Monday, June 24, 2019 - Friday, June 28, 2019
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“I [Paul] thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius…” (1 Cor 1:14). That seems like a strange thing for Paul to write to the believers in Corinth. Why did he say that? Because Paul was rightly concerned that if he was seen as the primary “baptizer,” then the church would be tempted to look to him instead of to Jesus Christ.
Paul was convinced that Jesus was the one and only head of the church. He knew that in Christ alone were hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And he was fully aware that if his practices were out of alignment (spoke a different message) with these convictions, the church would suffer. The same is true today. For the church to thrive, what we do must communicate and reinforce what we believe.
At East Cooper Baptist Church, we believe that our mission is to “equip people to pursue Jesus Christ passionately as they impact their culture.” Our practices should support and reinforce this conviction. But do they?
Let’s consider our ocean baptisms. We have done baptisms in the ocean since early in our church’s history. And why not? It’s cool. People like it. And if Jesus was baptized in a river, why not the ocean?
But, does baptizing in the ocean help us equip our people?
There is rich teaching contained in the ordinance of baptism. Those who have repented and come to faith express their union with Christ in his death and resurrection, by being immersed in water. Going under the water is symbolic of burial and cleansing, signifying death to the old life and purification from sin.
Baptisms are also a reminder that God is at work, that his people are sharing the gospel and that he is still performing miracles by breathing life into spiritually dead men and women, boys and girls. When we baptize in our sanctuary on a Sunday morning and in front of our people, we have the opportunity to hear their story of how God pursued and rescued them. These testimonies to God’s grace teach us, encourage us, and cause our hearts to overflow in praise to God.
So, if our mission is to equip our members, where should baptisms be performed? On the beach where few people can observe them and where it is not possible to hear a testimony? No. If we want baptisms to communicate and reinforce the missions God has given us, they should take place where our entire congregation can be equipped and encouraged. That is why we plan for all of our future baptisms will take place in our sanctuary/worship center. So our people can see and celebrate. So we can be equipped to pursue Jesus Christ passionately and impact the culture.
I think Paul would agree.
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill proposed by Senator Ben Sasse (R)-NE (Nebraska) entitled the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act”. This bill would have required abortionists to provide medical care for babies who survived the abortion procedure. Live Action Founder and President, Lila Rose, has reported, “According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nationwide, between 2003-2014 at least 143 babies died after being born alive during botched abortions - and the CDC states this could be an underestimation. In 2018, sixteen infants in Florida alone were born alive after surviving abortion attempts.”
Fifty-three senators voted for this bill, thus failing the mandated 60 cloture vote threshold which is necessary before a final simple majority vote can be taken on any bill.
Forty-four U.S. senators voted for infanticide (or the act of killing a newborn infant). Oh, the horror and dismay.
Do not let the absolute tragedy of this vote be swallowed up by a life of busy routine. This is a monumental statement. We now have a political party and a group of people in this country who seem to be committed to infanticide.
The sponsor of the bill, Ben Sasse, said “Public officials, at all levels and in every party, should be able to condemn infanticide and come to the defense of the weakest members of our society. Recognizing the quality of every person should not be a cheap campaign line. It is a core American promise.”
May we prayerfully lament and grieve this situation.
Oh, the horror!
We had a meeting this past Sunday night (2/17/19) that dealt with a recent report from the Houston Chronicle regarding sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches. The Houston Chronicle conducted a 6-month study/investigation and found that over the past 20 years, more than 700 people (nearly all children) had been abused by people associated with Southern Baptist churches. They found that 220 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers had either been convicted or plea bargained, and that there were 35 convicted or accused of sexual misconduct who were still allowed to work in their churches, or have moved on to another church.
The above statistics are reprehensible and point to a great sadness and the absolute necessity of having increased accountability within Southern Baptist churches. Sunday night, I made the following six comments, listed briefly here:
1. It is a time for sorrow and groaning over sin (Romans 8:23-24). We should thank the Houston Chronicle for their honest assessment because Christians should operate in the light of the reality of Jesus Christ.
2. Children are a precious heritage. Proverbs 31:8-9 and Matthew 18:5-6 underscore the absolute importance of protecting children and those over whom we have any type of authority. Therefore, in all of our ministries, we do not want to receive a “passable grade” but we want to pursue excellence and make our church a place of safety and an environment of protection for all people, especially our children.
3. Our policy as a church is clear. If there is ever an accusation, the first thing we do is contact the Mt. Pleasant Police Department. That is mandated by law and by our elders.
4. To those who have been the victims of abuse. You are victims. It is not your fault. Please don’t operate in shame. It is all too often that those who have been sinned against feel the weight of shame and guilt. Please understand the Abba Father goodness of the Living God who loves you and the glory of the cross that shouts hope and new beginnings.
