I said we were going to do implications, didn’t I? Let’s do those quickly based on the last session, and then we’ll jump to God’s pleasure in all of creation.
Implications of God’s Pleasure in All That He Does
Here are some implications. God is not easy to understand in his complexity, but he is all we need in our trials. He has sovereign control so that nothing is meaningless. Genesis 50:20 says, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Nothing is meaningless to those who believe in the sovereignty of God. We have our problems. We struggle with why God would ordain this or that. But if you take God out of the picture, and then try to deal with the horrors in your life, life becomes absurd. And living an absurd life is very difficult. It will probably produce more suicides than this.
Back in the 1960s, where I was cutting my teeth, existentialism and the theater of the absurd was a scary philosophy, especially if you walked up close to it and decided you might want to believe it, just because it was so in. But if you embrace existentialism, then you believe existence precedes essence. It means you act in total freedom and create your essence. You don’t consult with what it means to be human and then act accordingly. You just act and become something. And that ideology that still exists, massively. You create.
I just wrote a blog which will turn up in a week or so, probably, called Reinventing Parenthood, because of the front page of the Tribune three or four days ago. According to this mindset, let’s say there is a single woman who says, “I want a baby.” So she gets a baby put in her tummy and she grows a baby. Then she gets three or four of those, or she has sex with three or four guys and has three or four kids. She keeps in touch with the guys, because it’s really good for them to know who their dads are. They don’t want to marry because that’s not helpful.
The hole way of doing stuff today is reinventing the world. That’s the fruit of existentialism. Existence creating essence. You don’t start with a God who defines essence, thinking, “I know who I am, under God. And I live my life in obedience to my essence, as God defines it. And I find freedom in being what he made me to be.” That’s totally not existentialism. It’s scary to live in an absurd world where your essence is evolutionary. What we’re teaching our kids in school with regard to naturalistic evolution is scary.
Detached from Truth
I went to a mainline Protestant, liberal church three weeks ago while on writing leave. I went to about seven different churches, and I got to make my annual foray into the world of mainline liberal Protestantism. It was a huge building full of well-to-do people. It had glass windows, a mammoth organ, and a huge choir. All the language is still preserved, and they don’t believe it. My wife and I went there a couple of years ago and when the pastor read the story of Jesus walking on the water, he said, “Now, when I was a child I used to believe that these things were literal. But we know better than that now.” This was the way he was talking in the pulpit. They demythologize it, and draw some spiritual truth of what it means to be strong and overcome obstacles, and whatnot.
And there was a children’s choir. They printed the lyrics in the bullentin, and I quote this in the blog. The children sang something like this: “Whales and turtles, people and giraffes, all lives are equal.” I sat there about 18 rows back, and I thought, “You’re not teaching those kids to sing that. You’re not telling them that people and giraffes are equal.”
I was driving up here today, just turning on NPR about an hour ago, and they were talking about talking to plants. They were serious. I thought, “Laugh, please laugh. This is a routine.” And it wasn’t. Now, I know if you play music around plants and talk to plants, they might grow differently. But this guy said, “I’m not sure whether they’re understanding.” I can scientifically grasp vibrations affecting a plant. I can get that. But you’re telling me you actually are contemplating the possibility that Narnia is real. The trees talk. That’s where we are. It’s a world in which God doesn’t exist and we are the product of evolution, just like giraffes, whales, and turtles. So let’s be religious and have all life be sacred.
You don’t want to go there. Because when your grandmother is cut down, or your husband or wife is taken out of the way, or you get cancer, there’s not a lot of comfort there. That’s absurd.
God is merciful in all his severity and near to the brokenhearted.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
I used that text this morning when I was at the hospital. God will win in the end and nothing will have been suffered in vain. If you’ve left any house, or brother, or sister, or mother, or father, or child, or land for his name’s sake, you receive back 100 fold. And in the age to come, you receive eternal life.
