As many of you know, my daughter Katelyn was baptized into Christ this past Sunday, becoming the newest member of the Prairie Green Church. I took the occasion to preach on baptism, and mentioned that some of our friends in the broader fundamental and evangelical world think that churches of Christ place too much emphasis on baptism. I tried to show why–scripturally–that was not the case. I thought it might be helpful, though, to lay out several of the scriptures on baptism in the post, without comment, so that you, the reader, might really consider what it is really all about:
“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”--John 3:5
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”--Acts 2:38
“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”--Acts 22:16
“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
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”--Galatians 3:27
“In [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”--Colossians 2:11, 12
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”--I Peter 3:21, 22
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘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
As the apostle Paul said in a different context, “Brethren, think on these things!”
It’s the eve of 2022, and judging by the various internet memes I’ve seen, many people are facing this year with trepidation:
And with the passing of Betty White today, I can only imagine what the memes will say now! For the last couple years, ever since the pandemic started, negativity seems to be the trend. There’s so much more fear out there than there is hope. And really, it’s been going on for a long time. I looked it up, and the last time the majority of the country believed we were on the right track was 2002. None of my students in school have ever lived in a time when people were generally happy with the way things were.
Yet, I’m not getting into the despair game. If the Lord tarries, and if we live, we are going into a new year and we’ve got to make the most of it. Time marches on, no matter what. Just today I talked to an adult businessman who said, “You were my substitute teacher when I was in high school.” I can remember being at a small ceremony my freshman year of high school in which I received my “number”--you remember the one that goes on the sleeve of your letterman jacket?–for scholastic bowl, and when Coach Butler handed out the ones with “02” printed on them he said, “Class of 2002, you don’t know how old that makes me feel.” I didn’t then, but I do now. The first class of 7th graders I had when I started teaching full time at Fountain Central are juniors now. I’m not sure I would recognize most of them. I have a son that is a teenager, and other kids that wish they were. But time doesn’t stop, the years just speed by.
I haven’t bought into the idea that 2020 or 2021 were horrible years. I could make a compelling case that 2019 was the worst year I ever had. I had the most severe case of the flu I ever had, spent the majority of that year in a fruitless and financially difficult job search, and ended the year by suffering the worst and most debilitating in a 20 year series of knee injuries. Yet that was also the year I started “filling in” at Hoopeston Area Middle School, and that’s led to a great job, with some great colleagues, and some great students.
Life is full of surprises, good and bad. Over and over the last two years, I have become discouraged with our nation’s politics, our multi-directional moral disintegration, and, have, of course, muttered over and over again, “I hate COVID.” But the truth is God has blessed me with an amazing wife, with wonderful kids, a great extended family, and church family–two church families!-- that has been a blessing to me I can’t describe. I actually see the churches I serve as being on the right track, and that’s by the grace of God, not by our works–certainly not by mine. In the meantime, I have had two knee surgeries that have corrected a problem that 20 years ago the doctors told me was unfixable, and I continue to walk and stand better each and every day.
I read somewhere recently that we spend too much time trying to figure out the will of God, rather than doing the will of God. For some people this means constantly wondering why God allows certain things to happen and, on the other hand, does not say “yes” in answer to what seem to us to be very important prayers, indeed. I don’t pretend to know the answers to this. But I do know that in 2022, I can still be faithful to him and “do the next right thing.” So I’ll begin this year with a call and a promise, both from the living God:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him,and he will make straight your paths.”--Proverbs 3:5, 6
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”--Romans 8:28
So, by God's grace, I say "Welcome, 2022"! Have a Happy New Year! May the peace of Christ dwell in you richly this year and beyond!
“Long ago when but a boy at old camp meeting time, How my heart did leap for joy to hear the old bells chime, Calling all the saints of God into the house of pray’r, Oh, such praying, singing, shouting for the Lord was there.”--A.M. Pace, 1934
The camp meeting has been a huge part of Christian experience for centuries now. We take for granted our grand church buildings, but the pioneers met wherever they could to hear the word of God: school houses, court houses storefronts,, brush arbors, tents, and in the open air. During the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s, camp meetings sprang up all across the frontier. The most famous of these was the Cane Ridge meeting, in Bourbon County, Kentucky. I’ve been to the sight. It was the result of a Presbyterian prayer meeting held in 1801. By the end of the meeting, thousands had come to hear the preaching. There were multiple preachers at different sites. There were also vendors and many came for the social as well as the religious aspect. But many people’s hearts were turned toward God. Barton Stone and some others who were instrumental in the meeting were disciplined by the Presbyterian Church for participating in irregular services with believers of other denominations and this started a chain of events that led them to leave their denominational names and titles, take the name of Christian only, and adopt the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice. This, along with what the Campbells and others were doing in other parts of the country, laid the foundation for the Restoration Movement.
