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Posts Tagged ‘redemption’

There are many today who, if they speak of God at all, refer to him almost like a folklore or something out of their childhood which still brings a bit of comfort and nostalgia, much like visiting a childhood home or finding a childhood doll or stuffed animal.  These materialists are convinced only by what they can see, smell, touch, hear, or taste although I would guess even the materialist would not deny the existence of the wind or gravity.  Although they cannot be seen, their effects are undeniable.

I am not a materialist.

I believe in both the material and the non-material world.  I know them to both be equally real even though the non-material is primarily not experienced through the senses.  Now I believe in more than this, but I do not believe less than this.  If you are unable to believe or are closed to the possibility of a non-material world created by a God we cannot see, then there is nothing that follows that will be life-giving to you.  There is only hollow cheer-leading and vain hope in the power of positive thinking.  To me, that is the best the world can offer and I find it wholly inadequate and incoherent to answer life’s questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no hope for any who wonder about these deep questions of life in the dark hours of the night.  Man is under a curse from his first breath.  There is no hope for self-salvation from this curse, though many try and many pacify their questions and fears by whistling past the grave yard as it were, attempting to make as happy a life here and now for themselves as they possibly can.  Because I believe in the one true God of the Bible, I believe the Bible’s account of this God.  If this is a bridge too far for you, then what I share will be meaningless at best and trite and silly at worst.

I believe in an eternal, self-existent, three-in-one God (Father, Son, and Spirit) who is the source and sovereign over all creatures and things that are material as well as all creatures and things that are immaterial.  His standard of right living is not a list, but the standard is He, himself.  He is the one by whom He compares all things and there is none like him, all fall short in mercy and graciousness and patience and steadfast love and faithfulness and righteousness and holiness and splendor and glory.  This is the God I know and I would be an aimless wanderer in this big world if I was not convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that this God exists and that he is ruling over all, throughout time and location, bringing all the world to a sure and certain end according to his own plans and purposes.

Growing up in the Catholic faith, I knew that my sin separated me from this holy God.  His standard is himself and it was impossible for me (or anyone) to live up to that standard.  I knew that my sin was a debt that would need to be paid for, but who can pay for such a thing?  I knew that if the debt were not paid by someone, I would pay it myself throughout eternity.  But, I also knew from my upbringing in the church, that God’s great plan was to pay that debt for me through Jesus Christ.  Since He did not carry his own burden of sin, his death was an acceptable payment for the debt of the sins of mankind.  In ancient sacrificial imagery, Jesus was identified as the lamb which takes away the sin of the world.  I just didn’t know how to appropriate his death to my personal sin.

I also didn’t understand at the time the inadequacy of my attempts to help my case before God by trying to “live a good life.”  I didn’t realize how anemic my attempts were (the Bible calls them “filthy rags”).  As if this would ever work in our physical lives – if we owed the bank a large sum of money, but asked them to forgive that debt on the promise that we would do better from here on with any future debts we might incur – ridiculous.  Instead, I came to realize that there was no object or work I could offer this great God that would be useful or needed by him.  He is self-sufficient and needs nothing from the creatures He has made.  I was under condemnation and a curse for my life that runs in rebellion to the nature of this God.  There was no recourse for me but to come to him as a beggar, longing for what He might give me – a solution to the problem of my sin which weighed me down and cut me off from union with this magnificent God.  If He would not help me, I was both lost in this life and for eternity.

This is how I came to him in the break room of Sears so many, many years ago.  I realized I had been trying all my life to do things right so I might be acceptable to God.  That day I realized that my striving was all meaningless and didn’t move me one iota closer to him.  My soul was dead in my sins and no amount of church attendance, confession, or good works could remove that sin and revive my dead soul.  In the break room at Sears that day, I realized as I read verses 8 and 9 of Ephesians 2 for the first time in my life, that it was only by God’s goodness to me, coming to him in simple faith, that I could have my sin debt, which I owed God, wiped clean.  My soul was dead so I could not even produce the faith I needed to come to him.  Even faith to trust and believe had to be gifted to me by God.  This took away all opportunity for me to think well of myself for “meeting God half-way” in my good works.  It had to be all him; He did it all!

