All Things Work Together for Good

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” If I had to choose only one example of this verse coming true in my life, it would be my brother’s death.

My only sibling, Jason, was fourteen months younger than me. Growing up we were similar athletically and academically. But during high school he started partying and abusing drugs. He dropped out of school and received his GED. We were encouraged when Jason enlisted in the Army. He joined the 82nd Airborne, which involved jumping out of planes. He said he developed pain in his knees. We don’t know if that was true or an excuse to obtain prescriptions from the military hospital. Either way, this is when he became addicted to pills.

Jason separated from the Army after four years of service. He started breaking into people’s homes and raiding their medicine cabinets to satisfy his addiction. He was arrested and I still remember how difficult it was the first time we visited Jason in jail. We had to speak to him on opposite sides of the glass. He was released, but soon after was arrested again. Unable to find a job because of his criminal record, he moved across the country hoping to rejoin the military. That was the last time we saw Jason. A few months later, I received the phone call from my dad that Jason had overdosed in a motel room.

How Did Jason’s Death “Work Together for Good”?

I was in my early twenties, single, and teaching elementary school at the time. I threw myself into my work, hoping to stay distracted from the grief. It didn’t work. I was struggling. Continue reading “All Things Work Together for Good”

The Need to Prepare for Trials

Since we can expect trials, we must prepare for them.

An Old Testament Example that Encourages us to Prepare for Trials

Unfortunately, sometimes people read the Old Testament and think, “What does this have to do with me? How can I learn from people whose lives are so different from mine?” The New Testament states the Old Testament provides us with examples:

  • Romans 15:4a—“For whatever things were written [in the Old Testament] were written for our learning.”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:11a—“Now all these things happened to [the Israelites] as examples, and they were written for our admonition.”

Church Age believers can learn from Old Testament accounts. Often, they provide a backdrop for New Testament instruction.

Prepare for Trials During Times of Peace

Asa was one of the  good kings in the Old Testament, and he reveals how (and when) to prepare for trials. Early in his reign, God gave him peace. What did he do during this restful time? He built! Part of 2 Chronicles 14:5–7 records:

The kingdom was quiet under [Asa]. And he built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest; he had no war in those years, because the Lord had given him rest. Therefore he said to Judah, “Let us build these cities and make walls around them, and towers, gates, and bars, while the land is yet before us, because we have sought the Lord our God; we have sought Him, and He has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered.

Like Asa, we should prepare during peaceful times. While Asa strengthened his nation physically, we should strengthen ourselves spiritually. Pray and read the Word regularly. Serve the body of Christ. We do not serve others so they will serve us. We serve others because we want to serve Christ, but one blessing often produced is brothers and sisters who will “weep with [us when we] weep” and “suffer with [us]” when we suffer (Romans 12:15b, 1 Corinthians 12:26a). I have seen people enter trials and become frustrated that nobody was there for them, but in many of those cases they were not there for others who were “weeping” and “suffering.” Continue reading “The Need to Prepare for Trials”

9 Reasons to Choose Burial Over Cremation

I’ve been asked whether Christians can practice cremation. While I still wouldn’t say cremation is a sin, I would say there are good reasons Christians should choose burial over cremation. While many practices are not explicitly forbidden by Scripture, there is often enough information to help us make the best decision.

1. Choose burial over cremation, because cremation was the practice of pagans, but never God’s people.

Cremation began as early as 3000BC, making it a common practice around the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Rome embraced cremation around 600BC, making it a common practice around the church in the New Testament. But we never see cremation practiced by God’s people in the Old or New Testaments even though they had great familiarity with it.

When something is common among pagans and heathens, but never God’s people, this alone should be instructive.

2. Choose burial over cremation, because God’s people sought to be buried in the Old Testament.

2 Corinthians 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Paul describes our bodies as tents that are vacated upon death and then destroyed over time. Some read this and say, “So whatever happens to our bodies is irrelevant!” The problem with this thinking is two-fold. First, God has a future plan to resurrect our earthly bodies (1 Cor 15:35-38, 1 Thes 4:16). Second, godly people in the Old Testament should serve as examples for us (1 Cor 10:6, 11; Rom 15:4) and some of them sought to be buried…

Twice Jacob asked to be buried:

  • Genesis 47:29-30 When the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “Now if I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers; you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.” And he said, “I will do as you have said.”
  • Genesis 49:29-31 [Jacob] charged [his sons] and said to them: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that isin the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah.

