Friday, April 30, 2010

An Inward, Sweet Sense

As I've been working on a biographical research project on Jonathan Edwards, I've had the privilege of reading much about him as well as much of what he himself has written on various subjects. Perhaps most interesting for me is to read from his diary and his personal letters to various friends, family members, and acquaintances.

Among those are his reflections on his own conversion. I reproduce some of those thoughts here and pray that they would benefit your soul as they have my own.

The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, 1 Tim. 1:17: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up in him in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever! I kept saying, and as it were singing over these words of scripture to myself; and went to pray to God that I might enjoy him, and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do; with a new sort of affection. …

From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. …

The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.

After [my conversion] my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of everything was altered: there seemed to be as it were a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything.

God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon, for a long time; and so in the day time, spend much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things: in the meantime, singing forth with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. …

The delights which I now felt in those things of religion, were of an exceeding different kind from those before mentioned, that I had when a boy; and what I then had no more notion of than one born blind has of pleasant and beautiful colours. They were of a more inward, pure, soul-animating and refreshing nature. Those former delights never reached the heart; and did not arise from any sight of the divine excellency of the things of God; or any taste of the soul-satisfying and life-giving good there is in them.

I will bless Yahweh at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul will make its boast in Yahweh;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
O magnify Yahweh with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
- Psalm 34:1-3 -

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pray Above All Things that God Would Be Glorified

"Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. ..."

- Matthew 6:9 -

This first petition of the Disciple's Prayer is first by design. This request for God's glory is a filter through which we pray. Everything we ask for in prayer and everything we do in our lives is to be asked for and done
so that God would be glorified - that the beauty of His manifold perfections would be magnified for all to see.

This is the highest request we could ever attain to make of God, for it is this which is His own most foundation and most ultimate commitment. He Himself has stated that He does all He does with a chief regard for the glory of His own name.
  • Isaiah 42:8 – I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.
  • Isaiah 43:7 – Everyone…whom I have created for My glory.
  • Isaiah 43:25 – I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake.
  • Isaiah 48:11 – For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.
  • Ezekiel 36:22-23 – It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.…I will vindicate the holiness of My great name.
  • Ephesians 1:11-12 – …according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

And He has given us the same command: to glorify Him – to make much of Him – in everything.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:31 – Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
  • 1 Peter 4:11 – Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

And Jesus Himself prayed this way:

  • John 12:28 – As He acknowledges that His soul has become troubled as He contemplates His work to be completed on the cross, the request He makes to God for the comfort of His soul is: “Father, glorify Your name.”
  • John 17:1 – As He began to pray concerning His crucifixion, He opened with these words: “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.
And so a great cloud of witnesses counsels us on what this instruction means for our prayer lives:
He is teaching us to ask that God's name would be regarded as sacred, that it would be treated with reverence, and that it would be seen as holy. We must see this if we are to pray according to the pattern Jesus set for us. - R. C. Sproul.

We pray for ourselves and for other followers of Jesus and for the world that we would reverence and cherish the name of God above things. This is the first function of prayer -- to pray that people would pursue the glory of God. - John Piper.

It means a burning desire that the whole world may bow down before God in adoration, in reverence, in praise, in worship, in honour and in thanksgiving. Is that our supreme desire? Is that the thing that is always uppermost in our minds whenever we pray to God? I would remind you again that it should be so whatever our circumstances. - Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Is that your supreme desire? Is that the thing uppermost in your affections, in whatever you do? May God grant that it would be so.

And so this first petition of the Disciple's Prayer teaches us that we must re-orient all our thinking and all our desires to be entirely in tune with God's glory. As a disciple of Christ, I want to follow Him. I want to think like He thought, and be concerned about what He was concerned about. And, as He makes evident both by His example and by giving priority to this first petition, He was concerned about glorifying the Father.

The desire for the name of God to be glorified in the sight of all people must drive all of my life as a follower of Jesus Christ. This includes my prayer life.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pray Looking to the Reward

But when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
- Matthew 6:6 -

Jesus contrasts praying ostentatiously for the praise of men with praying privately for the reward of our Father.

