On the Blessing of Baptism

“Since Jesus commanded His church to baptize (Matt. 28:19), we would expect that there would be a measure of blessing connected with baptism, because all obedience to God by Christians brings God’s favor with it. This obedience is specifically a public act of confessing Jesus as Savior, an act which in itself brings joy and blessing to a believer. Moreover, it is a sign of the believer’s death and resurrection with Christ (see Rom. 6:2-5; Col. 2:12), and it seems fitting that the Holy Spirit would work through such a sign to increase our faith, to increase our experiential realization of death to the power and love of sin in our lives, and to increase our experience of the power of the new resurrection life in Christ that we have as believers. Since baptism is a physical symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ and our participation in them, it should also give additional assurance of union with Christ to all believers who are present. Finally, since water baptism is an outward symbol of an inward spiritual baptism by the Holy Spirit, we may expect that the Holy Spirit will ordinarily work alongside the baptism, giving to believers an increasing realization of the benefits of the spiritual baptism to which it points.”

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Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 953-54.

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The Drama of Baptism

johnny_baptismI remember well when I was candidating for my current position at Immanuel Bible Church the search committee asking me what I thought of having drama in the church service. I knew what they meant. They were referring to how some churches like to have actors on stage during a worship service performing a skit that “dramatized” some aspect of the gospel. It’s often done as a form of outreach. Not knowing the group in front of me all that well I wondered if any of them were strong advocates for this kind of drama in church. If so, my answer sought to raise the bar.

I remember immediately saying, “I love drama in church (insert dramatic pause), the drama of the Lord’s Supper and baptism.” Thankfully the committee found my answer agreeable not only because it kept me in the hunt for the job, but more importantly because these two sacraments (or ordinances) are high drama at its best.

The Lord’s Supper pictures the drama of Christ’s body broken and blood shed for sinners. And baptism pictures the drama of how a person, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, dies to sin and is raised to new life. While far more could be said about these two dramatic presentations of the gospel, this understanding alone gets me excited for church when either is present.

On Sunday, November 9, I have the privilege of officiating another baptism service at Immanuel. I anticipate having people being baptized as young as six and as old as, well, let’s just say older. What a thrill. For the drama of going under the water and coming up out of it gives picture to the most amazing reality in the universe, namely, the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

Does it get anymore exciting than this?

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For questions about baptism or to express you desire to be baptized on November 9, please contact Pastor Mike at mikep@ibcbellingham.org or at 360.733.0672.

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What We Won’t Regret

Anna_Michael_JohnI love this list of things from Kevin DeYoung about what we won’t regret:

We won’t regret playing hide and seek with our children.

We won’t regret turning off the t.v. and putting the phone away.

We won’t regret that one night (or week, or even season of life) we let the kids get happy meals just so they would be happy and we could survive.

We won’t regret singing the same hymns over and over until they became familiar enough to sing with the saints around a hospital bed.

We won’t regret the time we spent hiding the word in our hearts.

We won’t regret jumping in a pile of leaves every fall.

We won’t regret overlooking a lot of little things that bother us about our spouses.

We won’t regret kissing our spouse in front of the kids.

We won’t regret going to bed with a messy house if that meant we had time to chase the kids around in the backyard.

We won’t regret all the wasted time with friends.

We won’t regret laughing often and laughing loudly.

We won’t regret hugging our kids whenever they’ll let us.

We won’t regret the times the kids slept in our beds and the times in the middle of the night we had to carry them softly back to theirs.

We won’t regret being a little bit goofy.

We won’t regret asking for forgiveness, and we won’t regret forgiving those who ask.

We won’t regret dancing at weddings–fast and silly with our kids, slow and sweet with our spouse.

We won’t regret giving most people the benefit of the doubt.

We won’t regret commiting to a good church and sticking around.

We won’t regret learning to play the piano, read music, or sing in parts.

We won’t regret reading to our children.

We won’t regret time spent in prayer.

We won’t regret going on long road trips filled with frustrations, but full with memories.

We won’t regret letting our kids be kids.

