Always Biblical, Sometimes

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Caught part of a message on the radio by a local pastor of a large Baptist church. His overall message was easy to accept, even by a Lutheran like me: you’re dead religion won’t save you.

Unfortunately the pastor includes infant baptism among the dead religious works that will not save. In making his case he states:

“There is not one instance in the Bible of any baby being baptized … the Bible doesn’t teach baby baptism, it teaches believers baptism.”

This pastor sees baptism as a physical sign of an inward spiritual reality. It’s “a sign you’ve trusted in Jesus as your Savior … a way of showing that you belong to Him.” For this pastor, baptism is something you do to show you’re a Christian.

I once held this view of baptism, but I’ve since come to a different understanding of what the Bible says about baptism. But that’s not really what caught my attention in the radio broadcast.

What caught my attention was how many times the pastor claimed that since infant baptism isn’t biblical, we should not baptize babies. Because of course, if it’s not biblical, we ought not do it.

Yet at the end when he invites his audience to say yes to Jesus, he tells the story of a man who said yes to Jesus when he “prayed the prayer of salvation and asked God to change his life.” Perhaps you too want to pray the prayer of salvation and are wondering just where to find that prayer. One place you won’t find that prayer is in the Bible.

There is not one instance in the Bible of anyone praying “the prayer of salvation.” The Bible doesn’t teach “the prayer of salvation”, it teaches baptism.

If you look it up you’ll find that though the prayer of salvation isn’t found in the Bible, there’s a pretty common understanding of just what is meant by  “the prayer of salvation” or “sinners prayer”. It’s a prayer written by well meaning people who claim to be biblical. Yet when it comes time to answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” give a response not found in the Bible.

So to claim you don’t baptize infants because it’s not biblical but then to turn around and call people to trust in Christ by praying the prayer of salvation that is not biblical is a bit inconsistent. Because this pastor separates the water from the Word in baptism, I don’t expect him to baptize babies anytime soon, but I do expect him as a teacher of God’s Word, to give more biblical answers to those seeking forgiveness in Christ.

Ananias, after announcing the good news to Saul, said this in Acts 22:16:

“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’”

Now that’s biblical!

By the way, I don’t get too worked up over how people express faith to trust in Christ, but when you claim you’re biblical, well, I’m just saying go all the way and be biblical!

Two Questions to Ask Yourself

“Effective time- and self-managers are asking themselves two questions, moment by moment. Those Two Questions are “Am I having fun right now?” and “Is this what I’ve set out to do”? If I’m doing what I’m here to do, experiencing what is mine to experience, I’ll be motivated and focused and engaged. And everybody around me will benefit from that, too.”

So says Dr. David D. Nowell. You can read the full article here where he discusses the various combinations of responses to the two questions. I put together the following chart based on the article:Two Questions Matrix

Some observations:

Procrastination comes from asking only the first question.

When you answer Yes/No, stop and refocus. You’re enjoying what you’re doing, but you won’t enjoy the price you pay for staying here too long.

Living in the Yes/No quadrant will eventually land you in the No/No quadrant. At some point the pain of avoiding life will become great enough that previously enjoyable activities will lose their fun as you face the consequences of your choices.

A lot of pain is avoided by accepting that the No/Yes quadrant is a part life in a fallen world. There’s just stuff that needs to be done that you may never enjoy. The key here, as Dr. Nowell points out, is focusing on the reward. You may hate doing your taxes, but you can look forward to fulfilling your duty as a citizen, not landing in jail, and celebrating once the taxes are finished for another year.

Pay attention to the Yes/Yes quadrant. This is where long term motivation comes much easier. If you can get paid to do things in your Yes/Yes quadrant, you’ll find a lot of satisfaction in work.

You may be surprised to learn that your Yes/Yes activities are someone else’s No/Yes activities. We’re different, which is good, since the world wouldn’t work so well if we all loved the same activities.

 

 

Black Lives Matter Too

The police shootings in downtown Dallas occurred a mere 30 miles from our home, and yet in some ways they took place in another world at least as far away as Baton Rouge or Minneapolis. There will be a time for serious engagement and debate on justice, the accountability of police, gun control, racism, and whether a just society can be sustained when the rule of law, morals, and accountability have been rejected. But that time is not today. Rather than using these tragedies to further our own agenda I suggest we pause and reflect. The articles below don’t say all that needs to be said, but for me, living in suburbia, they are a good place to start.

How To Respond?

