Baptism and Faith

XIV. Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
We believe that the Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Saviour, with its effect, in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation, and to the Lord’s Supper; in which the members of the church by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.

Acts 8:36-39; Matt. 3:5-6; John 3:22-23; John 4:12; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12; Acts 16:32-34; Acts 18:8; Acts 10:47-48; Gal.3:26-28; Rom.6:4; Col. 2:12; I Peter 3:20-21; Acts 22:16; Acts 2:41-42; I Cor. 11:26; Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; I Cor.11:28; I Cor. 5:1-8; I Cor. 10:3-32; I Cor. 11:17-32; John 6:26

 

The New Hampshire Confession of Faith is a beautiful document that is the original foundational statement of faith the church association I am a part of rests. it does a beautiful job of describing baptism.  This document itself finds its origins in Scripture (of course), as well as a preceding Confession which is somewhat more detailed and the one to which I prefer to fall back on – the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, as it holds more details. The chapter on Baptism is as follows:

Chapter 29 Of Baptism

1 Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4)

2 Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37; 2:41; 8:12; 18:8)

3 The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19-20; Act 8:38)

4 Immersion, or dipping of the person fin water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance. (Mat 3:16; John 3:23)

I bring this up because of an all too common issue that comes up from time to time in ministry:  Those who make professions of faith, especially at a very young age, that FromD2L-Nelsonmight not have been genuine professions at the time. But because of “our” relatively modern methodology of “get them to say a prayer and dunk ’em” has led to many false assurances of salvation, and ultimately spiritually dead church members. In his book Death To Life, Allen Nelson IV refers to these folks as the walking dead. The startlingly sad reality is that there are (and have long been) those who – as he put it:

We would be stunned at how many people have a date written down in their bible but not their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Even more alarming is how many of these people might be pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, or other prominent leaders within the church. Just because people feel saved, doesn’t mean they are saved. (From Death To Life: How Salvation Works, Chapter 2, p. 19)

This is a reminder of why I am so thankful for several brethren the LORD placed in my path as I began ministry. One that really sticks out in my heart on the issue of salvation and baptism is Bro. Harrel Herring. Bro. Harrel’s real burden and passion was for not just professions of faith – but for genuine conversion.  His own testimony was one oft-heard – having “walked the aisle” when his brother did, and an evangelist who asked all the wrong questions and offered raving, yet false, assurance of salvation.  Bro. Harrel knew at the time he wasn’t genuinely saved – but who was he to question or argue the 

image1point as a youngster?  But Harrel knew what the problem was and did indeed come to
genuine repentance and saving faith.  But this experience planted in him the passion he spent much of the rest of his life trying to help other to avoid false professions and to find real, saving faith. Indeed, I first met Bro. Harrel at Budd Creek Baptist Camp during the BMA of Arkansas week back in 2006. At camp, Bro. Harrel had the privilege of meeting with each young person who made a profession, to ask the right questions to at least have some basis for recording decisions.  He also gave out copies of a booklet he had put together specifically for new believers titled Starting My Life With Christ. I still have a handful of copies and find it quite useful!

The problem Brother Herring was trying to address is a real one. Every church I have been a part of in my walk since conversion has had more than one similar illustration – someone who made a profession, but then at some point later determined that it was not a genuine conversion and came to Christ afterward.  Unfortunately, there are those in churches who never do realize their repeating of a “sinners prayer” was nothing more than the “vain repitition” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:7! They are, as Allen Nelson labeled them – The Walking Dead.

But God is indeed full of Amazing Grace! And He does still call many from that spiritually dead state to new life! He is indeed faithful to call ALL who are His to repentance. And the responsibility of those He does call out of that dead state is to, as those lowly fishermen Jesus called in Galilee did – drop your nets and follow Him!

