Daily Light – May 20, 2019

Three Ways to Purify Your Thinking

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

If we are in Christ, God is remaking our minds.

Once, we were “darkened in [our] understanding” (Ephesians 4:18). We may have been smart, even brilliant, but we shut the doors and windows of our minds against the knowledge of God. We preferred illusions over truth (Romans 1:18). We crafted alternative realities where God was not glorious, Christ not worthy, sin not damnable, and holiness not desirable. Our minds, created to be like a garden of the Lord, became a field of thorns, a scorched land.

But in Christ, God is reclaiming his garden. He’s opening the doors and windows and letting the light back in. He has told us that one of the great tasks of the Christian life is “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Pluck weeds and plant trees. Gather rocks and plow fields. Prune vines and build walls. Purify your mind.

Purify Your Mind

The purifying of our minds happens, in part, as we learn to habitually set our minds in certain directions — as we turn our mind’s eye from the worthless to the beautiful, from the defiled to the pure, from the false to the true. Like all repentance, such turning is not a onetime work, but a daily one, an hourly one, even a moment-by-moment one. Nor is it easy: changing our habits of thought is like carving new ruts in old roads. It will not happen spontaneously.

As we do set our minds in certain directions, and make holy thinking a habit, the effect will be like gradually opening the curtains: light and warmth from the God of glory will come in, making our thoughts bloom like flowers and rise like oaks of righteousness.

God tells us, in the book of Phillipians, to consistently set our minds in three directions: on glory above, on beauty below, and on people around.

1. Set your mind on glory above.

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:19–20)

Paul reminds the Philippians of their heavenly citizenship directly after he warns them not to be like “enemies of the cross of Christ,” people who have “minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18–19). By earthly things, Paul does not mean the gifts in God’s good creation, but rather sinful pleasures (see Colossians 3:5). Those who set their minds on earthly things have scrubbed heaven from the horizon of their minds, preferring to fill their heads with dark pleasures.

The antidote is to look up: lift your eyes to glory above, and walk often in the fields of heaven. But Paul will not let us speak vaguely of “glory above.” A mind set on high is not filled with a spiritual haze, but with a Person: Jesus Christ. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior.” “Set your mind on glory above,” then, mainly means, “Set your mind on Christ and all that is yours in him.”

Think much of the Lord Jesus. Consider how he left his Father’s side and took the form of a servant. Ponder how he relinquished his rights in order to die for desperate sinners. Remember how he is now clothed in a glorified body, bearing the scars of our redemption and crowned with the highest name. Meditate on how he will one day “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” and make everything broken about us whole (Philippians 2:6–113:21). Only then will we know something of what it means to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

Search for this Jesus as you read your Bible day by day. Cast your mind in the mold of his goodness. Carry his promises with you in all the chambers of your head. Return often throughout the day to think of glory above.

2. Set your mind on beauty below.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

A mind set on heaven does not cease to think of earth. No: heaven sends us hunting through creation for all the marks of our Father’s handiwork. Thinking on beauty below is a matter of Christian obedience.

Too often, however, I substitute “whatever is lovely” for “whatever gives immediate gratification.” Many of us are content to set our minds on pleasures that sprint through our souls without leaving a trace. We need heaven to recalibrate our earthly tastes, so we move past snap delights to “approve what is excellent” — truly, enduringly excellent (Philippians 1:10).

Those with minds set on glory above will not ultimately be satisfied with trivialities below. We will search to find a deeper echo of the tune, something that sends us past the crust of life to the core. We will look for something to awaken us to the wonder of being image-bearers of the high God, in a broken but beautiful world, with the gospel on our lips and glory in our hearts (Philippians 1:27). We want something that will absorb us, that will take us outside ourselves and send us into Reality, with all its hard edges and bracing air, all its grand and intricate glory, all its raw and cultivated splendor.

We might, as our Savior was prone to do, regularly get out beneath a big sky and look at the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, the movement of clouds, and the habits of sheep. We might lose ourselves in some story that rekindles in us the glory of everyday life. We might find some hobby that rivets us and, for a few moments at least, makes us forget about ourselves as we run, hike, play, fix, write, craft, cook, and then kneel down to give thanks to the Giver of it all.

3. Set your mind on people around.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

As we go on the hunt for beauty here below, we would be blind if we passed over those walking wonders all around us — those children of Adam, destined for immortality in either heaven or hell, whose interests Paul tells us to look to (Philippians 2:4).

This command to “look . . . to the interests of others” means more than “consider meeting others’ needs if they’re in your path and you have time.” This looking is, rather, proactive looking, attentive looking, the kind that would not happen apart from serious, creative thought. Look to means “Think, dream, plan, and study how to do the most good to those around you — and then get to it.”

We know this because Paul gives Jesus as our model of looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2:5–11). The cross was not a good work Jesus stumbled across, but one dreamt up in the merciful imagination of the triune God, and executed at extreme cost to himself. We are looking to the interests of others only if we reflect something of Jesus’s initiating, creative, and costly love, and are “genuinely concerned for [the] welfare” of those around us (Philippians 2:20).