In the face of injustice it can be difficult to know how to respond. This article at least tells us where to start. I like the call to set aside for a time “critique and disagreements, fact-seeking and fault-finding.”

Walking While Black

You’ve been raised in the suburbs which means you go to great schools and live in safe neighborhoods. You’re typically not burdened with adult responsibilities. But the suburbs lack diversity – you don’t get a full picture of life in America or the world. Be grateful for the blessings you’ve been given and at the same time recognize not everyone shares your experience. This article tells what it’s like walking the streets as a black man in America:

Black Lives Matter Too

This article was written previous to the events of this week. It compares the Black Lives Matter movement with the Civil Rights Movement. This alone was very helpful: “Black Lives Matter does not mean “black lives matter only.” It means “black lives matter too.”

A Confession

I relate to this confession by political commentator Matt Lewis (the page has a lot of gross ads, so I copy it here for you):

In the era of Facebook Live and smart phones, it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than the fact that police brutality toward African-Americans is a pervasive problem that has been going on for generations. Seriously, absent video proof, how many innocent African-Americans have been beaten or killed over the last hundred years by the police—with little or no media coverage or scrutiny?

There’s no telling the damage this has done to us collectively, not to mention the specific families and individuals that were victimized. And, of course, the long-term psychic damage transcends the physical. All sorts of negative externalities can be expected of someone who rightly feels he’s living under an occupying army.

I was brought up to reflexively believe the police. To give them the benefit of the doubt. This was before everyone had a camera—and before my own personal experience would demonstrate to me that not all cops are heroes (though some certainly are). It was also before I became a dad and could appreciate the fear that many African-American parents have regarding their children’s interactions with police. (Note: I’m writing this the morning after five innocent police officers were murdered in Dallas. It goes without saying that this violence should be vigorously condemned.)

This default assumption that the police officer was always right is, I’m sure, what a lot of well-meaning and decent middle class white people were raised to believe. Sure, there were incidents of police abuse, we were told, but those were very rare—and mostly happened in the Deep South. If you had to take someone’s word, you would always go with a police officer over the word of some random citizen (and, let’s be honest, for many Americans, this was especially true if that citizen was a minority).

It’s important to note that I’m not talking about overt racists here. Many of the white Americans who reflexively trusted cops would never personally discriminate against someone, nor would they use a racist slur. But they have outsourced their concerns about crime to the authorities, and part of the deal is that you don’t micromanage this work. It is understood that you may have to crack some eggs to make an omelette. And this was fine so long as they had plausible deniability.

Those days are gone. Decent Americans cannot turn a blind eye to police abuse; they just didn’t really believe the it was happening. Or maybe they didn’t want to believe. Today, there is literally no excuse to be ignorant of the problem.

It would be hard to overestimate the impact that smart phone cameras have had on forcing us to grapple with the fact that this is, in fact, a very real (and all-too-common) problem. The streaming video of the aftermath of the killing of Philando Castile appears to be the latest tragic example. (Note: We still don’t know exactly what happened, so I’m going to withhold judgment on this specific incident—but the video evidence we’ve all seen does not look good for the police.)

And if there’s any good to come from this horrible trend, it may be that the scales are coming off the eyes of a lot of well meaning, if naive, white Americans. My hope is that this will change public opinion to the point that we can change public policy.

This is why—though it’s not a panacea—if there’s one action item that we can probably all agree on, it’s mandatory police body cameras that monitor and record all interactions with the public. It’s in the best interest of our many responsible and professional police officers, as well as the public interest. This needs to happen.

Devotions – Ephesians 1:3-14

How are you?

We often reply “Good”, but that doesn’t even begin to describe it! I am in Christ, therefore I am rich, for I possess every spiritual blessing. I am chosen by God to be holy and blameless. I am covered in grace. I am redeemed. I am forgiven. My future is secure as I have an eternal inheritance which is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.

So, how am I? I am doing quite well, thank you!

The gospel of salvation announces to us: God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, even when we were dead in our sin, made us alive in Christ (by grace we are saved!). It’s all God’s grace – pure gift and not a result of our works. To be in Christ is simply to hear the message of truth, the gospel of salvation, as God’s promise of forgiveness for us, and to believe. 

When Conscience and the Law Conflict

Since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Kim Davis, County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, has refused to sign any marriage licenses as a matter of conscience. I’m conflicted about her stand. Al Mohler explains why:

There is no automatically right answer to these questions. Each can be rooted in Christian moral argument, and any one of these options might be argued as right under the circumstances.

