One of the reasons I put together collections of short meditations is that my life has been changed as much by paragraphs as by books. Books on one topic are valuable. They let the author explore all the angles of an insight. But where do the insights themselves come from? Usually they come from paragraphs. Even sentences. For reasons
not entirely explainable, God can make a single paragraph life changing.
Perhaps some evening your soul is hungry. Not for anything in particular, just a soul-hunger. A longing. Something is needed beyond what television is going to give. Something about God, or about the meaning of your life, or about eternity. You’re tired and you know you probably can’t stay awake to read twenty pages. So you pick up a book that you know focuses on eternal things, a Godward book. And three minutes later you have seen something, and you will never be the same again.
It may take a lifetime to sound the depths of what you just saw. But the seeing happens in an instant. It’s as if God takes the paragraph in his fingers and uses it to adjust the lens on the eye of your soul, and something wonderful comes into focus that you had never seen before.
Isn’t it amazing to think about the relationship between God’s focusing fingers and the human activity of writing and reading? You may have read that same paragraph before, perhaps just the other evening. But this time God put his fingers on it and turned the lens just one more focusing notch. What this means is that I should pray as a writer and you should pray as a reader. We should ask God to do this focusing.
I think of your reading and my writing as a kind of partnership in the pursuit of a Godward miracle. I write, you read, but God gives the sight. What we both want is this miracle of seeing—seeing lifechanging things about God and life and eternity.
In one of his letters the apostle Paul said, “By reading you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4, author’s translation). But was reading enough? A few sentences later he prayed that they “may have strength to…know the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18–19). Something more was needed than reading. Something from God—he called it “strength to know.” Earlier he had prayed that the eyes of his readers’ hearts would be “enlightened, that you may know” (Ephesians 1:18). Something from God is needed—in answer to prayer. This is what I meant when I said that God takes a human paragraph and puts his fingers on the lens of the eye of your
soul. The slightest turn and we are made strong with sight. We are never the same again.
So I have written. And you are reading. And God is ready to act. My words are not Scripture. They are not infallible like God’s words. But my earnest aim in all I write is to be faithful to God’s written Word in the Bible. To point to God and his Son and his works and his ways. My aim is a Godward book in the hope that God will put his fingers on its paragraphs and turn the lens of the eye of your soul, ever so delicately, and bring glories into focus.
This is how God forms us into his image. “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is our aim: From a Godward paragraph, to a sight of glory, to a Godward heart.
A very special word of thanks is due to David Mathis, executive editor at Desiring God. David helped me assemble these meditations from all the different places and times where I had written them. After I reworked them for this book, he provided his sharp theological, stylistic, and formatting eye to help me refine them for final release. I admire David’s gifts and love his friendship. Thank you, David, for your partnership.
I have enjoyed a long and happy relationship with Multnomah Books, especially in bringing my shorter writings to publication. A Godward Heart is a continuation of what we began in A Godward Life, Book One (2001), continued in A Godward Life, Book Two (2003), Pierced by the Word (2003), Life as a Vapor (2004), and Taste and See (2005). I am thankful for this publishing partnership for the sake of spreading what I pray will prove to be life-changing, Christ-exalting paragraphs.
Foundation for Christian Hedonism
The ultimate ground of Christian Hedonism is the fact that God is uppermost in His own affections:
The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.
The reason this may sound strange is that we are more accustomed to think about our duty than God’s design. And when we do ask about God’s design, we are too prone to describe it with ourselves at the center of God’s affections. We may say, for example, that His design is to redeem the world. Or to save sinners. Or to restore creation. Or the like.
But God’s saving designs are penultimate, not ultimate. Redemption, salvation, and restoration are not God’s ultimate goal. These He performs for the sake of something greater: namely, the enjoyment He has in glorifying Himself. The bedrock foundation of Christian Hedonism is not God’s allegiance to us, but to Himself.
If God were not infinitely devoted to the preservation, display, and enjoyment of His own glory, we could have no hope of finding happiness in Him. But if He does in fact employ all His sovereign power and infinite wisdom to maximize the enjoyment of His own glory, then we have a foundation on which to stand and rejoice. I know this is perplexing at first glance. So I will try to take it apart a piece at a time, and then put it back together at the end of the chapter.