The most well-balanced people in this world are those whose heads are so full of God and others that they have little time to circle around their own misfortunes. For many of us, then, perhaps the healthiest thing we could do with our minds is to absorb ourselves in the hopes, struggles, successes, and heartbreaks of another.

Think About These Things

The call to purify our minds is one we only begin in this life. Even the saintliest among us must stand guard over their mental garden, continually shooing away the crows of corrupt thoughts. Our thinking will bloom as it ought to only when we sink our minds into the soil of Mount Zion.

But much of our peace in this life, and much of the fruit we bear for God’s glory, comes as we heed the call to “think about these things” — to set our minds on glory above, on beauty below, and on people around. These are the windows that bring light and warmth to our minds, until the day Light himself will purify our minds completely.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – May 17, 2019

Live with Your Eyes Open

Article by Chrys Jones, Guest Contributor

I often wonder how I can wake up in the morning and not give God a second thought.

On so many mornings, I feel a gravitational pull to reach for something, anything, but God. Email, music, social media, sports, blogs, and news can’t seem to wait, even though they are infinitely tiny compared to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Worse yet, they eclipse God, numb me to spiritual reality, and set the tone for the whole day. My body may be awake on these days, but what about my soul?

The rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces in the heavenly places never take a day off. Neither can we. Self-righteousness lurks in the shadows of a victorious social media debate while gossip pursues as I describe the flaws of others. Anger pulls up next to me as I come to a screeching halt and spill coffee in my lap. I know this is true, but sometimes I’m unaffected by these realities.

Each day we are battling not only the schemes of the devil but also the world and the flesh. As soldiers sleep with one eye open, so must the child of God. We don’t have the option to walk in a drowsy stupor as though we are lounging at the beach on vacation. Rather, we are like the soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy — ready to bring utter destruction to our sin.

Keep Your Heart with God

How does God call us to live in light of the reality of spiritual warfare? His word is clear: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). One of the most important, and neglected, duties of the Christian is to be watchful. Puritan John Flavel aptly stated that “the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God.”

To be watchful is to slow down and take notice of our hearts in light of God’s word and the gospel. God calls time and time again for us to watch carefully over our souls so we won’t fall into sin. He knows that our flesh is weak, so he exhorts us to sit day and night at the gates of wisdom, allowing the Scriptures to permeate our souls and reveal our need for his grace. He knows that in the moments that we look away from Christ, we are like David whose heart was sinfully captured by the beauty of Bathsheba. The call to keep our hearts is the call to zealous care for the most precious part of who we are.

Watchfulness in the Word

It’s easy to find watchfulness throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, we see that the Israelites were commanded to watch themselves closely so they wouldn’t fall into idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:15). In the Psalms, we get a glimpse of a watchful heart seeking after the Lord (Psalm 5:359:9119:148). In Proverbs, the wise man watches daily at the doors and gates of wisdom (Proverbs 8:34).

In the Gospels, Jesus called his disciples to “watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6), to be watchful for the Bridegroom to return (Matthew 25:13), to be watchful, awake, and prayerful in these last days (Luke 21:34–36).

In Paul’s epistles, saints are called to watch out for those who cause divisions and obstruct the gospel message (Romans 16:17), to be watchful and take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthians 10:1216:13), to watch against falling into sin while helping a brother in transgression (Galatians 6:1), and to be watchful in prayer (Colossians 4:2). Peter calls for believers to be watchful because Satan is prowling and desiring to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).

Gospel-Driven Vigilance

All of this talk about watchfulness can conjure up images of exhausting legalism. It sounds so puritanical, doesn’t it? I can hear groans from the crowd, “I thought we were free in Christ? Won’t excessive watchfulness negate grace and rob us of our joy? I don’t want to be overly introspective. That’s depressing!”

Jesus has an answer for these groans. His Father is glorified when we bear much fruit, and fruitfulness brings us fullness of joy (John 15:8–11). By abiding in him and receiving grace, we have help to keep our hearts with vigilance. But what does that look like?

First, we abide in Christ. If apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5), then we must do everything with him and in his power, acknowledging our utter dependence on Christ. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. This could be as simple as praying, “By grace, I’m both a sinner and a saint. Lord, give me the strength I need to glorify you in this moment and the rest of this day.” As we humbly acknowledge our reliance on Christ, we will find ourselves leaning into his strength in times of temptation and trials.

Second, we regularly examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Do you seek your own kingdom? Is there sin you refuse to repent of? Are you looking to Christ with faith? To prevent morbid introspection, we would do well to heed the advice of Robert Murray M’Cheyne and take ten looks at Christ for every look we take at ourselves.

Third, we follow God’s word. Jesus didn’t pull out his Bible when Satan tempted him. He quoted the Scripture, in context, directly from his mind. We need to commit to more than just reading our Bibles. If we slow down and memorize God’s word, we can take it with us everywhere we go. As we are meditating on and applying the Scriptures, we are being shaped and led by the Spirit of God.

