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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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The Love of Darth Vader

darth_vader_by_6kart-d6v8x3c

Darth Vader. Arch-Villain or loving father?

Darth Vader was saved through his son, Luke Skywalker.

Those of us who are Star Wars fans remember that Luke was adamant after fighting (and losing) against Darth Vader in episode 5 that his father turned sith lord still had good within him and that Luke believed he could be turned back to the Light Side. Kenobi and Yoda were unconvinced and urged Luke to kill both Vader and the Emperor as soon as possible or all would be lost.

We all remember that, at the last moment, Vader was saved. When he saw his helpless son being electrocuted by Palpatine’s force lightning, he seized the Emperor and threw him into a pit before dying himself.

None of this is news, but I have a theory that has grown within me as I’ve watched the films since I was a boy.

Darth Vader always loved his son, and he never intended to kill him.

Let’s examine the facts.

In Episode 3, Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. When he awakens in his metal body, Palpatine lies to him and tells Vader he murdered Padme in his anger (and thus any children she was carrying). Vader is now under the assumption he has nothing good to live for and wholeheartedly devotes himself to the Dark Side.

In Episode 4, many things happen concerning the Death Star we will discuss later. What is important to focus on is that he does not know Luke (or Leia for that matter) are his children. He’s so filled with hate and they are so weak in the force he can’t feel them even though he’s very close to Leia for long periods of time. It’s only when Luke finally opens himself to the Force to put a proton torpedo right in the pickle barrel that Vader suddenly senses, “the Force is strong with this one…” Still, he’s unaware this boy is his son and in fact does try to legitimately kill him.

However in Episode 5 the opening crawl explains that some time has passed and Vader is now obsessively searching the galaxy for….what? The Rebels? No, for Luke Skywalker himself. He’s scattered probe droids all across the cosmos looking for Luke, but why?

It can’t be revenge. Vader didn’t really think the Death Star would work, as indicated in this scene. It seems that Palpatine, dark lord of the Sith that he was, didn’t see the Force like Vader did. This was probably due to Vader’s extensive Jedi training. Vader understood the Force wasn’t just a neat tool in his bag of tricks. The Force was everything. The Death Star was impressive, but it wasn’t anything compared to the Force. Palpatine put his trust in giant weapons of terror and pride, much like Hitler did. Vader knew that if the rebels had anyone who could communicate with the Force, this ridiculous plan would be undone. And he was right. One teenage boy with the Force on his side in an X-wing brought the entire thing down. Vader clearly felt this was a waste of time and that attitude can be felt throughout the film. He clearly didn’t have a lot of emotional ties to the project, and while he would have been miffed when it got destroyed, I don’t think it would have driven him to some kind of manhunt to find the single man responsible.

So why Luke? Well it’s clear that by this time, Imperial spies have found out the name of the rebel who fired the winning shot, and for all of Kenobi’s efforts to hide Luke, he didn’t bother changing his name. When Vader heard his name was Skywalker, and knew his rough age, the fact he was a crack-shot pilot and strong with the Force….well lets just say Vader isn’t an idiot. This had to be his son, or at least it could be.

When the Imperial army lands on Hoth, Vader ignores the battle and aggressively searches for Luke within. Now, you may say, this doesn’t prove Vader loved him. In fact, its more likely he was obsessed with finding this young Force user to put him down so that he has no chance to become a Jedi. That is a valid point, considering how Vader knows how dangerous a single Force user can be if he’s trained up. But there’s more.

