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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Three of God's Purposes For Sabbatical

It's a little odd to read about the Sabbath in the Old Testament while I myself am on a 3-month sabbatical. Normally, I think, I might be inclined to push off the teaching as "Old Covenant" with no implications for me. However, I believe that would be a misapplication of the New Testament teaching. 

Among other things, the NT teaches that Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5), all days are holy to the Lord (Romans 14:5), and the sabbath is given to serve people, not the other way around (Mark 2:27). We are always be ready to engage to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12), to love other Christians with differing sabbath views (Romans 15:1) and not to judge one another about sabbath keeping (Col. 2:16-17). 

Even still, from Exodus 31, I believe I see three of God's purposes for my present sabbatical in particular, and more generally for a rhythm of life that reflects that is for my benefit and honors him. 

1. In Sabbath, God aims that my life reflect, not the pattern of his unceasing sovereign work, but the pattern of his creative work. It seems too easily I can slip into being 'always' at work. When I relax, I feel guilty— there are so many good things are yet to be done. The Lord gave us the Sabbath to confront this. While God is always at work (John 5:17), that is not the pattern of life his people are to reflect.  Rather, he calls us to pattern our work habits after his work at creation. Exodus 31:17,
"It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed."

2. In Sabbath, God aims that I remember that, by his grace in Christ, he has sanctified me as his own.  God gave the sabbath "... that you may know that I , the Lord, sanctify you" (Exodus 31:13, ESV). In my rest from my work, I am to rest in God's work. My rest from work — even pastoral work —  should work to exterminate sinful thoughts of my working to earn God's grace and favor. Sabbath rest is given to ground me in the gospel reality that God sanctifies and saves me in Christ, not the other way around. I can, and should rest, because I trust that in Christ the saving work is done. Christ loves me, and died to save and sanctify me (e.g., Hebrews 13:12; Ephesians 5:26).

3. In Sabbath, God aims that I be refreshed. God, after 6 days of work creating everything in the universe, ceased his creative work and on the seventh day, "... he rested and was refreshed." (Exodus 31:17, ESV). I understand when the text says God "rested" because it means that he ceased working. But I'm not sure I really understand when the text  says that God was "refreshed." The word means, 'to catch your breath'. Perhaps, for God it parallels his enjoyment of creation and his own praise of the glory of his goodness when, after each day of creation, he stepped back and said, "It is good".

While it is unclear what this anthropomorphism means in reference to GOD, it is clear what it means to me (cf. Exodus 23:12). It means, God gave me the Sabbath teachings in order that I would rest and catch my breath. It also points to a final future eternal rest which is yet to come for us in Christ  (Hebrews 4).

May God give me grace to benefit from the sabbath teaching in Exodus 31 by living a life that more reflects God's creative pattern of work and rest, by resting by faith in God's saving work for me through Christ, and by finding a rhythm of not only rest in the sense of refraining from work, but also refreshment.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Look to Jesus

May God grant us grace to live this day, looking to Jesus. The author of Hebrews describes looking to Jesus as the way to persevere in faith,
"...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus..." (12:1-2). 
Why look to Jesus? Jesus is the starter and finisher of our faith. He is the ground of our every good. Through him we have come to know God in his glory. He is our peace with God, our assurance that God is our God and we are his people. His death is the ground that God is for us and not against us. He has given us his Spirit within us for present grace and as a guarantee of future glory. Look to Jesus and rest in the mercy of God for us who look to him in faith.

On the other hand, at the heart of every temptation to sin is an impulse to look away from Jesus. Thus, Puritan Richard Sibbs describes looking to Jesus as the safe way out of every temptation,

"In temptations it is safest to behold nothing but Christ the true brazen serpent, the true 'Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world' (John 1:29)."[The Bruised Reed, p. 2)

Whether today is easy or hard, filled with faith or unbelief, temptations or triumphs — or all of the above, may God grant us grace to look to Jesus, resting in him for the fullness God's grace to us and relying upon him for his all sufficient grace in our every weakness today (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

23 Years Ago My Sister Was 'Swallowed Up By Life'

Twenty-three years ago yesterday, on March 9, 1987, my older sister Michele Olson died. Her four and a half year struggle with cancer had come to an end. As I remember it, one of our final conversations, in addition to speaking 'I love you' to one another, drew hope from 2 Corinthians 5.

She was dying. Together, our prayers were shifting from, "Lord heal!" to "Lord take!" She said to me and to my wife Kathy, "I don't want to die."

I tearfully spoke hope from 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from GOD, an eternal house in heaven, not build by human hands... For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Later, after what seemed like endless hours of unconsciousness labored breathing, she died. Or rather, my mortal sister, Michele, was 'swallowed up by life.'  Verse 5 adds the eternal purposes of GOD,
Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.
In the valley of the shadow of death we – both the dying and the not yet dying – have great hope in Christ. According to this text, it is God's eternal purpose to take us to live with him forever, not in our old diseased, worn out mortal bodies. But in renewed bodies, 'buildings made not with hands'.

Since that day, I have had a keen awareness of the hope that is ours in Christ. That is, according to God's eternal purposes in Christ, 23 years ago today my mortal sister, Michele, was swallowed up by eternal life to be with the Lord— FOREVER!

May God grant that we live ever mindful of the gift and brevity of life, without fear of death, resting in hope that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and that in Him we too, will be with the Lord forever.