Monday, August 31, 2009

God is the Gospel: Exploding the Doctrine of Man-Centered Love

This is the second (or third, depending on whether you count the introduction) post on commenting on John Piper's God is the Gospel. Last time, I considered what I believed to be the thesis of Piper's book, namely, that God Himself is His greatest gift to us, and that all the lesser gifts He gives to us should be received and enjoyed for His sake.

Foundational to our understanding this concept, and certainly foundational to our applying this God-centered, God-is-the-Gospel worldview to our lives, is the explosion of the man-centered doctrine of the world that has crept into our churches, and through them into our minds and hearts. In particular, today I want to consider the "man-centered view of love [that] permeates our culture and our churches" (p. 12).
The sad thing is that a radically man-centered view of love permeates our culture and our churches. From the time they can toddle we teach our children that feeling loved means feeling made much of. We have built whole educational philosophies around this view of love -- curricula, parenting skills, motivational strategies, therapeutic models, and selling techniques. Most modern people can scarcely imagine an alternative understanding of feeling loved other than feeling made much of. (p. 12)
Is that true of you? Think about how you think about being loved, or feeling loved. Meditate on that. What makes you, in the depth of your soul, feel loved?

Piper is saying you may not even realize it, but you and I have been programmed by our society to think about love in a way that is entirely unbiblical, and therefore entirely false. We are programmed to think that loving someone means making much of them. If a child does well on a report or project in school, he comes home looking to be celebrated by his family. If a husband gets a commendation at work, he brings it home to his wife and is satisfied when she beams with pride over how capable her husband is. If I teach a good Sunday School lesson, I go to my wife to tell me how great of a job I did. And in all those cases, if those things don't happen, we don't feel loved.

The Hypocrisy of Man-Centeredness

The sad thing is not only do we have hopelessly wrong views on what it means to be loved, but then we ascribe those false views on love to God's love, and we make Him into a god made in our image. Consider perhaps the chief manifestation of this:
Perhaps you have heard people say how thankful we should be for the death of Christ because it shows how much value God puts upon us. (p. 137)
Ever heard that before? Ever said that before? "God loved us so much that He gave up what was most precious to Him -- His own perfect Son! -- just to be with us!" One commenter on a blog I read often said something similar to the above and concluded, "The Cross screams our value." But what is at the root of such thinking, really?
In other words, they are thankful for the cross as an echo of our worth. What is the foundation of this gratitude? Jonathan Edwards calls it the gratitude of hypocrites. Why? Because "they first rejoice, and are elevated with the fact that they are made much of by God; and then on that ground, [God] seems in a sort, lovely to them. ... They are pleased in the highest degree, in hearing how much God and Christ make of them. So that their joy is really a joy in themselves, and not in God."

It is a shocking thing to learn that one of today's most common descriptions of the cross -- namely, how much of our value it celebrates -- may well be a description of natural self-love with no spiritual value.
(p. 137)
Being thankful for the cross because of how much it makes of me is the gratitude of hypocrites! Feel the weight of that condemnation, friends. Remember all the connotations of and all the uses of the term hypocrites in Matthew 23. You are a hypocrite of the worst sort if you take the supreme display of the worth of God and turn it into the supreme display of the worth of man! You glory in the cross because you glory in yourself. You feel loved because you think the cross is designed to make much of you.

"It's Only Natural"

And you're in good company. The whole of fallen humanity agrees with you.
The God-centered love of God is foreign to fallen human beings, especially those who, like most of us, have been saturated for decades with doctrines of self-esteem. We have absorbed a definition of love that makes us the center. That is, we feel loved when someone makes much of us. Thus, the natural, human definition of love is making much of someone. The main reason this feels like love is that it feels so good to be made much of. (p. 149)
Did you catch that? This view of love as making much of someone is the natural, human definition of love. Let me let Piper continue. Same paragraph:
The problem is that this feels good on wholly natural grounds. There is nothing spiritual about it. No change in us is needed at all to experience this kind of "love." This love is wholly natural. It operates on the principles that are already present in our fallen, sinful, and spiritually dead souls. ... The ground of natural love is finally me, not God. If you make much of me, I feel loved, because I am the final ground of my happiness. God is not in that place. He should be, but He is not. That is what it means to be unconverted and natural. The deepest foundation of my happiness is me. (p. 149)
The problem with viewing love as being made much of is that that is the natural, fallen, product-of-the-curse definition of love. You don't need to be spiritual to believe that about love. Which means you don't have to be converted to believe that about love! There is nothing Christian or Biblical about it! Consider these verses:
  • John 3:6 - That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14 - But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
First, Jesus tells us that fleshly, natural things only come from flesh. And spiritual, heavenly things only come from the Spirit. You can't get spiritual things from the flesh. Then, Paul tells us that a fleshly, natural man cannot accept spiritual things. They are spiritually appraised, and he's only of flesh.

