It starts at an airport baggage claim area.  Two identical bags appear on the carousel.  A man grabs the one he thinks is his and heads home.  He opens it to unpack later that evening and finds not his clothes but a woman’s:  lingerie, hose, high heel shoes, blouses, skirts, a few souvenirs from San Francisco.  He notices the faint, sweet smell of perfume.  He looks at the tag and sees the name and address of this woman.  She lives on the other side of town.  He calls her and apologizes for any inconvenience he may have caused her and offers to bring the bag to her house.  She is thankful to have found her bag and gives him directions.  When he arrives and she opens the door, they are both pleasantly surprised.  They are attracted to each other.  They soon find out they are both single and decide to have dinner.  One thing leads to another and six months later they are married.  Friends and family proclaim it was destiny that brought them together.  It was destiny that he picked up her bag by mistake.  It was in the stars.

We often think of destiny this way, associating it with Ouija boards, crystal balls, and astrology.  Sometimes, we see destiny as having little to do with, if not the opposite of, God.  Destiny is thought of as an impersonal force beyond our control.  However, Christians believe strongly in destiny: God’s destiny for our lives.  Presbyterians especially cling to a doctrine called predestination, the idea that God has a destiny in mind for all of us.  We have taken a lot of heat for this doctrine of destiny because it has been used for unloving purposes and misunderstood.  The doctrine of predestination does not claim that everything that happens to us is predetermined and is God’s will for our lives.  If it rains on our wedding day or if we cannot find a parking place, if we find or lose a job, if a loved one becomes ill and recovers or dies, it would be wrong to see these happy or tragic events as God’s pre-determined plan for our lives.  “Whatever will be, will be” is not predestination.

Predestination is a Biblical doctrine that has specifically to do with what God has destined us to and for in this life and the next.  What is our calling?  What is God’s plan for our life here and in eternity?  What is our destiny?  We find it in the Old Testament, in the story of Abraham.  God chose Abraham and destined him to be a great nation and a blessing to all the families of the earth.  We hear it in the words of the Lord through Jeremiah to the people of Israel, promising good plans for their future.  We believe Jesus’ words to his disciples, “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16).

“Surely I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “Plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future with hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Ephesians 1:3-14 speaks of us being destined for adoption as God’s children.  We are chosen by God to be members of his own family, chosen from before the beginning of time.  That’s why we say pre-destination.  It was before we were ever born, before we had the chance to do well with our lives or to mess them up.  God chose that we should be his, no matter what. 

“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ . . .” Ephesians 1:5

In the time that Ephesians was written, adoption was common.  Adopted children were given all the rights of natural born children with one additional guarantee.  In the ancient world, adopted children could not be disowned for any reason.  They became a permanent member of the family.  God’s choice, before the foundation of the world, was to adopt us, to love us and provide for us permanently.  We have all the rights and privileges thereof, an inheritance, Paul explains. It is wonderful and impossible to imagine what else awaits us.  The highest experiences of peace and joy in this world are only faint foretastes of what God has prepared for us.  “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart even conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Why as believers is it important to know our destiny?  The doctrine of destiny is, first of all, an assurance for us.   It is assurance that our lives are in God’s hands rather than in the grasp of an impersonal fate or under the control of an astrological sign.  We are not on pre-set courses based on our DNA, for better or for worse.  Our future is certain with God. 

The doctrine of destiny assures us that we have value.  There are no “accidents” from a night of passion.  God has a plan, a purpose, a destiny for all human life.  God chose each person before the foundation of the world.  God knit us together in our mother’s womb. Each human life is sacred and valuable.

Predestination is an assurance that stands over and against any works righteousness.  It opposes every effort of ours to earn our salvation.  God chose and destined us to be his holy and blameless children, doing for us through Jesus Christ what we could not do for ourselves.

If the doctrine of destiny is an assurance, it is also a challenge.  It challenges us to live out that to which we have been called. We are destined so that we can be the instruments of God to bring blessing to others.  God chose Abraham in order to bless all the earth.  And so it is with us.  We are chosen, destined, not instead of but for the sake of the outsider, for the sake of those who don’t know or have rejected their destiny.  We are destined not to escape from a godless world, but are sent into it to live for it.

