Meaning of Baptism

Those who are baptized in Jesus do not need to strive after a new life.
They have already attained new life through dying with Christ. But they do
need to nurture that new life so it can grow and mature. That’s what
church is for. That’s what Bible study is for. That’s what prayer is for.
It is like the Parable of the Sower. Many of those seeds sprouted up, but
only a few grew into maturity. The rest withered and died.

A wealthy businessman was horrified to see a fisherman sitting beside his
boat, playing with a small child.

“Why aren’t you out fishing?” asked the businessman.

“Because I caught enough fish for one day, “replied the fisherman.

“Why don’t you catch some more?”

“What would I do with them?”

“You could earn more money,” said the businessman. “Then with the extra
money, you could buy a bigger boat, go into deeper waters, and catch more
fish. Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets. With the nets,
you could catch even more fish and make more money. With that money you
could own two boats, maybe three boats. Eventually you could have a whole
fleet of boats and be rich like me.”

“Then what would I do?” asked the fisherman.

“Then,” said the businessman, “you could really enjoy life.”

The fisherman looked at the businessman quizzically and asked, “What do
you think I am doing now?”

The baptism of Jesus is dying to our self-centered endeavors and being
resurrected into a life marked by grace and love. When we live in the
baptism of Jesus, we touch the hearts of others and help open them to the
Holy Spirit and new life in Christ. Are you living and growing in the new
life you have been given?

Paul Peterson, The Waters of Death.


Washed Away in a New Beginning

Some of you may have seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. This is a
whimsical retelling of Homer’s Odyssey set in 1930s Mississippi. Three
hapless escaped convicts–Everett, Pete and Delmar–are hiding out in the
woods, running from the law. There they encounter a procession of
white-robed people going down to the lake to be baptized. As they move
toward the water they sing, “Let’s go down to the river and pray.” As the
baptism ceremony begins, Delmar is overwhelmed by the beauty and the
mystery of this rite. He runs into the water and is baptized by the
minister. As he returns to his companions, he declares that he is now
saved and “neither God nor man’s got nothing on me now.” He explains that
the minister has told him that all his sins have been washed away.  Even,
he says, when he stole the pig for which he’d been convicted. “But you
said you were innocent of that,” one of his fellow convicts exclaims.

“I lied,” he says, “and that’s been washed away too!”

Later the three convicts steal a hot pie from a window sill.  The one who
felt that his sins had been washed away returns and places a dollar bill
on the window sill.

Delmar wasn’t made perfect by his baptism any more than any of the rest of
us are made perfect by our baptism. But he was conscious that it was time
for him to make a new beginning. That is why in understanding baptism we
begin with the washing away of our sins.

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,, quoting O Brother, Where
Art Thou, by Joel and Ethan Coen


The American educator, Horace Mann, described the predicament of habits
saying: “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it every day, and at last
we cannot break it.” Mr. Mann, you are only half right. Habit is a cable;
we weave a thread of it every day, but it can be broken? There is One who
will help you break it, if you desire it. Habits are often practiced
without guilt, justified through cleverly devised mental schemes. We have
to be continuously converted all the days of our lives, continually to
turn to God as children. Life is a continuous conversion. In every setting
in which we are put we have to “put on the new person.” There are whole
areas of our lives which have not yet been brought into subjection, and it
can only be done by this continuous conversion.

James T. Garrett, God’s Gift, CSS Publishing Company.

Baptism: Take My Good Name

French writer Henri Barbusse (1874-1935) tells of a conversation overheard
in a trench full of wounded men during the First World War. One of the
men, who knew he only had minutes to live says to one of the other man,
“Listen, Dominic, you’ve led a very bad life. Everywhere you are wanted by
the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so,
here, take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, take my good name, my
life and quickly, hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes
away with me in death.”

The Good News is that through Jesus, God makes a similar offer. Something
wonderful happens to us when we are baptized. When we are baptized, we
identify ourselves with Jesus. We publicly declare our intention to strive
to be like Jesus and follow God’s will for our lives. When we are
baptized, our lives are changed. We see things differently than before. We
see other people differently than before. Baptism enables and empowers us
to do the things that Jesus wants us to do here and now. We are able to
identify with Jesus because He was baptized. And we are able to love as he
loved. Such identification is life changing. That kind of identification
shapes what we believe and claims us.

