AS THEY WENT

Jesus once healed ten lepers by telling them to go and show themselves to the priests: “And as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14). Healing sometimes happens as we step out and do the next thing, in this case checking in with the priest. Some get touched when they get out of their seats and walk forward for an altar call. The priests discovered that the waters parted when they stepped in, not before (Joshua 3:15). For others it might mean asking someone out, asking for forgiveness, or taking responsibility for the family.

Passivity can keep us from the next thing on God’s agenda. He has plans for us, but they are not realized without our participation. Our part–take the next step. Could one step forward be that important to God? Indeed. Waiting upon God is not paralysis. We are in motion, doing what He says and trusting Him in the process for the desired outcome.

We may be thinking, “If God does this, I will do that.” God may be waiting for you to do that before He does this. God is leading the dance, but sometimes it looks like He is following us.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Healing is often incremental. It happens in stages as we take steps of obedience. Faith is sometimes spelled r-i-s-k, though a well-calculated one. Faith has lips and legs. It says something and goes somewhere. By faith Abraham “went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Hebrews 11:8). Had he said, “I am not going until you show me the way,” he would have waited a long time. We don’t need to see the distant shore, just the next step. And “the steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord.”

Growth is a little at a time. It does not happen all at once. People who are looking for God to heal them may need to take the next step in order to see a new level of healing. This is often true of emotional healing or healing from strongholds.

God brought victory for the children of Israel who took the Promised Land phase by phase. “I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you are increased and possess the land” (Exodus 23:29, 30). That is a visual picture of the way God often heals us. It is more often a process than an event.

Sometimes we balk at the process because it is taking longer than we hoped for. Faith is required each step of the way, lest we sink back into passivity.

Vulnerability helps us in the process to accept where we are and by faith move forward into the fuller healing. Being transparent about what is in process gives others grace to walk out their life in God with the same courage and realism.

Healing from depression or serious identity conflicts such as same sex attraction most often comes incrementally. Many steps of faith are needed before the process has been completed. That will take courage and trust when the outcome is not yet clear. “Faithful is he who calls you, and he will do it.”

WHAT LEADERS DO

Balance vision with values. Vision is overrated; values are often ignored. Values undergird vision, keeping vision from going crazy. Think Hitler. Values reflect identity, vision drives destiny. Make it a good ride by choosing values of integrity.

Say no. They can find someone else. Keep your hands to the plow. You have an assignment. Don’t leave it for someone else’s. You will not stand accountable for another person’s vision. Do what you have to do, not what others want you to do.

Build an immunity to discouragement. John the Baptist had incredible vision of Christ’s work (“Behold the lamb of God…”) until he saw life from behind bars. Then he questioned the Christ. Elijah said and did stupid things when discouragement and fear took him out. You cannot afford the luxury of discouragement.

Have a bias toward action. Leave meetings with action items. Many end with talk and go nowhere. Not worth the time.

Record it. Rely on your retrieval system, not your memory. Write down brilliant thoughts–or lose them.

Live above offense. Ask my wife. It took me too long, but now I live that way. (Well, most of the time.) Be like my friend who said, “Just so you know, Paul, it’s almost impossible to offend me.” Unoffendable leaders can build a team; the other kind cannot.

Tend to your soul, or your drive will cause you to implode. First things first. Stay emotionally and spiritually healthy, so you can give yourself away.

Pace yourself. You’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Jesus was not in a hurry. He did what He came to do. He left some people un-healed, and it didn’t bother Him. Remember shabbat. It literally means “to cease.” God rested after a six-day work week. Take your cue from Him. If you think you are indispensable, have another thought.

Take charge of minutes. Time is too precious to waste. Must be invested. It is like money, a great friend and a terrible lord. Minutes add up; use them wisely.

Live with character. Talent wears thin. People should be treated with respect. Don’t overestimate gifting. Faithfulness trumps talent in the long haul.

Go with your strength. That creates passion and vision. Others can do what you can’t. Dreams are worth pursuing. “Most people die with the music still inside of them.” Sing your song!

Put a sign on the bus. If you are a leader, lead. You are going somewhere; tell them where. People who thought you were going to St. Louis will be angry if they end up in Cincinnati. Leadership cannot be delegated. Not leading creates a vacuum. Someone will step in, and you won’t be happy.

