The Happiest People in the World

Authorities tried to kill you when you were born. You grew up in a pagan home, separated from your godly parents. You spent 40 years looking after sheep in a desert, then another 40 years shepherd a rabble of rebels to a land full of promise. You’re now on your deathbed and, because you lost your temper once, you’ve lost your opportunity to enter and enjoy that land. A hundred years of life – all for nothing?

Doesn’t sound much like a recipe for personal happiness, does it?

And what about the people you’re leaving behind? Many decades in Egyptian slavery followed by 40 years circling round and round in the wilderness. Apart from two families, everyone has lost their parents and grandparents. Innumerable corpses litter the sand in the 40-year dust-trail. And still they are outside the promised territory with many mighty forces challenging them, just as they did 39 years earlier when they took fright and ran away. 39 years on, and we’re no further on.

Not exactly a recipe for national happiness is it?

That was Moses and that was Israel in Deuteronomy 33.

Yet, despite everything, we find a happy Moses celebrating a happy nation. His last recorded words are overflowing with excited exuberance as he proclaims Israel the happiest people in the world.

After declaring multiple blessings (happinesses) on each of the tribes, he then takes a big view of the whole nation and joyfully exclaims: “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord.”

To the onlooker, Moses and Israel were in the saddest and most miserable of circumstances. Yet Moses pronounces them not just happy, but the happiest people in the world! Incomparably happy. Happier than the most powerful and prosperous of nations.

What can possibly explain this?

God-centered Happiness
First, this was a God-centered happiness. It wasn’t a happiness based upon things or achievements. It was a happiness based upon truth, truth about God. Moses spent the previous three verses declaring seven facts about God and His relationship to Israel, before bursting forth with “Happy are you, O Israel!”

God-glorifying Happiness
Moses doesn’t just narrate facts about God like a dull and boring university lecturer. No, he’s exulting in God and exalting God as he speaks. He begins this final chorus of praise with, “There is no one like God.” God makes him happy, but worshipping God makes him even happier. God-centered happiness makes him glorify God happily.

God-Given Happiness
When we consider how happy Moses and Israel were with how little outward cause there was for this happiness, we must conclude that it was God-given. It wasn’t something manufactured or manipulated. It was given by God and expressed by faith. Faith saw what sight couldn’t. Faith hoped when reason couldn’t.

Given the circumstances, negativity and pessimism would have been much easier. But, by grace, God enabled Moses to rise above every discouragement and sadness (without denying them) and to find His happiness in God. Like Paul who faced similar harrowing circumstances, he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

And if Moses and Israel had such happiness, how much more should the New Testament Church and every New Testament Christian? If we claim to know much more about God (and we do), and claim to have experienced so much of His great salvation (and we have), how much happier we should be!

Like Moses, I want to die rejoicing in the happiness of God and of his people – regardless of my outward circumstances.

“Happy God! Happy Church! Happy me!”

Great words to die by. Greater words to live by.


Check out

Little Lamb
Kara Dedert describes how a visiting nurse sensed something unique and supernatural about her seriously disabled son, Calvin. She closes with this beautiful paragraph:

Whether or not Calvin does “see” or “hear” something, I’ll never know. BUT, we do know that God is not bound to our constraints of cognitive and physical ability. I do know that Calvin is filled with joy and a peace more consistently and abundantly than any person I’ve ever met. I don’t doubt for a minute that he knows so much more than he is able to express. I do know that the Lord loves to work in the unexpected, to give joy in broken places, to commune with little needy lambs.

The Most Consequential Religious Liberty Case in a Generation
Denny Burk with a pre-emptive strike against the distortions and misrepresentations you will encounter as the Hobby Lobby Case goes to the Supreme Court this week. And here’s a fine interview with Steve Green, the owner of Hobby Lobby. Loved this line: “If the ruling goes against Hobby Lobby, “I don’t know what we will do but I am sure what we will not do,” he said. He will say as the three men told the king, “even if God does not deliver us, we still cannot do this.” (Daniel 3:16-18).