4. God’s Pleasure in All of Creation
The material world is not a problem for God, or a mere temptation for us, or a temporary starting point to be thrown away in the future. All three of those are real possibilities that people have embraced. God made it. When I say material world, I mean everything that relates to our five senses. Everything. Everything that’s not God and not mere spirit. God made it and said, six times, “He saw what he had made and it was good.” He plans for the created world to be renewed and eternal.
At our churches, let’s not be guilty of what several writers, who have just recently written, have accused us of, and perhaps partly rightly — namely, of thinking of our future merely in terms of a disembodied heaven. When I was with the family of Les, who passed away yesterday, while he was still alive, they said, “Show us in the Bible what it will be like for him in a few days — not after the resurrection, but in a few days.” So I took them to Philippians 1:21, which says, “to die is gain.” Paul says, “I do not know which I shall choose. To be with you is more necessary for ministry, but I would rather go to be with Christ, because that is far better (Philippians 1:22–23). So I said to them, “He will be with Christ and it will be far better.” Those two things I know.
Then I took them to 2 Corinthians 5:6–8, where it says, “While we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. I would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” So I said, thirdly, “It’s like going home. It’s homecoming to be with the Lord.” So between death, when our bodies lay in the ground, and the resurrection, when we are given our new bodies, there is this season. And it’s not sleep. So many talk about soul sleep but it’s conscious, sweet, powerful, deep, glorious, sinless fellowship with Jesus. I get that word sinless from Hebrews 12:23, which says, “The spirits of just men made whole.” That would be a forth thing you could say about that.
I said this very plainly to them. I said, “That’s not the final, ideal condition of your husband and father. Ideal would be to have his body back.” God didn’t make you to be a disembodied spirit. We’re not platonists who think the body is bad, and the sooner we can get rid of it the better. That’s not what Christianity teaches. That’s what we’re looking at here, the goodness of creation. And God, while he has plunged it into ruin at the fall (Romans 18–23), he’s going to reclaim it, and the whole creation will be glorified with the very glory of the children of God. So C.S. Lewis gets it right. He says:
There is no good trying to he more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it. I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body; which believes that matter is good. That God himself once took on a human body. That some kind of body is going to be given to us, even in heaven. And is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, our energy.
That came from the first book of Lewis that I ever read, Mere Christianity. So the body and the material world are good.
Doctrines of Demons
Now here’s a text to put underneath Lewis, because Lewis is not authoritative, the Bible is. And here’s Bible:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons (so what do demons teach?), through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods . . . (1 Timothy 4:1–3)
Why would they do that? Because sex is dirty. Bodies are to be restrained and limited. The thought is, “Don’t do all that.” In this verse you’ve got food and you’ve got sex forbidden, and it’s demonic. Those are pretty strong words. It’s demonic.
I wonder if there’s a connection between what Paul says here and what he says in 1 Corinthians 7:5, where he says to the husband and wife, “Do not come apart from each other, except by mutual agreement for prayer, and then quickly come back together . . .” Lest what? Lest, “The devil tempts you.” Not having sex in marriage is to play with the devil. This says the devil wants you to think sex is bad. The devil wants you to think food is bad. The devil wants you to become a docetist. The devil wants you to become a dualist, thinking, “There’s God, there’s spirit, and there are angels. Those are all good, all glorious. Then there’s creation, stuff, bodies. That’s dangerous, that’s bad.” That’s demonic talk. On the other hand:
God created [them] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth (1 Timothy 3:4).
Now, you could say this in some really striking ways. The airwaves, the movies, the internet, are just full of illicit sex, pornography, and people taking their clothes off. There is blog after blog of people taking their clothes off. At least, I presume so because I stumbled onto one, one time. I was so embarrassed. I was at my son’s blog. I’ve never looked at pornography on the internet. It’s not one of my big struggles. I mean, I struggle with the desire, but I’ve never gone there. I’ve never punched around. One time I was looking at Karsten’s blog while he was in Scotland, and I didn’t realize that at the top there’s this little thing that says, “Next blog.” I thought that meant it would take me to his next blog. It didn’t. It just took me to the next blog in WordPress, or whatever. And I went there and I said, “What! What are you doing? Click, and get that off there.”