Lastly, we walk with the saints. We are not vigilant by ourselves or for ourselves. We are the body of Christ. As members, we should certainly watch over our own hearts and be aware of sin that could lead us to fall away from God, but we also need to love the Christians in our lives enough to warn them when we see them falling into sin. It’s easy to build and maintain superficial friendships, yet it’s more valuable to be accountable to other believers who are willing (and not afraid) to push us toward godliness daily.

Starting in the Morning

Though I haven’t mastered the art of keeping my heart, God used a season of anxiety, depression, and suffering to open my eyes to this great need. Each morning is still a battle. I don’t win the battle every time, but I’m much more aware of what is at stake.

As the Spirit works in me to make me more Christlike, I keep fighting and watching with more zeal and vigilance. Keeping our hearts is costly, but we fight with the strength of the One who transforms them.

Chrys Jones is an elder at Shawnee Run Baptist Church in Harrodsburg, KY. He writes at Dwell with Christ and is a recording artist for Christcentric Records. He and his wife, Kim, have three daughters.

Daily Light – May 16, 2019

Friends:   This is sooooo wonderful….soooo wonderful.  Read it and keep it and re-read it often.  dh

The Light We Never Saw by Day

Article by Marshall Segal, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

Their smiles haunted me for weeks. They lingered in my mind as I lay in bed.

These men had suffered the loss of all things, literally — disowned by their families, beaten by their enemies, threatened everywhere they went. All because they believed the same truths I believed. Had I lived and served in their shoes, I would have received the same. Their clothes could not cover the bruises. Their bruises, however, could not hide their joy.

Our team had come to Andhra Pradesh, in southeast India, to strengthen and equip pastors. As I stood before them, though, I felt as if God had opened an ocean for me to walk through. Each smile exploded with the kind of power that raised Jesus from the dead. Their deafening voices sang louder than anyone I had ever heard. They set up massive speakers so that everyone, even their oppressors, would hear what they had seen. Everything about them said, “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4).

Those men taught me that deeper reservoirs of joy are running through the worst I might one day suffer. They taught me that Christians can suffer for Christ not only with hope, but with expectation.

New Worlds of Light

Years later, I read a poem that brought their stunning joy to life again. The last stanza of “The Comforter” by Thomas Moore (1779–1852) reads,

Then sorrow, touch’d by thee, grows bright     With more than rapture’s ray;As darkness shows us worlds of light     We never saw by day.

Could anything more convincingly prove we know God like the strength of our joy when no one expects us to have any at all? Few things shed more light on the great object of that joy than the dark clouds of life on this earth. What we see and experience with God in suffering often surpasses the highest pleasures without hardship. There are worlds of light in the valleys we so desperately want to avoid. We miss so much of the vitality and vibrancy of reality because we close our eyes in the dark places — instead of looking for more of God there.

Sometimes God turns out the lights to show us something we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We realize we needed to be blinded by darkness to learn how to really see.

Shepherd in the Valley

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” writes David, the poet-king, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Whenever we find ourselves walking, in Christ, through the low ground of the valley, we walk with “the Father of lights” (James 1:17), the one who raises the sun every 24 hours to remind us that darkness cannot stand before him.

God said, “Let light shine out of darkness” (2 Corinthians 4:6), and then, when the world went black with sin, he sent his Light into our darkness (John 12:46). The good shepherd took on flesh and became the Lamb. He knows how to navigate our valleys because he died in his own. The Lord Jesus is our shepherd (Psalm 23:1); therefore, we shall not lack anything necessary for our final good. He restores our souls and leads us in paths of righteousness, not with the sympathy of a distant relative, but with the empathy of one who suffered the same and more.

Brightest Darkness

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He floods our valleys with light — even our valleys — by swallowing our darkness. When he climbed that awful tree, however, the darkness could not extinguish his light (John 1:5); the darkness only intensified the rays of his glory.

He swallowed the darkness by choice. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17–18). He suffered horrific injustice, yet he was no mere victim. He was, at every moment, the Victor. He rules the deserts and the oceans, the mountains and the valleys, uniting them all in himself and his plan for the universe (Ephesians 1:10).

“For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus knew there were worlds of light waiting in his darkest hour — depths of joy he would not have tasted in the safety and security of daylight. So, he bids us come and die, with joy.

Light of the World

By suffering and dying for joy, Jesus paved a shining path of life right through the darkness in front of each of us. When he said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden,” he knew just how much darkness we would endure to shine that brightly (Matthew 5:14). The light does not immediately eliminate the darkness — the stain of sin, the trouble in our relationships, the curse of sickness, disease, and death — but it does and will overcome the darkness, slowly for now, but one day completely. Then, Christ’s world of light will be the only world we know.

Therefore, “we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16–17). As the waves of suffering come, threatening to drown us, we know that they’re actually slowly renewing us, and preparing us for glory. We would not ask for them, but in the end we also will not trade anything for what they have produced in us.

