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The Kindness of Joseph of Arimathea

“And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Sanhedrin (but did not consent to the death of Jesus) who was from Arimathea and was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. He took it down from the cross and wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock where no one had ever lain.”
Luke 23

We tend to think of the Jewish Elite of Jesus day as all villains, but Joseph was an exception. The key phrase is “he was waiting for the kingdom of God.” Everyone else sought the kingdom of man, not of God, as they claimed. Joseph waited for the city not made by human hands. He took down the body of Jesus, carefully wrapped it, and placed it into his own tomb where no one had laid. Despite the fact Jesus would soon rise and have no use for either, I doubt our Lord would forget this measure of kindness from Joseph, the one who waited for Him.

Today as I reflect on the death of my mama, I want to thank the folks at Sanderson Funeral Homes for taking such good care of my mama’s body. For taking good care of it and laying it in a tomb no one has lain in. For although I know she has no further need of it, I will not forget the care and kindness they have taken with the one so dear to me. I also hope that they all, like our friend Joseph, are waiting for the One who is the Resurrection and the Life and long for His appearing.

I believe in Resurrection.

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Posted by on January 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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The Cup of Wrath

cup of wrath“Jesus drank a cup of wrath without mercy, that we might drink a cup of mercy without wrath.”
– J. Oswald Sanders

 

Imagine that all of your deeds have been laid bare. Every evil thought, every harsh word, every wicked deed, every selfish desire, and any other thing you have ever done that is wrong. They also list every time someone cried out in need and you ignored it, every good deed that you could have done for someone but refused to do.

As the list is read, a cup nearby fills with the wrath deserved for such crimes. A lifetime of unpunished wrongdoing fills it to the brim and it foams with pain and loss and despair. Pain you deserve for all the evil you have done and all the good you refused to do for others.

Now imagine that God takes the cup and drinks it. All of it.

There is no more evil. There is no more pain. There is no more loss or suffering.

Because he drank it all. It is all gone. He has taken the punishment reserved for you into Himself.

And He has paid it in full.

You do not have to imagine it. He already did it.

For all who believe. It. Is. Finished.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”
– Saul of Tarsus to the Church at Rome, circa 57 A.D.

 

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2015 in Soteriology, Uncategorized

 

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Do Not Stop Speaking


jesus.heal_Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Mark 7:31-37

God does not do everything in a public forum. We offer a public invitation to repent and submit to Jesus Christ in churches every Sunday, but in reality people are not required to walk down the aisle to be saved. Some people have very public salvation experiences, and some are very private ones. Some are saved while the preacher is speaking, while others are saved once home and meditating on the things said. There is no one experience that is better than another.

This man was healed privately. Many of Jesus’ miracles, such as His feeding of the 5,000 men, were very public. Others, like this one, were very private. What connects them all is what happened afterwards.

Acts 4:1-22

Peter and John were threatened with prison, violence and death. Their response? “We cannot stop speaking about what we’ve seen and heard.”

They couldn’t stop. They were compelled. They were driven to speak about Jesus.

When Jesus touches someone, they cannot stop speaking about it. Even if Jesus tells them not to speak, they cannot help themselves.

What about you? How often do you speak about His love? How often do you proclaim His good news to others?

No one is stopping us. There are not yet soldiers in the streets to arrest us, beat us, or kill us. And yet we are stopped by sneers and ridicule, or simply indifference.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10

We hold back because we want to please men. Even in the Church, a dangerous practice of pleasing men in a thin veneer called “seeker churches.” These people try to be “seeker” sensitive, not being overbearing towards those who come to their church seeking God.

Except, no Lost soul is seeking Him, for it is written:

“No one understands; no one seeks for God.”
Romans 3:11

Men do not seek God. God seeks out men to save them. The world has so blinded itself with sin that it is oblivious to the coming Judgement. We are the watchmen called to sound the trumpet and warn the people.