So we know why the body has such a bad reputation. It’s because of what people do with it, right? In movies they’re always taking their clothes off. They’re always talking about stuff. We have to be so vigilant today over our eyes with the entertainment, the movies, and television. Good night, I don’t have a television. And one of the reasons I haven’t had a television ever since I’ve been married, which is 40 years — except for three years in Germany because it was so helpful in learning German — is that I’m a weakling. I’m addictive. I’d just watch it if I had it.
So, on vacation, when I turn the TV on, I say, “Good night. I’m glad we don’t have one of these.” Because the ads are just so titillating, and they fill my mind with so many sexual innuendos and thoughts. It makes me think, “How does anybody walk with Christ, if they have a television?” So there. All of you folks, how do you do that? You must just be wonderfully strong. I’m not, so I have to protect myself. I understand why people would be demonic and say the body’s bad, but that’s not God’s idea. He says, “Receive food and marriage (sex) with thanksgiving.” What got me off on that little tangent about movies and the internet was the statement that food and marriage were created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth (1 Timothy 4:3). Sex and food are created for believers. Everybody else is a prostitute.
A Prostitution of God’s Good Gifts
Every unbeliever who is enjoying their food, without giving thanks, is a prostitute. They’re taking what God gave. He said, “This is my gift to you. It’s very precious. It’s very real. I’m giving it to you. And the reason I’m giving it you is to show something about myself, so that you would feel in this pizza or steak, love for me and gratitude to me. This should be an act of worship.” Isn’t that what that says? It is “to be received with thanksgiving.” That’s what worship is. As you eat, it’s not just at the beginning when you say, “Thank you, Lord, for this food. In Jesus’s name, amen.” No — it’s just every bite you’re saying, “God, you’re good. You’re so good. You’re so kind that I can chew.”
I was sitting with Tallitha the other day. Things hit me like this sometimes. I was chewing something somebody gave us, maybe spaghetti, and I said, “Think of it, Talitha, when was the last time you bit your tongue? You haven’t bit your tongue for months. Do you realize that you’re chewing hundreds of times, and your teeth are coming down way harder than you think they are — because if your tongue gets under those teeth, it really hurts when it comes down. And right now, your tongue is in there, maneuvering this spaghetti under your teeth at a microscopic closeness. You’re not even thinking about it. And you almost never bite your tongue, as this tongue maneuvers that food under these grinders. It’s never coming down on your tongue. How in the world is that happening?” I was just blown away.
So there’s something to be thankful for. What if you had to think about moving your tongue in order to make sure it just got close enough to push the spaghetti under your teeth, but not so close that it would get bitten on? If you had to think about that every single time — and you would make mistakes every eighth time or so, and it would hurt — eating would stop being fun, or enjoyable. I suppose eating should be fun. I’m just marveled at God’s goodness here. That that’s in the Bible should make us very thankful. That foods and marriage are for believers, who know the truth that he made it. The passage continues:
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4–5).
That’s a pretty heavy, glorious, amazing statement of the goodness of creation.
Delighting in His Works
All his works of creation are his delight:
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works . . . (Psalm 104:31).
And the context in Psalm 104, as you know, is just long list of his material, physical creations. He rejoices in his works. One reason is that they display his glory for people to see. Psalm 19:1 says:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Heavens means the planets and the sun and the moon and the stars. They declare the glory of God. And the sky above proclaims his handiwork. It continues:
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
So as you walk out of here and you look at clouds, or look at sunshine, or look at trees, or look at spring, or look at daffodils, or tulips that come up, let them speak to you. They are speaking. They’re speaking, and they’re speaking about God. That’s why they exist.
