Summer Sermon Series: Jonah

This summer we’ve been taking a closer look at the greatest “fish story” of all time. The story is short enough to read in one sitting, but deep enough to drown in, and amazingly shows us more about ourselves, and more about Jesus, than we could imagine. Listen in here:

Jonah sermon series

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Baby Dedication at FBC

We’re so excited to have our TWO new babies coming for baby dedication on September 3. Please come join us for this special time of giving thanks and looking to God for his blessings on the children and their parents.

Here are some thoughts on what baby dedication is (and isn’t) and how we’ll do this special time together:

Baby Dedication at FBC Bennington 

Your child is loved by God. Your child was created not too long ago, but God knew all about her, even before she was being “knit” in your womb, as the Psalm says: “…For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139). God has a special interest in and care for your sweet child.

Your child has, and is, an eternal spirit, made in the image of God: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) All of creation may pass away, and all the brightly burning stars may die out, but your child’s soul will continue to live forever, because she, along with the rest of humanity, was created by God, to glorify and enjoy God forever.

Your child is a special gift to you, to your family and friends, to the community, and to the church. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127:3). There is no one else quite like her, and God has given her to you, and to all who will know her, as a unique blessing.

You have been entrusted to care for her in body, mind, and spirit. This is an amazing and awesome responsibility, which is honestly too much for one or two parents, or a large family network, or even a whole village. The care of even one child is physically, mentally, and spiritually demanding, and sooner or later will bring you to your knees. This is how it should be, because while on our own we can do nothing, God gives us the strength as we look to him: As Jesus said: “With humans this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26).

Your child is from God, and is on her journey to God: to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27). But we remember that even the sweetest child isn’t perfect, and is affected by sin, causing separation from God. Thankfully God has made a way to reconcile with him and restore our relationship with him as our Heavenly Father. That is why he sent his precious son to die for your child, and all who will believe in him. Therefore the most important thing you can do for your child is to lead her to faith in Jesus Christ, so she will have eternal life, and live into all God has created her to be. So pray with her and for her. Read her the Bible. Show her what it looks like to trust Jesus. Be open and humble about your life and faith. Look for opportunities to share God’s grace with her.

You are coming to dedicate your child to God, much like Hannah did in the Old Testament: “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition, therefore I have given him to the Lord…” (1 Samuel 1). And yet you also come to dedicate yourself to God, and look to him for the strength for this awesome and wonderful calling of raising your precious child.

So, in summary, these are some of the reasons we bring your child for dedication:

  • To remember and recognize that she is created and beloved by God
  • To give thanks for the gift that she is to us and many others
  • To recognize her as made in God’s image
  • To look to God alone for the strength to raise her well
  • To entrust her to the care of God himself, who sent his son Jesus to die for her, so she might believe in him and live for him
  • To pray to God to bless and keep her all her days
  • To publicly promise to God to raise her to know and love God as best as we’re able.

These are some of the things that baby dedication includes. To be clear, here are some of the things baby dedication is NOT:
It is NOT baptism. There is no water included. We believe baptism is for those who have themselves trusted Jesus for forgiveness of their sins and have made him their Lord and Savior. Babies are not yet able to do this, therefore we do not baptize them yet, but look forward to the day when they will be.
It does NOT save them. We pray, we promise, we remember, we look to God alone, but what we do at a dedication cannot bring your child salvation. The Bible teaches that only faith in Jesus Christ can save us, and so we trust that this time is a significant step toward your child coming to faith when she is ready.
It does NOT make them a formal member of the church. That will happen when if and when your child is baptized, but of course she is still a vital part of our church family.

The baby dedication service will include:

  • A brief word from Pastor Bob on why we are dedicating your child, based on Psalm 127:3
  • A blessing based on your child’s name (optional)
  • Dedication promises:
    • “Do you now present your child before God in solemn dedication?”
    • “Do you look to God, as your Heavenly Father, to lead you in raising your child to love God with all her heart, soul, mind and strength?”
    • “Do you promise to pray with and for your child, read and teach her the Bible, and lead her to follow Jesus?”
  • Congregation promise: “Do you, the members of FBC, promise to assist the parents of this child in raising her to know and love God, and receive her in love, pray for her, help instruct her in the faith, and encourage and support her and her parents as best as you’re able?”
  • Prayer of dedication
  • Presentation of the child, while congregation sings “Jesus Loves Me”

What’s the point of church?

Do you ever find yourself wondering, “What’s the point of church, anyway?” If not, please bear with me a moment, because I think it is always a question worth asking.