God's Sovereignty: The Foundations of His Happiness and Ours
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). The implication of this text is that God has the right and power to do whatever makes Him happy. That is what it means to say that God is sovereign. Think about it for a moment: If God is sovereign and can do anything He pleases, then none of His purposes can be frustrated.
The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:10–11)
And if none of His purposes can be frustrated, then He must be the happiest of all beings. This infinite, divine happiness is the fountain from which the Christian Hedonist drinks and longs to drink more deeply.
Can you imagine what it would be like if the God who ruled the world were not happy? What if God were given to grumbling and pouting and depression, like some Jack-and-the-beanstalk giant in the sky? What if God were frustrated and despondent and gloomy and dismal and discontented and dejected? Could we join David and say, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1)?
I don’t think so. We would all relate to God like little children who have a frustrated, gloomy, dismal, discontented father. They can’t enjoy him. They can only try not to bother him, or maybe try to work for him to earn some little favor.
Therefore if God is not a happy God, Christian Hedonism has no foundation. For the aim of the Christian Hedonist is to be happy in God, to delight in God, to cherish and enjoy His fellowship and favor. But children cannot enjoy the fellowship of their Father if He is unhappy. Therefore the foundation of Christian Hedonism is the happiness of God.
But the foundation of the happiness of God is the sovereignty of God: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). If God were not sovereign, if the world He made were out of control, frustrating His design again and again, God would not be happy.
Just as our joy is based on the promise that God is strong enough and wise enough to make all things work together for our good, so God’s joy is based on that same sovereign control: He makes all things work together for His glory. If so much hangs on God’s sovereignty, we should make sure the biblical basis for it is secure.
The Biblical Basis for God's Sovereign Happiness
The sheer fact that God is God implies that His purposes cannot be thwarted—so says the prophet Isaiah:
“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:9–10)
The purposes of God cannot be frustrated; there is none like God. If a purpose of God came to naught, it would imply that there is a power greater than God’s. It would imply that someone could stay His hand when He designs to do a thing. But “none can stay his hand,” as the newly awakened Nebuchadnezzar says:
His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34–35)
His Sovereignty Covers Calamities
This was also Job’s final confession after God had spoken to him out of the whirlwind: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
This raises the question whether the evil and calamitous events in the world are also part of God’s sovereign design. Jeremiah looks over the carnage of Jerusalem after its destruction and cries:
My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city. (Lamentations 2:11)
But when he looked to God, he could not deny the truth:
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? (3:37–38)
“Shall We Receive Good from God and Not Evil?”
If God reigns as sovereign over the world, then the evil of the world is not outside His design: “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6).
This was the reverent saying of God’s servant Job when he was afflicted with boils: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). He said this even though the text says plainly that “Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores” (Job 2:7). Was Job wrong to attribute to God what came from Satan? No, because the inspired writer tells us immediately after Job’s words: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
The evil Satan causes is only by the permission of God. Therefore, Job is not wrong to see it as ultimately from the hand of God. It would be unbiblical and irreverent to attribute to Satan (or to sinful man) the power to frustrate the designs of God.
Who Planned the Murder of Christ?
The clearest example that even moral evil fits into the designs of God is the crucifixion of Christ. Who would deny that the betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act?
Yet in Acts 2:23, Peter says, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” The betrayal was sin, but it was part of God’s ordained plan. Sin did not thwart His plan or stay His hand.
Or who would say that Herod’s contempt (Luke 23:11) or Pilate’s spineless expediency (Luke 23:24) or the Jews’ “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21) or the Gentile soldiers’ mockery (Luke 23:36)—who would say that these were not sin? Yet Luke, in Acts 4:27–28, records the prayer of the saints:
Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
People lift their hand to rebel against the Most High only to find that their rebellion is unwitting service in the wonderful designs of God. Even sin cannot frustrate the purposes of the Almighty. He Himself does not commit sin, but He has decreed that there be acts that are sin, for the acts of Pilate and Herod were predestined by God’s plan.
Getty Music announces the release of the first live album from Keith and Kristyn Getty, which was recorded at The Gospel Coalition in Orlando, FL, this past spring. Keith and Kristyn Getty Live at The Gospel Coalition is produced by Ed Cash and features 13 previously-released songs that are heard live on a recording for the first time, along with a new tune, Lift High the Name of Jesus (co-written by the Gettys and Cash), and some of the Getty’s favorite traditional hymns. The project will be available September 10, 2013.
