Identity

Some of my favorite worship services are those that include baptisms. Through the water of baptism, “God reminds and assures us of our Baptism graphic found with Googleunion with Christ in covenant love, the washing away of our sin, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Everyone who is baptized – regardless of denomination or tradition, regardless of the language or culture – is united in Christ. As someone who was baptized, my primary identity comes from knowing that, together with the rest of God’s people, I am united to and belong to Jesus.

That means for those of us who are baptized, we find our identity in Christ even before we see ourselves as…

  • a daughter or son, father or mother, husband or wife
  • a banker, farmer, mechanic, nurse, salesperson, teacher, or truck driver
  • straight, gay, bi, or other
  • wealthy, middle class, or poor
  • American, Canadian, Chinese, Dutch, First Nations, Guatemalan, Mexican, Native American, Romanian, or Venezuelan
  • a Democrat or a Republican; or a Conservative, Green, Liberal, NDP, or Bloc Québécois supporter
  • a member of the NRA or the ACLU.

Baptism welcomes us into God’s family and makes us citizens of His Kingdom before we identify with or pledge any other allegiance.

As a male, I personally have more in common with a woman who is among God’s people than I do with another guy who is outside the faith. If you are a Kingdom-minded blue collar worker, you have more in common with a professional in a suit submitting to Christ’s rule than you do with a guy in grease-stained coveralls outside the Kingdom. If you are a straight person who loves Jesus, you have more in common with a gay person who professes Jesus than you do with a husband and wife who profess nothing. If you are an American who follows Jesus, you have more in common with a Palestinian or Iraqi Christian than you do with a fellow American who does not yet know Jesus. If you are a Republican who loves Jesus, you have more in common with a Democrat who dedicates their life to Jesus than another Republican who does not yet live for the Lord.

Author Lee C. Camp writes: “There is, for those who have been clothed with Christ in baptism, a new identity, an identity that transcends economic class, ethnic grouping, and citizenship.”

In these divisive times, I especially need to touch, see, and hear the water of baptism to remind me that more fundamental to anything that divides me from other believers is the foundational union I have with Christ and with one another.

This repeats some things I said Sunday evening at Trinity CRC.
It’s also what I contributed to the Perspectives column
in this week’s
Rock Valley Bee, in which I noted I’d like
the date of my baptism included in my obituary some day.

Living wet

Baptism graphic found via Google

When I die, I’d like my obituary to include the date I was baptized.

I realize that piece of information is seldom included in an individual’s biography. Typically the only dates listed are one’s birth date, death date, and (if applicable) marriage date. For my future obituary, those dates – together with things such as family, education, career, and hobbies – will be helpful in knowing who I am.

But I’d like my baptism date included so that whoever reads my obituary will also know whose I am.

My baptism identifies me as a child of my heavenly Father, saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus and filled with his Holy Spirit. My baptism was a celebration of God’s faithfulness, a reminder that I am part of his family. The water symbolizes how Jesus washes me clean from the filth of my sin. The water also symbolizes the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers me to live as one of God’s children.

That certainly does not mean that I’m perfect. My poor choices and dumb mistakes routinely hurt God, others, and myself. But my baptism reminds me that God, in his amazing grace, nevertheless claims me as his own which means that neither my sin nor even my death will have the last word in my life.

I once read something about Martin Luther, a famous figure at the time of the Reformation in church history. Whenever he felt discouraged or that the devil was pulling him in a bad direction, he would splash water on himself and declare, “But I am baptized!” The Holy Spirit used that reminder to propel him in the right direction again.

Every once in a while, I stand by the baptismal font in the front of the church sanctuary. Reflecting on how God is faithful to his promises prevents my baptism from becoming a dry piece of my history. The Holy Spirit uses that and lots of other things to help me continue “living wet” – as one who is a baptized part of God’s family and empowered to make a difference in his world.

I suspect that my loved ones will write an obituary for me some day that will include significant events and interesting anecdotes from my life. But I’d suggest that recalling my baptism and its meaning will be the most significant and interesting detail of them all.