In the asteroid scene, Palpatine contacts Vader directly with an urgent message. In this message Palpatine reveals to Vader that the young rebel who took down the Death Star is none other than Luke Skywalker, son of Annakin. This conversation is crucial for a number of reasons. 1. Palpatine reveals this information slowly to Vader. He clearly believes Vader does not know this information yet and is approaching him carefully with it. After all he’d told Vader his kid had died. 2. Vader acts surprised, letting us know he’s keeping the emperor in the dark. Vader has known for some time that it was Luke and that Luke is his son. For all his so-called loyalty, he’s kept this fact from Palpatine for as long as he could. 3. Vader’s tone. Vader says, “How can that be possible?” in a tone that surely makes me think he’s grinding his teeth. The unsaid second phrase is, “You told me my child died.” Vader is angry at Palpatine, but he holds back, because he’s got a plan. 4. Vader asks that Luke be spared. Palpatine doesn’t say it, but he doesn’t have to. Luke must die, lest he become a real Jedi Knight. Vader proactively asks that Luke be spared on the condition he be turned to the Dark Side. He masks this with, “He could become a powerful ally.” Now they both know the Sith rules: two there are, no more, no less, a master and an apprentice. Palpatine agrees, because Palpatine believes Luke will be a stronger apprentice than Vader, who is growing old and weak. (This is proven in Episode 6). Palpatine probably knows Vader wants to use Luke to assassinate himself, for this is the Sith way also. Nevertheless, Palpatine decides to take the risk.

The evidence really starts to mount at Cloud City. First, Vader tests the Carbon Freezing Unit on Solo first because he doesn’t want, “the Emperor’s prize damaged.” Now I believe part of Vader’s plan was to turn Luke into a Sith and overthrow Palpatine. At this point Vader is nowhere near what we’d call “good.” He’s still very much evil, and he is totally plotting to make Luke his apprentice and overthrow Palpatine, but underneath it all there is a dormant love for his son that even he doesn’t realize yet.

Vader pleads with his son.

Vader pleads with his son.

When Luke confronts Vader, Vader doesn’t really put his best foot forward. He could have crushed Luke easily, but doesn’t. This is not surprising given his goals of overthrowing the Emperor. However at the edge of the bridge overlooking the chasm in that famous scene we all know and love, something happens I find illogical. Luke is defeated and disarmed (literally). Yet he is nowhere near being defeated spiritually. He is not giving in, and its pretty darn clear. Vader, however, doesn’t kill Luke. He didn’t hesitate 20 years earlier with any other Jedi, even the children adawans. There was no mercy,no parley. Yet he pleads with Luke to surrender. Pleads. You can hear it in his voice, he really, really doesn’t want to kill Luke. This whole fight he’s risked everything just to get Luke to this point where he’d have no choice, and yet Luke chooses death rather than join him. Still Vader relents. Finally Vader tells Luke that he is his father, at which point Luke understandably loses it. His last words to Luke are not harsh, but almost tender, “Join me. It is the only way.” You can almost hear behind it, “Please son.” Luke lets go.

Vader wastes no time. He knows Luke doesn’t die down there (he can fully sense his presence now at all times) and heads for his ship. As the Falcon makes its dramatic escape, Vader continues to plead with his son via the Force.

Now at this point, we still really don’t have anything really conclusive. But it is worth noting that Luke himself is convinced. He will insist to both Yoda and Kenobi when he meets them that he felt good in Vader at Bespin. He felt his father’s love.

Alright, on to Episode 6 and the good stuff. In the scene where the Emperor arrives on the Death Star II, he tells Vader he senses that Vader wants to continue searching for Luke. Vader seems almost annoyed at this, and I believe he was trying to keep Palpatine from knowing this. A little later, Palpatine tells Vader to wait on the command ship for further instructions.

Here’s the big one. When Luke flies in with the rebels on the Tyderion, he senses Vader on the command ship and Vader senses him. Luke knows they are hosed already. “I shouldn’t have come.” he says. Vader immediately goes to Palpatine, who is annoyed Vader has disobeyed orders. Vader explains that the rebels have landed on Endor. Palpatine waives this off, “Yes I know.” It is all according to plan. “Skywalker is with them.” Vader continues. Palpatine looks visibly worried, “Are you sure?” he asks. “I have felt him.” Vader replies. “Strange that I have not,” Palpatine responds “I trust that your feelings on this matter are clear Lord Vader?” “They are clear.” Vader assures him.

