By Sam Gutierrez
12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
In this recent series of blog posts, I’ve been exploring the sacrament of baptism. Last time we looked at forgiveness. Today, I want to highlight another major theme: adoption.
As I mentioned in my last post, a sacrament is a means of grace. In and through the sacrament of baptism we experience grace in an audio/visual way – we hear and see grace being poured out and splashing around. In baptism, we see grace saturate the forehead, run down cheeks, and soak clothing.
Baptism is a sign that points us to Jesus. The sacrament of baptism is like a giant arrow pointing us to the cross because water can’t save us – only the blood of Jesus is strong enough to cleanse our hearts of sin.
Baptism is also a seal. The promises symbolized in baptism don’t just float around, they land on folks. Here is another way to think about baptism as a seal – shortly after a baptism, the water dries up…but God forever sees us sopping wet. The promises soak us through and through – they get “stuck” on us – they get “sealed” upon our hearts. God wants us to know that his promises are for you and for me.
I’ve been ending my posts by having you touch your forehead, saying, "I’m baptized." The important thing here is the wording – it’s present tense. When you touch your forehead and say “I’m baptized,” you are also saying “I’m adopted into God’s family now and forever.” Not only does God’s grace displayed on the cross forgive us and cleanse our hearts, but God also graciously adopts us into his family. We have a home. We have a place of belonging.
Through adoption, we become brothers and sisters of Jesus. We are children of the King. Believe it or not, this makes us royalty (see Romans 8). We are God’s royal children, exercising power and authority over creation so that everybody and everything may flourish. This is the whole point of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. It’s a lesson in the royal use of power – not to self-serve, but to serve others.
For this week, I’d like to encourage you to touch your forehead and say the words, “I’m baptized.” Next, touch your forehead and say, “I’m adopted.” When we do this, we acknowledge that we are being swept up into a wonderful story of belonging.
It’s important to remember that the sacraments are primarily about God. The pouring of water is a sign point us to God’s big heart where there is room enough for millions and millions of children. The pouring of water also seals God’s promises onto our hearts. We know without a doubt that we are the royal children of God – princes and princesses in the Kingdom, ruling and serving with loving kindness – just like God.
By Sam Gutierrez
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Two weeks ago, I shared this story. It’s so good, I wanted to share it again:
Some folks who attend Alger and watch our online worship services said that when they ask their two year-old, “Who is on the screen?” he responds – “Pastor Sam!” Then they ask – “what does Pastor Sam do?” The child responds – “Pours water!” They followed up by saying that during bath time, he practices pouring water just like Pastor Sam does on the video.
Over the next few weeks, I want to explore the sacrament of Baptism. Today, I’m going to highlight one major theme: the forgiveness of sins.
When we talk about baptism, we use the term “sacrament.” The word sacrament comes from a Greek word in the new testament, “mysterion” – meaning “mystery” or “a thing hidden.” When some hear the word “mystery” they throw up their arms in frustration as if to say, “I can’t know, so why even try?” A better definition of mystery is "endlessly knowable". This puts us in the posture of humble seeker – continually pressing in to uncover and discover layers and layers of God’s Trinitarian love and life.
A sacrament is a means of grace. In Baptism we experience grace in an audio/visual way – we hear and see grace being poured out and splashing around. When we baptize someone, we see grace saturate the forehead, run down cheeks and soak clothing. Baptism is powerful and moving, but baptism does not save us. It never could. Water just isn’t strong enough.
To put it plainly – water can wash dirt from the body, but it can’t wash sin from the heart.
The Bible is clear that only Jesus can save us. Only his blood is powerful enough to cleanse our hearts stained by sin. Baptism is an arrow pointing to the cross. As we get older and the depth of our sin becomes more obvious, we can find it hard to truly believe that God forgives us fully and completely. So God finds another way of communicating his grace – giving us water to point us to his work on the cross. Just like water washes the body, Jesus’ blood washes our hearts and makes us clean.
