Thursday, May 28, 2009

Taking the Plunge

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

You won’t find this familiar saying anywhere in the Bible. But many people think it’s the Gospel truth. We start or end most days with a hot shower or bath. We stock our bathrooms with antibacterial soaps. And we buy costly laundry detergents and bleaches promising brilliant whites and vivid colors. It all adds up to a soap and detergent industry involving about 700 companies with combined annual revenues of billions of dollars.

Our desire to stay clean seems to be hard-wired into our DNA. But this intense longing covers much more than our face and hands. We also want to be just as clean on the inside. That means a clean heart and a clean conscience. And we so much want a clean start.

That’s where baptism comes in: that public demonstration of faith that one has turned his or her back on their past, renounced their sins and been re-born into a new life through faith in Jesus. The Apostle Paul paints baptism as a wondrous portrait of death and resurrection; one where the old ways have perished and a brilliant future has begun:

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

So what about you? If you could, would you turn back the clock and start your life over again? It sounds like a fantasy, but there really is a way. The saying goes that this new beginning is only a few inches away; it’s that short distance from your heart to your head. The first step on the journey is to realize that you – just like everyone on Earth – has failed to live up to God’s standards and expectations. The next is to trust in Jesus to save you from the penalty we all deserve – eternal death and separation from God. That’s because Christ is the One Who has already paid our way into God’s kingdom by dying for all the past, present and future wrongs we’ve committed in our lifetime. His is a free gift of immense cost. But like any gift, it’s of little use if we don’t accept it.

And then it’s time to (literally) take the plunge into a new life through baptism. Let’s look again toward Jesus as our example. Although He lived a perfect, spotless life with no sins of His own to be forgiven, Christ still demanded this symbolic re-birth and cleansing for Himself – as well as His followers in the centuries to follow.

"This is my Son, whom I love,” a voice from heaven said as Jesus arose from His baptism in the Jordan River. “With Him I am well pleased."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Altar Call

Have respect for marriage. Always be faithful to your partner, because God will punish anyone who is immoral or unfaithful in marriage.
-- Hebrews 13:4

For better or for worse, there's been plenty of talk the last few years about our country's need for fundamental change. But the fact is that America has changed drastically since the end of World War II without the help of celebrities and politicians. There are the obvious things -- like the growth of the suburbs, 24-hour Walmarts, and cable TV. And of course, there's the Internet.

Those changes may be good or bad depending on your perspective. But one change that's definitely negative involves society's attitude toward marriage and family. Fifty years ago, news of a couple living together outside of marriage would have been considered scandalous at the very least. And in some states, it could actually lead to jail time for the offending parties. But consider how much has changed now that we are so much more "enlightened" than our parents and grandparents! Think of everything we've gained now that such a large segment of the populous has turned its back on committed marriage (the "death 'til you part" type). With more flexible laws and the literal promotion of adultery in popular culture, it's no wonder that more than 40 percent of marriages end in divorce. It's also no wonder that so many people figure that marriage isn't worth the trouble. Living together becomes their rational option.

But along with the devastating emotional toll comes the burden from the skyrocketing rates of out-of-wedlock births - now reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to near 40 percent. The common denominator here is that our society has walked -- or more accurately run -- away from Biblical ideals like marriage. Specifically, we have turned from God and His teachings as a whole -- the ones He gave us for experiencing meaningful, fulfilling lives. What were once considered clear black and white issues of right and wrong have blended over the decades into murky shades of gray. But it's all relative, right? Who needs those pesky 10 Commandments and Jesus' teachings, anyway?

That's obviously not God's standard when it comes to committed relationships between men and women. He had a perfect plan from the very beginning -- and He was quick to share it. We need read only a few pages of the Bible's very first book before we reach this ancient yet refreshing passage:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

That sounds very permanent. But to many modern-thinking couples, living together without any strings attached is a more progressive and tolerant lifestyle choice. After all, commitment is such an uncomfortable word - a word that implies responsibility, faith and total dependence on a much greater and wiser Power.

But come to think of it, isn't that what it means to be a Christ-follower?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mama Mia

Listen, my son, to your father's instruction
and do not forsake your mother's teaching.

-- Proverbs 1:8

He’s considered by many historians to be one of our nation’s greatest presidents. He led the United States through the dark days of the Great Depression, defeated the Axis powers in World War II and won an amazing four presidential elections.

He was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (“FDR”). By the time of his death in 1945, he was the most powerful leader of the world’s greatest military machine. And he was also a bit of a mama’s boy.

FDR’s mother was Sara Roosevelt, described as a “strong-willed widow who wasn't about to give up her hold on her only child.” She made the future president wear a dress until he was five years old. When young Franklin left home to attend Harvard, his mother followed him to college and moved to Boston. And after FDR’s marriage to his fourth cousin, his mother bought the newlyweds a fine home in New York City – and then moved in herself to run the household. It was years later that FDR’s wife Eleanor wrote, ''you were never quite sure when (my mother-in-law) would appear, day or night.''

OK… Maybe Sara Roosevelt took motherhood a bit too far. But FDR obviously would do (and did) almost anything for her. When she died in 1941, the president wore a black armband as a sign to the nation of his deep mourning and affection. Perhaps FDR’s old-fashioned attitude can teach us a thing or two about appreciating our mothers and their irreplaceable roles in our lives.

With the traditional family under attack from “progressive” thinkers, Hollywood celebrities and the so-called cultural elite, it’s God’s Word – the Bible – that once again proves to be our source of truth about the strength and value of motherhood. Where would our society be without strong mothers teaching the next generation to walk in God’s ways? It’s through the examples of good mothers that we learn about compassion, character, work ethic and faith.

King Lemuel wrote these observations in the Old Testament book of Proverbs :

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

These were words of wisdom and truth centuries ago – and they still are for Christ-followers today. Which only goes to show that FDR was right all along.

So maybe there’s something to be said for being a mama’s boy (or girl).