Children And Baptism

I wrote tonight from beautiful gate 44 at Houston’s Hobby airport during a layover.

Many times I have been asked, how old should a child have to be before they can be baptized. Many people are surprised to hear I was 7 when I was baptized. I still remember the night I was lying in bed, thinking about the cross and Jesus’ love for me. I decided I wanted to be baptized. I went into my parents room, where they were sound asleep, and woke them up to till them the news. They were very happy, but told me we could talk about it more in the morning. Looking back, I guess there was no reason to wake them up in the middle of the night. I knew I wasn’t going to baptized that night. I wanted my friends to be there, and there was no way we could arrange all that in the middle of the night.

I only had one meeting with the pastor. He went over the baptism vows with me, and every time I said “yes”, he seemed to roll his eyes. I sensed he thought I was a little young. 40 years later my suspicions were confirmed, when I met him again and asked him if he remembered me. “Yes.” He said, “we baptized you a little young, didn’t we?” I assured him I was not too young and knew exactly what I was doing. 40 years later I am a Lay Pastor and full time paid Bible Worker, and elder and former literature evangelist. I did not tell him that in boast. I just wanted to reassure him, that at 7 years old, I knew full well what I was getting into, and ever since then have remained somewhat active in the church.

I have never forgotten and will never forget that day I was baptized. I was walking on air all day long. I knew God was with me. I also will never forget the night I was thinking about the cross and decided to be baptized. I think about it whenever I am put in a situation where someone wants me to compromise my passion or convictions. Over the years I have had people make both threats and promises in an attempt to get me to compromise. I always think about that night, when I was alone with Jesus and the cross, and I remind myself, Jesus is the one who died for me, not these people who are pressuring me to compromise. I gave my heart to Jesus, not to them.

So, when a parent tells me their 7 year old wants to be baptized, this is what I do. I give them a baptism workbook. No baptism workbook was ever given to me, or Bible studies for that matter, and I guess there is no Bible command to finish a workbook before being baptized, but it is an important step.

“Parents whose children desire to be baptized have a work to do, both in self-examination and in giving faithful instruction to their children. Baptism is a most sacred and important ordinance, and there should be a thorough understanding as to its meaning. It means repentance for sin, and the entrance upon a new life in Christ Jesus. There should be no undue haste to receive the ordinance. Let both parents and children count the cost. In consenting to baptism of their children, parents sacredly pledge themselves to be faithful stewards over these children, to guide them in their character building.” –Child Guidance, Pages 499-500

When I give the child the workbook, I also visit with them and their parents, and ask the child why they want to be baptized and what baptism means to them.  The answer they give helps the family and me determine how seriously the child is taking this step. By giving them the workbook, I am also giving them time to grow and mature during the several weeks or even months it takes them to complete it. I encourage the parents to help them with the workbook, but I am also available anytime to study with them, and I check in on them to see if the child, or parents have any questions. Parents often like their children to attend my baptism classes that I have at church and at the church school.

I find it somewhat frustrating, and maybe even amusing, when parents expect their children to understand everything and be perfect when they are baptized. Come on, adults don’t understand everything either, and are not prefect when they are baptized. We have room to grow after baptism too. It hurts me, when I see parents, hanging it over the head of a newly baptized child, that they should not have made this or that mistake, because they are baptized now.

Speaking of newly baptized children, Ellen White tells parents, “If they err, do not scold them. Never taunt them with being baptized and yet doing wrong. Remember that they have much to learn in regard to the duties of a child of God.” Child Guidance, Page 501.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:19-20

This verse makes it clear that teaching comes before baptism, and after baptism as well. Neither children or adults know it all when they are baptized, though they should be adequately prepared. This is a very important and special step, in which everyone wanting to participate should be both properly encouraged and prepared.

You may study this week’s SS lesson on baptism here.

Why Go To Church?

I am writing today from beautiful Tulsa Oklahoma (Boston Avenue Methodist Church)

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:25

Over the years, I have heard many people tell me they don’t need a church. They can just study the Bible for themselves. They don’t need to go to a church that is filled with hypocrites, even if there is always room for one more. However, you can’t have a “one-person” church and fulfill the counsel in Hebrews 10:25. By setting up His church, God does more than command us to study and worship. He commands us to do more than spread the gospel by ourselves. Hebrews 10:25 is a command to be social. Paul does not merely say, “Do not give up hope and do not stop studying the Scriptures. He says, “Do not stop meeting together in a social setting.”

Paul, of all people, knew the importance of a church. Once he was converted in Acts 9, God directed him to the city where he met Ananias and Barnabas and the rest of the church. Even though Paul had a one-on-one encounter with God, he still needed to understand the importance of living and growing in a church setting.

Paul counseled us to keep being social, because he knew it was not good for man to be alone. Now think about this for a moment. God creates Adam. Adam has God and God has Adam. Yet God does not say, “Adam has Me, and I am all that he needs.” No, God Himself says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18

Now let this soak in. God Himself is saying, “I am not all Adam needs! He needs a community.”

If you believe God is all you need and that you don’t need anyone else in your life, then you are contradicting the God you serve! He Himself says He is not all you need. You need a community of believers. God created a mate for Adam, and thus fulfilled some other obvious needs of Adam, but ultimately they fulfill God’s purpose of creating a community. God knew Adam needed more than just to be able to worship God alone. He needed to be able to worship and serve God with a community of believers.

If you ever date someone who tries to isolate you from your family and friends, be very concerned about that. If their love is a Godly love, they will love like God and encourage you to be social and active in your family and community. If God Himself realizes we need more in our lives than just Him, how dare a mere mortal human being tell us they are all we need!  If their love is from God they will not be egotistical and tell us we don’t need anyone but them. God’s love is a healthy love which does not isolate. A love that tries to isolate is very unhealthy.

