The Blazing Center

Part 3

Bethlehem Baptist Church Youth Retreat | Minneapolis

The focus in the previous session was God’s passion for his glory. And our theme is God’s glory and our gladness — are they really one? Can they really be one? Do they have to be in competition? Do God’s pursuit of his glory and my pursuit of my happiness have to be at odds? I grew up feeling that they are at odds.

Missionaries would come to the church, I remember. And they would say, “Okay, all you young people, stop doing your will and do God’s will!” And I always wondered, Isn’t there a third alternative? Maybe my will could correspond to God’s will so that I would do his will and it would be my will and, therefore, I wouldn’t be condemned to endless frustration in following Jesus.

Copernican Revolution

And I just want to liberate you from feeling like that’s the choice you have to make: pursue God’s glory, or pursue your happiness. If those are the two, you’re damned. You’re just condemned to a life of endless frustration — at least if you try to be a Christian, you are. You do not have to choose. That’s the whole theme: God’s glory, my gladness — can they really be one?

I started with God’s passion for his glory. And the big question is, Why in the world did you start there? That’s a hard thing to get your head around. Why did I do it that way? Here’s the reason: until you feel and think that God is the supreme value in the universe, that God is the supreme beauty in the universe, that God is the ground and support of everything in the universe, that God is the goal of everything in the universe, that God is the central reality in the universe, until you feel that, you will turn distort all reality — even the gospel — into a man-centered falsehood.

I hear Christians turn the cross into a man-centered echo of their own excellence: “Oh, how valuable I must have been that he died for me” — instead of realizing that the cross is an indictment of my sin and a celebration of undeserved grace. It’s not about my excellence. It’s about my becoming one who can see glory and delight in it because he bought me.

So, I began last night at the hardest place. It’s going to get easier from here on out — at least I hope easier to understand, if not easier to live. I start in the hardest place, because until I can get your head to do a Copernican revolution — to get yourself out of the center of the solar system and get the glory of God as the sun of the solar system of your life — you’re going to distort everything you see.

God at the Center

And I know that not many young people in the world have this liberty to put God at the center. I want you to be different and so I begin at that hard place. So how did I do it?

I start by saying, “God has a passion for his glory.” And I find that that’s the antidote to the disease of man-centeredness better than anything else. A lot of people are willing to say, “I should be God-centered. We all should be God-centered.” But those same people stumble over the statement, “God is God-centered.” They say, “Whoa. That doesn’t sound right.” And so I spent a whole hour last night arguing that God is God-centered. I used three passages of Scripture. I could have used twenty-five passages.

Everything About God

“The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). And who made the heavens? God made the heavens. Therefore, God is making the heavens talk about God. God is radically eager to make everything about God.

“God is the supreme beauty in the universe. God is the ground and support of everything in the universe.”

Why do people go to see the Lord of the Rings by the millions? My wife and I made a three-year anniversary date in December out of going to see every one of these. Why? What is it about those huge boulders quashing all those bad guys? What is it about the magnificence of this army and Gandalf riding this white horse right in just at the right time and everything like a sea dividing before him. What draws us to that?

This is not evil that we are drawn to things like that. Written on our hearts is: “You are not made for mirrors; you are made for God.” It’s Christ. It’s all about images of Jesus. Of course, we don’t know what Jesus looked like and we have to invent stories and parables and great cinematic phenomena so that we would just taste a little bit of what it will be like when John 17:24 comes true.

So you’re not sinning, necessarily, when you stand before the Grand Canyon and feel yourself drawn out into its bigness, or stand before the Rockies or the Alps and feel yourself drawn out into their bigness, or go to a movie like that and feel yourself drawn out into the artificial bigness on the screen. You’re not sinning if you don’t idolize the Grand Canyon, the mountains, or the movies; but rather let them become springboards to worship.

Taken to Jesus

I remember going out to eat with my wife after the second Lord of the Rings movie. And we were in Hudson, Wisconsin because we were going to do an overnight at one of the bed and breakfasts there. And we went to the movie first, went out to eat, and I sat there and I said, “Everything on that screen was artificial. And we were deeply moved. The artificial place where they did it was probably about the size of this room, and there’s a little teeny speck in New Zealand, which is a little, teeny speck on planet Earth. And the Earth is a little teeny speck in the solar system, and the solar system is a little teeny speck in the galaxy, and the galaxy is a little teeny speck in the universe, and Jesus flung all that out with his little finger.

In other words, I let my wonder and my enjoyment in the theater become a means of honoring Jesus who makes the Lord of the Rings look absolutely ridiculous, when you see him for who he really is, creating and according to Hebrews 1:3, upholding the universe by the word of his power. Every day, Jesus says, “Earth, be. Universe, stay in existence today. There will come a day we will change this. Roll it up like a garment.”

