Monday, February 29, 2016

(From Sunday) Satisfying the Hunger Within

What are you hungry for? What are you craving? Food? Wine? Friendship? An end to this loneliness? The lighting up of the darkness? The excited buzz of fellowship? The warm embrace of love? To be hungry is to be human. To feed that hunger is to be human. And we live in a hungry, deeply hungry, age. We are all of us barraged daily with promises to feed our hunger, to quench our thirst, to satisfy our desires, to bring an end to the infinite craving, to fill the emptiness deep within.


To read more, click here.

Day 17: Monday: What must I do?

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 
    The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.  Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptised without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God (Acts 16:25-34, NRSV).

What does it mean to be saved? What are you being saved from? What are you being saved for? Ask God about it, and reflect on what emerges.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Day 16: Saturday: Baptized again

Oscar suffered from severe aphasia and debilitating arthritis… He spent… time in my parents’ cafe… he could manipulate a pencil well enough to make himself understood. Under the counter at the cafe I kept a large tablet expressly for Oscar’s use. He would pass me notes like a sneaky schoolboy … Oscar’s shaky scrawl was sometimes so large he had to finish the message on the back of the page. Well, one day he was laboring over a note … when having finished he handed me a page with a word on it that I could not decipher. I turned the page sideways, then upside-down, but I could not make any sense of Oscar’s inflated scrawl.
    Oscar meanwhile was making guttural sounds no more comprehensible than the word on the page. I made several guesses at the word; at each of them Oscar shook his head. I might be there guessing yet if my sister hadn’t materialized. She took one look at the word, said “Baptism,” then returned to wherever it was she had materialized from.
    My friend, you see, wanted to be baptized, but he did not want the ritual to be performed in the church. I believe he perceived himself as both nuisance and embarrassment, and because of this he had gone I don’t know how many years—he was sixty, I’d say, or close to it—without asking to be baptized… a long round of questioning led to this: Oscar wanted to be baptized, and he wanted it done in Shannon’s Creek.
    And he wanted me to be baptized with him.
    … I was stunned. I did not care to be baptized again; I had been both sprinkled and baptized once, and that seemed to me enough. But when through his notes and his noddings, his grunts and his hand signals and the open-mouthed contortions of his lips, Oscar insisted that I be baptized with him, I reconsidered.
    … you should have seen the sweet fire in Oscar’s eyes when I said yes, when I said hell yes, I’ll be happy to be baptized with you in Shannon’s Creek.

Which rites of sprinkling, confirmation or baptism have you experienced? Was one ‘more real’, or did different rituals hold different meanings? Pray about your experiences.

This Death by Drowning
William Kloefkorn This Death by Drowning (Lincoln, NE/London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 71-2.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Day 15: Friday: Like a birth or a resurrection

When I was in seminary I used to go sometimes to watch the Baptists down at the river. It was something to see the preacher lifting the one who was being baptized up out of the water and the water pouring off the garments and the hair. It did look like a birth or a resurrection.

When you were baptised, what did you die to? Into what were you born? What are you dying to now, and what are you being born into now? Pray for courage: to die to the things you must, and to live deeply into your calling.

Extra: To listen to ‘Down in the river to pray,’ click here.

Reading from Marilynne Robinson Gilead (London, Virago: 2004), 72.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Day 14: Thursday: God wanted me to experience this

