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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When you can't pinpoint the day/hour of your salvation: Baptism

For those of you who can't pinpoint the exact moment of your salvation, but wish you could: Consider the benefit of water baptism through your local church.  

Looking back during Days of Doubt. Just a few years after I first trusted Jesus who saved me from death to life (John 5:24), I began to wake up with doubts. I was in a university setting where students were openly invited to question the very existence of God, not to mention (a) One who is (b) masculine and (c) paternal and (d) would openly subject His Son to "divine child abuse" through the crucifixion. So there was an intellectual battle in which the "shrapnel" of ideas hostile to God filtered even into my very soul and paralyzed me from getting to my prayer closet and living by faith. I'd try and fight back with the Sword of the Spirit (God's Word - Ephesians 6:17), with all manners of prayers whilst asking others fight beside me in prayer (Ephesians 6:18). No doubt these weapons are effective and in no way ought to be muted by the one I'm about to highlight - the moment three years earlier when my eyes were opened to the truth that Jesus is Lord! The image of that day is burned into my memory: 
The table at which I sat and heard the message on 1 John 4:7-10. The outdoor bench at which I afterwards wept over the emptiness of my current life and the bitterness of my sinful heart toward God. Praying with a a Conan O'Brien look-alike named Chris, a summer camp staff member who had first approached me to tell me "dude, you're not where you're supposed to be right now" but changed course when he saw a young man whose life was being changed on-the-spot by the Savior.   
When I have exhausted all rational defenses for the faith and every spiritual weapon at my disposal to dispel doubt, I turn to those three connected images on that evening in the Summer of 1995 and am immediately filled with faith. You had only to know me prior - stubborn, self-indulgent, blind, miserable, lost. I had changed then and there. 

When racked by questions and doubt, I felt a lot like the man-born blind in John 9. After Jesus had healed the man, a mob brought him before the Jewish intellectuals who interrogated him with the aim of getting him to disown the work of Jesus (John 9:13-24). The now seeing man admits he doesn't know everything, but "One thing I do know: I once was blind but now I see" (John 9:25). I imagine, like me, the once-blind Bartimaeus looked back and drew upon the first image he saw after being both healed and saved by his long-awaited Savior (Mark 10:46-52) and that the apostle Paul vividly remembers the day the glorious light blazed as He heard His Savior speak to him (Acts 9:3-6), then immediately went blind (Acts 9:8-9). In fact, he was quick to share this moment with others and on various occasions (Philippians 3:4-11, Acts 22:1-22; Acts 26:1-23).

I can't relate to that radical salvation story. But not everyone who has trusted Jesus can relate. For so many of you, trusting Jesus was gradual. The images then of key moments are strung together over weeks, months, maybe even years. Although there was a moment "the transfer" from darkness to life definitively took place (Colossians 1:13-14), you can't pinpoint precisely when. So if/when you doubt that God really is there and should you wonder if you really have been saved, pointing back to the proof is a challenge. Firstly note, God thankfully entered our history and so gave us a historical moment in humanity's history through the actual life, death & resurrection of Jesus. His finished work is all we need to look to in giving us proof of His love (and the looking itself is evidence of His saving you). But being able to draw upon a concrete picture of His love breaking into your 21st century life, specifically, is remarkably helpful. "They have conquered Satan by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Revelation 12:11). 