Do you see, then, how these words from God intersect with this discussion? Your definition of love is fleshly! It's natural! You don't have to be born of the Spirit -- that is, you don't have to be saved -- to believe that to love someone is to make much of them. But the Spiritual definition of love -- God's definition of love -- requires not just that you change your thinking, not just that you read a couple of books (or blog posts!) about what love really is, but it requires that you be born of the Spirit! Do you want to know what true love is? Well, you must be born again!


To love someone is not to make much of them. To be loved is not to be made much of. That is man's definition of love. And though we ascribe and apply that definition of love to God -- even though churches and pastors ascribe and apply that definition of love to God -- it is not love. It is disguised self-love. It is not finding your greatest satisfaction and joy in Jesus Christ. It is finding your greatest satisfaction and joy in yourself and using Jesus to worship yourself.

The Cross is not a heaven-sent mirror we can look into and admire ourselves and see how much we're worth. Forsake such thinking.

"What is the Cross, then?" you ask? "What is God's definition of love?" Come back on Friday for the next post in this series. But hopefully, if you've read my blog for any amount of time, you can guess where I'm going with this. ;o)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Loved Against My Will

Two Parables of the Twin Truths of Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace

A Personal Parable

So I’ve started seminary. It’s been a wonderful first week. The demand that is placed upon you can be a bit overwhelming, and it can be a challenge to keep all the requirements and assignments and due dates straight in your mind. One thing that one of the much admired professors suggested we do to aid in our organization is to go through all our syllabi before the start of classes, write down every assignment – down to each individual reading assignment – note the due date, and mark assignments off as we complete them. It sounded like a helpful tool, and so I took his advice.

Now, I’m sure it will help. In fact, I’ve already experienced some of the benefit of having done such a thing. But one effect that seeing all my assignments for the next 15 weeks has on me is a feeling of being a bit overwhelmed. “I’ve got to do all of that??? By when???”

As I was thinking of such things I remembered an email exchange I had had in the last couple of months with our beloved admissions director, Ray Mehringer.

A bit of context for that exchange. You see, The Master’s Seminary has quite a rigorous curriculum when its attempted to be completed in three years. This is the “normal” course of study, but the majority of men take at least an additional year to finish. But since Janna and I have no children at the present time, and since it’s likely that we can survive financially on her salary as a nurse, we’ve decided that the best course of action is for me to not prolong this time during which the Biblical roles of family provision are reversed. So, simply put, I want the three-year plan.

And so I registered for courses according to the seminary’s three-year plan, making my first semester a whopping 7-class, 16.5-credit semester. Sure, that’s a lot. But that’s what I’m here to do, isn’t it? God has called me to this time of intense study. I should expect such things.

Well, what I didn’t expect was an email from Mr. Mehringer telling me what courses I would take, with one course noticeably absent from the list I submitted. I checked the catalog and noticed that my first semester looked identical to the… gasp!... four-year plan!

“How dare he!” I thought. “Didn’t he read my transcripts? Wasn’t he made aware of the diligent student I am? Maybe he doesn’t know that I have no children and don’t plan on working. Whatever it is, something must be wrong.” Pride is ugly, friends. Ugly. Seriously, praise be to God for His mercy, and to Christ for being so acceptable a sacrifice for such corrupt thinking.

So anyway, I emailed him about the whole thing and he assured me that it was in my best interest, especially for the first semester, to leave out one class. He said that in previous years, students have found it too taxing to do more than the 13.5 credits he’d given me. In my pride, I actually persisted a bit further (among other things, I really wanted to take the course that was dropped). And he replied, “Trust me, Mike. I’ll take care of you as I have the 700 men who have gone before you.”

So, nothing I could do. Against my will, I realized that I was going to be taking 13.5 credits, not 16.5.

And now, as I look at my assignment spreadsheet and talk to others about the assignment load in that class I'm not taking, I realize that Mr. Mehringer was right without a doubt, and that what had appeared to me to be his ignorance of my academic prowess and a violation of my own will was really love for me in my ignorance. Ray knew better than I did. And that only makes sense. But no matter what, I would not have consented to a lighter schedule. I was in a real sense constrained, or forced, against my will to have a reduced schedule. And I say it again: that was loving to me.

