Getting Lost in Venice by Pastor Welty

On July 4 my daughter, Emma, and I arrived in Venice for our Italian adventure.  From the airport we had to take a waterbus to get to our hotel.  I had heard about Venice and seen pictures of it, but seeing it first hand was exciting. 

On our first day Emma suggested that we get lost in Venice which is very easy to do. We were headed to a Venice landmark, San Marco, and we took a circuitous route to be sure.  A day later Emma went to a museum that she was certain I wouldn't enjoy, so she suggested that I visit some churches and get lost in Venice on my own.  Again it took very little effort at all. 

There is a story about a person "from away" asking a Maine resident for directions to some location.  The Mainer supposedly responded, "You can't get theah from heah."  (You can't get there from here.)  That is more true in Venice than any place I've ever been.

Venice is a beautiful and confusing city.  Miles of canals weave their way through the city and interrupt the flow of traffic.  Four-hundred bridges cross the canals at various points in time.  I had a map that I was following, but not every street, corridor or passageway are noted on the map.  Sometimes I would see a wide open passage that seemed very promising and would begin to walk down through it, only to find a few minutes later that I had reached a dead end.  Then I would walk down a corridor barely wide enough for two people to pass each other and would think, "This can't be the right way", but I was wrong and found that the narrow way led to where I wanted to go.  More than once I thought I had reached a dead end and would have to retrace my steps, but just around an unobtrusive corner was my desired destination. 

The preacher in me immediately thought of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:13-14“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." 

 Venice was a powerful illustration to me of those truths.  In following Jesus, the path isn't always clear.  The obvious paths can be dead ends and the obscure paths can be the right way.  It is a walk of faith which is what Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us,  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him,  and he will make your paths straight."

TOP 10 REASONS TO NOT BE BAPTIZED (Continued) by Pastor Welty

Last week I shared reasons 10-6 of my list of 10 reasons why people should not be baptized.  Obviously my hope is that this rather sarcastic look at this topic will actually convince folks of the importance ofbeing baptized.   This week I offer reasons 5-1.

 Reason 5– Baptism doesn’t make sense to me.

Wouldn’t it be funny if we had a ceremony where all of the participants wore multicolored puffy gowns and flat topped hats with tassels hanging in their eyes?  That sounds a little nutty until you realize that every year thousands or even millions of graduates across the country do exactly that. It doesn’t make sense, but we do it anyway.  Technically the schools could send the diplomas to the graduates in the mail, so why all the fuss?  Graduation celebrates or publicly declares an achievement and rite of passage.

Baptism is a public declaration of a person’s relationship with Christ.  It is a sign of belonging to Christ.  And just as graduation isn’t your education but a symbol of it.  Baptism symbolizes that you have entered a relationship with God by faith in Christ.  Baptism is also an identification with Christ in His death and resurrection.  The Apostle Paul clearly states that connection in Romans 6:4.    We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.    The Greek word for baptism literally means to immerse or dip in under.   So Baptism symbolizes death (going under water) and resurrection to new life (coming out of the water).

 Reason 4– I was baptized as an infant.

Infant baptism is closely connected with family and faith traditions.  It is a very complicated issue on various levels.  God’s word doesn’t speak of infant baptism, rather it speaks of the baptism of households that might have included children.  Baptism is a personal, volitional act.  Infant baptism focuses on the act and the family, not necessarily the faith that led to that act. 

 The Apostle Paul argues that a relationship with Christ is not from physical descent or through ritual acts but through faith.  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.   Galatians 3:26-27

In some cultures parents arrange marriages for their children.  There is no individual choice.  Infant baptism is a nice ceremony and a nice rite of passage, but it is chosen for the person by the family.  A person’s relationship with God is by faith.  Believer’s baptism accompanies that.

 Reason 3– I don’t want to do it until I feel like it.

Feelings are important or we would all be robotic in our lives.  But feelings aren’t always a reliable determiner of our conduct.  Discipleship goes beyond feelings to obedience.  So when we are baptized, it should be for the right reason, but we may also need to have your comfort zones stretched in response to the love of God.

