Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Can Baptism Forgive Your Sins?

I walked into the hospital room and Terry was lying on her bed.  Her physical condition was deteriorating and she was not ready to face her Creator.  I got down on my knees and shared with her the good news of Christ,realizing her time was short.  Afterwards as I prayed, she cried out for God to save her.  It was an incredible moment.  Weeks later Terry was home in her bed surrounded by family.  She wanted to be baptized, so with a cup and towel I conducted her baptism.  What a blessing!  Then hours later Terry died, going to her heavenly home.  

What prepared her for an eternal dwelling with Christ?  Was it her conversion to Jesus at the hospital or her baptism at home? 

Like with Terry, I have been at the bedside of the dying many times and I am greatly concerned over the misunderstanding about baptism.  If someone is fatally sick, knows their time is short, and realizes they have never been baptized, they may request a clergyperson to come and administer it, giving them a false sense of confidence,that they will go to heaven (because of their baptism).

Baptism is a part of our American religious culture.  Millions of followers in Catholic and Protestant churches have experienced the sacrament.  From infants, to youth and adults, men and women have been baptized during memorable religious ceremonies filled with family and friends.  Sometimes it is a quiet, solemn, reverent event.  At other times it is filled with hoots and hollers.  The occasion is looked upon as an important religious milestone in a person’s spiritual life. 

Whydoes someone get baptized?  Simple.  It is a command given by God in the Bible, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins . . .” (Acts 2:38)

If you have ever attended a baptism ceremony here is the meaning of it.  As a person stands ready to be baptized, they are a picture of their old self, standing dead in their sin, just as Jesus hung dead upon His cross.  Then as Jesus was buried, so they are buried.  Their old self gets buried in the waters of baptism.  The water is an image of the Holy Spirit washing them of all their sin while being immersed into the life of Christ and His church.  Then as Jesus rose from His grave with a resurrected body, so the one being baptized rises up out of the water, a new creation.  The old is gone.  The new has come.It is a powerful thing to watch, an honor to administer, but most of all, it is life changing to personally experience, as I have.  The mighty grace of God is almost palpable in those moments.

What is the singular most important focus in baptism?  Jesus.  It is not the water.  It is not the Pastor or Priest.  It is not the one being baptized.  It is Jesus.  Baptism is foremost a picture of Christ’s work on the cross.  His suffering, death, burial and resurrection from the dead. 

Sometimes we can elevate the pomp and circumstance of a baptism ceremony above Christ.  We can elevate the water itself above Him, believing it becomes holy or takes on some type of mystical form.  We can also elevate the sacrament itself above Christ, thinking that through it we can secure the eternal salvation of our soul. 

Let me be as blunt and truthful as I can.  Unless you have turned from your sins and to Christ, and unless you have placed your full trust in Christ alone; your baptism is meaningless and of no spiritual value whatsoever.  Do not believe anyone who says otherwise.  Your baptism is not enough to forgive your sins.  It is just mere water.  Only the blood of Jesus, which was shed from His cross can save you.  Thankfully, Terry understood this when she cried out to Jesus in her hospital bed.  I pray you will do the same.

A prayer for you - “Lord God, if there is someone reading this that has been deceived, believing the waters of baptism are greater than the atoning blood of Jesus, open their eyes to see the truth.  Bring them to turn from trusting in a ceremony, and to repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone for their salvation. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Does Obedience Matter to God?

Often I engage with people in conversations about God and the Bible.  Many times I do not know where they stand with God until we begin talking.  More often than not, I hear “I believe in God”, “I pray”, “I’ve asked for forgiveness”, “I’ve been baptized”, or even “Jesus is my Savior and Lord.”  Yet, in the midst of these religious professions I have noticed a glaring problem.   There is a wide chasm between their profession and daily lifestyle.  The two do not line up.  When I observe this and ask a question like, “It’s wonderful you state that Jesus is your Savior and Lord.  Do you obey Him?”  Then I hear the sound of crickets.  Somehow, someway, they have been exposed to a teaching that tells them obedience to God does not matter.  They have been taught that if they get all the right religious professions down and throw in a few important religious duties along with that, then God’s grace will cover them and their home in heaven is certain.  Is this true? 