And one of the first steps one called to new life to take is baptism. Even if you were dunked in a pond, creek, pool, or “official” church baptistry – if it was on a false profession – it was nothing more than getting wet.  It was not a genuine act of obedience in faith. Therein lies the rub for many – whether it is pride or shame, some who realize their old profession was without merit find it difficult to publicly proclaim their newfound salvation for fear of shame or for their position. And many shudder at the thought of submitting themselves for “re-baptism” (a misnomer if the first was not scriptural). Sadly, some never make known their latter genuine conversion for fear of what others will think. And this is what brings me to the impetus for today’s entry:

As both a father and a pastor, I am always extremely concerned about the possibility of pressuring a young person, particularly my own daughters, into a “decision” that is not God-initiated, and preceded and empowered by the Holy Spirit and HIS complete work in salvation. In this case, my youngest daughter, Selah, made a profession several years ago while I was still in my first pastorate (Park View Baptist Church, North Little Rock). She followed on the heels of her older sister. Both had been immersed in the gospel from birth (or before if you consider in-vitro time in church!). Both had received the benefit of not only their mom and me trying our best to speak and demonstrate the gospel, but a church with many caring souls who also poured into them the words of Life. So when Selah came to me and said she had asked Jesus into her heart, she had all the right answers, to the right questions (as Bro. Harrel would put it). Selah is sharp and while casual observation might lead you to believe she is paying zero attention – she soaks in what is going on around her in an amazing way. So – after several of us visited with her, she submitted herself to be baptized.

Yet far too often, we saw signs that gave her mom and I serious pause regarding her actually having seen genuine regeneration. Some of her actions going way beyond “childhood indiscretions” or “immaturity”.  Six months ago, Diana and I both voiced concern about Selah’s spiritual condition and began praying in earnest for answers, guidance, and for God to truly work in her.

On Wednesday evening, July 18, those of us at Ozark Baptist Encampment, Week 1, those of us at camp knew something was up.  But when I got the message that I was needed at our girl’s cabin at nearly 10:30PM, I knew something was serious.  Selah was afraid that I would be mad if she told me – but she knew without a doubt that when she made her “profession of faith” several years ago – it wasn’t real – she just did what she knew the rest of us wanted – and what got her positive attention. There were signs this time of genuine contrite heart and very heavy conviction.

And the Sunday after camp, Selah came before First Baptist Church and confessed before the entire assembly of what had happened, including her false profession years ago, and submitting herself humbly for baptism! I am pleased to announce that on Sunday, August  19, I get to genuinely baptize my precious daughter! And don’t ever doubt my joy and thanksgiving that God didn’t just leave her to her own case of The Walking Dead! And don’t ever doubt the power of God to call His own unto repentance and genuine salvation!

And preachers – never tire of preaching the gospel, the whole gospel, the saving gospel always!

…because we love the brethren

As the pastor of a relatively small church who is always looking at the condition of not only the congregation I lead, but to investigate the history of churches that have seen divisions, splits, and much more.  Since long before I was ever called to ministry, I have “suffered” from a constant yearning to know “why” and “how”. It is just part of my core being.

As a pastor, I try to grasp the whys and whats of a church’s history – why people join or leave a church, why young people (as much are wringing their hands today over) seem to be leaving churches in alarming numbers, and even why a church might split. Part of that ongoing series of quests is a look at the problem of swollen church membership rolls – that often include names that possibly no current member even knows the identity of! I believe one of the core problems (or diseases) responsible for a lot of these symptoms and issues is a spiritual issue – and in many cases, the problem is unregenerate church membership.

Bear with me for a bit – as this will take a few steps to explain.  You see, Jesus assembled His church – that first local church (as Christ’s Church is nearly always referred to) in Israel – a “church” that moved around following Him until He returned to His rightful place in Heaven. That church settled in Jerusalem where it gained the respect – dare say even admiration from their neighbors (Acts 2:47 records that they had favor with all the people). What inspired this period of favor (that also appears to have drawn people to Christ – and thus to be saved?) – the relationship these members of that first church had with each other – they were:

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ACTS 2:44-47)

Quite simply, their love for one another was such that they made sure everyone in need had their needs met (through sacrificial giving), worshipped God gladly and sincerely, and were day-by-day (regularly, even daily meeting together including fo worship). This early church was demonstrating what Jesus identified as one of the biggest of hallmarks of being a genuine Christ-follower:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

The word love here comes from the same Greek word (ἀγάπη – agapaō the same self-scarificing love Jesus demonstrated on behalf of His sheep on the cross!  And this is the exact same term translated as love in the source passage for my tltle today:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)

This is the same love that Peter wrote of in 1 Peter 4:8 to the church under great persecution: Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

