Local News Articles From Years Past

Over the years, I’ve contributed various Christian articles to the local newspapers and they’ve been very cooperative in running them “as written,” without additional editing (although they did insert their own titles).  These articles have even been responsible for bringing some of our current members through the doors for the first time.

As they were published, these articles were pinned to our bulletin board until they took up the majority of the cork real estate.  So it was time for a bit of cleaning.  I took them down, scanned them, and thought I’d share them here on the blog.  The text of each article is included below the image for easier reading.

The first three articles appeared in the Smyrna A.M. paper back in 2007.  Smyrna A.M. is a production of the Tennessean newspaper and is distributed freely to every household in the Smyrna area.  The fourth article appeared in the Murfreesboro Post back on November 12, 2006.

Who Is Jesus

Be Careful When Answering “Who is Jesus?”

Jesus is not your homeboy. He’s not your co-pilot. And he’s not your boyfriend. Despite the marketing techniques that are in vogue today, which attempt to make Jesus more approachable by making him more “cool,” the trend toward redefining our Savior may soon make Him indistinguishable from any other pop star or celebrity. And sadly, like most celebrities, he is too often viewed as an optional accessory to be used or ignored according to the whim of the consumer. And as we all know, audiences are fickle.

What’s worse, notions of Jesus as God – one to be worshiped and obeyed – are markedly absent from most modern sermons, and the “dumbing down” of Christ is reaching a sort of critical mass in the contemporary church. Soon the Jesus of the Bible will disappear altogether.

Here’s a fact: You are not like God and God is not like you. He is different. He is “completely other.” As the prophet Isaiah records, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

In the attempt to fill pews and keep their coffers fat, the modern church has attempted to humanize Jesus in sub-biblical ways. They assume that His love is tantamount to human love, or that His jealousy and zeal are the same as ours. As a result, we have a generation of Christians who redefine their Christianity by their feelings and thoughts, rather than by aligning their thinking with the dictates of Scripture. And that’s not just theologically clumsy. It’s lethal.

Jesus once asked His apostles, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” When they responded that some thought he was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet, Jesus asked them pointedly, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-15)

That’s an excellent question – one that we all have to come to grips with at some point in life. Who do we say that Jesus is? Is he merely a man with some good social ideas? Is he another in a succession of Hebrew prophets? Or is he the figment of someone’s fertile imagination foisted on all humankind as some sort of grand, cosmic joke?

Biblically, there is only one right answer. Faced with that penetrating question, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” In response, Jesus made sure that God received the credit for that realization, saying, “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17)

That means that the only correct answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” is the answer God reveals – “He is my son. He is Christ. He is Lord.”

Of course, all of that begs the question, “Who do you say he is?”

Be careful. Your answer matters.

 

Fun Fundamentalism

 Putting the ‘Fun’ in Fundamentalism

“So what kind of preacher are you?” a woman recently asked. “You’re not one of those fundamentalists are you?”

I knew what she was driving at. One small segment of evangelical Christianity has usurped the term “fundamentalism” and redefined it so that only they fit in the category. Now when we think of “fundamentalists,” we imagine fire-breathing pulpiteers who spend their time listing all the things they reject and condemning everyone with whom they disagree. And that’s a shame because fundamentalism is not a bad word.

“Yes,” I replied. “I am a fundamentalist.”

She took a couple steps back. I assured her that I wouldn’t bite. “You see, I am an adamant defender of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. The Virgin birth. The sinless life. The death, burial, and resurrection. Those are all fundamental to Christianity. Without those basics you have no faith.”

I asked her, “Would you go to a doctor who didn’t understand the rudiments of medicine? Or would you trust an auto mechanic who didn’t know how engines work?”

“Of course not.”

She was catching my drift. The same way that we would never trust our bodies or even our cars to the care of someone who lacked the fundamentals, we should never entrust our spiritual well-being to someone who ignores the basics. In theological circles, those fundamentals are called “doctrines.” A doctrine is simply something taught as a rule or principle of the faith. And, the principles of Christianity are built on those fundamental doctrines.

So don’t be afraid to call yourself a fundamentalist. Study the doctrines and construct your faith from those basic building blocks. That’s the method Jesus prescribed: “Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

Yep, I’m a fundamentalist. I love the doctrines of the Christian faith and am not ashamed to say so. Recently, one of our congregants told me, “As we keep teaching the Bible, we are going to be known as the church to put the ‘mental’ back into fundamentalism.”

