Our primary text was 2 Corinthians 5:16 – 6:2. We discussed the CHANGE God brings to our relationships, the CALL we have as those who speak for Him, and the CHOICE we have in light of the cross. It is a message about the way are called to relate to EVERYONE around us, and a message about who we are called to be in Jesus Christ.
Jesus radically changes the way we view and relate to EVERYONE in our life.Spouses, friends, family, enemies. Saved people, hostile people, kind people, spiteful people. Everyone.
NOTE: My friends at Living Hope will remember that I began this message with a story about my college buddy Jason Upton singing in chapel and how that changed my view of who he was. I couldn’t legally post the copyrighted music clip I used on this website, but if you are interested in hearing more from Jason, the song I played was called “Freedom,” found on his album “Faith,” which you can find on iTunes right here.
June 24, 2012.Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN. Sunday night service. This message follows the death and funeral earlier in the week of our congregation’s dear friend Jeremy Erickson. Many in our church prayed hard for Jeremy’s recovery. We asked for a miraculous healing, but Jeremy left us for heaven even so. The death of a loved one raises many questions…
Does God exist? If so, can he hear our prayers? Is He simply so HUGE that He doesn’t bother with our little lives? And who is to blame for this loss? Didn’t we pray hard enough, or correct enough? Was it sin in Jeremy’s life that caused him to suffer and die? Or was that God’s plan? And if he can do anything, but he didn’t choose to heal Jeremy, how can he be good? Even more to the point… is his heart good towards me?
So many questions. This message wades into the deeper water, where our theology is tested in a sea of grieving. In the deep water, God comes to us.
Click on the tab below to stream the audio…
Jeremy Erickson. Entered heaven on June 10, 2012. Thank you, God, for his life and friendship. Jer, I’m looking forward to seeing you again.
This fall I began a long walk through a series of posts called “Pursue Joy.” You can read the introductory post (“God wants to wreck your life”) here. It’s what I believe about life and theology – in a nutshell. So far I’ve hit three out of five pillar ideas in past posts.
First this. God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name. This stands in contrast to the misconception we have growing up in church believing that God’s love and Jesus’ ministry is focused primarily on US.
And then this. Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip, this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.
And that leads to this. BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and thoughout eternity.
Good times. You are now up to speed.
So God is GOD-focused rather than US focused. And we were created by God to be GOD-focused rather than US-focused. And whether you realize it or not at first blush, this is very very VERY good news for schleps like you and me. Schleps with a ME-focused nature. Wildly better news, in fact, that our little minds can absorb. Today I want to answer the question… “WHY?”
Point #4 in my “pursue joy” framework is this: This is the greatest possible news. This is pure gospel. That we have been created to and saved not unto begrudging servitude, but unto the passionate pursuit of JOY. Not mere pleasure, or happiness which is fleeting, but a pursuit of soul-thrilling JOY that deepens and expands forever into the infinite glory of God.
I talk about JOY a lot. One of the most common press-backs I get from brothers in Christ is what I call the “take up your cross” argument. Their concern is that I am so focused on the “good stuff” (i.e. the JOY stuff) that I am missing the forest for the tree. The cross, in particular. After all wasn’t Jesus a “suffering servant” (ala Isaiah), well acquainted with grief? If we are called to emmulate His life and ministry, isn’t our faith going to be forged in the furnace of suffering?
Yes, it is.
Jesus said we would suffer. We will grieve. We may live with little. We may be called to give up the little we have. We may give up home, comfort, security, and family for the sake of the Gospel. We may die.
But even Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And to think that lack of comfort or earthly security or even loss of our loved ones equates to lack of JOY is to misunderstand JOY. Joy is bedrock. It is God-given. It grows in tandem with faith, as God proves His love again and again. The path to deep and lasting JOY is often THROUGH the valley of suffering and hardship and uncertainty and sacrifice.
So don’t confuse JOY with comfort or pleasure or even happiness. It is deeper. It is stronger. It is better. It is of greater value.
We should be eager to give up comfort, pleasure, security… if the path of obedience always leads us to deeper joy. And it does. It always does.
John Piper, whom I love, clarified this even more for me today. Watch this…
Certain stories in our family have a way of finding new legs year after year at our family gatherings. One such story has its roots in my parents’ small farm town upbringing in the upper northwestern corner of Minnesota, where the North Dakota plains have invaded the landscape, and families earn their bread in the rich black soil of the Red River Valley.
