God is most glorified in us…

If you get anything, get this. I learned it from Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis, and, most importantly, from the apostle Paul.

Edwards was the greatest pastor-theologian that America has ever produced. He wrote a book in 1755 called The End for Which God Created the World. The foundation and aim of that book is the following stunning insight. It is the deepest basis of Christian Hedonism. Read this old-fashioned English slowly to see Edwards’s brilliant resolution.

God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his … delight in it.

This is the solution. Did God create you for His glory or for your joy? Answer: He created you so that you might spend eternity glorifying Him by enjoying Him forever. In other words, you do not have to choose between glorifying God and enjoying God. Indeed you dare not choose. If you forsake one, you lose the other. Edwards is absolutely right: “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.” If we do not rejoice in God, we do not glorify God as we ought.

Here is the rock-solid foundation of Christian Hedonism: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

John Piper, The Dangerous Duty of Delight (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2001), 19–20.

I have just finished a study of this fantastic book. It is available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Question Subscription Service.

The Dangerous Duty of Delight

So if Christian Hedonism is old-fashioned, why is it so controversial? One reason is that it insists that joy is not just the spin-off of obedience to God, but part of obedience. It seems as though people are willing to let joy be a by-product of our relationship to God, but not an essential part of it. People are uncomfortable saying that we are duty-bound to pursue joy.

They say things like, “Don’t pursue joy; pursue obedience.” But Christian Hedonism responds, “That’s like saying, ‘Don’t eat apples; eat fruit.’” Because joy is an act of obedience. We are commanded to rejoice in God. If obedience is doing what God commands, then joy is not merely the spin-off of obedience, it is obedience. The Bible tells us over and over to pursue joy: “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart” (Psalm 32:11). “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Psalm 67:4). “Delight yourself in the LORD” (Psalm 37:4). “Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

The Bible does not teach that we should treat delight as a mere by-product of duty. C. S. Lewis got it right when he wrote to a friend, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Yes, that is risky and controversial. But it is strictly true. Maximum happiness, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is precisely what we are duty-bound to pursue.

One wise Christian described the relationship between duty and delight this way:

Suppose a husband asks his wife if he must kiss her good night. Her answer is, “You must, but not that kind of a must.” What she means is this: “Unless a spontaneous affection for my person motivates you, your overtures are stripped of all moral value.”

In other words, if there is no pleasure in the kiss, the duty of kissing has not been done. Delight in her person, expressed in the kiss, is part of the duty, not a by-product of it.

John Piper, The Dangerous Duty of Delight (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2001), 13–14.

I have just finished a study of this fantastic book. It is available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Question Subscription Service.

God loves the sound of your voice.

For that reason “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

God loves the sound of your voice. Always.

With this verse the apostle calls us to take action against anxiety. Until this point he has been assuring us of God’s character: his sovereignty, mercy, and presence. Now it is our turn to act on this belief. We choose prayer over despair. Peace happens when people pray.

I like the story of the father who was teaching his three-year-old daughter the Lord’s Prayer. She would repeat the lines after him. Finally she decided to go solo. He listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer. “Lead us not into temptation,” she prayed, “but deliver us from e-mail.”

These days that seems like an appropriate request. God calls us to pray about everything. The terms prayer, supplication, and requests are similar but not identical. Prayer is a general devotion; the word includes worship and adoration. Supplication suggests humility. We are the supplicants in the sense that we make no demands; we simply offer humble requests. A request is exactly that—a specific petition. We tell God exactly what we want. We pray the particulars of our problems.

Max Lucado, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).

I have just finished a study of this fantastic book. It is available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Question Subscription Service.

How I Solved Group Life’s Two Biggest Problems

When I was a Group Pastor I had two problems

  1. I couldn’t get enough leaders
  2. Many of the leaders I did have were boring

Great groups were great—really great. But, a lot of groups were not great. And I struggled to create new groups because I couldn’t get leaders.

I stumbled onto a solution in an unexpected way, and this solution is now helping hundreds of churches solve these same two problems.

My preferred style of teaching is a question-and-answer approach. I believe people are changed more by that they say than what they hear.

The classic example of this in the life of Jesus is when he taught on His identity. Through a series of questions, Jesus led Peter to boldly declare, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” I believe Jesus taught this centrally-important lesson through question-and-answer because Jesus knew that we are changed more by what we say than what we hear. Jesus knew that when Peter declared these words Peter would be changed by the words he declared.