I smiled. “You’re right. But, wouldn’t it be great to be known as the church to put the ‘fun’ back, too?”

 

Theology = education

 Theology = Education, Not Entertainment
(I had entitled this: Theology Matters)

I get a lot of email. Due to the popularity of our website, I receive comments and observations from a wide range of denominations and countries. One of the most consistent themes emerging from my inbox is the general lack of doctrine and theology being taught in most churches. In its place, churches offer showmanship – clowns, puppets, light shows, theatrical productions, surround-sound, smoke machines, rock bands, etc.

An elemental shift has occurred in the contemporary church. According to the Bible, although the followers of Christ are in the world, we are not to be of the world (John 17:14-16). We are called to reflect the principles and teaching of Christ, as salt and light in an otherwise decaying and dark environment. But, as church buildings and budgets have grown, churches have begun competing with the world over the disposable income people spend on entertainment. And in the process, doctrine and theology have suffered.

So, does that really matter? I mean, what’s the point of theology anyway? Is doctrine really that important?

The word “theology” is a contraction of two Greek words, meaning “words about God.” The Bible is full of such words. As you learn the Bible, you learn what God is like, how He thinks, how He acts, and what it takes to approach Him. It’s not enough to simply think about God. It matters what you think about God. Proper theology teaches you how to think about God properly.

In his epistles, the apostle Paul urged the church repeatedly to concentrate on “sound doctrine.” That means: solid teaching. They were not to merely imagine what Christ was like or what He taught. They were to devote themselves to the solid, provable teaching handed down to them by the apostles. Proper theology leads to proper Christianity.

Biblical theology answers the most pressing, important question any of us will ever face: “How can sinners stand forgiven and un-condemned before a righteous, holy God?” Given that we are all mortal and the ratio of death so far is a perfect 1:1, what you think about God’s salvation is a very important consideration. Proper theology leads to peace with God.

And finally, once we understand our relationship with God and His Son, that knowledge affects every aspect of our lives. How we treat people, how we raise our kids, how we live in society, and how we treat our marriage are all directly impacted by a genuine understanding of our position before God. In other words: Proper theology leads to a proper life.

So Does Theology Matter? Yes. In fact there is no other subject in this lifetime that will have a greater impact on your eternal destiny than the words you say about God.

Theology matters.

 

Big Deal With Jesus

So What Is The Big Deal With Jesus?

How many people have heard that name all their lives and still don’t know why we Christians care so much about this Jesus fellow? Most folk know the basics. He was born in a manger in Bethlehem to a virgin girl named Mary. He was venerated by shepherds and later by wise men that were following a star. You can learn that much by watching the Peanuts Christmas Special. But there’s much more to Jesus than that.

First off, Jesus of Nazareth is a verifiable historical person. In other words, it is a fact that he actually lived on planet Earth and was crucified during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Even Tacitus, the Roman historian, confirms this.

The Hebrew Scriptures that make up what we call the Old Testament are replete with predictions about a Messiah, a Deliverer, who would come to bring peace and justice. In fact, there are so many details in the Scriptures concerning the Messiah, that the odds against any one man fulfilling them all or practically incalculable. Nevertheless, Jesus matched the details verbatim.

Christianity makes many claims that are utterly unique when compared to the religions of the world, past and present. For instance, Christianity starts with a fact: Jesus lived and was crucified. Then it follows up with the central event of historic Christianity: the resurrection. The Bible declares that Jesus was dead and buried. He remained in the grave for three days and three nights. And, He rose from the dead, ate and drank with his apostles, and rose into heaven, taking His seat at the right hand of God.

This central event – the resurrection – has come under all sorts of scrutiny and criticism over the last 2000 years, but it remains one of the most enduring and powerful events of human history. Books and volumes have been constructed proving the veracity of the biblical account and after years of hard-headed study I am equally convinced that the total sum of Christian doctrine stands or falls on that central reality.

And perhaps the most convincing proof of the truth of the resurrection is that Christianity continues to make cataclysmic changes in people even today. People are converted from cynicism to faith; from anger to lovingkindness; from self-centeredness to charity and service. There is a power that continues to overwhelm people, driving them toward those things that are good and true, despite themselves. The same power that resurrected Jesus continues to bring people from their spiritual darkness into the light of understanding and grace.

And that, my friends, is a very big deal.

