Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Letter to Addison

"This is the birthday song, it isn't very long, hey!" Happy birthday Addison! Two years ago today you were born on a Sunday morning in Fort Worth Texas. Your Mommy  and Daddy Ginny & Stephen, Aunt Rachel & Uncle Thomas and whole family were so excited you were coming into the world. We were concerned because both you & your mommy was having a lot of trouble as she was in labor. You started the journey into the world in the early morning hours of April 25th 2010. I'm your mommy's dad, grandpa "Pops" and a pastor in Maryland. The morning you were being born, your mommy's mom, your grandma "Nana" was on the phone with your aunt Rachel who was telling us that your mommy was having a hard time. In those early hours that morning, since we were so far away, Nana and I could only pray for the situation that was going on with you and mommy in Fort Worth. We had to trust the Lord would help you and mommy with this birth. I remember laying in bed praying while Nana who is a nurse was talking and sharing wisdom with Aunt Rachel about what all to do. I was scheduled to preach in a few hours and I was confident you and momma Ginny were in good hands. We went to church and held our morning worship services. I didn't know it while I was preaching but Aunt Rachel was sending Nana text messages telling her she needed to get on a plane to get down there as soon as possible because they needed help. Knowing you were having a hard time and mommy was too, our whole church prayed for you both during our morning prayer time that day and many people prayed for our family during those days. It was amazing! As a matter of fact, your home church, Birchman Baptist Church was an incredible blessing to our family. I am so thankful the Lord gives us tremendous church families who come alongside us in times of trouble. I'm sure you've figured out after almost two full earthly years in Heaven that Christian people are an amazing bunch of people. It's not really them so much as the grace of God and the Holy Spirit of God who lives in them that allows them to serve the Lord Jesus in such practical ways. It's crazy I know to think two years on earth have passed by but for you in Heaven, it probably seems like just a few seconds or even a minute.

Well during the Sunday School hour after our first worship service, I went to my office and quickly purchased a plane ticket for Nana and she had little time to pack. One of our faithful deacons and his wife drove Nana to the airport in Baltimore. Your Aunt Beth, Mommy Ginny and Aunt Rachel's sister rode to the airport with Nana and Mr. & Mrs. Owens. Nana got to Fort Worth and was so excited to see you there in the hospital. It wasn't long until we heard that there were a number of complications. That's just a big word that means several things happened that mommy couldn't control, the doctors couldn't control, and sweetie you had no control over. It's okay that none of us humans could control those events because the God we love and serve as a family was in complete control. He was then and as you well know He is today also. I don't have to tell you that because the Lord Jesus has personally shared with you all about that. As a matter of fact, Pops probably needs to hurry and finish because Jesus has a special birthday bash planned for you today!

Anyway sweat pea, Nana told Pops it wasn't looking like you were going to be able to stay with us very long here on earth so I needed to get airline tickets for me, Aunt Beth, Uncle Ralphie, & Uncle Garrett to come down to Fort Worth as soon as we could. You remember your Aunts and Uncles, they all took turns playing with your hands, stroking your beautiful brown hair and reading stories to you while you were in the hospital after we got there. Pops got to read you a "Winnie the Pooh" book and your Daddy Stephen's family were all there too. Your Aunt Holly & Uncle Matt from Houston came up to see also as well as your Great Grandpa Green and Great Grandma Green. Great Grandma Wychopen, you call her "momo" came too. "Papa" Wychopen came later after you got to meet Jesus.

