Baptizing Brandon

I baptized Brandon Sunday.

It was not something I was planning on. Brandon asked me about an hour before it was to occur. What an incredible honor to be asked to play a small role in a profound event in someone’s life.

Brandon is a new friend of mine. I met him a couple of months ago at Freedom Fellowship. He also started attending Highland Church and he attends the high school Bible class. So I get to see him quite a bit each week. Brandon is a good kid. He is kindhearted. He is friendly. He is inquisitive.

And he has Asperger’s Syndrome.

If you do not know Brandon, you may think he is awkward. You might even think he is rude. Because although he is friendly, he does not respond to social cues the way most people do. He may walk off in the middle of a conversation. He may change the subject of the conversation while you are in mid-sentence. He may blurt out answers to rhetorical questions while the speaker is teaching.

If you were to compare someone like me to someone like Brandon, it might appear that I have the capacity for much greater intellectuality than Brandon. It looks like I can process information quickly and abstractly. It seems I can understand nonverbal and verbal cues; I can read and retain facts and details well.

But Brandon has something that I desperately want: he loves God with all his heart. He is not distracted by all the things that pull my focus away.

Brandon is not overly concerned with what others think about him.

Brandon is always honest.

Brandon is not afraid to ask questions.

Brandon is not afraid to express joy and do things that make him happy.

Brandon is determined and will fight for what he wants; especially when it is something he deeply believes in.

I may know more about God than Brandon. But I do not know God as well as Brandon does.


“God will take care of the babies and the fools.”

There may be a good intent behind this statement. But there a couple of problems with it: first, it is not in any way biblical. It is a made up statement to reassure humans who cannot completely wrap their minds around God’s great mercy and love. Second, it actually comes from a too narrow view of baptism—thinking it is only about erasure of sin. There is much more to baptism than that.

Is baptism about salvation? Yes.

Is baptism about claiming the identity of Jesus follower? Yes.

Is baptism the pledge of a clear conscience to God? Yes.

Is baptism a ritual that unites us to a great cloud of witnesses? Yes.

There are some people who know a lot about baptism when they go into the water. But none of that is a requirement for baptism. Every biblical example of baptism we have is of people being convicted and desiring a closer relationship with God. Did instruction follow? Sure.

But the point of the act of baptism was a person responding to the call of God on their life.

Some of the most beautiful baptisms I have witnessed are those where the person putting Christ on in baptism has an understanding of their relationship with Jesus that I doubt I will ever have.

There is also another issue with that statement: It is ridiculously arrogant. It assumes that because we are (what has been deemed) normal we are somehow better than those who are deemed abnormal. It ends up being a way we can serve as gatekeepers to God’s Kingdom. “Yeah, you may not be as good as I am, but God will have pity on you so come on in.” In other words, it leaves us in charge of determining who is or is not a “fool.”

And that is a dangerous position to put ourselves in.


There are people who are different. And I don’t mean the surface differences of gender, ethnicity, and age.

There are people who have severe physical disabilities.

There are people who have severe mental health struggles.

There are people who are addicts.

There are people who cannot communicate the way most others in our society do.

And their faith is no less real or profound than anyone else’s. Their spirituality does not suffer because of those differences; at least, no more so than anyone else’s.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: instead of thinking that someone lacks the maturity and depth of your faith because they are more limited than you in some way, ask how they may know God more because of those perceived limitations.

Does God take care of babies and fools? Sure. (After all, he is taking care of you and me!) But God does not call them by those names.

God calls them sons and daughters.

The Day After

I orginally shared this post on the the day after Easter two years ago. Now, we are two weeks past Easter and I find these same things to still be true. May we reclaim the joy resurrection brings every day.

The day after.

It’s often a day of disappointment. Remember all those December 26ths growing up? No? Why not? Because the excitement was on the 25th. The excitement was on the day of celebration; not the day after.

It’s often of day of questioning. Why did we spend so much time on the day before? Was it worth it? Did we actually gain anything? Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like it. The day after allows us to apply hindsight and question everything.

It’s often a day of emptiness. One of the worst days to deal with when a loved one dies is the day after the funeral. Because all of the food has been eaten. All of the stories have been shared. All of the guests have returned home. And you are left to deal with the reality of life with a huge hole in your heart.

It’s often a day of regret. Sometimes, it’s a day of asking, “What happened?” The day after provides us the needed opportunity to deal with all of the consequences of the previous day’s actions. The day after can even lead to all sorts of entertaining television episodes or movies (think The Hangover).

But sometimes, the day after is a little more difficult than a simple hangover.

The Hope of Easter. Followed by The Reality of The Day After.