We won’t regret walking with people through suffering.

We won’t regret trusting Jesus.

Thanks, Kevin. I don’t regret taking the time to think about this list. Now for the doing . . .

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Back to School and the School of Christ

lockersLike many parents this time of year, I’m getting my kids ready for their return to school. It’s a bit daunting to think I’ll have a first, sixth, eighth, and ninth grader in school beginning September 2nd. A season of parenthood like this has me much on my knees in prayer. So what am I praying for my children as they go back to school? The same things Julia and I prayed about last year at this time. Here’s a sample:

  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:1-2).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would come to realize still more deeply that the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life (Ps. 63:3).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would seek not the applause of man, but rejoice in the applause of God in Christ (Rom. 2:29).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would shine like lights in the world as they hold fast to the word of life in the halls of Geneva Elementary, Kulshan Middle School, and Bellingham High (Phil. 2:15-16).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would learn more what it means to weep for the enemies of the cross of Christ — that their love for the lost will be deepened (Phil. 3:18; Matt. 9:36).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael will be quicker to consider others more important than themselves as they look to the example of Christ (Phil. 2:1-11).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would grow in their love for their local church as they see the beauty of Christ-centered community against the backdrop of a fallen world (Eph. 4:1-16).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael will learn more of what it means to abide in Christ and walk in step with the Spirit while putting to death the deeds of the flesh (John 15:4; Gal. 5:25; Rom. 8:13).
  • I’m praying that Samuel, Anna, John, and Michael would do everything, including math and social studies and science and literature and lunch and recess, to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

And even as I pray these things for my children I’m praying this for myself:

Father in heaven, grant me immeasurable wisdom, love, and patience for my children as I seek to point them to Christ as their all-sufficient Savior and Lord. And when I fail, please remind me by Your Spirit that my hope is not in my perfect parenthood, but in my perfect God who is sovereign over all. In the matchless name of Jesus and for His name’s sake. Amen.

As our children go back to school may God be pleased to keep us all in the school of Christ, learning to follow Him all our days until we graduate to glory.

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[photo credit: candrews via photopin cc]

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On “Refined Persecutors,” “Sham Griefs,” and the Reality of Future Glory

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) had a way with words. In fact, few people in the history of the English church have had a better command of the language. It is not hyperbole, perhaps, to say, “What Da Vinci (or Rembrandt or Michelangelo) was to painting, Spurgeon was to rhetoric.”

Thankfully, in the providence of God Spurgeon used his gift of language to communicate grace and truth. One example of this is an entry in a little book given me by a dear friend entitled, Strengthen My Spirit. This compilation of 180 readings from Spurgeon’s sermons and writings is food for the soul. These readings are powerful help as we “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). I offer the following excerpt for your strength.

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Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. -2 Tim. 3:12

“It is by no means pleasant to be opposed in doing right by those who ought to help us in it. It is very painful to flesh and blood to go contrary to those we love. What is more, those who hate Christians have a way of reviling so that they are sure to make us wince. They watch our weak points, and with very wonderful skill, they turn their discoveries to account. If one thing is more provoking than another, they will be sure to say it, and say it when we are least able to bear it.

“It may be that they are very polite people, and if so, your refined persecutors have a very dainty way of cutting to the bone and yet smiling all the while. They can say a malicious thing so delicately that you can neither resent it nor endure it. They are perfect masters of it and know how to make the iron enter into the soul.

“Do not be astonished, therefore, if you are sorely vexed, neither be amazed as though some strange things happened to you. The martyrs did not suffer sham pains; the racks on which they were stretched were not beds of ease, nor were their prisons rooms of comfort. Their pains were agonies; their martyrdoms were torments.

“If you had sham griefs, you might expect counterfeit joys; let the reality of your tribulation assure you of the reality of the coming glory.”
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Charles Spurgeon, Strengthen My Spirit (Barbour Publishing, 2011), p. 93.

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The Greatest Declaration of Independence Imaginable

Mike Pohlman:

A year later, I still believe the gospel is the greatest declaration of independence imaginable. Happy 4th!