Visual Reminders of His Salvation. I suppose the need to visually remember may be one reason why, prior to the advent of Jesus, God was so keen to have his people celebrate feasts and festivals. Seven in total, the feasts lasted up to 50 days, and represented ways for God's people to look back and remember His deliverance on their behalf. However, even deliverances such as the Day of Atonement (when God delivered the nation from sin) and the Passover (deliverance from slavery) were a process. The preparation of the high priest (Leviticus 16:3-5), the casting of lots (Lev. 16:3-5), the preparation of the scapegoat and sending him off into the wilderness (Lev. 16: 8-10), on and on until the high priest concludes the tenth day of the seventh month by going into the holy of holies and making sacrifice for sin (Lev. 16:33). So ends Yom Kippur, a.k.a. the Day of Atonement. Passover itself was a process - the plagues leading up to it, the lamb sacrificed, the blood of that lamb splattered on doors, angel of death, running, Egyptian chariots, parting of the Read Sea - you get the point! (for more see Exodus or The Ten Commandmentsignore the 4* rating on imdb, it deserves 5*!!). God's salvation was itself a process or series of steps. So to reignite so many images of genuine salvation, God commanded his people to remember them through celebrating feasts and festivals some of which reenact the salvation through songs, symbols, and the like. Turns out modern science confirms God's ancient practice re: the importance of human beings having mental photographs to draw upon for autobiographical purposes. As Christians no longer subject to the Old Covenant, we are not commanded to celebrate feasts and festivals because they all point to a final deliverance fulfilled in Jesus (Colossians 2:16-17). Through faith and His indwelling Spirit, we can feast on Jesus at any time and in any place (John 6:57). Jesus left behind two visual reminders of the deliverance He achieved for us - the Lord's Supper & Baptism. Both of which he commanded we celebrate.

What Baptism can do for you. Baptism cannot save you. I want to make this crystal clear. I do not wish to give off any hint that Baptism either saves or offers definitive assurance that you are saved. Only Jesus saves - this good news can become good for you by trusting that He is the God who can save and forever forgive your rebellion toward God. What baptism can offer you who cannot pinpoint your day of salvation: A visual reminder stamped into memory of what Jesus has done in and for you. Jesus caused you to be born again when you trusted him (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3); baptism is your birthday party. You get to choose your birthday theme - songs, Scripture readings, and your 'toast' to Jesus (expressing verbally to friends & family what He's done for you). Jesus reached into your history to kill and bury old identities and old trusts, forgive you, and has raise you to new life (see Ephesians 2:1-7); baptism is the Broadway Play of that history, based on a true story. Pictures will be taken of each of the three "Acts" of this stage play: You going down into the water (old life buried); a moment beneath the water (cleansing of forgiveness); and coming up from the water (resurrection). Here is your visual reminder of Jesus' work. The songs, the pictures, the church leaders responsible for overseeing your souls affirming your trust in Jesus (Hebrews 13:17), the church family who knows you well cheering and clapping because they've seen evidence of His work in your life. 

For those of you who cannot pinpoint the day/hour of your salvation but wish to look back and draw upon a definitive moment you celebrated its reality, consider contacting your pastor, elder, small group leader about Baptism. The picture is all there from one moment, on one afternoon - to be drawn upon duringsome later time of doubt. Those in the picture, a church family to later lean on to offer words of encouragement and assurance; church leaders entrusted to oversee your soul in the waters with you - affirming a genuine faith. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Your Christianity shouldn't work - A meditation in the middle of 1 John

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason the world does not know us is because it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 2:28-3:3
Fellow Christian, knowing that you are "righteous" (2:29) because of Jesus' righteousness, trusting you are a son or daughter of God the Father because Jesus became your brother (3:1-2), acknowledging your status as pure because "he is pure" (3:3), can only help you to live both freely and productively. The victory has preceded the final total, the verdict has preceded the performance, and your adoption has preceded your family resemblance (to Jesus). So you and I are released by Jesus from the fear of not being enough to genuine change because He is enough. 

By most measures, those attracted to
& sustained by the gospel should
be more like Wonka's Veruca Salt.
Consider: Every other religion/life-philosophy attracts and maintains allegiance through (a) works which may or may not be enough on the divine scale or (b) the fleeting results (ie. temporary forms of peace, stillness, vigor, confidence) of rigorous discipline which no one can forever maintain. The gospel message contains an offer to rescue us from death to life, separation to reconciliation, godlessness to God-in-you immediately, permanently, and for free! This should never work as a religion or life-philosophy because all of its adherents would be like spoiled children who always get their dessert at the beginning of every meal and their allowance prior to doing their chores! Yet adherents to the good news have historically done more work of significance and societal transformation than any other (though no such work is required). Furthermore, people who derive life from the gospel message also endure over the long haul in varying disciplines (although rigorous discipline is no condition for entrance). 

