Since I know I’ll eat more than I should over the next few days, I might as well begin now! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!
“Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” ~Acts 2:38
Paul was in a small church conveniently located three blocks from his apartment. In his youth he had attended a Baptist church with his family. Although he enjoyed his experience, he was never “saved”, which meant being born again. Born again is an experience where a person believes that Jesus Christ died on the cross for his sins and was raised from death on the third day. Paul was 14-years-old at the time of his confession of faith (he made this out of a sense of obligation, not really from his heart). However, once in college, his mostly worldly wise and faithless professors chipped away at his faith which was fading into the background anyway since he didn’t bother to find a church or Christian study group, even though there were an abundance of such groups.
But now, it was different, college was long gone and Paul felt it was necessary for a true confession of faith, time to share a belief in the Savior.
At the next mid-week service, Paul stood and professed his desire to “be saved”. Friends gathered around, laid hands on Paul and supported his prayer of faith joyously. Lots of hallelujahs followed.
A week later, Pastor Sam called to set an appointment with Paul to discuss baptism. “I want to discuss being baptized, Paul. What are your plans for that?”
“My plans? I want to be baptized soon, just like it says in the New Testament.”
“Well, you have to attend our baptism class first, Paul, and then we can schedule a time when we have at least five people wanting baptism.”
“How long will that take?”
“Oh not long. No longer than, say, six months.”
“Six months? I want to be baptized right away. I want people to see my confession of faith just like in the New Testament.”
“Well, maybe we can shorten the wait time, but the class is mandatory.”
“What’s the class for, pastor?”
“To make certain you know what you are doing and that you make a full confession of faith in the Lord.”
“But I just did that last week in the service. You were there.”
“Well, you know, Paul, it’s part of the deal here, just like in the churches I’ve attended in my life. Baptism class is necessary.”
“Pastor, you know more about the Bible than I do and you know there are verses that talk about people being baptized right after they confess their faith. Look at Acts 2:38, “Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
“Later in verse 41 we see the incredible baptism of 3,000 souls: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
“And here in Acts 8:12, “When they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.”
“Pastor, I’ve allowed myself to sink into a mediocre faith in Christ, hanging onto some tepid version of following my Savior. I am tired of that lifestyle. I want to be obedient and effective for the Lord. I need to follow Him in being baptized so the world can see where my heart is. Please let me be baptized. I’ll gladly go to a river or lake or someone’s pool, pastor.”
Tears welled in Pastor Sam’s eyes as he realized that he, too, had become mediocre in his walk of faith. Rather than “devoting himself to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers,” (Acts 2:42), he had become self-obsessed, more concerned with personal comforts and accolades from his small congregation. The Holy Spirit was pricking his heart through young Paul whose desire to follow the Lord burned brighter than his own.
The words found in Revelation 2:4-5 stung Sam’s repentant heart: “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.”
“Well, my dear fellow,” said Sam, “let’s get you baptized. How about me making a few calls to see if there are others who want to have the mighty experience of baptism as well. Phil Williams has a very nice pool that would work just fine.”
A phone call. It was a schoolmate. “Hey, I’ve got my Dad’s car tonight. Want to go for a ride?” (The car was a 1957 Chevy Bel Air with a powerful V8 engine. It was new).
We were both 15. No driving license. His dad was unaware of my friend’s plan. “Ok. I”ll tell my mom I’m going over to your house. Where do you want to pick me up?” In a few moments, we were headed out of town on the two lane country road that all teens took for fast driving and smooching. Tonight would be fast driving.
As you leave the city limits and take a few curves, the road lays out long, smooth and arrow straight. “Want to see how fast she will go?” he said.
“Yes!” I looked at the speedometer which read 50. It pegged out at 120! We were not wearing seat belts. They were a nuisance.
He shoved his foot to the floor. That Chevy V8 lept into action, roaring down the highway faster and faster. The speedometer swept past the numbers, as we were sucked back into the front seat: 60, 70, 80, 90. We were giggling, shrieking, cursing. Two teenage boys, being naughty and brave in a rocket to the stars. We reached 120 miles per hour!
Ralph took his foot off the accelerator and we coasted down to normal speed. He pulled over and parked. “Wow!” he said.
“I know. I’ve dreamed of something like this. That was the best, man.”
It was a black night with no highway lights. Neither of us were frightened.
“Want to do it again?” he said.
No cars on the highway. Ralph pulled onto the road, headed back to town. Once again, he slammed his foot to the floor. The Chevy responded with a roar, hurtling us like a rocket back down the road. And there it was, 120 on the speedometer! We looked at each other in disbelief and excitement. It was then I saw it. A second passed before I yelled, “Curve!”
