Introduction

Life

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise: seek what they sought.
-Basho

I debated the use of a non-Christian quote to begin this post, but it really sums up what I am doing here. I could follow the book I’m reading and trust in John Piper’s wisdom in what he says and I can trust that the Biblical passages he cites are accurate, or I can follow along in my Bible and see where his information is coming from. I do trust the word of Mr. Piper, but I don’t want to follow in his footsteps. I am seeking what he once sought.


The Introduction to Desiring God is entitled, “How I Became a Christian Hedonist.” I will admit that I was a bit guarded at that title of choice, and I am sure that Piper has encountered questions over his choice in self-description. Admittedly, had I not explored his website and had there not been several recommendations from trusted brothers in Christ, I would never have had the desire to read this book. A hedonist is often thought of as a selfish glutton, even to the point that a person’s religion was the pursuit of their carnal pleasures. Piper has chosen to give us a taste of what he means by this declaration to help us understand his self-depiction.

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. Many people separate those two fundamental ends of God in their own understanding, when their separation was not the intention of the scholars who wrote the catechism. How can we say this so boldly? The scholars who assembled these foundations made it their life’s joy in the subtleties of language. An entire sermon (and more) can depend on the tense of a verb or the choice of one word over another, when both words mean almost the same thing. These scholars did not say that “the chief ends of man are to glorify God and then to enjoy Him forever” as if they were two separate things. They used singular terminology in this catechism. Glorifying God and enjoying Him are one end, not two!

With that knowledge, rest assured that John Piper hasn’t changed anything by changing the wording to “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” All he has done is clarified the semantics for a generation of believers who grew up watching their parents attend church out of the obligations to them as their children or to avoid disappointing the generation before them. I have never visited any church that didn’t have somebody there who looked grumpy. They may not truly desire to be there, for whatever reason, or perhaps they feel that a somber stonewalled look is the most appropriate expression for worshiping God. Maybe it is just the way they were raised! This is a cycle of gloom that could be detrimental to a curious unbeliever, so I say that it is paramount that these church families lock arms and have a revival of praise!

As the book progresses, Piper will show that it is both unbiblical and dangerously arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.

Christian Hedonism is a philosophy of life built on the following five convictions:

The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.

While in college, Piper had a philosophical notion that so many people are burdened with. He thought that if he did something good because it would make him happy, the goodness of the act would be lost. That thought is reworded to say that the goodness of any moral action is lessened to the degree that pleasure is a motivator. The higher the activity, the less self-interest should be involved, and worship became a duty to be performed. The very heart of worship is removed when this is the case.

We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy. Instead, we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.

From the sermon, “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis: If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not to be too strong, but too weak. Humanity is busy wading through the muck of our own design and looking for contentment in the acts of man.

The deepest and most enduring satisfaction (happiness) is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.

I just mentioned the muck we wade through on our never-ending quest for satisfaction. This fool’s errand has us so busy that we often overlook the infinite satisfaction that is found in the Lord. Our undeniable yearning for happiness should not be suppressed, but needs to be consumed in God. We need to feast on Him to the point of gluttony!

The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.

Praise is not foreign to our lives. I remember witnessing a sunset on the western beach of Key West, Florida twelve years ago. I stood there in awe at the beauty and majesty of the sun as it seemed to sizzle into the unreachable depths of the waters. My heart was moved and I spoke about it for many days after that. When the Green Bay Packers won their Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, I jumped and shouted for joy. This morning, I told my wife how beautiful she is. We delight to praise what we enjoy! Stifled praise is conflicting, while expressed praise completes our enjoyment. So how could God be worshiped where He is not treasured and enjoyed? How can we just sit there with our arms crossed in church and say that we are praising Him? If we are not enjoying God, we are dishonoring Him. To allow something else to satisfy our desires more than Him is a sacrilege. It truly is as simple as that! Joy and awe are not options during worship. They are essential components of our worship. And to try to give praise without pleasure is hypocrisy.

To the extent that we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. To word this statement positively: The pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.