Originally posted on Permanent Things:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:31-32

Like millions of Americans this week, my mind is on the Fourth of July holiday and what it represents: our freedom as a nation. This freedom is a precious thing, bought with the sweat, toil, and blood of countless Americans who initially fought to obtain it, as well as those who have fought to secure it in the centuries since that fateful day in 1776.

But even as I prize my freedom as an American, I am moved to consider a greater freedom, namely, my freedom in Christ. “If you abide in my word,” our Lord declares, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

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Why a Great Tribulation?

Abandoned City and baked earthI’ve spent the last three weeks at Immanuel on Sunday mornings preaching through Mark 13. We have a few weeks yet to go. The themes taken up in this chapter — the destruction of the temple and fall of Jerusalem, the Great Tribulation, Second Coming of Christ, and faithful discipleship — have been both humbling and exhilarating to study.

This week I’m taking up verse 14 and the “abomination of desolation.” I’m going to try and demonstrate from the text how this future event will take place during an unprecedented period of tribulation on earth — indeed, “such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be” (v. 19). The Great Tribulation is significant not only because it exceeds in horror any known event in human history, but also because it marks the period of time immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ. Therefore, Jesus exhorts us to “be on guard” or “take heart” or “not be led astray” from the path of discipleship (v. 23).

I have several questions of this text. One of my questions is, Why? Why a Great Tribulation? Why would God do this? Three biblical reasons come to mind for the Great Tribulation:

  • The Great Tribulation Will Make Clear the Elect 

Only the elect will endure to the end (vv. 13, 20, 22). During the Great Tribulation all religious pretenders will be exposed. Tribulation of the magnitude prophesied by Jesus will result in a profound “sifting” of the saved and the lost. Tribulation will make plain who truly are followers of Jesus Christ. Tribulation, like nothing else it seems, has a way of bringing out what is in us. Isn’t this how the Apostle Peter thought? “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). The fire of tribulation brings to light genuine faith — God’s people will be made clear to the world!

  • The Great Tribulation Will Vindicate the Justice of God

Consider 2 Thess. 2:1-12 where the Apostle Paul describes the events preceding the return of Christ including the revealing of the “man of lawlessness” (what I take to be commentary on the “abomination of desolation” in Mark 13:14):

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, [2] not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. [3] Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, [4] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. [5] Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? [6] And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. [7] For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. [8] And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. [9] The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, [10] and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. [11] Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, [12] in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

The Great Tribulation, including the “activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and . . . all wicked deception,” will overwhelm those “who are perishing” (vv. 9-10). In terms of the vindication of God’s justice, we have to see the reason Paul gives for why people perish: “because they [the perishing] refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10). The Great Tribulation, and the resulting triumph of Christ in his glorious Second Coming, will prove God’s justice absolutely righteous. For people will follow not Christ but lawlessness, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. In other words, the condemned are those who “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (v. 12). For this reason, their condemnation is just and God vindicated.

  • The Great Tribulation Will Increase the Joy of the Saved and Magnify the Greatness of God

As I’ve prayerfully meditated on this text and tried to consider what it would be like to go through tribulation on a scale described by our Lord, I’m reminded of Noah and what it must have felt like when the roaring, violent, devastating global flood gave way to merciful doldrums and quiet winds. What joy must have filled his heart when the sun again burst forth its light expelling the darkness of God’s wrath! Such will be the case for God’s people at the end of the Great Tribulation. Oh, what joy will fill our hearts when tribulation gives way to the Son of Man coming in glorious power, when he sends out the angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (Mark 13:26-27)!

I believe this is what the Apostle Paul wants us to see in Romans 9:22-24 where he reveals for us part of the reason God demonstrates his wrath in the world — God wants his people to behold it so that we marvel all the more at the riches of his glory:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

As a result of going through the Great Tribulation we will glory more in God than we would otherwise. And this is the ultimate reason why God would do this. It’s for his glory.

Please continue to pray for me as we together work our way through Mark 13. There’s glory here I don’t want us to miss.

Come, Lord Jesus!

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