Later, Jesus’ half-brother, James, taught us that our words are like the rudder of a ship—they turn our lives. They are like the bit in the mouth of a horse—they direct the life.

  • People who speaks words of gratitude become more grateful.
  • People who speak words of love become more loving.
  • People who grumble and complain become more grumpy.

One day I was teaching using a series of questions and the man sitting next to me could see my notes. He could see how I was leading the discussion. I would…

  • Ask a question
  • Let the conversation go
  • Look down at my notes
  • Ask another question
  • Repeat

He thought to himself, “I could do that.” He suggested that if I would keep writing questions, he would lead a group. I agreed. Soon, other teachers in the church heard about Good Questions and they requested copies as well. I wrote lessons that went along with Lifeway’s outlines. I continue to do so today, adding lessons for the International Standard Series and The Great Books. (These are studies of books like J.I. Packer’s Knowing God.)

Once I started providing Good Questions to my leaders, I never struggled to find teachers again. And, the classes became more interesting and life-changing by using the question-and-answer approach.

This Sunday, 1800 group leaders will teach using Good Questions that Have Groups Talking. Perhaps you should join them.

Good Questions are provided on a subscription basis (Like Netflix for Bible lessons). $5.99 a month gives you access to ALL of the lessons. Church plans also available for around $10 per teacher per year, depending on the size of the church. Lessons are also available on Amazon in both print and kindle versions.

Contagious Calm

Disaster was as close as the press of a red button. Four Russian submarines patrolled the Florida coast. US warships had dropped depth charges. The Russian captain was stressed, trigger-happy, and ready to destroy a few American cities. Each sub was armed with a nuclear warhead. Each warhead had the potential to repeat a Hiroshima-level calamity.

Had it not been for the contagious calm of a clear-thinking officer, World War III might have begun in 1962. His name was Vasili Arkhipov. He was the thirty-six-year-old chief of staff for a clandestine fleet of Russian submarines. The crew members assumed they were being sent on a training mission off the Siberian coast. They came to learn that they had been commissioned to travel five thousand miles to the southwest to set up a spearhead for a base near Havana, Cuba.

The subs went south, and so did their mission. In order to move quickly, the submarines traveled on the surface of the water, where they ran head-on into Hurricane Daisy. The fifty-foot waves left the men nauseated and the operating systems compromised.

Then came the warm waters. Soviet subs were designed for the polar waters, not the tropical Atlantic. Temperatures inside the vessels exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The crew battled the heat and claustrophobia for much of the three-week journey. By the time they were near the coast of Cuba, the men were exhausted, on edge, and anxious.

The situation worsened when the subs received cryptic instructions from Moscow to turn northward and patrol the coastline of Florida. Soon after they entered American waters, their radar picked up the signal of a dozen ships and aircraft. The Russians were being followed by the Americans. The US ships set off depth charges. The Russians assumed they were under attack.

The captain lost his cool. He summoned his staff to his command post and pounded the table with his fists. “We’re going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not disgrace our navy!”

The world was teetering on the edge of war. But then Vasili Arkhipov asked for a moment with his captain. The two men stepped to the side. He urged his superior to reconsider. He suggested they talk to the Americans before reacting. The captain listened. His anger cooled. He gave the order for the vessels to surface.

The Americans encircled the Russians and kept them under surveillance. What they intended to do is unclear as in a couple of days the Soviets dove, eluded the Americans, and made it back home safely.

This incredible brush with death was kept secret for decades. Arkhipov deserved a medal, yet he lived the rest of his life with no recognition. It was not until 2002 that the public learned of the barely avoided catastrophe. As the director of the National Security Archive stated, “The lesson from this [event] is that a guy named Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”

Why does this story matter? You will not spend three weeks in a sweltering Russian sub. But you may spend a semester carrying a heavy class load, or you may fight the headwinds of a recession. You may spend night after night at the bedside of an afflicted child or aging parent. You may fight to keep a family together, a business afloat, a school from going under.

You will be tempted to press the button and release, not nuclear warheads, but angry outbursts, a rash of accusations, a fiery retaliation of hurtful words. Unchecked anxiety unleashes an Enola Gay of destruction. How many people have been wounded as a result of unbridled stress?

