“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” Matthew 16:16
Let’s face it, my church is a little weird. First, it’s on an island–North Carolina’s Topsail Island to be specific. That’s strange for a lifelong Midwesterner like me who relocated only three years ago. In Indiana, flat cornfields were more of the norm. There is not a major body of water within 100 miles of Indianapolis, where I had been living.
Then there’s the pastor and co-pastor. One catches a tossed football on the beach headed to baptism. The other is wearing an American-flag inspired swimsuit as he officiates. Not exactly typical for ministers getting ready to induct new Christians into the fold. Their actions may be unconventional, but they have built a growing, Bible-teaching, welcoming church under their tenure.
One of the biggest reason I say our church is weird is that we do our baptisms in the Atlantic Ocean. THE ATLANTIC OCEAN. Let that sink in for a while. It’s the world’s second-largest ocean, covering 20 percent of the earth’s surface, according to Wikipedia.com. That’s a big baptismal. By contrast, I was baptized in a baptismal slightly larger than a bathtub, something like 4 feet by eight feet. Both accomplish the same purpose, but the Atlantic, and its symbolism, is so much cooler.
When my oldest grandson told my wife that he wanted to be baptized, I was thrilled. AJ’s about the right age, 10, to make this public declaration for Christ. I’m not sure what prompted this decision, but he and his seven-year-old younger brother usually accompany us to church since we moved here. I’m sure they’ve heard child-sized preaching in Sunday School and a recently concluded Vacation Bible School. Still, some people go their entire lives hearing the gospel and never respond.
On two other occasions, they’d seen other church members be baptized in the ocean, including a young friend the prior Sunday.
So we found ourselves walking with sand in our toes on a nearly cloudless day this past Labor Day week. The temperature was in the ’90s, and the beach was packed as a small crowd gathered. A few of those frolicking on the beach looked on.
Our lead pastor, caught a football from some boys playing on the beach as he neared the ocean’s edge. The co-lead pastor walked into the water too.
The pastors’ called for AJ first. The thin, African-American boy responded by taking his place between the two men. “Do you believe that Christ died and rose again on the third day and that he is alive right now,” the co-pastor asked. “Yes,” came his short reply. “With forgiveness of your sins, do you accept Jesus Christ as your savior and Lord.” “Yes,” again came his response. Then AJ, another adult who was being baptized, waded into the ocean and prepared to have their sins forgiven.
They waded into until the water was knee deep for the pastors. The white-capped waves rushed past every few minutes. Then, at the waves peak, AJ was immersed under the water, then raised back up, a new man in Christ.
How many baptisms have their been since Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist? Millions and millions or is it billions and billions. Each one has God’s grace, and each one-changes lives forever. But this one was special to me because it was my grandson and because it took place in the Atlantic Ocean.
Dear Heavenly Father, bless those who have yet to embrace you through baptism to accept your invitation away from the condemnation, to everlasting life. May all accept this gift, for which we cannot pay, and clutch the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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Although I am not Catholic, I have always appreciated the Pope’s stance on the issues of the day. How we treat the poor, the unborn, and divorce are all issues of the Pope’s leadership for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and many others, Christian, and non-Christian worldwide.
So when Pope Francis last month reversed the church’s position on capital punishment–stating it is “inadmissible” because it “attacks” the inherent dignity of all humans,” as reported in USA Today, an American newspaper, I listened.
“The Vatican said the pontiff approved a change to the catechism, which gives worshippers a go-to guide for official Catholic Church teachings on subjects ranging from the sacraments to sex. Previously, the catechism said the church didn’t exclude capital punishment “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” says USA Today.