OK! So this is really important. Vader can sense Luke whereas Palpatine cannot. We know that Palpatine is by and large the stronger in the Dark Side of the two, so it’s not possible Vader was doing something with the Dark Side that Palpatine could not. So how did Vader sense his son? Through the Light Side. Vader, for a moment concerning his son, was channeling the Light Side of the Force again. Palpatine confirms this through his question, “Are your feelings clear?” He knows Vader channeled the Light Side, which could only have been done through some sort of goodness or affection towards Luke. In other words, love. Palpatine is concerned Vader actually loves his son. If that’s true it could undo everything (and as we’ll see, it does.)

When Luke surrenders to Vader, Luke is now the one pleading. He believes there is good left in Annakin yet, but he overestimates this. He believes Vader loves him too much to expose him to Palpatine, but he underestimates Palpatine’s hold over Vader, and is taken to the Throne Room. Some important things are revealed, however. One, Vader is impressed with Luke’s lightsaber. One can almost sense pride in his voice. In addition, when Vader rejects Luke’s pleas to turn away from evil, he says, “It is….too late for me, son.” Vader wants to run away with Luke, but he believes that the Dark Side is an inevitable force he cannot escape nor be redeemed from. Palpatine’s lies, like the lies of an abusive parent or spouse, have sunk deep within him. Vader can forsee a future with his son, but only one that lies in the Dark Side. Now that he’s going to the Emperor, Vader believes this dream lost. “He is your master now.” Vader doesn’t believe he can best Palpatine.

When Vader and Luke finally cross blades, we see Luke is much improved, but Vader is still clearly better. Anyone can see Vader is holding back, taunting Luke in an attempt to arouse his anger so that Luke will channel the Dark Side. At first, Luke does the Jedi proud, and refuses to even meaningfully engage Vader. Then Vader searches Luke and discovers Leia. His taunts about turning Leia are too much for Luke, and he flies into a rage.

At this point, Luke is channeling Dark Side. He aggressively attacks Vader with hatred. He feels betrayed. Luke now believes what Yoda and Kenobi said. Vader is irredeemable, and in his foolish quest to save him, Luke has now betrayed everyone. Luke strikes out again and again until at last he throws Vader down in ruin and chops off his hand. Luke is about to land the death blow when he sees the cyborg stump that was his father’s hand. He looks down at his own cyborg hand. Suddenly he realizes he is becoming just like Vader. Bit by bit, he’s becoming a Sith. He sheathes his weapon and turns to the Emperor. “Never.” he throws the saber away, “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You’ve failed your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” That bit about him throwing his saber away always bothered me as a kid. Why throw away your weapon? Because Luke finally realizes what the real battle is. It’s not the battle for physical survival, but spiritual survival. If he kept his weapon, perhaps he could have defeated Palpatine. But even if he had, he would have smoothly taken his place as Lord of the Sith. By throwing the weapon down, he threw aside temptation to do more harm and rejected the Dark Side (unlike in the cave in episode 5, where he chose to fight). He was now a Jedi.

"So be it. Jedi."

“So be it. Jedi.”

The Emperor now realizes this brat has cost him everything. Vader is useless now and probably not going to survive and his chosen successor is now a stinking Jedi. He raises his hands, and pure hate turns to kinetic energy made for killing. Force Lightning. Luke is quickly overcome and falls to the ground writhing in pain. Vader gets up after a fashion to watch this unfold. I believe he was expecting the torture to provoke Luke to surrender and turn at last. I think Vader knew his time was up, but maybe his son could live on as Palpatine’s new apprentice. But Luke holds on, and on, and on. Soon, the pain does get to Luke, but not at all in the way Vader expects. He begins to plead, like a child, “Father, please! Help me!” Vader hears his son’s pleas and looks at Palpatine. All he sees there is pure hatred. At some point, Vader snaps. He grabs Palpatine while he’s still channeling, and you can see that the lightning is hitting Vader all the way to the pit, causing severe pain and damage, but Vader makes it and throws him in. Heck yeah!

