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Friday, March 31, 2017

Today You will be with Me in Paradise

“Today You will be with Me in Paradise”

Luke 23:42

We are now in the Lenten season, the forty -day period before Easter, where the Church has traditionally remembered Christ in His sufferings and death on the cross for our sins.  During this Lenten time, we will spend some time remembering the seven last statements of Jesus as He hung on the cross.

 Christs’ first statement from the cross was a prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Even as He was dying He was thinking and praying for mercy for His enemies. Jesus was praying for the soldiers who were crucifying Him and He was praying for the crowds around Him who were mocking Him as He hung there dying.  And perhaps Jesus, our Savior was also praying for all of humanity, for you and me, because Scripture says: “the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10)

On the cross Jesus was doing what He had done throughout His life on earth. He was caring for the people who society did not valued. As He went about preaching and healing people, He seemed to be drawn to the least, the last and the lost. Scripture tells us that Jesus was humble, meek and lowly!

Jesus was born in a stable with a feeding trough for a baby bed.  During His life-time Jesus broke all the social rules and associated with sinners. In Jesus ‘day religious people felt like they were too good to associate with non-religious people. But Jesus also broke the religious  rules and ate with sinners. Eating with someone in the Middle East in biblical times meant that you were friends with that person.  Jewish people back then were careful not to eat with Gentiles or sinners.  So Jesus was severely criticized by the religious community for spending time with these nobodies

As Jesus lived, He also died.  Jesus died on the cross between two criminals, one on either side of His cross.The Bible calls these two men who died with Jesus by the Greek words “kakourgoi” which means “those who do evil works” and “lestai” which means the kind of thief who would” use violence to take what he wanted.”  Even in His death Jesus was with the marginal people in society. Reaching lost people was all important to Jesus. In his dying on the cross,He saved the human race from sin.

Reaching those who are lost was the driving mission of Jesus, and it is meant to be the driving mission of His followers.  Do we follow Jesus and reach out to those who are lost and love them in Jesus’ name?  . 

The two thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus were two men who gave two different responses to Jesus.  Both thieves died along-side Jesus that terrible day. And both knew that Jesus had healed many people in their country, Israel.  And both knew thieves that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and the Savior.

One of the thieves’ hearts was hardened against Jesus. As this thief was dying next to Jesus, he joined in with the crowd in mocking Him.  This man hurled insults at Jesus and asked Him: “Are you not the Messiah?  If so, save yourself and us!”  (Luke 23:39)

But the other thief dying with Jesus had a different response to Jesus and he opened his heart to Him The second thief answered the first one this way: “Do you not fear God, since you and I are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our bad deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41) After the second thief said this to the other one, he turned to Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him.  Here are his words: “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom.”  (Luke 23:42)

Jesus was touched by the second thief’s plea to remember him and Jesus answered him with these words: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”  (Luke 23:43) We can learn several truths from this statement of Jesus made while He was on the cross.  It would seem by this statement that when we die, we are immediately raised to life and enter heaven, because Jesus promised the thief that “today” he would be with Jesus in Paradise. Jesus didn’t promise the thief that “someday” he would be with Him, but surprised us by using the word “today.”

We humans have lived in our little world that is totally run by time. That’s all we have ever known. But Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, transcends time.  And when we die, perhaps we will step outside of time and into eternity! I don’t know!  Eternity is a mystery that is impossible for us humans to comprehend. All we do know is that this thief was with Jesus on the other side of death the very day that he died! We know it because Jesus said it!  “TODAY, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

And the second truth Jesus’ words to the thief teach us is that Jesus shows great mercy to the thief who asks Him for help. If Jesus shows mercy to the thief who asks to be remembered, I believe that He will also show mercy to us if we ask! This thief who was reaching out to Jesus had the faith the size of a mustard seed, and that was enough for Jesus to promise him Paradise!  So if we long to be with Jesus and put our trust in Him, that will be enough!  Scripture says:  “For by grace we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any human should boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9)        

In this world, there are some who reject Jesus, like the first thief, and these ones harden their hearts and are never able to see Him as their Savior and Lord.  And then there are others who are like the second thief, they open their hearts and can see Jesus and believe that He can save them.  They call out to Him: “Remember me.”  And Jesus always hears and answers us when we call to Him. There were two thieves. And two responses. And there will always be two responses we can choose to make to Jesus.  We can either accept Jesus or reject Him.  We are either for Him or against Him. (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23) The most important decision we can ever make is the decision we make about what we do with Jesus!  Which will it be for you?  