“Working with Keith and Kristyn has been one of the great joys of my career,” says Cash. “First and foremost, their songs are packed full of theological truth, but their commitment to musical excellence and great melodies with respect to church tradition is unparalleled. This album is a fabulous collection of songs recorded in a live atmosphere with a real congregation exalting the Almighty. I tend to crave authenticity, especially with live records, and this project is chock-full of it. At the same time, the album has a professionalism due to the extremely high caliber nature of the players, and of course the driving excellence of Keith's piano playing and Kristyn's voice.”
Keith and Kristyn Getty Live at The Gospel Coalition is comprised of several performances occurring during the 5-day conference that included sermons from such well-known speakers as Tim Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City/Author; John Piper, Founder/Teacher of desiringGod.org; and Don Carson, Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Keller adds, “The 2013 Gospel Coalition National Conference blended the spoken Word and the sung Word in an unforgettable way. Substantive expositions of the Biblical text were interwoven with the Gettys’ theologically-rich worship hymns. Together they truly did ‘tune our hearts to sing His grace.’”
The Gettys are in their homeland of Northern Ireland spending time on a songwriting sabbatical and reconnecting with family and friends. When they return to the States in late August, they will begin rehearsals for a fall tour in support of the new project that will run September-November and crisscross the country.
The journey of hard rockers We As Human from one of northern Idaho’s most beloved, bone-crunching indie acts to ink a deal with Atlantic Records is nothing short of extraordinary. After touring throughout the region alongside a soundtrack slot in a national commercial for Xbox 360’s “Section 8” video game, the guys scored an unexpected networking opportunity of a lifetime.
“Our road manager at the time was working a Skillet show as a runner and a couple of the band members ended up in our touring van,” recalls frontman Justin Cordle. “As they were driving around, he said ‘Hey, I know you get CDs all the time, but this one from We As Human is way more awesome than all the others.’ It wound up making its way to the band’s frontman John Cooper, kind of as a joke at first because they really do get demos pitched to them all the time, but he put it in, absolutely loved it and said we were one of the best bands he’s heard in quite a few years.”
The new album from We As Human streets on 6/25. Read below for our recent Q&A with Justin Cordle.
1 - What is your background? Where did you guys grow up? What made you interested in music?
A: We started our band in Sandpoint, ID, if you don’t know where that is, don’t feel bad, nobody else does either! We all come from different places though, Adam & I grew up together in Sandpoint and meet each other when we were kids attending the same church. Forshaw hails from Western Washington, Dave from Eastern Washington and Jake was reared in the lands of Austin, TX & New Mexico.
Music was a passion in each of us from a very young age and as we grew, it became more and more obvious that we were of the musician kind. God gives everyone a very distinct desire and passion to produce something in this world, ours has always been music. From the first time I stepped on stage with my guitar at 8 years old and sang a Don Francisco song -out of key probably-, I was hooked.
My desire to pursue music went into hyper-drive when I was 13, my parents and I were coming back from a conference in our 1989 wood-panel-sided Caravan, and I fell asleep and had the only dream I’ve had in my entire life that I knew was from Christ. In that dream I was standing on a stage singing and playing my guitar, I heard “This is what I have for you”, then I woke up. That was it, but, it was so profound, it altered the entire direction of my life to this very day.
2 - What are your biggest influencers? Musically and spiritually?
Musically, well, that’s where it gets weird! A few artists that have shaped us into the musicians we are would be : Alterbridge, Skillet, Steve Via, John Meyer, Extol, .S.R.V., Alice In Chains. Garth Brooks, Darrell Evans, Hillsong & Keith Urban, just to name a few.
3 - What does your live show look like?
We love playing live, and I think our love for music and our fans comes through in our performances. I don’t know how to explain our show, but I can say, we leave it ALL on the stage every night. We have walked off the stage on more than a few occasions bleeding. There is an excessive amount of guitar-head dodging, accidentally running into each other and guitar shredding on our stage every night to be sure. It’s the epitome of our musical passion and it’s where we feel the most comfortable and alive.
4 - Coffee or Mountain Dew?
This one is easy, Coffee, but not just any coffee, we like coffee served by a spider monkey who is wearing sandals, lemon-yellow-pleated shorts, and a T-shirt that says, “I’m here for the party!”.