I think in those last moments, Vader came to accept two realizations. One, that Palpatine was never the good guy, despite the lies fed to him in Episodes 2 and 3. His way was not the right way, and all Palpatine had ever done for him was take away everything he loved and enslaved him. The spell Palpatine had put on Annakin had broken. Two, Annakin realized that his pretensions about training Luke to overthrow Palpatine to become the new Sith lords was just a cover for his true love that he held for his only son. Third, that whether he could be redeemed or not, there were things worse than death, and seeing your boy tortured to death by a madman while he pleas for your help is definitely one of them.

So in conclusion, I believe that Vader loved his son Luke from the moment he knew he existed. I think all of his actions and efforts in Episodes 5 and 6 were to save his son from death and to be with him, albeit for most of that time that relationship was to be one of Sith Lord and Apprentice. (The Dark Side twisted his love.)

Why is this on my blog? I am too tired now to make spiritual allegorical connections, so I’ll let you do that work yourself. 🙂

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Soteriology

 

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The Sandheap and Sin

Pictured: A heap of sand. Maybe.

Let us begin with a famous paradox (The Sorites’ Paradox). One has a heap of sand made up of 1,000,000 grains of sand.

We assume;
1,000,000 grains of sand is a heap of sand. (Premise 1)
A heap of sand minus one grain is still a heap. (Premise 2)

Therefore,
Repeated applications of Premise 2 (each time starting with one less grain), eventually forces one to accept the conclusion that a heap may be composed of just one grain of sand.

What does this have to do with sin? Everything.

Reformed theology affirms that the Bible teaches that it is sinfulness, and not individual sins, which condemn a person to Hell. Reformed theology affirms that any person not living in the grace of Jesus Christ is sinful and condemned, regardless of how many (or how few) sins he may have. It also affirms that anyone who is in Christ is totally saved and secure no matter how many (or few) sins he may commit.

To many this doctrine is offensive and unfair. Many believe that a person with few sins may enter Heaven without Christ, and others believe that those with many sins may not enter even with Christ. To these people I say this: answer the paradox. How many grains of sand constitute a heap?

Either one grain of sand constitutes a heap, or there is no such thing as a heap, or there is a specified number of grains which constitute a heap.

Therefore when applied to the question of sin we find one of these must be true;
(Truth 1) One sin is sufficient for condemnation.
(Truth 2) No amount of sins are sufficient for condemnation.
(Truth 3) A specified number of sins are required for condemnation.

If #1 is true, then Reformed theology is correct in this matter, and all sinners are equally condemned without Christ, and all saved persons are equally secure in Christ.
If #2 is true, then all of Christianity is bunk because there was/is no sin debt with God and therefore no reason to send Christ to die for us.
If #3 is true, then there should be a specific number of sins laid out clearly in Scripture, underneath which there is no condemnation (Christ or not) and above which there is no salvation (Christ or not).

What does Scripture say?

Galatians 2
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

First, Paul makes it clear that a person cannot be made right with God through his own effort (works of the law). This is critical, for many believe the sand heap can be thus altered in size by one’s good works. It cannot. We cannot reduce its number. Just as a thousand good deeds done by a murderer cannot bring the victim back to life, so we cannot undo our own sins.
Second, Paul also makes it plain that if it were possible to attain righteousness on one’s own, Christ’s death would be meaningless. Therefore if one ascribes to the idea of Christianity, truth #2 must be discarded. The sand heap is very real. The only question is, how many grains of sand constitute a heap?

James 2
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James makes it clear that there is no partiality among sins. Anyone who breaks God’s law in just one place becomes guilty for breaking all of it. QED, one grain of sand constitutes a heap.