 Many of the teachings in this blog were taken from Adam Hamilton's book, "Final Words from the Cross"


Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Seven Last Words of Christ - "Father forgive Them"

The Seven Last Words of Christ

“Father Forgive Them…”

This is the time of year that Christians around the world are observing Lent, a forty-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Lent begins on “Ash Wednesday” and ends at Easter.   Many churches observe. a special worship service on Ash Wednesday. During an Ash Wednesday service, Christians kneel at the altar and ashes are pushed into our foreheads to remind us that we came from dust (birth) and to dust we shall return(death). Then we leave this service humbled and go out to forty days of walking with Christ (in our hearts) to His death and to the cross, especially remembered on good Friday.  But then Easter, or Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, arrives and puts an end to all the death and sorrow and sadness of Lent.

Lent, the forty-day period before Easter, is a time for reflection and prayer and repenting of our sins.  Lent is a time of remembering Christ’s death on the cross and the costliness of grace.  And Lent is a time of following Jesus in His sufferings. And it is a time when many Christians fast or give up something for Lent to express our sorrow because our sins caused our Savior to have to die.

During this Lenten time we will spend some time remembering the seven last words or statements of Jesus as He hung on the cross dying. The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, record some of these seven statements Jesus made from the cross. The first words from the cross, uttered by Jesus just after He was nailed to the cross was this prayer: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

 The first words spoken by Jesus from the cross were a prayer.  Jesus was praying for the soldiers who had tortured Him and beaten him and mocked Him and placed the crown of thorns on His head and crucified Him and who now were gambling for His clothes! “Father, forgive them.”  He was also praying for the crowd who were making fun of Him as He hung there in terrible pain on the cross dying before them.  “Father, forgive them.”  And He was praying for the religious leaders who, from their own jealousy had conspired with the Romans to murder Him.  They were standing there in their long robes mocking Him as He bled and died.  “Father, forgive them.” Can you imagine such mercy and such love?  To know that Jesus was praying for them and forgiving them during the time that they were murdering Him is a mind- bending thought.

Adam Hamilton in his book “Seven Last Words” writes that there was someone else included in Jesus’ prayer besides those people around the cross at that terrible moment.  Adam Hamilton writes: “But there is someone else included in Jesus’ prayer, someone for whom Jesus was pleading from the cross for God’s mercy to be extended: We are among the “them”. who  Jesus was praying for” 

Adam Hamilton continues writing: “The entire human race was there at the Crucifixion.  The death of Jesus was an event that transcended time. Jesus was offering Himself to God his Father as an offering of atonement.  In that moment on the cross, He was both the High Priest pleading for atonement for the human race and He was also the offering itself.”

Do you remember that old gospel song that asks the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  The answer to that song’s question is “yes”.  You were there when they crucified our Lord and so were all of us, and all of humanity!

Our need for forgiveness and God’s willingness to give it are major themes in the Bible.  The church has a traditional list of the seven deadly sins which are: lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, anger, envy and pride.  When we go with these impulses we step away from God’s path.  These sins dehumanize us and hurt others and separate us from God.

 Our sin is not a trifling thing.  The Son of God was crucified for it.  Forgiveness because of the cross is Gods’ gift to all of us. We don’t do anything to earn our way to heaven. (Ephesians 2:8-9) (John 3:16) God has already done everything necessary to save us and forgive us. God’s forgiveness and salvation is ours when we accept this gift. Adam Hamilton writes: “The gift of salvation has already been given to you.  Your job is to receive it, to trust it, and to walk in the joy of your forgiveness and salvation.”   

This prayer of Jesus on the cross, I believe, is meant to become our prayer! “Father, forgive them, for they no not what they do.”   God, our heavenly Father has forgiven us of all of our sins and we are to be children of our heavenly Father and follow in His footsteps and forgive others of their sins. Jesus spent much time teaching us about the importance of forgiving others.  In the Sermon on the Mount, He taught, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

And when the disciples asked Jesus how many times they should forgive a person who wronged them?  Was seven times enough before they stopped forgiving?  Jesus answered: “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22) Jesus was saying that we should always keep on forgiving.  The alternative is to be consumed by resentment, anger and hate. And that is no way to live! 

