Father in heaven, we want to see you, know you more clearly. That’s why I tried to write about you in The Pleasures of God. And so we ask that by your Holy Spirit, you would come. This is not just a camera thing; this is a soul thing, a heart thing, a mind and life thing, both for the guys who are here with Bethlehem Seminary and for those who are tuning in.
So I pray for all of us that our minds would be in tune with your word, that we would be saturated, filled with “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17), and that our answers and our questions would accord with truth, and that our faith would be built up, and our hope would be strengthened, and our vision for your call on our lives would be clarified, and that your name would be exalted. So come and give us your help now, I pray in Jesus’s name.
Let me say a few things about The Pleasures of God before I take your questions. I went online this morning to remind myself of the sermon series. I preached these as sermons starting in January 1987. And then I thought of this sheet of paper here, which I was going to give to David Mathis anyway. You can’t see this probably, but I prepared this in 1993 to help us cope with growth issues at Bethlehem, and it’s the record of the attendance.
Now, from your perspective and from history’s perspective, that looks good, right? That looks, it’s up. But notice something. One, two, three, four, five years we went backward. Guys, this is huge for you to know. This is just huge ministerially. This looks like up. It didn’t feel like up half the time. Half the time it didn’t feel like up. Isn’t that amazing?
And the church always has in it people who don’t have a lot of hope. They’re Eeyore types, Puddleglums, and naysayers. One dip and the sky is falling. “Oh, cut the budget! Cut the staff!” Leadership can’t let those people hold sway. Can’t.
You love them, you get your arms around them, and you put your hand over their mouths and try to, “Don’t bring that spirit to the business meeting. It’s not going to help.” Our God is in the heavens, and he does whatever he pleases, which is what the pleasures of God are about. And I went and I tried to coordinate — this is very dangerous, wrong. Don’t ever do this — to coordinate where [The Pleasures of God] came here.
Okay, that’s about a nine or ten-week series? January 1987, and it is one of the ups, like here’s 900 people, average attendance. And at the end of the year, four months later: 996. So by a 10 percent growth. So what does that prove? Nothing. It doesn’t prove anything. It’s just interesting to me. Did we go backward or forward during “The Pleasures of God” series? So I got this out, I tried to line it up.
I tried to remind myself what it felt like in those days to preach this and why I preached it. And the reason I gave in my first sermon in January 1987 was that 2 Corinthians 3:18 is the key text from my understanding about how to help a church be transformed through preaching: “Beholding the glory of the Lord.” We are being changed from one degree of glory to the next. Beholding the glory of the Lord.
So what I’ve done over the years is step back and I’ve asked, “Okay, what’s a fresh way to show the glory of God?” That’s why we’re doing John right now. It’s why I go back to John 1:15–16 over and over again. “We behold his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father full of grace and truth. And from that fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.”
And what happens when you receive grace? You get changed just like 2 Corinthians 3 says. And this was the key that God used to unlock this series. This is the little book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, which on page, in this edition, on page 68, I read this mind-blowing sentence for me in ‘86 or ‘87:
The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.
Which was being said about humans. And I just paused and I said, “I wonder if that’s true about God, that the worth and excellency of God’s soul, which is what I want our people to see, would be revealed in what he enjoys.”
And that’s what this is. And I think it’s true that if you look at what makes God happy and why it makes him happy, you will have a fresh, powerful revelation of his worth and excellency. So I think we’re going to talk about chapters one to three in this session with your questions, and then next week, the next three, and then so on. So there’s a hand right there.
When you talk about the pleasures of God and God’s delight in being God, do you mainly have in mind God the Father, or do you have in mind the Godhead? Because some chapters say the pleasure of God and his Son. So that’s pretty clear to me. It’s the Father. But in other chapters, it can be more ambiguous. So when you say this is what God delights in, who do you mean by God?
Sometimes I mean the Father and sometimes I mean the Son and sometimes I mean the Spirit and sometimes I mean all. And the answer in the end is going to be all, all the time. Because I really do believe they co-in-here and that they are of one essence. And what the one experiences, the other experiences.