John’s Gospel 3
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

1st John 5
This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

God used John the Elder to make it plain to us. If you are in Christ Jesus, then you will not be condemned. If you are not, you are already condemned. That is, the number or severity of your sins is really irrelevant. If you have ever sinned (and all humans have) then you are a sinner and sinful. Either you will believe in Jesus, trust in Jesus and repent and therefore find full grace and forgiveness in Him, or you will refuse Him and be condemned to an eternity separated from the Father of Joy in eternal torment.

Romans 1
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

2nd Corinthians 3
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Galatians 6
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

1st Corinthians 4
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

No matter how few sins you have committed, or how many good works you have done, you cannot be saved apart from Jesus Christ. Likewise, the man in Christ is not judged on the quantity of his sins after repentance nor is he judged on the number of good works he has done in Christ. What counts, as Paul says in Galatians 6:15, is a new creation. The new man in Christ is a changing man who is changing from faith to faith and glory to glory. He is being sanctified out of sin but is so long as he breathes a work in progress, which should not be judged on some arbitrary system of men, including his own.

Romans 5

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, andso death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

One grain of sand is a heap. One sin results in total condemnation. One act of true righteousness (the Cross) is sufficient to pay for all.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2014 in Soteriology

 

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Just Wait

Picture 100“Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him.”
– Psalm 127:3

I can still remember the day the Holy Spirit quickened me. My dead spirit came alive and I received my new heart of flesh. The Gospel was preached to me, and for the first amazing moment, I understood this message was for me. His story was my story. Jesus died for my sins. He was crushed for my  iniquities. With every whip of the scourge on His flesh, my wounds were healed. The Lord laid on Him all of my evil. The decision I made that night was not to be saved, because that had already happened through the work of the Holy Spirit. The decision I made was to follow Christ because I was saved.

The next day I was baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I can still remember the old preacher Charles White telling me as I came up from the water, dripping wet: “This is the song of your new life. Whenever you hear it from this day on, you will remember this day.” The song they were singing was “Happy Day.” Yes, Charles, I still remember.

I was on fire that day, and nothing could stop me. Nothing that is until my first deliberate sin after my conversion. From that day onward, I have struggled with feeling like a failure. I felt like God had given me this great new life and then I let Him down. My earthly father, who himself struggled with the same feelings in his walk, did his best to comfort me. I felt like any day, God would have had enough of me and leave. When I shared these feelings with my dad, I will never forget what he said.

“He is your Father, son. He will never leave you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You won’t. Not until you are a father.”

Years passed and I never understood that. I struggled. I doubted God’s love for me. I doubted I could measure up, so I stopped trying to. I wandered from Him. I spent some of the best years of my youth wasting away in a “far country.” Then one day, grieved over my lifestyle of sin, unable to live in a far country anymore, I turned my heart back towards home. Unsure if I was even welcome, I called upon the Lord. In that instant, I felt His overwhelming love wash over me. His hand guided me back to Him, and soon God sent Curtis Jones (an old friend and recent convert) to help me find Steven’s Street Baptist Church. I knew the story of the Prodigal Son that day, and it is beautiful beyond words. He left the 99 to find the one, and I was the one.

But even with this, I still did not understand His love for me. There were deep sins I could not conquer within, and so I still believed He might regret His decision to save me and call it quits. Every failure, every sin, brought me closer to losing Him. Or so I thought.

God sent Joey Norsworthy into my life to take me under his wing. That man of God trained me up in the basics of theology and hermeneutics. I soon began to have an intellectual understanding of His never-ending love and His long-suffering, but I still didn’t understand it in my heart. My struggle continued, but this time I persevered and stuck with Him even though I felt any moment it might be over. I chose to believe it in my mind even though I did not feel it in my heart.

Then God brought me into a relationship with the love of my life, Gena Cohoon. She began to teach me in only the way she could that God’s love was for keeps. I still remember a bookmark she gave me before we even dated that had scriptures on it that pointed to God’s eternal love and who I was in Christ. God’s child. God’s treasure. No wonder I fell in love with her! It helped me carry on, but I still didn’t understand in my heart.