As I reflected upon that whole interaction as well as my course load now at the beginning of the semester, I’m reminded of non-Calvinists who hold that the greatest virtue of God is that He respects our free will. Our free will is His greatest gift to us. I’ve heard them say things like, “God is a gentleman. He won’t force His love upon us.” (I think Tozer said that, but it's been employed by all sorts.) And they hold out this refusal of God to overcome our will as something positive. As if, because it violates our free will, it is somehow loving to not love us without our consent.

But friends, it is not true that for God’s love to be virtuous and genuine that it must not violate our will. In fact, it is not as loving as it could be unless it violates our will.

That’s illustrated by my story. Ray would not have been loving me to "respect" my free will and allow me to have a larger course load than I could have handled. It would have been decidedly unloving to know better and do nothing to prevent me from the harm that I would bring upon myself and my family because of the demand of an overstuffed schedule.

A Biblical Parable

And lest I be accused of gleaning my theology from personal experience, consider the story of the angels and Lot in Genesis 19 at the destruction of Sodom.

Then the two men said to Lot, "Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it." Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, "Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city." But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting. When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city." But he hesitated.

So what happens at this point in the story? The angels didn’t violate his free will because that would be ungentlemanly of them? They respected his free will because, after all, this is a godly virtue and because human free will is the greatest gift given to us and regarded by God? They let Lot and his family die in the destruction of Sodom because they didn’t want to force their delivering love on them?

Emphatically: NO! That’s not at all what the text says!

What does it say?

So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters… and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.

And why does God’s Word say that they did that? What’s the reason?

…for the compassion of the LORD was upon him.

The angels violated the will of Lot, seized his hand and the hands of his family, and brought them outside the city, against their will, because God had compassion on Lot! It was because Yahweh loved Lot that He had not left him to his hesitation, that of his own free will.

God’s violating Lot’s will was an act of love.

Ray Mehringer’s violating my will was an act of love.

And thanks be to God, dear friends, that while we were enemies of God (Rom 5:10), while we were God-haters (Rom 5:6), while we were hostile to God (Rom 8:7), while we loved our ignorance and were happy to remain dead in our sins (Eph 2:1), He overcame our suicidal, enslaved wills, seized us by the hand, and delivered us from the fiery destruction for which we were headed (Eph 2:4-5; John 1:12-13; James 1:18).

Thanks be to God that He does not condescend and succumb to our notions of love, respect, and gentlemanliness! His name be praised that His ways are not our ways, nor ours His, but that His are infinitely higher than ours! Glory to God that He regards His good, acceptable, and perfect will more precious and worthy to be respected than my depraved, enslaved, corrupt will!

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
- Ephesians 2:4-5 -

Monday, August 24, 2009

God-Centered Evangelism from Exodus

Still don't have internet access in the home. Should have been done on Friday, but AT&T goofed with something and our order got canceled. Hopefully, everything will be all set by this Thursday.

But while I'm waiting and while I haven't had time to be writing, I want to direct you a great post by PyroManiac Dan Phillips. It's actually a re-post of something he'd written a while back, but is a treat whenever it's read.

The post is called "Doomed Evangelism?" and considers God's command and commission of Moses to Pharaoh. Great stuff.

Enjoy it, and come back here and comment and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Letter to Our Representatives

So we've arrived in Southern California! The car made it! Praise God! I'm actually three days into my Seminary orientation. It's been a ton of information, but also a really enjoyable time. (Actually, at this moment, I'm on break from a three hour crash review session on English grammar, which, if you know me, is my bread and butter, my being a language teacher.)

But I still don't have internet access set up in my home, so I'm not able to get back to my regularly scheduled programming here at For Our Benefit. But I do have something that I'd like to share with you guys for the Wednesday post. It's a letter written by one of my very close friends and treasured brothers in Christ to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi regarding Barak Obama's proposed health care bill.

Now, both this friend of mine and I do not favor heavy involvement in the political process. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world are two separate kingdoms. We should not put our hope in the political process to effect change in the world; it will fail us. All our hope for positive change is in the transforming power of Gospel of Christ.

Having said that, there is a however. My good friend expresses that 'however' in an email he sent to other Christian friends introducing his letter. I'll let you read it from him.

So, is this post beneficial? Is it for our benefit? I believe so. I pray that you are benefited and helped by what is written. I was.

For the most part, I tend to stay away from being very involved in the political process, because I believe that since all of our lives are governed by our God then not much of our lives is of relevance to that political process. But I also do believe that we American Christians have been placed in a country that is unique. In our country, we can and are supposed to be stewards of the “practicality” of how we live. Because of this unique privilege that we have, and because our democratic leaders are being so aggressive to violate our biblical beliefs, I have felt inspired like never before to write to our representatives. However you can and however your conscience guides you to, I want to encourage you to do the same thing. I have attached to this email a copy of the letter that I have sent to our senators Menendez and Lautenberg and to our speaker of the house Pelosi.


