Wednesday, October 14, 2015

That Pesky Old Thief on the Cross


As my husband is wont to say, I have some good news and some bad news.  If you're like me, you want the bad news first.  I'm posting about baptism.  Again.   The good news: this one will be short.

Enter the "Thief on the Cross."  You know him, he's the guy everyone pulls out to shut down any conversation on the necessity of baptism. Some people will argue a "faith only" perspective.  Others argue for a "spirit baptism" understanding.  But, the "argument" I hear most often is, "what about the thief on the cross?!" It is so odd to me that this is the go-to argument of nearly everyone.  Far and away, it comes up most often in baptism conversations to which I've been privy and it is the one that holds the least water.

Here's the down and dirty on why:

1) The thief was not commanded to be baptized for salvation.

Does that not rock your world?  It's like the mammogram-Planned Parenthood argument, it's reiterated enough that everyone assumes it's true.  The fact is, Planned Parenthood does not do mammograms (and never has), and the thief on the cross, unlike us, was not commanded to be baptized in order to be saved.

Jesus' commands to be baptized in order to be saved were given after His resurrection:
"Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.  And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."  Mark 16:14-16
After Jesus had risen we see His first ever command linking baptism to salvation.  (And, yes, "and" means "and".)  This was a post-resurrection command.  Not only that, after this monologue, Jesus was taken up into heaven.  It is interesting, I think, that among the very last things the Savior told His disciples on earth was that one must believe and be baptized to be saved.

"And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  (Matthew 28:18-20)
As with Mark's gospel, this is the last we hear from Jesus in Matthew's account: make disciples of all nations - in so doing they would baptize them and teach them to observe all that He had commanded. Of all the things Jesus could mention, He mentioned baptism and obedience.

2) There was nothing for the thief to be baptized into - yet.
"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, known that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him." Romans 6:3-10

When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ's death - and He had not yet died when He spoke those words to the thief.

3) Jesus forgave sins while He walked the earth.

After healing the paralyzed man and telling him to get up and walk - his sins were forgiven, Jesus asked the Pharisees:
"Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk'?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgiven sins" - He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home."  (Mark 2:9-11)

Jesus can forgiven sins however He wants.  He chose to forgiven the thief and the paralytic upon the faith He perceived in them.  He chooses to save us based on our belief and our response to His commands.  In fact, I think it's very persuasive when Jesus tells His disciples (as recorded in Matthew) how to go about making disciples, he begins by telling them that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him.  That should give us serious pause when we want to change what He has commanded.  

So, I said this post would be short, and so it is.  The thief on the cross was not living under the New Covenant and so had not been commanded to be baptized to be saved and, in fact, there was nothing for him to be baptized into.  The thief was saved like the paralytic and a number of others - in an actual, physical, encounter with Jesus while He walked this earth.  In short, the "Thief on the Cross" really has nothing to do with the New Covenant or Christian baptism.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cooking Up Some New Testament Christianity

Breakfast fixins at my house yesterday.  All homegrown goodness that the kids made into omelettes!

The Cowboy claims he knew I was the one because we were such a good match.  He told me:

"You have cows, and I like chasing cows.  You like to cook, and I like to eat."

It's true.  I did (and still do) have cows...and I love to cook.  And I have a shelf full of cookbooks to prove it.  But, thanks to the Internet, I actually don't use my cookbooks much any more.  I prefer websites that offer not just recipes, but recipe reviews.  We all want to cook something tried and true, after all.

If you also like those cooking websites I wonder if you're as amused and befuddled by those one-star reviews that show up on nearly every popular recipe.  You know the ones; they go something like this:
"Oh, this recipe was awful!  I was out of lemon juice, so I substituted prune juice.  And we don't eat sugar, so I omitted that - and the cream.  That's just too fattening!  Then, because I had to go somewhere, I upped the temperature fifty degrees and reduced the cooking time in half.  It was horrible!  Too bland and crumbly - and it tasted like prunes!  I'll never make it again!"
Of course, they're hysterical to read - unless you submitted the original recipe.  Then they'd just be maddening.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Baptism with the Holy Spirit (I don't think it means what you think it means)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I would be posting a series on baptism.  I also wrote that my postings would be sporadic.

