Children: Baptism Before Sin

Posted by on October 25, 1998 under Sermons

This evening we consider our second lesson on the baptism of children. My specific focus is children under the age of ten. I am not indicating that above ten is the age for baptism. I use that age because under ten more easily illustrates the situation.

I am only sharing my understanding from my perspective and experience. This is an extremely difficult matter to discuss. I do not ask you to accept my thinking or my conclusions. All I ask is that you pursue a deeper understanding.

Tonight we look at the “big picture.” We are not using a microscope. We are surveying from horizon to horizon. Certainly, exceptions exist.

  1. I want to begin by sharing my basic, “horizon to horizon,” concept of sin.
    1. Sin exists in my life when my human will becomes aware and defiant.
      1. When I am aware of the significance of my choices and actions, and with understanding, I intentionally rebel against God, sin exists within me.
        1. I realize that I am talking about children and adults who have a basic knowledge of God and understand that good and evil exist.
        2. I also understand that sin exists in adults even when the adult does not know that God exists and has a distorted sense of good and evil.
        3. However, that is not our children’s situation, and they are our focus.
        4. No child who has zero awareness of God and no awareness of the existence of good and evil has asked me about being baptized.
      2. That moment when sin comes to life in our lives is inseparably connected to the awakening and the exercise of our will.
        1. That moment involves much more than making a choice.
        2. A child can perform an evil act at a time when he or she is not capable of understanding the significance of the act.
        3. As an example, that is the cruel, horrible, continuing consequence of the sexual molestation of a child.
          1. The child has a sexual experience and that makes him or her sexually aware of realities that are not a part of childhood knowledge.
          2. But the child does not understand the significance of the experience.
          3. Because of the experience, the child can “act out” parts of the experience with no awareness of the significance of what he or she is doing.
    2. This illustrates a devastating situation we face in today’s society.
      1. Consider another example.
      2. For many reasons, children today are exposed to many forms of violence.
      3. A child can be very knowledgeable in the “how” and “what” of violence and have no comprehension of the significance of violence.
      4. He or she factually can understand acts of violence, but have no comprehension of the impact and consequence of violence on relationships or futures.
      5. In our society some children perform unthinkable acts of violence.
      6. Yet, laws are an ineffective deterrent because children do not comprehend the significance or long term consequence of the violent act.
      7. What is an eight year old’s comprehension of ten years in prison?
  2. A child begins to comprehend significance as the child develops the ability to do abstract thinking.
    1. Abstract thinking is thinking that understands concepts, the significance of concepts, and the interaction of concepts.
    2. For years a child’s thoughts are based on the oversimplified examination of facts, but not on abstract considerations.
      1. Consider as an example Mom and Dad’s love for each other.
      2. Ask the child, “Should Mom and Dad love each other?”
        1. Declared as a fact, the child says, “Yes.”
        2. Ask the child how Mom and Dad should build and sustain this love, and the child does not understand the question.
        3. There is no “how” to be considered; Mom and Dad just love each other.
      3. Mom and Dad’s love dies, and Mom and Dad decide to divorce.
        1. Have you tried to explain impending divorce to a child?
        2. It is not possible because the child is not capable of understanding an adult’s abstract reasoning.
      4. What are the adult reasons behind their decision to divorce? Consider some common ones.
        1. “I am suffocating in this relationship; I will die inside if I don’t get out of it.”
        2. “I feel totally abandoned, intensely alone, and deeply depressed.”
        3. “He/she treats me like I don’t exist, like I am a non-person–it is as if I am not a part of his/her life.”
        4. “Our marriage is sucking the life out of me; I feel like I am lost in a sea of darkness.”
        5. “I am so tired of hurting; I am emotionally exhausted.”
        6. “I feel so empty, like I have nothing left to give this relationship.”
      5. Do you understand the meaning of those statements?
        1. Most adults understand the meaning of these instantly–even if they totally disagree with the statements, adults understand their meaning.
        2. Try to explain the meaning of those statements to a child.
      6. Because we can’t explain them to the child, we interpret them with a horrible oversimplification: “Mom and Dad don’t love each other any more, so we are not going to live together anymore.”
      7. The child searches for an understandable reason for this devastating news.
        1. In past months, as the marriage grew worse and worse, there was anger, hostility, cold silence, and hot arguments.
        2. The child witnessed every feeling.
        3. In his or her oversimplified world of factual thought, he or she decides, “It is my fault–I see the anger, I feel the hostility, I hear the silence, I hear the arguments–they occur when I am around.”
        4. They tell me, “Be quiet and eat your supper,” or, “Go watch television,” or they refuse to answer my questions–but I see anger when Mom and Dad look at me.”
        5. “I caused this to happen. I didn’t clean up my room, or turn down the TV, or feed the dog, or make less noise, or get my homework.”
        6. “If I do what I am supposed to do perfectly, I will fix it, and it will be okay.”
      8. Then he or she is totally confused when he or she tries hard and can’t fix it.
      9. That often begins a life of anger, or guilt, or rebellion, or all three.
    3. A child thinks in factual terms long before he or she has the ability to think in abstract terms.
      1. A child can respond to facts long before he or she can commit to concepts.
      2. He or she is capable of making a serious, short-term commitment long before he or she is capable of making a significant, long-term commitment.
      3. Let me use another illustration.
        1. What was the agreement your child made when he or she wanted you to buy the dog?
        2. “Please, Mom, please! Ple-e-e-ease Dad! I will take care of it! I will fed it, and water it, and walk it, and play with it! I will! I will! Please!”
        3. So you buy the dog, and what happens?
          1. Short term, the commitment was serious and sincere.
          2. But he or she did not comprehend the significance of eight years of dog care (even one!); trips to the vet; conflicts with other activities; that cute, playful puppies become not so cute, not so playful dogs; and that responsibility is work.
      4. When our oldest son Jon was six years old, he declared that he would marry Patti, another six year, and they would live in this huge white house.
        1. Patti’s parents and Joyce and I thought that was cute.
        2. It was cute because it was an impossible commitment.
          1. Neither Jon nor Patti understood the significance of that commitment.
          2. Neither Jon nor Patti understood the significance of marriage.
          3. Neither Jon nor Patti understood the significance of the changes that would occur in their lives before they became young adults.
      5. Aside from baptism, can you think of a long-term or life-time commitment that we leave up to the personal choice of an eight year old?
        1. Even when parents divorce, an eight year old is not permitted to chose the parent he or she will live with.
        2. Why do we withhold such decisions from eight year olds?
        3. We know that they can not comprehend the significance of long term commitments.
  3. There are several reasons for baptism.
    1. When John baptized, baptism was:
      1. Based on repentance (Matthew 3:1-2,6; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).
      2. For the forgiveness of sin (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).
    2. Jesus himself, who had no sin, was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:13-15).
    3. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, those who were converted were baptized:
      1. As a declaration of life-redirecting faith in Jesus as the Christ and/or life- redirecting faith in the kingdom of God (Acts 8:12,13; 18:8).
      2. As an expression of repentance (there was a powerful emphasis on repentance: Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 20:18-21).
      3. For the forgiveness or the washing away of sin (Acts 2:38; 10:43; 22:16).
      4. To save a person (Acts 16:31-33; 1 Peter 3:21)
      5. To place a person in Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27).
      6. To let a person participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12).
      7. To place a person in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12,13).
      8. To clothe a person in Christ (Galatians 3:27).
      9. It appears to me that all of those reasons are more than facts to be recognized; all require the comprehension of abstract thinking.
  4. Both the drop out rate and rebaptism decisions are old realities.
    1. But, within my experience, there have been fairly recent changes.
    2. Twenty-six years of my preaching life were spent working for congregations with college or university programs.
      1. For years, it was not uncommon for college students to request rebaptism.
        1. Typically, dedicated, involved students who were active in the student program and/or active helping lead worship made that request.
        2. The two most common reasons given were, “I did not know what I was doing,” or, “I was baptized because a friend was baptized.”
      2. This was the way I responded to the situation.
        1. We discussed the reality of spiritual growth.
        2. We carefully studied baptism.
        3. I stressed there is no example of rebaptism of a saved person.
        4. I said his or her rebaptism declared that he or she was not a Christian.
        5. The person was to think and pray about it for at least 24 hours; if the person returned requesting baptism, I would baptize him or her.
        6. We did it privately to avoid influencing other Christian students to conclude, “If he or she needs to be baptized again, then I surely need to be baptized again.”
      3. It was always true that the drop out rate among college or university students was much higher than the request for rebaptism. Commonly, the drop out occurred the day they arrived on campus–the decision was made pre-arrival.
    3. The change I saw was this: the number of students requesting rebaptism declined, and the drop out rate increased.
      1. I know this is a complex matter; I know many factors are involved.
      2. I have no desire to exaggerate or misrepresent the situation.
      3. This is my observation:
        1. Today, children who are baptized before they develop the ability to use abstract thinking are more likely to drop out when he or she later experiences serious temptation or a sin crisis.
        2. Today, more adolescents who were baptized prior to entering adolescence seem to decide the following when he or she encounters crisis temptation or sin:
          1. “If my baptism had the power to make me a Christian, I would not experience this temptation or sin crisis.”
          2. “If my baptism was significant, God would protect me from this sin or temptation.”
          3. “Something was wrong; something was false; baptism would prevent these experiences if baptism were real.”
      4. To me, this is one of the great dangers of baptizing a child for the remission of sins before he or she comprehends sin, experiences sin, or has sin.

