Series is about living a life of blessing as opposed to debt, financial ruin, and bondage to credit cards, etc.  While the topic is money (a very sensitive subject – and yet the #1 cause of marital conflict and/or personal stress), I wanted to assure everyone that we wouldn’t be talking about giving more money to the church.  Not that we are opposed to giving to the church – but, who wants the experience of inviting their family member, their co-worker, their neighbor, or a friend to church and then when they finally accept the invitation and show up they hear a pastor get up, give some talk on the financial woes of a church and then ask everyone to give more money!  For most…that would be the last week they come and the one who invited them would think twice about ever doing that again! 

It should be a great series and a lot of fun!

I’m sitting around our leaders as we finished the more formal aspect of our retreat conversation.  Now we are sitting in a lounge (we’re not drinking any hard liquor) laughing and goofing off (one of my favorite parts of retreats).  I have asked them to help me compose this blog and offer the highlights of the retreat thus far.  Here is what they have concluded:

  • Chex mix is good.
  • Chuck Barrington shows favorites at Bob Evans and pays for only his table (note to self – always sit with an elder)
  • My wife can belch louder than any other Living Stones Church leader (it can peel paint).
  • Curt Lynn steals signs that say Living Stones on it – sorry Living Stones Fellowship Church.
  • Living Stones Fellowship Church has better food than us – and the director of the retreat center invited us to help ourselves but we suspect they are hiding it from us.
  • Our church can use a lot of money – please help – there are two “r”s in Barrington.
  • Big vision – little money (see above)
  • Cynthia Kneip’s brownies may have caused us to change our name to Living Stoned Church.
  • Bill Steele is going to build a mezzanine in our worship space.

Seriously – great conversations talking about how to move forward in the future.  I love this stuff.

Quote of the Day

Posted: January 26, 2007 in Culture, faith

In a Relevant magazine interview, several panelists are asked a series of questions.  One is, “What do you see as the greatest challenge for young Christians in the next 10 years?”

 Mark Driscoll responds:

There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left.  Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes.  In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed.  That is a guy I can worship.  I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.  I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians, and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity.”

I love it! 

Leadership Retreat

Posted: January 26, 2007 in Leadership, Living Stones Church

I’m presently at the Lindenwood Retreat Center in Donaldson, IN for a day of prayer and preparation for a leadership retreat that begins tomorrow at noon!  I’m very excited to be here.  This is a very special place (space) for me in regards to my spiritual life and calling in regards to the Living Stones Church.  It was here, in room #7 that I spent ten whole days in silence and solitude back in 2001 (the first three days will pretty much kill you…but if you can make it past the immense boredom it is amazing) asking the Lord for direction in regards to mission and vision for the church.  And man did he answer!  Quite powerfully

We met here last year at this time as a leadership team to consider mission/vision, etc. as we looked into 2006.  It was awesomeA great experience.  I love leadership retreats.  Getting together as a team is a great deal…even if it is just time together away from our  normal settings and distractions.  And then the conversations and ideas that we ask the Lord to bring to us is powerful and infectious.  I look forward to another great time!

I hope someone brings some cheese dip!