Sunday, January 10, 2021
Rev. Donald P. Beaumont
And a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
Some of you will remember that, on April 18, 2006, a new word entered our dictionary when President George W. Bush made a comment referring to himself as “the decider” during a press conference. A fine, decent man, Mr. Bush was simply emphasizing that he was the one who ultimately made important decisions in his administration.
Let me ask you something: do you consider yourself a decisive person? I’m not talking about routine decisions like what to wear in the morning or which restaurant to choose for lunch. How are your skills at making decisions that influence outcomes, decisions that can change your life? Are you a decider?
I read a fascinating article recently that said that gambling casinos deliberately design their layout to overcome the decision-making part of your brain. Have you noticed? There are no windows or clocks in casinos because casino owners don’t want you to notice how much time you have spent at a gaming table or slot machine. Even hallways in most casinos are designed to curve around the interior of the casino. Why are they designed that way? Ninety-degree angles activate the decision-making centers of the brain, and casinos don’t want patrons to activate that portion of the brain because then they might stop and question why they’re wasting their money on gambling. Many casinos are actually designed without ninety-degree angles in the floor plans at all.
Being a decider, a decision-maker, is a learned skill. But it’s not just casinos that work against us making good decisions. Our whole society is like one big casino, especially advertising. It’s designed to keep us entertained and dissatisfied. It’s designed to override the decision-making centers of the brain and distract us from really examining our lives. We live in a time of both information overload and option overload. When you have multiple options to choose from in every area of life, including faith and religion, how do you make the best choice?
Make no mistake. People who make the right decisions are valuable in every area of life. On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four American jetliners loaded with passengers and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The terrorists also intended to crash a plane into the U.S. Capitol, but passengers on board that flight defied the hijackers and the plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania instead.
That morning, as reports of the attacks came into the Federal Aviation Commission’s offices, their National Operations Manager, Ben Sliney, made a critical decision. The decision was to ground all U.S. flights that day and close down American air space for all but lifesaving medical flights. This was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of decision, and I’m sure Ben faced some questions about that decision. Every impactful decision encounters some opposition. Looking back from our vantage point, just about everyone agrees that Ben made the right decision. But it wasn’t an easy call to make that morning, and Ben only had a small window of time in which to consider his options.
His decision-making skill is even more impressive considering that this was Ben’s first day on the job. He had been named National Operations Manager for the FAA on September 10, 2001. Ben was definitely a decider!
People who make the right decisions are valuable in every area of life. Supposedly this is why leaders of great corporations are paid an obscene amount of money. They’re paid to make right decisions. A wrong decision can cost a big corporation literally billions of dollars, so they value their leader’s ability to make the right choices.
But isn’t that true in our everyday life on a much smaller scale? Isn’t success determined by the choices we make?
Randy was in his early 30s when he was sentenced to serve twenty-one years in prison for armed robbery. He knew that his bad choices put him there. As he considered the long sentence ahead of him, he began to pray and ask God to help him turn his life around. He didn’t just want to get his old life back. He wanted to start over completely. He asked God for the ability to make better decisions and to follow through with those decisions.
His growing faith in God gave him hope, and he began to use his time in prison to gain new work skills and further his education. After serving his sentence, Randy walked out of prison and into an ex-offenders program called Trusted Mentors. Randy was paired with a former convict who had turned his life around. It was his job to help Randy learn to operate in the outside world.
One of the first things Randy did was cut ties with his old buddies. As he said, I am so hungry for freedom that I hate the old me. That’s true repentance, being set free from your old self. Realizing that your old self is sinful, separated from God, separated from true life and purpose and hope. You can try and try and try to change yourself. Or you can die to your old self and place your new life in God’s hands. That’s what Randy did.
Randy got a good job and impressed his bosses so much that they chose him to begin a new welding training program for their other employees. He got married and bought a house. And he received an award from the Trusted Mentors program recognizing his remarkable commitment to establishing a new life after his time in prison. Randy attributes all the good things in his life now to his faith and the choices that arose from his faith. As he said, I’m never going back and that means making the right choices. Notice that, he credits his faith as the source of the ability to make right decision, which brings me to our lesson for the day.
John the Baptist was in the wilderness preaching a Baptism of repentance for sins, and all the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside were going out to be Baptized by him. Among those who received John’s Baptism was one, Jesus of Nazareth. And when Jesus came out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art My beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased.”
