Category Archives: Christianity

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

Does Baptism save? Is it a requirement of salvation?

Many churches teach that it is, and this belief is called “Baptismal Regeneration.” Does your church teach this? If you are Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, Mormon, Lutheran–the list goes on…it does.

So what is essential for salvation? Faith alone or faith plus water baptism, church membership, “good works” or whatever? What does the Bible say?

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

If we look at the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, we can see this very clearly. Philip is whisked away to the desert where this Ethiopian man is struggling to understand what he’s reading in Isaiah. Philip starts right there in Isaiah and preaches Jesus to the man, as a result, the man asks if there’s anything to hinder his getting baptized. Does Philip urge him to wait and get it done by a certain denomination? No, he actually emphasizes that he needs to believe in Jesus Christ first, and then they hop out and take a baptismal “dip” in the nearby body of water. Let’s read it.

And as they went on [their] way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, [here is] water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Acts 8:36-37

Baptism…Church Membership…Salvation?

When a church ties salvation to membership or baptism, something is wrong. Please consider how many Bible verses point that the way to Christ is simply by believing that Jesus’ blood shed on the cross is all that stands between you and hell. That there is nothing you can do to earn or deserve His gift of canceling your sinful debt on the cross with His precious blood. To say that salvation involves anything more, is to add works to salvation. By doing so, I’m afraid that you’re falling into 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 territory, believing in “another Jesus, another gospel” and erring from the simplicity that is in Christ:

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or [if] ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with [him]. 2 Corinthians 11:3-4

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed’ Gal. 1:8

There are other “gospels” and other “Christs” being taught in churches, so be careful. Check these things with God’s word, our ultimate authority.

Verses to Consider

John 1:12-13 teaches that to believe on Christ is to receive Him, and that those that receive Him, receive the power to become sons of God. Verse 13 teaches that it is not by human administration or by anything that man can do.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name:

Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 3:15-18 speaks very plainly that salvation is by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice verse 18, and that none of these verses have anything to do with baptism, or any reference to baptism.

That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

In John 6:29, Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”

John 3:36, He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

John 5:24, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

John 6:37, All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

John 6:40, And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 11:25, Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

John 8:24, I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am [he], ye shall die in your sins.

Acts 10:43, To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

Acts 13:39, And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Acts 13:48, And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

Acts 16:30-31, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Luke 7:50, And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

Romans 3:28, Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Romans 4:3, For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Romans 4:5, But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Gal. 2:16, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Gal. 3:26, For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Romans 5:1, Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

1 Corinthians 1:21, For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

1 John 3:23, And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

In Closing…

In the words of the famous hymn, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus…”

1 John 1:7, But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

Revelation 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, [who is] the faithful witness, [and] the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

Ephesians 1:7, In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

Jesus saves, not baptism. We’ve seen above that the Bible teaches that salvation comes by undeserved grace through believing faith in Jesus’ shed blood on the cross for our sins. Baptism follows salvation as an act of obedience by the believer, to identify with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and as a testimony of their salvation.

The NIV Bible Quiz

One of the most popular Bible translations today is the New International Version, or NIV that came out in 1978 and 1984. Last night, as a family, we sat down with the NIV, the NASB (New American Standard Version) and the KJV (King James Version), and had such a great time taking the following quiz, that I thought it would be profitable to post it here at the blog.

This NIV quiz is designed to help Christians understand the differences between Bible translations as compared with the 400 year old KJV. Print out the following quiz, have an NIV and at least a KJV handy, we also used an NASB, out of curiosity, and involve the whole family. We have three daughters, so each one had a different Bible translation…my husband followed along in his KJV and led our discussion, while I read off the references and asked the questions once everyone was ready to read.

Dr. Rex Cobb, the director of Baptist Bible Translators in Bowie, TX wrote this quiz. You may download it and print it off here:

The NIV Quiz

Don’t have an NIV? You can use one online here at Blue Letter Bible.

Remember, when you take this quiz, your answers must come from the Bible text itself, not from the margins or footnotes. Marginal notes do not have the power and authority of God’s written word, they are only included by editors as extra information, and can be biased. Also, don’t “guess” the answers based on memory, look up each NIV reference given. (My personal favorites are #’s 17 & 24)

Post Script

This quiz is based on the older NIV Bibles, the 1978 and 1984 editions. Have you followed the uproar amongst conservative evangelicals regarding the NIV’s gender neutral “updates” thatKJVBible came out in 2005 and 2011? Where do you think the changes will end?

My pastor is fond of saying, while holding his Bible high, “Life is an open book test, and we have the textbook!” I’m so glad I can trust the authority that I’ve found remaining constant in my KJV Bible!

Miracle on New Year’s Eve 2012

My husband and I were up at the barn milking the cows when it happened. Screams, distant enough that I shoved my hood back and strained to distinguish whether or not they were in fun or in terror. I’d just been watering the livestock at the back of the dairy barn, humming “Let it Snow,” thinking what a gorgeous adventure I was having, helping the love of my life milk ye old cows, tromping through 3 inches of white stuff, and just loving the calm still of a snowflaked world on New Year’s Eve. Inside the house, a table piled with our favorite finger foods awaited us, special movies hand picked for bringing in the New Year, and a roaring fire in the fire place. Life just didn’t get better than this.