When Jesus was asked to teach us how to pray, He gave us “the Lord’s Prayer”. Again, in the Lords’ Prayer we find Him teaching us to follow His example and forgive the people who harm us.  Jesus prays these words in the “Lords’ Prayer”: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” (Matthew 6:12)

Is Jesus saying that if we do not forgive others then God will not forgive us?  I believe that God has already forgiven us.  But have we accepted His gift of forgiveness?  And salvation comes with forgiveness. To accept Gods’ gift of salvation and forgiveness we need to believe it is there to accept. When the holy Scriptures say that God forgives our sin and offers us the gift of salvation, we need to believe it and take it.  If we don’t believe the Gospel “good news” and if we walk away and leave our gift behind, it won’t do us any good.  Scripture say that our part is to simply believe. That’s it.  

Perhaps if our hearts will not be open enough to forgive the sins of another person, then our hearts may not be open enough to believe that God forgives us our sins. I don’t know this to be true but there is a connection between the way we forgive others and the way we accept Gods’ forgiveness for ourselves, since it is mentioned many times in Scripture. It is another one of those mysteries that we take on faith.  Scripture says,” The just shall live by faith.”  (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38) Faith or belief in God is all we need. Another mystery!

On the cross Jesus’ final words demonstrate God’s willingness to forgive our sins.  And we are called to follow in His footsteps and forgive those who sin against us.  Let’s take a minute and think about people who we have not forgiven.  Would you be willing to pray the prayer for those ones you are still cannot forgive? The prayer that Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him? 

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. 

This blog took many of its’ material from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Final Words.”


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Methodism, the Non-Judgmental Church

Methodism, the Non-Judgmental Church

Many good Christians today do not go to church any longer because they have been judged by other good Christians at church. Like shell- shocked soldiers these Christians eventually retreat from the slings and arrows of battle and wonder what went wrong.  Or they stumble into a Methodist church and find other shell shocked Christians all worshipping together in a safe place.  I am one such shell- shocked Christian. After too many years of being judged and ostracized by my intellectual evangelical community, my husband and I moved away and walked into a Methodist church. And the rest was history.

The Methodist folk took us in and included us in their lives.  Invited us into their homes and treated us with respect. We couldn’t resist. We were part of a Christian fellowship again and it felt good. Small groups are one of the hallmarks of Methodism. And we soon felt at home in our small cozy Sunday School group. Many of our Sunday School class members had been divorced in the past. And many of these folks had been asked to leave their home  churches when their marriages broke up.. But the Methodist Church was always there in the background waiting to take in anyone left out in the cold and love them in the Name of Christ.

How did the Methodist Church become like this?  Why are Methodists so non-judgmental when many of its’ members don’t agree on important issues? It all started with John Wesley, the father of the Methodist Church.  John Wesley and his generation inherited 200 years of religious warfare and bloodshed.  In his home, he also experienced religious debates. Wesley had seen up close the damage that fighting among fellow Christians had done to the body of Christ. He wanted to change all that..  He believed that love could cover a multitude of sin and he emphasized the importance of loving one another to his new converts.

Wesley looked for the common ground and tried to build bridges with people who thought differently than he did. Instead of forming a church that leaned to the far left and fought for far left truths or a church that leaned to the far right, and fought for far right truths, Wesley’s Methodist church is a church of the extreme center! And Methodists have had to give up a lot to remain in the extreme center.  The Methodist denomination has been criticized by Christians from other denominations for occupying this middle position.    

  Wesley wrote these words: “Although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection?  Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.  Without all doubt, we may.  Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”   These attitudes of John Wesley have been a hallmark of Methodism ever since.        

The Methodist Church was born in England out of two hundred years of religious struggle between the Catholics and the Protestants.  Wars were fought and for a while England went back and forth from being Catholic to being Protestant.  And then back again to being Catholic with much bloodshed in between. Christians killed other Christians because of their different beliefs as to the right way to follow Christ. The Methodist Church was profoundly shaped by these warring religious forces. Martin Luther preached that Christians should love and understand one another instead of judging and fighting.      