I have long chewed on the concept of “love covers a multitude of sins”.  A genuine, personal, self-sacrificing love for your brothers & sisters in Christ overcomes/covers more sins than we can comprehend – just as Jesus’ perfect demonstration of this same kind of self-sacrificing love covered 100% of the sins of every person who would ever trust Jesus alone for Salvation – His sheep. We are called, time and again, to have and to demonstrate self-sacrificing love, beginning with our “brethren”.  It is this same love that drives a God-called pastor to fulfill the charge Paul had for Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2) to be ready in and out of season to REPROVE, REBUKE, EXHORT. Indeed, anyone claiming to be a pastor who is unwilling to reprove (put to the proof – point out error based on proof), rebuke – to boldly address, call out, to put/shut down errors, and to exhort – to call to action/correction – literally to plead with urgency for change. A pastor who loves his (Christ’s) people is willing to stand on Scripture and to take the steps necessary to correct those in error (sin, as well as doctirnal/theological errors).

And out of love for Christ and love for their brethren (including such a pastor), born-again church members should desire and even be glad to receive such correction with a right attitude.

Likewise – even a pastor with the best of intentions can make an error, and should have such a love that he can take correction with gladness.

Within the local church – genuine, intentional discipleship begins when members have this same self-sacrificing love tha they are willing to invest of themselves and their time to walk side-by-side with fellow believers to teach, lead, and help mature those believers.

It is the same kind of unselfish love that will draw together a local church as nothing else will – and will actually attract those around them who need to experience that same kind of love.

And it is this same love that will lead the born-again to regularly assemble together to worship God, to grow spriritually, and to edify their brethren – and lead you to not forsake the assembling together (Hebrews 10:25).

Which brings us full circle to the title verse – and the sobering reality penned by John under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 John – that we boil down as beign able to identify thsoe who are not abiding in life (Christ) by their lack of love for the brethren.

Do you love your fellow Christians? Does that love cover a “multitude of sins” – aka when they mess up, as humans do? Do you desire to be WITH Christians – beginning with the regular meetings for corporate worship as the local church, but also that you would spend a significant portion of your life with fellow chrisitans sacrificially giving to them of your time and self (disicpleship)? Does the church you are a member of have a pastor who loves you enough to be willing to deal with the real and hard issues and to reprove, rebuke, exhort the body to follow Scirpture?

Or do you abide in death?

A Burger King god

This post was originally posted by the author on his Old Blog and represents one of his favorite (and oldest) posts.

There is a “new” and destructive trend blowing through Christianity.  But in reality, this trend is nothing new.  The Apostle Paul wrote stern warnings, and Jesus Himself warned of this trend.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.(Galatians 1:8-9)

From the earliest days of Christianity – even when Jesus still walked the earth – there were already twisted “alternative” views of the gospel developing, even in the hearts of Christ’s own inner circle.  This trend really began to take off once the Gospel began to spread soon after the day of Pentecost.

I have said from the pulpit that the root of all of this is Satan and his use of the natural human nature towards pride and selfishness.  After all, Satan is described as being like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Which brings us to a quote I heard (and read) several years ago:

  Satan couldn’t beat the church, so he joined it.

The first time I heard that, I was speechless.  And then I began to open my eyes.  If God’s Word is unchanging.  If God HIMSELF is unchanging, then there can be only one correct understanding of scripture – thus only one true Gospel.

So how do we get to where we are today?  Simply by people, under the leadership of Satan (and I believe oftentimes these people are not even aware of it – they have also been deceived, to a point), have “joined” churches, have worked/manipulated themselves into positions to teach and eventually preach another gospel – all with the intent of helping themselves (fleshly/selfish desires), and Satan in “devouring” those they can deceive.