Within days of Jesus’ death and resurrection, He was spending time with His disciples teaching them, preparing them for what was to come.  He stressed the importance of obedience to Him four times, saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments . . .”, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word . . .”, Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:15,21,23-24).  Jesus, the Master Teacher, was emphasizing an absolutely essential truth in the Christian life – obedience to God matters.  Notice the kind of obedience Jesus talked about was not mere rule keeping.  It was an obedience that springs from a heart of love for Christ.  Not a romantic love that is just feeling, but a love that is rational, deliberate, sacrificial and willing to lay down its life in suffering and death for Him if necessary, just like Jesus modeled through the cross.  In addition to the obedience question, another one is, “You say Jesus is your Savior and Lord . . ., but do you love Him?”  

The lyrics in our modern worship music extols the love of God, but where are the lyrics that also sings about our obedience to Him?  Our evangelism proclaims the love of God in Christ inviting people to pray and make professions, rather than calling them to take up their cross and obey the gospel’s challenging call of repentance from sin.  Our churches teach the love of God through biblical principles, keys and steps to be followed in order to live a better life, rather than biblical commands to be obeyed in order to live a holy life.   

The church has created a whole generation of followers of Christ that elevate professions and feelings above the way of the cross.  For it is rooted in a sacrificial love that is demonstrated in daily obedience to the Word of God and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. 
What I am writing about is so important.  Eternal souls are at stake.  Every one of us is heading toward an appointment with God our Creator on Judgment Day.  This should instill a healthy fear of God, and sense of accountability within each of us.  As the Lord Jesus will one day examine us, are we just going to offer profession after profession?  Jesus predicts this will actually happen.  He once said people will come to Him on that day and say, “Lord, Lord” and He will reply, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) 

Obedience is non-negotiable.  It is a must!  It is an expression of saving faith and love toward Christ, who obeyed His own Father and gave all for Him.  Let us follow the example of Jesus.  And let us begin by obeying the call to repentance, to turn from what we know is wrong and to God with all our heart. 

A prayer for you - “Lord God, help us as pastors, evangelists, missionaries and all believers to take your call to obedience seriously.  Help us to go beyond teaching professions and principles to teaching obedience to the King of Kings.  And may all believers everywhere humble themselves before your Word no matter the cost.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Racial Vandalism in My Town?

I was out of town working when I was informed that our community had been vandalized with racial slurs in multiple locations. My first thought was, “What?” I had written two recent columns on George Floyd's death and racial issues. I had been following the news in what was happening in cities across America. Clay Center is not Minneapolis or Atlanta. We are a small rural town. When I saw the pictures of swastikas and various derogatory versions of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” spray painted on public and private properties, it was shocking to see. Our town? 

We do not need to investigate or analyze the evidence to determine if there is anything racist about it – it was. Some vandal or group of vandals were clearly mocking and condemning, not just blacks in our community, but any black person who would see those awful slurs in photos. It was immoral, unethical and criminal. It was an arrogant violation of the laws of man and of God, and they will have to answer to both for their inexcusable actions.

When I read about the vandalism, I also learned about a quick response of the community to return evil with good. Volunteers responded in great numbers to clean up the mess with people of all ages getting involved in various ways. The community also demonstrated great support for law enforcement to find and prosecute whoever did this. Across the nation there are cries to defund the police. Not in our town. We have the utmost confidence in our Police Chief and his officers. Our police department, court system, mayor and city council will not tolerate criminal activity like this.

Justice though must not be drive by emotion or anger, but by the diligent pursuit of the rule of law by our law enforcement officials and helping them where we can. And in that pursuit, we must use restraint in making assumptions and judgments while the facts are still being gathered. Some may think it was local teenage boys out for a destructive night on the town. It just as well could have been vandals from another town. As I write, there is some we do know, but much more we do not.

Does this incident mean Clay Center is a racist town? Emphatic no. The people may not have been from Clay Center, even if they were, it was clearly an isolated incident. Whoever did this, does not represent all 4,000 people.

Why would someone do this? I spoke with a black pastor recently about the unrest in our cities. He summed it up when he said racism is not about the color of our skin but a problem of the heart. He is right. For out of it comes racial slurs and abuse toward someone because of their ethnicity. And there is only one answer for it. Jesus. He died and rose again to conquer the evils in our hearts. Sometimes we try, but we cannot change our own hearts. Striving to enact laws and reforms has their place, but cannot change a heart. We can write songs, have discussions, protest and have gatherings of different sorts, but none of them can change a heart. We need the power of Jesus.

