A Sure Way To Know You Are Thankful
Another year, another Thanksgiving, and another day to remember to be thankful. The Bible commands us to be thankful (Colossians 3:15), but I have always had a difficult time assessing gratitude. Is gratitude a feeling? Is gratitude merely the courtesy of saying “Thank you” to God before a meal?
How can I be sure that I am grateful in a way that is authentic and pleasing to God? Does the Bible demonstrate normative ways that gratitude is made manifest in our lives? I believe it does. One way gratitude overflows out of our hearts and manifests in our daily lives is by a joyful desire to share the gospel with people around us.
Who Then Is This?
Jesus had just calmed the storm with a word. His disciples fearfully exclaimed, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” Indeed, who is this? As they run ashore, still trying to wrap their brains around what they just witnessed, Jesus demonstrates his glory once again. They are met immediately by a man possessed by thousands of demons.
Great detail is given about the power of the demons in this man. “He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him” (Mark 5:3-4).
Chains could not bind him and no man had the power to subdue him. Common human means were powerless and ineffective. Jesus is no common man. Look at how the man full of demons reacts to Jesus: “And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:6-7).
Who is this that the winds and waves obey his voice and who thousands of demons bow at his feet and beg him for mercy? The demons declare who he is. He is Son of the Most High God.
Tell Them How Much The Lord Has Done For You
Jesus gives the evil spirits permission to enter into a large herd of pigs. The people of the region find the man sitting with Jesus, set free from the power of demons, and in his right mind.
O how grateful he must have been for Jesus! The text tells us that while the demons possessed him, “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:5). Then Jesus showed up and shattered their power. He rescued him and gave him a new life. The man was so changed that he begged Jesus that he might be one of his disciples.
Jesus told the man, “‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:19-20). *Notice how “the Lord” and “Jesus” are synonymous in these verses.
Jesus had supernaturally set him free and poured supernatural grace into his heart. The result of such grace and mercy is overflowing gratitude and love for Jesus. The overflow of this gratitude manifests in the joyful desire to proclaim Jesus to everyone.
Evangelism Is A True Measure Of Gratitude
Our gratitude will be proportionate with our evangelism, that is, our desire and efforts to share Jesus with the people around us. Little desire and effort to tell others about him and what he has done for us reveals very little gratitude. Our gratitude is cheap and superficial if it is not evidenced by a heart to proclaim Jesus.
Imagine you have a friend that rarely speaks about his wife. If he does speak he only speaks in matter of fact ways; such as, “My wife has 3 sisters” or “my wife is from Texas.” Then you finally meet his wife and you are blown away by her kindness, her sense of humor, her grace, her beauty, and her love for your friend. You would say to yourself, “He didn’t tell us how great she is! Isn’t he grateful that he has such an amazing wife?”
If a great wife is grounds for gratitude and proclamation, how much more an infinitely great Savior who rescues and redeems our life from the tombs?
How thankful are you this Thanksgiving? Is it evident by your readiness to share the gospel with the people around you? If so, praise Jesus for his grace. Ask him to fill your heart with more gratitude and your lips with more proclamation. If not, ask Jesus to open your eyes to all he has done for you and to give you overflowing gratitude that manifests in evangelism.
Just In Time Grace
Tracy, my mentor and the pastor of the church that planted our church, likens God’s way of provision to the “just in time” (JIT) inventory method in business management. The just in time method is an approach to inventory that keeps a needed amount of supplies in stock and orders new inventory as supplies are sold. The purpose of this method is to keep only what is needed and sufficient.
Tracy would say, “God provides what we need, when we need it.” Over the last 8 years since we planted NOLA Baptist Church, this principle has proven to be true. I can list instance after instance where God has supernaturally provided precisely what we needed, when we needed it – whether that be people, opportunities, or money.
I admit, in my flesh, I would love for God to stockpile resources for our church like a warehouse. In my flesh, I would love the certainty of an enormous pile of cash in the bank, or the reserve of hundreds or thousands of people in the pews. That is appealing to my flesh because a stockpile of resources does not require faith.
Let’s be honest with ourselves; if God gave us an abundance of temporal resources would we still depend on him? Would we still call out to him fervently in prayer? I don’t think so. We might become prideful like Israel (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) or idolatrous like the rich man (Luke 12:19-21).
God provides what we need, when we need it. Whether that is a ram in the thicket (Genesis 22:13-14) or seven loaves and a few fish (Matthew 15:34), he supernaturally meets our need and proves himself to be faithful and great.
Hebrews 4:16 tells us, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Just in time, God will give us grace to meet our need. This means that whatever our need may be (financial, relational, physical, spiritual, emotional) supernatural grace from God is our ultimate resource.
And God gives the resource of his grace in abundance. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
This is a remarkable verse. We come to God with our need and God responds with grace, but not a limited amount of grace. Paul says God responds with “all grace” and he causes this supernatural grace to “abound” to us. This means as we draw near to God he will draw near to us with the fullness of his immeasurable grace.
However, notice that the outpouring of immeasurable grace is made manifest in measurable ways. Paul says, “so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times…” The temporal resource that God provides will be sufficient for our need. If our need is financial, God may provide exactly what we need; not one cent more. If a friend is what we need, God will provide sufficient companionship. His grace abounds, and what he provides will be sufficient to meet our need.