8 Tips for Free Online Learning
Towards the end of this article you will find 8 tips for what to look for when considering an online course – teaching or learning.

Screwtape on How to Ruin the Gospel Coalition
Published by the Gospel Coalition.

Pastors, Preach the Why Before the What
Trevin Wax: “Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why, is geared to the business world, but his insights into this subject have ramifications for church life. He points out that the best companies (like Apple) don’t start with the product; they start with the why - a vision and purpose for existence.”

Unforgettable 10 Days of Baby The Parents Knew Was Going to Die
I dare anyone to say this life was not worth living and loving.


How to Debate Theology Online

There aren’t many examples of healthy online theological debate, but I’m grateful to Justin Taylor and Dr Stephen Wellum for demonstrating that it can be done, and done well.

Last week I wrote a post for The Christward Collective entitled Was Jesus Still God in the Tomb? I answered “Yes” with the key sentences probably being:

While His human soul was separated from His body, His divine nature was separated from neither and never will be. His divine nature was as united to His lifeless body on earth as it was to His glorified soul in heaven. That means I can worship Him equally in the grave as in glory!

Justin and Stephen responded with Was Jesus Really In The Tomb as a Corpse? I thought this was a fine model of how important theology can be debated in a humble, respectful, constructive manner. There’s no attempt at point-scoring, no name-calling, and no impugning of motives. The aim is clearly to guard the person and work of Christ from any misunderstanding or confusion, and to bring readers to a better knowledge of Christ and ultimately to deeper love and worship of Him. That’s what it did for me anyway.

I would summarize Dr. Wellum’s response as follows:

  1. There is a danger when speaking of “God being in the tomb” that some will think that the entire being of God was there.
  2. The divine nature of the Son did not add to himself or unite himself to a human nature; instead it was the person of the Son who forever subsists in the divine nature and who now adds to himself a human nature.
  3. As Christ’s human body was separated from the person of the Son in the grave, that body cannot be called God or worshipped as God at that time.

I replied to Dr. Wellum in the comments section here, where I briefly addressed his three points. Here’s a summary of what I wrote:

1. God’s Entire Being?
Yes, there is a danger that by speaking of God without qualification, without specifically saying “God the Son,” a reader could think that I was speaking about the whole being of God being a corpse. I don’t think it’s very likely, but it is possible. In any future discussion on similar points I should make clear that I am only referring to one person of the Godhead.

2. Divine Nature?
I think our disagreement here may be more to do with different traditions or different audiences. Instead of speaking of the “divine nature of the son,” Dr. Wellum wants me use the phrase, “the person of the son who forever subsists in divine nature.”

One of the richest blessings of my own Scottish Presbyterian tradition, especially in the Scottish Highlands where I pastored, was the number of sermons and Christian fellowships that centered upon the person of Christ. Ordinary everyday Christians would spend hours studying this area and many’s a blessed evening (and early morning!) of fellowship I spent with these dear Christians worshipfully discussing the relationship between the two natures of Christ. In that tradition we usually spoke of “Christ’s divine nature” and “Christ’s human nature” without anyone ever thinking that either was separate from the person of the Son. However, I should not assume that others from other traditions hear these words in the same way as I do.

Some of our differences in terminology here may also be partly to do with who we are writing for. While I was writing a short blog post for a popular audience, Dr. Wellum, I believe, is writing a high-level Christology at the moment.

3. Separated Body?
Our biggest point of disagreement is here. Dr. Wellum believes that the body of Christ in the tomb was separated from the person of the Son, and that during these three days the Son only subsisted in his human soul and his divine nature.

Perhaps Dr. Wellum would interpret some of the following historic confessional statements differently, but I believe these summaries of biblical teaching support the view that the body of the Son of God, while separated from his soul, was never separated from His divine person.