Finally, England became mostly Protestant but the question then was, How Protestant?  So they fought about that. As time passed England kept on changing and modernizing and moving out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance period which brought with it the Enlightenment! John Wesley was deeply influenced by these new humanistic ideas.

People in England who believed in the Enlightment principles would keep their membership in the church and formally hold that they were Christians. But their loyalty to Christianity would be in name only.  These folks really believed that education, class status and intelligence could save a person and that Bible teachings and Christian religious beliefs were old fashioned.  John Wesley and his Methodist movement had this new problem to consider. But often the Methodist answer was to take in the sinner and just add more love.

John Wesley was shaped by the new Enlightenment ideas but he believed that people should give their hearts to Christ as Savior and Lord to be saved. So the union of human reason with the desire for a personal faith in Christ would become one of the main characteristics of Methodism.  Wesley believed that the Methodist Church should emphasize the preaching of the Bible.  John Wesley’s deepest desire was to bring people to faith in Christ. And he rode on horseback all over England preaching in the open fields everywhere and calling people to believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. There was spiritual revival in England and all of England was changed because of John Wesley and the Methodist movement.

But the tensions between believing in human experience and also believing all the teachings of the Bible can occasionally be difficult to pull off.  Methodists then and now want to bring the sinner into their fellowship, but if the sinner does not renounce his/her sin and if he/she ignores the commandments in Scripture, then other church members can be harmed. Some Methodist churches have watered down their faith so as not to offend others.  So you can see the tension between wanting to be a loving body of Christ and still wanting to keep the Christian faith!      

The Methodist Church takes her doctrines and beliefs from four sources: The Bible, tradition, human wisdom and human experience.  (a four- legged stool) You may remember that the Catholics takes their beliefs from two sources: Scripture and tradition. Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church protested this belief in allowing tradition to be equal with the holy Scriptures and Lutherans claimed that they would only take their beliefs from the Bible.  “Sola Scriptura” or only Scripture would guide their decisions. Lutherans in Luther’s day took a high view of Scripture.  



Methodists were and are known for their singing. John Wesley’s brother Charles Wesley wrote over a thousand hymns and many of them are still popular hymns today.  And Methodists are also known for helping the poor and for social reform.  Methodists today put a priority on helping the poor and working to make a better and more just society. Most of the members in a typical Methodist church serve the poor, feed the homeless, visit the prisons, visit the sick, and some support attorneys who will represent the poor in court, operate homes for single mothers and children, etc. 

 Methodist churches typically send their youth groups out each year on mission trips to poor neighborhoods to work and rebuild and pass out food and supplies. Methodist youth come back tired from a week of hard work and happy to have been able to help where they were needed.  Whereas Evangelical churches, typically send their youths out each year to nice camps in the woods usually with church services and good Bible studies along with sports and games.   These young people come back more enthusiastic about their Christian faith.  They also have had a week of fun and pampering. The Methodists retreats emphasize giving to the poor and the Baptist retreats emphasize a personal relationship with Christ and learning more of Gods’ Word.

As a former Baptist, I miss Baptist Bible studies. I miss testimony time around the campfire and being challenged for Christ.  Baptists believe that the Bible is Gods’ living Word and they know that they can count on its’ promises.  Many Methodists aren’t quite so sure. Methodists sometimes have a low view of Scripture, I believe that if we can’t trust the holy Scriptures, our faith has nothing solid to stand on and we are on a slippery slope. Many Methodists don’t seem to know what they believe!         

But God is teaching us many other lessons now that we have joined a caring Methodist Church. It has been good. We are learning to love others who are different from us and not be as judgmental as we had been before. We are learning to reach out to the homeless and the poor and not to neglect these commands of Christ. The Methodist Church has many strengths and we are being blessed..
.  .

Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Adam hamilton’s book, “Christianity’s Family Tree”.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Pentecostalism and the Power of the Holy Spirit

Pentecostalism and the Power of the Holy Spirit

The Pentecostal churches are the youngest of the main Protestant denominations. And Pentecostalism had its beginnings in1902 during a time of revival in the United States.  Pentecostals and Charismatics hold to the basic truths that all other Christians hold to in the Nicene Creed. Pentecostals believe they should have a strong personal relationship with Christ as their Savior and they place a strong emphasis on the emotional dimensions of one’s relationship with Christ. There are approximately 600 million Pentecostals or Charismatics worldwide today

All the new Protestant denominations got their start because their members were trying to get back to the Bible and back to living as the early Christian church had lived. Each Protestant denomination had its beginnings because people were trying to follow Christ’s teachings more faithfully. And the Pentecostals were no different.  Pentecostals claim to preach the “full gospel” implying that the other denominations are leaving something out and are only preaching part of the gospel. Do they have a point?   