God will do this because his immeasurable grace to sufficiently meet our measurable need serves his good purposes: “so that…you may abound in every good work.” God gives supernatural grace, just in time, so that we will have exactly what we need to do every good work that he has appointed us to do.
Immeasurable grace meets measurable need so that we can do appointed works. Therefore, life is not meant to be lived anxiously. God does not want us to worry about temporal resources.
Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).
As we focus our lives on his kingdom and his righteousness and every good work he has for us, God will provide what we need, when we need it. Scripture tells us to wait on the Lord. “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:25-26).
Waiting is itself instructive. If we are not careful, we will see ourselves as the “inventory managers” of our own lives. God may supply the inventory but we are tempted to see it as our job to tell him what we need and when we need it. We put the order in, and God sends it promptly!
But waiting doesn’t work that way. We cannot be the managers of our lives because we don’t know what is best for our lives nor do we know God’s plan. We can’t begin to fathom all that God is doing. This is why we say, “If the Lord wills…” (James 4:15). Waiting humbles us so that we learn to trust that God knows what we need and when we need it in accordance with his perfect will.
Romans 8:26-27 pictures the Holy Spirit as our inventory manager. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
We are not competent inventory managers of our lives. We are those who look to the living God. We are those who wait for him. We are those who groan, not knowing how to pray, dependent upon the Holy Spirit to intercede for us.
Waiting and groaning seems futile to a self-reliant and resource-obsessed world, but not to those who trust in the Triune God. To those who trust in the God of immeasurable grace, it is not futility – it is freedom. Freedom from anxiety, worry, fear, self-reliance, and dependence on worldly resources. Therefore, set your heart on the God who is able to make all grace abound to you!
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” (Lamentations 3:22-24).
The Greatest Illusion – Meditations on Daniel
As I read through the Bible, I continually see that earthly power is an illusion. That is not to say that earthly powers are not real. Rulers wage war and kill. Authorities create laws and enforce them. Societies create culture and apply pressure. In every sphere of life, we are under and exercising varying degrees of power and authority.
Earthly power is an illusion in this sense: any power or authority that we may exercise is not our own – we don’t actually possess it. If we have it, it is only because the God of heaven has seen fit to give it to us, not to possess, but to exercise in just and righteous ways. God will judge us based on how we have exercised the power and authority that he gives us.
Therefore, recognizing that power and authority comes from God, we should be humble and use whatever power and authority we have to serve and bless others. Our sinful nature, however, will always idolize power and authority and make it a reason to boast and to be served in various ways.
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, is a great example of sinful pride. As the king of Babylon, he was regarded as “king of kings” (Daniel 2:37). His armies were as vast as his empire and his wealth. Nebuchadnezzar was great and mighty on the earth, yet, as he slept in his heavily guarded palace, nothing could keep him safe from the God of heaven. Night after night, Nebuchadnezzar was terrorized by a dream from God. “In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him” (Daniel 2:1).
What strikes me in this verse is how easily and effortlessly the God of heaven is able to shake earth’s mightiest king and bring him to his knees. All God had to do was place a dream in his mind as he slept, just as he did with Pharaoh (Genesis 41:8).
To us, earthly power seems so great and mighty. “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Revelation 13:4). But God is not impressed and he certainly does not fear it. How could he fear what he has given to those whom he has created?
God confused the language of the people of Babel so that their self-glorifying efforts were put to shame (Genesis 11:7). God saved his people in battle by throwing the Philistines into a “great confusion” so that they fought each other instead of Israel (1 Samuel 14:20). God demonstrated what he promised in Deuteronomy 1:30, “The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes.” God subdues the mightiest kings and nations with dreams and confusion.
He can do this, not merely because He is more powerful than kings or nations, but because any power that they exercise comes from him. Daniel recognizes this as he praises God in Daniel 2:20-21, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings…”
Nebuchadnezzar’s rise to power was by God’s hand. He may have thought he was carrying out his political and militaristic campaign, but in reality, he was God’s servant, carrying out God’s purpose (Jeremiah 25:9).
The irony of God using a dream is that now Nebuchadnezzar is waking up to reality. He had been living in a dream world, believing that he possessed power and authority, but God showed him that he is in actuality frail and foolish. Nebuchadnezzar is not free, he is not autonomous, he is not the master of his fate, and he does not hold his destiny in his hands. All he really holds is an illusion.
The dream shakes him and terrorizes him so greatly, that he realizes his frailty and folly. We all have moments like this where we realize how powerless we are to control our lives. Maybe we are fired or betrayed. Maybe our children rebel or our loved ones get sick. We realize in these moments that we are not only powerless, we are unable to make sense of what is happening and why it is happening. It doesn’t take long in life to experience our absolute frailty and folly.
This may be over-simplistic, but I have found that there are two basic responses to our frailty and folly and to the reality that God is all-powerful and all-wise. The first and most common response is fury. When we realize we are not in control and we are not able to understand, our natural response is to become angry and ultimately bitter.
This is the response of Nebuchadnezzar. Finding no solutions or answers, “the king was angry and very furious.” (Daniel 2:12). Many direct their fury towards God, offended that they are not free, or disappointed that their life has not gone as planned. Yet, even in their fury, they inadvertently or reluctantly confess that God is all-powerful and all-wise!