August 11, 2009

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
450 Golden Gate Ave.
14th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102

Regarding: President Obama’s Health Care Bill

Dear Madame Speaker,

I am a one-and-a-half generation “Hispanic” American. I suspect that generational adjective does not exist, but I think that it fits me well. I was born in New York City in 1973, and when I was nine months’ old, my mother traveled back to Ecuador, South America taking me with her. At fifteen years of age, I traveled back to the United States by myself, not knowing how to speak any English. After six months’ worth of watching American soap operas and hundreds of infomercials, I learned to speak the language (I have a slight accent). I am 35 years’ old now, and since those days of soap opera-watching, it has been one of the greatest thrills of my life to get to know the beautiful details of our nation’s history.

And so I am writing this letter to tell you, with all due respect, but directly, that you do not have the right to force upon me and upon millions of other Americans a health care system that we do not want for ourselves. It is our right to decide whether we want to have medical coverage or not. And if we decide that we do want to be covered, it is our right to decide what kind of coverage we want. You do not have the right to determine what our needs are, because you are not the provider of our needs. We will decide, under the authority and protection of our constitution, what those needs are and will advance ourselves in whatever honest and legal way we can so that we can provide for those needs.

We Americans have been born free, and with rights. We have the right to lawfully do what we want with our money, talents, and resources. These are ours, not yours. You do not have the right to pass a piece of legislation that forces us to give a portion of our money, talents, and resources to benefit other individuals whose property these three things that I have listed are not. Each of us does not have the same intelligence, education, or moral integrity as every other American. Thus, you do not have the right to pass a piece of legislation that treats us as if we have the same make-up as every other American. Your party claims to be the philosophical offspring of that splendid man, Martin Luther King, yet your party seeks to violate that most profound of principles that he proclaimed—that any law that does not conform to the law of God is no law at all. Our rights, according to our constitution, are natural rights, given to us by God, yet you seek to violate them. And committing such violation, you proclaim yourselves to be despots and not at all men and women of virtue.

You are not representing me and millions of other Americans, yet to represent us is what your chosen profession is supposed to be. If you truly believe that your proposed plan is so beneficial, spell it out to us Americans clearly, simply, and in detail. We can listen to you if we want to, but if we decide that we do not want to be enslaved under your plan, you must respect our individual sovereignty. That you refuse to explain to us Americans the details of your plan only shows us that you are not interested in being civil servants. Civil servants are individuals who have been inspired by wonderful pragmatic ideals. So inspired, and so seeing the beauty and strength of these ideals, civil servants are careful to be articulate in presenting the benefits of those same ideals. That you refuse to explain to us the details of your plan only shows us that you are interested in dictating to us, who are free Americans, and in coercing upon us a philosophy that we do not agree with. That you refuse to explain to us the details of your plan tells us loud as thunder that you are interested only in being satisfied by power.

There is much more that I want to say to you in this letter, but it has been my intention to be as plain-spoken and thus as succinct as I believe it is necessary for me (for all Americans) to be during this absolutely crucial time in the history of our amazing nation. I have wanted to present in detail what I believe will be the unavoidable consequences (financial and moral) that your plan will cause, but an anecdote that I heard from an American radiologist two weeks ago, I hope, will be enough. The American radiologist was training together with a British one who had come to train in the US. They were giving medical care to a mentally disabled patient. The British radiologist was shocked at the dedication with which the American one was caring for the patient. “In England, we put these people in a room with open windows and hope that they catch pneumonia,” the British radiologist said.

Without any intention whatsoever to be melodramatic, but with reason and therefore passion to exercise my privilege of being a free and responsible citizen, I write to tell you that I want this America to remain and to improve. Your health plan will cause, without a doubt, neither. Forced slavery never does.

Do not violate my rights.

An American citizen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

While I'm Away: Funny Birds

We're still not all set up with internet access in the new apartment in California, so I have more funny videos that I hope you can enjoy in the absence of more substantive material.

Friday, August 14, 2009

While I'm Away: Impressions

While I'm away I'm not able to post much of substance. Here's something, though, that's pretty amazing.

This gentleman's name is Rob Magnotti and is appearing on the David Letterman Show for "Impressionist Week." This impressionist is not the art movement, but one who performs using impressions of famous people.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What We're Up To

So this week my wife Janna and I are driving from New Jersey out to Southern California as I begin my tenure at The Master's Seminary. We're driving these 3,000+ miles in 5 full days. Our stops include Chicago, Omaha, Denver, Flagstaff (and the Grand Canyon) and finally our new home in Newhall, CA. We pray and expect that it will be a wonderful time together in this great transition period of our lives. Please pray along with us that God would be honored in all we do, say, think, and feel on this trip out there, that it would be a joy-filled, God-honoring time for Janna and me.