There is an additional factor that makes this matter even more confusing. The book of Acts deals only with the conversion of first generation Christians, all of whom are adults. Most of the epistles are written to first generation Christians. The New Testament contains no information about the conversion of the children of those first Christians.

It is not a simple problem. It is a very serious problem.

A Formula For Spiritual Success or Disaster?

Posted by on under Sermons

An Israelite man pondered his religious responsibilities. He listened to a prophet of God declare that God was upset with Israel. It had been hundreds of years since the Israelites left Egypt. He knew that he was religiously lax. Then and there he decided that he would learn his religious responsibility, and when he did, he would do it.

  1. He said to himself, “It is time for me to be properly religious.”
    1. “I don’t want to upset God–it would be stupid to make God angry.”
      1. “The adults who left Egypt angered God, and they died in the wilderness” (Numbers 14:26-35).
      2. “In the wilderness, the Israelites angered God by worshipping the god Baal of Peor, and twenty-four thousand people died” (Numbers 25:1-9).
      3. “When Korah led a rebellion against Moses, fourteen thousand seven hundred people died from a plague that God sent” (Numbers 16:49).
      4. “It would be stupid to make God angry.”
    2. “For some reason, offering animal sacrifices is a big thing to God.”
      1. “I need to figure out the sacrificial system correctly.”
      2. “Then I need to do what I am supposed to do, and do it the right way.”
    3. So this Israelite man learned what sacrifices he was supposed to offer, when he was supposed to offer them, and how he was supposed to offer them.
      1. He learned that all Israelites must offer sacrifices at one place only (Deuteronomy 12:10-14).
      2. He learned that you must sacrifice only animals that you owned (Leviticus 1:2).
      3. He learned about burnt offering (Leviticus 1).
      4. He learned about grain offerings. (Leviticus 2).
      5. He learned about peace offerings (Leviticus 3).
      6. He learned about guilt offerings for unintentional sins (Leviticus 4).
      7. That was just the beginning–he carefully learned the whole sacrificial system.
        1. With conviction he said, “I figured it out! I know what animal to offer, when to offer it, how to offer it, and where to offer it!”
        2. “Everything is covered, and God will be delighted because I am doing the right thing!”
      8. He said, “Now I can get on with life! Life is life, and business is business, and reality is reality, and religion is religion.”
        1. He had God figured out and religion covered.
        2. Now he could get on with life.
    4. And the godly prophet named Isaiah made an oral statement for God as the voice of God, and this is what he said.
      Isaiah 1:11-15 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies–I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.“So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. And the Israelite said to God, “Wait a minute! I worked hard to understand Your sacrificial system, and to understand it correctly.”
        1. “I sacrifice exactly what You commanded exactly as You commanded.”
        2. “The what, the when, the how, and the where are absolutely correct.”
        3. “I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do.”
        4. “You react to my religious deeds as though I am a godless person.”
      2. And God said, “If you think that it is the smoke of burning animals that thrills Me, you don’t know Me any better than a person who has no god.”
        1. “If you think worship is just a matter of doing right things, you don’t understand Me.”
        2. “If you think that life is life and religion is religion, you don’t understand Me or anything that I have done.”
        3. “If you believe that godliness can be reduced just to obeying my commands, you know nothing about Who I am, what I have done, and what I am doing.”
        4. “If that is what you think, your thinking is an insult.”
  2. A man who believed in Christ was pondering his religious responsibilities.
    1. He just had listened to a godly person discuss how upset God must be over the evil conditions in our society.
      1. It has been hundreds of years since Jesus died.
      2. He knew that religiously his life was lax.
      3. He decided then and there that he was going to figure out his religious responsibility and do it.
    2. He said to himself, “I don’t want to upset God or make Him angry.”
      1. “I know that I will give an account of my life in judgment.”
      2. “If I make God angry, He likely will condemn me to hell.”
    3. “For some reason obedience and worship seem to be a big thing with God.”
      1. “I need to figure out how to obey God and do the right things to worship.”
      2. “Then I will do what I am supposed to do, and I will do it the right way.”
    4. This believing man began an earnest study.
      1. He learned about declaring faith in Christ (Matthew 10:32).
      2. He learned about baptism (Romans 6:1-7).
      3. He learned that early Christians assembled weekly to worship (Acts 20:7).
      4. He learned about communion (I Corinthians 11:23-29).
      5. He learned about singing (Colossians 3:16).
      6. He learned about praying (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
    5. He attempted to learn how the earliest Christians did these things.
      1. Finally, he was convicted that he knew the what, the when, the where, and the how.
      2. He thought to himself, “I have it all figured out! I know the what, the when, the where, and the how!”
      3. “Everything is covered! And God will be delighted because I am doing the right things!”
      4. He said with a sigh, “Since I have religion figured out, I can get on with life!”
        1. “I understand that life is life, business is business, reality is reality, and religion is religion.”
        2. “I figured God out and took care of religion; I can get on with life.”
    6. But he did not hear God’s voice speaking in Jesus’ life, in Jesus’ crucifixion, in Jesus’ resurrection, and in Christ’s continuing work.
      1. If he could hear God speak of “his religion,” God would say:
      2. “Your baptism means nothing to me; I wish you would quit taking communion; in worship you act like a tourist in an ancient cathedral; your singing is meaningless; I am sick of you pursuing an evil life and the habitual acts of worship at the same time. I hate your Sunday assemblies; they are a burden to me. When you pray, I refuse to listen. You actually believe that you can ignore your evil if you do the right things in worship.”
      3. Romans 6:15-23 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey–whether you are slave to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (New International Version.)
      4. And the baptized man said, “Wait a minute, God! I worked hard to understand baptism and proper worship.”
        1. “I do exactly what you command.”
        2. “I am certain that the what, when, how, and where are absolutely correct.”
        3. “I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do, but you act like I am a godless person!”
      5. And God said, “You don’t understand me any better than a godless pleasure seeker if you think mere human acts elate me.”
        1. “If you think that life is life and religion is religion, you don’t understand Me or anything I do.”
        2. “If you think you can reduce godliness to obeying My commands, you don’t know Who I am, what I have done, or what I am doing.”
        3. “You insult Me and My will.”
  3. There was a man who wanted to find a fine wife.
    1. He romanced a beautiful, kind lady that he knew could be the wife he wanted.
      1. He spent time with her every possible opportunity; he called her every day; he sent her thoughtful, loving notes.
      2. He shared his thoughts and his dreams with her; he opened himself to her; he could not spend enough time with her.
      3. He told her how beautiful she was; he noticed everything she did; and he frequently complimented her for her kindness and intelligence.
    2. And she agreed to marry him because she said in her heart, “He will always love me, and care for me, and share himself with me.”
    3. Two years after they married, he spoke to her infrequently, never called her unless he wanted something, never wrote her, never shared his thoughts or his dreams, and rarely spent time with her.
      1. He never told her she was pretty, never noticed anything she did, never complimented her.
      2. He paid the bills and paid for her things.
    4. She was miserable, lonely, depressed, and cried frequently.
      1. One day, with irritation and impatience, he asked, “What is wrong with you?”
      2. She said, “You deeply disappoint me because you never treat me like you treated me before we married.”
      3. With a disgusted, grim face, he demanded that she name each thing that he no longer did.
      4. As she named them, he made a list, and from the list he made a poster that he placed on their bedroom wall.
      5. Each day he habitually did something on his “responsibility poster,” but he did it without love, or desire, or feeling.
      6. Each day, when he did something, he made a check mark on the poster.
      7. Each act insulted and humiliated her, and her love died.

