May 27, 2016

Go For It All!

In the last post I mentioned about baptism – that if you have not been baptized that you should inquire about that with the pastor of the local parish church you begin attending. Baptism is a very important part of faith in God. Baptism is practiced by every Christian group or denomination – at least I have never heard of one that doesn’t practice baptism. That in and of itself speaks of its importance.
The Bible speaks of two kinds of “baptism.” The first kind is water baptism, and the second is Spirit baptism, or baptism in or by Holy Spirit. The type I am addressing now is water baptism.
Baptism is important because the Bible points to it as being important. Jesus Himself told His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Mt. 28:19, emphasis added) The Apostle Peter in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost (50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus) in response to the crowd’s question “What shall we do?” told them “Repent and be baptized every one of you…” (Acts 2:38, emphasis added)
I was once in a small group Bible study years ago in which there was a man who had a relative who claimed he did not need to be baptized – that he was saved by faith in Jesus, so his actions in the body were irrelevant. Well… not so much. What that man’s relative was doing was understanding faith as merely an intellectual acceptance of some information. Acting on that information, according to his thinking, would add nothing, so therefore nothing need be done. However that way of thinking does not mix with the Bible’s teaching.
Believing in Jesus – having faith in Jesus – will be seen by people by what we do, not merely by what we say. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Obedience is an expression of love, and love is what we feel and want to express for all that Jesus has done for us. The Apostle Paul writes, “We love because he [God] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Also, Peter went on in the verse quoted above to say, “…be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It is through our response of faith in God that we come to water baptism, and there God does more for our benefit. He takes up residence within us by His Spirit, and it is His righteous presence within us that is the cleansing power to separate us from our sin. In the Bible’s words, we are forgiven. But if we don’t come to the waters of baptism, we are showing that we are not trusting God, trusting Jesus, and we are still wanting to do things “our way” instead of God’s way. That attitude is, in essence, the definition of sin. It is the thing that brought sin into God’s creation when Adam & Eve did things their way instead of God’s way.
Now, if you were baptized as an infant or young child, even if you don’t remember anything about your baptism, you do not need to be baptized again. You see, in baptism, God is the primary actor, not so much you or me – us. God does act in response to us in the baptism, but our action is not the main focus – God is. In the case of infant/young child’s baptism, the parents and God-parents come in their faith in God, bringing their child into the covenant community by faith. I’ll go more into this in a later post, but suffice it to say, if you were baptized as youngster, and now have come to a living faith in Jesus Christ, you do not need to be baptized again. Let just say this much more about it – for us to say baptism is needed again is to say that God did not do it right in the first place (since He is the primary actor in this drama of grace).
Notice how it is phrased in what Peter said, “…you will receive…” That is passive, not active. You do not “go get” but you just receive. Again, that shows that God is the primary actor here, not the one being baptized. So you can rest assured that God did it right the first time.
If you are willing, I’d love to receive a picture of you being baptized, or being accepted into the fellowship of the local congregation you join. Please email them to me at solidrockfl@gmail.com.
More to come next blog. To God be the glory!

May 12, 2016

Settle In…

Last post I began to write about the Christian life being more like a marathon than a sprint. You began your “race” by telling at least one friend that you have committed your life to Jesus Christ – you received Him as Lord and Savior – and you are now seeking to follow Him in all of life’s parts.
Now we can settle in to the longer “body” of the race. Again the Apostle Paul writes that we need to be transformed and that happens by the renewing of our mind. (Romans 12:1-2) The renewal of the mind leads to new actions too.
Read Bible
If you have started reading the Bible, and you are getting a good bit out of it with what you are reading, then continue on with what you have been reading. But if you aren’t sure where to begin, may I suggest you begin with reading the Gospel of John. The first four books of the New Testament are the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are named after their authors. John was written to folks that did not have a Jewish background and upbringing and is perhaps the best choice to begin with for folks without a Jewish background. John records things in a way that helps us to “see” past just the physical universe and on into “eternity” so to speak, and how Jesus is the primary player in all of that.
If you have a Jewish background, then beginning with the Gospel Matthew may be a more appropriate place to start, especially if you personally place a good deal of emphasis in your spiritual life to your Jewish traditions and lineage.
Regardless, continue reading your Bible at least a little bit every day. Don’t rush through reading the Bible. This is where the race analogy is not helpful. Let God “speak” to you from the pages of the Bible. He will. “Listen” closely. Ponder and meditate on the different metaphors it uses and the topics it addresses. You have already begun to think on these things when we spoke of “receiving” Jesus and “believing” in Him. Try to grasp the flow of thought by the author. And if the version of the Bible you are reading from has footnotes and/or section headings, try ignoring them for now. They are not part of the original text when the books of the Bible were written. Those section headings may be helpful, and maybe not. So just ignore them for now. And the same thing goes for chapter divisions. Some are very good, but some make us cut off some important material in our thinking that is part of the flow of thought the author was sharing in the previous chapter(s). You’ll get better at this the more you read the Bible. That’s like the athlete gets better at his/her sport the more they practice and compete.
One other thing I’ll include for this post as you read your Bible. Take notice if the writer shares 1) a promise from God to “receive” and “live into”; 2) an activity or way of thinking that is presented in such a way that we should embrace that activity or thinking and make it part of who we are; make it part of our lives; and 3) an activity or way of thinking that is presented in such a way that we should REMOVE it from our lives and NOT engage in those activities or ways of thinking. As mentioned in a previous post, the Bible calls that “repentance.” We change our minds, and that leads to us changing our actions. No change in actions indicates we did not change our mind. That in turn reveals that we have not really repented, even though we may say we have.
To give a brief example of this way of reading your Bible, when I was first being drawn to God, I went to church every Sunday. In the Anglican tradition then, and it is still this way in some places, I heard four very brief passages of the Bible said every week. One of those is from Matthew 11:28 that read “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heaven laden, and I will refresh you.” I remember thinking, “I don’t know how to come to You Jesus. Please teach me and I’ll try my best.” There was something I hadn’t been doing – other than just going to church – but I knew I needed to change that.
So… did you actually tell someone of your receiving Jesus Christ at your Lord and Savior? If not, try really hard to get that done soon. Acts 1:8 records Jesus as saying, “…you will be my witnesses…” so the question is, will we be a good witness or a bad witness. He saved you and me from an eternity in hell – I’m sure we all want to be good witnesses.
And have you found a church to maybe get involved with? I know that will take some time to get to know them and see how they handle the Bible. If you have found one you think may be good, talk to the pastor about membership, and if you have never been baptized, ask about that too. I’ll cover more on that in a future blog. (Maybe the next one!)
God bless you in your continuing walk in your new life in Christ. To God be the glory!

