Church Planting, Pastors, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

Q+A / Why was Jesus Baptized by John?

Every once in awhile, I’ll try to address a theological question posed by someone. For those brave enough to read a long blog post in order to better know the Bible, venture on…

First, a disclaimer- One Church majors in the majors, not the minors. In other words, we believe that following Jesus is practical and relevant for everyday life, and we don’t split theological hairs over divisive issues. We’ll let other people argue about minor issues of faith.

We’re also convinced that intelligent, thinking people can take the Bible seriously and that the average follower of Jesus is capable of deep Bible study. So we want to be able to explore Scripture in its historical context and answer the questions people have.

Question

Someone asked me recently why Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (Matthew 3v13-17, Mark 1v9-11, Luke 3v21-22). The person’s question was something to the effect of, “If Jesus was sinless, and baptism is meant to wash away our sins, why was Jesus baptized?”

It’s a good question, and quite a bit of ink has been spilled trying to answer it.

Cue The History Channel

Around the time of Jesus and John the Baptist, a community of people called the Essenes lived near the end of the Jordan River where it empties into the Dead Sea, in modern day Israel. The area is called Qumran, and the Essenes wrote what are now referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered in 1947. History Channel, anyone?

Ritual Bath (Mikvah) at Qumran, taken January 2012 by Ryan Gear. http://ryangear.com.

The Essenes moved out of Jerusalem to live in this desert wilderness because they believed that the religious/political system in Jerusalem had become corrupt. They literally turned their backs on Jerusalem and worshiped God in the desert.

In their community of Qumran, the Essenes dug several small pools called ritual baths, or in Hebrew, mikvot, in which to immerse (baptize) themselves. They baptized themselves several times a day in rainwater collected in these small pools in order to make themselves pure for God.

I took this photo during my trip to Israel in January 2012, and I was surprised at how many mikvot there were in one small space.

John, You’re an Innovator

John baptized people in water, but instead of baptizing them several times a day, John’s baptism was apparently a once in a lifetime act. Which meant that it was big.

Paul saw John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance” and as different from being baptized into Christ (Acts 19v4). So, John’s baptism was not the same thing that followers of Christ do when they are baptized. If you have been baptized as a follower of Jesus, the meaning of John’s baptism is different than the meaning of your baptism.

God was doing something unique through John the Baptist. Notice that John was baptizing people in the Jordan River which runs through the Judean wilderness.

The Gospels have Hyperlinks

Here’s a Bible study tip: The Gospels often read like they have hyperlinks embedded in them. When you’re reading something online and you see a hyperlink, you know that if you click on the link, it will open up a new window or at least take you to another page. When you click the link, the new page or new window opens, and you see all kinds of new and deeper information about what you were reading before you clicked.

The fact that John was baptizing people in the Jordan River is like a hyperlink. If you click on it, it takes you to Joshua 3v1-17. Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and up to the edge of the Promised Land, marked by the Jordan River. Moses passed away, and Joshua took over as the leader of the people. As the Israelites stood at the edge of the Jordan River, they consecrated themselves in order to enter the Promised Land that God had given to them.

When John baptized people in the Jordan, it was a type of reenactment of Joshua 3. By stepping into the Jordan and repenting of (“turning from”) their sins, they were consecrating themselves to God and inviting God to lead them into the Promised Land all over again.

This was not the only time that the people of Israel had crossed the Jordan into their own land. After their exile in to Babylon in 586 BC, the people returned to their own land after a time of reconsecrating themselves to God.

Tired of Corruption

Jesus, John the Baptist and lots of others believed that the religious/political system of Israel during their lifetimes had become hopelessly corrupt. They saw the only answer as inviting God Himself to come and make it all right. The temple politicians were appointed by the occupying Roman Empire and were financially benefitting from their loyalty to the Romans. The people saw that even the Temple meant to represent God was being controlled by money interests.

Have you ever seen something so messed up that you thought the best option was just to start all over again?

This is what John was doing.

Fuller Theological Seminary  Professor, Colin Brown puts it this way, “In short, John waded across, and baptism was effected by heeding John’s call to leave the land and follow him in penitence into the Jordan and return as consecrated members of a renewed Israel” (Colin Brown, “What was John the Baptist Doing?”).

God is Getting Involved

By being baptized by John, Jesus said in effect, “I agree with what John is doing, and it points to what God is doing. God is invading our time in history and getting directly involved.” It’s not that Jesus was turning away from His own personal sin. Instead, He was participating in God’s plan to get involved with His people in a new way.

The early Church saw this new thing God was doing as the arrival of the Messiah and the coming of the Kingdom of God, in Jesus. In fact, after Jesus’ baptism, it is God Himself who announces that Jesus, the Son of God, has come into the world.

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Church Planting

Church Plant Tips- Ways to Gather a Launch Team

Here are the ways I’m currently gathering the Launch Team of One Church:

Read the comments below to get an update on these gathering methods.

