Just a dog

As of this writing, our dog, Lucas, has been gone for 24 hours. It was something that we said needed to be done, his health was failing and he was in obvious distress whenever he moved. It was the right thing to do. So we tell ourselves.

As I turned over this decision in my mind, my heart kept interrupting. Just give me another day, another hour, just to spend some more time with him. Even now my heart reminds me, “it wasn’t that bad, was it? Couldn’t he have lasted one more week?” Maybe he could have. His condition wasn’t emergent.

Lucas had been gradually deteriorating over the last few months. The vet said there was nothing she could do to stop it. It was some kind of nerve or muscular issue that I didn’t understand. It just was, and he wasn’t getting any better. So, yesterday, after a couple of months of this, we decided it was time, and my wife took him to the vet to be put down. That was yesterday.

And now, there is a hole in our lives. We’d only had him for nine years. But each of us had our own memories of him. My daughter had painted of picture of him in high school. My other daughter spoke a special language to him. My oldest son enjoyed having him around. My wife and I considered our furry child.

I am reminded of the line from the third hobbit movie, when the elf-girl is mourning the death of Kili, a dwarf. She cries out and says, “why does this hurt so much?” To which the elf-king standing beside her replies, “because it was real.” Lucas was just a dog. I have stood at the bedside of many patients and watched their numbers drop to zero. I have witnessed several such deaths. It is never easy, but then again, it was never personal. Lucas wasn’t just a dog, he was mine.

And this is where I find myself today, in mourning for a four-legged rescue who lived the best days of his life with us. I went home yesterday just to pet him, and tell him he is a good boy, and that he could rest now. I treasure that memory, just as all the others I have of him.

My grief bubbles just under the surface. I noted that for lunch, “hot dog” was on the menu. Never before did that mean as much, or bring to mind what I was feeling. I see commercials of people with their dogs. It hurts. It is a pain that is deep inside and it occasionally erupts in tears.

I don’t have any profound of groundbreaking to say here, and I know I am not adding anything to the conversation. My loss isn’t any greater that what others have suffered, especially with COVID. But I needed to say something. Lucas will always be a part of our lives. His absence is palpable. Thank you Lord for sharing him with us.

Awe

Almost without warning, July has crept up upon us. As I get older, I notice that time is not nearly as slow as it used to be. I used to look forward to summers as school holidays, long day filled with play and being outdoors. Now as an adult, every day seems much like every other. Go to work, eat, watch TV, go to bed.

But one thing that should be fresh and new every day is your relationship with Jesus Christ. As the promises of life fade into the mundane, we find that the promises of Jesus are always filled with expectancy and surprise. The deeper you go into Jesus and your relationship with Him, you will find that you have yet to hit the bottom of the pool. “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1Co 2:10)

No matter deep you go into God, you will always find that He is deeper. You will soon find yourself outside the realm of language when trying to describe Him. Once you think you understand something in the Faith, you find that just underneath it are a host of new things to discover.

It used to be that we believed that the four elements were the foundation of all things, elements like water, earth, air and fire. And for a time, we thought we could turn lead into gold if we just had the right combination.

Then we came to understand the nature of molecules and chemical interactions. These were the true elements, like carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, and we built a table to classify them, exploring their commonalities and differences. Finding new elements was always widely celebrated.

Then we discovered that these elements possessed atomic structure, of protons, neutrons, and electrons, circling each other, forming bonds and shedding them. We gained new understanding about the universe, and the structure of matter.

When we began to examine these, we found that these are built from smaller particles, like quarks and forces. Our machines to study these things became ever bigger, building and testing in the great Hadron Collider with miles-wide rings of electro-magnetic energy to shoots these sub-microscopic particles at each other to see that came out.

And then when we looked into these things, we found even smaller pieces to study, like quanta, and quantum mechanics. Energy and matter converged and began to question the nature of all things, why they came into being, and the forces that hold them together. I imagine once we think we understand those things, we will find still smaller pieces that make up those.