And we would not trade what our joy in the waves says about God. Paul writes, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). We live, and suffer, so that as others look in on our lives, they marvel at how powerfully Christ upholds and satisfies us with his light (2 Corinthians 4:11).

Let Your Light Overflow

How does the light of God prevail in and through us? The same way it shone through those persecuted Indian pastors, through the relentlessly afflicted Paul, and through the executed Christ: in self-giving love for others.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)

The blessing of God’s comfort climaxes not merely in being received, but in being shared. That should not surprise those who follow and treasure the crucified one — but it does. However difficult it may be to believe in the moment, we will see more of his light in the darkness when we focus not on ourselves, but on others in the valley.

In one of his letters, Paul mentions some extraordinary sufferers who, like those remarkable pastors in India, would have loved Thomas Moore’s poem. “In a severe test of affliction,” the apostle writes, “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2). Light had filled their darkness to full and overflowing. Having found worlds of light by night, they flooded this world with Christ, drawing us all into their light, their love, their joy.

Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – May 15, 2019

Do Everything Without Grumbling

Article by Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org

“Do all things without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14). It’s remarkably easy to breeze by this command without really hearing those two intrusive words: all things.

Do all things without grumbling? Yes, all things: Wake up with a sore throat, receive criticism, pay a parking ticket, shovel spring snow, host houseguests, discipline your children, change a flat tire, answer emails, and do everything else without one murmuring word. “This is a hard saying,” we might be tempted to say. “Who can listen to it?” (John 6:60).

Many of us wake up set to “grumble,” and move through our days murmuring at a great variety of objects that get in our way. We may dress it up in nicer words: “venting,” “being honest,” “getting something off my chest,” or even “sharing a prayer request.” But God knows what we’re doing — and if we really think about it, we often do too. Grumbling is the hum of the fallen human heart, and often a hallmark of Christians’ indwelling sin.

And that makes non-grumblers a peculiar people in this world. As Paul goes on to tell us, those who “do all things without grumbling” burn like great suns in a world of darkness (Philippians 2:14–15).

The Voice of Discontentment

Paul’s use of the word grumbling (and his reference to Deuteronomy 32:5 in the next verse) takes us back to the desert between Egypt and Canaan, where we meet that group of experienced grumblers. What do their forty years in the wilderness teach us about grumbling?

They teach us that grumbling is discontentment made audible — the heart’s contempt escaped through the mouth. It is the sound we make when we have “a strong craving” for something we do not have, and we begin to grow restless (Numbers 11:4Psalm 106:14).

The object of our craving need not be evil; often it isn’t. The Israelites, for example, reached for pleasures quite harmless in themselves: food and water (Exodus 15:2416:2–317:3), a safe passage to the Promised Land (Numbers 14:2–4), comfort (Numbers 16:41). But their desires for these good things somehow turned bad: they wanted them sooner than God chose to give them; they wanted them more than God himself.

So too with us. We want a relaxing evening at home, but we get a call from a friend who needs help moving. We want a job that feels meaningful, but we get stuck among spreadsheets. Or, more significantly, we want the future we planned for, but we get one we never wanted.

“Unfair,” says some voice within us. “That’s not right,” says another. Desires become expectations; expectations become rights. And instead of bringing our disappointment to God, and allowing his words to steady us, we let unmet desire fester into discontentment. We grumble.

Murmuring Against Our Good

Grumbling is more than the voice of discontentment, however. It is also the voice of unbelief. We grumble when our faith in God’s good purposes falters. Unwilling to trust that God is crafting this disappointment for our good, we have eyes only for the painful now.

When the Israelites finished burying the last of the wilderness generation, Moses revealed God’s purpose in all their desert trials: “[God] led you through the great and terrifying wilderness . . . that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end” (Deuteronomy 8:15–16). What a tragic commentary on those graves in the desert. On every tombstone in that wilderness were carved the words, “We grumbled against our own good.”

God had already told them as much after their first episode of grumbling. He presented them with a choice: They could either “diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God” (Exodus 15:26), or they could follow the raging mob within themselves. Well, we know the story. They followed the mob.

Our own grumbling, likewise, relies on an interpretation of God, ourselves, and this world that is utterly out of step with reality. (Of course, it feels like reality; the serpent’s voice always does.) We grumble because we have diligently listened to a voice other than the Lord our God’s, and have begun to repeat the words. Instead of crying out to God, “Help me trust you are good!” we mutter and spill and vent — the equivalent of saying, “God, your ways are not good.”

Let Go of Grumbling

Like all temptations common to man, the temptation to grumble always comes with “the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). But how? How can we confront our own tendencies to murmur and, amazingly, begin to “do all things without grumbling” (Philippians 2:14)?

1. Repent of wayward desires.

When you do recognize some grumbling words, stop and ask yourself,

What am I wanting right now more than I want God’s will?
What craving has become more important than God’s commandments?
What desire has grown sweeter than knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?