Because we are now adopted children of God, we take on the characteristics of the family.  We let our light shine, we care for the widow and the orphan and the stranger, we work for justice and peace, we serve Christ’s church joyfully, we love one another as we have been loved.  We have the responsibility to invite others into the family, their destiny as well.

Today is Adoption Day for my family.  Many of you know that my daughter Alia spent the first three and a half years of her life in an orphanage in northern Kazakhstan.  We found out that she would join our family in October of 2000, but could not travel to get her until April, 2001. Finally, on May 2, 2001, a judge in Petropavlovsk decided that Jack and I would be parents to Alia permanently.  During the six months we waited before going to get Alia, the Kazaks experienced their worst winter in over fifty years.   They had massive amounts of snow and many nights the temperature descended to -40°.  I wondered if she was warm.  I wondered if she had enough to eat.  I wondered if she had enough to wear.  I wondered if she had someone to love her and kiss her goodnight.  But most of all, I wondered if she knew that halfway around the world three people loved her like one of their own and couldn’t wait to bring her into their family.  We chose her – before she ever got into mischief at preschool, before she brought so much laughter into our lives, before any of her struggles or successes, before we saw the beautiful young woman she would become. We chose to love her before she knew we even existed. We chose that she would be ours, no matter what, and would go to great lengths (halfway around the world) to make it happen.

How does God see those he loves but who don’t know he exists?  Is God more passionate about them than I was about Alia?  You bet God is! Is God just as anxious to bring them home? Without a doubt.

Did Alia know what awaited her?  She couldn’t image a room of her own, a house without locked doors, a pantry full of snacks, swimming pools, flush toilets, toys of her very own. How could a three-year-old know that her destiny was love and family in a world she did not even know existed?  How can those who are apart from God’s family know what awaits them?  Can they know that someone who seems so far away loves them and wants to bring them into the family?  They cannot even imagine it. 

Someone must have prepared Alia and told her we were on our way, for the first instant we saw her, she held up her arms and said, “Mama”.   I bent down and she grabbed my cheeks and kissed me Russian style – one peck on each cheek.  

What can we do to prepare someone to meet God, hold up their arms, and cry, “Abba”?  What can we tell them about our family that makes then grab their destiny with both hands and kiss it?  Do we know ourselves as God’s adopted children, loved and secure?  Are we living out both the pleasures and the responsibilities of being chosen in Jesus Christ?  I hope so.  It’s our destiny.

Leaving the orphanage together

Home in Texas with her new sister
My beautiful daughter today

Biblical Equality

Today being International Women’s Day has the role and treatment of women on my mind.  Recently seeing Sarah Thomas become the first female to work as an on-field referee in an NFL playoff game and viewing “On the Basis of Sex” and “RBG,” the movie and documentary about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s law career and her fight for the United States to realize equality under the law, regardless of gender, remind me women have made significant strides in my lifetime.  But the #metoo and #churchtoo movements are real and remind us that women are still not equal or valued in our society.  New statistics regarding the pay gap between women and men for the same work support this. 

I was raised to believe my gender did not limit me.  I was encouraged to do my very best in school, in afterschool activities, as a person and as a Christian.   I was free to play with my Barbies, do puzzles, play tennis, watch movies, read books, and play capture the flag with our neighbors.  I learned and loved the game of football, rooting on Ole Miss, the Dallas Cowboys or Walter Payton – my favorite player to watch growing up.  No activity or career was off limits because I was female.  I watched my father excitedly welcome female students as a Navy flight instructor in the 1970’s (not all instructors did).  He freely admitted that his first female student was his best student and probably the best in the Navy.   I was taught, in word and by example, that my gifts and abilities, my strength and perseverance, my hard work and prayerful discernment, my wisdom, knowledge, and pursuit of excellence would determine who I could become and what opportunities were available to me. 

Imagine my shock when I learned that the world was not like my home growing up, that there were limits society put on me because of my gender. Imagine my disappointment when I first learned that my beloved church was a place where, depending upon denomination, women were not allowed to use their gifts.  The more I studied and grew as a person of faith, the more I understood that equality is Biblical.  And so I make this argument again, on this International Women’s Day, for those who have not discovered this truth and desire to live as our faith demands.