This all comes from a God who is infinite (in- meaning not, and finite meaning limited, because we don’t have positive words to describe God’s nature, because we couldn’t understand them if we did) and in His omniscience (except the “omni-“s), is infinitely creative.

To study life and nature using the tools of science involves only a fraction of the whole. Life and all things of earth could occupy our scientific curiosity for a lifetime, but there is an entire universe, filled with stars, planets, and who knows what else. Even this is a pale reflection of the true nature of God. What ought to be our response to this?

Awe. Wonder. Worship of the God Who is higher than I. Let the whole world fall before Him, whom the stars themselves worship (Job 38:7). Is it any wonder that beholding the night sky brings on these feelings? Discovering our place in the vastness of it all, can we resist Him? He becomes the one Hope we hold on to. Could we? For God alone is God. All owe their existence to Him. How mighty and awesome is the Lord our God!

And yet this is the God who sends Jesus. All the awesomeness of the Holy God of Heaven, encapsulated into a Man. Words again fail to describe the ability of God to enter into the human space, to live as one of us. That He came as a man at all points to God’s respect for His highest creation, for it was as a man, not a lion, or a dog, or an elephant, not a volcano, or an pillar of fire, or a Voice. But it was Jesus, a man like you and me, and only in appearance. This same Jesus came to us, to show us the “secret” of life, to unlock for us the ability to understand and have a relationship with the Holy God of Heaven. He made that way open by His own sacrifice, because our biggest problem wasn’t ignorance, but sin.

God I am not worthy to continue to write, for Your love for us is too much.

We are not worthy of the sacrifice You gave for us. And if we weren’t in awe before, now we must keep silent before you.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psa 46:10)

Why Are We Still Here?

The world didn’t stop when the Bible was complete. Why is that? Why are we still here? What is the Bible for? Why was it so well preserved?

In Creation, God set up his covenant between God and Adam and his descendants. Though still in effect today, it only survives through the line of Noah, as all others were killed by the Great Flood.

After the Flood, God set up His covenant between Himself and Noah and Noah’s descendants. This covenant continues to apply to all of humanity, as all people of the earth are descended from Noah.

After some time, God set up a covenant between Himself and Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) and Abraham’s descendants. Incidentally, this covenant also includes the descendants of Ishmael.

Again, God makes a second covenant between Himself and Israel at Sinai, with Moses as mediator. This becomes codified into the Law. Under this covenant too was the covenant with David, that he would always have a King seated on the throne. Though his royal line was broken with Jehoiachin (Jeremiah 22:28-30), Jehoiachin’s descendant, Joseph, became the adoptive father of Jesus, the “Son of David”, who was seated in His place at God’s right hand.

When Jesus came, God made a further covenant, a new covenant (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 9:15), between Himself, and all who believe in His Son Christ Jesus through His blood. God’s covenant is extended to all who call upon the name of Jesus.

At the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70, the covenant of Sinai was effectively broken, as there was now no place to offer sacrifice. The Bible is also effectively complete at this point, as the majority of the Apostles have been killed or have died. The witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection are all but gone.

The Church picks up where the Bible leaves off, but begins to assume it’s own authority in the process. It is the Church which proceeds with curating what is the Bible, those books and letters that speak with the authority of her Author, written by Apostles and witnesses of those early days. But those days are now nearly 2000 years in our rear-view mirror. Except for the 400-year gap between the Old Testament and the New, there had been a steady flow of God’s Word to His people, through prophets, priests, and kings. The brief revival in the first century gave us the New Testament, but that too dried up before the century was over. Now, for the last 1900 years, there has been no fresh word, no new prophet, and certainly none that the Church could point to universally and say, “This too is Scripture.” Yes there are pockets of prophecy and wonders, those who pretend to write scripture and call it true, yet these feeble attempts only pale in comparison in quality and veracity to the original. For the Christian world there has been no fresh word from God in all this time.