And how many disasters have been averted because one person refused to buckle under the strain? It is this composure Paul is summoning in the first of a triad of proclamations. “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil. 4:5–6 NIV).

Max Lucado, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).

I have just finished a study of this fantastic book. It is available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Question Subscription Service.

Guilt and anxiety

Guilt came first. Anxiety came in tow. Guilt drove the truck, but anxiety bounced in the flatbed. Adam and Eve didn’t know how to process their failure. Neither do we. But still we try. We don’t duck into the bushes. We have more sophisticated ways to deal with our guilt. We . . .

Numb it. With a bottle of Grey Goose. With an hour of Internet pornography. With a joint of marijuana, a rendezvous at the motel. Guilt disappears during happy hour, right? Funny how it reappears when we get home.

Deny it. Pretend we never stumbled. Concoct a plan to cover up the bad choice. One lie leads to another, then another. We adjust the second story to align with the first. Before long our knee-jerk reaction to any question is, how can I prolong the charade?

Minimize it. We didn’t sin; we just lost our way. We didn’t sin; we got caught up in the moment. We didn’t sin; we just took the wrong path. We experienced a lapse in judgment.

Bury it. Suppress the guilt beneath a mound of work and a calendar of appointments. The busier we stay, the less time we spend with the people we have come to dislike most: ourselves.

Punish it. Cut ourselves. Hurt ourselves. Beat up ourselves. Flog ourselves. If not with whips, then with rules. More rules. Long lists of things to do and observances to keep. Painful penance. Pray more! Study more! Give more! Show up earlier; stay up later.

Avoid the mention of it. Just don’t bring it up. Don’t tell the family, the preacher, the buddies. Keep everything on the surface, and hope the Loch Ness monster of guilt lingers in the deep.

Redirect it. Lash out at the kids. Take it out on the spouse. Yell at the employees or the driver in the next lane.

Offset it. Determine never to make another mistake. Build the perfect family. Create the perfect career. Score perfect grades. Be the perfect Christian. Everything must be perfect: hair, car, tone of voice. Stay in control. Be absolutely intolerant of slipups or foul-ups by self or others.

Embody it. We didn’t get drunk; we are drunks. We didn’t screw up; we are screwups. We didn’t just do bad; we are bad. Bad to the bone. We might even take pride in our badness. It’s only a matter of time until we do something bad again.

Adam and Eve hid behind fig leaves, bushes, and lies. Not much has changed.

Max Lucado, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).

I have just finished a study of this fantastic book. It is available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Question Subscription Service.

Learning to Rejoice

If anyone had reason to be anxious, it was he. Let your imagination transport you two thousand years back in time. Envision an old man as he gazes out the window of a Roman prison.

Paul is about sixty years old, thirty years a Christian, and there is scarcely a seaport on the Mediterranean he doesn’t know.

See how stooped he is? All angles and curves. Blame his bent back on the miles traveled and the beatings endured. He received thirty-nine lashes on five different occasions. He was beaten with rods on three. Scars spiderweb across his skin like bulging veins. He was once left for dead. He has been imprisoned, deserted by friends and coworkers, and has endured shipwrecks, storms, and starvation.

He’s probably half-blind, squinting just to read (Gal. 4:15). What’s more, he is awaiting trial before the Roman emperor. Nero has learned to curry the favor of the Roman citizens by killing believers, of which Paul is the best known.

As if the oppression from the empire weren’t enough, Paul also bears the weight of newborn churches. The members are bickering. False preachers are preaching out of pride and envy (Phil. 1:15–17).

So much for the easy life of an apostle.

His future is as gloomy as his jail cell.

Yet to read his words, you’d think he’d just arrived at a Jamaican beach hotel. His letter to the Philippians bears not one word of fear or complaint. Not one! He never shakes a fist at God; instead, he lifts his thanks to God and calls on his readers to do the same.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Paul’s prescription for anxiety begins with a call to rejoice.

Paul used every tool in the box on this verse, hoping to get our attention. First, he employed a present imperative tense so his readers would hear him say, continually, habitually rejoice! And if the verb tense wasn’t enough, he removed the expiration date. “Rejoice in the Lord always” (emphasis mine). And if perchance the verb tense and always were inadequate, he repeated the command: “Again I will say, rejoice!” (emphasis mine).

Max Lucado, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017).

I have just finished a study of this fantastic book. It is available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Question Subscription Service.

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