Back then, power brakes and steering were new and very sensitive. Plus, Ralph was not a skilled driver…at all. The last thing I remember was him hitting the brake pedal sending me into the metal cowling around the windshield. I was knocked out.
Just like in a movie, the next thing I remember is waking in the hospital bed the following morning as the nurse appeared.
“You are one lucky young man,” she said.
“What happened? I just remember hitting the windshield cowling.”
“The car spun out of control and then flipped over and over, coming to rest on the side of the road, throwing you out onto the highway in the process. You should have been killed my friend. A car full of boys came around that curve shortly after the wreck and they said you were sitting on the highway in the middle of car parts and pieces. They said you were conscious and talked with them but what you said made little sense. Three of the boys stayed with you while the other drove to the nearest place to call the ambulance.”
I laid in my bed, thinking of what happened. Considering my good fortune. And then it hit me; There must be someone who decides if you live or die; someone in charge of such things because I should be either dead or crippled for life. There must be a God!
“The heavens will disappear with a roar!” ~2 Peter 3:10
The Bible study group settled in for the weekly meeting. It was a diverse group, ages ranging from 22-82; men, women, married and single. Politically they were mostly Republicans, except for two young closet Democrats. As such, talk radio and TV were quite popular, with the exception of the teacher, Craig. He didn’t subscribe to regular TV nor did he listen to talk radio. When asked why, Craig was fond of replying, “I have enough of a problem overcoming my own skewed ideas, let alone listening to hours and hours of purely slanted opinions. Besides, it gets my blood pressure up!”
So it was with great surprise when, after opening prayer, Craig opened the study with, “How many of you believe in this idea of global warming?”
Silence and puzzled looks. After a few seconds, the group erupted into the latest viewpoints bandied about by the mostly conservative political opinions. Craig brought them back to order before emotions soared too high. “Ok. Ok. I guess I took you by surprise with that question. Now, without quoting any of the popular conservative opinions, would you say that most of us do not believe in what is taught as global warming?” They agreed.
“Well, I have a big surprise for you, then. The Bible teaches the opposite. Some day in the future, the world will experience the most cataclysmic global warming that the current heavens and earth will burn with a fervent heat. The entire earth will perish in flames!”
Once again, silence in the room. Finally Bob Jensen said, “I am stunned, Craig. In the political furor, taking sides with whichever party I consider the most balanced, I’ve lost track of what the Bible says about that very scary subject.”
Craig brought them back to God’s Word; “Let’s look at 2 Peter 3:10-13: “But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.
Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.”
A sense of soberness filled the room. Political opinions had faded, replaced by thoughts of the end of the world and what that really meant to them. “When will all this destruction take place, Craig?” asked Bob.
“There are many ideas and books written about that subject, Bob. My stand on when it will all take place comes from Matthew 24:36-44:
“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”
“I want to bring our attention to that section in 2 Peter where it says, “Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God.”
“Since we believe the Bible is God’s Word, that means the world is going to be destroyed. This will happen someday. But, more importantly, we are instructed to live holy and godly lives, looking forward to the end of the world as we know it.
“Jesus died for us, to transform and redeem us. And then He asked God to fill us with His Holy Spirit. That happened. It is a fact, more factual and trustworthy than any human endeavor or political party. We owe total allegiance to our Heavenly Father who spared nothing to give us hope in this life and the one to come.
“So yes, global warming is on God’s list of things to come. As surely as we live and breathe, God’s scheduled events will never be thwarted. In His time and His way, the current earth and the heavenly bodies will all pass away to make room for the new heavens and earth. Praise His name!
“Put on your new nature and be renewed” Colossians 3:10
Ephesians Chapter 1
4 “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.”
Talk about a mind bender! How do we wrap our human minds around this simple verse? “Before He made the world, God loved us?” How can that be, we ask? First we struggle with the idea of whether or not God made everything in six literal days and now— we read that God loved us before we existed; prior to making any of the heavens or the earth. This is a stunning concept truly beyond human comprehension.
Of course it is beyond human comprehension, we are His creation and He is the Creator. Can you remember back to a time in school when you began a new class and your mind was in utter confusion, struggling to understand the necessary concepts? I can recall a class in which I was completely in the dark, ready to give up. As I shared my confusion with the professor one day he said, “Oh I know how hard it is to grasp this concept but don’t give up. I can tell that you are just about to break through. Don’t give up!” Fortunately I listened to his advice. Within that very week, the understanding exploded into my mind. I was so joyful. I had faith in the professor’s observation.