Perhaps everything that needed to be said has now been said. As Solomon once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The Scripture as we have it in these 66 books now cover every conceivable life situation, whether by teaching or example. For you might remember the curse added at the end of Revelation (22), that whosever adds to the words of this prophecy will have plagues added to him, and whosoever takes away will have his name taken out of the book of life. Those are stern warnings.

As many can attest today, the Bible is just as meaningful and relevant as the day it was written, perhaps with even more importance for our own time, as the Word of God becomes scarcer and truth is harder to find. Unlike any other holy book, the Bible is the one book that is always sought after by its enemies to be burned or destroyed. This is because the Bible teaches one fundamental truth that every government of the world despises.

Government, as Romans 13 says, has the power of the sword, that is to say, government has the power of life and death over its people. The Government can determine what is legal and illegal, and can enforce penalties, up to and including capital punishment to enforce its will. But the Bible says something about death that defies this governmental authority.

When Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate was most concerned about whether Jesus was a threat to his own authority. Of course, Jesus tells him that he would have no authority except that which was granted to him, subtly referring to Pilate status as Caesar’s representative, but also that Pilate was an authority of government, which gets its authority from God, Jesus’ Father. Pilate apparently didn’t see this as a threat. and affirmed that Jesus is innocent. In addition, Jesus told Pilate that His Kingdom was not of this world. Had Pilate been paying attention, he would have realized that this was the true threat to his authority.

You see, Pilate held the power of life and death over Jesus. This was the ultimate extent of his authority. Jesus told him that His authority extended beyond this world. While Pilate may have thought Jesus was just crazy, Jesus informs us and all who believe in Him the true power of reform and change in politics. While Christians operate in this sphere as good citizens, just as were are told to, we are not under the ultimate authority of the state, but of Christ. We do not fear death as they do. Government can only enforce its laws and policies with the threat of force (and Death). Christians have a Savior who endured this penalty, and ROSE FROM THE DEAD. The true threat to Rome and to all governments of the world is a people who do not fear death, because they don’t believe death is the worst possible penalty. This is why government cannot control Christians when it comes to worship of their God. They don’t fear the penalty that government can impose on them, and fear greater the penalty for not being Christians, that is, Hell.

This is the threat the Bible poses to all governments of the world, and why most governments of the world try to suppress the truth contained therein. Because once the Bible gets into the people, they no longer fear Government as the ultimate authority with the power of life and death. No government which stands against God can hope to last against such faith, and that’s why no government ever has.

Something to think about today as you pursue your daily walk.

Ooze

Colossians 3:16  Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.

How does the message dwell richly within you? Does the message ooze out of you, like a creme filling that fails to stay in its boundaries of cake?

As Christians, Paul instructs us to be so filled with the message of the Messiah that we cannot help it from escaping our lips and thoughts. As we dwell upon that Word, that holiness fills us and overflows into others, so that others may see and testify to the message that has saved us. Sometimes it comes out in speech, and sometimes in song. But may it always be when we are in one another’s presence, this message oozes out in holy worship and joy when we fellowship together.

Calendar

“There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven:” (Ecc 3:1)

Everyone this year is looking forward to turning the calendar over to 2021. If you are a bona fide 2020 survivor, you’ve earned it. I am surprised that 2020 has been a blessing to us and our family. Thankfully, we’ve not lost any of our loved ones this year. We’ve both been gainfully employed. Thankfully, despite some job changes, we’ve both been able to improve our situations, and even our son while being furloughed, was able to get a better job than he had before. My oldest daughter even starting working and making some money for herself. I’ve started into a new volunteer position with a local church with the possibility of coming onboard as staff in the near future. 2020 has been an answer to all kinds of prayers for us. I did not expect that.

I suppose I should have. God is a prayer-answering God. But I never would have imagined, had you told me, of the kinds of changes we would be looking at in 2020. The global lock-down is unprecedented. Never have all (most) of the countries of the world agreed to shut themselves down. There have been few winners and many who lost. And yet here we are. Perhaps I’m being premature, 2020 is not yet over as of this writing.

