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New for 2018: The Life of Jesus

Starting in January at First Baptist, a new series: The Life of Jesus (an exploration of the Gospel of Mark) Who is the real Jesus? What did he really say and do? Why does it matter? Come find out: Sundays at 9:30am, 601 Main Street.  Come as you are, and you may never be the same

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Is Jesus Crazy?

As we head toward March, our grumbling about the cold, the rain, the ice, and the snow is growing like the piles of oily snow in the parking lots. Friends down South send pictures of things in bloom and rejoice with the start of Spring Training, while my backyard is a sheet of treacherous ice, which I carefully navigate to collect the eggs before they freeze. It seems that Vermont’s favorite winter activity is longing for it to end.

And yet every four years we get to take a little pride in being people of the ice and snow, as the Winter Olympics show the world just how awesomely we can ski, skate, and ride. According to VPR, we have 13 Vermonters at the Olympics, and 15 more with close ties. That’s easily the best athlete-per-capita ratio in the country. I haven’t yet met Shaftsbury’s Andy Newell or West Dover’s Kelly Clark, but watching them fly over the snow leaves me in awe, and makes me wonder just how they do it. There’s got to be raw God-given talent, innate drive, a ton of hard work, incredible skill, untold support and sacrifice, a certain level of genius, and, just maybe, a whole lot of crazy. To be elite, the best-of-the-best, in just about anything, you’ve got to straddle that line between genius and crazy, right? With all due respect and even awe, when I take a step back, it does seem a bit daft to dedicate my life to wildly spinning in circles 15 feet in the air over a huge trough of icy snow. That’s the glory of genius: it takes the insane and makes it into a thing of beauty.

When Jesus walked a warmer slice of earth roughly 2,000 years ago, lots of people thought he was insane (you knew I was getting to Jesus eventually, right?). Just as he was getting popular, healing lots of people and teaching vast crowds, those who were closest to him went to seize him, thinking he was out of his mind. After all, how could this kid who grew up down the lane be saying and doing these things? He must be crazy! His opponents accused him of being demon-possessed. How else could we explain the obviously supernatural works that are happening right before our eyes? He must be from the devil! Even his own mother and brothers tried to extract him. We’ve got to protect the family name! Jesus was having none of it though. (You can read the account for yourself in Mark 3:20-35).

(By the way, I’m sensitive to the fact that I’m using the words “crazy” and “insane” quite a bit here, and I do so somewhat hesitantly. Those who suffer from mental, emotional, and spiritual trials should not be simply labeled and tossed aside. Indeed, Jesus came to bring healing, and he still does, in many different ways. I know this first-hand.)

Was Jesus the classic misunderstood genius? Perhaps. But perhaps he came to redefine genius, sanity, and insanity. Jesus surely had talent, drive, hard work, skill, support, and sacrifice too, but when you consider his whole life and work, the word “genius” suddenly sounds insufficient. So maybe Jesus IS crazy, in a certain sense. In this insane world, maybe the truly sane one will seem crazy to us. In this world turned upside down with darkness, and even the demonic, maybe the one who is true light and has the true Holy Spirit will seem devilish to us.

Thankfully Jesus doesn’t leave us in our insanity and darkness. The very reason he came to earth was to make all things right again. The world had gone crazy and he came to make it good again. How did he do it? By living the only truly sane life and submitting himself to be killed by the crazies, so by his sacrifice we could be healed. The world was going to hell and he came to bring us back to heaven. How? By being defeated by evil on the cross. Yet that defeat was turned inside-out at the resurrection, and now evil is on its death bed and on its way out. The one they called insane is really the only truly sane one. The one they thought was the devil is really the one who came to deliver us from evil.

So as I sit and marvel at a perfectly executed Double McTwist 1260, I can say with confidence that I’ll never do anything like that. I’m far too old, unathletic, and uncoordinated for such adventures. I’m not nearly crazy enough to try that. So while I can make some guesses safely from my comfy chair, I’ll never really understand what it takes to be the best of the best, especially in snowboarding.

And yet I long for greatness. I long for sanity in the midst of a crazy world. I long for true light in the spiritual darkness. I long to belong. Don’t you? Do you hear his voice when Jesus, misunderstood and even opposed by those supposedly closest to him, opens his arms and says to the riff-raff, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35) What a promise, made by the God of the universe, come to be with us as a human called Jesus of Nazareth. He’s the only truly sane one in this insane world, and he has come to make all things right. He’s the only true spiritual light in these spiritually dark times, and he’s come to light the way. Like the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ most famous story, we too are called to come to our senses. Jesus is welcoming into his family all who will repent, believe, and follow him. That’s the glory, and genius, of Jesus: he takes the insane and makes us into works of beauty.