I was christened in Tewantin, Queensland, at six weeks. My very aged grandparents on my Mum’s side of family and another great Aunt from my Dad's family came from Melbourne. This would have been a big undertaking in 1948/49. Despite the fact I was a baby when it occurred, I always understood that this was a significant event for me.
    At 17, just before I went into nursing, I was confirmed in the Methodist Church at Kalorama. Confirmation was something I willing underwent knowing that I was publicly committing my life to being a follower of God, in other words, a Christian. I do not remember much about the service other than that I had passed a milestone or another significant step in my life.
    A few years later, I was attending Melbourne Bible Institute and many discussions were held with friends about baptism by full immersion. I started to feel that, in the eyes of my friends who had been fully immersed, my very powerful experience of confirmation was not enough. This was made clear one evening when we attended a Baptist Church: the minister at that time went a step further saying that, if you were not baptised, your faith and Christianity was questionable. I was quietly incensed and did not agree.
    By 1974 I was attending South Yarra Community Baptist with Paul. We married there in 1975. We were very active in all things at South Yarra, and ran the very famous “Club 12”, an all-age Sunday School program.
    Soon after we were married, the minister of the day came to do a pastoral visit with me, and he and Paul discussed with me the need for me to consider undergoing baptism. The reason cited by the minister that was that I was a teacher in a Baptist church Sunday School, and so I should be baptised. That delayed things for a while, as I naturally was not happy about this. But I continued teaching and everything else I was doing at South Yarra.
    But as God does these things, the quiet realisation came to me that it was something I needed to do. It was not because of what any human or spiritual guru thought, but God wanted me to experience this. I, a committed God loving woman who had publicly declared my faith, was being gently being made aware that God required me to do this, too.
    So I was baptised in a swimming pool in the left hand corner at the kitchen end of the hall. The water was warm! It was a great day and service. None of my family there but Paul's Mum and Dad and Joy his sister in law and her children and all of the Club 12 family. My only fear on the day was that I might pass out if I was dunked backwards, so we arranged to go forward.
    Interestingly, Mum, who had once talked about us as being christened or sprinkled, began to refer to the ceremony performed when I was an infant as a baptism service. When I and Gayle my sister became involved in Baptist life, this did not help my confusion between confirmation and baptism.

Was baptism something you actively sought, or did you have a sense of being drawn to it? What experience is God inviting you into now? Spend some time reflecting on the invitation that lies before you at this time.

Reflection by Merryl Gahan, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 19 January 2016.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Day 13: Wednesday: Baptism

A stoic Yankee
A Baptist bowl
and a lot of water
met for a moment
one November day
Some fifteen years gone by

Back erect
Arms folded across your chest
You fell back into loving arms
joining a fellowship, a community
a new walk, a reconnection
a new life up from the waters of life

When you were baptised, were you explicitly connected into a community? Informally connected? Give thanks for the people who travelled with you to baptism, and for those who journey with you now.

Poem by Raymond A. Foss

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Day 12: Tuesday: Baptism of the Spirit

I became a Christian outside the institutional church. At the age of 9, I was taught by a friend of the family how to pray. He told me praying was talking to God and that I should not only ask for things but spend time listening to God. I guess I had a contemplative prayer experience at a very young age.
    When I was 17 I suffered from depression. My grades at Year 11 were appalling and I felt everything in life was miserable. I confided my depression to Stephen, my closest friend and classmate, who told me to read the Bible starting at the Gospel of Matthew and to pray to Jesus because he can help me. As I started to read the Gospels my heart started to burn and I began to really believe Jesus was the son of God.
    One Friday night, Stephen took me to a street church in Malvern called “The Bridge”. They served coffee and raisin toast. I recall Geoff, one of the servers, asking me if I was a Christian.  I said “I was trying to be a Christian.” He said to me that I don’t have to try and that all I had to do was let Jesus come into my life. That night I invited Jesus to come into my life and I physically felt my body shaking. My heart was literally on fire and tears poured down my cheeks as I knew Jesus had come into my life, forgiven me of my sins and the Holy Spirit was dwelling in me.
    My exposure to institutional church came when I joined an Anglican charismatic youth group when I was at university. I couldn’t get my head around the idea of Baptism of the Spirit despite being “Bible bashed” by my peers. As a member of the youth group, there was peer pressure on me to receive the Baptism of the Spirit. So one Sunday night, the vicar and members of the youth group laid hands and prayed that I receive the Baptism of the Spirit. I again experienced supernaturally the power of the Holy Spirit as I felt a heat of fire descend into my body during the laying on of hands. I was expected to receive the gift of tongues immediately but it didn’t happen. That night as I was sleeping my tongue could not stop moving and I woke up the next morning speaking in tongues.
    The vicar said to me it is normal practice to receive water baptism first then the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and he thought it would be appropriate for me to be baptised in water. I agreed to go ahead with baptism but looking back in hindsight, I chose the wrong time of the year. It was the middle of winter in Melbourne. The temperature was about 5 degrees centigrade and a Clarks’ rubber pool had been erected in the church car park. I was given a white robe to wear and together the vicar and I got into the pool which was about waist high. I could hear members of the congregation shudder and shiver in empathy for me. I can’t recall the exact words but I was tipped backwards to be fully immersed. I had never felt so cold in my life. I felt cleansed, my sins forgiven and recommitted again to follow Jesus.
    I still feel honoured today to be called by God to be a Christian. My Christian journey began outside the institutional church and although each church may have rules about admission and Christian baptism, Jesus continues to speak to me personally and calls me to be his servant.
How have you experienced the Baptism of the Spirit? What spiritual gifts have been given to you? (See 1 Cor 12:1-11 for some ideas.) Give thanks for your gifts, and pray that they continue to contribute to the common good.

