Saturday, August 3, 2013

BAPTISM

The following information is taken from the Holy Bible (NIV) 1989, Luther’s Catechism 3rd edition, and from Christian Worship – a Lutheran Hymnal.
  
Washed in the blood of Jesus


Our Savior Jesus Christ commanded baptism when he said: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ All of us are born into this world with a deep need for baptism. From our parents we inherit a sinful nature; we are without true fear of God and true faith in God and are condemned to eternal death. But Jesus took away our sin by giving his life on the cross. At our baptism he clothes us with the robe of his righteousness and gives us a new life. Our sinful nature need not control us any longer. (Christian Worship pg. 12)

People have questions about Baptism; what is it, what does it do for us, why do we need it? Many denominations have different beliefs about baptism. Some feel it is something that should be done when a child is old enough to make his/her own determination and decision to be baptized. Some believe that infants should be baptized as newborns or as soon as possible after birth. There are some churches who think of it merely as an official naming ceremony and some that don’t believe in it at all.

I am a member of the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). The WELS does not deviate from Scripture in any way. We take God at His Word and to the best of our ability and understanding do not alter it in any way. What God says goesend of story! We believe that Baptism is an important blessing and gift from God and is beneficial to all people of all ages.

JESUS INSTITUTED BAPTISM

What is Baptism? (Luther’s Catechism pg. 9)
Baptism is not just plain water, but it is water used by God’s command and connected with God’s Word which tells us; therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28: 19).

In the scripture above from Matthew Jesus refers to all nations in His command to baptize. He does not differentiate between babies, children or adults. The words all nations, include all people, young and old alike. This statement of Jesus eliminates the idea that only those old enough to understand and make his/her own choice should be baptized.

THE BLESSINGS OF BAPTISM

What does Baptism do for us? (Luther’s Catechism pg. 9)
Baptism works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Jesus himself promises; whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16).

These words of Jesus do not stipulate any specific age for Baptism. By this statement we also have the reassurance that it is possible to be saved without baptism as long as there is faith. Jesus states; whoever does not believe will be condemned. He does not add to that statement; whoever is not baptized will be condemned. His words make it clear that the person who comes to faith in the last moments of life with no time for baptism will be saved. An example of this would be the thief who died on the cross beside Jesus. He asked Jesus; remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus replied; I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).

THE POWER OF BAPTISM


How can water do such great things? (Luther’s Catechism pg.9,10)
It is certainly not the water that does such things, but God’s Word which is in and with the water and faith which trusts this Word used with the water. For without God’s Word the water is just plain water and not Baptism. But with this Word it is Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of rebirth by the Holy Spirit.

[God] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become
Water connected to the Word
heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying (Titus 3: 5-8).

We wash our bodies with water to become physically clean. The water of Baptism symbolizes a cleansing, and when not connected with the word of God it means nothing. It is simply water. We wash with it, we play in it, we cook with it, we drink it etc. When it is connected to God’s Word by the faith of those administering it (for an infant), and/or by the person himself, (an adult who has previously come to faith) it becomes a cleansing by the Holy Spirit.

THE MEANING OF BAPTISM FOR OUR DAILY LIFE

What does baptizing with water mean? (Luther’s Catechism pg. 10)
Baptism means that the ‘Old Adam’ (the sinful nature) in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

We were...buried with [Christ] 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 (Romans 6:4).

Jesus' suffering becomes our suffering
In baptism we become forgiven children of God. Jesus’ suffering becomes our suffering. His death becomes our death. His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Jesus paid the debt we owe to God for our sin. We have been adopted into God’s family. The Holy Spirit lives in us and we are heirs of eternal life. Jesus says; because I live, you also will live (John 14:19).

In summary then – Baptism is a gift from God. It is a spiritual cleansing which offers forgiveness of sins, grants faith by the Holy Spirit, and makes us children of God and heirs of eternal life.

For adults
It is for all people, young and old. All Christians should take advantage of this gift and blessing from God as opportunity allows. It is possible to come to faith without Baptism, but this should be the exception not the rule. We are saved by faith in Jesus and faith comes to us also through hearing and studying God’s word. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is
For Babies
heard through the word of Christ
(Romans 10:17). Those who die without having had the opportunity for baptism, but who have faith in Jesus, will also be heirs of eternal life.

For Children
As Christians, it is our God given responsibility to baptize our children. We should do it joyfully and without hesitation. Parents who have lost children to death before baptism can take comfort, in the knowledge that our God is a just God, but He is also a merciful, fair and loving God. All life is precious to Him. We can rest assured that in His almighty wisdom He takes special care for the souls of helpless infants.

