Redeeming the Time Part I

During this unique time we have a great opportunity.  The pandemic has upset our normal schedules and caused us to evaluate how to best use our time.  Some of the activities we desire to do have been taken away and we are left with creating new schedules for ourselves and our family.  Let’s not waste it.  Let’s redeem this time by purchasing each moment, buying each moment back for the glory of God.

For your consideration, I’m going to post one of Jonathan Edwards sermons on the subject in parts over the course of this week.  It is long, and sometimes not easy to read, but there is valuable truth and wisdom here.  If you only take one thing away, may it be the truth that time is exceedingly precious and our Lord calls us to redeem that time.  And living through a lock-down during a global pandemic counts as time that needs to be redeemed!

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Dated December, 1734

Ephesians 5:16

“Redeeming the time”

Christians should not only study to improve the opportunities they enjoy, for their own advantage, as those who would make a good bargain; but also labor to reclaim others from their evil courses; that so God might defer his anger, and time might be redeemed from that terrible destruction, which, when it should come, would put an end to the time of divine patience. And it may be upon this account, that this reason is added, Because the days are evil. As if the apostle had said, the corruption of the times tends to hasten threatened judgments; but your holy and circumspect walk will tend to redeem time from the devouring jaws of those calamities. — However, thus much is certainly held forth to us in the words; viz. that upon time we should set a high value, and be exceeding careful that it be not lost; and we are therefore exhorted to exercise wisdom and circumspection, in order that we may redeem it. And hence it appears, that time is exceedingly precious.

SECTION I

Why time is precious.

Time is precious for the following reasons:

First, because a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it. Things are precious in proportion to their importance, or to the degree wherein they concern our welfare. Men are wont to set the highest value on those things upon which they are sensible their interest chiefly depends. And this renders time so exceedingly precious, because our eternal welfare depends on the improvement of it. — Indeed our welfare in this world depends upon its improvement. If we improve it not, we shall be in danger of coming to poverty and disgrace; but by a good improvement of it, we may obtain those things which will be useful and comfortable. But it is above all things precious, as our state through eternity depends upon it. The importance of the improvement of time upon other accounts, is in subordination to this.

Gold and silver are esteemed precious by men; but they are of no worth to any man, only as thereby he has an opportunity of avoiding or removing some evil, or of possessing himself of some good. And the greater the evil is which any man hath advantage to escape, or the good which he hath advantage to obtain, by anything that he possesses, by so much the greater is the value of that thing to him, whatever it be. Thus if a man, by anything which he hath, may save his life, which he must lose without it, he will look upon that by which he hath the opportunity of escaping so great an evil as death, to be very precious. — Hence it is that time is so exceedingly precious, because by it we have opportunity of escaping everlasting misery, and of obtaining everlasting blessedness and glory. On this depends our escape from an infinite evil, and our attainment of an infinite good.

Second, time is very short, which is another thing that renders it very precious. The scarcity of any commodity occasions men to set a higher value upon it, especially if it be necessary and they cannot do without it. Thus when Samaria was besieged by the Syrians, and provisions were exceedingly scarce, “an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver.” 2 Kin. 6:25. — So time is the more to be prized by men, because a whole eternity depends upon it; and yet we have but a little of time. “When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return.” Job 16:22. “My days are swifter than a post. They are passed away as the swift ships; as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.” Job 9:25, 26. “Our life; what is it? It is but a vapour which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Jam. 4:14. It is but as a moment to eternity. Time is so short, and the work which we have to do in it is so great, that we have none of it to spare. The work which we have to do to prepare for eternity, must be done in time, or it never can be done; and it is found to be a work of great difficulty and labor, and therefore that for which time is the more requisite.

Third, time ought to be esteemed by us very precious, because we are uncertain of its continuance. We know that it is very short, but we know not how short. We know not how little of it remains, whether a year, or several years, or only a month, a week, or a day. We are every day uncertain whether that day will not be the last, or whether we are to have the whole day. There is nothing that experience doth more verify than this. — If a man had but little provision laid up for a journey or a voyage, and at the same time knew that if his provision should fail, he must perish by the way, he would be the more choice of it. — How much more would many men prize their time, if they knew that they had but a few months, or a few days, more to live! And certainly a wise man will prize his time the more, as he knows not but that it will be so as to himself. This is the case with multitudes now in the world, who at present enjoy health, and see no signs of approaching death. Many such, no doubt, are to die the next month, many the next week, yea, many probably tomorrow, and some this night. Yet these same persons know nothing of it, and perhaps think nothing of it, and neither they nor their neighbors can say that they are more likely soon to be taken out of the world than others. This teaches us how we ought to prize our time, and how careful we ought to be, that we lose none of it.