Significant works, societal transformation, rigorous self-discipline might not be the phrases you'd use to characterize your life at this point - though you'd wish to. Do not dismay! The process of maturity is typically subtle and non-obvious to the one who is actually changing. This is why the apostle gives us the hope of certain victory 3:1-2: "We shall be like him because we shall see him as he is" (3:2). And so then says: "Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" (3:3). During either the heat of battle or tepid doldrums when, in either case, little progress seems to be made, we are reminded that we will one day fast-forward to the likeness and glory of Jesus - at which point we will realize that He had all along been inching our resemblance far closer to the final result than we had imagined.

And at which point, every tongue will confess: It really did work!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What can you do for Persecuted Christians?

The 2nd & Final Return of Jesus to this earth is especially good news to those whose lives are filled with bad news. He will finally return to restore everything to its rightful place. Those with us on Sunday saw that Jesus' teaching in Mark 13:31-37 (echoed later in the Garden of Gethsemane - Mt. 26:38-45) leads us to stand with those who long for that Day. Applying Jesus' repeated (x3) admonition to "stay awake" encourages those of us whose lives are not characterized by bad news to "stay awake" and "keep watch" as alert intercessors with saints who do suffer to the point where Jesus' return is truly their "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). 

Those who suffer most for the gospel are persecuted Christians. They suffer precisely because they place their hope, their treasure, their very lives in neither false gods nor empty philosophies - but in a God-man who lived the perfect life they could not and then died the death they deserved, so that he might offer to us a free gift of reconciliation to God. How might we "stay awake" and "keep watch" with those who suffer because of this message - the glorious gospel?

Jerusalem-based journalist Lela Gilbert here offers 6 suggestions (I've summarized 4 below):

1. Be as informed as possible. With the rise of ISIS and its extreme persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria, especially, there is a lot of information circulating "out there." You may have received to your Inbox or smartphone calls to pray with, albeit, sometimes contradictory information. The most up-to-date and accurate website has been put together by the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom: Reports are grouped by continent. Tab it and check it out regularly . 
2. Support organizations that aid persecuted Christians. Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Christian Solidarity International are among those who do. Open Doors has an gift catalog from which you can send out various helps of your choosing (starting at $5 US). You can also write words of encouragement to those who are imprisoned because of their love for Jesus.
3. Pass the word via social media and email - perhaps start with this blog post, the above article, or suggest to your Community Group following through with #4.
4. Pray. On the same weekend as the Int'l Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, SCC will be holding a 12-hour prayer vigil to stay alert & stand watch with those who need strength to endure, boldness to witness, and final restoration from suffering. 

  • Saturday, November 1st. Stay awake and stand watch with us!! Sign up here for at least one hour. Share also any requests of suffering saints you know for which the church body can be praying. Jesus' words in the Garden have been deeply convicting to me: "Could you not watch with me for one hour?" (Matthew 26:40). 
  • Traveling to the U.S. between now and November 1st? We could use your help. I'd love to have a this pack of global church reports, commitment to pray brochures, and banner on hand to assist our intercession on November 1st. If you feel led to purchase, pick up, and bring these items back to Grand Cayman, that would be an awesome blessing!
  • You can also pray individually. Voice of the Martyrs sends out an email every Friday with prayer requests, which they also regularly update. I've found this to be a regular fixture on my Fridays and have proved a great source of praise as you discover that God has used your prayer to deliver comfort, relief and restoration to a fellow saint thousands of miles away.  

Let's commit to stay alert & stand watch with those who experience bad news because of they love His good news!