He does command baptism however, and entrusts these little lives to us as parents, to be cared for and nurtured. It is our responsibility to make sure they have all that they need, not only for their bodies (their physical good), but especially for their souls (their eternal good). Eternity is forever. Therefore why would we not, when it is within our power to do so, want to afford ourselves the comfort of the sure knowledge that their souls are safe in His loving arms?

Baptism is not to be taken lightly. Our Baptism does not insure that we can never fall from faith and lose our eternal inheritance. We must read and study God’s word in order to stay connected to Jesus. We should go to Him in prayer at the end of each day with a repentant heart. We need the fellowship and support
God's gift to us
we find in a church home where God’s word is taught in its truth and purity. Those who have a true heart of faith will find that studying and listening to the word, talking with God in prayer, and attending worship services will be a joy rather than a duty. If we neglect these things we are in danger of losing our faith. If we lose our faith our Baptism will do us no good.

Always keep in mind that Baptism is a gift from God to us. It is not something we do for God. It is not our commitment to Him, but rather it is His commitment to us. It is His promise that we belong to Him, we are forgiven, and heirs of His eternal Kingdom.

Prayer:
Merciful Father in heaven, we thank you for the blessing of baptism by which you offer and grant the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Help us to regard our baptism as the robe of righteousness we are to wear all the days of our life. Grant us a rich measure of your Spirit that we may grow in faith and godly living. Help us to carry out our responsibilities to others who have been baptized, so that all of us may finally come to the blessed joys of heaven, through Jesus our Lord. Amen. (Christian Worship pg. 14)

Gloria Dei! (To God be all glory!)

By Kristeen



Sunday, July 7, 2013

Near Death Experiences - NDE's




A place of light and love
 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows. And I know that this man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell (2 Corinthians 12: 2-4).
The stairway to heaven
 
Scripture tells us of more than one instance when God’s people were allowed a glance at heaven while still living here on earth.  The instance above from 2 Corinthians was experienced by the apostle Paul. We are also told of a vision/dream of Jacob from the Old Testament in which he saw a ladder reaching up to heaven and the angels ascending and descending on it. At the top of the ladder he saw the Lord standing. (Genesis 28: 10-22)

Taken up in a whirlwind
The prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven alive in a whirlwind as his friend Elisha watched (2 Kings 2:11). Stephen, a faithful follower of Christ saw heaven as he was being stoned to death. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Look...I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55, 56)Then there are the most well known visions of heaven described to us by John in chapter 21 of the book of Revelation.
Stoning Stephen

It is natural for humans to have questions about heaven. As a sincere Christian I have no doubt whatsoever that there is an afterlife, that being – Heaven for believers, Hell for unbelievers. God has revealed to all people in His Word that heaven is a real place. It is a special place which He has prepared for all who love Him and have faith in His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Still, in spite of all His promises to us regarding heaven, we are apprehensive. We have a certain amount of fear of the unknown, and I think a fear also of the absence of what we consider to be “normal”. We picture ourselves as spirits floating in space because we can’t imagine life without our physical bodies. Due to our human nature, we also have an undying curiosity about what it is like and a desire to know more. So why doesn’t God tell us more? Let’s think about that for a minute and come back to it.

I recently read a book entitled “Proof of Heaven” by Eben Alexander. It was a very compelling book. Eben Alexander is a Doctor – a Neurosurgeon. In the prologue of his book he attests to many years of study of the brain and neuroscience. He was involved with the development of advanced technical procedures such as what is called Stereo-tactic Radio-surgery, a procedure which guides beams of radiation to specific targets deep in the brain without damaging or affecting adjacent areas. He also played a part in the development of Magnetic Resonance image-guided (MRI) neurosurgical procedures to repair brain conditions such as tumors and vascular disorders, and he authored and coauthored several papers for medical journals. Dr. Alexander states; In short, I devoted myself to science. Using the tools of modern medicine to help and to heal people, and to learn more about the workings of the human body and brain was my life’s calling.

During his years of experience and study as a Neurosurgeon Dr. Alexander had heard many stories of Near Death Experiences.  He had heard people tell of being drawn toward a light, traveling to mysterious, wonderful landscapes, talking to dead relatives and even meeting God face to face. His personal feeling was that it was, in his own words, wonderful stuff, but pure fantasy. He admitted that he had no idea what caused these experiences, but he felt that they were brain based. In other words he felt that there must be some level of consciousness in the brain for an NDE (Near Death Experience) to take place. He did not really believe in God or life after death, although for the sake of his wife and children he did attend church on special occasions.

