What is Keeping You from Being Baptized?

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, has challenged all Southern Baptist churches to baptize on September 8. I join him in issuing this call to our Louisiana Baptist churches. If you do not have someone ready to be baptized, you still have a couple of weeks. Work hard! If you still do not have someone on September 8, let me encourage you to preach on the subject of baptism. As a pastor, some years ago, I made an intentional commitment to preach on baptism at least once a year.

Your sermon could go something like this.

Acts 8 is a beautiful story of evangelism. Philip, led of the Holy Spirit, comes upon a high ranking Ethiopian. Philip preached Jesus to him. Evidently, the man believed in Jesus. Immediately a conversation about baptism ensued thus also making this story a beautiful story about baptism.

Notice these principles in this brief account of baptism.

Baptism serves as a specific starting point.

We don’t get every part of the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian, but we do know that Philip preached Jesus to this man. We probably ought to assume that the Ethiopian either knew something about the Christians being baptized or that Philip had brought this up in conversation. The Ethiopian asked, “Look, there’s water! What would keep me from being baptized?

  • Belief and Baptism are inseparably linked in the Book of Acts. Here are some examples:
    • Acts 2:41—The Day of Pentecost when 3,000 believed
    • Acts 8:12—Samaritans who believed as the result of Philip’s preaching
    • Acts 8:38—The Ethiopian Official
    • Acts 9:18—The conversion of Paul
    • Acts 10:48—Gentiles believe and were baptized
    • Acts 16:15—Lydia and her family
    • Acts 16:33—The jailer and his family
    • Acts 18:8—Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, along with this whole household; and many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized.

Why is baptism important? It is a starting point in your discipleship. If you find it easy to say “no” here, it is very likely that you will find it easy to say “no” in lots of other places.

Baptism serves as a symbolic look-back point.

Our baptism is our vow. Here is how we look back on our baptism.

  1. Baptism should reflect that we have died to sin.
  2. Baptism should reflect that we have come to life.
  3. Baptism should reflect that we have made a “once-and-for-all” commitment to Christ.
  • Baptism and Behavior ought to be inseparably linked.

Baptism serves as a celebratory invitational point.

The text tells us that the man rejoices. I have feeling that Philip rejoiced also.

This is part of the reason that we insist on public baptism. Baptism ought to be a celebration. Let’s be honest about something. As Christians, we don’t get a lot of opportunities to celebrate success. Though ultimately we win, and we rejoice in that, we don’t usually feel like we are winning. Baptism gives the church the opportunity to celebrate the victory.

Let’s close with two questions for everyone who reads this today?

  • What is keeping you from being baptized?
  • Are you being true to your baptismal vows?

What is the Significance of Baptism?

Hopefully you have heard about a call by our SBC president, J.D. Greear, to have a Baptism Sunday on September 8. What if every Southern Baptist church baptized just one on that one day? I determined a number of years ago as pastor to preach on baptism at least once a year. I used that as an occasion to baptize and call others to be baptized.

What is the Significance of Baptism? The importance is in the symbolism. According to Romans 6:1-10…

  • Baptism should reflect that you have died to sin.
  • Baptism should reflect that you have come to life.
  • Baptism should reflect that you have made a “once-and-for-all” commitment to Christ.

I see an analogy between my baptism and my wedding ring.  My wedding ring does not mean I am faithful nor does it ensure that I will be faithful, but it is a symbol of my commitment and faithfulness, so I wear it with pride.  Likewise, baptism does not mean that we are faithful in our commitment to the LORD nor does it ensure that we will be faithful, but it is a declaration of our intention.

Don’t let your baptism deceive you into thinking that everything is right in your spiritual relationship with God. Sometimes, a person’s baptism can be rather deceptive.

Some uniforms  deceive. Just because you see someone with a jersey of a sports team does not mean that the individual is on that team. I have a New Orleans Saints jersey. The jersey even has my last name on it. But, the “Horn” on the back is in reference to Joe Horn, not Steve Horn.

I read about a gentleman in New Orleans a few years ago who was sentenced to a year of home confinement, two years of supervised release, and fined $500 for wearing a U.S. Navy Captain’s dress white uniform decorated with medals including a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a Navy Cross to his wedding.  The problem with wearing the uniform was it was not the groom’s.  He never even served in the armed forces and wearing military medals without proper authority is a federal crime.