Ezekiel 33:1-9

We are required to sound the trumpet and warn the Lost. God will hold us accountable for every soul we had a chance to tell but did not. Every soul we tell that does not repent and heed our warning we are guiltless of. We cannot convince people of the truth, for it is also written:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
1st Corinthians 2:14

In his natural, sinful state, humans cannot understand, cannot see the beauty of the Gospel. In fact, it’s complete nonsense. Only God can change that heart of stone to a heart of flesh, but He often uses us to do it.

Titus 2:1-10

“Adorn” here means to make alluring or attractive. So in a sense we are to make the Gospel more appealing to the Lost, but not by downplaying sin and Judgement, or by working around penal substitution, but by living according to the teachings of Christ in every way, showing the world that God’s way not only works, but is the best way to live.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
1st Peter 3:13-17

No one is saying go grab a sandwich board and stand on the street screaming at people to “turn or burn.” What the Bible says is to live a godly life and revere Christ as holy. Then, when people inquire as to why you live and love thus, you share the Gospel. We do not do this harshly or in judgement, but as dying men to dying men.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.
Colossians 4:5

Don’t stay silent. Be wise among unbelievers and look for opportunities. If you see one open up, you go for it!

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Christology

 

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The Relationship

Man and woman outdoors clasping hands, close-up

Connect. For the love of God, connect.

There is a person I know whom God has put on my heart, an unbeliever so far from Christ it seems impossible she could be saved.

But all things are possible for Him.

This person speaks out often against religion and is committed to atheism. I’ve been praying and waiting for the right moment to speak, for speaking at the wrong moment can spell disaster.

Recently, this person said something and the Spirit said, “Speak. Speak now.”

The person said, “Religion is destroying the world. People are ruined by it and they don’t need it or any other silly superstitions.”

I said, “So you have no beliefs at all beyond the natural? For you it’s just survival of the fittest? Your immediate needs and that’s it?”

“No,” the person replied, “I do believe in karma, that people end up getting what they deserve.”

“So? That’s a religion. There’s no “god” or whatever, but you believe in something more. Something beyond the natural, because science says that’s bunk. There’s just what’s in front of you.”

“Well, I’d call it a belief system. It’s not a religion.” the person explained.

“Oh, then we may have different definitions of religion then. Sounds like your definition is like rules and rituals and so forth.” I said.

“That’s right.” the person clarified.

“In that case I’m not religious either and I agree with you as well. What I am a part of is about a relationship. I believe there is a Being who transcends everything and Who created everything. I believe the most important thing in a person’s life is to have a relationship with this Person.”

“Oh,” the person said, “Well that’s different, that’s good then.”

For all the miles this person has to go before they are even close to responding to the Gospel, we moved an inch today. But I praise God, because due to our human nature, that person shouldn’t have moved at all.

But that’s not why I am posting this. I am posting this because as I drove home something hit me.

I am religious. I observe rules and rituals. I have not been pursuing God as a relationship.

A fire that had long lay dormant within me kindled, and I began to weep. I pray every day, but how long had it been since I was so enraptured with His presence that I had to be torn away from it? I read the Bible almost every day, but how long had it been since I opened my Bible with eagerness the way a wife embraces her husband after he has been on a long journey?

Too long.

Takeaways:

  1. Engage the Lost. You will learn as much from bouncing what you believe off them as anything else. We Christians are far too good at patting each other on the back.
  2. Forget your problems. God actually commands this of us. We should focus on our relationship with Him. All good works will flow from that relationship. We don’t do good to know God, we do good because we know Him.
  3. Check your affections. How much affection do you have for Christ? This is something we should check on a daily basis as we should with our spouses.
  4. Relationships are of highest importance. God first, and others second, but for the love of our Lord, connect. I feel like I’ve kept everyone, including God, at a distance. Do not do this. God is all about relationships. That is what matters.
 
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Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Sanctification

 

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Not Safe, but Good

I grow tired of people who believe in a milksop God and a milksop Jesus. God is dynamic and powerful and dangerous and loving and deadly and mysterious and violent and playful and serious and funny (yes, funny).

God reveals Himself to us in His Word. He pulls no punches. The Bible is R-rated. He makes people alive, and He kills people. He raises up nations and leaders and champions, and He tears down civilizations and drives leaders to madness and allows champions to fall into ruin.