  1. I find a way to talk about the church with EVERY single person I meet (it usually starts with “I just moved here a month ago. I moved to start a new church called One Church…”)
  2. Word of mouth networking through existing launch team relationships
  3. Google pay-per-click to increase website traffic
  4. Facebook ads targeting people within 10 miles of my location linking to the church facebook page
  5. I set up shop at Starbucks every day and build relationships with baristas and regulars
  6. I introduced myself to local hospital chaplains, police departments and fire departments (offering to be available in a crisis).
  7. Met with the local funeral homes to officiate funerals for families who don’t have a pastor
  8. A big honking church web address sticker on the rear window of my car
  9. Introduced myself to the local chamber of commerce
  10. Meeting with area pastors to network and pick their brains
  11. Posted craigslist ads for a worship leader, children’s director, and musicians
  12. Posted ad for musicians in local music stores
  13. Build relationship with person who cuts my hair
  14. Build relationship with servers at restaurants where I eat
  15. I where a One Church shirt almost every day (polos and t-shirts)
  16. Give away other promo items- pens, coffee travel mugs, tote bags, etc.
  17. I volunteered at the local city centennial celebration
  18. My wife and are leading a Financial Peace University class
  19. The launch team will be collecting nonperishable food items door to door every month to donate to the local food pantry
  20. I’m considering handing out water bottles on street corners (Steve Sjogren’s Servent Evangelism)
  21. I’m considering sending a mailer to new residents every month (outreach.com)
  22. Have a presence at every local festival or public event that you can (give water bottles, etc.)
  23. My wife meets other moms when she takes our son to story time at the library
  24. I’ll share other ideas as I try them.

I’m currently in the process of planting One Church in Chandler, AZ (onechurch.com). There are plenty of how-to church planting books, online resources and conferences. I wanted to share specific tips from my experience that church planters need to know that are often not included in other resources. Hope this helps.

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Church Planting, Pastors, Sermon Illustrations

One Church Lunch Convo Part 2- Not Mocking Other People or Beliefs

A guest at the One Church lunch this past Sunday shared that she and her family attended worship at large mega church in our area when her family was visiting from out of town. (She and her family have a Catholic background and are committed Christians.)

She said that during his sermon, the pastor proudly shared why he was not Catholic. He told a story about how he removed a crucifix that had hung on his wall up until a certain time. He said that after becoming a Christian he jumped up out of bed, took the crucifix off of his wall, and hid it under his bed. He explained that he thought the crucifix was blasphemous because it depicts Jesus as still on the cross instead of being resurrected.

The committed Christian family with a Catholic background was horrified… and rightly so.

Not only did the pastor have a gross misunderstanding of Catholic theology, he also belittled the faith background of 25% of the people who live in Arizona. Proverbs 18v2 cautions, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (While One Church is a Protestant Church, it’s important for us to realize that the crucifix reminds Catholics of the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus. Of course, Catholics affirm the resurrection of Jesus.)

Another guest shared about how a pastor made fun of someone during his sermon who held a different belief than his. He mocked the fact that someone would believe that. If I remember correctly, it was a fairly common Christian belief.

I’ve heard countless stories like this from Christians over the past few years.

Jesus teaches in Mark 12v31, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” It’s a pretty simple application- If you don’t want to be mocked, don’t mock other people or ideas that are important to them.

Our group agreed that, of course, holding on to your own convictions is a good thing. What did not go over well were two things:

1. A pastor misunderstanding or unfairly representing a person or an idea

2. Belittling, mocking another person or belief

While we hold to our own beliefs, One Church seeks to understand people who disagree with us and create a safe place to question or doubt. We are committed to not mocking or belittling anyone or any idea. It sounds like a no brainer, but unfortunately it needs to be said.

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Church Planting, Pastors, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

One Church Lunch Convo Part 1- “Hi. My name is…”

At the One Church lunch this past Sunday, I asked, “What makes a good church?”

Of course, that question opens the door for both positive and negative experiences with church. Almost every person said something similar about their experiences with church, especially megachurches.

It was hard to break in.

Attempted breaking and entering?

It was hard to meet people and get involved.

No one in the worship service said, “Hi, my name is…” They contacted a small group leader, and the leader never contacted them back. Unmarried people had to sit at the little kids’ table. Their gifts and skills did not seem to be needed in the church’s ministries. Getting involved and experiencing any kind of community proved to be difficult.

Why is hospitality so hard?

It is human nature to gravitate toward the familiar. We like to talk to people we already know. Contacting new people feels like work. Its easy to ignore people who are too new to complain.

Unfortunately, we don’t realize how damaging this is until we are on the outside trying to break in.

How can a church uphold the value of hospitality and intentionally welcome new people?

It requires continual culture-building by the point leader. The lead pastor has to repeatedly (at least monthly) speak to the value of intentionally welcoming new people. It won’t happen by accident, and there will be a constant drift toward cliques.

A culture of hospitality must be created and maintained.

Guess what?

Jesus feels strongly about this.

The actual New Testament Greek word for “church” is ecclesia- “called out ones.” We gather together to worship because we have been called out by Jesus. Our identity as a church actually means that we have been sought and welcomed by Jesus. Jesus took the initiative and called out to, welcomed, us.