Somehow today, we have, just in the mainstream “versions” of Christianity (denominations).  This chart is in no particular order, except the first column being the biblical statement:

chart

All claim to be “right” in regards to who Jesus is – who God is – and what the gospel is.  But can these be all correct?
Let us return to Paul’s warning in Galatians – if ANYONE – angel or human- preaches to you a gospel different from the one Paul and his ministry companions did – let them be “accursed” – run from them, do not tolerate them.
Jesus dictated a series of 7 letters in Revelation 2 & 3.  Five were subjected to serious condemnation and warnings – and the primary reason – false teachers.  Those who were teaching and preaching another gospel.  Whether it be “Judaizers” or “Jezebels”, they were leading people down the path of destruction – and those churches were to deal strongly with them – and not tolerate it one bit.
And this all comes from the selfish “belly” of people and Satan.
So where does the title of this post, “Burger King god” come from?  In each case – when the image or character of God is changed to the preferences of mankind, that is no longer God.  He becomes nothing more than a Whopper ordered “your way” at Burger King.
Just this morning, I saw a reply to a post regarding the young girl, Jahi McMath, who has been declared brain dead after an apparent serious reaction to anesthesia having a tonsillectomy.  This post reminded me of just how much of a “custom-made-to-order” god that is being preached in churches.
claimit

Where in scripture are we, as believers, given the authority to command God perform a miracle and raise someone from the dead (or to demand He do anything else?).  Nowhere.  Pray- yes.  Plead with God on behalf of others (intercessory prayer)?  Yes.  But the only god that is subject to human commands is a Burger King god – done YOUR way.

And we wonder why there are so many disillusioned professed “Christians” floating around in this world.  It’s because they were sold a bill of goods by those “enemies of the Cross of Jesus Christ” who told them that they could just “ask Jesus into their hearts” and he would make life easy, bless them financially, and they would be “heaven-bound” no matter what happened.

  • No repentance (a change of mind and heart regarding sin – an intentional TURNING FROM sin).
  • No God-transplanted heart of righteousness
  • No sincere sustaining faith
  • No real conviction of the Holy Spirit
  • Just have an experience and/or see “signs and wonders”
  • And god becomes your servant…
  • It is time for churches who have allowed false teachers to hijack them to repent!  It is time for Christians to repent!  It is time to get back to God’s Holy Word. It is time to stand up and call sin what it is – sin.  No situational ethics.  No ever-changing and “living” God’s Word that conforms to the times.
  • It is time to stand against those who proclaim a prosperity gospel.
  • It is time to stand against those who preach a gospel of liberation theology.
  • It is time to stand against those who would create their own Burger King god.

It is time to get back to the Word of God.  The same Word of God that says clearly that ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  The same Word of God that clearly states that the wages of sin – is death.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if you have decided you were “made that way” – sin, is sin.

It is time to get back to who God (in Jesus) really is – the perfect Lamb of God who came, not “to be a good teacher”, not even to heal and preach (though in His grace, He did).  Jesus came with one and only one purpose – to die in our place, pouring out His precious blood on the cross, that sinners might be saved from the wrath of God.  Yes – the very wrath that so many want to ignore or forget about.  Jesus died that we might live – eternally.  But that will never happen with a Burger King god.

Jesus didn’t die (and rise from the dead) so you can command Him to raise your loved one or friend from death.  Jesus didn’t die and rise from the dead so that you could have a fat bank account, a fine home, and all the luxuries this world has to offer.  Jesus died that sinners might stand before a Holy and Righteous God and be viewed in the righteousness of Christ, not our own unrighteousness.

And for those who are truly saved, born-again, in Christ Jesus, are made new creatures.  Put off the old self, for in Christ we are made new.  Read Colossians 3.

God is not who you, in the flesh, want Him to be.  God is God.

Who Is Jesus? (Deity of Christ) Part 5: Who Can Forgive but God?

Luke 5:20-21 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”  And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus clearly made many claims of His own Deity – see the previous installments of this series of posts. But we finally see an acknowledgement from even His opponents in the above passage. The Scribes and the Pharisees themselves knew that ONLY God had the authority of forgive sin. Yet here was Jesus, the lowly Carpenter from Galilee, son of Mary and Joseph – a man who was forgiving sins.

Under what authority did anyone have to forgive sins?  None – because sin, ultimately, is an offense to God almighty – the Sovereign of the Universe who is “Holy Holy Holy”. and here Jesus either is usurping the title and works of God (an act of blasphemy), or He was simply doing the very work of His Father which he repeatedly said He was doing (See John 6, for example).

And indeed, Christ’s one and only mission in His incarnation as God in the flesh – and that was to march head-long to the cross – to offer Himself as the only, perfect, and complete sacrifice for the payment in full of the sin debt of all who would believe.