I belong to the kingdom of God in which men and women are equally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); in which women, along with men, are called to leadership.  In the Old Testament, Deborah is a shining example of this truth (Judges 4-5).  She was the religious, political, judicial, and militaristic authority over the people of Israel.  Her people, from her right-hand military commander Barak on down, respected and trusted her leadership.  Consider too that Esther was called by God into a leadership position and risked her own life to save her people.  Miriam (who saved her baby brother Moses from certain death), and Rahab (who allowed Joshua and Caleb to escape from Jericho), are rightfully lauded for their courage and faith.

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Galatians 3:28

We read of women in the New Testament, called by God and used in mighty ways to lead, to teach, to prophesy, to support Jesus and work alongside Paul:  Anna, Elizabeth, the four daughters of Philip, Mary, Martha, Joanna, Lydia, Priscilla, Tabitha and Phoebe, to name a few.  We find Jesus treating women with dignity and respect – much more so than the common culture.  And for periods of time in Jesus’ life, the only person who knew what God was up to was a woman: a young woman in Nazareth chosen to carry the Son of God and a female disciple who is the first witness of the resurrection, both named Mary.   Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist.  We have texts like Galatians 3:28 which are clear: “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, no longer male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.”

Mary Magdalene from CNN’s Finding Jesus

When I answered God’s call to enter seminary, my husband, parents, and church community supported me wholeheartedly.   They too believed I had gifts to use in the church.  They agreed that I could preach and teach and lead with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.   I had to answer the call.  The Presbyterian Church (USA), which has been ordaining women for over sixty years, ordained me. 

But others called me evil and disobedient to Scripture for becoming a pastor.  I have had evangelical colleagues dismiss me, make fun of me, and refuse to work with me.  Even mainline colleagues have commented on my dress, my makeup and hair, and my age rather than my preaching or theology (which I am always glad to discuss).  Members of churches that called me left before I even arrived because of my gender.  I am sure that other churches refused to even consider me for their pastor position, solely because I am a woman.  I was told that one church interviewed me with no interest in calling me, but had to check the box for Presbytery that a female had been interviewed.  Only three weeks ago, I overheard a conversation at a Christian conference about whether women should be pastors or not.  I also had someone recently ask me why I thought I could be a pastor when the Bible says I can’t.  It is disappointing that I still must do so, but I am always glad to answer honest questions and make my Biblical argument. 

Thank the Lord for Stockbridge Presbyterian Church in Stockbridge, Georgia and Harundale Presbyterian Church in Glen Burnie, Maryland who called me to be their senior pastor, welcomed me with open arms, and encouraged my gifts and ministry. These churches would not be described by the labels “liberal” or “progressive” by most (I hate labels!). I would describe them as churches of great faith, courage, and obedience to Scripture in calling their first female head of staff.

Because we are equal in Christ, equally loved by Christ, equally given the Spirit of God to dwell within us, it is sin (against God’s good will) to demean women, to devalue their gifts, to “put them in their place,”  to abuse or harm us in any way. My sister in Christ Beth Moore, who is a national Christian leader and Bible teacher, and who has been treated much worse that I have, recently hit her breaking point on this issue.  See her letter here:  The truth, my sisters, is that “our place” is in Christ, working as part of His body alongside our brothers, using the gifts God has given us.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Jesus in John 15:12

The larger issue here, whether we are talking about men and women, black folks or white folks, Republicans or Democrats, is that it is against the commandment and character of Christ and a grieving of the Holy Spirit to treat any other person with anything but love.  There are 59 “one another” passages in Scripture.  Here are just a few:  “Love one another…” (John 13:34) “…Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10) “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13) “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7) “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13) “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2) “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32) “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32) “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) “…Encourage each other…”(1 Thessalonians 4:18) “…Build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13) “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16) “…Love each other deeply…” (1 Peter 4:8) “…Love one another.” (1 John 3:11) 55. “…Love one another.” (1 John 3:23) 56. “…Love one another.” (1 John 4:7) 57. “…Love one another.” (1 John 4:11) 58. “…Love one another.” (1 John 4:12) 59. “…Love one another.” (2 John 5)

And so, women and men of God, I implore us all on this International Women’s Day:  Be obedient to Scripture. Keep on the character of Christ.  Love and serve one another. Honor and respect each other. Example the behavior appropriate to God’s kingdom of righteousness and peace.  Keep insisting on the Biblical standard of equality.   Keep working until God’s kingdom is come and will is done on earth as in heaven.  Keep using your gifts with joy, my sisters, even if someone else puts them down or excludes you.  Do this with faith and courage, as our sisters have done before us, and Biblical equality will be realized.

