The Arrival

“And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels…” (Malachi 3:17)

Every year at this time I begin to look for the first hummingbirds of the season to arrive. The early arrivals generally make their appearance on my oldest son’s birthday, April 9th. Sometimes a day early, sometimes a day late. Always weary and thirsty from their long journey. The red feeder with sweet nectar had been up a week.

This year, the big day came and went without a jeweled wing in sight. I watched for them with longing. I walked to the window time and again, at first with anticipation, and then with anxiety. I went out onto the porch and scanned the horizon. What could be keeping them?

I hung a new spring welcome flag and picked up some wayward trash from the yard. As I swept puffs of yellow pollen dust from the porch, I heard the familiar hum. I looked up with delight. Only a chubby bumble bee.

I went back into the house with a sigh. They’re going to make it. I’m sure of it. They know the way. Everything is prepared. They’re coming any time now. I’m sure of it.

Family members are filled with excitement. The atmosphere is charged with anticipation. One more time by the window. One more expectant glance.

I inhale a quick breath and let it out slowly. There at the feeder. A single traveler is home. She slipped in quietly. She made it safely. Sweet relief.

Celebration.

Baptism In Jesus’ Name

Is It Really Necessary?

Isn’t salvation granted by faith? Absolutely. Baptism does not destroy faith; it fulfills it. If a person truly has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, then he or she will follow through with His commandments. Is it possible that a person can be a true believer and yet ignore Jesus’ very words?

It was Jesus at the Great Commission of His disciples, just before He ascended into Heaven, who spoke these words, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16) The obvious implication being that a person who truly believes, will be baptized and a person who doesn’t truly believe, will not be baptized. And that it makes a difference to his salvation.

Let’s also consider the words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John 3. He told him that unless a man was born again, he couldn’t see the kingdom of God. At Nicodemus’ confusion, Jesus clarified his statement by saying, “…Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) From this passage of scripture we learn that the born again experience is essential to our salvation and that it involves two elements, water and Spirit.

Moving into the Acts of the Apostles, we hear a very important message from Peter. Remember, Jesus gave Peter the “keys of the kingdom” in Matthew 16 because of his revelation of Jesus’ true identity. If anyone other than Jesus Himself should be able to say what steps are necessary to salvation, it would be Peter.

The crowd that was gathered on the Day of Pentecost heard Peter preach about Jesus and were “pricked in their hearts,” wanting to know what they could do to right the enormous wrong they had done by taking part in Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter was full of Apostolic Authority when he stood up before the crowd that day and instructed them saying, “…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38) He summed up his oration with the sobering words, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation. (Acts 2:40)

Peter also tells us in his first letter that just as humanity was saved by water in Noah’s day, so are we still saved by the water of baptism today. “…when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a-preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…” (1 Peter 3:20-21)

Paul reminds us that when the Lord delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage by the hand of Moses, every one of them had to pass through the water of the Red Sea. Turning back from this water crossing would mean either death or a return to slavery. There was only one way to the Promise Land, and it required two elements: to travel under the cloud and through the water.

“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2)

Both Noah’s family and the children of Israel were saved by God’s mercy, but that salvation was still dependent on their obedience to the process He established. It makes one wonder, why believers today want so desperately to avoid the water and the Spirit.

The Question of Works

Many people avoid baptism, using as their excuse that baptism is not essential because we are not saved by our works.

When the Bible says we are not saved by works, it is speaking of good deeds, not baptism. Works of service are a natural extension of a Christian’s walk with the Lord and very much expected, but cannot be used as leverage to tip the scales in one’s favor for salvation.

Paul makes it very clear in Titus 3:5 by what process we are saved, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (The original greek word for washing used here is “loutron,” Strong’s 3067, meaning to bathe or baptize). Baptism is not works; it is OBEDIENCE to the gospel.

The Formula For Baptism

Jesus sets the stage for the formula of baptism when He commissions His disciples in Matthew 28:19, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

Many ministers baptize by reciting these exact words over the person. But it is important to realize that Jesus was not telling His disciples to say what He said, but to do what he said. They understood fully that He was instructing them to speak the name of Jesus over those they baptized.

We know this is the case for two reasons:

First, we know that Jesus is the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The only way the disciples could have fulfilled Jesus’ instructions was to baptize using His name.

Second, we can look through both scriptural and historical accounts and find that when the disciples baptized, they used Jesus’ name. Not one time does scripture record that the early Church baptized reciting His titles. Either Jesus’ disciples understood Him to mean for them to speak His name when baptizing, or all baptisms in the early church were administered incorrectly.