But changing the calendar to 2021 will change none of this. Tomorrow, we will still have COVID. we will not yet know who the next president is. There are still lockdowns in place. In fact, we will still be the same people as we are today, resolutions notwithstanding. Why, because you will still be you. Your heart will remain unchanged. While the calendar changes, you will remain. And the same problems you are dealing with today will follow you into the next year.

Ecclesiastes reminds us in its third chapter that there is a time for everything, and for everything there is (and will be) a time. All of those times can be recorded on a calendar, a chart we have made for ourselves to mark time. We mark days, weeks, months, seasons and years. We celebrate days of birth and special, sacred days to us. We remember days of death and ending. The calendar illustrates when the time was and will be for everything. And for everything there will be a date.

“One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Rom 14:5)

Paul reminds us in his passage in Romans about judging one another (specifically the judgment between Jews who observe holy days and Gentiles who do not) that it isn’t about being right, but about being “convinced in his own mind” and that our method of keeping track of days and times really doesn’t matter outside of our own mind. Why is that relevant?

By common consensus, we all use this western calendar to keep track of time. But the calendar is just a tool. It isn’t your master. We get up to worship on Sundays, but that too is by agreement. We all (most) agree that Sunday is the day for worship. But we could worship everyday.

By the same token, we all (most) agree that the new year starts on January 1st, but you need not allow the calendar decide for you when you will make a major life change. You can decide to give your life to Jesus right now. You can call for a new year in your own life, starting today to read through the Bible, make a new commitment, or stop an old habit.

I don’t know where 2020 left you, but I call upon you not to let the calendar decide for you what kind of person you are going to be. You are more than times and dates. You were created for a higher purpose. You were made to be a child of God.

Listen to God’s voice, God’s own Word. His wisdom will get you through any year. His grace will help you through the highs and the lows. Give glory to God!

The Miracle Jesus Didn’t Do

Read Matthew 13:53-58

Going back to His hometown, while we do not immediately see it, must have been stressful for Jesus. The text is clear that He could do few miracles there. But there is one miracle that is glaring in its absence. To see it, I need to review two assumptions we make about the life of Jesus.

First, as we study the gospels, we find Jesus’ mother fairly active in his life, whether it is taking him home, because the family thinks he is crazy, or at the foot of the cross, watching His last moments. She is still here in Nazareth, with Jesus’ brothers. She was probably in her late forties, or early fifties. But did you notice who was missing from the list of Jesus’ family members? As much as they disagree, scholars tend to agree that Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, had died by the time this story takes place. They tend to agree that Joseph had died before Jesus started his public ministry.

Second, that Jesus did not receive His power from on high to work miracles and healings until his baptism in the river Jordan. This contradicts some of the spurious “infancy” gospels of Jesus, but it makes far more sense, and this even much more significant. The Old Testament saints did not have miraculous power until they Spirit came upon them, and it is far more likely the same was true of Jesus. Just as likely, too, this power was withheld from the juvenile and even toddler Jesus, who would have gone through the same struggles with selfishness and juvenile yearnings all of us go through. Only when Jesus proves he could resist temptation without divine power had Jesus been entrusted with supernatural ability.

These two points taken together point to something much more profound going on in Nazareth for Jesus. Buried somewhere outside the village was a box of bones, the remains of his adoptive father. However and whenever Joseph died, it seems logical to assume Jesus was present. As the firstborn son, it would have been his responsibility to care for the family, and certainly to see to burial arrangements. Had they observed tradition as we understand it, Joseph would have been laid out in a tomb while his flesh decomposed, and then Jesus would have had to go back to the tomb to transfer the bones of Joseph to an ossuary for interment.

As Joseph lay on his death bed, do you think Jesus prayed to God, His heavenly Father, to spare Joseph’s life? Did He pray that God would heal him? Did He agonize over the will of God to whether Joseph should have died? Would this have been a moment of great temptation of Jesus to use His power/ His knowledge to do something good? Did the divine Jesus know that Joseph would die, and when? Did they have conversations in the wood shop about this? Did Joseph tell Jesus that it was okay, that he had lived a good life, and that he was ready to go home? That he was proud of his “son”, and that he knew Jesus would save the world through His work and sacrifice? Didn’t Jesus weep at Joseph’s bedside, even though He knew that Joseph had been a good man, and would be in Abraham’s Bosom?