Fourth, time is very precious, because when it is past, it cannot be recovered. There are many things which men possess, which if they part with, they can obtain them again. If a man have parted with something which he had, not knowing the worth of it, or the need he should have of it; he often can regain it, at least with pains and cost. If a man have been overseen in a bargain, and have bartered away or sold something, and afterwards repents of it, he may often obtain a release, and recover what he had parted with. — But it is not so with respect to time. When once that is gone, it is gone forever; no pains, no cost will recover it. Though we repent ever so much that we let it pass, and did not improve it while we had it, it will be to no purpose. Every part of it is successively offered to us, that we may choose whether we will make it our own, or not. But there is no delay. It will not wait upon us to see whether or no we will comply with the offer. But if we refuse, it is immediately taken away, and never offered more. As to that part of time which is gone, however we have neglected to improve it, it is out of our possession and out of our reach.

If we have lived fifty, or sixty, or seventy years, and have not improved our time, now it cannot be helped. It is eternally gone from us. All that we can do, is to improve the little that remains. Yea, if a man have spent all his life but a few moments unimproved, all that is gone is lost, and only those few remaining moments can possibly be made his own. And if the whole of a man’s time be gone, and it be all lost, it is irrecoverable. — Eternity depends on the improvement of time. But when once the time of life is gone, when once death is come, we have no more to do with time; there is no possibility of obtaining the restoration of it, or another space in which to prepare for eternity. If a man should lose the whole of his worldly substance, and become a bankrupt, it is possible that his loss may be made up. He may have another estate as good. But when the time of life is gone, it is impossible that we should ever obtain another such time. All opportunity of obtaining eternal welfare is utterly and everlastingly gone.

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In Christ Alone (Virtual Choir)

This was done a few years ago, but it is very applicable for today.  48 singers from 14 different countries.

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Songs to Sing on Sunday

Here are some songs you might want to consider singing along with tomorrow as you worship at home with your family.

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How the World Worshipped on One of the Most Unusual Sundays in Church History

This is a pretty amazing article, one that highlights a unique time in the history of the church.  More food for thought about how the church responds to crisis.  As always, Challies.com is a great resource for all sorts of information.

How the World Worshipped on One of the Most Unusual Sundays in Church History

 

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Responding to the Spanish Flu of 1918

This is an article that dives deep into how churches in Washington, D.C. responded to the Spanish Flu of 1918.

How DC Churches Responded When the Government Banned Public Gatherings During the Spanish Flu of 1918

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On Whether the Church Can’t Gather

Another episode from  IX Marks Ministries focused on the church gathering in the midst of the current pandemic.

Episode 119: On When the Church Can’t Gather

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Read Luther’s letter about plague

This is a resource that is certainly timely.  It is not a short letter that is for sure, but it is fascinating.

Read Luther’s letter about plague

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All Teaching Series Now Free to Stream

from Nathan W. Bingham at Ligonier Ministries

Mar 17, 2020

As a result of the global health crisis, churches are canceling Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday school classes. Pastors and elders around the world are thinking about new ways to bring God’s Word to their congregations. Fathers and mothers want to care for their children’s souls. This truly is an unprecedented time. To serve growing Christians around the world, Ligonier Ministries is here to help you maintain your daily growth and the discipleship within your family and community.

Please go here for more information and resources

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How Might this Coronavirus Help Churches Be On Their Guard?

[Given the current situation, I will be posting various things related to the church responding to the coronavirus.  Not everything I post I will necessarily agree with.  During this time especially, let us please give other Christians grace and charity in the decisions that they make.  And ultimately, let’s look to our only true source of peace, which is our Lord.  This blog post was Written by Stephen McAlpine on March 13, 2020.  More of his content here.]

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.  People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:25-28

Thought experiment:

Leaving aside the most obvious factor about whether your church cancels its service or not in the wake of the coronavirus, what else might change about your church both during and after the virus peak?

What things that were previously thought necessary to run your church will now be determined not to be necessary?