Now, God could have done it another way. He could have created a universe where everything is black and white, but he created colors. He could have created it with only right angles, but he created many angles and mostly no angles. God seems to be mainly into curves. Clouds, waves, and trees are mostly curves. We make right angles, God makes curves. He made all this the way, and he didn’t have to do it this way. He could have just created angels and disembodied human souls. They could have fallen, and we could have hated each other that way, and been sinful. Jesus could have come and suffered spiritually in our place. He could have done it that way, I suppose. He didn’t. He did it this way. It’s this way.
The Way God Made Us
It’s like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and the inklings have tried to open our eyes, and you’ve heard me say this. When you’re walking down the street, don’t marvel that somebody has a big nose, or a little nose; marvel that they have a nose. It’s so weird. Noses are weird. They’re so weird. I mean, look at them. Noses and ears are weird. We just take them for granted.
Do you remember the program 40 years ago called The Twilight Zone. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of the Twilight Zone. Rod Serling wrote these stories, and the one I remember is of a whole story where you don’t see anybody's faces. They’re doctors and they have this woman bandaged up. All you hear is, “She was born as a horrible anomaly, just horrible.” And they’ve done surgery in the hopes that they might help her. And the whole show is them talking, and watching, and working. You don’t see anybody’s faces. And then at the end of the show, they start undoing the cloth on her face. Will the surgery work? And it comes off and she’s spectacularly beautiful. And they all go, “Aaaah!” And then the camera pans up and they all have pig faces. I never forgot that, obviously. The point of the story, for me, is that it could have been that way. We could have pig faces, and we’d think they were really pretty. His handiwork is telling the glory of God.
Atheists Miss the Joy
Here’s the blog from yesterday that I wrote called Atheists Miss the Joy. I said:
If you look at sunsets and sunrises without knowing that God is painting them then and there, you will miss the point. Sunsets and sunrises do not just happen. God does them. Psalm 65:8 says, “You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.”
What are they so happy about? Psalm 19 gives the answer. They are happy because they are showing the glory of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). How happy is the rising sun to display the glory of God? Answer: “In them (the heavens) God has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy” (Psalm 19:4–5). A bridegroom beaming, and an Eric Liddell feeling God’s pleasure when he runs. Sunrises and sunsets are like that. They bid us join their joy in putting God on display in the world.
So when God chose an analogy to describe the point of the sun rising in the morning, he said, “The point is like a bridegroom going out of his chamber, and like a man running his race.” Remember, here goes Eric Liddell, putting his head back and feeling God’s pleasure.
Don’t assume, with naturalistic, evolutionary philosophy, that the sun rose this morning on its own. It didn’t. God did it. Another thing G.K. Chesterton said one time was, “The difference between being an adult and being a child is that children never get tired of doing the same, simple thing over and over again.” They say, “Do it again daddy, do it again, do it again, do it again.” I used to test them, just to see how long this would last. They always wanted it longer than I could do it. They say, “Read the same page. Read the same book. Do it again, do it again, do it again.”
Chesterton said, “That’s the way we aught to be with the sunrise, saying, ‘Do it again, God. Do it again. Do it tomorrow. Would you do it tomorrow? I’ll be watching. That’s amazing! You did it again!’” Instead, science has this figured out. They say the world goes like this, but why? Why? I mean, really, can anybody explain why this thing keeps spinning? Why it keeps rotating? Why don’t I feel wind? They say, “Well, it’s because there’s an atmosphere.” Really? The mysteries surrounding us are imponderable. We should be filled with awe, wonder, and worship in this world all day long, if we had eyes to see and we were more childlike. But he said, “Becoming an adult means that you go to the Alps, you’re amazed for three days, and then you close the blinds and you watch television, even pictures of the Alps on television.” That’s the way we are. That’s sad. So ask for a childlike heart.