My dad was in 3rd Grade. The assignment was to write and share a poem about “your favorite sport.” One of dad’s friends stepped forward and shared, with great aplomb, the following legendary verse:
When I was a little lad
I ran to meet my Dad
O’er the fields so wavy
Oh, how I love to eat gravy
There is a simple perfection in this poem. The affectionate relationship between father and son. The eagerness of the son to join the father as a prelude to feasting. The tip of the hat to the waving wheat fields, ready for harvest… a sign of provision and plenty. And then, in a glorious climactic moment, the hailing of gravy. Nay, the very pleasure of ingesting said gravy. Economy of words. Perfect.
I’m going up north today to revel in my family. And to eat gravy. I love Thanksgiving.
Not just the holiday. The act. Not just the family meal. The relationships. Not just the gravy…
But gravy is a big deal.
“Gravy” is the extra goodness that makes life sing. More than brownish meat sauce. It is the extra. The “beyond enough.” The abundance of blessing. The richness of the meal. We could subsist on dry turkey and boiled potatoes, green beans and dry bread. But why? God has blessed in abundance. When we eat gravy, we celebrate the love God has for us. We feast, and thank the Giver. The gravy is the the savory saucy goodness that signifies the fat of life. Pressed down, shaken together, running over… In America, we all are blessed with abundance. If you are at a computer reading this right now, thank God. Thank God for the warm place. Thank God for the computer. Thank God for electricity, and the ability to reason. Thank God that you can read.
We have so much to be thankful for there are not enough seconds in a lifetime to express it adequately.
I saw a quote the other day that rang my bell: “Thanksgiving is a prerequisite to joy.”
Yes and AMEN. This is one of my most important goals as a dad – to raise gratitude-filled sons. Because I also want to raise JOY-filled sons.
I believe my boys were created by God to live their lives celebrating Him in joy. Not a “ho-hum, work-a-day, give me what I got coming to me” life. LIFE TO THE FULL. Enjoying freedom from sin. Living in obedience to God as a joyful worship response to the God who gave us life and breath and heartbeats and mozzarella cheese. And gravy.
The next few days in Bemidji, we’ll be in the thick of God’s greatest gifts. Family who love us. Abundant food. Faith in God at the heart of our conversations. None of it is lost on me. God is a good God. He is GOOD. In the midst of the best times of life, and in the hardest, He is good.
When I takes that first gravy-laden bite (and the third… and the forty fifth…), I’m going to be saying a prayer. “Thank you, God, that You are so good to me, though I don’t deserve your favor. Thank you for your ABUNDANCE.”
It was like a bomb hit my office. Both scary and exhilarating.
And I know that those of you who visited my office 15 years ago at Emmaus Lutheran Church are certain I’m talking about my decorating style, what with my, um… free-form approach to filing sheet music and whatnot. But that’s not it at all.
A hundred loose threads of theological string running through my brain were suddenly were drawn tight, snapping into place to form a perfect, beautiful knot. Right then, with trembling hands and tears running down my face, I knew what I was for.
I called Amy. Which is the thing you do when your whole life has suddenly changed direction. You call your spouse.
Before I wander farther into the woods here, let’s step back and take a clear look again at the trees. I’m in the midst of a series of posts here about the foundation of Biblical beliefs that fuel my life and undergird my calling as a Pastor and proclaimer of the Gospel, and I’m categorizing all of them under the rubric “PURSUE JOY.” So far I have posted an introductory column (read it here), and have expanded upon the first two of five Biblical propositions in the series. Click on either one below to read those posts:
So far I’ve attempted to make a clear Biblical case for the fact that God’s highest purpose and most profound desire is for the ever-increasing praise of His glory. The Bible is FULL of this truth from cover to cover, but many Christians have mistakenly fallen into the misconception that what matters most to God is US. That Jesus came to earth primarily to rescue US, because of His profound love for US and His desire to bless US. While it is true that we are deeply loved and exceptionally valuable in His eyes, the Bible makes it clear that we have been called as a people of God for His glory (Isaiah 43:6-7) and that Jesus ULTIMATELY went to the cross not simply for our sake, but for the glory of His Father and His name (see Jesus’ prayer in John 17:1, for example, and what John has to say about our forgiveness in 1 John 2:12).
Then I explain from a Biblical platform why this is in no way some kind of grandiose ego-trip. Instead the God-centeredness of God stands as the most extravagantly loving basis possible for our relationship with God. As God is our heavenly Father, he seeks to give us the best possible gift (see our relationship to God clarified in Romans 8:14-17, and God’s Father heart to us in Matthew 7:11). The best, highest, most valuable gift to us in all of the universe and beyond the bounds of time is GOD HIMSELF. And so, in His supreme love, He gives us Himself to marvel at and adore for eternity – the highest and best for us is to not focus on us at all, but to fix our attention and lavish our affection on the ONE object of supreme and unfailing worth. That is why Our deepest satisfaction comes in the fulfillment of our God-wired need to WORSHIP, and when the object of our worship is God Himself, we are satisfied, and God is glorified, and the union of the two is a consummation of such beautiful genius that there are not words for it. That is why in my last post I wrote, “In praising that which is MOST praiseworthy are we most DEEPLY satisfied, and the genius of this design is that the expressing of this praise brings us the most soul-satisfying PLEASURE in the universe. In fact, the joy that both awakens and satisfies our most primal need in life finds its voice in our fervent worship of the ONE who is worthy of it.”
