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.

Sorry for the Delay

I know it’s been a bit since I’ve posted. I apologize to my faithful readers. Life has been a little different lately. I’ve been interviewing at the Church of God for a worship ministry position so I’ve been busy putting worship services together and practicing. I hope to get back to this at some point when life settles into its routine.

I hope you have all been safe free from the COVID. With everything going on right now, it’s been challenging to find out what “normal” is anymore. School was supposed to be started by now in our corner of Kentucky, but our Governor decided to wait until September for in-person study, so the kids are starting online work tomorrow. We will see how that goes. But it does seem that every day there is a new rule, a new ordinance, or a new guideline from on high that we are expected to be immediately obedient to.

Thanking God then for two things today. First, the grace He gives when charging us to do things, because we are often not immediate in our obedience. And two, His word never changes. He is the same God. His gospel is the same gospel, there is no flipping a 180 on what His expectations are. He is the constant throughout all of this storm. Thank You Jesus for being our anchor and our rock.

God of Peace

www.bible.com/1713/php.4.9.csb

Need some peace today? With the tumult and discontent so evident today, it’s far easier to be worried than peaceful. Worry about our culture, our political process, protection from the evil that men do can consume and overwhelm us. Not to mention that money is right, work is scarce, and there is always a need for more. Lord what is this world coming to?

But God is a God of peace. In Him is ultimate peace, safety and security from all alarms. There is confidence in Him that things will be okay. There is no worry in Him, but blessed assurance. In Him is the peace that we have longed for, and unconsciously seek when we cry out for a break. But how can we receive this peace?

Paul offers this: put into practice what you have seen and heard him do. Paul preached and taught, and lived with the assurance of God in him. He faced down his enemies with truth and love. He fiercely loved his friends, and even confronted them when they were wrong, but never stopped loving them. Paul imitated Christ. And that what he encourages us to do. Follow Jesus, and you will know this peace.

I’ve seen men and women on death’s doorstep rejoicing in the Lord. I’ve seen folks in extremity of circumstance smiling, because they’ve met this God of peace, and He so fills them that they do not fear anymore. Do you want to meet Him?

Heavenly Father, in the faces of the forlorn, I have seen anger, worry and concern replaced by the great peace You offer when given the chance to turn their pain in Your peace. It is an awesome sight. I pray for that peace in my own life. You are the great and mighty God, and to You I have given my life and soul’s direction. Guide me this day into following the Son, so that I may be more like Him. In His Name I pray, Amen.

I Still Love You

www.bible.com/1713/isa.54.10.csb

Have you ever felt like God has abandoned you? Maybe you’ve been going through a tough time and you’ve cried out to God over and over again, only to feel like your prayers are just hitting the ceiling. Maybe you’ve cried out to God again and again but nothing has changed. You’ve tried to be “prayed up” and holy, looked for every flaw in every corner of your being trying to figure out why God doesn’t answer. It’s very easy to come feeling that God just doesn’t love you anymore.

This 54th chapter of Isaiah addresses this issue. God through Isaiah is speaking to Judah, the last remnants of the people of the promised land. The Assyrians had destroyed and carried off their brothers of Israel to the north, and Judah alone was left in the world, God’s only people left on earth. They were the only ones who worshipped the True God, and yet even this God seemed like he had abandoned them.

“For the LORD has called you, like a wife deserted and wounded in spirit, a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. “I deserted you for a brief moment, but I will take you back with great compassion.””
(Isa 54:6-7)

In the next verse, God explains Himself to them:

“In a surge of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but I will have compassion on you with everlasting love,” says the LORD your Redeemer. “For this is like the days of Noah to Me: when I swore that the waters of Noah would never flood the earth again, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you.””
(Isa 54:8-9)

God did not have to do or say anything. God is completely justified in all that He does. Yet, he wanted Judah to know why he had abandoned them for a little while. He wanted them to know that He was angry with them, and that He “hid” from them for a while. I would suspect He hid from them for their protection, rather than out of any fear on His part. God’s absolute righteousness was offended and angered by their actions. He “hid” Himself so that He would not reflexively destroy them. How do you discipline those you love? When your children go astray, do you lash out in anger, or do you temper your response by first leaving the room until you compose yourself? That would be an analogy of what God does here. Because of their sin, and His absolutely justified response in wiping them out, God “takes five”, removes Himself from them for a moment, and then returns in His compassion. He recalls to them what happens when His anger is allowed to work — the Flood. There was a time when God released His justice upon the world (in the days of Noah) and destroyed every human being on it, save eight aboard the Ark. That’s God’s anger. Maybe we ought to be grateful that God “takes five” from time to time.