Grumbling does not spout forth from us because of a problem out there, but because of a problem in here. No outward circumstance compels us to grumble. The same apostle who said, “Do all things without grumbling,” was wearing chains for the gospel as he wrote. Yet Philippians is drenched in gratitude, not grumbling (Philippians 1:34:14). More than that, at the center of Paul’s letter is a Savior who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, without one murmur (Philippians 2:5–8).

God has given us everything we need to let go of grumbling — even in prison, even on the road to our own execution. In addition to recognizing our grumbling, then, we need to repent of those wayward desires that would keep us from saying with Paul, “It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death,” whether by comfort or disappointment, whether by hope fulfilled or hope deferred (Philippians 1:20).

2. Remember God’s word of life.

Because our grumbling relies on a false interpretation of reality, we need God to reinterpret our circumstances for us. Therefore, as Paul tells us, we put away grumbling by “holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:16).

Hold fast implies effort and attention. Grumbling will rarely flee if we merely wave around vague thoughts of God’s goodness. We need to take specific words from God and, with ruthless intensity, hold on to them tighter than we hold on to our words of discontentment.

What words from God should we hold fast to in these moments? Any that confront our inner clamor of voices with the truth of God’s abundant goodness (Psalm 31:19), our benefits in Christ (Psalm 103:1–5), the brightness of our future (1 Peter 1:3–9), God’s sovereignty over trials (James 1:2–4), and the pleasures of obedience (Psalm 19:10–11), for example.

Or, to stick near the context of Paul’s command, consider holding on to this gem of a promise: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Glorious riches for every need are ours in Christ. Hold fast to that word.

3. Respond to God in faith.

Finally, take these words and turn them back to the God who is our very present help (Psalm 46:1). In other words, replace grumbling with its righteous opposite: prayer. Every decision to grumble is a decision not to pray, not to pour out our hearts before God, not to draw near to his powerful throne of grace. Likewise, every decision to pray is a decision not to grumble.

Of course, even in prayer the fight continues. Our minds will often wander back to whatever person or circumstance has agitated us. But keep bringing your mind back around. Keep wrangling your focus back to the God who made you, knows you, loves you, bought you, and will bring your holiness to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Grumbling cannot abide in the presence of this Jesus. Over time, it must make way for gratitude. It must bow the knee to faith. It must give way to praise.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – May 14, 2019

The Feel-Good Gospel

How We Use God for Comfort

Article by Greg Morse, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

It wasn’t the response I had hoped for.

On our first long-distance call, the future Mrs. Morse asked me how my day had gone. Excited, I detailed how, just that afternoon, I finally had an opportunity to share the gospel with a friend when he opened up to me about a recent breakup. I enthusiastically recounted the conversation with her, assuming she would be impressed.

After listening, she paused, then asked, “Well, did you share the gospel with him?”

She must not have heard me, I thought. I began retelling my story.

“Yes, you told me that. I was just wondering if you shared the good news that Jesus can save him from his sin, death, and God’s wrath through his substitutionary death and subsequent resurrection — not just that God could make him happier after a tough breakup.”

Stunned, I retraced the interaction in my mind. Surely, I had, right?

Turns out the gospel I shared was not the one which Paul called “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) — however much it may have felt like it. Rather, I had shared a kind of feel-good gospel with him. To this brokenhearted romantic, I had offered only a cookies-and-cream Christ ready to cater in the moment to his messy breakup. And while Jesus certainly doesinvite the dissatisfied, the thirsty, the unhappy near to find joy in him, the gospel does not say that Jesus first died to spare him from the immediate heartache of an ended relationship. Jesus came to address more than our felt-needs of the moment.

The Gospel of Feel-Good

The qualification cannot be overstated: God is “a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1), the emotional ballast for all saints going through valleys, our fortress to shelter his people from the storms of this life. He does indeed answer his children’s prayers: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). When you suffer, run to him. If you’re happy, go to him. When you’re anxious, turn to him. He is our Father and invites us near, both on sunny days when all is well, and in stormy nights when shadows creep along the bedroom wall.

But we must never forget: Christianity is about so much more than comforting erratic human psychologies. Christianity doesn’t terminate on us. The word of the cross is not first given for present mental health but for the eternal salvation of the soul. Emotional flourishing will be found in the shadow of the cross — a cross which is not first and foremost about emotional flourishing.

God has much to say to the anxious, the depressed, the angry, the grieving, the confused, the despondent, to all the discontent who will trust him. But God’s revelation isn’t primarily about meeting these ailments. Jesus did not come into the world to first save us from our sadness — but our sin. Yet that is not what the new prosperity gospel of emotional health, wealth, and happiness teaches. We may shake our heads at messages about Jesus bringing believers mansions and Mercedes, all the while subtly believing that Jesus’s primary mission entailed giving us our best (emotional) lives now.

