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Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

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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It’s very gray this morning… and windy and cool.  It should be gray on Good Friday.

All creatures should walk solemnly today as we contemplate the Savior of the world.

This Jesus, whose sinless life fulfilled all the righteous demands of the law which we were helpless to do.

This Jesus, who on this day of all dreadful days cannot restrain his love.  He gives a Gentile governor numerous opportunities to follow conscience and to know the Truth which sets men free (John 18-19).  He warns the mourners who follow him on his road to the cross – “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:27-31).  He prays from the cross for his accusers – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  He bestows forgiveness and gives eternal hope to the believing criminal crucified next to him (Luke 23:39-43) and He cares for his mother (John 19:26-27).

This Jesus, will willingly suffer torture and humiliation on this day at the hands of his creatures.  He asked, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).  Yet, He submitted to the will of the Father to proceed with their plan crafted before the foundations of the world were laid (Luke 22:42).

Pilate’s weakness will not only lead to Jesus’ crucifixion, but add to his sufferings as he tries to appease the blood-thirsty crowd by having Jesus tortured.  He orders Jesus flogged, whipped with leather straps studded with bits of lead and pieces of bone.  Jesus is then led back before the angry crowd in this bloodied state clothed in a purple robe and crowned with thorns, the result of cruel bullying by Pilate’s soldiers.  He is cast out of the Jews’ beloved Jerusalem, bearing the disgrace of an execution “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13).  At the cross, He is stripped down his chiton, the garment worn next to his skin.  The attending soldiers throw lots for his clothes, judging the clothing to be of more value than its owner, the God-man who hangs nearly naked before them.

Then, of course, there comes the greatest transaction in the history of the world.  By the end of this day, all of Christ’s righteousness will appear as available credit in the accounts of sinful men.  Before this though, Jesus will become sin – my sin, your sin, the sin of all mankind.  He will absorb all the punishment for it in wave after wave as He hangs on the tree and turns away God’s wrath from rebellious mankind to himself.  By the end of this day there will remain for God’s people not a single drop of wrath left toward us, all of it spent on his Son.  There is only goodness and love left toward me, his child.

Hmmm…
ah me…

Oh look!  I see the sun has broken through!

It should be sunny on this day.

“And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I have is grace!”

– – – – –

Illustration by Christopher Powers, Full of Eyes, for his music video set to Sovereign Grace’s song, “All I Have is Christ.”

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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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1820-Country-Wedding-John-Lewis-Krimmel

The Coming of the Kingdom (Luke 17:22-37)

22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.  25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man.  27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.  28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.  31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”  37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

Jesus refers to two historical events in this passage on the coming of the kingdom of God and the accompanying judgment to follow.  Both would be familiar histories to the Jewish people at that time.  He speaks of the “days of Noah” and the “days of Lot,” two periods marked by great evil and inescapable judgment.

Of the days of Noah, we are told, “The LORD saw the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6, italics mine).  Of the days of Lot, we read, “the outcry against both Sodom [Lot’s hometown] and [the nearby] Gomorrah was great and their sin was very grave” (Genesis 18:20).  There were not even ten righteous souls to be found to save Sodom from destruction (vv. 22-33).    The men of Sodom were “wicked, great sinners against the LORD” (Genesis 13:13) and “did an abomination before Him” (Ezekiel 16:50).  Sodom’s guilt extended to pride, overfed and prosperous ease and a disregard for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49).  2 Peter 2:7 speaks of the “sensual conduct of the wicked,” and Genesis 19:4-11 records the sin of their lusting homosexuality, even to the extent that when struck with blindness, they “wore themselves out groping” for their intended victims.

Jesus might have used any of these vile examples to warn his listeners of mankind’s sure and coming judgment.  Instead, though, Jesus surprises us by commenting not on the excesses and gross wickedness of those in Noah’s day or Lot’s day, but on their apathy and disregard of anything other than their material world, even up to the point of their doom.  Judgment came upon them before they realized their error in neglecting their need for salvation.

