Thursday, May 29, 2014

Were the Gentiles in Acts 10 Saved Without Baptism?

Over the years I have heard this question asked again and again in different ways and in different contexts. People who do not believe that baptism is essential to salvation are constantly looking for loopholes. The general notion is - since the Holy Spirit fell upon the house of Cornelius - obviously God had chosen these people for salvation, and later - though baptism was commanded (Acts 10:48) it was a moot point. Such a teaching could not be further from the truth.

Let me simply respond by asking the following questions.

1. If the gentiles were to be chosen by God outside of the preaching and subsequent obedience to the gospel - what need was there for Peter to come and preach to Cornelius and his family?

2. What is the significance of the Jews recognizing that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gentiles in the same way as in the beginning (Acts 11:15)? Were the Jews at Pentecost saved as soon as the apostles started speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit - or did other events take place that finalized the process?

3. Has anything God has ever commanded been non-essential? If so, which commandments do we choose?

4. Later when recounting the events, why did the Jews note the importance of God granting the gentiles repentance unto life (Acts 11:18)? Did the gentiles repent before or after the Holy Spirit fell upon them?

5.  If a person is born of the Spirit only, why did Christ himself included the necessity of both the water and the Spirit (John 3:3-5)?

6. The question was asked, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:47). What measure of the Holy Ghost was received? Why was water even brought up in the conversation? If water was not important, why would it matter whether or not it was forbidden?

7. What was the purpose of the Holy Spirit falling upon the gentiles in the same manner it fell upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost?

The Acts 10 account of the gentiles admission into the church displays God's choice to include the gentiles for salvation. It also teaches the same necessity of obedience to the gospel of Christ that was commanded at Pentecost. Just as the Jews were not saved until they responded to the apostles' preaching, neither were the gentiles saved until they responded to the message of Peter. That God had chosen all men for salvation is the exciting reality of this passage.

The Bible does not teach that we are saved by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. It does teach, however, that the Spirit has revealed the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:9ff), and that when we obey what the Spirit has revealed we can be saved (Acts 2:38-41, 47).

The gentiles in Acts 10 were not saved without baptism. Though they were chosen to receive salvation, they still needed the washing and cleansing that baptism offers through contact with the blood of Christ.

"He who believes and is baptized shall be saved..." ~ Mark 16:16

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Stop Wanting. Start Doing.

For years now I have been having conversations with people about their spiritual lives. One of the frequent lamentations people share with me is that they want to be better and stronger in the Lord. "I want more faith." "I want my study life to improve." "I want to feel closer to God." "I want to grow but I am just dead inside." "I want motivation." "I want a more consistent and more meaningful prayer life." "I want more out of worship." "I want to get over guilt." "I want to learn how to forgive."

I appreciate the sentiment that refuses to be satisfied with mediocrity - we should constantly strive to be better today than we were yesterday, especially over spiritual matters. But I would like to just be blunt and tell you that you need to stop wanting and start doing!

I have been there. All of these "wants" I have also wanted. All of these spiritual struggles I have also experienced. But something happened to me that caused me to stop wanting and start doing. I got cancer. That's when the train hit me. That's when I came to my senses. That's when I realized I didn't have tomorrow or a week or a month or a year from now to get myself in gear. Mike Dyer mentioned in his great sermon on procrastination last week that people wish their lives away. How true! I see people do it all the time. I am not bragging but I stopped wishing a while ago and I started doing.

If you want faith, read your Bible (Rom. 10:17).
If you want your study life to be better, schedule it (Eph. 5:15).
If you want to feel closer to God, spend some time with Him (James 4:8).
If you want to grow, demand spiritual food as if your life depended on it (1 Pet. 2:2).
If you want to be motivated, think on the cross (Heb. 12:2-3).
If you want a more consistent prayer life, pray (Psa. 55:17).
If you want more out of worship, put more into worship (Psa. 111:1).
If you want to get over guilt, press toward the goal  (Phil. 3:13-14).
If you want to learn how to forgive, realize the level of your own need for it (Matt. 18:35).

Do you really want all these things? Well did you even look up the Scripture references? If not, then maybe you don't even want the things you often say you want. If not, I am praying that you will start wanting the better things - the eternal things. But if you do want these things, stop wanting and start doing. Sign up. Make the commitment. Hold yourself accountable. Write down your goals and measure yourself daily. Stick with the program.

In the meantime I am praying for your wake up call. If it has to be the worst thing that ever happened to you, so be it. If you respond properly to it, it will turn into the best thing that ever happened to you.

You have one trip on this globe. Make it count. Stop with the wanting already! Start with the doing!

"The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light." (Rom. 13:12).