Along the way God makes no apologies for His actions and makes few explanations. He demands obedience and unyielding fealty to His name.

For this reason, many doubt His claim to love us and His goodness. Perhaps there would be cause for this if not for this:

“For a good man someone might dare to die. But while we were yet sinners, He died for us.”

This immeasurably powerful, all knowing, all consuming God who demands perfection, does not tolerate uncleanness and hates sin with a perfect hatred. This God put aside His rights and came to live among us in the flesh. He provided the perfect life Himself that we failed to provide. He died the death He declared we should die for us.

“So in this way God loved the world. He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

And He defines just what that is.

“This is eternal life. That they know you intimately, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

He wants us. He wants us to be with Him such that He died to bring us close to Him. There can be no greater love, indeed He says:

“Mortal man knows no greater love than this. That he lay down his life for his friends.”

He calls me friend. I am God’s friend.

So when my God does something I do not understand, even when He takes life or chooses to allow life to pass away from someone. Even if He slays me, still will I trust in Him.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
– The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

 

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Seven Years

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
– Genesis 29:20

100_0775Sunday marks the seventh anniversary of my marriage to Gena Renee Cohoon. Words cannot truly express how grateful I am for my wife, nor how undeserving I truly am of her love.

Genesis 29:20 holds a special meaning to me because I meditated long upon it when I decided to pursue Gena back in 2008.

At one point in my pursuit of Gena, there was a very real possibility that she would go where I could not follow her. The decision lay before me, “If she goes, do you wait the two years for her to come back or give up?”

Though ultimately she did not go, my decision was to wait for her. I knew there could be no other by that point. I would marry Gena or no one else. So I would wait however long it took. If that meant she never came back, then I’d never marry. If it meant she came back when she was 50, then we’d start our life together then.

I’d wait however long it took, just like Gilbert Blythe. If you don’t know who that is, shame on you. Go read these.

For all my noble affections, however, I did not understand then that marriage is all about waiting. Rather it is about patience and endurance. The choice to wait or give up is one ever before me. Over the seven years we’ve been married there have been many trials for us. Sometimes they were trials from outside the marriage we weathered together and sometimes they were trials between us within the marriage we had to weather with the Lord praying for the heart of the other to change.

I’ve learned this about marriage in seven years, if anything. When you say the wedding vows, you aren’t saying you’ll get it right, because you won’t.

You’re saying you won’t give up.

Never, ever, ever give up.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2015 in Sanctification

 

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10 Things You Might Not Know About the First Council of Nicaea

1. It was the first ecumenical council since the Council of Jerusalem in Acts.

This would be the first council concerning the entire Church on earth in almost 300 years. There had been plenty of “synods,” smaller councils and meetings of bishops and church leaders that made decisions for their local divisions and church communities, but a council that would make a decision binding to the entire Church on earth had not been held since the meeting in Acts where the Apostles gathered to decide whether the Gentiles had to become Jews in order to become Christians (they decided they didn’t).

Bacon

Thanks for the bacon.

2. It was called by the “Christian” Emperor Constantine, but probably not for the reasons you think.

In 312 AD Constantine won the Battle of Milvian Bridge which secured the Imperial Throne for himself. He declared himself a Christian and supported the previously illegal faith, co-signing the Edict of Milan in 313 AD making Christianity a legal religion among the many accepted in Roman culture. Contrary to popular belief, he did not make Christianity the state religion. That would not happen until the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD long after Constantine’s death.

Constantine called the council in 325 AD with one goal in mind: unity. The Church at this time was heavily divided along many fronts but none were as divisive as the one over the nature of Christ Himself. Was He God? Was He a god? Was He something in between these things? The debate created a clear divide in the Church and even at times lead to violence. If Constantine, the Emperor, was to be a Christian, then Christianity needed to be united. In other words, the Church was making Constantine look bad. Contrary to popular belief, Constantine honestly didn’t care what the council decided. He told them to come to an agreement and he would back up whatever they agreed on, regardless of what it was. He technically presided over the council because he was the head of state but he did not take place in the debates or the decisions.

Say what you want about those pagans, but at least they were consistent.