For more on We As Human, and to listen to snippets of the latest EP, click here.
The current landscape for Shane and Shane looks significantly different than when they became friends in college. They’re husbands, fathers, and now worship leaders at their local church in Dallas. This year they even signed with a new record label, Fair Trade Services. We caught up with Shane Everett about this new season for the duo, and their recent release of The One You Need.
Family Christian: This record is distinctly different than many of your others, stylistically and even in the overall tone of the message. How did you land on this direction?
Shane Everett: Maybe I should start a little further back. We changed record labels and started demoing songs. We were really working through what we wanted to say to our community, which was the first time we’ve ever written from a ‘non-devotional-type’ place. We started asking the question “Lord, what do you want to say to us?” That sounds pretty elementary, but it was kind of a new thing. We’re part of this collective of people (The Oaks Fellowship in Dallas, TX) who are pursuing the Lord together. When you get involved in a local level it’s eye opening, ya know? There are people with a lot of hurt, issues, [you’re] walking with people through stuff. So I think we were just in a different place, asking different questions than we’ve ever asked before.
FC: There seems to be a variety of genres represented on the album – was that intentional, or did the songs just seem to take on lives of their own?
Shane E: We said, “Ok, let’s approach this by saying that nothing is off limits.” So any idea that the team had, we said “Let’s try this on one song... Ok, scrap that. Let’s try this on another song.” We just had a blast making this record, and hopefully that comes through. We were invigorated, it was a new season, and we were asking different questions. So if it feels different it’s probably because the approach was completely different. We were just like “Man, let’s seek the Lord, have a good time making a record and say the things that the Lord puts on our heart.”
FC: What led to your new role as worship pastors?
Shane E: Well, the college that we’ve been involved with, Southwestern Seminary, had a leadership program that was 90 students. They would work with a local church and study in one of three different tracks: evangelism, pastoral and missions. So they asked us to come be part of a worship track and they would add more students. Now we have 35 worship interns. They do normal curriculum at the school and then come to see us for ‘lab’ time – six hours on Mondays. We do songwriting, and discipleship. So that’s our portion. [The interns] also have a theory class and some other stuff, but our specific role is in the songwriting and recording part of the program.
FC: That’s awesome! Not going to guess here but, coffee or Red Bull?
Shane E: Oh, coffee man!
FC: So, in this six hour period of time, how many cups of coffee do you and the other Shane consume?
Shane E: (Laughs) Ya know, we actually don’t drink any coffee then!
FC: Well, for being in a class 6 hours, you certainly have your job cut out for you, to make sure it’s all interesting and engaging…
Shane E: Yeah, well, I’ll tell you this – we have such a good time. This is how a basic class works: The students don’t go to class, they come to us. We have a new studio in a big, old stone house on 22 acres and there’s recording stuff set up everywhere, so it’s pretty high energy. They get there, and we’ll talk, have some snacks – we have coffee if you want it – and then a student will share his heart about a song and play it. Everyone has a lyric sheet and a chord chart, and we’re just making notes and giving critiques and reviews and then we mess with the song for a little bit. In the first few weeks everyone’s timid and it’s a little awkward, but after that everybody opens up. The students become pretty tight knit. We’ll ask, ‘What’s the message you’re trying to say?’, ‘What are you trying to communicate?’, ‘What’s the Lord telling you through this?’ So, that’s our role – less about the music, more about the heart. Then we collectively pick a song and produce and record that song all together. We’ll have a drum kit set up, so we’ll do a click track and record the drums, we’ll do bass, guitars, and then vocals – so everyone is super engaged. Everybody’s into it, as you can imagine. It’s pretty awesome for them.
FC: You and Shane both have families now, and the writing on this record certainly addresses that to some degree. How much did your current family situation influence those songs versus what you’re doing over at the seminary?
Shane E: I would say that four or five of the songs on the record came from class songs. Because we make them write a song every week, either Shane or I will have to write one each week too. So a lot of the songs came from that. But one song specifically is written toward our kids, Shane and I both have little girls. The title of the record is from the song “The One You Need.” It’s like, if we had to stand before our kids or our family and we had one thing to say, what would it be? We just want to let them know that Jesus is the One that they need. In a world where there’s a lot of competing world views and ideologies of how to find peace, ya know, there are a billion and one self-help books or even Disney telling them this is what a happily ever after looks like, we wanted to say at an early age, Jesus is the One you need.