I brought along, because I knew the first chapter dealt with the Trinity, this book. It’s not in print anymore. You may be able to find a copy, but for 99 cents as I tweeted yesterday, you can get the most important thing I’ve ever read at Kindle on the Trinity and it’s called Essay on the Trinity, right there, page 99 in this book. And Edwards was massively influential to me in this regard.
I think what’s important for us to just feel is that because God is a community of persons, he is love. And then to follow Edwards into why is that the case? Why is there a Son? Why is there a Spirit? Why is there a Father? Why are these images used?
And his answer, I’ll just put it in a nutshell, I can read it right out of this text, is that the Father knew the Son from all eternity, knew himself, surveyed the panorama of his perfections, the radiance of his glory. He beheld the Son, is that radiance, the Son is his idea and conception and perception and vision of the totality of himself. And it is so full that it is himself over again. And then between them there is this infinite love between the Father and the Son, this infinite delight.
And answering your question, it’s flowing from the Son to the Father, it’s flowing from the Father to the Son and it is carrying so much of who they are that it stands forth as a third person of the Trinity, the Spirit, the love of God.
And I just refreshed myself in reading Edwards here about 1 John 4:12–13 of why he sees the Spirit as the love of God. “The love of God is poured out into our heart through the Spirit.” So all the members of the Trinity are fully engaged in the communitarian life of the Trinity. And we have a God, a God who is infinitely happy without us from all eternity. This is the most amazing and mind-boggling reality to contemplate, that our God before there was a universe, whatever before means, was not in need of us.
Now more specifically, at any point in the book, I think you just want to ask contextually, is he talking about the Father? Is he talking about the Son or is he talking about God three-in-one? I think they’re all involved in delighting in the things that I talk about, whether it’s doing all that he does or once I get done with the first chapter, I think it’d be fair to say we’re always talking about the Trinity, more or less. Be accurate to say.
On page 43 in the new edition, bottom paragraph, you’re in the middle of answering with a letter, somebody that you heard at a particular conference say that God is a risk-taker, and you’re refuting that. At the bottom of the paragraph you make the assertion: “God is not uncertain about anything.” And in the third edition you have a footnote there that is two plus pages long where you respond to Clark Pinnock on open theism.
So my question is maybe not so much why was the footnote removed, but what were you hoping to answer in the third edition when that came up? And then maybe make a comment on twenty years of, have you seen open theism more or less rejected by broader evangelicalism, embraced? Do you see it as much of a threat to this truth now?
That is a very, very shrewd question. And good, and good. Shrewd is not bad word. I added it, no doubt. I can’t remember the date of the emergence of the second edition, but I did walk into and out of some pretty hard debates and conflicts regarding open theism, Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Greg Boyd would be the main people that I interacted with in writing and with Greg in person.
Pinnock says this explicitly. He moved from philosophy to see if he could find it in the Bible. Greg Boyd, I don’t think, would say that. I think he’d say his argument is mainly exegetical. So the position is God does not know for certain what his free creatures will do this afternoon, which means that ten million worlds stand before God and he does not know which one is going to exist in an hour from now. But his sovereignty is great and he can manage that. That’s the way they would argue about his glory, that he’s not thrown off kilter by that.
And it was a sad time for me because I didn’t feel like my own denomination responded with the kind of rigor that I would’ve liked. But it’s gone now. Why? And I think my reasoning was, I can’t remember exactly, that it really has faded compared to how vibrant it was in those days, at least in my circle. I don’t really know for sure out there. But my sense is that the spokesmen for open theism are not considered mainline evangelical. They’re marginal, if evangelical.
I wouldn’t call them evangelical, I think it’s a view that is off the table as far as Christianity goes. I think it’s an unChristian view. However, they’re not having the same influence they once did. And so it seemed to me why would I want to draw so much attention to it when people would say, “What’s he so bound out of shape about? I haven’t heard about this.”
So that’s the gist of it and I hope that’s true and I’m glad that it’s true. I would like to see, and now Pinnock’s gone to be with Jesus, I believe John Sanders and Greg still hold forth in various ways and I pray, I just really pray. When you’re 66 and you fought these battles, it’s so different than when you’re, I think, in seminary.