Dr. Alexander explains that most NDE’s happen when the heart stops. In these cases the Neocortex of the brain is still alive. The Neocortex is the outer surface of the brain and in his words; it is the part of the brain that makes us human. It makes us who we are. When oxygen is restored to the Neocortex within a certain amount of time it is able to revive itself with little or no damage.

At age 54 Dr. Alexander contracted E. coli meningitis, a form of meningitis which is very rare in adults. It put him in a coma for 7 days. He states that during this time his Neocortex was completely shut down. When the Neocortex of the brain dies, there is no life or level of consciousness and no hope that life can be restored.  By all intents and purposes he was dead or we might refer to his condition as being brain dead.

While in a coma Dr. Alexander claims to have had a taste of the beauty of heaven. His descriptions are very awe inspiring and comforting. As in Paul’s vision described in the verses above from 2 Corinthians, what Dr. Alexander saw and experienced is beyond human understanding. In fact the picture described by Dr. Alexander is very similar to that of the apostle Paul. Paul states that he himself heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted (or able) to tell. Dr. Alexander states; I could heap on one adjective after another to describe what this world looked and felt like, but they’d all fall short.

There are no words in any human language, whether it be English, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, Spanish etc. to describe it. Heaven is not a part of this
A special place
physical world we live in here on earth, but of a different dimension. Through this experience Dr. Alexander was led to understand and believe that we have a God who loves each of us and indeed does have a special place prepared for all who love Him.

His journey was a little different than many NDE’s I have read about. It almost seems as if in the beginning he got a glimpse of hell rather than heaven. He describes a thick transparent mud in which animal faces would bubble up, groan or screech and then disappear. He describes hearing a dull roar which would change to the sound of pounding, distant yet strong and mechanical and a rhythmic chanting. He states that these sounds were terrifying yet weirdly familiar. He felt no sense of time and no sense having a body. He describes reptilian, wormlike creatures crowding past him and occasionally rubbing up against him. He was aware of a smell – like feces, blood and vomit – basically the smell of death. At this point he states that he began to have a feeling of claustrophobia and panic – a feeling of being trapped.

He was later told that as he entered the ER he was, in his own words; squirming like a six-foot fish out of water. He was also making garbled and nonsensical sounds and animal-like cries. Perhaps this was his body’s reaction to what his mind was seeing and experiencing, but one would not be able to say that for sure.

At the very point when he was beginning to feel trapped and panicky his experience began to change from that of dark, ugly and terrifying to a feeling of light, love and safety. His description of Heaven is amazing and comforting.  I will not attempt to repeat it here. If you are truly interested in hearing it, the book is available in eBook form and also in hardcover and audible CD from Amazon.

I believe that, like people of old, God allows people of today to sometimes see heaven and in some cases, hell through a near death experience. Some NDE’s seem to be more believable than others, but what is unique about Dr. Alexander’s experience is the circumstances.

As he explained in the book most NDE’s are a result of the heart stopping, in which case the brain is still alive. When the brain is alive there is some level of consciousness which would allow for the possibility to dream. But in his case his brain had basically died and was not functioning at all. Since his brain was not functioning there would have been no level of consciousness in which he could have been dreaming. Humans do not recover from brain death. Once the brain dies, the body may live for a time with the help of machines, but the brain does not recover. The fact that he is now not only alive, but normal is a miracle.

I have been taught that when a seemingly spiritual experience leads you to God and to His word for answers, it is from God. If it leads you away from God, it is from Satan. For example if Dr. Alexander’s experience would have lead him to a palm reader or a psychic  for answers rather than to the Scriptures and belief in God, as real as it would have still been, it would have been a trick of Satan.

God works in mysterious ways. I don’t know or understand why Dr. Alexander experienced the scary, hell like scenario before he experienced the heavenly one.  According to Scripture when we die the souls of believers go directly to heaven to be with God (The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side... Luke 16: 22) and unbelievers go directly to hell (Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment...Hebrews 9:27). Possibly there was some physical explanation for it, although according to Dr. Alexander there doesn’t seem to be. It may have been God’s way of leading him to see and believe that there is indeed a heaven - and a hell in the afterlife. Before this experience his scientific brain and human logic reasoned that when we die, that is it. We are done. We are buried in the ground and it’s over.

In the prologue of his book he states; Now that I have been privileged to understand that our life does not end with the death of the body or the brain, I see it as my duty, my calling, to tell people about what I saw beyond the body and beyond this earth.

