January 2016 marked a new slice of life and ministry for me. For the first time in my 22 years in ministry here in Los Osos at that time, I started teaching our World Changers class once a month. My amazing wife has poured out her life for our children’s ministry for all these years. But I stayed next door with the youth and adults all these Sunday mornings. I tell you this to say – I’m not sure what these elementary aged children have learned from me over these last ten months, but I have learned a lot. And one of the most significant lessons I’ve ever learned about God came through preparing a lesson for these kids back in late May I believe.
Allow me to provide some background. Anne and I began our first ever Sabbatical (3 month period of refreshment and renewal and withdrawl from all ministry) June 1st 2015. We put together a five and a half week road trip that began with a beeline towards Redding, CA to hang out with the world renown Bethel Church for that weekend. We attended everything we could Friday evening, Saturday morning and afternoon, and Sunday morning. And repeatedly I heard from various staff the annoying phrase, “God is in a good mood.” Overall our time there was very refreshing and helpful, but that repeated phrase bugged me.
So fast forward to May of 2016 and I am handed a curriculum from Bethel of all places to teach my next time with the kids. And this curriculum wanted me to convey to the kids that the most important thing we need to know about God is that “He is in a good mood.”
Well first of all I am not one to follow someone else’s notes. In my 21 years and a half of preaching sermons every Sunday (before my sabbatical) I never preached other people’s sermons.
Second, as I began to read through the pages of this bethel curriculum for my lesson, there were all kinds of activities and creative things to do with the kids around this subject, but minimal Biblical material to support this contention that the most important thing anyone can know about God is that He is in a good mood.
Third, I’ve read the Bible through from beginning to end countless times over these last 40 years and memorized many verses, such as Psalm 7:11, “God is a righteous judge and a God who has indignation every day.” I could recite many other passages that demonstrated God is anything but happy.
And this was not just an old testament reality. Hebrews 10:26, 27 states: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Vs. 31 adds: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
So I’m having some major struggles as the week goes on trying to get up for teaching this lesson, and somehow along the way the Holy Spirit directed me to I Timothy 1:11. Now you need to know I am very familiar with I Timothy. I Timothy is the first of 3 pastoral epistles in the new testament. Some scholars speak of I Timothy as “The handbook of church management”. It is a crucial book for church leaders to grapple with as it helps us understand the gospel message, the purpose of the law of God, the biblical roles of men and women in the church, the role of prayer in the church, qualifications for elders, the personal life of the minister, how to deal with false teachers, and leaders who fall into sin, how to care for widows, etc.
But in all my years of studying this book I’ve never ever once grappled with the attribute of God that I Timothy 1:11 introduces us to. “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” Then later that day or maybe the next day I noticed this same word used of Christ in the last chapter of I Timothy. I Tim. 6:15 “…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords”
Bear with me as I talk about this word that only appears in the New Testament these two times when referring to God. It is translated from the greek word “Makarios”, which is the same greek word that is translated blessed in the sermon on the mount when speaking of kingdom disciples, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness….,” etc. Now if you have studied the sermon on the mount at all you probably know that scholars and commentators sometimes translate this word “happy” instead of “blessed” since blessed doesn’t communicate much in the 21st century.
When I realized that the 1st and last chapter of I Timothy is the only place in the New Testament where God is described as “blessed” from the greek word “makarios” meaning happy, and I began to reflect on the significance of the Holy Spirit choosing to bookend this most important book with this attribute of God, I realized we cannot do church, must less lead it, if we do not know God as “happy” and if we do not become more like this “happy” God.
I don’t know about you, but I have never read anything about this attribute of God. Never heard anyone ever discuss it. And a number of commentaries I checked during that week of discovery out of curiosity totally skip over it.
But two times in this critical book designed to help us establish gospel and Christ centered churches – – God is spoken of as a Happy God.
Friends this was a major light bulb moment for me. So that by the time I walked into that classroom Sunday morning that next Sunday – – I was able to proclaim out of my own revelation that the God of the Bible is a happy God, and indeed is in a good mood.
See here is the critical principle that I tried to convey to our precious children: Our perception of God determines our pursuit of Him. If we believe God is always in a bad mood. If we believe He is always ready to pounce on us and punish us every time we sin. If we believe He is easily frustrated and offended and perturbed at us and our behavior, we are not going to be highly motivated to cozy up to Him. Nor are we going to entrust our lives, our careers, our families, our finances and our futures to Him.
But if we are convinced that our God – the living God – the God of the Bible is intrinsically Happy. If we are convinced that nothing can get under His skin. That He thoroughly enjoys life. And that as I told the children on that Sunday in June – – while we may be sad because we said something we shouldn’t have or didn’t do something we should have done; or while we may be offended or discouraged because someone mistreated us or spoke ill of us – – God never says something He shouldn’t; He always does what He ought to do. And He laughs when the nations and leaders of nations devise wicked plans against Him and His kingdom rule and reign according to Psalm 2.
We all live in some level of confliction because even when we are on top of our game, we fall short, we are easily distracted, and while we can experience the blessing of God when we walk in poverty of spirit and when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, none of us consistently walks in these things. We ebb and flow.
God never experiences this kind of confliction or inconsistency or flakiness or inner turmoil.
Let me end with this: God does have indignation every day. But the million dollar question is: towards whom? And the answer is towards those who are consistently hard hearted, stiff necked, rebellious, scornful, and evil. Not towards those who are His sons and daughters – – those who have placed our faith and trust in His Son, and who, though we sin and fail from time to time, desire to know and love and trust and obey Him.