5. It is a sacred trust to be in a position of leadership in the body of Christ. I Timothy 5:19-20 deals with the issue of considering an accusation against an elder or church leader. 1 Timothy 4:15-16 underscores the fact that leaders should always be pressing in to advance the kingdom of God while growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Darkness and evil love anonymity. One of the incredibly grievous issues revealed in the Houston Chronicle report is that 35 people have been allowed to either stay in their church, or move to another church with no accountability. This is a horrific reality. Therefore, I think we, as Southern Baptists, should have a ‘clearing house’ that deals with anyone in ministry convicted of sexual impropriety. The Southern Baptist Convention has a task force looking into these issues and it is my desire to see some type of mechanism of that nature to be established. The report will come at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham this June.
6. One of my favorite books is The Heart of a Servant Leader by C. John Miller. Dr. Miller was a professor of pastoral ministries at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia for many years and served as a missionary in Spain and Nigeria. On the day the Houston Chronicle story was first published, I read a quote from his book, “My own conviction is that the flesh is still so strong in the Christian leader that each of us needs a healthy fear of our own capacity for ruining the work of God with our unconscious pride…I am very, very afraid of myself and I think that is a good place to be. We should always walk in brokenness as we look to the greatness and the glory of the cross of Christ, and the daily sustaining power of the Holy Spirit.”
A few weeks ago I heard a story about Kobe Bryant (arguably the 8th greatest basketball player of all time) being invited to speak to Alabama’s national championship defending (and contending) football team. Kobe talked to the team about having a championship mindset and what it takes to continually grow and improve as an athlete. What amazed me most about this story was Nick Saban (arguably the best college football coach of all time) sitting in the front row taking notes. Saban is a guy who has had unparalleled success as a coach and there he was, trying to figure out what else he could learn. I had a college professor who was the same way. He would sit in on guest lectures with a stack of notecards, scribbling stuff down. He was a great teacher and in spite of his academic accolades, he regularly saw the need to learn and took advantage of any opportunity.
People like this serve as good encouragements for me in my relationship with Christ. They remind me not to settle, to remember I’m not above or beyond learning something new, that sanctification is a lifelong process. At one point in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds them to remember “the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved” (1 Cor. 15:1a). This is so interesting. Paul is reminding this group of Christians to what? Remember the gospel. Remember the thing that is the basis for their belief. Remember the thing that binds them together. Note what he says: It’s the gospel that was preached...it’s what was communicated. It’s the gospel that they received...it’s what they believed. It’s the gospel that they stand on...it’s their foundation It’s the gospel by which they are being saved...it’s their means of becoming more like Jesus In other words, the gospel is the beginning, the middle and the end. Tim Keller says it this way. “The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”
We don’t outgrow our need for the gospel. We don’t ever become so much like Jesus that we stop needing Jesus. That gospel is what we initially receive but what we must continually believe. As we seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, here are a few encouragements to help remind us of the gospel.
Taking time to think back on how the Lord has worked in your life will serve several purposes. It should cause you to rejoice as you consider the ways God has redeemed your life and is growing you in holiness. It should encourage you in the present as you remember sanctification does not happen overnight and that faithfulness unto the Lord happens day by day, in the regular and routine occurrences of life. It should also help you to be quick to share the grace of God with others. As we continually recognize how the gospel has transformed our lives, we should grow in our empathy towards others who are longing for joy, purpose, and fulfillment.
By anyone, I mean anyone. Whether we care to admit it or not, most of us can sometimes default to comparing ourselves to one another when it comes to our sanctification and be dismissive towards people we think we of as less spiritually mature. An older man (who had been a Christian for the better part of four decades and who I thought of as very holy) once told me he thought he would have been much more mature in his faith by the time he got to be his age. It was so humbling to hear. He knew he hadn’t arrived and never expected to. He was the definition of someone who wouldn't “think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom. 12:3). He displayed an unwavering desire to grow in the Lord and did so by asking lots of questions and maintaining a posture of humility with anyone and everyone he interacted with.
Lastly, enjoy time with the Lord. Recognize the goodness of the gospel every day. Rejoice in the fact that the Word of God is available to you and you get to read it and learn from it. Do things that stir your affections for Christ. Spend time with people who encourage you in your faith. Consistently behold the glory of the Lord so you be transformed bit by bit into His image. Through all of that, love the One who is making all things new. Love the process of becoming more like Him.
This blog post is in a series of posts designed to help Christians develop a proper heart posture, lifestyle, and method for evangelism. This particular post is part three of “Pathways to the Gospel”, which are conversational truths designed to prepare particular people to hear the Gospel.