In seminary, you look at these guys that are writing their books and whatnot and you feel like they’re just kind of in a world out there that’s above the reach of prayer. Don’t think that way. I think you should pray for me that God would spare me folly. And we should pray for anybody whose views we think are unhelpful or hurtful in the hope that those amazing God-given brains of theirs. And Greg may watch this. I think Greg is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met, and I would love to see him return to the Reform theology he did once upon a time have. Where are we?
My question is the “C.J. Mahaney” question. What’s the practical implications of chapter one: “The Pleasure of God in His Son”? I read that and I loved it and my question was, how would you use that truth in the daily battle to fight for joy? Or how would you use it to counsel someone?
Let me see if I can answer it in two ways. The first way is just to return us back to my conviction about the way we Christians are transformed. I don’t think mainly preaching transforms people or mainly counseling transforms people by showing them concrete behaviors. I’m saying mainly because I know that the second half of Paul’s epistles are in existence. Mainly by the spiritual effect that the truth has in terms of wonder and admiration and awe and delight and cherishing and desiring.
If I read this and I moved out of myself, my little tiny me, my little tiny God, into a massive God, something happens which affects everything. That’d be my first answer. I mean, I have banked on that for thirty-plus years in ministry.
Well, I’ll give you an example. Tom, you’d have to help me here, but probably in the first four years of our ministry together here in the early eighties, I just resolved one Sunday because I’d heard so many people say, “Not enough illustrations,” and whatnot. I said, “I’m going to preach a sermon from Isaiah 6 with zero application. Just a big great glorious God. See what happens.”
Little did I know that one of the young families of our church had just heard that week that all three of their daughters had been molested for a couple of years. They’re sitting there under this ministry of the word with zero application to molestation or abuse. Nothing.
And I can remember, in fact, Joby gave me a cross stitch of a picture of this sermon (hung in my office for a long time) of the train of the robe draped over the skyline of Minneapolis. That was the illustration I used. His train filled the temple. I said, “Okay, let’s picture this. This is a small temple, this is heaven. This is a long train. Picture a train draped over the IDS tower, and on out into the suburbs. And a big throne.”
And that’s the way I preached. I just tried to help people see him. I don’t know how long it was. A month or two later, this all came out and the husband came to me and he just took my hand and he said, “Only one thing’s gotten me through. Isaiah 6.” We have a big holy God. I tell you experiences like that I could give you more are just profoundly influential. Okay, that’s answer number one.
I believe that practically when you’re in a pinch and you wonder if God is sufficient for you, that one of the things he can mightily use to help you through that trial is to remember he’s so completely full and happy in the fellowship of the Trinity, that he’s not dependent on anything in this world and therefore he’s utterly free and overflowing to bless you. I really believe that God’s love for me is owing to his complete self-sufficiency. Edward said the reason God created the world was not that he needed the world, but that it is no sign of the deficiency of a fountain that it is prone to overflow.
So if the Trinitarian understanding of God’s community that satisfies him completely is such that it produces not a neediness. I don’t need any more needy people in my life. I need somebody who’s there for me who’s just always there for me with infinite resources. And the Trinity helps me live with that and that helps me with a hundred problems. Where are we?
On page 20, you quote Tozer and he says, “God never changes moods or cools off in his affections.” And that seems essential in this book for why he’s always happy he never has a bad day because of circumstances. But if I’m just thumbing through my Bible, I see times where he changes moods and affections and he’s angry or after the flood, he wishes he didn’t make man. So how do you reconcile that tension in somebody who’s never read systematic theology? How would you tell them about that?
That’s really good. And that is a very dangerous statement because it’s not true at one level. “God never changes moods” is not true at one level. He can shift from being angry to happy. He can be grieved. In fact, I wrote down a piece of paper here maybe because I was feeling it, whether it’s in this chapter somewhere, my effort to understand the emotional life of an infinite being is to say it is infinitely complex and infinitely mysterious.
And I had in mind he’s angry all the time — Psalm 7:11. He’s grieving all the time because the Holy Spirit is grieved when we sin and somebody’s always sinning. And he’s happy all the time because he rejoices when a sinner repents and there’s somebody repenting somewhere all the time. So you have a being here who’s capable of having hundreds of people over here bringing grief to him, hundreds of people over here making him really angry, millions. And hundreds of people over here making him as happy. He wants to dance like the Father who’s receiving the prodigal home.