New Testament Accounts of Baptism

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost…Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:38, 41)

“Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)” (Acts 8:15, 16)

“And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 10:48)

“Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:4-5)

“And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)

We Are Innocent By Association With His Name

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him in baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5)

“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)

The Name of Jesus Is The Only Way

“Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…”(Colossians 3:17)

It was Jesus’ precious blood that was shed for us. It was Jesus who hung on the cross in agony until the work was done and He could say, “It is finished.” It is Jesus to whom we owe our lives and our allegiance. If we claim Christianity, why wouldn’t we want to take on the name of Jesus Christ in baptism?

A Small Cup

Once a year, on the Wednesday night before Easter, we always have Communion at our church. Our Communion set has forty small openings to hold forty small glass cups. For as long as we had pastored here, we had only ever had thirty-nine small cups to fill the forty small openings. One small cup had always been missing.  One s2Q==mall opening had always been vacant…until a few years ago.

One year our newly elected neighboring
pastor and friend called and asked if we might have a Communion set that his congregation could borrow. It worked out that we weren’t going to have Communion on the same night, so we were able to oblige him.

As I handed over the shiny set, I apologized for the missing cup. He assured me that it was no problem at all and that he was just thankful to have the set to use. Within the week, our Communion set was returned with much appreciation and we were happy to have been able to help.

I didn’t open the set right away. I just put it in the church kitchen until it was needed. It was a day or two later as I was going to fill the cups with grape juice for our own Communion service that I noticed it. All the openings were full. There were no missing cups. Our friend had filled the vacant hole with a small glass cup of his own.

I don’t know where he got it from. Perhaps he had some from a lost or damaged set and that’s why he needed to borrow ours. Perhaps he went to greater lengths to acquire the missing piece.

I do know how it made me feel, however.  When I saw that small cup, I felt like something had been made complete. Not just in the Communion set, but in me. Something was lost, and now it was found.  Something was broken, but now it was whole because someone had cared enough to fill a small, vacant space.

Communion is about remembering our Lord Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  His  sinless blood that was shed for our sins.  His body that was broken for us. The ceremony is beautiful and soul-stirring. Often, we forget what Jesus did next.

“He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.  After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded…If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” 

(John 13:4-5, 13-14)

As we await that Great Day of Jesus’ return for His Church, we are the Body of Christ in the earth.  When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, it was a reminder for us to humble ourselves and serve one another in love.  I wonder when was the last time we poured ourselves out for someone.  When was the last time we did something, perhaps seemingly small and insignificant, to fill a small vacancy in someone’s heart.

Once again, we had Communion Service at our church last night.  Just like every year at this time, when I opened the Communion set, I was reminded of the kindness of a fellow-laborer.

It was a small thing, really.  A small cup.  A small gift.  A small gesture.  A small hole that was now filled.

Babies Are Good For A Family

Our first grand baby arrived fourteen months ago. He has changed our family dynamics quite a bit. He keeps each of us hopping as he explores his big world and tries to learn his place in it.

As I watch all of the interactions, some overt and some subtle, I remember my mother-in-love saying, “Babies are good for a family. They bring new life to it.” I didn’t understand fully what she meant at the time, but for the last fourteen months, I have witnessed this to be true.

As a pastor’s wife, it has been interesting to notice that spiritual babies are good for a church family for these same reasons:

  1. Babies bring fresh wonder. It’s not unusual for seasoned family members to become callous to the miraculous world around us. Babies compel us to look closer and remember. There are no average new experiences for them. Babies are amazed at every new sight, sound, smell, taste and texture. They cause us to see life through new eyes.
  2. Babies bring energy. They keep us on our toes because they are always on the move. There is a comfortable season in a household when the youngest are grown, but haven’t left the nest. Everyone settles into a predictable routine. Enter baby. There is no time for “resting on our laurels” now.
  3. Babies draw out our emotions. Families, both natural and church, are full of people, and people are full of issues. Shutting ourselves down from feeling is a self-preservation mechanism to keep from getting hurt. Babies remind us to feel again.
  4. Babies cause us to interact with one another. They get our minds off of ourselves, and pull us out of our self-imposed isolation. Isn’t it amazing what noises and faces a baby can get an otherwise serious adult to make? No man is an island. Family interaction matters because relationships are the ties that bind one generation to the next.
  5. Babies keep everyone involved. They make messes that they aren’t able to clean up, and every unlocked danger area in the house is exposed. It takes a body ministry to assure a baby’s comfort and protection.
  6. Babies keep us learning. They want to touch. We say, “Hot!” They say, “Mine!” We say, “Share.” They ask, “Why?” We don’t want to be the one who can’t give them an answer. We are compelled to “study to show ourselves approved.” After all, babies are repositories of knowledge for future generations.
  7. Babies remind us that God has a Master Plan for our lives. Who hasn’t been enthralled by counting ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes? What parent or grandparent hasn’t known for sure that their sweet angel is the most brilliant and gifted child who has ever lived?  How often have we cradled a sleeping baby in our arms and been reassured that God loves us just like that?