The Psalms are filled with hedonistic scripture! Do note that in all of these passages are a few important consistencies:

  • God is not the means to an end, but He is the end of our search for pleasure. He doesn’t reveal treasures to us, He is the treasure!
  • This Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of pleasure. The Christian Hedonist worships that which gives the most pleasure, and there is nothing that can give a fraction of the pleasure that we gain from God.
  • The Christian Hedonist does not put oneself above God by seeking Him out of self-interest.
  • Christian Hedonism is not a theory of moral justification. An act is not right because it provides pleasure. Joy is not a moral criteria. The goal is to proclaim that joy is a moral duty in all true worship and virtuous acts.
  • The distinguishing feature of Christian Hedonism is not that pleasure seeking demands virtue, but that virtue consists essentially, but not only, in pleasure seeking.

We are commanded to act out of joy in situations that the world does not often recognize. As followers of Christ, we are to:

Christian Hedonism is not a distortion of the earlier-mentioned Catechisms of faith.

The underlying questions of those statements is truly, “What is the source of my comfort and happiness?”

Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him. When we deny ourselves, we are denying the carnal joys of the world in favor of the limitless pleasures of following our Lord and Savior in the gratification that only He can provide.

Preface

Life

The following post is the beginning of a project to read through the Book “Desiring God” by John Piper along with a dear Brother in Christ by the name of Tim Challies. I expressed to him my frustration with this book, as it is much deeper reading than anything I have read since college. It is not spiritual milk, it is spiritual meat. In fact, I have referred to it as a full-course meal, and it is a book that I would experience some difficulty navigating without a wingman.

Tim has set an example for me by offering to read it with me, so we can discuss some of the points of the book. At the present, I have only read the first few chapters, but I can already see that this is a book that can change a person’s life! The premise is simple:

The chief end of man is to glorify God
BY
enjoying Him forever.

If you own this book, please read along. If you don’t own it, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy as the truths within the book will enrich your life and your sense of praise and worship!

Oh, and Tim… Thanks!

Why did you buy the books that are on your bookshelf? Is it from the recommendation of another? Does the bookstore display or the artwork on the cover catch your eye? Does the synopsis on the back of the book pique your curiosity? Is the title thought-provoking? Is the price right? When I picked up my copy of Desiring God by John Piper, all of these factors were in place. I had just chosen my new Bible and was walking toward the cash register, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the book up on the shelf. The picture on the cover has changed from the earlier editions, but the title is the same. Thankfully, the message is the same as well, and based on conversations I have had with others (most effectively with a board member of my son’s school) I grabbed my copy while it was on sale and rushed to the front of the store!

Why do you read the books on your bookshelf? No, I’m not throwing curve-balls here. It’s a legitimate question. I know people who buy expensive hardcover books for the simple reason that they like the way these books look on their living-room shelf. Some of the books are read, but the dust jacket is usually removed to preserve the look when the book is returned. I purchase books because I want to read them, but I do find myself basing my zest for a book by judging the Preface quite often. If the Preface is bland, the book could return to the shelf for a later date.

A Preface should give the reader a few good reasons to read the book and should also be a primer for the book itself. In Desiring God, the primer is both of these and neither. John Piper takes the kid gloves off from the outset with Psalm 37:4.

This verse is both a promise to us and also a commandment to us. We are commanded to delight ourselves in the Lord, and in exchange He will give us the desires of our hearts. Does this mean that the Lord will give me a million dollars, a muscular physique, and a pony? Not at all! As we delight in the Lord, our priorities change, and the desire of our hearts becomes… Him! A win-win scenario becomes a snowballing cycle of joy!

Joy in the Lord is absolutely vital in the struggle to break the power of sin in our lives! (Nehemiah 8:10) As we find that our satisfaction in the Lord is superior to our satisfaction with worldly matters, we see that our tastes change. Sin begins to leave a bitter taste in the mouth and glorifying God begins to be a rich, sweet joy. As this cycle continues, our passion to be satisfied becomes God’s passion to be glorified! Or as John Piper puts it: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

God Loves You More Than Pickle Juice

Life

My son loved pickles when he was younger and still does. Pickles were actually the first thing he asked from Santa, and you better believe he had a big jar of pickles under that Christmas tree!

A few years ago (has it been that long?) my son and I were talking about God’s love. I told him that no matter what we’ve done, no matter who we are, God would always love us more than anything in the world. He turned to me and said, “Even more than pickle juice?”