Easter is Resurrection Sunday—the day death was defeated. The day we are given the ultimate promise of life after death. The day that we are told emphatically sin and death do not have the last word.

But on the Monday after Easter I find myself still facing sin and death. There are too many people still fighting against their demons. There are too many tombs that are not empty.

I cannot get upset at the disciples hiding out in a locked room after the Resurrection. I cannot get upset that they didn’t believe Mary when she came and told them she had seen the Risen Lord. I cannot get upset that Thomas didn’t believe his companions when they told him what (or better, Who) they had seen.

I can’t get upset because I AM EXACTLY THE SAME!

It is easy for me to celebrate on Easter Sunday. It is easy for me to get wrapped up in the singing and the fellowship and the greeting/response of, “He is risen; He is risen indeed.”

But I need someone to tell me today that Jesus is still risen.

Because today there is no fanfare. Today there is no special program. Today there is no excitement or hustle and bustle to occupy my mind.

Today there is only real life. And it is in the midst of real life that I need to be reminded the tomb is empty.


It is possible to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.

Graduation: joy at the accomplishment; sorrow at the goodbyes.

Funerals: joy for a life well-lived; sorrow at the loss.

One of my favorite hymns catches this phenomenon: “See from His head, His hands, His feet; Sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did ever such love and sorrow meet? Or thorns compose so rich a crown?” The Passion of Jesus is a time of great joy and great sorrow. It is a time of extreme hope and ultimate despair.

So honestly, it makes perfect sense for humans to feel conflicted about their Easter experience.

Did you have a wonderful time yesterday? Did you wake up today wondering if any of it was worthwhile? Did you have to live through the difficult realities of life? Did you experience disappointment, questioning, emptiness, or regret?

Then it sounds to me like you’re pretty normal.


He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Will you tell me that today? And tomorrow?


During Spring Break, I was able to work with a group of middle school, high school, and college students as they prayed and did service projects for neighbors around our church building. It was amazing to watch.

These young people chose to spend their week off of school serving others. 3800 homes in our community were prayed over. Over 80 service projects were completed. Relationships were initiated or strengthened.

And this year, we had a new element: a group from Brazil came and worked with us. Our students did their best to learn Portuguese and be able to communicate better. They listened well and patiently as English was translated into Portuguese. There were even times when no translation was necessary. Even though the words were not understood, the spirit of the message was. And worship was incredible. The following is a short video of one song we sung in two languages:

It is amazing to witness young people pour out their hearts in worship. It is so much fun to watch them enjoy working for others. And it is great beyond words to see them welcome the stranger.


This past weekend, I was able to spend time with a group of high school guys for our annual Man Retreat. The purpose of this weekend is to explore what it means to be a man of God. Different men from different walks of life come and share their knowledge and experience. This year, a panel of women spoke about growing up into men of God. There is a lot of time for fun and relaxation, but there is also time of service and worship. It is a great weekend.

And the best part is: it is planned by the high school students themselves. They name the speakers they want to hear from. They come up with the topics and questions. They decide what volunteer service projects they want to do. They lead the worship.

This group of teenagers has already figured out the messages they are getting from the world around them are not good enough; many of the messages are outright lies. And they recognize that. They know something is not right and they are seeking to find better answers. There is a wisdom present that far exceeds their relatively young experience.


At this point in my sobriety journey, the temptation is not so much using again. The temptation is to despair. To be cynical. To see the bad in everything.

It doesn’t lead me to want to drink, but it does lead me to want to believe life sucks and it’s not going to get any better.

And then I see a group of high school guys buying flowers and delivering them (along with hugs) to a woman grieving the loss of her mother.

And then I see a group of teenage men and women holding hands with strangers and praying.

And then a group of teenage guys tell me they want to be children of God and not just blindly accept what popular culture says about manhood.

And then I worship by listening to a song sung in a different language.

I learned early on in sobriety that I was not going to be able to thrive or even survive on my own. But for so long, I thought that just meant I would be relying on other recovering addicts—and I have relied on them to my benefit.

But what I am learning more and more is that the help I need sometimes transcends addiction and recovery. Sometimes, the help I need comes from young women and men who are willing to devote their lives to something they believe is greater than themselves.

They restore my faith.

In my drinking, I turned to alcohol to cover over all the bad that existed. If I was too sad, or too happy, or too troubled, or too bored, or too awake…I would drink. I would cover over my reality with alcohol.

In my sobriety, I turn to cynicism. I cover over all the good that exists with sarcastic reminders of how bad everything can be. I watch the news and the literal theater that politics has become and I truly think all hope is lost.

And there is a lot of help I can receive in a 12 step group, but my soul is restored when I spend time with these young people. They remind me that life is much larger than myself. They show me there is reason to have hope. They teach me what joy can come from service. They know how to have fun.