Did Mary turn to Jesus, and ask Him to do something? Did His brothers beg Him to save their father? And is this what caused such a rift between them that they did not believe until after He rose from the dead? I can almost hear James’ voice, “If you are the Son of God, then save our father!” What a powerful temptation that would have been, and what a source of great sorrow.

Joseph was the best father God could have picked to be the man who raised Jesus. No doubt he was a man who loved his own children well. He showed them what it was to be a man of God. And no doubt all of his children loved him, and were grief-stricken when he died.

And yet, is this the moment that separates Jesus from his family? Is this the reason why none of them follow him to the Jordan, or receive the baptism of John? Is this the moment why his family goes to find him, because they think he is crazy, so stricken with grief and sorrow that He believes He can raise the dead? That when He goes back to His hometown, his family are nowhere to be seen, nor seek to defend Him when he is attacked by the people of the town?

I think it is safe to say that Jesus faced this kind of temptation, and reasonable to assume that is such a thing happened in his family, it could certainly happen in yours. I doubt that Jesus was a stranger to family drama, and going home to Nazareth, a place He rarely visited, would have been a place of unusual stress for Him. So if going home for the holidays is a cause for stress, you are in good company. The family of Jesus rejected Him long before they accepted Him. But that isn’t the end of the story.

In 1 Cor 15:7, the scripture says, “Then He appeared to James . . .”

After His initial resurrection, Paul records for us several appearances of the resurrected Jesus. This one stands out. I imagine Jesus appeared to James quietly, silently coming into the shop, picking up familiar tools, and just working alongside him, without saying a word. I imagine James was initially annoyed that his brother would just come into his shop, abandoned three years ago to take up preaching. It was Jesus’ responsibility to take care of the family, not his. “Preaching didn’t pan out, huh?” James’ no doubt was getting warm under the collar until he notices the holes of the nails in Jesus’ hands. Suddenly he realized that the stories of his Brother weren’t just tales in the marketplace. “They said you died. How are you here?”, and yet here He stands, risen again, and standing there with him in his shop. I imagine at some point, the words began to pour out, words beginning with confusion, followed by anger, long-held bitterness at what Jesus had done to their family, and what He did not do. But the grief and the anger melts into sobs, realization setting in, that this wasn’t just his older Brother. This was the Son of God. All that He had done, all the slights their family had suffered, was for this moment. He was dead, and is now alive. He truly was God. He may have been on his knees, apologizing for all the things he had said and done. But in the end, his old Brother embraces him, saying, “All is forgiven.”

By Acts 1:14, Mary, and Jesus’ brothers are all in attendance with the disciples. By Acts 15:13, James speaks up among the assembly, and speaks for the church, passing judgment on the entrance of Gentiles into the Church. By Galatians 2:9, James is considered one of the “pillars” of the Church and even has a book of the New Testament attributed to him. It took some time, but James overcame his anger over his older Brother’s actions, and fully embrace Him as Lord and God.

The Lord knows what you are going through right now. The Lord empathizes with you, more than you know, especially if you are going through the loss of a loved one. Even in this, Jesus has been there. Jesus lost his father before He had the power to save him. Don’t you think that was a lesson that stuck with Him? Do you remember how He had compassion on the widow of Nain, and raised her son back to life? Do you remember how He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, a family that has become a surrogate for His own family in Nazareth? Do you think He may have been reliving the death of His own father a little bit? Jesus’ raised very few people back to life, but have no doubt He knew the very grief that people experience at such loss. Jesus knows your pain too. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Alone

Loneliness is one of our greatest fears. To live alone. To die alone. To grow up without family, but to be isolated is contrary to our nature. Those who prefer to be alone will always seek the company of others, even of animals, to alleviate loneliness. It is the common plight of the orphan and the aged. God once said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” And we know it by experience.