It’s like an old joke I heard once about fathers and their children. When Mom comes home to find out what misadventures dad had had with the kids, he says, “at least they didn’t die!” I think we can get a bit narrow-minded in our understanding of God’s blessings. We look at all the things we don’t have. We mourn that our lives just aren’t as good as others. And we complain about it. Sometimes our prayers are hitting the ceiling because God has hidden His face from us, perhaps fuming that we haven’t acknowledged a single gift He HAS given us, let alone the eternal gift of life everlasting, which we have never and cannot ever earn for our ourselves. Yes, often we sound like ungrateful punks to the Lord, who don’t appreciate the things we have, complaining like the Israelites in the desert: “Well yeah you miraculously freed us from the most powerful nation on this planet, but where’s my lunch?” We complain about not getting everything we think we deserve when we have been freed from the most powerful enemy on this earth, death and Hell. What is your freedom worth to you? The Israelites, though free from any oppression in the wilderness, and on their way to the Promised Land, reminisced about how good they had it back in Egypt under slavery, with plenty to eat.

Yeah, we have cancer. Yeah, our heart is a mess. Yeah, our kids are causing all kinds of heart-ache, but it sure beats Hell. Yes, I am beset on every side with stress and conflict. Yes my world is falling apart, but Hell is worse, and I’ve been saved from that. I wonder sometimes if we are subjected to some of there horrible circumstances just to remind us of what we are being saved from. We don’t know what Hell is like, but whatever we are going through now, we know Hell must be worse, and for the Christian, this is the worst Hell we will every experience.

Lord, I know I must sound very ungrateful at times, selfish, unconcerned with all the GOOD You have given to me. I know that when I complain, I still have many blessings that I didn’t earn, nor deserve. I cannot thank You enough for my salvation in Jesus, and when it comes down to it, that’s the only thing that matters. Please fill me again with the joy of my Lord. Please pour into me the joy of my salvation, drowning out all the cares of this world, so that I may see You afresh. Thank You Jesus for giving Your life for mine. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Hidden

www.bible.com/1713/psa.119.11.csb

There are things we like to keep concealed, not available for public viewing. Surprisingly, despite the best efforts of social media to extract from us our most closely held secrets, even the people who let it all hang out on the Facebooks the weblogs are still not the same people behind the screens. I think in part it has to do with the way our brains work.

There is a me who is revealed through my personality and my speech and interaction with others. This is generally a me who works to exist alongside others, work with others, and tries to present a genial person to the world. This is the personality I’ve found to work the best in social environments. Then there is a me that is revealed in writing, whose voice tends to be more direct, to the point of an issue, who rushes to get to a point even though there are necessary evidences that ought to be presented along the way. It is my writing brain that perhaps is more revealing of who I am than the person I present otherwise. And so things slip out more easily through my fingers than through my lips.

I think this is why Facebook rants tend to be so vitriolic. Stuff you would never say out loud tends to slip right out with SEND or POST. A “slip of the tongue” is much easier in writing than in face to face conversation. This is what people keep hidden, their hidden sorrows, hidden desires, hidden lusts kept away from the rest of the world, with only brief glimpses through speech they can’t actually “hear” when when they say it.

Let me share this little passage with you:

Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
(Mat 12:34-37)

O wicked man that I am. Who will save me from this body of death? Ah, but there is an answer, isn’t there? It’s in the verse that started this monologue from the Psalms. Where is the one place you can hide God’s word that will do the most good? That will transform the heart? That will bring purity to the heart of a man? (Jeremiah 17:9, “the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable — who can understand it?”) What can cleanse the wickedness of the human heart? The Word of God. The one place where you hide the Word of God is the one place that needs it the most.

