God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood. That water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 3:20b-21

Bruce Milne says baptism is an act of faith by which we are “bought into” and experience the benefits of God’s grace, justification and salvation.

Alister McGrath says the physical element (water) is authorised by Christ to represent salvation and which is “capable of conferring the benefits to those who partake.”

Wayne Grudem says that baptism symbolised the astounding truths of passing through the waters of judgement and having our sins forgiven and washed away.

Joseph Nally says “spiritual realities occur in conjunction with baptism, but the Scriptures do not explain in detail how baptism and divine grace are connected.”

Nine times in Acts baptism immediately followed conversion (Acts 2:38-41, 8:12, 8:36-38, 9:18, 10:48, 16:14-16, 16:33, 18:8 & 19:5). Thought spot: Is there something about this intimate connection of the visible sign and the invisible grace (that is signified) is lost when there are often a considerable number of years between conversion and baptism, whichever may have come first?

Have I quoted something that does not sit comfortably with you or that you have not thought of? My aim is just to prompt you to think more deeply about what baptism means or could mean for you.

Grace and peace from Paul

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”- 1 Peter 2:12

Do you feel as though, your faith in Christ prompts you to live in ways that mark you out as a disciple? Do you think people would be intrigued by the way you work, the way you deal with conflict, the way you love your family, by the way you respond to criticism, and think there is something about you that is different? It would seem to me from reading Paul, and Peter for that matter, anyone in the New Testament, that they assume that a believer in Christ would live in some fairly distinct ways and that their lifestyle would be different from the average Jew or Gentile. Michael Frost exhorts us to live “questionable lives.” That phrase is normally put forward in a negative sense- so that a questionable life is a dubious or suspect life- but in this case, it has a positive bent.

A questionable life is a life that is so beautiful, so generous, so gracious, so forgiving, so loving, so pure that it raises questions in others. Questions like; “why do you live this way?” Peter talks about that in 1 Peter 2:12. In this instance- he admonishes believers to live such good lives that even those that would slander them, would in the end have to call themselves into question because of the beautiful way in which we live. Of course- in order to live beautiful, questionable lives- there are going to have to be some distinctive habits in our lives- habits like listening to the Spirit, and learning Christ, like being generous and hospitable. After all, we are the blessed ones, shouldn’t our lives be a blessing.

Grace and peace from Marcus

Jesus, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his entitlements as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be born as man. He humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee shall bow”, and in the end, every tongue shall confess that “Jesus Christ is the Lord”, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5-11)

Can you imagine the conversation of the inn keeper at the breakfast table? Did anyone mention the arrival of the young couple the night before? Did they ask about Mary’s welfare?

There was nothing that unique about them. Were they one of several families turned away that night?

Off to one side sit a group of shepherds, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement as they watched their sheep sleep. Their night had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven, and a grand symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to listen to him; so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.

At this point in history, the human being who best understands who God is, and what he is doing, is a teenage girl in a smelly stable. (Max Lucado)

Christmas reminds us God came to earth as a man on a mission to bring ‘peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased’ (Luke 2:14). 

Grace and peace from Paul

The Lord said to Abram.... “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:1-2)

We don’t often associate the Old Testament with mission. We tend to think of mission in terms of Matthew’s great commission or the Pentecost event and the action found in the book of Acts. But God’s mission of redemption and recreation has its origins in the earliest parts of the story of scripture. Certainly God announces his mission and commissions Abraham to it in the book of Genesis in chapter 12. When you think about it, the skeleton of Genesis 12 is like a great commission:

“Go”, ...I will bless you... And all nations will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:1-3)

“This missional calling has implications of course for us today, not just to Abraham then and there. When God set about his great project of world redemption in the wake of Genesis 12, he chose to do so not by whisking individuals off to heaven but by calling into existence a community of blessing. Starting with one man and his barren wife, then miraculously transforming them into a large family within several generations, then into a nation called Israel, and then, through Christ, into a multinational community of believers from every nation. All through the story God is about moulding a people for himself, but also a people for others.”*

All that to say, this year our vision is that we might be a people who, having experienced the blessing of God, into the task of being a blessing- that is God’s calling on us, on me and on you.

Grace and peace from Marcus

* Page 73 of “The Mission of the People of God” by C. J.H Wright

Then the Lord said to the accuser, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."   (Job 1:8)

Job 1-2: Wisdom understands the place of humanity before and awesome sovereign God, who makes us more like Jesus when our adversaries test our integrity.

Job 3: Wisdom acknowledges that when life becomes overwhelming it will test our faith in God.

Job 4-27: Wisdom knows that when our closest family and friends can't offer comfort, support or empathy, we can lament to God (even when our own perception of God is clouded by circumstances, sorrow and ungodly advice).

Job 28:  Wisdom is invaluable and inaccessible until revealed by God. God declares the fear of the LORD is wisdom and to shun evil is understanding.

Job 29-37: Wisdom appreciates that when God appears silent he is listening and will treat us justly.

Job 38-41: Wisdom is revealed by God through the wonder of creation and demonstrated by his sovereignty over the chaos of life and evil (remember the cross).

Job 42: Wisdom is being comforted by God and responding in reverent obedience when walking blamelessly by his side.

Grace and peace from Paul