After this post it may take some time before I have internet access again, so Friday and Monday's posts are a bit lighter than usual. Hope you enjoy them.

In the meantime, if you're looking to be benefited by some Christian blogging, I'd encourage you, if you haven't, to read some past posts here at For Our Benefit that you haven't read yet.

And if you're sick of me, take a tour through those blogs listed in the "Blogs For Our Benefit" section on this main page.

Drop a comment to let us know you're praying. I'll post an update on our trip when I can, and maybe even include some pictures.

And, while I'm not saying much else of substance, let me express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for all those who read (and the few that comment on) my blog. You are a great encouragement to me, and knowing you're reading makes it a joy to be writing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

God-honoring Selfishness

Last Monday I considered the question, "What's wrong with being selfish?" from a feminist author who says it should be accepted that women be selfish enough to not want to have kids and give up their lifestyle. Eventually I answered her question by saying something to the effect of, "Nothing is at all wrong with being selfish and living to get the very best for ourselves. The problem is not knowing what's best for ourselves."

We considered C. S. Lewis' famous "we-are-far-too-easily-pleased" quote, and were admonished that, given the staggering promises of reward in Scripture, "Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak." Passion, strong, constraining desire, and the relentless pursuit of pleasure are foundational to Christianity, not antithetical to it.

Let's consider some of the "unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of rewards promised" in Scripture, and note how seeking our own good and greatest pleasure is God-honoring, how it is glorifying to God, how it is His will for us.
  • Luke 12:32 - Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.
  • Matthew 13:44-46 - The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
In Luke 12:32 we are given a command: Do not be afraid. Then we have a grounding clause. That is, we see the ground for that command signaled by the word For. Do not be afraid, for, or because. Why? Because our Father has chosen gladly -- or, it is His good pleasure, He's happy -- to give us the kingdom. This is the way Jesus is reasoning. It makes sense to him, and it should make sense to us. There's no need to be afraid when we will inherit the kingdom of our Father.

And then in Matthew 13 we're told that this kingdom is like a treasure. It's worth giving up everything you have to get it. And having such a kingdom, even at the cost of everything else in your life, inspires joy in the one who has it.

So, we have a command. And the ground for obeying the command is the promise of inheriting something that is invaluable and causes exceeding joy. So we should seek our joy in, and not be afraid because of, our inheritance of the kingdom of Christ. And when we disobey that command to not fear, what's happening? We're letting something other than the kingdom (other than God) capture our affections. Our joy, delight, and satisfaction is in some other positive circumstance. The way to fight that sin of fear is to seek our highest satisfaction in the kingdom of God that is promised to us.
  • Luke 6:35 - But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
Here we have the command that is the most contrary-to-our-fleshly-nature that we can conceive of: Love our enemies. Why? What is our motivation to do such a radical thing? Answer: We will be sons of the Most High! We will get to enjoy the privilege of being true sons of our Father! We are to see the prospect of intimacy with our Father, and so desire that – so desire HIM! – that that compels us to joyfully obey this otherwise ridiculous-sounding command. We are to pursue our greatest pleasure in a thriving relationship with our Father.

Now, some people hear these things and they don’t like it. They say, “Well now that’s selfish! You should be obeying because it’s the right thing to do, not for what you can get out of it!” That’s Pharisee talk! That's hypocrite talk! Jesus says to obey this command because you treasure the reward that comes as a result. And all of Scripture paints that same picture as well, as we have seen and do continue to see. This post is written to help you break free from such a conception of the Christian life, and enter into joyful, Spirit-wrought, God-honoring obedience.)
  • Matthew 25:21 - His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.
Enter into the joy of our Master. What kind of joy is that? What kind of joy does our Master have? He has infinite exuberance -- He is thrilled -- because what is most delightful (His own glory) has been presented to Him for all eternity in the face of His beloved Son in the fellowship of His Holy Spirit (Heb 1:3; John 17:5, 24)! So as a motivation for being a good and faithful slave with the things of our Master, we are to hold before us the reward of the most ineffably wonderful joy imaginable.
  • Hebrews 11:24-27 - By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.
Why did Moses choose to endure ill-treatment with God's people instead of enjoying all the treasures of the greatest empire in the world? Because he considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the other treasures of Egypt. He considered the treasures of the knowledge of Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil 3:10) as better than the passing pleasures of sin. He endured, seeing Him. The sight of the glory of Jesus captured His affections. He was looking to... the... reward!
  • Hebrews 11:16 - But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
And this last text is wonderful. It's massively important to see the writer's reasoning here. The Scripture says that those who act in faith desire a better, heavenly country. And then immediately after that we have Therefore. The therefore tells us that what he just said is the ground for what's about to follow. Because the faithful desire a better country, God is not ashamed to be called their God. God is not dishonored by those people because they desire a country where God Himself dwells.

