For His Good

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

–Romans 15:2


Those of you who know me may know I have an agenda against the glory of God, at least as I’m hearing it talked about in a lot of churches. There’s a tendency to overstate the case.  God is himself intrinsically glorious, and we are to glorify God, in the sense that we should always be acknowledging His glory in our talk and actions.  But a lot of times we use the idea of glory as a way of explaining God’s motivation, and as a key for identifying what our motives should be. And often, this gets in the way of simpler, more accessible objectives.

So looking above at Romans 15:2.  Each of us should always seek to be pleasant to our neighbors.  Why?  For their benefit, to build them up. Should our goal be to glorify God?  Yeah, sure.  But if you aim at God’s glory without looking to our neighbor’s good, I doubt you’ll have much success at hitting either.

I often think that love is a bit like happiness: it’s a byproduct, and can’t be got by aiming directly at it.  So, looking at the cross, I’ve heard it said that as Jesus died, he was thinking first of the glory of God.  Now we can’t know what Jesus didn’t say, but what does scripture say?  “The son of man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

There are lots of ways that Jesus could have given glory to God, in a maximally efficient manner.  Most of the ideas that come to mind involve lightning bolts.  But he came as a servant, and was humbled unto death, for the benefit of people who had made Him their enemies.  This is the apex of glory, but what makes it glorious is His humility and his care, not for himself or for the Father in any direct way, but first for us.  If you say that Jesus came looking for glory, and after a little research settled on saving the world by dying as the best among many options, it cheapens it a bit, doesn’t it?

Similarly, if I come looking for glory (glory for me or for God), and I settle on helping my neighbor as a good way to get it, I suppose it’s as Jesus said, “surely you have received your reward.” There’s a better, more direct way.  Jesus has been good to me, so let me be good to my neighbor.  Why? For his good, to build him up.  My neighbor is in God’s image.  It is good to be good to him.  No other motivation is necessary.

The Better Part of Worship

I want to push back just for a minute on the idea that all of life is worship. All of life could be worship, but saying it don’t make it so.  Like love, worship has components.  The two components of love are loyalty and affection, and a shortage in one can’t be shored up by a surplus in the other.  I think you can say that the two components of worship are adoration and obedience.  But it feels as though, when people say that worship is all of life, that they mean the most important part of worship is the obedience.  But a “surplus” of obedience can’t make up for a shortage of adoration.  Martha was of the “all of life is worship” party.  Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the better part.

There are lots of reasons why we should be obedient to God in every area of our lives, and every part of our lives should be worthy to be offered up to him as a fragrant incense. Everything should be done to the glory of God, but remember that he is already glorious, and not one thing we do can add to the glory that is him. He is altogether worthy of our adoration, and without that adoration, obedience is rather worthless.

Not even worthy of a decent stalker love song

A few months ago I finally realized that I didn’t like 30-40% of the 6000 some songs on my iPod. So I’ve been slowly going through and deleting things. Part of what that’s done is to force me to think more analytically about my music.

A lot of my stuff is contemporary style worship music, with B+ music and C lyrics. Not bad, unless you play 1000 of them in a row. Then you start to pick out certain trends. So many songs that declare how great God is, because he’s “holy” or “mighty” or “amazing.” Really? How about some details.

But the one that’s really starting to get to me are all the ones that aren’t about God at all. They’re really songs about me, or at least about the person singing. “You make me feel…” “I love you so much!” “I desire you!” “I’m filled with all this passion…” Again, no details, just vague descriptions of passing emotions. Sentiments like that are not even worthy of a decent stalker love song. Why would I want to sing a worship song like that?

One of the things that has led to a major change in my taste in music is a kind of a change in my understanding of the meaning of life, or as the theologians would say, “the chief end of man.”

I still remember a conversation I had once with a girl I was trying to evangelize. I was trying to explain to her that the highest expression of human life was found in relationship. Hell is being separated from God, and Heaven is the crowning expression of ultimate intimacy with God. Man was created primarily to be in relationship with Him,and we couldn’t be happy unless we were in relationship with Him and with each other.