The day before you got to go meet Jesus, your whole family took turns holding you and playing "dress up". Your mommy brought a whole department store it seemed of clothes for you to wear. We took lots of pictures of you and mommy had a bag full of hair bows to put on your beautiful little head. It was an amazing time and we will never forget it. The nurses at Cook Children's Hospital, the doctors and all the staff helped our family so much and figured out a way for us to hold you on a pillow because there were lots of tubes and a machine helping you breath. One of their staff made a clay mold of your precious little hands and feet and gave it to your mommy and daddy. We all cried seeing that. A few minutes after we learned that you went to meet Jesus while mommy was holding you, I'm sure you were so busy and happy to meet the Lord face to face, you didn't know; but Pops has been taught all of life to be thankful by your great grandpa and grandma Green. I went back into the NICU unit to thank the nursing staff for their great care and kindness to our family for that week we got to have you. I thanked them for their wonderful care for you and for all they did to make our brief time with you so special. They allowed all of us to crowd around your bed on dressup/picture day, to sing to you, to laugh, pray, read Scripture and yes cry. Those nurses heard your special daddy pray an amazing prayer I bet they won't soon forget. Because of you Addison, you helped your family witness to those doctors, nurses and hospital staff and tell them about Jesus. Your brief little life here on planet earth made such a great impact for God's Kingdom and I can't wait till Jesus shows us all how far reaching your little life has made. I know a lot of people talked to Jesus because of you and it gave Jesus a chance to talk to them. Anyway, when Pops thanked those nurses, they began to cry. They couldn't believe in the middle of such a sad time I would come back to thank them. One nurse got up and came to hug me. They told me often times after a baby meets Jesus the parents are so angry they yell at those nurses and say mean things. She told it meant so much to them to see our family and to be able to care for you. They said you have a special family and it's true. It's not that we're so great, it's just that our Savior is so special which of course you know first hand now.

I know you are but I'll tell you that your mommy and daddy are the most amazing parents because of how they have stayed faithful to Jesus in all of this process of giving you back to the Lord. Because of you Addison, their relationship with Christ is much different than most Christians because they have had to lean on Jesus more as they have processed their grief and sorrow. Nana and I marvel at God's strength and power shown in the lives of your mommy and daddy. They are a testimony to anyone who cares to notice of how God is bigger than the heartache of life. I'd be lying if I said it has been easy for them. It has been so hard, yet they continue to shine as testimonies of the grace of God and they remain loyal to Jesus. As a matter of fact, on the marker at the place in babyland where we laid to rest your little body, they put the words of Mr. Job. I'm sure you've probably met him by now, but what he said after losing all of his children and everything he owns continues to encourage us: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord." Mr. Job wrote that in his book that God included in His Bible in chapter 1 verse 21. Would you tell Mr. Job when you see him from your Pops that I am so thankful for those words the Holy Spirit inspired him to write and that he faithfully wrote down?

Addison, Pops is so proud of you and I'm so proud of your mommy and daddy. I've cried alot wishing somehow I could "fix it" for mommy and daddy. I wish I could wave a magic wand so you could come to play with your little brother Landon that God gave to mommy and daddy. You'd have a ball romping with Landon but watch out because he's a big boy! I'm sure you're faster than he is but I wish I could take you guys to the McDonald's playground and watch you play. Oh you'd also have a ball with your cousin John Thomas. He was born to Aunt Rachel and Uncle Thomas exactly one month before your brother Landon. They are a little over one year old. It's funny, John Thomas was born in February, Landon was born in March and you were born in April! One birthday right after another. I know the Lord scheduled John Thomas' and Landon's birthdays directly ahead of yours because He wanted to remind us His grace is bigger than our sadness of not having you here with us. Jesus wanted us to forever remember His joy and faithful provision is able to do "exceedingly abundtly beyond all we can ask or think." After you met Jesus, the doctors did some tests and learned about a rare problem both mommy Ginny and Aunt Rachel have. Because of you Addison, they were able to figure out how to care for mommy and Aunt Rachel in future pregnancies so that by the grace of God, John Thomas and Landon were born healthy. If you hadn't met Jesus, we would not have known and Landon or John Thomas might not have been born healthy. As we all celebrate their birthdays and yes even today as we observe your birthday without you being here, we know God's purposes and plans are greater than ours. I understand the hope Mr. Job expressed out of his sorrow and today on your birthday, I choose to say blessed be the name of the Lord.

