How to Clear the Clutter in Your Life

Sometimes our dining room table gets cluttered.

For one, it’s a big table. Every time I have to squeeze around the end chair, sliding my back against the wall, I remind myself that it’s not for the table we live in our house. It actually takes up so much space in our dining room that it’s become the easiest place to set stuff. Toys. Mail. Homework. Cups. More cups. The generous tabletop makes it simpler to just move things around rather than move them away, and after a while, it accumulates a swath of unrelated, inordinate objects into one centralized location, which is called clutter.

Which can be a lot like life.

We are constantly piling on one thing after another onto the tabletop of our lives. There are always more things we should be concerned about, and give attention to, and make room for — somehow. Before long, it’s a life full of clutter. It’s a whirlwind of good intentions, but bad directions — maybe a load of participation, but a litter of purpose. And it stays this way until God’s arm intervenes, mighty to sweep, and clears the table.

Which he does for us in 2 Corinthians 5:9.

The Reality Tension

In the course of defending his apostleship and the gospel he preaches, Paul assures the Corinthians that he is full of hope, that he doesn’t lose heart, that he is always of good courage (2 Corinthians 3:124:1165:68). Why? Because the message he proclaims guarantees this courage. It possesses a surpassing glory beyond the veiled-faced ministry of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:11–13), and it reveals a surpassing power beyond anything for which we’re capable (2 Corinthians 4:7). And on top of all this, Paul knows that one day he is going to be raised from the dead (2 Corinthians 4:14). Everything of this world that surrounds him — the seen reality — is transient. Soon enough it’ll be gone. But simultaneous to this seen reality, there is the unseen, the eternal. This is the reality that will never end (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Paul stays on these realities into chapter five. There’s the tent of our earthly home, our bodies here; and there’s the eternality of our heavenly dwelling, our bodies there (2 Corinthians 5:1). We groan here (in our earthy bodies) to be there (in our glorious bodies). This is the wonderful tension the Spirit creates in us now, like in Romans 8:23. And it’s more reason for Paul to have courage. There’s more to this life, and in fact, it’s even better. “Away from the body and at home with the Lord” means a deeper experience of Jesus’s presence. Life here is a life of faith in hope of that day (2 Corinthians 5:6–8Philippians 1:21Romans 8:24–25).

See, the clutter of our lives makes us lose sight of this — that right now there is a deeper, more wonderful reality awaiting us. We know we should be more heavenly minded. We really do want to stop and smell the roses. We want to experience every “possible theophany” out there. But we’re so here, so now, so busy. There is a tension.

At the End of the Day

Paul seems to understand, or he might as well, because this is where God, through his apostle’s words, clears the table for us. 2 Corinthians 5:9:

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Paul is saying: Look, whether we’re there with Jesus, or whether we’re here living by faith, the overarching, clear-the-table goal is that we please him.

It’s really that simple. At the end of the day, what matters is whether we have pleased Jesus. When it’s all said and done, we’re going to stand before him (2 Corinthians 5:10). Not our family, not our neighbors, not our boss, not our kids, not our colleagues. We will stand before Jesus. We will see him face to face. And in that moment, the only thing that matters is what he thinks.

For His Good Pleasure

God has stepped in now. He has raked away the rubble. He has opened our eyes.

Our aim in life is to please Jesus. That is the ambition of our every day, our every decision. Does Jesus take delight in this? Which, to be sure, has no determining function in our righteous status as God’s children. By faith alone, in Christ alone, because of grace alone, we are brought into Christ, justified in him, saved from God’s wrath, made his children forever (Ephesians 2:5–8Romans 3:23–24John 1:12–13;Romans 5:9). Don’t mistake “please” to mean placate, or appease, or propitiate. That work has been taken care of. We’re talking about joy, about delight — about pleasure, which Wayne Grudem calls an “essential component of any genuine personal relationship” (For the Fame of God’s Name, 279).

Will it make him glad? Will it cheer his heart? Is it for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13)? That is the question before us, and the enduring mission in and under and beyond every detail of our lives. We make it our aim to please him.

The table is cleared, just like that.

Edwards potrait

Walter Schultz Explains Jonathan Edwards’s Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World

Edwards potrait

There is no such thing as a deeper truth than this.

Walter Schultz, in the March issue of JETS, Volume 56, No. 1, page 122:

God’s original ultimate end in creating and sustaining the world is the pleasure he takes in his self-knowledge, holiness, and happiness eternally-increasing in a society of beings who are upheld in existence moment-by-moment ex nihilo. Before creating anything, God appraised this goal as being inherently valuable and esteemed and desired it as such. He then began to pursue this and continues to act toward it. God is moved to pursue this end solely by virtue of his eternally-occurrent supreme regard for himself as Trinity and for his capacity-attributes.