“Yes Ben,” I answered, “Even more than pickle juice”

The look in his eyes told me that the message had gotten across. That evening I wrote this story after reading him a book before bedtime.



Farmer Ron loves pickles. Each spring, he goes out to his garden and plants cucumbers in his garden. He makes neat, straight rows in the ground where he knows the cucumbers will get just the right amount of sunlight and rain. When he has finished this job, he goes up to the house and drinks a big glass of lemonade, because planting seeds in the garden is thirsty work!

Throughout the spring and summer, Farmer Ron goes out to the garden every few days to check on his cucumbers. He wants to be sure that they are getting just the right amount of sun and rain and he especially wants to take out any weeds that decide to live next to his cucumbers because that just wouldn’t do. When this job is completed, it’s back to the porch for more lemonade, as the summer is heating up! Since all is well in Farmer Ron’s garden, he treats himself to a pickle from the refrigerator, but only one! His grandson, Ben, loves pickles too and Farmer Ron is not doing all of this work only for himself!

Ben came for a visit today and is out with Farmer Ron picking the cucumbers that are ready. Because Farmer Ron has been hard at work all summer, this doesn’t take too long. Ben looks at the cucumbers and is amazed at how small they are! Back at the porch, over lemonade and a pickle spear, Ben asks his Grandpa Ron why these cucumbers are so much smaller than the ones Mommy buys at the grocery store for her famous salads. With a chuckle, Farmer Ron tells Ben that these cucumbers are special and will make better pickles when they are done with all of the work.

Since they are done with the day’s work, they go to the neighbor’s pond and spend the rest of the day fishing and eating ham sandwiches that Grandma Irene packed for them. And boy are they good!

After a wonderful fish supper, Ben looks into the kitchen and sees that his grandma has out some things he is sure he has never seen before. She has jars and lids, a big pan on the stove, certain spices and even some onions!

Ben sees all of the care she takes as she puts each cucumber into a jar with different spices and types of vinegar and seals it tight. “These should be ready in about a week” she says, but Benjamin has waited long enough. Before he gets too upset, though, a wonderful green pickle from the refrigerator is held up in front of him and soon pickle juice was dribbling down his chin! Grandma keeps right on working into the night, even after Ben was carried out the door to go home.

A week later, the pickles were ready and Ben was anxious to get out to Grandpa and Grandma’s house. When they arrived, Ben went running in and soon he was enjoying samples of the different kinds of pickles that Grandma made. He had no idea of the time Grandpa spent getting the garden ready and weeding it throughout the spring and summer. He didn’t know that Grandma was up into the night making pickles. All he knew was that he had his pickles.

Persnickety

Life

At first I thought it wasn’t a real word. It was just something that came to mind-probably due to an overabundance of the Nickelodeon cartoons that my son can?t get enough of.

Persnickety.

An odd enough sounding word that would fool my 4-year old son in a way that I felt necessary.

Persnickety.

My greatest triumph as a father and also my biggest failing, for I allowed my morals and the upbringing of my child to be compromised.

Let me explain…

My son is a good boy. He minds my wife and me. He picks up after himself (with a little prodding). He even minds us when we’re out in public. But a few months ago, someone told him that is was fun to use certain words that I don’t choose to use in this website. I tried punishing him to no avail. He just cursed more discreetly. I tried to ignore it, but that just grated on my nerves. Something had to give. Enter persnickety.

Let me introduce to you Merriam-Webster?s definition of this word.

Main Entry: per?snick?e?ty
Pronunciation: p&r-’sni-k&-tE
Function: adjective
Etymology: alteration of pernickety
Date: circa 1905

  1. fussy about small details : FASTIDIOUS (a persnickety teacher)
  2. having the characteristics of a snob
  3. requiring great precision (a persnickety job)

My son was out playing and he hurt himself. He came to me crying and I caught a few of those words that had been driving me up the wall, so I took that moment as my time to shine.

    “Hey Ben, that really hurts, doesn’t it? I’m going to tell you a word that I use when something really hurts, but you have to promise me that you won’t say it unless something hurts so bad you can’t stand it, because it is the worstbad word out there and you could get in a lot of trouble if you say it when you’re not at home. That word…is persnickety. Why don’t you try it out?”