To pursue JOY is to WORSHIP God.
The irony is that most people pursue happiness while running away from God. Colder… colder…
Now, back into the woods…
I was there in my messy office at Emmaus, stuck somewhere between the staff meeting that had just wrapped up in Mavis’ office and getting to work on the upcoming Sunday service plans. I had been hired as a Worship Pastor, of sorts, albeit under the title of “Minister of Celebration.” So I was the Music and Arts guy on campus, with traditional and contemporary services to plan, choirs to direct, Children’s Musicals to arrange the music for, and leadership in the Worship Services. There was a lot of “stuff” to do related to my music degree – the one I was finishing up at Northwestern College with a career track in kind that would move through High School Choir directorship and on to College-level (or higher) conducting in a choral program some day.
But the “stuff” was not the “heart” of my job. I had come into this leadership role not too far outside of high-school. I had two years of Bible School under my belt, sure, and I had just a touch of worship leading experience as a drummer for the AFLC Youth FLY Convention in 1993 and again in 1995, but suddenly I was being paid to LEAD PEOPLE in worship, and I figured I better get a handle on what that meant… I mean beyond the laundry list of things that bugged me about other worship leaders.
In studying what it meant to lead worship, I learned that worship is an act of the heart… and my job was not to create an experience for people in the pews every week. It was to create “worshippers.” My job at its heart was literally to help the people of our congregation love God more deeply, more fervently, more honestly. Music and the arts were great tools for inspiring God thoughts, but they were simply a means to a greater end. The end was WORSHIP. Worship was the goal.
With my mind and heart full, on a day when I was particularly grateful that God had allowed me, for this season of my life, to enjoy such a rich job description, I pulled the Missions magazine out of my staff mailbox, along with a reminder of an upcoming deadline for my church newsletter article and a copy of the council report from last week’s meeting. Missions. Ugh.
If ever there was a reminder of my mediocrity as a follower of Jesus, the monthly “Missions” magazine that got dropped into my box was it. There they were – the REAL Christians – out there among the bush people and the teeming hordes in India and the orphans left to fend for themselves on the street in Brazil. There they were. They stood as an example of my weakness and selfishness.
I did not want to be a missionary. I knew that this meant I was not a fully mature Christian. Not a REAL disciple of Jesus. Sure, my heart beat fast when I would think of ways for our church to grow deeper in love with God. I mean, I wanted to take the church by the collar and give ’em a good shake, and with a smile in my eyes, shout about how awesome our God is, and why He’s worth our abandoned, unreserved, unselfconscious adoration. But I didn’t want to go to Ecuador. Second class. Second rate. Second choice. The missionaries… they were God’s first choice. They were the truly selfless ones.
But this looked… interesting. What is this? The monthly Missions publication was focused on… worship. Worship in the field. Worship in evangelism. Worship styles that incorporate other culture’s musical traditions. Worship, worship, worship…
Despite the innate sense of guilt that I felt even holding this magazine in my hands, I turned the cover. Within one minute, the bomb went off. I read these words, and my world changed…
This is what I’m for. This is what I’m for. To help people everywhere understand that they have been created to worship, and they’ll never be deeply fully completely satisfied until they embrace the truth… we are created to be worshippers. Tears. My career path has changed. I’m not in ministry part time as I prepare for a career in music performance. I’m not in ministry part time at all. This is what I’m for.
Missions exists because worship doesn’t.
“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations… to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.” (Isaiah 66:19)
We aren’t merely in the business of selling fire insurance to people all over the globe. We are in the business of helping every soul on the planet understand what they are for. Because if people don’t know Jesus, how can they worship Him? And if they can’t worship Him, how can they find true and lasting joy? And most important of all, how will God receive the GLORY He is due through their life? This is what the Church is FOR…
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging toGod, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
That was the day my life changed direction forever. Flashes of light. The scripture alive in me. My course was set. For the rest of my life, Lord, I want to spend the rest of my days helping people love you. I can do that in suburban America, or rural America, or even a wildly different culture like Canada… I want what you want – for you to receive ever increasing praise and honor. I understand. It is what we are ALL for in the first place.
That brings us out of the woods to look at our next tree in the “Pursue Joy” series. These are the truths that my life is now built upon…
(3) BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and throughout eternity.