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spiritual Opportunities this Summer

What a wonderful time of year! The sun is shining, the grass is growing, and opportunities abound for all types of outdoor activities, vacations, and more. I love the warmer weather and the longer days. We live in a beautiful country and we are so blessed to have the freedom we do to travel and experience good times with our families.

We not only have theme parks and ballparks and lakes and rivers and beaches and mountains that we can visit - we also have congregations, VBS, and Christian camps we can attend. So I would like to spend a couple of minutes encouraging you to make the most of your summer by inviting God to reside at the top of your schedule.

1. Send your children to Bible camp. Go as a counselor if you can. A good Christian camp can enhance a child's view of spiritual things. They see God's creation. They stay active outdoors (and off of the technology for a week). They receive mentoring from Christian adults and young adults who can relate to them. They have Bible classes and devotionals and singing all week! Bible camp can be the spiritual highlight of their year. Don't pass it up!

2. When traveling never miss a worship service! My family has learned that the best experience of our vacation is often where we visit God's people for worship. It is healthy for you to have a plan on your itinerary for God. If you don't, then what are you saying to your children about what you value most? Investigate your city of travel and where the Lord's people meet. Worship and be encouraged by your brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. It will remind you that the church is strong and that you are a part of the eternal kingdom of Christ. A different order of worship, a different preacher, different Bible classes - are all good for your spiritual growth. You will be a more faithful and more well-rounded spiritual individual when you worship with God's people while on vacation.

3. Take your children to VBS. My children have never missed one night of VBS at our local congregation. In fact, I like to take them every once in a while to at least one night of a VBS that is going on in the brotherhood. I would like to caution you however, about allowing your child to attend VBS where the truth is not taught. Don't do it! I have known many members of the church who allowed their child to go with a friend to a VBS at another place that they knew did not teach the truth. (They think it is "no big deal just once"). Think, people! Sometimes the children come back having been "saved" according to the doctrine of that other group without their parents even being a part of it. Then there is a great deal of "unteaching" needed. Don't let VBS be a summer babysitter for your children. Go with them yourself. Attend the adult Bible classes when you visit. Go out for ice cream afterward. Make it enjoyable and celebrate a spiritual summer with your kids.

I know my dad cannot read this now, and that my mom lives some distance from our town. But I am going to end my article in a different way than I usually do. I want to personally thank Jim and Cindy Tatum for making my summers wonderful. Thanks for taking me and my sister all over the country on neat vacations in different locations. Thanks for making sure we had family time to look forward to every year. Thanks most of all for never allowing us to forget about our commitment to God even while on vacation. I realize we can do all of the fun things summer offers and still put God first. It is simply a matter of loving God more than anything else.

"And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding." ~ Daniel 2:21

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Preacher, Stop Complaining!

Sit down and buckle up, preachers! What you are about to read may be discomforting. But after some reflection I am convinced you will be thankful. I am a preacher, too, and just like you I have had my ups and downs. I, too, have thought about quitting the pulpit to sell temporary insurance rather than encouraging people to invest in the eternal type. So please understand I can sympathize with your frustrations.

I am of the opinion that there are times when preachers need to quit whining and get to work! We complain about the weak members. We complain about the salary. We complain about what churches will or won't do for us. We complain about the treatment and the expectations of the membership. We complain about the lack of appreciation. We complain about the folks who are not as passionate as we think we are. We complain about the fishbowl. We complain about nearly everything that goes with preaching! Men, read Philippians 2:14. This applies to preachers as much as it does the rest.

So how about this, preacher? 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

And what about this, preacher? 2 Corinthians 11:23-30

23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.

It seems to me that compared to first-century preaching we have it pretty easy.
1. We are getting paid to do a job that we should be willing to do for free.
2. We are actually treated better and praised more often then most people on the planet.
3. We are members of the kingdom of God and we are on our way to heaven.
4. We get an opportunity to make an eternal impact in the life of every person we meet.
5. We are loved with an everlasting and perfect love from God which should be our primary motivation for our occupation - and if it is not, we need to stop preaching.

We have the greatest job in the world. If you can make a living as a preacher, you need to pinch yourself everyday and remind yourself that such a reality is beyond wonderful.

So stop complaining, preacher. Honor God. Imitate Jesus. Lift up the church. Love People. Preach the Word!

"For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin." ~ Hebrews 12:3-4


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box

Can Christians think outside the box when it comes to their daily walk with Christ? I think this is a pretty good question. What type of thinking and living will challenge us to grow and not be ritualistic without leaving the commandments of the word of God?