::– –::– –::

I’ve been invited to contribute occasionally to the faith column in The Rock Valley Bee and this is my first one, published this week. At first I thought I would introduce myself and talk about who I am, but then I decided it would be more interesting to focus on whose I am.

Drowning

I love the tradition some churches have of inviting all the children in the sanctuary forward when it’s time to baptize a baby. Having done that a few times myself, I enjoy the moment introducing the kids to their newest sister or brother in God’s covenant family. I also take the opportunity to ask the kids what water reminds them of. The answers always pour out: taking a bath, cleaning, swimming, brushing our teeth, drinking. Most (if not all) of the answers are cheery and I somehow connect them with baptism: Jesus, the Living Water, washes us clean from sin.

I have yet to hear a child caution me about the dangers of water, Drowning (image found via Google)that it’s possible to drown in water. Then again, to my knowledge, I’ve never had Demetrius Jones in any service where I’ve invited the children to the baptismal font.

In 2009, his story captivated the residents of northern British Columbia. While his parents and other family members at the campground where they are vacationing are looking the other way, the 3-year-old drives his toy truck (the kind he could sit in and steer) into the fast-flowing Peace River. In the blink of an eye, he is gone, out of sight. Precariously balanced on his overturned toy truck, Demetrius (everyone calls him Peanut) clutches its thin metal axle between the wheels. The slightest shift in his weight and he will be tossed into the cold waters of the wide, fast-moving river. He is whimpering. A logjam looms ahead.

His family quickly realizes Peanut is missing. When no one can find him around the campground, they look downriver.

Search parties soon figure they are searching for a drowned corpse.

::   ::   ::

This, it turns out, connects with baptism. In fact, the idea of drowning as a way to think about baptism goes all the way back to something the apostle Paul said: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death…”

Baptism and death belong together: We identify with the death and burial of Christ when water makes contact with our heads and the heads of those we love. Drowning is a frightening thought, but the connection between baptism and death is clearly presented in Scripture.

Because death by drowning is such a frightening thought, it makes the next thing Paul writes incredibly powerful Good News: “…We were therefore buried with [Christ Jesus] 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. If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” In a way we touch and see, baptism reveals a fantastic rescue: A watery grave does not have the last word for those who are baptized. Jesus lives, and so do we – today and for eternity!

::   ::   ::

As family members and others in the campground get into their boats to go downriver searching for Peanut, fear paralyzes his parents. The river is the highest anyone has seen it all season.

The searchers approach a logjam 6 miles downriver from the campground. They circle around it a couple times but see no sign of Peanut. At this point, turning back seems the logical thing to do, but they press on. Nearly two miles farther downriver, the men in the boat spot something in an eddy. What they first think is the head of a bald eagle is actually the blond hair of a little boy. He is kneeling on his overturned toy truck, clutching the axle and shivering as the water lapped around him.

“I’m coming! Don’t move!” calls one of the men in the boat who proceeds to jump into the frigid, 10-feet-deep water, and catches hold of Peanut. The men are even able to rescue his toy truck!

Back at the dock, Peanut’s mom watches the boat return but only sees the men and the toy truck. Just when the horror is about to make her sick to her stomach, one of the men in the boat shifts position slightly and she catches sight of Peanut’s head. He is in one Demetrius 'Peanut' Jones and his sisterof the men’s arms – shivering, but smiling! They rush him to the hospital where he is warmed up, assessed, and released in two hours.

Afterward, Peanut sometimes still asked, “Trucks go in water, Mommy?” And his mommy always answered, “No, Demetrius, they do not!”

::   ::   ::

Jesus rescues us from the deep, treacherous waters of sin. Through Him, our sins are washed away – a common picture of baptism. But even more than that, we die to sin, and then are raised again in Jesus Christ. The water of baptism reminds us that we have drowned. But Jesus is the divine Rescuer, bringing us back to the dock in new life for now and eternity.

Identity

US and Canada flags

There are many things this Canadian appreciates about living in the USA: I am not only free but also welcome to publicly tell people about Jesus on Sunday mornings and during the week; the people of Rock Valley are graciously enfolding me and my family into the community; the 4th of July festivities around here are fun and include delicious food!

