Monday, August 25, 2014

The Pursuit of Knowledge

Three of my children went out the door this morning for the beginning of another school year. The excitement of new friends, books, and experiences is underway. Hopefully, that joy will be followed by the pursuit of knowledge, which will expand their minds and lead to a better understanding of the world they live in. The dedication of their teachers, combined with their own desire to learn, will lead them down streams they never knew could be navigated, bearing treasures once incapable of attainment. My hope, as their father, is that they would love to find these riches, and their lives would be spent in the increase of the storehouse of their minds. My surpassing hope for them, though, is that the pursuits of my children would lead them beyond what is gained in great institutions of learning. The most valuable wisdom that this life affords is not found in the way most would expect, nor is it merely a set of moral principles, an ideology, or a subject to be researched. It is wholly unlike the comprehension one can attain through study and experience in other pursuits, because it is not primarily based on trial and error, reason, or examination. This knowledge is of a Redeemer- a Lord, and Savior. To receive it, one must know Him, and have fellowship with Him. This is what I want my children to know. This is the knowledge I want my wife and I to be increasing in- Him- in all His glory and joy. The scientist can investigate the subject in his field, classroom, and lab, and be renowned for his expertise without ever needing to communicate or enter into fellowship with his assignment. His goal is to reach right conclusions of what can be seen in the world. The historian may read about people or places past and become the foremost scholar on the matter without ever speaking to the one who lived or to those involved. Her efforts are focused on gaining the right records and drawing proper conclusions. The mathematician need not know any individual at all in the quest for truth. His concern is quantity, space, structures, and the like.

No, the eyes will not testify of a Redeemer, even if given the strongest lens that extends the vision into the heavens or down to the molecules. The mind may be exercised with the most challenging complexities of life, and work out all its logic, without ever contemplating the One who was its Author. The senses will not lead you to the choicest shores of wisdom. By them, a man can know God exists, but never know the treasures He possesses. He could regurgitate facts about the Supreme Being, but never feel the profundity of His mercy, grace, and love. These pearls are sought by diving into the depths of God's Word, being made visible by His Spirit; and the one who believes what He sees will find his search fruitful. Ultimate wisdom in mankind is expressed when he believes in the God who loves him and saves him from his inability to think, feel, and choose rightly. Humanity may have progressed in understanding its surroundings and how to function in them, but all are separated from God by their sin. Communion with the most glorious mind and heart was achieved, not by man's pursuit of God, but God's pursuit of man, when Jesus Christ purchased our allegiance with His blood. Our senses will tell us something has gone wrong in the world, but only Word and Spirit open our eyes to the salvation, healing, and peace that has been won by our Lord. Through Jesus Christ, we have intimate knowledge of the God of all wisdom, and only through Him will every other subject find its supreme expression and man's enjoyment in them.

I'm thankful for the school my children attend, and for the teachers who have been entrusted with their minds. I hope they are challenged, and their worlds expand through the knowledge they gain, but my greatest hope, is that they will know, not merely the wisdom of what has been created, but the Creator who is also Redeemer.

Grace be with you all,
Lonnie Atwood

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Worship and the Satisfaction of our Souls

A few years ago, John Piper's book, Desiring God, captivated my mind and heart with the biblical notion that our God is radically God-centered in everything He does- that His glory is central in His own mind because He is the greatest treasure that exists. Because God is supremely beautiful, delightful, and good, His creatures, who are made in His image and for Him, will find their greatest delight in the One who made them to enjoy Him. This stream of thought is found throughout Piper's works. Today, I came across a section he has written on worship, which challenged me concerning my desires every Lord's Day as I come together with God's people.

He writes:
"The essence of authentic, corporate worship is the collective experience of heartfelt satisfaction in the glory of God, or a trembling that we do not have it and a great longing for it. Worship is for the sake of magnifying God, not ourselves, and God is magnified in us when we are satisfied in him. Therefore, the unchanging essence of worship (not the outward forms which do change) is heartfelt satisfaction in the glory of God, the trembling when we do not have it and the longing for it.
         The basic movement of worship on Sunday morning is not to come with our hands full to give to God, as though he needed anything (Acts 17:25), but to come with our hands empty, to receive from God. And what we receive in worship is the fullness of God, not the feelings of entertainment. We ought to come hungry for God. We should come saying, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1–2). God is mightily honored when a people know that they will die of hunger and thirst unless they have God.
          Nothing makes God more supreme and more central in worship than when a people are utterly persuaded that nothing—not money or prestige or leisure or family or job or health or sports or toys or friends—nothing is going to bring satisfaction to their sinful, guilty, aching hearts besides God. This conviction breeds a people who go hard after God on Sunday morning. They are not confused about why they are in a worship service. They do not view songs and prayers and sermons as mere traditions or mere duties. They see them as means of getting to God or God getting to them for more of his fullness—no matter how painful that may be for sinners in the short run.
         If the focus in corporate worship shifts onto our giving to God, one result I have seen again and again is that subtly it is not God that remains at the center but the quality of our giving. Are we singing worthily of God? Do the instrumentalists play with a quality befitting a gift to God? Is the preaching a suitable offering to God? And little by little the focus shifts off the utter indispensability of God himself onto the quality of our performances. And we even start to define excellence and power in worship in terms of the technical distinction of our artistic acts. Nothing keeps God at the center of worship like the biblical conviction that the essence of worship is deep, heartfelt satisfaction in him, and the conviction that the trembling pursuit of that satisfaction is why we are together.
         Furthermore, this vision of worship prevents the pragmatic hollowing out of this holy act. If the essence of worship is satisfaction in God, then worship can’t be a means to anything else. We simply can’t say to God, “I want to be satisfied in you so that I can have something else.” For that would mean that we are not really satisfied in God but in that something else. And that would dishonor God, not worship him.
         But, in fact, for thousands of people, and for many pastors, the event of “worship” on Sunday morning is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship. We “worship” to raise money; we “worship” to attract crowds; we “worship” to heal human hurts; to recruit workers; to improve church morale; to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfill their calling; to teach our children the way of righteousness; to help marriages stay together; to evangelize the lost; to motivate people for service projects; to give our churches a family feeling.
         In all of this we bear witness that we do not know what true worship is. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves. I cannot say to my wife: “I feel a strong delight in you so that you will make me a nice meal.” That is not the way delight works. It terminates on her. It does not have a nice meal in view. I cannot say to my son, “I love playing ball with you—so that you will cut the grass.” If your heart really delights in playing ball with him, that delight cannot be performed as a means to getting him to do something.
        I do not deny that authentic corporate worship may have a hundred good effects on the life of the church. It will, just like true affection in marriage, make everything better. My point is that to the degree that we do “worship” for these reasons, to that degree it ceases to be authentic worship. Keeping satisfaction in God at the center guards us from that tragedy." (God's Passion for His Glory, pp. 40-42).

I hope that I, along with God's people, assemble this coming Lord's Day with hearts that long to praise and pursue Him, because we know that nothing, and no one else, can ever satisfy our souls, but the One who made us to enjoy and glorify Him. Will you join me or those in your community with this same hope?