Though there are times we need to be alone, we fear being alone, being isolated. I don’t mind sequestering myself in my office for a time, but I do so with the knowledge that others are nearby, family, friends, co-workers. Because I will need them in crisis. I will need them when stress comes. I will need them when I feel alone.

In Joshua’s first chapter, Joshua is feeling alone. The man he has grown to favor and follow, Moses, had died. Joshua is grieving. Who will lead Israel now? Who will talk with God to see what needs doing? Who will speak to Israel and lead them into the promised land. Though he probably suspected it, God chooses Joshua to be the leader and general of the army. Joshua will lead them across the Jordan, and Joshua will lead them to take the promised land. It is a large ask, but God makes this one promise to Joshua. “I will never leave you. I will always be with you.” Joshua will never be alone.

Has God asked you to do something? I’ve heard it said, “The Lord doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.” Could Joshua have taken the promised land without God? Maybe. Greater Generals had ravaged the land of Mesopotamia for centuries, taking and re-taking land. But Joshua was going to take Israel because God had promised it. And only this land was promised. Joshua was equipped to do a particular job for a particular time, and would then settle in peace. Bloodshed and war would only be for as long as necessary, and then God would permit him to live in his own home without fear.

What promises has God made to you today? Has God God promised you peace and safety? Or life abundant, eternal, and forever in His presence? Has God promised to keep you free from conflict, or to free you in the conflict?

One promise is sure. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Take heart. God is with you today. You will never be alone again.

Always With You

It’s been a little tradition of mine to brew a cup of coffee in the morning while we are away and set it on the railing outside our room. To me it reflects a certain contentment. Some of my favorite things in in this picture, and not just the coffee. I love the serenity of the pastoral scene, the quietness of morning, and the text of Scripture simply enhances the feeling.

Even here, away from home, my God continues to be with me. He has not abandoned me simply because I have vacated the places I usually haunt. He follows me, has even gone before me to make sure the way is clear. When we pray for traveling mercies, we are praying that God would prepare the way. And so He has. Even though our journey isn’t exactly as we planned, it is as He planned. And in this, we must be content.

I don’t know where your journey will take you today, but I pray it will be a good place, a place to worship and praise the Lord above. God bless you today.

No Weapon

www.bible.com/1713/isa.54.17.csb

Well, here is God’s answer to gun control. Or even weapons control in general. (Ever wonder why there’s always an uproar over guns, but not daggers, or poison, or any number of other means to take a life?) God says that no weapon formed against His people shall prosper. So let’s take a moment to examine this in context.

This was given to Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet to the old kingdom of Judah after the separation of Israel from her. Judah was traveling the same path as Israel, falling into the deception of idolatry. In the time of Isaiah, Assyria came south on a conquering path, taking Israel before them. Israel was gone, deported, and would never rise again. Judah was next on the hit list.

Now this prophecy was given before that happened, but Assyria was a genuine threat. And this prophecy would surely be repeated in the face of that implacable enemy. “God promised! He said we would not be defeated!” But the prophecy wasn’t for all Israel, or even all of Judah, but for the Lord’s servants. Now consider who fell into that category. Was it the idolatrous Israelites? Or even those in Judah caught serving other gods? Or was it the faithful remnant, that despite all evidence to the contrary, still believed in the words of God, still believed that God would preserve them?

There are many Christians today in the same predicament. There are many who claim to be Christian, but hold to the values of the world. They consider social standing better than standing with Christ. They consider their own lusts and pleasures more important that sacrifice and self-control. They pursue happiness, but not the will of God. These too will claim the promise of this verse, and will be disappointed when the day of strife comes. Why? Because they had proved, when times were easy, that they were not the Lord’s servants. Now when times are hard, their faithlessness becomes their burden. God is under no obligation.

While God protected Judah from the Assyrian invasion, they were not protected from Babylon some years later. They forgot the lessons of their fathers and hardship again became their teacher. We live in a similar age. The lessons of our fathers and grandfathers are being lost, and once again hardship steps in to instruct. Don’t wait to learn faith from difficult times, but learn now from the words of God. God is our very best teacher, and those who are faithful will serve Him. And those will receive the promises.

