Sunday, October 18, 2009


As a pastor at Redeemer Lutheran church in Ontario, California, I have the privilege of teaching each week in our school. I teach children about Jesus and what Jesus has done for us – children from ages 4 to 14. One of the greatest joys of teaching children is teaching them (and their families) about Baptism. In the past three years, I’ve been honored to baptize over fifty children. But I was merely the instrument, the “tool” if you will, through which God poured His grace on these children.

Baptism is part of the primary mission of the Christian Church. Jesus told us to “go and make disciples (learners), baptizing them….” (Matthew 28:19).

But what is baptism?

Baptism is the special application of water (H2O) on a person while saying the words “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” When God’s word is combined with water, a special thing happens to a person – their sins are forgiven, they are rescued from death and the devil, and they are given eternal salvation – as long as they believe the words and promises of God.

It isn’t the water that does this. It also isn’t the person doing the baptizing. It isn’t even the person who is being baptized. It is God alone who does all these wonderful things, through baptism. It is a sacred gift given by the creator of the universe. It is a rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity).

It is also a blessed assurance of the love of God for a person. Many people can point to a specific date that they were baptized, much like a yearly birthday. But like some birthdays, a person may not feel like they think they should feel. For example, I’m 44 years old. But sometimes I don’t feel 44 years old (sometimes I feel like I’m 24 and sometimes I feel like I’m 94). In a similar way, I don’t always feel like I’m saved or forgiven or rescued from death.

But I am. I try not to refer to myself as having been baptized, saying, “I was baptized on March 17, 1965.” I most often refer to myself saying, “I am baptized.” It is a gift that I tap into daily. And it is a gift I cherished and want to share.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I’m Sorry

What is an apology for? Why do we say “I’m sorry”? What are we really looking for when we insist someone says they are sorry?

I apologize a lot. I probably say “I’m sorry” more than any other phrase. This could be because I’m a little insecure and feel apologetic more than is actually necessary. It could also be because I do a lot of things for which I should be sorry about. It surely goes all the way back to the fact that I’m a sinner who needs to repent and be forgiven.

One of things I realized a few years ago is that we have a lot of “I’m sorrys” in this world but not a lot of “I forgive yous” to go along with them.

The reason we say we are sorry is in order to be forgiven. That is what happens when we say “I’m sorry” to God. When we sin, when we break His perfect Law, we need to repent. But that can only truly happen if we are forgiven. We have remorse, we feel bad, and we say we are sorry. But to really repent – to turn away from that sin and follow God’s path – requires that the sin be removed. God must forgive us our sins in order for us to change our ways, to live a better life, to live the life He intended us to live. And that is what God does.

God removes our sins because of the perfect sacrifice that Jesus Christ performed on the cross. Sin must be punished. We call that justice and God is a just God. But God is also a merciful God. That doesn’t mean He just looks the other way when we sin, for that would not be justice. God punishes sin – all sin. He did this by punishing Jesus Christ on the cross, who took all sin on himself.

So when we say we are sorry to God, He forgives us because of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. When we say “I’m sorry” to God, He says to us, “I forgive you.”

Shouldn’t we do the same with each other?

But we don’t do that, do we? We say things like “that’s ok,” or “don’t worry about it,” or “no big deal.” We say almost anything else other than “I forgive you.” Why is that?

It could be because we do not understand the concept of remorse and forgiveness, because we haven’t fully grasped what God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

It could also be because we are not interesting in forgiving someone who has wronged us. We will insists that someone apologizes to us but withhold forgiveness because we were more interested in holding that power over a person instead of reconciling the relationship that is marred by the sin.

But if we do this, then we are praying something very dangerous when we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (emphasis added). Do we really want God to forgive us as we forgive others?

The next time someone says “I’m sorry” to you, say (and mean) these powerful words, “I forgive you.” You might be surprised at the reaction you receive. And you will also begin to understand the love God has for you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Seasoned Talk

I was at a baseball game recently and I was reminded of Colossians 4:6 in a very vivid way.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6)

I was muttering under my breath so that others (I hope) wouldn’t hear me. I was complaining – again, I hope to just myself – of the play of some of the players and some of the calls of the umpire.

My talk was seasoned, all right. But not with grace and salt. More like with cayenne pepper.

As I became aware I what I was doing, and growing ashamed that I – a pastor – was doing it, I stopped.

And two things happened.

One, I began to enjoy the game more. I was concentrating less on the bad plays and bad calls and more on the good catches, clutch hits, and strong efforts of the players.

And two, I began to notice that others were doing what I had stopped doing – but weren’t as successful as I hoped I was in letting other people hear it.

They were calling the umpire derogatory names and making it clearly known that they thought that he wasn’t a good umpire. They were saying not-so-nice things about some of the players. They also didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about other people and even family members.

I don’t know about other people, but the reason I do this is simple. It is much easier for me to be negative than it is to be positive. I suspect that this is because negativity is a basic part of the sinful human nature.

Yet, since I am baptized I have Christ living in me. Still I must daily drown that sinful nature so that the new man – Christ – may rise.

Jesus Christ is a risen and rising Savior and He needs to rise daily in me. I need to come to the Word of God and daily ingest it so that this can happen.

I was making this point to a group of twenty-somethings recently. I’ve come to this realization in my middle forties. I told them not to wait that long and save themselves 20 years of embarrassment and shame.

Jesus lives, the victory is won! But it is still a daily battle against the devil, the world, and my sinful human nature. Thankfully, Jesus is still fighting for me and in me! I can win this. I will win this!

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