Take risks. Leadership without risk is an oxymoron. Make sure they are well-calculated. Then if you lose, it’s not a total loss. Don’t hire anyone without failures on the resume. He’s playing it too safe.

Under-promise; over-perform. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you need a sales job to get them, you don’t want them. Unfulfilled promises create resentment.

Evaluate. You are not into perfectionism, but strive for excellence. If you fail, ask yourself, “What did I learn?” Failure is not final if you learn. Don’t do an autopsy, but find out what you did and do better next time.

Serve. Leaders go low. Think under, not over, and be supportive. Apologize, don’t make excuses. Self-serving leaders are abusive. Serve the people you lead and they will live with gratitude rather than bitterness. Makes them better workers.

THE POWER OF ENCOURAGEMENT

Nora, age three, was running up the walkway. I said, “You are such a fast runner.” What did she do? What most kids would do–run faster. Encouragement is needed for every member of the human race. “En-courage” comes from two root words, “en” meaning “in, and “cor,” Latin for “heart.” Positive words give us heart, make us want to try harder. Negative words dis-hearten us, they take away courage, and make it hard for us to keep going.

Had I said to Nora, “You are sure a slow runner,” it would have slowed her down. Instead of a lift, a heavy word. Can you wonder why some kids barely make it–or don’t? They are fired away at with one discouraging word after another. They can barely keep their head above water. Some never recover and come into a true identity that allows them to walk into their destiny. Really sad.

Some older people are tough enough to take your word and prove you wrong. Most will receive it as a word on target and prove you right. No wonder that Solomon said, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” We hold the power to put courage in people or take it out–with our mouth.

Negative comments, even those meant to instruct or correct, take courage out of most of us. A coach told me that when he taught girls’ tennis at a local high school he tried encouraging the gals when they did well and offer advice when they did poorly. It didn’t work. He finally gave up trying to correct them.They found correction hard to receive. He discovered that it was far more beneficial to ALWAYS encourage.

What if you decided to encourage people wherever you went, and you told the boy pushing the carts that he was really doing a great job, and he decided to do it even better. You just changed his day–and maybe his life. What if you let your teacher know that he/she is really good at teaching and that you are learning so much. That person just got better. What if you shared with your pastor that you are strengthened by his Biblical and Christ-honoring messages, and he just improved his teaching.

What if you told your children how fortunate you were to have children that are obedient and bring much joy to their parents. You just increased their joy and their obedience. What if you decided to be an expert at encouragement, and you did it regularly at work, and it changed the atmosphere. You have the power to do that.

Scripture tells us encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today. I think it is still “today.” Is there a mail carrier, a sibling, a parent, a child, a co-worker who is waiting for you to make his or her day?

Flattery is not the same as encouragement. Flattery is given to gain some kind of access. It is self-directed. Encouragement is other-directed and contains no manipulation or control. The more a person encourages others, the more it shows a healthy and humble love for others.

One of the most important assignments of parents is to encourage their children–to put courage into them that they can do it, they can succeed, they can make their mark, they can walk with God, they can be used by Him. Correction is important, but nowhere near as needful as encouragement.

Karen and I work with so many who did not receive enough. They don’t know who they are, and they struggle in life. Many of their parents were too taken up with their own issues to pour life into their children, and young adults wonder if they have what it takes. Children needs tons of encouragement. Don’t become a parent unless you are prepared to speak life into your children–all their life!!

“DON’T JUDGE ME!”

We’ve heard it before: “You’re not supposed to judge.” Who says? If it is like God to judge, then it is godly to judge. Paul told the Corinthians: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” (I Cor. 6:2,3). We need to know that…

God is the judge.
“It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another”(Ps. 75:7). “You have come to God, the judge of all men” (Heb. 12:23).

God has delegated judgment to Jesus.
“He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). “For the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22).

God’s children also judge.
Judging the eternal destiny of humanity is outside our jurisdiction, but we do make value judgments between right and wrong. The mature “have trained themselves to discern good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

We must learn to judge in an age of tolerance when absolutes are up for grabs. Tolerance means everybody gets to be right, except those who speak about what is right. Paul addressed the necessity of judging to the permissive church in Corinth: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you’” (I Cor. 5:12,13).