It is often repeated that church is a people, not a building. This is true. A local church is a family of God’s people in a particular time and place, gathered to worship God and follow Jesus together. Yes, we may own property and deal with buildings and institutional matters, but primarily we are a family, with God as our heavenly father, Jesus as our Lord and savior, and the Holy Spirit within us and guiding us. We are called to follow Jesus and through him love and worship God, and love and serve our neighbors.

Thankfully we’re not left alone to figure out how to “do church.” We have the Bible to show us what it means to be God’s people together. After his death and resurrection, and right before his ascension into heaven, Jesus left us with our mission, that still stands today: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

So based on Jesus’ words, this is our mission: to make disciples of Jesus. This mission will never change, although it may look different in certain times and places. This is why I propose that our mission here and now is this: to grow and make disciples of Jesus Christ in and around Bennington.

Many of us have been disciples (or, if you prefer, followers) of Jesus for a long time, so we are here to grow in our faith, and to help others grow and become disciples of Jesus too. Others of us are new in our faith, so we look to grow all the more. Others may not yet be ready to give ourselves to Jesus. Still others may be at a low point in our faith. The point is we are all called to follow Jesus, and together we are called to help others know and love Jesus too.

As we follow Jesus we will experience the freedom and joy of life as a forgiven and fully-loved child of God, and our lives will be changed. We will share God’s heart for the lost and lonely and hurting around us (whether or not they appear to “have their act together”), and reach out to bless others with the love that only God can provide. This can have many aspects, so we gather together to discern how we can serve God and love others here and now in this place, in specific ways. Are you a disciple of Jesus? Let’s follow him together!

Finding Hope on “Mercy Street”

Ask anyone on the street, in the stores, or around the water cooler what they think Bennington’s biggest problem might be, and you’ll surely hear a lot about addiction. Call it the “drug problem.” Or the “opiate crisis.” Lives are being destroyed and lost, and a host of problems, both personal and public, are directly related to addiction.

There are various services and help for those affected by addiction. 12-step programs are well-attended, and lives are being reclaimed. We are making progress, yet we’re in the middle of our generation’s greatest battle. Professional and volunteer services are growing, addressing medical, psychological, social, vocational, and other needs.

But where do we find hope for our souls? How can we piece back together our shattered spirits? If the disease of addiction attacks our innermost being, how do we find healing? The spiritual needs of those affected by addiction are very great indeed. And when it comes down to it, we’re all affected by addiction in some way, and many of us are affected very, very deeply.

I have spoken directly with many of the leaders of our local churches and faith communities — my friends from all over the social and theological map. I have discovered that our faith communities do not yet have much direct engagement with the spirituality of those affected by addiction. I hope to change that, and I hope to start very soon, with a small step of faith.

So on Friday, July 7 at 7pm at 601 Main Street, we are starting a monthly gathering called “Mercy Street.” It is a simple gathering of those affected by addiction: whether in recovery, in active use, family, friends, survivors, supporters, or whoever. Those of all faiths or no faith are welcome to come together for music, story, and prayer. I believe that hope, healing, and wholeness are found as we gather together in community and look to God for grace. So we will gather to sing songs of hope, to share our stories of redemption, and to pray with and for one another.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am, on paper at least, very poorly qualified to call for such a gathering. But I am convinced that God enjoys using the unlikeliest to make a difference (Moses the great prophet stuttered, for just one example). And as I make more and more friends who are greatly affected by addiction, I’m discovering that we’re all in the same boat: we all need hope and healing from above, no matter who we are, where we’ve been, or what we’ve done. I’ve found that gathering around song, story, and prayer ignites something that nothing else can.

You and yours are welcome to join us on “Mercy Street” on Friday, July 7 at 7pm at 601 Main Street in Bennington (the facility of First Baptist Church). We hope to gather monthly. You can find more information at www.mercystreetbennington.org or facebook.com/MercyStreetBennington

Bob Wiegers is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington and board member of the Turning Point Recovery Center of Bennington County.

Pastor Bob’s Ordination Council

On Sunday, June 11 at 3pm, FBC will be hosting an Ordination Council for Pastor Bob. Pastors and delegates from the Southwest Region of American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire will gather to review Pastor Bob’s Ordination Paper, which is his statement on his Christian experience and his theological beliefs. This is open to all. After a time of questions, the pastors and delegates will then vote on recommending Pastor Bob for ordination. If the vote is “Yes” then the official ordination service will occur at some point later this summer or early fall, Lord willing.