And God is able to take you into his lap in any one of those moods (let’s take the happy one) and really be that for you while he’s also being angry at sinners and grieved over sin. In fact, probably he can feel all three toward you at the same time.
Now, back to the sentence: “God never changes his moods or cools off in his affections or loses enthusiasm.” So I probably quoted that from Tozer mainly because of the fact that I don’t want to give the impression that God is moody, that he is vulnerable like I am to my ups and downs, that whatever God feels he feels with complete and perfect fullness, he’s not conflicted ever and wherever the emotion calls for it, and I think this would be always, his emotions are strong and not flimsy or weak.
And the never change would mean, all things considered, our God is simple. Our God is consistent. Our God is uniform. Our God’s not vulnerable to whiffs or winds that blow along. But I think taken all by itself, that statement “his moods never change” would just be misleading.
If I had to do it over, maybe I’d just take it out of the book. Because when I come to him after reading Ephesians 4:30 where it says that he’s grieved and the context there is that his people are unforgiving and unkind and don’t have a tender heart. And I come and I repent and I said, “I’m sorry. The way I treated Noël this morning wasn’t tender. I’m so sorry I’m not more tender.” I want to be able to think he’s not grieved anymore. So, excellent question and try to cope with it in context. Go ahead. Here we go.
As I’ve been meditating on God’s full satisfaction within himself, it’s brought great peace to my own soul. It’s just laid a bedrock of peace in my soul and also my mind has just gone right to thinking about how I was raised and how my parents were very satisfied within their marriage. They loved each other and that piece, their pleasure within themselves, just brought me great peace growing up as a child. And so I was wondering if you could speak to marriage and to parenting and how does God’s satisfaction in himself be a wonderful model for parents in how they raise their children?
I really think it is. Marriage is not presented in the New Testament as a model of the Son and the Father. It is presented as the church and Christ, and Christ’s delight in the church making the church into a bride that he will take pleasure in. And so there’s an analogy between the Trinitarian life and marriage.
When Doug Wilson was here a few weeks ago and spoke of the Father’s pleasure in the Son as his first description of how fathers should relate to their children, he took us right there. So here you have the baptism and the first words you hear out of the Father’s mouth concerning his Son is, “I like you a lot.” Not, “I have unconditional commitment to you and your sin.” That’s different. True. It’s just different. And a kid can feel that, “My dad’s committed to me and he doesn’t like me.” And you’re describing a home where it didn’t feel like that.
And so I think a lesson would be, “Yes, let’s go to the Trinity. Let’s go to how the Father loves his son and watch him delight in his Son.” And of course, we have to reckon our kids are sinners. Jesus is not. The analogy breaks down. Fathers must be displeased with behaviors of their son. But there’s something fundamental, isn’t there? Between delighting in your son as your son, as an image of yourself, as one that you hope will be a reflector of God’s glory.
And here’s the second thought besides Doug Wilson’s. This morning while I was exercising, I listened to Sinclair Ferguson on James 5 where it says, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing.” And he said, “I haven’t checked this out. Go ahead and check it out. I think the most common command in the Bible is sing.” Or I think he may have said, “Praise God with song,” or something like that. I don’t know if that’s true either, but there’s a lot of them. There’s a lot of them.
So here you have a word from James saying, “If you’re cheerful, go ahead! Go ahead! Let it show. The people around you need to see you sing.” And that makes me think of my home because I grew up where my mom and dad sang. We would be driving home from Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the car before there were any freeways when I was ten years old. And they’d be singing. My sister and I in the backseat, they’re in the front seat, they’re singing songs. How many people get that to grow up with?
Almost nobody. My kids didn’t hear me and Noël sing. Since some years ago, we’ve built singing into our devotions with Talitha and yet it never quite feels like my mom and dad because they were singers and they knew lots of spiritual songs and just flowed out of them. And we sing by plan. And so God is a singing God. He sang over creation when it was made. Our God is a vesuvius of positive emotions. And if we dads and moms are going to be God to our kids, and I think we’re supposed to be, reflect God to them in the early years, we should be really happy.
And if much pain is in our lives, they’re going to see that and they should see us bear it well. Because at the front of James it says, “Count it all joy when you come into various trials” (James 1:2). So at the end he says, “Are you tearful? Sing it out.” In the front, he says, “Having a hard time? Be happy.” And I think God’s Trinitarian life points us there.