Some days, I need to be restored. Thank God for the young people who do exactly that.

We Don’t Do Death Well. And That’s Okay.

The following is an adapted version of what I shared at Freedom Fellowship a year ago during Holy Week (the post was originally published on April 3, 2015). I had been teaching a series on the Gospel of John. John’s story is written to a group of people 2 or 3 generations after Jesus died. They have never seen Him and now all those people who were eyewitnesses are dying. John’s Gospel is written to tell the story of Jesus in a way that new generations of people could learn who Jesus was and is—much like we tell family stories of our grandparents to our children. For example, though I never met my grandfather physically, I know him because of the stories. I think that is in part what John is trying to do with his Gospel.

Shortly after my brother, Robert, passed away, my cousin and her husband, Gretchen and Jeremy, finalized the adoption of three wonderful sons. When an adoption becomes final, the family has the option of changing the children’s names. Gretchen and Jeremy decided not to do that. At least, they chose not to change their first names, but they did change the middle names.

For years, Jeremy had been saying he wanted a son named Joe Bob. For years, Gretchen said they would never have a son named Joe Bob.

When the time came to select middle names for their children, Gretchen asked Jeremy if “Robert” could be their oldest son’s middle name. She wanted to honor my brother by using his name. It just so happens their oldest son’s first name is Joseph. So Jeremy gladly agreed for his middle name to be Robert. Jeremy and Gretchen now have a son named Joe Bob. (It’s actually Joseph Robert, but it counts!)

And my brother would love that! That is exactly the kind of thing that would make him smile ear to ear and laugh non-stop.

We pass on the memory of previous generations through stories and names and talking about them. It is how we can remember those we no longer get to see. It is how we teach future generations about the people they have never been able to see face to face.


We don’t do death well. I think, nationwide, we are getting better at it. I appreciate what Hospice care has brought to families who are suffering. But overall, we don’t die well. We adjust our diets, we exercise like crazy, we buy creams and ointments, we have created an entire field of medicine dedicated to making us look younger, we tan every way possible—from sunning, to sitting in lamps, to spraying it on.

Or we don’t do any of those things. We smoke, drink, eat whatever we want whenever we want, and scoff at the idea of exercising. And then we avoid the doctor because we are afraid of what she or he might say.

We don’t do death well.

And I have to be honest, I don’t know how. I don’t have the answers. I could try to make some up. I could come up with three points that all begin with the same letter, or I could use “death” as an acronym to spell out the five steps to dying well.

But that would not be honest. Because I don’t know how to do death well.

In fact, the reason I started this post with a story that involved my brother, Robert’s memory is because his death is the one that still shows me I don’t know how to do death well.


But his death has done something else for me, too: it has given me an ability to sit with other people who also don’t know how to handle death.

In John Chapter 11, Jesus goes to the village of Bethany 4 days after Lazarus has died. When Martha comes to Jesus, He tells her something incredible. It is one of the “I Am” statements found in John’s Gospel:

I Am the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus is saying two things to Martha but she is only hearing one. The thing Martha is not hearing is that Jesus came to do a miracle. Jesus is asking her if she believes He is the resurrection, partly meaning now, and she is answering that she believes, but in the future. And that really is okay.

Martha believed Jesus, mostly. But she saw death the way we all see death: as final.

And that leads to the second thing Jesus is saying: in Him, there will be life forever. But resurrection requires death. At the Highland Church of Christ this past Sunday, Nika Maples said, “If you want to follow Jesus out of the tomb, you first have to follow Him into the tomb.”

Physically speaking, as humans we can do nothing to avoid death. We can push it off. We can stretch out the average life span. We can, and should, keep looking for cures to terminal illnesses. But ultimately, death will come to us all.

But that is not the end of the story.


This is Holy Week. Today is Good Friday. The day the Savior of the world died. Tomorrow, Holy Saturday, is the day of waiting, darkness, maybe even despair.

But Resurrection Sunday tells us that the story does not end of Friday or Saturday. We will face death. We will face loss. We will wonder and doubt and ponder and sit in disturbed silence.

But one day, we will realize that pain is not the end of the story. And we will celebrate.


I want to point out something else about the story of Jesus with Martha and her sister, Mary: even knowing what the end of the story is going to be (Lazarus being raised back to life), Jesus still wept. Jesus knew what He was about to do. He also knew that physical death was not the end of the story. But still He wept.

Because death is hard. It always has been. It always will be.

So we will grieve. We will mourn. But we will have hope because the I Am is the resurrection and the life.

We don’t do death well, but that’s okay.

Because we have been called to life.