The God-Centered Cross of Love Inexhaustible

The hands-down, most horrific nightmare possible is that of a God who is angry without due cause. Could we imagine anything worse?

It would be the most terrible thing if the only person who has the power to destroy you forever were ferociously angry with you for no reason. That God would hate you just because. That he would throw his fury around on a whim. What if he were arbitrarily annoyed with everything about you? What if he were to burn with indignation toward you only because he can?

There is no idea worse, and no idea more untrue.

Now to be clear, God is angry. He “feels indignation every day,” as Psalm 7:11 says. But here’s the crucial point to remember: his anger is always a righteous response to sin.

Because God Is Holy

God is love, not wrath. The reason he wields wrath is because of sin. And the reason sin deserves wrath is because he is holy. He is absolute purity. His triune essence is blinding perfection. Sin belittles this holiness. Sin speaks into existence a lie about the way things really are. Sin slanders God’s handiwork and refuses to recognize his worth. Sin on the loose — sin unpunished — injects the air with a false witness about who God is. It puts the world in the dark.

Sin makes a world of closed eyes and plugged ears — a world that leaves God alone to uphold the value of his name. Only God is left to perceive and love what is most lovable, which is God himself. He alone maintains the righteous orbit of the moral universe. And the way he does this is by wrath against the wrong.

As John Murray writes, “Because he loves himself supremely he cannot suffer what belongs to the integrity of his character and glory to be compromised or curtailed.”1 Sin in God’s economy will always ultimately be punished sin — either one day in the hell of a burning fire, or that one Friday in the hell of a Roman cross.

This is why there was a cross. God’s holiness and our sin explain why at the heart of the Christian message is the death of Jesus in our place — a death that fundamentally was propitiation. In fact, D. A. Carson says that propitiation is what “holds together all the other biblical ways of talking about the cross.”2 So it’s important that we understand what it means.

What Is Propitiation?

First, let me say what it isn’t. Christian propitiation is not the works of sinful man to crudely appease an angry deity. That’s the pagan idea. Rather, Christian propitiation is the work of God to absorb his divine anger toward sinful man. The first is capricious and whimsical. The latter is the calculated selfless act of a loving God — indeed, of a God who is love.

In his classic The Cross of Christ, John Stott parses out Christian propitiation with three crucial points.

First, God’s wrath is the reason why propitiation was necessary. Remember, the nightmare of unsubstantiated indignation is untrue. “The wrath of God is his steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations” (173). God has wrath because wrath against sin is the fitting expression of a holy God.

Second, God is the one who makes propitiation. This wasn’t man’s idea, but God’s. It is all due to his mercy and grace. Stott is all over this. He writes, “God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loved us. If it is God’s wrath which needed to be propitiated, it is God’s love which did the propitiating” (174).

Third, God was the propitiatory sacrifice. What hung on the cross wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t a basket of fruit or a headless chicken. Stott notes that God giving his Son was God giving God. The blood that soaked into Golgotha’s soil was not the blood of a man partly divine, but of God himself who had become a man.

One fact rings loud in all three of Stott’s points. It is the fact that every right way to parse propitiation is profoundly about God.

It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when we took our place and died for us. There is no crudity here to evoke our ridicule, only the profundity of holy love to evoke our worship. (175)

Do you see it? A God-centered God created a God-centered cosmos that he saves by a God-centered cross. Far from a nightmare, this is better than our greatest dream. God’s God-centeredness doesn’t make him a reckless tyrant who flies off the handle at the drop of hat. It makes him a sovereign God who is great enough to stoop this low to rescue us. It gives him a mighty arm able stretch to the uttermost with love for those who deserve his anger.

Who can fathom this wonder? Man would not make this up. Man could not. Do you see it? Do you see what he has done? What do we do but bow speechless? We put our hands over our mouths in awe. Do you see what he has done?

He has loved us with a love inexhaustible.

1 John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 32.

2 D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), Locations 954-955.


Why You Should Dream Big for the Glory of God

Psalm 37:23–24,

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; 24though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.

Psalm 37 explains life in this world. The righteous — those who have the law of God in their heart and take refuge in him — will inherit the whole earth (Psalm 37:31, 40; cf. Psalm 1–2), though it doesn’t look that way right now.