In fact, He says of the hypocrites, "Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." What does that mean? It means that those who consider that their reward for praying is to be praised and well-thought of by other people will indeed have that reward. However, that's the only reward they're going to get. They will have no reward from God.

In contrast to the hypocrites, though, Jesus' disciples are commanded to pray in secret, considering that the Father who sees what is done in secret will reward that true, God-centered worship.

It may seem strange at first that Jesus commands us to pray so that we can receive a reward. We might be thinking, "We should pray simply because it's the right thing to do, not because we want to get something out of it!"

But it is that kind of thinking that Jesus here confronts. Notice the centrality of reward in the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes are chock full of reward language: Jesus promises that the faithful will receive the kingdom of heaven, will be comforted, will inherit the earth, will be satisfied, will receive mercy, will see God, and will be called sons of God (Mt 5:3-10). He tells us to rejoice in persecution because our reward in heaven will be great (Mt 5:12). He commands us to love our enemies so that we may be sons of our Father (Mt 5:45), and contrasts that to our lack of reward if we fail to do so (Mt 5:46). He warns against practicing righteousness before men because we'll have no reward with our Father (Mt 6:1). He commands us to give in secret, pray in secret, and fast in secret so that God will reward us (Mt 6:4, 6, 18). And He commands us to store up treasures in heaven (Mt 6:20).

So what is the reward from the Father that we are to seek? Very simply, it is the fullness of joy that comes from enjoying delightful fellowship with our beautifully glorious Father. The hypocrites will never enjoy such fellowship with God; they prefer the praise of men. But the godly men of the Scriptures have always been motivated to worship God by the sheer delightfulness of seeing and savoring the glory of God.
  • Psalm 27:4 – David had a singular focus. The one thing he wanted from God was to behold His beauty and to pray to Him in His temple.
  • Psalm 42:1-2 – Elsewhere the sons of Korah declared that their soul pants for fellowship with God like the deer pants for water, and asked in eager anticipation, “When shall I appear before my God?”
  • Psalm 73:25-28 – Asaph joyfully exclaims that He wants God more than anything else. Even if everything else around him crumbles, fellowship with God is reward enough.
  • Psalm 84:1-12 – The psalmist proclaims that a day in the courts of God is better than a thousand anywhere else. And as a reason for that he cites the many blessings that come to the one who dwell with Him.
  • Philippians 3:8-14 – And in this famous passage, the Apostle Paul declares that he considers everything as loss compared to knowing Christ.
If we can get a grasp on the reward of seeing and savoring the glory of the Eternal God, we will be happily compelled to pray to Him and to Him alone. No praise of man will compare with the reward of true fellowship with our Father.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What is the Bottom of Your Joy?

On Sunday, John Piper preached a sermon to his congregation to clarify a statement he's made (or actually, a question he's asked) for years to try to locate the believer's joy in God and not in himself. He was speaking to them specifically with a view to his upcoming 8-month sabbatical, and wanted to leave this message with them in his absence.

I read the notes of the sermon, though I haven't listened to it, and I found it to be a very refreshing read. It articulates some of the things that I was trying to express in this post last week, especially in the last paragraph. I re-post it here and leave it with you, confident that it will benefit you as it has me.

Before I get to his actual notes, here's a video excerpt of something I think everybody who can understand English needs to hear. It has to do with what a Christian, most foundationally, is; that is, at the most foundational level, what makes a Christian different from a non-Christian.

The Bottom of Our Joy: God, Not Self

I have been asking audiences for years: “Do you feel more loved by God because God makes much of you, or because God, at great cost to his Son, frees you to enjoy making much of him forever?” The aim of that question has never been to deny that God makes much of us. He does. (Which we will see shortly.) The aim has been to help people relocate the bottom of their joy—the decisive foundation of their joy—from self to God.

More Concerned About the Hell-Bound

Let me try to help you understand what shapes so much of what I say. A people ought to understand their pastor. I am more concerned about nominal hell-bound Christians who feel loved by God, than I am about genuine heaven-bound Christians who don’t feel loved by God.