Read the full article where Mohler provides helpful perspective in thinking through the issues involved:  http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/09/03/in-this-world-you-will-have-trouble-welcome-to-rowan-county/

 

From Mere Christianity to the Church

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I’m rereading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and once again I’m struck by his clear thinking and relevance for today. Lewis was known for promoting a “mere Christianity”. He believed he was called to speak to those outside the church about what made up basic Christianity rather than speak to the differences between churches (Lewis was an Anglican. There were some who wanted him to speak more about the differences he had with the Catholic church).

Because of this, many people mistakenly think Lewis was one who promoted a basic Christianity in which we do away with denominations and just focus on Jesus and the beliefs we have in common. Lewis actually thought it was important to move beyond mere Christianity and join a particular church. Here’s how he described it:

“I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions …. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.” (Mere Christianity, p. 11).
The hall is a fine place to enter the building, but to stay in the hall is to miss the heart of Christianity lived out in a particular community called the church.

My Changed View of Baptism

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For most of my believing life I believed baptism was only for believers – those who could give credible confession of their faith in Christ alone as their Lord and Savior. If you were baptized as an infant you needed to be baptized, not again, since your first baptism wasn’t a real baptism, but for the first time and with a testimony of how you have now decided to place your trust in Christ for your salvation.

I now believe baptism is for everyone – for adults and children, infants and the mentally disabled (who may not be able to understand or communicate a faith in Christ.) The Bible says a lot about baptism, far more than many realize. It’s a big deal. But your view of baptism is usually driven by your view of the gospel, sin nature, and how forgiveness is received.

One way to get at your view of baptism is to ask, “What happens in baptism?” I used to believe not much happens:

  • You get wet

  • You raise your Christian flag – you publicly identify yourself as a Christian

  • In some cases, you identify yourself with a church

  • You give public testimony to your faith in Christ

In this view, baptism is important, but for a new believer not more important than reading your Bible, finding a church, joining a small group, and meeting with someone for ‘follow up’. Baptism can be scheduled for a later time. This makes sense because nothing really happens in baptism. Baptism is a sign of something that has already happened (you’ve become a Christian).

In this view, you are the primary actor: you decide, identify, testify, and announce your faith in Christ.

I now believe everything happens in baptism:

  • God calls you by name – baptism is for you in particular.

  • God claims you as His own. You are made a child of God.

  • God delivers to you the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won at the cross.

  • God unites you to Christ.

  • God puts to death (drowns) your old sinful nature and raises you up to new life in Christ.

  • God gives you the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in faith and empower you for service.

In this view, baptism is of utmost importance. Baptism is the means by which God delivers His gifts to you. As such, when someone turns to Christ in the New Testament, they are immediately baptized (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 16:31-33; 18:8).

In this view, God is the primary actor: calling, claiming, delivering, putting to death, raising up, and giving. This the gospel of grace: God gives you what you don’t deserve, God gives you what you cannot get on your own. Some key texts: Romans 6:1-11; Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 3:4-7; I Peter 3:21.

If man is the primary actor in his salvation, it makes sense to withhold baptism until he has the mental capabilities of understanding the gospel and making a decision to trust the gospel. If God is the primary actor, then it makes sense that a baby can receive all the benefits of salvation, because they are not dependent on the baby understanding and deciding, but on God delivering and acting.

Those who do not believe in infant baptism believe that all that I listed – being forgiven, united with Christ, etc. takes place, but it takes place before baptism based upon an inner faith that might be expressed in praying a prayer or walking the aisle, etc. I don’t disagree that this happens, but you will be hard pressed to find New Testament support for this being the way God has promised to work. God repeatedly attaches his promises to baptism.

I don’t believe baptism operates apart from God’s Word. It’s God’s Word combined with the waters of baptism that accomplishes such great work. Water without the Word is just plain water. Water with the Word delivers forgiveness and new life. God’s work isn’t limited to baptism, but it’s one place He has assured us He will work.

Matthew 28:19-20 is helpful in seeing the role of baptism.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Some take this verse as evidence that baptism is only for those who can express their faith. They say, “First we go and make disciples (converts) then we baptize (as a sign they have identified themselves with Christ), and then we teach them to live as disciples.” In this interpretation, the sentence has four sequential commands: 1) Go, 2) Make disciples, 3) Baptize, and 4) Teach.