Whether I am playing drums, or at the piano, or in the pulpit, I will always be a worship leader. My pastoral ministry in caring for people and in counseling people will be a ministry of the GOSPEL… that more souls will be set free to worship. My preaching will be full of the GOSPEL… that the house of God rings with His praise more and more until Christ returns.
October 30, 2011.Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN. Sunday night service. This message is taken from Isaiah 43:1-7. It’s a message to Christ followers who are going through extremely difficult circumstances… times the old testament writers would refer to in poetic, idiomatic language… “going through water and fire.” In these desperate times, Isaiah 43 brings us this encouragement:
Don’t be afraid, because God is with you!
VIDEO NOTES: The video here begins a few minutes into my message after I had talked about my dear friends Jeremy and Jenny Erickson. You can see their picture on the screen behind me as the video starts. Jeremy was in the hospital awaiting news of a bone marrow scan that would eventually reveal a pre-leukemia disorder, and Jenny had just received word that her dad had died in a car accident. That is going through water and fire. I had the Ericksons in my mind as I prepared and delivered this message. Ongoing prayers for their family are deeply appreciated.
Also on this video, we decided to include some of our closing song. If you are interested in finding it for use in your own church, it is called “Covenant Song,” written by Aaron Senseman, copyright 2000 Stuntman Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
We ended our service Sunday night in a prayer huddle around Pastor Bob’s son, Joshua Halvorson, who is a Marine being deployed to Afghanistan this week… through water and fire. We will keep Joshua in our prayers, too.
I’m pausing briefly in my series on the pursuit of joy (check out part one, two, and three) to make this important announcement:
Seth is out of the family. Man, I loved that kid, too. It will be hard to lose him, sure, but he did, after all, leave the dishes half finished. Levi is out, too. He talked back twice yesterday. It’s hard to kick a seven year old out of the house in Autumn, but Seth is going, too, and he’s a pretty resourceful kid. They’ll probably cobble together lunch money with some kind of street performance involving music and dance. They’ll do alright. Too bad they can’t be Skogerboes anymore. If only they had followed the rules…
This is so ridiculous that it hardly works as a metaphor… and that’s exactly why it works as a metaphor. Let me explain…
Today in my Christian Ethics class we confronted a conceptual stumbling block that I’ve had for years concerning Christ’s imputed righteousness. That’s fancy pants seminarian talk for “the righteousness Jesus credits to me because he has forgiven my sins.” I have struggled to correctly understand what this means in relation to my “split personality…” I’m a sinner. And I’m a saint. I’m wretched. And I’m righteous.
This is a mystery. But it is a stone cold reality. Believers in Jesus – followers of Christ – ARE righteous in God’s eyes, because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. In church-ese, he has been made the propitiation for our sins, and his sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago was the substitutionary atonement for us, redeeming us to relationship with God, and we have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness. That means that HIS righteousness has been imputed (given) to us. WE ARE RIGHTEOUS.
At the same time we live corrupted by sin, and like Paul, we who love the Lord are frustrated and horrified that the things we want to do we can’t do, and the things we DON’T want to do we can’t seem to let go of. WE ARE SINNERS.
For years I have wondered how all of this works together. I have read the passages that explain how Jesus is my Mediator (again with the church talk… so sorry) literally translated my “advocate,” like a defense attorney. Only he’s NEVER LOST a case. He only has ONE LINE OF DEFENSE, and it works every single time. He stands before His Father, the Righteous Judge, and He shows the nail holes in his hands and feet. His blood is the payment. The debt is accounted for. The sin is erased. “And when God looks at me,” I’ve been told, “He doesn’t see my sin at all. He sees Jesus’ righteousness.”
So after He saved me, Jesus is basically my Elmore Smith.
Elmore Smith was a 7’0″ center from Kentucky State University. He played in the National Basketball Association from 1971 to 1979 as a member of the Buffalo Braves, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While racking up an impressive stack of stats as a point-maker and rebounder, what Smith is best remembered for his shot-blocking, earning him the nickname “Elmore the Rejector”. He led the league in total blocked shots in both 1974 and 1975, and holds the NBA record for most blocked shots in a game since 1973, with 17.
This is how I have seen the work of the Trinity in regards to my sin and in view of Christ’s imputed righteousness in my life: When I sin, I grieve the Holy Spirit (my Counselor) who lives in me and continually reminds me of God’s Word, the refining Law that points me to the cross. In heaven, I have imagined the Father (Righteous Judge), ruling in holiness and unapproachable light, sitting on His throne in perfection and purity, the unattainable standard by which I will be measured in order to gain access to heaven some day.
And then there, before the Throne of the Judge, stands “Jesus the Rejector,” my spiritual Elmore Smith, shot blocking my sins with 100% accuracy, so that the Judge behind Him will never see my imperfection.