Everyday Miracles

Some of you know I am driving for Lyft now.  It is a great way to earn some extra cash, learn my way around the city, and meet people.  Every morning before I start driving, I pray: “Lord, use me today to help someone.  May your love, grace, mercy and peace flow through me.  May your Presence in my car be felt.  May your great Name be known through my words and actions.”  I believe God has answered this prayer many times in the last month.  God answered rather spectacularly last Friday.

When I turned on the app and my first ride request appeared, I arrived in just 3 minutes to find an elderly woman standing in her driveway, waving her hands frantically.  She told me she had just gotten a call from the hospital.  Her husband was dying.  She had to get to Balboa Naval Hospital fast.  I assured her I would get her there quickly and safely.  I told her I was so sorry to hear about her husband’s demise.  She reported that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in December.  He had pneumonia and now his kidneys were shutting down.  She began to cry.  I asked her if her children were close by.  She told me they had none.

Not knowing her faith or religious preference (if she had one), I decided to tell her my secret vocation.  “Sadie*, I’m a pastor.  I’d love to pray for you and your husband.” 

“What kind of pastor are you?  What denomination?”

“I’m Presbyterian,” I responded.  She smiled.  Her sister is Presbyterian.  She is Roman Catholic, but she likes Presbyterians. 

“Pray for me when we get to the hospital,” Sadie requested. 

“I will,” I promised.

We spent the 20-minute ride getting to know each other.  We talked about if her beloved dies, if he lives, or if she must make a critical decision as to how to proceed.  We both said it was no coincidence that she called Lyft and that I was her driver.  We were sure God brought us together.  She showed me just where to pull in to the base to give her a short walk to the hospital.  I parked under the glare of the MP at the gate.  I held her hand and I prayed for her, her husband, his doctors and nurses.  I gave her my cellphone number in case she needed anything.  I told her she could call me anytime.  She wiped away more tears, smiled, said a heartfelt “Thank you!” and headed into the base.

Sadie called later that evening to tell me that her husband had not passed.  His kidney numbers were improving.  I thanked her for letting me know.   We promised to get together soon.

Not me in not my actual car

A miracle is an extraordinary event surpassing human or natural powers, manifesting or considered as a work of God, a wonder or marvel.   The truth is that miracles happen every single day.   Some are grand:  the Red Sea parts, the sick are healed, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised.  With no explanation but God’s great love and power, these events break into our helplessness and hopelessness.

There are also what I call everyday miracles:  the beauty of a sunrise strikes us; the loving snuggle of our dog comforts us; a decision is made to turn around or do the right thing, an amazing “coincidence” puts us in the right place at the right time.  The fancy word for these occurrences is Providence:  God’s special, personal, and loving care for us and all created things.

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them . . .Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”   Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34

Jesus spells it out for us by telling us to look at the birds of the air.  It’s our heavenly Father who feeds them.  Consider the lilies of the field.  Even King Solomon was not clothed as gloriously as they.  If you have even been in the Texas Hill Country in the spring when the bluebonnets are in bloom, you know Jesus is right.  And if God so clothes fields of grass and if God feeds little birds, will God not also care for us, the pinnacle of His creation?  Will God not care for you and for me just as thoroughly and just as wonderfully?

Because of Jesus’ teaching, we are convinced that God is working all the time to help us and all creation. Calvin writes that “God is not just momentary creator who has finished his work.  That would be cold and barren.  He sustains, nourishes and cares for everything he has made, even to the least sparrow.  God’s omnipotence is not an empty, idle and almost unconscious sort, but a watchful, effective, active sort, engaged in ceaseless activity.  He regulates all things – nothing takes place without his deliberation.  He exercises special care over the order of nature and over each of his works.  Nothing takes place by chance.”

There are so many stories I could share with you about the Providence of God in addition to what happened last Friday, when only God could have brought together a Lyft driver longing to do ministry and an almost widow who needed comfort.   Those will have to wait.