God is never offended when the heart surrenders itself in faith, humility, and love. God is insulted by loveless mechanical habits.

Psalm 15
LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. (King James Version.)

“The World Should Be Christian!”

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

“God is the living God! Jesus is Lord and Christ, the only Savior! Forgiveness is only produced by the blood of Christ! God wants people worldwide to be Christians!”

I accept those facts. I accept that conclusion. My entire life and collective efforts have been (are) devoted to encouraging people on this and other continents to consider Christianity.

Even so, I ask this question, “Why? Why should people worldwide be Christian?”

“Because Jehovah God is the true and living God!” He is indeed. Do we teach people God before teaching them Christ? Will knowing God persuade them?

“Because the living God declared that Jesus is Lord and Christ!” That certainly is true. Israelites (first century and before) knew the significance of the Messiah/Lordship concepts. That significance was rooted in Israel’s relationship with God. People of today’s world do not comprehend that significance. Many of us non-Jewish Christians have a poor-to-inadequate understanding of the significance. Will these strange concepts persuade people?

“Because only the blood of Christ provides forgiveness!” That is definitely correct. Do people worldwide correctly identify evil? correctly understand the concept of sin? understand atonement and redemption? or the bond between blood, atonement, and redemption?

“Because God’s grace, forgiveness, and new life in Christ progressively changes me. The change is obvious in the way I treat my family; the way I treat people; the way I accept responsibility; my different heart, attitudes and emotions; my real relationship with God and Jesus; and the way I deal with my flaws, faults, and failures. It is obvious that I am a different, better person because I am a Christian.” Everyone can relate to that! It moves people to ask, “What is this power that changes and sustains you?” Read 1 Peter 3:13-16 again.

And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.

People worldwide need to be Christians, not merely profess Christianity. God’s purpose is to transform people in Christ, not to control people. Perhaps one reason many people reject Christianity is that they see no transformation in people who are Christians.

Becoming the light of the world is not a process of professing. It is allowing the Light of the world to transform us into “the children of daylight” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

Spiritual Spin Doctors

Posted by on October 18, 1998 under Sermons

Joyce says that it is more entertaining to watch me watch a tense television program than it is to watch the program. According to her, I “get into it.” With facial expression and body language, I react to everything that happens. For some reason, when I see her watching me, she is laughing.

I do my laughing when I listen to her watch a professional football game. Joyce loves to listen to sports commentators. She enjoys it so much she talks to them. She begins talking to the commentators before the first quarter is over. It terribly frustrates her to hear them discuss why the last play was an awful mistake and why they should run the play that they recommend. Invariably, as she talks to them, she asks, “Are you making as much money as the coach makes?”

We live in a society that has “spin doctors” to interpret everything that happens. We have professional “spin doctors” for politics, social problems, and crises.