My previous view of capital punishment is that it’s wrong to deprive another of her or his life, except in limited and extreme circumstances. My reason reflected the fact of racial and economic imbalances in those executions and the number of inmates on Death Row found proven innocent by organizations like the Innocence Project. I believed that some people, like terrorists who killed scores of innocents, though, deserved to die. Of course, their deaths would not bring those people back to life, but it gave me some satisfaction.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord,” Romans 6:23
But it wasn’t until a Facebook post on the page of a friend, a retired Methodist pastor in Indiana, that my view radically changed, like a slap in the face, being dunked in cold water, or an electric shock. He wrote simply “Kudos, to Pope Francis,” Then came the surprising words from a woman responding to his post: ” Try to remember that your salvation is the result of the death penalty.”
What? My life being spared? I have never killed anyone, stolen anything, or been arrested. What did she mean?
I had never thought of salvation–deliverance from God’s wrath– in comparison to capital punishment. I had been condemned to die, but by going to the cross, Jesus stepped up and took my place. Yet it seems a good comparison. In one the courts condemn an individual to death. In the other, God sentenced us to die ( the wages of sin, Romans 6:23) but loves us so much that He provides His only Son to die in our place.
Is there any greater love? “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” it says in John 15:13. Jesus set an example of this love when He followed the agonizing path to the cross. Without this sacrifice, no one would have eternal life.
Adam and Eve existed in a perfect world, but they chose to sin. As a result, they were forced from Eden to live in a world of hardship and the death of the physical body and the soul. The world we live in today.
How do you feel about capital punishment now? Does Jesus’ sacrifice affect your opinion? Is there a comparison between the two? For me, like the Death Row prisoner who gets a reprieve from the governor, I am so relieved and thankful. And I grant my fellow humans–any and all on them–a reprieve from death, no matter how gruesome, the number murdered, or the circumstances. They deserve punishment, but not death.
And I thank Pope Francis for pointing that out.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” 1 Peter 4:8
I admit it, I am not the most hospitable person on the world. I’m one of those persons who never learned to smile. Most of the time, I’m stone faced. I’m a proud introvert. I don’t mean to be standoffish, but sometimes I am.
But is that an effective witness for Christ? Was Jesus an introvert? How many opportunities to witness have you, and I, missed? For example, when Jesus was travelling through hostile Samaria and stopped by a well. He starts a conversation with a woman, then offers her “living water,” as told in John 4:10. A pretty extroverted act.
Clearly, Jesus was not an introvert. He often started conversations with strangers. And we must emulate Him. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
We must be bold in sharing! While screaming the gospel on a street corner may not be the best way to share, we do not want to be a closet Christian either. “But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in Heaven,” it says in Matthew 10:33.
We must be hospitable to others. Our kindness will create opportunities to witness.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” John 15:13
Who would you die for?
Would that decision be spontaneous, like your sister is drowning in a lake and you try to rescue her even though you can’t swim? Or have you already made the choice, such as if your family is ever in danger, you’ll gladly step in front of a bullet if that’s would keep them safe. Or a friend needs a kidney transplant, you volunteer despite the risk to your own health. Or a combat soldier who will follow orders even though he will be open to machine gun fire?
Jesus made the choice to die for us on the cross. Because gave his life so our sins are washed away and He serves as an intercessor for us in Heaven. What a friend is He?
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He made the choice to follow His Father’s decision that He be ransomed for our sin. “Father, if you are will, take this cup from me: yet not my will, but yours be done,” Luke 22:42.
Giving up your life is never easy, but “if you haven’t found something you are willing to die for, you aren’t fit to live,” says the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave his life for what he believed.
What would you die for?
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:12-13Gratitude is a funny thing. You never know when it will strike you. Or when you will find yourself in need of it. I now, for example, feel gratitude every time someone holds the door open for me, lets me cut in near the beginning of a long food line or carries something to heavy or awkward for me.It wasn’t always that way. Before 2013, I had a strong, able body. I didn’t need help with such things. But, as they say, that all changed in the twinkling of an eye. A health condition left me without the use of my right arm, difficulty walking and slurred speech. Overnight, I went from an assistance giver to someone who needs assistance.