In contrast to fury, the second basic response is faith. Instead of holding onto the illusion that we are powerful and wise, faith embraces our frailty and folly and takes ahold of and rejoices that wisdom and might belong to God.
This is Daniel’s response. Daniel acts in faith (Daniel 2:16), then he seeks mercy from God (Daniel 2:18); asking God to reveal the dream and its interpretation to him so that his life and the life of his friends may be spared. When God gives mercy to Daniel and reveals the dream, Daniel praises God, “I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might” (Daniel 2:20).
Daniel accepts his frailty and folly and trusts in God. The God of might and wisdom is also the God of grace, for he is glad to give his wisdom and might to those who trust in him.
God is teaching us this lesson every day of our lives. As our bodies age and fail us or as our plans crumble or as our minds are unable to comprehend, we realize that our strength and wisdom are insufficient, much less all-powerful and all-wise. Learning this is painful, but the initial prick of that pain gives way to joy if we trust in and worship the God of heaven.
“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4).
How will you respond, friend?
Click here to listen to sermons in Daniel.
* Picture: Mattia Preti – early 1670s
The Secret To Reading The Bible
All of life can be simplified (perhaps oversimplified) into two categories: faith and desires. Life is about what/who we believe in and what/who we desire. You will live for what/who you believe is true and what/who you desire as valuable.
So, when the Holy Spirit works on our hearts and minds, he is working to enable faith and new desires. The primary tool by which the Holy Spirit accomplishes this is the Bible. As we read the Bible, the Holy Spirit testifies in our minds, “This Word is true” and in our hearts, “This Word is good.”
Therefore, the way that we position ourselves to be renewed by the Holy Spirit is to carefully and to prayerfully read the Bible. This is the task of the local church: to equip the people in the pews to read, understand, believe, rejoice in, and obey God’s holy Word.
I have witnessed the Holy Spirit supernaturally give faith, joy, and heart-felt obedience to people who did not possess any knowledge or understanding of the Bible. God is not bound nor is he constrained by anything. However, if a fire is started with a single log, that flame will burn hot, but it will eventually burn out unless you throw more logs onto the fire. So it is with faith, joy, and obedience: those traits will grow cold and eventually disappear without the daily reading and understanding of God’s Word.
What, then, is the secret to reading and understanding Scripture? There is no secret! The words, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and books of the biblical text are clear and sufficient. Our task is to carefully and prayerfully read the text in order to gain understanding.
Do not be intimidated by this task. Do not fear as you gaze into the biblical landscape. You do not look into an abyss of nothingness like Nietzsche. You look into the world of our knowable and gracious God. The very existence of the Bible is evidence that God is near to you and that he desires for you to draw near to him. Take him at his Word.
So, for the remainder of this article, I will try to show simple ways to read and draw understanding from the Bible, using the text of Hebrews 7:26-28 as an example. The text reads as follows in the English Standard Version:
“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”
Let’s assume that you have been reading the book of Hebrews from 1:1 all the way to 7:25. Now, the word “For” in verse 26 is meant to connect what has already been said to what will be said. The question for the Bible reader is, “How does ‘for’ connect what has been said to what will be said?” What will “for” reveal to us and uncover for us?
Now we see it. The goal of this coordinating conjunction is to show us why all of these things we have seen in the previous unit (Hebrews 6:13-7:25) are fitting or necessary. In order that we are not confused, the remainder of the clause summarizes the point of 6:13-7:25.
So, the goal of “for” is to justify why Jesus is our high priest. In other words, verses 26-28 are meant to show us why it is fitting that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is our truer and better priest unto God.
The second part of verse 26 emphasizes the qualities of Jesus that make it fitting that he is our high priest. Notice the 5 attributes used to describe him:
Each one of these 5 adjectives/qualities can be the source of immense study and prayerful reflection. Jesus’ nature and character is equated in these verses to the very nature of God (Hebrews 1:3). He is fitting as our high priest because he is God. His ministry as our high priest is as much a declaration that he is God as the calming of the storm (Luke 8:25).
Verse 27 offers a second reason why Jesus is fitting as our high priest: Jesus and his ministry is greater than the priests of old and their ministry. Notice that verse 27 does not begin with a conjunction and continues with the same subject: “He.” So, verse 27 builds on the fittingness of Jesus as our high priest.
So, what is being argued here? My attempt in spacing out the verse as shown above and the arrows and dotted lines is to show how this verse contrasts the limited ministry of Levitical priests with the limitless ministry of Jesus. Notice the parallels and contrasts between Jesus’ priesthood and their priesthood. He has no need, like them. They offered animal sacrifices daily, whereas Jesus offered himself once for all.
When we see the contrast and the supremacy of Jesus’ priesthood, it leads us to leave behind any form of religion that calls us to place our trust in human beings or human traditions. We do not have confidence in earthly priests and earthly ministries. We have confidence in our high priest who has passed through the heavens (Hebrews 4:14-16).
In verse 26 it was argued that Jesus possesses divine qualities. In verse 27 it was argued that Jesus has a superior ministry. Finally, in verse 28, it is argued that his priesthood is fitting because it is secured by a better promise.
