Remember, and Be Thankful

Do you remember your baptism? Like many people, I was baptized as an infant, so I have no recollection of mine. My baptism took place at the Huntingdon Methodist Church in Huntingdon, PA. My parents met in the choir at that church and were married there, so it was fitting, if not memorable. In my career I have participated in hundreds of baptisms, and the sacrament is one that is joyful and bathed in hope every single time.

Methodists mark the baptism of Jesus with a special service where we invite people to remember their own baptisms. This is an invitation to remember not so much the when of your baptism, but the why. Why do Christians baptize? What happens in baptism?

First, it is important to remember who the agent is in a baptism, and here is a hint: it’s not you. Even if you were an adult and took your own vows, you are not the star of the show. God is the focus, and we acknowledge that he is the one who has called you to that moment. In my denomination, we do not re-baptize. We understand that a baptism is a result of the power of God in a person’s life and thus does not need to be repeated, regardless of whether or not the person stayed on a righteous path. People may falter, but God doesn’t make mistakes. There is no need to re-do what he has already done.

And so the vows renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness; repenting of sins; accepting God’s freedom and power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression; putting your whole trust in Christ’s saving grace; pledging to serve him and his people, etc. all come together in that holy moment. Water is used symbolically to signify a new beginning….a cleansing, as it were….and an acknowledgement of God’s mighty acts of salvation through water and the Spirit. We are named, and claimed.

Take a look at what happened at Jesus’ baptism:

Mark 1 (Common English Bible)

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

I think God says the same thing with every baby, confirmand, squirming teenager, and wide-eyed adult whom we baptize. I think heaven opens up every time and God looks at that person and says, “You are my child, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Ponder your baptism today, and remember why you were baptized. As you remember, be thankful. And if you’ve never been baptized and you’re ready, find a preacher with a pitcher. It’s never too late.

God Claims You

Prepare the Way

Our adventure toward the manger continues today with a look at the very first chapter of Mark. Mark is accepted as the first Gospel that was written, so it will be interesting to look at the first words of the first words. What was important? How shall we start this story? Every journey begins with a first step and every story begins with a first word. What did Mark think would be the most important way to start the good news of Jesus Christ?

He begins with Isaiah, and then quickly pivots to John the Baptist.

Mark 1 (Common English Bible)

1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you.
He will prepare your way,
a voice shouting in the wilderness:
        “Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make his paths straight.”

This is a convincing and deliberate way to speak to the Jews of the time. Mark begins by presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of a well-known prophecy. Every hearer would have known Isaiah’s foretelling of the promised Messiah. Mark connects the preparation that Isaiah laid with John the Baptist’s call to prepare. This is to demonstrate that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

John’s preaching

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 

Here we find the instructions for how to prepare to receive the Messiah. Change your heart. Change your life. Ask God to forgive your sins.

Sounds a little like Lent, doesn’t it?

But what better way could we possibly prepare ourselves for the incoming and indwelling of God-made-flesh?

Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 

OK, so John was a little strange in his appearance and habits. But the spotlight was never supposed to be on him. His announcement is loud and clear: there is one coming after me who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This might be a good day to put down the tinsel, set aside the wrapping paper, and really be about our Father’s work. It was his will to send Jesus so that we might be cleansed of our sins and saved.

How are you preparing? Have you stopped your Christmas preparations long enough to do some Advent soul-searching?

Today is the day. Ask God to come into your heart and take inventory. And be ready for a baptism of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and change.

Come, Holy Spirit! Make us ready.

Preparing by Jennifer Thompson

Surf Fishing

Surf fishing is a very popular sport on the Outer Banks. Our entire coastline provides numerous spots that are perfect for this. Wherever you go on the beach, you are likely to run into a surf fisherman. I am a beach walker, so I know to carefully look for the sun’s reflection on their lines and walk under or behind them. It would be counterproductive to decapitate myself whilst trying to get in shape.

The beauty of surf fishing is that you can simply walk to your fishing spot. No boats, nets, piers, or docks required. Take off your shoes and cast your line! Of course the challenge is the surf itself. Negotiating the waves and the unknown depths of the water just beyond the break are part of the fun. More than once I have watched someone excitedly reeling in a fish while walking into the waves, only to hit the underwater drop-off and submerge up to their chest. By the way, the fish love it when that happens.

Surf fishing also requires a fair amount of “situational awareness,” especially as you cast. Always look around you, and especially behind you! Nobody wants to hook a sunbather in the eye. Or the bikini top.

Jesus knew a lot about fishing.

Mark 1 (The Message)

16-18 Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.

19-20 A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.

So, had you realized that surf fishing is in the Bible?? Simon and Andrew were net-fishing from the beach. James and John were in a boat. All were given the instruction to leave their work and follow Jesus. The new job would be to fish for people.

Fishing for people also requires a kind of “situational awareness.” How ready is this person to hear the Gospel? What is the best approach? What do they need…a testimony, or a sandwich? What would communicate God’s love best?

You are also called to people-fish. Dropping the net you are currently holding is the best way to approach this new task. How can God use your abilities, resources, and personality to spread a word of hope, acceptance, and love?

Jesus calls us to follow him. May we be like the disciples and drop what we’re doing, leave everything behind, and immediately respond. You never know what you’ll catch.

Sunrise Surf Fishermen by Michelle Robertson