Please don’t hear me as uncaring or indifferent to genuine Christians who don’t feel loved by God. I do care, and this sermon is especially for you. At this point, I’m simply trying to give you a perspective on why I emphasize what I do. There are millions of nominal Christians who are not born again who believe God loves them and yet are on their way to hell. And the difference between them and a born again believer is this: What’s the bottom, the decisive foundation, of their happiness? As you penetrate down deeper and deeper to the core, or the bottom, of what makes you happy, what is it?

Jesus Is Not a New Butler

Millions of nominal Christians have never experienced a fundamental alteration of that foundation of happiness. Instead they have absorbed the notion that becoming Christian means turning to Jesus get what you always wanted before you were born again. So, if you wanted wealth, you stop depending on yourself for it, and by prayer and faith and obedience you depend on Jesus for wealth. If you wanted to be healthy, you turn from mere human cures to Jesus as the source of your health. If wanted to escape the pain of hell, you turn to Jesus for the escape. If you wanted to have a happy marriage, you come to Jesus for help. If you wanted peace of conscience and freedom from guilt feelings, you turn to Jesus for these things.

In other words, to become a Christian, in this way of seeing things, is to have all the same desires you had as an unregenerate person—only you get them from a new source, Jesus. And he feels so loving when you do. But there’s no change at the bottom of your heart and your cravings. No change in what makes you happy. There’s no change in the decisive foundation of your joy. You just shop at a new store. The dinner is still the same; you just have a new butler. The bags in the hotel room are still the same; you just have a new bellhop.

A New Bottom for Our Joy in the New Birth

That’s not what the new birth is. It’s not having all the same desires that you had as an unregenerate person, and just getting them from a new source. The new birth changes the bottom, the root, the foundation of what makes us happy. Self at the bottom is replaced by Jesus. God, himself.

What makes the born-again person glad is not at bottom that they have God’s gifts, but that they have God. This is what I am more concerned about than genuine Christians who are truly on their way to heaven, and don’t feel loved by God. And my shorthand way of trying to awaken people to the dangers of feeling loved by God while being unregenerate is to ask: Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you, or because, as great cost to his Son, he frees you to enjoy knowing him and treasuring him and making much of him?

Why God Makes Much of Us for His Own Glory

But today I am jealous that this concern of mine not undermine the immeasurable way God loves you who are born again, including by making much of you—indeed, making much more of you than you ever dreamed.

So here is my new way of coming at this issue. I ask: Why does God perform all his acts of love toward us in a way that reveals he is loving us for his own glory? Why does God relentlessly reveal his love to us by telling us in the Bible that he is loving us for his own name’s sake? It is an urgent question because there are so many who say or feel that it isn’t love if God’s aim is to magnify his own glory. Or they feel: You say he is making much of me, but in fact he isn’t making much of me if his design is that he be made much of in making much of me.

I tremble just to say those words. It isn’t so. I want to show you—I want to help you see and feel—that you are more loved by God when he loves this way. He makes much more of you when he makes much of you this way. Please don’t turn this off. Ask God to help you see what we are about to see in the Bible.

Examples of God Loving Us for His Own Glory

Just a few examples of what I mean by God performing all his acts of love toward us in a way that reveals he is loving us for his own glory.

1. God shows his love for us by predestining us for adoption into his family.

He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace. (Ephesians 1:5-6)

God loved us in eternity before we were created, and he planned to make us his children by adoption. And the aim of this love was “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” He loved us this way that we might praise his grace. A regenerate person loves to praise God’s grace in our adoption. A nominal Christian simply loves the natural benefits of adoption.

2. God shows his love for us by creating us.

Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory. (Isaiah 43:6-7)

God loved us in bringing us into being that we might enjoy forever all the good he plans for us. And he did it, he says, for his glory.

3. God shows his love for us by sending us a Savior.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’” (Luke 2:10-14)

We get the Savior; he gets the glory. We get the “great joy”; God gets the praise. That is God’s design in sending his Son.