 

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A Few Notes on the Subject of Baptism

This coming Sunday afternoon I will have the distinct honor and privilege of baptizing two of GCA’s young fellows. Whenever we hold a baptism service, I always teach a bit so that the congregation understands what we are doing and why we are do it. Baptism is a hallmark activity, a distinguishing characteristic of the Christian Church. I truly enjoy participating in the public proclamation of faith in Christ.

So, since we were on the subject, I decided to compile and few thoughts and post them here on the blog in the hope that it will answer common questions and help us understand this ancient ordinance and instruction.

Definition

The Bible uses the term “baptism” in a variety of ways. The Greek word “baptizo” migrated into the English language largely unchanged. Had it been properly translated, rather than transliterated, it would have been rendered “immerse.” Baptizo was a common word in Greek parlance.  For instance, you essentially “baptized” dishes when you washed them because you immersed them in water.

The New Testament Greek Lexicon offers these notes on the word “baptizo” —

    1. to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe, to overwhelm.
    2. Not to be confused with bapto. The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptised' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change.

John the Baptist immersed people in the Jordan River. But the word embraces more than just water baptism. In Acts 1:5, Jesus assures His disciples that, though they’d been immersed in water, they would be immersed in the Holy Spirit, which occurred at Pentecost when the tongues of fire appeared on each of them and they manifested the gifts of the Spirit.

Or, in another example, in Mark 10:38 Jesus asks His apostles, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He was immersed in the wrath of God, which none of them could endure.

As John Gill writes in his Exposition of the Bible, commenting on Mark 10:38 –

can ye drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

Which Christ speaks of in the present time, partly because his sorrows and sufferings were already begun: he had already been drinking of the cup of sorrows, being a man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs, all his days; and he was wading in the waters of affliction, though as yet they were not come into his soul, and he as it were immersed in them; he was not yet baptized with the bloody baptism he came into this world for, and he was desirous of, ( Luke 12:50 ) , and partly because of the certainty of these things, the cup was not to pass from him, and the baptism of his sufferings was to be surely accomplished.

So, the word baptizo has a variety of applications, depending on the context. But, in all instances, it has to do with being immersed in something, whether it’s water, fire, the Holy Spirit, or the wrath of God.  We need to recognize the textual distinctions and keep our definitions precise.

“Water baptism” refers to being immersed in water. But, baptismal immersions of other sorts also exist.

John the Baptist

The people of Israel engaged in various ceremonial washings. The concept of ceremonial cleanliness permeates the Law of Moses. But usually the Old Testament washings were physical in nature, for the cleansing of the body. The practice of immersion for remission of sin or as an act of repentance was unknown in the Old Testament.

Now, that’s not to say that it wasn’t typified. Peter certainly makes a direct connection between a type/antitype when he writes —

God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1 Peter 3:20-22)

John’s was a baptism of repentance. It had no direct reference to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, inasmuch as those events had yet to occur. John never baptized in the name (or “in the authority”) of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. John’s baptism was a matter of repentance among the Jews who saw no reason to repent of their sins. They assumed that their Abrahamic descent was sufficient to guarantee them a place in the kingdom. So John’s baptism was quite revolutionary. He was calling Abraham’s seed to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins, without reference to animal sacrifice or blood. Rather than merely a ceremonial cleansing, John advocated a spiritual cleansing in preparation for the appearance of the Messiah.

Baptism In His Name

After His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus instructed His apostles that they were to baptize disciples according to the following pattern —

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.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

We have become so familiar with this baptismal “formula” that it’s easy to overlook how earth-shattering Christ’s declaration truly was. First off, the then-extant Scriptures (what we would call the Old Testament) were replete with references to God’s sovereignty and authority over all the earth. But, Jesus not only equated Himself with God the Father, He stated emphatically that all authority was now His. This had to be shocking to the apostles’ religious sensibility.

And, having asserted His authority, Jesus instructed them to do three things:

  •  Go
  • Baptize
  • Teach

Rather than concentrating exclusively on the descendants of Abraham, the apostles were now to go to “all the nations.” As they went, they were to “make disciples,” which requires teaching people to observe everything that Jesus said and taught. And those who were discipled in such a manner were to be immersed in water under the authority of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Pauline Baptism

Despite the fact that in 1Corinthians 1:17 Paul said that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel, the baptism that Paul advocated was the same as what Jesus commissioned in Mat. 28:19: a baptism centered on Christ.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4)
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:9-12)

Unlike John’s baptism, the New Covenant version of baptism that Paul advocated is a public proclamation of faith in Christ, identifying one’s self with His death, burial, and resurrection. It does not save, in and of itself. However, it does identify a believer as part of the body of Christ. It does not wash away sin (an idea associated with John’s baptism, in keeping with Jewish ceremonial washings), the sins of His elect were washed away by the finished atoning work of Christ at Calvary. Christian baptism is an obedient response to that fact.