At the most fundamental level – and the most important theological reality of all: God Himself paid the price for the very sins that separate mankind from Him.  A price that we could never pay ourselves. The price that the blood of millions of goats, rams, bulls, pigeons, doves, and so much more could never reconcile. It required the perfect, sinless blood of the Spotless Lamb of God – and He paid it all that we might live. No angel, no created being could ever be enough to settle the debt, but God Himself.

I Can Only Imagine – a Review

I just returned from an advanced screening of the new movie the latest film from the Erwin Brothers, also known for the movies Woodlawn and October Baby (the latter of which I truly enjoyed). I went as much curious about the movie’s billing as basically the back-story that led to the writing of the group Mercy Me’s breakout hit and now top-selling Christian single of all-time by the same name, as I went to attempt to discern if it was a movie I could recommend in good conscience. This is the review that resulted.

I Can Only Imagine begins in a studio with an interview of some sort of Bart Millard

jmichael

(played by J. Michael Finley in his screen debut)who is asked about the song I Can Only Imagine. He responds that it took all of about 10 minutes to write the lyrics and about the same to write the music. The interviewer then says that no – the song took a lifetime to write…

Finley does a really good job, not demonstrating the typical over-acting of an actor with a Broadway background – but actually giving a believable and heartfelt performance. Of special note – he really did sing in the film!

The interview mentioned above opens a scene in rural Texas and launches our storyline. One filled with drama, pain, and broken dreams, but also a story of redemption and forgiveness.

Normally, I am not terribly impressed when a movie presses the emotion side – and this gets particularly frustrating with many films marketed to evangelicals and billed as “Christian” – as these often drum up truckloads of emotion with a terribly formulaic “ask Jesus into your heart” easy-believism that actually cheapens what Christ accomplished on the cross.

Thankfully, the emotion in this film does not lead to a call to such a “prayer”, but instead is totally appropriate as it helps to tell the story. The gospel is implied, though not glaringly thrown into the mix.  The film doesn’t have a “Courageous“-like bold challenge to a decision, yet at the same time is quite challenging – and does convict, resulting in some deep thoughts of our own relationships that need forgiveness and restoration.

There is a secondary storyline of a long-time (from childhood) love, yet even this is only a decoration on the bigger picture, that only serves to reinforce the underlying themes of the film

Of particular pleasure is learning the back-story of this song.  It is a pleasure, yet simultaneously is the main need for a box of tissue!

I was a bit concerned when I saw Priscilla Shirer’s name in the opening credits, as she always sends up red caution flags for me – I’m not sure if it is her popular efforts to be a “pastor” to the masses, or her dangerous mystic/borderline heretical beliefs she sells to sold-out audiences (contemplative prayer being one of the most obvious, but also the related belief that God is still audibly, verbally, giving new revelation today), or maybe it is her proclivity to twist Scripture way out of shape to make it fit her own dangerous theology. But whatever the reason, my “shields” were up, but I took them down somewhat when I realized that her role in the move was a rather minor role, and not one that contributes any real theological material. She is simply a music teacher in a high school, and appears all of a couple of minutes.

dennis.jpg

One surprise for me, cast wise, was Dennis Quaid who plays Bart’s father.
Quaid actually nearly steals the show with what is probably one of his best acting performances of his lifetime.

 

If I did have to pick something out to complain about, it would be the tidal wave of materials for sale based on or tied to this film. It always concerns me when there is a ton of merchandise (and profit being sought by it) along with a movie that otherwise has positional to be a real life-changer for many. Some will complain that the gospel is not presented boldly enough, or clearly enough. If someone (or a church) thinks that using any film alone as an evangelism tool is sufficient, they are already approaching the call to make disciples the wrong way!  Look at this movie first as an encouraging film, good entertainment, and a message of the need for restoration and forgiveness – and as a solid film that many outside of evangelical christianity likely would be interested in. Go to enjoy knowing the back-story to this popular song. Take a friend because they need to heard the same message – and maybe it will open the door to you filling in the rest of the details of the Gospel.

“The redemption story is great-if the Gospel could change that dude, the Gospel can change anybody!”

~Bart Millard, Mercy Me

If you are looking for a story of redemption and forgiveness – and already love the song I Can Only Imagine, then this movie would be one to add to your schedule. I am seriously thinking about organizing a group from church to go see it.