Reflection by Steven Wong, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 20 January 2016.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Day 11: Monday: Can anyone withhold the water?

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
    Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days (Acts 10:44-48, NRSV).

Have you heard people outside the church speaking in tongues, or praising God in other ways? What would it take for them to be baptised? Ask God about it.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Day 10: Saturday: Rebirth to beauty

We wake … from the deep sleep of good children, to the soft sound of wind through the casuarina trees and the gentle sleep-breathing rhythm of waves on the shore. We run bare-legged to the beach, which lies smooth, flat, and glistening with fresh wet shells after the night’s tides. The morning swim has the nature of a blessing to me, a baptism, a rebirth to the beauty and wonder of the world.

Did baptism open your eyes to the beauty of the world? Did the beauty of the world lead you to baptism? Give thanks for the world, and especially for water: dewdrops and teardrops; pools, ponds and billabongs; muddy puddles and cool wells; the rivers and the sea.

Gift from the Sea 
Reading from Anne Morrow Lindburgh Gift from the Sea (New York: Vintage, 1991 (1955)), 99-100.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Day 9: Friday: The logical step

My baptism took place the day after my thirteenth birthday, in a large Pentecostal church. It occurred during a regular Sunday morning service in the font with warm water. Though young, I had made a strong commitment to living my life as a Christian and believed baptism to be the logical step. I had grown up in a Christian family, and while believing that I was ‘saved’ (would go to heaven), I never had a clear conversion experience such as I often heard about and saw during church services. I did feel some uncertainty about missing this step and felt that baptism would cover it.
    The actual experience was very special for me. Afterwards I felt joy and elation. At my request, the song “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful” by Keith Green was sung.

Oh Lord, You're beautiful
Your face is all I seek
For when Your eyes are on this child
Your grace abounds to me

Oh Lord, please light the fire
That once burned bright and clean
Replace the lamp of my first love
That burns with holy fear

Did your baptism feel inevitable, or were you on a more crooked path? Is there a logical step before you now, or does the next step look surprising? Seek God’s guidance for the next step.

Extra: To listen to ‘O Lord, You’re Beautiful,’ click here.
Reflection by Liesl Richter, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 23 January 2016.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Day 8: Thursday: Of course I was scared

I knew, in my heart, that baptism wasn’t about purity or the washing away of sins. It wasn’t going to protect me from anything. Like carrying a child baptism would require going deeper into mystery and darkness, into eating and living, eating and suffering, eating and dying. It would mean being baptized into the crucifixion of the world, as Saint Paul wrote, “into Christ’s death … into the tomb with him.”
    Of course I was scared.

Were you scared by the idea of being baptised? Are there things about being a Christian which scare you now? Tell God about your fears.