Afterward there will be a pot luck meal that all are welcome to share in. The Church Life Board is requesting members of FBC to contribute to the pot luck. Please join us in person, and if you’re not able to, please join us in prayer.

Amazing Guilt or Amazing Grace?

Many of my friends grew up in a religious atmosphere primarily characterized by guilt. Perhaps this is your experience too. The story is so common that it has become something of a cliche. We feel guilty for the bad stuff that’s gone on during the week, so we guiltily attend our religious services, so our guilt might be absolved, or so the theory goes. But the tone and tenor of our religious services, all too often, are saturated with guilt. We are hit with the you-shoulds and the you-betters and the try-harders. Upon our weary shoulders are laid the blame for what we’ve done, said, and even thought. We are scolded for requiring the Son of God Himself to come and die for our misdeeds. We are required to grovel enough to earn the pity we are told we so desperately need. We are told we must earn back the divine favor we have lost, which might be begrudgingly granted, if only we jumped through the right hoops in the right order. And that’s not even mentioning how fiercely and expertly many of our mothers and grandmothers leverage guilt at home (except for mine of course!).

What a massive load of Amazing Guilt. It is no wonder so many of us flee as soon as possible, usually in adolescence. And yet the Amazing Guilt leaves its mark. For the rest of our journey, the tinge of guilt remains on any hint of religion. No one really likes to feel bad, so we avoid it altogether. Perhaps we engage our souls under the banner of Spirituality, but engagement with “organized religion” is out.

How amazingly sad that our experience of Amazing Guilt so powerfully obscures, and even obliterates, the heart of good and true religion, which is the same heart of good and true spirituality: the heart of Amazing Grace.

Amazing Guilt says, “You’re a failure.”
Amazing Grace says, “You’re beloved.”

Amazing Guilt says, “You are a burden.”
Amazing Grace says, “You are beautiful.”

Amazing Guilt says, “Earn this.”
Amazing Grace says, “Receive this.”

Amazing Guilt says, “You are condemned.”
Amazing Grace says, “You are set free.”

Amazing Guilt says, “Avoid God.”
Amazing Grace says, “Enjoy God.”

And yet Amazing Grace is realistic. There’s no point denying the messed-up-ness of our world, and if we’re honest, of ourselves. Only 10 words into the most famous of old hymns, and you’re admitting  you’re a “wretch” who needs to be “saved.” But Amazing Grace doesn’t stay there. As it turns out, Amazing Grace is the only true solution to Amazing Guilt. Whether or not we have experienced something like the characterization above, we all carry guilt to some degree.

I have searched for other ways to solve the Amazing Guilt problem. Unfortunately, ignoring it (one of my best and not-so-brightest coping strategies) doesn’t work for long. Numbing it with chocolate, craft beer, or more illicit substances only makes it worse in the long run. I haven’t tried literally running from it (I only run when there’s bears involved), but I know a lot of people who seem to be trying that, and it doesn’t look to be working out. Spirituality and positive thinking help for a while, but never really get to the root of the problem.

I’ve met only one person who really could take care of Amazing Guilt, and believe it or not, his name is Jesus. The same man who, incongruously, is claimed by many foisting Amazing Guilt upon the masses. How could it be that so many of us get his story so wrong? Have we even read and received the true story of Jesus? Perhaps we are so concerned about protecting our own power and control that we, intentionally or not, twist the true story of Amazing Grace beyond recognition.

The true story of Jesus is, in one sense, quite simple: God loves humans so much that he decided to rescue us from guilt and death. God loves humans so much that he came as one of us: a man named Jesus. God loves humans so much that Jesus took all the guilt and death and messed-up-ness (which he calls sin) upon his own shoulders, so we could be set free. God loves humans so much that he defeated death and gives new life, now and forever, to anyone who will receive it. His Amazing Grace is now yours for the taking. You too can read and receive his story, and make it your own. Jesus said “Repent and believe,” meaning turn from going your own way weighed down by guilt, and trust in me, and be set free.

It is time to trade in your Amazing Guilt for God’s Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

***

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8)

***

Bob Wiegers is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington, Vermont, and is striving to take hold of God’s Amazing Grace more and more. One of his favorite things in the world is to help others do that too. You can contact him at PastorBobWiegers@gmail.com and he would be glad to hear from you. Visit our church website at fbcbennington.org or come by 601 Main Street, Bennington VT 05201. Sunday worship services are at 9:30am. All are welcome to come celebrate God’s Amazing Grace together.