Over the years, camp meetings continued to spring up whenever there was a need. In recent decades there has been a resurgence of preaching meetings in a camp setting. The biggest of these in the Restoration Movement is the Hillsboro Family Camp. You can read a little bit about this camp and its impact on my life here. Last weekend, I found out that the Hillsboro Family Camp has been cancelled this year. Most of our other brotherhood camp meetings have been as well. One more victim of COVID. I am really sad that we won’t be able to participate in it. There is just something special about Christians, especially those separated by distance, coming together to worship God and share in his word. I’m sad that we won’t see the baptisms this year--may God work to reach these people in other ways! I’m sad that the songs won’t swell and fill the rafters of the main shelter. I’m sad that I won’t be provoked in heart and mind by some preacher who knew just what to say at the right time. And more mundanely, I’m sad to be losing a memory-making trip with my family. But God is good. Camp meetings will spring up again, and they’ll be used by God as they once were. My job right now is to see where and how God is working in this time and get on board.
Over the years I have had the privilege of teaching through the books of I and II Timothy and Titus in the scriptures five times: Twice at the Prairie Green Church of Christ (once as a morning sermon series and later as a Sunday night Bible study) and three times in Mexico as part of the Bible Institute led by Antonio Gomez. These books are written as instructions by Paul to his proteges Timothy and Titus and to the churches in Ephesus and Crete who were “listening in” on these letters. They are full of great instruction for evangelists, a.k.a. Gospel preachers like me. Over and over we’re called teach, exhort, correct, and teach some more. Sometimes Paul even goes into detail about what we should be teaching the people. Today I was rereading these letters and saw this:
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (Titus 3:1-8).
He told me to remind you, so consider yourself reminded. :-)
Pray For Me,
Dear Prairie Green Church of Christ Members and Friends,
Well, brothers and sisters, it looks like no services in the building again tomorrow, and, barring something unforeseen, for the rest of the month. A few weeks ago, I had been thinking and praying for our churches to be open on Easter. Theologically, every Sunday is the Lord’s Day when we celebrate that God raised Jesus from the dead, but in our culture, Easter is the one time I can point to every single calendar and say, “Behold, he is not here, he has risen!” I had dreams of the churches of this nation filled with smiling faces singing, “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes!” I recalled what that ancient Eusebius wrote about when the great persecution of Diocletian came to an end: the church houses were thronged with worshippers as the pagans looked on in amazement. That day may yet come for us.
Then the President said he wished the churches could be filled and the issue became political. And of course, the reality of the deadliness of this virus and the measures we must take, make church on Easter, even Orthodox Easter (a week later), an impossibility. But I also latched on to something a reporter said when President Trump was talking about church on Easter. “It would be like a national resurrection.” But that’s not what we need. On Easter, we don’t need, “America is alive again.” What we need, and the whole world needs is “Jesus is still alive.” I read a blogger who commented something about “We don’t need churches filled with Americans; we need churches filled with repentant Americans.” And that’s right; if we keep praying for things to turn back to normal--well there’s a lot about our “normal” that goes against the word of God. To use some historical-theological terms, I would rather see Revival (the consecration of Christians to greater faithfulness to God) followed by Awakening (the non-religious turning to God).
I often pray to God a prayer like this “God, let my kids grow up to be healthy, happy, and successful, but even if they can be none of those things, let them be totally devoted to you.” We should pray that for all Christians, for all people, as well as our kids and grandkids. If the Lord tarries, I want my great-great grandchildren to be able to ask Alexa, “What came after the Coronavirus,” and for her to say, “The Greatest Awakening.”
In the meantime, we wait.
I want to continue to encourage everyone during this time:
Finally, if you need ANYTHING please let me know. If there is any way I can help, I will. My phone number is 217-918-2140 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am praying for all of you! On a personal note, I am continuing teaching at Hoopeston Area Middle School as the long term Science sub, now working remotely. Krystle and the kids are doing well and send their love. Lord willing, we will all see each other soon!