Remember you are loved today. God is a strict parent, but He loves us so. He has seen the extremity of hardship and wants to protect us from it. He gives us hardship to prevent much worse. Don’t ignore His lessons, but embrace them as instruction from a loving Father. God loves you, and so do I. May He bless you today.

Questions about the Essential Nature of Baptism (by Immersion)

This entry is more along the lines of a position statement as I am answering questions for potential employment. These questions may be helpful to some of you as well. I hope they help.

A. What about death-bed confessions? Aren’t they valid expressions of faith for salvation?

Rather than being a purely hypothetical question, I have been witness to a few of these, most recently this summer, where we had a patient who desired to be baptized on their deathbed. The patient was going into hospice the day we baptized the patient, and died about a week later. So I think this patient qualifies. When I went to talk to the patient in the morning, the patient could barely speak. But as the day progressed, the patient became more animated. On the patient’s request, the patient was baptized by immersion thanks to some helpful equipment we have at our hospital.

I tell you what I have seen, that those on their “death-bed” who express faith in Christ, and are capable of doing do, usually have enough time for us to make arrangements for them to be baptized, even by immersion. Now that’s not going to be true in the home, or maybe even at the nursing home. But what I remember is this: Without faith, you cannot please God. If that death-bed confession is an honest expression of faith, I cannot tell that person that they are not going to heaven. I can’t make that call. But what I have seen is that such a person, with a desire to be baptized, will be given enough grace by the Lord to be able to be baptized before they die.

What I have seen far too often is the families of such individuals who beg and plead the Chaplain to save their dying loved one, and by the time we receive the call, the person has passed into unconsciousness and doesn’t wake up enough to even be addressed by the Chaplain.

B. What about the thief on the cross? He had no opportunity to be baptized, and yet Jesus told him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

I think we make a lot of assumptions about the thief on the cross.

First, that this is the first time he had ever met Jesus. From Luke 23:41, we get a sense that the thief knew about Jesus, enough to be able to pronounce him innocent compared to himself. It’s very likely that the thief had heard Jesus speak, maybe even was baptized by John or even the disciples. We just don’t know enough to make that assumption.

Second, we assume that the thief wanted to be saved. From Luke 23:42, it seems the thief wasn’t asking that at all. He simply asked Jesus to remember Him when Jesus comes in power. It is possible to construe here that the thief believed in the resurrection, just as Martha did in John 11:24.

Third, as an argument against the essentiality of immersion, we must remember that baptism marks the death, burial and RESURRECTION of Jesus. There is no way at this point in time that the thief could have received Christian baptism, since Jesus had not yet risen from the dead. The thief’s faith, if we may be so bold, is the same kind of “saving faith” expressed by Abraham, Moses and David. They believed in the Coming One, though they had not seen Him risen. Jesus simply extended that same grace that He extended to Abraham, Moses and David (and many others) by promising the thief entry into “Paradise”, which I argue is not the same thing as “Heaven” theologically, but that’s another subject.

C. Are you saying that without baptism a Person is not saved?

First, let me clarify what salvation is. Salvation is salvation from the eternal penalty of sin, i.e., Hell. Salvation is eternal life with Jesus and His people, living in Heaven with Him. Salvation on this earth means living in Christ, through the Holy Spirit before God the Father. We have a way of escape from temptation. We have fruits of the Spirit because of His abiding in us. We have a fruitful and abundant life because of the Spirit who lives in us. Our salvation in Jesus Christ is the only true hope we have in this world. But we cannot achieve or receive it on our own. We MUST have help.

