Are you preventing children from coming to Jesus? Part 1

Our Lord Christ said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” We sneer at those villainous religious leaders–or even disciples–who prevent children from approaching Jesus.

But we have to ask the question, “Do we hinder children from coming to Jesus?”

And when we ask that question in the negative, why not put it in the positive sense also: “Do we do much intentionally to help our young children come to Jesus in our families and churches?

I want to do some sweeping through Christian history, Scripture, a couple of studies of practices related to conversion or faith-shaping of children in the last century, and make some conclusions or applications and issue a challenge to us all. Continue reading

Down in the River to Pray now available on iPad

If you have an iPad or iPhone and have never read Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God‘s Transforming Work, get it from iTunes in ibooks format. The revised and better edited shorter version of the book John Mark Hicks and I co-authored is available here. Or click the image below.

Korean translation of Down in the River to Pray

John Mark Hicks, one of my seminary professors, a good friend and co-author of Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work, just emailed me this morning to say he hopes I didn’t mind if he wrote the preface for a Korean translation.

I’m very happy to hear about the Korean translation and grateful to those funding it, publishing and promoting the book. May it produce kingdom fruit.

I would think translating a book like ours would be very tedious. Writing it came with much prayer and fasting . . . and re-writing. Leonard Allen is my editor and friend, and he helped me work through draft after draft. And as much as I ripped JM for any hyper-theologese, he would rip me for my inattention to theological precision. I think we’re saved by/through/in/because/for grace through/by/in/heretofore/ faith . . . but apparently the placement of those darn prepositions matters, so I’d go back to write more closely what Paul said, what sound theology would have me write.

Writing River was painstaking. My training is in journalism and theology, and those two things ought to serve writing well, but writing about such a big sacred cow in Churches of Christ and knowing those things would go far and wide was fairly new to me at the time. I was pretty engrossed. My family and co-workers noticed and told me about it as needed, and I appreciate that. I was in over my head in some ways.

Writing with John Mark was a great honor, but I had been his student! Still, I wouldn’t trade that experience or time for anything (uh, well, maybe if all that prayer and fasting and 18 months writing instead produced fiction that the NY Times called “the best novel in the English language” I’d have to think hard about that :-).

But when I hear of people who read our book and are set free from legalism, from line-drawing, and they launch a new journey in Christ . . . I feel our paths are meeting on the way to Jesus, and I’m set free again.

Ice Storm 2007

We’re covered with 2-3 inches of ice in Tulsa. This morning a young man who is going for military training wants to be baptized. So I’m meeting him at Garnett and we’ll baptize him around 1 pm today. Sometimes the love of God in a person’s heart (and perhaps the fear of God, I do not know the heart of this young man that is driving him) is unstoppable.

My prayer for him is that, just as Jesus received the pleasure of the Father and the glory of the Spirit descending upon him, this young disciple will experience that moment of God’s presence.

I’m profoundly disappointed that we had to cancel “The African Children’s Choir” concert. Yesterday was a grueling day for those who helped plan the event, and thanks to Carol Brown in particular, who helped me work through dozens of details and made sure the children were cared for, and special thanks to Global Outreach Church that helped accomodate the children extra days and to Garnett members who offered to keep them. The choir directors preferred the children stay with families they’d already stayed with after the Wednesday concert at Global Outreach.

We are talking with the African Children’s Choir office about re-scheduling on this tour, so stay tuned.

Jill and I were proud yesterday of our ten-year-old, having worked incredibly hard with a whole index file of spelling bee cards, did not win the school but after some sadness about getting out, held her head high and kept it in perspective. I love spelling bees and they are tense, so we were nervous for her and disappointed when she went out.

Baptism on ice

I’m going to tell you a story about how my wife and I tried to plan our daughter’s baptism and how snow and family travel plans and a broken baptistery met with resolve of a young girl to be baptized in the place where her church worships and nowhere else.

The details might bore you, but they are told to show a different way of baptizing our children that includes advanced planning for presence of family members and friends and celebrating with words of blessing. If you want to skip the story and read the baptism ceremony plans, those are at the end.