  1. What is a “spin doctor?”
    1. A “spin doctor” interprets what has happened.
      1. He analyzes the matter for us.
      2. He tells us what we need to understand to be qualified to interpret what happened.
      3. He tells us what perspective we must have to examine what happened.
      4. Then he gives us the “proper” interpretation of what happened.
    2. “Spin doctors” declare:
      1. It is never a matter of what happened; it is always a matter of how we look at what happened.
      2. It is never a matter of what actually occurred; it is always a matter of our perspective on what occurred.
      3. It is never a matter of the direct consequences produced; it is always a matter of understanding why it happened.
    3. Why are these people called “spin doctors?”
      1. In our society, the majority of us interpret a happening by the manner the matter is presented to us.
      2. If we want to manipulate people’s interpretation of events, we alter their perspective by way we present the information to them.
      3. You must put the right “spin” on the facts to alter the public’s perception.
  2. “Spin doctors” have played an important role in religions for millenniums.
    1. Religions always have had their “spin doctors.”
      1. They influenced the interpretation of events by the way the events were presented to the people.
      2. They manipulated interpretations by altering perceptions.
      3. They put the right “spin” on matters to lead people to the interpretation and perception that they wanted.
    2. It would be difficult to find a single world religion that did not use “spin doctors.”
      1. In every religion, there are people whose function is to tell us what to think.
      2. These people try to control our conclusions and form our convictions by manipulating our interpretation and perspective.
      3. In religion, the line that separates an educator and a “spin doctor” is a fine line.
        1. An educator informs you to teach you to think.
        2. A “spin doctor” informs you to control your thinking.
  3. The Pharisees were one of the most successful, accomplished groups of “spin doctors” in the New Testament.
    1. Though they were a relatively small group in Israel, they powerfully influenced the religious and political perspectives of Israel.
    2. The Pharisees had a specific way in which they wanted everyone to interpret and obey the law.
      1. They had a specific perspective of God.
      2. They had a specific perspective of the law.
      3. They had a specific concept of obedience.
      4. They had a specific way to interpret and apply the law.
      5. Their way was the only way, the correct way, the way to be accepted.
    3. To illustrate the role of the Pharisees as spiritual “spin doctors,” I call your attention to Matthew 23.
      1. Remember the events that happened before Jesus made the public statement in Matthew 23:
        1. Jesus and his disciples were in the wilderness across the Jordan River. The disciples did not want him to return to the Jerusalem area because they were afraid that the Jewish leaders would kill him (John 10:40; 11:8).
        2. But Jesus did return to the Jerusalem area and resurrected Lazarus from the dead (John 11:30-44), and his popularity exploded.
        3. His popularity was so great that the Jewish leaders, including influential Pharisees, decided that Jesus must die (John 11:47-50).
        4. A little later, the city of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as a king (Matthew 21:1-11).
        5. This marked the beginning of Jesus’ last week of life.
      2. The public statement found in Matthew 23 was given that week.
    4. Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 is unique.
      1. Most of the encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees prior to that week were initiated by the Pharisees, not by Jesus.
      2. In my study of those encounters, I conclude that the Pharisees either attacked or tried to discredit Jesus, and Jesus consistently tried to teach the Pharisees.
        1. He consistently used the source of authority they accepted.
        2. He consistently challenged them to evaluate their conclusions by scripture.
        3. He consistently tried to redirect their thinking and understanding.
      3. In Matthew 23 Jesus knew these were his last days.
        1. In his ministry, he had no success in teaching the Pharisees.
        2. Now, he publicly denounces them for their deeds and teachings.
  4. All of Matthew 23 illustrates how the Pharisees functioned as “spiritual spin doctors.”
    1. A “spin doctor” is concern about manipulating thinking, not about being an example.
      1. Jesus said that the Pharisees had an accurate knowledge of scripture, but (Matthew 23:10-11):
        1. They did not practice what they taught.
        2. They placed heavy spiritual responsibilities on others, but placed no responsibility on themselves.
        3. They performed religious acts to get personal attention.
        4. Their religious motivations were praise and honor.
      2. They saw themselves as the official interpreters of scripture.
    2. Let’ consider three examples Jesus used in Matthew 23.
      1. First, consider verses 16-22: they sanctioned deliberate deceit.
        1. In a world without printing and copy machines, written contracts and guarantees were not the common way of doing business.
          1. Instead, the terms of the agreement were set, and you took an oath.
          2. You bound yourself to the agreement by swearing by something greater than yourself.
        2. The Pharisees said if the oath was not proper, you were not responsible to keep the agreement.
          1. If you made an agreement and swore by the temple, the agreement was not binding.
          2. If you made an agreement and swore by the gold of the temple, the agreement was binding.
        3. The Pharisees put their “spin” on the agreements and oaths that bind.
          1. According to their “spin,” you could deceive if you did it the right way.
          2. You could make an agreement that you had no intention of keeping if you swore the wrong oath.
      2. Second, consider verse 23: they made the least important the most important.
        1. They said honoring God by giving God ten per cent of everything you received was a priority spiritual responsibility.
        2. Since God was the source of every blessing, you acknowledge God is the source of all blessings and thank Him by giving ten per cent of everything.
        3. It even was important to tithe ten per cent of your garden herbs.
        4. Jesus said they stressed the importance of the minor while they ignored the importance of the major.
        5. It is good to do the minor, but it is failure to ignore the major.
        6. God’s spiritual priorities are justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
          1. Protect the widow, the orphan, and the poor from injustice.
          2. Extend the person who does evil mercy.
          3. In all relationships with God and people, honor your word and keep your promises.
        7. According to the “spin” of the Pharisees, spiritual priorities focused on things, not on people.
      3. Third, consider verses 27-33: they said outward appearance was more important than inward reality.
        1. According to their “spin,” what you do and how you behave was important; what you are inside was not important.
        2. They were like bowls that had been washed only on the outside, like tombs that had been painted on the outside.
        3. Outside they had the appearance of righteousness; inside they were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
        4. But, according to their “spin,” having a righteous appearance is righteousness.
  5. When we put a spiritual “spin” on some things, we commonly do not realize what we are doing.
    1. A few years ago I developed a valuable friendship with a man who preached for a large Baptist church.
      1. Our friendship was so genuine that he felt he could ask me questions that he had never asked.
      2. He asked, “Why do people in the Church of Christ believe that they save themselves?”
    2. I was shocked that he had that impression of us.
      1. I explained we did not believe that we saved ourselves and shared my understanding of the role of God and Christ in our salvation.
      2. Then I asked him what created that impression?
      3. He said that everything that he heard us say or write about baptism stressed the importance of the human act but said nothing about God’s actions.
        1. He concluded that we did not believe that God acted in our salvation.
        2. He concluded that we believed that salvation was the result of our actions, not God’s actions.
    3. He heard us putting a “spin” on baptism; wonder if others hear the same thing?

No person saves himself or herself. God does not owe salvation to anyone. We are saved because the God of mercy and forgiveness destroys our sins in the atoning blood of Christ and gives us new life in Christ.

Without faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, there is no salvation. Without repentance of sins, there is no salvation. Faith in the resurrected Jesus, repentance of sin, and baptism into Christ provides us salvation for only one reason: the God of mercy keeps His promises.

Never put your faith and confidence in yourself. Trust in what God has done in Christ. It is the Cross, it is God’s grace, it is the forgiveness of God — it is not you. You will never do anything that will put God in debt to you.

Believe with all your being that Jesus is the Son of God. Understand the evil in your life. Turn yourself away from it. Be baptized that He may take your sins away in the blood of Christ.

Baptism must be a faith response to God’s promises, not an attempt to bargain with God.

The Bottom Line

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“The bottom line” in accounting is “the” number that reveals if a business made a profit or suffered a loss. Before the “bottom line,” sales, contracts, mergers, and cash “inflow” optimistically declare, “The business is in great shape!” Before “the bottom line,” operating costs, overhead expenses, marketing costs, taxes, and cash “outflow” pessimistically declare, “The business is a disaster!” After factoring each plus and minus, “the bottom line” reveals the actual situation. “The bottom line” commonly is the critical, essential truth.

Because of the critical significance of “the bottom line,” that term is used to inquire into every life situation. “Give me the ‘bottom line,'” or, “What is ‘the bottom line’ in this situation (discussion, problem, need, relationship, decision, etc.)?”

To be victorious over temptation, what is “the bottom line?” To make godly decisions, what is the “bottom line”? To recognize evil, what is “the bottom line”? To escape Satan’s deceptive enticements, what is “the bottom line”?

When (not if) your child is offered an illegal substance; or is encouraged to shop lift; or is the object of sexual seduction, pressure, or enticement; or has the opportunity to cheat; or can steal “safely;” or faces powerful peer pressures to do evil, “bottom line,” what will determine his or her decision?