It is a beautiful scene. And it is relevant to the life of every believer. The most important decision that anyone can make is to be Baptized.
There’s a book with the interesting title, Quantum Change. The authors of this book interviewed people who had what they called a moment of great clarity that led them to make a decision that changed the course of their lives, hence the title, Quantum Change.
The authors noticed two things about this sudden, life-changing moment: first, each person felt as if he had received a mystical message from outside himself that gave him this insight, and secondly, each person’s life was never the same after receiving this insight.
What is striking about this study is that ten years later the authors interviewed their subjects again and found that their lives had been permanently changed by this decisive moment. The moment it happened, they knew they had gone through a one-way door, there was no going back.
Quantum Change. That’s a great way to describe the decision to be Baptized into the Christian faith, “a one-way door, there’s no going back.” Because it happens for many people when they are infants or, depending on your background, as a young person, we might not give much thought to it. But we ought to regard it as the most significant moment in our life. Ideally, we should carry with us at all times the consciousness that we are a Baptized person. [In fact, I would like every Baptized person in the room to touch your forehead and declare aloud, “I am Baptized!”] And that Baptism should make a difference in everything we do.
There’s a story that comes from the days of the old west about a little girl who lived in a small town on the prairies of north Texas. One Sunday morning, the little girl was Baptized in her church. The next day at school, her friends asked her to describe that experience. She said, “I was a little maverick out on the prairie. But when I was Baptized, God put His mark on me, and now, I belong to Him!” That’s the effect our Baptism should have on our life. It should influence everything we do.
Garry Nueva was living in Saudi Arabia when he became a Christian. Soon after learning about Jesus and becoming a follower of Christ, Garry underwent Baptism. He became a new person and it affected his relationships with everyone he met beginning with his wife.
Not long afterwards, one of their friends told them about a local prostitute who was pregnant and planned to give away her baby for adoption. Garry and his wife had tried unsuccessfully for ten years to have a baby. Even though they knew they would face criticism or even condemnation for adopting the child of a prostitute, they believed that this was an opportunity and a blessing from God. And they promised God that if He answered this prayer, they would raise the child as a believer in Jesus Christ.
A few months later, the woman gave birth to a baby girl. Garry and his wife adopted this precious child and found a permanent home for her birth mother. As it turned out, Garry’s Baptism represented a decision that changed his life, the life of his wife, the life of their adopted daughter, and the life of her birth mother. And who knows how many more lives will be changed through each of them?
If we live as a Baptized person, this is what should happen in our life. Every decision we make should reflect the fact that we are Baptized.
But there’s a second thing that happens to us when we’re Baptized, and it’s also vital to our lives. We become part of a community of faith—the church.
This is why Baptism is a public event, except under extraordinary circumstances. According to the Bible, certain acts of faith are meant to be private, just between you and God. Acts like prayer and giving to God’s work are usually private acts of faith. But Baptism is a public act. A communal act.
In our Bible passage today, it says that “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” came out to hear John preach a Baptism of repentance. There was no privacy in that crowd.
When you choose to be Baptized, or to have your children Baptized, you are making a public declaration that your life, or their life, belongs to God. You are placing your life, or your child’s life, under God’s sovereign control.
That is why Jesus underwent Baptism, even though He was sinless. He was showing what it means to submit to God’s will, to dedicate your whole life to God. But it also signifies that you belong to a very significant community, the church.
As most everyone is aware I have a little routine that I follow whenever I Baptize a child. After the ceremony, I take the child in my arms and walked them through the congregation. As introduce you to your new brother or sister in Christ. I usually say this is your new brother or sister, and give the child’s name. And then I add, this child belongs to God. And belongs to us. That child does belong to God and it belongs to us as group of people. They are part of our new family.
An extraordinary act of love? It shouldn’t be. We should feel a special responsibility for every child or adult who is Baptized at this altar.
So, let me say it again. The most important decision that anyone can make is to be Baptized because, if it’s authentic, it will affect every other decision you make. It is a quantum decision. Secondly, once you are Baptized, you belong to this community of faith. We becomes part of your extended family. We are responsible for one another. We are brothers and sisters together. Here is where you can turn for support in your hour of need. In the words of the old hymn:
Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne, We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, Our comforts, and our cares.
We share our mutual woes, Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows The sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part, It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, And hope to meet again. Amen.