I don’t know what Dr. Alexander’s personal beliefs are at this time regarding God. He states in the book that before his illness he considered himself a “C & E’er” (Christmas and Easter).  He was one of those people who only darken the door of a church at Christmas and Easter.  In truth he didn’t believe in the soul and the spirit. He didn’t believe in life everlasting. Now he does. He does not go into detail about his beliefs other than to acknowledge that we have a God who loves us and that He is the center of our universe.

At this point I would like to remind all readers that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. His blood, shed on the cross covers our sin and washes us clean. All who believe in Jesus, through faith are holy in God’s eyes
Washed in His blood
and fit for heaven. “Faith” comes to us from the Holy Spirit through reading and hearing God’s word and through baptism. Although he doesn’t state it specifically, I hope and pray that Dr. Alexander understands and believes this.

God’s “Grace” is the undeserved and unconditional love which He has for all sinners. Heaven is God’s promised reward to all who believe in Jesus as their Savior from sin, and who love Him. Those who reject Him and disregard His sacrifice will not enter heaven.

So beware! Just because you believe there is a heaven doesn’t mean you will automatically go there when you die. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder (James 2:19). In the same way, just knowing and believing there is a heaven is not your free ticket to go there.

Oh, it is definitely free. There is no charge and nothing we can do on our own to get there. But only those who have faith in Jesus will go to heaven when they die. Jesus tells us; I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25). Faith is the rope that attaches us to Jesus and keeps us from getting lost in the pleasures of this world. God’s word reminds us; for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

Although God does allow Near Death Experiences according to His good purpose at times, His word is still the best source to find answers regarding our questions about heaven and the afterlife. Does it seem incomplete and difficult to understand? Yes it does because it is beyond our understanding.   

God tells us in His Word only what we need to know for our salvation. He asks us to trust Him. He wants us to put our faith in Him. The writer to the Hebrews tells us; Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see...and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11;1, 6).

On the day God calls us to our eternal home we will see and understand heaven perfectly. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The picture of heaven which God allows us to see now through Scripture doesn’t make a lot of sense to us because it is beyond the understanding of our human minds and is blocked by our physical world, but we do know that it is a beautiful and awesome place – a place of safety, light and love. When we get to heaven and meet God face to face it will all become perfectly clear. We will be reunited with our family members and friends who have gone before us, but we will all be members of one family – the family of God.

Those who believe in Jesus as their Savior from sin are attached to Him by faith and have nothing to fear. Those who do not believe in Jesus are not covered with the holiness of His blood. When they die they will go to Hell where there will be never-ending suffering, pain and darkness. The presence and light of God will not be there.

Are you one of those people who don’t have faith in Jesus? There is still time although life is fragile and can be taken from you in a moment. This earthly life is our “time of grace”. God’s gift of grace is for you also and it is free. You can do nothing on your own to attain it. It is a gift from the Holy Spirit which comes to you through reading and hearing God’s Word and through baptism. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

I encourage you to open your Bible and read. Open to Genesis the first book of the Bible and read how God created our world. Then go to the New Testament and read the Gospels; Matthew, Mark Luke and John. Read and learn about the
“Good News” of salvation through faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit will open your heart and give you a new life. You will be free from the chains of sin that hold you and make you feel worthless and unlovable. Through faith you will be covered in the blood of Jesus which will make you holy in God’s eyes and perfectly fit for heaven. You will no longer need to fear death and hell because you will be protected by the blood of Jesus. On the day you are called from this earth you will go immediately to heaven.

In regards to my statement; we picture ourselves as spirits floating in space because we can’t imagine life without our physical bodies. I am a person who dreams a lot. My body is not really present in my dreams, but I am not aware that it is missing. Possibly this is similar to the way it will be in heaven. We will be present and active, but will not be aware that our body is not with us. On the last day when Jesus returns to earth our souls and bodies will be reunited and we will be completely whole again, but without sin and all the heartache and pain that it brings. What a wonderful day that will be.

In conclusion:

  1. God does allow Near Death Experiences at times according to His good will and purpose. It is rather rare and is not something we should expect or count on.
  2. God doesn’t tell us more about heaven because it is beyond our human understanding.
  3. The Bible is the best source for answers to our questions about heaven.
  4. We should trust in God’s promises and turn to Him in faith for all that we need.
  5. He is our comfort in life and in death.
  6. He is present with us at all times and promises to never leave us.
  7. We should take Him at His word and not expect more than that.
  8. We can be confident that when we put our trust in Him and make Him our priority, He will allow us to see and feel His presence in our lives.

Gloria Dei! (To God be all glory)

By Kristeen