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion 
Reading from Sara Miles Take This Bread (New York, Ballantyne, 2007), 123.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Day 7: Wednesday: I believe

Wayne always said the first two words, “I believe” – and then shut his mouth … Six months or so [later] … Wayne didn’t stop with “I believe” but continued: “…in God the Father Almighty …” I kept an eye on him … And then in a couple months, I observed the addition of “Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord …” About ten months into this I saw Wayne complete his confession with “I believe in the Holy Spirit ...”
    Then a couple weeks after I had seen him complete his confession of faith, as he was leaving worship, he said, “Pastor, I want to be baptized. Can we talk about it?” We talked about it. He told me about his slow and cautious working his way into a believing life. I told him I had been watching it happen. He was surprised that I had noticed. He didn’t know he was being observed. The next week he was baptized, to the surprise of a number of those he had offended over the past year by his know-it-all atheism.

Was your journey to baptism quick or slow? Eager or reluctant? Did you always believe, or did you journey from unbelief? Pray for continuing growth in faith.

The Pastor: A Memoir
Reading from Eugene H. Peterson The Pastor: A Memoir (New York: HarperOne: 2011), 256-257.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Day 6: Tuesday: A new creation

As I was being totally submerged in the cold water, my whole body began to shake. I didn’t know if it was the winter coldness or the presence of God that made me tremble that way. But as my Christian brothers and sisters witnessed the transforming miracle of God, they all began to sing:

I’m a new creation, I’m a brand new man,
All things have passed away, I’ve been born again,
More than a conqueror, that’s who I am.
I’m a new creation, I’m a brand new man …

Suddenly I felt the warmth of tears slowly flowing from my dry eyes. Tears that I had lost for so many years had now come back in baptism. The Lord had restored them. I suddenly felt the love of God, specific, clear, and inarguable. I wasn’t the type of person who allowed emotions to rule my life, but the conviction of His presence was so strong that day I could not withstand it.

What gifts were bestowed on you at your baptism? What gifts have emerged since then? Give thanks for them, and for the transforming power of God.

I am a New Creation  Reading from Uong Nguyen I am a New Creation
(Mona Vale, NSW: Ark House, 2012), 183-4.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Day 5: Monday: Good news

Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 
    But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed. After being baptised, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place. (Acts 8:9-13, NRSV)

What good news led to your baptism? What is the good news that you proclaim to others now? Pray that your life and witness is always good news to those around you.

(Gentle reminder: Lent does not include Sundays.)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Day 4: Saturday: Present at the baptism

… at six days he was baptised in the bath, totally immersed by one of seven Independent Dissenting Brethren. At eight days his foreskin was snipped off, as the Bible ordained.
    He didn’t miss it, didn’t complain. A look of surprise accompanied the immersion, a frown followed the circumcision.
    The seven Dissenters present at the baptism were Mr Halliday, Mr House, Mr Fowler, Mr Gardiner, Mrs Rokeby, Mrs Lichfield, and one only recently admitted to the inner fellowship circle, Mr Fox. They made a crowd in the modest bathroom of the old house …
    Mr Halliday prayed. The first song was:

‘When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.’

    Mr House spoke, then the little baptism ended with,

‘Love divine all loves excelling.’

sung, as before, without accompaniment. The visitors left a smell of discreet perfume, together with a faint aroma of expensive woollen winter suits. The Lord prospered the Dissenting Brethren. As they left, Aunt Ursula observed that a little of some people goes a long way.

Who was in your faith community at your baptism? Members of your family? Members of a church? Other Christians? Pray for your faith community: the one present at your baptism, and the one in which you participate now.

Extra: To listen to ‘When I survey the wondrous cross,’ click here.