I went into the break room that day with my sins on my back, and I left with my sin and its debt completely removed; I went in a dead and condemned person and I left newly awakened, alive, and free.  As promised by God, his Spirit took up residence in my once-hard heart.  Indeed He gave me a new heart to love the things that are of Him.  From that moment on through God’s Word, prayer, and meeting with God’s people as well as through God-ordained trial, He began to shave off things in my life that weren’t of him and to mold and shape me into the image of his son, Jesus.  At times this “shaving” has been very painful, but it has always produced good in my life.

This has now been about a 35-year process and He continues to use these same means (Scripture, prayer, suffering, and fellowship with other believers) to do this in my life to this very day.  I know He will see it through to completion on the day He returns.  On that day, He will establish his new, eternal kingdom with those of us who have run to him for salvation.  That Day is ever before my mind and I await longingly for it when I will actually see God face-to-face; He who is my greatest treasure.

This is all I have to give a lost and hurting world.  All other hope is just a bandaid on cancer.  Perhaps you gave up on my letter many paragraphs ago.  But if I have said anything that rings true for you, I would invite you to see what God has said about himself; see if it doesn’t awaken something in your spirit.  I’d recommend starting with the book of John where Jesus declares over and again that He is God and that He and the Father are one; here, Jesus shows us by his life the type of God He is.  There has never been another who said or did the things that Jesus did.  I would encourage you to beg God in humility on your knees with all your heart and soul, to reveal himself to you.  There is a sure day when all will meet him – either in death or when He comes in final judgment; but for now, God sits on a mercy-seat all year long to give pardon and forgiveness to those who will come to him empty-handed for salvation from their sins.

Here is a prayer from the 1600s which is a good example of what one might pray in their need:

God, be merciful to me a sinner and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ.  I see that if Christ had not died righteously to remove the sins of the world, including my sin, and if I do not have faith in his death as the only available payment for my debt to you, then I am utterly cast away.  Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God and you have planned that your son, Jesus, should be the Savior of the world.  Moreover, I have heard that you are willing to bestow Christ upon such a poor sinner as I am (and I am a sinner indeed).  Lord, take therefore this opportunity and enlarge your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

God has said, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  Like the beggars that we are, lay hold of Him and do not let go until you receive the blessing you require – the answer to the pray for which you beg – Christ himself.

This is the only true hope that I can offer for this life and the life to come.  If you are not at the point of seeking this yet, I’d invite you to hold your hands open to it.  Consider the lives and hope of those you know who have had their burden of sin removed at the cross.  Do not judge us entirely on our works.  We do not supernaturally become sinless when we place our sins under Jesus’ blood.  We are only forgiven sinners, but by God’s power we are moving toward the likeness of Christ in us, each of us at different stages along this journey.  But evaluate the hope and the joy of those you know who walk in Christ’s righteousness, not their own.  They know beyond doubt that this world is not all there is to what is real.  And they know that they know that they know they are heading to their Father’s house and that they will be admitted into his everlasting kingdom because they wear, not the filthy rags of their good works, but the clean white robes won for them by Jesus, himself.  I’d invite you as the Bible puts it to, “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the [one] who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).

With regard and affection.

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Now I saw in my dream that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall and that wall is called salvation (Isaiah 26:1).  Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty because of the load on his back (James 2:10).

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross and a little below in the bottom, a sepulcher.  So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders and fell from off his back and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulcher where it fell in and I saw it no more.

Then was Christian glad and light-some and said with a merry heart, “He hath given me rest by his sorrow; and life by his death.”  Then he stood still a while to look and wonder for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden.  He looked, therefore, and looked again even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks (Zechariah 12:10).

Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold three shining ones came to him and saluted him with, “Peace be to thee.”   So the first said to him, “Thy sins be forgiven” (Mark 2:5).  The second, stript him of his rags and clothed him with change of raiment (Zechariah 3:4).  The third also set a mark in his forehead and gave him a roll with a seal upon it which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate (Ephesians 1:13-14).  So they went their way.  Then Christian gave three leaps for joy and went out singing:

Thus far did I come loaden with my sin,
Nor could ought ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither:  What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blest cross!  Blest sepulcher! Blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Bunyan, John, and Cynthia Wall. The Pilgrim’s Progress: An Authoritative Text Contexts Criticism. New York, N.Y. ; London: Norton, 2009. 32-33. Print.

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“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!

“Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!”

(Samuel Trevor Francis, 1875)

A theology of rest…

I’d never heard such a thing. While growing up, the practice that was considered most virtuous was definitely not rest, but work. My parents seemed always engaged in some productive task or labor. Our Sabbath-keeping always included church on Sunday mornings, but the rest of the day belonged to tasks that did not get done earlier in the week. While I am grateful to this day that I learned the value of work and productivity, I am beginning to see that God’s Word would have me reevaluate the idea of rest and to embrace it in its proper boundaries as a gracious gift from my Creator.

Joe Rigney offers up a balanced theology of rest in a message he gave at the weekly chapel for Bethlehem College and Seminary. Rigney does not spend time arguing if Sabbath-keeping is still a mandate to be observed under the New Covenant. Instead he approaches the subject looking for wisdom… “Is there wisdom to be gained on the subject from Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) about how God has made us to need rest?” His premise in promoting a one day-in-seven rest comes from the conviction that because God loves us, He gives us rest. I have taken the liberty, below, to put to print as much of his 33-minute message as needed to present his biblical case and to encourage us (reader and writer, alike) to glory in this good, Fatherly gift of rest.

“The God Who Loves Us by Giving Us Rest” by Joe Rigney

To begin, Rigney points out that the reality of time being regulated is a given. Our time does get regulated, whether by a school calendar or by our jobs and obligations or by merchants promoting Christmas in October. It’s not a matter of will our time be regulated, but a matter of who will regulate it and by what standard. A self-proclaimed work-aholic, Joe finds himself under the growing conviction that the way we regulate our time is “a big deal.”

The God Who Loves Us in Creation and So Gives Us Rest

It is Rigney’s argument that one way God’s love manifests itself is in the establishment of rest for mankind both in creation as well as in redemption. Rest is an expression of God’s creational love, given by design for the benefit of his creatures. It is God who determined the pattern of work and rest which culminates in the “blessing” of the seventh day, making it holy (Gen. 2:3). Since Jesus tells us that God is always at work (John 5:17), it is helpful to note that God is the first person in the Bible who is said to rest. Indeed, in Hebrews we are told that on the seventh day, God entered his rest and remains there, still awaiting man to join him (Hebrews 4). This guards us against the notion that rest is the ceasing of all activity; it’s not.  It’s about stopping one kind of activity in order to more fully participate in another kind of activity.  It is more about the consummation and enjoyment of completed labor.

Jesus made an unexpected statement in Mark 2:27. He told the indignant but law-abiding Pharisees a truth of deeper magic from [the very dawn] of time as C.S. Lewis might put it, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Jesus doesn’t say that the Sabbath was made for the Jews only, for the covenant people of God, but for “man.” God created the pattern of work and rest to suit our frame, he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103), he knows our cares, our inclinations and therefore makes the Sabbath for us. The whole creation narrative springs from his Fatherly love in making a habitat for his people, setting up a temple in which his image-bearers can dwell.

So when God finally codifies a day of rest in Exodus 20:8, He effectively declares: I love you! I love your sons, your daughters, your servants, your livestock, the sojourner among you… I love you! Stop working, one day in seven. I love you!

Yes, we are to labor, yes, we’re to have dominion, yes, we are to subdue the earth, work the garden and keep it; but we must never forget that the whole target is that we, like Yahweh, might enjoy the fruit of our labors. Work exists for the sake of something else, it has a direction a trajectory which is Sabbath rest.