“But,” she said, “I remember lots of times when I played alone as a kid, and I was perfectly happy then.” I was stumped. What was I to say, no you weren’t happy? It was a fake happy? Come to think of it, I’m usually happy to be alone too. Hell isn’t loneliness. There must be something more to it. But I couldn’t think of where it was.

Some years later, I was exposed to the reformation idea of the glory of God. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and thoroughly enjoy Him forever.” And while I think there’s some error, for instance in the unbiblical idea that Jesus died primarily with the glory of God in mind (“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”), I think it’s closer to the truth to say that God made the world for his glory, rather than for relationship. It even becomes clearer when you define “glory” as “the full expression of God’s character,” instead of as simply “fame.”

One of the reasons why I think glory makes for a better definition of our purpose than relationship is that you can see that relationship fits in as a part of the character of God (He is three-in-one), but you can’t really make glory a subset of relationship. So also in human relations: character trumps intimacy.

This has to affect the songs we sing in church. If the chief purpose of a man is to be in a relationship, then the closeness of that relationship will be more important than the concrete attributes of the God you are in relationship with. To put it in pejorative terms, if Jesus died because he couldn’t stand to be separated from me, then my songs are going to be about my experience of how close we are now. I’m going to focus on those sensations that are the most trustworthy proof that I am fulfilling my ultimate purpose. Of course, when those sensations aren’t there, there is quite literally hell to pay in the vacancy.

On the other hand, If my chief purpose is to demonstrate in minute detail the complex and awe-inspiring character of the living God, then how “close” I am to God becomes almost irrelevant. How do you measure “close”, feelings? Feelings are a weak, splintered staff. You can’t lean on them without being wounded. More important will be the nature of that God. The cross splits the universe down the middle, braiding holy judgment and compassionate grace with a sovereignty that is so awesome as to be terrifying. Who has understood the mind of the Lord?

I do still think there’s a place for “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs. David says, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” And again, “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” But the focus even there is on the God for whom he is panting, not on the glory of panting in itself, as though desire itself conferred righteousness. Those feelings come as a gift, and sometimes in His sovereignty He doesn’t give them, or gives holy emotions that we’d just as soon not experience. In those times, my hope needs to be in the good news of the cross, the sure knowledge of who He is, and what He has done for me.

The texture of worship comes from the God who is being worshiped. Generic songs imply a generic god, and songs painted only in broad emotional brush-strokes imply a god who is primarily interested in my feelings. Not only is a god like that unsatisfying, it’s profoundly disappointing when it doesn’t stand up to reality.

A Day’s Journey

Lord, You lead like a drunken man.

The dust picked up again under the crunch of sweat-soaked feet. Carolina Snibbs was walking. Outside the city gate and up toward the hills; his mouth was dry again. Another city turned away. Another dry day. And comes the wind.

You always tell me step one and step ten. Never mind that step five is West and step seven is North when my path is heading South. Never mind that. I’m following Your rhythms. And You lead like a drunken man.

Preach to the City Where No One Gets Saved; then up the hills of barrenness: “Lord, send Your rain.” And all this because You said I would go to the land beside a lake, and build with a people who know Your name. No small wonder they called Abraham crazed.

Behind Snibbs’ left shoulder stood a great city, and getting greater. Everyone there was happy; everyone was full of ambition and purpose. And Snibbs was walking away.

It’s a good thing I don’t carry a literal cross, just a weight on my back and this burning burden in my heart.

On his right shoulder lay a knapsack: a night’s shelter, a change of clothes, enough money for a week, or a day.

It’s a wonder I still follow, but I’m afraid I trust You. Why did You send me there, Lord? Nobody needed me; nobody wanted me. There was nothing I could do. Like climbing sheer walls with nothing but the strength of my fingernails. And now, here I am, going, when all the world is coming. But for Your glory, Lord. But for Your glory.

Snibbs stopped, set down his bag and stretched. He was ten miles outside the city. A little further and he would rest for the night.

“Good morning, old man.”

Snibbs started, and looked. There on the other side of the path was a boy, about ten, sitting on a fallen tree. Old man? he thought. So I’m an old man today.

“Good day, little boy. How are you today?”

“Pretty good. Why are you coming out of the city, when everyone else is going in?”