And everything you ever were moved by in the theater will become a tiny pointer to the reality. Therefore, you were made for Jesus and the satisfaction of your soul will be found in him, which is where we’re going now this morning.

A Passion for God

So, we shift gears from God’s God-centeredness to our passion for God. And I want to begin with a text. Let’s go to Philippians 1:20– 21. Now here’s what I am looking for in this text, or here’s what I found years ago in this text and now love to show to people.

I said at the end last night that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him, and therefore, there’s no final conflict between his pursuit of glory and your pursuit of satisfaction. Because when you are satisfied in him, he is glorified by that very satisfaction. That’s the best news in all the world to me. Because now I don’t have to choose between my satisfaction and his glory. If my being satisfied in his infinite beauty, glory, Gandalf-like arrival at the right time, and my satisfaction, then I am the happiest person in the world.

Now I need a text to support that. I don’t want you to just believe this just because I said it. So let me try to show you one text where I think it’s pretty clear when you think about it. This is Paul speaking. He’s in prison. He says in Philippians 1:20:

As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored [or magnified] in my body, whether by life or by death.

So now he said, “Oh my longing is that Christ would be made much of, magnified, glorified, honored, in my body, whether I am living or whether I am dying.” And then he explains how that can be in verse 21:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Now let’s put together the two pairs. In verse 20 you notice Paul says that whether by life or death, he wants Christ to be honored. Verse 21 picks up those words, life and death and talks about living and dying. Life corresponds to live and death corresponds to die. The pair in verse 20 is picked up in verse 21, and verse 21 begins with the word for, which means a support or a ground — an argument — is being given for how this can be. How is it, Paul, that in your death, Christ could be magnified? You should ask that.

Deal with Death

How can I die so that the way I die would make Jesus look really good? Have you ever thought about that? Teenagers probably don’t think about death very much, but you should think about it more.

“Get yourself out of the center of the solar system and get the glory of God as the sun of the solar system of your life.”

And when you ask, How will I die? When will I die? What would it be like to die? one other question you should ask, according to Paul is, How will I make Jesus look good in the way I die in the hospital? Or on the street if I get hit by a car and I have just a few minutes and people are looking down at my face and I am gasping — how can I make Christ look really good there?

Isn’t that what Paul is saying? I want Christ to be honored, magnified, glorified in my body. He got his head chopped off in 66 AD by Nero. It may have been in this imprisonment when it happens. He knew it was coming. When the sword fell, he wanted something to be going on there that made Jesus look great.

How to Count It All Gain

How? Now, Put on your thinking cap. I want Christ to be honored by my death, and it will happen because death to me is gain. How does that work? It works by bringing a premise into the argument from verse 23:

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

So Paul is saying, “All right. I might live, and if I live, I want Christ to be central in my life. And I might die, and if I die, I want Jesus to look really good in the way I die. That will happen by counting death gain and death will be gain because to die is to be with Christ which is far better.” What will make Jesus look good in your death is for you to be saying, patting your mom on the arm and saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m going to be with Jesus. And that’s gain.” You lose everything: all your friends, mom and dad, dreams about being married, dreams about having kids, dreams about accomplishing something in a profession or sports or whatever. All the dreams are gone. And you count it gain. Who gets the glory at that moment? Jesus.

Is he that valuable to you? Christ is most glorified in your dying when you are most satisfied with him in your dying — more satisfied than having more health, more satisfied than staying alive, more satisfied than going onto school or getting married or having kids. I am more satisfied in Christ so that when I die and lose all these things, I say to my mom and my dad, “Gain.”

“Get yourself out of the center of the solar system and get the glory of God as the sun of the solar system of your life.”

When I watch people die at Bethlehem, I marvel at how well our people die. I marvel. And I give Jesus glory. I say, “Christ, what a faith you have wrought. What a rock-solid confidence you have wrought. What a beauty you have displayed of yourself that they are willing to let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth, God’s glory, God’s beauty, abideth still. His kingdom is forever. I am going home.”

So I think that verse teaches what I am arguing for, namely God is most glorified in you — Christ is most honored in you and your body — when you are most satisfied in him, both in living by making Christ central, and in dying by saying it’s gain. You can’t count him gain unless you are saying, “I’m satisfied with him. I am satisfied with him.” And he gets great glory.

Your Joy, God’s Glory

Therefore, I closed last night by saying that unleashes one of the most radical, surprising, controversial statements of Christian Hedonism. The dictionary says that hedonism is a life devoted to pleasure. And I only have one little correction to that: in God. Christian Hedonism is a life devoted to pleasure, not in stuff, things, people, success, but in God. Which means, when it happens, you are the freest of all people, because you can let things go that other people are living for, because you have now got your satisfaction in him. So, I call it Christian Hedonism.

And the radical, controversial, central statement of Christian Hedonism is that from this day on, your vocation in life should be to be happy in God — maximally happy and eternally happy in God. That’s your life’s mission, goal, and duty.