When a Christian adult is tempted to deceive; or to steal; or to be dishonest with spouse or significant friend; or to have an affair; or to be a sexually active unmarried; or to use recreational drugs; or to use evil for pleasure or escape; or to reject godly values; “bottom line,” what determines his or her decision?

The “bottom line” for surviving temptation, rejecting ungodly desires, and embracing godly values is the same for teens or adults. The “bottom line” is personal relationship with God. “Bottom line,” relationship with God is built. “Bottom line,” relationship with God is built on the foundation of godly knowledge and understanding.

Your education about God, Christ, and the Bible is critical to your spiritual “bottom line.” A primary factor in your spiritual education should be our education program. Members, get involved in a class. Teachers, remember the teachers’ meeting this Sunday afternoon. Improve the “bottom line” in your life, your spouse’s life, and your children’s lives.

Saving Children Before They Are Lost

Posted by on October 11, 1998 under Sermons

This evening I want to consider something difficult to think about or to discuss. These things are difficult to think about for two reasons. First, thinking about them asks us to examine ourselves to see if we are being true in our basic concepts and understandings. Second, thinking about them focuses us on some of the most important people in our lives, our children.

It is difficult to discuss these things because they touch our deepest emotions. In powerful emotions, the heart overrules the mind.

As parents and grandparents, one of our fears is our fear for our children. We fear everything that threatens our children. To Christian parents and grandparents, our greatest fear for our children is the fear that they will reject God.

This fear combined with a fuzzy focus has produced an explosion in the church in the last decade. More and more children seek to be saved before they are lost.

This is a complicated, complex matter to discuss. I am not asking you to agree with me. I do not ask you to accept my conclusions. I ask you to think. I ask you to become aware of a serious spiritual problem developing in the church.

  1. First, I want to focus you.
    1. There are concepts that I personally reject because I do not conclude that these concepts represent the total teachings of the Bible.
      1. I do not accept the concept that children need forgiveness at birth.
      2. I do not accept the concept that we are evil from birth.
    2. There are also concepts that I accept for biblical reasons.
      1. I accept the concept that a child is born in a guilt free state of innocence.
      2. I accept the concept that a childlike attitude and heart should be the goal of every person in God’s kingdom.
    3. But those concepts are not our focus tonight.
  2. Let’s try to think from a common perspective.
    1. If a child has no guilt, if a child lives in a state of innocence and condition of safety, if a child does not need to repent, does that child need to be baptized?
      1. If I asked you as Christians if a person who genuinely had no sin needed to be baptized, your answer would be quick and automatic.
        1. You would say, “No,” without hesitation.
        2. Why? Because the combination of faith, repentance, and baptism results in God forgiving us of sin.
        3. If there is no sin, the person does not need repentance or forgiveness.
        4. You say, “But, that is a hypothetical situation–there is no such person.”
      2. In the past, we affirmed that there are such people.
        1. In the past we declared the person whose mental or emotional capacity prevented him or her from distinguishing between good and evil did not need forgiveness.
        2. Because that condition produced childlike innocence, the person did not need baptism.
          1. This person was not accountable.
          2. This person had no guilt.
          3. This person had no reason to repent and was incapable of repenting.
          4. This person was without sin.
          5. Therefore this person did not need baptism.
        3. For that reason we used this phrase: the age of accountability.
          1. What was “the age of accountability?”
          2. It was the age when a person acquired and felt guilt because:
            1. This person by conscious choice rebelled against God.
            2. This person felt guilt for his or her specific evil decisions and actions.
            3. This person knew that he or she needed to redirect life.
            4. Because the person consciously made evil decisions, he or she needed to repent and be baptized.
          3. Therefore, the age of accountability occurs when a person understands what evil is, chooses to do evil, chooses to rebel against God, and acquires the knowledge and feeling of guilt as a result.
            1. Before that point, the person was not accountable and did not need repentance and baptism.
            2. At and after that point, the person was accountable and needed repentance and baptism.
        4. In what year of life does the age of accountability occur? 15? 12? 8? 6?
          1. Spiritual accountability is not produced by chronological age.
          2. Spiritual accountability is produced by the combination of awareness, decision, and actions that create guilt.
          3. Accountability is not a matter of chronological age; it is a matter guilt.
    2. We need to add to an understanding of accountability an understanding of some specific biblical information.
      1. The gospels and the book of Acts contain no record of a child being baptized.
        1. All specific accounts of baptism are adult baptisms; adults who believed or repented and choose to be baptized.
        2. Some baptism accounts mention the response of the “household,” but inferring “household” includes young children is a debatable assumption and certainly not clearly established.
        3. The lessons were given to adults, the situations were adult situations, the teachings were on an adult level, and the responses were adult responses.
          1. The responses came from men and women who understood the significance of Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection from an adult perspectives.
          2. They consciously turned from ungodly lives or actions to accept the Christ and his forgiveness.
      2. An understanding of baptism was commonly preceded by a call to repentance; baptism was to begin a changed life.
        1. Both John and the disciples of Jesus baptized people who responded to the message of repentance.
          1. Matthew 3:1,2,5,6 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…” Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          2. Immediately following the wilderness temptations, Matthew 4:17 states, From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          3. John 3:22,23 states of Jesus’ early ministry, After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized– (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
          4. John 4:1-3 further states, Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), he left Judea and departed again into Galilee. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        2. This seems evident to me:
          1. Repentance was fundamental to John and Jesus’ message.
          2. People responded to their message by confessing their sins.
          3. In response to the call to repent, they were baptized.
        3. Mark 1:4 clearly states, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. Consider the context and the specific message of the verse that we commonly use regarding baptism: Acts 2:38.
        1. Acts 2 is the first time people were baptized to respond to Jesus as the God declared Lord and Christ.
        2. To this Jewish audience, Peter proved that Jesus’ death and resurrection were promised in Jewish scripture.
        3. Those who understood Peter immediately realized their situation and their guilt for Jesus’ death.
        4. Their fear of God’s wrath motivated them to ask, “What are we going to do?” By the Mosaic law, they would have been killed.
        5. Peter’s instructions (verse 38): “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        6. These Jews who understood that Jesus was Lord and Christ, and not a criminal pretender, must repent.
          1. Baptism should occur only if they repented.
          2. Believing Jesus’ identity and position was not enough.
          3. Baptism would result in the forgiveness of sins only if baptism was based on belief in Jesus and the repentance of sin.
          4. They would receive the Holy Spirit only if they repented and were baptized.
      4. In only one situation do we set aside those conclusions without question: in the baptism of children.
        1. We reject the baptism of infants because they cannot choose, or have faith, or need to repent.
        2. If a child can make a simple choice, has a simple faith, but has nothing for which to repent, does he or she need baptism?
  3. In the church, why are the number of children requesting baptism rising?
    1. There certainly are readily identified, old reasons.
      1. They are afraid.
      2. They have seen other children baptized.
      3. Friends in other religious groups have been baptized.
      4. They come from a family where everyone has been baptized for generations.
      5. They have heard that God wants us to be baptized, and they want obey God.
    2. I call your attention to some additional reasons that, in my judgment, are significant factors.
      1. Many Christian homes are either deeply troubled, very unstable, or broken.
        1. Many of our children are in insecure environments.
        2. Between troubled homes, separated homes, broken homes, one parent homes, homes in which there is abuse, and homes that are too busy to nurture and care, many of our children crave adult attention.
        3. One of the few things a child can do to secure immediate, positive adult attention is be baptized.
        4. One of the things that a child can do to seek security is to be baptized in insecure circumstances.
      2. Children are responding to an oversimplified concept of obedience.
        1. Our fear that someone might not understand the importance of obedience often makes our teaching on obedience biblically unbalanced.
        2. So children learn that if you love God, if you believe that Jesus died for you, you need to obey God.
        3. A five year old can understand that, and a five year old do that.
        4. “I love God. I believe that Jesus died for me. I understand a person must obey God. God wants people to be baptized, so I want to be baptized.”
        5. Someone says, “That sounds fine to me.”
          1. Does it?
          2. It has nothing to do with conversion; it has nothing to do with repentance; there is no concept of redirecting life; it reflects no understanding of evil; there is no mature concept of guilt.
          3. How can a person be saved if he or she is not lost?
      3. Parents are scared for their children.
        1. These are wicked times, and our children face wicked environments.
        2. In fear, we never want them to experience the sense of being lost.
        3. We do not want their conversion; we don’t want them to go from sinner to Christian; we want them to go from innocent to saved.