“I’m not sure I know. The Lord’s timing is a strange thing. But it’s time for me to go. Walk with me a ways.”

The boy jumped up. I must be old today, thought Snibbs. Such youth he has. Such vigor!

They had walked for a few minutes before the boy asked, “Old man, what is your name?”

“Carolina. Carolina Snibbs,” he answered.

The boy laughed. “What a funny name!”

He smiled. “It means ‘King of Songs.'” And then he let a sad chuckle. “But I couldn’t sing very well in that city. What is your name, little boy?”

“My name’s Treader. It means ‘Bright and Swift.”

“And an appropriate name it is. I’ve never seen anyone so eager and so quick as you.”

“My brother Cleveland’s stronger,” Treader said.

“I’m sure he is. But strength isn’t always everything.”

Treader grinned and ran up the path a hundred yards ahead.

“I think,” said Snibbs, when he had caught up again, “That this…would be a good place…to camp.” He sat down his bag, got on his knees, pulled out his tent makings: the cloth and poles, the ropes, the hammer and nails, and set to work. Treader pulled up the sack and sat on it.

“Did you finish all the stories you started in the city?”

“No, I didn’t,” answered Snibbs. “There was an old woman whose cupboard was bare and I meant to fill it. But it was time to go. And there was a boy who was lonely and afraid. I meant to find him a home, but it was time to go. And another: a family that had everything it needed, but had forgotten how to give it all away. I had to go. The Lord was calling. It was time. Could you hand me that hammer?”

Treader stood up and grabbed the hammer. “Someone will finish all your stories,” he said.

“I’m sure they will. Thank you.”

Treader stood there, one hand holding up the half-built tent as Carolina hammered. When he glanced up from his work, he saw Treader had the look of quietly disturbed concern that only a child could have. “What looks like a broken swagger to us is so often the greatest dance to God,” Carolina said.

In a whisper, almost like a prayer, Treader said, “Don’t be old, Song-King. Be young, and full of light.”

Carolina crinkled a smile. I’d love to.

The boy walked back to the bag slowly, shoulders stooped. Then suddenly, he jumped and turned around. “I will finish your stories for you, Song-King! I can do it!”

Carolina stopped his hammering. Looking up, he said, “Well, Treader, that’s a very nice– Gesture…of you…” The boy was gone.

Carolina stood up. Tent was finished, and he leaned on it.

“Well, Lord, You give your servants many different forms. I won’t even bother to ask if that one was born on this side or the other.” There was no sign of the boy. He must have been very fast.

The sun had barely set. It was almost dark. And out from the tent-folds shone a white and golden gleam of light that had no visible source. Without hesitation, Carolina Snibbs crawled inside. As he lay down, the burning inside him grew, reaching out until it joined forces with the glow inside the tent. He could feel the gray of his hair fading back to brown. Eyes closed, he could feel his vision clearing. Tears flowed down his cheeks and past his ears.

Oh! To see the city made with no human hands, standing by the crystal sea. But for Your glory, Lord. But for Your Glory.


Gehazi! Sweet fool, Gehazi!
Gehazi! What have you done?
Not for food, or want of money,
but for pride you sold your God.

What might the Lord have done with you,
who washed the feet of prophets,
and with your eyes have looked upon
the armies of the Lord?

How many times were you entrusted
with the messages of God?
What glory might have been your portion
With Elisha’s cloak and rod?

But you never understood.

God’s glory is for glory;
His favor is by grace.
No gift can buy you honor;
No work replaces faith.

Edom despised his birthright,
and all his father’s hoard;
He traded his position
for some beans upon the board.

For what he did, he earned
the plain results of his despising:
because he hated his inheritance,
in his inheritance he was despised.

But you! Gehazi! Sweet fool!

As Moses, when he hit the rock,
taught the Hebrews to despise
the mercy and the graciousness
of Him who split the tide,

So you have taught the nations
that God’s kindness is for trade.
Now he must be proven just
and make his nature plain.

What good is God to Gehazi?
What good is gold to Simon Mage?
Since you trade for Laban’s leprosy,
his leprosy shall surely be your wage.