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

It may be helpful at this point to talk about what providence is not.  Providence does not mean the divine predetermination of historical events.  It just means events in our lives will be affected by God’s wisdom, grace, and power.   Remember when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery?  Joseph’s words to them, when he met them much later as second in command in Egypt, affirm God’s providence.  He tells them, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).   Providence does not deny that bad things happen.  What it affirms is that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”

God’s providence also does not relieve us from responsibility.  What do birds do all day?  They look for food.  Jesus and everyone listening to his teaching knew this.  God feeds them and yet all day they look for food, as they must do.  God has set limits on our lives and entrusted us with their care.  God has given us the responsibility, as creatures made in God’s own image, of living life responsibly and of acting justly and mercifully toward each other.

Providence is not the jingle, “Don’t worry – be happy.”  Jesus assures us that the life of faith is not without its issues, concerns, and challenges. There are setbacks, delays, detours, failures, and frustrations as well as joys, triumphs, victories and accomplishments.  The point is that when we are about God’s business, we have no room or need for worry.  All is in God’s hands and we are assured we can handle whatever happens, because God is in control.  When I’ve been the most thankful that I knew about the Providence of God is not when I was in the easy times of my life.  It has actually been in the hardest times that the Providence of God gave me the hope that allowed me to make it through. 

I believe, because of the teaching of Jesus, the record of Scripture, and experiences in my life, that God loves me and desires the best for me – not necessarily what I want, but what God wants to make me into the person He has called me to be.  God is always loving, caring, guiding, protecting, and preparing me and all who love Him for the wonderful things “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart even conceived.”  Can I really believe this?  When someone cuts me down or doesn’t appreciate my gifts?  When I get bad news or a disappointing outcome?  When I fail?  When a disaster happens?  When someone that I love is slowly dying and my prayers seem to go unheard?  Yes, I can.   Faith, Calvin tells us, is a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us.  It is founded not on happy thoughts or a positive attitude.  It is not founded upon everything going the way that I want it to.  It is founded upon the freely given promise in Jesus Christ our Lord.  The one who is teaching us about birds and grass is the one who was crucified to redeem it all.  And when my faith waivers, I consider again what Jesus suggests, the lilies of the field and the little birds at my feeder, and I again trust the loving Father who so gently feeds and cares for all creation.

“Faith is a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us.”  John Calvin

My friends, God knows who you are and the promises He has made to you.  Trust that you are always in God’s very capable hands.  Believe that in every event in our world there is always God’s grace, wisdom, love and power at work.   Watch for those everyday miracles and share them.  

Believing in the Providence of God will change us.  It will give us gratitude in good times, patience in bad times and freedom from worry about the future.  It’s not the big miracles, but the everyday miracles that get us through.  Hallelujah!  Amen.

*this name has been changed

Radical Identification

The title of this new blog is The Pastor with the Trinity Tattoo. Who is this pastor you may ask? It’s me. It will come as a great shock and surprise to some (especially my mother) that I have a tattoo. It’s small, rarely seen unless one is looking at my left ankle. But I see it every day. The tattoo, this visible permanent mark, is a Celtic Trinity Knot. It represents my permanent (and some would say radical) identification as a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ, a temple of God’s Holy Spirit. It reminds me of my commitment to love and serve the Lord my God through my last breath. More importantly, it reminds me of the strength and peace that come with placing my life in the hands of Almighty God and none other. Every morning I repeat St. Patrick’s words: “I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.”

Of course, I already had an invisible mark on my body identifying me with the Triune God. Paul tells the Ephesians that those who believe in Jesus Christ are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Just as circumcision marked the people of God in the Old Testament, baptism marks us in the New. Circumcision and baptism could be described as radical identification with God.

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

Radical means fundamental, thoroughgoing or extreme, drastic. The radical identification I am thinking about before this Baptism of the Lord Sunday, January 13, 2019, however, is God’s radical identification with us. Jesus traveled all the way out into the Judean wilderness to see and hear his cousin John.  And when the time came to be baptized, Jesus lined up just like everyone else.  Why?  He was not a sinner.  He did not need to repent.  Why would he get baptized with all those sinners and risk being confused as one?