You talk about how you delight in God in and through creation. So on page 70 you say,
The message of creation is this: there is a great God of glory and power and generosity behind all this awesome universe; you belong to him; he is patient with you in sustaining your rebellious life; turn and bank your hope on him and delight yourself in him, not his handiwork.
And then at the end of the paragraph, you say, “Day and night are saying one thing: God is glorious! God is glorious! God is glorious!” So can you talk about just what that process is like for you? Is it okay to delight in your wife in a long run? That sort of stuff.
Thank you. That’s really, really, really, really important. We’re thinking about doing the national conference September 2013 on “C.S. Lewis: A Reformed Response.” Then you can be sure that issue will be big because Doug Wilson is on my case to say it better. And we’ve had personal back-and-forth emails about this and I think we are not very far apart.
We ought to delight in the works that God has made. God does. He manifestly does. The Lord rejoice in all his works and he does rejoice. He rejoices over the big squid out in the middle of the ocean that nobody has seen that he made. And I rejoice over that spider I described in here from Ranger Rick. I don’t read Ranger Rick anymore, but I used to read Ranger Rick regularly as a 37-year-old. And Ranger Rick had a different amazing creation every time it came.
And this one was the spider who lives at the bottom of the lake, a breathing spider, and he comes to the top, rolls over, catches a bubble of air, breathes it as he goes down and puts it under his nylon tent. That’s inefficient way to live — highly counterintuitive from an evolutionary standpoint. So up, get some air, take it down, and make this thing livable. Why don’t you just live up here? And I look at that and I say, “How manifold are your works in wisdom? You have made them all.”
That’s surely what Job 38–41 wants us to say. “Look at the ostrich. She’s so stupid. God made her stupid. She lays her eggs and then leaves them for people to walk on. God did that.” The difference is that when I ask why and how should we rejoice in God’s creation, I cannot get away from the, I think, uniform biblical teaching that what makes creation so magnificent is that it displays God’s glory, God’s power, God’s wisdom, God’s joy.
Have you ever thought about Psalm 19 which says the heavens are telling the glory of God, the sun rising is like a bridegroom coming out of his tent with joy. So what are you supposed to feel when you watch the sunrise? You’re supposed to feel “I’m getting married today!” That’s what you’re supposed to feel. The sun is saying, “This is an awesome day. Do you see me blazing 93 million miles away but a million times hotter than your hottest hot? You see what I’m doing? I’m celebrating getting married today,” something like that. And we’re supposed to be amazed and glad, but never forget this is a shadow of our God.
I don’t say, “Just enjoy it and stop, Doug.” No, Doug, I don’t say that. I don’t think he means what I mean when I say I don’t say that. I’m not an atheist, I’m not a worshiper of things. I receive them as gifts, I say thank you. It’s demonic not to say thank you. The Pastoral Epistles teach that marriage and food are given for our enjoyment because they’re sanctified by the word of God in prayer. I’d like to know what you say in that prayer. You’re talking to God in the moment when you’re delighting in the food. So eating pizza, this is a vertical affair, not just a horizontal affair. If it’s only a horizontal affair, it’s idolatrous and atheistic.
So I don’t want that to diminish your enjoyment but intensify it. I would like that to add a depth and a intensity to your walking outside. So I walked outside an hour ago. Now March is the ugliest month in Minnesota. We all know this. It’s ugly out there right now. And I said to myself, “Should you say that? I’m not sure you should say that. It’s like saying the Mojave Desert is ugly because you like forests. Wait a minute, the desert is just another way.” So I try to think, “Okay, maybe this is like Narnia and it’s all melting.” That’s what I did. That helped me.
This is the great melt. This is the great thaw. “God, get us ready!” Just passing through this ugly month on the way to flowers and leaves and grass and warmth on our skin. It’s part of it, isn’t it? So maybe I shouldn’t talk about ugly. God made this too. And there’s a lesson to be learned here about transitions from winter to summer, seasons of life. I’m just blathering on here. I love to talk about God as the goal of what he has made and he has made a world that is endlessly interesting and we should be interested in it and give ourselves to delight in it.
