Don’t let us be so inhuman…

20 Nov

There are some who are concerned that the church is losing its way in missions.

Specifically, they see many people who are engaged in mercy ministries and excited about these kinds of opportunities and less passionate and serious about things like, church planting and evangelism.

And they sometimes speak as if the reason for this shift is almost something inherent in mercy ministries themselves. Mercy ministries are distracting, they might say. I however think the problem is much deeper than that. It is not so much a practical problem as it is a theological one. It’s hard for me to process how being obedient to the commands of Scripture is in and of itself distracting. I don’t buy that. It can be distracting. But, not in and of itself.

Instead, I am convinced the reason that people are distracted has less to do with the act of mercy ministries and more to do with the fact that hell is just not very real to them. They may say they believe in hell, yes, but it’s not real to them like perhaps seeing someone starving might be.

The answer then to the mission drift is not simply telling people to stop engaging in mercy ministries, but instead it is to cry out to God for an awakening and to preach eternal realities in such a way that makes those realities absolutely vivid in people’s hearts and minds.

Listen to how Jonathan Edwards once pleaded with his congregation.

“Is it not a great pity that things which are so precious as souls are, should be lost? Should we not, if we saw any man in distress of body and in great danger of dying, be willing to lend him a hand to save his life? Why, let us look about us and we shall see thousands of men in a sorrowful condition, and in danger of dying every moment. Should we see a man a-drowning, should not we be willing to afford him some assistance to help him out of the water? If we look about we may see thousands of poor souls drowning in sin and iniquity, and in danger of being drowned in the lake of fire and brimstone. Let us therefore do what we can for them; perhaps we may be instrumental of saving several souls from everlasting ruin and destruction. If each one here present should do what he could towards it, there is no doubt to be made but that many souls might be saved by their means. Let us therefore do our utmost; don’t let us be so inhuman as to see men sick and not help them.”

If we really want mission to get back on track, we need to paint a bigger and more glorious and powerful vision of what God’s called us to be involved in, rather than simply going around telling people to stop.

The Edwards Sermon Project 3: Outlines, Quotes and Insights for Preaching and Living

17 Nov

As I work my way through the sermons of Jonathan Edwards, besides paraphrasing the messages, I thought I could also try to capture some key brief insights that could easily be used in future sermons or conversations or probably more importantly, in every day life. Here, we look at the third sermon we have from Edwards, which has to do with the wicked man’s slavery to sin.

—–

The Bible’s view of things is often very different than ours.

For example, we might be tempted to look at someone who is disobeying God and prospering and focus so much on their apparent prosperity that we envy them, when really, if they are disobeying God they are actually in a position to be pitied, no matter how much they have.

This should be obvious.

We wouldn’t after all, ever, envy a slave and the Bible tells us that wicked men are slaves to sin.

Yet it is all too easy for us to lose sight of this reality because sin dresses itself up and tries to look pretty. War always involves lying and sin as it wages war against our souls is a master in the art of deception. Therefore, we must slow down and think carefully about the reality behind the life a wicked man lives.

He is a slave.

1. He has to work very hard in order to do what sin asks. 

“Wicked men generally think that the way of holiness and religion is much the hardest, and theirs to be much the easiest…But they are very much mistaken, for godly men have a great deal of the best of it, even in this world…”

One way to see this is by thinking about all the difficulties wicked men have to go through as they go to serve sin.

They have to work hard to serve lust because lust never is satisfied.

“The lusts of men are very fitly compared to fire, for the more fuel you throw on, the more furiously will they burn and rage.”

They have to work hard to get more riches, because riches never fully satisfy.

“The covetous man, if he should get the whole world in his possession would be no more satisfied than when he has nothing.”

They have to labor under accusations of conscience, and fear of death, while their sin actually gives their conscience more and more reasons to accuse them and brings death closer and closer.

Sin is often even hard on us physically. “Lust” Edwards says, “is like a worm that gnaws at the root of life.”