It kinda works, right?
But there’s a problem… My sins really do matter. And The Trinity is in perfect communion. And the God-head is ONE. And the Godhead is omniscient (which is church-speak for “KNOWS EVERYTHING, past present, and future.”)
If God the Father knows all that God the Son and God the Spirit know, then it isn’t possible that my sins are “unknown” to Him. So yes, I am righteous… the Bible says that I am. My sins are covered by Jesus’ righteousness imputed to me. But God knows all, and He sees that I sin. How can I sin… and be perfectly righteous?
What really helped clarify this conundrum for me today was the understanding that this imputed righteousness is a righteousness of POSITION. In other words, as a Christ-child, I still sin. I need the cross everyday, and I need to turn to Jesus in repentance daily. He is my Advocate, and His blood has covered my sin… but they are not unknown to the Father. And yet my sins don’t affect my POSITION as a child of God. That is Jesus’ work, not mine.
Just like my kids’ rule-breaking is not unknown to me. Although they may think they get away with it now and again, I know. I always know. And I want them to do what is right. I want them to follow the rules out of love and respect for me… out a a belief that they know I have the BEST in mind for them. But they mess up. They break the rules. They sin.
Do I ask them to take responsibility when they sin? Yes. Do I expect them to turn and go the other way? Yes. But I don’t kick them out of the family.
They are still my beloved kiddos. I will fight for them and direct them and raise them to live healthy, fulfilled lives, and when they mess up, I will forgive. But they will always be my kids.
So it is with the righteousness of Jesus. It is a righteousness of position. It is placement within the family of God. We are His beloved children. When we mess up, He will forgive. Does our sin matter? You bet. Jesus is not my Elmore Smith. God knows it all. But our position is not dependant upon our striving hard enough. Our position is secure in the work Jesus has already done in our place.
Does this smack of “eternal security” to you… or to decipher for the non-church crowd… Does that mean once we’re saved we’re ALWAYS saved no matter how we live? Absolutely not. The Bible is clear that if we rebel hard enough, long enough, our heart for God will become a heart of stone, and we can fall away from the faith that saves. Even children can rebel long enough – hard enough – that they become “dead to the family.” Sometimes legal action is taken to sever family ties. But even without any formal ceremony, family ties can be cut if the child wants out. Sin is a dangerous flirtation with death and darkness. Sin matters. But if we want to be God’s children, and we live in daily repentance for our corrupt nature and misguided behavior, the righteousness of Jesus is ours. Our standing in God’s family remains secure in Him.
Imputed righteousness. There’s your daily dose of “church-ese” decoded for real life.
I’m wildly in love with my wife. She’s smart, she’s quick-witted, she’s beautiful, she loves Jesus, she’s a great mom, she is discerning, she’s wise, she really loves people, she’s beautiful, she cherishes relationships, she’s not satisfied with “fine” or good enough,” she loves our kids intentionally, she’s beautiful… I can literally do this all day.
Why? Why do lovers sing the praise of their beloved? Because we have to, right? We promised. It’s our marital duty to praise our spouse.
That’s about as romantic as wet blanket.
NEVER! I freely praise because she is worthy of it, and because my love needs to find expression. I shout the fact that I married a miraculous woman because I take JOY in her.
This is the third post in a series. Through a series of posts here, I want to unpack the biblical framework that undergirds my life and theology and ministry motivation. In the first one, I established the basic proposition that we have been created to PURSUE JOY. I also laid out five key ideas that I am expanding one by one in this forum. Then, in thesecond post, I discussed the first and foremost of these core ideas – namely, that God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name. The Bible is clear that God’s highest priority is His glory, and that He alone is worthy of such adoration. God is God-centered. And that brings us to our second core idea, and the purpose of today’s post…
Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip,this truth is the most wildlylovingfoundationpossible for our relationship with Him.
How can this be? Even the Bible tells us that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) and that “love seeks not its own.” (1 Corinthians 13:5) And we know intuitively that self-centeredness is antithetical to love, which “seeks the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24). So how can God, who IS love, be so God-focused? And how does this fit with our childhood songs and Sunday School lessons that all seemed to shout “Jesus loves me, this I know?”
First of all, we must be honest. We must recognize the quiet rebellion alive in our questions. God alone is God. He is devastatingly magnificent, wholly righteous, sovereign in power, and incomparable in every field. God is God. We are not. Who are we to question the motivation of the God who holds the breadth of the universe between His fingers? As God reminded Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” He then spends two chapters posing a series of rhetorical questions to Job (and to us) about where we stood as he created the firey stars and the farthest reaches of the universe and knit together the largest and smallest of creatures out of nothing with sheer willpower and His mighty Word.