How does someone experience that change? It begins with admitting the wrong doing in our own lives. Ask God to reveal it to you. In the book of Psalms it says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me . . .” (Ps. 139:23-24). Then we must be willing to turn from it. We must release it, no matter how hard it is, then receive the cleansing power of Jesus’ forgiveness. And through that forgiveness, you will receive a new heart and mind. The old will be gone. The new will come!

Did you know this forgiveness is available for former police officer Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd? Did you know this forgiveness is also available to those who vandalized all those properties? Anyone who wants to, can come and be forgiven . . . on two conditions. One, they believe in the Lord Jesus with all their heart. Two, they stop sinning against Jesus and live for Him.

A prayer for you - “Lord God, search all our hearts for any bitterness, anger, or unforgiveness we have toward another person, especially against those who might be a different race than us. Point it out and help us to turn from it. Help us to go and make peace with those whom we are divided. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Monday, June 22, 2020

Black Lives Matter Doesn't Speak for All Black Lives

Many generations ago the Jewish King Hezekiah was in the midst of a successful reign when he was threatened with invasion by King Sennacherib of Assyria. Sennacherib used lies, deceit and fearful threats to try and get the people to surrender. Hezekiah countered every attempt. He told his people, “With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.  And the people took confidence . . .” (2 Chronicles 32:8)

This makes me think of the deception that is happening in our country over racial tensions, causing entire cities, businesses and even churches to fall on their knees in surrender. For this is not a political, racial or justice issue; this is a battle between good and evil, and we must look to the Lord God to be our help and save our nation.

As I followed the news and watched the George Floyd protests turn to riots in city after city, I was seeing the same story lines, the same narratives across most media outlets, including Christian ones. I thought to myself, “Do all African Americans agree with what they are saying?” As I began seeking out differing points of view within the black community, I found articulate African American public figures that stated their cases with indisputable facts and great persuasion. They built cases against the story lines that America has a racism problem, that white police officers killing unarmed young black men is the greatest threat to their community, that white privilege is real and that institutional and systemic racism exist. Before listening, there were many premises I accepted, along with millions of others in our country, and they logically dismantled them, one after another. I learned how many were influenced by respected black historical figures like Fredrick Douglas and Booker T. Washington. I also came across regular black grandmas, grandpas, moms and dads and even young people, that wept instead of protesting over the destruction of their communities. Some even shouted, “You did this! Not the police, but you!” And they were looking through their tears at fellow African Americans. After I had listened to enough, I shouted aloud to myself, “Where are their voices?” I was absolutely incensed that only one side of the black community seems to be heard in national conversations on race.

It is easy to receive the impression that all African Americans stand together on issues surrounding race. It is also easy to receive the impression that one black voice speaks for all the others. Not so! The Black Lives Matter organization does not speak, nor stand for the values of the entire black community.  Nor does Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, along with leading professional black athletes, musicians, actors and politicians.  These have bigger platforms, budgets and organizations. They make more noise and get more attention. But even so, there are people within the black community that think differently and should be listened to. I encourage my fellow white evangelical preachers and leaders to listen and learn from them in helping to shape their thinking and preaching on race.

It is written, “. . . evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). Deception is taking place across America on the issue of race and it is causing division and lawlessness which is turning our cities into war zones. What is the answer? Truth. Deception can be exposed through inviting truth to the table. What is truth? Jesus and His Word. He is the Truth. Jesus exposed the sin of deception in religious leaders of His day and paid the ultimate price for it. They conspired to kill Him, and when He died and was buried, they cheered thinking His voice was gone for good . . . but three days later He was back! He defeated the violence they plotted against Him, and rose from the dead making fools of them all! His voice then became multiplied thousands of times all over the world through His followers.

A prayer for you - “Lord God, I pray against the sin of deception that is blanketing our nation. Open the eyes of people to see the truth. Come against those planning disruptions and organizing chaos. Expose them. Give courage, open doors and platforms for voices of truth to speak no matter the cost. And let the church be a place of bold truth, wrapped in good works and sacrificial love in the midst of this upheaval. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”