Billy D. Strayhorn, Come on in, the Water’s Fine!

What’s The Holy Spirit?

A minister named Al was pursuing a doctoral degree in theology. He worked
long hours on his dissertation, so many hours, in fact, that his children
often entered the study to interrupt. “Daddy, can you come out and play?”

“Sorry, kids,” he replied, “I have too much work to do.”

“What are you working on, Daddy?”

Well, he couldn’t really give the title of his dissertation, which was
something like “the experiential dimension of the divine pneumatological
reality.” So he said, “I’m writing about experiences of the Holy Spirit.”

They looked at him with blank faces and said, “What’s that?”

One day Al and his family were sitting in church. They had not expected
much that morning, he says. The pastor was soft-spoken and meek. He never
said anything very clearly, but everybody liked him. This particular
Sunday was different. The pastor stood up and preached a powerful sermon
on racial equality. This was during the sixties, in the South, in a white,
middle and upper class congregation. People sat transfixed as the preacher
laid his career on the line, perhaps even laid his life on the line.

“The day is coming,” he said, “when all God’s children, white and black,
will join hands in worship and service. And that day is upon us.”

The congregation left in shock. People couldn’t understand how their mild,
housebroken preacher could suddenly have been filled with such fire. On
the way home, it occurred to Al what had happened. “Kids,” he said,
“remember how sometimes I go up to my study to write about the Holy

One of the children said, “Yeah, but Daddy, what’s the Holy Spirit all

Al said, “We got a good picture today, in church.”

They saw the power of God, pushing us to a day when every hand shall join
in mission, when every voice shall join in praising the Lord. It is no
empty promise.

Why, that power was given to us right over there … at the baptismal font.

William G. Carter, Praying for a Whole New World, CSS Publishing Company.


God’s Getting Better at It

Since the beginning God has attempted to get people’s attention and to
call them into a commitment to live with principles, values, and sense of
sacredness that God wants from all humanity. Sometimes the people heard
and responded to God, and sometimes they ignored God.

God kept trying. God kept working at getting their attention. I heard
about a little girl who sort of understands that about God. She was
sitting on her grandfather’s lap as he read her a bedtime story. From time
to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his
wrinkled cheek. She was alternately stroking her own cheek, then his
again. Finally she spoke up, “Grandpa, did God make you?”

“Yes, Sweetheart,” he answered, “God made me a long time ago.”

“Oh,” she paused, “Grandpa, did God make me too?”

“Yes, indeed, honey,” he said, “God made you just a little while ago.”

Feeling their respective faces again, she observed, “God’s getting better
at it, isn’t he?”

God got better at it. After untold efforts to win our allegiance and our
hearts, God took on human form, walking among us and living with us so
that we would understand.

It is in the living, breathing person of Jesus that we really see all
things we call holy, such as forgiveness, sharing, joy, vision, courage,
perseverance, and especially love. We might think we understand love, for
example, but when we receive totally unconditional love from another
person, love takes on a completely new meaning for us. Jesus shows us the
ultimate example of love, namely, God’s love. Seeing this example in the
flesh makes all the difference in the world for us.

Lane Boyd, What’s So Important about Jesus?


Wash Off the Stuff of The Day

One of the most successful and personable people on television is Oprah
Winfrey. Movies, book clubs, she does it all. Huge business operations.
While all the other talk shows on television are tearing people apart and
putting all their illnesses out for public humiliation, Oprah is helping
put people and families back together again. . . In a Newsweek magazine
interview the interviewer asked her, “How do you separate yourself from
work?” Answer, “I take a hot bath. . . My bath is my sanctuary. (Listen to
this) It’s the place where I can wash off all the stuff of the day” ((Jan
8, 2001, p. 45).

Baptism is a huge symbol — it’s the water of creation. . . .we are born
anew. . . . life in the Spirit . . . all the “stuff” of the day is washed
off. All of that is true. But at it’s basic level, baptism is the death of
the old self. Before anything new can be born, the old has to pass away.

Brett Blair, Adapted.

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