Self-Help in Christian Veneer

This new “gospel” deals little, if at all, with what’s perceived to be immediately helpful. It lives on the diet of topical teaching that helps you live better today instead of helping you know and worship God now and forever. It promotes a shallow form of happiness, not holiness; man’s needs, not God’s glory. It is well-known in the Christian publishing world that books on Christian living sell — while most books on God and the cross do not.

In this modern “gospel,” the chief problem with sin is that it doesn’t work — not that it offends a holy God. It overlaps with the old gospel in that it denounces destructive sins, but for very different reasons. It encourages us to fight anxiety because it isn’t helping you sleep at night. Quit porn, because it isn’t preparing you for marriage. Forgive your mother, because you’re only hurting yourself in the end. Conquer envy, because it’s not making you happy.

To achieve these ends — to sleep better, to secure that spouse, to stop the self-abuse of unforgiveness, to become happier — the feel-good gospel sends us to God for help. It invites us to rub the bottle and ask for him to fix our present inconvenience — not to forgive or transform or give us more knowledge of him. It beckons us to settle for rejuvenation, not regeneration — being burped and fed, not born again.

This “gospel” might encourage us to memorize some verses in this area or that, but are these the only ones we memorize? If it does, ours has become the gospel of practical living. Self-help with a feel-good, religious gloss. We replace the sun from the center of the universe in favor of a fragment of its warmth and light.

Comfort Has Become Chief

J.I. Packer describes the change from the ancient gospel to this newfangled one:

One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man — to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction — and too little concerned to glorify God.

[The old gospel’s] center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. (Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ)

The feel-good gospel loves the effect of the Christian faith while tragically forgetting its God and true gospel. The comfort of man — not the worship of God — has become chief. The news that man can be happier — not that Jesus died for sinners — is the good news. Man comforted — not Christ crucified — is the heart of the system. And it deceitfully promises to hand out these effects to sinners when God says the wicked have no right taking up his promises while living in unrepentance. “To the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?’” (Psalm 50:16).

Loving the emotional gifts above the Giver leaves worshipers neither light nor warmth.

Emotional Health, Incidentally

The paradox stands that emotional health is caught when indirectly sought. Packer writes, “The old gospel was ‘helpful,’ too — more so, indeed, than is the new — but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God.” The emotional help that our God provides his people is unparalleled. His promises and Person give us reason to always rejoice — remember, this is true. But this stability is often attained accidentally as we “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).

We see such help, in one of many places, in Isaiah’s charge to comfort the people (Isaiah 40:1). The prophet asked, “What shall I cry?” (Isaiah 40:6). After he then hears about the glory of God’s revealed word, God tells him to go up on a high mountain and herald the good news, to lift up his voice with strength, and to say to the people, “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9).

Well-being will come through true worship. Seek comfort for comfort’s sake, relegate God to the background, and you get neither.

Promise of Perfect Peace

Emotional health in the Christian life comes first from looking outside ourselves. Hate sin, love Christ, trust in his power to save, seek to live for his glory, and we mature in emotional health. The truly happy man seeks God in his word, planting himself by life-giving streams, and his “leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). We seek first for God, and, in finding him, we gain fullness of joy in him, and heaven thrown in.

Must we choose, then, between pursuing happiness in God and glorifying him? No. In fact, we must not. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We seek for happiness in God, for his glory, not so we can settle for our best life now, with God at the periphery. We seek eternal life, not in a pleasant state of mind in the moment, but in knowing Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him (John 17:3). And as we set our minds on Christ, he will, in his perfect time, keep us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).

Human feelings are not ultimate; God is ultimate. Jesus is not a means to real joy; he is our joy. We do not dethrone the God of all comfort for comfort itself. Our hearts and souls will not truly flourish until firmly planted in this bedrock: “Behold your God!”

Greg Morse is a staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul.

Daily Light – May 13, 2019

You Are Not Special… But You Are His

Article by Scotty Smith, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN

As I recently prepared to celebrate my 51st Easter, it occurred to me that one of the most important journeys I have taken during my life in Christ has been to close the distance between a John 3:16 spirituality and a Galatians 2:20 spirituality. Most of us are familiar with these two passages:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

The life I now live . . . I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

It is a great thing to confidently affirm one’s secure place in the big world upon which God has set his great love for us in Jesus — to gladly be among that vast number of whoevers who believe in Jesus. But it is quite another thing to be able to say with both certainty and astonishment, “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.” I was a general affirmer of God’s love long before I was a specific delighter in it.

No Longer Nameless

When it comes to the grandeur of the gospel, every analogy falls short, but here’s one born from my own experience. I have always loved the music of Paul McCartney, one of the four members of the legendary band the Beatles. As a gift, a friend took me several years ago to see Sir Paul at a sold-out concert in Atlanta, and our seats were dead center, ten rows from the stage. I felt quite honored just to be among the 21,000 screaming fans.

But a few months later, one of our church members was on the Fox News broadcast team for the Super Bowl, and Paul McCartney just happened to be the halftime entertainment for the game that year. Watching him perform that day brought back rich memories of having seen my favorite Beatle perform live.