And what preaching and sermon series might be viewed as non-essential or even totally inappropriate?

Whether you are panicking right now, prepping for doomsday because you’re reading and watching everything about it, or if you’re just being realistic and taking sensible precautions, this is a good test run for church.

In the West we’ve built a church infrastructure, that requires certain favourable conditions, including – though not limited to  – economic ones, in order to survive. And the para-church organisations gathered around churches picking up those crumbs have also hitched a ride on this model.

And what we’ve seen this past week shows that it’s precarious.  And we don’t even think about it.  We’re not on our guard.

Which is strange because as we read the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, the key command is “Be on your guard“.  Watch!  Jesus commands us to love – often.  But he commands us to be on our guard -often too.

Churches in the West, like so much of the secular culture, don’t appear to be on their guard. We are not kitted out for extreme conditions. We are not, in the words of Taleem Naseb, “antifragile“.  If the coronavirus were a metaphor for the danger posed to a fragile church, then the church in the West is a heavy-smoking, diabetic 75 year old who keeps hanging out at crowded shopping malls.

Now I know there are all sorts of crazies with maps and charts; theological preppers, always assuming they live in the last of the last days and who are stocking up on beans, spam and shotguns. I don’t mean those guys.  Those guys love the “Be on your guard” command. The “love” command? Not so much.

But we couldn’t be accused, if the evidence were the manner in which we run church, of being on our guard for an apocalyptic event in any way, shape or form.

Often it feels like we’ve simply supped at the Kool Aid of the post-Christian myth of progress.  Our budgets, our ideas of how we make this network grow, or how we make our denomination stronger by getting a bigger slice of the pie, all looks like a business model that has no sense of a sharp economic downturn, never mind something truly apocalyptic.

When Jesus talks to his disciples about the imminent destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in just a few decades from then (C.f Mark 13 and Matthew 24), he deliberately conflates that apocalyptic trouble with the ongoing apocalyptic trouble that will mark the times before his return.

That’s why Jesus said stuff like this in Mark 13:

“But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Is this meant to scare us? Perhaps. Is it meant to comfort us?  For sure. Is it meant to sober us up.  Absolutely.  And a sobered up church in the West would not be a bad thing at the moment, would it?

So moments like these challenge us to ask: What about our church might need to change, during, and in the wake of this coronavirus?

Never mind should five thousand people meet together this weekend. What about this time next year when the economic conditions shrink your projected budget?

Would big church that costs hundreds of thousands/millions to run each week be able to survive the economic downturn that is coming in the wake of this?  Paid Staff layoffs and shelving of grand plans will be inevitable.

And never mind big church, would smaller churches that mimic the model of those big churches, but which have far less margin, fare any better?

Would interstate and international conferences that pump up the “next generation leaders” or whoever is being pitched to, not simply shut down? Wouldn’t we find that those things were probably of little or no importance?

And would a sermon series “Six Steps To Financial Freedom“, or indeed a book called “Your Best Life Now” really seem anything other than obscene and irrelevant if the virus did take hold and collapse the economy in the long term?

The test of whether what your church is preaching is the actual gospel or an imitation not worthy of the word, is whether or not the vision it pitches to you could survive not only an apocalyptic virus, but the actual apocalypse itself.

Is the level of Christian community your model of church has engendered so thick that if you had to shut your auditorium, the people of God would find robust and healthy ways around this minor inconvenience to continue meeting together in order to praise the living God?

Would the satellites orbiting the gravity-pulling big planet of your gathering simply spin off into space if the short term health factors short term, and the long term economic factors, crush the model you are building?

When the Chinese church was being harassed by the Communists back in the early days of the Cultural Revolution they resolved to delete all that is not necessary. 

They discovered the secret to a leaner and meaner way of being God’s people together.  They discovered that many of the things they were doing were actually not necessary!  But they only discovered that when they were put under pressure to do so. And that took time and it was painful.

Perhaps both the reality of what this virus will do, and the fears of what it may do, is giving us the chance to take stock of what is not necessary, and rather than just delete it abruptly, give us the chance to land the plane gently, and shape a church system, and engender a Christian attitude that looks and sounds like “Be on your guard.”

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What Should Churches Do About Coronavirus?

IX Marks Ministries has a lot of good content.  In the link below Mark Dever talks about  what pastors and churches should do in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Quick Take: What Should Churches Do About Coronavirus?

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