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Good old Bill Shakespeare asked a pretty good question a while ago: “What’s in a name?” I didn’t think about names much until I was faced with the daunting task of naming a child. As we considered what to name our first child, I finally realized that I myself was named after not just one, but both of my parents. I am slow on the uptake at times, but even I could tell that my dad (Bob) and I (Bobby) had the same first name. (By the way, you’re only allowed to call me Bobby if you knew me before high school. Or if you bribe me with chocolate). But I never did realize that my middle name (John) is the boy version of my mom’s name (Jane). I was nearly 30 when I finally realized that I bear the names of both of my parents, and somehow that was a big part in setting me free to be who I really am.

All of us bear multiple names. Not only our given names and family names, but also place names and work names.  For some reason our society doesn’t put much stock in names, but I’m starting to realize there is wisdom and power in paying attention to my names.  I’m realizing “Bob” doesn’t quite tell my whole story (not to mention the fact that it can mean a haircut, or fishing tackle, or a sponge with square pants). Like many of us, I’m an American, a Vermonter, and a Benningtonian. I’m proud to bear the names of the places I love. I’m also, to varying degrees, a New Jerseyite, Floridian, and Tennessean, and a wee bit of Mainer (I spent some time in Massachusetts too, but couldn’t quite take that name on myself. Sorry Mass friends. Go Pats!) I’m also a Husband, Father, Son, Brother, and Friend, and I’m glad my identity is wrapped up in my relationships. And I’ve been Barista, Editor, Computer Programmer, and now Pastor. These vocational names shape who I am and what I do, but they don’t quite put a name on my core identity. Throw in Musician, Animal-lover, and Photographer, and we’re getting closer to naming who I really am.

As a committed follower of Jesus, I bear the name of Christian. This is, in fact, my primary identity, and I am very glad for it. But here’s the thing that’s been bugging me lately: have you noticed that the name of “Christian” can mean many different things? Perhaps you’re familiar with some of these possible meanings of the name Christian: someone whose parents were Christian; someone who was once baptized, or confirmed, or married; someone who tries to live by the 10 Commandments and/or Golden Rule; someone who is an American; someone who is an adherent to a certain flavor of politics or philosophy. For whatever reason, the name Christian has become muddled and confused. So let’s borrow a quote from a favorite movie: “You keep using that word…I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It may be too late, but I’d like to go back the beginning of the name “Christian,” and reclaim what it really means. It originally meant “belonging to Christ” or, if you don’t mind, someone on Team Jesus. So I’m not a Christian because my parents are. I’m not a Christian because I was baptized when I was a baby. I’m not a Christian because I went to a Christian school. I’m not a Christian because I try to be a good person. I’m not a Christian because I’m an American. I’m not a Christian because I go to church. Every last one of these things happens to be true, but none of them is what makes me a Christian.

What makes me, and perhaps you, a Christian is far less complicated than all that. I’m a Christian simply because I belong to Jesus Christ. Not because I don’t kick the dog or cuss (much), but rather because he has graciously forgiven me and given me a new start. Not because I try to do good, but rather because Jesus is making me good by his love and grace. Not because I’ve done or said certain religious things, but rather because Jesus has given me a relationship with himself. Not because the country I live in, but rather because God has welcomed me into his heavenly kingdom. Not because the family I come from, but rather because Jesus has adopted me into his eternal family. Not because I’m doing my best to live a good life, but because God has raised me from spiritual death into new life.

Christians are named Christians because we belong to Jesus, and so we follow him. Not perfectly of course, and too often not even very well. But we continue onward and upward, because he gives us the faith to respond to him when he says, “Repent, believe in the gospel, and follow me.” (see Mark 1:14-18) We are named after the one who loves us best and names us his Beloved.

So, again, what’s in a name? Everything. What’s in your name?

Bob Wiegers was named Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bennington VT a couple years ago, and continues to strive to live into that name.

 

Why should I be baptized?