The next Sunday, my TV-personality friend showed up at church with a brown paper bag. With a hard-to-hide grin on his face, he lifted a framed picture of Paul McCartney with this hand-written inscription in bold, big letters: “To Scotty, Cheers, Sir Paul McCartney.” To say I was blown away would be an understatement for the ages. I was no longer just a nameless guy in a huge coliseum. I had a personal inscription from Paul McCartney to me — a picture I still treasure.

Here’s where the analogy falls gloriously apart. Though I have never met Paul McCartney, I have met Jesus. God was pleased to reveal Jesus to me(Galatians 1:16). God has written my name in heaven — much better than any autograph I have (Luke 10:20). And now God knows me (Galatians 4:9), which is way more profound than the fact that I know him. All these personal pronouns matter, including the first-person pronouns I, me, and my.

Characters in God’s Story

This isn’t to privatize our faith, but to prize it — not to individualize Christianity, but to understand the deeply personal dimensions of the gospel. We are to grow into a heart-inflaming, knee-buckling, worship-fueling realization that God loves each of his daughters and sons, and not just the whole collective entity of his every-nation, redeemed family. And ramping that up a big notch, we are to see and savor that God loves me (and you) to the same degree and with the same delight that he loves Jesus (John 17:23). That’s not a game-changer; it’s an everything-changer.

The resurrection day visitations of Jesus underscore the to-be-cherished reality of individual relationship with Jesus.

MARY AT THE TOMB

Mary Magdalene was the first post-resurrection evangelist — first to the empty tomb and first to declare Jesus’s triumph over the grave to the disciples. Though we have precious few details about Mary’s healing and the nature of her “seven demons” (Luke 8:1–3), we know her name and part of her story.

Mary was a person, not a metaphor. She became a committed follower of Jesus because Jesus poured forth great mercy, grace, and love upon her. Some of us also have stories of tremendous brokenness, bondage, and illness. We too have individual names, and Jesus has come to set us free. We’re not mere categories; we are characters in God’s great story of redemption. For God so loved the world, he gave Jesus. For God so loved you, he gave Jesus — to you and for you. You’re not a type or project, or a set of letters or numbers from a personality test.

PETER BY THE SEA

And then there’s Peter, who was outrun by fellow apostle John to Jesus’s tomb (John 20:3–4). Even though Peter was slow of foot, we should appreciate his desire to get to Jesus as soon as possible. His was a story of failure, pride, and denial — just like many of us.

But Jesus’s story is one of welcome and restoration — a kindness Peter had already experienced many times in the previous three years. Before long, Peter would hear his name firmly and tenderly spoken by the resurrected Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” The dialogue was far more healing and freeing than it was painful (John 21:15–19). We cannot run to Jesus without discovering that it is Jesus who is always running first and fastest to us — to you and me. Jesus is the answer for all our guilt and shame too.

CLEOPAS ON THE ROAD

Late in the afternoon of Easter Sunday, we meet Cleopas — one of two forlorn friends walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). They had hoped Jesus was the promised Messiah. But now, they assumed, Jesus lay as a lifeless corpse — a victim of treachery and murder.

But their stone-cold hope segued into burning hearts when Jesus revealed himself to them and gave them the Bible study we all wish were recorded. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NIV). What love and care, engagement and personal hope, Jesus gave these two men — just two men from a covenant family as numerous as stars, sand, and dust, but men with names and stories, just like me and you.

Jesus continues to reveal himself, by the word and Spirit, to each of his beloved disciples. In fact, our position in the history of redemption is even more to be desired than what Cleopas and his friend enjoyed. For we have the completion of God’s revelation, the Old and New Testaments, which both attest to the glory and grace of Jesus and our glorious salvation in him. We are that known, loved, and pursued by Jesus.

Not Special, But His

The whole gospel is for the whole family of God, a family which is being gathered from every race, tribe, tongue, and nation. But take a few moments to marinate in the love our Father has lavished on you in Jesus. This isn’t a selfish act. It’s an act of wonder, love, and praise.

Because Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience for you, as your substitute; and died in your place upon the cross, exhausting God’s judgment against your sin; and was raised from the dead for your justification, God loves you just as much as he loves Jesus. God cannot love you more, and he will never love you less. God doesn’t love you to the degree you are like Christ, but to the degree you are in Christ, which is one hundred percent. God has hidden your life safely and completely in Jesus. Your Father has begun a good work in you that he will most definitely complete. All of this doesn’t make you special, but it certainly makes you his.

Scotty Smith (@ScottyWardSmith) is the founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee.

Daily Light – May 10, 2019

Do You Have Your Attention?

Taken from an article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

One of your most valuable assets is your attention. What sights get before our human eyes, and what words get into our human ears, influence us image-bearers of God and bring deep and lasting impact in the world. Including how we spend our money.

In a previous generation, the largest companies sold oil and gasoline. Today, the largest companies sell human attention. Facebook and Instagram want your attention, to sell it to advertisers. Google and YouTube want your attention for the same reason. And Apple, the largest company of all, created the device that turned all of life into endless possibilities for capturing human attention — the pixelated billboards we now carry around with us all the time.