The sacrament of Baptism is not only a sign pointing us to Jesus’ death on a cross 2000 years ago, it’s also a seal. That means that that the saving work of Jesus applies to you. Yes, you are the recipient of God’s amazing grace.
For this week, I’d like to encourage you to touch your forehead and say the words “I’m baptized.” Then, touch your forehead and say “I’m forgiven.” When we do this, we acknowledge that we can do nothing to purge our heart from sin. We are completely dependent upon the grace of God. It’s important to remember that the sacraments are primarily about God. The pouring of water shows us that God’s love and generosity is something that God is freely pouring down upon us.
By Sam Gutierrez
A couple weeks ago, some folks who attend Alger and watch our online worship services said that when they ask their two-year old, “Who is on the screen?” he responds “Pastor Sam!” Then they ask, “What does Pastor Sam do?” The child responds, “Pours water!” They followed up by saying that during bath time, he practices pouring water just like Pastor Sam does on the video.
I loved hearing this story!
It doesn’t surprise me that children gravitate towards this powerful practice. It’s visual. It’s auditory. It’s dramatic. It’s memorable. I think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he gave us the sacrament of baptism. Jesus wanted to communicate his grace to us in a way that we could comprehend beyond words. Words are good and helpful… but we often need more than words. We need to see grace being poured out. We need to see and hear the water splashing. We need to see the abundance! We can talk about grace all we want in church, but when we see the waters of baptism, we understand and believe grace in a different and hopefully deeper way.
Jesus gave us two sacraments: The Lord’s Supper and Baptism. The most basic definition of a sacrament is a means of grace. This is why the sacraments are really about God and who God is. Sometimes, especially with baptism, we can believe that baptism is something we do – when we’re ready, when we’re old enough or when we’re finally serious about our faith. We think that baptism is a commitment that we are making. And it is…baptism includes our promises, but baptism starts and ends with God's big promises…and we simply get caught up in the middle. Another way to say it is: Our small “yes” is surrounded by God’s big and never ending YES to us in Christ. (2 Cor. 1:20)
I don’t intend to make a case for infant baptism here…although the Reformed tradition does emphasis infant baptism. But you can see how in infant baptism, the emphasis is clearly placed on God’s goodness and promises. This “grace point” is magnified in infant baptism – we do nothing to earn God’s love or favor. It is a pure gift.
In our worship service every week, we remember our baptism and sometimes even participate in a baptism. These next few weeks, I plan to do a 4-part series on baptism. I want to pull on some major threads and explore the following: Forgiveness, Adoption, Death and Resurrection, and Mission.
But for this week, I’d like to encourage you to touch your forehead and say the words “I’m baptized.” When we do that, we are claiming our deepest identity – as dearly loved children of God and recipients of God’s amazing grace.
By Sam Gutierrez
Over the years, I've collected numerous books on spiritual formation. Although each book tends to emphasize something unique, I've come to discover that most touch on similar themes. Spiritual disciplines or "practices" have to do with sanctification – allowing God to shape us into the image of his Son. I've taken four authors - Don Postma, Henri Nouwen, Adele Calhoun, and Richard Rohr, and I’ve arranged their work thematically as Space, Place, and Face.
First, space. In Space For God, author Don Postma highlights the importance of “creating space.” In the first chapter he explores this idea, saying, “This book is for busy people who also want to be deep people. It is a book that explores spirituality: a way of living in depth. Spirituality has to do with being in touch with our spirit and with the Spirit of God. It is a way of being awake to the world around us and in us, of making space for God.”
Henri Nouwen, in his forward to Marjorie Thompson’s book Soul Feast, names the importance and difficulty of making space by saying, “Our busy lives make it hard for us to create free time or space for God.” He then goes on to say that, “spiritual disciplines are nothing more and nothing less than ways to create a room where Christ can invite us to feast with him at the table of abundance.” Nouwen expands on the idea of making space by giving us the image of a room – a place where we have fellowship with God around a table of grace.
