Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The One Last Vulnerability

I don't watch tv much. Though these days, I go to the YMCA and exercise, and am reminded as I do, since they have four different news channels to which one can watch and listen: These are uncertain times. (I think perhaps they would seem less uncertain without the news media seeming to purposely instill fears in the hearts of men; but they are right nonetheless; these are certainly uncertain times!) I maintain that all times are uncertain times, however...these just seem less certain than most! But at any given time, no matter how much money you have, how much gas in your gas tank, how much insurance, how much armor, how thick-walled a safe...your life is uncertain. You really don't have every possible protection in place against harm; you are still, ultimately, vulnerable.
Suppose you are a billionaire, with a loving family; all your belongings are paid for, and you have no debts; you've made sure that none of your homes are located in a flood zone or near any prisons or parolees, that the area doesn't tend to have tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes or any likelihood of natural disasters; the walls to your house are built strong and thick; a security gate surrounds each property and is high and strong. Your vehicle is a Hummer; your spouse is trained as an EMT, and you have a defibrillator in every room. You have money in every kind of savings and stock and bond imaginable, and then some in Swiss bank accounts. You have every kind of insurance that they sell that applies to your life. Your gas tanks are full, you have a few generators, a propane tank, a backup of food and water on hand that would feed an army. Your reputation is spotless; there is no potential for slander, defamation or lawsuit. And yet, you stay awake at night. Perhaps you should...because you still cannot be sure of what the future brings.
Then one day, you are idly surfing the internet. You go to someone's blog, and nothing in the blog hits you particularly, but you click on a link, the title of which you vaguely rememeber from somewhere long ago...Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Not sure exactly where you heard of it, maybe back in American History class when you were in high school...it must be one of those Americana things, that its fame has spread even to those who would hold no interest in it of their own selves. You're not even sure why you were interested enough to click on it; maybe it was curiosity as to why it was so famous that you'd heard of it. Hmmm, the author's name is Jonathan Edwards...you've heard of him too; was he some famous character in American history? So your curiosity captures you, and you read it, and as you read, that fear that you've been living with starts to rise up and take hold of you. It's a fear that until now, you had not been able to place, to identify; you have found no measure of security and safety to withhold it. Now you can define its place, you know for certain that you are not secure against it, and you now know that your unnamed fear concerns nothing on earth, but instead the unsettling and unaddressed question of where you will be for all eternity. You realize that all the earthly protections that you have set in place cannot protect you from this fearful, unavoidable and eventual concern.
You can see while reading that Jonathan Edwards has gone down in history with strong justification; he is able to name, as you have never seen before, the cause for a fear for which you had no understanding but which consumed you.
"God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear, that God had need to be at the expense of a miracle, or go out of the ordinary course of his providence, to destroy any wicked man, at any moment." You have known this to be true, and in all your pondering and planning, you have not found the solution; you know that it has eluded you, and continuing reading, you hope that he offers you an antidote to finally put this fear to rest. Is there an antidote? Is he addressing a fear that all humanity understands but few articulate? Do all people fear eternity?
You ponder this and remember a family you once knew, back before you had acquired all these riches. They were so poor, and they had so many children...you knew that they had no reason to be happy from anything you could see, and yet they were more joyful than anyone else you knew. They never despaired or worried, though they had nothing visible that was adequate to explain the peace that continually emanated from them. What was the source of it? What was different about them than about most people you have ever known? And even when the father died, though they were surely saddened, they didn't seem to despair as anyone else would have; they even seemed sure that they would see him again. This family, at least, didn't seem to participate in the fears and heaviness to life that others seem unable to escape.
As you read on in Edwards' sermon, you realize that these fears must indeed be understood by all of humanity; Edwards seems to know just what to say; you recognize the truth of his words and you are pleading that by the end, that Edwards will be ready to give a solution to your fears. When he compares you to a spider being held dangling over a fire, precariously ready to burn in the flame, you know the truth of it. He has named your fear, that you dangle over eternity in hell; you know that in comparison a burnt spider would be shown more mercy because his end would be quick and then he would be no more. You never knew enough about God to know how you might ever have offended Him. Now you know it to be true, and what will you do with it?
Here perhaps Edwards' sermon is inadequate, in giving the solution. He mentions flocking to Christ, and yet how? Why is Christ the answer? Was Christ the answer for that family that you once knew? Is Christ the answer for you? He is the only solution that Edwards provides, but he doesn't really explain it...Edwards knew that his audience had likely already heard the answers to these questions in prior times, whether from his pulpit or in the community where biblical texts were so well-known. But these days, there are so many who have never heard any of the truth from the Scriptures; if you don't know them, you are hardly alone! Here are a few helpful verses; please pardon my tagging along, giving an introduction of sorts to each:

We all start out in the same boat, in that we are all sinners in need of a Savior:
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)
Our sins separate us from God, which isn't good for this life or for eternity:
...your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear (Isaiah 59:2)
We need to confess to Him that we are sinners, acknowledging that we need His cleansing:
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
Even though we were separated from Him, God in His lovingkindness provided a way for us to come to Him after all:
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.(Romans 5:8)
Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead three days later:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures... (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
We aren't capable to save ourselves; it isn't our goodness or anything we do that saves us, but God's loving gift of grace and faith:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Jesus calls on us to trust in Him, to rest in Him, to learn from Him. He willingly takes on the burden of our sin when we come to Him with the faith that God provides:
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
In light of all this, our response is one of worship and praise. We should never hesitate to come to God for forgiveness, for cleansing, and for fellowship with Him. He is good and loving!
Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts... (Psalm 95:6-8a)
When we belong to God, confessing our sin to Him, trusting Him for our salvation, then we are absolutely clean!
"Come now, and let us reason together," says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool."
(Isaiah 1:18)
Our sins are removed, they are far from us. Hallelujah!
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
If you still aren't sure whether it's true, pray to Him. Ask Him to show you the truth, to help you to recognize it. He promises, "You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD... (Jeremiah 29:13-14a).

Now, even if you lost all that you had in the previous part, you'd have a security you had never known. Your eternity would be established and founded in the heavens. When you pray, seeking God's forgiveness through Christ, you become His child, and there is no better security to be found. I say, today is the day of salvation! Pray to receive Him, and have that last vulnerability be the first solid security you have ever known.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards, at Reformed Sermon Archives http://www.reformedsermonarchives.com/ed5.htm

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