2. He has to do what sin tells him to do, no matter what it costs.

“Wicked men are very obedient servants to sin. All things in the world must give way to the commands thereof: the commands of God must not stand in competition with them, but must all bow down and be trampled upon by sin. His own interest and happiness must also give place when sin requires it, and so devoted are wicked men to their lord and master sin, that they will rather burn in hell forever than disobey him and rebel against him. They stand ready to be sent on any errand that sin requires them to go on; they wait at sin’s gates, and watch at the post of his doors, like an obedient lackey, to hear what commands he has for them to do. Thus, if sin requires them to steal, swear, defraud or commit fornication, it is done; if sin commands them to do that which tends to their own ruin and destruction, it is done; if sin commands them to run and jump into the bottomless pit, the sinner immediately obeys, and runs with all his might toward this pit of fire and brimstone. And whatever fears and dreadful apprehensions he may have on his mind, yet he is such a devoted servant to sin that it shall be performed. Thus he is entirely given up to this tyrant, sin.”

3. He receives no real, lasting advantage by sinning. 

“The poor sinner will moil and toil, night day, all his life-long for sin, and he himself not at all the better for it. He has nothing from sin but his labors for his pains; there is no happiness that he is to receive after he has done his work, but he labors for nothing but to please sin and the devil, and because sin commands him to do so.”

In what way does the wicked man serve sin?

1. He serves sin with his whole soul. 

“Other masters have only the outward man in their service, can rule only their outward actions and have no dominion over their thoughts and wills, but sin enslaves the very soul, so that he believes, wills, loves, nor thinks nothing but what sin allows and commands…There is no man in the world who has so absolute a command over his servant as to command his thoughts; every servant can think what he will, for all his master can do, but sin has dominion over the very thoughts of a sinner.”

2. He serves sin with his whole body. 

3. He serves sin with all that he is. 

“The substance of a wicked man is devoted to the service of sin – neither to the service of God, nor of his fellow creatures, nor his own service, but to the service of sin – to be fuel to his lusts, to pamper his pride, to nourish his luxury, to strengthen him to sin and fat him for the slaughter, such a slave as this, is the wicked person to sin.”

What can we looking on learn from the wicked man’s sad condition? 

1. To be thankful for what God has done for us. Because this is the terrible condition from which God saved us.

“We are all born slaves; our souls and our bodies, with every power of both, come into the world bound to sin. We are born not only with the livery, but also with the fetters and chains of sin upon us.”

2. How much wicked people are to be pitied. 

“When we see a servant that is cruelly dealt with by his master, made to labor hard perpetually and without ceasing, night and day, to go through fire and water, cold and heat, amongst briers and thorns, in perpetual danger of his life, and all this for nothing, his master will neither allow him food or clothing, nor anything else for his service, we pity and have compassion on such an one. But wicked men that are under the service of sin are much more to be pitied. Their master is more barbarous, their labor more difficult, and all for nothing, only to please sin, their master.”

3. That we should turn from sin as quickly and forcefully as possible. 

“Come, be bold and courageous, and don’t be afraid to disobey sin; if you do so, you will not be hurt for it; the devil can’t hurt you for rebelling against sin. You have no more need to serve sin than to cut your own throat, which indeed you are doing as long as you serve sin; wherefore, continue no longer in his services.”

4. How terrible a master sin is.

- Sin is the worst master in the world.

“You, to your shame and disgrace, are servant to the filth of creation, which is too filthy to be allowed in it, and therefore at last shall be cast out of it and burnt in unquenchable fire. You serve the master who is the very loathing and stink of the universe…”

- Serving sin is the most humiliating service in the world.

“To serve sin is to become a fool and divest one’s self of reason and understanding and act more filthily than brute beasts.”

- Sin deals with its servants more cruelly than any other master in the world.

“Sin makes all his servants labor till they are blind and mad, till they are not able to see whereabouts they are, and then leads them away to their own destruction…the work he sets you about is to whet the knife whereby your own throat is to be cut, to sharpen and poison arrow that are to be thrust in your own hearts, to make a fire for yourself to be burnt in.”

- Sin pays the worst payment for the service it requires than other other master in the world.

“After you have spent your life and your soul in this slavery, after you have been vexed by the fears of death and been scorched by your conscience, and rotted in sin’s prison and Satan’s chains, all the wages you shall have for your pains is nothing but one of the chiefest – that is one of the deepest and hottest – places in the lake of fire and brimstone.”

Beautiful People

14 Nov

I know many people who really want to be beautiful.

I go to church with them every Sunday. The people who are most serious about pursuing beauty, are people who are most serious about pursuing holiness, because there is nothing more beautiful to see in a person than true gospel holiness.

