The dove, the waters, and the solid ground

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11

I talked to a Christian guy recently who was nervous that God might be mad at him. It’s an understandable enough sentiment, but from a rational perspective, it’s odd. It’s like fearing you might fail a math test after you’ve already received your diploma, or fearing you might be burned by a fire that has already been extinguished. Christians have little reason to fear the thing from which they’ve already been saved. It reminded me of something that happens at Jesus’ baptism.

At the baptism of Jesus, a dove descends and lands on Jesus as he arises out of the waters. I’m wondering if we’re talking about something that was visually bird-like or if it was like a dove in its peaceful nature? Regardless, Matthew and Mark say that Jesus saw something like a dove. Luke states, from a narrator’s third-person perspective, that it was a dove in bodily form. John records it from the mouth of John the Baptist, who says he saw something like a dove.

The first place a dove appears in the Bible is in the story of Noah. God sends floodwaters to eradicate a corrupt and violent human species, saving only Noah, his family, and a boat-load of animals. After 40 days of floating, Noah sends out a dove. Eventually, it returns with an olive branch, signifying that it had found solid ground.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that in both stories a dove goes out and finds solid ground amidst waters sent to wash away sinfulness.

The baptismal waters of the River Jordan, like the floodwaters of the ancient flood epic, were there to wash away sins. The floodwaters were sent to destroy the evil of humankind. The baptismal waters captured symbolically the washing away of sin.

We, as a species and as individuals, deserve the punishment of the flood. We have lived corrupt lives, or conspired to do so, and we cannot by our own merit survive. Only when God provided solid ground could Noah endure the flood. At the baptism of Jesus, the dove again settles on the solid ground, which is Jesus Christ. He is the only thing on which we can stand in the midst of the waters that have been sent for the sinful. If we try to stand on our own goodness, we are standing on sinking sand.

When the dove, the Holy Spirit, comes to us today, it is to call us to return to the only solid ground on which we can stand – to Jesus. When we believe he died for us, we are spared the punishment of the flood. There is no longer anything for which we can be held accountable, because his death consumed our sin. We ourselves arise out of baptismal waters to stand on him.

Without solid ground, we have every reason to fear we will be rowing forever. But once you believe in him, there’s nothing left of which to be afraid.

Nets and Lures

johannes-plenio-262531-unsplash.jpg“They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.'” (Matthew 4:18-19)

Jesus called his followers to fish for people.  His followers now, across America, largely gather on Sundays to watch a show that might, on a good day, relate to fishing, but which never obligates any of them to head for the shore.  We are not the sailors you would expect to find gathered around the teachings of a fisherman.

Fishing for the American church is in a big shift right now.  It used to be that if you wanted to attract to people to your church, you would just lay out a big net, and eventually some amount of fish would swim into it, you would be hailed as an evangelist, and you could write a book on church growth.  That system is dependent on a culture where

  1. A good deal of the population feels obligated to go to church, and
  2. Church exists in a culture that is generally friendly to and supportive of it

That day is over.  The American church is poised to fall like a domino behind the European and Canadian churches.

There are some decent churches which are shuttering their windows and locking jakob-owens-208995-unsplash.jpgtheir doors for the last time, and the people are baffled as to why it’s happening.  They’re such a nice congregation after all.  They have a nice facility.  They have history.  Those are all a net thrown where there are no fish.

The American church is now going to have to switch from net fishing to line fishing.  We’re going to have to cast to reach the fish.  We’re going to have to walk to new spaces.  Throwing out a net and waiting is a fruitless activity, because the fish aren’t swimming to church.  The Fisherman is teaching us a new skill, and we either learn or we go home hungry.

Specifically, any follower of Jesus must see themselves on a daily mission to share the good news of Jesus with a lost world.  At work, at school, and in line at the grocery store, faithful Jesus-followers and fishermen in training must remember that they are called to a mission.  The mission is not to sit in a chair on Sunday.

#RLLA

 

I Don’t Want to Be A Christian

I sat with a friend today who is not a Christian.  She knows I’m a Christian and generally avoids the subject.  Today, out of the blue, she said, “Have you always been a Christian?”

I told her my story of growing up going to boring, dead churches.  I told her about rejecting the faith on rational grounds because of the wide variety of religions in the world and the painful exclusivity of Christianity.  I told her about my return to the faith.

She grinned and looked away.

“What?” I asked.

“I don’t want to be a Christian,” she declared.

She told me about experiencing pushy Christians who tried to manipulate her to believe and who wouldn’t respect her disinterest when she said “no.” She talked about churches that made her fall asleep.

Listening to her description of what she had experienced from Christians, I couldn’t help but think it:

“I don’t want to be a Christian either.”

And by that I mean, I don’t want to be a Christian like the Christians she’s met.

I don’t want to be a Christian who disregards people’s feelings when they tell me they don’t want to hear or have heard enough.  I want to be a Christian who talks about Jesus with people who are open to listening, usually because I’ve taken the time to listen to them first, and then respects them if they say “No thanks.”

And I don’t want to be a Christian who goes to or leads a boring church.  Boring churches should almost unilaterally be closed.  They should be shut down until the people who are called to lead them can come up with a meaningful vision for what it looks like to reach lost people with the gospel.  And I don’t care if your approach is miraculous healings or one-to-one evangelism or an attractive megachurch or artsy alternative community, but if a church doesn’t have a vision, the church needs to close.  If a church is boring, it’s already closed in every way except the literal way, and that’s only a matter of time.

I told her that the way Christians behave isn’t a measure of whether or not Jesus is God.  And the real question is whether or not Jesus is God, which is irrelevant to how Christians behave.  She seemed unconvinced and changed the subject.  I let her change the subject.

In that exchange, I have to trust that God did what he wanted to do.  God never forces himself on us.  Christians need to unilaterally stop forcing themselves on anyone else.

But I do have one thing better than force, manipulation, or nagging.  I can ask you to pray for my friend.  Please do.

 

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