Jesus laid down His life for our sins nearly 2000 years ago. This we apprehend by faith and a decent amount of reason. We know such a One named Jesus of Nazareth died in Roman custody outside a small town in Judea called Jerusalem on a cross. We apprehend by faith that He did it to pay with His own perfect blood the penalty of our sins, the way sacrifices work to pay for sin. Jesus said, after He rose from the dead to His disciples, that they should go and preach this gospel to the whole world doing three things: making disciples, baptizing, and teaching. Thus throughout the New Testament, baptism is a part of the ongoing story, from Saul (Paul) to Cornelius, to the Phillipian Jailer, etc. The Apostles thought baptism necessarily followed belief in the gospel. I don’t think I know better than the Apostles or the Christ who initialized it.

I don’t proclaim myself an expert in all things baptism. Such is a mystery too deep and too profound for me. But I do know amazing things happen during baptism that we cannot receive any other way, namely, the cleansing of our soul through the “washing of regeneration”, the seal of the Holy Spirit, the promise of eternal life, and the beginning of an abundant life in Christ. I believe that baptism (by immersion) is essential to receive these things. God will not place His Spirit into an unholy place. The altar of our souls must first be cleansed by the sprinkling of blood, just as the altar of the Tabernacle once was. We must be made holy before the Holy Spirit can abide in us. This doesn’t not simply happen with faith, otherwise the saints of the Old Testament would have enjoyed this too. The presence of the abiding Spirit is unique to the New Testament (as evidenced by Pentecost) and can only be received through Christian baptism.

To put it conversely, what do you do with a Christian who refuses baptism? Is some one who resists baptism still considered saved? I believe that if a person is not baptized, but believes in the Lord Jesus Christ with all his heart, he can still be saved (by reason of his faith) but I would not want to be in his shoes when he stands before God. God will ask him why he didn’t take that step in baptism. What would you tell God? I also believe there will be a host of preachers on that day who will be held accountable for the myriad of souls they led astray by not telling them about baptism.

D. What About Foot-Washing?

Having examined the foot-washing issue, I think there is far more to it than merely washing feet. The symbolism behind it actually solves a problem we have had in the Christian Church for decades, that is, what to do when a backsliding believer wishes to be re-baptized or re-dedicated. I believe as Peter protested to be washed, hands feet and head, Jesus’ response is most telling:

Jesus answered, “People who have bathed and are clean all over need to wash just their feet. And you, my disciples, are clean, except for one of you.” (Joh 13:10)

Now consider the one who has been “soiled by the world” and feels repentant, and wishes to come back to the fold. They may wish to be re-baptized. While some see no problem with this, I do, since I believe that which happens in baptism cannot be replicated.

But what about people who turn away after they have already seen the light and have received the gift from heaven and have shared in the Holy Spirit? What about those who turn away after they have received the good message of God and the powers of the future world? There is no way to bring them back. What they are doing is the same as nailing the Son of God to a cross and insulting him in public! (Heb 6:4)

While they are still sinning, they can’t come back. But if they repent, I believe Jesus allowed them a way home. They have been washed (i.e., baptized) so they don’t need to be baptized again. But since their “feet” have been “soiled”, they do need their feet washed. Coincidentally, notice that Jesus does this the night before all the disciples (but John) abandon Him. And this foot-washing is a powerful statement. Rather than Jesus dying again for their sins and their reenactment of the death, burial and resurrection, it is a fellow believer, kneeling before them, taking towel and bowl, and humbly washing their feet. There is a direct sense of accountability in this act of humility. It is humbling for the one receiving as well as the one giving it, especially as it is done before the body of believers. (There is also a subtle call-back to the OT tradition (See Ruth 4:5-8) of the “unsandaled”, that is, one who refuses to carry his responsibility in the raising up of children to his deceased brother. In foot-washing, the sandals are removed, for the feet to be washed, a reminder of responsibility broken, and after the feet are “baptized”, the sandals are restored. It can be a very powerful and moving moment for all involved, and it satisfies the need to do “something” as a show of repentance and acceptance back into the Church. This is why I think it never shows up again (except Hebrews 6:2?), because of its rarity in the life of the church. Also, it reinforces the uniqueness of baptism, but allows the repentant a way back that is repeatable, and can be done again and again as a show of repentance.