Until my heart stilled at the sounds of all three of my girls screaming for help. My husband jumped away from Gertie, our Jersey-Guernsey cow that he was finishing up, and asked me if something was wrong out there. I was still in denial, hoping there wasn’t.

“I think they are just playing…I shut the chickens in early tonight, so they let Guiney out to romp in the snow a bit.” I hurried through the barn, heading for the door that was nearest the commotion.  Guiney is our female Australian Shepherd, my 12 year old’s special pet, a great dog…but one with an affinity for eating my laying hens. We dare not let them out at the same time.

When I reached the big sliding south door of our dairy barn, all doubt as to the seriousness of the situation vanished. My 8 year old was hysterical, hardly able to talk she was wailing so loudly. “Mommy! Daddy!” her screams were punctuated with chest-shuddering sobs, “Guiney’s head is caught in a trap, she’s going to die, come quick!”

My husband took off running, I’ve never seen him fly over the snow so fast. Later we looked at his boot prints…all a good four feet apart. Down the long hill, past our horse pens, around the fledgling fruit trees we planted last year, and across the small pasture where we keep our broiler pens…I prayed he’d make it in time. Adrenaline pumping, I hurried to free the dairy cows from their stanchions and turned them back into their part of the barn where they could munch alfalfa and not get into trouble. I hurried to my youngest, still wailing as if her heart had broken into a million pieces, bent over in the snow, rocking and praying to God to please please save Guiney.

My own emotions were threatening to pull me under. This couldn’t be happening. If only the girls had asked before letting Guiney out. But how could they know that there was a trap set down by the field pens, set to catch the elusive critter that’s been after the chickens here of late? I hugged my youngest close and we prayed together, loud desperate pleas to the only One who could work the miracle needed a quarter mile away.

Youngest didn’t want to go near the scene, she just knew Guiney was dead, and couldn’t bear to have it confirmed. I sent my delirious little sweetheart trudging forlornly to the house, and headed down to the rest of my family. When I got within view, my hubby was heading back this way…I hollered down to him, thinking he might need something and I could save him some steps. He gestured with his hands in a way that I thought meant, “She’s gone. She died. It’s over.” The tears I’d been fighting rushed out, my rip-tide of emotions finally collapsing when all hope was gone. But then I saw Guiney, up and walking around, a ghost of a dog…as if nothing had happened. What?

I immediately thought of my little one, who had just gone into the back porch. I turned back and hollered, “She’s alive!” I had to yell it several times.

She stumbled out, in disbelief, a little nymph all bundled up in coveralls and her red “rooster” ski hood that covered her face with eye-and-mouth holes. “She’s alive?”

We were both so broken up with relief, and tears flowing, that we could hardly communicate. We hugged, our first thought after the relief was that God had graciously answered our fervent pleas. Then we headed down the snow-capped driveway to the rest of the family and Guiney-the-wonder-dog met us. Has any dog ever been so lavished with love as this precious blue-merle Aussie? I hugged and hugged my second-born daughter, Guiney’s owner, and we thanked God over and over for saving her doggie.

My oldest told me the story. She’d seen the killer trap snap around Guiney’s neck. Guiney died in her arms, having first passed out from lack of oxygen. When my husband got there, he pried open the trap with his bare hands, usually not possible. Part of the miracle. He confirmed that Guiney was dead. But not one to give up easily, he decided to breathe into her nose and work on her heart. Minutes crept by. He kept breathing for her, but her eyes were rolled back, and she should have gulped in air the minute he’d gotten the trap off. He sat her up against his chest and moved her around, hoping to stimulate things. The girls were standing a little ways away, praying, hoping against hope, and hearing their daddy pray out loud  in between breathing for our dog. He was about to call it quits, when Guiney’s eyes moved slightly.

The girls were just sure it was all over. All they knew was that their daddy had gotten quiet. But when they heard him say, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord!” they looked at each other in amazement. Could it be possible? Guiney moved a bit gingerly, but soon was up walking around. By the time youngest and I got mid-way down the driveway, Guiney was jogging to us, as if nothing was wrong. Not a dot of blood even smeared her lovely white collar.

Tonight we have much to be thankful for…we’ll always remember the miracle on New Year’s Eve 2012, when God raised our dog from the dead. This is the kind of faith lesson that will loom over all of us in future hard times, a monument to a mighty God who sees each sparrow, and dog, that falls, and who holds all of our lives in His hands.

Why we like Mark Cahill’s resources

Just so you can see for yourself the impact of a righteous mission-minded man on a young teen’s heart, I’m sharing this letter my oldest daughter wrote a few months ago. I hope it encourages you to check out Mark Cahill’s resources for your own family. We highly recommend them all, but our favorites, ones that we’ve watched over and over again in the past 5 plus years, are Lukewarm No More and Stand Out. They’ve had a phenomenal impact on our Christian walk. Here’s the blurb given at his site for this particular DVD:

There is now a DVD of the talk I have been giving called “Lukewarm No More.” The message is taken out of the book of Revelation Chapter 3 about the Laodicean church.