Second, place. In her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, author Adele Calhoun expands on the notion of feasting with Jesus at a table by writing that the spiritual disciplines are mainly about “keeping company” with Jesus, and that, “spiritual practices don’t give us ‘spiritual brownie points’ or help us ‘work the system’ for a passing grade from God. They simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us.”
And finally, face. Richard Rohr writes in his book Things Hidden that sanctification is a process in which God is creating people “who have faces… that Yahweh who is uncovering and showing himself in the Bible desires not just images or ideas, but persons with whom God can be in very concrete and intimate relationship.” Rohr goes on to say that “one way of reading the entire Bible is to note the gradual unveiling of our faces, the gradual creating of personhood, from infants, to teenage love, to infatuation, to adult communion. Biblical spirituality has the potential of creating ‘persons’ who can both receive and give out of love, and love that is perfectly free.”
Taking into account these four authors, I would venture to define spiritual formation as “creating intentional space so that God can expand our capacity to receive God.” When God sanctifies us, God is deepening us and getting us ready to receive the lavish abundance of his love and grace. Because God is love, God is truly getting us ready to join hands with the Trinity, fully participating in their endless dance of love. This is good news.
By Sam Gutierrez
I find it curious that despite his many faults, David is given a generous title: a [person] after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14). Those familiar with David’s story have often referenced 2 Samuel 12:1-13 as the reason. In that particular story, the prophet Nathan confronts David with the murder of Uriah and adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When confronted, David admits his wrong rather than denying, projecting, or minimizing his actions.
Today, politicians and authority figures apologize to ease media scrutiny and to bolster bruised public opinion. But in Psalm 51 we see David’s sincere remorse as he pleads for God’s mercy and pledges to change. Many believe that it was David’s truthful admission and repentance in this particular situation that earned him the title “a [person] after God’s own heart.” This is a compelling argument.
I have sometimes wondered if there is another angle that could be taken to help us understand why David might have received such a description. Perhaps the phrase is referring to a defining characteristic in David’s life that reminds people of God: Passion. In worship, in battle, and in friendship, David shows remarkable passion. We see David’s passion for God demonstrated most clearly when David dances before the Ark in a public celebration of worship. (2 Samuel 6:14-22) In this way, David resembles God. When it comes to passion, David is a “chip off the ‘ol block” as the saying goes. Even after thousands of years, David’s passion jumps off the pages of scripture. You can almost feel it.
We may not know exactly why David is given such a generous title, but when we hear that David is a “[person after God’s own heart]” we can begin to think that David is someone that we should emulate. In fact, we want to see David as an example of a leader who can admit his wrong and vow to change – an authority figure we can all admire. But the story of David is not an example of a fallen’s leader’s comeback. Rather, throughout the narrative we discover that the true point of this story is God’s grace. David is the recipient of God’s grace.
We may miss the point, but David does not. In fact, David prays a beautiful prayer of response after receiving the news that his house (lineage) will last forever. David is overwhelmed and knows that he has done nothing to deserve this (2 Samuel 7:18-21). This unmerited favor is what the Bible calls grace.
Grace is heaven shining down on you. Grace is the smile of God. Grace has nothing to do with being a good person, being perfect, trying hard or even trying at all. David wasn’t perfect and his flaws remind us that the blessings poured out on David are not because of David’s virtue, but rather because of God’s overflowing goodness.
We want to see David as a passionate hero - an underdog who defeats Goliath, rises through the ranks, eludes his enemies and eventually becomes King. We think it’s a rags-to-riches story that we can get behind and cheer for. But the story of David is not a rags-to-riches story. The story of David is God’s story of grace working in and through someone who is not perfect nor deserving. That’s good news for David, and that’s good news for us, too.
By Sam Gutierrez
A number of years ago, I memorized Psalm 19. I had spent two or three weeks slowly repeating the Psalm to myself and letting it slowly trickle into the depths of my heart and mind.