I wonder if Christ looks at any of our baptisms like that Judge looked at this groom’s Navy Captain’s uniform.

Please pray with me that God will use September 8 as a significant day to call people to identify with Christ through baptism.

Back to School Praying

Since 1975 when I started kindergarten, every August has meant “back to school.” Every August, I have either been a student, the husband of a school teacher, the pastor of a church with a school, or the parent of a student. That is a lot of back to school prayers (and a lot of tuition).

For those of us with children, I’m convinced that the first day of school marks the beginning of a new year more so than January 1. As we begin another school year, let me give you a couple of reminders about praying for your child and your child’s teachers.

When praying for your child’s teachers:

  1. Pray for the teacher’s salvation. This is the most important prayer we can offer for anybody. Pray that your relationship with your child’s teacher can lead to spiritual conversations.
  2. Pray for a good relationship with that teacher. Pray that you will model Christ in all of your dealings with your child’s teacher.
  3. Pray that the teacher will always be fair. This is not always easy, because they, like you, are human.

When praying for your child:

  1. Pray that your children will learn this school year. After all, learning is the reason they are going to school. Don’t pray that they will make good grades; pray that they will learn what they need to know at this point in their lives.
  2. Pray that your child will grow spiritually this school year. There is nothing more important than your child’s spiritual well-being.
  3. Pray that your child will grow relationally with others this year.

In a former community where I lived, a group of parents informally met once a week to pray for their children while at school. The group called themselves Wall Builders. The name came from the idea that in prayer they were building a “wall of prayer” and therefore protection.

Often, I find myself praying—Lord, give our administrators, teachers, and students safety at school—both physical safety and spiritual safety.

Would you carve out some time today to join me in this back to school prayer?

Getting Ready for the Louisiana Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

We are three months out from the two day annual meeting of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Now is the time for you to make plans to attend. This year we are meeting in Alexandria at the Riverfront Center on November 11 and 12.

We just completed a planning meeting for the Convention. Our theme is RENEW. We have some new things to celebrate, and we want to renew our commitment to our common work. We have new leaders who are planning to be with us. The International Mission Board has a new president in Dr. Paul Chitwood. We will be blessed to hear him on Monday night. We have a new president at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Dr. Jamie Dew. Dr. Dew will be with us on Tuesday morning. For these two reasons alone, I want you to come to this year’s convention. We want to connect with these new leaders. We want to form strong relationships with them.

Of course, this year will be my first convention as your new executive-director. I will be able by then to share with you some things I have been hearing in my listening sessions around the state.

Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that “those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.” Join me in praying that this year’s Convention will prove to be an occasion of genuine renewal—personal renewal and corporate renewal for our common work.

Is Having Nothing to Say a Sign of Weakness or Cowardice?

I get called on a lot to make a statement. I get that. People are looking for an encouraging word or a wise word. But, what about those times when I have nothing to say. No words! That’s how I feel today. I mean I have preached after Oklahoma City, 9-11, Wedgewood Church Shooting, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, Lafayette Movie Theater Shooting, and . . . I hate these next words. I have lost track. I hate those words. I don’t want to lose track. Everyone is precious. Every life is precious. But, I don’t think I have anything else to say.

Is that a sign of weakness, cowardice, lack of faith, or lack of wisdom? Believe me, most days, I could own all those titles. But, perhaps, having nothing to say is a good response.

For these questions of our days, there are few answers, and we make a grave mistake when we try to answer. Ask Job and his friends.

Read Job 38-42. I will give you the first seven verses of chapter 38.

Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind. He said:

Who is this who obscures My counsel
with ignorant words?
Get ready to answer Me like a man;
when I question you, you will inform Me.
Where were you when I established the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
What supports its foundations?
Or who laid its cornerstone
while the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Job got the message. We see his brief response at the beginning of chapter 40.

Then Job answered the Lord:
I am so insignificant. How can I answer You?
I place my hand over my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not reply;
twice, but now I can add nothing.

And so, we learn from Job. Sometimes it is best to say nothing at all. We let God speak. We let God speak when we let His Word speak.