True to my word (on both counts), here's the second installment.

A theme I've heard more and more over the past few years is the belief that the baptism that we see commanded all throughout the New Testament is not water baptism, but a mysterious, unseen baptism of the Holy Spirit.  As near as I can tell, this theory came about because we're so uncomfortable with the tension in Scripture.  The same God that says we're saved by faith (Acts 16:31) says baptism now saves us (1 Peter 3:21).  The same Paul who says that if we believe that God raised Jesus from the dead we will be saved (Romans 10:9), also says that baptism clothes us in Christ (Galatians 3:27) & raises us a new creation (Romans 6).  What do we do with this seeming contradiction?

According to some, the baptism that these Scriptures connect to our salvation is a baptism of the Holy Spirit, but I'd like to explain why that can't be true.

In this post, I will illustrate that:
1.  Holy Spirit baptism was/is a visible event - noticeable to all around.
2.  The baptism that we are told forgives us of sin and puts us into Christ is a baptism we physically submit to and participate in - not an invisible "Holy Spirit baptism" that we just feel in ourselves.
3.  The early church - the ones who would have the closest connection with the teachings of the apostles and the experiences of conversion in the infant New Testament church - believed that water baptism is in view in the Scriptures that connect baptism to salvation.

We have a lot of ground to cover.  We better get going!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Longing to Hear Voices


"If you love Me, keep My commands.  And I will ask the Father and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever - the Spirit of truth.   The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me.  Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.  Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me.  The one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love them and show Myself to them.  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, 'But, Lord, why do You intend to show Yourself to us and not to the world?' Jesus replied, 'Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.  My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them.  Anyone who does not love Me will not obey My teaching.  These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent Me."  (John 14:15-24)

Three times.

What strikes me about this passage is that three times in 10 verses Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we will obey His commandments.

I think most of us would agree that the premise is true.  (True enough that I even use it on my kids on occasion!)  So, why is it that, when it comes to obeying Christ's commands, Christians so often say something along the lines of, "God hasn't convicted me of that yet"?

I know God's Word says that light should have no fellowship with darkness, but God hasn't convicted me of that when it comes to my boyfriend.

I know God's Word says that true religion is to care for orphans and widows, but He really hasn't spoken to me about that personally.

I know that Jesus said that to enter heaven I must care for the sick, imprisoned, and the poor but He just hasn't called me to that ministry yet.

True story: more than a year ago, I was involved in a lively Facebook discussion about a spiritual issue in which another party admitted that she saw and understood what Scripture said but, "God will have to do a mighty work in my heart if He wants me to [obey that teaching]."

Now, this may be simple-minded of me, but I don't know what "work" God to do in my heart greater than His Spirit dwelling there.  I don't know what Jesus could (or even should) do to convince me to obey Him that is greater than dying to save me, and then telling me how to live my life in response to that.

I don't know how He could be any more persuasive than that whole dying on the cross to save me from eternal damnation thing He did.

Perhaps the great missionary and journal writer Jim Elliot said it best:

Why do you need a voice when you have a verse?

The truth is, I don't think most of us would listen to the voice anyway - because if holy God speaking through His Word that He has taken pains to preserve for us won't convince me, would I even listen to that voice?  And, if I did, whose voice would it be?

The fact is that some of God's teachings are hard.  Perhaps I'm fooling myself, but I think they're especially hard for American Christians.   Americans are no longer used to self-sacrifice.  We're not used to discomfort.  And, frankly, we seem to have fashioned a "Christian" god that bears little resemblance to the one in the challenging passages of Scriptures.  Often, the god of the American church just wants me to be happy.  He wants me to be comfortable.  He wants me to ignore parts of his word to make sinners feel more comfortable.  He wants me to love the world and be loved by the world.  Brother Paul had a phrase for this - he called it ear tickling.

The truth is, that's not the God of Scripture.  And the God of Scripture is the only one who can save us.  That God says crazy things.  Things like:
Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  (John 12:25)
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me.  (Luke 9:23)
"He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.'  "then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."  (Matthew 25:45-46
Tough teachings?  Absolutely.