The Apostle’s Creed
I believe…in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried:

Jesus Christ was buried. He, not a body detached from Him, was buried. In other words, the body was always a He, not an It. 

Westminster Confession of Faith (7.2)
Two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person.

I believe this is teaching that the whole human nature of Christ, His whole manhood, His body and soul, were inseparably joined to His Godhood.

Westminster Larger Catechism 50
Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.

If I’m reading this correctly, this answer is speaking of Christ as a person, not of a body separated from the person of the Son. Christ in his human body was buried and continued in the state of the dead and under the power of death.

Belgic Confession Article 19
So then what he committed to his Father when he died was a real human spirit which left his body. But meanwhile his divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave; and 

I think this is one of the most beautiful statements of historic Reformed Christology that’s ever been written. Why not take some time to meditate on the mystery of these precious words.

His divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave.

Pause.

His deity never ceased to be in him.

Pause.

Just as it was in him when he was a little child.

Pause.

Though for a while it did not show itself as such.

Worship!

I know that’s where Stephen, Justin and I all want this to end up, whatever our minor disagreements about the most profound truths in the universe.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity.


Check out

7 Steps Down the Staircase of Dishonesty
Trevin Wax: “We all know that sin generally leads to lies and dishonesty, and lying begets more lying. We see it in our kids; we see it in ourselves. But just how does lying lead to more lying?”

John Wesley’s Failed Marriage
Nathan Busenitz: “John Wesley’s failed marriage stands as a sober warning to any would-be pastor or elder. For those tempted to confuse their God-given priorities, Wesley’s negative example in this area ought to be a powerful wake-up call.”

Jared Wilson on Writing and Pastoral Ministry
Jared discusses the role writing might have in the life of a pastor.

7 Time Management Strategies From Some Brilliant Teenage Prodigies
These busy scientists may only be 17, but their ability to manage their time efficiently has helped them win some major props. here’s how you too can rock at managing your time better. And here’s The Daily Routines of Geniuses from the Harvard Business Review (sign in for free access).

3 Bad Things that Good Leaders Say
Jon Acuff lists them as (1) I don’t know; (2) I did that; (3) I was wrong.

Why Are People Not Satisfied with Islam?
As Dane Ortlund says, this Islamic fundraising appeal is actually more encouraging to Christians than Mulsims!


Children’s Bible Reading Plan

Here’s this week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

If you want to start at the beginning, this is the first year of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf. And this is the second year in Word and pdf.

The first 12 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

Here’s an explanation of the plan.

And here are the daily Bible Studies gathered into individual Bible books with Genesis and Matthew now complete (explanatory note).

Old Testament

New Testament


Jesus Gave More Than His Hair

When South African, Girda McKenna, discovered she had cancer, she asked her friends for one thing –  to sit together for a photograph.

Her eleven friends went much further than a photo. To demonstrate their sympathy and solidarity they decided to shave off all their hair. Before sacrificing her blonde tresses, one friend said: ”That is the least I can do. If I can do just a little for her to feel better, I will do it with love.” Another commented: “I am giving up my pride for a friend that is going through much, much more.”

When Girda came to the photoshoot to find another 11 shiny bald heads she was overcome with emotion and gratitude.

It’s a truly touching gesture involving a considerable sacrifice of beauty and comfort. However, think about how much more that Jesus gave up for sinners. He gave far more than his hair for a few months. He gave HIMSELF, His whole body and His whole soul. And He gave them to far more than barber with a razor. He gave Himself into the hands of wicked men, a furious devil, and an angry God. And it did it all for love and with love.

The video about Girda’s friends opens with the lyrics of Anything For Love:

And I would do anything for love,
I’d run right into hell and back.

Awfully foolish words in the mouth of a mere man. However, awe-fully true in the mouth of Jesus. He did anything and everything for love, including “running” into the experience of hell, and coming back in triumph.

Jesus didn’t just go to the hairdresser to sympathize with a sick friend. He endured hell in the place of sinners.

Now what?