In a way, attempting to understand all of God’s mysterious Scriptures while we are still living on earth is similar. But the complete revelation of God’s truths is yet to come. “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Cor. 13:12
The first verse of the first book in the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 Do we understand what this means? Can we imagine this act of creation? Absolutely not. We understand the words and the idea but not literally. We are totally dumbfounded. It is beyond human comprehension. And so is the idea that verse 4, above, expresses. Before God made our world He loved us. God loved me personally before he created the world! Then surely I owe my allegiance to Him.
Not only has God loved us before He made everything, He “chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.” Holy and without fault? Will everyone who feels holy and without fault please raise your hand! We shrink back from the very idea. If you only knew me, we think. Holy and without fault? Far from it. And yet, through the filter of Christ’s blood, God does see us as holy and without fault. Not only that, before He created the world He saw us in this way.
God says to you, “I love you and have loved you before I created anything!”
This is the flight deck on the carrier, USS Yorktown, circa 1960. I was not an operations guy like these men pictured here (a most dangerous job). I was assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Four (HS-4) as my first duty assignment out of boot camp (graduated boot camp the first week of April, 1960). I was an administrative person, not a crew member. Watching planes and helicopters take off and land, day and night, was very exciting.
“I want your will, not mine” ~Matthew 26:39
Tony waited patiently until the final person left the bible study. He had a question for Alex, one that he’d been pondering for some months.
“Well, Tony, what’s on your mind tonight. You seem unhappy or perhaps disappointed.”
“You hit the nail on the head, Alex. I am disappointed and, I guess, unhappy,” he said, feeling a little foolish now, like a child approaching the teacher. “Why won’t God bless me? I tithe regularly. I even give extra when I see a need. I never miss church service or your bible study. Any time pastor mentions helpers are needed somewhere, if it meets with my work schedule, I volunteer. I pray, repent, forgive others. I am lined right up with all the things that should make me happy but God will not bless me!”
Pouring them both another cup of coffee, Alex said, “I think you need to define bless before I can help.”
“Alright, I mean better living conditions, more money, a better car, more friends, recognition from people for my efforts; heck, I’ve missed being promoted two times in the past year and my car is always breaking down.”
“I see. You believe God sent Jesus to the earth to experience humiliation, scorning, a horrific beating, and death so we could have more stuff?”
Tony was stunned to hear his obviously petty, selfish feelings exposed in this way. He wanted the earth to open and swallow him. Am I really this petty, he wondered.
“Breathe, Tony. It’s ok, we all have those feelings some of the time. The key to shaking them off is to dive into God’s Word and to ask God to give you understanding. For example look at Matthew 26:36-39 where Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane. He knows exactly what is about to happen on the following day— he will be killed! He says, “My soul is crushed with horror and sadness to the point of death. . .” Then he prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
“So what do you think, Tony, was Jesus entitled to God’s blessings?”
“Of course. More than anyone who ever lived.”
“Yes. I agree. But then why was he treated so wickedly. Killed like an ordinary criminal, hanging on a cross? He is the Messiah after all.”
Tony couldn’t stop his tears. In a moment he composed himself and said, “In a way, I feel what Peter must have felt when the rooster crowed that morning. I feel petty and selfish.”
“I’ve never considered that analogy, Tony but I think you may be right. And you are feeling those things because that is how you’re behaving. Now, before you beat yourself with that self-pity club, you must understand we all struggle with this. Anytime we look at our lives and compare them to those who have more we’re using the world’s standards, not God’s. God is interested in healing our hearts, not our cars! Quite the contrary, actually. We must be like Jesus, totally surrendered and ready for suffering to continue and death to come if that is God’s will.
“Would you consider the Apostle Paul a man who followed God, Tony?”
“Of course, Alex.”
“And yet, in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, he begged God to take away his thorn in the flesh but God said, ‘My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.’ So, according to your list of things, can you say Paul was not blessed by God?”
“I’m stunned. I’ve never seen this so clearly, Alex. I am so wrong.”
“Let’s continue in 2 Corinthians, ‘So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
“Before we end this eye-opening moment, Tony, I want to look at one more Scripture: Philippians 3:10, ‘All I want is to know Christ and feel the power of His resurrection; to share in His sufferings and become like Him. (TEV)
“What do you think may happen in our lives if we pray this Scripture daily? How might we be changed over and over again, refined into the men of God Jesus died for? Tony, thank you for your courage to share with me tonight. I feel as though God has looked into my eyes and said, “Alex, are you willing to give all, to suffer for my name if I deem it necessary?”
Tony and Alex knelt together and prayed “Not my will but Yours be done.”