The God Who Loves Us in Redemption and So Gives Us Rest

We also observe God’s redemptive love in Deuteronomy 5. When the law is restated 40 years after its first giving, the Sabbath is rooted, not in creation, but in the Exodus. After years of slavery and sojourning and wandering, the Lord was finally going to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey, a land with cities they did not build, good things they did not fill, cisterns they did not dig, vineyards and olive trees they did not plant (Deuteronomy 6), a land of rest. They were leaving off their slavery… for rest. In this rest, God would make for himself an everlasting name (Is.63:14).

To be sure, there is an inward rest obtained by the redeemed, those who mix the gospel with faith (Hebrews 4:2), who rest from their futile works and strivings (v.10). Hebrews expounds on this… that because of Christ’s redemptive work of which he now rests (Mk. 16:19), there remains an eternal Sabbath “rest” for the people of God (Heb. 4:8-9). Our Sabbath-keeping is an external reminder of the rest that the redeemed will enjoy throughout eternity.

Sabbath is not meant to be dull or a burden; it is meant to relieve burden. Leviticus 23 includes the Sabbath observances with the feast days (v.3), a festival to Yahweh, a day of celebration, of joy, of delight. More profoundly, Isaiah says if we will make the Sabbath a delight, then we shall take delight in the Lord and ride on the high places of the land (Is. 58:13-14).

This truth converts the keeping of the Lord’s Day (which I use interchangeably, here, with Sabbath-keeping) from a list of off-limit activities to a day of delight. We are finally free to do all the things that the hustle and bustle of our daily work keeps us from doing. It is a day we get to do something which most of the time we are prevented from doing because we have to work. What a delight. A one day-in-seven rest is God’s love, his care, his kindness, his provision both in creation and in redemption.

The Benefits of Sabbath-Keeping

On the practical side, what are the benefits of Sabbath-keeping? Rigney offers four to consider.

1) Keeping the Lord’s Day is a protection against vain anxiety (Psalm 127:1-2).

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Your labor can be vain, your watching can be vain, your rising early and staying up late can be vain if it’s done with an anxious heart, “in anxious toil.” Because God knows this about us, in love, he gives us sleep, making us unconscious for roughly eight hours a day. There is this constant hum of low-grade anxiety in our lives (papers to be written, books to be read, activities to go to, bills to be paid, a house to care for, laundry to do, and on and on). God gives us nightly rest from that, but also provides a day of rest in the midst of six days of toil. It is a reminder that the fruit of our labors is ultimately not in our hands; we’re not God.

2) Keeping the Lord’s Day re-orients our understanding of fruitfulness.

Many of us worship at the altar of efficiency; sacrificing our families, our relationships to the god of productivity. We know our lives don’t consist of the abundance of our possessions, but how many of us live as if our lives consist of the length of our to-do list or better, the number of things we’ve checked off today. We define ourselves by our achievements and accomplishments, by our productivity.

Sabbath rest reminds us that fruitfulness is not only a quantitative term, but a qualitative term. It orients us to consider the quality of our lives, not merely the quantity of our completed tasks. Rest does not exist that you might enjoy pause before getting back to work; work exists so you might rest, so you might enjoy what you have done. The whole trajectory of history is moving toward an eternal Sabbath rest. Yes, we work, but it has a goal. It’s not that rest exists for the sake of work, but work exists for the sake of rest. Sabbath rest reminds us of that weekly; a weekly reminder of what’s coming. Like God, we labor in order that we might enjoy its fruit.

3) Keeping the Lord’s Day teaches us the difference between escaping from our work and resting from our labor.

There is a difference. When we look forward to escaping, we are desperate to stop doing something. It is “a running from.” Rest, however, is “a running to.” We look forward to rest, we are desperate for it.

Escape hates work and tries to mute it for a moment, to drown it out, but it is still going on in the background. Rest turns it off that we might listen to a different tune entirely.

Escape is death. It’s lifeless, it’s mindless, and it’s dull. Rest is life. It’s vibrant, it’s refreshing, it’s fruitful. Escape numbs us, rest awakens us.