Is it possible that you are going to a lukewarm church? Or is it possible that you are lukewarm in your faith? Watching this DVD will make it very easy for you to figure that out.

The first time I ever gave this talk, there were numerous people who told me after listening to the message that they repented of numerous things in their lives that did not line up with the word of God. They stated they are now living a holy life that has been given over completely to the Lord. Listen and be challenged to make sure that you never fall into the category of lukewarm ever again.

Also includes the message “Stand Out”—two talks on one DVD!

My daughter’s letter to Mark follows…

Hey Mark,
I’m sure you don’t remember me since you communicate with so many different people in so many different ways, but I feel like I know you personally from watching all of your DVDs except for your newest one (and that problem will soon be remedied!), reading your books and first tract, and visiting one of your speaking events. You also gave our small country church a whole box of One Second After You… booklets and we have really enjoyed giving them away.

I can feel in my veins the urgency to reach lost souls before it is too late. The return of our Lord is imminent and I think that the Devil knows it more than anyone and is working over time to keep his slaves from being freed. He seems to be more aware of the present battle that is raging than most Christians these days. This year I have felt more worldly temptations than ever before, and yet every time I begin to feel discouraged the Spirit of the Most High God reminds me that I am wholly and solely His: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”(2Cor.6:17-18) That verse always makes my heart leap!

One thing that is very disheartening to me lately is the disinterest in reaching the lost on the part of SO many Christians. I’m afraid that sometimes it makes me less zealous instead of making me work for my Lord more heatedly. Thank God, I have several friends who truly love the Lord and they are a huge blessing to me. After all, you and I are only two of the “7,000 in America, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” If only we could keep our focus on God rather than man. I have decided that one of Satan’s greatest footholds in a Christian’s life is to keep them from reading the Holy Word of God and thus shift their vision from Christ. As Proverbs 29:18 says: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law happy is he.”
And Psalm 119:105 “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” You’ve seen these before but it doesn’t hurt to see them again. It never does when you’re talking about God’s Word!

I didn’t exactly mean for this to be so long. I know that you are super busy. I just wanted to encourage you to keep up the good work and that I am fighting for the cause of Christ as well. Stay on the straight and narrow path, Mark, and when you begin to feel discouraged let the utter GREATNESS of our Lord Jesus Christ overcome it. We are praying for you…

Thanks so much for the DVD and booklets. I am fourteen and will be sharing these resources (or should I say “Weapons of our Warfare”?) with many young friends. The DVD will be watched at several sleepovers (or battle planning sessions) and will be loaned to many families. We have some loaned out right now actually and I just watched Watchman on the Wall this afternoon…*smile*.

Well, I had better go! Stay true until the nets are full, Mark!
Forever in Christ…

***********

Be sure to check out Mark Cahill’s site and be as blessed by his evangelistic resources as our family and many others have been! As Mark is so fond of saying…

“Until the nets are full,”

Mary

What does the Bible say about Cremation? Part 3

This has been an interesting topic indeed! Please read all three posts, but especially this disclaimer posted in Part 1:

Now don’t take this wrong. I realize state laws vary regarding our options when a loved one dies. And you might have chosen the cremation route for economical reasons, this is not in judgement of anyone’s decisions whatsoever. It is our soul and spirit that go on to heaven, or hell, not our body…and many saints have been burned at the stake or died in house fires or explosions. This is not about the body being gone, or unable to be resurrected on the day Jesus returns…this issue is merely, does God have anything to say about how we treat the bodies of our dead?

If you’ve read all three parts, then you know from Part 2, that I’ve formed a conclusion, that biblically, God wants us to honor the bodies of our loved ones when they die, and that in His economy, cremation is not honorable. Is it a sin? Well, I’m not here to say it is. I do know we are under grace, not law, and the more we study God’s word, the more He reveals to us of truth. The irony of this conversation is, what a way to be even more separate from the world, not only in the way we live, but in the way we deal with death.

In Part 1, I shared how my personal “death horror” was related to the embalming process. I didn’t want to have *that* done to my body, dead or alive! So cremation seemed a fairly innocent option. Well, certain things in the Bible (Old Testament law, and yes, I know we’re under grace) point against mutilation of the body…to me, embalming qualifies as mutilation. Definitively! Again, I’m not God, and I’m not saying embalming is or isn’t a sin. (I can see the comment section now–eek!) But it’s an option I’m not comfortable with.

So we were given a link to a resource guide to Home Funeral Care which seems right now, to be the answer for our family. I realize it’s not the path most people in modern society take…but it is the way of old, the preparing of a dead loved one’s body for burial. Remember the book passages I shared in Part 1, of how this can be a sacred offering, an act of reverencing and honoring a life, perhaps highly therapeutic in the grieving process.

I realize for this to work, one’s entire family has to be “with the program.” And that’s as it should be. My family’s conviction needn’t be yours. When it comes to burial decisions of grandparents, or parents, the decisions are often not ours to make. But it is a good topic to discuss before the fact, between husbands and wives, concerning their personal wishes, and in light of the loss of a child.