Yes, whether it is in the home or church, babies are definitely good for a family.

America In Your Bible (Daniel 7, Part 1)

What would you say if I told you that America was mentioned in your Bible? If you saw it for yourself, would it make that old book not seem so outdated and archaic? Grab your Bible and some curiosity. Let’s take a look together.

In the book of Daniel, chapter 7, the prophet had a dream of four great beasts. Don’t let this word spook you. It doesn’t mean literal creatures. It’s a WORD PICTURE or IMAGERY depicting nations/countries.

The Lion With Eagle’s Wings

“The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.” (Daniel 7:4)

The first beast (nation) was like a LION. Is there a modern country whose national symbol is the lion? Think. Great Britain. The official national animal symbol of Great Britain is the Barbary Lion. You will find the image of the lion very frequently on most anything related to Great Britain.

The lion had EAGLE’s wings. What modern nation’s symbol is the EAGLE? You guessed it, the United States of America! Where did we originate from? Great Britain.

In his dream, Daniel watched until the EAGLE’S wings (America) were plucked from the back of the lion. Daniel 7:4 precisely and clearly shows the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in our Bible. Our founding fathers only thought they came up with the idea to break away from Great Britain and set forth across the ocean to find a land where they could freely serve their Creator. In truth, they were “plucked” by the very hand of God, transported across the sea, and divinely established in a new land.

It is worth noting here that once the eagle’s wings (America) were plucked from the back of the lion (Great Britain), they were no longer part of any of the four beasts in Daniel’s dream.

The final thing mentioned about the eagle’s wings in this passage is that “a man’s heart was given to it.” No other nation on earth, with the possible exception of Israel, operates with such conscience, showing compassion and benevolence all over the world. A secondary image relating to America is introduced here, a man with a heart lead by conscience. Uncle Sam.

Isn’t it exciting to realize that our All-Knowing God chose to use symbols in His Word that would be recognizable and have meaning to the last day Church? We can take comfort in where we are in history, knowing that He is in control.

I hope you will join me as we identify the remaining beasts/nations of Daniel chapter seven in an upcoming post.

Start Here: True Repentance

When he was a little boy, we were trying to teach our youngest son, Caleb, to say, “I’m sorry” when he did something wrong. This became a very eventful series of lessons because as he was trying to conquer this new level of manners, he would spontaneously go up to his older brother, Logan, punch him on whatever body part was most accessible, and then yell, “SORRY!”

Over and over this would happen because in Caleb’s mind, he was learning the correct usage of a new word. His parents, however, (and his big brother) wanted him to feel the word. We wanted him to feel the conviction, the remorse, the contrition and the humbleness that true repentance brings. We wanted him to actually be sorry, not to just say sorry. We also wanted him to stop doing the thing that he was continually having to be sorry for, and especially not to pre-meditate the act. Lots to learn here.

True Repentance Is The Death of Self.

In repentance, we associate ourselves with Jesus’ death. Jesus was God in flesh. We often focus on Him being God, but not so much on him being flesh. He was a man who felt desires, temptations, emotions and distractions, having to make the daily decision of whether to follow the leading of the Spirit of God that dwelled in him, or to cater to the flesh in which he was clothed.

It is no different for us today. Regardless of the trial, temptation, addiction or emotion, we must follow Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:39 says he, “fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

True Repentance Is Brokenness.

Pride cannot repent. Arrogance cannot be humble. If we desire God’s forgiveness, then we must allow His Spirit access to our hearts. We must allow ourselves to be broken in His Presence. Repentance is not a simple, “I’m sorry”. It is an honesty before God. It is an opening up and a purging out. It is an awareness of His Holiness and our smallness. It is seeing ourselves in the light of His Word. It is crying out like King David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23)

True Repentance Is A Turning Away.