Joseph sought to see his father and his own remains buried:

  • Genesis 50:4-5 Now when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the hearing of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am dying; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.” Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come back.’”
  • Genesis 50:25 Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”

Joseph’s burial was so important the fulfillment of it is recorded twice:

  • Exodus 13:19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you.”
  • Joshua 24:32 The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph.

3. Choose burial over cremation, because burial is presented as a reward in the Old Testament.

Godly people were honored with burials, sometimes even extravagant ones:

  • Genesis 23:19 And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is,Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
  • Genesis 35:19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is,Bethlehem).
  • When Joseph buried Jacob, he took his brothers, their families, and even Pharaoh’s officials: Genesis 50:6-9 And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house. Only their little ones, their flocks, and their herds they left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen, and it was a very great gathering.
  • 1 Kings 14:13 And all Israel shall mourn for [Jeroboam’s son] and bury him, for he is the only one of Jeroboam who shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something good toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.
  • 2 Chronicles 16:14 They buried [Asa] in his own tomb, which he had made for himself in the City of David; and they laid him in the bed which was filled with spices and various ingredients prepared in a mixture of ointments. They made a very great burning for him.
  • 2 Chronicles 32:33 Hezekiah rested with his ancestors and was buried on the hill where the tombs of David’s descendants are. All Judah and the people of Jerusalem honored him when he died. 

4. Choose burial over cremation, because the Old Testament presents burning bodies negatively.

In the Old Testament cremation was a punishment for sin:

  • Leviticus 20:14 If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you.
  • Leviticus 21:9 If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.
  • Even though Judah was acting hypocritically when he learned Tamar “played the harlot,” in Genesis 38:24b he said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!
  • Following Achen’s sin he and his family were cremated: Joshua 7:25 And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.

Zimri was an evil king of the northern kingdom of Israel, and it’s hard to find anything from his life worth emulating, including his death: 1 Kings 16:18 When Zimri saw that the city was taken, that he went into the citadel of the king’s house and burned the king’s house down upon himself with fire, and died.

King Josiah was one of the godliest kings in the Old Testament and he made two contrasting decisions that can be informative. First, the burning of human bones on an altar desecrated it. Second, the remains of a man of God were to be left buried:

2 Kings 23:16-20 As Josiah turned, he saw the tombs that were there on the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar, and defiled it according to the word of the Lord which the man of God proclaimed, who proclaimed these words. Then he said, “What gravestone is this that I see?”

So the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.”

And he said, “Let him alone; let no one move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came from Samaria.

Now Josiah also took away all the shrines of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the Lord to anger; and he did to them according to all the deeds he had done in Bethel. He executed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them; and he returned to Jerusalem.

5. Choose burial over cremation, because lack of burial was a common punishment in the Old Testament.

Ecclesiastes 6:3 If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he.

A poor burial (or worse no burial) was a common punishment for evil people:

  • Psalm 79:3 Their blood they have shed like water all around Jerusalem,
    And there was no one to bury 
  • Isaiah 5:25 Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people;
    He has stretched out His hand against them
    And stricken them,
    And the hills trembled.
    Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets.
  • 2 Kings 9:10 The dogs shall eat Jezebel on the plot of ground at Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury ’”
  • 2 Chronicles 21:20 [Jehoram] was thirty-two years old when he became king. He reigned in Jerusalem eight years and, to no one’s sorrow, departed. However they buried him in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.
  • 2 Chronicles 24:25 And when they had withdrawn from [Joash] (for they left him severely wounded), his own servants conspired against him because of the blood of the sons of Jehoiada the priest, and killed him on his bed. So he died. And they buried him in the City of David, but they did not bury him in the tombs of the kings.
  • 2 Chronicles 28:27a So Ahaz rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, in Jerusalem; but they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel.
  • Jeremiah 14:16 And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; they will have no one to bury them—them nor their wives, their sons nor their daughters—for I will pour their wickedness on them.’
  • Jeremiah 16:4, 6 “They shall die gruesome deaths; they shall not be lamented nor shall they be buried, but they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth. They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth…Both the great and the small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried; neither shall men lament for them, cut themselves, nor make themselves bald for them.
  • Jeremiah 22:19 [Jehoiakim] shall be buried with the burial of a donkey, Dragged and cast out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.
  • Jeremiah 25:33 And at that day the slain of the Lord shall be from one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall become refuse on the ground.
  • Jeremiah 36:30 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: “He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. 