4. God shows his love for us when Christ died for us.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Christ loved us, died for us; and the aim was that we might live for him. He pursues his glory through our salvation. And if you wonder why we read Psalm 79 at the beginning, it was because of one verse, verse 9:

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake! (Psalms 79:9)

Born-again people pray like this. They see their salvation primarily as a gift of the ability to see and savor and show the glory of God.

5. God shows his love for us in the way Jesus prays for us.

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

“With” him. He prays that we be with him. And why does that make us happy? O he will give us many things. But the bottom of our joy, the decisive foundation of our happiness will be this: We will see his glory. Our Savior, not our self, will be the bottom of our joy.

The point of those five texts is to show that throughout the Bible, God performs all his acts of love toward us in a way that reveals he is loving us for his own glory.

Why does he do it this way?

How Much God Does Make of Us

Before I answer, it’s crucial in this message to emphasize that God’s love for us includes making much of us in ways that take our breath away. They are so over-the-top that we are scarcely able to believe how much he makes of us. A few examples of what I mean:

1. God makes much of us by being pleased with us and commending our lives.

Alan Jacobs said that C. S. Lewis’ greatest sermon was “The Weight of Glory.” And in that sermon, what is the weight of glory that every true Christian will bear? To the hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (“Weight of Glory,” 1965, p. 10)

2. God makes much of us by making us fellow heirs with his Son, who owns everything.

  • “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
  • “The promise to Abraham and his offspring [is] that he would be heir of the world.” (Romans 4:13)
  • “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

3. God makes much of us by having us sit at table when he returns and serving us as though he were the slave and we the masters.

“Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” (Luke 12:37)

4. God makes much of us by appointing us to carry out the judgment of angels.

“Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3)

5. God makes much of us by ascribing value to us and rejoicing over us as his treasured possession.

  • “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. . . . Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
  • “The Lord your God . . . will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

6. God makes much of us by giving us a glorious body like Jesus resurrection body.

  • “He will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:21)
  • “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:43; cf. Romans 8:30)

7. Most amazingly God makes much of us by granting us to sit with Christ on his throne.

  • “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
  • Or as Paul says, “The church . . . is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)

We are destined to share in the governing of the universe with divine-like authority.

Let it be known loud and clear, God makes much of his Son’s bride, the church. God loves the church with a kind of love that will make more of her than she can ever imagine. All this is yours, if you are belong to Christ (Romans 8:9).

Why God Reminds Us That He Loves Us for His Glory

The final decisive question is: Why does God, who loves so much, and who makes much of us so extremely, remind us again and again that he does all this for his own glory? Why does God remind us over and over that he makes much of us in a way that is designed ultimately to make much of him?

The answer is this: Loving us this way is a greater love. God’s love for us, that makes much of us for his glory is a greater love than if he ended by making us our greatest treasure, rather than himself. Making himself our end is a greater love than making us his end.

Self Will Never Satisfy

The reason this is greater love is that self, no matter how glorified by God (Romans 8:30), will never satisfy a heart that is made for God. God loves you infinitely. He sent his Son to die that he might have you, and that you might have him (1 Peter 3:18). He will not let you settle for wonderful and happy thoughts of self. Not even a glorified self. He will not let your glory, which he himself creates and delights in, replace his glory as your supreme treasure.

God’s Greatest Gift

Bethlehem, I leave this truth with you while I am away for these months. Glory in this. Take heart from this. Rejoice in this. Be strengthened by this. You are precious to God, and the greatest gift he has for you is not to let your preciousness become your god. God will be your God. God alone forever. And this is infinite love.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Praying in Restful Confidence in the Character of God

And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
- Matthew 6:8 -

Jesus is teaching us that the purpose of our prayer is not to twist God's arm. We are not going to God to try and change His mind so that He'll do something that He didn't originally want to do. We do not go to our Father to haggle, bargain, and finally
purchase blessings. We go to Him to receive the blessings Christ has purchased for us on the cross.

