Saturday, June 29, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Is is possible to have too much of a good thing?

Steve DeWitt, in Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (pp 36-37), writes:
How does the infinity of God relate to our cravings? Our longings seem insatiable to us. We have even made the situation into a self-evident law, the law of diminishing returns. This law says that the more we do something or own something, the less and less we enjoy it. Might it be that our insatiable longings also relate to an infinite God? Might the unending nature of our desires point to the unending nature of his infinity? Who but an infinite Person can gratify seemingly infinite longings?
Take chocolate for instance. I love dark chocolate. But I can only consume it in relatively small quantities for it to be truly enjoyable. If I go over that line, my body protests and I experience the guilt of gluttony and the "gross" feeling of over-indulgence.

Dark chocolate might not be your thing, but you have probably experienced that dynamic of diminishing returns. Have you ever wished that didn't happen? Have you ever wished you could eat all the chocolate you want and not experience the guilt or the gross? Have you ever wished the waverunner was as cool on the 10th run as the 1st? Have you ever wished that song didn't "get old?" Etc., etc., etc.

What if there is wisdom in wiring the world this way? What if God wants to open our eyes when we want too much of a good thing?

Rather than wishing that line away, give thanks to God for that line. One, that line is gracious. We would all go nuts in overindulgence without it -- like the laboratory rat that stimulates itself to death. Two, that line actually preserves the real pleasure of a good in moderation. Three, that line is a signpost. A signpost, let's say, with inscriptions like these (compliments of Augustine).

On the front:

The sum of all our goods, and our perfect good, is God. We must not fall short of this, nor seek anything beyond it; the first is dangerous, the other impossible.
On the back:
You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until till they find their rest in you.
The more we seek a good to be godlike in its power to satisfy, the more the veil is pulled back on its inability. The more we seek created goods to be godlike in greatness, the more their smallness is exposed. This goes for money and sex, food and alcohol, decorating and dessert. It even goes for friendship and children.

What a loving way to wire the universe! The God who alone is great enough and satisfying enough to fill our deepest cravings is the one who made consequences to kick in when we look elsewhere for what only he can give. 

Jeremiah Burroughs said it so well in his The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:
My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them. That is not the reason. But the reason is because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment, it is because they have but a little in the world, and if they had more then they would be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind. No, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach.
How cruel it would be if there were never any immediate consequences for trading down ultimate satisfaction in God for cheap, imitation satisfaction in created things! We'd just go on happily making mudpies in the slums. It's really good that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. But we are not so quick to believe it.

One of the reasons we're slow to on the uptake is because we usually can't have all we want when we want it. And therefore the lie holds. Rather than believing the object of our desire isn't suitable, we think the problem is the amount or frequency. We think the reason we're not satisfied is because we haven't gotten enough (a little more money, a little more sex, a little more respect, a little better job, a little better body, a little bigger house, etc., etc., etc.). As a result, the lie remains unmasked in our experience. We refuse to learn by anything but the trial and error of personal experience. C.S. Lewis wrote of why this illusion can hold for awhile in his essay, "First and Second Things":

The woman who makes a dog the center of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels... It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman – glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens? Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of a small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made… You can’t get second things by putting them first. You can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, What things are first? is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone.
God made it a world where too much of a good thing will plague you, so that you will learn that He is the only Good you can never get too much of.  

If God is your Good, there's never too much of a good thing.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Got Simon Prevette?

This post by Jason Helopoulos (guest blogging for Kevin DeYoung) is such a good example of how God's metrics are so much different than this world's. Like a mustard seed that becomes a massive tree. Like a poor widow whose two mites outweigh the weighty gifts of the wealthy. And on and on and on. I wonder if these examples go on and on in Scripture precisely because we are spring-loaded to live by the world's metrics and painfully slow to believe God's. Listen to Simon Prevette. Pray for Simon Prevette. Become Simon Prevette.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What We Pursued On Our Retreat

Those of you who count yourselves a part of Bethel Baptist Church know that the elders and their wives got away this past weekend, Friday evening through Saturday evening, for a retreat. If you prayed for us, thank you! It was a very sweet time together. I give thanks to God for each of these precious couples! We are blessed to have them as part of our church family.

One of the things we did for a couple of hours on Saturday morning was work through an article entitled, "Justification versus Self-Justification" by Ray Ortlund, Jr. We discussed its content and application, and prayed together along its gospel-shaped lines. The paper was originally delivered to pastors and other church leaders at The 2011 Gospel Coalition conference, but the content is vitally important and practically applicable to every Christian. The whole point of this post is to encourage you to go and read it.

Here are a few quotes intended to whet your appetite to read the whole thing:
What I am saying today, on the basis of Galatians, is that the gospel, and justification in particular, calls for more than doctrinal subscription; it also calls for cultural incarnation. 
[G]ospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The gospel does more than renew us personally within. The doctrines of grace also create a culture of grace, called a healthy church, where the gospel is articulated at the level of doctrine and incarnated at the level of culture and vibe and ethos and feel and relationships and community. But getting a church there and keeping a church there is not easy. Without the doctrine, the culture is unsustainable. Without the culture, the doctrine appears pointless and powerless. 
When Paul faced a choice between pleasing himself and pleasing others, he pleased others. When he faced a choice between pleasing others and pleasing God, he pleased God.
It is so freeing to stop needing human approval; it is so freeing to get up and follow Christ, though inevitably some will find fault. It is so freeing not to be bound by how things look in the eyes of man and to be deeply bound to Jesus. If he is our only justification, then he is all the reason we need to live.
What stands out in my mind about Galatians 2:11-14 is that Paul considers gospel culture just as sacred as gospel doctrine. He fought for that culture, because the doctrine of grace-justification cannot be preserved in its integrity if surrounded by a culture of self-justification. 
There are so many more underlined and starred sentences on my copy, but I hope that was enough to convince you to go read the whole thing.