Even the creation that man does not see God delights in.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it (Psalm 104:26).
Now, he made Leviathan. I don’t know what Leviathan is — a giant squid maybe? Maybe something 100 feet long or something like that. He made Leviathan, and why did he make it? Just to watch it play in the water. And most of the time we’re not watching that, right? Now that you can buy the Blue Planet DVD series, you can watch. If you want to worship, go an Amazon and buy that DVD set, and sit down and worship.
There was a poem called Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard written by Thomas Gray about the flower that blooms to blush unseen. Think of the millions of beauties in the world nobody sees, except God and the angels, maybe. And he does that. He just lavishes hills, and mountains, and valleys with flowers and colors that nobody is there to enjoy, except him delighting in the display of his own excellence.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
So God sees his wisdom. And, where we can, we should see his wisdom and marvel at him.
Gifts and the Giver
Now, here are some problem passages. I am telling you that creation is good, sex is good, and food is good. It’s good to look at sunrises and sunsets. All material things are good. Use them as acts of worship to enjoy God and delight in them. And then you run into texts like this:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25–26).
Or Psalm 27:4, which says:
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
He doesn’t ask for food, nor sex, nor sunrises, but to dwell in the house of the Lord and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. Texts like these look like they are considering creation as temptations to idolatry. And all of creation is a temptation to idolatry.
Lead Us Not into Temptation
I wrote another blog a few weeks ago. What I do with the blog is if I get an idea and an insight I through it out there. This one was about when you pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” are you saying God leads you into temptation if you don’t pray that? The Bible says he doesn’t tempt anyone (James 1:13). God doesn’t tempt anyone, and he’s not tempted. And one of the insights I had, as I was pondering through that over these years, is that every minute of every day God is putting us before temptation. Everything is temptation. It’s not just, “Oh, I don’t want to go there because I’ll be tempted.” You’re being tempted right now, where you are.
What that means is, there are things right now — thoughts you can have, decisions you can make, and feelings you can have — which are good or bad. It could go either way, right now. And therefore, you are before a fork in the road at every moment. One way is yielding to the temptation to do wrong. One way is going the right way. So, if God runs your life — “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (Proverbs 16:9) — therefore, God is leading you through life and all the temptations that you experience are from him. But you don’t have to go into them. A temptation can be understood as an objective possibility there. The devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness. It’s not a sin to be tempted objectively. Jesus didn’t sin when Satan said, “Just jump off the temple,” or, “Turn this stone to bread.” That’s not sin to be told to do that by the devil.
So when Jesus prayed, “Father, lead me not into temptation,” he didn’t mean, “Don’t take me to the wilderness to be tempted.” He meant, “When, by your providence and your good purposes I find myself face to face with the devil tempting me, don’t let me go in there.” So we’re being tempted by the rising sun, and by pizza, and sex, in or outside marriage, all the time. What I think “there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25) means is this: I think, if you went to Asaph and said to him, “Did you mean you can’t enjoy your supper tonight? Did you mean that if your wife goes on a trip and you start having strong desires for her body that’s sin? Did you mean that?”
I think he’d say, “No, no, no. I didn’t mean that. What I mean is that in the those physical pleasures, you should find God supremely pleasurable.” Find God in and through them. They should become a means to your worship. God ordained that we worship him through means.
Following the Beams to the Sun
Psalm 40:16 says:
May those who love your salvation
say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
Did you ever stop to think about that? It says, “May those who love your salvation . . .” Now, what’s salvation? Salvation is that my sins are forgiven. I get out of hell. I get into heaven. I am restored to the people of God. Infinite pleasures await me in a new heavens and a new earth. Now, what should you say about all of that? Great is salvation? Great is the new heavens and the earth? Great is a healed body, with no depression anymore? Great is restoration with friends? Great is forgiveness of sins? Great is escape from hell? Great is entrance into heaven? No!