I talked with a young person who wanted to be baptized. We talked one on one maybe 20 minutes. His attention span was 5 minutes. He had no concept of evil. He had no sense of guilt. His most urgent question was, “Can I go play now?”

Communion was being served. I was visiting. A small girl was coloring in a color book. After the prayer, Mom told her to put her coloring book down. She took the bread, then picked up the coloring book, and resumed coloring.

When you read the book of Acts, would you call that conversion?

God and I Have an Agreement

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Our lives are structured by and based on agreements. Agreements are basic to virtually everything that happens in our lives every day. Marriage begins with an agreement. Our jobs are based on an agreement. If we own property, we made an agreement. Utility services, driver’s licenses, credit cards, bank loans, social security, even the rights of citizenship are based on an agreement.

When we intentionally or neglectfully reject the commitment of our agreements, marriages divorce, jobs are lost, utility services are cut off, driver’s licenses are revoked, bank loans are recalled, social security benefits are canceled, and we can lose the rights of citizenship.

When honorable people make honorable agreements, life and relationships are blessed. When agreements are ignored, violated, or abused, life and relationships become increasingly miserable.

  1. Few if any of us would make a serious commitment without an agreement.
    1. Why?
      1. Commitment without agreement leads to pain and suffering.
      2. Commitment without agreement requires no mutual investment of self.
      3. In a commitment without an agreement, a person can walk out, walk away, and disappear without conscience.
      4. In a commitment without an agreement, a person has nothing to lose if he or she just walks off.
    2. For an honest person of integrity, the act of making an agreement is the act of taking ownership of responsibility in commitment.
      1. It is the declaration, “I depend on you, and you can depend on me.”
      2. It is the declaration, “I trust you, and you can trust me.”
      3. In any successful relationship, that declaration has to be mutual.
  2. God always commits to people who agree to commit to Him.
    1. The basic nature of God’s agreement with us is distinctly different from an agreement that one human establishes with another human.
      1. In a human-human agreement, each human can provide benefits to the other human in the commitment. If I make an agreement with you:
        1. I can contribute to your personal well being.
        2. I can reward you.
        3. I can increase your comfort.
        4. I can increase your personal security.
        5. I can meet some of your needs.
        6. I can provide you blessings.
        7. I can do something that specifically makes your life or your existence better because we mutually enter an agreement.
      2. But when I enter an agreement with God, it is impossible for me to create a benefit for God.
        1. In no way does God need me or depend on me.
        2. I cannot improve God’s well being–if I never existed, it would not affect God’s well being.
        3. I cannot reward God; everything I am or have, even my life, is God’s gift.
        4. I cannot increase God’s comfort–God’s comfort does not depend on me.
        5. I cannot increase God’s security–I have no effect on God’s security.
        6. I cannot meet God’s needs–God has no needs for me to address.
        7. I cannot provide God a blessing–I am dependent on God for blessings.
        8. There is absolutely nothing that I can do to benefit God’s existence.
      3. Therefore, any agreement that a human makes with God is unique; it is distinctly different to any agreement a human makes with another human.
    2. The agreement that God makes with a human is called a covenant.
      1. Covenant was the common form of agreement in the ages of the Old Testament and in the New Testament world.
      2. Everett Ferguson, in his book, The Church of Christ (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996, pp. 2-18) provides some basic insights into covenant agreements.
      3. One proper definition of covenant is a relationship based on promises or a sworn oath.
        1. A covenant between two persons is known as a parity covenant.
          1. Since the relationship is established between two humans, it is established between equals–both are equally human.
          2. A covenant between a person or a people and God is never a parity relationship; it is not a relationship that exists between equals.
            1. In every consideration, God is the superior.
            2. As the inferior, a human never initiates a relationship with God.
            3. A human can accept relationship with God only because God extends the opportunity for relationship.
        2. In relationship with God, people never propose or impose the conditions of the relationship.
          1. Humans never tell God, “You can have a relationship with us if You agree to these conditions.”
          2. Humans accept or reject God’s offer of relationship, but God determines the conditions of relationship.
    3. In the Old Testament, there were occasions when God made charter covenants with individuals.
      1. In a charter covenant, God binds Himself to an unconditional promise in a relationship with humans.
        1. When God promised Noah that He would never again destroy the world with a flood, that was a charter covenant (Genesis 9:8-17).
        2. When God promised Abraham that a blessing that would benefit all mankind would come through his descendants, that was a charter covenant (Genesis 12:1-3).
        3. When God promised David that one of his descendants would always sit on Israel’s throne, that was a charter covenant (2 Samuel 11:10-17).
      2. But God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was a conditional covenant.
        1. God stated plainly that Israel’s relationship with Him was conditional before He gave them the ten commandments (Exodus 19:3-6).
        2. God would enter a relationship with the nation of Israel that accepted them as:
          1. A people who belonged exclusively to Him.
          2. A kingdom of priests.
          3. A holy nation.
        3. If:
          1. They obeyed His voice.
          2. They kept His covenant, and maintained relationship with Him.
  3. Essential question: how did Israel say yes to God? How did they accept the offer of relationship? How did they commit to a relationship with God?
    1. God offered relationship; Israel had to accept relationship; it had to have a point of beginning.
      1. What did they do to accept God’s offer of relationship?
      2. How did Israelites, the direct descendants of Abraham, say to God, “Yes; we accept your offer of relationship; we enter and honor relationship with you on your terms and conditions?
      3. They said yes by circumcising every male child born into the family.
    2. God Himself established this condition of relationship with Abraham in Genesis 17:9-14.
      1. God said to Abraham, “You and all your descendants in every generation shall keep my covenant.”
      2. “This is my covenant: every male will be circumcised.”
      3. “Eight days after birth, every male of every Israelite family and every male of your servants will be circumcised.”
      4. “This is my everlasting covenant with Israel.”
      5. “Any Israelite who is not circumcised will an outcast to the Israelite people because he has rejected the basic condition of relationship with God.”
    3. Was circumcising every male in every Israelite family that important? Yes.
      1. Over five hundred years later, as God delivered hundreds of thousands of Israelites from Egyptian slavery, God told them that they were to observe the Passover every year as a perpetual memorial to God’s deliverance (Exodus 12).
        1. If a non-Israelite ate the Passover memorial, before he ate, every male in his household had to be circumcised (Exodus 12:48).
        2. If the an Israelite male had not been circumcised, he could not eat the Passover memorial (Exodus 12:48).
      2. Forty years after the people of Israel left Egypt, the children who left Egypt and the children who were born in the wilderness crossed the Jordan River into Canaan (Joshua 5:2-9).
        1. All but two of the adults who left Egypt died in the wilderness.
        2. In that forty years, no one was circumcised.
        3. The first thing that was done was the circumcision of every Israelite male on a single day.
        4. Immediately after that, God declared, “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you” (Joshua 5:9).
    4. Israelite circumcision was not a mindless religious ritual; circumcision said, “Yes,” to God in agreeing to accept the responsibilities of relationship with God.
      1. Circumcision did not just involve the body as an Israelite yielded to a mysterious requirement of God.
      2. Listen to these instructions to Israel in Deuteronomy 10:12-16:
        Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. What does God require of you?
        1. To reverence Jehovah as your God.
        2. To walk in His ways.
        3. To love Him.
        4. To serve Him with all your being.
        5. To keep His commandments.
        6. To circumcise your heart and refuse to be a stubborn, rebellious, arrogant people.
  4. “David, that is mildly interesting, but why should that interest me?”
    1. Listen to Colossians 2:9-12, written by Paul to the Christians at Colossae.
      For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