To continue to do a thing that you know is wrong, and ask God to forgive you, knowing that you will do that thing again if given the opportunity, is not true repentance. To pre-meditate on doing a thing, planning ahead of time to ask God to forgive you, is not true repentance. True repentance is a conscious decision to turn away from sin and live a life that is pleasing before God. After a person takes that initial step, a lifetime of commitment should follow. You might be wondering how it is possible to live from this point on without sinning. Jesus did, while living in a body just like yours. Hebrews 4:14 says He, “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

What if I slip up? What if I make a mistake? I have great news for you! Jesus, our wonderful Savior, is full of mercy and compassion. His greatest desire is to bring us into, and keep us in, a saving relationship with Him. The Apostle John says in 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” We all make mistakes. Just remember that making a mistake is not the same as willful sin. God knows the very thoughts and intents of our hearts. Repentance should be a regular occurrence in our lives, not a one time thing. The Apostle Paul explained it best when he proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 15:31, “I die daily.”

True Repentance Is The Christian Way.

No matter who you are or what you have done, good or bad, a repentant heart is essential to your salvation. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” (Acts 17:30)

Let’s be honest with ourselves and God. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) We have His assurance that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

No matter where you’ve been, where you are now, or where you want to go on your journey with Christ, repentance is the starting place to moving forward in that relationship.

A Not So Sure Election

On the fourth day of the eleventh month, in the year of our Lord, two thousand and eight, Barak Hussein Obama began to reign over the United States of America. He continued to reign eight years until the eighth day of the eleventh month of the year of our Lord, two thousand and sixteen. He did that which was not right in the sight of the Lord… 

If we lived in Old Testament times, this is how our current situation in America would read. It is up to us to decide how the story will end.

Perhaps you flinched in your spirit when you read the word “reigned”. Here in “the home of the free,” we take offense at the notion of someone ruling or reigning over us. We are free, you say. We have a President elected by the people, you say. The title of the man in charge makes no difference in the spiritual realm. King. President. No difference.

I grew up in a political family and cared very little for it. Once I was born again and began to read the Bible, I realized that the Kingdom of God has a whole lot to do with politics. In fact, God is very actively involved in the politics of nations.

Daniel 2:21 declares, “…he removeth kings, and setteth up kings:…”

My heart is heavy over the upcoming presidential election. Why? Because God’s heart is heavy over it. People often ask, “Why does it matter whether the President is a Christian or not?” They say, “It’s a job. A person’s faith is a private thing and should be kept separate.”

However, we know that true faith affects every area of our lives, private and public. People make life decisions based on the values dictated by their faith. If they do not regard their faith in decision making, then theirs is no faith at all. It seems to me no better to have a leader who is willing to compromise his faith than to have a leader with no faith at all. 

Why would God concern Himself with who is the current leader of any nation?  From the beginning, it was God’s desire to be King over His people. There were anointed Prophets and Judges that the people could inquire of to find the word and will of God, but He alone wanted to reign over them. It was in the time of the Prophet, Samuel, that the Israelites decided they wanted an earthly king to rule over them “like all the nations.” Both Samuel and the Lord took this request as a personal rejection, however, God granted the people’s request, and Saul was anointed King of Israel.

“Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:4-7)

The day that Saul was anointed King, God further expressed His heart to the people.

“…Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms, and of them that oppressed you: And ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us…” (1 Samuel 10:18-19)

From that time to this, there have been kings that did right in God’s sight and king’s that did evil in God’s sight. If you read in the books of Kings and Chronicles, you will see that it was always recorded very precisely which way a king reigned. A king who was unrighteous, did not consult God’s will or wisdom, was selfish and cruel, only regarded his desires and quest for power, would eventually lead his people into idolatry. God would allow the wicked leader, as well as the whole nation, to be overtaken by its enemies.

A king who was righteous, consulted God for wisdom and direction, put away idolatry from the land, considered his people and made decisions for their good.  In return, God would deliver this righteous leader, as well as the whole nation, from its enemies. As went the ruler, so went the nation.

Here we are on the brink of perhaps the most important election in American history. With so much at stake, as Christians, we should be concerned and proactive in the election of our next King…I mean, President. Let’s not forget that the United States of America was founded on Christian principles, and this is why God’s hand of blessing has been upon her for these 240 years.

“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.(Psalm 9:17)

When I look at the list of presidential candidates, I realize that no one person can right every wrong that plagues our great nation, even though there have been many campaign promises to that effect. Personally, I would rather have a leader that admits he needs help from his Creator, rather than one who brags that he can do it all without Him. God will step in and make up the difference for a president and a people who will humble themselves and seek Him for guidance.

I realize that the following scripture admonishes each individual to place themselves under the microscope of God’s word and will, making certain they have aligned their lives in obedience and full submission to Him. I think we should apply the same scrutiny to the calling and election of our next President.

  “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:” (2 Peter 1:10)