To make a more informed decision, be sure to check out the following:

Our state laws require embalming unless burial takes place within 24 hours of death, or if the body is kept on dry ice. Many states also permit burial of family members on their own rural property. These things are good to know ahead of time. There are also quite a number of wooden casket companies available online, that provide caskets quite affordably. Some even ship flat for storage in the garage rafters perhaps, for the family to assemble together when needed–another rite of passage experience in the grieving and letting-go process. Some coffins even double as bookshelves, coffee tables and entertainment centers until they need to be used. Here are a few casket companies to check out:

Summing this topic up…

Don’t let the idea of home burials turn you off. They really are growing in popularity, mainly because you’re looking at an option that might cost you $250 max, compared to $6000-15,000 if you go the funeral home route.  The monetary savings isn’t what sold us though. We read several precious testimonials of those that prepared their loved one’s body, and were blessed by the healing it brought to the grieving process. Why not have a simple funeral service, on your own property if state laws allow, followed by a larger memorial service for the public at large if you so desire?

More important than these to the Christian, is to weigh our own convictions and ask prayerfully as we seek for truth in God’s word: What would the Lord have us do? Scripture says it best, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!

What that looks like for you and yours, is between you and God!

What does the Bible say about Cremation? Part 2

It seems to me that here in the USA we are in denial when it comes to dealing with death. We prepare for the births of our children, we prepare for their educational years, we save for retirement…and some people do pre-pay and plan out their funerals, and take out life insurance policies on their spouses. But when it comes to final decisions regarding cremation or burial, we might be making them too blithely, without wanting to give much thought to particulars–without consulting God’s word for answers.

So a couple of weeks ago, our Sunday evening Bible study veered into the topic of death when we were studying the life of Joseph, and his father Jacob, in Genesis 47:29-30, was emphasizing his desire that his body be returned to be buried in the land of his fathers. Suddenly we were all discussing this matter of Christian burial, and wanting to know if cremation was a biblical option. Our pastor decided we’d devote a couple of Sunday evening classes to the topic, and here I am, to share my notes.

First a couple of passages stand out to me:

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Jeremiah 10:2, “Learn not the way of the heathen.”

Burning dead bodies has long been a heathen practice. Take India for example. We learned that cremation is centuries old in India. Did you know that Christians in India do not want to be associated with the heathens, and so they try to avoid cremating their loved ones when they die? Interesting.

Romans 15:4 tells us that the things written “aforetime were written for our learning“. In the Old Testament, in Genesis, we are given m.a.n.y. accounts of the deaths and burials of God’s people…so it seems we are given the scriptural example that burial is His way. Even in the New Testament we see Stephen, the first martyr, carried to his burial. Conversely, we see God using fire as punishment, as a way of showing forth His wrath.

  • He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire
  • When Aaron’s sons offered “strange fire” to the Lord, He sent a fire to consume their bodies
  • Korah’s group was swallowed up by the ground and immediately after God sent fire to burn up 250 men that were there offering incense
  • Idols were to be burned and destroyed
  • Achan and his family and livestock were stoned and then burned

But Amos 2:1-2 was the most convincing for me…

Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime:

But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, [and] with the sound of the trumpet:

Keep in mind, this is a PAGAN nation that *transgressed* by burning the bones of the King of Edom into lime! This pagan nation reaped bigtime punishment for what we Christians are ceasing to think twice about doing to our loved ones after death.

We reason it away though. We think, cremation is affordable. It’s sanitary. It’s just their body, not their soul or spirit. It’s easy. Our pastor pointed to Joseph’s bones…wouldn’t it have been easier to burn them rather than keep track of them for the 400 years the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, not to mention the hassle of carrying them around with them for 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before finally getting to put them to rest in the promised land? It kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? Why weren’t the Civil War soldiers’ bodies heaped in a big pile and burned after the battles? That would have been easier, cheaper, more sanitary, and less messy. But it would have been so disrespectful. Instead, burial “details” were sent out to bury the dead, because those men deserved a special, honorable burial. Can you see how desensitized we’ve become?

1 Corinthians 6:19 says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Even though our spirit and soul are not there anymore, the temple is. God bought us–He owns our bodies. We should glorify God with our body, whether in life or in death.

Think about this a little more with me. Laws in the Old Testament forbid mutilation of the body. Are we “without natural affection” (2 Timothy 3:3)? A hundred years ago, when families prepared the bodies of their loved ones for burial, they called it a “decent, Christian burial.” Can you imagine them stoking up the fire outside and throwing their dead family member’s body into it? If we had to prepare our child for burial, would we choose to cremate? Could you burn the body of your pet when it dies? Most people, I would hope, would shudder at the thought. But we don’t have to “watch it happen”–so we sanitize it in our minds, we deny the horror of it.

Why did the Roman Catholic Church burn martyrs at the stake? To humiliate and dishonor their bodies. They actually exhumed the body of John Wycliffe, put it on trial, found his bones guilty and burned him at the stake. No doubt their intention was to dishonor this man and his work on the Holy Scriptures.