Contrasting the Baptisms

In Acts 19 we read a very interesting exchange between Paul and some disciples at Ephesus.

He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men. (Acts 19:2-7)

John’s baptism was not sufficient, being a baptism of repentance, designed to pave the way for the appearance of Christ. But, after Christ had come, died, resurrected, and ascended, the Spirit of God in-dwelt believers. Hence, a new baptism was necessary, one that was in accordance with Christ’s authority. And, as often occurred in the New Testament, not only did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, but His presence was manifested by obvious, verifiable gifts.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The common phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is drawn from Matthew 3:11.

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt. 3:11)

Those words by John the Baptist do not create a separate form of baptism, they simply describe Christ’s authority to immerse people with the Spirit — or contrariwise, with fire. To be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” is not a form of ceremonial dipping or immersion. It is completely distinct from water baptism. Peter makes clear that receiving the Holy Spirit, as a gift from God, is the same as being baptized (or immersed) in the Holy Spirit.

 “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 11:15-16)

Peter’s equation is: “the Holy Spirit fell up them” = “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

“Baptism in the Holy Spirit” is simply receiving the Spirit, it is not a ritual nor a charismatic event that is superior to the common experience of all regenerate Christians.

One Baptism

In Ephesians 4:5, Paul insisted that the Christian church would have “only one baptism.”

 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

One understanding of Paul’s word is that there is no place for being immersed in any other name or by any other authority. There are essentially only two types of water baptism in the NT – John the Baptist’s and baptism into Christ. John’s baptism was not sufficient. There was to be no division or schism between those who had followed John and those who were disciples of Christ. Only baptism into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ was (and is) appropriate and commanded for His disciples.

Alternately, some have argued that Paul may have been referring to the singleness of the baptism, or receiving, of the Holy Spirit. That’s a one-time gift. And it makes perfect sense in the context of “one body (of believers), and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, once baptism, one God and Father …”

Either way you read and understand that passage, the goal is unity within the body of Christ, based on our common profession of faith, receiving of the Spirit, and declaration of identification with Him.

Clearing Up Some Common Misconceptions

Water baptism does not automatically endue people with miraculous power. Some people in the NT received the Holy Spirit prior to baptism (such as the Gentiles in Acts 10:47), others received the Holy Spirit after being baptized (such as those who had previously received John’s baptism). And not everyone who receives the Holy Spirit receives the same gifts.

“All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” (1 Cor. 12:30)
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” (1 Cor. 12:4-11)

So, it’s up to God how those gifts are distributed and how they operate. We cannot conclude that baptism “gives us power” in and of itself, nor that everyone who is baptized will have the same experience. After all, the obedient act of baptism is essential and required.  Accompanying gifts of the Spirit are up to God’s discretion.

Also, there is no conflict between Jesus’ instruction to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and later accounts of the apostles baptizing “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The importance of the phrase “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” is that it went beyond John’s baptism of repentance toward God. Prior to the cross, no one was ever baptized in the name (or authority) of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. When Jesus assigned His apostles to baptize according to this new formula, He was making Himself equal with God and instructing that His baptism would include more than just God the Father. So, when we read in the New Testament that the apostles baptized in the name of Christ, they were doing exactly what He told them to do and, honestly, there is not verbatim account of what words they spoke when baptizing new converts.  It is safe to assume, however, given the beneficial and spiritual outcome of those baptisms, that they were performed in accordance with His instruction.

Always remember: Jesus saves, not baptism.

In Closing

Baptism is more than a ritual. It’s one of only two ordinances that Christ left His church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both practices memorialize His death, burial, and resurrection. They are both focused on Him and His finished work. And, when we participate in these ordinances, we are connected with 2,000 years of Christian faith, teaching, and practice. It’s a really remarkable thing.

So, don’t take it lightly. But do take joyfully. And reverently. And gratefully. Remembering always the words of our Lord, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16a)

Amen.

 

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