The Me I Don’t Want to Be

7 Jul

It seems like it’s often just assumed we should want to be who we were when we came out of our mother’s womb.

In other words, the idea that so often goes unquestioned, is that there’s this true, authentic self that is just who we are at the core that then somehow gets covered up by our cultures and other people’s opinions and desires for us that we must courageously seek to uncover and live out if we are going to be truly free and enjoy life as we are meant to enjoy it.

But, for me, whenever people talk like that I always think, why would ever want to be that person?

If you want to know my true, authentic self left to itself without any outside influences, it is not that different than any other person’s true, authentic selves. Oh, some of the quirks and particular tendencies may be different, but not the main drive, which was self. I came out of the womb with an intense longing to be the center of the world. And I was willing to do pretty much whatever it takes to get people to submit to my desire for that.

The truth is I don’t want to be that guy. I look back on who I was and there’s no way that I would want to go there. I want someone to save me from my authentic self, and of course, the good news of the gospel is that someone has come to do just that.

Not only did Jesus come so that I could be forgiven of my original sin, He also died to purchase the Spirit for me, who is in the process of helping me become less and less of who I was and more and more of who God designed me to actually be. What’s ironic of course, is that if I listened to the world and just let go and gave into all the sinful tendencies I entered the world with, I would find not freedom but slavery; and yet by submitting to Christ’s lordship over my life and working with the Spirit of God to obey His commands and become the person He wants me to be, I find just the opposite, this is where I find true freedom and life and peace.

The Necessary Starting Point

6 Jul

“Hence, it appears that those schemes of religion or moral philosophy, that – however well in some respects they may treat of benevolence to mankind and other virtues depending on it, yet – have not a supreme regard to God, and love to him laid as the foundation, and all other virtues handled in a connection with this, and in subordination to it, are not true schemes of philosophy, but are fundamentally and essentially defective.”

J. Edwards

Continual Efforts for the Salvation of the Heathen

30 Jun

The people around us may be nice and polite and financially prosperous but if they are not converted they are spiritually blind and in great spiritual danger.

This is clearly the biblical picture of the unconverted.

Blind. Enslaved. Spiritually dead.

The question is, do we believe it?

There is a lot of pressure not to. These kinds of thoughts certainly are not politically correct. The people around us minimize the importance of belief. And as a result, I am afraid that we are in danger of losing a sense of the urgency of the evangelistic task. It is good, I think, to take a step outside of our culture, and remember that the way people are telling us we must think is not the only way to think and certainly not a biblically way to think.

This morning I read this letter from Ann Judson. I would much rather think like Ann Judson than even the most respected unbeliever of our age.

Note her passion for the conversion of the lost.

She writes,

“I want the Baptist throughout the United States to feel, that Burmah must be converted through their instrumentality. They must do more than they have ever yet done. They must pray more, they must give more, and make greater efforts to prevent the Missionary flame from becoming extinct. Every Christian in the United States should feel as deeply impressed with the importance of making continual efforts for the salvation of the heathen, as though their conversion depended solely on himself. Every individual Christian should feel himself guilty if he has not done and does not continue to do all in his power for the spread of the gospel and the enlightening of the heathen world. But I need not write thus to you. You see, you feel the misery of the heathen world. Try to awaken Christians around you. Preach frequently on the subject of Missions. I have remarked it to be the case, when a minister feels much engaged for the heathen, his people generally partake of his spirit.”

Letter from Ann Judson to Francis Wayland, January 22, 1823

Blessed to be a blessing

25 Jun

One of the clear marks of just how selfish we are is the way we typically and instinctively respond to undeserved blessings from God.

You might think that being given something we didn’t earn and something we didn’t have before would make us more thankful and more generous, but so often it doesn’t. Before we receive the blessing we might think to ourselves if only I had this particular blessing, I would be so happy and I would be so giving, but so often when we receive the blessing, it’s not long until we are dissatisfied with it and it’s remarkable how hard it is to be generous once you have it. Instead, when we receive the blessing, we are so quick to think, well, if I give it away, then how do I know I will ever get it again, maybe I better just wait, until I have more.

God blesses us to be a blessing to others and because it is sometimes so against our sinful nature to actually bless others with the blessing we have received, it’s good sometimes to just step back and think about *some of the reasons why we should seek to be a blessing.

1.) It’s beautiful when we bless others with the blessing we have received from God. 

A tree that bears fruit is better than a barren tree, obviously, because it is fulfilling the purpose of a tree. People that use their blessings for others are at least partially fulfilling God’s purpose for them. We were not made to be all about ourselves and when we are all about ourselves we are going against God’s design for us. What’s more, in seeking to be a blessing to others, we are imitating God, and God is the most beautiful person in the universe, and so of course, we are beautifying themselves.

2.) It’s an honor to use the blessings God has given us to bless others. 

Jonathan Edwards puts it like this, “When God makes any one a blessing unto others he puts that honour upon them to make them  the instruments and vehicles of his mercy and goodness. In order to honor us, He so orders it that his Goodness shall pass to others through our hands…”

We might look at the good angels and say what a privilege to serve God the way they do, and yet, when we serve others, we too are instruments in God’s hands.

3.) It comforts us and brings peace to us when we use the blessings God’s given us to bless others.

Jesus told us that it is more blessed to give than it is to receive. He’s not simply saying there that it is better to give, but that it is more blessed. We actually receive more blessing through giving to others than we do selfishly hoarding things for ourselves. God’s stuffed his commands filled with blessings and the command to bless others with the blessings we have received is just another way for Him to bless us!

