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What You Can Say About A Man of His Word

When you are trying to praise a man, one of the greatest things you can say is that he is “a man of his word.”  What he says he will do, he will do.  Period.  End of sentence.  When you say it with a calm but radiant firmness, “Yes, Bill is a man of his word.” people take note.  They are impressed.  In a way, you are bringing glory to this man in one of the most personal yet powerful ways that you can.

Do you know that you can do the same for God?  Listen to how the Apostle Paul described the life of Abraham:

No distrust made Abraham waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  (Romans 4:20-21)

How did Abraham bring glory to God?  By his faith, by being “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”  Abraham believed it, he acted upon it, and he told others about it. 

I am quick to consider that singing a praise hymn or some other act or worship is the way I bring glory to God.  Sometimes I broaden my scope and think about how my life as a whole brings glory to God.  But these two verses have shown me that my faith— believing that God is who says He is, and that He will do what He says He will do— is a personal and powerful way I can bring glory to God today.

“Idol” Worship

David Cook American Idol

Tens of millions of people were rejoicing with this man last night, and although I am not a “fan” of American Idol, I was rejoicing too.

Seeing the joy in David Cook’s face, I felt joy too.  I asked myself, “Why?  Why am I happy for this man?”  It isn’t because he won a contest, or because he’s going to make a lot of money, or have accolades or prestige, or even get to go to Disney World.

No, it’s because of glory.  It’s because a bartender from Missouri had a hidden glory, was “a diamond in the rough,” had talent that even he didn’t realize, and that glory was unveiled for the world to see.  We saw David Cook and “idolized” him.   We rejoiced in seeing him become the man he was born to be.

Looking at him immediately made me think of what C. S. Lewis wrote years ago in his book The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of potential gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

So seeing David Cook made me think of heaven.  All of us may seem to be a dull and uninteresting bartender at first glance, but in God’s plan there is more, much more.  If we are born of God we will one day unveil a glory that God will create in us that will far outshine even an American Idol.  One day we will live in a glorious place filled with millions of glorious people transformed by the glory of God.   Last night’s show was just the smallest foretaste of what awaits us all in eternity, where we will enjoy each other’s glory as we worship the Source and Giver of all glory, forever and ever.  Now THAT’S something that really fills me with joy, today and tomorrow and forever.

God’s Glory & Our Joy

Note: The following is the last article (#31) in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series is available here.     

The last chapter in Future Grace Piper entitled “The Debt I Owe to Jonathan Edwards.” For people unfamiliar with Piper and his ministry, Piper considers the theology and writings of the 18th century pastor philospher and theologian Jonathan Edwards to be a vital, if not central, contributor to his understanding of the nature of God and our relationship with Him.

Piper’s landmark book, Desiring God, brought to the forefront some aspects of Edwards’ understanding of the relationship between God and His children.  Foremost is that (as Piper puts it) “God is most glorified by us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  One of Edwards’ most seminal quotes is at the front of the chapter:

God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.  When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it.  His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.  God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might be received both by the mind and heart.

Although Piper develops this theology and the reasons behind it in more detail elsewhere, this chapter is a short summary of what he calls Christian hedonism— the belief that not only is it not wrong for us to pursue our own happiness and joy, but that it is commanded by God.  The critical proviso, however, is that the highest and truest joy we must pursue is the joy of God Himself, which is the reason for which we were created and the way that we most glorify our Lord.  Piper states:

It follows from all this that it is impossible that anyone can pursue happiness with too much passion and zeal and intensity.  This pursuit is not sin.  Sin is pursuing happiness where it cannot be lastingly found (Jeremiah 2:21), or pursuing it in the right direction, but with lukewarm, halfhearted affections (Revelation 3:16).  Therefore, the cultivation of spiritual appetite is a great duty for all the saints… The breadth and depth of our pursuit of joy in God is the measure of his worth in our life.

To pursue God & be delighted with God above and beyond all else… what nobler goal, what richer treasure can there be?  As Edwards wrote,

True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God.  And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures.