Judging in this sense is different from criticizing. Criticism arises from irresponsibility. It makes unkind judgments for wrong reasons. In this context Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1). He describes the one criticizing failing to see his own sin, blocking him from an accurate picture. Jesus tells the hypocrite to first deal with his own issues, which then gives him discernment for proper judgment (5).

How must we judge?
1. We realize that we get what we give. If we give love, we receive it.
2. We judge carefully. Dealing first with our logs enables us to see the splinters in others. Sometimes we judge most severely what we most struggle with.
3. We judge differently among Christians and non-Christians. We are responsible for our family. “Who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12). We spend too much time judging the world that is outside our direct jurisdiction.
4. We balance truth and grace. Truth alone is brittle; grace alone is sentimental.
5. We judge ourselves (I Cor. 11:31), but we don’t over-judge: “Indeed, I do not even judge myself…“(I Cor. 4:3).
6. We try to judge the heart of the matter: “Do not judge by external appearance” (Gal. 6:2). This means no pre-judging (called prejudice), the kind of discrimination that has brought untold suffering to the human race and is only healed by the Gospel of God and the power of the Spirit. Two safeguards in judging: Gray exists, and we may be wrong!

YOUR IDENTITY & DESTINY, PART II

How do you see yourself? Saul started with much promise, “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (I Samuel 9:2). The Lord told Samuel that “he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines” (v. 16). Soon after Samuel anointed Saul king, “the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying” (10:10).

From early on, however, his insecurity showed up, and it proved his fatal flaw. When Samuel spoke highly of him and his family, instead of receiving the praise, he said, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (9:21). Saul saw himself as a nobody from nowhere. He did not tell his uncle what Samuel had done with him or said to him (10:10). When he was called forth to be presented to the people as their king, he could not be found. He had “hidden himself among the baggage” (v.22), not the right place for the leader-elect.

The Spirit of the Lord again came upon him when news came of the plight of Jabesh, and he delivered them and followed it with a great celebration. Then came a rout of the Philistines, the perennial enemies of Israel. And a further commentary said of Saul that “wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them” (14:47,48). He had moments of brilliance, but he was not careful to obey the Lord.

When Samuel rebuked him, he gave us a clue to his flawed identity: ”Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel?” (15:17). Not only did Saul not wait for Samuel to do the sacrifice, a priestly, not a kingly task, but he failed to carry out the Lord’s instructions to wipe out everyone and everything. His excuse: “I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them” (v. 24). Then he said, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel” (30). Saul seemed more concerned with what the people thought of him than what God thought of him, and it turned him into a wild man. He fumed with jealousy when David received the praise that he deeply wanted, and it consumed him to his dying day. A warped self-image spelled disaster for Saul.

By contrast, another Saul considered himself a terrible sinner. Then he added, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe…” (I Timothy 1:16). In other words, a killer became a trophy of God’s grace. And Saul-turned-Paul walked into an incredible destiny in God. Far from hiding among the baggage, he begged to preach the gospel to people who were rioting because of his presence. True humility brings boldness, not timidity. Paul saw God clearly as a Father of mercy and he saw himself as an undeserving but willing recipient of lavish grace! Two accurate pictures made all the difference in the world. And it will for you as you see God as He truly is and yourself as He has made you!

YOUR IDENTITY AND YOUR DESTINY

What are your chances of walking into your destiny? Clue: most people don’t. Like a poet once said, “Most people die with the music still inside of them.” The two pictures that most determine destiny are your view of God and your view of yourself.

Your self-identity is not who you are but who you think you are. A prince who doesn’t believe he is a prince does not live like a prince. If he thinks he is a pauper, that is how he lives. Sorry for the prince. A saint who believes he is a sinner lives like a sinner—and many saints do. Our creed becomes our conduct. What we believe about ourselves is how we will live. Said more simply—we behave our beliefs. In fact, it is not possible to live in a way that violates what we believe about ourselves. A person who is convinced that he is abandoned will live as an abandoned person, regardless of what people tell him. A girl who thinks she doesn’t measure up will operate out of her distorted picture. Perception is reality, both with regard to ourselves and to God.