May 2, 2016

Et vous pret, Partez

I heard these words after I learned to row competitively in college many moons ago. They sound like “et vu (with the long “u” sound, but no vowel sound as in “view”) pray… partay.” They continue to have significance in my life, though I rarely hear them, and more rarely use them. They are French (I understand, because I have never taken any French lessons whatsoever!) and I was told they mean, “Are you ready?… Leave!” These are the words used to start a rowing race.
Well, now that you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are “out of the starting blocks” as the saying goes, and you have begun the race. Yes, what you have done can be compared to a race. The Apostle Paul, one of the major writers of the New Testament compared his life, and thereby the Christian life, to a race. But as has been said many times by many people, it’s not a sprint, but a marathon.
My daughter runs marathons and she tells me the marathoner will often begin a race a bit differently than the other parts of the race. That sort of thinking can be applied in lots of areas of life. She says she has heard, if I remember correctly, that most – maybe all (?) – of the marathon world records are set by those who do not start out running at a fast pace, but by those who begin their race at a less-than-race pace. Then towards the end of the marathon, they begin to really pick up the pace so that the last – what… four miles, six miles, or more – give it all they can. But one needs to remember the goal is to cross the finish line, not just completely exhaust yourself, but fall short of the finish line. So she starts her race for the first mile or so at a “comfortable” pace to get into the flow and the mindset of actually racing. Then she picks up the pace for few miles and then later still begins to pick it up more with a higher than average race pace until about the 20 mile mark or so. Then about then the “pushing the personal envelope” mindset is engaged and the body really begins to get tested.
In my rowing competitions, we would have a set of strokes to initially get the racing shell moving – like 3 to 5 strokes that were partial strokes, like half and three quarter length strokes at full power, then we would have a set of 20 or so strokes to really put in as much power as we could at full stroke length at a higher rate of rowing. Then we would transition into a lower stroke rate and power we could maintain for much of the race. We would finish the race with an all out, highest rate possible to maintain and at full power (whatever might be left by then) until we cross the finish line.
The Christian life will sometimes be similar to a race start. It does depend on the person though, as well as what God may want to do in your life. But do keep in mind the Christian life is more like a marathon than a sprint at the beginning. So think about the marathon beginning of not starting at full power, race pace, compared to the rowing start I described.
Witness
Something that could correlate in the Christian life to a race start could be something like telling a number of people of your decision. That number should be at least 1! But preferably it should be a few, or maybe many. Don’t worry about the other things to come later. The more people you tell early on in your Christian walk, then the easier it will be from then on. It gives you a great “boost” out of the starting gate for you. Jesus said that we will be His witnesses (see Acts [that’s short for “The Acts of the Apostles”] 1:8 [that means chapter 1, and verse 8] in the Bible), so the only question is whether we’ll be a good witness or a bad one. I’m confident you will want to be a good one.
So write down a list of names of relatives, friends, co-workers or co-students you think it would be good to tell. Do that now… I’ll wait while you make the list… [key the background music]
OK – have your list? I hope so. If not, go back and finish just writing your list.
Now pick one name from your list and give that person a call and tell them what you did – that you gave your life to Jesus Christ and you received Him as your Lord and Savior. If they ask why, you can share your answer, but also if you’re not quite ready to do that, direct them to this blog and “The Greatest Question” blog post. That may be just what they need – your sharing of your decision – to think about eternity and to be ready.
You’re in the race! Good for you!
Don’t forget… call at least one person and them what you have done. That’s it! If they ask questions, fine. Answer them the best you can. If they don’t respond much at all, that’s fine too.
And read your Bible at least a little bit every day.
And if you have questions, I’ll be glad to try and answer them in my blog. Just leave them as a comment. All comments are moderated before being posted to the web. And needless to say, we won’t allow vulgar, obscene, etc. types of posts to be posted. But we want your honest and sincere questions and comments.
And remember what we most likely were told in school… there are no stupid questions.
I look forward to hearing from you, and God bless you in your walk with God.
To God be the glory!