Piper clarifies:
In other words, every answer to prayer that would be good for us, Christ purchased by His blood. We did not and cannot purchase them. So when we go to our closet, we are not going to make a purchase. We are not going to negotiate. We are going because God has ordained that what Christ obtained for us, we receive by asking.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones helpfully adds:
I must get rid of this thought that God is standing between me and my desires and that which is best for me. I must see God as my Father who has purchased my ultimate good in Christ, and is waiting to bless me with His own fullness in Christ Jesus.
We must see God as our Father. Jesus says that we do not need to use meaningless repetition in our prayers because our Father knows what we need before we ask it. He is not a tyrannical despot who cruelly and whimsically gives and withholds to suit His caprices. He is our loving, caring, and infinitely wise Father who knows our needs better than we do. He will give us what is best for us.

And so our prayers must reflect the rest we have in the confidence of God's sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness.

Our many words do not twist God's arm, for He is absolutely sovereign.

Our persistence does not change His mind, for He is infinitely wise.

And we wouldn't want to do either of those things, because He is relentlessly good.

So when you pray, pray in the restful confidence that, as Luther said, you are "not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Benefit from God's God-Centeredness

"As I live," declares the Lord Yahweh, "surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out, I shall be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out; and I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you," declares the Lord Yahweh.

"I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I will purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the Yahweh. As for you, O house of Israel," thus says the Lord Yahweh, "Go, serve everyone his idols..."

"...but later you will surely listen to Me, and My holy name you will profane no longer with your gifts and with your idols. For on My holy mountain, on the high mountain of Israel," declares the Lord Yahweh, "there the whole house of Israel, all of them, will serve Me in the land; there I will accept them and there I will seek your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your holy things. As a soothing aroma I will accept you when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered; and I will prove Myself holy among you in the sight of the nations. And you will know that I am Yahweh, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the land which I swore to give to your forefathers.
There you will remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for all the evil things that you have done. Then you will know that I am Yahweh when I have dealt with you for My name's sake, not according to your evil ways or according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel," declares the Lord Yahweh.
- Ezekiel 20:33-44 -

This text is so glorious. I could probably spend a month making observations that would make my soul sing. But right now I just want to just bask in how awesome the God-centeredness of God is, and how God's pursuing His own glory necessarily is for our benefit.

In the passage above, the scene is Judah's impending judgment. Soon the Babylonians will come and destroy the temple and destroy Jerusalem. And they will be acting entirely according to the will of Yahweh, who credits Himself with the destruction of His people, His land, and His holy temple.

But He declares that that judgment is not the end of the story for Judah. No, He will surely restore them as a people, will give them back their land, and, as Ezekiel will tell us later on, will give them back their temple (Ezek 40-48).

But what's amazing is why God says He'll have mercy on them and graciously restore them. He declares that He will save Israel to prove Himself holy, and to ensure that His name be properly honored and not be profaned. You see, He is not content to simply cut off His people in judgment. That would not magnify His attractiveness. It would give the nations occasion to mock and jeer, "These are the people of Yahweh; yet they have come out of His land" (Ezek 36:20). "What kind of weak God is Yahweh that His people regard Him so lightly that they defy Him so greatly, that He must resort to such measures to punish them?"

But in the pursuit of His glory, to ensure that His compelling beauty be magnified in the sight of all the world, He will see to it that Israel worship Him. It's as if He's saying, "Oh, one day you will see how great I am. One day you will finally have your eyes opened to fully appreciate how beautifully glorious and delightfully satisfying I am. I will make sure of it. You will not get away with not worshiping Me!"

How awesome is that? God is emphatic about saving Israel not for their sake but for His sake. Here, He's said, "I will deal with you for My name's sake" (Ezek 20:44)! Later on He says, "It is
not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name. ... I will vindicate the holiness of My great name" (Ezek 36:22-23)! He is radically and recklessly God-centered.

But isn't it just lovely that it is precisely His love for Himself that we, as His people, experience as love for us!

That God's absolute commitment to His own glory is linked to my finding Him delightful and being satisfied by Him in worship is unspeakably glorious and the most lofty demonstration of grace that I could ever conceive of! God has designed this universe to work in such a way that His glory and our good are not only vitally connected and related -- they are the very same thing! It's not just that whatever God decides will glorify Him most will satisfy us most. It's that God's glory is our good! The good we are looking for is to see Him magnified!