But when Canada Day (1st of July) and Independence Day come around each year, I remind myself that my national identity is not what primarily defines me. Hear me carefully: I am grateful for Canada and the United States and the freedom we often take for granted. However, when we are in Christ, before we are an American or a Canadian or any other nationality, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom already becoming evident here on earth. This citizenship transcends all the geo-political borders I can find on a globe. This citizenship even transcends the feelings I harbor over people with national and ethnic backgrounds different than mine. There is something that binds me together with other believers across the street and around the world – regardless of denomination – that’s stronger than any flag, anthem, constitution, or charter. And Kingdom citizenship is eternal – something no passport from any earthly country can promise nor even the threat of losing my freedom can defeat. As the apostle Paul says, “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

Baptism reminds me of this reality. Pastors Bobby, Mark, and I justMere Discipleship by Lee C Camp wrapped up a series of messages on the sacraments here at Trinity CRC. When I spoke on baptism, I found Lee C. Camp’s book Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World very helpful – and challenging, too. Here’s a quote that didn’t make it into my message but is worth reading nevertheless…

At the heart of baptism lies an astonishing claim, an astonishing reality: All the division, all the social groupings, all the forms of identity that serve to categorize, divide, estrange, and alienate one from the other – these are broken down. There is, for those who have been clothed with Christ in baptism, a new identity, an identity that transcends race, economic class, ethnic grouping, and citizenship. (page 140)

Flags image found via Google.

A matter of time

Star Trek Time Travel Fan CollectiveA few weeks ago I bought the Star Trek: Time Travel Fan Collective.  It’s a collection of Star Trek shows from the different series that features tales of our Starfleet heroes going forwards and/or backwards through time.

The concept of time travel has always intrigued me.  I have awoken on more than one occasion from dreaming of going back to my high school or university days with knowledge of 2011…  Would I change anything?  Or would I make sure to leave everything the way it was?  I wonder, if you were given a time machine, would you visit the future or relive November 5, 1955?

Sometimes I think that the Word and Sacraments make time travel possible.  The Bible tells me what God has done in the past, who I am in the present, and the hope God’s people have for the future.  I exist in a continuum, blessed by those who have gone before and confident of God’s help and strength in the future.  Similar with the sacraments: Baptism gives us a picture of having died and been raised with Christ in the past, of Jesus washing us clean and renewing us for service in the present, and of us crossing the river into glory in the new heaven and new earth.  And the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in the past, a means by which the Holy Spirit nourishes us in the present, and a foretaste of the wedding banquet of the Lamb in the future.

Last but not least, the Word and Sacraments remind me of how God holds the past (which I cannot change) and the future (which I cannot predict) in His hands, freeing me and equipping me to serve Him with all I’ve got here and now.

PS: If you know why I chose November 5, 1955, let me know… We can be geeks together!

Dependence Day

Face painted with US & Canada flags (found with Google)



The beginning of July marks two major holidays in Canada and the United States: Today, of course, is Independence Day; this past Friday, north of the 49th parallel, we enjoyed Canada Day festivities.  As Canadians and Americans, we have much to be thankful for as we live in freedom.

Reflecting on these holidays last year, my colleague Rick Apperson encouraged his blog readers to also celebrate Dependence Day.  In at least one regard, independence is not all that it’s cracked up to be: A life dependent on God is preferable to a life independent from Him.  The psalmist confesses how “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”  We depend on our Creator, Saviour, and Sustainer even when we don’t realize it.

I formally professed my faith in Jesus before my church family on 13 June 1993 at First (now Gateway Community) CRC in Abbotsford.  I sometimes think of that as my own personal “Dependence Day.”  I declared my love for and dependence upon Jesus.  The occasion affirmed what was promised to me at my baptism as an infant, that my heavenly Father claims me as His child and fills me with His Holy Spirit.  “Dependence Day” reminds me not only who I am, but also whose I am.  In many ways, my baptism and profession of faith are not simply events in the past, but markers and reminders of a particular way of life, grounded in faith and oriented around Jesus.

Do you remember the day of your baptism, confirmation, and/or profession of faith?  Do you ever reflect on how it continues to form your identity and impacts your life today?