Right now evil runs rampant. Evil gnashes its teeth against God’s own. Evil seems to be winning the day. But it’s only for a little while longer. Soon the wicked will be no more (Psalm 37:10). The end-time judgment of God against all who oppose him is coming. Jesus, the Lord’s King, our Savior and hope, will return to judge the living and the dead. He will be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel, and being marveled at by those who believe (2 Thessalonians 1:7–10).

Psalm 37 tells us how to live unto that day. And in particular, Psalm 37:23–24 encourages godly ambition unto that day.

Basically, you and me should dream big for the glory of God. I’ll try to explain in three simple (overly-simple) points. The syllogism goes like this:

If you are in Christ you are called to God’s purpose and God’s purpose will not fail; therefore all our dreams toward that purpose will not ultimately fail.

If you are in Christ you are called to God’s purpose

When we are saved from our sins and given the new identity “in Christ” we are welcomed into fellowship with God. We are brought to his person, and into his purpose. He calls us into this and orders our steps. In fact, we don’t even live anymore, Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Our entire universe is wrapped up into him. Our dreams are surrendered to the goal of his glory covering the earth as the waters cover the seas (Habakkuk 2:14).

God’s purpose will not fail

His purpose, by the way, will succeed. The earth will indeed be covered with his glory as the waters do the seas. The gospel of Jesus will advance to every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9–10). All of God’s elect will believe and then the end will come. It’s been this way since the beginning. God’s purposes are not hindered. He does what he pleases, in heaven and on earth and in the seas and all deeps (Psalm 135:6). He is that kind of sovereign. And he is that kind of righteous. He fulfills what he promises because he has put his name to it. And it is only right that God has an “unswerving commitment to uphold the glory of his name.”

therefore all our dreams toward that purpose will not ultimately fail.

So if we are in Christ called to God’s purpose, and God’s purpose will not fail, then our efforts in his purpose will not ultimately fail. This doesn’t mean our every effort will automatically turn into gold. We can still make mistakes and inevitability we will. We will stumble and fall (Psalm 37:24a). But if our efforts are aimed at his purpose, if they are aimed at his glory advancing to all the earth, it is certain to succeed. We will not be cast headlong. There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1) and there is no ultimate failure for the work of his people (Matthew 16:18). For the Lord upholds our hand.

So should be our lives in this world unto that day.

When Delight Means Doxology

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

David’s prayer in Psalm 40:16 can absolutely change your life. At first glance it may not stand out. Perhaps, like me, when you’ve read it before you glossed over the parallelism that makes this verse so special.

Now parallelism is a pretty simple rhetorical device. It is used in poetry of all kinds to connect two different phrases within a single line, always extending (in some way) the thought in the first phrase.1 Verse 16 below is one line with two phrases that are signified by A and B:

Psalm.40.16 Image 1

The particular type of parallelism is called “synonymous parallelism.” It basically is used by a poet to state the same idea in two different ways. It’s not something we should breeze by. Instead read it and reread it. The point is for it to resound in the reader’s mind.

So what is David saying in Psalm 40:16? David prays that all who seek God would rejoice and be glad in him. This is the first phrase, that the end of seeking God be joy in God. Now notice how this idea is repeated (and extended) in the second phrase: May all who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!”

As the phrases correspond, to seek God is parallel to loving his salvation, and to rejoice in God is parallel to praising him. The aim, then, of seeking God and loving his salvation is to rejoice in him and glorify him.Psalm40.16 Image 2

Seeking As Loving

To seek God in this passage means to pursue him. A seeker, according to this verse, is not someone who is merely interested in religious topics. Rather than having reservations about God, the seeker is one who is in passionate pursuit to know him. The seeker is locked in, and keeps yearning for more. Specifically, this work of seeking — of pursuing God — is to love his ways. If you will seek God like David prays, you will cherish the salvation only God can give. If you will know him, you will know him only through his Son (Matthew 11:27).

So there’s no such thing as seeking God outside the blood and righteousness of Jesus. To seek him is to revel in and cling to all that he is for us in the gospel. To love his salvation is to be bewildered by what he’s done to bring us to himself.

Rejoicing As Glorifying

You can’t faithfully seek God, or love his salvation, with any legitimate aim other than to rejoice in him. That is the goal. There are really no other options. Seeking isn’t spinning our wheels. There is an end in sight, a real end — when we see Jesus as he is and become perfectly conformed to his image (1 John 3:2), when the dwelling place of God will be with man in a new world (Revelation 21:1–3), when we live and reign with Jesus forever, his name written on our foreheads and his light making the night no more (Revelation 22:3–5). This will be a happy scene. We will rejoice in God. We will be glad in God. And he will be glorified. In fact, they are one in the same.

