As Christians we have a responsibility to study God’s Word in order to learn more about him so that we can appreciate what he has accomplished in our lives and the lives of countless others through history. We learn to love him more completely through this activity and therefore honor him and bring him increasing glory as a result. The course on God-Centered Living asserts that there is a direct relationship between a Christian’s happiness (satisfaction) and the amount of glory they bring to God. This paper will examine that assertion as it relates directly to the course material as well as this author’s life.
The course used three textbooks, all written by John Piper. While I hesitate to use quotes from any source other than the Bible, it is important to examine the propositional statement that Piper makes early on his books (the theme is carried on pretty much in his entire ministry): “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” My personal belief is that Piper provides adequate evidence, both from the Bible itself as well as various authors he quotes in order prove the veracity of this statement. However, as it relates to his use of the term “Christian hedonist” my personal belief is that he goes too far.
Piper relates to us early on in our course material that humans, men and women, are always seeking the most happiest outcome in any behavior or decision they make. The astounding claim is made that we are motivated solely on that basis – to maximize happiness (i.e., when we are acting on purely human motives). While I believe that may be true, in the absence of a God-centered life, my belief is that we learn what is best from coming to know the risen Savior, and that we will then start to live according to his will and obedience to his Word. Piper asserts that for the person who knows Christ, the looking forward (as Abraham looked forward to the promise, Hebrews 11, as did many other Old and New Testament saints) is key to our faith-based relationship with God, and that this gives us the attitude of what he calls “Future grace.”
Thus, future grace is deemed to be the substitute for short-termed “Maximizing happiness” motivations in our self-centered (un-godly) lives, since, as Christians we gain this new understanding that we are not living for just this life, rather we are looking to our eternal reward in Heaven. Piper repeatedly asserts that this is “Christian hedonism” and that we are still maximizing overall happiness, it’s just that we are concentrating on future (eternal) happiness instead of temporal or worldly happiness. The term hedonism sticks in my throat, however, as it implies so much of sensuousness and living for “Experience” or experiential stimuli as opposed to using intellect to help us live rightly and do right things because they are right things to do.
Be that as it may, personal beliefs aside, the course overall far exceeded any expectations I might have had going into it. I actually think I went into the course with somewhat of a clear slate, no “specific” expectations whatsoever. Thus, you might say it was a simple matter to exceed those expectations. However, any course that covers the Bible and study of our great creator God, the all powerful God of the universe, must be based on sound Biblical doctrine and must increase the student’s knowledge of God while helping us to better understand our relationship with him.
As that is my working set of expectations for any course I take through Hope Chapel Ministries Institute, I believe I again can safely say that the course on God-Centered Living gave me everything I was looking for and more. What was especially interesting to me in the course was the use, by Piper, of a very rich set of material from an 18th Century Theologian named Jonathan Edwards. Edwards is considered to have had a profound influence on the First Great Awakening in the United States (late 18th Century). His writings are at once deep and centered on thinking on and being satisfied completely with God. Many Edwards quotes are used throughout Piper’s writing to enable us to learn from a man who desired little else in life but to know Christ. The proof of its relevance is that his ideas are useful to us in our study of our relationship with God today in our culture.
We must always look to a study of God’s Word as it reflects on society around us. The Christian is both obligated and required to test his faith in light of the prevalent culture. The converse could also be said to be true as well: We must evaluate the culture in light of God’s Word. We live in a time when most men, most Western men, would rather live their lives as if there were no God at all. The Bible says this is foolish and with good reason! What we see around us in our culture is worldly hedonism, those who seek to maximize sensory pleasures because they follow the Epicurean philosophy: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” The Bible tells us to seek God while he may be found, this lies in direct opposition to our culture around us, as it may have been in Edwards’ time as well.
Thus, we can learn great amounts from the study of commentaries of Christians who have gone down the road before us. They left writings behind so that we would be participants in the conversation, not owners. It was their right and duty to do so, every bit as much as we write things down for those who will follow after us. Ultimately, however, our duty must be to point people to the Bible, and God’s Word. His Word is sufficient for all those seeking faith. An honest desire to find God is rewarded in the pages of the book he (God) left for us. His Word is both a testament to our sin nature and serves as a witness to his plan of salvation through his son Jesus Christ. With the Holy Spirit, his Word is sufficient to lead us to faith.
While I enjoyed the writings of Piper immensely, I find it wanting in some respects. But, the writings of any human author will be found lacking in light of the fact that the only real satisfying writings there are for a Christian are found in the Bible. Everything else we read (Christian writings) sometimes devolves down to discussion of the various passages used to form doctrines of the Church. Some men will debate endlessly on doctrines that have little relevance for salvation. Future grace, or shall we say, God-centered living is based on the attitude that we have found God’s truth to be sufficient for us in our lives and we therefore do not live our daily lives for the same narrow reasons as the worldly hedonists.