Romans 14:7-8 sums it up,

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.

The Bible may not seem to summarily answer the question of cremation vs. burial for Christians, but it does put forth principles, that when studied, hold the answers. Do you agree?

Part 3 will deal with other options available to us when a loved one dies, because if you recall from Part 1, my horror at the embalming process is what turned me to consider cremation in the first place. So what is a gal to do? Stay tuned!

Read Part 1 here.

What does the Bible say about Cremation? Part 1

I’ve had some reading time lately, being “stoved up” but healing from  brown recluse spider bite after-effects…and came across this gem in a recent book by Christian historical author Jane Kirkpatrick. For context, the book, Where Lilacs Still Bloom chronicles the true life story of  German housewife Hulda Krager whose passion was hybridizing apples, daffodils, and lilacs on her family farm. Sadly, she outlived her husband and all of her children…so she was well-acquainted with death.

In the first half of the 1900’s, it was the family’s privilege to prepare their dead loved ones for burial. My heart went soft and weepy at the thought, as I read the following taken from Hulda’s musings of her daughter on page 301 of the book:

“I thought of Martha and how we’d bathed her body and dressed her, choosing the right dress, weeping as I gently brushed her cheeks, prayed over her, all the acts of reverence honoring her life.”

This musing of Hulda’s was triggered by something an undertaker confided in her when he was over in her lilac garden, collecting starts to give to grieving families who used his services. He said this:

“My work (is) filled with stories told when people are grief stricken and weakened by loss. They let me into their lives in the most intimate ways, dressing and caring for their loved one, something that used to be done at home.”

So by now you are wondering where this is heading, right? Here’s *my* personal context. In high school, I took an English Comp class in which we were required to read a “descriptive” article detailing the process by which a dead person is embalmed. Suffice it to say, that there article convinced me that cremation was much to be preferred over embalming. For one thing…as the undertaker in the above quote said, the process of preparing someone for burial is a very intimate one. I don’t like the idea much, but always thought it was one of those necessary “evils”, if you will. However, that aside, embalming is gory, mutilating…I could go on and on, but feel free to read up on it if you truly want to go there.  Cremation seemed much preferable to me, in addition to being much more economical. I don’t want to leave my family saddled with a lot of funeral expenses and debt. And I didn’t think there were any other choices really. But I’ve always been bothered by the idea of cremation…I don’t really want my children to have to process the fact that their mother’s body was burned up in a crematorium.

I never stopped to think about checking it out in the Bible. What does God say about cremation and burial? How did Christians do it in the Bible? I did have an interesting conversation about it with a friend about 3 weeks ago, in which we both agreed that it didn’t seem biblical, but we couldn’t say why exactly, other than it seemed to have a pagan origin…funeral pyres, etc.

I’ll leave you with the final words of Hulda Krager spoken about the ways she’d prepared her beloved daughter for burial…

“all the acts of reverence honoring her life.”

Is there anything “honorable” or “reverencing” about subjecting a loved one to cremation or embalming? Personally, I think not.

Now don’t take this wrong. I realize state laws vary regarding our options when a loved one dies. And you might have chosen the cremation route for economical reasons, this is not in judgement of anyone’s decisions whatsoever. It is our soul and spirit that go on to heaven, or hell, not our body…and many saints have been burned at the stake (another reason to rethink cremation?) or died in house fires or explosions. This is not about the body being gone, or unable to be resurrected on the day Jesus returns…this issue is merely, does God have anything to say about how we treat the bodies of our dead?

More on this soon, with scripture!

Are you really a Christian?

In a world of people who claim Christianity, yet live their everyday lives as if our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t exist, it’s easy to wonder if they are truly saved. Are they? Are you? Am I? Perhaps even more sobering…what about our children?

Jesus himself makes a startling statement in Matthew 7:22-23,

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Can you imagine anything more devastating than taking your salvation for granted, and finding out on judgement day that your Christianity was a sham in Jesus’ eyes? In a day and age where people claiming to be Christians are “prophesying” and doing miracles in Jesus’ name, it pays to have discernment…and the only way to gain reliable discernment is to study our Bibles, and see what God says about salvation and the fruit of true Christianity. If it can’t be 100% proven by the Bible, then what are we doing trusting in what man says, over what God says?

Case in point. I really thought I was a Christian. My parents assured me that I’d prayed the “prayer” when I was two years old. At the age of seven, I began sweating my own “un-recalled” salvation experience. I now realize that God was prodding my heart. My biggest question at the time, was childishly simple:

Is there a difference between believing Jesus died for me on a cross 2,000 years ago, and believing any historical fact, such as “Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492”?

That question plagued me as a seven year old! I was raised in a godly home, a pastor’s daughter, my parents knew that I *knew* the ABC’s of salvation, but they didn’t know that I didn’t understand the heart’s involvement and response to what Christ had done for me. I was so young, that my head was nodding to the factual side of what needed to be done, but my heart wasn’t involved. Sure I wanted to escape hell, who wouldn’t. Sign me on the dotted line! I didn’t have a fruitful Christian life on the inside until more recently in my adult years. Thus, I fully believe a person can be a very good, moral person, and believe that they are doing everything required by a  church, or a fellowship of believers, to fit in, to be of “service” to God…and even bring others to the saving knowledge of Christ, but not be really saved. We’ve got to remember that to the Lord, all our righteousness is as filthy rags. It’s HIS righteousness, never ours, that makes the difference.