Worshiping in a social setting such as a church, means we will meet hypocrites, and they will meet hypocrites when they meet us. Hypocrites are just people who do not live up to all of their ideals, and that is all of us. But by God’s grace, He is getting us there and will get us there. In the meantime we need each other to get there.

I have a community Bible study where people of all faiths are invited to our church on Wednesday mornings. One morning an elderly lady said something that has always stayed with me. She said, “If someone in the church keeps rubbing you the wrong way, maybe God is just using them to polish your character.” I think she is right. God says it is not good for us to be alone. We need a community of believers. Some will encourage us, and even those we don’t get along the best with, will help polish our characters.

We need each other!

You may study this week’s SS lesson here.

Trust No One

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

How many legs does a spider have? Eight? Do you really know? I mean have you counted them? In 300 B.C. Aristotle said that spiders had six legs and was classified as an insect. All the world believed him, until finally in the 1400s somebody actually counted and saw they had not six, but eight legs. Aristotle must have been widely respected for no one to question him for 1,700 years. I am sure he was right about a lot of things, but not this time. Finally, somebody counted the legs for themselves instead of just taking Aristotle’s word for it.

The key thought of this week’s Sabbath School lesson is, “Every believer must be personally and individually armed as we each, personally and individually, find ourselves immersed in the great controversy.”

I am reminded of a time many years ago when I was still living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I had a friend Anne, who was a flight instructor at the Spartan Flight School in Tulsa. One Saturday night, she and I decided to rent a small Cessna 152 and take an aerial  tour of the city. As we began, while they were fueling the plane, Anne was checking all the gauges to make sure all systems were go. When she got to the fuel gauge she said, “fuel gauge reads full.” I made a joke that we just watched them fueling the plane so there was no need to check the fuel gauge. Her reply has always stuck with me. “Trust no one,” she said. She was right. As the pilot of our little aircraft, it was her personal responsibility to check all the gauges, including fuel. It was not disrespectful for her to check to make sure the “pit crew” had done their job. It was her responsibility to check things out for herself.

We all have that responsibility as Christians. Paul was not offended at all that the Bereans checked out his preaching to see if it went along with the Scriptures. “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11 NIV Everyone knew Paul was sincere, but we are all human, right? We can make sincere mistakes. I am sure Aristotle honestly thought spiders had six legs, and it was just an honest mistake on his part, involving no sinister cover up or conspiracy.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we tell our protestant and Catholic friends that they need to read the Bible for themselves, and not take their preacher’s word for it. But how many of us turn around and think, my pastor is an Adventist so I know he is preaching truth? Friends, if the people searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was so, how much more should we be searching the Scriptures to see if what our pastor says is so. We are all human. We make mistakes. Making a sincere mistake does not make you  a heretic. It does not mean you are a part of a global sinister conspiracy plot. It just means we are all human. We can’t really on man alone. Like my friend Anne, who checked out things for herself, likewise we must, along with the Bereans, search the Scriptures for ourselves, so that we can each be individually armed in the great controversy.

Would Jesus Have Been Judas’ Facebook Friend?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 NIV

Facebook now lets you label all your friends and place them in categories. I can label them, family, close friends, just friends and even acquaintances, if I don’t think they quite measure up to friend. You have more control and power over your Facebook world than you do the real world. On Facebook you can delete a friend if they let you down. Can’t do that in the  real world, or at least not without going to prison.  If someone is posting evil things on Facebook I can just delete them. But years before Facebook, how did Jesus label His friends and deal with evil?

In Matthew 26 Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. If I had been Jesus my reply may have been, “you backstabber!” or “Traitor!” But look at Jesus’ response. “Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”Matthew 26:50 NIV Friend? Did Jesus call Judas, “friend?” yes He did. Was Jesus just trying to take the “high road?” Was Jesus Himself just trying to set a good example? I don’t think Jesus was just trying to be nice. Jesus was always straight with the people, especially the Pharisees when He called them hypocrites. Jesus called it the way He saw it. So when He called Judas friend, I am sure as far as Jesus was concerned they were friends.  Jesus looked beyond Judas and realized, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV Jesus considered Judas a friend, realizing that the real enemy, being more than flesh and blood, was beyond Judas, and was actually Satan.

If Jesus refused to label Judas anything other than “friend,” C.S. Lewis explains why we  in our humanity can’t really label people as being sincere or fake friends. ““Humans are very seldom either totally sincere or totally hypocritical. Their moods change, their motives are mixed, and they are often themselves quite mistaken as to what their motives are.”

Judas was not the only disciple that night, who we in our humanity would have trouble labeling on our Facebook. “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” Luke 22:49-51 NIV John tells us this disciple was peter, who later that night denied he even knew Jesus. Peter wanted to stand up for Jesus which was commendable, but his method was not. Peter thought he could overcome evil with the sword, but by healing the man’s ear, Jesus overcame evil with good. I am so glad that the same Jesus who healed the man who Peter hurt, can also heal the brother that I accidentally hurt in my misguided zeal for defending truth.

Jesus refused to label Judas an enemy. He saw past the mind games Satan wanted to play with Him, and realized Satan was the only real enemy. Satan tries to play mind games with us too. We can overcome evil with good when we see beyond the flesh and blood, and identify the real enemy as Satan. Satan will always use our friends and family unwittingly to hurt us. Many times they don’t even know they are causing us harm. They are not the enemy. Satan is the enemy. They are our friends. They may, by their misguided zeal cause wounds like Peter did, but just like Jesus, we can overcome evil with the healing power of Jesus’ goodness.

You can enjoy studying this week’s SS lesson here.