Addison, I know you have to run because Jesus is waiting for you. What He has planned for you is much more important than anything old Pops could say. When you crawl up in Jesus' lap today and you see His warm smile. As He runs that nail scared hand through your precious brown hair, remember it's because of Jesus you are safe and secure at our true home in Heaven. Remember sweet pea it's because of Jesus you'll never have to suffer in this world of evil your family lives in now. Remember Addison that it's because of Jesus, your mommy and daddy whole family will see you again some day in Heaven when Jesus decides it's time. You need to pray to Jesus and ask Him to bring John Thomas and Landon to trust in Him by faith as soon as they are able to understand what Jesus did to save them. I know they are cute but they still have that sin problem that is going to have to be dealt with. That's what Aunt Rachel and Uncle Thomas, Momma Ginny and Daddy Stephen are praying for those boys, it's what Nana and Pops are praying for as well. We're all so thankful Jesus made a way for our sin problem to be cured and forgiven if people would just trust Him by faith.

One more thing Addison, would you give Jesus a hug from Pops today and tell Him I love Him?  Would you please thank Him for His grace and mercy to our family. I'm thankful that you are in His care and for all that He does for us. I can't really express it appropriately, but I'm confident He'll know what I'm trying to say.
Happy Birthday!


Posted via email from Pastor Ralph

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Slippery Slope of Compromise...

In two separate conversations in the last few days, I have been challenged in my spirit regarding the dangers of what I call "the slippery slope of compromise." Believe me; I know sometimes compromise can be a healthy thing when you are talking about the color of carpet or paint and items that have no eternal significance. However, in making decisions that do have eternal significance compromise can be a dangerous thing.

The first discussion is one I've had numerous times in my ministry related to believer's baptism and whether or not a person must be baptized by immersion in order to become a church member. In the New Testament, we have numerous clear examples that baptism was always by immersion. It was how the Lord Jesus himself was baptized and the early church faithfully followed that example. The very word means to immerse, to plunge under or to submerge. The ordinance of believer's baptism is a fundamental act of obedience for a person who desires to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. It is one of two ordinances or commands the Lord Jesus gave to His church to observe, the other being the Lord's Supper. It is in the most simple of terms a pledge of allegiance to Christ. In the class I teach on baptism, I tell folks it is like putting on the uniform of a Christian. In the first century, it was how the early New Testament Church knew someone's commitment to Christ was the real deal because for someone to be baptized by immersion, they were declaring to everyone they would be loyal to Christ and not Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. The Romans believed their emperor was a god and called for their subjects to worship him as god. You could be killed for not worshipping Caesar and many Christians died martyrs deaths in the Roman Coliseum for their loyalty to Christ.

For the early church, people could say with their lips they were devoted to Christ all day long but until they were willing to publically identify with Christ in baptism, undergoing the public spectacle of being fully immersed, they were not considered true believers. Why such a stringent standard? Because baptism meant you were willing to put your life on the line for Jesus Christ and die for Him. It meant that in the first century, it means that now in many parts of the world even though here in the United States we're not under a death threat if we're baptized.

Another important point is that God teaches His people with symbols and pictures. In the Old Testament, the sacrificial system demonstrated to God's people the high cost of sin as an innocent animal was killed and blood shed as a temporary covering for sin. Believer's baptism is a beautiful picture of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. When a person is baptized they are picturing outwardly what Christ has done for them inwardly and that their old sinful nature has died is buried and as they come up out of the water, they picture the new life in Christ. Both baptism and the Lord's Supper visually illustrate for us the high cost of sin.