The prodigal left home to discover a more exciting life. When it didn’t work for him, he decided to return home. He was surprised to find out that he received back home what he wanted out in the world—a party, nice clothes, cool shoes, and great relationships. He was amazed at how generous and forgiving his father was.

Meanwhile, his older brother wondered why he never got anything from his stingy “boss.” Choked up by anger and resentment, his tight fists could not accept the gifts the father held out to him, and he lived like a slave, though he was a son. He frustrated the grace of an outlandish dad, which is what Christians with a skewed picture of their heavenly Father do.

Jesus told a story shortly before His passion of a businessman who gave three men money to invest. Then he went on a journey. Two men promptly invested and made a 100% return on their money! The third buried his investment, perhaps out of fear that he would lose it. When the master returned, he commended the first two servants.

The third told him, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you” (Matt. 25:24,25). Something had convinced this servant that his master was difficult to deal with. His perception was his reality, and “hard” is what he got (see Psalm 18:25). Two men fulfilled their calling and carried out their God-appointed destiny. Yay! The third was crippled with fear and fell far short. Bummer. The master described him as “wicked and lazy,” and he never lived out his purpose.

The hardship of life, either what happens to us or (more often) what happens in us, can change our picture of God. If we prayed for recovery and a child died, or we prayed for success and had to declare bankruptcy instead, or a painful divorce made us feel forsaken, we may wonder where God was. We might not turn Him into a monster, but our trust level may plummet. We easily interpret suffering as the absence of God. In fact, He is no more present than in our pain. So who do you think you are, and who do you think God is? (Part II in four days).

A LETTER FROM A FATHER TO HIS DAUGHTER

Our youngest was married Saturday in an unforgettable wedding. Karis was a remarkable girl for the get-go–obedient and hard-working. I took her out when she was a beautiful nineteen-year old and asked if I could know the man before she would date him. She said two wise things: “I am not into recreational dating,” which she had proved by not dating, and, “I would never date anyone that you didn’t know.” I gave her the letter below when she was fifteen. Perhaps it could help a dad prepare his daughter for what is sometimes called the turbulent teens but thankfully never was for our Karis, who is now married to a wonderful young man, Kostas Alex.

March 17, 2009

Dear Karis:

You have become a beautiful young lady. We are not surprised that young men are beginning to notice you. Maybe they have been for a while. Your mom and dad also notice you. We see that you have beauty on the inside as well as the outside. We have always enjoyed your kind spirit. You have thought about others first. You are also a disciplined girl and you know what you want out of life.

God has put into your body and spirit a desire for affection. It is a natural and God-given attraction toward the opposite sex, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, for some it means that you can do what you want when you want it and with whom you want. The Bible doesn’t teach that. It says that our bodies don’t even belong to us, and certainly not to guys who may wrongly think they have rights to girls’ bodies. Our bodies have been purchased by the blood of Jesus and belong to God. They are temples of the Holy Spirit, making them sacred places. God Himself lives in our bodies. Wow!

He wants us to take care of His possession and to save what He has given us for the person we will live our lives with. Here’s a warning: That is a high and lofty ideal but not an easy assignment. Our urges can become so strong that we may feel in a moment of passion that it must be the right thing to give in and follow our desires. Like the song, “You Light Up My Life,” says, “It can’t be wrong ‘cause it feels so right.” What is right is not what feels right but what God says is right.

Sex is God’s idea, not Satan’s. He created it, so He knows best how to enjoy it. He has put it in the protection of marriage. Fire in a fireplace is a beautiful and heart-warming picture. Fire out of control is terrorizing and destructive. The same goes for sexual pleasure. While it will be a struggle to wait rather than to live out your passions, you will be much happier than giving into your passions. To do so for those who know that they belong to God brings guilt, shame, fear, and a host of other negative emotions. Your mom and dad want something better for you. We have dealt with girls facing surprise pregnancies and unfulfilled promises by guys who fled the scene, leaving them alone with many difficult decisions. We want your wedding day to be the height of excitement and in no way clouded over by the sad reality of not having waited.