That is absolutely astounding to me. I hope it is for you too. May your heart be captivated and worship at such benevolent grace from such a large-hearted God.

I want to add one thing in closing. I don't know about you, but as I ponder these things, I sense that I am loved in an infinitely greater way knowing that God is not acting for my sake or for my benefit per se, but rather for His own. If He was doing everything He does for my sake and not His own sake, I would feel less loved, because I know in my heart that I'm not worthy to be so highly regarded that way. God would seem smaller to me; He would be man-centered. But because He is unwaveringly committed to the glory of His name, He is magnified in my sight as utterly righteous and utterly worthy. And then, because it is His nature that, in tireless commitment to Himself I somehow benefit from that, well that takes my breath away. My God is a big God. My God is an amazing God. I feel more loved by God because He aims at loving Himself above all things, and loving Himself spills over into benefit for me.

I hope you feel the same way.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Responding to Suffering Righteously

Though the many characters in the story of Job present various views on the reason for suffering and how to respond to it, no one character provides that righteous example. However, from observing Yahweh’s interactions with the various characters, we see that the book of Job teaches that the righteous man should respond to suffering by worshipfully and faithfully submitting to God’s absolute sovereignty in all things.

Though Job’s three friends mean well (Job 2:11)
, their faulty theology leads them into error and renders them a hindrance rather than a comfort. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar believe they have God figured out: He rewards the righteous and faithful and punishes the wicked and the unfaithful. While correct in a general sense, they erred by applying this paradigm absolutely. In fact, even before Job is afflicted we learn that his suffering will have nothing to do with his sinfulness (Job 1:8-12; 2:3-6). Thus Yahweh’s wrath is kindled against them (Job 42:7-8). And though Yahweh does not respond to Elihu’s comments, it is clear that his analysis falls short as well. Elihu’s main argument is that suffering is a purifying process (Job 33:8-12, 29-30), and while this certainly has some merit, again, in a general sense (cf. 1Pet 1:6-7; Jas 1:3), the opening chapters teach us that Job is not suffering to be purged of sin, but because God willed to make an example of Job to prove a point to Satan.

Job himself is probably the best example of the five characters throughout the narrative. There is much that we can learn from the ways he responded (Job 1:20-22; 2:10)
. In fact, Yahweh Himself commends Job for speaking rightly of Him (Job 42:7-8). However, Job’s proper responses are also mixed with foolish thoughts. He proclaims His hope in Yahweh regardless of circumstances (Job 13:15a; 14:7-14; 19:25-27), but in the same breath desires to contend with Him (Job 13:3, 15b). As the book progresses, his tendency to find fault with God’s judgment grows. For this he receives perhaps the most contemptuous rebuke in all of Scripture (Job 38-41).

Though not the perfect example of righteousness, we do learn from Job’s interaction with God how we should respond when we suffer. First, we should not seek to console ourselves by attributing our suffering to secondary causes. Job always recognized that God was sovereign in his afflictions (Job 1:21; 2:10; 12:9-10),
and he was commended for that (Job 2:3; 42:7). We should not seek to save God from His sovereignty. He means to be glorified in being recognized as the ultimate mover and determiner of all things (cf. Is 45:7; Lam 3:37-38).

We learn, negatively, though, that faith in God’s sovereignty should not cause us to blame Him or accuse Him of unrighteousness. We should recognize that we all deserve suffering as a result of our sinfulness (Rom 3:10ff). It is God’s mercy that we do not suffer continually (Mt 5:44-45
; cf. 2Pet 2:4).

Thirdly, we should not seek detailed reasons for our suffering, but trust God’s wisdom. Just as Job never knew about the spiritual battle revealed in the opening chapters, so also our suffering is often greater than ourselves. We should seek to saturate ourselves with the knowledge of God, and be satisfied in His sovereignty and goodness. He has a plan that cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2) which will bring about His greatest glory, which is our greatest good (Rom 8:28).
Thus, we should trust God’s goodness even when circumstances seem to contradict that. As Job did, we should accept good and adversity as gifts from Him (Job 2:10) and worship Him for His goodness (Job 1:20-22).