Years later, on a sunny afternoon in early summer, I took my road bike from the shed and headed out on a long leisurely ride. Slowly the trail rose and I found myself overlooking the most beautiful green gorge filled with deciduous trees and a gentle meandering river. The sky above was expansive and blue with a few white puffy clouds.
Suddenly, the first few verses of Psalm 19 came pouring out of my memory–“the heavens declare the glory of God! The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech!”
As my legs propelled the bicycle up the side of the hill, more and more of the Psalm danced on my tongue–“There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard –Their voice goes out into all the earth – their words to the ends of the earth…"
Thinking back on that moment now, the most surprising part of that afternoon was discovering that the words of Psalm 19 were quietly stored in my heart. They were just waiting there, ready at a moment’s notice to give me the words of praise that captured so perfectly what I was experiencing.
Have you tried memorizing scripture? It’s a wonderful practice that gets you into scripture in an intimate way. There are a lot of good books about the Bible and they have their place. But too often we look to these resources and inadvertently substitute them for the actual words of scripture.
Perhaps give yourself the challenge of memorizing a short psalm this summer. Try something short like Psalm 23, Psalm 100 or Psalm 134. Or maybe, challenge yourself to memorize a key theological passage like Colossians 1:15-23 (The Supremacy of Christ), Philippians 2:1-11 (Imitating Christ’s humility), Ephesians 1:3-14 (Spiritual Blessings in Christ) or John 1 (The Word Became Flesh). You could also spend time memorizing a familiar narrative like the birth of Christ in Luke 2. If that all seems like too much, consider committing one verse to memory and meditating on it by repeating it yourself throughout the day – John 3:16, Galatians 5:22-23, or 1 John 1:9.
Scripture is inspired because God breathes into it, making it live. I’ll end this post with one of my favorite quotes from John Calvin about the power of Scripture:
“Now, this power which is peculiar to Scripture is clear from the fact that of human writings, however artfully polished, there is none capable of affecting us at all comparably. Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle, and others of that tribe. They will, I admit, allure you, delight you, move you, enrapture you in wonderful measure. But betake yourself from them to this sacred reading. Then, in spite of yourself, so deeply will it affect you, so penetrate your heart, so fix itself in your very marrow, that, compared with its deep impression such vigor as the orators and philosophers have will nearly vanish. Consequently, it is easy to see that the Sacred Scriptures, which so far surpass all gifts and graces of human endeavor, Breathe something divine.” (Institutes Book 1, Section 1)
By Rev. Sam Gutierrez
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2:15
When I was in 7th grade, I heard something strange outside my bedroom window. After listening for a moment, I recognized the faint sound of a distressed “chirp.” I quickly left my room, went outside and found a baby humming bird in the grass. I looked up and saw a nest high in the tree. I was hesitant to touch the bird, but decided to pick it up and bring it inside the house rather than let it fall prey to the dangers of night. For the next 2 months, I fed it and gave it a birdhouse to live in. Eventually, when the hummingbird was strong enough, I took it outside and it flew away.
Some people blame Christians for the current ecological crisis. They point to passages in the Bible (Genesis 1:28) that seem to give permission for the misuse and exploitation of creation.
However, if we take a broader view and listen to what the Bible is saying about the complex relationship between God, humans and creation, we would learn that the earth and that baby bird have some surprising similarities.
First, both the hummingbird and the earth need protection because they are vulnerable.
Sometimes our discipleship can become spiritualized and squeezed into a narrow definition of personal devotions, serving, and evangelizing on street corners. But Ellen Davis, in her book Getting Involved with God reminds us that we must not spiritualize our discipleship and remember that worship of God and care for the earth are intimately tied. She says, “For this generation, the call of discipleship may well be a call to remember our kinship with the fertile earth.”