We are confident in God for you. We look forward to how God will express His love to you in the future. We are glad that He has given you to us to care for in this season until the time that you come under the protection of a young man.

Please know that you can come to Mom or me with any questions or concerns. When we hold secrets, they start holding us. I hope that you feel you can talk with us about anything. Your siblings are also available.

May God’s grace be upon you these days!

Your thankful father and mother

FATHER WOUNDS IN THE BIBLE

“Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:28). Jacob grew up with a father wound, coming in second to a brother who hunted and had hair on his chest–from birth! Jacob was a mama’s boy. He got over it, but he almost killed himself in the process. In a time of great crisis he had it out with God, persisted in prayer, and his name was changed from Yacov (heel) to Israel (a prince who prevailed).

When he became a father of twelve boys, he should have known better than to pick favorites. Hurt people hurt people, and Jacob wounded ten sons by choosing a favorite. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of the other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him” (Genesis 37:3,4).

Jacob didn’t do Joseph a favor. His brothers took vengeance on Dad by almost killing little brother, choosing instead to make money off him by selling him as a slave. A wound comes from people we have a right to trust (father, mother, sibling, pastor), and they violate that trust.

Victims live with “if onlys.” If only they had not sent me down the river. If only Potiphar had not believed his wife. If only the butler had not forgotten about me.” Joseph determined instead to take each difficulty as it came and make the most of it. And he lived free from the wounds inflicted by his brothers, finally forgiving them with the powerful words, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Victims who chose not to be victimized by their suffering often become the redeemers of those who have hurt them. Think Jesus!

King David was a better fighter than a father, and it affected his son Absalom. When Absalom killed his half-brother in revenge for violating his sister, he fled home. Even after David was comforted in the loss of Amnon, he did not bring about the return of Absalom until Joab urged him to do so. When Absalom finally returned, David ignored him. Had he healed the wound by receiving his son back into his heart and home, he might have saved his son from death and his own heart from awful grief. But he, like many fathers, seemed immobilized, and he took no action to repair the rift. It almost cost him the throne, and it did mean a bitter end for Absalom, so full of potential, so winsome, so charming, and so full of hatred for a man who loved God and who loved women, but didn’t know how to love his own son. When David heard the news that Absalom was dead, he cried, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). He died of dart wounds, but he really died of a father wound.

Maybe you suffer from a father wound. I encourage you to get prayer ministry and to believe in a loving Father for healing, even if it takes a while. Email pa@harvestcommunities for “Healing From A Father Wound.”

THE PLAYFULNESS OF GOD, PART II

WORSHIP IS THE IDEA OF A PLAYFUL GOD.
It is an end in itself. Everything else is a means—including prayer, Bible study, and missions. There is something “wasteful” about worship that can make people committed to getting things done nervous.

Worship is loving God back, and extravagance is appropriate with love. When I fell in love with Karen, my sisters could tell it was the real thing, because I started spending money. Love calls for that kind of playfulness and abandon.

We’re going to be worshiping for all eternity. Some may feel like the disciples, who reacted to the gift of love from Mary with, “Why such waste?” Worship exceeds the boundaries of economy and utility. It often goes outside the lines of decorum and dignity, at least as measured by the cold and calculating heart. But as the Westminster Confession clarifies, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Sounds playful to me.

The reason the Church has had difficulty with dance is that it lost its playfulness. We have majored in reverence and minored in celebration. Sometimes it isn’t even in the curriculum. So when we hear the call to “praise him with timbrel and dance” (Psalm 150:4), we pass over holy writ as if it were not writ for us.

The psalmist urges worshippers, “Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with timbrel and lyre!” (Psalm 149:3). Now, listen to the next verse tell us why: “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people…” (4). We celebrate because God does.

Little kids, bless their hearts,delight the playful heart of God. I was in my pastor’s robe in the first pew, ready to preach. During the opening songs, my daughter Karis, then five and raised to celebrate in church, began to dance with my stole. I wasn’t ready for that much freedom and almost told her to stop. Wisdom barely won out over self-consciousness.