I again balk at saying that makes us “Christian hedonists.” God may indeed be most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, but that doesn’t mean we have somehow maximized our “Sensory” inputs as being tuned to God somehow in order to shut out the present world and its sufferings and shortcomings. We do not, I assert, live for experience’ sake. Rather, we choose to live lives obedient to Christ (as best we can) through relationships with Christ and other humans in order to try to attain, as Paul said, the prize for which we strive (Heaven).
So, when I make that kind of argument for how we should live, then how will that play out in my own life? My wife Cheryl and I moved here almost 2 and ½ years ago from Denver. We had lost our house, and a condominium, we were deep in debt, driven by the ravages of two major layoffs during two down economies in less than 10 years. The economy was very hard on us when we lived in Denver, but God has been good, he has provided all we need. The faith that comes from knowing God didn’t bring us this far to kill us has kept us seeking after him with our whole hearts.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we are taking and trying to maximize everything we are and can be every moment of every day for him, I wish that were the case. The reality is, that I have been working as a Software Engineer these past 2 years after moving back to Los Angeles (I grew up down here at the beach) and we are paying off our debt. We moved in with my (now) 85 year old mother in the house I grew up in, and we were taking care of her until about a month ago. My mother has Alzheimer’s, Dementia, has had a knee replacement, a broken hip, and assorted other issues. She is basically healthy with some limited mobility issues, but as of about a month ago, we put her into a facility at the old South Bay Hospital building (on Prospect in Redondo Beach) called “Silverado.” It is a Senior Living Community that specializes in Alzheimer’s. The people there are wonderful, the care-givers superb. I, personally, have very mixed emotions about having mom in there, but it was getting just too difficult to care for her at home, with 24-hour care in the house, and me working at home, and my wife trying to coordinate all the care-giving, and mom not remembering it was her house anymore anyways.
The combination of all those factors was what made the decision for us to move mom into the facility. She’s around other people now, many have Alzheimer’s as she does, most are healthy, and they enjoy each other’s company. In many ways that is superior to her sitting home all day everyday watching TV. She’s in a social environment now, and can be cared for properly, 24 hours a day. She lived alone in her house for over 30 years. She and my father bought this house in 1961 and now it has become Cheryl’s and my house, at least for now. We are now “Renting” the house, because since my mother’s departure, it could be rented and the money used to pay for her stay in Silverado. Unfortunately, my wife and I cannot really afford to stay here, thus my sister (the financial manager and executor of mom’s estate, and trust manager) has arranged it that we are paying her and ourselves out of the estate, via a simple record-keeping agreement. Since my job doesn’t pay enough for us to be able to afford to stay here, that is a good thing for now. But we have some decisions to make in the months ahead.
Specifically, we (Cheryl and I) will have to decide if we are staying in this house. We both want to do more ministry at Hope Chapel, we’ve been somewhat involved in the just over 2 years we’ve been there already. We have met many Pastors and elders and teachers, and leaders, and are enjoying the fellowship as well as the bonds of helping one another through difficult circumstances. Our desire is to do more, as much as we can, to truly maximize both our involvement at Hope Chapel and our investment in God’s Kingdom.
We enjoy evangelizing, it’s hard, but very rewarding, and we enjoy working and ministering with the various friends we’ve met there. There again, God has led some to us who have financial needs, and other needs, where we are able to help out in some small ways. This is the body. We help one another as much as possible to maximize the numbers who are headed down that narrow road together – to Heaven. As far as Missions and other activities, I went on a short-term Mission trip to Haiti following the devastating earthquake in 2010. It was both sad and rewarding. I got to see up close and personal a desperately poor country filled with starving and desperate people. But at the same time, those people were happy in their lives centered on simpler things. We in our society have gotten so materialistic, it’s really pathetic. I hope to go on more Mission’s trips, as well as to reject materialism completely. I wish I could just fully rely on God and walk away from every material thing, but that would be somewhat irresponsible of course. Paul didn’t shun material things, rather he only used what he needed, and tried to do so responsibly.
We see our lives being further enriched by being more involved in the lives of people at Hope Chapel and other churches. There are many needs, we can meet some financially, others with time and logistical help. Our desire is to see God’s Kingdom advanced greatly at Hope Chapel and in our community, for all ministries to succeed, and for all needs to be met. We are dedicated to prayer and sacrifice. In fact, this week, we have been moved to talk with Pastor Jeff to see about further involvement in the lives of some who are in our circle of friendship. We will continue to pray and lift up our congregation in order to see lives changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ! We may also be going to an inner city predominantly black church this weekend where we know a woman who has invited us to come worship – how exciting! Building bridges, furthering the Kingdom of God.