How can I hide the word of God in my heart? Read it. Put the word through your eyes into your mind where it will be digested by the heart in thinking about it. Allow yourself to memorize key passages like the ones above to let those verse percolate through your thinking and shape your thoughts. Consider the word and let it shape you, mold you, and transform you, so that “as a man thinks, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)

Lord, help me transform my heart. I know my heart is filthy and needs a good wash. Once you did that for me when I was baptized. You cleansed my heart fully. And now as you once told Peter, he was is is washed is clean, and needs only to wash his feet. Lord I feel my time in this world has soiled my feet again, and I need to bathe in the purity of the Lord Jesus. Lord hear my prayer, help me be pure again before You. In Your holy Name I pray, Amen.

My Weaknesses

www.bible.com/1713/2co.12.9.csb

I’ve never seen myself as a physically strong person. I’ve always been about average, enough to help move furniture when needed or lift the end of a couch to sweep under it, but never like, I don’t know, an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Andre the Giant kind of strength (kind of dating myself here). But then, I’ve only rarely been confronted with weakness to really know what it is.

Since I’ve been working as a hospital Chaplain, I’ve seen dozens of people who fit the description of this verse. I’ve have seen God’s power made perfect in weakness. And this is not because very ill people suddenly demonstrated great feats of strength. No I am talking about people who were dying from cancer, or riddled with a physical disability praising the Lord, so filled with God’s presence as to be animated solely by that strength. I’ve seen such great smiles erupt over the faces of gravely ill people because we were talking about Jesus. There is a power that defies any explanation, and I’ve seen it displayed in those who ought not to have it, but God makes the difference.

It is this extremity of situation that confirms for me the presence of Almighty God. God has been faithful in the past. He has healed and He has delivered. Has God changed? Has God faltered or failed? NO. God’s promises today are just as sure as they were before.

And this is the hope I have today, and the hope that I extend to those whose faith is failing them. Has God healed you, delivered you, shown you His power in the past? Has God been faithful?

It intrigued me when reading through the Bible how often God mentions Sinai and the delivery through the Red Sea, the plagues of Egypt and Israel’s deliverance from bondage. He proclaims it through His prophets many times, to generation removes from those events by centuries. And yet the reminders come. Do you remember when God rescued you from Egypt? Do you remember when God delivered you all through the Red Sea, as if to say, “you would not be here today if I had not been faithful in the past,” all of these reminders that God has been faithful, and to therefore trust Him in the present.

What occasions in your life can only be explained by God’s intervention? Have you even been in a desperate situation, prayed over it, and then find yourself delivered? Have you had that kind of experience? We ought to remember these events to remind us that God is faithful, even to us today.

I know I’ve probably share this before, but I too have been in a desperate situation, more than one. I remember being stranded on a mountain face in Tennessee with my father, praying throughout a cold February night that I would do anything God wanted me to do if only He would get us through the night. Guess what. He did.

I remember praying desperately with my wife one night when we were both on the brink, childless, living out of an apartment, exhausted, depressed, with no prospects, no church, and no hope. And yet within six months, we had a new Church ministry, a new baby on the way, a new job situation, and a new home. These are things that had no idea would come my way at the time we prayed, so I can only attribute them to God’s intervention. And it is these I remember when I come upon hard times, and doubt my faith, and God’s faithfulness. God speaks to me in ways I cannot foresee, but He always speaks in a way that I uniquely understand to be His voice and His work. (Let me be clear: I don’t hear a “voice”, but that God responds to my prayers in ways that I know speak directly to me. But like the examples above, in life events and circumstances that are so obviously God, God is “speaking”.)

I don’t know what you are going through today, but remember, God’s power is perfected through our weakness. That weakness may be simply submitting to His purpose. It may be a surrender because you don’t know what you are about anymore, that you don’t know what God is doing in your life. But when you bow before Him in prayer, acknowledge that He was the One in charge all along, you will find His power.