You make a comment that any love that we have for Jesus is really the Father’s love for Jesus in us in the Spirit. And so when I read that, my first thought was I wanted to examine my heart and just be amazed that there is any love for Jesus. Because that’s not natural. That’s not even my natural love. But then I was wondering, so as I’m counseling myself, as I’m talking to other people, how does that look and feel different than my love for anyone else in my life or any other historical celebrity or author? So how would you think about, “Man, is this Trinitarian Father-to-Son love in me? Or is this just, ‘Oh, I love C.S. Lewis because he was a great author?’“
Excellent. Wow. I’m not asking myself that question, but ideas are tumbling to my mind as you ask it. I just love questions like that. So let me re-say it here. So when we talk about my loving Jesus, it is right to say (if my understanding of the Trinity is correct) that the Holy Spirit was given to me in the new birth, the Holy Spirit is the personal presence of the love of God for God: the Father to the Son, the Son of the Father. I now feel affections for Father and for Son because that’s the Holy Spirit in me. Any desire you have, any enjoyment you have, if you, like me, enjoy sitting down on your couch, opening your Bible, God is in you, loving that way. So that’s the analogy. And then you say, now what about loving others? An author, a singer, or I suppose back to nature, is that the love of God for God?
I’d love to have you answer that question. It can be I would say. Because what I want to ask myself at any time, when I’m finding myself drawn out to admire something, whether it’s a song, an athletic feat, a person’s intellect, their affections for God. Anything out there that’s drawing me out to say, “I admire that. I love that. That is awesome.” What’s happening?
And it’s possible that it’s sinful because it’s drawing you away from God. It could draw you away from God. But it doesn’t have to if what you’re being drawn out in the song or the intellect or the affection for God or the athletic feat is a reflection of the glory of God, the maker, designer. And then the question becomes, is that the Father or the Son and the Father made and he made through the Son, the Son was the creator as well. The Holy Spirit was brooding over the deep. He’s involved in creation.
So I think it would be fair to say that in as much as your delight in anything that’s not God, is directed towards aspects of that thing that reflect God. It is the love of God for God. But I’m answering that off the cuff and so I haven’t thought about it as much. Perhaps we’d want to qualify. Go ahead.
Pastor John, the big God that you present in this book makes my heart swell and makes Christian’s hearts swell with appreciation of that big God. But for some, there’s a melancholy. For some that are really struggling with being happy in this God, how are you pastorally counseling people with depression?
Thank you. I think I’m more of a wintry personality than a summery personality. I write all about joy all the time. That’s just because I want it so bad. I remember a man came and spoke in chapel at Bethel when I was a teacher there and his whole sermon was built around wintry and summary people. He went into long descriptions of where wintry personality isn’t a summery personality. I found it incredibly helpful because there are winter beauties, the world needs winter.
But the summery people are prone to superficiality. The wintry people are prone to depression and therefore every personality type has its vulnerabilities. And so pastorally, you want to move in to discern what people’s vulnerabilities are and feed the part of them that’s lacking. And there is something in this God, you’re just so right to point this out. I think certain kinds of personalities can hear us talk about the bigness of God and it just feels overwhelming.
It doesn’t feel like it’s resources for them. Here’s an example, and this is so helpful to me. I have used the illustration of the Grand Canyon. Nobody goes to the Grand Canyon to increase their self-esteem, which is true. So why do they go if everybody’s so self-centered in the world? Well, they go because the law of God has written on their hearts and they’re made for bigness and something happens when they stand before bigness. And a woman said to me, if I’m standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, I need to know he won’t let me fall in. If I’m going to enjoy it, I need to know his arms are around me and he’s close enough, tender enough not to just be down there in the bottom, doing, “See me?” Because she’s up there feeling unbelievably vulnerable before this big God. That’s so helpful for me.
That was so helpful for me. And so I think we need to say what’s awesome about the bigness of our God is that part of his bigness is his nearness. Part of his bigness is his tenderness and his intimacy. If you have not read Lewis’s sermon on the excellencies of Christ, read it. Because this is what he does. He just for page after page describes these juxtapositions of seeming opposites in his meekness and his majesty, just one after the other.