Scripture gives at least two examples of people who struggled with Jesus' teachings.  One was the "rich young ruler" who was told to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor before following Christ.  Of him Scripture says, "when he heard this, he went away sad because he had great wealth." (Matthew 19:22)   This young man had made great sacrifices to honor God, but when the stakes were raised, he folded.

But Scripture gives us another example of how to deal with the tough teachings of Christ.  Upon hearing the confusing and unsettling description of what we now know to be "Communion," many of Jesus' disciples left Him.  Jesus asked those who remained if they would be leaving Him too - to which Peter replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68)

Jesus said some pretty tough things - difficult to accept things - even His disciples saw that.  The question isn't whether or not God demands our all, the only question is whether or not we will respond to God as the "rich young ruler" did - or like Peter.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Heaven's Work

When my oldest daughter was a toddler she was totally convinced that the word "Hosanna" was really "Lasagna."  I can't express the sheer delight I got standing in the congregation with my little girl belting out, "Lasagna....Lasagna...Lasagna in the high-igh-est!!"

I also had a friend whose son would sing about having "a little chocolate Jesus" while the rest of us sang about having a little talk with Him.  I imagine he envisioned something not unlike a chocolate Easter bunny as he sang.

It can be a hoot when wee ones are still grasping to understand what the big people are talking about.  It can be less funny when we adults misunderstand the things of God.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Be the Church {or The Sermon I'd Preach if I were a Preacher}

The other day, while pondering what the Lord is doing in our lives with regard to corporate worship, The Cowboy mused, "it's so much easier to go to church than to be the church."

Amen, brother.

Along those lines, my sister suggested that I follow up my last post begging the church to wake up with a post on what to do once we're awake.  Fortunately, I had drafted one a couple of months ago.

Here it is.

As I grow in the Lord, it never fails that Scripture is ever new to me.  I can't tell you how many times over the years I've wondered, "why have I never noticed that before?!"

Thursday, August 27, 2015



It must have been about 2 in the morning when my sister's screams woke me up.

Fire!!  Fire!!!  There's a fire outside!

When I bolted out of bed I saw that she was pointing out my bedroom window to the makeshift shelter I had made for some sick calves.

It was completely engulfed in flames.

Running outside to turn on the water at the pump house, all I could think about was how I didn't want to see what I knew I was going to see.  These poor little sickly calves we had bought were dressed, that fall morning, in little sweatshirts.  (Yes, I suppose all homesteaders start out as honyockers.)  I imagined that they had somehow knocked down their heat lamp and it wouldn't have taken long for the straw to catch on fire.  In an attempt to block out the cold, I had positioned straw bales in front of the door; blocking their exit from the inferno.  All I could think of was getting the hose to them in hopes of easing their discomfort and hopefully even saving one if I was quick enough.

Recently I was telling The Cowboy that I think our mission field is actually the American church.  I told him that I feel like I'm in a house with folks sleeping everywhere - the bedrooms, the couches, even the floor.  Like my sister years ago, I can see the glow of the fire, hear it crackling, even - but I can't get hardly anyone to wake up.  I shake them, I scream out a warning, I run from one sleeper to another - to little avail.  Some won't waken.  Some waken and can't see the fire.  Still others waken, see the fire, but don't care enough to do anything about it - especially because they figure that their family is safe inside the house.

As I was reading David Platt's Counter Culture, that scene came to mind again as I read this passage:
When we observe our churches today, do they look like groups of people who gather with one another as they give their lives to spreading the gospel among unreached people, impoverished communities, abandoned orphans, lonely widows, dying babies, sex slaves, and suffering brothers and sisters around the world?  Sadly, I don't believe that's the picture we portray.  Instead we spend the majority of our time sitting as spectators in services that cater to our comforts.  Even in our giving to the church we spend the majority of our money on places for us to meet, professionals to do the ministry, and programs designed around us and our kids.  What in the world are we doing?  Or better put, what in the Word are we doing?  We have filled even the most Bible-believing churches with so much that is not in the Bible.  I can't help but wonder what might happen if we put aside our personal preferences, let go of our extrabiblical (and in some cases unbiblical) traditions, laid down our cultural comforts, and organized ourselves solely and sacrificially around God's Word and gospel mission.