In addition, I encouraged the elders and wives to listen to this message by Tim Keller on their drive up to the retreat (normally, this message would be found here, but at the time of me writing the site is under construction). Once again, I highly recommend it to you. It's a message worth listening to more than once.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Looking Up To Barry...Forever

Not long ago in a men's Bible study, we considered the doctrine of heavenly rewards. It's hard for us, especially in our day and age, to conceive of inequality coexisting with the perfection of heaven. Nevertheless, the Bible speaks of greater and lesser rewards (see, for instance, Matthew 6:19-20; 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-19). The Bible (not our experience or sentiments) is our standard of truth and the true revelation of Reality. We must bend to it, not the other way around. We must be shaped by it, not seek to shape it to our personal preference and opinion. That being said, often the more we submit to and meditate on the truth of Scripture, the more the truths that were initially hard or confusing begin to break open, showing forth their wisdom and beauty.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American pastor and theologian, was a man who earnestly submitted to and meditated on the truth of Scripture. His insights into the wisdom and beauty of biblical truth are often profound. One such instance is his explanation of how greater and lesser rewards in heaven are no damp to the joy of heaven, but rather add to the joy of heaven. Take the time to read through this slowly and carefully. You'll be glad you did. And I hope you see why my eternal joy will increase because I will look up to Barry Steele, forever.

From a December, 1740 sermon entitled, "The Portion of the Righteous" (emphasis added):
There are different degrees of happiness and glory in heaven. As there are degrees among the angels…; so there are degrees among the saints. … The glory of the saints above will be in some proportion to their eminency in holiness and good works here.
Christ will reward all according to their works. He that gained ten pounds was made ruler over ten cities, and he that gained five pounds over five cities Luke 19:17. 2 Cor. 9:6, “He that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” And the apostle Paul tells us that, as one star differs from another star in glory, so also it shall be in the resurrection of the dead 1 Cor. 15:41. Christ tells us that he who gives a cup of cold water unto a disciple in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. But this could not be true, if a person should have no greater reward for doing many good works than if he did but few.
It will be no damp to the happiness of those who have lower degrees of happiness and glory, that there are others advanced in glory above them. For all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others.
And there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign through the whole society. Those who are not so high in glory as other, will not envy those that are higher, but they will have so great, and strong, and pure love to them, that they will rejoice in their superior happiness. Their love to them will be such that they will rejoice that they are happier than themselves; so that instead of having a damp to their own happiness, it will add to it. They will see it to be fit that they that have been most eminent in works of righteousness should be most highly exalted in glory. And they will rejoice in having that done, that is fittest to be done.
There will be a perfect harmony in that society; those that are most happy will also be most holy, and all will be both perfectly holy and perfectly happy. But yet there will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of each one’s capacity, and therefore those that are lowest in glory will have the greatest love to those that are highest in happiness, because they will see most of the image of God in them. And having the greatest love to them, they will rejoice to see them the most happy and the highest in glory.
And so, on the other hand, those that are highest in glory, as they will be the most lovely, so they will be fullest of love. As they will excel in happiness, they will proportionally excel in divine benevolence and love to others, and will have more love to God and to the saints than those that are lower in holiness and happiness. And besides, those that will excel in glory will also excel in humility.
Here in this world, those that are above others are the objects of envy, because that others conceive of them as being lifted up with it. But in heaven it will not be so, but those saints in heaven who excel in happiness will also in holiness, and consequently in humility. The saints in heaven are more humble than the saints on earth, and still the higher we go among them the greater humility there is. The highest orders of saints, who know most of God, see most of the distinction between God and them, and consequently are comparatively least in their own eyes, and so are more humble.
The exaltation of some in heaven above the rest will be so far from diminishing the perfect happiness and joy of the rest who are inferior, that they will be the happier for it. Such will be the union in their society that they will be partakers of each other’s happiness. Then will be fulfilled in its perfection that which is declared in 1 Cor. 12:26, 'If one of the members be honoured all the members rejoice with it.'
As I prepared for that men's Bible study and thought about how to make these ideas practical, Barry Steele came to mind and I had to fight off the tears. Tears of joy and longing and deep resonance with the wisdom of God's ways. If you know Barry Steele, you know he is going to have a larger jar than me! And it will make me HAPPIER to see it (it already does)! I will rejoice with him who rejoices! And I will be happier for it. Moreover, Barry will not look down on me with prideful superiority. No. Those who are more exalted in glory will also be those who have the greatest capacity for love and the most humility!

Don't you love the counter-cultural and, at times, even counter-intuitive wisdom of God?! I can just hear how Barry might respond...