Then God enabled my wife to conceive. She bore me a son, Joshua. I was so excited for so many reasons. In the secret place of my heart, I also hoped my dad was right, and I would finally understand what he meant.

I did.

I soon understood that my love for my son is unconditional. I loved him before he was even born. I loved him before he did anything good or bad. I accepted him completely. I could never think of doing him harm. I want to do him good all the days of his life. I want to raise him in the Lord and prepare him as best I can for all he must face. I will never cast him out or turn him aside. If he asks for food, I will feed him. If he leaves me in disgust and scorn, I will sit on my porch looking for his return. When he does, I will run to him and kiss him and throw a party for him. Jesus says in Matthew 7:11 that if I am evil and yet know how to love my kids, how much more does God love me and know how to give me good things?

My children have taught me more about God’s love for me than any other experience in life. There are so many things I would not know without them.

I still don’t get it all, oh no. His love transcends any love I have for my children, but my dad was right. He is my Daddy. He will never leave me or forsake me. He will never regret saving me! He has begun a good work in me and will be faithful to complete it in the Day of Jesus Christ!

So for those of you who do not yet have children and struggle to believe in the love of God, JUST WAIT!

Additional Resources

God will never regret saving you.

Children: a joy or “just wait?”

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2013 in Theology

 

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The Good, the Bad, and the Rewards

justice-scalesThe Church I grew up in taught me this axiom: People who do bad things are punished, people who do good things are not punished.

From what I hear, they are still teaching that.

This was hard on me as a young Christian. If I screw up, I’ll go to hell. If I work hard and do what’s right, I won’t go to hell. Basically, it framed God in my mind as a vengeful deity who was so angry at us miserable ****roaches that the slightest misstep would invoke His wrath. If we watched our step and minded our manners, He might let us in. Maybe.

It also implied that there were no rewards with God. The “reward” was that you would not be sent to hell for all eternity and go to Heaven instead. Well that sounds great, but there is a catch there. While people didn’t (and don’t) like to admit it, some Christians are working harder and doing better than others. Some in our church avoided known sins and were somewhat charitable. But others gave up their careers and dreams and whole lives for God. Are they all equal in Heaven? If so, why not just obey the commandments and “skim” by with the rest?

The answer I always recieved for such questions was that all such thinking was evil and that I was being selfish and should get my act together.

But I thought “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

Interesting.

Not only is not foolish to talk about rewards, the Bible says that if we don’t believe God will reward us then we have no faith, and if we have no faith we cannot please Him. To understand what the Bible really teaches about rewards, punishment and the escape thereof, we must first define some terms: There are good people and bad people, and good works and bad works. One does not necessarily always go with the other.

Scripture teaches that God desires all things He created to be good: Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31

Scripture teaches us that all humans are bad people:  Romans 3:9-18

Scripture teaches us that all bad people are dead spiritually and that these spiritually dead are punished in Hell forever: Ephesians 2:1, John 8:24,  Revelation 20:11-15

Scripture teaches us that God has provided an escape from this punishment in Jesus Christ and Him alone: John 3:16-18Acts 4:8-12, John 14:6, 1st John 5:11-12

Scripture teaches that through the atonement of Jesus Christ, we cease to be bad people and become good people: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, 2 Corinthians 5:21

Scripture teaches us that this atonement is a gift of God that cannot be earned through good works: Romans 3:19-20Ephesians 2:8-9

Scripture teaches that bad people sometimes perform good works: Luke 6:32

Scripture teaches that good people sometimes perform bad works: Romans 7:18-251 John 1:8-10

Scripture teaches that a bad person, whether he does any good works or not, will still be punished: Isaiah 64:6Psalm 49:7-9

Scripture teaches that a good person, even if he sometimes does bad works, will still be spared punishment: 1st John 2:1-2, 1st John 5:18

Ok, so we’ve cleared the air about many things already. To recap, here’s the deal: Everyone starts out as a bad person. At their core, they are sinful and have no relationship with God. They may occasionally do good works, but always for the wrong reasons, and anyway no amount of them can atone for their sins. The only way to escape hell and go to heaven is through Jesus Christ, who can take the sinful core out of a bad person, nail it to the cross, and then insert his righteousness which then turns them into good people. That is, good at their core. A good person has Christ living within them. Good people, however, still mess up and do bad works, because their flesh is still sinful, but this doesn’t change their core being. So, that being true, why strive (as Paul said to do 1 Corinthians 9:24) to perform good works?