Okay, that's all good theological Bible teaching. Let's get to the real world application of it. Let's be honest. Baptism by immersion is a pain to pull off. At Calvary, it begins on Friday with a volunteer coming to the church to turn on the faucet to the baptistery and letting it run for a several hours to get it half full. They have to come back to the church to shut it off. On Sunday, another volunteer comes to the church early and turns it on again this time with warm water so it is at a comfortable temperature and filled to the appropriate level before the baptism takes place. A couple of men or women volunteers assist men or women candidates as needed getting robes on. The men help the preacher get his waders, robe and microphone on, we baptize and it's all over in a matter of minutes. Here come the candidates out of the baptistery soaking wet from head to toe, a robe slinging water all over the place and the preacher hustling out of his robe and waders to get back to worship in time to pray. Water everywhere, towels galore mopping up the mess. Then still another volunteer takes all the wet robes and towels home and washes them, dries them, folds the towels and hangs the robes with another trip to the church to put it back in place for the next month. Honestly, I'm tired just describing it.

In the church we started in New Hampshire, we used a portable baptistery that routinely sprung leaks under the strain of the water pressure and boy it made for a royal mess. Finding a spot in the freezing waters of the Ammonusec River behind the church wasn't much of an option either. The one time I did a baptism there in September, I thought I was going to drown when I slipped and my waders began to fill. I was sure they'd find my body in Lisbon 15 miles downriver! If I didnt drown, I was certain I would freeze to death! With every baptism I have conducted, there is great joy in seeing new believers obeying the Lord in complete humility and submission to Christ. The beauty and powerful testimony of that ordinance and the impact of it on those who courageously obey is hard to describe with mere words. I am certain the Lord Jesus smiles brightly as Father, Son and Holy Spirit watch their children faithfully obeying God's command. 

This leads me to a recent conversation I had with a man who is currently in a mainline denomination church who has had it with the liberalism that has swept over the church he's been in his whole adult life. He's endured under a female pastor, a compromise he said he will never stand for again. The proverbial last straw for him is that she is determined ordain practicing homosexuals and their "music minister" is a homosexual with a live in partner. He wanted to know if there would be a place for him to serve the Lord at Calvary because he has fought against these outrageous activities in the church he loves all he can. There is no hope they will change and so he must find another place to worship and serve the Lord. I haven't answered his question completely as I'll need to talk with him further about his beliefs. 

Both these conversations start in different places but they end in the same place. You see compromise in seemingly little areas as to the proper method and mode of baptism leads the church away from fundamental obedience to the Lord's explicit command in Matt. 28:19-20: "Go and make disciples...baptizing (immersing) them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you."  On a practical level, from a human point of view, I understand how churches and whole denominations have said baptism by immersion is just too inconvenient. Just sprinkle a little water on them and call it a day. Just to be safe, make the sign of the cross on their forehead so God will bless it. So begins the slippery slope of compromise because if Jesus really didn't mean immerse them, then there is probably other stuff He said that He really didn't mean either. He didn't really mean His requirement that Pastors be men who lead their homes well spiritually. There is no end to where this slippery slope of compromise leads because it becomes very easy to pick and choose the commands we want to obey. Jesus didn't stutter when He said "immerse them and teach them to obey all things I commanded..."

Obedience is not easy, but God honors His children who are determined to obey Him no matter what and who refuse to compromise. It is not easy for this pastor to say to an individual I love that I will only baptize by immersion and you cannot be a member of Calvary until you obey the Lord's command, regardless of the reasons why they can't be immersed. For me to compromise on that issue places Calvary on the precipice of that slippery slope. As your Pastor, I'm committed to keep us far away from that slippery slope of compromise and I intend to do exactly what Jude commanded in Jude vs. 3: "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." Being faithful to obey the clear basic commands of the Lord Jesus Christ in how we practice believers baptism will help us be faithful to obey the more complex ones that have derailed many a church and denomination. Satan is the architect of all this temptation to compromise our obedience to the Lord's commands. Like Jesus, I intend to stand on the authority of God's Word and obey it fully. In so doing, we keep Satan from getting a foothold at Calvary and we'll glorify Christ in our faithful, loyal obedience. I don't know about you but I'm determined to obey Christ, from my little corner of the world to yours...