And then we have another grounding word - for - that tells us what the basis of all that is. Why is it honoring to God that the faithful desire a better country where they enjoy uninhibited fellowship with Him? "For [God] has prepared a city for them."

God has promised to bless them. It is the will of God to benefit, to bless, His people. And when He reveals that that is His will, the proper response is to desire that blessing with all our might, and to rejoice in the God who blesses so lavishly.

We serve God by treasuring Him so much that we shape our whole life so as to benefit from
what He can do for us.
- John Piper -


So then, given the way the writers of Scripture -- as well as Jesus Himself -- reason, we have no other choice but to conclude that, as Lewis says, "Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak." These texts have demonstrated that God wants us to be radically committed to our own good and greatest pleasure... because our own good and our greatest pleasure are Him. As Piper's been saying for 25 years: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Our greatest satisfaction is enjoying the glory of God. And the greatest honor done to God is for us to see His glory -- the emanation of all His manifold perfections -- and enjoy it as infinitely precious and satisfying!

So the above author's problem is not that she's selfish; she, along with the rest of the world, just tragically mischaracterizes what is most satisfying. As Lewis might say, the world is not selfish enough! We're willing to settle for lesser delights, and even give up our lives in pursuit of them, when infinite joy is to be had in our great God and Savior. A radical commitment to pursuing that joy, that happiness, my greatest pleasure at all times -- namely, God Himself -- might be described as selfishness.

But it is a God-honoring selfishness.

Be greedy for God, dear friends. Do everything, give up everything, to be able to get Him!

They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house;
And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.
For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.
- Psalm 36:8-9 -

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
... the nearness of God is my good.
- Psalm 73: 25-26, 28 -

Friday, August 7, 2009

In Christ Alone

No, it's not the song. Though, that is a great song. Instead, the following are glorious thoughts to meditate on while singing the song in church. Actually, they're glorious thoughts to meditate on anywhere, and I trust they will cause you to worship.

In line with Wednesday's post and in the wake of my reading and meditating upon God Is the Gospel, here's a quote from John Calvin exhorting us to treasure Christ as God's greatest gift, and to seek all the benefit imaginable in Him. Enjoy.

When we see salvation whole,

its every single part

is found in Christ,

And so we must beware

lest we derive the smallest drop

from somewhere else.

For if we seek salvation, the very name of Jesus

teaches us

that He possesses it.

If other Spirit-given gifts are sought—

in His anointing they are found;

strength—in His reign;

and purity—in His conception;

and tenderness—expressed in His nativity,

in which in all respects like us He was,

that He might learn to feel our pain:

Redemption when we seek it, is in His passion found;

acquittal—in His condemnation lies;

and freedom from the curse—in His own cross is given.

If satisfaction for our sins we seek—we’ll find it in His sacrifice;

and cleansing in His blood.

If reconciliation now we need, for this He entered Hades.

To overcome our sins we need to know

that in His tomb they’re laid.

Then newness of our life—His resurrection brings

and immortality as well comes also with that gift.

And if we also long to find

inheritance in heaven’s reign,

His entry there secures it now

with our protection, safety, too, and blessings that abound

—all flowing from His royal throne.

The sum of all is this:

For those who seek

this treasure-trove of blessings of all kinds,

in no one else can they be found than Him,

for all are given

in Christ alone.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
in Christ

- Ephesians 1:3 -

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

God is the Gospel: God Himself is His Greatest Gift

As I mentioned previously, I recently finished reading John Piper's God Is the Gospel. After strongly recommending that you read the book (buy a physical copy, or read it online), I mentioned that I might reproduce some passages of the book along with my comments in a future post. I decided to do that in a couple of posts.

There are certain themes throughout the book that Piper addresses in various places and in various ways.