In times of crisis, one of my “go to” places of Scripture is Hebrews. Hebrews was written to a people in crisis. The book gives us a constant theme of encouragement to endure. The closing chapters give us an exhortation of how to respond.

Keep Looking to Jesus!

Hebrews 12:2 calls Him the author and finisher of our faith. I don’t know what people do in these times without Jesus. We will look to Him! We will look to Him in prayer. We will look to Him for hope.

Keep Praising Jesus!

Hebrews 12:28 says that we must serve God with reverence and awe. I need to worship today more than ever. I find that when I worship, I worry less. It’s impossible to worry and worship at the same time.

But worship is more than what is obvious. In addition to praising God in formal and informal times of worship, chapter 13 reveals that worship is revealed in our public actions like loving fellow Christians, strangers, and sufferers. Worship doesn’t stop there. We also reveal our worship in our personal actions as in our marriages and with our money. (Hebrews 13:4-5)

Keep Pouring over the Scriptures!

Hebrews 13:7-9 indicates a third response. We need to let the word of God come in to our lives. We can do this by paying attention to our spiritual leaders (13:7), to the changeless words of Jesus (13:8), and to the basic doctrines. (13:9)

Many will appear with deceptive words in these last days, so we must know well the Word of God.

Keep preaching about Jesus!

Finally, we respond to crisis by letting our witness go out.

Jesus was led out of Jerusalem. He was rejected by the establishment. Jesus now calls us to go outside the camp. The unshaken kingdom has its future not inside, but outside the camp.

A world in crisis can ill afford a church that remains in camp. Instead, we must go outside the camp.

We, like Jesus, must be willing to bear the burden and bear the reproach. Our world desperately needs Jesus.

The answers to El Paso and Dayton are not so much in what we say in the next days, but in what we do.

Advance

When I was in college, I was invited to attend an “Advance” sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I had been on retreats before, but I had never heard of an “Advance.” When I asked about the meaning of an “Advance,” my leader asked if I had ever been on a retreat. When I indicated that I had been on many retreats, my leader told me that an advance was like a retreat. My leader continued that Christians are never to retreat, but always to advance. As Christians, even when we go on a retreat, we do so in order to advance.

Paul said it this way to the church at Philippi. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 NIV) Christians do not run away from tough times; we run toward the prize for which God has called us. Christians do not panic, but instead we pray, trust God, and react with peace.

As we contemplate the back to school season and many of us get back to “normal routines,” let’s pray about how we might advance. Let’s advance first of all in our personal lives. Set some new goals spiritually. Then, let’s work together for the advance of the kingdom of God.

God Does Not Make Mistakes

You have heard that God does not make mistakes! We do, but God does not. I experienced this last week while in El Salvador. I travelled with Compassion International to El Salvador. My trip was primarily to check on a church partnership that had been started with Compassion in May 2018.

The idea of our project was for all of the children involved in this one church in El Salvador to be sponsored by members of First Baptist Church, Lafayette. Well, due to miscommunication, mistake, or whatever, I chose a child that is not part of this particular church’s project. She lives an hour away from the rest of the kids in that particular program.

But, after meeting the little girl my family sponsors last week, I know this. This is not a mistake. What’s more—I was able to tell her that when I met her. I was able to tell her that God had a special plan for her life. I was able to tell her that I was not supposed to be her sponsor, but that God wanted me to be her sponsor. She smiled.

She said she wants to be a police officer when she grows up. “Why,” I asked. She said she wanted to be able to protect her Mom and Dad. Pray for this little nine year old who saved half of her lunch so that she would have something to eat that night. Pray for this little one who was going home to a house of dirt and tin. Pray for this little one who wants to grow up to protect her family from the violence that is all around her.

And yeah, I’m thanking God today for my “mistake” of picking out a child from the “wrong” stack. And, what’s more, I have called Compassion to sponsor a second child—this time in the “right” church.

God’s Timing

I already believed that God’s timing is always perfect. I experienced that again last week while visiting El Salvador with Compassion International. Compassion values that their ministry be Christ-centered, church-based, and child-focused. I witnessed the success of their keeping these values during my stay in El Salvador last week.