Jeremiah 8:1-2 contains an interesting situation. God punished people by removing their remains and spreading them out above ground:

“At that time,” says the Lord, “they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of its princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves. They shall spread them before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and which they have served and after which they have walked, which they have sought and which they have worshiped. They shall not be gathered nor buried; they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth.

6. Choose burial over cremation, because the New Testament speaks positively of Old Testament burials.

In Stephen’s speech before the religious leaders he recounted important events in Israel’s history, including even burials:

Acts 7:14-16 Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people. So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. And [their bodies] were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.

The author of Hebrews spoke positively of Joseph desiring a burial:

Hebrews 11:22 By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.

7. Choose burial over cremation, because God’s people practice burial in the New Testament.

The point of the following verses isn’t to imply they command burial, but simply that they present burial as the common New Testament practice among God’s people.

  • Matthew 14:12 Then his disciples came and took away [John that Baptist’s body] and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
  • Three times John 11 makes mention of Lazarus being buried in a tomb:
    • 17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.
    • 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.”
    • 38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.
  • Jesus saw burial as the expected treatment of a body: Matthew 8:21-22 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
  • But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
  • The Jews thought so much of burial they purchased fields for burying even Gentiles: Matthew 27:7 They consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.

The most famous burial is Jesus’ (even though cremation would’ve made His resurrection more dramatic!). When He was anointed in Matthew 26:12 He said, “For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial” as opposed to saying, “for My death.” In the account of Jesus’ burial, the tomb is emphasized, being mentioned five times in seven verses:

Matthew 27:57-66 Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.

On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”

Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.

8. Choose burial over cremation, because “Ashes to ashes” isn’t in Scripture.  

The phrase, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” comes from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and it has undoubtedly become more well-known with the increased popularity of cremation; however, the phrase isn’t found in the Bible:

  • Job said, “He has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes” (Job 30:19). He said this because he “sat in the midst of ashes” (Job 2:8). Job 42:6 makes this clear: “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
  • In Genesis 18:27 Abraham said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord.” The Cambridge Bible says “dust and ashes” are “two alliterative words in the Hebrew, which defy reproduction in English”; therefore, it shouldn’t be taken literally that Abraham thought he was ashes.

Instead the Bible says:

  • Genesis 3:19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
    Till you return to the ground,
    For out of it you were taken;
    For dust you are,
    And to dust you shall return
    .”
  • Ecclesiastes 3:20 All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust

9. Choose burial over cremation, because burial is at the center of the Gospel.

Let me be clear about what I’m NOT saying:

  • You have to be buried to embrace the Gospel.
  • Being cremated is rejecting the Gospel.

Instead, I’m simply saying the heart of the Gospel is Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, which puts burial at the center of Christianity:

  • Romans 6:4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:1a, 3-4 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you…For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
  • Colossians 2:12 [We were] buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 

CONCLUSION

The practice of Israel in the Old Testament and the early church in the New Testament was burial. While pagans and heathens practiced cremation, the only time God’s people performed it was as a form of punishment.

Do you have any thoughts on cremation versus burial? Do you have any suspicions regarding the following reasons? Comment below!

Discuss:

  • Do you have any thoughts on cremation versus burial?
  • Can you think of any other reasons to choose burial over cremation?
  • Can you think of any reasons people can choose cremation over burial?

The 20 Year Anniversary of Kurt Cobain's Death

There are certain days that as FDR said, “will live in infamy”: the day he was speaking of, December 7, 1941, September 11, 2001, and for me at least, April 5, 1994 would be another. Here’s the background…

I still remember walking into the high school gym during a basketball game and hearing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time. The song became a huge hit and was very iconic for mainstreaming alternative rock music. Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, is also recognized for mainstreaming grunge, which if that’s unfamiliar to you I would describe as a genre – and I don’t mean this to sound harsh – characterized by having an unkempt appearance, performing poorly in school, smoking pot, and generally lacking ambition. Almost overnight countless students changed the way they looked, talked, dressed, acted, etc. in an effort to be like Kurt Cobain. One of the individuals caught up in the movement was my younger brother, Jason. His marijuana use gave way to other drugs, which gave way to his overdose.