The Giver is His Greatest Gift

The first of these themes that I'd like to consider is central to the thesis of the book. It presents that the greatest gift of the Gospel is God Himself. Consider this section:

Whether one thinks of the work of Christ as accomplishing reconciliation or propitiation or penal satisfaction or redemption or justification or forgiveness of sins or liberation, the aim of them all is summed up in the ultimate gift of God Himself. First Peter 3:18 is the clearest statement: "Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God." Ephesians 2:13-18 is the next most explicit statement of this truth. "In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ ... that He might ... reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross ... For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father." The ultimate aim of the blood of Christ is that we be "brought near" to God and "have access in one Spirit to the Father." (pp. 120-21)
From these passages as well as others it is unmistakable that God wants us to view Him as the greatest benefit and ultimate good of redemption. And yet the Gospel of Christ has also purchased for us many other gifts that we enjoy. Piper names some of them in the above quote: reconciliation, propitiation, penal satisfaction, redemption, justification, forgiveness, and liberation. It's interesting to think of these things as gifts of the Gospel and not the Gospel itself. But I think that's precisely Piper's point: God is the Gospel.
When I say that God Is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment. (p. 13)

The point of this chapter and the one to follow is that the gospel has unleashed a million mercies on the people of Christ, but that none of these is good news in and of itself. They are all good to the degree that they make possible the one great good -- namely, knowing and enjoying God Himself.
(p. 130)
Those are striking statements. No gifts of God would be good. None of the million mercies unleashed upon the people of God by the Gospel of Christ is good news by itself. Feel the weight of these statements! Justification is not good news by itself. Forgiveness is not good news by itself. The propitiation of the Father's wrath is not good news by itself. None of these staggeringly wonderful Gospel gifts is good news if we leave them there. They are only good news to the degree that they serve God's one great and ultimate purpose in all He does (His chief end, if you will): glorifying His own great Name by satisfying His people with Himself.

That's got to affect how we preach the Gospel! It's got to affect sermons. It's got to affect Sunday School lessons. It's got to affect small group Bible studies. It's got to affect personal evangelism. Don't stop at forgiveness. Don't stop at propitiation. Don't stop at justification. Present to people what those things exist to do: get everything out of the way (namely, our rebellion and God's wrath) of our knowing and enjoying our God, by whom and for whom we were created (Col 1:16)!

What Do We Do With the Million Mercies?

But that leaves me with a question. How do we relate to these gifts? And not only the gifts of justification and forgiveness, etc., but the million mercies, the every good and perfect gift sent down to us from the Father of lights (Jas 1:17), who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (1Tim 6:17)? Our spouses and friends, our food and drink, our favorite entertainments and recreation. Surely we're to be thankful for them and rejoice over them, but how do we honor the greatest Gift in and through those gifts? Because there is a way to receive these gifts and enjoy them as good things in themselves, and not magnify the Giver above the gifts:
If gratitude for the gospel is not rooted in the glory of God beneath the gift of God, it is disguised idolatry. (p. 138)
So without trying to sound over-dramatic, I simply state: this is serious! I need to know how to be grateful for the Gospel in such a way that my gratitude is rooted in the glory of God. I don't want to be an idolater! I want to worship God in the way He's appointed. How do you and I do that?
All the gifts of God are given for the sake of revealing more of God's glory, so that the proper use of them is to rest our affections not on them but through them on God alone. (p. 116)
I think I read that sentence about 10 times as I was reading through the book. The way we glorify God in His gracious gifts and at the same time not idolize them is, in the moment we receive them, to recognize why God is giving them to us. He is giving us gifts and mercies to reveal His glory, so that we might see Him in them and enjoy and worship and magnify His sweetness. Our affections must not terminate on the gifts. We have to push through the gifts and rest our affections on God alone. Here's another quote:
"Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving" (1Tim 4:4). Yes, if the thanksgiving is rooted in the sight of the glory of the Giver who is more to be admired than all His gifts, and supremely to be enjoyed in all His gifts. (p. 138)
That was another ~10-timer. We must root our thanksgiving in the sight of the glory of the Giver. We are to admire Him more than His gifts, but also we are to enjoy Him in all His gifts.

Don't Worship the Finger

A great point that has wonderfully relevant applications for the Church is found on page 143:
All the enticements to God that are not God are precious and precarious. They can lead us to God or lure us to themselves. They may be food or marriage or church or miracles. All of these blessings bring love letters from God. But unless we stress continually that God Himself is the gospel, people will fall in love with the mailman -- whether his name is forgiveness of sins or eternal life or heaven or ministry or miracles or family or food.
Or if his name is John Piper. Or John MacArthur. Or Mike Riccardi.

This paragraph sheds light on how good we are at making idols out of good things, things that are given to us by God and for our enjoyment. I'm really good at enjoying a preacher or teacher for his own sake, or even for his teaching's sake, and not God's sake. My two favorites, John Piper and John MacArthur, exist only as fingers pointing to the most glorious thing in the universe. But too often I, and probably many of you, get distracted by the finger and miss what the finger is pointing to. This paragraph says, "Don't do that!" Love these men, guys. Love your pastors. Love your elders. Love your parents. Love your Bible study leaders. But love them as gifts from God that were designed for you to receive them and see the glory of God in the face of Christ that they're pointing to. Don't worship the finger.