It’s not wrong to say that, that’s just not what it says in this passage. It says, “Let those who love your salvation say continually ‘Great is the Lord.’” Why? Because he does all those things to show himself. That’s why I say we’re always being tempted to idolatry. Preaching could be my idol, could it not? Teaching could be my idol. Studying or book writing could be my idol. Growing a church could be my idol. Keeping myself physically fit could be my idol. My daughter could be my idol. The sunrise, poetry, or living in the city could be my idol. I am constantly beset with temptations to value things more than God. And God has given me those things, not merely to tempt me, but to worship him through them.
Do you remember the analogy I’ve used before? C.S. Lewis has an essay called Meditation in a Toolshed. You open the door of a barn, and the barn has slats in the side, and it’s a bright sunny day outside. You open the door of the barn. It’s dark in there, but through the slats comes a beam of light. And as you’re standing beside the beam, you can see the dust motes flying in it. You’ve seen this in your bedroom, maybe you realized how dirty the air is, right? (I woke up some morning, and I was like, “I’ve been breathing this all night? This is awful”)
But there’s a light beam shining. You see, floating in the little light beam, all these little specs. So you’re watching it, and that’s the way most people look at the world. They love it. It’s their idol. The beam is just beautiful. They think, “I love the beam. I love the beam. I’ll write poetry about the beam. I’ll buy the beam. I’ll surround myself with beams.” This is the created world. And then Lewis says, “Then you walk over into the beam and look up the beam, through the crack, into the bright sun.” And that’s God. That’s what beams are for.
Beams are not to stand beside and say, “I like the beam.” The beams are telling the glory of God. It’s up there! It’s like a little child. If you take a one year old and you say, “Look over there,” he just looks at your finger. But pointing your finger means, “Look over there. Turn your head.” And at some point the child catches on and realizes, “Oh, he’s not holding out his finger to look at the finger. He’s holding out his finger to get me to look at something else. That’s kind of a strange thing to do.” And all day long, God is just creating fingers everywhere. They’re all pointing to him.
Loving All Things for His Sake
I gave you this sentence before from Augustine but it’s so helpful to me. He’s talking to God now, he’s praying, and he says:
He loves you too little, who loves anything together with you, which he loves not for your sake.
That’s what I’m trying to say. It is possible to love food, love sex, love people, love preaching, love computers, and love stuff non-idolatrously. If loving it would be for his sake. And I take that to mean God is saying, “I give you this so that you will receive it with thanksgiving and with the blessing to me and with seeing much of me in it, so that in every one of your earthly pleasures, they are all pleasures ultimately running up the beam in me.” This is why I think we should all number our days, so that we get a heart of wisdom.
If God, this afternoon, took all those material pleasures away from you, by taking your life and putting you in heaven, that would be gain because you’d be right up the beam. And the origin of the beam, who is so full of goodness, and everything that we love here in it’s infinite fullness, we are going to enjoy in him.
Here’s a conclusion before we take a break. God is glorified by our use of the creation, in at least two ways: feasting and fasting. Those are almost opposites, right? They are opposites, except they’re not opposites in motive. We feast and we fast. We feast to show our thanks. We say, “We do receive these gifts from you. You made them, and we don’t belittle them. We will turn them into worship and gratitude.” And we fast to show that food is not our God.
I don’t mean those to be taken narrowly, as if I’m only talking about a big meal or no meal. I’m talking about a lifestyle of rich enjoyment of the world, and a lifestyle of self-denial. And they’re not opposites. You walk through life and Paul said, “I have learned how to abound and I have learned how to be in want. I know how to have plenty, and I know how to have little. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12–13). I can feast and I can fast because he is my supreme value. Sometimes I enjoy him through eating, and sometimes I enjoy him through saying to him, “You’re more important to me than eating.” God delights in his creation. He made it for us to delight in, and he delights in it because it shows his glory. And we delight in it because it becomes a means of worshiping him for his glory. Amen.