Attention Economy

In one sense, this so-called “attention economy” is not new. It’s almost two hundred years old, going back to the 1830s when a New York businessman created a newspaper costing just a cent, because instead of selling the content to readers, he planned to sell his readers to advertisers (Cal Newport tells the story in Digital Minimalism). Eventually newspapers were filled with ads. Then when television came, it filled with ads. Then, the Internet.

In the last decade, the smartphone has taken this attention economy to previously unforeseen heights, because we keep our mobile devices constantly on our person. And the “attention merchants” like Facebook and Google are doing all they can — with sophisticated psychological tactics — to compete for the scarce and lucrative resource called human attention. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, says, “We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention” (quoted in Competing Spectacles, 57).

We thought Facebook and Instagram and YouTube were free services. They are not. They may not cost us any money, but we are paying with a more precious commodity: our finite and valuable human attention.

Modern Spectacles

While some advocate for an attention resistance movement, we as Christians will want to ask what we’re saving our attention for. If we steward what finite, precious attention we have, and keep ourselves from wasting it on worthless distractions, to whom, then, will we pay attention? Simply keeping it from the attention merchants won’t produce any positive good on its own. How will we invest the capacities for attention God has given us?

Tony Reinke’s Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age addresses this pressing issue in our day by focusing on “the competing spectacles” of modern media versus the person, work, and words of Christ. Reinke defines a spectacle as “something that captures human attention, an instant when our eyes and brains focus and fixate on something projected at us” (14).

Attention and spectacles go together. The spectacles of life, whether the transient and trivial media spectacles online or the massive and eternal Spectacle of what God himself did for us in Christ, call for our finite human attention. The question is not whether we will “pay attention” or “fix our attention” somewhere, but to what, and to whom, will we give our attention?

This is not just about what we see, but perhaps just as pressing, if not more so, is what we hear, and to whom we listen. “Faith comes from hearing,” says the apostle Paul (Romans 10:17; also Galatians 3:25). What voices we allow habitually into our heads have profound shaping power.“In the sensorium of faith,” writes Reinke, “the ear is chief” (148).

Who’s Paying Attention?

The digital age may be newly realizing the value of human attention, but the reality is nothing new for the people of God. From the beginning, God made humans to anchor the rhythms of their attention in him, to see his eternal power and divine nature in the things he has made, and to honor him as God and give him thanks (Romans 1:20–21). Then, with Christ, came faith in a new, decisive sense (Galatians 3:23–26), and this saving faith has us, as a vital prerequisite, giving our attention to the great Spectacle of Jesus’s life, teaching, death, and resurrection.

Faith grows in the finite garden of human attention. Apart from particular investments of our attention in its Object, faith will not thrive, or even survive. As we fill the limited soil of our attention with more and more shrubs, we first restrict the growth and health of faith, then crowd it out, and eventually leave it for dead.

Attention in Scripture

From early in his ministry, Jesus enjoined his disciples, “Pay attention to what you hear” (Mark 4:24), and the author of Hebrews highlights the importance of our attention not just in our coming to faith, but in enduring in the faith. “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). How will Christians stay true, and keep from drifting from the gospel? Not by moving on to other foci, but by paying increasing attention to “what we have heard” in Christ.

Such faith, then, will have its specific expressions in the everyday Christian life. Peter notes “the prophetic word . . . to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). Paul points to the fixing of our attention on God’s word (“holding fast to the word of life”) as the key to showing ourselves to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14–16).

In such faith, we do not overlook self-examination and self-awareness and personal vigilance: “Pay attention to yourselves!” (Luke 17:321:34). Including the specific call of pastor-elders: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God” (Acts 20:28).

For the Christian, each new morning is an opportunity to freshly anchor attention in our Lord. We call it “devotions” because we’re recalibrating our highest devotion through the refocusing of our attention. Every meal is a reminder of his goodness, a chance not just to rehearse our gratitude but to make it holy through prayer (1 Timothy 4:4–5). Weekly worship gathers together our collective attention on the singular tie that binds us in Christ. And each evening, as we retire for the night, is an opportunity to recall the grace that’s brought us safe thus far, and that will lead us home.

Who Has Your Ear?

Hearing God’s word through faithful, healthy teaching is a matter of life and death, because “faith comes from hearing” (Romans 10:17). Not just one-time hearing, but ongoing hearing. Whom we pay attention to really matters. Those who regularly have our eyes, and get inside our heads through our ears, are leading us somewhere, either towards life or towards death. So, who has your attention? To what are you giving your attention? What’s on your screen? Who’s in your ear? Whatever is on our screens today (or in our podcast feeds) is a glimpse into who we will be tomorrow.

Jesus is worthy of our ear. Christian teaching, formed and filled by Scripture, culminating in Christ himself, is worthy of our attention. He will not disappoint, both in this life and forever in the life to come.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.