We are experiencing multiple wildfires in the Pacific Northwest right now - one not far away in the community in which many of my family members live.  Thank goodness numerous firefighters have responded to the call to risk their own lives to save not just the lives of others, but even their property.  How much more important are souls?  What if 90% of those firefighters responded to the call for help by saying, "wow...what a neat rescue mission...but, our family has a vacation planned"?  What if they couldn't be bothered to turn off the TV or put down their smartphone?  What if they figured that others had more time to devote to fighting fires...or that they could do that when they retired?

Ridiculous.  I know.

And yet this attitude is prevalent in the American church.

Somehow we've watered down, "whoever wishes to be My disciple must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Me" into "please show up to church on Sunday when you can and don't forget to drop a check in the box outside."

This - this total perversion of what it means to follow Christ - will result, I believe, in one of the scariest scenes in all of Scripture.
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'" (Matthew 7:21-23)

We're not talking about the fate of unbelievers here.  We're talking about believers.  And we're not just talking about pew warmers, we're talking about those who prophesied - or brought God's Word to others...those who performed miracles and exercised God's authority over demons - and they will not enter heaven.  Jesus declares He doesn't even know them.  Why?

Because they did not do the will of God.

This will absolutely come as a shock to some, but God never commanded that you go to church every Sunday.  He never commanded that you take your rotation in the church nursery or make your kids go to VBS.  

He wants so much more than that.

He wants you.  Every bit of you.

He wants you to deny yourself - not just for an hour or two on Sunday, but every day.  Every hour of every day.

He wants you to sacrifice yourself.  He's not just asking you to die to yourself, He's asking you to participate in your own undoing by picking up the cross on which you will die and carry it.

He wants you to actually follow Him.  Not only to gather with the saints to worship (though He does want that)...but to wash their feet, to bathe their wounds, to feed, clothe, and house them....  Jesus didn't just go to the beautiful places, the religious places...He went where the hurting, the messy, and the lost were.  We're supposed to follow Him there - to bring aid and, more importantly, the good news of eternal life.

Are you wondering what happened to my poor, leppy, sweatshirt & Vicks wearing calves?  Amazingly their self-preservation kicked in and they were able to knock over the bales of straw that outweighed them considerably.  When I got to the fire and put it out, they were huddled in the corner of the outside pen, petrified and cold.  But they were alive.  Because my sister saw the fire and woke me up, they were alive.  Because I got out of bed even though it was cold and I figured the poor calves were already dead, they were alive.  Because there was a greater cause than my own comfort and wishes, they were alive.  (Until we ate them.  But I digress.)

Think of how many lost will be saved - how many dead will be made alive - if only we who call ourselves Christ-followers will do the same.

I suspect most who started reading this post didn't make it this far.  This is a wild rant from a crazy God-lover.  But I had to try.  Consider this me screaming:

Fire!!  Fire!!!  There's a fire outside!

There's so much to do.  We can vacation later.  Saving souls is way more satisfying than weekends at the lake, hours of television watching, or season tickets to your favorite sporting event or other entertainment.  On that great and terrible day, I really don't think we're going to wish we spent less time caring for God's beloved and dragging them away from the fire and more time being entertained or indulged.

Don't get me wrong, depending on the situation, I don't think that recreation or leisure is wrong.  However, if the primary reason I engage in those activities is for my own pleasure - rather than an opportunity to serve God - or if I my pleasure ranks higher to me than God's mission, it's time to seriously reflect on God's Word and my obedience to it.

Look!  Look out your window.  Can't you see that glow threatening your neighbors?  Your family? Yourself?   So, let's grab our gear and go.  There's so much to do - so many in need of the love of Jesus!
Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, oh hold them back.  If you say, 'See, we did not know this,' does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?  And does He not know it who keeps your soul?  And will He not render to man according to his work?  (Proverbs 24:11-12)

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