As men we want to be the one to take care of our families and our daughters. I want to give them everything - I don’t want to mess up. I want them to come to me for anything that they have and I want to try to fill that place in their heart. But eventually, Lord willing, this kid’s gonna grow up and move out and be on their own. It’s just a horrible thought for me (laughs), but one day it’s going to happen. I just want them to know that Jesus is the only One who can fulfill the deep places of their heart. The only one that can give them a true hope and a future. I hope this song resonates with my daughters throughout the entirety of their life. We want to point them to Christ as much as we can and this is just one of our attempts to sing and say that over them.
FC: Do you think this song is the theme of the record?
Shane E: It’s definitely the theme of the record. The whole record is very Gospel-centric, probably more than any other record we’ve ever done. I think we’ve written out of a devotional spot usually – something really introspective and this has been more of a ‘global’ Gospel record. We did it on purpose because we feel that the more we do this, especially being involved in a local community, man, we just need the Gospel. It’s the renewing power of the Gospel on hearts that is so huge. C.J. Mahaney said something that’s really resonated with me; we feel like in our Christian world we have the Gospel, we get saved and then we move on to bigger and better things, and I thought that was so true. It’s like we think ‘Oh man, I’ve got all this ministry to do,’ and ‘we’ve got the Gospel but that was 10 years ago.’ It’s coming back to that and letting it wash over us daily. It’s changed my life. Remembering what the Lord has done and remembering what He is doing through the renewing power of the Gospel. I keep saying the same thing but it’s become a residual prayer in my heart, daily in my journal “remember the Gospel, remember the Gospel, remember the power of the Gospel.” It’s become the heart beat of the record. It is devotional but it’s been a really good season to remember that.
FC: Since you have transitioned from the ‘devotional’ place of writing to this ‘Gospel’ focus, do you think your listeners are ready to transition too? And were you at all scared, or do you think your audience is going to dive right in?
Shane E: Hindsight’s 20/20, ya know (laughs). We HOPE they go with us. As an artist I think there’s already insecurity that comes from wearing your heart on your sleeve, which is what we do in our writing. A lot of the songs come out of our journals. Apprehensive is the nature of our business, for us anyway. Your art is special to you and we try as hard as we possibly can to make it as good as we possibly can. You never know, but the response so far has been really great. We played these songs for a bunch of people before and everyone seemed to be really on-board with the production, the songs, and the themes, so I think so!
FC: We’ve really appreciated the direction that you and Shane have taken on this record. It’s really fresh and it’s a fun listen.
Shane E: Oh, thanks for saying that. Honestly, we’ve had fun, we’re getting out there and taking breaths. Our label tells us they appreciate us; what we do. It’s felt like a team, it’s got energy. We’ve been really enjoying the process. I think the last four or five years we’ve been doing it and walking with the Lord, but we just didn’t feel like we were moving forward, if I can be transparent. We were on the road, writing songs, seeking the Lord, but I think that now being involved in the church community has pushed us over a hump – there’s a bunch of cogs in the wheel. A step back has given us a new heart, a new vision for the future. We’re more excited about this than we’ve been since, I think, our first record that we came out with - which is crazy. Don’t know how to say it other than to say that we’re having fun.
FC: What is your preference, playing at a church or in a concert setting?
Shane E: We like them all, it just usually depends on a crowd. Leading worship at our church we really enjoy, but just for having fun, we like an old theater or something with people who are the most engaged.
FC: If you could choose anybody that you’d love to go on tour with, who would it be?
Shane E: U2, man. That would be so awesome.
FC: Ok, what about realistically?
Shane E: The Crowders. They’re not going out anymore, but we did a tour with David Crowder*Band and that was the most fun touring situation. We love those guys so much, we’re great friends. Maybe we could convince David to go with us to do one more?
FC: What book are you currently reading?
Shane E: Multiple books, but I started the Chronicles of Narnia over and I’m almost done with that. Also, Justification of God by John Piper, again. It takes me so long, but it kicks me in the teeth everyday.
FC: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. We really appreciate what you guys are doing out there. Take care!
To learn more about the program that Shane and Shane are a part of, or to hear the songs created each week by the students, visit oaksleadership.com.
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