As the phrases show, rejoicing in God means to praise his name. Joy equals doxology. This kind of gladness in Psalm 40:16 sounds a certain way, like a chorus of rescued voices. It speaks a certain language, like a song from all the nations. And it says a certain thing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

1 Tremper Longman, How to Read the Psalms, (Kindle Locations 1455-1456).

We Need Big-God Theology and Big-God Preaching

Edwards potrait

From John Piper,

[Edwards] asks: “What is this one great design that God has in view in all his works and dispensations?”

And answers: “’Tis to present to his Son a spouse in perfect glory from amongst sinful, miserable mankind, blessing all that comply with his will in this matter and destroying all his enemies that oppose it, and so to communicate and glorify himself through Jesus Christ, God-man.”

Read the entire post, “The Seedbed of Big-God Preaching.”


Something Very Important About God

2 Chronicles 16:9 says something very important about God. He is a God who lacks nothing, and therefore gives everything. He is the source of help for all our needs. And because this is the case, because he is the giver and there is nothing we have which has not been received (1 Corinthians 4:7), he gets all the glory (1 Peter 4:10–11).

But we can read this wrongly. So easily in texts such as this one, we can detach God’s action from his actual posture. We know from this text that God gives — that his eyes “run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” We know that because the text says it. But what expression do we picture on God’s face in this work? What type of attitude do we project upon him in all his supporting and giving?

The Sketch We Bring

Even though we read about him giving, we can imagine harsh things about him, as if he gives with a frown. Or as if he opens his hands reluctantly.

The issue is how we connect these details about what God does along to our big picture understanding of who he is. We all have a big picture understanding, you know. We all bring a sketch of how we perceive God to every passage of Scripture we read. And unless we check that sketch and consistently subject it to the biblical text, it can blur the wonders before our very eyes.

Keep It Sharp

Something that helps keep the big picture sharp is to compare multiple descriptions of God from throughout the Bible. For example, how does the description of God in 2 Chronicles 16:9 fit with the description of God, say, in Psalm 94:19.

When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of me heart are many, your comforts cheer my soul.

Like the Lord giving strong support, this passage also speaks about God’s action for his people. And the picture here is amazing. When the psalmist was about to slip, the Lord held him up. This is a picture. Imagine walking on ice. Just when you get unsure and your feet start to slide opposite directions, your dad reaches out and grabs you with his hand. He holds you up. All your weight that would have crashed into the frozen floor instantly shifts onto the hand that has securely taken hold of you. He’s got you. Isn’t that great?

The psalmist continues: when his cares are many, he says the Lord is his delight. “Cares are many” means stress and anxiety. When things get out of hand and life feels overwhelming, God is there. He is full of comfort — of consolations — that cheer our souls. God is a God who is there. Who is so involved in our details that he reaches his hand out when we’re about to slip. He’s so on top of our schedules that he has comfort when we feel empty.

Glory Isn’t Shared

This is the one whose eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. He isn’t stingy in his grace. He is abundant in mercy, in love, in doing the highest good to his people through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. And this means all boasting is excluded (1 Corinthians 1:30–31; Ephesians 2:8–9). We are weak. We are desperate. God is mighty. God is all. And we better get this, for he says,

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another (Isaiah 48:11).


How God’s Glory Shines in Christian Marriage

John Piper writes,

There are two levels at which the glory of God may shine forth from a Christian marriage:

One is at the structural level when both spouses fulfill the roles God intended for them — the man as leader like Christ, the wife as advocate and follower of that leadership. When those roles are lived out, the glory of God’s love and wisdom in Christ is displayed to the world.

But there is another deeper, more foundational level where the glory of God must shine if these roles are to be sustained as God designed. The power and impulse to carry through the self-denial and daily, monthly, yearly dying that will be required in loving an imperfect wife and loving an imperfect husband must come from a hope-giving, soul-sustaining, superior satisfaction in God.

I don’t think that our love for our wives or theirs for us will glorify God until it flows from a heart that delights in God more than marriage. Marriage will be preserved for the glory of God and shaped for the glory of God when the glory of God is more precious to us than marriage.

Excerpted from John Piper, The Surpassing Goal: Marriage Lived for the Glory of God (PDF).

What Is the New Testament?

Greg Beale in A New Testament Biblical Theology (Baker, 2011) —

Jesus’ life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-not yet new-creational reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgment for the unbelieving, unto the triune God’s glory. (163)

What Is the Old Testament?

Greg Beale in A New Testament Biblical Theology (Baker, 2011) —

The Old Testament is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his eschatological new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory. (162ff)