Baptizing Our Pocketbooks

Giving has always been an important way to worship and to invest in the Lord's work. It's also a spiritual barometer that measures our love for God. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also" (Matthew 6:21). The principle is that our hearts follow our treasure.

How might we determine the priorities of one’s life? An important gauge for most of us is the checkbook. I've found that younger people don't write many checks anymore, and some don't own a checkbook. Great Britain will stop using paper checks at some point, so the USA is probably not too far behind the move to electronic banking. I saw Metro riders in D.C. swipe their wallets on the turnstile to ride the subway. Someone explained electronic readers could see the fare card inside the wallet. Maybe we'll do this at American supermarkets one day.

In whatever way we spend our money, our money is a solid indicator of our priorities.

March 6 is a memorable day when we commemorate 180 brave Texans who died at the Alamo in San Antonio in 1836. The commander-in-chief of the Republic of Texas was Gen. Sam Houston who turned the tide and defeated Santa Anna on April 21 at San Jacinto.

Houston was a hard-living man who finally came to Christ about 10 years before his death in 1863. His conversion was in large measure the result of his wife Margaret's witness.

Margaret Lea grew up in Marion, Ala. and was schooled at the Judson Female Institute, now Judson College. Her father, Temple, had been a circuit-riding Baptist preacher, and her mother, Nancy, had the distinction of being the only female delegate to the meeting in Greensboro in 1823 when the Alabama Baptist Convention was founded.

Houston met Margaret in Mobile and married her in 1840. Margaret was his third wife, and by all accounts, his favorite!

On the day he trusted Christ, Houston came forward and took the hand of the pastor. "I give you my hand and with it I give my heart to the Lord," he said. Houston was baptized in a local creek the same day. When the pastor raised him from the water he said, "Sam, all your sins are washed away." To which Houston replied, "God help the fishes!"

Another interesting fact is that Houston found he'd mistakenly left his wallet in his baptism clothes.

"Preacher," he said, "you baptized my pocketbook!"

This was prophetic, for Houston gave generously to his church for the rest of his life, and also supported a new Baptist school in Waco that was to become Baylor University.

On the day of our baptism, we all should've baptized our pocketbooks, too.

Deliver Us From Evil

The 17th anniversary of 9/11 brings back many memories. All of us who remember that day recall where we were and how we heard about the attack. And our lives will be forever different.

When tragedy occurs, we see the worst of humanity and the best of humanity. Christians around the nation rushed to the stricken city to help. One of those was police chaplain Tim Storey of Alabaster who was part of a team sent to encourage fellow police officers some six months after 9/11.

Officer Storey showed some pictures at our church from his visit. One was from a fire station where 30 officers had been lost. Their comrades posted a memorial that read, "No farewell words were spoken, no time to say goodbye. You were gone before we knew it, and only God knows why."

The presence of evil is one of the great mysteries in scripture where we find a three-way tension between Satan and demons, the sovereignty of God and human will. The Bible affirms that Satan is the author of evil, to be sure. The late comedian Flip Wilson made famous the phrase, "the devil made me do it," but I don't see any evidence that Satan forces us to choose evil. The truth may be that "I made me do it."

The second part of this equation is the toughest. Scripture affirms God is in control and holds all power in his hands. But why would God allow errant jetliners to crash into buildings? We don't know. The firefighter memorial is true: "only God knows why."

For some reason God allowed evil men the freedom to choose an evil course. One of my seminary teachers, the late Frank Stagg, suggested that one way to understand the wrath of God is his determination to let sin run its course. In other words, God steps aside and lets the full weight of our wrong decisions impact our lives and the lives of others.

Whatever the causes of evil, Christians have an obligation to roll up their sleeves and help others. To quote Flip Wilson again, he once identified his religion. "I'm a Jehovah's by-stander," he said! Jehovah has some by-standers, but they're living outside his will. God's people don't stand idly by. As Dr. Leo Eddleman of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary noted years ago, the nearest pocket of need is a mission field, and the nearest Christian is a missionary.

We don’t know all the reasons 9/11 occurred, but we can celebrate the heroes of 9/11: a host of fire fighters and police officers and followers of Christ who unselfishly rushed in to help others in need.