The part of the gospel that Pentecostals believe other Christians have forgotten are the Scriptures that call on believers to receive the power of the Holy Spirit into their lives.  All the main Protestant denominations and the Catholics believe that Christians receives the Holy Spirit into their life when they believe in Christ or are baptized or confirmed into the faith. But Pentecostals and Charismatics believe that there is a “second work of grace” after the believer accepts Christ or is baptized when the Holy Spirit completely immerses believers, giving them power. And Pentecostals and Charismatics also believe that when a believer is baptized into the Holy Spirit that he or she will speak in tongues

Pentecostals get their name from what happened at Pentecost according to Scripture. When Jesus left the disciples and went back to heaven He instructed them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the power of His Spirit to come upon them.  The disciples obeyed Jesus and other believers joined them to wait for what Jesus promised would be theirs.  There were over a hundred followers of Christ praying and waiting together when the Holy Spirit fell upon all of them.  There were tongues of Holy Spirit fire over each of the believers’ heads and they all began to speak in tongues. This was the miraculous birth or beginning of the Christian Church and it happened on the day of a Jewish festival called Pentecost. 

Here is how the Bible describes this wonderful event. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability.”  (Acts 2:1-4) 

A Pemtecostal or Charismatic person is a person who believes and wants to experience the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” the way those early Christians experienced it at Pentecost.  Other early Christians we read about in Scripture also experienced this Holy Spirit baptism. They remind us that when John the Baptist was ministering he said: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but One (Jesus) who is more powerful than I is coming after me: I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  ((Matthew 3:11)

 John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus and his mission was to go before Jesus, the Messiah and introduce Him. Here in Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist was prophesying that when people repented of their sins they would receive his baptism which was with water. But soon Jesus the Son of God would baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and with fire or with power. Power in their lives to be used by God. 

Jesus spoke these words: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)  Pentecostals believe that as in those Bible days of old when the early Christians were baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in other languages or tongues, that today we will also speak in other languages like they did back then.  And Pentecostals believe that the evidence that one has been baptized in the Holy Spirit is the speaking in tongues.

This is where Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals (most other Protestant denominations and most Catholics) don’t completely agree. Non-Pentecostals believe that those first Pentecostals were given the ability to speak foreign languages by the Holy Spirit probably because there were many Jews living in Jerusalem at that time who were from other countries and who spoke other languages.  When the Spirit filled Christians at Pentecost spoke in tongues, they were speaking to the travelers from other countries who could understand them. And because these foreigners miraculously heard about salvation in their own language they were amazed and believed in Christ and were saved.  Scripture says that about three thousand persons believed in Christ soon after Pentecost when Peter preached to them and many of them heard him speak in their own language! (Acts 2:38-40)  

Non-Pentecostals believe that foreign languages were used by the Holy Spirit after Pentecost to spread the word of Christ and bring many people to salvation.  But they also believe that the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not necessarily speaking in tongues or foreign languages, because we aren’t in the same situation as those early Christians were with unbelievers all around who spoke other languages. Non-Pentecostal churches believe that the Holy Spirit gives us gifts perhaps to match the situations we will be facing. And non-Pentecostals believe that having the fruit of the Spirit is an evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit into our lives.  Scripture says that the fruit of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, long suffering, self- control, goodness, patience, gentleness, faith, . .as described in Scripture. (Galatians 5:22)

 And non-Pentecostals believe that God also gives each believer a gift or gifts through the power of the Holy Spirit as also described in Scripture: (1st Corinthians 12:4-11) The speaking in tongues or in foreign languages is just one of the many gifts the Holy Spirit can give a believer. The gifts listed in this passage in 1st Corinthians that are given through the Holy Spirit are words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, the gift of healing, helping others, performing miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, teaching, the interpretation of tongues and speaking in different kinds of tongues. These are special abilities and talents that God gives us through the Holy Spirit as He sees fit.  He gives us power to live a Christian life.