Finally, we should not wait for circumstances to improve before praising God. Instead, we should imitate Job’s example (Job 1:20-22)
; he was still on the ash heap covered with boils and sores when he was reconciled to Yahweh (Job 42:1-6). We should praise and worship God even in the midst of our sufferings, and thus demonstrate that He Himself is more satisfying to us than pleasant circumstances.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
- Psalm 73:26 -

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Help for the Soul Beset with Sin

It's amazing to be constantly confronted with my own depravity. The prideful Pharisee in me expects myself to be "better" by now. But just knowing that I know what it is to receive God's grace and forgiveness, and that I have tasted Christ's sweetness and have proven to my soul that He is good, it makes it difficult to confront the fact that I still sin grievously against so great a Savior, so great a Friend.

The following quote from the Prince of Preachers has ministered to my soul on numerous occasions. I pray it's a benefit to you. To that end, read each paragraph slowly, and pause to meditate after each one.

We have a great Savior, dear friends.
Whenever I feel that I have sinned and desire to overcome that sin for the future, the devil at the same time comes to me and whispers, ‘How can you be a pardoned person and accepted with God while you still sin in this way?’
If I listen to this I drop into despondency. And if I continued in that state I should fall into despair and should commit sin more frequently than before.

But God's grace comes in and says to my soul, ‘Thou hast sinned, but did not Christ come to save sinners? Thou art not saved because thou art righteous, for Christ died for the ungodly.’ And my faith says, ‘Though I have sinned, I have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and though I am guilty, yet by grace I am saved and I am a child of God still.’

And what then? Why, the tears begin to flow and I say, ‘How could I ever sin against my God who has been so good to me? Now I will overcome that sin.’ And I get strong to fight with sin through the conviction that I am God's child.
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
- Psalm 51:16-17 -

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
- Romans 5:20, KJV -

Sunday, April 4, 2010

That's My King

I rejoice this day in the resurrection and the life of my King, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, King Jesus the Christ, the Name above all names. Rejoice with me.

Jesus said to her,
"I am the resurrection and the life;
he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,
and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.
Do you believe this?"
- John 11:25-26 -

He proved it.

Do you believe this?

Friday, April 2, 2010

God's Love Defined by His Holiness

A couple of Fridays ago I posted some of my own ruminations on the relationship between God's love for us and His glory. I argued that it is wrong to say that God created us for His glory because of His love for us, because such a statement confuses God's end with His means. It makes His glory subordinate to His love, when really it is His love that is subordinate to -- indeed, it serves -- His glory. And I demonstrated that that is Biblical based on 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 4:6. If you haven't read that post, read it.

An objection that I'd expect to hear regarding that post goes something like this: "Mike, I appreciate your zeal for God's Word and for His glory. Those are good things, and we should be talking about those things. But you cannot say that God's love is subordinate to His pursuit of His glory. In fact, you can't say that God's love is subordinate to anything. It's true that God is glorious, but it's not true that God is just loving. He is love, as 1 John 4:8 says. Love is not merely another of His attributes, it is His very nature!"

The problem with this argument is that it ignores the other two "God is" statements in the Bible. Not only does Scripture reveal that God is love (1Jn 4:8), but also that He is spirit (Jn 4:24) and He is Light (1Jn 1:5). It is the latter of these three that we must consider if we are to order our thinking aright in this matter.

To say that God is Light is to declare that He is utterly holy, pure, and righteous. "In Him there is no darkness at all," the Apostle continues (1Jn 1:5). Just as much as love is essential to the very nature and character of God, so is holiness so essential. This means that, simply within the context of these two absolute statements, there is no reason to subordinate one attribute to the other. God is love, and God is holiness. However, if we turn to the rest of the Biblical witness, we do find a reason to subordinate one to the other, but it's not in the direction that many 21st-century American evangelicals think it is.