We’d been planning for several months to baptize our thirteen-year-old daughter December 1. In the 48 hours before that day, Tulsa was snowed in with a record storm. Jill’s parents were to fly in and my parents were to drive down from Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Flight was postponed to Friday and my parents couldn’t even get out of their driveway. We got stuck in the airport parking lot picking up Jill’s parents.

Meanwhile, the aging baptistery at Garnett Church of Christ had no working heater, filter, and it leaked. This baptistery was laid in before the 2,400 seat auditorium was built. It’s like a small pool. So plans had also been made to start work on this same weekend to cut out the old fiberglass and replace the baptistery with a newer, more efficient, smaller one. The decision was made Wednesday, before the storm, to allow a crew to try and rip out the old baptistery and put the new one in before Ashley’s baptism. Then the storm hit and the complicated (it took two huge semi-truck-sized dumpsters to dispose of mildewed old staging, planters, and baptistery) work took longer than expected, and my parents still couldn’t get out of their driveway, and we were faced with a decision to move the baptism to Sunday, December 3. Ice was still bad, and church was cancelled. We moved the baptism to December 10.

Jill’s parents would not be able to witness the baptism, but they gave Ashley a necklace, a card, and verbally blessed her and prayed over her before they flew back out after the weekend.

Our desire to plan and have grandparents travel to bless Ashley, to plan a celebration with communion and cake that one grandma would bake and engraved lockets and balloons and planned prayers and blessings, was thwarted by weather and a baptistery transition.

At various suggestions and jokes that we baptize her in another church or in pool or pond (break the ice), or in a snow drift, or by sprinkling, Ashley said, “I want to be baptized at my church.”

Ashley read the following ceremony plans and suggested that it’s too formal, and it is for us and it won’t be followed verbatim but with feeling and heart-felt remarks and skipped parts and choked up tears and thoughts from several people who are witnessing.

Note: I wrote the following after reading back over a section in Down in the River to Pray that I adapted from a Mennonite baptism ceremony. I realized that even in the book, it wasn’t done directly but more like a report of what Mennonites do. This is more of a direct ceremony plan, and you are welcome to use and adapt it for your purposes. Please send me adaptations if you like. I’ll be happy to continue to make this better. The key, I think, is to personalize it and bring the community directly in, and connect everyone to Father, Son, Holy Spirit who together make the whole moment real and living and beautiful.

Baptism Celebration

Leader: “Those gathered here with you have pledged to renounce Satan and our sin of self-centered living and to bind ourselves under the authority of Jesus Christ to live in God’s holy community, the Church, according to Christ’s rule and kingdom.”

Leader: “Do you join with these believers gathered to witness your baptism into Christ’s body in pledging to renounce Evil and your sin of self-centered living and to bind yourself under the authority of Jesus Christ to live in God’s holy community, the Church, according to Christ’s rule and kingdom?”

Disciple: I do.

Lord’s Prayer
All: Our Father . . .

Uniting with Jesus
Just as Jesus was baptized and the Spirit came down on Jesus like the presence of a dove, and God the Father said, “This is my son, in whom I am very pleased,” so I say to you, my child, I am very pleased with you, your mother, brother and sister, grandparents and other family members and Christian family are pleased with you, but we also call you into a different kind of life, one united with Christ. It’s time to put on new clothes of Christ, to wash away your old life and begin anew, to be transformed and receive God’s Spirit.

We now baptize you in the same way as Jesus was baptized, with the presence and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with you, that you may receive forgiveness of sins and continual washing by the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, that you may receive life everlasting.

After baptism
Welcome circle (Pops)

Song: I have decided to follow Jesus

Blessings (Nammy, Mimi, Pawpaw, others)

Place hands and pray (Jill and Greg lead and all gather around)

“Arise, shine, for the light of the Lord is upon you.” (Ashley’s friends, Anna, Jacob)

All together: “We make a covenant with you as we renew our own covenant with our Lord: to bear one another’s burdens, to share in the experience of forgiveness, to share in the abundance of this world’s goods, to assist each other in times of need, to share our joys and our sorrows, and in all things to work for the common good, thus manifesting God’s presence among us to His glory. As we unite with each other now, may we all be joined with Christ our Lord.”

Communion and cake and celebration