Even though the Pentecostals have sometimes only emphasized the gifts of the Holy Spirit that seem more exotic, we don’t need to shy away from those gifts. My husband and I were once in a church where the congregation would sing praises for thirty minutes or more. Often, while we were all praising God we could feel the presence of God in our midst and it was a warm and wonderful feeling.  Often during these worship services a person sitting in the congregation would speak a message in tongues and then we would wait a minute and another person would give the interpretation of the first message.  These gifts of tongues and interpretation were usually messages of love and comfort or guidance from the Lord.  I really miss being in these charismatic groups now.     

 Each of us should find out which gifts we have been given by the Holy Spirit and learn to use them.  When we use them for God’s glory we will find great joy in our faith.  It is amazing to see the various gifts people have and to know that God planned it that way so we can all fit together as one body and serve God and each other.  Some people have been given gifts of music to glorify God and some have gifts of helping others. Others are given the gift of administration and finance and others leadership talents. And some have the gift of tongues and interpretation, or prophecy and healing. (I Peter 4:10-11)  

God has put us together in the body of Christ and Christ’s body is not all eyes or hands or legs. You may be a foot and I am an elbow. But what would a body be without a foot and an elbow?  In His wisdom God has given us our special gifts to fit into His body. Let us find out what our gifts are and use them. Our Pentecostal friends challenge us to be bold in prayer and to ask God  for help and for healing. And to repent of our sins. They remind us to listen each day for guidance from the Holy Spirit and to ask for it. 

The Pentecostals insist that we be bold in our praying and look for God to do wonderful things.   We have a loving God and Father whose mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:23)  Our prayers do accomplish so much good.  Let us listen to the Pentecostals and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and our work.  Let’s be aware of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power in our lives and listen every day for His still small voice in our daily activities. And count on Him to guide us.

Pentecostals encourage us not to be luke-warm Christians. (Revelations 3:16) But to be hot!  Go all the way!  With the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives we can do all of that!  We can be “on fire” for our Lord!        


Many of the ideas in this blog were taken from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Baptists: Conversion and Scripture

The Baptists

The first Baptists came out of the Puritans movement in England in the 1600’s.  The Puritans were called by their name because they wanted to purify the Anglican Church in England of its Catholic elements. Puritans were calling for moral and spiritual purity.  And the Baptists were one of the groups inside the Puritan movement that were nonconformists and were accused of having radical ideas. 

One of the Baptists’ “radical” idea was that baptism should only be for adults or for children who were old enough to believe in Christ for salvation. Discontinuing infant baptisms seemed a radical move since the Catholics and all the other Protestant denominations practiced infant baptism. Other denominations of Christians worried that Baptist babies might not go to heaven if they died before being baptized.  But Baptists believed that salvation comes only through faith in Christ, and they refused to put their trust in anything else – even baptism. Baptists trusted that their loving God would not send a baby to hell because it was too little to trust Christ. 

Baptists reject all of the liturgical elements of worship or anything that seems “Catholic”. There are no processionals and no special vestments and robes for the clergy.  No bishops and no pope.  Baptists do not answer to any outside authority and they insist that the Bible is the sole authority for doctrine and practice.   Simplicity is the norm for Baptists.  Jesus as Savior, nothing more and nothing less. Their churches are unadorned with no statues and no extra religious items.  Baptists worry that praying in front of statues might lead to idol worship.  And Baptists only pray to God.   

There are about forty-five million Baptists around the world.  Thirty-three million Baptists live in the United States and there are liberal Baptist churches and fundamentalist or very conservative Baptist churches. But there are similarities between all Baptists. All Baptists believe that a Baptist church member must believe in Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior and Lord and make a confession of faith.   All church members must testify that they have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord. 

Baptists stand on the holy Scriptures and trust completely in Christ, that His death on the cross is for their salvation and that He alone saves them and not their church or any other thing that they might try to do.  They can quote hundreds of Bible passages promising salvation through Christ and they feel secure doing that.  Here are two passages that Baptists love, along with many others.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16) Another passage: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 6:35) 

Religious liberty is also important to Baptists.  Clergy and laity work together in governing the church.  Baptists in the past have strongly believed in the separation of church and state. Many early Baptists were pacifists.  And also many early Baptists warned against the love of money or the love of anything “worldly”.  Pastors would warn their members not to see certain movies or listen to certain music because it was  “worldly”.  Early Baptists also believed that a Christian could not serve God and money at the same time.  A Christian was to set him/her self apart for God.   