The resurrection pathway is another pathway to help a skeptic, seeker, or someone far from God consider Christianity and the claims of Christ based on the unique-among-all-religions historical evidence about the main validating event Christianity proclaims—the resurrection of Jesus. This pathway seeks to bring that historical evidence to bear on a skeptic’s conscience, encourage them to consider Jesus, and perhaps help them see that they reject Jesus not for intellectual reasons but for moral ones. There is one key text to this argument (1 Corinthians 15:6) and one key general argument (the apostles wouldn’t have died for the Gospel if its primary truth, the Resurrection, was a lie).
Sharer: Are you a church person? Did you grow up in church?
Unbeliever: No I didn’t, and honestly, I don’t think religion is that helpful or useful. I think men have made it up to control others.
Sharer: Well let me ask you this: if there was a man who truly died and truly rose from the grave, and claimed to have the power of life and death over all people, would you consider listening to what He says about God, life, and death? Would you want that man to be your friend or enemy?
Unbeliever: Well, if that really happened, maybe if I saw it, I would listen to that man, want him to be my friend and not my enemy. But if you’re talking about Jesus, I don’t believe He really rose from the grave.
Sharer: Have you ever examined the wealth of historical evidence for His resurrection?
Unbeliever: What evidence?
Sharer: (Jokes) You mean besides the fact that we set our clocks to Jesus? I’m just kidding. And I know you don’t believe the Bible, but let me share with you a Bible verse that might surprise you. There’s a book in the Bible called 1 Corinthians, which almost all scholars, even the ones most opposed to Christianity, affirm was written in the 1st century by the Apostle Paul. In one part of the book Paul is talking about the Resurrection, and he says that Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep”. What do you think about that verse?
Unbeliever: Well, I don’t believe the Bible is true, so I’m certainly not going to believe in Jesus’ resurrection just because it says so.
Sharer: Let’s just pretend for a moment I agree with you that the Bible isn’t God’s Word. Let’s just say it’s a letter written by a man. Here’s my question to you: If the resurrection was a lie, or a hoax, why in the world would Paul say that Jesus appeared to 500 people—most of whom were still alive? He’s basically saying to these people—if you don’t believe me about the Resurrection, go ask these 500 people! What kind of fool, writing to people who could go to these people and validate or invalidate his words, would write something like that?
Unbeliever: That is interesting. But I don’t think it’s enough for me.
Sharer: What about the fact that Paul, and almost every apostle with him, was brutally martyred for proclaiming that Jesus is Resurrected Lord? If these eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were lying, or making up a religion to control people, would they really suffer and die for a lie they knew was false?
Unbeliever: That is a little harder to explain. I need to think about that.
Sharer: As you think about it, here’s the really important thing for you today. This same Apostle Paul says in Acts 17 that God is going to judge the world by Jesus Christ, and that He’s proven that to all people by raising Jesus from the dead. The historically witnessed resurrection is God’s proof and signpost to you that one day this same Jesus is going to judge us and determine our everlasting life or death. Would you like to hear about how to be right with Him, how to go from being his enemy to his friend?
As I’ve said before, few Gospel conversations will be as clean as the transcript above, but notice that the idea is to present two or three simple but compelling arguments for the historical reality of the resurrection (besides the one above, you could mention the conversion of the Roman Empire—one of the most pagan and immoral world empires in the history of the world—by a bunch of poor, uneducated people who did zero conquering. This is another totally unique feature of Christianity among world religions.). Notice also, that the key text of this pathway, the link to the Gospel, is Acts 17:31, which connects Jesus’ resurrection with Jesus’ coming judgement. The main idea is: if Jesus rose from the grave, He has the power of life and death, and you want Him to be your friend and not enemy.
The reason this method is so effective is that the average person who is skeptical of Christianity for intellectual reasons has never closely examined their intellectual reasons. They’ve never heard about 1 Corinthians 15:6 or considered how unintelligible it would be for the apostles to lie themselves to martyrdom. However, eventually you will encounter a “well-studied atheist”—someone who has studied the historical claims of Christianity, knows all of the atheist arguments, and has them ready at hand to blast at you.
If you encounter this person, do not be intimidated or afraid of them—just intentionally change pathways. Say something like “well, so far I’ve tried to address your intellect. Could I address your conscience for a moment?” A well-studied atheist still has a God-given conscience, and I’ve seen the moral pathway get an atheist to admit that if God judged their life by the 10 commandments they would go to Hell. A well-studied atheist simply cannot argue that nothing in creation is good or beautiful—they enjoy God’s creation every day! (See former posts for these pathways.)
Study these pathways. Master one and put it “in your pocket”, so to speak. Practice it on a Christian friend. Then make a bridge to the Gospel with one of your three, and trust God that these pathways and the Gospel will bear fruit.
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