Here is a link to the trailer for the film: I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine opens March 16, 2018

The Blame Game, Agendas, and Reality

After a troubled night of sleep, much prayer, and time in God’s Word, I am still struggling with the events yesterday Sutherland Springs, Texas. I’m struggling with what could drive a person to commit such a horrific act. I struggle with my own family and their safety – especially after the news that the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (who was out of town) lost his daughter in this mass murder.

And then I turned on the news this morning. Sadly, after recent programming change in our service, the only news network we have right now is CNN – so that definitely slants the reports coming out. And not surprisingly, the talking heads are already speculating and laying blame in every direction except on the real root issue in this case.  Indeed, it doesn’t take a degree in psychology, law enforcement, or in criminal investigation to know the real cause, but I will address that later in this post.

Of course, the first blame is being “aimed” at guns. Those evil guns, along with the wild and clueless rush to identify specific kinds of guns.  CNN’s anchor used the identification “AR556” – later to discover it was apparently the Ruger version of the popular AR-15 sporting rifle. Later reports say that he had a Glock handgun and some other .22 caliber handgun in the vehicle he was in.

Within hours of the shooting, the former President tweeted a mostly good tweet, but had to insert his own political agenda into the atmosphereobamatweet.png

I’m all about reducing violence, but not by capitalizing on the grieving hearts of people who have lost entire families. But the very last part is rather ironic in this snappy attempt to use this tragedy for political gain is the bit about wisdom to reduce “weaponry in our midst”.   Why do I call this ironic? It now appears that this shooting was stopped by the neighbor who lives across the street from this church – who pulled his own AR-15 firearm to engage the church shooter. It was the very kind of firearm so hated by the political Left that was used to STOP this attack.

Guns are not the problem.  Research, documentation, and statistics all verify that. Indeed, additional laws do nothing but take away firearms from the very kind of guy who stopped this mass murderer.  And I’m going to really stir the pot: no-one has ever been killed BY a gun of any kind!  Many people over the history of firearms have been killed WITH a firearm. Guns are tools – tools for sporting purposes, tools for recreation, tools for hunting, and tools for self-defense (as well as defense of our nation from tyranny – as our Founding Fathers indicated – the primary background to the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution).  Mankind has always had the proclivity to kill, using whatever tool or method is available. It is a problem that has existed nearly as long as mankind has walked the earth (see Cain slaying his brother Abel). But again – this is a hint to the real cause…

Gun laws? The shooter in Texas purchased several firearms, despite a military criminal history and apparent dishonorable discharge that SHOULD have prevented him purchasing said firearms. The Pentagon/Air Force apparently hasn’t or doesn’t reported military crimes and convictions to the NCIS system. Laws not followed don’t help.

But some of the laws being proposed – would have disarmed the guy who is now being hailed as a hero for confronting the shooter with his own weapon.

Do we blame beer for drunk drivers? There were drunk drivers when the USA had prohibition. Indeed, it is speculated that alcohol abuse actually increased under prohibition! No – drunk drivers kill – because they made a series of bad decisions that included the alcohol.

There are many now pointing to mental health failures and the possibility of anti-psychotic drugs that have become so prevalent, though there are no indications of a diagnosed mental disorder in this case. Indeed, even if there was a diagnosis for the shooter, contrary to popular opinion, mental disorders still do not address the actual cause.  Mental disorders don’t kill people, people kill people. Anti-psychotic drugs do indeed play “Russian Roulette” with brain chemistry – and are also probably over-used. Has anyone really taken an honest look at the INCREASE in violent crime, including these mass casualty attacks and the vast expansion of the use of these drugs to “treat” the perpetrators? A quick scan of previous cases show a terrifying number of shooters who used or had used these chemicals. But again – drugs don’t kill, but they might open the channels for what is inside to emerge and carry out what one might not normally do.