“Say what you want about those pagans, but at least they were consistent.” – Constantine (probably)

3. The Council did not discuss the doctrine of the Trinity.

Most people think the Council created the doctrine of the Trinity. It didn’t. The only concern of the council of this kind was over the nature of Christ and His relationship to the Father. It did not involve the Holy Spirit at all and the total relationship was not a point of discussion. The debate of the Trinity as a whole would be decided later at the Council of Constantinople in 360 AD. The concept of the Trinity was however already in place. We have records referring to the Godhead and the Trinity as far back as the 2nd Century.

4. The debate over the nature of Christ was almost over before it began.

The main debate and issue facing the council was the nature of Christ. The two major views of the day were between the traditional view of Christ as God incarnate and those promoted by Arius that Christ was merely God’s greatest creation.

Arius’ argument was that Christ was the first creation of God. He was neither of the same substance as God, nor shared God’s eternal nor divine nature. He claimed Jesus was the best and brightest of God’s creations, but a creation nonetheless. Much of Arius argument hinged on passages that refer to Jesus being “begotten” or “firstborn of creation” as well as “the Father is greater than I.”

The traditional view stemmed from the idea that any Son begotten by the Father must by definition be of the same substance and nature. Therefore, the Father and Son were always Father and Son, eternally. They are co-equal and co-substantial. They argued that Christ was begotten eternally, that is He has no beginning or end. To believe otherwise, they said, destroyed the unity of the Godhead because Christ would be unequal with the Father. Supporting scriptures for this view include “I and the Father are one” and “the Word was God.” They declared that the Son was equal to God in all aspects and is eternally derived from the Father, a declaration made earlier by Athanasius.

Arius came with roughly 22 supporters in tow. Considering that approximately 300 bishops were in attendance, this was not a negligible following, but also clearly in the minority. To make matters worse for Arius, almost all of his supporters abandoned him when the implications of his views were made plain to them.

The Council declared that the Son was truly God Himself, that He was of the same substance as the Father and existed with Him eternally. They argued this doctrine best fit the Scripture’s presentation of Christ as the Son as well as fitting with the traditional beliefs handed down by the Church fathers and Apostles.

Arius along with just two others refused to agree with the council’s decision. The emperor exiled them.

Where we presume the first "Survivor" show took place.

Where we presume the first “Survivor” show took place.

5. But that didn’t end the matter…

As much as Constantine wanted his Christianity wrapped up in a neat bow, it just wasn’t to be. The debate continued just as hotly after the council as it did before, and many violent protests would see Christian blood spilled in the streets. After a time, Arius relaxed some of his more heretical claims (but never renounced them) and was permitted to return from exile, when he promptly died while trying to take a poop. (No seriously) The movement declined afterwards but never totally went away, and many sects today (ex. Jehovah’s Witnesses) adhere to many of the same claims as Arius did.

6. The Council also addressed the Meletian Schism and Christian Apostates.

During the reigns of particularly nasty emperors in Rome, Christianity was heavily persecuted. Few could match the persecution under Diocletian, when Roman soldiers went door to door interrogating suspected Christians and throwing any who did not renounce Christ in prison. Many of those arrested were later executed. There were some Christians who “lapsed” under this stress and denounced Christ in order to save their lives. Once the crisis was over, many Christians who had endured prison and torture for their faith did not want to let these “apostates” back into the Church. Of these, none were as unforgiving as Bishop Melitus.

Melitus made it clear in his province that no apostates were to be forgiven or allowed back into the Church. Other bishops in the area were soon following his example. This deeply concerned other bishops across the Empire who felt this refusal to forgive was anti-Christian and should be addressed.

Seriously guys, I think Jesus said something about this one...

Seriously guys, I think Jesus said something about forgiveness…

The council voted and agreed that these lapsed Christians should be forgiven if they sought it and allowed back into the Church. They also agreed that since Melitus was an unforgiving jerk, being a bishop might not be his thing, so they told him his schism could rejoin the Church if he handed in his vestments and his bishops would have to reapply to keep their positions. Melitus refused which would have created quite serious problems later on had Melitus not died soon after. The schism died with him.