Before we go forward with this idea, let's go ahead and let the Bible speak. After all, it alone can determine what is right in the eyes of God. Deuteronomy 4:2 - "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." Psalm 119:89 - "You word, O Lord, is forever settled in heaven." Matthew 20:35 - "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words by no means will pass away." 1 Corinthians 4:6 - "...that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written." Galatians 1:6-7 - "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ." 2 Thessalonians 3:4 - "And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed."

So, it is settled. The Bible is the ultimate and only authority for all things we believe and say and do (Col. 3:17). This is a good place to start. Faith stems from the teachings of the word (Rom. 10:17). Whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). Yes, obeying the correct and Biblical plan of salvation does matter. Being in the one church that Jesus built matters. Worshiping God according to the teachings of the New Testament matters. We can go on and on with many of these obvious Scriptural truths.

But at the same time, let's be careful. Don't be afraid to question what you believe in light of the Scriptures. Don't be afraid to challenge any human traditions within the church. Don't be afraid to examine your methodology for reaching out to others with the pure gospel and see if you need to go about it differently.

Let's face it, most churches today would not hire Jesus or Paul to preach for them. We want safety and security and we don't want anyone to rock the boat. Our spiritual lives might be in desperate need of a genuine tragedy, or perhaps some good old fashion persecution, just so we can be broken down to our core again in order to examine whether or not we are really in Christ.

I was thinking this morning that what I would like to do is sit down with every person that has any interest in Christ at all and have a one on one Bible study with them. Although this is not physically possible, it is needed. It would go something like this - you and I with God's word in front of us, both being challenged to do what the Bible actually says. I might need to change some things. You might need to change some things. One or both of us might need to be Scripturally converted altogether. If we are not a member of the church that pleases God according to the New Testament, we might need to leave our current congregation and decide to be a part of a local family of believers that is doing the will of the Lord.

Thinking outside the box can revive a spiritually dead individual. We do not have to give up the word of God to think outside the box. But we do have to give up ourselves! The last time I looked, this is what Jesus was asking us to do in the first place.

"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'" ~ Matthew 16:24

Monday, May 5, 2014

Anywhere is Home

Being a member of the Lord's church brings about some profound realizations. One in particular is the understanding of being a part of the universal brotherhood of believers. I have been fortunate to have lived in different states in our country as a member of the body of Christ. I have been allowed to preach all over the United States and in other parts of the world. I just returned from a trip to Michigan to be with the brethren there, and every minute of it was an encouraging and enjoyable time.

Within five minutes of my arrival at the Saline church building I felt at home. They accepted me immediately and treated me as if I had been there all of my life. Over the weekend I stayed in the local preacher's home and he and I spent time most every night talking about the church and our work. By sharing our challenges and experiences we built each other up. In discussing truths in the Bible we were confirming each other's faith. Every evening I was hosted by a different family for a meal and fellowship. By the time I left I knew in my mind and felt in my heart I was leaving family behind.

Regardless of what some may be teaching in the religious world, I am constantly reminded in my travels that the Bible is the great equalizer and unifier within the spiritual realm. I can literally go anywhere in the world and find people who believe and practice New Testament Christianity in its purest and simplest form. Their culture and language may be different, but they have submitted to and are obeying daily the same gospel I have come to know and practice. Without a word, and sometimes with nothing more than smiles and friendship and time spent together I can quickly be at home with the church of Christ in any community.

Make no mistake, by the end of the meeting I was sincerely missing my wife and children and I was ready to come home. I missed my church family where I work and worship and I was longing to be with them as soon as possible. But when you are a member of the body of Christ, you are never lonely. I wonder how people who are a part of a "new church" get along without the fellowship and understanding of the universal church that began on the day of Pentecost.

Sometimes we sing a song in our assemblies entitled, "Anywhere is Home." The sentiment of that hymn is that as long as the Lord is with us we are at home - regardless of the location and circumstances. When I got off the plane I was ready to get to my home as fast as I could. Cookeville, TN is my home, and it feels like home. It is where my family is waiting for me, and our residence and daily experience is firmly planted in Putnam County.

But there is another since in which I am never not at home. In the church, my spiritual family is there for me around the globe. There is a sense of belonging that is unmatchable and unexplainable that goes beyond words or expression. For the time being, it is God's plan that none of us in Christ's body, the church, can be found in only one location. Beyond the responsibilities of the great commission, it is because our true and eternal home is really not anywhere on this earth.

I met some brethren this week that have been in my family all my life, and yet I never knew it. Genuine, loving, Christian people who love God with everything that is in them and who are in all of the ways that matter exactly like me. I can only imagine what it will be like in heaven when we meet all of our other family members and have eternal fellowship with them around the throne of God.

When that day comes, we will no longer sing, "Anywhere is Home." There will only be one home that will be sufficient to bring us eternal rest and peace.

"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." ~ Philippians 3:20