When Up is Down and Down is Up and When You Can’t Tell One Way or the Other

24 Jul

It is very difficult to judge what is happening in your life as it is happening.

For example, during a revival that was taking place in Northampton, there were times where Jonathan Edwards seemed to almost think the town in which he was ministering had completely been transformed.

George Marsden writes, “The awakening, though similar to earlier revivals, went far beyond them in extent. Edwards, who had once been resolved ‘in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity’ and now feared that exaggeration could hurt his cause, reported that ‘a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of the town, and among person of all degrees and all ages.’”

Imagine what it must have been like a number of years later when Edwards preached Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and he was not even able to finish the sermon because the audience was in ‘hysterics.’

It must have been some moment for him as he saw people in the town in which he ministered signing a covenant to live according to the New Testament rules for Christian living.

And yet, it wasn’t very much later when that same town turned against him to the point where when asked whether to continue the pastoral relationship with Edwards, only ’23 of the 230 members voted on his side.’

I am sure there were real fruits to the revivals that took place in Northampton and the surrounding areas in those days, but looking back we can see how difficult it must have been for Edwards to accurately judge. It would have been very easy to think more was happening than really was.

It’s also sometimes tempting to think the opposite. What an incredible discouragement it must have been for Edwards when the church began to turn against him. After all, he was only trying to stand for biblical principles, and principles that shouldn’t be all that controversial really, and yet they had so much animosity towards him, that they sometimes spoke of him with indignation and contempt.

He became so discouraged that he “came to doubt whether he had the personal skills to be a pastor.” George Marsden tells us that he wrote to his most supportive Scottish correspondent, “I am fitted for no other business but study.”

You can almost hear the resignation in that statement, can’t you. But really, Jonathan?

Is that why hundreds of years later, probably the most important biography about you begins, “Edwards was extraordinary. By many estimates, he was the most acute early American philosopher and the most brilliant of all American theologians. At least three of his many works…stand as masterpieces in the larger history of Christian literature. The appeal of his thought endures. Every year several new books and scores of academic articles, reviews and dissertations appear about him. Yet he also wrote effectively for popular audiences. His celebrated biography of David Brainerd was a best selling religious text in nineteenth century America and encouraged countless Christians to seek lives of disinterested sacrifice and missionary service. His writings, including some of his more substantial works, continue to inspire many lay leaders. His pen brought lasting influence, but Edwards life involved far more. An active…a heralded preacher…he is sometimes admired most as a contemplative…For seven years Edwards served as a missionary…At his death, at the age of fifty-four, he was the president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton.”

Obviously, in the middle of all the ups and downs God had a great plan for Jonathan Edwards. But it was hard for Edwards to tell how up the ups were and how down the downs were when he was in the middle of them, and the same is true for me and you. There are times in our lives when we think we are at the point of our greatest success, and perhaps that success isn’t as successful as we imagine and there are other times, when we think that we are pretty much useless, when God in the long run has a great purpose and plan in store for us.

We just need to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto our Savior. We serve a glorious God who never fails to bring glory to Himself and while we rejoice in what we think are our successes and grieve over what we think are our failures, we persevere no matter what, because we know God is doing much more in both than we can ever possibly imagine.

Not Wasting Your Day

23 Jul

I have been reading a book called “Getting Things Done.” I know I am a little late to the party, but one of the takeaways I am implementing from the book is the importance of moving past generalities to specifics when it comes to actually accomplishing the goals you have set in place.

In other words, I am learning to rigorously ask myself, “what’s the next specific action I can take?”

This should have been pretty obvious to me as a biblical counselor, because so many people have problems here spiritually as well. They know what to do generally, perhaps, but they don’t know where to begin when it comes to implementing biblical principles into their everyday lives, or at least they aren’t thinking carefully about it.

But, unfortunately it wasn’t always obvious to me and I often have goals and dreams and projects that are sitting out there in undefined land and I am not moving forward on as well as I could because I haven’t stepped up and done some of the more specific planning that I should have.

It is easy to give yourself excuses for not doing so, of course, like I am not so administrative, but really I think it’s more about self-discipline at the end of the day.

I have actually finished reading Getting Things Done and have moved on to What’s Best Next, and I love the combination, because in What’s Best Next the author helps us think through some of these productivity tools and actions from a gospel-centered, biblical perspective.

And one of the points he makes is that seeking to become more productive isn’t so much about seeking to be this awesome, superman leader as it is about learning to best use what you have in every area of your life for other people’s good and God’s glory. I quote, “To be a gospel-driven Christian means to be on the lookout to do good for others to the glory of God, in all areas of life, and to do this with creativity and competence. Further, being gospel-driven also means knowing how to get things done so that we can serve others in a way that really helps, in all areas of life, without making ourselves miserable in the process through overload, overwhelm, and hard to keep up systems.”

Man, I just love that.

The author of What’s Best Next has a web-site you might want to bookmark if you already haven’t. It’s called, wait for it, What’s Best Next. Check it out.

On his blog, he links to an article I was reading this morning, which I thought provided some really helpful thoughts for how to start your work day. Here’s the key question he suggests asking as you make plans for what you are going to seek to do:

“The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?”

Of course, we might take that question and tweak it a bit as Christians, to something like, “The day is over and I am leaving the office with confidence that I have given my best to glorify God and serve others today with the gifts and calling He has given me. What have I done?

Now, I guess, to accomplish that, I should stop writing and start getting to it!

How to walk with God

18 Jul

“In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds on his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robe of his righteousness.”

J.Edwards

Total depravity and doing good

16 Jul

The more we believe our salvation is dependent on our own efforts, the less good we will do. The less we believe in the saving value of our good works, the more zealous we will be.

Or as someone else has said, ‘promoting good works depends on undermining belief in their efficacy.’

How to pursue happiness

16 Jul

“true happiness … is to be come at in no other way than by bearing Christ’s cross by a life of self-mortification, self-denial and labor, and bearing all things for Christ.”

J. Edwards

Theological Mercy Ministry

15 Jul

“Stoddard and his peers saw preaching hellfire as a matter of compassion. Given the reality of hell, it would be inhumane not to alert people to the horrible danger they were in.”

George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, p. 120

What is at the center of it all?

14 Jul

Is your happiness and success the reason for the universe?

I think if you look at most peoples’ fundamental worldview, this is the unwavering assumption that goes unchallenged. The world is here for me. God primarily exists to make me happy and to keep me from anything that makes me sad. Religion is about using God to celebrate me. Church is useful so long as it pleases me.

But what if there is something bigger and more profound that lies at the center of everything than just you?

What if you weren’t the end, but instead the instrument?

Does the thought that you exist for something, someone else’s pleasure and glory excite you? Or does it scare you?

What scares me is sleepwalking through life, living in my own little fairy tale world. There is a blazing beauty that lies at the core of the universe and He is much more beautiful and important and worthy than me and my joy is wrapped up in centering my life on his joy, just like my pleasure in seeing Victoria Falls comes from actually looking at Victoria Falls and not my own reflection.

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