Scripture teaches that good people who do good works are not only spared punishment, but rewarded: Matt 16:27, Revelation 22:12

*Note that Christ in both passages says “according to their works,” this is not a state of being a Christian or not, but according to one’s deeds and works. It cannot refer to salvation, because it is a reward according to works, and salvation is not by works, but by faith through grace – Ephesians 2:8-9.

Scripture teaches that good people who waste their life and fail to do good works are still spared punishment, but lose rewards: 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Again Paul paints an illustration of building a house, strangely similar to the fable about the Three Pigs, where the house is tested; not by a wolf’s howl, but by the fiery Judgement of God. If it is made of good and proper materials, it will stand the test and the builder will be rewarded. If it is consumed, the foolish builder will still be saved, but it will be like a man escaping from a burning building: singed, half naked, and nothing to his name but his life.

Of course, escaping Hell into Heaven with nothing but your shirt is still a huge blessing, but wouldn’t we rather please God and receive the great rewards He has for us? Pastor Johnny Hunt of Woodstock Baptist once said “If you want to hear ‘Well done faithful servant’ you will have to do well.”

Of course now the question is: what are the rewards? The answer is we do not know, and all the better, for it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1st Corinthians 2:9

I can, however, tell you what the reward is not. It is not a really big house in Heaven. There’s been a lot of misguided interpretation regarding the word “mansion” in many older translations, namely the KJV. The word “mansion” back in those days did not mean what it means today. As you should be aware, the English language of today is highly saturated with French loanwords. This is because way back in the Middle Ages, the French Normans invaded and conquered England and ruled it for a considerable period of time. During this time, English picked up lots of French words, such as le maison, which means “home” or “dwelling place.” The word “mansion” in John 14:12 simply means there is plenty of living space in Heaven for all who would accept the Gospel of Christ. Think about it logically. Jesus says “In my father’s house are many mansions.” How could a mansion be inside of a house? Modern translations choose the word “rooms” or “dwelling spaces” which is far more accurate today than “mansion” (and yet another reason it’s not a good idea to read the Bible in a language that hasn’t been used in four centuries without proper education).

Here’s the conclusion of the matter: We all start off with a sinful nature, bad to the core, headed for Hell. Nothing we can do can save us or change our destiny. Only by coming to Christ through faith in Him are we graciously saved from sin and death by God. When this happens, Jesus comes to live within us and make us into “good” people at our core, children of God, citizens of Heaven. From then on, our destiny is to become more and more good, or like Christ, until we are caught up with Him at the Resurrection and made perfect. Along the way, our sinful outer flesh can screw us up and lead us to make “bad” choices to do “bad” works. These things cannot steal our salvation but can cost us valuable rewards from God. Instead we should strive as a runner racing for the prize, in prayer and in the Word to become more like Christ and do the things He did, that is, “good” things. If we run well and do well, we have a promise from God that rewards await us in Heaven unlike anything we’ve ever seen, heard of, or even imagined in our wildest dreams. We have no clue what they are, but they are not big houses or material possessions; stuff like that is what got us in this mess in the first place. The last thing we need is more of it.

Be blessed, run well!

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Soteriology

 

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A Faithful Servant

Are you a faithful servant?

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

” ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 25:14-30

Let us examine the qualities of a faithful servant, then measure ourselves by it.

1. A faithful servant is trustworthy.

– The Master gave his talents to the servants because he trusted them to do what he wanted them to do with them, not what seemed right to them.