And when you are graced by God to be in a position to proclaim His excellencies (1Pet 2:9), don't preach in such a way that calls people to marvel at you, the finger. That's why I put my name in that list. Because too often I preach, teach, or just speak in such a way that, whether I intended to or not, draws attention to me. But, teachers of the Word, we call people to worship the finger -- no matter how many times we quote John 3:30 -- unless we take care that every word we speak be to point people to their greatest benefit, to the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Seamless Joy in God and His Gifts

So I want to worship God as He's appointed in the good gifts that He gives. Here's more of Piper explaining how that happens:

When the gospel of Jesus Christ frees us to see and savor the glory of God above all things, the way is opened for us to experience seamless joy in God and His gifts. We are able to see every gift as a beam from the sun of God's glory. Every joy in the beam runs up to the fountain of light and ends there. No created thing becomes a rival but only a revelation of God. Therefore we can say that, for the gospel-liberated mind, all joy in created things is seamless with joy in God. (p. 141)
Man I want that! I want a gospel-liberated mind! I want to be so freed from my idolatry and my sin that I can enjoy everything as a gift from my Father, and have none of it be a competition for my worship, but a catalyst for my worship of the Giver.

He goes on, paraphrasing Psalm 73:24-26:
There is nothing in heaven or on earth that I desire besides you, O God. That must mean ... that in and through all the other good things on earth and in heaven, Asaph sees God and loves Him. Everything is desired for what it shows of God. Augustine put it like this: "He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee which he loves not for Thy sake." (p. 144)
Everything is desired for what it shows of God. I want everything that God gives me because it shows me more of Him.
  • I want to enjoy my wife as a gift from God because in her and in our marriage I see the glory of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-10).
  • I want to enjoy my dinner as a gift from God because in that gracious, daily provision I see the provision of a perfect sacrifice for my sin in the Person of Jesus Christ (Heb 7:23-28, 10:10-14), the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35).
  • I want to enjoy my job (which will soon be being a student again) as a gift from God because in it I see the glory of the work of my God (Gen 1:31-2:3; Ps 19:1; Jn 5:17).
  • I want to enjoy the fact that the air conditioning in my car works as a gift from God because in the refreshment it gives from the oppressive heat I taste the times of refreshing brought by the forgiveness of my sins, refreshment from the presence of God (Ac 3:19) and in the presence of God (Ps 16:11, 21:6).
Even in gifts that are not God, I want to cherish the Giver as His Greatest Gift.

is the Good News.

God is the Gospel.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What's Wrong with Being Selfish?

A link from Between Two Worlds posts the following paragraph from this article, which considers the charge that it is selfish for a woman to say she doesn't want to have children:
Women should be allowed to care about pleasing ourselves -- and only ourselves -- without being judged. What is wrong with a woman being selfish? Really. Think about it for a second. Why shouldn't we be selfish if it means we're meeting our own needs and taking care of ourselves? What's wrong with caring more about bringing pleasure to your own life than anything else? It should not be as controversial as it apparently is for women to think of themselves first if they are not hurting anyone. Reasonable people agree a woman should make herself happy, but why do these people suddenly become so unreasonable when those women say it would make her happy to just focus on herself?

Wanting the very best for ourselves and living to make sure that we get it is not the problem with what this woman is saying.

The problem is not knowing the One who is, without exception, the very best for all of us.

In one of his sermons I listened to a while ago, John Piper exhorted his congregation to be "greedy for God." I think that's a God-honoring, Biblical exhortation.

So it's not that this woman's desires for happiness, comfort, pleasure, etc. are wrong in themselves. It's just that she is blind to the fact that all the delights that the human soul is capable of and longs for are wrapped up in the Person of Jesus Christ, through whom and for whom she was created.

The problem with this woman's thinking and morality is not that her desires are too strong. The remedy, as some Christians might conclude, is not an extinguishing of her desire to be happy and fulfilled and satisfied. But as C. S. Lewis has famously put it, her desires are not too strong, but too weak. Here's what he says in that famous passage:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition [and not having kids, in the article linked above] when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, as cited in Piper, Desiring God, p. 20.)
Passion. Strong, constraining desire. The pursuit of pleasure. Far from militating against sincere, orthodox, God-honoring Christianity, they are foundational to it. I'd love to discuss why in the thread, and/or in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, what are some of the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of rewards promised in the gospels -- and in the rest of Scripture -- that Lewis talks about?

UPDATE: The continued discussion can be found at this link.