On April 5th, 1994 Kurt committed suicide leaving behind a note for his fans and his wife, Courtney Love, discussing how he’s “too sensitive” and how he “simply [loves] people too much, so much that it makes [him] sad” and he “[has] a goddess of a wife…and a daughter full of love and joy” and in his words “I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general…only because I love and feel sorry for people too much I guess”, closing with these words to his wife: “Please keep going for [our daughter]. For her life, which will be so much happier without me. I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU!

I remember watching Courtney angrily read that letter on television, yelling at different points about what Kurt wrote, showing the grief and frustration his decision caused her. And she wasn’t alone: Kurt’s death left behind countless followers filled with similar pain and confusion. There’s a long list of idolized musicians that died young (John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc.), but with Kurt’s death there was one huge difference: he deliberately brought his life to an end. What did that communicate to his young followers? Many of them had already given up living for the usual motivations (academics, athletics, family approval, etc.), so when Kurt killed himself, the obvious question was, “If even Kurt doesn’t want to be alive, what does that mean for us…what do we have to live for?”

When I talk about individuals people follow to their detriment, religious figures like David Koresh or Jim Jones, or political figures like Hitler or Stalin come to mind, but it doesn’t have to be terrible men like that. In Kurt’s defense, he probably would have been the first to say he didn’t want people following him, but the result was the same for those who did. Last Sunday’s sermon discussed some disciples of John continuing to follow him instead of transitioning to Jesus. The reality is it doesn’t matter the individual being followed; if it isn’t Jesus, it’s going to lead to hurt and confusion. Jesus is the only One who never lets us down, never leaves us hurt, and will never leave us with regret. 1 Peter 2:21 Jesus left us an example, that we should follow HIS steps.

Kurt Cobain

The sinFULLEST Man to ever live

The sinfullest Man to ever liveWas Jesus the sinfullest Man to ever live?

Daniel 9:26 The Messiah shall be cut off.

This is actually saying a lot more than just that Jesus would die. The common Hebrew word for die is muwth. It’s the word used throughout the Old Testament for people dying…835 times to be exact. In verses like:

  • Genesis 5:5 All the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died (muwth).”
  • Job 1:19 Job’s servant said, “A great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died (muwth).”

But the Hebrew word for Jesus being “cut off” is karath. It occurs 288 times in Scripture, frequently for guilty people being executed:

  • Genesis 9:11 Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off (karath) by the waters of the flood.
  • Proverbs 2:22 The wicked will be cut off (karath) from the earth.
  • Psalm 37:9 evildoers shall be cut off (karath).

“Karath” is used 20 times in Leviticus to describe people who have to be executed – or cut off – from the rest of the congregation because of their sin.

Jesus died for “His” sins

The point is Daniel 9:26 is prophesying Jesus would not die a natural death (muwth). He would die a guilty person’s death (karath) because of the sins He would receive. We say Jesus died for our sins, and that’s true, but we could say He actually died for His own sin, because He owned our sins. When our sins were imputed to Jesus – or put to His account – they literally became HIS sins:

  • 1 Peter 2:24 He bore our sins in His body on the cross.
  • Isaiah 53:6 The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
  • Isaiah 53:11 He will bear their iniquities.
  • Isaiah 53:12 He bore the sin of many.

The classic New Testament verse is 2 Corinthians 5:21a: God made Him sin.

Daniel 9:26 prophesied of Jesus receiving the death penalty for His sin like a guilty criminal:

  • Matthew 27:38 Two criminals were crucified with Him.
  • Isaiah 53:12 He would be numbered with the transgressors.

He’s numbered with the transgressors – He experienced a guilty criminal’s death – because He became one of them.

Jesus became the guiltiest sinner in history

When our sins were put to Jesus’ account, He became the most sinful Person to ever live. Nobody has ever approached even a fraction of the sinfulness that was Jesus’ when He was on the cross. The amount of sin that was imputed to Him and became HIS is beyond comprehension.

This is classic double imputation:

  • Our sin is imputed to Christ.
  • Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.

The tremendous irony that reveals the grace of God and the beauty of the Gospel is that although Jesus became the most sin-filled Man to ever live, He never sinned:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.
  • 1 Peter 2:22 He committed no sin.
  • 1 John 3:5 In Him there is no sin.

The guiltiest and most sin-filled, or sinFULLEST Person to ever live, was also the most innocent, holiest, perfect and righteous to ever live.

Discuss: What do you think when you consider Christ owning your sins for you? Does it help you think of your sins truly being taken away?

Here’s a sermon I preached on this topic: Daniel 9:26 The Cost of Rejecting Christ.