Dear God, I’ve messed up. It seems everything I try to affect for my own good just falls apart. I don’t know how to do life anymore. Lord may I submit today to Your will. I remember all the times in my own life when I’ve been powerless, and turned to You, and You saved me. You have always had purpose for me. May I remember that even now. You are Awesome. I am not. You are God. I am not. May my life be surrendered to You, because Your ideas are so much better than my own. Lord I don’t ask for blessing, I just want Your presence. I don’t want gifts, I want You. Lord please forgive me for the mess I’ve made, and help me to grow before You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Raising Godly Kids

www.bible.com/1713/pro.22.6.csb

If there is a secret to it, I’m afraid I will not find it here. As I’ve mentioned before, most translations will not translate this verse correctly, but the CSB nails it. Showing a child the way he should go will not guarantee that he will never stray. Sorry parents. It takes a little more effort than that. This verse actually says that every child has their own way, and it is up to you to discover it, because they will not depart from their way even when they are adults.

So what is this way this verse talks about? You might notice that your children are different, and interact with the world differently. Some kids respond to authority well. Others do not. Some kids develop a strong sense of justice. Others don’t care. As a parent, it is your duty to both discover this bent, but also to develop it. Stubborn kids will be stubborn adults. This is hard to deal with when they are young, but taught well, and with good life lessons, that stubbornness becomes determination. Adherence to authority as children become adults who will follow every authority. So those children need to be taught about the highest authority, God Himself, to learn to apply God’s authority in this world. You will find them strong defenders of what’s right and wrong in this world.

Other children are harder to figure out. You work with them, spend time with them to discover their bent, and as they grow, you have the great privilege to shape and transform them into citizens and believers in Jesus Christ, Lord willing.

Lord help me each and every day to learn from my kids, and teach them the right path, so that in their own way, they discover who You are. Thank You Jesus. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Source of Life

www.bible.com/1713/pro.4.23.csb

Being a Proverb, this verse tends to stand its own without reference to context. As such, it exists as a piece of collected wisdom. Considering its source, its probably something that Solomon himself observed and wanted to pass on. It is an important component of our understanding of the human being.

What is the heart? Anatomically, the answer is simple. It is the organ we have so-named because it is the body’s primary blood pump. If the heart fails, we call it “cardiac arrest” and this can often result in death. So the heart is essential for the function of the human body. But is Solomon advocating for proper cardiac care here? A heart-healthy diet? Solomon being who he is, that would not surprised me, being how prescient he is. But I also don’t think that’s what he’s talking about here.

The heart is also considered in Biblical terminology the place of the soul, as distinct from the mind. In my work as a Chaplain, I’ve discovered that people have three distinct layers to their person, as illustrated below:

As you might notice, some things transcend layers. Some things are firmly rooted within their layers. But the innermost layer, as Solomon describes, is the heart. It is the source of life and the source of your being. Diseases which affect the body, or even the mind do not cause eternal damage. But a disease of the heart lasts forever. If your conscience is “seared” or burned through where you don’t care if you sin anymore, is eternal damnation, even for the former believer. The heart needs to be guarded the most closely, the most carefully. And in this we have a ready defense.

You might remember the passage in Ephesians 6 about the armor of God. tucked within verse 14 is this phrase, “righteousness like armor on your chest.” What is it that protects the heart? It is righteousness, namely the kind of righteousness (and holiness) that God affords. We have been made righteous in Christ, exchanging our pitiful rags for His holiness. Since this is the armor of God, it is God’s righteousness that guards our hearts. When you allow the darts of unrighteousness in, behind the armor, your damage your heart. You cannot sin without consequence. Even “small” sins cause heart damage. While there is healing in Jesus, and grace from the cross, sin has consequences. Your witness and your capacity for service may be greatly diminished if you continue in sin. Sin carves out little bits for itself, reducing your capacity to serve the Lord. The Lord can do much with a little, but the less you sin, the more He has to work with.

This heart, this redeemed soul you possess if yours to do with as you will. But the Lord has claimed it as His own when He sanctified you by His blood. The Lord took ownership of your soul and even staked His claim by moving in, for we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who works with our own hearts to make us holy. If you continue to sin, you drive out His presence, for God cannot tolerate the presence of sin.