As a senior in college, I did an internship at a Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, serving as part time school nurse and part time athletic trainer for the JV football team.  Walking the halls during the day, because of my height and my looks, I was often asked if I had a hall pass and once even sent to the principal’s office.  I had to explain over and over again that I was not in high school, that I was an employee of the school, that I was not “one of them.”  I desperately did not want to be confused as one of them.  I was older, wiser, far beyond their stage in life.  Don’t get me wrong – I loved working there and being with those students.  I just didn’t want to be one of them.  No one wants to be confused with someone they consider less important, less advanced, or less worthy.  Yet we find Jesus, the Son of God, wanting to be one of us, refusing to separate himself from us, getting “into the river with the rest of us,” as Barbara Brown Taylor described it.   Why would he do that?

There are three reasons I can think of. First he did not want us to be alone. What Jesus did on that day out in the wilderness is much like what Sergeant Gary Goulet of the Edmonton Police Service did in June 1994. He met Lyle Jorgenson, a 5-year-old boy who had cancer.  Goulet requested the meeting after learning that Lyle was being ridiculed at school because of his hair loss due to chemotherapy. 

Goulet was so moved by the boy’s story that he decided to do something.  His head was already shaved, so he asked Lyle to have his picture taken with him in a police cruiser.  Goulet then gathered a group of Edmonton officers who were willing to shave their own heads and they joined the boy in school to show kids that being bald was cool.  Goulet and his colleagues became like one who had cancer, even though they didn’t have cancer, so that Kyle would not be alone.

Photo from Canadian Cancer Society

Jesus became one of us, even though he was not sinful or finite, so that we wouldn’t be alone.  He joined us in birth, childhood, baptism, joys and sorrows, calm and chaos, betrayal and suffering and even death, so that we would never be alone in those things.  Jesus Christ is in there with us today as much as he was in the wilderness.  He joins us where we are, no matter how low or high, how prestigious or humble, how holy or how sinful a state we are in.  He promised it.  “Remember I am with you always,” Jesus said, “even to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

Second, Jesus got into the river with the rest of us to show us we have God’s love.  As soon as Jesus came up out water, he heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus began his earthly ministry with an affirmation of the love of God, His Father.  He needed this heavenly affirmation to begin his earthly ministry, and if Jesus needed it, how much more do we need to be reminded that we too are loved by God?

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Jeremiah 31:3

The world is full of people who don’t know that their Creator is really their Father, Lover, and biggest fan.  Because they don’t know it, they look for that love in all the wrong places.  Many people spend their whole lives trying to prove they are acceptable and lovable because they are rich, smart, strong, young looking, or well behaved.  Everybody that goes into the water to receive the mercy of God hears, in all God’s goodness and grace, “You are my child, my Beloved.  In you I am well pleased.”

And last, but certainly not least, Jesus got into the river with the rest of us to show us we need the Holy Spirit.  Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him.  The Spirit came to Jesus to be a companion, a guide, and a helper.  Jesus never did anything without the leading and power of God’s Spirit in him.  Jesus had to have the strength, the peace, the power, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to carry out his mission. We too must have the strength, the peace, the power, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to carry out our mission on earth.  The Spirit comes to us to be our companion, guide, and help along the way.  The Holy Spirit speaks peace and truth to us.  The Holy Spirit gives us the gifts and the power to do what God calls us to do, just as the Spirit did for Jesus. Why do we think we don’t need the help and power of the Spirit when Jesus did?

Can we see the evidence of the Spirit’s power in our own lives?  Can we see evidence of the Spirit’s power in our churches?  When was the last time something totally unexpected happened?  How long has it been since you were full of joy and peace?  When did you last obey the law of Love, even when you didn’t want to? Do you know of any healing today?  How about a life saved or changed for the better?  Is there sacrificial love and inclusion in our midst? Jesus was baptized to receive this power and to show us that we all need the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday January 13, the church celebrates the story of Jesus’ baptism as we remember our own. If you have never received the Sacrament of Baptism, I encourage you to take that step.  “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ . . . For this promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:38-39). Receive the cleansing, mercy, and forgiveness of the Lord.  Radically identify yourself as belonging to Christ. Get permanently marked. If you’ve been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever in baptism, don’t ever forget that you are not alone, you are loved beyond measure, and you have a tremendous power in you that will help and guide you wherever you may go.  We know all this because out there in the wilderness of Judea, at the hand of his crazy cousin John, Jesus radically identified with us.