This view is not supported by the grammar. The grammar indicates one command with three participles explaining how we are to carry out the command. So you have make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching. Notice baptism precedes teaching. The way we make a disciple (convert is not a good interpretation of ‘make disciples’ but that’s for another day) is by baptizing and teaching. I certainly allow for faith coming through the Word and converting an adult who would then be baptized. But I also would allow for an infant to first be baptized and then taught. These verses offer baptism to all.

Your view of original sin and faith will also shape your view of baptism. I’ll tackle those issues in another post. For now I rest in the assurance that in my baptism the Lord has called my by name and made me His own apart from anything I have done.

 

Praying to Myself

Talking to Self

I talk to myself, a lot. Sometimes out loud, which entertains those around me, but most often silently, within the confines of my own mind.

My internal monologue runs pretty constant and ranges from the mundane – “Should I run by the store now or will it be less crowded later?” to the more challenging – “What do I need to do to resolve a conflict with a coworker?” After consulting with myself, I’ll decide on a course of action, or I’ll put the problem on the bottom of a mental stack and deal with it when it pops up again.

In some ways it’s the most natural thing in the world to do – to ruminate on your problems, to  contemplate what you’re going to do. I suspect most of us do this without even trying. At least that’s what I said to myself.

But then my internal monologue was interrupted by these words:

You seem like you do a really good job carrying on a monologue in your head. The great privilege for every believer and my hope for you is that your life becomes a constant dialogue with your Father in heaven.

This wisdom came via a mentor of my friend Neil Tomba, which he shared in a recent sermon on prayer. You can get the whole message here: “The Parable of the Midnight Friend”.

I’m afraid too often I think of prayer as something we do together in church. Or if you’re really serious about your faith, prayer is a set time in the schedule for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication™. Viewing prayer only this way tends to make prayer an activity, a task to be completed before we get on with other stuff.

In the sermon Neil points out that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, He taught them to begin with, “Our Father …” – a highly relational approach to prayer that encourages us to pray like young children who freely pour out their requests to their mom or dad throughout the day. Seen this way, prayer isn’t just a scheduled activity, but an ongoing conversation with our Father in heaven who gives good gifts to us every day.

Something to think about … and something to talk to the Father about.

Heaven’s Work

The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

Apostle’s Creed

That’s a lot of sitting and waiting for the end to come. But Jesus isn’t waiting around watching youtube videos. He’s praying, for you.

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

I like the way Jaroslav J. Vajda says it in the hymn Up through Endless Ranks of Angels:

Death destroying, life restoring,

Proven equal to our need,

Now for us before the Father

As our brother intercede;

Flesh that for our world was wounded,

Living, for the wounded plead!

Jesus’ last words on the cross were “It is finished!” And indeed His work of atonement is finished. But Jesus’ work continues in heaven as He prays for us on earth. Take comfort in whatever you face today: He knows, He’s praying.

The One Note of the Law

“When a tone-deaf person sings, it can be painful to hear. But if you have to listen to theologians who know only the one note of the law, it is not only painful but deadly.” Steven Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians

The law is simply everything we aOne Notere supposed to do. In the Bible, the law is good. The law is very good at what it does, which is accuse us before a holy God. Because of the law, we know when we step outside of God’s will. Because of the law, we stand condemned as law-breakers.

Good preachers preach the law to afflict people with their failure to keep the law. But if a preacher only knows the one note of the law, they keep preaching the law, even to those already broken by their sin. This serves only to weigh down people with burdens they cannot bear.

Good preachers preach a second note, a greater note, of gospel to those crushed by the law. The gospel announces to those who cannot bear the burden of their sin that Jesus Christ has already carried their burden on His own body to the cross. At the cross, their sin was nailed to the cross. Jesus declared, “It is finished!” putting an end to our sin bearing.

Few preachers would see themselves as preaching only the one note of the law. Most preachers see themselves as gospel centered in all they do. But if the law is simply everything we are supposed to do, consider: How much of the sermons you hear encourage, call, or exhorts you to do something?

The sermon may not be on the Ten Commandments or even the Old Testament, but if its major note leaves you challenged to do something, you might have a one note preacher. One note preachers may talk about the gospel, but their note of emphasis will be on what you should do in light of the gospel. In other words, on the law.

The problem with the one note of the law: while the law does a great job exposing our sin, it’s a complete failure in making us right with God. A steady diet of one note law will leave you burdened by your failure to keep the law. Only the second note of gospel, of God’s work for you, gives life, sustains faith, and leads to new life.