And so we walk humbly before this power, and we question Him with trembling.
The truth is, we ask these questions of God about the tension of love and vanity because we have reduced Him in our mind’s eye to the size of you and me. When any other human being seeks his or her own adulation, it turns us off. We like strength, we will celebrate valor, we showcase generosity. But we don’t like it when we see someone blowing their own horn and calling for worship. Why? Because we are ALL flawed. Humanity is a messy jumble. No one is worthy of the kind adoration and devotion that our heart is wired to give. No one on the planet.
Have you put God in that box? If all the languages of the world were employed, and the sky was parchment, and everyone on earth wrote their praises to God without rest for eternity, we would not be able to adequately ascribe to God the depth of His worth and the excellencies of His great character, to say nothing of the praise of His grace and the awe-striking gift of redemption in Jesus Christ. God actually IS WORTHY of non-stop, ever-flowing, ever-increasing praise and honor. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive honor and power and glory and praise.
We cannot and must not find in God’s pursuit of His own praise even a shred of hypocricy or a vapor of the charge vanity. God calls for what He alone is worthy of. God is worthy to be praised.
So… alright then. If you were able to jump that hurdle, we may agree that God is worthy of highest honor. But how does this translate into such great news for US? How does God’s incessant pursuit of His own glory become “the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him?”
John Piper’s Desiring God helped me connect the dots here. He writes of the struggle within theologian and author C.S. Lewis to reconcile the loving nature of God with the overwhelming tide of calls to praise Him written into God’s Word… by God Himself. And then, for Lewis, came the lightbulb moment…
The most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows in praise, unless sometimes we bring shyness in to check it. The world rings with praise: lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poets, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite games, praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars. My whole more general difficulty with the praise of God depended on my obsurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely valuable, what we delight to do–even what we cannot help doing–with regard to everything else we value.
And then, as Piper points out, here comes the key sentences:
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the joy is not complete until it is expressed. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are. The delight is incomplete until it is expressed.
YES! That’s it! I want to climb on the roof of our Seminary housing units and shout to the students walking by that my wife has captured my heart because expressing my joy in her brings my delight in her to consumation. Delight unexpressed is incomplete.
This is truly genius Design at work.
In God’s pursuit of glory comes His demand for our praise, and our created desire to worship… something. In Him alone is our thirst satisfied. In praising that which is MOST praiseworthy are we most DEEPLY satisfied, and the genius of this design is that the expressing of this praise brings us the most soul-satisfying PLEASURE in the universe. In fact, the joy that both awakens and satisfies our most primal need in life finds its voice in our fervent worship of the ONE who is worthy of it. GENIUS. We are satisfied in Him – He is glorified in us. He delights in our praise – we delight in Him. He receives glory – we find JOY.
Further, God proves the profound depths of His love for us in bringing us the most wildly extravagant gift possible. It is not only wildly extravagant, it is truly the pinnacle gift – the best and highest possible gift to His children.
God gives us Himself.
May all honor and glory be lavished on Him. May my life ring with it. Even in typing this now, my heart is full – I’m full of JOY in Him, and I revel in His goodness and His love. Less of me God, and more of you!
And thank you for Amy. She’s so much more than I deserve. It’s my joy to praise You for her and to praise You with her.
The primacy of God’s glory makes everything about Him… not about me. THAT is truly the best of news, because it is a proclamation of freedom. Profound freedom. We’ll dive into that next time in “pursue joy part four.” I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Refine my thinking. God bless you, and may you find soul-shaking JOY in Him alone.
You know what drives me nuts? I mean just frothy lipped, make-it-stop, face twitching crazy?
Carly Simon’s 1972 hit, “You’re so Vain.”
Yes. I recognize it has been thirty years. What’s that you say? Let it go?
I can’t go for that. No how. No can do.
Lo, these thirty years later I am still plagued by an inner dialogue that will not let me rest. And yet somehow, inexplicably, the rest of the world seems to allow “You’re So Vain” to stand at #72 on the Billboard “best songs of all time” list. How can this be? Carly, why do you vex me so?
Does no one realize that her chorus foists a premise into pop culture that is nonsensical?? I want to tear my ears off. Go with me here…
“You’re so vain… I bet you think this song is about you. You’re so vain… I bet you think this song is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”
DOES THIS NOT BOTHER YOU GOOD PEOPLE? If the dude thinks the song is about him… which CLEARLY it IS… does that not make him factually correct?? Not so much vain as just… RIGHT? Are you with me here?!
You’re so vain… *insert deep soul-weary sigh here* I can’t handle it.
Why on earth am I bringing up Carly Simon you ask?