I urge you, if you are a “Christian” with doubts, please be sure you aren’t trusting in any of the following:

  1. Someone else’s assurance that you indeed “prayed a prayer” of faith when you were very young.
  2. Infant baptism, or any other baptism for salvation. Don’t take my word on this, study the instances of baptism in the Bible. There are no cases of infant baptism, and all other instances of adult baptism follow decisions of salvation.
  3. Faith in a prayer you prayed. The prayer doesn’t save you. Jesus’ shed blood on the cross saves you, once you repent of your sins and turn to Him, believing! Did Jesus or Paul ever outline a “salvation prayer” in the New Testament? A “1-2-3 Pray-after-me” type of prayer? No.
  4. Did you “make a commitment” to the Lord? Did you “trust Jesus as your Savior”? Did you “give your heart to Jesus”? None of these phrases have Biblical backing when it comes to salvation.

Let me say this again. Faith doesn’t save you. Christ saves you, and faith is the channel that gets you there.

What does it take to be saved? Different denominations make different claims. Check them to see if they are biblical. Repentance of our sins, and faith alone in Jesus’ shed blood alone, is what saves us. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve eternal life.

Our pastor reminded us last Sunday, that there are two kinds of sorrow…a godly sorrow leading to repentance, and a worldly sorrow, somewhat akin to “regret”. Check out what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 about these two kinds of sorrow. (emphasis mine)

For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though [it were] but for a season.

Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, [what] clearing of yourselves, yea, [what] indignation, yea, [what] fear, yea, [what] vehement desire, yea, [what] zeal, yea, [what] revenge! In all [things] ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

Bottom line…we can come to Christ in prayer, and repent of our sins and believe that his shed blood on the cross wipes our debt of sin clean. But it’s not our prayer that saves us. It’s Jesus alone. If you aren’t trusting Jesus 100% alone to save you–you aren’t saved–works do not save. Works are anything your church says that you need to do in addition to the above…when you add works into the mix, you are changing the gospel, and making it as if Jesus death was in vain. Dangerous stuff as Galatians 2:21 tells us:

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

Romans 10:9-10 says it so simply:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

This is only a partial glimpse into my own personal journey through this issue. I hope to share my full testimony here one day soon. Meanwhile, what would it hurt to re-examine your own heart before the Lord?

The Saving of Self-righteous Naaman

Naaman has everything he could want. Prestige, power, success, reknown, but  he’s dying from leprosy. Sound familiar? What a picture of self-righteous mankind who thinks he has everything, but in reality, he’s lost in sin that ONLY God can cleanse. So the Old Testament story of Naaman is really a picture of New Testament salvation.

Our pastor has been taking us through the lives of Elijah and Elisha recently, and he has such a gift for placing us in the story. I’m often wanting to share my sermon notes here at the site, but usually run out of time. I just want to say up front, that the bulk of this post’s teaching are straight out of his mouth, as fast as I could jot them down, not my own. With the exception of a couple minor embellishments of mine…and with his permission to share it here, let’s dive right in!

This is a narrative deeper than the muddy Jordan where Naaman bathed his leprous body. For instance, leprosy in the Bible, is a picture of sin. Leprosy is an internal disease that manifests externally, it’s disgusting to look at, and comes with a stench. It’s highly contagious. Just like sin, it’s debilitating, destructive and leads to death.

Here we have the top ranking officer of the host of the King of Syria, not an Israelite, btw, but still the scripture says Naaman was honorable because “by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria”. God used Naaman to chasten Israel. Naaman was “a mighty man in valor” well respected country wide, and then we’re told the kicker: “BUT he was a leper.”

That there is a real contrast for such a high ranking official. Check out the whole story in 2 Kings 5:1-19.

Enter the “little maid”. It’s interesting in this story, that servants play a pivotal role. Firstly, this little Israelite captive pipes up and says,

Would God my lord [were] with the prophet that [is] in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.”

We can surmise that this little gal has been trained by good parents who must have been teaching her that with God, ALL things are possible. She’s been raised on stories of Elijah and Elisha, what a miraculous time to have been alive! Don’t you just smile at her implicit, unswervable trust in God here? I mean, who is she in this household? A child servant. Yet follow the channels her little declaration sets in place. Little maid tells her mistress (Naaman’s wife), then in verse 4, there’s a reference to “one” who tells Naaman, next thing we know the King of Syria knows about it and is mailing a letter to the King of Israel! And oh man, the King of Israel rents his clothes and has a panic attack. He says:

“[Am] I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.”

Good night. This King of Israel has less faith than a little girl captive over in Syria. Come on! This king should have followed the biblical precedent shown by King Hezekiah–what do you do when you receive bad news in the mail? Lay the letter out before God and pray over it. Same thing we should do today when we receive disturbing news. Apparently the King of Israel doesn’t know there is a prophet of God in Israel! He’s about to find out!