In specific ways, your baptism was a circumcision. Baptism is a spiritual, unisex form of circumcision.

Is it possible, that with all that we taught and emphasized about baptism, that we missed the basic point of baptism? Is it possible that we missed the point that no knowledgeable Israelite would have missed? Is it possible that we missed the point that was emphasized to non-Jewish converts?

What point? Your baptism said, “Yes,” to a relationship with God. In baptism, you accepted relationship to God and you made an agreement with God. Baptism was not just something your body did. It is also something your heart did.

Do you understand that you made an agreement with God when you were baptized? Do you know at baptism that you made an agreement to maintain relationship with God for the rest of your life?

[Song of reflection.]

We have a serious problem. We are a people who break agreements and throw away commitments. We abuse our marriages. We abuse our jobs. We abuse our credit. We abuse our driver’s license. We abuse our government. We abuse our rights.

And we don’t understand that we agreed to maintain relationship with God when we were baptized into Christ. Can a people who abuse human relationships learn how to maintain their relationship with God?

Know who Jesus is. Believe that God was working in Him. Accept the blood of Christ. Say “yes” to God. Be baptized into the One who died for you. Be willing to commit to an agreement with God.

Kicking Dirt Or Shouting Encouragement?

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A person hiking in a wilderness area fell into a deep hole. The fall was his fault– a combination of carelessness, poor judgment, and foolish behavior. Though the hole was twelve feet deep, the fall produced no serious injuries.

After his head cleared from the daze of the fall, he was determined to climb out. He used every climbing technique. Yet, his best effort lifted him only eight feet.

His struggle produced thirst, then weariness, then exhaustion. Physically spent and canteen empty, he stopped trying to climb. In panic, he shouted until he lost his voice. Convinced that he would never be found, he lost all hope.

The next day a hiker found him. “How” he fell was obvious. “How” he fell revealed “why” he fell. “How” and “why” made evident his carelessness.

The man was much too weak to help himself. Going for help was out of the question. Left alone, the man would soon die. Really, the choice was simple. Should the hiker kick enough dirt in the hole to bury the man? Or, should he shout encouragement until he prepared for a risky, strenuous rescue effort?

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was (is) the hiker who discovered us in our pitiful condition. Humanity is “the man in the hole.” Our condition, individually and collectively, is pathetic.

From the first, he shouted encouragement. He could have “kicked dirt” on the pathetic lepers, the ungodly prostitutes, the dishonest tax gathers. and the self-centered multitudes that craved miracles and food. Instead, he shouted the encouragement called hope.

He did not even “kick dirt” on the Pharisees. If you carefully study his exchanges with them, you will see that they attacked and he taught. Only late in his ministry, after many attempts to teach them, did he expose them in accountability’s harsh light.

When Jesus finds you in your “hole,” what do you want? A kick of dirt, or, a shout of encouragement? When you discover someone in his or her “hole,” what do you give them? A kick of dirt or a shout of encouragement?

“God, Get Me Out of This Mess!”

Posted by on October 4, 1998 under Sermons

“Listen! Did you hear that? What was that?” Have you ever said those words at night when you heard a strange sound that you could not identify? Isn’t it amazing how sensitive our ears are to strange and unfamiliar sounds?

When our family lived in West Africa we had a night watchman whose name was Maurice. Maurice sat on our large, concrete front porch almost every night with his tiny kerosene lantern burning. Maurice was almost bind. He saw poorly in daylight, and almost nothing at night.

At times I would bedevil Maurice at night. We would drive up after dark. Maurice would be sitting on the porch in the dark. I would open the car door and say in a high, falsetto voice, “Good evening, Maurice.” With genuine seriousness he would always respond, “Good evening, madam.”

When we moved to West Africa, our daughter, Anita, was two years old. She had to make a lot of adjustments to the house and the environment. The first several months we were there, it was not unusual for her to cry out at night. Joyce was quick to hear her and quick to respond.

I don’t hear well. (I know, American men generally don’t hear well after they go to sleep.) Life on the mission field was a physically demanding life. That combination of those two factors meant I slept soundly. In their society, the men were light sleepers and the women slept soundly. The mornings after Anita cried out at night, Maurice would say to Joyce with just a touch of disgust, “Madam sleeps like a man. Master sleeps like a woman.”

God has sensitive ears. His ears are tuned to our plights and our cries.