Worship is sometimes compared to the intimacy of husband and wife, surely the invention of a playful God. Read the Song of Solomon if you need to grow in playfulness with your mate or your Maker. The Bible is a love story from cover to cover. It begins with a walk and ends with a wedding, not the conception of a dispassionate God with a stick. His heart is expressed in the father of the prodigal who told his angry son, “We had to celebrate. ” There is a divine compulsion to rejoice with the kids!

THE COMING OF JESUS IS THE IDEA OF A PLAYFUL GOD.
This God of extravagance loved His world and called it good. When it was invaded by sin, He continued to love it–so much so that He sent His only Son to rescue humanity. And what was He like–this God-man? Full to the brim with joy and playfulness. The writer of Hebrews tells us that He was the happiest man who ever lived (1:9). His exuberance consistently got Him into trouble with the all too sober Pharisees. Jesus no doubt had a demon. They complained: “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). Those more committed to duty than delight,who are formed more by rules than relationships, are uncomfortable with celebration.

But Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, also had His serious side. Joyfulness presupposes sorrow, as day presupposes night. Playfulness does not deny the sorrows of life. In fact, people who cannot play have a more difficult time holding to their faith in times of trial. They tend to take themselves more seriously than they take God. Jesus told His disciples four times that He was going to suffer and die, but they weren’t listening.

Psychologists tell us that playfulness is one mark of emotionally healthy people. Neurotics have a difficult time with spontaneous play. So do guilty sinners. The grace of God sets us free to play. We who have a good work ethic also need a play ethic, and the One to give it to us is a playful God–and His Son Jesus.

Perhaps you need more playfulness—in giving, in worship, in loving, in sharing the faith. Legalism resists playfulness, but grace opens the door. The Son returns–and the party begins. May you walk in the extravagant grace of a loving Father who celebrates you. Take your cue from Him—and play!

THE PLAYFULNESS OF GOD

I was taking Israel, then seven, to “Toys R Us.” I asked jokingly, “What is it about kids? They love toys.”
He answered, “Kids are playful.”
“And what about adults?” I inquired.
“They go to meetings.” (I think I’d rather be a kid.)

I’ve come to the conviction that one side of God’s character is playfulness. Consider the following four statements. First…

Creation is the idea of a playful God. He didn’t create out of need. Creation is the overflow of His abundant joy in Himself. John Piper says that “in creation God ‘went public’…All his works are simply the spillover of his infinite exuberance for his own excellence” (The Pleasures of God, p. 44,45.) Listen to God describing His greatness to Job, speaking about when “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). Picture it! Hear it!

In 1989, two Harvard astronomers discovered what has been called the “Great Wall”, a string of galaxies stretching hundreds of millions of light years across the known universe. If one light year is just less than six trillion miles, imagine the vastness. He made more than enough stars, and the psalmist says that He has named them all! God spiraled them out, and the angels applauded with excitement.

I appreciate the poem of Thomas Gray, called “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” It describes flowers on the ocean floor and in the desert, seen by no one but the Creator God, who delights in the beauty of His handiwork:
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Listen to God reflect on His creation. He finishes a day’s work and says, “Oh, good!” Then He breathes life into Adam and says, “Very good!” God is taking delight in His creation, especially those most like Himself.

Karen and I have six children. We chose this many because the dishes were piling up and the lawn was growing long. We needed someone to do our work. Not really. Children were the outcome of our love for one another.

And so with God. His purpose was not utilitarian. Love was the motive. Paul says that “He predestined us in love unto adoption…” (Ephesians 1:5). He has angels to work for Him. We also work, but unlike the angels, we call God “Father.” And God, who is eternally a Father, chose to create people, who bring joy to His Father heart. And like Israel said, “Kids are playful.”

Heaven is also the idea of a playful God. Think of it—an eternity of bliss. Non-stop celebrating. Incessant, undiminished joy. That might be difficult for type A’s. Some people might feeling like calling a committee meeting after a few billion years.

Jesus had heaven on His mind as He walked in the shadow of the cross. Listen to His invitation to the faithful: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). Heaven satisfies the joy of a playful, extravagantly loving God. Moments later Jesus describes an awesome judgment scene. We hear the King saying, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). God has been waiting from the inauguration of history to show His children His lavish love. Now we have the down-payment. Heaven is the delivery of the full inheritance, and it will take an eternity for the complete disclosure: “…that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). Part II next.