Notice again, how verse 28 parallels and contrasts in order to make this point:
Verse 28 is broken into 2 main clauses. Both clauses possess what I am calling a ‘source.’ The first clause identifies the source of the law, that is; the law of Moses. And what does this law do, what is its ‘action?’ The law appoints men. And how does the first clause qualify these men who serve as priests? They are weak. How foolish it is to put our hope and confidence in the weakness of man! Yet, we are tempted to put our hope in the things of man (Revelation 13:18).
Notice the second clause begins with, “But.” This conjunction lets us know that the second clause will contrast with the first clause just like in verse 27. But the word of the oath (Hebrews 7:20-21) is not like the law. The law appoints men in their weakness, but God’s oath/promise appoints a Son, and this Son is anything but weak! He has been made perfect forever – that is, his appointment is forever by the power of an indestructible life (7:16).
These verses contrast the temporary and weak ministry of man with the eternal and powerful ministry of the Son of God. His divine qualities (26), his superior ministry (27) secured by a better promise (28), make Jesus a fitting high priest for God’s people.
This only scratches the surface of what this passage reveals about Jesus, God’s plans and purposes, and the power to follow him in obedience. My point is to show how clear and understandable the text of Scripture is. We will reap in understanding what we sow in careful and prayerful reading.
So, do not be intimidated to dive into the Bible. Do not fear misinterpreting it. Read it carefully and prayerfully, knowing that the Spirit of God, our great Interpreter, is glad to guide you and lead you into the truth (John 16:13).
Should We Baptize Children?
Baptism is important to Baptists. The meaning and practice of baptism is a key mark of our particular Protestant expression. All Baptists agree on the practice of believer’s baptism: the practice that only conscious believers in Jesus can be baptized. However, Baptists can disagree on the administration and implications of baptism. We shouldn’t condemn one another over these issues, but we do need fruitful and thoughtful dialogue. The baptism of children is one of those issues.
Certainly, children can possess true faith. Jesus sets up their faith as a model for adults, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it’ (Luke 18:16-17).
Nevertheless, this does not mean we should indiscriminately baptize children. Most Christian parents recognize this, because most Christian parents ask pastors, “Is my child old enough to be baptized?” That question speaks to the reality that the conscience and convictions of a child can be fragile (1 Corinthians 13:11, Proverbs 22:15). Parents know this and love their children.
Some churches dismiss this question and act presumptuously and indiscriminately. And some churches act arbitrarily by setting an age requirement that Scripture does not demand. Being eighteen is no more a guarantee that someone is saved than being five. Still, we know that a child’s heart and mind are delicate.
Before we consider the particulars of children and baptism, we should examine some general biblical principles regarding baptism. Looking at Scripture, we could say: Baptism is an ordinance given to the church by Jesus himself that proclaims the gospel, symbolizes the new birth, and is a means by which a local church affirms its members.
Baptism is an ordinance given to the church by Jesus himself
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
One imperative drives these verses: “Make disciples.” What does Jesus charge us to do with those disciples? Two participles follow the imperative: Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Of all the things that Jesus could have said to follow the command to make disciples, baptism was of first importance. This should cause churches and parents to pause and ask, “Why is baptism so important to Jesus and to the kingdom work he has called us to do?” Knowing how important this is to Jesus, we cannot afford to be presumptuously indiscriminate or arbitrarily restrictive.
Baptism proclaims the gospel
The Greek verb “baptizō” means “to immerse” or “to submerge.” In the case of baptism, we immerse or submerge under water. This is why John the Baptist baptized in the Jordan river – so that he could submerge people who were coming out to be baptized (Mark 1:4). The immersive design of baptism declares the glories of the gospel.
When James and John asked Jesus if they could sit at his side in heaven, Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38) The cup and baptism are interchangeable. The cup that he was referring to was his impending death on the cross (Mark 14:36). “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50).
Baptism is a proclamation of the good news of the death and resurrection of our Lord. Every time a church baptizes a believer by immersion, it is a declaration that ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Baptism symbolizes the new birth
Baptism proclaims the gospel and it also symbolizes the new birth. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
Water baptism symbolizes the spiritual baptism of the heart when someone believes in Jesus. The old life is put to death and buried. It is no more. Now, by the real and supernatural baptism of the Holy Spirit, a new life is raised up with Christ and for Christ.
Baptism does not create this reality, but it does testify to it. When a person is baptized he/she is testifying, “I am no longer the person I once was. That person is dead, and a new person has been raised to the glory of God.”
Baptism is a means by which a local church affirms its members
Baptism proclaims the gospel, symbolizes the new birth, and it also is a means by which a local church affirms its members. Baptism is not merely an act of the individual being baptized. In fact, it is primarily an act of a church. When a church baptizes someone, they are affirming that he/she is a repentant and obedient believer in Jesus.
Jesus calls this act of affirmation, “binding” in Matthew 16 and 18. After Peter professes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), Jesus tells the apostles, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). And following instructions for a church to practice church discipline, Jesus says, “Truly I say you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).
In the context of Matthew 18:15-20, ‘loosing,’ clearly refers to removing unrepentant church members from the church. If loosing refers to removing members, then binding must refer to receiving members. Jesus has given the keys of the kingdom to his churches to bind and to loose, to receive and to remove.