Escape makes the burden of work heavier. We feel burdened by our work, so we take breaks to email or Facebook or etc., but when we return we feel more burdened. In contrast, rest makes the burden lighter (Matthew 11). Escape dreads Monday, Rest laughs at Monday, like the woman in Proverbs 31, rest laughs at the time to come (v. 25).

4) Keeping the Lord’s Day helps to avoid a creeping Gnosticism (a belief that the physical world is bad and that only the spiritual world is worthy). Such thinking corrupts the glorious reality of resting in Jesus which can become an empty slogan if it justifies a never-ending work week – “I don’t really need to physically rest, instead I seek only the spiritual rest I have found in Jesus.”

“Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). There is a tendency to neglect rest because our striving have ceased in a sense and we are resting in Jesus all the time, but this is a dangerous attitude, hazardous to our physical and spiritual health. However, when we intentionally and gladly weave into our lives this amazing reality of the inward rest, that Jesus bought for us by his blood, with a regular rhythm of work and physical rest, we gain an amazing opportunity to experience the fullness of God. Take a spiritual lesson from Elijah – sometimes the most spiritual things you can do is take a nap (1 Kings 19).

Practical Suggestions for Keeping the Lord’s Day

Rigney identifies himself as a toddler just learning to walk in the practice of Sabbath-keeping, but he wants to get better at it. He offers a starter’s list, in no apparent order, of tangible ways to begin living this all out.

1) Define the boundaries of time. Joe and his wife, practice their Sabbath-keeping from Saturday evening to Sunday evening. As a college instructor, Joe needs some time Sunday evening to prepare for his students the next morning. In this way, he is given the freedom of mind to attend to those things even while keeping the Lord’s Day. He wanted a 24-hour period which provided a good night’s sleep where he was not thinking about all the things he has to do the next day; this solution works for him.  Define your boundaries.

2) Avoid LIKE THE PLAGUE, blogs, FB, Twitter, texts, etc. One step further? Put computers away completely to avoid mindlessly spending time on the internet or watching movies instead of resting.

3) Eat a really good meal, eat a really good long meal, eat a really good long meal with friends and lots of laughter – make it a delight. It is, after all, a feast day, so feast.

4) Go for a walk; go for a walk with some friends or your spouse or by yourself.

5) Play a board game or a game outside (Frisbee, football, play catch, shoot hoops, go for a jog, etc.)

6) Sleep in or take a nap; do both! Rigney spells out a system he and his wife have designed that allows each to get an extended period of sleep in during the day even with little ones who haven’t learned that the Lord’s Day is a day of rest (@ 29:15” for all of you tired parents).

7) Refuse, absolutely refuse, to prepare for next week, whatever it is. Even as a college instructor speaking to students, Rigney says, “If you’ve got school work, put it up.” Enjoy the fruit of your labor.

[Of all points, this causes me the most fear, not in the setting aside of work on that day, but in the frenzy of the week past or to come as I must now cram my usual seven days of work into six. What will that mean for those six days? I’m thinking that this is an area I would need to take by faith, to watch and see how God takes care of the labors of my other six days. ~ky]

8) Read the Scriptures, a biography, a fiction book (put the study books up); fall asleep doing it ( :

9) Worship with God’s people; look forward to it, anticipate it, linger over it, arrive early and stay late.

10) Invest in family; make it a goal for your children to grow up with Sunday the highlight of the week (looking forward to it on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – looking back, thankful for it).

11) Cultivate gratitude. You’ve been saved by grace, you live in it, you’re swimming in it, so by all means be grateful… specifically. General gratitude dies; specific gratitude grows. Spend time enjoying and thanking God for all of his gifts to you.

12) Use this one day in seven to cultivate a longing for the heavenly Sabbath; awaken it. Infuse it with the anticipation of that great and glorious day when all shall be well and we will sit down to the marriage feast of the Lamb, to feast with Jesus and truly find our rest in Him.

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