And he says what makes his majesty so uniquely admirable is that it’s mingled with meekness. What makes his meekness so uniquely admirable is that it’s mingled with majesty. And so I hope this vision of God isn’t abstracted as what everybody needs is to feel vulnerable on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Well, we do. We do tremble before him all the earth, but then the message comes that this is the man to whom I will look.
He who trembles at my word. I look to him, I’ll take him, he’s my child. I’ll sit him on my lap. I’ll protect him. I won’t let anything befall him but what is good for him. So that’s the big picture of how I would move in on such a person. But pastorally just need to discern, what are you dealing with here? What are the issues here?
I got my first copy of the newly issued Journal for Biblical Counseling. I used to read it religiously. Then they stopped publishing it for, I don’t know. Anybody know? Ten years or so? Now it’s back. And the first article by David Powlison and I used to say the main reason I got that magazine is to read David Powlison’s article. And so I started reading his yesterday and that’s the first thing he said. What makes Powlison so helpful is that he’s just so tuned into the complexities of real people. And that anything canned is not going to fly very far.
You just need to listen long enough, not just because listening is the key and everybody gets helped by listening, which they do. But because listening tunes you in to what you’re dealing with. And so I just think that would be the wisdom part of taking this interesting little thing here.
When this was first published, David Powlison (maybe he’ll listen to this too — thank you, David) got in touch with me and he said, “I want you to come and meet with us at CCEF and talk about this book. This is important for counseling.” That’s what he said. That was a long time ago. It was 15–20 years ago. But the interesting thing that he would feel like these truths are relevant for counseling.
On page 40, towards the bottom, you’ve just kind of finished talking about a section where you were reading for your devotion, Psalm 3 and you were having this kind of fingernail of the sun come up and then it kind of came in its full strength and you realized you couldn’t look at it in its full strength. And yet you started thinking about how there’s a sense where God is able to look at the full strength of the glory of the sun and that you are looking forward to that day. And down at the bottom of that section, you say,
I thought to myself, surely this is one thing implied in John 17:26—that the day is coming when I will have the capacity to delight in the Son the way the Father does. My fragile eyes will get the power to take in the glory of the Son shining in his full strength just the way the Father does. The pleasure God has in his Son will become my pleasure, and I will not be consumed, but enthralled forever.
And I’ve been in youth ministry for quite a while, and one of the most common questions that I get is, “What is heaven going to be like?” As I think of Psalm 16:11, “In your presence, there’s fullness of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” And as we think about the reality of what we just saw here in John 17, and we think of 1 John 3:2, that one day we will see him and be like him because we’ll see him as he really is.
How do we talk about seeing Christ, and it not just being this kind of grand arena of people beholding this brilliant Jesus? But I think that is a reality that will be there. How do we balance that, or how do we balance that with the new creation? And how do experiencing God beyond just seeing his brilliance in heaven, and what does that do for us as we hope in heaven today?
Boy, a lot of questions there and I’m thinking youth when you say it. I so much want you guys — all of you going to be involved in youth ministry — to not think you’ve got to throw this book away and just bob for apples in a toilet filled with Mountain Dew. It is possible, I think. I think our young people are craving for a vision that’s relevant to their lives and go there. And that’s why the new heaven and the new earth really matter.
I can remember as a little kid, we had a spiral stairway at the back of our house that went up onto a landing. It was on the roof flat landing with a tar and gravel covering and then it walked up on the shingles. And as a little kid, I’d go up there at night, eight o’clock or so and it’s dark in Greenville, South Carolina and lie down on my back on the roof and look into the sky. And mainly I was scared.
When I thought of eternity and infinite reaches, I was scared. And one of the reasons I was scared is not hell mainly, but that heaven would be boring. I didn’t want eternity of church. I didn’t. We need to help them with this. We really do. Because if deep down inside kids are saying, “God, it’s going to be so boring forever.” We really need to help them.
And one of the ways to help, I’d give two. When I think of the beauty of Christ, the glory of Christ. Don’t think of a picture on the wall or even a person in his risen body walking around. I mean, you can only look at a physical body so long before you say, “Oh God, I’ve seen the physical body.” I don’t think that’s what’s meant. I think what’s meant is there’s the whole history of redemption. Christ is a doer and all that he’s ever done and will continue to do, he will do exploits in the age to come. And so rehearse for the kids, the doings of Jesus that make him amazing, use the gospels that way and extrapolate those into the age to come and say, “He’s going to keep doing lots of these kinds of things. And we’ll be amazed at that. We’ll be amazed at that. We’ll be amazed at that.”