”OK, persnickety… Hey, I feel better! Persnickety, persnickety, per…”

”Whoa, whoa, whoa! You only say that terrible word when something hurts so you can feel better, then you have to stop. If you keep on saying it, you could get in so much trouble, and don’t tell your mom that I told you that word, either. I don’t want her to get mad at me! It’s our secret.”

And it has worked for us for over a year now. Either that, or my son has gotten extremely good at hiding his cursing. How do I know it works? He heard a boy saying a bad word at the park and let him in on our secret. The boy looked at him funny, but he walked away feeling good about his better mastery of “dirty” vocabulary. That’s one way I know it worked.

The other way involved a case of the stomach flu Ben had just a few months ago. He was in the bathroom in the middle of the night. He sat on the toilet and held a bucket under his chin, rocking back and forth with the pain. I felt so sorry for him. Then, out of the blue, he started whining, “Persnickety, persnickety,persnickety, persnickety…I’m sorry mommy, but it hurts so bad. Persnickety, persnickety,persnickety!”

Maybe I made up a new bad word, maybe not. But I feel pretty good about this aspect of my parenting.

A Hatched Egg and a Planted Potato

Life

This was written by my uncle Ray Nickel, who passed away in his sleep December 26, 2008.


Have you ever gone to the farm, a fair, or a zoo and watched those white-pearl eggs in the incubator under the glowing lamps and waited for a yellow fluff of a chick while it pecked from within its brittle prison, jiggling it almost imperceptively and you could hardly wait till it broke free so you could see it wet and new to the world wobbling on its new found legs and peeping its new song? Or, have you ever cut up a potato tuber, careful to get at least two to three eyes per section, buried it eyes-up beneath the crumbly prepared musty earth in faith that it would sprout and in a few weeks you would harvest some white cobblers, or smooth reds or Idaho baking russets?

I am always impatient for new life. Spring can never some too soon; flowers take too long to bloom; babies take too long to be born. I can hardly resist nature’s course and have, at times, helped the petals open on a flower or rushed planting in the spring. I’ve even helped those chicks hatch by picking away at the crack of an egg and I’ve even stolen out to the garden and carefully scraped away the dirt from where I planted those potatoes to find little marble-like new potatoes amazingly growing out of that old, shriveling, rotting, slice of potato.

I recently stood beside the shell of a man lying in his casket. They did their best to make him “look natural,” but the shell was cracked, the slice of humanity was shrunken, destroyed by those frightening, out-of-control cells. In these last few months he was pecking away at this mortal life longing for the eternal. His body was shriveling while he longed for new robes of righteousness.

He said, “It’s steep.”
“What’s steep?” I asked, “The pillows too high under your head?”
“No, the last mile is so steep, but I see beautiful places in my dreams. I didn’t want to come back. It was filled with azure skies and looked like the majestic mountains of Colombia.”

He often said, “What am I going to do?” as the shell crumbled or “Help me!” as the flesh dissipated. But then it dawned on me that he didn’t want help to stay but help to go, not help to remain but help to step over. He said, “I accept what God has for me. I don’t want to fail Him in the end and complain.” He beat back the doubts of the enemy. He examined his life and cleared his conscience of all things. He exaulted in the truths of the Bible. He comforted in the old hymns in the night. He grasped the hands of friends. He prayed with all who visited. He prophesied to his children as Jacob of old. He encouraged many in the faith. He wept for those who didn’t believe. He gave his last advice. He set his house in order. He was chipping away at the shell of mortality. The old was dying, the new was sprouting.

As I stared at his shell in the coffin, I realized he had taken refuge under the almighty wings. New fruit was forming in the lives left behind. Somewhere he was enjoying resurrection life because of death. Jesus’s death. Than man lying there…didn’t want me to weep for the death but celebrate the life. This man taught me how to live and now he had taught me how to die. That man was my father.

The good news, the bad news

Life
  • The good news: My chronological Bible project has started.
  • The bad news: I didn’t proofread the e-mail before sending it and sent an unfinished version.

This has been rectified and the original e-mail can be deleted in favor of the corrected version. How embarassing, though! Oh well. One of my favorite quotes is, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that’s my excuse!” although I wanted a professional-looking newsletter from the beginning.

When I was married, there were a few bloopers in the wedding ceremony. The bloopers are what made it memorable. And that’s OK.