Isaiah chapter 6 chronicles Isaiah's call to the prophetic ministry. We know the story. In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw a vision of heaven. He saw the Lord Jesus sitting on His throne, high and exalted in His glory. And he saw six-winged angels above him, covering their face and their feet in humility. And those angels had a perpetual song as they beheld the glory of the Lord. They cried out in acclamation and exultation: "Holy! Holy! Holy!"

As you may know, a way to express emphasis in Hebrew is to repeat that which you want to emphasize. One way to use the superlative in Hebrew is to repeat what you want to say multiple times. So if you wanted to say something was exceedingly good, you might repeat the word 'good.' And here in Isaiah 6, the angels call out, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" It's the only word in Scripture that's repeated three times.

This is what occupied the angels' worship as they beheld the glory of the Lord God high and lifted up on his exalted and glorious throne. This aspect of his nature. This attribute. The Bible never says that God is "love, love, love!" The one time the Bible gives this kind of emphasis to a particular attribute of God it is His holiness.

So how does this fit with my previous post?

God's holiness, or righteousness, consists in His doing what is right. He must love what is most worthy to be loved, delight in what is most worthy of delight, regard what is most worthy of regard, and esteem what is most worthy of esteem. For Him to not do any of those things would be for Him to fail morally. He would become an idolater, and would no longer be holy. So God's holiness demands that He treasure that which is most worthy to be treasured.

So what is most worthy to be treasured? The answer must be God Himself, for He is perfect. God must treasure Himself above all things, because He Himself is actually worthy of being treasured above all things. The way God treasures Himself above all things is to be unwaveringly committed to upholding the glory of His name. He pursues His glory in everything He does. This pursuit is at the foundation of the most foundational attribute of His nature. What it means for God to be God is that He is holy. What it means for God to be holy is that He pursues His own glory. That is what He is about. That is what is at the heart of His nature.

But what about love? Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to downplay the love of God. I'm trying to downplay the man-centered love of man that we attribute to God and call God's love. I'm trying to explode the idea that love is making much of someone, and instead present the Biblical truth that love labors, and, if need be, suffers to enthrall the beloved with what will make him eternally happy and satisfied. And reality is, we will not be eternally happy and satisfied with a God who makes much of ourselves. We are not worthy of being so magnified.

He, however, is. He is worthy of being so magnified, such that His very act of seeking His own glory (that is, manifesting and communicating the beauty of His manifold perfections to people) is love. Do you see how God's glory defines what it means for Him to love? Strictly speaking, God's seeking His own glory and His acts of love that benefit us are the very same thing. When God shows Himself off, that is love, because my seeing that beauty will most fully and abidingly satisfy me.

But even though they are manifested in the same action, God's love is logically dependent on His pursuing His own glory. If you try to reverse those and make His glory dependent on His love, you wind up with the small, pitiful God I described at the end of the original post. But if you rightly see God's love as a means to glorify Himself, you see more of God as He's revealed Himself, and not how 21st-century evangelicals have imagined Him to be.

As it seems to challenge an excellency above all His other perfections, so it is the glory of all the rest; as it is the glory of the Godhead, so it is the glory of every perfection in the Godhead; as His power is the strength of them, so His holiness is the beauty of them; as all would be weak without almightiness to back them, so all would be uncomely without holiness to adorn them. Should this be sullied, all the rest would lose their honour; as at the same instant the sun should lose its light, it would lose its heat, its strength, its generative and quickening virtue. As sincerity is the luster of every grace in a Christian, so is purity the splendor of every attribute in the Godhead. His justice is a holy justice, His wisdom a holy wisdom, His arm of power a "holy arm" (Ps. 98:1), His truth or promise a "holy promise" (Ps. 105:42). His name, which signifies all His attributes in conjunction, "is holy," Psalm 103:1.
- Stephen Charnock -

A true love of God must begin
with a delight in his
and not with a delight in any other attribute;
for no other attribute is truly lovely without this.

- Jonathan Edwards -

And I will be glorified in your midst.
Then they will know that I am Yahweh
when I execute judgments in her,
And I will manifest My holiness.
- Ezekiel 28:22 -