Friday, April 13, 2012

Why I'm glad to be a Southern Baptist.

For several years recently, I've seen people wonder whether or not Christian denominations (like Lutherans, Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, etc.) are relevant anymore. With the rise of so many great churches that are really focused on what matters most as Christians - churches like Willow Creek, New Spring, Cross Point in Tennessee, Church of the Highlands, and so on - people wonder if denominations are important anymore.

I would argue that yes, denominations are still very important today. I think it's great what the United Methodist denomination is doing, especially here in El Paso with their "Celebrate Segundo Barrio" program among other things. And of course, I'm very proud of what we Southern Baptists are doing around the world, and in my El Paso. Here are some reasons why I'm proud to be a Southern Baptist:

1. Our beliefs. Without a doubt, our beliefs are the main reason I'm proud to be Southern Baptist. The Bible, and nothing else, is our guide. We believe in soul competency, which means each person can directly relate to and is accountable to God on their own. We practice baptism by immersion (dunking) because that's the way Jesus did it, and that's the only it was done in the Bible. Those are just some of our distinctive beliefs, which I am glad we hold so firmly.

2. Our size. You may not know that we Southern Baptists are the largest Baptist denomination in the world, and the largest Christian denomination in the United States. Even locally, there are about 80 great Baptist churches here in El Paso - English speaking, Spanish speaking, and even Chinese speaking. I'm not glad to be a Southern Baptist just because we're big, but because there is great power in numbers. We are able to make a big difference for the Kingdom of God in many ways because of our size. We are blessed so we can be a blessing.

3. Our cooperation. One of the reasons we make such an impact is not just because of our size, but because of our cooperation. It would be useless for us to be over 16 million strong in this great nation of ours if we didn't work together. But we do work together! Through our Cooperative Program we work together to collect and distribute millions of dollars a year to fund outreach, missions, disaster relief, our six amazing Baptist seminaries, and much more. We also have local associations where local, independent Baptist churches partner together in cities and regions to make a difference.

4. Our outreach. When it comes to putting our faith into action, we're pretty good at that! There's the International Missions Board, the North American Missions Board, and Go Now Missions, which is the great missions organization of Texas Baptists. Of course our Disaster Relief program is one of the things we're most known for because many times our Disaster Relief teams start working in places of disaster long before the government arrives at a disaster site and sometimes even before the Red Cross or Salvation Army arrives. When a disaster strikes, look for the people with yellow hats because those are our Disaster Relief volunteers showing God's love in practical ways.

5. Our independence. One of the things that really makes me proud to be a Southern Baptist is our sense of freedom and independence. There is a Catholic Church, an Episcopalian Church, and a Methodist Church - meaning they are authoritarian organizations with a headquarters that passes down decrees and regulations which must be followed by its local churches. But there is no "Baptist Church", meaning there is no top down structure where someone else tells us what we must do at our local church. Instead, there are Baptist churches - all of which are free, independent, and autonomous. We are free to do as we see fit, having sought God and heard from Him the direction in which we should move. We cooperate with others, yes, but we are led by no pope, bishop, or any other person except Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His Church. What's more, Ephesians 5:23 says that Jesus is the Head of His Church - and so we take orders only from Him. That's how it should be in the Church.

For these reasons and many others, I am proud and honored to be a Southern Baptist. And for those of you who are also part of a local Southern Baptist church, I hope you too are proud to be a Southern Baptist. Not in an arrogant pride that boasts, but in a grateful pride that strives to be more worthy of our great and still important calling to be Southern Baptists.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The meaning of the wounds of Jesus Christ.

It's Saturday, and I've always wondered how Jesus Christ's followers must have felt on Saturday. Their hope had died with Jesus. It was now buried and decaying with Jesus. Their minds must have been filled with indescribable fear, anger, worry, frustration, and confusion. Even though Jesus had told them He would rise up from the grave, they couldn't see it and they didn't believe it.  

How terrible it must have been for them on Saturday.

And yet on this Easter Saturday, nearly 2000 years later, we cannot sympathize with them. And thank God for that, because we know Easter Sunday happened. Knowing about Sunday, it's hard to be sad about Friday. 

"Good Friday", it's called. The day Jesus was violently murdered. Why do we call it "good"? 1 John 2:2 (NCV) says: "He died in our place to take away our sins, and not only our sins but the sins of all people." Good Friday is truly good because the blood of Jesus from His seven wounds washes away our sin. It is the payment for the sin of all humanity, even you and me. A few years ago I heard a message from a pastor named Jon Courson, who talked about the five places from which Jesus' blood flowed.

First, blood flowed from His head. The blood from the thorns driven into His skull cleanse us from thoughts we wish we had never thought. The blood that poured down His face tell us He has covered the things in life we don't want to face up to. It washes our eyes from the sinful things we've seen, our ears from the sinful things we've heard, and our mouths from the sinful things we've said and done with our mouths.

Second, blood that flowed from His back. We've all turned our backs on Jesus at some point, and the blood that covered His back on that Good Friday covers our backs when we turn them on Him. When we've fallen flat on our backs, whether out of sin or fatigue, our backs are covered and cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

Third, blood flowed from His hands which were pierced with spikes, pinned to the wood of the cross. That blood cleanses us from the things we've used our hands for which we should not have done. The things we've touched, felt, grasped, held in our hands that were sinful - the blood flowed from His nail-pierced hands in order to cleanse our hands from sin and guilt.

Fourth, blood flowed from inside of Him when the Romans thrust a spear into His side, piercing Jesus' heart, sending a mixture of blood and water out of His side. So the things you feel inside of you - those gut feelings of hatred and bitterness and anger, that unforgiveness you hold in your heart - that sin inside of you and me is washed clean by the blood that flowed from inside of our crucified Lord.

Fifth, blood flowed from the precious feet of Jesus. We've all walked where we shouldn't have walked, physically and spiritually speaking. We've secretly gone places in the darkness of night that we hope no one ever finds out about. We've tried to cover our tracks from those sinful wanderings, yet the blood of Christ that flowed from His feet doesn't just cover over but washes away those tracks. 

As we think about where blood flowed from Jesus' body on that cross, we see that the placement of His wounds was not accidental or haphazard, but strategic and intentional. We see there is deep meaning in His wounds, and the Scripture of Isaiah 53:5 (NCV) comes alive to us when it says: 

"He was hated and rejected by people. He had much pain and suffering. People would not even look at Him. He was hated, and we didn't even notice Him. But He took our suffering on Him and felt our pain for usWe saw His suffering and thought God was punishing Him. But He was wounded for the wrong we did; He was crushed for the evil we did. The punishment, which made us well, was given to Him, and we are healed because of His wounds."

The wounds of Jesus Christ cover over us, head to toe, front to back, inside and out. We are cleansed from our sin, guilt, and shame every which way because of the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

As the old hymn goes: "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!"