Reading from David Ireland Bloodfather (Ringwood, Vic: Penguin, 1987), 3-4. 
Gentle reminder: Lent does not include Sundays. The next reading will be on Monday.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Day 3: Friday: New life, new name

All of the men and women of Ndangoya’s community chose new Masai names, filled with meaning for their new lives. All of them except Ndangoya. He said to me, “Of all the stories you told us, one I like most. It attracts me, the story of the man who left everything and led his people from the worship of a tribal god in search of the unknown High God. If you permit me, I would like to be called Abraham.”
    And so, with the whole neighborhood and visiting neighborhoods watching, he stood in the middle of the stream, and I poured water from the stream over his head – “Ndangoya, son of Parmwat, chief of your people, Masai – I baptize you, Abraham, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Was there a particular Biblical story or character who attracted you to faith? Which Biblical story or character do you identify with now? Spend some time reflecting on it.

Christianity Rediscovered  Reading from Vincent Donovan Christianity Rediscovered 25th Anniversary Edition. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2003), 74.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Day 2: Thursday: The day you became

“The sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Dying in Christ we rise in Him, rejoicing in the sweetness of our hope … Lila Dahl, I baptize you baptize you in the name of the Father. And of the Son. And of the Holy Spirit.” Resting his hand three times on her hair. That was what made her cry. Just the touch of his hand. He watched her with surprise and tenderness, and she cried some more. He gave her his handkerchief. After a while he said, “When I was a boy, we used to come along this road to pick black raspberries. I think I still know where to look for them.”
    She said, “I know where,” and the two of them walked across the meadow, through the daisies and sunflowers, through an ash grove and into another fallow field. There were brambles along the farther side, weighed down with berries. She said, “We don’t have nothing to put them in,” and he said, “I guess we’ll just have to eat them.” He picked one and gave it to her, as if she couldn’t do it for herself. He said, “We could put them in my handkerchief. I’ll hold it.”
    “You’ll get stains all over it.”
    He laughed. “Good.”
    She spread it across his open hands and filled them, and then she tied the corners together. Fragrance and purple bled through the cloth. He said, “I’ll carry it so it doesn’t stain your clothes, but it’s for you, if you want it. You can steal my handkerchief. If you want to remember. The day you became Lila Dahl.”
    She said, “Thanks. I figure I’ll remember anyway.”

Did you experience baptism as a form of becoming? Open yourself to God, and let God help you become even more fully the person God longs for you to be.

Lila  Reading from Marilynne Robinson Lila (London: Virago, 2014), 87-8.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Day 1: Ash Wednesday: Into the wilderness

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by the Accuser; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:9-12, NRSV)
In the weeks following your baptism, what temptations did you encounter? What temptations lie before you now? Tell God about them, and ask God to help you turn away from them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Fat Tuesday: Come on in, boys, the water is fine!

Lent is an annual opportunity for Christians to reflect on their baptism and their faith. The forty day period culminates in the Great Paschal Vigil (the Easter service), which is the service at which, traditionally, new Christians are baptised, and all Christians reaffirm their baptismal vows.

I have put together a booklet of reflections on baptism, one for each day of Lent, and will post each day's reflection here. The reflections are designed for people who have already undergone the rite of baptism, or confirmation of infant baptism. It is my hope that, if you go through the reflections, by the end of Lent you will have a deeper understanding of the experience of baptism, you will be better equipped to tell your story of faith, and you will be ready to reaffirm your baptismal vows (if your church does that sort of thing).

To begin, however, today is Fat Tuesday, the end of Mardi Gras. So today, let’s play! To watch a slightly irreverent movie clip of a baptism, click here. As you watch, you might want to reflect on some of the themes reflected in the clip – or you might just want to praise God for the gift of good humour!

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A future alive with hope

When I was a girl, I imagined Simon and his mates to be lovely Cornish fishermen. I thought of them as stocky men with hands like shovels, and twinkly blue eyes. They probably wore wellies and smocks. I loved the idea of being out on a boat at night, sailing under the stars, and of puttering back into a safe stone harbour at dawn. I imagined holds full of pilchards, and scrawny cats who kept an eye on everything...

To read more, click here.
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