Enter Elisha. Elisha hears about the missive from Syria, and about the King of Israel’s distress, but he sees this as an opportunity to let someone outside of their nation know that there is a prophet of God in Israel!

So Naaman arrives with a hugely impressive entourage of people, and a LOT of money. He’s willing to pay BIG time to be healed. This procession is a big deal. This is a self-righteous, top ranking general’s arrival at Elisha’s house.

And Elisha doesn’t even come out to meet him. Ouch. He sends a messenger out the door with a succinct, to the point message. “Go wash in the Jordan seven times.” Um, what’s this look like today? Imagine several helicopters landing in the soybean field below your house and the President of America and his secret servicemen requesting an audience…and you send your hired man out to talk for you. You’re busy. Uh-huh.

Elisha sends a message. By the way, what Naaman needs is the MESSAGE, not the man. Naaman needs the gospel.

The Bible tells us in verse 11 what Naaman’s reaction is. He is “wroth“. A few verses later it says he “went away in a rage“. He rants: “Behold I thought…” Now there’s his problem. His expectations were dashed. He says, “We have better rivers” in Syria, I could have bathed in them. I’m picturing him stomping around, frothing at the mouth.

Two things to pick up on here. The Jordan river is not a sparkling pristine little bubbling brook. It is a muddy river. Nothing fancy. But is it about the water, really? Is the water going to heal Naaman? No.

So Naaman is leaving. He’s done. But here come his servants. Remember I said servants play a pivotal role in this story? Parallel to be gleaned here? God can use anyone He wants. Can adults learn about God from children? Yes. Are we God’s servants? Yes. There are a lot of unnamed servants in this story who are in Heaven today…I can’t wait to meet them and hear the rest of this story!

But I digress. Naaman’s servants end up reasoning with their master. They point out to him that if God had asked something BIG of Naaman, Naaman would have done it. If he’d been told to do some “big tough guy thing” like slash his chest, walk on his knees on glass, make a sacrifice, etc. he would have obliged. But God was asking something simple. Wash and be clean. The servants implored him to “Do it and see if it works”.

Wash and be clean. Salvation is SIMPLE. We can’t do any great thing to earn or deserve it.

So Naaman agrees to give it a whirl. What do you think is going through his mind as he eases himself into the Jordan river and begins dipping? Do you think his pagan servants are on the banks of the Jordan holding in their laughter? Their great and mighty leader is doing something VERY BIZARRE here. I’m thinking Naaman’s own skepticism is increasing with each dip not revealing any improvement. Until the 7th time. He comes out of the water with skin like a child’s, it’s probably wrinkle free. If he’d lost any fingers to leprosy, they were regrown. This is a MIRACLE!

This was NOT the Jordan River that did this. This was NOT water that did this. This was COMPLETE obedience to God’s word and command–Naaman humbled himself and let go of his pride and self-righteousness and submitted to God’s authority, and he was a changed man afterward as we will soon see. But in case you didn’t pick up on this yet, that COMPLETE obedience was a reference to Naaman’s continuing to dip in the Jordan the full seven dips…Seven is the Biblical number of completion. Study it sometime, it’s pretty phenomenal.

So this changed man and his company of soldiers and servants heads back to Elisha’s dwelling, and THIS time, Elisha himself comes out to greet him. No one had ever healed leprosy before. Remember I said leprosy is a type of sin in the Bible? Interesting to note that God spent two whole chapters in Leviticus detailing how the priests were to deal with lepers, down to what to do with it if it was in the warp and weave of the clothing! The LONGEST passages in Leviticus are on leprosy! It’s worth repeating: Leprosy is an internal disease that manifests externally, it’s disgusting to look at, and comes with a stench. It’s highly contagious. Just like sin, it is debilitating, destructive and leads to death. Leprosy is incurable.

Naaman wants to thank Elisha with gifts, he refers to himself as a SERVANT! I’m telling you, Naaman is a changed man from the self-impressed guy that threw a hissy fit a little while ago. But get this, Elisha refuses to take anything from Naaman. Because this is a picture of salvation, and salvation cannot be bought or earned. You can’t put a price to what God gives freely. Very important. If you are sharing the gospel with someone, and they offer you money or gifts as a thank-you, you shouldn’t take it. It sends a mixed signal. Salvation should never be accompanied by a price tag. It’s not biblical.

In verse 17, Naaman gives allegiance to the God of Israel, and immediately we see his conscience begin working when he asks a peculiar question in verse 18. “In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant” (there he goes referring to himself as Elisha’s servant again!) Naaman is humble before Elisha. This guy’s had a life-changing experience here! Okay, so here’s his question:   

“In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, [that] when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing.”

I love that new believer conscience kicking immediately in, don’t you? He’s already realizing that it will offend God if he, as custom of their country demands, accompanies his master, the King of Syria, into the house of Rimmon, a pagan deity. He may not understand everything about the God of the Israelites, as a new believer, but he’s on the right track here. He’s not worshiping Rimmon, he’s already said in verse 17, that he’ll not offer sacrifices or worship to any other God, but he has some things to figure out as far as correct theology goes. Elisha knows this.  And Elisha says, “Go in peace.”