Lord, help me today to guard my heart against all the million little things that threaten it, all the tiny temptations and zillion darts that assault me constantly. Lord I want to serve You more. I want to be as much as I can be in Your presence, so that I can be even more effective at working out Your will in this world. Help me to put that guard over my heart so that I may not sin against You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Relevant

www.bible.com/1713/rom.8.6.csb

So when I saw this image this morning, I knew this one that Youversion had put together was spot on. This image, of a TV set showing a Bible verse, looks like output from an old Commodore 64. I think it is an apt reminder that what we put into our mind always has an output. If you eat, breathe, and drink violence, harm to others, addictive behaviors and so on, it will be reflected in your actual behavior. You cannot drink poison and believe it won’t affect you.

As I mentioned yesterday, the mind is the battlefield between the flesh and the spirit, and the temptations of the flesh, though redeemed by Christ, still war against the promptings of the Spirit. The one who wins, as the old saying goes, is the one you feed. You feed the temptations of the flesh by giving in to them, and committing sin. You “feed” the spirit by spending time with Him, the Holy Spirit, both in reading the word, in prayer, and other spiritual disciplines.

So the choice is really yours. Don’t waste it.

Heavenly Father, again I come to you, woefully inadequate for the task at hand. I am bring nothing to this particular table, but yet, it’s not about who I am, but about who You are. Though I am inadequate, I am a child of God. Though I fail, in You I have success. Lord I bring all that I am to You to use at Your will. Help me to stand, so that I may offer to others what You’ve freely given to me. Thank You Jesus. Amen.

Revisiting Star Trek the Motion Picture (1979)

Star Trek the Motion Picture should have been to “The Doomsday Machine” what Star Trek the Wrath of Khan was to “Space Seed”.

“The Doomsday Machine” in Star Trek: The Original Series was about a destructive spacecraft consuming whole planets in its path. Captain Willard Decker ended up sacrificing his crew and himself to stop the machine. Kirk stopped the machine by sacrificing Decker’s ship, the USS Constellation. Kirk barely made it off the ship alive. Here’s a picture of the Doomsday Machine in case you forgot. You might remember that the crew at that time opined that this device was a relic of a long-forgotten war.

Fast forward to the first Star Trek Movie. There we meet Captain Decker’s son, Matthew Decker, who has been to Starfleet Academy and become a Captain in his own right, now overseeing the refit and future mission of the Enterprise. But now comes another threat, another entity threatening earth with destruction. It turns out to be a very similar cylindrical vessel with a large opening on one end, just like the Doomsday Machine but with extra pieces. What a surprise. This is concept art for V’Ger.

If you remember how good the Wrath Of Khan was, then you might be able to imagine how good The Motion Picture should have been. The Wrath of Khan took one of the villains (and very capable actor, Ricardo Montalban) from the original series and made something of a sequel to the original’s story, bringing back the villain on a revenge story now that Kirk has become an admiral (and a father). Teh revenge plot was what kept the story moving, but as I’ve gotten older, I see more clearly the plot of Kirk dealing with middle age being the primary plot of the film, as in the one line (I may paraphrase a bit), “There’s a man out there that wants to kill that I haven’t seen in 30 years, and now I have a son that would be happy to help him.” If the movie was just about the revenge plot, it would still be action-packed, but it wouldn’t be as good. What makes the movie is the characters, their interactions, their empathy and their humanity. We feel like we’ve known these characters for thirty years. We pay attention when they go through the came life crises that we do, and we empathize with them more.

Not so with Star Trek the Motion Picture (STTMP). And here’s what the movie should have been.

STTMP should have been Decker’s story, but told from Kirk’s perspective. Kirk should have been the wiser, older man mentoring the next generation of Starship Captain. STTTMP should have been Decker’s redemption story, and I think he should have been more like the Kirk of the 2009 reboot. We should first have met Decker as a rebellious teen when Kirk goes to visit his home to deliver the news of the death of his father “in the line of duty.” I feel like Kirk, and we would see him dressed in a TOS dress uniform, would tell Decker’s wife the sad news and the younger Decker would come strolling in, pretending not to care. His father was always gone, always on duty. The younger would have grown up hating Starfleet. But when Kirk talks to him, man to man, Kirk would have reminded him that his father gave his life to save others, maybe even the whole galaxy. And then would come Pike’s iconic line from ST (2009). “I dare you to do better.” Somehow, this would get through to Decker, and the next time we see him is as Captain of the Enterprise. That little character bit would have done a lot to show us what kind of person this younger Decker was, and what Kirk’s relationship was to him. Kirk then moves into the role of mentor, and we might get some minor backstory, like how Kirk chose Decker to be the next Captain, and mentored him through the academy, because Kirk feels somehow responsible for the older Decker’s death.