And yet it is so hard some days, to lift our eyes beyond our present pleasures and pains, to be truly “satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.” Even so, it must be our aim, for only that pursuit can give us the power and the joy and the peace and the fulfillment to live as Christ would have us to live.  Only that pursuit will last eternally, for when this heaven and earth is passed away, we will still have Christ to desire & to love and to be satisfied with.

I end these series of reflections as Dr. Piper ends his book:

“Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) is not a secondary suggestion.  It is a radical call to pursue your fullest satisfaction in all that God promises to be for you in Jesus.  It is a call to live in the joyful freedom and sacrificial love that comes from faith in future grace.  Then will come to pass the purpose of God who chose us in Christ to live “to the praise of His glory.”

What Delights a Father

Michael & Lily

This morning I went to breakfast with my two elementary age children at school. The school has started something called All Pro Dad’s Day which is a monthly breakfast to encourage active involvement of fathers in their children’s lives. Good stuff. (and the chicken biscuit wasn’t bad either)

So, to start out the fathers had to introduce their children and say something they were proud of in their children. As the microphone was going around, my brain was buzzing about all the things I could say. Something funny, something simple, something profound, something meaningful, what, what, what? Mentally scanning through all the parenting and psychology and theology textbooks I have ever read…… hmm…. hmmm…. hmmmm….. (sorry, getting a flashback of old Disney flick The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes— Is that really you, Snake? I thought you’d be taller…)

Ok, somehow amidst all that mental chaos I settled on two thoughts: one of a scene in the book of Saint Matthew where God the Father introduces Jesus to a crowd with the words “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The other was from a recent DVD I had viewed which talked about our life purpose being to magnify God— to make Him more visible to those in our life. And so, I introduced my daughter as “Lily, who I am so proud that I can see Christ through her beauty and her kindness. And Michael got, “who I am so proud that I can see Christ through his fierceness and his wisdom.”

I am so proud of so many wonderful qualities in my children— more in both of them than I had as a child! (ok, some would say as an adult as well…) But I realized that what delights me most are the ways, both big and small, that I can see Christ through them, for I realize that is a reflection of both the work of God in their lives and that God will be glorified through their lives. And I guess that’s what delights God too.

A Meaningful Life

Well Dilbert isn’t the only person having trouble finding a meaningful life.

Meaning, purpose, fulfillment, achievement— from comics to movies to books to sermons our society seems to be filled with both bemoaning our lack of meaning and varied attempts at discovering or creating it.

But, it seems that in both the media and real life, meaning never lives up to its name.  Dilbert finds his xbox to be broken, Homer Simpson finds no beer in the fridge, one more celebrity ends up in divorce, one more scandal destroys the life of the famous (or not so famous), one more job falls through, one more teen runs away from home, one more promotion or house or vacation or publishing contract or marriage or ministry or conference or whatever else we had been secretly hoping to give us meaning turns up short.

With so many different approaches to a meaningful life turning to ashes before our eyes, have we ever considered that the reason every answer seems wrong is that we aren’t asking the right question?

No matter what you turn to for an answer to meaning in life, if your goal is meaning in your life then it has to do with you: either something you are doing or something that is being done for you.

We are asking “What is the chief end of man?” and answering it “To find meaning & purpose & fulfillment for me.” and if we are Christians we tack on “that is, by using Godly things like ministry and worship and books and conferences to find meaning and purpose and fulfillment for me.”

Wrong.  The chief end of man is the glory of God.  If we consume ourselves with the glory of God, then along the way we find that “personal meaning” and “a life of purpose” don’t even seem to be important anymore, just God, just His glory, just His kingdom, not as a means to our agenda or fulfillment, but His.

 

Ultimate Ends

A great deal of problems in this life result from allowing subsidiary ends to displace ultimate ends.

Huh?

Ok, definition time—an ultimate end is the final, core, real reason something is done, while a subsidiary end is something else that happens along the way to obtaining the ultimate end.