Jonathan Edwards explains,

“Holiness is a most beautiful and lovely thing. We drink in strange notions of holiness from our childhood, as if it were a melancholy, [morose,sour,] and unpleasant thing; but there is nothing in it but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely. ‘Tis the highest beauty and amiableness, vastly above all other beauties: ’tis a divine beauty, makes the soul heavenly and far purer than anything here on earth (this world is like mire and filth and defilement, to the soul which is sanctified); ’tis of a sweet, pleasant, charming, lovely, amiable, delightful, serene, calm, and still nature; ’tis almost too high a beauty for any creature to be adorned with. It makes the soul a little, sweet, and delightful image of the blessed Jehovah. O how may angels stand, with pleased, delighted, and a charmed eye, and look with smiles of pleasures upon their lips, upon that soul that is holy; how may they over over such a soul, to delight to behold such loveliness.”

Christian Safety

13 Nov

Those who trust in God are always truly safe when those who do not are never really.

What can hurt the person who is in God’s hand? When even the worst death results in eternal glory. On the other hand, how can someone really truly be safe even if they are comfortable while hurtling towards the wrath of God?

The Incomparable God is Your God

10 Nov
One way to get an idea of the greatness of God is by comparing him to other things that are great. For example, one might compare Him to the angels.
The Psalmist does.
He writes in Psalm 89:5-7,
‘Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,, and awesome above all who are around him.”

In comparing God to the angels, the psalmist tells us there is no comparison really. Not one of these great and glorious beings even deserves to be compared to Him.

God is unendingly exalted above the greatest of all created beings in glory, in majesty, in beauty, and in every other way. 
And what’s amazing is that this God, this incomparable God, who is all powerful, eternal, all wise, lovely, holy, who is the beginning and the end, is your God, if you are believer. You are at peace with the incomparable God. He is your friend. You know Him. He knows you. And He speaks with you, the way someone would speak with a friend, He dwells with you and in you, by the Holy Spirit.
He’s adopted you into His family. He is your father. He sees you as His child. And He will care for you like a son. He will see that you have what you need and that you are able to do what He has planned for you to do. He has made you one of His heirs, a co-heir along with His Son, and He will give an inheritance to you that is fitting for a child of the King of Kings.
And right now, today, this moment, He is sanctifying you and you are being made holy, and as a result, one day, when you stand in heaven, God Himself will celebrate, and bring you His child into His arms, and He will invite you to experience the perfect enjoyment and communion with Him.
You will be made like Him, because you will see Him as He is.
When you think about all this, about having a God like this as your God, your friend, your father, knowing that you have this kind of future, this eternal enjoyment of Him to look forward to, it helps you think straight about everything else as well and is enough to make the troubles and difficulties you experience now seem small in comparison!

Meditating with Jonathan Edwards on Job and the Fleeting Nature of Riches

7 Nov

I sat down the other day with a man who had lost almost everything.

Or so he says.

I have never been that good at being able to discern when someone is telling me a story and when someone is not. But, if what he told me is true, it is certainly some story. From having houses, land, and money in the bank to prison, extradition, and now living on the street.

It was all taken away from him. It seems in just a moment.

Sitting with someone like that, hearing their story, it always sounds at first as something so unusual. And of course, there are parts of it, that are. But, at the same time, there are parts of it, that most definitely aren’t.

Maybe a better example would be Job.

Job was one of the richest men in the world. And then suddenly, without warning, he became one of the poorest.

His servants killed, his property stolen, his children dead.

It was all there, then it wasn’t.

The life of Job is a reminder of the emptiness of things. Even the best of things in this world are so, so temporary.

It is easy to think of what happened to Job as something strange. We read the story as if it were one of a kind. And of course there are elements to Job’s story that are unique. But there are also elements to Job’s story that are not. Like his losing it all.

That will happen to every one of us.

Guaranteed. None of us can take our houses to heaven. Not our cars, not our bank accounts, we leave it all behind. There is a day coming, when it is all going to be taken from us. And we don’t know exactly when.

Did you ever think about that?

Imagine being given something and then being told that soon it’s going to be taken away from you. Knowing that you wouldn’t have it forever would change your attitude towards it. I am sure you would still enjoy it, if it were something good, but you would be careful not to put too much hope and trust in it, because you knew you wouldn’t have it forever.

That is the way it is with stuff.