Davis reminds us that the call to follow Jesus has many dimensions – one of them being care for the environment. We learn in Genesis that reverence for God and care for the earth cannot be separated. To worship God is to care for the earth. An important word we find in Genesis 2:15 is “shamar.” Translated accurately, the word means to “watch,” or to keep the earth from violation and harm. Part of the commission God gives humanity is to protect what is vulnerable. Both baby hummingbirds and the earth are unable to defend themselves, and therefore need watchful protection.
Second, both need careful nurture if they are to survive and flourish.
A second important word in Genesis 2:15 is “avad” which means to work, but also to work for someone. Ellen Davis says, “There are divinely established rules and constraints attached to our use of the soil, and it has always been so. ‘Observe it’ -- learn from it.”
One of the things I had to learn about the hummingbird was what to feed it. I had to learn the “constraints” of that particular species. After a quick search, I discovered that hummingbirds drink nectar (sugar water). Both the earth and hummingbirds need to be nurtured and cared for. To nurture the earth, work it, and watch over it with loving protection and sensitive nurture is a command given by God to all humanity.
The current ecological crisis has much to do with the early descriptive passages of Genesis, and the discipleship and worship of Christian believers. The Bible is very explicit and careful to remind us that social and ecological issues are not outside the reach of God’s good and saving work. The good news of God’s plan for renewal reaches far into the issues of care for the earth and issues of sustainable practices.
Rev. Dr. Stephen DeWit
In my sermon on Trinity Sunday, I mentioned how life in the Trinity means that even the most ordinary moments are sacred. If I would have had time, I would have loved to tell the story of one of my spiritual heroes: Brother Lawrence. People rarely become famous for their humility and simplicity. The Holy Spirit made it so that Brother Lawrence did.
He wasn’t ordained, he wasn’t smart, he never taught courses, never wrote books, never got promoted, and even died in obscurity. But today, any list of believers to emulate--any discussion of history’s most intense lovers of God, includes Brother Lawrence.
Born in 1614, Nicolas Herman took the name “Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection” when he joined a Carmelite Priory in Paris, France. He didn’t have much of an education, so becoming a Priest was out of the question. Instead, he spent nearly his entire life working in the kitchen. He had no choice but to be simple. His job was simple. His expectations were simple. His resources were simple. But as Brother Lawrence proved with his life, simple doesn’t have to be meaningless.
His love of God began simply as well. One day in the dead of winter he was staring at a tree—no leaves, no fruit, nothing beautiful about it—but he delighted at God’s providential love for that tree. It looked dead, but it wasn’t; and God was going to bring that tree to fullness. Somehow, after seeing this tree his heart was never the same. No miraculous signs, no great visions, just a simple thought of God’s perfect care.
Even in the monastery kitchen, doing the same chores and enduring the same complaints day after day, year after year, he found the greatest intimacy with God in the simplest things. There was nothing in his life that was mundane, because each movement, each chore, each thought was an opportunity to explode with love for God. He famously, confidentially told a friend, “It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
How did he do this? Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God—in everything, all the time. The more monotonous, rote, simple, and miniscule the event, the better. More than any other reality, Brother Lawrence sensed the presence of God at every moment. Mark Galli writes, “Together, God and brother Lawrence cooked meals, ran errands, scrubbed pots, and endured the scorn of the world.”
After his obscure death, a curious church leader collected everything Brother Lawrence had left the world: twelve letters to his friends and about five short pages of maxims on practicing the presence of God. Those combined with four journal entries written by a friend after having conversations with Brother Lawrence is all we have. But that’s all we need to understand that Brother Lawrence lived a life beyond the ordinary.
by Sam Gutierrez
Once again, we have celebrated the gift of God’s life-giving Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. Now we’ve moved into the second half of the liturgical year called Ordinary Time.
Ordinary Time is the longest liturgical season. It begins on Trinity Sunday and ends on Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent. At the start of this season, Trinity Sunday reminds us that we (and the church) live, move, and have our being within the life of the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At the end of Ordinary Time, Christ the King Sunday puts the spotlight firmly on Christ who is the centerpiece of and avenue through which God is bringing about wholeness and healing to the entire created order (see Colossians 1:15-20).