A classic example that was used by the philosopher Jonathan Edwards to illustrate ultimate and subsidiary ends is a man taking a trip to obtain medicine to cure his illness. Curing his illness is the ultimate end, while taking the trip and obtaining the medicine are subsidiary ends, things which he necessarily wants to occur, desires to occur, and do occur, but are not the ultimate, final, goal.

So how do ultimate and subsidiary ends impact life? We so often end up focusing on subsidiary ends and lose track of the ultimate ends. If the man got so involved in his trip and where he would stop, where he would stay, etc., and forgot the reason he was taking the trip, he would be in trouble.

More often than we realize, we lose sight of the ultimate end of an action and focus on the subsidiary end. Take eating, for example: God meant food to taste good; it is a good and desirable thing for my food to taste good. In fact, if I didn’t care if my food tasted good or not or pursued food that didn’t taste good I would be a little strange. However, the taste of food is a subsidiary end, something that God put in as a blessing. The ultimate end of food is to nourish our body. When we pursue food for an ultimate end other than nourishment, we have trouble, and looking at the obesity rates in the United States I’m not the only one going for the second brownie for a reason other than nourishment. To reinforce the point, there is nothing wrong in the enjoyment of the food, but when that enjoyment takes precedence over the ultimate end for food, consequences ensue.

Another obvious example is sex—I am quite thankful to God that I feel good when I have sex with my wife. That is as it should be. But it is a subsidiary end—God’s ultimate end is for the marriage relationship to be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His followers, His “Bride”, as the Bible puts it. Let the pleasure of sex displace its spiritual ultimate end, and there again, big trouble.

We can view every goal, priority, and action through this lens. Why am I really doing any particular thing? To what end? When I eat that second chocolate brownie, is it to nourish my body or something else?

Focusing on the ultimate end helps us maintain a healthy perspective on life. Edwards took this perspective to its “ultimate end” when he wrote the essay “The End for Which God Created the World” in 1765. He stated that although there are many reasons that are evident as to why God created the world, the chief and ultimate end is to display His glory. As followers of God, we must keep God’s ultimate end of glorifying Himself as our ultimate end as we live our daily lives in His world. 

Why God Answers Prayer

and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15 ESV)

Have you ever thought WHY God answers prayer?  What is His motive, what’s His angle, what’s in it for Him?

Psalm 50:15 spells it out plain and simple in five Hebrew words:

“Call upon me”— qara’ –this is God commanding us to call upon Him, to pray, to ask for the help only He can give.  We never had to wonder if we are bothering Him; He has told us over and over that it is His desire that we ask.

“in the day”— yowm —this reminds me that God’s intentions are specific— it’s not a “hey, let’s do lunch sometime” that He never gets around to— He wants us to call upon Him today, right now, when we have a need.

“of trouble”— tsarah —”in this world you will have tribulation” we are going to have God-sized problems in this life which we will need a God-sized God to show up on our side.

“I will deliver you”— chalats —God’s constant action in the Scriptures is rescue, is intervention, is coming in the nick of time to save the day.  That is who He is and what He does, and He desires for us to ask Him to show up on our behalf and “be the hero.”

“and you shall glorify me.”— kabad —for those who don’t know, this Hebrew word that we rightly translate “glorify” literally means “to make heavy.” There is a weight, a heaviness, a substance, to God’s glory (see C. S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory).  When God delivers us, and we exclaim, “What a great God!” we glorify Him, we testify to His weightiness, and He desires and delights in our thankful response.

A New Rule, or a New Heart?

Then Peter came to Jesus and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  (Matthew 18:21)

Peter had a dilemma.  He knew he ought to forgive, but he really didn’t want to forgive. We know he didn’t want to forgive because you don’t have to ask how many times you should do something you want to do: “Lord, how often do I have to win a free trip to the Bahamas?”  Peter thought his solution could be a rule: if he could just follow a rule, then he could go ahead and get out of the way the bare minimum of what he ought to do without getting into trouble with God.

