Baptism

Roger Nishioka, the outstanding Christian Educator, writes about a teen named Kyle who was a member of a confirmation class that Roger had taught. Kyle had been an excellent student who was always prepared and who contributed to the discussion. Since Kyle had not been baptized as an infant, on confirmation Sunday he was baptized as well as confirmed. Yet immediately after the class was over, Kyle and his family quit attending church. When Roger called to see if anything was wrong, Kyle’s mother seemed puzzled. “We thought Kyle was done,” she said.

Somehow, nearly a year of classes failed to convey the true nature of baptism. Baptism is the beginning of faith, not the end. In baptism, we die to the persons we once were; we’re given a new identity; and we’re sent out to serve.

My guess is that for many people, baptism is an empty rite of passage. They figure it’s something they ought to do, even if they don’t really know why: “Pastor, the family will be in town next week; can you do the kid then?”

Yet baptism was so important to Jesus that he didn’t begin his earthly ministry until he was first baptized by John. This means that somehow, when we’re baptized, Jesus’ baptism becomes our baptism. He claims us. We’re his. Our lives are no longer our own.

Roger Nishioka says that some churches have changed the name of “Confirmation Class” to “Confirmation and Commissioning Class.” As important as it is for a church to teach the basic language of faith, it’s just as important to equip them and provide them opportunities to serve.

Have you been baptized? Did you think you were “done?” Let the water carry you out to serve.

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Community

All summer at First Church we’ve been looking at what it means to be a community of followers of Jesus Christ.  Early on, we said that God created in us a deep need that can only be met through other believers.  We were created in God’s image for God and for each other. 

 The church is the community that God gave us to meet this need.  Jesus was a flesh and blood human being, so faith isn’t just a spiritual or intellectual pursuit.  We were created to live out our faith in community.  It is through the church that we grow, are cared for, where we practice hospitality, and where we learn to give ourselves away.

 I’ve been studying the famous parable of The Good Samaritan, an example of Christian community at its best.  The parable is so familiar to some Christians that we forget how shocking it was to the people who first heard it. 

A teacher of the law stood up to test Jesus.  Luke tells us the man was trying to “justify himself.”  The parable was Jesus’ response to the man’s self-justification.  In the parable, Jesus turned the tables on the teacher of the law.  We learn that in trying to justify himself, the teacher of the law was himself the one who was helpless by the side of the road. 

What’s more, the hero of the story is the Samaritan.  This is especially shocking, since Samaritans and Jews despised each other.  The one who took pity on the man and cared for him at great personal cost was the one we would have expected to cross to the other side of the road.     

The truth is, we’re all like the teacher of the law.  In one way or another, we’re all trying to justify ourselves, and in doing so, we are the ones who are helpless and in need of a Savior. 

When we understand what it cost Jesus Christ to save us, we can really live together in community.  Jesus not only risked his life to care for us, he gave his life; freely, out of his love for us.  He carries us to a safe place and pays the price to make us whole. 

This is the radical, self-giving love that forms the basis of our life together.

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First Post

What an interesting place to be! Working downtown at First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh is beyond anything I ever imagined I would be doing right out of seminary. God was definitely at work!

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