During the First Great Awakening, many people were criticizing Jonathan Edwards and the other preachers for “speaking terror to them who are already under great terrors, instead of comforting them.” In other words, why don’t you put a big smile on your face, tell people how much God loves them, and tell them everything’s alright?

Edwards response:

The critics are right if the ministers are scaring people with things that are not true. But if the things they say are true, they should continue to speak them since this is the most loving thing to do. That is, when we preach things that are true we are helping people understand the seriousness of eternity. We desperately need to see the utter hopelessness of our estate. We have settled for pats on the back when what we need is a kick in the pants. There is not one person reading this right now who thinks that they are alright. When you are honest with yourself when you lay down at night, you know that you should not have said that biting word or thought that horrible thought or looked at that thing or done myriad of other sin.

This is not just a little problem. This sin issue pervades your being. You can’t escape it. It is the monkey on your back that promises sweet pleasures, delivers nothing but cackles, and latches on tighter. As Edwards said, “The truth is, that as long as men reject Christ, and do not savingly believe in him, [however religious they may be], they have the wrath of God abiding on them, they are his enemies, and the children of the devil (Matt 8.38; 1 Jn 3.10)…”

The truth is: no matter how good your external actions are (going to church, giving to disaster relief, taking a meal to someone, etc.) your heart must be converted. You must be born again, to use Jesus’ words.

The truth is: you need to realize your miserable estate and treasure Jesus as your only hope of being acceptable to God. You are required to obey God completely…from the heart. It is not enough to not steal, commit adultery, lie, etc. You must love God with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND your neighbor as your already love yourself. You can’t do this. But Christ has. That is what it means to embrace Jesus as he has been offered to us in the Good News of God.

Edwards:
To blame a minister for thus declaring the truth to those who are under awakenings, and not immediately administering comfort to them, is like blaming a surgeon, because when he has begun to thrust in his lance, whereby he has already put his patient to great pain, and he shrinks and cries out with anguish, he is so cruel that he will not stay his hand, but goes on to trust it in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand, and go about immediately to apply a plaister, to skin over the wound, and leave the core untouched, would heal the hurt slightly, crying ‘Peace, peace, when there is no peace.’ (Thoughts on the Revival, Part III).

Let us not forget that Scripture is very clear about the seriousness of life: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10.31).

Do not think that God will just look over your sin. Every time you sin you join the soldiers who mocking the Christ, spit in his face. Think this is too much? Sin is denying that God’s way is the best. What more, it declares that God has no place in your living. You proclaim that he is a fool and you are the wise one. You know best. Truth be told: Sin is a lie.

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Leading with a Limp

Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip (Gen. 32.31; NLT)

Too many times we focus on the action of leadership and not the ontology of the leader. That is, when asked to define what a leader is, most people’s responses are boiled down to “They lead.” This is what a leader does. This is not what he is.

In my experience, the most important characteristic of a leader is humility. True, a proud and overly confident leader may get the pin to move on the measuring gauge. In the long run, however, her leadership will lose its effectiveness over time. What is more, those who follow her will not be shaped. The primary goal of a Christian leader is to shape the whole person, to see people mature and grow in their love for God and neighbor. If they are coerced or pressed into a mold of conformity, their hearts will not be changed because a law has been imposed on them.

Leaders ought to want to see people changed more than a goal to be reached. Or put another way, the goal to which a leader aims ought to be Christ being formed in those that follow him. This is the metric we see throughout Scripture. This, then, ought to be our goal in leadership. this Christ-likeness

The primary way a leader promotes this Christ-likeness is through his own Christ-likeness. And what do we see in the Lion of Judah save the wounded Lamb.

I remember going through a pastoral assessment wherein the interviewers looked at me and said they weren’t sure that I had worked through past pain. This is after I had shared with these brothers a lot of hurt and told them how the Lord had drawn near in those times. Surely, there is some time that people need to work through their pain. This is, however, a first world problem. How many other brothers and sisters don’t have the luxury to go to a year of counseling or to step out of a painful ministry experience?

No, we are called to minister not after our wounds are healed but in the midst of our wounds. We are called to show the scars and still feel the cold breath of unrequited loves and expectations. This is where we ought to live and minister from. We ought not to hide our limp. We ought to highlight the fact that we lean on another. We are frail. We fail. When we model that kind of bold dependence on God, we, in essence, reveal that we are but pilgrims moving toward another country and the path is hard and the pain is real. Not something we learned from and not something got over–as though it’s something in the past. Rather, the pain and problems ought to be the very stuff our ministry’s are made of.

God’s Broad Shoulders

One of the fascinating aspects of my profession is that I come in contact with a lot of Christians who want to engage with their faith in a deep way. Rather than being content with showing up on Sunday or being CINO (Christian In Name Only), these folks want to understand the Bible better and tease out the implications for their lives.

On the flipside of this, many of these same people are afraid to engage with their doubts in a deep way. It’s almost as if, doubts and questions are treated from a distance–“I don’t struggle with this, but…”

The biggest breakthrough in my own journey of faith came through (and continues to come through) engaging my doubts and questions as my own. They are not theoretical. They are honest struggles: problem of evil is the perennial one. I was in the throes of one of these bouts several years ago when a friend told me, “God can handle your doubts.”

I have used this same bit of advice for my struggling friends and self. If truth is not relative. If God is truth. Your doubts and questions will not overthrow this objective, transcendent truth. It’s not as though you are the first to struggle with doubts and fears and pain. The heavens will not collapse under the weight of your doubts. You won’t come up with a question that will cause God to close up shop. You can honestly engage with your doubts and fears and pain and suffering without having to be quick to give the typical and trite answers to matters of faith.

Go ahead, roll your burdens on God. He’s got broad shoulders.

When Darkness Hides His Lovely Face

As many close friends know, I am a pretty outgoing person. What many of those same people may not know is that I often have bouts with darkness. It’s not that I try to hide it, but I have found that people don’t like talking about the darkness. We’re scared of the dark, aren’t we. We’re not just afraid of what lurks in the dark, but we’re also afraid of the ignorance the darkness brings.

I want to be able to label an issue or explain a problem. When we hear of someone struggling through something, we often try to give uplifting answers. Yes, the darkness frightens us. And so. We remain in the darkness.

I have found that when I have told people about my bouts, my visage transforms before my eyes. I see confusion. I see uneasiness. And yet. I find that the sadness is often a friend. He reminds me that things are not the way they ought to be. There is something sinister about the world. Something beautiful, yet shrouded in darkness. The sadness makes me long for a day when the fog will lift.

Friend, I am okay with the darkness. I want to know that you are too. I want to know that as Death Cab for Cutie sings, that you will follow me into the dark. Not having answers. Not knowing what questions to ask. Not anxious to see light. But in the darkness mourning together that the world is not the way it ought to be.