And who should churches bind and receive? Disciples. And what should churches do with disciples? Baptize them (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is the act of a church saying to an individual, “Amen, we affirm you!” based on his/her profession of faith and new life in Christ Jesus.
Should we baptize children?
This brings us to the provocative title “Should We Baptize Children?” In light of what we have observed of baptism in Scripture, below are questions we should ask on a case by case basis.
Baptism proclaims the gospel – Does the child have a clear and solid understanding of the gospel? Does he/she understand who Jesus is? Can he/she distinguish the difference between Jesus and Santa Claus or the Easter bunny? Does he/she understand their sin? Does he/she understand what Jesus’ blood sacrifice accomplished? Is there any confusion in his/her mind that he/she is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and not by religious works and traditions?
Baptism symbolizes the new birth – Does the child possess godly sorrow for sin rather than mere worldly sorrow? Godly sorrow leads to repentance. Do you see a yielded and repentant heart within the child? Can you see a change in desires; no longer for selfish wants but for Jesus, his Word, holiness, and to love and serve others? Does the child have an obedient heart towards parents? If you say, “Well, they are too young for us to really see that,” then maybe more time should be given before we affirm them through baptism.
Baptism is a means by which a local church affirms its members – Is the child old enough to understand that a local church is affirming him/her? Is the significance of this affirmation lost on the child? Are the parents of the child baptized and active members of the church themselves? Can a child really be ‘bound’ by a church at a young age? If so, how should a church respond if a child departs from the faith or becomes unrepentant?
These are not extreme hypothetical questions that should be dismissed. These are the day to day realities of churches across the world. Notice I said, “realities,” not “problems.” Children being raised in the ways of the Lord and placing their faith in Jesus is never a problem; it is always a blessing!
God calls whom he will. He grants faith as he sees fit. Each child should be examined gently, patiently, and honestly. We must remember that God calls us to make disciples, not decisions. Baptism proclaims the gospel, symbolizes the new birth, and affirms disciples for life.
And if a child has been crucified and raised with Christ, then nothing can stop him/her from loving Jesus and living for him. Even delayed baptism.
Obedience Is Necessary
Obedience is the very best way
To show that you believe.
Doing exactly what the Lord commands,
Doing it joyfully.
Action is the key – do it immediately
Joy you will receive.”
These are lyrics to a Bible song that my girls listen to in the mornings on the way to school. I love this song. It is full of powerful truths for our lives. This song holds out a biblical promise: Obeying the Lord happily and immediately will yield true and everlasting joy.
Yet, I hear many professing Christians bristle at obedience. It seems many have been taught because we are saved by grace and not by works (Ephesians 2:9-10), obedience is not necessary. The line of reasoning goes something like this: the old covenant was mediated by the Law of Moses, which demanded obedience to rules, but the new covenant is mediated by grace, which demands faith. This line of thought has caused professing Christians to say something like, “Obedience equals legalism” or “God does not demand obedience.”
This is a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the old and new covenants. Obedience is not an outdated or transcended relic of the old covenant. In fact, the problem with the old covenant is not that it emphasized obedience, but that it lacked the power to enable obedience. Moses looked to a future day when God would circumcise the hearts of his people and enable them to obey God.
“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live…And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today” (Deuteronomy. 30:6-8).
Moses looked to a day when God would supernaturally change the hearts of his people to love him. Notice the connection between loving God and obeying God. What is the evidence that they love God? They will obey God’s voice.
Ezekiel spoke of that same day. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
The grace of the new covenant enables obedience from the heart, which is exactly what God desires (1 Samuel 15:22). Anyone who desires to do away with obedience is at odds with Jesus.
Jesus connects faith with obedience:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
Jesus connects love with obedience (just as Moses did in Dt. 30:6-8):
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word (obedience), and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:23-24).
Jesus connects relationship with obedience:
“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
If we have faith in Jesus, we will obey him.
If we love Jesus, we will obey him.
If we have a relationship with Jesus, we will obey him.
In Romans 1:5 and 16:26 Paul uses the phrase “the obedience of faith” to paint a picture of faith as a soil, rich and full of nutrients; producing a tree of obedience that bears much fruit. Obedience to rules apart from faith is not pleasing to God, for “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6). However, without obedience, faith proves itself to be dead (James 2:17).
God is not legalistic, nor is he licentious. He is holy and gracious. He delights in giving us the power to obey him. He delights in changing our hearts so that we desire to please him and do what he commands.
So, pray in accordance with God’s desire for you. If you are a born-again believer, pray for grace to obey. If you are not born-again, cry out to Jesus. Confess your faith in him as Lord and Savior, and surrender your life to him for the obedience of faith.
Joy you will receive.
If You Want To Feel Alive, Tell Someone About Jesus
Like most people, I wrestle with anxiety. My sinful flesh is prone to worry and be anxious about anything and everything. My sinful way of dealing with anxiety and worry is to find comfort in fleshly things like food or entertainment.
Let’s examine that last sentence carefully. Notice, the way that I deal with anxiety and worry is by doing something. The way that my flesh seeks comfort from anxiety is by action. I eat food for comfort. I watch Netflix for comfort. These are actions that I do because I believe that they will comfort me and relieve me of my anxiety and worry.