In Acts 2:38 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.

 Reason 2– I look funny when I’m wet.

Yes you do.  We all do.  But when we are truly identified with Christ.  What difference does that truly make?

Reason 1– There is no good reason.

In Acts 8 we read the story of an Angel sending Philip out into the desert to minister to a man identified as the Ethiopian eunuch.  Philip led this man into a relationship with Christ.   Let’s join the story:  As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.        Acts 8:36-38

Why shouldn’t you be baptized?

TOP 10 REASONS TO NOT BE BAPTIZED by Pastor Welty

Using my gift of sarcasm and love of irony, I came up with a list of 10 reasons why people should not be baptized several years ago.  Obviously my hope is that this “Letterman- like” list will actually convince folks of the importance of this.    This week I offer reasons 10-6.

 Reason 10 – I’m OK just the way I am.

I saw a T shirt one day with a picture of the cross on it and a caption that read:  If I’m ok and you’re ok – explain this.  The truth is we are not OK which is why Jesus died to make us new.  Baptism symbolizes the new birth.    (See John 3)

Reason 9– I already had a bath today.

The book of Hebrews tells us that the blood of Christ cleanses us from a guilty conscience.   (Hebrews 9:14)  In the book of Mark Jesus spoke of the inward pollution of the soul.  (Mark 7).  Baptism is like a spiritual bath that involves internal cleansing.  It is an outward expression of the inward reality. 

T.M. Lindsaysays:  Baptism signifies that just as washing with water cleanses the body, so God in Christ cleanses the soul from sin by the Holy Spirit and that we are to see in this cleansing not merely pardon but also an actual freeing of the soul from the pollution and power of sin and therefore the beginnings of a new life.

Reason 8– I don’t have to be baptized to have a relationship with God or join the church.

That’s exactly right.  And to be married we never have to tell our spouse  that we love her/him. We never have to buy gifts for our spouse or plan a special evening out with her/him.  We never have to do any of that to fulfill the minimum requirements for marriage.  But love for that person causes us to want to do nice things for her/him.

Some churches require believer’s baptism for church membership.  Some even require it to receive the Lord's Supper. While I feel strongly about the importance of baptism, requiring it sounds like legalism – not love.    I never want to see anybody getting baptized to fulfill a requirement but to respond to love.

Reason 7– Baptism is a ritual,  and I don’t like rituals.

Rituals or traditions that are repeated over and over again become void of meaning. Have you ever sat down to dinner as a family; someone has offered thanks for the food, and everyone digs in.  Part way through dinner someone asks:  Did we pray already? It’s happened to all of us who regularly give thanks for our meals. 

The same can happen with the ordinances of The Lord’s Supper and Baptism.  Instead of focusing on Christ’s sacrifice and God’s love, we can get so focused on the act that we lose the meaning. 

In the Bible circumcision was one of those rituals that had lost some of its meaning.  The Apostle Paul spoke of that in Colossians 2:11-12 - In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature,  not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. The new circumcision is circumcision of the heart and baptism is an expression of that.

Reason 6– Pastor Jim might drop me or hold me under.

I haven’t lost one yet.

Next week, I'll share reasons 5-1.   And on Sunday, June 18, I'll be sharing a message about baptism from 2 Kings 5. 

 

 

"It's Getting Real" by Pastor Welty

On May 4, the Building Committee met at the Ministry Center.  We had a detailed discussion about submitting the plans for the new church building to the contractors that the Committee has selected.  We reviewed some of the final plans, discussed the criteria and interview process.  As I sat there taking all this in, the thought came to me, "it's getting real". 

Over the years I have sat through more Building Committee meetings than I can remember, and sometimes those meetings felt as though we were just spinning our wheels with the best of intentions, dreaming of what might be someday in the distant future, but this meeting felt very different.  Those words  “it’s getting real” kept resonating in my head.  After years of hoping, praying, investigating and dreaming, we are getting close to having a church building. 