No – laws, and rules will not make us safer. Additional restrictions to Constitutional rights for law-abiding citizens is counter-productive. All the pontificating on mental health seems to only lead to more excuses for tragic behavior. We must address the core issue at hand.  These acts are carried out by people who have a heart of sin. A heart that is evil. A heart that is not filled by the Holy Spirit. Humanity stands condemned because we all are sinners. But when one still has their heart of stone that comes with the natural man, you tend to do what the natural, unregenerate do – and that is sin, including beating your wife and child (as the shooter in this case was convicted of while in the Air Force). An unregenerate heart  leaves open the door to seeking out others to commit harm to other people.  A sin-filled, evil heart, refuses to see the value in human lives. A broken, twisted, unregenerate heart isn’t changed by anti-depressants or anti-psychotic drugs.  The only cure for the kind of heart that we all begin life with – is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I will not deny that there are cases where some people have chemical disorders in the brain that CAN be aided by some medications – but without the Gospel, they still have the sin-filled, violence-prone heart.  Why is it that the most successful drug treatment programs and criminal rehabilitation efforts all are founded on faith-based, Christ-centered efforts that begin with the Gospel, then deal with the other issues.

And the ultimate “fix” for all the evil that is so pervasive in our world is the same: Jesus.  The Gospel is God’s answer. I pray daily for a great spiritual awakening to seep our nation – beginning with hearts being regenerated and drawn to Christ. But if that isn’t to be, then I pray for the return of Christ as was promised. when Jesus comes, guns, drugs, and other things will no longer even figure in to the situation. All things will be made new –

But as a side-note.  I have heard several things that have been encouraging in this otherwise horrific and dark event. First is the neighbor of the church who picked up his AR-15 and engaged the shooter at the church, apparently wounding him and causing him to drop his rifle and flee. Add to that, another driver picked up this neighbor to give chase and keep law enforcement eyes until they could arrive.

I was also encouraged by the family members of victims in the church who spoke boldly of faith, of turning it all over to Christ -and the need to cling to Jesus in all of this.

 

Who Is Jesus (Deity of Christ) Part 3: Seeking the the Real Jesus – My Lord, My God!

 I cannot help but be blown away by the words of “doubting” Thomas in his confession of faith found in John 20:28 – “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas didn’t just express Jesus’ position above him (“Lord” – κύριος – literally “supreme authority”), but he also called Jesus God (θεός – Deity/Supreme Divinity).
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian church a description of Jesus that doesn’t mince words: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”Colossians 2:9. Paul made qualms that he saw Jesus as, quite literally – God.
 
Further, in answering questions about Jesus – and the highly irregular claims that Jesus was God – Paul wrote to the Philippians:
 

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Equality with God? But there is only one God, correct?
The writer of Hebrews recorded something extremely interesting:
Hebrews 1:8  But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.” (A direct quote from Psalm 45:6)
If we were to ignore the first phrase, this verse would not be controversial – yet the writer specifically wrote “But of the Son (that’s Jesus), he says…” OF Jesus. The writer directly calls the Son… God.
To label anyone, other than God Almighty, as “God” would be blasphemy. So our conclusion must bend to what the inspired biblical writers penned.
Installment #4 will come next week – “Who is to be worshiped but God alone?”

Glorious Day, Yet Grieving…

Today will go down in history, at least in my own little world, as a radical rollercoaster. We had an incredible day at First Baptist Church, Cave Springs today, including the addition of a new church member and a discussion with another couple who expressed their intent to join next week.

We had a fabulous lunch fellowship and then the crowning time of the day – the ordination of my brother in Christ, friend, and servant-minded man Roger Meredith to the deacon ministry (my first such service to lead). It all was quite wonderful!  Yet while all of this was unfolding in our little neck of the woods, in Sutherland Springs, Texas – a young man, Devin Kelley carried out a horrific and apparently planned attack on the First Baptist Church in that small community.  A church with just over 100 members, and an average Sunday attendance around 50…  Reports so far are that at least 27 are dead and possibly 20 others wounded/injured.  The victims at this point range as young as 5 years old.  And particularly heartbreaking for me – the pastor’s daughter, Annabelle, only 14 years old, was among those murdered. In fact, this particular detail is the one that kicked me in the stomach the hardest – bringing this story FAR too close to home…

At the same time – while I grieve for Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife as they have to struggle to come to grips with the loss of their youngest daughter – maybe this extremely ugly, evil, and sad event serves as a bit of an illustration. You see – this morning, preached a message from Luke 9:57-62 titled “No Excuse Faith” (should be posted on the church Facebook page in the next 24 hours or so). The basic message in a nutshell – Jesus wants followers who have a a No Excuse Faith – who step up and follow Him TODAY- because we really don’t know what tomorrow may hold – or even if we will HAVE a tomorrow.  It shadows Paul’s statement to the Corinthians that “TODAY is the day of salvation!”