One Church IS and WILL BE an intentionally welcoming, hospitable church where people who are new are not expected to have to break in. It is a value that must pervade the whole church, from worship services to leadership to ministries, etc.

How difficult is it to change this damaging experience of a closed, unwelcoming church?

It starts with something like, “Hi, my name is…”

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Church Planting

Church Plant Tips- Critical Mass

Critical mass refers to the number of people necessary at an event in order for the attendees to feel like there are “enough” people there.

Without critical mass, the people in attendance will feel like the church isn’t exciting and that its not worth their time and effort. Lack of critical mass kills momentum. A reoccurring event without critical mass will demoralize the participants and eventually fizzle out.

Normally, critical mass is only discussed within the context of launching weekly worship services. It is vital to realize, however, that critical mass is important in EVERY step of the church planting process. Church planters who go in thinking they need to have a series of growing events with lots of people present at each one will develop a meth habit. If every single event you plan doesn’t reach critical mass, you will ride an emotional roller coaster as your church plant momentum plummets and rises depending on the event attendance.

Never schedule an event (dinner, launch meeting, Bible study, ministry planning meeting, worship service, etc.) unless you are sure that you will have critical mass at that event. If you schedule an event and don’t have critical mass, it will hurt your momentum, and church plants can’t afford to lose much momentum. You can recover from not having critical mass at events early in your plant, but it is difficult and unnecessary.

So how do you determine critical mass, and how do you make sure you will have it?

Obviously, critical mas differs depending on the event. In most places in America, critical mass for a worship service is probably around 100 people. Critical mass for a small group or Bible study is probably 6-10 people. Critical mass for a dinner party is probably 6-10, as well.

This doesn’t mean that if you invite 6-10 people to a small group that you will reach critical mass! Only half of the people you invite will show up, so you to invite TWICE whatever critical mass is to ensure that you will attain it.

How do you grow enough in the early stages to gain critical mass?

One on one meetings with lots of different people. Meet one on one with people who are interested in the church until you develop critical mass for a dinner event, launch team meeting, etc. Or, host one person or one couple at a time in your home for dinner. Keep meeting one on one until they are committed to the launch team.

Once you have 20 committed people through one on one meetings, then you can schedule an event and plan on 10 people showing up.

If you recently held an event that did not reach critical mass, explain to every person in attendance why it didn’t . Be specific- “X people were out of town, X people were sick, X people had a prior commitment,” etc. Otherwise, the people in attendance will just assume that the church is not worth being a part of.

Get off the emotional roller coaster, and make sure you will have critical mass at every event you plan… or don’t schedule it yet.

Also read “Two Essentials for Church Planting

I’m currently in the process of planting One Church in Chandler, AZ (onechurch.com). There are plenty of how-to church planting books, online resources and conferences. I wanted to share specific tips from my experience that church planters need to know that are often not included in other resources. Hope this helps.

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My Sermons, Pastors, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

Mothers’ Day Teaching

As we approach Mothers’ Day, it’s important to remember that there are women who would like to be mothers, but for various reasons, they are not. For example, about 12% of the couples in America struggle with infertility. For that reason alone, I think that Mothers’ Day is a good day to honor all women.

On Mothers’ Day 2009, I gave a teaching called “When Considering the Role of Women” that was part of a series entitled “When Christians are Unchristian.” I explored several women in the Bible who played “breakout roles” in their cultures. They lived and worked in ways that were uncommon for the women of their place and time, and they are a part of Scripture for that reason.

Listen to or Download: 

When Christians are Unchristian: When Considering the Role of Women.

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Pastors, Preaching, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

An Atheist Pastor

NPR ran a story today about a pastor turned atheist (read the full article here). She was raised in the home of a conservative Baptist pastor before becoming a pastor herself. After serving for 9 years, she could no longer suppress her questions about her experience of religion.

She describes it as a moment of realization, “‘I just kind of realized — I mean just a eureka moment, not an epiphany, a eureka moment — “I’m an atheist,” she says. “I don’t believe.” And in the moment that I uttered that word, I stumbled and choked on that word — atheist.'”

I wonder how her conservative Baptist background influenced her spiritual journey and ultimately her attraction to atheism. Notice the paragraph right under the heading “Finding Atheism.” It reads:

MacBain, 44, was raised a conservative Southern Baptist. Her dad was a pastor and she felt the call of God when she was 6. She had questions, of course, about conflicts in the Bible, for example, or the role of women. She says she sometimes felt she was serving a taskmaster of a God, whose standards she never quite met.

I don’t believe in that God either. If that were my view of God, I would be an atheist.

I can’t help but wonder how her view of God would be different if she had received a different view than the one her dad passed down to her when she was a child. This is an intelligent woman who saw the holes in her father’s faith.

This woman’s experience fuels me. One Church is a safe place for people to express their questions and doubts. Why? So intelligent, thinking people can wrestle with their questions and doubts instead of allowing them to build and build until they can’t stomach it anymore.

I wish her dad and his church would have asked more questions about his God.

I hope she continues to question her atheism, as well.

Read my post “A Pastor is Thankful for Christopher Hitchens”

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