Because we need a reboot. The Church needs a do-over. (In the circles I run in we call this repentance.) We somehow have become enslaved by the idea that the point of all this Christianity business is to get us reconnected to God… to get us saved… to give our life meaning. And it is… but it’s not.
“You’re so vain… I bet you think this faith is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”
Don’t answer that. Yet. Because you may be picking up my vibe here. (It’s kinda hard to miss my vibe, let’s be honest.) You probably know that the “right answer” here is something like… “No. It’s not ALL about me. Or US, I mean. I’m supposed to say it’s not about us – it’s all about Him, right? God wants us to praise Him, too, right? He wants us to thank Him… because He died for us – to save us. He came to give us life to the full, right? Because God is love, and He loves us SO MUCH, right? Jesus loves me, this I know…”
So we should definitely say “thank you.” Because He has done so much for us. For us. For us.
You know what? I believe all of that is true, too. “Greater love has no one than this: that He lay down his life for his friends.” At night, when little Ezra is curled up in his blankets and I’m laying on His bunk in the dark I hear his little voice say… “Jesus?” I know what he wants. And then I sing with him just like my Mom and Dad sang with me… “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”
Kids need to know that in their very core. JESUS LOVES US. This we KNOW. But there is even better news… News that becomes foundational in a spiritual life spent in the pursuit of JOY. We never get to the stanza that fleshes out the deepest love and highest pursuit of God. And it’s not us… We get stuck sometimes in a Carly Simon world somehow where the highest and deepest and most profound message to the lost and the curious is “Jesus loves you.” And He does… but maybe at some point we need to write a new stanza. Graduate from the tippy cup to theological meat. How about this…
“Jesus loves God more than me, so He died to set me free, dead in sin I could not praise, brought to life this hymn I’ll raise: God loves His great name! We’re made for His fame! We bow and He reigns! The Bible tells me soooo…”
Last week I began this exploration of a theological construct that affirms (even demands) that we revel in a shameless pursuit of JOY. Read part one here. Far from being a selfish pursuit, I’m building a scriptural case that the pursuit of JOY is ultimately the most selfless… the only truly selfless option. Moreover, God wired you do long for JOY, and He commands you to go hard after it.
As we began I listed a series of interconnected precepts, all of which I believe are soundly backed by the truth of God’s Word. After all, if I’m just making this stuff up, it will have no lasting impact. It will be a giant pep fest… a waste of time. But our faith is built upon ONE normative standard: the truth of the inerrant inspired Word of God. So these propositions build upon each other and resonate together because they are true to the Word. If you think my understanding needs shaping, I’ll heartily welcome correction along the way. But I promised to unpack these ideas one post at a time, so today we begin with number one… with the assertion of primary importance… with the assertion that at the HEART of the heart of God is His desire to be GLORIFIED. To know what faith is all about and answer the “why am I here?” questions of life, it makes sense to start with the One who IS, and who always has been, before we were, and will always be.
The rest of this post will simply be a list of verses that point to the primacy of GOD’S GLORY as the motivation for GOD’S STORY. His story of redemption is all about HIM. My next post will talk about what great news this is. But I need to make the case first. If you’re skeptical, that’s OK. Maybe you’re thinking “God is love, and love is selfless, and this sounds like a ginormous EGO TRIP and that doesn’t sound like the God I know…” I’m just asking you to pray, and then read this list. And then see what God is revealing about His first love. I think this is an accurate place to start:
(1) God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.
Scriptural Basis for the Supreme Value of God
“I am the LORD: that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
This is what the LORD says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: “I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God.”
“I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.”
For this is what the LORD says — He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited — He says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.
Before there were people:
Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
God’s purpose for creation:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord…
God’s reason for creating people:
“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made,”
“I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”
God’s purpose in delivering His people from bondage in Egypt:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.'”
Where is He who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock? Where is He who set His Holy Spirit among them, who sent His glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand, who divided the waters before them, to gain for Himself everlasting renown, who led them through the depths? …they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD. This is how you guided Your people to make for Yourself a glorious name.
When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to Your miracles; they did not remember Your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet He saved them for His name’s sake, to make His mighty power known.
The purpose of God’s mercy (in light of Israel’s repeated rebellion):
And whenever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the LORD’s people, and yet they leave His land.’ I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone. Therefore say to the House of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.
Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of Your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.
Although our sins testify against us, O LORD, do something for the sake of Your name. For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against You.
I Samuel 12:22
For the sake of His great name the LORD will not reject His people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.
God’s purpose in Jesus’ birth:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”
Jesus’ primary reason for coming to earth:
“…Christ became a servant to the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the Patriarchs, so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy…”
Jesus’ decision to go to the cross:
Jesus… Looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify You Son, that Your Son may glorify You.”