Our detailed plans will be submitted to five contractors that the Committee has chosen.  After that submission, we will wait to hear back from those contractors about their estimates for the cost of this project.  This is a pivotal moment in our church’s life.  If the numbers come in much higher than we’re anticipating, we’ll have to reevaluate, but if they come in at the feasible level we are hoping for, then a starting gun will be fired, and we will be off and running. 

I’m asking everyone who is a part of our church, members or adherents, to join me in praying for this process.  Let’s pray that one of these contractors will look on our project with favor and even have a sense of calling to do this.  Pray that they will be conscientious and honest with us, and pray for those who interview these individuals to have wisdom and discernment. 

In the Old Testament we read that as the Babylonian Captivity was winding down, the people of Israel were preparing to return home. One of their challenges was going to be the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, but God oversaw that as we read in Ezra 1:1-3

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.  Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them.”

God oversaw the building of the temple and appointed a king who was not a part of the Jewish nation to accomplish His purposes.  Just as God oversaw the rebuilding of the temple, He will help us as well.  He has faithfully led us through this process and will continue to do so.  So please join me in praying that one of the contractors we are in contact with will be like Cyrus, an individual outside of the story in whose heart God works in a powerful way to accomplish His purpose in our church. 

 

"Where Did All The Years Go?"  by Pastor Welty

It was January of 1987.  I had just finished my studies at the Alliance Theological Seminary by managing to squeeze three years into nearly four.  Stephanie and I both had decent jobs, were happily involved in our church, had made some good friends and had a nice apartment.  The idea of staying in Rockland County, New York for a little while was appealing.

But one day my phone rang, and on the other end was the jolly voice of an old friend named Jerry Palmquist.  Jerry was the New England District Church Growth Director. He wanted to chat with me about an opportunity to start a church in Connecticut.  I had gotten the bug for church planting in seminary, so I was interested.  It was to be an Easter 100 church. 

In 1987 the Christian and Missionary Alliance was celebrating its 100th Anniversary, and someone in the National Office came up with the clever idea to start 100 churches on Easter Sunday of 1987.  A procedure was established, and each church was to receive $5,000.  I had heard about Easter 100 while at seminary but was not that interested because it sounded kind of gimmicky.  So when Jerry called, I was hesitant.  One of the seminary faculty members and long time friend suggested that if I was really interested in church planting, this would be a good opportunity since it was a priority for the C&MA. 

I ran the idea by Stephanie who responded by questioning my sanity.  How could I think that moving into a community where we didn't know a soul and trying to start a church was a good idea?  I didn't have a good answer except that I felt it was right, but I told her that I was willing to say no and to stay in Rockland until she was ready to move on.  That offer must have meant something to her because she ultimately agreed, and we moved to Woodbury, Connecticut - to a road with an entertaining name, "Weekeepeemee" - which even thirty years later is never not funny.

When Jerry Palmquist was recruiting me, he told me that the key to successful ministry in New England was longevity.  He had served nearly thirty years in the same church in Massachusetts, so he had first-hand experience.   We moved to Connecticut on April 11, 1987, and on April 19 after following the prescribed procedure, we started  "a long obedience in the same direction" called The Community Chapel. 

Through the years we as a church have had success and failure; we have tried new things and have found comfort in the familiar; we have made many new friends and had to say goodbye to others.  We have endured incredibly lean years - times when we didn't know if our church was going to survive, and we have also experienced God's rich blessings.

During those thirty years, I became "twitchy" a few times and thought about moving on, but Stephanie always kept me anchored.  Although times of discouragement have been a part of the journey, a sense of God's call sustained us.  Personally in those thirty years, Stephanie and I welcomed our daughters Abigail and Emma to our family and said goodbye to all four of our parents.  Finally, I had to say good bye to Stephanie. 

Thirty years later, I don't feel thirty years older, despite all of the notches on my belt.   I feel like Caleb who after having to wait forty-five years to claim the land that God had promised him said, So here I am today, eighty-five years old!  I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.  Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. (Joshua 14:10-12)

So to answer the question of my title "Where did all the years go?"  They went into forming this church into the caring, Christ-centered community that I feel privileged to pastor.  They went into growing me as its pastor, and they went into giving us a vision for our future.