Of course, Jesus saw right through that.  He knew that Peter, like you and I, didn’t need a new rule of forgiveness, but a new heart of forgiveness. And as Jesus often did, he tried to reach Peter’s heart not through lecture or debate, but through a story:

Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. 

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. (Matthew 18:23-34 NKJV)

What was the point of the parable?  Jesus Himself summed it up:

So my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.

Look at the point Jesus makes:  to forgive from his heart.  Jesus is trying to get across to Peter that what matters is not only the action of forgiveness, but the heart behind the action. 

And what powers that change of heart, to freely forgive?  The answer is right there— “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?”  A man bound for a lifetime of prison torture over a multimilliondollar debt he couldn’t repay who then receives a complete and free relase from all his debt should have a heart so brimming with wonder and freedom and thankfulness that he should be wildly dancing for joy, not shaking down a friend for a few bucks owed to him. 

Likewise, Jesus is trying to open our eyes to the glorious spectacle of a God who freely forgives us, so that that glorious sight fills us to overflowing and gushes out rivers of mercy and forgiveness from our freed-from-prison hearts. God’s salvation of rebellious sinners is indeed one of the grandest displays of His glory, and as such we should dwell on its beauty until we are ”transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor 3:18)

So, what’s the answer to Peter’s forgiveness dilemma?  The same answer as to all of life’s dilemmas, to gaze at the majestic glory of God and have our hearts transformed forever.

The Total Perspective Vortex

In the science fiction farce The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the man with the largest ego in the galaxy (who just happens to be the president) Zaphod Beeblebrox is submitted to the most terrifying torture ever devised…the Total Perspective Vortex. It is a special machine that shows the occupant the entire infinity of creation at once, along with a little sign marked “You are here”, to show how small you are in relation to it. The sight of such infinitude and glory instantly drives any sentient being insane.

However, in Zaphod’s case, his ego appears to be larger than the known universe, for it actually reinforces what he had always known, in his words, “It just told me what I knew all the time. I’m a really terrific and great guy. Didn’t I tell you, baby, I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox!” The book comments, “He had seen the whole Universe stretching to infinity around him—everything. And with it had come the clear and extraordinary knowledge that he was the most important thing in it.”

Even though he was an atheist, the author Douglas Adams seems to have some insight into the human condition. How many of us approach God the same way Zaphod approached the vortex? We approach Him in prayer or worship or study, expecting to see his infinite power and glory and majesty, and then we expect to come away with a nice warm feeling of how “really terrific and great” we really are, when we should come away in dust and ashes, marveling at such infinitude and deeply humble and thankful that He would show mercy toward us.

Monday Media Meltdown: God Is the Gospel

God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God\'s Love As the Gift of Himself

Piper mines the depths of the glory of God. He has been doing it for decades, and it is a testimony to the riches of God’s glory that John continues, year after year, to bring up ever more precious treasure for us to behold and prize.This precious treasure of God’s glory shines brightly in God Is the Gospel, one of John’s recent books. The subtitle is “meditations on God’s love as the gift of Himself,” which is an apt description of the book. Building on many of his previous works, Piper leads us through a multitude of facets showing that all of creation and redemption, all of the good news of the gospel, all of God’s gifts and graces, are focused on one shining goal: for us to delight in and display God’s glory for all eternity.

Along the way, he covers the importance of proclaiming God’s glory, the illumination of His glory within our soul, its purpose in sanctification, the proper view of God’s gifts to us, and God’s glory as our ultimate and final hope and desire in heaven. He shows how easy it is to focus on the gifts and not the Giver, but how vitally important it is for our focus to be always on God.

This short quote shows the heart and soul of the book:

All the gifts and rewards and miracles have come for one great reason: that you might behold forever the glory of God in Christ, and by beholding become the kind of person who delights in God above all things, and by delighting display his supreme beauty and worth with ever-increasing brightness and bliss forever.

God Is the Gospel is a passionate trumpet call for us to see that all the Gospel in all its beauty is meant to bring us to worship the One who died to bring it to pass.