So try to help them not feel like the glory of Jesus is a static statue or picture or light bulb. How can that last for a million years? But rather infinite radiance of ever fresh revelations and memories of what he’s doing.
And the second thing is he made us so that we have hands and eyes and ears and bodies. Why? To throw them away? He’s not going to throw them away. It’s one of the differences between Christianity and Platonism, he’s not going to throw them away. We’re going to be who we are in our ethnic realities and our whatever makes us physical because Jesus came forth as a recognizable Jesus. So help them feel like, “Okay, if I enjoy physical things here, sunrise, sunset, my friends,” this is huge for kids.
You can have friends there, you’re going to talk there. You’re going to listen to music there. Don’t doubt you’re going to shoot buckets there. And guess what? You’ll probably be good and all lots of other things. But at that moment, beware of reducing the God-centeredness of our faith to a worldliness just to get the kids on board, make the connections between why would playing sports be godly? How could it now? How can it then? And all the other things, at least if I were youth ministry, I would be tuning in over and over again.
What are these kids fascinated by? And it’s not hard to find out, just read their Facebook and whatever else. Just find out and then think, “Okay, either they’re moving into idolatry or this is redeemable. There’s an analogy here and I can help them bring that back under the lordship of Jesus.”
So the Father perfectly loves his Son. Son perfectly loves the Father. Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son in a person. And then you’ve got Romans 5:5: “Hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who’s been given to us.” But then when I’m at home with my wife and my three daughters, God’s love is perfect, but it doesn’t always play out that way. So if God’s love’s being poured into my heart or has been poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit that’s been given to me, how come this love that’s flowing out of me is not that same perfect love that’s been poured in?
Two answers and I’ll put those two answers in the context of the visit of our friends from Princeton. And Justin’s back there because I thought at first we were going to have table talk today, I think, “Oh, we’re going to talk about this.” And I didn’t get to go to that retreat. Raise your hand if you went to that retreat. Okay, a few of you, but I did spend an hour with them. Then listened to some tape.
Two answers: The Bible says, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). The Bible says, “Don’t quench the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Bible prays that we might be filled with all the fullness of God and therefore the Bible gives us some steps to take. That was what they were emphasizing. There are steps, there are paths along which the Holy Spirit works more powerfully than other paths. That’s true, that’s true. And so, one of the reasons that you and I aren’t as consistently loving towards our families is that we haven’t immersed ourselves as fully in those paths as we might. That’s what they wanted to say. The other side of the truth is God is sovereign.
And I don’t think it’s true to say that after the cross when we are fully accepted by God, it really just depends on us. That’s not true because God is still sovereign over me. I look at history and I think there have been some amazing works of God in seasons where that ministry was wonderfully blessed, and around it, in spite of its prayers, we did not advance as fully as we might have.
There are mysteries here. There are mysteries as to why God might withhold, this is the key issue, why God might withhold some advances in sanctification when you’re seeking them with all your mind. I just don’t think it’s the case to say the reason you’re not as holy as you could be is always owing to your failure to pursue. It’s more complex than that.
Now, let me back up and end by saying we can always do better. We can know more of his power in worship. We can walk more consistently in triumph over sin than we do. And therefore, that’s why when I wrote to Justin after our meeting, I said, “Don’t ever grow wary of leading us and all of us pursuing the fullness of God in prayer.” Let’s never settle with where we are in our intensity of affections for him, our love for each other, our triumph over sin, our advance in the world, ever, ever should we say, “I’m where I should be. Got it all wrapped up.” You’re never there.
But I don’t think the way forward there is to say it is entirely dependent on us. I want to have a yieldedness there to say, “I don’t know why God might after my praying about something for a hundred or two hundred times, it would come at the two hundred first. I don’t know. God is God.” And let me pray for us.
Father in heaven, thank you for our time together and I pray that my inadequacies would be overcome by your word and spirit and that we would take what we’ve heard and grow in grace. That we would indeed Lord, avail ourselves of the means of prayer to grow into the fullest possible experience of your grace in our lives.