How many who were gathered together for worship with FBC Sutherland Springs had a clue that today would be their last? How many put off decisions the Lord had been leading them towards? How many went to their grave having shrugged off the conviction of the Spirit?  How many had a conflict with a brother or sister in Christ – that they carried to the grave because they thought they would deal with reconciliation “tomorrow”?

How many of the young victims among them didn’t hear their mom or day tell them they loved them this morning? How many forgot to tell their spouses how much they loved them? Who among them possibly put off turning to Jesus until a “tomorrow” that, for them, won’t come?

The reality is – today is the day to take a step of faith to follow Christ with everything you have in you – to trust in Him, because you may never find  another opportunity.

The same goes for our loved ones – have you hugged your wife/husband’s neck and simply told them “I love you”? Do you sometimes skip telling your kids the same? Take the opportunity you have right now to tell those you love just how much you do!

Stop making excuses – make the most of today, because we are not guaranteed a tomorrow. It’s a shame we sometimes have to be reminded by such shocking events.

Make a difference today!

Who Is Jesus (Deity of Christ) Part 2 Who Is I Am?

Originally published by the author on his old blog.

Part 2: Who is “I AM?”

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:18

I often hear said that “Jesus never claimed to be God”. While in a very limited and literal sense, Jesus didn’t use that exact phrase to describe Himself, between the above actions that the Jews were complaining of were understood in their time and context as laying claims to being “equal” with God – Yet there is non other. There is none like God.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he* you will die in your sins.” John 8:24

(*of note – in the original language, there is no personal pronoun “he” there. Rendering literally “believe that I am”.)

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58

Compare this direct statement by Jesus to Exodus 3:14

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’.”

Or in John 10:30-33, when Jesus said “I and the Father are one”, The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?”
The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
 
To lay any claim to being God or equal TO God would be a brazen sin – Yet Jesus is commended for the claim.
Jesus identified Himself with the name/title of “I Am”, which is one of the most powerful names God revealed of Himself.

Who Is Jesus (The Deity of Christ) Part 1

Originally published on the author’s old blog.
Among the great theological debates that rage regarding Jesus and who He is, the greatest is whether or not Jesus IS God. There are some who would profess Jesus to be something less than fully God. They claim faith, yet in “who” are they believing? This short piece is designed simply to answer this incredible question – “Is Jesus God?” Further, to briefly answer the question of “why is this so important?”
 
Simply put, only the pure, holy, and completely uncorrupted by sin blood could possibly atone for sin. The blood of countless animals and birds never paid the sin debt for Israel. Only the pure, spotless Lamb could pay that sin debt.
And who but God is totally pure and righteous?
 
To that end, I am going to post a series of entries that deal with Scripture passages that, when taken all together, present a beautiful picture of the real Jesus, who is fully God.
Some say that Jesus never claimed to be God. Others rely on creative translation of selected verses to shore up their claim that Jesus is not God (or Yahweh/Jehovah). Yet a simple review of the Bible reveals a pattern that cannot be dismissed, a pattern that clearly makes the case for Jesus Christ as God.
 
Over the next few days, I plan to post a series of passages and a bit of comment on each in an effort to stitch together the greater picture of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who IS the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is worthy of all praise and worship. My challenge to the reader – read them, ponder on them, and pray about it, particularly as you accumulate these passages, who is Jesus?
 
We begin with one of the most clear, yet still controversial passages pointing to the deity of Jesus Christ.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Now, some like to move the comma, or add the word “a” based on the lack of a “definite article”, yet the original language gives NO convincing reason to do either. In fact, there are several examples elsewhere that do not create controversy where there is a lack of a definite article. Yet the preponderance of Christian history and understanding agrees that the reference to “the Word” is a reference to Jesus as having the same quality as God the Father.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:3

What we see here, is that the reference back to “The Word” here is clearly identifying Jesus as the Creator of all, which in the Old Testament is 100% identified as God/Jehovah.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:3

And to further reinforce this idea, let us thing a bit about one of the most powerful names God used in the Old Testament to reveal Himself – “I Am”. This will be the subject of Episode 2 in this series.