Why should you be baptized? Why should you be a member of First Baptist? These are deep questions, but with deep spiritual significance, but the answers start simply: for your spiritual growth and encouragement. They are a “means of grace” for all believers: they are a powerful way God’s blessings come to us.

Baptism is our opportunity to declare to the world, to the church, and to ourselves that we belong to Jesus. Jesus commanded the church to “make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). When you go under the waters of baptism, the church declares that you are indeed a Christian: you are “buried with [Jesus] in baptism” (Colossians 2:12), and when you rise up out of the waters of baptism you proclaim “you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God.” (Colossians 2:12) The scriptures make clear that baptism itself doesn’t save us: we are saved only by faith in Jesus. Yet it is through baptism that we affirm our faith, obey our Lord’s command, and identify with our Savior. It is a rich blessing to do so.

Similarly, church membership is how we formally identify ourselves with the local church. Why is this important? The short answer is that we cannot live the Christian life alone. We need each other! When you join the church, you make a commitment to love and serve God and others with this group (or “body”) of believers, to support its worship and work. Likewise, the members of the church are committed to you and your spiritual growth. The pastor and leaders of the church promise to care for you in prayer and teaching and discipleship. When difficulties arise, we bind together in love and seek to strengthen our faith together. In all of this you have the comfort and privilege and assurance of knowing that you are indeed part of the true Christian church both now and forever. This is one of the primary ways God blesses us and grows our faith as we look to him together.

No Perfect People Allowed

What do you think of when you see a church building on the street corner or up on a hill? Perhaps it’s just part of the scenery of our beautiful state. You probably have a mental image of a tall white steeple with a vibrantly dappled mountain in the background, surrounded by a quaint village (and if so, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of Stowe Community Church, which is surely the most-photographed and post-carded church building out there). Or maybe you’re thinking of a swooping white fence outside a beautiful old building, which borders a maple-bedecked lane and an historic cemetery (which of course is found here in Old Bennington, and may be a close second to the one in Stowe). Our church buildings are indeed a significant part of our history and culture.

Our particular church building has the appearance of a large brick and stone fortress, if not a castle (I’ve heard people refer to it as Camelot).  By the way, I’ve often wondered why the Baptists usually built with brick, and the Congregationalists usually built with clapboard. Is this some sort of strange origin of the Three Little Pigs story? Which makes me wonder about hay bale church buildings, but I digress. This building was built in 1878, and you could tell that whoever put this together was not messing around: soaring spires, intricate stained glass windows, and stadium seating long before it was cool. The architecture inside rivals that of the outside. It also conveniently located across the street from not just one, but two high-quality pizza shops (Baptists are also known for eating, of course).

Yet I still wonder what you’re thinking when you come across a “house of worship.” Perhaps pleasant memories of holiday services with family. Or the thrill and joy of your wedding day. Maybe the sadness of that especially painful funeral. Or the warm satisfaction in knowing that this is your spiritual home. Perhaps simple indifference, or maybe a tip of the hat for the community services housed there. Perhaps guilt, anger, or indignation.

I am incredibly thankful for the amazing gift of a fabulous church building, which helps further our mission in so many ways. A beautiful church building certainly enhances our worship as we gather together. But my biggest problem with an awesome church building is that it may give the impression that we have our act together. I’m not originally from around here, so when I pulled up to this building for the very first time, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and beauty. I remember thinking, “There’s no possible way that I belong here.” As it turns out, architecture can deceive. I was dead wrong. I very much belong here, and thankfully I’m not alone.

I’m tempted to put a big sign over the door of the church building that says “No Perfect People Allowed.” I need remember that on the outside we may appear impressive and strong, but on the inside we are broken and tender. As a Christian church, we are followers of Jesus, and Jesus saved his harshest words for the people who thought they had their act together. The sad irony is that if you think you’ve got your act together on your own, you most certainly don’t. That’s why often the biggest step of spiritual growth is admitting you need help — help from God himself. Our spiritual strength begins by admitting our human weakness, which God has come to help and heal. We only move forward by the strange and often stumbling two-step of coming to the end of ourselves and falling forward into God’s arms.

So, sure, enjoy the beautiful architecture of your local church buildings. Yes, come get your kale at the Winter Farmer’s Market here in our hall (1st and 3rd Saturdays). Bring your friends and family to our next spaghetti dinner (February 10!). And if you’re affected by addiction (and who isn’t in some way?), please join us for our next Mercy Street gathering here on January 31. Or even join us for a worship service if you feel so led. Everyone is always welcome (except the Perfect People, of course).

