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With the passing of Billy Graham, from Earth to eternity, I keep hearing, in my mind, those familiar lyrics …

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

This hymn, written in 1835 by Charlotte Elliot, who referred to Just as I am as her spiritual autobiography. It is a song of coming to Christ, of acceptance. Really, it is a song of forfeit to some greater force, and with the greatest of humility.

My own personal connection to it was that it was used when I was baptized, at the age of sixteen. A verse was sung after each person was baptized.

I remember that day so well, and the pondering that led to my decision to be baptized. I had been told by a friend that without baptism I would not enter heaven when I died. I did not agree.

That disagreement sent me right where, I believe, God wanted me to go … to the Bible. I read every verse and book chapter, that I could find, that spoke of baptism. I learned what a commentary was, and I poured over their understanding of biblical texts on the subject.

Finally, I came to my own conclusion, that baptism was simply the outward expression to the world, of the acceptance I had made, of the redemption availed to me through Jesus. I also came to the conclusion that it was what I would choose to do, because I wanted the world to know that I was associating with Jesus, for the rest of my life. Not because I had it all together, not because I was perfect, but because I was renewed, redeemed.

And that is the appeal of the hymn, Just as I am. It is not a song about how we have it all together. As a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite:

without one plea
rid my soul of one dark blot
many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without
poor, wretched, blind

It is a song of self-realization of the lacking, the negativity, the sin in our lives. And it is in acknowledging where we lack that openness to what Christ has for us, is birthed. Even in the negatives, each verse ends with “O Lamb of God, I come!”

My favourite verse is the fifth (I believe the last in the hymnal I grew up with),

“Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe

That is it, belief.

Not vast amounts of tithing, piety or perfection, but because I believe.

Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Though my baptism was not some magical event, it is one of the most special events of my life, because it was the first time that I declared with my mouth that Jesus is my Lord … it was the public expression of the change in my heart.

Is Jesus your Lord? Do you believe it, in your heart, that he was raised from the dead? for you?

Believe, and be saved … just as you are.

Just as I am – without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though toss’d about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
-O Lamb of God, I come

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There is much hesitancy in our world today to identify as … anything.

Gender is, obviously, much discussed, but it is not the only issue with great debate.

Interestingly, there are many people who go to church, attend youth or small groups, pray, participate in communion and practise many other activities related to Christianity … yet they struggle to identify as a Christian or Christ-follower.

The most common reasons I have heard for this lack of ability or willingness (or is it a lack of faith?) to identify as a Christian is:

  • they do not yet ‘have it all together’
  • they so not want to identify as a Christian because there are so many ways that Christians have messed up

In the early days of Christendom, identifying with Christ was very public.

Baptism was the initial identifier of those (Jews) who were identifying as followers of Jesus, their Messiah. It was John the Baptist (the cousin of Jesus) who was inviting them to confess their sins, then come to the Jordan River, where they would be symbolically, publicly cleansed or redeemed of their sins.

The Jewish people could relate somewhat to this practise, as the Jewish custom of Tvilah was common. In this ancient practise, people of the Jewish faith went to be cleansed, purified, restored after having encountered something or someone (ie. a corpse) unclean, according to Levitical law.

The baptism that John was inviting the Jews, the early Christians, to was a once-for-all cleansing. It was symbolic of the forgiveness and redemption that Jesus had come to offer …

Forgiveness and redemption for our sins
yesterday, today and tomorrow.

John the Baptist did not invite people who were already purified to participate in the baptism that he was performing, but those who were dirty and who desired to be clean … those who acknowledged their sin-dirty condition, and who were choosing to be identified with the only one who could make them clean for all eternity.

For those waiting to identify with Christ until they ‘have it all together, the identifying comes before the purification … and the having it all together is a goal, not a destination.

For those not wanting to identify with Christ, because of the many Christians who have, are and will mess up … see above. They are not perfect, as you and I are not perfect “not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Paul said,
“John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.
He told the people
to believe in the one coming after him,
that is, in Jesus.”
Acts 19:4

 

 

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Woohoo! It was a summer Sunday and I got to skip church, and go to the beach! Could life get better? Sun, sand, surf, and an endless horizon.Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite like that. As a matter of fact there was no sun, not even blue sky. It looked like it might rain at any moment. It was cool, and breezy, and the forecast even had thunder and lightening in it.

I also did not get to skip church.

A twelve-year old friend of my son had invited us to a church service and to his baptism. We arrived, late, but thankfully the service had not yet begun. So, donning our flip flops and opening our camp chairs, we settled in to an outdoor sanctuary (my person favorite).

I cannot remember the songs that were sung. I do remember that the pastor talked about John the Baptist, baptizing Jesus, then his time of being tempted in the desert.

Matthew 3 tells this story.

John the Baptist wore clothes made of camel hair, and he ate locusts and honey … and I am pretty sure there was no chocolate to make the locusts go down easier! He also had just emerged from quite a while in the wilderness, so he probably was quite … naturally scented. If he were here today, he would probably go by ‘Johnny’, and most would see him as the equivalent of a hippie.

His message was, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (v.2)

Then his cousin Jesus, who once set his feet to dancing while in-utero (John Lept), came to the river, and asked John to baptize him too. John was not so cool with that, as he felt way to under-qualified to do the deed. But, since Jesus is Jesus, John consented.

Now, back at MY beach: each of the three who chose to be baptized stood, spoke about why they wanted to be baptized, then whoever wanted to could go up, lay hands on them, and pray for them. It was pretty meaningful as friends, grandparents, and mentors spoke words of thanks, words of affirmation and words of blessing to God, on their behalf.

My son’s friend shared of how a close family tragedy made him look more seriously at his life. His words, though those of a twelve year old, were ones that reflected insight, awareness and desire for what he was choosing to do.

I am sure there were tears in every eye … I just couldn’t see them through my own.

Then people were invited to come and pray for him. His grandfather prayed, another youth prayed, then a familiar voice … that of my son. He spoke to our God as one who knows Him, intimately. He spoke as one who knows his friend, and who wants the very best for his buddy.

… and more tears were shed.

Then we all made our way to the water, where one by one, the three completed their public profession of a life committed to living with Christ, with an endless horizon as their backdrop.

… and more tears were shed.

As my son’s friend came to the edge of the water his mother hugged him, as did his father, who said, “I am proud of you, son” (or something very similar).

Oh, and the rest of the story from Matthew 3 …

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (v. 16-17)

An endless horizon.

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