– Here is another example: There was a farmer who had three sons. One day the father told his sons he had bought a new piece of property in a far off place. He told his sons to go to the new property and there build a barn, a farmhouse, and dig a well, all in specific locations. When the sons arrived, they came to where their father wanted the well and thought “this is a good place for a well” and so dug it there. When they came to the place father wanted the barn they thought “this is a good place for the barn” and so built it there. When they came to the place father wanted the farmhouse built they thought “this is not a good place, father is mistaken, we will build it another place” and did so. Now, how many times did the sons do their father’s will? The answer is zero. They never did his will, but their own, it was mere coincidence that the first two times their will coincided with father’s. Had it been different, they would not have obeyed. A wicked servant does what is right in his own eyes, not the Master’s.

– Wicked servants, therefore, only serve where they want and when they want to, not when they are needed or commanded by the Master to do so. When the chips are down, they are no where to be found in the time of need.

2. A faithful servant works to increase the Master’s possessions.

– The faithful servants invested their talents to increase their Master’s possessions, not their own. They did not spend his money on themselves, nor did they invest it and spend the interest on themselves. Their concern was for the Master’s goods and wealth, not theirs.

– Our God-given talents are to be used for Him and His Kingdom, not our own personal gain. Romans 12:1-2 commands us to be “living sacrifices” and Jesus says we must first “deny ourselves” then “take up your cross.” Our lives are not our own.

– The wicked servant hid his talent because he was only concerned for himself. Matt 16:25-26 says that if you try to save your life you will lose it, as it happened with the wicked servant.

3. A faithful servant works with what the Master gave him.

– Each servant was given a different amount but was judged good or bad depending on what he was given.

1 Cor 12:7-31 tells us that each Christian serves the Body in a different way. No one is lesser or greater than another. Indeed it says that the unpresentable parts are more important. Compare presentable body parts (mouth, hands) with unpresentable body parts (liver, heart) to the spiritual body parts which are presentable (preachers, worship leaders) with unpresentable (custodians, sound teams, committees, etc). The unpresentable represent the “guts” of the Church are more indispensable than the presentable parts. A body without a hand is only crippled, a body without a liver will soon die. Each part is important, but each part is represented and treated differently.

James 1:5-8 tells us that if we don’t know where we fit, to ask God, who will tell us what He’s given us and what he wants us to do with it. We should ask with open hearts that are surrendered to Him, however, and not hold back, otherwise we will be “double-minded” as James warns.

4. A faithful servant works until the Master comes back.

– The faithful servants worked to increase the Master’s possessions until He returned. Likewise, we should keep on working until Jesus returns. In Luke 18:8 Jesus says “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

5. A faithful servant is rewarded.

Matt 16:27 says “The Son of man is coming in his Father’s glory to reward each person according to what he has done.”

– Notice that both faithful servants were rewarded equally despite their amount of talents. The man who is given great talents to do great things for God and the man who is given few talents to do a few things for God will both be rewarded equally in judgment if they did what they were commanded to do. God doesn’t show partiality.

– Some Christians will serve God for many years and do many things, others may live only a day after conversion. Both will be rewarded if they are faithful. Jesus makes this clear in this parable in Matt. 20:1-16. This “denarious”, this reward, lies in the eternal life all faithful believers will share one day after Jesus returns and judges the earth.

– The faithful servants trusted their Master to reward them. The wicked servant was cowardly and fearful, and sought his treasure elsewhere. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-21 not to seek our rewards here on earth.

So are you a faithful servant? Can God trust you to do what He says, or will you do what seems right to you instead? Will you use the talents He gave you for Him and His glory, or to make yourself rich and famous? Will you be content with what the Master gave you to do, or will you shrink back and hide your gift to your own shame and detriment? Will you work diligently until Jesus returns, or will you give up the race at 60, 70, or whenever you feel you can “retire” from God’s service? Are you content to wait on God’s rewards, or do you seek your treasure here on earth?

Will the Son of Man find faith on earth when He returns?

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2010 in Sanctification

 

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