Being In The Spirit On The Lord's Day

The Apostle John was exiled to Patmos in the Aegean Sea—the fortress reserved for Rome’s worst criminals. John was only guilty of preaching the gospel of love. But he like Peter, Paul, John Bunyan and others, took time to write from prison and encourage others. It was on Patmos that John was given the vision we call the book of Revelation.

Theologians debate about his use of “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). He either referred to the end of time, or the first day of the week Christians selected for worship after the resurrection. But it’s true that we must be “in the spirit” on Sunday.

Being in the spirit begins on Saturday with determination that we’ll honor our worship appointment the following day. We also should be well-rested to participate fully in worship and Bible study. It’s hard to believe the average American watches more than five hours of television daily, but surely, we do ourselves no good staying up late on Saturday night for mindless TV.

Being in the spirit continues Sunday morning. We used to sing “Rise, shine, give God the glory” at youth camp. Rising early on Sunday beats rushing in late. We can nourish our souls with Christian music or a broadcast worship service. And we can avoid family conflicts on Sunday morning by being sweet!

And we should continue being sweet when we arrive at church.

I remember a dressing down I received one Sunday when a mother participating in a baby dedication on the platform wore an LSU sweatshirt. LSU had just beaten Alabama the night before and a deacon chewed on me for “allowing” her to wear her sweatshirt. I gingerly explained that I didn’t inspect clothing on Sundays. I agreed it probably was inappropriate for her to flash her colors when our focus was on something else, but I also reminded this deacon that he wore his team clothing to church sometimes, too.

Especially in football season we need to be sweet to each other!

Being in the spirit on Sunday morning means we come prayerfully, participating in Bible study and worship. We sing hymns of praise and follow the lessons in our Bibles. We give an offering as an act of dedication and do nothing to take away from the impact of worship.

A new pastor told me about five or six ladies who stood during the invitation time one Sunday and noisily left the sanctuary. They left to warm the bread for the lunch following worship! He patiently explained to them the propriety of the invitation when pastors plead for the souls of men and women. Respecting this time is a significant part of being in the spirit.

Following The Good Shepherd

Scripture doesn’t tell us all we’d like to know about spiritual gifts. The writers paint in broad strokes telling us that God has gifted every believer in a unique way to do his work. Thus, not only are we commanded to serve God, but we’re enabled to serve God.

Sincere believers disagree on the fine points. I tend to agree with Bible teacher Charles Swindoll about several gifts being first-century gifts enabling the church to launch, like the booster rockets on the space shuttle got it into orbit and then were jettisoned. For example, the apostle gift. An apostle was commissioned to plant churches around the Mediterranean world but was also a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. He could stand and say, “I saw the risen Christ. He is alive.” Paul argued for his apostleship when he insisted he saw the risen Christ on the Damascus Road (Acts 9).

But some gift inventories propose the apostle is a modern-day church planter or an international missionary.

A group of us took an inventory lately in our church, and I failed the apostleship section. This inventory suggested the apostle is the modern church planter. I don’t criticize those who genuinely feel called to do so, but my interest has always been the strengthening of our present churches.

Over the years I’ve known several who were zealous to plant new churches “to reach people,” but whose efforts were unwise.

A couple became interested in an Illinois church that pioneered the “seeker-friendly” worship. They began to show a video from this church in their home to other couples from their church, suggesting they could reach more people with a church in this mold. This work was done in secret until they announced plans to the mother church and asked for her blessing. One church leader said, “This hurts me that you believe our church can’t reach people and you won’t help us do it. If we felt directed by God to start a new work we’d do this publicly and prayerfully, not in secret.”

Government agencies have “sunshine laws” allowing the public to know what their government is doing. Churches should be no less transparent.

A pastor in another community had the same idea, so he took half the mother church with him to begin a new church with a worship service, he argued, that would reach unbelievers. He left the mother church in shambles.

Every church is called to mission. We follow the good shepherd who searched diligently for the lost. If we’re lethargic, we need to pray for revival and renewal. And if God leads us to start something new, we do it together as brothers and sisters in Christ.