  1. Life was tough!
    1. They had been invited to move into the country, to come as privileged guests who could settle in the choice land.
      1. For at least a generation, if not much longer, they had status and privileges.
      2. Then, suddenly, their whole world changed.
    2. A new ruler came into power, and the new ruler distrusted them.
      1. Overnight, by decree, the privileged guests became slaves (Exodus 1:11).
        1. They had been shepherds and herdsmen.
        2. Now they were forced to provide the brute strength for major building projects (Exodus 1:14).
      2. But the ruler still feared them.
        1. Even as slaves, their population was growing much too fast.
        2. So the ruler issued an edict to the midwives: “Kill every male child the moment he is born” (Exodus 1:15-19).
        3. But the midwives reverenced God and refused to kill the children.
        4. So the ruler issued another decree: “Parents, throw every newborn male into the Nile River” (Exodus 1:22).
      3. Can you imagine the suffering, the agony, and the fear of these people?
    3. God saw and heard what was happening.
      Exodus 3:7-9
      The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. I have seen their affliction.
      2. I am aware of their sufferings.
      3. I have come to deliver them.
      4. Their cries are before me.
  2. I want to ask you a question: did the fact that God saw their affliction, knew their sufferings, heard their cries, and came to deliver them mean that all they needed to do was sit back, relax, enjoy life, and let God solve their problems?
    1. Moses came to enslaved Israel with a message from God: God will end your slavery, take you out of Egypt, and give you your own country.
      1. Israel’s first reaction: “Thank you, God! Do it!”
      2. Moses presented this request to the king, and conditions got much worse, much more miserable.
      3. Israel’s second reaction: “Moses, I hope that you can live with yourself after what you have done to us!”
      4. Then came the ten disasters that God brought on Egypt, and the last disaster secured Israel’s release from slavery.
      5. Israel left at night with Egypt’s encouragement and blessing.
      6. Then Israel was trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, and they declared that Moses brought them out there to die.
      7. God created a way to escape across the Red Sea and drowned the Egyptian army when it tried to follow.
      8. And Israel rejoiced in their freedom and praised God.
      9. Then Israel began crossing the dessert wilderness.
      10. And they complained about water and about food over and over.
    2. My questions are these:
      1. Would God, who destroyed their slavery, let them die in the wilderness? No.
      2. Would God, who delivered them from Egypt, deliver them from all their enemies? Yes.
      3. Would God actually lead them to the country He promised them? Yes.
      4. Would God actually allow them to possess that country? Yes.
      5. If they placed their confidence in God, would all that happen? Yes.
    3. My important question: Did that mean that all they needed to do was relax, enjoy life, and let God take care of the situation?
      1. Absolutely not!
      2. They had to leave Egypt at night–on foot! Would we try that?
      3. They had to walk across the river bed of the Red Sea in a wind blowing so hard that it backed the water up and dried the river bed. Would we do that?
      4. They had to walk across the low humidity, dry desert wilderness. Would we do that–and do it without complaining?
      5. They had to fight for the land–under God’s specific direction and guidance. Would we regard that as God taking care of it?
      6. God did not do these things for them; but God made it possible; and God made the outcome certain; in fact, without God it would not and could not happen.
  3. “Those Israelites in Egypt and the wilderness were ridiculous beyond belief!”
    1. “They saw the plagues, they crossed the Red Sea, God gave them food and water in the dessert, and they still doubted, still had no faith–unbelievable!”
      1. “Over and over God provided their needs when they could not.”
      2. “No matter what the situation was, God was always greater than the need or the problem.”
      3. “Yet, every time things were tough, they stopped trusting God. Incredible!”
    2. We are just like them.
      1. “David, we are not! We have never been just like them!”
        1. “God never did the things for us He did for them.”
        2. “The ten disasters in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the water and food in the wilderness–we haven’t had those experiences.”
      2. God did something greater for us than He ever did for them.
        1. He gave us Jesus.
        2. He gave us the cross.
        3. He gave us the resurrection.
        4. He gave us a level of mercy, grace, and forgiveness that they never had.
      3. When things go just the way we plan, just the way we expect, just the way we want, just the way that makes sense to us, just the way that fits our outlook and our perspective and our understanding, we declare, “God is at work! God is powerful! God can make it happen! It will happen because of God! Thank you, God! We trust You!”
      4. But when things do not work out the way we plan; or expect; or want; or that makes sense to us; or that fits our outlook, or our perspective, or our understanding; we quickly ask, “Where is God?”
        1. And we declare, “It is not going to happen! God can’t do anything about this. This situation, this problem, this trouble is bigger than God.”
        2. And we say, “If God is powerful as He says He is, this never would have happened in the first place.”
        3. And we doubt, and we even want the worst to happen, and we ridicule those who dare trust God.
    3. Let’s think about Israel for a second.
      1. Was God at work when the Egyptian king said, “No,” to Moses? Certainly.
      2. Was God at work when the Egyptian army pursued the Israelites? Certainly.
      3. Was God at work when the dessert was hot, and dry, and there was little food or water? Certainly.
      4. Did God have lessons to teach:
        1. The king? He said He did.
        2. The Egyptians? Absolutely.
        3. The Israelites? Oh, yes.
      5. Isn’t it easy to see that looking back? Do you think it was so easy to see if the Egyptian army was chasing you or you were walking in the hot wilderness?
    4. “Yes, but they saw the things God did!” Do you keep a list of your prayers that God has answered?
  4. We have transformed Christianity into a spiritual insurance policy with options.
    1. The options are almost endless.
      1. The basic policy is hell insurance, and you need to be baptized and occasionally attend a worship assembly just to have basic coverage.
      2. But to add the option of tragedy insurance, the cost increases–that takes more worship attendance and getting involved.
      3. The crisis insurance option cost still more: you have to add prayer and study.
      4. And the “protection for life” option is the most expensive.
        1. This is a family policy that covers husband, wife, and the kids.
        2. The cost for that coverage is serious godliness.
    2. But it is just religion, just a spiritual insurance policy.
      1. You just have to decide how much religion you want.
      2. Determine the cost, and buy for what you think that you can afford.
      3. If you cannot afford more than the basic policy, then you take your chances.
  5. Christianity is not an insurance policy! Christianity is an existence that uses this life as opportunity to prepare for life with God.
    1. That is why repentance is a crucial part of becoming and being a Christian.
    2. In becoming a Christian, repentance is the conscious choice to redirect life away from sin and toward God.
    3. In being a Christian, repentance is the unending process of making mid-course corrections as we learn more and more about being God’s people.

At no time in history has God solved problems without effort from the people involved. Life is a mess.
Faith is built by our choosing to allow God to guide us through the messy problems of life. God has the map. Jesus Christ is the way. Let Him teach you how to live and how to be His person.
How much do you trust God? Do you trust He has the answers when the mess won’t go away? Let God clean you up and show you the path to follow. Trust, repentance, and baptism will clean you up.

A Higher Priority

Posted by on October 1, 1998 under Articles

If asked what our national priorities should be, many answers would come forth even from Christians. Some would say the top priority is to impeach the President for his misconduct and alleged lying before the Grand Jury. Others might say that we should give full attention and priority to correcting the economic crisis that is spreading throughout the world.

On a congregational level, we might say our priority should be to get the Family Life Center completed as soon as possible. Others might say we need to get more people involved in ministry. Others might see a priority for doing more mission work, expanding our benevolent programs, etc. All of these things are needed and good within themselves. However, there are higher priorities than any of the above, whether they involve national morality or local congregational needs and issues.

In Colossians 3, Paul sets forth priorities for the Christian that will not only enhance the quality of life on earth, but, above all, will give us a proper perspective for eternity with God. May we all be encouraged to make these our highest priorities: (1) set your heart and mind on things above and not on earthly things; (2) put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed; (3) get rid of any anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language that might still be a part of you; (4) make sure you do not lie to each other.

Once we have set our heart and mind on things above and have put off those things which belonged to our earthly nature, then we can make it our priority to: (1) clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; (2) bear with and forgive each other whatever grievances we may have against one another; Forgive as the Lord forgave us! (3) finally, we can put on the greatest of all these virtues — LOVE — which will bind them all together in perfect unity.

As a Christian, I should be concerned with the problems and ills of society. I should be concerned with the growth and work of the local congregation. But my top priority is to clothe myself with Christ, to put on the new man, and then I can be salt and light to a lost world as Jesus commanded. May God help us all to have our priorities in the right place!