But don’t let the building itself lie to you. We don’t have our spiritual act together on our own. We’re broken people being put back together by God himself, who is making us more than we could have imagined. True strength is found in weakness, which Jesus demonstrated by his death on the cross. We’re certainly not perfect, not even close, but we’re perfectly loved by God, and called together to follow him. So perhaps my “No Perfect People Allowed” sign will need an important footnote: “*except Jesus.”

Bob Wiegers is the imperfect pastor at First Baptist Church of Bennington:

New Bible Study

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Tuesday nights at 7pm. A place to discuss faith and spirituality as we take a close look at what it means to follow Jesus, using the guidebook called “The Walk: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus.” ALL are welcome. Please let us know if you are interested!

Pastoral Reflections on 2017

Dear family and friends of FBC Bennington

As we begin a new year and reflect on the year that has passed, we do well to remember the primary point of Christmas: God is with us! The Spirit of God is in us and among us, leading us to follow Jesus all the more, to the glory of God the Father. Our mission is to grow and make disciples of Jesus in and around Bennington. Please be praying that God will grow our faith, and grow our church this coming year.

We experienced many blessings together in 2017. Three of our youth were baptized and were welcomed as members of the church, along with two other new members. We have faithfully worshiped God together each Sunday, looking to the Scriptures to guide us and grow our faith and love for Jesus, and the Holy Spirit has increased our faith, hope and love together. We concluded the sermon series on the Gospel of John and had other series on the Foundations of Faith, the book of Jonah, and the book of Colossians. Our weekly worship services are a joy and privilege to experience God’s grace and grow in our faith together. Please be praying that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless us as we gather for worship, and that God will open the hearts of many to come join us (or re-join us), so they too might encounter the life-changing gospel of Jesus.

We bid a fond farewell to our pianist Rachel McDill, who richly blessed our worship services. Yet we are thrilled that God has recently sent us Charlie Marshall, a faithful and talented organist, pianist and vocalist. We continue to worship God according to the scriptures and with a blend of musical styles.

We have hosted Bible studies in various formats and contexts, most often on Tuesday evenings at the parsonage. We have also begun prayer meetings at 1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are attended by some of our friends from the support groups we host. We have also begun hosting a monthly service for all affected by addiction, which we call “Mercy Street.” Many in our community have expressed appreciation for these simple yet powerful gatherings around music, story, and prayer. Our Youth Group continues to grow both in numbers and in faith, with a mix of youth from FBC, from other churches, and from “un-churched” families. We meet weekly for Bible Study, pizza, and games, and always have a boisterous time.  Please be praying that our various gatherings will build the faith of all who come.

We continue to share our space with various non-profits, although we said goodbye to the Free Clinic and Kitchen Cupboard, which moved to a facility of their own on Depot Street. As we continue to open our doors to the community in various ways, let us look to God to show us further opportunities to tangibly bless our neighbors.

Some of our church family passed on to glory this year, and while each loss is painful, it was good to mourn, to remember, and to look to God for his comfort and peace. Others in our church family remain in, or have recently transitioned to, local facilities or are otherwise homebound. Please remember these loved ones in prayer and make time to visit. Still others in our fellowship have departed for various reasons. Please pray for God’s grace and peace on all our church family, near and far.

A significant milestone and blessing this year was my ordination for ministry on September 24. I’m now officially a “Rev”! (although I still prefer the title of Pastor). It was overwhelming to have so many loved ones from various places join us for this special time, and as I was prayed over I felt God’s Spirit stirring within me, further encouraging and equipping me for this calling. Many thanks to all who made it such a wonderful time.

Let us pray that God will equip us all to grow in faith, and enable us to bless those in the Bennington area with the amazing grace of Jesus. Our mission is to grow as followers of Jesus and welcome others to do the same. I am confident that, by God’s grace, together we have done so this year. I have seen and experienced it in your lives, which brings me much joy and gratitude as your humble and often faltering pastor. Please know that while my office door is often physically closed (I’m easily distracted), it is metaphorically wide open, and I always love visits and taking time to chat and pray together (except on Fridays, when I’m likely to be out in the woods somewhere).

You, my brothers and sisters, are God’s beloved. Let us continue to take confidence and joy in Jesus alone, because he is with us!

Yours,
Pastor Bob

“May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)