Baptists love the holy Scriptures and look to the Bible alone as their guide to beliefs and practices, just as the Lutherans do.  Most Baptists believe that the Bible contains truth “without any mixture of error… there, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.”  Baptists often use the term “verbal, plenary inspiration,” which means that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. That the Bible is the inspired Word of God is a basic belief of Baptists.  Whereas some other denominations consider tradition and human wisdom or experience to be as important as Scripture in deciding doctrine and practice, the Baptists believe that the Bible is God’s Word and human wisdom or tradition can never be considered equal to God’s Word.  If God’s Word (the Bible) contradicts a popular human belief, Baptists will stay with God’s Word.  

Because Baptists believe so strongly that the Bible is God’s living Word, many Baptists gain great strength and help from “standing” on passages of Scripture during times of trial and in good times too.  Baptists love to have “testimony” time where they come together and testify how God helped or saved them. Many of their testimonies tell of an experience they have had when they believe that the Lord gave them a Scripture verse during a difficult time and holding onto that passage got them through their trouble.

A friend of mine, Colene, a Baptist, told me about a time in her life when everything was going wrong.  Colene had been very close to her father, but he had recently died leaving her devastated.  Then shortly after, her husband discovered that he had stage four cancer of the lungs. As Colene waited by her husband’s hospital bed, doctors told her that they didn’t expect him to live. Terrible fear welled up in her heart and stayed there. 

One night late as Colene was walking across the dark hospital parking lot, several men jumped out at her, hit her, grabbed her purse and threw her in a ditch. She tells me that at that moment she felt about as low and frightened as she has ever felt in her life.  As she lay in the ditch trembling in the dark with the bad men standing over her, she remembered the Scripture verse in 1 Corinthians 12:8-12 where Christ says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  She told me that right then she “claimed” that verse and her faith “stood” on it. There in the ditch in all her weakness she felt Christ over her in all of His strength protecting her from these bad men. The men yelled and clamored for a few minutes and then disappeared in the darkness dropping her purse on the ground as they left.  Colene shared this Bible verse with her husband and they both held onto it.  Her husband’s lung cancer began to turn around with chemotherapy and he is alive and well today. 

Another Baptist friend, Velma, tells me that she occasionally finds herself in situations where she is over her head and feels that she cannot perform a job as well as she should. At these times, Velma prays for God’s help and she “stands” on Philippians 4:13 which says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  She says she can feel the fear leave and courage come to her as she “claims” this verse. 

A third friend, Jim, works at a shop where several co-workers often treat him badly.  Jim “stands” on this Scripture verse during those times: “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”(Romans 12:21) He says it has helped him change much of the negative dynamics at his work place.

Baptists have a passion for inviting people to come to Christ.  Baptists believe that people who do not know Christ are lost and Baptist churches send out missionaries to foreign countries to help the poor and also to win people to Christ. 

The Christian life begins with a personal decision to follow Christ.  And Baptists love to tell the story and urge people to come to Christ.  Scripture says: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

 Baptists know how much difference it makes to believe in Christ.  Scripture says that once we open ourselves to follow Christ the Holy Spirit begins to work in us to change us from the inside out.  And we become new!

Christ died to take away our sins.  But we must accept Him as our Savior.  Revelations 3:20 says: “Behold, I (Christ) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  He awaits our willingness to invite Him into our lives.  But we must at some point make a decision to open the door of our heart.

Do you recognize what Jesus is offering?  That He is offering you eternal life?  Do you recognize that you cannot save yourself?  Are you willing to embrace His love and allow Him to embrace you?  Maybe you have been a lifelong churchgoer but still haven’t asked Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord.   I invite you to accept Jesus now.  Ask Him to forgive you of your sins and wash you clean and make you new.  Tell Him that you will try to follow Him. Ask Him to lead you.  If you give your life to Christ and mean it, you will become a new person! That is what Scripture says and we who have done this know that it is true.  Christ will come into your life.  It will be the most important thing that you will ever do.   

Many of the ideas from this blog came from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”.