“The great men in the world…” as Jonathan Edwards once put it, “kings, princes, and lords, when they die are as much deprived of all their outward prosperity as Job was: tis lost at once, and gone forever, never to be possessed more. Job’s losses came indeed sudden, and in a little time one messenger came after another in a very strange manner, but the dying man is deprived of all his external prosperity and worldly good at once, at one breath, even his last breath. This history of Job is only a shadow of death: it is no more than happens to every man in this world.”

And because it happens to every man in this world, it should change the way we think about material possessions.

If people knew they would lose their possessions and be stripped of their prosperity the way Job was, it seems they would stop thinking of working so hard for material prosperity as they do, but instead they begin working for the things that could never be taken away from them.

The eternal is what would matter.

Now of course, I suppose the problem, for the unbeliever is he doesn’t believe in the eternal. He only believes in the now. And to a certain extent, we can appreciate why they work so hard for temporary things as a result. If the fleeting happiness that comes with earthly prosperity were the only riches that there was, it makes sense, I suppose to set ones heart upon it. But, how poor a treasure really! To look for happiness in a happiness which doesn’t last. How disappointing to live as if the best happiness you could ever experience was the kind of happiness that once you enjoyed it, and almost as soon as you enjoyed it, flew away and left you empty.

The good news is of course, it is not.

And we as believers, we know it. This is at the core of our faith. The whole of our religion depends on this. It is like a foundational truth. As someone once put it, “If there be no future state of rewards and punishments in another world, then the whole of our religion is immediately thrown up and destroyed.” And for those of us who are believers, this reality, means practically, that if we were to adopt the same approach to life as the unbeliever, it would be sheer madness.

Why spend your whole working as hard as you can for things that will only be taken away from you, when you can use that same energy, to work for things that actually last?

The Edwards Sermon Project 2: Outlines, Quotes, and Insights for Preaching and Living

29 Oct

As I work my way through the sermons of Jonathan Edwards, besides paraphrasing the messages, I thought I could also try to capture some key brief insights that could easily be used in future sermons or conversations or probably more importantly, in every day life. Here, we look at the second sermon we have from Edwards, which has to do with the value of the salvation of the soul.

We are tempted to place a greater value on material possessions than they are actually worth. In his sermon, The Value of Salvation, Jonathan Edwards gives the following reasons we shouldn’t be as passionate about material possessions as unfortunately we so often are.

1. Stuff doesn’t last forever.

2. You aren’t going to enjoy your stuff forever.

“What good did it do Alexander Magnus when he was dying to think that he had conquered the whole world? He must leave his conquered world to him upon whom God in his providence pleases to bestow it: though he conquered the world, yet death must have a conquest over him at last, and he whom the whole could not contain must at last be confined to only a narrow grave. A few feet square of ground is large enough for him now, whom the earth was not broad enough for before.

3. It’s actually pretty difficult to enjoy stuff very long at all.

“…there is but a little part of this life that man is capable of tasting worldly pleasures. Old age will certainly come on in a little time and the days wherein we shall say we have no pleasure in them…”

4. If you did have all the stuff in the world, it wouldn’t nearly be worth as much as you might think.

It can be difficult to believe that material possessions aren’t as valuable as we think, so Jonathan Edwards gives several proofs that even if we had everything, we wouldn’t really have much. 

1.  The more stuff you have, the more you want.

“Riches are given to men only for them to carry, to support them through the wilderness of this world in the way to heaven; and generally, the more riches the greater the burden, and that is but poor provision, generally to live upon through one’s life, that one is forced to take up with in a journey through a desolate wilderness. Neither would one be willing to carry that burden all one’s life that they may be willing to bear on a journey; and besides worldly riches are so far from bringing satisfaction with them, the more one has of them the more we want.”

2.  The happiness you get from having people respect you, is only because other people think you are important and happy, and not because you actually are important and happy.

3.  Sensual and physical pleasures make great promises but don’t really deliver. Even if you could enjoy them to their full, like fireworks, they really only last a moment, and usually leave you empty in the end.

“They are like shadows and phantoms which vanish as we endeavor to embrace them, and if one doth enjoy them to the full, their nature will allow them to last but a very short time, and after one is a little used to them they are loathed and hated.”

4.  The best thing you can experience in this world is true friendship, but even that by itself, is pretty disappointing because the reality is the more you love someone the more pain you will experience when they fail you or when they leave you, because in the end they will.

He doesn’t say this to discourage us, but instead to point us to what is really valuable, and that is the salvation of the soul. There are a number of different reasons the salvation of the soul is more valuable than gaining the whole world. 