It seems mankind’s tendency is to play down his sins, to disregard the assault our sins are to the character and nature of our maker, whose image we bear in the world.  If we acknowledge our shortcomings or sins at all we often subconsciously rank them in relation to the scope of other worldly sins.  Such phrases as “at least I don’t ____ like so and so,” or, if we’re very nearsighted, we may even try to recommend ourselves with such thoughts as, “I’m, basically a pretty good person; I do _____ for so and so and _____ for thus and such.”

But, again, what is the great warning Jesus gives in Luke 17?  It is a warning to those who go through life nonchalantly, ignoring the reality of God around them and believing they have all the time in the world to address their spiritual selves.  Of all the sins in which the people in Noah’s or Lot’s days participated, the sin Jesus highlights appears to be just good, simple living—eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, buying and selling, planting and building (vv. 27-28); nothing we would consider “evil.” Nevertheless, their days ended abruptly in sure judgment.  They were caught unaware, and there was no time left to address their need for deliverance.

So it will be for all mankind, either at the point of physical death or in the day of the Son of Man— “There will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left” (vv. 34-35)

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

___________________

Thank you to Pastor Dave Monreal for the above insight (09-15-13).

[Painting by John Lewis Krimmel, Country Wedding, 1820]

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As best as we can figure it my husband was about 4 or 5 years old when his family went to listen to a Jewish Christian pastor who had recently been released from prison.  He had been arrested for refusing to swear loyalty to the new communist government in Romania.  He would spend a total of 14 years in prison, three in a cell below ground in solitary confinement.  His wife, Sabina, served three years of hard labor digging a canal, leaving their nine year old son alone and homeless.

According to Persecution.com, when Pastor Richard Wurmbrand was ransomed from prison, he and his wife were urged to become a voice to the outside world and to spread the message of the atrocities that Christians face in the underground church around the world.  In a three day period, he penned the flood of memories of his experiences in prison.  The book that resulted is called Tortured for Christ.  In 1966, Pastor Wurmbrand appeared before a U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, where he stripped to the waist and revealed 18 deep torture wounds on his body. His story spread rapidly and led to more and more speaking engagements.  The Wurmbrands traveled the free world sharing stories of Christians suffering for their faith.

At one such Midwestern appearance, my husband was in the audience.  To hear Pastor Wurmbrand speak, one cannot miss the thick Romanian accent.  Yet the Holy Spirit overcame this barrier and unstopped the ears of this young preschooler to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When an altar call was given, his heart burned to go forward, but he did not.  He knew enough though of the workings of the Holy Spirit to recognize His call.  Later that evening or soon after, Dana remembers praying in his room, confessing the sins he knew of, and asking Jesus to be his Savior.  He then remembers a rush of love and well-being that flooded his little self.  He forever associates his salvation with the message preached that night by Pastor Wurmbrand.

Since that time, Dana and I have come to embrace the organization that Pastor Wurmbrand and his wife, Sabina, founded, a ministry committed to serving the persecuted church, called “Voice of the Martyrs” (originally “Jesus to the Communist World.”)   According to the influential work of David Barrett and Todd Johnson, from 30 A.D. to 2000 A.D., history has produced 70 million Christian martyrs, over half of which (45 million) were concentrated in the 20th century.  According to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List, the top eleven persecuting countries (designated as “extreme persecution”) are:  North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen, Eritrea, and Syria.  If you would like to receive Pastor Wurmbrand’s book Tortured for Christ or receive the Voice of the Martyrs monthly magazine, you may do so at VOM’s website.

Here is a nine and a half minute clip of Pastor Wurmbrand made in the 1960’s as he discusses his experiences not only of man’s cruelty toward mankind, but also the very real presence and comfort of Jesus in the midst of such horrors.  It’s a long clip (~9:30″) in this fast-paced insta-everything day in which we live, but it is well worth your time.  If you’re a follower of Isus (Romanian for Jesus), it will leave you with comfort for the days of tribulation as well as a heart for those Christians who are currently sharing in the sufferings of Christ in restricted nations around the world. Isus is Lord!

 

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).

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