I don’t know about you, but I wonder how many others came to believe in the God of Elisha as a result of Naaman’s cleansing? Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story…UP there…

Romans 9:6-13

Continuing in our look at Romans 9 today. If you’ve missed the Intro to Romans 9, or my previous post on Romans 9:1-5, please feel free to check them out as today’s passages build upon what we’ve already studied.

So today I want to take a closer look at Romans 9:6-13. As you read it with me, keep in mind that Paul makes the point in verses 6-7 that God’s faithfulness to Israel and His covenant promises to them would be kept…God wasn’t done with Israel–true Israel. And Paul then goes on to illustrate those points made, in verses 8-13. Let’s read.

Romans 9:6-13,

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they [are] not all Israel, which are of Israel:Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, [are they] all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these [are] not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

For this [is] the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.

And not only [this]; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, [even] by our father Isaac;

(For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

An important thing to remember, is that we are talking about the nation of Israel here. That this is a national election to a specific purpose, not a personal election to individual salvation, is seen by Paul’s references to Israel in verses 1-5 as: Israelites, kinsmen, brethren…to whom God elected to receive the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, national promises given to the Jewish people “of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came” (vs 5). The Israelites were the chosen race through which Jesus Christ, our Savior, Himself came in the flesh. Israel was blessed with many privileges, but all Israel did not accept these advantages. Paul is laying a foundation here for a great truth.

“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Romans 9:6b-7

What’s he saying here? That even though Ishmael and Isaac were both physically of Abraham, it would be through Isaac’s seed that the covenant promises would come. Isaac’s seed received blessings not given to Ishmael’s, through no merit of his own. God chose to bestow the incredible advantages mentioned in Romans 9:4-5 upon this nation of people.

Let’s check out the original story in Genesis 21:12-13.

And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.

And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he [is] thy seed.

It’s important to go back and check these references…because here we see, it was always about nations. Don’t misunderstand me, not “national salvation” but national service for God’s purposes. Both Isaac and Ishmael represented nations. And from Isaac came Jacob, whose name eventually changed to Israel–very fitting for the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. So these men are being referenced here not only as individuals, but as heads of nations.

In verses 10-11, Paul gives yet another example of God’s unconditional election of two nations. We know he is further expounding on these points by his wording at the beginning of verse 10, “And not only this;” This time it’s Rebekah and Isaac’s twin sons, Jacob and Esau, who are chosen for heads of nations. God told Rebekah this in Genesis 25:23,

And the LORD said unto her, Two nations [are] in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and [the one] people shall be stronger than [the other] people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

So we see Paul is quoting Genesis 25:23 in Romans 9:12: “The elder shall serve the younger.” We gain even further light on Romans 9:12-13, by checking out Malachi 1:2-4, which says,

I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? [Was] not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.

Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever.

Key point here–notice at the beginning, “you” is plural “ye” is always plural (which is super helpful, and one reason I find the KJV easier to study), and “hast loved us”. All plural references, even though Jacob and Esau are primarily referenced, as they were the heads of these nations. Then lastly, Esau is equated with the Edomites…and the end of Malachi 1:4 says it all: “The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever.”

So Romans 9:12-13 is talking about God’s choosing nations for service, just as it plainly states. The election here deals with Israel’s rule over Edom, not about the spiritual salvation of Jacob or Esau. Romans 9:12 does not say that Jacob would be saved and not Esau, rather it says, “the elder shall serve the younger.”

Paul is writing at a pivotal time for the Jews. After centuries of being under the law and their exclusive claim to the promises, grace has come through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and things have changed to include the Gentiles. The Jews needed to understand that true spiritual Israel would see fulfillment of these promises, and that just being of pure Jewish lineage did not automatically guarantee individual salvation. True spiritual Israel are those who do not reject the advantages God’s given (Romans 9:4-5). Not only this, but true, spiritual Israel now has expanded to include Gentiles, anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as children of the promise, even those who have no physical claim as descendants of Abraham.

Galatians 4:22-31 is a great passage shedding more light on how Ishmael and Isaac represent two covenants, one for bond and one for free, typifying the same struggle the Jews and Gentile converts were facing thousands of years later. That being, shall we rest in Christ alone for our salvation and the liberty of the gospel as sons of the “freewoman” (Sarah) and partakers of the promise, or are we to still be under the law, sons of the bondwoman (Hagar)? The answer for the Jews is the same answer for the Gentiles, as we’ve been “grafted” into their promises today (Romans 11:17):

Galatians 4:28 and 31,

Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of the promise.

So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free.

Galatians 3:29,

And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

I’m so thankful that God had a plan for the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, aren’t you? In Romans 9, Paul helps us distinguish between personal and national election, and spiritual and physical Israel. Whom will God save? If you have personally accepted Christ’s sacrificial death for your sins, and in faith confessed Him as your Savior, you have met the conditions necessary to be one of God’s elect.

Jesus’ did it all, and all to Him I owe…won’t you surrender all to Him right now, if you haven’t already?