1. Because of what the soul is saved from.

2. Because of what the soul is saved to.

What exactly is the soul saved from? In other words, what does it mean for a soul to perish?

1. The soul that is not saved will never again experience any sort of pleasure.

“They will have taken their leave, then, of all the riches, honors and pleasure of the world, which they used to hug and make a god of; their dear lusts, which were so dear to them that they would not part with them for heaven, that they would not let go of for God Himself, and all the happiness which God could bestow upon them: they must part with them for nothing now, never to enjoy anything like them again. If they have been used to please themselves by handling of silver and gold, with the shining of precious stones and jewels, they shall enjoy no more of them forever; if they have been used to gorgeous apparel and to deck themselves with shining and glistening robes, they shall never more be clothed with any other sort of garments but scorching and tormenting flames which will wrap themselves about their otherwise naked bodies forever; if they have been used to dwell in proud and stately palaces upon earth, they will have nothing for their habitation then but the bottomless pit and the dismal and doleful dungeon of outer darkness; instead of lying at ease in beds of down, they shall have nothing but a sea of liquid fire for their bed, flames instead of the wine and strong drink with which they used to intoxicate themselves: they shall have nothing but the cup of God’s wrath and fiery indignation which they shall be compelled forever to drink. Instead of that wicked company which they used so much to delight in, they shall have nothing but damned sprights for their company in hell; instead of their cursing and swearing, lewd and debauched conversation, they shall yell and roar out forever and ever under God’s dreadful wrath.”

2. The soul that is not saved will only experience pain.

3. The soul that is not saved will never again experience pleasure and only experience pain forever.

This is bad news, but what is the good news? What is the soul saved to?

1. The soul that is saved is saved from all sorts of evil. This means they will not experience temptation or affliction any longer. Ever.

“This life is a warfare to believers against these adversaries, and they must sometimes even agonize against them in order to overcome them, but there they shall be perfectly free from all these things; that life will be a sort of perpetual triumph over these enemies, instead of a warfare against them.”

2. The soul that is saved will be brought to the enjoyment of all good. Every single part of him will be completely satisfied.

“In heaven all the faculties of the soul shall be completely satisfied.”

“To see a God of infinite glory and majesty face to face, to see him as he is, and to know him as we are known, there to be admitted into the most intimate acquaintance with him, to be embraced as in his arms: this is such a privilege as Moses himself could not be admitted to while on earth. The vision and fruition of God will be so intimate and clear as to transform the soul into the likeness of God.”

3. The soul that is saved will not experience any suffering and will only experience all joy, forever.

If we need any more proof of the value of the salvation of the soul, we can look to the value God has placed on the soul. What demonstrations do we find that God values the soul?

1. He made the world for the sake of the soul.

2. He sent prophets into this world that souls might be saved.

3. He sent his own Son into this world to die for the sake of the salvation of the soul.

“What a price is here set upon the salvation of the soul – the blood of the Son of God!”

Given the value of the soul and the relative lack of value in material things, how should we then live?

1. We should be careful that we don’t lose our souls.

“If we look out into this city at any time, we may behold men of all kinds, earnest in pursuit of the world: and why should not men take as much care of that which is so much more valuable and precious, even the salvation of the soul, without which the world is good for nothing?”

2. We should do as much as we can so that others souls can be saved as well.

What steps can we take to guard our souls?

- We should not do things that will damage our souls.

-We should cry out to God to save our souls.

-We must work hard at the things that have to do with the good of our souls.

3. We must persevere in seeking the salvation of our souls.

“Is it not a great pity that things which are so precious as souls are, should be lost? Should we not, if we saw any man in distress of body and in great danger of dying, be willing to lend him a hand to save his life? Why, let us look about us and we shall see thousands of men in a sorrowful condition, and in danger of dying every moment. Should we see a man a-drowning, should not we be willing to afford him some assistance to help him out of the water? If we look about we may see thousands of poor souls drowning in sin and iniquity, and in danger of being drowned in the lake of fire and brimstone. Let us therefore do what we can for them; perhaps we may be instrumental of saving several souls from everlasting ruin and destruction. If each one here present should do what he could towards it, there is no doubt to be made that many souls might be saved by their means. Let us therefore do our utmost; don’t lest us be so inhuman as to see men sick and not help them.

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