Pray For Me,
“I am resolved, no longer to linger, charmed by the world’s delights…” So one of the great gospel songs begins. I have often heard and sung that song and it is one of my favorites. It expresses a resolution to be closer to Jesus and to follow him throughout this world and into the next. One of the issues that arises, though is the practical question of “how” to do that. When we start to ask that question it takes on another dimension. It’s a lot like our new year’s resolutions. If you have made new year’s resolutions before, you know that most of us almost never keep them. I looked at a resolution I made last year. It said, “Lose 50 lbs in 6 months.” When I finished the year I had not lost any weight. I comforted myself by saying,”Well, at least I didn’t gain any.” But the real problem was that the resolution took more of the form of a hope or a wish, than it did a concrete goal.
One of the things I learned when studying New Testament Greek, was that verbs have moods. Later, as an English teacher, I taught that as well, though I really can’t remember learning that in English. In Greek class we learned that sometimes verbs (actions words) were conveyed in the indicative mood. This is the mood of reality. I went to the store. “Went” was my action, and I really did. Related is the imperative mood, which indicates a command, “Go to the store!” and the expectation is probably that you can do it--that’s reality too. There’s another mood, though, called the subjunctive mood--in step away from reality. “I should go to the store.” Rather than doing it, I just knew that I should. I mean, the reality is that I could have done it, but whether I did or not remains to be seen. In fact, using the subjunctive probably means I haven’t done it--at least not yet. Finally, there is the optative mood. This is two degrees from reality: “I wish I could go to the store.” The expectation that I can even try, is almost not even there.
So, why the grammar lesson? Because often we need a change of mood. Too many times our dreams are, just that, dreams. Our resolutions are often nothing but an expression of what we know we should be doing. But in order to really bring our dreams, our resolutions to fruition, we’ve got to make them mean something. And we’ve got to have a PLAN for putting them into action. When I wanted I wanted to lose wait, that was an admirable--optative--goal. But simply writing it down, doesn’t make it happen. In my case, I remembered that was my resolution, though I had totally forgotten the six month time frame. I didn’t consistently put it into action or frame it in a way that I could. What would have made it better then? How about this:
Make the wish into a SMART goal. If you have read anything about strategic planning or goal setting, then you’ve probably seen this acronym. The acronym has taken on sort of a life of its own, because the words it stand for vary slightly according to the source you read. What we’re talking about are goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Take that for what you will. Don’t make ‘em too broad. Make sure you can tell whether you’ve reached your goal and make sure it’s something you can actually do and is worth doing. Also, give yourself a deadline. When I was going through the office in the summer camp I used to manage, I found sign that belonged to the old manager: “I don’t work well under pressure, but without it, I don’t work at all.” Now what’s funny about all this, is that my New Year’s resolution on weight loss actually met the criteria for a SMART. Specific--Me, lose weight. Measurable--50 lbs, any bathroom scale will do. Achievable--I know someone who had “I LOST 50” on her license plate, and anything that has been done, can be done. Relevant--as long as my doctor and the reflection in my mirror keep haranguing me. Time-bound--6 months is sufficient. But it still went wrong. So now what?
Create a plan to fulfill the goal. How will I lose the weight? Eating right. Okay, what kind of diet, how many calories? What about exercise? What type, how often? Even though my goal was specific, I needed an even more specific action plan. I also needed to
Periodically review the plan. I mean, I basically had given up on it right? If not, how would I have forgotten half the resolution a year later. A written plan is good, and regularly reviewing to check for progress and examine motivations is even better.
So, there we have it--a foolproof way to set and keep goals, right? Welf, self-help is okay, but what we really need, as people, is God-help. Proverbs 16:9 says “The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Often our plans are not God’s plans. Often life sends us trials and our own concrete, indicative, goals are are sent flying back into the subjunctive and optative moods. From that point, it’s hard to know where to turn. But, God says turn to me. We have a pretty modern American perspective, we modern Americans. We want happiness, sure. And prosperity. Material wealth. Self-actualization. And those of us who are modern Americans and also Christians, I think, can fall into the trap of thinking that God’s goal is to help us become better modern Americans. Really is goal is for us to become more like Christ. We actually don’t serve a God who promises to help us achieve our goals (though there is certainly God given wisdom in planning, goal setting, etc.). Rather we have a God who expects us to fully rely on him. We do not have a Savior who says, “Come unto me all who are unproductive and unfulfilled and I will give you happiness and wealth.” Rather we have one who says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus is describing the rest that comes with full reliance upon God. In 2020, I hope you reach many of your goals (optative mood). If I take the right steps there is no reason I shouldn’t achieve mine (subjunctive). But the fact of the matter is that Jesus is always there, offering the Great Invitation (indicative--really real!). So, no matter what happens, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5, 6). It’s imperative!
Photo by Kiy Turk on Unsplash