Again, Jonathan Edwards notes one of the ways blessings others comforts us. Characteristically, he thinks of how we will feel as we go to die.

“How uncomfortable and dreadfull must it especially be on a death bed to look back on a past life and to have it to consider that he has  done little or no good in his life that he has lived…and on the contrary how comfortable must it then be to look back and see a past life filled up with  deeds of beneficence and that they have been made blessings in the world while they have lived in it, that while they have lived they have yielded their fruit in due season and that many have partook of and been refreshed with their fruit, that they have been the instruments of  supplying others wants and relieving others burdens and refreshing others hearts and doing good to others souls.”

4.) It often causes others to look on us favorably when we use our blessings to bless others. 

Even unbelievers tend to respect and be grateful for people who are living their lives for the good of others. While, of course, this isn’t something that our happiness depends on, the respect of others, and in fact, Jesus does tell us that we won’t always have it, if we are truly following him, still, a good name is better than riches and a good reputation is not something we should despise.

5.) It increases our future rewards when we use our blessings to bless others. 

This takes faith of course, but we are convinced God keeps His promises, and He has repeatedly promised to remember and reward those who care for others in His name. Think Sermon on the Mount. How often Jesus motivates his followers to give and pray and serve others by pointing them to their heavenly reward.

When God blesses us, let’s pray that we use those blessings to bless others. And more than pray, let’s remember why it’s so good for us to do so. I know that my selfish desires are great at making excuses for hoarding my blessings for myself. The excuses self makes though don’t really hold up and if I am going to use the blessings God’s given me in a way that He intends, I need to learn to do a little arguing with myself by reminding myself of just how sweet it is to use what God’s given me for other people’s good.

(*I have paraphrased a number of the reasons Edwards gives in his sermon on Genesis 12:2, “Blessed to be a Blessing”)

Choosing Christ as the Best of All

24 Jun

Jonathan Edwards often described a ‘spiritual sight’ of Christ as one of the marks of genuine conversion.

But what exactly did he mean by that?

He recognized that some would be confused and even begin to doubt their conversion because they had wrong ideas of what it meant to see Christ spiritually, so he explains:

“A spiritual sight of Christ is a seeing or a being inwardly sensible of his excellency so as to be convinced that he is an excellent Saviour and a more excellent portion than all earthly things.

This is a spiritual sight of Christ.”

But what does exactly does it look like to be convinced that Christ is an excellent Savior and better than all earthly things?

Edwards continues,

“When a person comes to be really convinced in his mind that Christ is an excellent saviour & a sufficient saviour, a savior suitable for them, that is choosing with Christ with the judgment. And when once the heart comes sincerely and really to incline to Christ as a most lovely person, more lovely than any earthly object and as a lovely savior and to the way of salvation by free grace and by Christ’s worthiness … and the inclination goes out to Christ and the soul longs after such a savior that is choosing Christ in the inclination.”

This is what it means to accept Christ, according to Edwards.

“There is no other accepting of Christ but … the soul comes to choose Christ as the best of all and the way of salvation by Christ as the best and most desirable way and the heart is freely and without force willing to have Christ and it seems delightful to have Christ for a Saviour and to be saved in that way, that is accepting of Christ…

If you have accepted of Christ thus you have accepted of him truly and savingly.”

On not having to justify ourselves any longer

23 Jun

Being the father of daughters means I watch a lot of cooking shows.

One of the things I have been reminded of recently, and I am sure this isn’t reserved for cooking show contestants, is how desperately people are working to justify themselves. It’s kind of sad to hear people say,”I have to win this show so that my children will know I have done something.” Or, “I came here to prove that I really am as good as everyone else.”

Those aren’t exact quotes obviously. I think the exact quotes are probably even more intense.

It reminds me of the privilege we have as believers, and this is not a small one, of not having to work at justifying ourselves any longer. Imagine the freedom of not having to prove yourself to others, of not having to be somebody, of not worrying whether other people think you matter. Though so many people claim to have this freedom, if you look closely at their lives, they are completely bound by other’s opinions. Even sometimes in that they have to do the opposite of what people want them to do, but it’s still other people’s judgments that control them, because they have to justify themselves. They have to show they are somebody.

As believers, we don’t.

We just don’t. Because we have already been justified. And how can I get more approved than I already am? Imagine, “God, I know you love me because of what Jesus did, but look, I have a big church too?” It’s crazy. Being pre-approved on the basis of the work of Christ doesn’t mean I suddenly want to work less, but it does free me up to do the kind of work that really matters, not just the kind that causes others to think I do.

A Sense of the Gloriousness of God

19 Jun

George Marsden notes how Jonathan Edwards understood spiritual awakenings took place:

“God communicates to humans, he [Jonathan Edwards] explained in an immediate way that goes beyond anything that natural reason by itself can attain. What distinguishes saints from unconverted is that the Holy Spirit dwells within converted persons and so gives them the power to apprehend the things of God.

They have in effect a new spiritual sense.

This new sense is not an ability to have visions, or to gain new information that goes beyond Scripture, or to experience intense religious emotions. Rather, it is the power necessary to appreciate the spiritual light that radiates from God, the power to hear the communication of God’s love that pervades the universe. It is a power to appreciate beauty or excellency, specifically the beauty and excellency of Christ.

Such knowledge, Edwards spelled out to the Northamptonites, is qualitative and affective, not simply rational or theoretical. It is, in a familiar image, like the ‘difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.’ Or more exactly, it is like ‘the difference between believing a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty.’ The ‘spiritually enlightened’ person does not ‘merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart.’”

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