And with that groundwork, we get a better characterization of both characters. V’Ger then becomes not just some alien probe, but a chance for the younger Decker to deal with the same problem his father had, and how he wrestles with the lives of his crew and how he solves the problem. The dynamic between Decker and Kirk would be more defined. We would understand Decker’s reluctance to hand the keys over the Kirk, because deep down, there may actually be resentment towards Kirk, especially once Decker learns the “true” story of the Doomsday Machine and his father’s grief-induced insanity and sacrifice. Decker may resent Kirk for not trying to do more to stop his father, and dialogue to that effect would have helped us see the dynamic between these two characters. I could see this as a plot twist after Spock takes his suit to do recon, to find a “recording” of the original battle (with updated special effects), and returns to tell Kirk that this ship is from the same culture that built the original machine. Suddenly the story takes on new meaning for both Kirk and Decker.

This story might tell us a bit more about the culture that launched this machine-entity, a common origin for both this one and the last one. And of course, the plot twist at the end is that both the Doomsday Machine and V-Ger are both long-lost probes from Earth, but sent back from wherever they came from. This one is improved and more powerful because the first one was lost. And they realize then that they cannot destroy this one with Starship. It also might illustrate the old saying, “sometimes when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back.” It might also have been a way to back-door introduce the Borg (and I think some actually understand this movie that way).

Then Decker’s sacrifice at the end, the “I want this” moment fits together with the rest of the movie. He knew his own father sacrificed himself to save others. Now he sees himself doing the same, as that becomes the solution. Kirk doesn’t become the hero at the end, but Decker. And Kirk takes time with his friends at the end to mourn both men.

Kirk: “You know I chose him, Matthew Decker, to be my replacement on the Enterprise.”

McCoy: “That kid always hated you. Why on earth did you choose him?”

Kirk: “Bones, you remember his father? I knew that if this boy was anything like his father, he would become a great starship captain, probably better than me.”

Spock: “If I recall correctly, Captain Willard Decker lost his crew and his own life, driven insane with his grief. That’s hardly starship captain material.”

Kirk: “But Spock, don’t you see? The man was passionate for his crew. That’s what drove him insane. They weren’t ‘just crew to him, but family. A good captain always looks after his crew as family. And even though his son didn’t see that, I saw it in Matthew. I saw his passion, even as a young man. I knew this was the kind of man who deserved to sit in the Captain’s chair.”

McCoy: “I wonder what kind of Captain he would have been like.”

Kirk: [looking out the window of his cabin] “I think we’ll find out one day, somewhere, out there among the stars. That’s where a captain belongs.”

end scene

Now to be honest, I wouldn’t have minded if throughout the whole movie, it looked like Kirk and his crew were going to be replaced by a new generation, as kind of a send-off to the old crew, only to have to resume their old duties at the end, like being on-hand as instructors or guests at the shakedown cruise of the refurbished vessel, only to be called back to action when the threat of V’Ger dropped. But each of the old crew would have to learn all the new controls, and it would take time for everything to be as efficient as it had been. Can you imagine Uhura perplexed at the new Communications Panel and asking, “Hailing frequencies? I don’t know which button opens them.” And then a helpful subordinate in the heat of the moment pushes it for her. You could have a lot of these little character moments that show you these older characters have a lot to learn about this new Enterprise, but gradually grow into these new roles, both as learners and as mentors. Really, only Scotty would know what he was doing as he was overseeing the refit.

In short, I would play up this movie’s connections with “The Doomsday Machine” as a way to revisit the mysteries of that show and reinforce the relationship between the otherwise unknown Decker and Kirk. I think that would have immensely improved the film and brought more story to bear, to make the impact of the sacrifices and people involved more meaningful.