Here’s my story about the perfection of God’s timing. Several years ago a church relations representative with Compassion reached out to me. I ignored his request to meet. Our church was mission-minded and mission-involved in a dozen of ways already. Even entertaining the idea of another mission endeavor just did not seem possible to me at the time. John, the Compassion representative, continued to call and email requesting 30 minutes of my time. Each time I refused. After years of this kind of interaction, John emailed me one day to say he was passing through Lafayette on his way back to his home in Houston. I thought, “You know, if I give this guy 30 minutes, perhaps he will leave me alone.”

I said, “Yes.”

John and I hit it off. We had a lot of mutual friends, and I just enjoyed our time. Still for a couple of years, I said, “John, I just can’t.”

Because of John’s persistence and God’s timing, I finally agreed to John’s challenge for our church to host for our community a Compassion Experience—a virtual reality poverty experience. Thousands came, and nearly 200 signed on to be sponsors. Because of this church-wide response, along with the generosity of one of our members, we were able to launch a new project with Compassion in May 2018. Though I resigned from First Baptist Church, Lafayette, this May to become the Executive Director for Louisiana Baptists, my trip was to check on our church partnership project in El Salvador.

God’s Timing! Among the pastor’s first words to me upon our arrival was, “Your partnership with us was the answer to four years of praying.”

Four years, huh? That sounds a lot like the amount of time I had been putting John off!

I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, the Nazarene! To be told that I was part of a four-year answer to prayer is one of the most humbling things I have heard in a long time.

Pray for this church in Western El Salvador. If you are one of the sponsors from Lafayette, please know your gift is making a difference. In fact, you are an answer to prayer.

Reflections on this Week

  1. We need each other. We knew this already, but we seem to forget this too often. Seeing people help each other from every walk of life is rewarding even in the midst of tragedy
  2. We need God. Without a spiritual compass that points to an empty cross, an empty tomb, and an awaiting eternal glory that far exceeds any temporary affliction, I don’t know how you make it through times like this.
  3. There was a lot of hurt going on in the world before we were visited by Barry, and that has not changed. And, for some, more bad things have happened this week. In the midst of all of the disaster relief, let us not forget that people still have cancer, still are having heart attacks, some have died this week totally unrelated to the flood, people are still unemployed, and others have suffered many other overwhelming circumstances of life. Let us not forget all of these hurting people. In fact, let our own hurts cause us to be more sensitive to their hurts.
  4. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of friends scattered across the nation. I can’t tell you how many friends have called and texted to say, “What do you need?” Better yet, I have had friends call and say, “Here’s what I am doing.”
  5. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of people who don’t know us in Louisiana, but are sending help our way.
  6. There are some horrible stories, but there are some good stories. No, check that, there are some GOD stories!

Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning. (Psalm 30:5b HCSB)

More Spiritual Lessons from Hurricanes

A few days ago I wrote about some spiritual lessons that we can learn from catastrophic events. Let me continue with a few additional thoughts today.

  1. Advanced preparation is the key.
    In all matters of life, we must get ready well in advance of the problem. The time to prepare for eternity is now. The time to prepare for God’s calling on your life is now. The time to gain spiritual maturity is now.
  1. The next crisis is coming.
    You don’t like to hear that, but it is true. The next crisis of life is coming, so…
  1. We are going to have to learn to put our faith into practice.
    And…
  1. Because the future is uncertain, we must know the One who holds the future.
    Corrie Ten Boom said, ““Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
  1. It really is true what Jesus said, “Don’t Worry about tomorrow.”
    The rest of that quote is “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
  1. We are all in this thing together.
    Have you ever noticed that during crisis, we are all in it together? Why does it take something like a flood or hurricane to cause us to remember that we need each other?
  1. I will never completely understand the mercy of God.
    Why did some communities and families get hit so hard, while others escaped? “Sometimes God calms the storm; sometimes God calms the sailor.”  Both are examples of the mercy of God.
  1. Always give thanks!
    Habakkuk 3:17-19 says:
    17Though the fig tree may not blossom,
    Nor fruit be on the vines;
    Though the labor of the olive may fail,
    And the fields yield no food;
    Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
    And there be no herd in the stalls—
    18Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
    I will joy in the God of my salvation.
    19The LORD God  is my strength;
    He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
    And He will make me walk on my high hills.

It’s a hymn of faith in the midst of a crisis!