Saturday, November 14, 2009
The first time I ever heard John Piper preach, probably in 1987, Shawn and I walked into his church, Bethlehem Baptist, with no idea of what to expect. We had heard that he was good, but beyond that, we knew nothing.
It was just as his book, Desiring God, was being published. The sermon was about Christian hedonism. By Christian hedonism, what Dr. Piper means is that humans were created for happiness: we crave it, we miss it, there is a void inside each of us that longs for it.
Because we are sinful beings living in a fallen world, we seek happiness in all the wrong places. But in truth, happiness is within our grasp: our joy is in the Lord. And the best thing about it is, unlike any other pleasure we may pursue, the pleasure that we find in God is--get this--good for us!
You can be addicted to God and never run short of your supply of Him, because He is limitless, and it is His joy to fill us and overflow from us in glory and grace. (see Psalm 81:10, Isaiah 55:1-2, John 10:10, John 15:11)
The point is that God is the source of all that is good, and He loves us and shares His goodness with us to the glory of His name and for the good it does us to be filled with joy.
It brings God great joy to bring us great joy.
Inherent in all this is a fundamental fact that is missed all the time. All the time...
God is happy. God is joyous. God is filled with pleasure and delight.
I had never thought about this before that day when I sat in a lovingly cared for old church building in Minneapolis, listening to John Piper preach his heart out.
God is happy.
Psalm 115:3 says, "Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him."
As I sat there, I was stunned, completely and utterly stunned. God is happy.
God is not worried. God is not in despair. God does not look down at the sins of man and wonder, "Oh whatever shall I do now?"
God is completely and utterly in control. He is sovereign. He is in charge of all history. And on top of that, He is omnipotent and omniscient. That means He is all mighty and all knowing.
Proverbs 21:1 "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases."
Psalm 33:10-11 "The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations."
Psalm 139:1-4 "O Lord, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord."
Ephesians 1:4-10 "For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will--to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."
1 Peter 1:20 "He [Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake."
Perhaps I will take these scriptures individually over the next few days and write about them in more depth.
But I just have to share my wonder at this, my wonder and excitement and joy and relief. God is not up in heaven wringing His hands and worrying that we will mess things up. He knew we were going to mess things up before He ever created the world... that's why He chose Jesus and planned our redemption before He even made us.
God is not worried, so we do not have to worry... we can trust Him fully and believe that, as He promises, His purposes will all be accomplished!
God is happy, so we can be happy. We can serve Him with joy and confidence because He is in control, because He is our sovereign Lord, and He does indeed have the whole world in His hands.
Does this mean that things will always go the way we want them to go, that we can expect Him to give us fulfilling relationships, nice houses, plenty of food and clean water, and no illnesses?
Heavens no! Not here. God knows what is best for us, and it isn't always what we think is best for us. We need to humble ourselves and trust Him, even when it doesn't make sense, and never lose our expectant hope for eternal redemption.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The really amazing thing about this flower: it's blooming outside my window, and it is November. November. In New York.
God is so gracious and merciful. I was bracing myself for February today, thinking about the upcoming sleet, snow and frigid weather. But today it is November 12, the sun is almost shining, and there is a white rose blooming outside my window.
Sometimes God is gracious in up-front, out-right kinds of ways... like in giving me a rose blossom in November.
Other times, His grace comes in stranger packages.
The other day I was reading in Isaiah, and I came across this verse:
"The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death." (Isaiah 57:1-2)
It reminded me of the story where wicked King Jeroboam's son became very ill, and Jeroboam sent his wife, in disguise, to ask the Lord's prophet whether her son would live or die. God was planning to send judgment on Jeroboam, a terrible judgment that would be awful to behold. Regarding the king's son, God gave his mother this message: "As for you, go back home. When you set foot in your city, the boy will die. All Israel will mourn him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good." (1 Kings 14:12-13)
We always assume that earthly health, wealth and prosperity are the blessings of God, but sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes God takes a person out of this life to spare him earthly pain. And sometimes God strikes a man into disaster in order to break down his mistaken belief that he is fine on his own and has no need of a Savior. This looks harsh from our point of view, but in truth it is a mercy, because it takes a man headed for eternal disaster and points him toward heaven instead. Sometimes God uses discomfort in this life to help us prepare and look forward to the next life, the real one, the one without an end.
We should not fear death the way we do. We need to remind ourselves that God is sovereign, and everything is part of His plan. This is hard; it goes against every natural fiber of our being. It requires super-human faith, the faith and trust that come only from God.
For those of us with faith, we should remind ourselves every day:
"...to live is Christ and to die is gain."
Because, believe it or not, in heaven, God has much greater wonders for us than even a white rose blooming in November.