God’s reason for sending His son to the cross:
“God presented Him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished…”
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven:
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus will come again in power to consummate His mission on earth:
II Thessalonians 2:9-10
Those who do not obey the gospel will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed…
The Church exists for God’s glory:
I Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.
God’s glory is the point of missions:
“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations… to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.”
This is the God-ordained destiny of every nation:
All the nations You have made will come and worship before You, O Lord; they will bring glory to Your name.
We have a purpose for living:
(Jesus said) “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good deeds and praise (glorify) your Father in heaven.”
In our praying:
(Jesus said) This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”
The reason we are forgiven:
I John 2:12
I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.
At the end of time:
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing : “To Him who sits on throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
In summary, Paul wrote:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
I Corinthians 10:31
“…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
This becomes the heart of the Church:
Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness.
The first precept under-girding this call to pursue JOY is this: God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.
Now we’re getting at the heart of it. The heart of ALL of it. This is what I believe to be true of God in the deepest corners of my heart. Scripture screams it out. My life rings with it. This is what I believe.
God wants us to passionately pursue JOY.
What? Wait… the church has always told me I need to take up my cross, count the cost, follow the rules, I surrender all… right? Loving God requires letting go of what I want so that I can do what God wants… right?
Right. God wants your life to ring with joy.
A relationship with Jesus is not about what we sacrifice for Him, or a new set of rules that rob us of freedom. JOY! Christian faith and life is about being set free to pursue the deepest joy imaginable. THAT IS GOSPEL. That is why I want to be a Pastor. It is my heartbeat.
I’m in a seminary class right now on Christian Ethics, which has been pointing us again and again to the sovereign authority of the God’s Word as our moral construct. Depending on your life story, that statement might either make you do a little internal cheer and fist-pump for Jesus, or it may totally make you squirm… like I’m going to get my rulebook all up in your business. Fist-pumpers and skeptics alike can take a breath, because I’m not going into “why my morals are better than yours” mode.
We have been discussing alternatives to Biblical morality… hedonism, for example. The pursuit of pleasure as the determiner of what is right and wrong. I think hedonism devoid of Christ is just empty staggering toward regret and isolation and death. Pleasure is a gift of God, sure… but it’s fleeting. The moral construct of the Bible is rooted in something far deeper. But again, this isn’t a post about right and wrong, per se. It’s about why we ARE in the first place. Why we exist, and the reason for Jesus’ coming to earth. This is the deep down stuff of life… not just the rulebook.
To my heathen friends (insert winky face here), you non-churchy ones out there, my guess is this post most likely won’t ruffle your feathers too badly. As long as I’m not too pushy on whole right and wrong thing, you’ll probably be able to ignore this one. You’d be missing out… but the choice is yours.
On the other hand, it’s my solidly entrenched churchy friends who may take me to task today. I think I’m going to say some things here in the next few days that buck against the way Christians think. So give me a minute here while I pull my bulls-eye t-shirt out of storage. You can load up. Putting it on now. And here we go…
(1) God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name. This stands in contrast to the misconception we have growing up in church believing that God’s love and Jesus’ ministry is focused primarily on US.
(2) Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip, this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.
(3) BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and thoughout eternity.
(4) This is the greatest possible news. This is pure gospel. That we have been created to and saved not unto begrudging servitude, but unto the passionate pursuit of JOY. Not mere pleasure, or happiness which is fleeting, but a pursuit of soul-thrilling JOY that deepens and expands forever into the infinite glory of God.
(5) Far from making Christianity all about US, this truth reveals that the polar opposite is true… God receives greater glory as we find greater JOY in Him. The intrinsic purpose of God and the created purpose of man find their mutual fulfillment in our making much of God. Our joy is found in His glory!
My heart is beating fast for this. Do you see that this changes EVERYTHING? Maybe if you are skeptical about religion this just sound like a bunch of church-speak hoo-haw. I get that. Let me break it down for you…
It’s true… God wants to wreck your life. He’s up front about that. This is no bait and switch. If you’re not pursuing ever-deepening joy in Him alone, you’re missing out. God wants to wreck your life to give you a better one. He literally wants you to experience life-changing joy forever.
These are truths that are repeated again and again and again throughout the Bible, and the five points above work together to create a latticework of interdependant truths that help me understand the foundation of my faith and ministry passion. They are simply too profoundly significant for me to adequately cover in one blog post. Or in a hundred blog posts. Or in a hundred books.
But over the next several days, I’ll take a look at these truths point by point. This Christian life is a joyful adventure, not begrudging service in order to secure an eternity outside of hell.
God wants you to pursue JOY. I believe that as deeply as I believe anything in my life. Maybe you needed to hear that today. Maybe your whole life is about to change…