Therefore, I inherently know that I must do something in order to fight anxiety and what I do depends on what I believe.
God used the sermon of an old preacher whose name I have forgotten to illustrate this for me and it has stuck with me for many years. I was amazed to hear a man in his 80’s humbly and candidly describe his battle with anxiety. Most pastors present themselves as strong and competent. Most pastors don’t confess their weaknesses and sinful ways. As he confessed his struggles with anxiety and worry I thought, “How could this man struggle so profoundly with these things, yet endure until the end of his ministry with great faithfulness?”
He provided the answer. He said, “Many days and seasons I get down. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I struggle with insecurity and I can easily mope and feel sorry for myself. I have learned over the years that the most effective way for me to fight anxiety is to tell someone about Jesus. When I feel sorry for myself, I go to the mall. I sit on a bench until a dutiful husband, just as miserable as I am, sits next to me. Then I tell him how good and great my Jesus is. If you want to feel alive, go tell someone about Jesus.”
In other words, he fought anxiety, worry, and even depression by doing something. He acted on faith, believing that if he went and told someone about Jesus, he would find power to overcome those afflictions. The Holy Spirit has caused his wise testimony to stick with me over the years. It has become one of the most important truths I have ever heard.
Isaiah 12:3-4 says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.’”
Notice that Isaiah says that you will draw water from the well of salvation “with joy.” Knowing that I am saved by grace and knowing what it cost (Jesus’ life) is a deep source of joy for me. I can internalize that truth, hold it tight in my heart, meditate on it in my mind, pray prayers of thanksgiving for it, and sing of it on Sunday.
But the image here is not of the believer drawing water from the well of salvation and drinking it, but of drawing water from the well of salvation and serving it.
Look again in verse 4: “And,” which connects the joy of drawing water in verse 3 with what will follow in verse 4, “you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.’” So, the source of joy in verse 3 is not internalizing salvation but externalizing salvation. The joy that Isaiah is speaking of is the joy of giving the water of salvation to all people; pleading with the people to call upon his name.
There is a joy that God wants us to know that is received by actively telling others about the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ.
We fight anxiety and worry by actively seeking God’s kingdom work. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:25-33). Faith put into action for the sake of God’s mission is one of the most effective ways to fight anxiety, worry, depression, and to pursue joy in Christ. Let me give you 4 reasons why I think sharing the good news of the gospel is so effective at fighting anxiety:
1) Actively sharing the gospel is an exercise of faith. When we share the gospel with others, we exercise faith to overcome fear, doubts, and even anxiety! Active evangelism trains our heart to trust God when we are anxious.
2) Actively sharing the gospel causes us to take our focus off of ourselves and to put it on others. Much of our anxiety and worry stems from a focus on ourselves and our circumstances (Matthew 6:25). Focusing on others and blessing them with the gospel frees us from self-centeredness and self-absorption (Philippians 2:3).
3) Actively sharing the gospel causes us to remember and recite the good news of the gospel. Sharing the good news of salvation is not just beneficial for others, but for ourselves as well. As we verbally recall the deeds of the Lord and all his wonders in the gospel (Psalm 77:11) it will stir up faith in the promises of God.
4) Actively sharing the gospel positions us to behold God’s glory in salvation. As God uses our witness to save people, we will have a front row seat to his miraculous grace. It is a miracle when God opens people’s eyes and gives them a new heart. When we share the gospel with people, we say with Moses, “Show me your glory!” (Exodus 33:18).
To put it simply, we combat sin-based anxiety with supernatural faith in action. In my experience, nothing has enabled me to conquer anxiety and to rejoice in God than actively, intentionally, and verbally sharing the gospel to people who do not know Jesus.
Whether we do this through personal relationships, street evangelism, or we go to the mall to find miserable husbands; the promise of joy is the same. How much of our anxiety, worry, and even depression can be attributed to slothfulness, self-focus, self-indulgence, and boredom? What could be more exciting than God’s mission for his people? What could be more fulfilling than making Christ known? What could make us feel more alive than to be used by King Jesus for his glory and for the eternal good of others?
Beware of the thought, “That’s too simplistic!” Satan loves our anxiety, worry, and depression. He wants nothing more than for us to remain there, and he has many weapons designed to deceive us into despair. He also loves to complicate biblical truths that God has made clear and simple. Don’t listen to Satan, listen to God and take note of his promises.
Believer, if you find yourself anxious, worried, and/or depressed – take a step of faith and pursue the joy of serving the water of salvation to someone who needs it. You will find that your thirst will be quenched.
“The Fury of the Fatherless & The Faithfulness of the Father”
In the December 2020 issue of First Things, Mary Eberstadt wrote an article titled, “The Fury of the Fatherless.” Her argument in the article is that much of the dysfunction that we see in Western society can be attributed to the lack of fathers in the home. Eberstadt writes, “Six decades of social science have established that the most efficient way to increase dysfunction is to increase fatherlessness.” According to Eberstadt, “absent fathers predict higher rates of truancy, psychiatric problems, criminality, promiscuity, drug use, rape, domestic violence, and other less-than-optimal outcomes,” such as the search for “father substitutes,” which can “turn out to be toxic.”