I’ve found that about 90 percent of people help without being asked. The remaining folks seem too absorbed in their own lives. They might rush through a door without giving you a glance, make sure not to make eye contact, or sprint to the last shopping cart ahead of you.Especially helpful, are those who ask if you want help before offering it. Such as, “May I help you with the door?” It’s an important courtesy. I remember being proud of how I was walking–though slowly–and wanting the exercise of walking through one of the Wal-Mart. A lady about 40, without asking, brought me an electric cart to ride in. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I rode in it.But I’ve learned to be content in my condition. Barring a miracle–and I’m not ruling that out–these deficits are permanent. Still, I have all that I need to live as normal a life as possible with the gratitude of others, and through Him that strengthens me.
Edward Wills is a Christian writer and blogger. He lives in Holly Ridge, NC.###
About a year ago, I stumbled across Christian Leaders Institute (CLI, Christianleadersinstitute.org) while searching for something else online. Free. High quality? Ministry training? Was this too good to be true? After all, I had searched for free ministry training before, and found nothing. I wanted to study the Lord’s word, but I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars or relocate.
So I enrolled immediately in the web-based school, and now my knowledge of the Bible, church history, and theology is much deeper and wider. CLI was an answer to a divine prayer, but it was an answer that took asking myself tough questions, spending lots of time in the Word and even more time in front of computer screen.
Several of the things limiting effective training for pastors and lay leaders has been the cost, availability, and time commitment for learning. Attending Bible college costs thousands of dollars, it often requires relocation, and it is time intensive.
Christian Leaders Institute solves those problems. It’s FREE, and the Internet-based classes means you can attend from anywhere and the classes are on your schedule. Because foundations, corporations and donors fund the program, there is no cost to you. The classes are taught through videos, articles and books that are provided for free. All materials are provided online and without cost.
So far, the school has had more than 9,000 U.S. graduates, 700 from South Afica, and 600 from Nigeria. Students in more than 160 countries have graduated from CLI. Classes are taught in French, Spanish, and Chinese, and-of course-English.
I have earned nearly 105 hours for a 120 Bachelor of Divinity and Ministry. I was aided by the school’s policy of granting 60 hours of credit if you already have a bachelor’s degree. For those starting from scratch, you’ll have to take basic courses like English, biology and math in addition to offering such as New and Old Testament surveys, Theology, and Ethics.
A high school diploma is not required to attend, but you must successfully complete two courses to continue for free. Schools, including Calvin Theological Seminary, Western Theological Seminary, and Vision International University will accept CLI degrees for further study. CLI is accredited by the Academic Council for Education. A master’s degree program is in the works. If you are not interested in a bachelor’s, shorter programs are available too.
According to CLI literature, the school seeks to meet the needs of the 90% of the world that does not have access to quality Christian leaders training. The school founded in 2001. Students graduate from CLI debt free, leaving them open for new opportunities.
How do you enroll at CLI? Go to the school’s web site. tell them your name, email, password, and the country you live in, and you’re enrolled.
When I say CLI is free, it’s true. The only things I’ve paid for is $35 for a diploma (you can print unoffical diplomas for free, but there is a cost for official, embossed diplomas) and the $900 required donation. The fee is required to process the paper work to prove you have a bachelor’s degree, if applicable. There is a payment plan to make the cost more manageable. With seminaries charging an average $400 a credit hour, I’m not complaining about the CLI costs. According to the Association of Theological Schools, the average tuition for a full time seminary student (05-06 school year) was $11,039.
In addition, students are ASKED (not required) to give. I give $25 a month to support the mission, because CLI needs the money. Of course, some students give nothing. With CLI’s tight budget, they occasionally ask students for special gifts. This spring, for example, the school made a special appeal to students when some offices were flooded. I donated $10.
If you’re searching for a place to study God’s Word in more detail and for FREE, I highly recommend CLI. CLI has made the problems of cost, distance, and time a thing of the past, now its your turn to move ahead.