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“God is the ultimate focus of Christ’s death on the cross.  Yes, Jesus died for sins and for the unrighteous, but ultimately Jesus died for God and his glory.  For when Christ brings us to God, he brings us into a right relationship with God.  It’s as if the universe is set back where it should be – a relationship in which he is the center and we orbit around him in a safe proximity and nearness, a relationship in which his glory is the point and we find our joy and meaning in being a display of his worth rather than our own.”

~ Michael Lawrence, It Is Well, 215

When we find our joy and meaning in living as “a display of his worth rather than our own”, we do what we were created to do.  We find ultimate joy when we decrease and He increases because He is the ultimate focus of everything.  Though everything around us and everything within us tells us to put ourselves on display for all to see, Christ died so we could live for Our Father and His glory.  When He is the center, everything is as it should be… even when thinking about the ultimate purpose of the cross.

“But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’”

Psalm 40:16

Seeking God is one of the main priorities of the church.  “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” (Psalm 27:4).  John Piper, in a sermon on Psalm 40, says, “We seek to behold his beauty, to be with him, to meditate on him. This is our central business in the church—to see the beauty of God. To get our heads into the heavens. To know him for who he is. He is the main reality—not buildings, not Christians, not missions, not heaven. God himself is what we seek.”

But this seeking isn’t complete, it seems, until we proclaim His greatness.  In verses 9-10, David tells how he did not hide or conceal what God has done for him.  He told the people about God’s faithfulness, steadfast love and salvation.  In verse 16, the seeking in the first half is concluded in the second half with proclamation, namely continually saying, “Great is the Lord!”  Piper says, “He is supreme and his supremacy is your passion.”  Part of having a passion for His supremacy is proclaiming it!

So the church’s mission to our neighbors and the nations in which we tell them who God is, what He has done and that salvation is found in Him alone through Jesus Christ flows out of the church’s pursuing God.  A passion for evangelism does not simply flow out of a burden for the lost.  It flows out of a heart that seeks God, a heart that rejoices and is glad in God (Psalm 40:16a).  When we go hard after God and pursue our joy in Christ alone, God is glorified.  When God grants joy and gladness in Him through our seeking, we find that our seeking and loving and worshiping of God is not separate from our proclamation of Him.  Piper says:

“Our passion for God is our persuasion for the nations… our joy in God is both our worship and our evangelism.”

The Resurgence, an arm of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, has posted a helpful article outlining John Owen’s On The Moritification Of Sin (you can buy Justin Taylor’s excellent edited version of 3 Owen books combined here, buy the standalone book here or download the original treatise here).  You can also download a 12-page pdf reading summary.  Although Owen is “heavy and hard to read” (JI Packer), it is definitely worth the effort.  Download the reading summary and use the outline to assist as you read through this important work.  It is important because, as Owen says, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”

“The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice…” (Psalm 97:1)

“The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble…” (Psalm 99:1)

The Lord is King of all creation.  Holiness is His character and righteousness defines His acts.  His people will both rejoice and tremble at His sovereignty and holiness.  It is not one or the other!  Joy and fear are constant companions in the lives of His saints.

“Oh! Rejoice in the richness of our salvation! When the Lord pardoned our sins, he did not pardon half of them, and leave some of them on the book— but with one stroke of the pen he gave a full receipt for all our debts.

When we went down into the fountain filled with blood, and washed, we did not come up half-clean, but there was no spot nor wrinkle upon us—we were white as snow.”

~ Charles Spurgeon, “The Joy of Salvation”

Abundant, overwhelming and overflowing joy in God is normal. Parched, dry, starving souls are abnormal… but our experience and battle with sin leads us to believe it is normal because parched and dry is more our daily experience than abundant and overflowing joy.  If your soul is starving, look to see how far you are from the throne of grace.   Prayer is the road to a deeply satisfying, drought-resistant joy in God.  Listen to Spurgeon:

“Starving souls live at a distance from the mercy-seat and become like parched fields in times of drought. Consistent wrestling in prayer with God is sure to make the believer strong- if not happy.  The nearest place to the gate of heaven is the throne of the heavenly grace. Much alone [with Jesus], and you will have much assurance; little alone with Jesus, your religion will be shallow, polluted with many doubts and fears, and not sparkling with the joy of the Lord. Since the soul-enriching path of prayer is open to the very weakest saint; since no high attainments are required; since you are not bidden to come because you are an advanced saint, but freely invited if you be a saint at all; see to it, dear reader, that you are often in the way of private devotion. Be much on your knees…”

~ Charles Spurgeon, Morning By Morning, October 18

I have been studying the theology of idolatry for some time now.  Greg Beale’s book, We Become What We Worship, is an outstanding and convicting study of the destroying power of idolatry.  David Powlison’s article, Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair”, was similarly excellent, enlightening and exposing! Tim Keller’s new release, Counterfeit Gods, has been just as helpful.  He defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give” (p. xvii).  Keller goes on to say, “there are personal idols, such as romantic love and family; or money, power, and achievement; or access to particular social circles; or the emotional dependence of others on you; or health, fitness, and physical beauty.  Many look to these things for the hope, meaning and fulfillment that only God can provide.”

There are idols everywhere and everything can be turned into one.  Our blog is named ‘Pursuing Joy’… we want to encourage you as we labor alongside the body at Five Points as we pursue our joy in God alone!  Along the way, everything in Vanity Fair calls out for our attention and entices us to find pleasure in the endless ocean of idols that the human heart can craft.

“The way forward, out of despair, is to discern the idols of our hearts and our culture.  But that will not be enough.  The only way to free ourselves from the destructive influence of counterfeit gods is to turn back to the true one” (p. xxiv).  Keller’s words bring to mind Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  As we pursue joy together, with Vanity Fair crying out to us from the right and the left and our idol-factory hearts crying out to us from within, let us remember that the idols will always lead to destruction, but the One True God gives fullness of joy and everlasting pleasure.

The pastors of Five Points Community Church are now collaborating on a blog called Pursuing Joy.  Here is an excerpt from Pastor Brent Nelson’s first post:

Lord-willing, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, new posts will appear by Pastor JJ Sherwood, Pastor Matt Johnson and myself. These will further clarify sermons, express the daily insights of our devotions, or offer the overflow of our study. We’ll include anything that God supplies to us that we believe will serve to enhance your joy in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Join us as we pursue our joy in God alone through Christ!