She also cites evidence to show that there is a link between the “loosening of family ties and the loosening of religious ties.” In other words, when a child’s relationship with an earthly father is broken or dysfunctional, there is a statistical, sociological, and psychological likelihood that the child will reject faith in God. She notes the research of sociologist Paul Vitz, who observed that many prominent atheists had “experienced some form of ‘defective fatherhood,’ such as absence or abuse. Anger at fathers, Vitz theorized, was translated into anger at God.”
Eberstadt uncovers a grim reality that as fatherlessness increases, so does secularism and a disregard for the biblical vision of marriage and family. These trends and statistics are discouraging and heartbreaking. However, they do not tell the whole story, nor do they present ultimate reality.
The Bible tells us that reality is not dictated by human sociology but by divine sovereignty. Though the fury of the fatherless is real, Scripture anchors our faith and hope in the faithfulness of God the Father. Scripture assures us that God is able to overcome evil, sin, and unbelief. God is totally free and all-powerful; therefore, he is not constrained nor is he weakened by societal drifts.
Eberstadt’s article really resonated with me. Like many of the statistics and people she referenced, I grew up in a fatherless home. I did not meet my biological father until I was 20 years old. The majority of my elementary years I grew up with an angry, abusive, and alcoholic stepfather (note: he has since passed and my current stepfather is a godly man who loves the Lord).
Sunday School teachers told me as a young child that God loves me and cares for me. Yet, I would think in my mind, “Has God forgotten me? Does he hate me?” (Psalm 10:10-11). I remember feeling anger, resentment, and confusion as a child. I remember feeling socially disoriented, insecure, and, indeed, searching for “father substitutes” to affirm and guide me. Most of these substitutes were sinful and all were misplaced.
But God the Father was faithful. He had not forgotten me. He did love me. He did not give me a father, but he was faithful to give me his Word, a steadfast mother, and a loving church.
One night, as a young child, my stepfather was drunk and angry. I could hear him in the living room shouting profanities, breaking things, and cursing God. By God’s gracious leading, I grabbed a Methodist pew Bible that night, opened it to the book of Exodus, and began reading. I read about God’s faithfulness to bring Israel out of bondage in Egypt. I read about his faithfulness to bring them through the Red Sea as Pharaoh raged behind them. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and showed me what was real: sin has left this world dysfunctional, unjust, and not what it should be. Why are things so broken? Sin.
I read about their rebellion and worship of the golden calf at Mount Sinai. The Holy Spirit continued to speak and to show me ultimate reality: Sin does not just affect the world outside me, it affects me to the core of my being. My father and my stepfather are sinners, but so am I! We all stand guilty before the holy and righteous God.
And then I read how God forgave Israel and what he declared about himself in Exodus 34:6-7, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.”
God made himself real to me through his Word that night. Dysfunction was not ultimate reality. Drunken rage was not ultimate reality. An absentee father was not ultimate reality. Insecurity, anger, and confusion was not ultimate reality. Exodus 34:6-7 was, is, and forever will be ultimate reality. The God of the Bible is the God who is there and the God who saves and redeems. Reality would never be the same.
God delivered me from becoming a statistic by his sovereign grace and steadfast love. Over the years I witnessed my mother put her trust in God and obey him at great cost. I witnessed God break my stepfather’s abusive power over my mother “by the power of an indestructible life,” (Hebrews 7:16).
God revealed his fatherly love for me by sending me godly men who loved me, taught me his Word, and prayed for me. When Mr. Werntz, my high school “Accountability Group” leader sensed by the Holy Spirit that I was secretly in sin, he lovingly confronted me. After I confessed that I was viewing pornography, he looked me in the eyes as a man and prayed for me with tears.
At every step and in every moment, God was faithfully revealing himself to me. “But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself, you have been the helper of the fatherless,” (Psalm 10:14).
We mourn the epidemic of fatherlessness and we mourn the sufferings of the fatherless, but not as those without hope. Our hope rests in our faithful Father and all of his promises that have been secured by the Lord Jesus; including the promise that he will cause fathers to repent and to return to their children (Luke 1:17).
Remember him who said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
Give Thanks For God’s Righteousness
On an average day, I bounce back and forth between gratitude and ingratitude. When I find a parking spot at the grocery store, I give thanks. When my favorite flavor of Blue Bell Ice Cream is out of stock, I grumble and whine. My soul is grateful when my children rush to give me hugs and tell me about their day, then bitter when they are defiant and rebellious. I am glad when my paycheck is deposited, yet I complain when the electric bill arrives.
Left to myself and my own nature and strength, I am like a rudderless ship: tossed back and forth by my circumstances, my feelings, and my wants. If things go well or go my way, I will be grateful. If things do not go well or do not go my way, I will be ungrateful.
As long as I let my circumstances, my feelings, and my wants rule my heart and mind, I will never be able to obey the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Scripture commands us to give thanks in all circumstances. This must mean that the barrier to ever-present and ongoing gratitude is the fleshly state of looking to our circumstances, our feelings, and our wants. By “looking to” I mean “trusting in” or “hoping in.” The barrier to ever-present gratitude is believing that our circumstances, our feelings, or our wants will give us life.
If we look to our circumstances, then we will be ruled by our circumstances. If we look to our feelings, we will be ruled by our feelings. If we look to our wants, we will be ruled by our wants. As a result, our gratitude will be tossed back and forth the way waves toss a rudderless boat.