7. One of the big issues on the docket was Easter.

The Easter debate is a complicated one. To be brief, where Easter fell depended on when Passover fell, and since Passover on the Jewish Lunar calendar moved around, this produced a problem for Romans who used the solar Julian calendar. In addition, many Church scholars believed the computations by the Jewish scholars were wrong and that the original Easter was on a different date. Most were moving to fix a date based on the best possible data to the actual original Easter, but some still felt that since it was linked to a Jewish holiday, Easter should follow the Jewish calendar.

Eventually they voted to calculate what day Passover would have been at the time of the Crucifixion, and fixed Easter relative to that date on the solar calendar. What they didn’t do was actually do that. They left it for another time, and it didn’t actually get done for centuries.

Add. 39636, f. 50

We were told by Constantine there would be no math.

8. They voted on a number of other, weird issues.

The council had a laundry list of sundry items that were bugging the Church leadership. Two of the more interesting ones were problems the Church itself had created. In the wake of the Apostolic Era (where the Apostles we know and love called all the shots), the next generation of Church leaders began to ferment some strange interpretations of their forebears writings. In particular were the puzzling instructions in 1st Corinthians 7 where Paul seems to be both for and against marriage.

A movement thus began starting in the Second Century declaring that marriage was, in fact, not a good thing. Well, it wasn’t the best thing certainly. Christian leadership began a cult of celibacy that touted lifelong celibacy as the greatest path and led a man or woman the closest to Christ. Marriage was for the carnal, the weak people who couldn’t control themselves. Real Christians stay celibate for life.

Pretty soon though, men who really loved Jesus and didn’t want to fail Him found celibacy to be unbearable. Knowing that marriage was a cop out, these men did what they had to keep it real with Jesus.

They castrated themselves.

We'll let that one sink in.

We’ll let that one sink in.

In addition to the rampant castrations (which usually just killed the men rather than rendering them eunuchs) there were spiritual marriages. You see, another insane way to read the end of 1st Corinthians 7 is to twist Paul’s words in such a way that he seems to be suggesting that men and women move in together and live celibate lives together as unmarried virgins. These shack-ins were called spiritual marriages and were hailed by the celibacy cult as the ultimate form of Christian perseverance. I mean there you are, living together with temptation right within reach, but never grasping it all for the glory of God! And it totally worked!

92832646

Verily, sarcasm is not permitted.

Whatever noble intentions they may have begun with, these spiritual marriages often turned into real ones once the pregnancy began to show. This was obviously a bad idea that only encouraged sexual sin, not prevented it. Not surprisingly, the council reached a decision to ban self castration and banned members of the clergy from entering into spiritual marriages. Not long after the council, another ruling banned them altogether.

9. They laid the foundation for the Papacy.

The council also voted to grant several new and exclusive powers to the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, recognizing those bishops as having special authority over the two major centers of the Church at that time. While the bishop of Alexandria would eventually decline in power along with the Empire, the bishop of Rome would only grow in power and authority until he had almost complete autonomy over the entire Church. You might better know the bishop of Rome by his pet title today: the Pope.

So really he's just a bishop, but with a fabulous hat.

So really he’s just a bishop, but with a fabulous hat.

10. They did not decide on the canon of the Bible.

In fact, no council ever made that decision. The canon (or books accepted as the inspired word of God in the Bible) was actually already set by the end of the Second Century. During the actual time of the Apostles and just afterwards, it was just a known fact which manuscripts were the work of the Apostles and their disciples and which weren’t. A decision set in stone wasn’t needed. It would be like a council having to be called today to decide which writings belong to Thomas Jefferson and which belonged to Karl Marx. It’s just a no brainer. By the time of the Nicaean council in the Fourth Century, the Bible was long since a done deal. It is true that shortly after the council, Constantine commissioned some fifty complete Bibles (containing the OT and NT) to be scribed and bound for use in the major churches. These Bibles are widely believed to be the first bound books to contain all of Christian scripture.

Sources
Survey of European History (Tennessee Technological Univeristy c.2009)
Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity
History of Rome Podcast by Mike Duncan

 
 

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