Ordinary Time is ordinary in the sense that the days are numbered. The word “ordinary” stems from the Latin words “ordo” (meaning order) and “ordinalis” (referring to numbers in a series). Simply put, Ordinary Time is numbered time.
But Ordinary Time is not ordinary, nor is it merely “numbered time.” Some have noticed that the liturgical calendar can be divided into two distinct but connected parts: the story of Jesus and the story of the Church. The story of Jesus starts in Advent and transitions at Pentecost, when the ascended Jesus sends the Spirit to empower the church to be his hands and feet in the world – his body. Pentecost kicks off the second part of the liturgical year. In fact, Ordinary Time could also be called Pentecost Time.
As the church goes into the world as the body of Christ (by the power of the Spirit), it’s important that the church remembers that its work is really the work of Christ. More specifically, it’s Trinitarian work – Father, Son, and Spirit all working to heal and bring about wholeness to a fractured and broken creation suffering the devastating effects of sin. By faith (by the power of the Spirit) the church participates in the life and the work of the Triune God.
Next year on Trinity Sunday, I’ll delve into various aspects of Trinitarian theology and its implications, but this year, let me guide you to some resources for further reading:
Article 8 of the Belgic Confession attempts to name the persons of the Trinity (buckle your seatbelts – this gets deep!)
A funny video about how all well-intentioned Trinitarian analogies end up as heresies rejected by the church over time.
The Bible Project looks to the story of Scripture to tackle the Question – “Who is God?”
By Rev. Sam Gutierrez
When I was in high school, a friend and I would occasionally drive his 1985 Suburban to an automatic car wash. After the initial soak, suds, and spotless rinse, huge fans with blowers would descend upon the vehicle, sending streaks of water speeding across the windshield. With his finger on the switch, my friend would quickly roll down the windows right when those powerful blowers hit. Hurricane-like winds entered the Suburban, causing papers to fly, wrappers to whirl, and shirts to wildly flap. Nothing could withstand the fury of those gale force winds—our cheeks rippled and our hair twisted and tangled. After it was over, my friend and I would look at each other and say, “that was AWESOME.”
When I read Acts 2, my thoughts wander back to that old ’85 blue Suburban in the car wash. Early in the morning, almost two months after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, 120 people who loved Jesus were gathered in a house in the middle of Jerusalem. The 12 disciples (minus Judas) were among the 120, as well as Jesus’ birth family—his mother Mary and his brothers. These Jesus-followers were sitting in a room when the sound of a heavenly gale force wind filled the whole house. Then, tongues of fire or “little flames” separated and rested on each of them. Next, they began declaring the wonders of God in languages that they did not know or learn.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” God sent the Spirit and gave them the power to…share. The beginning of Acts shows that the early church was given the power to share in two specific ways: with words and with actions.
First, they received the power to share with their words. Peter stood up, addressed the crowd and shared about “this Jesus.” Later in Acts 4:33, we see this power to verbally share again – “with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” When the Spirit came, they received the power to witness about Jesus with words.
Second, they received the power to share their lives with each other. Acts 2:44-47 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
When given power, the followers of Jesus responded by opening up their lives, hands, tables, doors, houses and wallets to each other. They became a community of persons sharing life together in radical and generous ways (without fear of scarcity). In doing so, the early church became a living audio/visual aid demonstrating and participating in the giving and receiving communal rhythms of the Triune God. When the Spirit came, they received the power to witness about Jesus with actions.
How did people respond to the work of Spirit in the disciples? We know that people were bewildered, amazed, and then perplexed. And we also know that many of those people were eager to join this group of Jesus followers. It seems to me that people today often respond in a similar way when they witness the power of the Spirit moving in and through the life of a community that shares deeply and radically. May the Spirit that was given on Pentecost dwell in us and move in us as it did in the early church community. May others witness our community and want to learn more about this Jesus we follow. May we also receive power from the Spirit--the power to share.