Therefore, gratitude is a fruit of faith. If we put our faith in our circumstances, our feelings, or our wants then gratitude will constantly elude us or it will be cheap and shallow. If we put our faith in or look to the Lord then unshakeable gratitude will overflow from our hearts regardless of our circumstances, feelings, or wants.
I believe people are ungrateful, joyless, bitter, envious, and angry because they are looking to things that cannot and will not satisfy. Jeremiah 2:13 says, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Psalm 115:8 declares to those who worship lifeless idols, “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trustin them.”
So, if gratitude comes from looking to the Lord and trusting in him, what specifically should we look for? It is possible to think that we are looking to the Lord, but in reality, we are looking pastthe Lord; that is, looking to what he can do for us or give to us. This again makes our gratitude contingent on our circumstances, our feelings, or our wants. Beware of looking past the Lord.
To look to the Lord means that we look at him, place our hope in him, find our joy in him, and therefore we are always thankful because he never disappoints.
Psalm 7:17 explains this to us: “I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.” The Psalmist gives thanks to God. Why? Notice, the reason for his gratitude is “due to his (God’s) righteousness.”
The psalmist’s hope is not set on the shifting waves of circumstances, feelings, and wants. His hope is set on the absolute rock of God’s righteousness. The psalmist looks and beholds the righteousness of his God and he sees splendor and majesty; Psalm 111:3, “Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever”
Looking to God’s righteousness is a sure means of gratitude and joy because God’s “righteousness endures forever” as opposed to all of the temporary and fleeting things of the world.
If a sports bettor knew with complete certainty that a football team would win every game, he would certainly bet a max bet on that team every week. In fact, he would be a fool if he didn’t bet on that team! Similarly, the righteousness of God, is an eternal and sure source of gratitude. We would be fools to turn to temporal sources!
Therefore, look to the Lord! Do not look past the Lord to his blessings, but to the Lord himself. Behold his splendor and majesty in his Word and give thanks in prayer for his never-ending righteousness.
Satan’s Water & Christ’s Oil
Jesus was careful to make sure that people understood that becoming his disciple would be costly (Luke 14:25-33). John 6 records an instance when “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him,” saying, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60-66).
Following Jesus is costly and hard. It is costly because the call to follow Jesus is a call to die (Mark 8:34-35). It is hard because the temptations of the flesh are so appealing (1 John 2:16). Following Jesus requires faith that the promises of God in Christ are sure and that the grace of God will uphold us when we are weak.
I find that temptation is always at my door, always knocking, and always boasting promises of life. I also find that despair always looms at my window; blocking the light from coming in. Satan utilizes temptations of the flesh to get me to trample on the grace of God and to disregard his commands, and he utilizes despair to get me to doubt God’s goodness and power or to get me to turn to pride and cynicism.
1 Peter 5:8 tells us that Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Satan hates God. He hates God’s people. He hates faith. He hates the obedience that comes from faith. Therefore, he works day and night to destroy our faith.
Satan is wiser, smarter, and more powerful than we are. Yet, Peter is sure that we can resist him. How? 1 Peter 5:9-11 says, “Resist him (Satan), firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
We can resist Satan’s attacks by the power of faith. Even if we suffer, as many brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering, we resist Satan and overcome him by faith that the God of all grace will himself see us through until the end. Because God is faithful, we can have faith that he will enable us to overcome the evil one.
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a man named Christian who embraces the costly path to follow Jesus. The path is full of temptation and despair. Along his journey, Christian encounters a man named Interpreter. Interpreter shows Christian many “profitable” things that will help him to endure until the end.
In one scene, Interpreter takes Christian into a room where fire is burning against a wall. There is a man in the room who is described as “standing by (the fire) always, casting much water upon it to quench it.”
Christian asks Interpreter, “What means this?” Interpreter tells Christian, “This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart.” In other words, the fire represents Christian faith. “He that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil.” Like a lion always looking to devour prey, Satan is always working to extinguish the flame of faith in our hearts.
“Yet,” we are told, “did the fire burn higher and hotter.” What enables the flame of faith to burn higher and hotter even as Satan douses it with water? Interpreter takes Christian to the other side of the wall where he finds another man “with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire.”
Interpreter tells Christian, “This is Christ, who continually with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still.”
Following Jesus was very costly and difficult for John Bunyan. Bunyan was a preacher and God blessed his preaching. However, his preaching landed him in jail. What was supposed to be only a 3-month sentence turned into 12 years because Bunyan refused to stop. For 12 years, Bunyan sat in a dark, cold, and disease infested prison cell; separated from his precious family whom he loved dearly.
Imagine all the ways that Satan doused Bunyan’s faith with temptations and despair during those years. Imagine how the flame of his faith flickered on those long, cold nights. Imagine his sorrow on his children’s birthdays or on his wedding anniversary.
But there was a greater power at work in Bunyan’s life; a power that enabled him to say, “I will stay in prison till the moss grows on my eye lids rather than disobey God.”
This is the power of the grace of our faithful Lord Jesus – who is always there, unseen, pouring the oil of his grace, and enabling faith. He did this for Bunyan, as he has done for our brotherhood throughout the world, and as he will do for us if we stand firm in our faith.